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Fame By Proxy

Posted on 19 June 2010

By Peter Hamilton Travis

This column is a continuum of my previous Our Town contribution, Requiem for Credibility — 1st Movement.

For the handful of inattentive myopes who remain unfamiliar with the precursor — as they say in the oil biz: “Sorry. Sort of.” I’ve no intention of taxing the loyal Effervescents — who regularly find time in their busy, interesting, important lives to follow the circus inside my head — with another boorish, excruciatingly arid rehash. If you absolutely must see Sex and the City 2 — Crisis in the Middle East, fine. But not on my watch.

My editor (whose opinion I genuinely respect even though he golfs) would undoubtedly welcome a brief recap. If for no other reason than common courtesy. Which — considering how courteous most golfers are — is par for the course.

So, here’s what you cretins missed (Effervescents may scamper past bulleted points):

  • I am a fan of paper grocery bags and Schiavoni’s Market.
  • Having been justly pilloried, Mommie Weirdest will never again ask Max, “Do you know where Momma might find the taaangelos?”
  • Mary Hart is a predator drone.
  • Pope Benedict XVI is not a drone.
  • I once got the pink confectionery eye from a colossal white chocolate Easter bunny lodged inside my left ear.

Upon my return from the hospital, I wove my way over to my best friend Hillary Speilvogel’s house. I felt strongly she should sign my heavily bandaged ear while the exterior surface was still dry-ish.

Hillary refused. Insisting the sloppy dressing and underlying drainage tubes would surely attract a wide variety of crawling insects. Hillary simply could not risk having whatever impromptu hilarity she might scrawl across the side of my head ruined by a few hundred discharge-drunk ants. She even went so far as to suggest we remove both bandage and tubes before her mother returned to a house swarming with earwigs and gauze mites.

She had a point.

Hillary Speilvogel and I dragged each other up on the same bucolic, alcoholic block. In a subdivision of Glen Cove aptly named, High Elms.

Even as toddlers, Hillary and I both knew she had the total package. Looks. Style. And a father whose highly publicized escape from Leavenworth made his daughter’s already luminous star (Hillary could rock a dirndl with the best of them. Including — and in no particular order of preeminence: Claudia Schiffer, Heidi Klum, Heidi Montag, Heidi, and Karl Lagerfeld) go completely supernova. If there isn’t a German word to describe a fashion-forward, four year-old suburban celebutante — there should be.

Hey, guess what? Now there are three:

1.   Speilvogeliciousness”

2.   “Hillarysiegfriedundroy”

3.   “Richardkind”

Creating new Wikipedia articles is far too easy.

Hillary was a blithe but damaged blond with dark Germanic roots — evident in her family’s thirst for blood. The Speilvogels were not vampires, per se. Just physically aggressive to the point of occasionally/always drawing blood.

Had Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm been slightly less invested in the propagation of merriment and mirth, they might have concocted a character identical to Hillary’s mother. Mrs. Speilvogel would routinely drag Hillary out to a Volkswagen-sized boulder that dominated their front yard like a prehistoric idol of public discomfiture. Once in full view of passing cars, she would savagely beat Hillary with a wooden spoon. Not the cooking utensil-type wooden spoon one might use to whip up a vat of Kartoffelsuppe. No — this was a massive, decorative wall-hanging-of-a-wooden-spoon. Roughly the size of a rifle. Specifically — the WWII Mauser that hung above the Speilvogel’s quaint yet cavernous inglenook.

Surely, those Grimm brothers were born a few hundred years too soon. The Hausfrau, the Boulder, and the Black Alder Spoon! would have been a huge hit mit der kindern.

To be fair, Mrs. Speilvogel also made the coziest peanut butter and toast sandwich ever. Smooth, sultry Skippy.® The consistency of molten caramel. Squashed between two flawlessly tanned slices of Pepperidge Farm® white bread. The Hausfrau called it, “Schwärmerisch.” Whenever possible — I called it, “Lünch.”

Coming from a home where direct eye contact was considered a hostile act of suffocating want — I was wildly attracted to Hillary and her touchy-feely-kicky-slappy-compound-fracturey clan. I found rare comfort knowing Hillary was my friend. Primarily, because those not friends with a Speilvogel ended up making a hasty exit from High Elms. Usually in the back of an ambulance. Lights on. Siren off. Except for Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson. They shared the same unmarked, white, windowless refrigerated van.

Wherever Hillary and I went — drama and intrigue followed like the sweeping klieg spot from Leavenworth’s watchtower. No matter whose newly seeded yard we tumbled across — or what freshly poured sidewalk we strolled — being relentlessly monitored and pointed at (always through tightly-drawn drapes) left me woozy from the heady exhaust of fame by proxy.

Fame by proxy is a concept no doubt familiar to most summertime visitors of the East End. Along with anyone who has ever watched anything on Bravo. Thanks to the Peabody Award-winning dreamy genius of Bravo Senior V.P. and local resident, Andy Cohen (yes, I’m listed — call me).

As any Real Housewife can tell you — once lost — fame leaves a void no amount of JUVÉDERM® can fill. A lesson I learned early on when Hillary’s much older brother, Matthäus caught me one fateful August afternoon lifting up his sister’s folksy skirt.

Matthäus was an overgrown, dummkopf, buck-of-a-Bavarian. A dangerous boy on a good day, Matthäus was highly unpredictable when confronted with a morally complex scenario. Like catching a four year-old boy from down the block — up to his elbow — in the Oktoberfest bräu maid’s uniform worn by your four year-old sister.

Matthäus assumed I was just your typical predatory male toddler. Which I clearly was not. I routinely wore my mother’s shoes and/or costume jewelry in the unforgiving light of day. On that particularly unforgiving day — black satin pumps and the perfect pair of Hattie Carnegie faux pearl clip-on earrings. Yet, Matthäus found no reassurance in my gender (wrong) specific (freak show) style.

He could barely find his own reflection in a puddle of my tears.

I had a completely reasonable explanation for my unsolicited wardrobe realignment. I was curious. Were the washing instructions on Hillary’s exotic garment written in German? And, if so — what was the German phrase for, “Do not wash with chlorine bleach!” ? Sadly, before I could fully absorb the elegance of, “Nicht Waschen Mit Chlorbleiche!” — Matthäus knackwursted me to the gütter.

My first thought — mid-flight — was, “Save the earrings!” Upon impact, I immediately began counting my blessings. Along with each and every fleck of costume jewelry shrapnel sprayed about my head. I was lucky. Record-high temperatures that summer had transformed our street into the asphalt equivalent of a Tempur-Pedic mattress. The curb was much less forgiving. Hence the shattered Hattie Carnegies. And fingers — two metacarpals and three phalanges — each hand.

I was at once grateful and terribly pained. I knew Matthäus’s lumbering assault had allowed me plenty of time to snatch off a pair of clip ons. I had been practicing that very same maneuver for months. Alone. In front of my bedroom mirror. Using my hairbrush as a Princess phone, I repeatedly tested my skill at removing an earring before the second, imaginary ring. With élan.

What was originally diagnosed by our family physician as, “Nervous Nelly Disorder,” was — in fact — just a precognitive tick. A compulsive training exercise as incomprehensible as my future run in with Matthäus. Albeit, sans baseball bat.

It never occurred to me during all those phone/earring drills to incorporate the possibility of being struck behind both knees with a baseball bat — between rings. An oversight I vowed never to repeat. As soon as the movers finished unpacking our things. In our new house. On a new block. Far, far away from High Elms. 

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7 Responses to “Fame By Proxy”

  1. Anne VR says:

    Disturbingly coruscating! Or, perhaps, coruscatingly disturbed, I can’t decide which.

  2. Kevin T. says:

    Gotterdammerung comes to Old Westbury…If My Little Margie had been directed by Passoloini or The Cleavers by Wes Craven…Now it’s Lumpy’s turn !

  3. Susan N says:

    Leaving me suspended on this Sunday on our special “Island” waiting and wanting for more.
    Thank you Sag Harbor Express

  4. Laurie P says:

    Ah…The Wonder Years. Wish this was the pilot episode of a new series on Bravo. Are you lsitening, Andy?

  5. Jamie S says:


  6. Kim Blake says:

    Good golly that is writing. Makes me tingle all over. I must be an Effervescent.

  7. LittleBrow says:

    Keep it coming Mr. Travis; your mind is more warped than I initially thought ;>

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