During the Labor Day weekend of 2011, I paid a visit to a family relative who happened to reside just 6 blocks from where Mr. Steve Jobs lived. Mr. Jobs was still alive then and had just announced his stepping down from Apple a few weeks prior. Getting closer to his place, I noticed a brand new Mercedes without a license plate parked around the corner, and his backyard was planted with green and red apple trees. As we continued to walk past his driveway, two boys – one about 13 or 14 of age with sandy brown hair, light complexion with freckles and full lips, and the other a few years younger – strolled towards a girl about 8 or 9 years old in a bright red and yellow jacket and pink skinny jeans standing in front of Mr. Jobs’ house. The older boy called out “Grace” and the girl with her face lit leaped into his embrace. It was a heart-warming moment that would put a smile on even the most jaded person’s face.
More than four years passed and that image was as vivid as it ever was. The most arresting thing was how the boy exuded warmth, content, and grace, and the fact they walked to, instead of being dropped off at, Mr. Job’s house, indicated he was very likely a neighborhood kid living in this affluent community. His pace was assured, and his gaze focused. There was no trace of any hardship or suffering.
Shu Yi, a prominent writer based in Hong Kong, once notes in one of her novels that “the look of poor children’s eyes is always that of discontent.” I did not fully comprehend it until a co-worker brought her son to work one day. She was a single mother who according to her own account, had literally walked away from her marriage with only clothes on her back, and was at the time embroiled in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband. Her son was a lanky lad with blonde hair swept across his right forehead. I caught a glimpse of his eyes – eyes seemed to protest the whole world had turned its back on him, and had to quickly look away.
This coworker was an intense woman who would occasionally share her dating episodes with us. One day she wanted to show me something and handed me her smart phone. A picture of a naked woman on all fours – presumably her – was on the screen. I kept my silence and composure as she quickly swiped it through. One Friday she excitedly told us about her upcoming date with a guy living in her apartment complex. The next Monday morning, she showed up looking deflated. It turned out the date ended on a sour note when she refused to sleep with him after dinner.
Carrie Bradshaw, the fictional sex columnist in “Sex and the City,” once observes: “New York City is all about sex. People getting it, people trying to get it, people who can’t get it. No wonder the city never sleeps. It’s too busy trying to get laid.” I am almost certain all the single women in the world echo this sentiment: “They say the average 33-year-old woman has sex 3.5 times a week. I’d like to know who that woman is.” One woman who certainly had a more fabulous sex life than the average 33-year-old woman was Peggy Guggenheim. She once famously claimed she had slept with 1,000 men, which was a staggering number for a woman even by today’s standard, though certain male movie stars, rockers and professional athletes have reportedly bedded much, much more. I, for one, want to know who these men were and how she found them.
Peggy Guggenheim was born into a very wealthy family, even though she got a smaller share of inheritance than her cousins did when her father went down with the ill-fated Titanic. She did not have to work for a living, nor did she have to marry a working man. She surrounded herself with industrialists, writers, artists and other luminaries, and had time and money to devote to patronizing art and promoting artistic movements. Based on the photos I see, she was not a particularly striking woman. What I do notice is that she radiated glamour, confidence and refinement. And why wouldn’t she have these qualities, if you received first-rate schooling, had resources for maintaining a svelte figure, and never had to worry about putting food on the table or comforting your crying babies in the middle of the night? The wealth and prestige she inherited allowed her to put together an impressive body of 20th century modern art. She collected art, and at the same time men, predictably drawn to her fame and fortune like moth to flame.
A prostitute who slept with 1,000 customers would have concerns about sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, violence, or exploitation. A woman of Peggy Guggenheim’s pedigree would cede no warnings of such. She was merely described as having a “veracious” sexual appetite instead of being labelled as “promiscuous” or urged to seek treatment from sex addiction. Thus a self-fulling prophecy unfolded conveniently: once you have that many notches in your bedpost, you are believed to possess an admirable level of certain skills, which in turn attracts even more suitors. Whereas a man might be reluctant to admit patronizing prostitutes, which carried stigma, being one of Peggy Guggenheim’s conquests inevitably led to curious cocktail hour inquiries in earnest and envy: “What was she like?”
Women who want to have a satisfying sex life thinking they can attain that by becoming wealthy and influential may be disappointed. The power and allure of Peggy Guggenheim was rooted in her last name; she was born rich. A self-made woman will no doubt have to sacrifice her social life to invest in her career before becoming successful, which amounts to losing time, the most precious commodity in her pursuit of both.
In the first episode of Season 3’s “Sex and the City”, Miranda Hobbes, the Harvard-educated lawyer-turned-partner who finished first in her litigation class, ponders as their ferry sails towards Staten Island leaving Manhattan behind: “Look at how small it looks. Who would have thought an island that tiny would be big enough to hold all our old boyfriends?” Well, in Peggy Guggenheim’s case, it did not. She moved to Europe, slept with 1,000 men, and her “Peggy Guggenheim Collection” is now a modern art museum overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice.