Fur Ball, 2013
Saturday, March 23 2013
Gretchen often attends the annual benefit for the Hudson Valley SPCA called the Fur Ball. I'd been to one of these in the past, but usually I do not go with her. This year, however, Gretchen had bought me a ticket as well, so I was going to have to go. Gretchen got these tickets back when she was feeling good about the local SPCA administration (which she deals with as a dog-care volunteer), though since that time her opinion had changed in response to a series of unfortunate personnel changes and resignations. But no matter; we'd be hanging out with friends.
So we got all dressed up and drove to the Diamond Mills Conference Center in Saugerties (it's that fancy new repurposing of an old mill near the mouth of Esopus Creek). The Fur Ball was such a big event and so heavily-attended by old ladies in high heels that Diamond Mills saw fit to provide valet parking, though happily it was something we could opt out of.
The Fur Ball was crowded in every place where anyone might actually want to do things: at the silent auction table in the entrance or, most aggravatingly, at the bar, where a long line seemed to place alcohol in the far too-distant future. While Gretchen and our friends either waited in that alcohol line or fussed over uninteresting silent auction items, I sat alone alone and sober at our assigned table (one of only two for vegans; there were 30 or 40 non-vegan tables for the others). Eventually the salad course came out, and I ate everything but the cherry tomatoes (I don't like cherry tomatoes). Realizing I was having extremely boring time and that there was nothing I could do to make it exciting, I walked outside and went down to the cliff's edge that formed the north bank of Esopus Creek. From there I could see the various concrete chutes, gates, and of course the large concrete dam that had once provided the water to power the mill. Though the weather was a bit cold to be out in it in a corduroy sport coat and though none of what I was looking at was very interesting or revealing, it was far more of both than exchanging small talk with people I only see on rare occasions. I can do the small talk thing, but as I do so the inherent phoniness of it makes me feel like I am dying inside unless I brace myself with a glass of wine.
My stroll carried me down a narrow residential block out to 9W, and from there I circled back and returned to the Diamond Mills Conference Center. Eventually the line for alcohol shortened and I was able to get myself a glass of pinot noir, though (it being a cash bar) I was told it would cost me $14. Luckily, the guy collecting money was different from the woman pouring the wine, so I when I paid for my glass I said it was Montepulciano, which only cost $8/glass. (The pinot noir was unexpectedly delicious and elegant, by the way.)
Eventually Gretchen and I found our respective ways back to our table, where we sat with people we know: dour Michæl who is starting his own brand of vegan cheeses, his plus one, the Rebecca who used to be Jeff Buckley's muse, her plus one, Chris & Kirsty (the photogenic vegan Buddhists), the Chris who made the documentary about her cancer and how veganism cured it, and her husband Brian. It was a difficult crowd for making conversational contributions, so I mostly kept quiet and drank my wine. Most of the meal was taken up by fundraising activities, including a slide show featuring depictions of animal abuse that weren't entirely appetitizing. As these things were being shown, we were encouraged to make donations on the spot. Gretchen likes to donate to causes like this, and that was how we became instantly $250 poorer. At some point a raffle drawing was done, which Chris (seated to my right, the photogenic vegan Buddhist, not the woman whose cancer was cured by veganism) won. He immediately gave all $970 to the SPCA because "that's what you're supposed to do." The emcee was suitably impressed by this act of selfless charity, and gave Chris props, though he messed up the last name and said the one belonging to the woman whose cancer was cured by veganism (an honest mistake, given the fact that their first names are identical and their last names differ by only a single vowell).
The vegan main course looked better in its description that it turned out in reality. It was a more-or-less flavorless slab of tofu on a bed of not-very-good rice. The tofu had been drizzled with a sauce that was fairly rich but uninteresting. Some of us got fried mushrooms sprinkled on top, though many of us didn't. When Gretchen complained about this, we got several little bowls full of fried mushrooms and these were pretty good just to eat with nothing else. Regarding the quality of the food, I remarked that the cooks didn't think it was important to put the mushrooms on the tofu because they assumed vegans prefer their food to be boring and flavorless. Fortunately, Michæl the vegan cheese guy had brought little tubs of "cheese" spread, which he gave to each couple at our table, and this was really good for enlivening the bread.
Eventually the meal wound down and the people began to disappear from the Fur Ball. Our table was one of the last to depart. There was still some business to attend to: paying for silent auction items and other expenses incurred along the way. I thought that after Gretchen had done that, we'd be free to go to the next thing, but she kept seeing people she wanted to talk to, so I found myself once more sitting by myself being bored, in this case in a chair near the front door of the convention center.
Eventually we made our way to the Diamond Mills bar, a much cozier place than the convention center. I ordered some sort of beer and Gretchen and I ended up telling our love story to Rebecca (the former muse of the late Jeff Buckley) and her plus one. Later at the bar, Chris (the photogenic vegan Buddhist) made a crack to the other Chris (the one who cured her cancer with veganism) about "the place I used to go to get my anus bleached." This made me wonder aloud if anyone had ever paid to get their anus darkened. This led to a wild extemporaneous riff among those nearby (mostly Gretchen and myself) about the disgusting things one might tattoo around one's asshole, including a trompe l'oeil fistula.
While all this was going on, there was a woman hovering nearby with whom Gretchen (and I) haven't been on speaking terms since October of 2007. This was Kathy, the woman who runs the other (non-Woodstock) farm animal sanctuary (and with whom Gretchen worked closely for several years). The two had a massive falling out after Kathy irrationally accused Gretchen of stealing jewelry and money. In the past, Kathy was content to steer clear of Gretchen at events such as the Fur Ball, but perhaps this time she was being more assertive out of concern that Gretchen was talking shit about her behind her back (all of our friends tonight are also friends or employees of Kathy). Earlier in the evening I'd noticed that Kathy hasn't been aging very well (she'd be in her mid-to-late 50s by now), and I'd told Gretchen that she was looking like a "battered old hag."
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