As far back as I can remember, my mother and her six sisters thrived on gossip. Their favorite pastime was analyzing and judging the behavior of the famous and infamous celebrities they read about in the National Inquirer. Jacqueline Kennedy’s marriage to Aristotle Onassis was the topic of the moment. “Why would such a beautiful woman marry a nearly blind, short, crude old man?” my mother said. She and my aunts reiterated every possible character flaw and speculated about the cause. Then they switched sides and defended the targets-of-talk with equally intense moral authority. “She has young children to support and he’s a billionaire shipping magnate,” one aunt offered. “Besides, according to the newspapers, they have a written agreement that she only has to sleep with him a few times a year.”
I asked my mother, “How can you believe anything you read in the tabloids when they feature part-human, part-Martian babies on their cover page?” I couldn’t understand why otherwise smart women would believe the half-truths and blatant lies printed in trashy scandal sheets. But my mother and her sisters led mundane, insulated lives. For them, gossiping was a creative outlet.
So when I met and married Stewart, my mother was very excited. Stewart was a publicist. My mother loved listening to his behind-the-scenes stories. She loved having this inside scoop.
One night, Aristotle and Jacqueline Onassis, along with his daughter Christina and her latest boyfriend were having dinner in the small back room of Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan on the Upper East Side. The owner of this trend-setting, five-star-rated eatery was Stewart’s client.
Mr. Onassis had rented the entire restaurant for the evening to guaranty their small party privacy. Predictably, word leaked to the media. Paparazzi and reporters swarmed outside. Stewart was called in to make sure the name of the restaurant was mentioned in the columns. “Ari and Jackie O seen dining at Uncle Tai’s.”
I begged my husband, “Please let me go with you.” Ordinarily I played it cool when it came to touching the robes of the very rich and famous. I learned early in my relationship with Stewart that it was obnoxious to name drop or act like a besotted fan. “I just want to see Jackie O up close. I promise to stay out of your way,” I told him. He was in a hurry. He said okay. In fact, he created an assignment for me, strictly for this occasion. “While I’m outside talking to the reporters, you stay inside in case the women, meaning Mrs. Onassis and Christina, need anything.”
Having little to do as I sat alone in the large empty outer room of the restaurant, I periodically looked into the private dining area to see how the most famous, glamorous, elegant woman in the world used her chopsticks. I re-read the menu, drank cup after cup of tea and made frequent trips to the small, unpretentious two-stall Ladies Room.
During my last trip, just as I finished relieving myself, I heard the outer door open and the door to the other stall close. I flushed, slowly washed and dried my hands, put on more eye liner and dawdled at the full length wall mirror. I tucked in my blouse and straightened my skirt, all the while listening intently to the melodious sounds of tinkling, crinkling flushing and farting. When her call of nature was completed, the former First Lady unceremoniously joined me at the mirror. I fussed with my hair, discreetly studying her stylish beige on beige striped silk pants and matching shirt. I noted the way she pursed her lips as she reapplied and gently blotted flattering red lipstick onto an ecru linen handkerchief she kept in a compartment of her chocolate brown Hermes bag.
We made eye contact in the mirror. “How did you enjoy your dinner?” I asked. I felt brazen. After all, I had just heard Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis pee and pass gas. The former First Lady turned away from the mirror. She looked directly at me and with a warm broad smile answered in her soft, breathy voice, “I enjoyed dinner immensely. I look forward to coming back.”
A few minutes later, the party of four gathered their coats and left the restaurant. Mr. Onassis, his daughter Christina and her boyfriend got into a chauffer-driven limousine and drove away. Mrs. Onassis got into another waiting limo and took off in a different direction. “Okay. Perhaps they do have a sex-agreement,” I silently acknowledged. (GREAT!)
But I had another piece of gossip. I impulsively called my mother and related every detail of my chance in a lifetime, six minutes alone in the bathroom with the former First Lady.
“Will what you just told me appear in the newspapers?” my mother asked, very seriously. “No. It’s my own exclusive item, shared only with you,” I told her. “Good. It’s not anything anyone needs to know,” my mother lectured. “After all, her husband the President was killed right in front of her. She’s had plenty of tragedy in her life. She doesn’t need you to tarnish her reputation.”
This took place in 1973, long before cell phone cameras, Photo Shop, FaceBook and Twitter. A time when boundaries were respected; when what you did in the bedroom and bathroom was kept private. So for the past almost forty years I have protected the reputation of the former First Lady. Aside from my mother and Stewart, I have not told a single sole that Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis …
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