The Society Diplomat

Baby, Take a Bow

Here is an excerpt of the new book, The Society Diplomat by Lance Avery Morgan.

It’s a fictional chronicle of high society.  The names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely confidential.

People whispered that Sabrina Miller Goodfriend was a bit too racy for her rather puritan upbringing. She once told me that she felt her life was typical and in another sense, she knew it was not. How could any upbringing be typical when your parents perished before you knew them? The rebellious streak she developed began at The Cassidy School, the city’s tony private school in Piney Point Village until she was then shipped off to the Brillantmont finishing school in Lausanne, the heart of Switzerland. Her classmates were daughters of movie stars and international dignitaries that would make her, on her infrequent trips home, seem eons more refined than the local gals.

All this sophistication created an array of dizzying confrontations about her wildish behavior by the time she got to the University of Texas at Austin in 1989, on the heels of that decade’s heady oil boom. She defied convention by choosing to join Big Six-ranked Kappa Alpha Theta sorority instead of the best Jewish one, Mu Sigma Mu, living at the exorbitantly priced Harding House dorm her freshman year, complete with maid service and butlers who were nearby fraternity house members often working their way through school. And, serve the girls is what the frat boys did. Friday was Mexican Food day at the Theta house and after lunch with no classes to attend, the servers and their girlfriends would creep up to the sleeping porch for some afternoon delight naughtiness. It was something everyone did, but no one ever discussed. Decorum was Job One.

Sabrina took to spending her nights sneaking out to drink at the local hot spots; Valentine’s, or the Posse East by the Delt house, and to Abel’s, where she was known to down top shelf Electric Lemonades before taking The Babies for a skinny dip. One night in particular, in April of her freshman year, she dove into the Sigma Chi pool with three of the house’s pledges on break from building the annual New York, New York-themed party for the school’s annual Round-Up weekend festivities. That swan dive would change the course of her life.

Those Betas loved to binge, bed and brag, which solidified Sabrina’s reputation as a rich bad girl who wasn’t hitting the books nearly as much as she was hitting the bars.

“You should enjoy being young, but you’re not from just any family, little girl– and don’t you dare forget it,” barked Amon Miller. “You’re about to make the most important debut this state has ever seen, and you’re skatin’ mighty close to ruining it with all this running around.” She was the apple of his eye, but Gramps wasn’t a chump who put up with tramps. At least, not willingly.

Sabrina knew who buttered her bread and it wasn’t the last bad boy in her pool or bed. “Okay, I promise I’ll behave, Grandpapa” she said, playing the old man who thought she hung the moon.  I just need to be a little sneakier, Sabrina thought.

Her grandmother, Amada stewed in icy silence and palpable chagrin. An utter realist, she had no choice but to accept the nature of this wild child, who cut from her own family’s cloth, but not without trying to make Sabrina pay the price of her disapproval.  In the end, regal Amanda Miller decided that she had more important things to do than to listen to the foolish girl. She rose slowly, shaking her steel grey head, and left for her fittings at Tootsie’s and her hairdressing appointment at the Mr. Robiere’s salon in the Galleria.

Fortunately for Sabrina, her alma mater and me, it only took one six story state-of-the-art Communications building donated by Old Man Miller to keep Sabrina from expulsion and disqualification as a Deb that year. If she had been kicked out of the university, I doubt we would have met during what was arguably the most glittering Deb season in Texas history.

I was introduced to Sabrina by her Galveston-raised roommate, Libby Matthias, whom I dated briefly right before the girls were touted as Debs of the Year, representing two of a gaggle of girls debuting for the Houston Symphony League.

“No man is rich enough to buy back his past”.   Oscar Wilde

Being that level of Deb is almost a full time job so who knows how either of them earned a single credit that semester? There we so many to attend:  Idlewild in Dallas, the Bachelor’s Club in Austin, Fiesta in San Antonio, and of course, much later in the season on New Year’s Eve, at the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The rich are not without their challenges, especially young females of a certain station. One can only take so much debuting, you know.

Late in the fall, after her umpteenth Triumphant Bow of the Season, the slightly cracked Libby was hit by an old familiar feeling in the ladies room of the Allegro Ball in her own hometown.  Restlessness. Time to stir it up.

“Hey this is a total bore. Let’s go to L.A.,” said the mad Lib, her polka-dotted Lillie Rubin halter dress already sloshed by the 1962 vintage bubbly bottle she was carrying around by the neck, as ladylike as a boxer on a bender.  “My ex-roommate is from Vegas and her dad owns The Bacchanalian. She can get us into all the best parties in Hollywood. This time tomorrow we could be doing powder poolside with guys like Rob Sisely,”

“Uh, rain check, sister,” said Sabrina. “My folks would kill me and come on, it’s not like they wouldn’t notice, since we’re the guests of honor,” surprised to be the voice of reason and irritated that her kooky friend thought of something more outlandish than she. “No, we’d better stay. We will be doing lines in Dallas by noon tomorrow anyway.”

Sabrina’s debutante party was held on one continent pretending to be on another. Hosted at the Houston Country Club with the theme of A Night in Paris, it was glorious ground zero that night, and only an infamous destination later where she reprised her signature St. James (“Texas Dip”) bow and rocketed to the top of the headlines in the aftermath.  But when Sabrina was a dewy deb, it was her time to shine on a perfectly mild moonlit night, when anyone who was anyone arrived for a society spectacle. Lears and Concordes transported movie stars, royalty and even heads of state. Some of the more radical flew on the state’s own Muse Air, reading Ultra magazine between intense conversations about Lady Diana’s upcoming visit to Texas, the myriad downtown real estate crisis, and naturally, how funny it would be if Sabrina Miller had the temerity to wear a snowy white dress.

All of this was, of course, good for the family business and even better for erasing any taint of the Millers’ bourgeois past. All of us had shopped at the their uber bastion of luxury, and showcasing their precious and stunning crown jewel would secure the Miller family’s place at the table denied by high society only a generation ago. Even the most stuck up oldsters who tried their best to keep the upstarts in their place would now have to pay homage to the offspring of Retail Royalty. It was about time and long overdue.

The Applegates were there, as were the DeYoungs, the Orbachs, and the usual round up of Mrs. Miller’s coterie of decorators, hairdressers and walkers all appeared in full re-gay-lia of brightly colored cummerbunds and tie sets, as well as their own creative black tie pronouncements. In the anything-goes attitude of that late 1980’s party, unfortunately there were
no fashion police, just quirky rich people dressed in Adolpho, de la Renta, with scads of Fred Joallier baubles  adorning them. Funny, how when rich people do odd things or wear unbearable outfits, they are considered eccentric. When if a lesser moneyed person attempts it, they are considered odd ducks.

The décor, including an exact replica of Versailles’ Galerie des Glaces, a Louvre pyramid built over the pool as a tent, and literally thousands of tulips flown in from the Netherlands, contained the Wow Factor from the first second we entered the endless ambassadorial receiving line where the Millers welcomed their friends, family, and more than a few strangers. The pink-gelled lighting cast a favorable glow on the most ordinary people, making them look stunning and mostly, the very loveliest shined like the deities they believed themselves to be.

“You look absolutely stunning tonight, Sabrina. Hell, I ought to have a statue of you erected on the Capitol grounds. I can do that, you know,” winked Governor Hub Snyder, standing in front of me, who just happened to be in town that day giving a speech at the Petroleum Club and made it a political two-fer by including a drop-by at the Millers. He could always count on Houston democrats and their limousine liberal votes.

“Thank you, Governor. I’m so glad you and Mrs. Snyder could join us tonight. It means so much to my grandfather,” Sabrina said breathlessly. Literally. She had been sewn into her Scaasi party dress, and her lungs were squished by the built-in whalebone stays.

“You save me a dance young lady,” the guv said insincerely, as his security guards hustled him towards the kitchen exit door, so he could sneak out to the Lone Star jet back to Austin. He liked them young, but a quickie would have to wait. As the Chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, there was important man ‘bidness to attend to back in Austin, like passing the state budget.

Governor Snyder was no fan of deb parties anyway. They were still cleaning up the one he and Mrs. Snyder hosted for Marissa Jacoby a few months back at the Governor’s Mansion. The cleaning crew spent hours sweeping up broken glass and they were still finding shards of martini glasses in the potted palms. What’s worse is that it might also cost him re-election. The gala’s Winter Wonderland theme was an extravagant boondoggle that got way out of control, with its Swiss chalet backdrop and fake snow so the ladies could wear furs in the springtime.  Now the media calls him the golden goose of Texas for being so high flying. The political waters in Texas were changing and no one could imagine where the tides would soon take it, while the religious right was rearing its head again in record numbers, especially in the buckle of the Bible Belt called Dallas – a morally ambivalent city with more churches and strip joints per capita than anywhere in the world.

None of that mattered to Sabrina’s family, who spared no expense to put on the society show of shows. Rap superstar LL Doggie B and his band were flown in from L.A. to perform for some of the richest folks in Texas, singing Gonna Swipe Your Sex while every Theta, Phi Delt, Chi Omega and Pi Phi member did their honky moves until four o’clock in the morning. Sabrina took the theme seriously and darted my former roommate, Zeke Medford – whose parents’ summer home in Bermuda was the destination to which Sabrina’s parents never arrived.

Twenty minutes later they were back riding down the elevator with revved engines while she applied fresh lipstick. Zeke buckled and chuckled all the way down, anticipating the classic mid-night repast of Frito Pie and champagne in the ballroom. Yep, just the right sustenance before the flight in the morning, which would carry them to brunch at the Las Colinas Polo Club grounds, followed by the Prince concert at Reunion Arena, where the black- in-purple hit maker would perform in the building that changed the Dallas skyline forever, with its lit Mister Microphone globe, immortalized forever on the T.V. show Dallas. The show in continuous syndication rerun was rumored to be based on the Millers’ messing with their clients’ oil field investments. You wanna know who shot J.R.? That’s easy. My guess is Amon Miller, or his grandson, a.k.a. Sabrina’s brother, Joshua Miller.

Recreating the City of Light was a black hole in the dynasty’s budget department. Back then the party cost two hundred and fifty thousand, which in today’s dollars is a cool mil. But that was when Sabrina felt like a million bucks, too, and it was vastly ironic – and, I suppose, more than a little sad – that decades later Sabrina wanted to host a society extravaganza at an actual French temple of excess to reclaim that feeling of bulletproof beauty.

By then, I was her closest confidante and biggest supporter, and the keeper of her greatest secret.
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