“Marriage is an institution in which a man loses his
bachelor’s degree and the woman gets her masters”
I remember the first time she said it. We were in a taxi
hurtling down Park Avenue on a steamy August afternoon.
“Boyfriend,” my mother, Madeleine said, not in a
mocking, judgmental tone of voice but matter-of-factly as though
she could be referring to the weather or an item on a menu
“Phillip Robbins would make a very nice boyfriend,
don’t you think?”
I was applying mascara at the time. The taxi lurched and the brush
slipped from my eyelash onto my eyebrow, extending my brow line all
the way over to my right ear.
“Boyfriend? I don’t quite picture Phillip
Robbins as boyfriend material.”
“Oh, not for you darling,” my mother said,
It was at that exact moment that I knew: my mother, Madeleine
Krasner-Wolfe had crossed over to the dark side.
I come from a long line of family members all of whom are crazy
each in their own way.
“Not crazy,” my mother said (who begged me to refer to
her on a first name basis since I was three)
“Why can’t I have a mother who’s normal?” I
implored throughout my adolescence.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Samantha. Anyone can have a
normal mother. Eccentricity is so much more appealing. Someday
you’ll understand that.”
But I could never adjust to the fact that when my friends’
mothers were puttering about their kitchens, mine was lying on a
table getting a bikini wax or sipping champagne in the middle of
On this particular Tuesday we were on our way to lunch, a pastime
my mother considered an occasion, not because she loved to eat, but
it allowed her to parade herself in front of the world in her
latest fashion ensembles.
“It’s so festive dining in restaurants,” she
said, “eating at home is absolutely dull.”
My mother took daily living to new heights and considered Auntie
Mama her fictional role model. She watched the film over and over,
often quoting Rosalind Russell’s famous line: “life is
a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
The best part was that Madeleine could indulge her fancies because
she was loaded. Her first husband, my father, Henry Krasner, whom
she professed to be the love of her life, had croaked at forty-five
on the sixteenth hole at the Rock Ridge Country Club leaving my
mother with a gaping hole in her heart along with a small fortune
that Henry had made in disposable diapers for adults along with an
art collection worth millions.
As we were leaving the cemetery my mother told me through a barrage
of tears sprinkling down the front of her black veil that she could
finally live the life she was meant to lead.
“Your father was a wonderful man,” she said, “but
frugal was his middle name. He wouldn’t part with a cent. Of
course,” she mused, “in the end that was probably a
wise move because now I won’t have to be a bag
Fortunately for her that was true. Madeleine was not one to have to
make do. The only bags she paraded were designed by Gucci, Fendi
and Louis Vinton. Cutting back was not something she could
gracefully handle. And so, before my dad’s body was even
cold, Madeleine went out and bought herself a sporty little
Mercedes SLK 350 Roadster that she rationalized would help her
through the grieving process.
Her accountant, Sheldon Glick assured my mother that she would be
fine as long as she lived within reason.
“Within reason? What does that mean?” Madeleine put
down her lace-edged monogrammed hankie and stopped crying long
enough to inquire.
“You’re a rich woman,” Sheldon said, “But
like most of us, unless we’re Rockefellers, you need to be
Sensible to Madeleine was having enough dough to keep her in her
East Side apartment with Gilda, our housekeeper of thirty years,
the summer house in Westport and a monthly allowance that
guaranteed she could continue living in the style to which she
deserved to be accustomed.
“I’m not a woman who takes to change well,” she
“Continue living as you are for now,” Sheldon reached
over his desk and took her hand. “We’ll revisit this
subject in a few months.
“Yes,” my mother agreed. “After the ground
settles, I’ll be able to think more clearly.”
Then she took herself over to Per Se for lunch and drowned her
sorrows in a couple of dirty martinis.
That was the one thing about my mother: She had style.
But the relationship I shared with my dad was unique. He was the
role model for every man who would eventually come my way. In turn,
I was the love of his life. He openly made his affections known,
not only by the gifts that he showered upon me, but with weekly
dinners just the two of us. From the time I was six, Tuesdays
became ‘our night.’ Although my mother often asked to
tag along, dad appropriately refused her entry into our exclusive
club. This was our time alone and no intruders, even my mother,
were allowed to trespass on this ritualistic occasion.
Hundreds of such evenings punctuated my future. We began a
tradition where these weekly jaunts allowed us to catch up on each
other’s lives. Not once did I ever remember him canceling our
standing appointment, and in that way Tuesdays belonged only to us
and in that way, became cherished moments.
Then, when he was forty-five, it abruptly ended. Dad’s death
brought with it a sense of longing I had not yet been able to
relinquish – a yearning for something that would never be the
same again. I had accumulated a wealth of knowledge from our talks.
I was privy to personal insights and private thoughts he enjoyed
sharing only with me, mainly because my reactions to whatever he
told me were spontaneous and deliciously secretive.
There were times I even believed my mother was jealous although she
brushed it aside by asking: “whatever do you two
have to talk about?”
“Everything and nothing,” I responded, hoping that
would placate her, but it never did.
These dinners, my dads and mine, provided a setting into which I
could retreat in ways that my mother and I never could, thus
becoming some of my happiest times. While my relationship with
Madeleine was close, it was my father who left an indelible imprint
on my psyche. Without judgment, he gently guided me through
childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, and served as my
one-man support system and guardian of my soul. My mother, colorful
though she was, exhibited her parenting in more outspoken,
symbiotic ways that often put tension between us. As I evolved more
into my own, she clung to me with an intensity that often felt
After my father’s death, while my mother lapsed into grieving
mode, I too mourned his death in a less conspicuous way. For a
while, in the days that followed, I kept hearing him call my name
which would stop me cold. After that, Tuesdays were never the same
Now, at thirty-eight, I lived alone on the opposite side of Central
Park in a brownstone on West 85th Street. Alone that is until my
first cousin, Celeste Bleckner, a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence,
decided to invite herself to spend the month of July with me. My
mother had a hand in making the arrangements.
“You know that little bitch and I never got
“Darling, it’s the least you can do. Your Aunt Elaine
is my only sister. When she asked, what could I say?”
“No!” I said emphatically. “The last thing I need
is Celeste following me around all summer. I’ll have no
privacy whatsoever. Why can’t she stay at school? Bronxville
is only a half hour from the city.”
“Celeste wants to experience what city life is all about.
It’s only for a month,” Madeleine held firm. “And
you do have that extra bedroom.”
“You mean my office?”
“She can sleep on the pull-out couch. It will make her happy
and it’s good for family relations.”
“It might have been nice to have had Celeste check with me
“She was afraid you’d say no.”
“At least she’s perceptive,” I said.
“Sweetheart, do it for me,” Madeleine played on my
guilt. “Celeste looks up to you. You’re her role
“You’re the one with all the space, mother. Why
can’t she stay with you? You have all those guest rooms just
lying around with no one in them.”
The blood drained from my mother’s face.
“Post-menopausal women don’t have roommates,” she
said. “And anyway, she adores you. Maybe you can help her get
over her shyness with boys. You know, teach her the
But the only rope I was interested in was a noose to tie around
Celeste’s chubby neck. Finally, after much prodding I
acquiesced. Celeste moved in on the last day of June with her bunny
slippers and five bottles of olive oil she used both as a
moisturizer and hair conditioner.
Celeste had an edginess that couldn’t be ignored. The elder
of two daughters of Elaine and Philip Bleckner from Tenafly, New
Jersey, Celeste, at twenty was the less attractive of the two. Her
eighteen year old, sister, Fern had no trouble attracting men, but
she couldn’t care less. Fern was rumored to be a lesbian who
was having an affair with a girl she had met at Smith during
freshman year. The family tried keeping this hush-hush.
“Even more reason to be compassionate,” Madeleine said.
“Poor Elaine is beside herself with grief that Fern might
never give her grandchildren. At least with Celeste, there’s
still a chance. That’s where you come in. Maybe you can find
a suitable man for her.”
“The men I know are much older.”
“Well, they might have younger brothers. You never know. At
any rate, a month with you might be the best thing for
“And the worst for me,” I said.
“Celeste will be a dream roommate,” Madeleine added.
“She’ll never cramp your style or borrow your clothes.
Maybe she can even shed a few pounds.”
For years, my Aunt Elaine referred to her daughter as
“pleasingly plump.” At 5’2” and 160-pounds
she was downright fat. On the plus side: she wouldn’t be
borrowing my clothes. The negative she never dated and would be
hanging around my apartment every evening. Celeste considered a
night at home with a hot novel and a pint of ice cream about as
good as it got.
One of the reasons that Madeleine was so adamant about her moving
in was that Celeste adored my mother, and with Madeleine, flattery
went a long way.
“Aunt Madeleine is the hottest woman I’ve ever seen.
The woman absolutely rocks. She’s more like a girlfriend than
“That can sometimes pose a problem,” I said.
“I wish my mom were more like her. I mean at sixty-two,
Madeleine is Fab-U-Lous.”
“I wouldn’t go spreading that around,” I said.
“Madeleine doesn’t exactly advertise her
“Her dirty little secret is safe with me,” Celeste
The year she turned sixty, Madeleine gave herself a birthday
present of a face lift, tummy tuck and breast implants just so
people like Celeste would continue to use words like
‘hot’ and ‘fab-U-lous’ to describe
“And those drop-dead clothes. I’d kill for the shoes
alone,” Celeste said.
And so, on the 4th of July while fireworks exploded along the
Hudson River, Celeste moved in for what was going to be a month of
When my mother stopped by a few days later to check up on things,
she was sporting her latest pair of Manolo Blahniks and a little
Donna Karan. I was so accustomed to her looks, I had stopped being
mesmerized years ago. It was only when Celeste raised my
consciousness I had to agree: for ‘a woman of a certain
age’ Madeleine was sexy as hell.
I was not the only one who thought so. Grayson Wolfe, widower and
one of the most prestigious art dealers in New York, agreed. They
had met at an art opening. After only a few months of dating my mom
he asked her to marry him.
That same month I was hired by Alexandra Cole, owner of the Cole
Gallery on Madison Avenue. Alexandra entrusted me to handle all
affairs when she was away in Europe on her frequent business trips,
but was really screwing her head off with a Frenchman named Jean
Luc. While Alexandra and Jean Luc fucked their way through Europe,
I was still looking for my Mr. Right. In the meantime, my mother
had found hers.
After Grayson proposed, Mom and I went to the Four Seasons where,
in the Pool Room under a canopy of trees she told me she was
considering accepting his offer. The five carat yellow diamond from
Harry Winston clinched the deal.
“Granted he’s not your father,” she said,
“but he’s got a lot going for him.”
What my mother meant was that Grayson had inherited his
family’s wealth and wanted nothing more than to lavish it
upon her. His two sons, grown and married, were themselves highly
successful. Pierce, fifty, owned a thriving orthopedic practice and
lived with his wife and two boys in Atlanta. Hillard, fifty-three,
a recently divorced real estate attorney from Austin, Texas,
specialized in clients with big bucks. Each had become millionaires
by the time they were forty.
“Grayson even agreed to sell his apartment and move into
mine,” my mother said. “You know how I detest
“The man is a relic. He’s as old as
“He’s pushing seventy-five, but he’s very spry.
Don’t let his age fool you. He’s a tiger in the
Grayson Wolfe might have been many things, but an animal between
the sheets was hard to imagine.
“And…let’s not forget his seat on the Stock
Exchange,” my mother boasted, “and his board position
at the American Museum of Natural History and Memorial Sloan
Kettering. Grayson is one of the most eligible bachelors in New
“For the geriatric set, maybe.”
“Not to mention he has season tickets to the opera, first
“You detest opera, mother.”
“That may be true, darling, but I adore dressing
That June, Madeleine and Grayson tied the knot at a small gathering
at the Carlyle. She wore a virginal white Valentino and a Vera Wang
veil adhered to her head by a clip of white orchids. Grayson took
one look at his blushing bride and an erection appeared right
though his Armani tuxedo pants, helped along by the Viagra he had
popped minutes before saying “I do.”
For three years Madeleine and Grayson lived in marital bliss.
Between my father’s money and Grayson’s fortune, my
mother was having the time of her life running between the Westport
house and Grayson’s home in Millbrook, New York where he kept
two Polo ponies and his Lamborghini used only for recreational
riding. In between, he and my mother sailed the Atlantic, flew to
Paris twice, toured the Greek Islands and rented a villa in Tuscany
for two months.
The night they returned home from Italy, Grayson complained of
chest pains, blamed it on the airplane food and dropped dead three
hours later on the new Suri rug for which Madeleine had spent a
bundle. Two days later she gave the rug to Good Will and buried
Grayson Wolfe under a cherry tree at Greenwillow Cemetery where the
elite meet in the afterlife.
Madeleine Krasner Wolfe was a widow once again, only this time the
word “filthy” preceded “rich.” Between
Henry Krasner and Grayson Wolfe, the world was her oyster.
“Life moves in strange and unexpected ways,” Sheldon
Glick told Madeleine when they were going over Grayson’s
will. “You’re a woman of substance.”
Then he tacked another thousand on to her bill.
“I’m a woman alone… again,” Madeleine
sobbed. To cheer herself up she went over to Tiffany and splurged
on a little trinket.
As the weeks passed, my mother formed an abnormal attachment to me.
She invited me to lunch daily.
On Tuesday morning, she called the gallery at ten.
“Mother, I’m a working woman, remember? Even though
I’m assistant manager, I only take a forty-five minute lunch
“That’s completely uncivilized, Samantha, not to
mention, nutritionally unsound. I’ll pick you up in a taxi
and we’ll grab a bite at Sarabeth’s”
“Not today, mom, I can’t. It’s crazy in the
gallery. A new artist is coming in and I’m in
“What new artist?”
Madeleine switched gears, moving from the culinary to the
“Blake Hamilton, the new rising star. He’s one of the
exciting neo-expressionists. Very hot on the scene.”
Silence on the other end.
“Blake Hamilton? The British artist?”
“You know him?”
“Not personally, but I follow him. That article in the
“Observer” sang his praises. I’ve been admiring
his work for several years. Maybe I can pop in. What time is he
“That’s totally intrusive, mother. And anyway,
I’ll be busy interviewing him. You wouldn’t even get to
“I’ll just come to browse,” Madeleine said.
“Another interested party looking to buy some
“Don’t be absurd. Your gallery isn’t off limits.
I’m sure he’d be thrilled to know he has a huge fan
who’s considering buying one of his pieces.”
“His pieces start at thirty thousand.”
“As I said, I’m just browsing.”
And so it went until I told my mother to leave me alone and let me
do my thing.
“Fine, fine, I get the hint, but I had another thought: maybe
you, I and Blake can all do lunch together.”
“That’s it, mother,” I said. I slammed down the
Not one to be rebuffed, at eleven-thirty Madeleine appeared at the
gallery, dressed in her latest Barney’s acquisition: a beige
pants suit and a straw hat with a brown grosgrain ribbon. I cringed
when I saw her.
“For God’s sake, I told you not to come. I’m
expecting Blake any minute.”
“I just want to sneak a peek,” she said. “I
promise I’ll behave.”
Moments later, a vision of male pulchritude appeared, carrying a
burgundy leather artist’s portfolio. He was dressed casually
in gray pants and navy blazer. A striped blue and white shirt hung
out just enough to make him look hot rather than disheveled. Around
his neck was a red silk scarf. A pair of loafers with red socks
completed the look. He was drop-dead gorgeous.
Madeleine pretending to survey the paintings turned around and
smiled. Blake smiled back. Then, without batting an eye, she walked
over to him.
“I do believe you’re Blake Hamilton,” she
“In the flesh, although I must admit the flesh is melting as
we speak. It’s a scorcher out there.”
Each word was enunciated in a charming English accent.
“Yes, I practically fainted on my way over here. Manhattan in
July is brutal.”
“Hello,” I jumped in, “I’m Samantha
Krasner. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“And I’m Madeleine Krasner-Wolfe,” Madeleine
said, “Samantha’s mother.”
Blake paused, looking my mother up and down. Next came the
“Her Mother? That’s quite impossible.
You just couldn’t be.”
My mother blushed.
“It’s lovely meeting you,” Madeleine said.
“I often come in to peruse the latest work. My late husband,
Grayson Wolfe was a major art dealer. We collect.”
“You were married to Grayson Wolfe?”
“Yes, you’ve heard of him?”
“Heard of him. The man was pure genius. I believe he
was solely responsible for the success of my friend and artist,
Madeleine swooped in closer. “Yes, of course. We own a Duval.
It’s hanging in the study. It’s one of my most favorite
There was no stopping her now. My mother was charming the pants off
Blake while he, in turn, was undressing her with his eyes. It was a
meeting made in hell.
“I hate to interrupt,” I said, “but I need to
speak with you, Blake. Mother, if you’ll excuse us,” I
shot her a look, “we need to get down to
“That doesn’t mean we can’t pick this
conversation up later,” Blake said, holding his gaze on
Madeleine “I’d love to take you for drink, Mrs.
“And I would love for you to do that,” Madeleine
flirted back. “And please, call me Madeleine.”
“Let’s say five o’clock at The
Mark…Madeleine. Is that good for you?”
“Better than good,” she said.
Blake turned back at me as though he had misplaced something and
came back to find it.
“Oh, and Samantha, I expect you’ll be joining us
“Sorry,” I said. “I won’t be leaving the
gallery until late tonight. But, thanks anyway.”
Far back as I could remember, I lived in my mother’s shadow,
and though a high-styled and well-coiffed shadow it was, I never
felt I owned my life. Finally, after two years of therapy and a
good as second tier partner at the Cole gallery, did I even start
Second tier, according to Alexandra Cole, was a prerequisite to
associate partner. She promised me that come the end of the year,
we would “evaluate the situation.”
Much in the same way, my mother, Madeleine was the CEO in charge of
my life – a position I was no longer willing to accept. Add
to that equation the fact that she thought nothing of insinuating
herself socially as was evidenced much to my chagrin, when she
accepted the invitation for drinks with Blake Hamilton.
“I’m doing it for you, darling,” she whispered on
her way out. “I’ll get the scoop on Blake and let you
know if he’s as good as he looks.”
“I’m quite capable of interviewing my own men,” I
“Can’t you just let me play my motherly
“You’re being intrusive, mother.”
“It’s just drinks, for God sake,” she said.
At five o’clock, Blake was tucked away at a small table in
the plush Marks’s Bar when Madeleine arrived. He stood up and
offered her a seat next to him.
“This calls for champagne,” he said. “Your lovely
daughter took eight of my paintings. I consider it a real coup to
be showing at the Cole Gallery.”
“The Cole should be fortunate to have you,” Madeleine
countered. “You are after all one of the hottest
‘artistes’ in London.”
“I’ve been lucky.”
“Believe me, it takes more than luck,” Madeleine helped
herself to some nuts from the silver bowl. “You’re
young and talented. Exactly how old are you?” she broke
“I’ll be turning forty in August.”
“Oh, the same month as Samantha. You’re practically
twins. She’ll be thirty-nine on August 24th. If my husband,
Grayson were alive,” she lowered her eyes in a moment of
reverie, “he would have snatched you up. Grayson had an eye
for the authentic. Today, it’s all about glitz over substance
and who you know. Your work is won-der-ful-ly
“I’ve always had a love of art. Since I was a kid
I’ve been splashing paint on canvas. Who knew it would amount
to anything except some colorful blotches?”
“Obviously someone knew,” Madeleine said.
“That piece in Art in America wasn’t exactly
chopped liver. I’ve been following you for a couple of
“You read the magazines and reviews?”
“Never miss them,” Madeleine lied. “Grayson of
course subscribed to every one. The art world was our
life….that is until he passed on only four months
“If I may be so bold,” Blake inched in closer,
“you’re a very young-looking widow. I’m so sorry
for your loss. Your husband was well respected in the
“Twice widowed,” Madeleine corrected. She removed her
favorite prop: the monogrammed hankie from her Nancy Gonzalez bag
and dabbed the corner of her eyes, wiping away a non-existent
“It has been difficult. If it weren’t for my
friends and my lovely daughter, I couldn’t carry
Madeleine, not one for understatement, piled it on while she and
Blake sipped champagne, forming an admiration society of two until
two hours later, she looked at her watch.
“Oh-my-God, is it seven o’clock
“I never noticed,” Blake said. “Do you have
“Some leftover cold poached salmon that my housekeeper
“Well, that just won’t do. Would you consider being my
guest for dinner this evening?”
Madeleine perked up. “I’d be simply
“Perhaps, Samantha could join us after she leaves the
“Samantha has other plans,” she said, without missing a
beat, maybe some other time.”
“I’ll look forward to that. In the meantime, do you
have a favorite restaurant in mind?”
“I’ll leave it to you,” Madeleine said, adding,
“but, I never say no to sushi. Let me call Asiate. My husband
and I dined there regularly. Chef Noriyuki Sugie adored Grayson. I
think we can get in.”
“A woman after my own heart,” Blake said.
Indeed, Grayson’s reputation had preceded him. The finest
restaurants in Manhattan had welcomed him with open arms. One
mention of his name and at eight o’clock we were at the
Mandarin Oriental hotel and seated at a table at Asiate by eight
forty-five. A view of Central Park added to the ambiance.
“Have you ever dined here before?” Madeleine
“Too rich for my blood,” Blake said, laughing, but
tonight’s different. As I said, I’m celebrating my
entry to the Cole Gallery.”
“My treat. After all, it was my suggestion to come
“I won’t hear of it,” Blake said.
“I’m a hot ‘artiste’ remember? What else
would I be doing tonight except attending those boring parties. You
saved me and now I’m indebted to you.”
“Only two of them tonight, thank God. Last night, four.
I’m being wooed by two gallery owners.”
“I would expect nothing less.”
“My first choice was the Cole Gallery. It has more clout than
all of the others put together.”
Every time Blake opened his mouth, Madeleine practically swooned.
His English accent only added to his already handsome face and
boyish charm. Perfect for Samantha, she thought, but too young for
her, tempting though it was. Yet tonight, Madeleine was having too
much fun to worry about small incidentals like robbing the
Back at home, I imagined my mother sitting over drinks and trying
to impress Blake. Since Grayson died, she was acting more peculiar
than usual, but zeroing in on my latest hot artist waspushing
things a bittoo far. She was playing her role as the merry widow to
the hilt, but when it started to infringe on my territory, some
rules needed to be established.
Madeleine of course never considered her behavior inappropriate in
any situation. She even went so far as to think that I would be
happy she was getting out and having some fun…even if it was
with a man who was by all rights more in my league than hers. Then
again, there was no stopping Madeleine Krasner-Wolfe. When she
wanted something, she went after it without any thought to protocol
In the middle of her grilled Ahi tuna with Thai basil pesto and
Blake’s lobster sukiyaki with black mussels and clams, Blake
suddenly suggested. “After we leave here let’s go down
to Chelsea. But, there’s no reason you can’t accompany
me to one of those
“Really? They wouldn’t mind?”
“Nobody cares. The loft will be teaming with people. I should
make an appearance just to keep my foot in the door. Sometimes
reviewers show up. It’s a real scene as you know. I’m
sure you and Grayson attended many of them. I go just to stay in
the groove – very PC.”
“Yes,” Madeleine said, “but never with the
artist-of-the-moment on my arm.”
“Then, you’ll say yes?”
Madeleine picked up her sake while Blake picked up the check.
“Here’s to life’s most enchanting moments,”
Excerpted from BACHELOR DEGREE © Copyright 2010 by Judith
Marks-White. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books. All
- Genres: Fiction
- paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books
- ISBN-10: 0345492390
- ISBN-13: 9780345492395