The speeding off to Manhattan bit started well. I was confident in my Park Avenue or bust line. The delivery had been perfect. Yet, my state of self-contented reflection was interrupted by a slight rubbing sound. I soon realised that in my haste to close the taxi door, my purse had got stuck. It was now being dragged along the road, slowing wearing itself down to an unrecognisable piece of fabric. Soon, it would be nothing but a posh atom.
I urgently motioned the driver to stop. He obeyed my order magnificently and briskly halted the vehicle’s advance. His manoeuvre was a tad brusque. So brusque, in fact, that the cab containing Ypres and the second half of the luggage crashed into the back of mine. Luckily, we were off the highway on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. I would later learn that this was a bit of a detour and that when two New York taxi crash into one another it is seen as just retribution by locals.
Ypres ascertained that everything was alright while the two taxi drivers hurled bilingual insults at one another.
“All is not well with the world, Ypres. Look at my purse.” I held up the remains of my Burberry purse.
“Luckily, I have your passport and wallet.”
“I feel that you are missing the point, Ypres. How am I to successfully portray British soft power abroad without my Burberry purse?”
While the taxi drivers were busy threatening each other with bodily harm, and invoking the other’s mother in compromising situations, another taxi pulled up.
“Where are you going?”
Eager to repeat my performance, I replied, “Park Avenue! It’s Park Avenue or bust!” This seemed to cool the ardour of the two original taxi drivers who immediately plugged their ears.
I gingerly helped Ypres get all the luggage into the new cab. After carrying two bags (my Birkin carry-on and Smythson’s Grosvenor briefcase, if you must know) I was exhausted. So I left her to do the rest. Both of us squeezed into the back seat with the remainder of the luggage. We were silent until we crossed the East River, via the Brooklyn Bridge, onto Manhattan. Ypres resumed conversation by City Hall.
As a wall of belonging neatly separated us on the back seat, her words were rather muffled. Nonetheless, she was not deterred. She went straight in.
“Park Avenue is one of the most expensive locations to live in New York.”
“Exactly, Ypres. It is the perfect substitute for the Park Lane flat in Mayfair. It is important not to change one’s circumstances too much. I do not want you to feel homesick, Ypres. It is out of a sentiment of self-sacrifice that I am doing this.”
“Altruism is no substitute for necessary economy.”
“Ypres, I did not understand half of that sentence. The other half is far from clear. Please keep the use of ‘isms’ to a minimum.”
“The purpose of your employment in New York is to better your financial situation. Procuring expensive lodging will not aid in that aim.”
I was fully aware of that fact, and immediately informed Ypres.
“I am fully aware of that fact, Ypres. That is why our temporary HQ on Park Avenue is a compromise.” Ypres coughed softly. I went on with my monologue like Cordelia addressing King Lear.
“You see, ordinarily, one would have sought a top-floor apartment on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. Not a penthouse exactly, but a flat with enough room for entertaining and a small roof terrace for al fresco activities. An appropriate backdrop for a successful yet understated introduction to New York society.
If unable to find such a place, I would have settled for a townhouse between Fifth and Madison Avenue. Nothing too grand. Four or five floors maximum, with clean lines and no ostentation. One wouldn’t want to be branded une parvenue, or worse, une arriviste. Park Avenue is the least I can accept. It offers the minimal amount of modest elegance I am accustomed to.
And in any case, street-wise, we are in the upper seventies, far from the fashionable sixties. Once you are north of 85th Street or East of Lexington Avenue, you might as well be dead. Surely you don’t want me dead, Ypres?”
There was an awkward silent pause. It was as if Ypres, behind a wall of luggage and weighted down by my belongings on her knees, were carefully considering her response. I prompted her.
“I apologise. The luggage muffled your statement.”
There was no time left for Ypres to answer as we had arrived. “Stop here,” I told the taxi driver. The car door was opened for me by a porter at the Ritz on Park Avenue. To maintain appearance, and for security reasons, I always direct taxi drivers to ferry me to the finest establishment nearest my destination. I then discreetly make my way from there. I hesitated between the Ritz and the Waldorf-Astoria, but it turns out that the former was closer to my final destination in the upper seventies.
I made as if I was going to check in to a suite overlooking Park Avenue. Noting as flashy as the presidential suite. Perhaps the senatorial suite, which I understand is the closest equivalent to the ducal suite in London’s grand hotels. I made sure all in attendance in the lobby were well aware of who I was. I properly enunciated, “Vanessa E. Vasa, Park Lane, Mayfair.”
I pretended that my planned check in time was much later, and that to aid the hotel staff, my luggage could be delivered at a business associate’s residence, rather than stay in a store room. I gave the address, written down on a piece of paper with a Mont Blanc fountain pen and slipped across the counter, to where my belongings should be delivered. Porters readily activated themselves to carry out the order. Ypres and I then quietly slipped out of the lobby, as if about to have afternoon tea in the Star Lounge, and headed for the exit.
Pulling away from the Ritz, we emulated the well-to-do walking on Park Avenue. We went up the famous thoroughfare, with our noses in the air. My nose was substantially more airborne than Ypres’s. On the way up, as we passed street after street, and remembered to look right then left before crossing, Ypres interjected a thought.
“If I may offer a suggestion.”
“Please do, Ypres.”
“You should put as much effort in your financial advancement as you do in your efforts to keep up appearances.”
“Nonsense, Ypres. You make me sound like a pretentious snob in denial. In any case, here we are. I believe the entrance is on a side street.”
The door was opened by a doorman. He had evidently inherited the uniform of a taller, and, dare I say, more robust individual. It might even have been a lady’s uniform as the area around his chest was inexplicably loose. He had a moustache, which was reassuring.
His cap, once removed, revealed an elaborate reverse engineered comb over. Despite the lack of hair on his scalp, the rest of his body seemed able to produce the substance in great quantities. The aforementioned moustache was formidable. His eyebrows met near the centre in an embrace befitting the most passionate lovers. His ears and nostrils were carefully carpeted with follicles. The profusion of hair, and the corresponding scalp desertification, betrayed the fact that the doorman was statistically within the young category.
“How may I help you?” The doorman said in a voice not dissimilar to Nat King Cole’s.
“I am the new occupant of apartment 66Fbis until August. I am Vanessa E. Vasa. This is my lady’s assistant, Mildred Ypres. How do you do?”
He ignored the offered how do you do.
“Yes, we were expecting you. A gentleman called to arrange your accommodation. Please follow me.”
The three of us crossed the cool marble lobby to the lift, or elevator, as New Yorkers insist on calling them. The doorman hit one of the lower floor buttons and led your beloved heroes down a series of corridors to a door marked 66bis.
“What happened to the ‘F’?” I asked out of curiosity.
“It fell off. Here’s your key. Welcome home.” He placed the key in my hand and ran off before I had the chance to tell him that London is my home.
I unlocked the door. I surveyed the space with Ypres.
“I must admit, Vasa, I underestimated your commitment to living within your means,” Ypres said, with a hint of sentiment. “A judicious choice, given your enumeration of the alternative.”
“Ypres! I’ve been bamboozled! I thought there would be more space! I can’t do anything al fresco in here!”
We were faced with a one bedroom and bathroom paired with a living area with kitchenette. The whole had three windows with views on a variety of brick walls. It was appointed with minimalist zeal. It was so clean as to wonder whether the previous occupant had been violently murdered and the apartment subsequently bleached of any traces of DNA.
A phone rang from the coffee table in the living area. Ypres picked it up.
“It is for you. Your cousin: Mr. Andrew Vasa.”
Vasa and Ypres’s first full-length adventure, Vasa and Ypres: A Mayfair Conundrum, is available on Amazon. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres is on Twitter. You can also join over 1235 WordPress followers. Should you be desperate to part with your money, and, in the process, fund Uncle Edward’s Vasa Assurances, a donation button is available on the homepage. Donations will help keep the Vasa and Ypres project going.