There are some nights when the most chipper party reporter can feel themselves lagging. It may be because they’re burnt-out–too many long nights that have turned into longer mornings– or they may just feel like going home and vegging out on the couch to a TiVo’d Mad Men episode instead of going on the red carpet to try to snag Jon Hamm into giving them some quotes.
Last night was not one of those times. Sitting at a table with journalists from Rolling Stone, the Associated Press, Fox News, and The New York Times last night at the High Line Stages on West 15th Street, someone whispered in awe of the power of journalism, “Did you know the tables for this benefit cost $75,000?” We did not, though after spending some time on the charity circuit, we could believe it.
The reason for the high-priced tables soon became clear as anthropologist Richard Leakey took the stage. The chairman of the Turkana Basin Institute has been studying fossils for over five decades; “a sort of Indiana Jones-like figure,” as chair and host committee member Peggy Gelfond called him. Mr. Leakey is the chairman of the Turkana Basin Institute, located in the Lake Turkana Basin in Kenya, which the scientist is convinced acts as a “repository for human evolution.”
“I won’t name names,” Ms. Gelfond had told us earlier in the evening, “but someone very big asked to be on this committee. They said they would buy a table if I would make them a host. And I said no, you buy a table, and then we’ll see. Well, they’re not here tonight.”
Working with Stony Brook University, the TBI has brought running water back into the basin, as well as provided housing and jobs for the residents. Last night, the non-profit group raised over $1,500,000 in tables alone during the intimate dinner and silent auction, which culminated in a performance by Paul Simon, who had visited the Turkana Basin with his family four years ago.
Although the five lots were lavish (think, a 20-day, two person trip to Antarctica!), it was the secret auction item that raised the most interest from the crowd that evening: a signed guitar from the Graceland performer himself, which went for over $22,000. (A trip to Kenya to visit TBI was bought by an absentee bidder for $45,000.)
By 10 p.m., after coffee and desserts were served, the audience was getting restless. But the moment Paul Simon came out playing “The Sounds of Silence,” the whole room went still. Halfway through the set, the chatty date of the Fox TV host was asked to “Please shut the fuck up,” by someone who had actually paid to be there that evening. Patrick McMullan slipped quietly through the crowd, snapping pictures of raptured guests as the singer worked his magic on them. By the time he concluded with “Me & Julio Down By the Schoolyard” it was almost 11 at night, but we didn’t feel like falling asleep quite yet. When we did, it was with dreams of dinosaur bones set to the tune of “Bridge over Troubled Water.”
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