I was all set to write about yesterday's focus groups here. About how this was one of the more boring focus-grouped projects I've had to endure: the repositioning of a no-frills credit card. About how the poor members of our focus groups -- who could have been taste-testing cookies or sniffing shampoos or grading TV commercials -- were asked to parse the differences among four excruciatingly similar positioning statements and discuss exactly what they expect in a credit card. About how these groups (in surprisingly scenic Teaneck, NJ) were a lot more articulate and educated consumers than I usually encounter. About how some of them -- though they were ostensibly screened to be not involved in advertising, marketing, banking or research -- casually, suspiciously used an awful lot of industry buzzwords in conversation. About how it's strangely flattering to have perfect strangers spend so much time and energy and genuine effort evaluating my writing.
I was even going to make a snide comment or two about one of our clients wearing jeans that were so tight and so unnervingly low-slung that I would bet money she wouldn't let her teenage daughter wear them to school.
But all of this was eclipsed by The Woman at the Hotel Bar.
See, after the focus groups, Darin (my colleague) and I headed to the fabulous W Hotel in midtown Manhattan and then grabbed a bite to eat before we met an old frat buddy of his for drinks. By the time we got back to the hotel bar, the buddy was chatting up this reasonably attractive woman. At least she seemed attractive ... until we got up close to her.
She was the archetypal neurotic starlet, painfully superficial, drug-addled in the best Judy Garland/circuit boy tradition, dressed closer to the threes or fours than the nines in shabby designer knockoffs, and clinging both to her fading beauty and to her delusions of professional success. She also had a huge black eye that she unflinchingly told us she got from her ex-boyfriend. And in the mere 45 minutes of our lives she sucked away from us, she went from tipsy freak to incoherent alcoholic -- and I saw her down only a drink and a half.
She claimed to be a professional TV and movie actress ("I was a nurse on General Hospital. A blind nurse.") on her way to an A-list gala premiere for some movie, but when we pressed her for details on the stuff she'd done or the premiere she was invited to, she couldn't produce a single name. (She wouldn't even tell us her own name. I wanted to google her to see if there were pix or biographical information about her that I could mock here.) But she did dig in her purse and produce a 10-year-old publicity photo of herself to show us. Topless. What's more, she then flashed us her droopy-ass breasts in full-chest Revolt-A-Vision while digging around in her blouse to find the tan line she thought she had. And like a horny octopus, she managed to grope our crotches and butts and arms and pecs with alarming frequency as she sloshed her way through our conversation. But when we made even the slightest insinuation that she was a scabby old whore, she got all defensive.
Why did we hang out with her so long? Only the straight guys know for sure. Thankfully, they eventually realized how irritating her dubious charms were, and we poured her into a cab and headed to a funky sports bar that was packed with white yuppies but rockin' to the beat of hard-core hip-hop. And even after an hour away from The Woman, we still reeked of the embalming fluid she wore as perfume.
Part of our evening with her made me laugh (derisively, of course, though still in a fun way). But most of it made me cry for all humanity. I have low tolerance for drunks and NO tolerance for sloppy, belligerent drunks, so it's not like I feel any pity for her. But she's someone's sister, daughter, (god help us) mother -- and obviously someone's punching bag. And if we hadn't been there to see her to a cab, there's no telling what she'd end up with to complement that black eye.
And while I'm on the topic of messy, slutty barflys, I have to report that the W Hotel, despite its amazingly cozy beds and reinvigorating showers and wide assortment of Aveda products, has the distinctive aura of a high-end whorehouse. Even though I've never been in one (high-end or otherwise).