“Excuse Me, But Is Your Name Jeff?”
By Laura Fraser
I was on the train from Naples to Rome, First Class, when I saw a guy I vaguely recognized. For some reason it came to me that his name was “Jeff.” I thought maybe he was married to a friend in New York or something.
“Excuse me,” I said (traveling in a foreign country gives you license to be bolder than at home), “but is your name Jeff?”
“Yes…It is,” he said, sort of startled but polite. We then began the “name game.” “Are you from New York?” I asked, and he nodded. He said he was an artist there. I commented that it must be very difficult to make a living as an artist in New York. He asked what I was doing in Italy. I told him I was working on a piece for Gourmet.
“My daughter works at Gourmet,” he said. Small world! He told me her name, Shannon Fox—I had met her once, told him she was very nice—but “Jeff Fox” still didn’t ring any bells. Then he asked if I knew Si Newhouse from Conde Nast. No, I said, since Si Newhouse—the pater familias of the poshest magazine company in the world—was simply out of my stratosphere. I saw him lunching with Anna Wintour once at the Royalton, but I was seated in Siberia, near the kitchen, mainly because the waiter recognized that my mode of dress was from the hinterlands (“Perhaps,” my kind editor said, “you should go down to Century 21 and see if you can find something with more structure.”)
“Si bought one of my pieces,” Jeff said.
“How nice,” I said. He really was making a living as an artist in New York. “What were you doing in Naples.”
“I had an exhibit.” I noticed he used the verb “had,” not “saw.” Then it clicked, all those big banners strewn up around Naples for a retrospective: KOONS.
“I’m so sorry I missed it,” I said. “I wished I’d had time to see it.” He nodded.
“But I loved your poopy,” I said, brightly. “Poopy” is how they pronounce “Puppy” in Bilbao, where I’d recently seen his giant puppy sculpture planted with flowers.
And then Jeff Koons got up and went to the dining car for a drink.