Not that he couldn’t adjust. In fact, her estate became a kind of vacation home not only for Brian but for the whole crew, whom Brian once invited over as if it were his legitimate residence. On a day off, they lounged by the pool, grinning a little mischievously, catching a brief contact high of how the other half lives: lazy days, quality alcohol. “We were over there in the afternoon drinking Perrier-Jouët mimosas like it was cheap champagne!” recalls Rick. “When we had to leave, we were like, Okay, time to go back to the crack den.” In the end, money did come between them—in a manner Brian still has trouble wrapping his mind around. “She was always paranoid that her ex-husband was paying me to go out with her and dig up dirt so she wouldn’t get anything in the divorce,” he explains. “It was unbelievable! We’d be in a restaurant, right? And she wouldn’t allow any vases or candles on the table because she thought there were cameras hidden in them! I tried over and over to explain that I didn’t give a damn about her money—that I was just looking to have fun—but she didn’t believe me. I liked her, but come on. What am I supposed to do with that?”
The yacht was glossy white and glistening in the sun like a coin. B. Smith’s faces out onto the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, and during slow moments like this, Michael likes to stare at the boats—or, specifically, the women on the boats. At present, his eyes were fixed on a blonde sporting a sleek black bikini, walking back and forth on the deck, doing whatever it is one does on the decks of boats. Her skin had the taut, burnished sheen of someone who (Michael figured) dropped $200 on a facial the way he dropped $3 for a bar of soap. “Now that’s a beautiful woman,” Michael said with a sigh. Originally from Alabama, he still speaks with a slight southern lilt. “But, you know, I have to say that her greatest accessory is the boat. Think about it. Without that, would you notice her if she walked by you on the street? It’s incredible what money can do to people.” The woman’s husband appeared from below deck—a heavily perspiring gentleman with a potbelly who looked twice her age—and planted a kiss on her forehead. Michael shook his head, and then went to deal with a customer who was wondering why he was being charged $11.03 for his watermelon martini when it said $11 on the menu.
“I think this whole lifestyle has tweaked my head a little,” Michael confessed later that day, expressing something everyone in the house has felt at one time or another. He was standing in the kitchen, eating a Snickers bar for lunch. Though Michael has no personal address, he recently bought a BMW—an example of how working in places like the Hamptons can misalign one’s priorities. “I’ve spent years going from resort area to resort area—after a while, you forget what normal is. You want to drive a certain kind of car, eat a certain kind of food. You get used to seeing entrées that cost $40, and then you go out and spend that, forgetting that you don’t really have the money.”
“You get used to seeing entrées that cost $40, and then you go out and spend that, forgetting that you don’t really have the money.”
Not that he envies those he sees piling into Nick & Toni’s every night—not too much, anyway. Michael prides himself on being laid-back, calm in any situation, and some of the people he waits on often seem to be looking for something to stress about. Take the regulars at Nick & Toni’s. Nice people, without a doubt, but the other day they protested an appetizer’s price being raised from $12 to $14 so vehemently that the restaurant went back to the original price. “I truly don’t know if there is anything you can say to something like that,” Michael said. “Half these people pay with black Amex cards—you can go out and buy, like, ten Ferraris with those.” That said, the perks can be pretty surreal: On a recent night, for instance, Christy Turlington offered Michael a glittering smile. Granted, he had just dropped off her entrée, and she was there with her husband, Ed Burns, but you never know.
Speaking of Nick & Toni’s: One night when she wasn’t working, Lu decided to visit Michael at work. Waiters tend to have a lot of cash in their pockets, and Lu didn’t flinch when ordering a feast. Nearby, a woman with a wine-flushed face was comparing the war in Iraq with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (“I’m telling you,” she said repeatedly, “a blow job is not a trillion bombs!”) within earshot of George Stephanopoulos, who was dining at a nearby table and who Lu knew was famous but couldn’t remember exactly why.
Lu stood up to use the ladies’ room, and as she made her way through the restaurant, a curious thing happened. She found herself face-to-face (again) with Calvin Klein, who was having dinner with a friend. How strange. How funny. For a split second, it was like seeing an old friend, and Lu tried to make eye contact, wondering if the designer would recognize her. Nope—he didn’t, not even close, which was just fine. Feeling as if she had a secret, Lu walked past his table, grinned, and whispered “Hello” under her breath.