Orange Is The New Black Getty Images Entertainment/Jesse Grant
By Amy Phillips Penn

VINTAGE GOSSIP is alive and well in the elegant hands of Amy Phillips Penn, former society columnist for the New York Post.  Every Thursday, Amy pens her posts with that same touch of class, making the legends and lore of a bygone era as relevant today as they were when Jackie O was queen of New York.

“Two hundred women, no phones, no washing machines, no hair dryers…
it was like  
Lord of the Flies on estrogen.” — Piper Kerman, Orange Is the New Black

I resisted watching Orange Is the New Black, as did my closest friends.

“Why?” is the new rhetorical to most of us.

We all know someone who seems carved and chiseled for all the graces, privileges, and protections that life has to offer, and then…prison bars happen.

My parents had an acquaintance who went to prison. I went to school with his two beautiful daughters. It sounded like insider trading, but a lot of crimes are euphonized and euthanized as such.

When he was released, he committed the exact same nameless crime and went straight back in, no “get out of jail” card included.

“If he’d made a lot of money doing the exact same thing, people would have considered him a hero,” a friend ventured.

I still do not know what he did.

When he was free, he and his wife divorced. One had Louis Nizer represent them; the other lawyered up with Roy Cohn. When the story was told, it was stuffed with power — jail stories are not.

I rode tentatively into the night as I began my peephole insight into Orange Is the New Black. The lens widened into “give me more,” and I binged on.

Piper Chapman (The Netflix name for author/inmate Piper Kerman, and perfectly portrayed by Taylor Schilling) is leading an enviable New York life — she’s engaged, she’s beautiful, she has a business headed for Barney’s — when a long-lost “lesbian-no-less” affair kicks her into a Kafkaesque zone:

Piper, in a short, blonde glued wig, and heels that appeared to be tasered on, carried drug money in a suitcase for her girlfriend “one time,” close to a decade ago.

The drug ring has been busted, her ex (girlfriend that is) pipes in with Piper’s part. This beautiful Smith graduate has to do time: no lawyering, excuses, or powerful friends that can “fix it.”

To make matters crazier, her ex-girlfriend is in the same prison.

Will Piper survive her year-plus stay? In the first week, she insults the prison food in front of its cook/power player Galina “Red” Reznikov, played by former Star Trekker Kate Mulgrew. Red’s reply to Piper? A bloody tampon for a main course, vampire not included.

It gets worse.

Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, brilliantly portrayed by award winner Uzo Aduba, is infatuated — in a mentally ill inmate kind of way — with Piper, whom she dubs, “Dandelion.”

Why? “Because you light a fire inside me. Before I met you the sun was like a yellow grape. But now, it looks like fire in the sky.”

Not what your average Seven Sisters grad wants to hear from a mentally unstable prison inmate with her hair rolled into balls on top of her head. The better to see your crazy eyes with, my dear.

Crazy Eyes’ love deepens. When another inmate is on her “Dandelion” turf, she explodes into, “Move bitch. This is my wife here, so you need to step. I will cut you. I will cut you, bitch. Don’t make me cut you.”

When Piper rebuffs her advances as politely as possible (polite doesn’t go far in prison), Crazy Eyes pees all over Piper’s turf.

I had a friend named Charlie. He died several years ago. I’m always amazed when someone dies and people eulogize them by saying that the deceased never said a bad word about anyone. I have never met anyone who can wear this accolade. With Charlie, I can say that I never met anyone who didn’t like him.

Charlie was one of the seemingly gilded people meant to have a flawless life, in an F. Scott Fitzgerald New York, Southampton, clubby kind of way.

Instead, Charlie endured one surrounding tragedy and waft of bad luck after another.

Myth has it that upon returning to his room at Princeton, Charlie found his roommate handcuffed to their bed (“Hold that Tiger” took on a new meaning). They were both busted for pot, not your average third generation Princeton lore. His life zigzagged down an icy but well manicured ski slope from there.

Many Christmases ago, I was en route to East Hampton with my then-boyfriend, a family member, and another friend. We stopped at my ex’s family home in Brookville. As we went from one private road to another, we saw a police car invading our rear view mirror. The nightmare continued as he followed us into the driveway. The boys in the back seat swallowed a sea of pills; they may be still hallucinating and not even know the difference.

The policeman explained that he had seen Ford dealer plates on our car (my ex’s father was in the business), and just wanted to escort us home safely. What one thing had to do with another, I still don’t know, but who cares? All’s well that ends well.

Privilege, while often cuddling you in an attitude and cockiness can craftily boomerang you into a hell that wasn’t even in the small print. Drive safely.

“It is often safer to be in chains than to be free.” — Franz Kafka


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