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The cover story in this month’s Vanity Fair purports to be about Grace Kelly — at least that’s the way things look if you’re giving a cursory browse to the racks at the airport news stand. But the real news in this month’s Vanity Fair — or what seems to be the virtually unavoidable substitute for news these days, is ( you guessed it)  the unseemly saga of Tiger Woods. Not one but two cover blurbs, each playing off our  blacklure to learn more about Tiger’s “kinks,” and promise us the spectacle of “Tiger’s Girlathon Gallery!” (At least VF subjects us to only one exclamation point; thank god for journalistic restraint.)

With good reason, cover blurbs such as these are also known as “teasers.” But Vanity Fair, making good on its pledge, comes through with a spread of full-page, professional-makeup-artist-styled portraits of at least a limited cross-section of Tiger’s girlfriends. Some of them are wearing underwear. At least one of them, I’m pretty certain, is not. Almost all the photos are shot in the restaurants, or in the bedrooms. or, even more egregiously, in the hallways leading to ill-specified hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, I’m distinctly uncertain whether”girlfriend” is the term I’m looking for in this instance, precisely.  (Maybe you can help me think of the word.) “Mistress” doesn’t quite do it. “Mistresses” traditionally maintain at least a modicum of decorum and can command at least some fragile claim on a gentleman’s commitment. (Think of Susan Hayward in Backstreet.) What’s more, “mistresses” know how to keep their mouths shut — maybe out of some misguided, self-flagellating sense of loyalty, or maybe as a means of just making sure their mortgage payments continue to get covered.

But nobody these days, whether they’re part of the John-Rielle-Elizabeth triangle or a participant in the Sandra-Jesse-Michelle trifecta, seems to have any resistance to the temptation to talk, especially when a hot microphone is within shouting distance, when there’s a seat available on Oprah’s sofa, or when there might even possibly be a book deal in the offing. And it’s hard to tell who’s most at fault — the feckless and the forsaken who can’t manage to keep their mouths shut, or the rest of us who can’t resist the urge to eavesdrop.

Maybe the question that needs to be asked of everybody — the philanderers, their ill-used other halves, and the rest of us who just can’t stop flipping through In Touch at the check-out counter — is “Have we no shame?”

Vanity Fair knows, of course, the wry-making irony of putting Princess Grace on the cover of its “Tiger’s Girlathon” issue. Grace Kelly was nobody’s fragile flower. (Nobody seems quite sure how many of her leading men she slept with; she seems to have felt no particular urge to say whether she did or didn’t — grown-up, inexpressibly beautiful people of her age simply screwed around, and nobody seems to have dared to have pressed the awkward questions — how often, and if ever, and with whom?.) It’s stunning, by today’s standards, to note that, as young Miss Kelly, Oscar winner and fiancee to the Monagasque Prince Ranier, could actually pursue their multi-continental courtship in 1956, writing actual letters back and forth to each other, with nobody–at least as far as we know — steaming open the envelopes.

Imagine such intimacy. Imagine such privacy. Imagine the naughtinesses lost forever, before the advent of e-mail.

In tiny print, up in the right hand corner of its current cover, Vanity Fair quotes a couple of lines from W.B. Yeats. “The innocent and the beautiful,” Yeats says, ‘Have no enemy but time.” Grace Kelly seems to have known how to stop the clock.

For the rest of this crowd, it’s still ticking.

— John

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