It started out as a pretty normal evening. A couple weeks ago I was staking out a Gold Coast mansion for a celebrity-gossip rag, waiting to see if a certain fatheaded actor and his newly divorced companion, rumored to be holed up there, would emerge all aglow, their hair tousled, faint, satisfied smiles dancing on their lips.
These kinds of jobs get boring really quick, so I'd asked my friend Hilary to join me. We hung out on the 1200 block of Astor Street acting like prospective home buyers, jotting down brokers' numbers, petting people's dogs, and generally trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
After about an hour and a half we needed a hiding place, so I went to get my car while Hilary kept watch. During my absence a tall, too-thin woman with deep creases in her face, wearing tab-front jeans with the tab undone, introduced herself to Hilary as Sandra the Huntress. "You're cute," Sandra said. "Wanna make out in the alley?" Hilary declined but continued talking to her until I came back.
I rolled up and Sandra waved, smiled, opened the passenger door--much to my alarm--and got in the backseat. Hilary got in the front, explaining with a raised eyebrow that the Huntress was going to help us find our prey. But first, Sandra said, discreetly depositing the loose change from the floor into her Hermes-orange vinyl tote bag, she just had to show us the condo she was buying in the luxury high-rise just around the corner. "See the ninth floor, the one with the plants?" she said, pointing somewhere. "That's it."
I made a few turns, pulled into the driveway of a big brick building, and flipped on my flashers. The three of us went inside. Sandra introduced us to the doorman as her daughters, Nikki (me) and Paris (Hilary), and asked to please see the ninth floor. The doorman made a phone call, hung up, and shook his head. "Sorry," he said. "Not tonight."
"Oh, that's OK," Sandra said. "We're staying at the W tonight anyway. C'mon, girls, let's go to the Pump Room." She said she had a mojito and a lobster club sandwich waiting for her at the bar. Yeah right, I thought, but I parked in the 15-minute pickup zone next to the Omni hotel.
Before we went to the bar Sandra had to pee. We walked into the well-appointed restroom, where Sandra went straight for the disabled stall. "I feel like I'm in Europe," she said. "I got the door wide open." She stood up. "Don't you like it better when it automatically flushes?"
I headed into my own stall, avoiding eye contact. While she and Hilary washed their hands I overheard Sandra talking about her lover. "He's half Cherokee, half black, and he has blue eyes. We're getting married tomorrow. The designer from Yves Saint Laurent is stopping by. It's black-tie. What are you going to wear?"
I joined them at the sinks, and Hilary and I shared an excited look. What would happen next?
The three of us walked into the bar laughing like old pals. Sandra led us around the giant redwood bar to a watered-down mojito and half a sandwich in a plastic to-go box. She told us to sit down and order whatever we wanted--it was on her.
Shocked, Hilary and I ordered Lemon Drops, while Sandra grabbed some mini egg rolls and spanakopita from a silver chafing dish. "Jose!" she barked at a bartender with one eye (though his name tag clearly said "Rogelio"). When she got his attention she ordered what she called the Huntress: Stolichnaya Citron, "mandarim" vodka, peach schnapps, and something else I can't remember, "shaken, not stirred, and served in a brandy snifter."
The Huntress came frozen. Sandra poured in the rest of her mojito, topped it off with some Evian from a bottle, and sipped. "This is terrible," she proclaimed, reaching for an egg roll off our plate. She spit that out on the carpet and yelled, "Ugh! Sterno!" I could taste it too, but I was too hungry to care.
Fifteen minutes later I had to move my car; Sandra wouldn't let Hilary come with me, afraid we'd ditch her. I started to feel like a six-year-old who'd been kidnapped and then flaunted in broad daylight. Meanwhile Sandra was getting weirder by the second, toasting us in a Scottish brogue, talking incessantly about her many lovers (an Italian count, a French duke, the aforementioned fiance, a woman, and a world-famous hair colorist who dyed Sandra's tresses "mahogany, violet, black, brown, and blond"), and even calling a few on Hilary's cell. She talked to them on speakerphone. "Get your shit out of here!" we heard one man yell at her. "I'm throwing your jacket outside!"
We told her we had to return to our stakeout, but that didn't fool her. She came with, "helping" by ringing all the buzzers on the block, striking up conversations with whoever answered: "Hi! Jennifer Aniston? It's me, Sandra the Huntress." Usually they'd cut her off right there. She came back to the car and said, "That Jennifer Aniston wants me so bad. I mean, she was practically panting."
Back at the Omni Sandra insisted we see the room she'd reserved for us "just in case." In the elevator she announced to another passenger that she was planning to get a massage and a facial, "and they're gonna lick my toes." The woman got out at the next floor.
We stopped at a door right off the elevator, on the eighth floor. Hilary and I looked at each other smugly, like OK, here's where the jig ends. Sandra whipped out a key card, inserted it in the reader, and lo and behold the light turned green. My stomach dropped. What had we gotten ourselves into?
Inside was a single king-size bed with a striped coverlet. Sandra started talking about who was going to have sex with whom that night. "Instead of a menage a trois we'll have a quattro fromage!" she exclaimed, not explaining who the fourth cheese would be. "What do you girls think?" We tried not to look scared. "Or maybe you'd rather stay at the Palmer House? But we can't stay at the Peninsula--I've been kicked out of there."
We decided we'd talk about it some more at the bar, where Sandra spied a group of women who looked about her age, which my guess puts at fortysomething. We could hear their French accents. "I'll be back," she told us, and made a beeline for them.
After checking with Rogelio to make sure Sandra was taking care of the tab--he showed us a beat-up credit card--we found her sitting at a table with a dark-haired, buxom woman. "These are my daughters, Paris and Nikki Hilton," she said, gesturing toward us.
"We're going to leave now, mom," Hilary said.
"Are you girls going to be OK? Give me a phone number where I can reach you."
I wrote down my boyfriend's number on a sheet of paper. "This is my bodyguard," I told her.
"Now make sure you meet me back at the W at 2 AM."
We assured her we would.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrea Bauer.