A Twist of Manhattan’s Elite
I‘m somewhat tardy in reporting on the Mother’s Day festivities at the MUGGER household, but with good reason: a 24-hour virus no doubt caused by a batch of beef lo mein fried in rancid oil. That Sunday morning started off just swell. I awoke with MUGGER III and we played until Junior awoke and dialed up Nintendo 64‘s Zelda, which was far more interesting for my younger son than the makeshift wrestling matches we’d been having. Meanwhile, Mrs. M slept in, but when she made her entrance, the boys quickly gathered a bunch of gifts. And what a haul: a collection of MAD comics from the 70s, some homemade flowers Junior made in school, a few framed pictures and three photo albums that chronicled the past year’s holidays and our trips to Bermuda, Los Angeles, London and Paris.
My troubles didn’t start until five minutes into the splendid production of The Wizard of Oz at the Garden; it was a whiz-bang show, with dramatic pyrotechnics, and the story moved along briskly with no intermission. Jo Anne Worley was a convincing Wicked Witch of the West—the boys’ favorite—and Mickey Rooney proved he still has about 15 steps on Bob Hope and other geezers from his era playing the hapless Wizard. When we left, we ran into NYPress‘ Kim Granowitz, along with her mother and nephew, while Junior bought cotton candy with a cool rasta hat, and MUGGER III—or rather, Dad—got snookered on a $20 plastic replica of the Tin Man.
No, what got to me was one whiff of MUGGER III’s hotdog. From that point on, I knew I was in for a day of bed rest, along with continual trips to the facilities. I slept, caught up on reading, but was mostly down for the count.
Fortunately, the malady subsided largely by Monday afternoon, just in time to attend The New Yorker‘s party at Da Silvano in honor of their staffer Kurt Andersen‘s new novel Turn of the Century. Mrs. M met John Strausbaugh and me at the restaurant on lower 6th Ave. and it was a little odd seeing so many journalists who’ve appeared in this column in a less than flattering light. It was comforting that Andersen, his lovely wife Anne Kreamer and Random House publisher Ann Godoff provided us entree to the affair, so we felt somewhat immunized from the bad vibes that hacks like David Granger, Ken Auletta and Calvin Trillin sprinkled throughout the environs like puff-clouds of mediocrity. (Actually, I was tempted to ask Trillin’s advice on barbecue in Memphis, a city I’m visiting in two weeks, but didn’t have the bad taste to introduce myself. I’m sure he hasn’t seen my suggestions that he be sent to a retirement home for over-the-hill writers like Richard Berke and Timothy Noah, but just in case, I kept my distance.) The New York Times‘ Alex Kuczynski, a perky reporter with a husky voice, mock-strangled me for my nasty remarks about her mistake-riddled media articles in that paper’s business section. Michael Hirschorn, late of Spin and now writing for the increasingly kooky Michael Kinsley‘s Slate, was gracious, diplomatically insisting he was satisfied with any ink at all.
Larry Doyle, a writer for The Simpsons, was in from L.A. and complained that I once wrote he went to Harvard (since he was a Spy and New York alumnus under the Andersen regime, what would you surmise?) and maintained, proudly, that he matriculated at a school in Illinois. Vanity Fair‘s Graydon Carter and his wife Cynthia breezed in and immediately felt at home, not letting on, at least to me, the upcoming storm with writer Jennet Conant, who resigned later in the week when her VF article about the horrific Brill’s Content was spiked. Conant let everybody in the world know that it was a “sad day for Vanity Fair,” but who knows, maybe the piece just plain sucked. GQ editor Art Cooper was beaming, and his wife Amy made my day by complimenting a new windowpane suit and gold-patterned tie.
I snapped a few pictures, and hung out in a corner by the entrance and watched the biggest collection of notables I’ve seen in a coon’s age. I guess I’m just not used to these affairs, but New Yorker editor David Remnick really threw a star-studded party for Andersen. I chatted with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld for a few minutes and he let on that while he’s mostly aboard the George W. Bush bandwagon, he also has shreds of enthusiasm for Lamar Alexander (bringing the bitter Tenneseean’s followers to about four) and John Kasich (“a fellow who’s 47 going on 35″). Tom Brokaw strolled in, just minutes after he completed his NBC broadcast, and I didn’t have the nerve to introduce myself to Joan Didion, one of my favorite writers of the past generation. Who else: Conan O’Brien, Andersen’s old Spy partner Tom Phillips, Charlie Rose, Kathleen Turner, James Cramer, Harvey Weinstein, Nora Ephron, Newsweek‘s Rich Turner and Stanley Crouch.
Tina Brown was nowhere in sight.
It was when Eric Alterman and George Stephanopoulos cruised into Da Silvano that I put away the camera and stayed outside for good. While getting a mineral water from the bar I did see the duo deep in conversation with Time‘s Walter Isaacson and the thought of what could emerge from that meeting rattled me enough to last a week. I ran into my old friend Susan Orlean, an accomplished author and New Yorker staff writer, as well as the Post‘s Mary Huhn and finally “Page Six”‘s Richard Johnson, who was rather subdued, except to say that he fully approved of the Brill’s Content May gossip issue. Johnson and I have had numerous feuds in the past, but they’re always short-lived; he’s a fine fellow. I wasn’t so jolly last Sunday when his column plumped a Toby Young bit from Taki‘s NYPress “Top Drawer” section without mentioning our paper, but what the hell.
On May 17, Kuczynski, in a Times piece called “Fact, Fiction and the Media Fishbowl,” chronicled the event, eliciting a post-mortem from Andersen the next day at lunch. He told Kuczynski about meeting Kathleen Turner, the actress whose finest role, in my mind, came in John Waters‘ underappreciated Serial Mom. Andersen: “She was the one famous person I didn’t know. She asked me to sign her book. It was one of those surreal moments where I felt like I was in some specific, high-end Disney attraction where you can feel like a celebrity for five minutes, having flashbulbs go off in your face while you sign a book for a famous actress.”
Satiated from such a strange gathering of self-absorbed journalists and the like, Mrs. M and I walked home, tucked the boys in and ordered takeout from Kitchenette down the street. No fear of ptomaine poisoning from that cozy beanery. The shells with marinara and garlic were just fine, as was the turkey meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Andersen’s first novel has received mostly glorious reviews, particularly Daniel Akst‘s in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. Akst wrote: “Can a book destined for every beach blanket and nightstand in the Hamptons really be any good?… The answer to [this question] appears to be yes, judging by the evidence of Kurt Andersen’s elegant and relentless fictional sendup of the way we live now, or at least of the way a few of us live—the rich, noisy, media-obsessed few for whom Seattle and Silicon Valley have lately supplanted Washington as the most important places outside of New York and Los Angeles.”
The book, which had an astonishing first printing of 100,000, also received raves from Salon‘s James Poniewozik (“[W]hat he has created is impressive: a well-imagined picture of an info-teeming, overmediated, very possible near future, and, more important, of a class of people whom words, literally, fail”), The New York Times and Suck. Less enamored was The New York Observer‘s Adam Begley, who wrote a pissy, passing-as-smart, I-Know-Tom-Wolfe-And-You’re-No-Tom-Wolfe review in that paper’s May 17 edition. It’s my suspicion that Begley, and the Observer‘s editors, anticipated a stream of gushy reviews and decided to start the backlash. Begley whines about Turn of the Century: “It’s good but not great, smart but not brilliant, engaging but not astonishing… Part of the problem is that Mr. Andersen is not good with emotion. He can do a speakerphone but not a crying jag.”
Begley’s article screams out that he’s not the “player” that he describes Andersen as; that the author has gotten a free ride because of his fabled track record in New York journalism. It’s jealousy, if you ask me, for even though I know Andersen, before I did I’d always considered him the finest journalist (with the exception of John Strausbaugh) in Manhattan.
On the subject of the Observer, I detect that editor Peter Kaplan is running the show on autopilot. What else can explain his allowing “Off the Record” columnist Carl Swanson to get away with a cliche like “There’s always been a bit of friction between The New York Times Magazine and the legions of ink-stained wretches who fill that paper every day.” Ink-stained wretches! My bet is that if one of the stiffs at the Times spills a drop of mayo on his Brooks Bros. or Gap dress shirt he’d bellow, “Eeehhheww, gross.” That’s how close they get to ink in the 90s. That said, Swanson’s piece on the battle between Magazine editor Adam Moss and the daily Times writers was his best item in many weeks. He took out both factions. Moss expressed concern that the daily reporters might not report the “ruthless” pieces he’s looking for, as if his product actually has teeth. On the other hand, Swanson writes: “Occasionally a Times Magazine editor is confronted with an angry daily mandarin who demands, ‘Do you know who you’re dealing with?’”
But back to Kaplan and the increasingly lethargic Observer. Sure, it’s a bonus that Joe Conason is on vacation, but Tish Durkin‘s takes on New York politics aren’t filled with insight; columnist Anne Roiphe is allowed to soil the pages with her racist tripe; the paper still employs Rex Reed; and if Kaplan has taken a look at “The Eight-Day Week” quasi-listings section in the last year I’d be surprised, judging by what gets printed.
(I’ve had my ups and downs with the Observer, as a reader, and don’t think my current observations are compromised by unsuccessful attempts to raid two of the paper’s best columnists, Michael Thomas and Ron Rosenbaum.)
Pataki & Giuliani: Outfoxing Them All
This is a minority view, but I believe that both Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani will emerge as political winners in their latest “feud.” At issue is the imminent abolition of the commuter tax, a decades-long windfall for New York City at the expense of suburban residents who work in the city and are taxed without representation. After desperately trying to raise his national profile in a vain attempt to launch either a presidential, or more likely vice presidential, bid, and getting nowhere, Pataki has returned to Albany and made the first positive decision since his reelection last year. In a bizarre coupling, Pataki has as his ally Sheldon Silver, the Democratic assembly speaker from New York City. A tax cut of any kind, as Pataki knows, is smart economically and politically. The city, which has a reported surplus of $2 billion, can withstand the $210 million or so, depending on what figure you believe, that will be returned to suburbanites.
Giuliani, for his part, gets his police troubles off the front page and the opportunity to use his soapbox as a fierce defender of New York City’s interests, upcoming Senate race be damned. In a joint press conference with Democrat City Council Speaker Peter Vallone on Thursday, Giuliani thundered: “Until I leave this job, whenever that is, I will always be clear on the fact that first and foremost, you’re the mayor of New York City, and you’ve got to fight for what you believe are in the best interests of the city. People always want a reduction in their taxes, so maybe it will hurt me politically, but the message I’m trying to send is, ‘Don’t mess around with the city.’”
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Pataki and Giuliani colluded on this script. In the Senate race, no matter who his Democratic opponent is, the Mayor has to attract a sizable minority of city voters; strong rhetoric such as he issued on Friday only bolsters his image as a tough-guy pol who won’t let Albany boss him around. On the other hand, it also proves to his upstate and suburban base that he’s a fighter who will bring home the pork for New York once he gets elected to the U.S. Senate.
The Post, in a quirky editorial last Thursday, came out against the tax cut. “If it becomes law,” the writer said, “New York City will survive. And ordinary New Yorkers, who already expect nothing in the way of leadership and intellectual integrity from Albany, won’t be surprised or disappointed by this cheap trick, either. But they deserve much better.”
Excuse me? Didn’t the Post help Pataki get elected twice to the governorship? And since when is this paper against tax cuts? Seems to me that John Podhoretz is too rattled by goofballs questioning his military record to see the true value in this responsible legislation.
The New York Times, predictably, is also against the tax’s repeal. The paper blasted both Pataki and Silver, editorializing on May 17: “Mr. Silver argues that the city has a fat surplus and can afford the loss. This shortsighted view does not recognize that the surplus is probably temporary while the loss of commuter revenue would undoubtedly be permanent… It is time to end the games. A very large city could get hurt.”
Yes, the city’s surplus might be temporary. And you can bet, Times wisdom notwithstanding, that the commuter tax would be reinstated in a flash, especially if a Democratic governor is in Albany, when the city’s in a pinch.
Gross, Quasi-Gifted and Broke (For Now)
Fishwrap, a glossy zine that’s published sporadically by MartyWombacher, and has a rather presumptuous subscription price of $20 for “four fishues,” strikes a balance between a grossout high school underground publication and a grownup magazine that can be pretty funny, and on occasion recalls the best of National Lampoon in the very early 70s. For example, in the last edition, the cover pictures Sonny Bono with the headline “Our First Annual Celebrities Who Skied Into Trees and Died About A Year And A Half Ago Issue!!” Fishwrap roasts NAMBLA, Judy Garland, Claire Danes, Jerry Seinfeld, Esquire, Spin, Gear, Michael Stipe and Spike Lee. It celebrates the often groundbreaking publications that mainstream journalists still refer to as “supermarket tabloids.” There’s an incongruous, but not entirely dull, cartoon of Bob Dole as Hitler.
My favorite item in the latest Fishwrap was written by Wombacher, a stupid but funny sendup of editors’ letters in more “respectable” publications like Details and Esquire. He writes about a media party he crashed, and while he partook of the food and drink, he says, “It was a typical magazine party filled with public relations phonies, pompous writers and editors and idiot-ass publicists.” Wombacher doesn’t fit in, he says, but doesn’t mind being the biggest “asshole” in the crowd. He continues: “Anyhoo, I’m minding my own business, drinking and thinking hateful thoughts and pretty much wishing death on the whole stinking party. Then a friend of mine introduces me to one of the many female publicists in attendance that night.
“I know I’ll get in trouble for this, but the woman was a little, umm, how should I put this…well, she was a big fat slob. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t judge people by their weight. I’m in pretty rotten shape myself, so I’m the last person who should care about weight on people. And I think a few extra pounds on a woman more often than not looks pretty good. Remember when Madonna started out and she had that little roll around her tum-tum? I liked that. A lot.”
Curious? Call Wombacher at 212-243-6197 and see what this odd misanthrope has to say. Or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uh-Oh, Someone’s Gone Over The Edge
Manhattan‘s insular journalism society is quite unbelievable. It’s not even high school bullshit we’re dealing with here—strictly kindergarten. Last Saturday morning, while I was editing an article for this week’s issue, I received an instant AOL message from Joe Conason. The transcript reads as follows:
I have a question for you.
I would like to hear the tapes of your interviews with Lucianne [Goldberg] and Kurt [Andersen].
Both say that you distorted what they said about me by selective editing.
That’s not true. As you know, transcribing is a laborious process, but we’re not in the business to distort what anyone says about you. I think you know that I have a free hand in my column to say what I want about you.
If it’s not true then why not let me listen to the tapes?
I am inclined to believe Kurt.
Not as sure about Trixie, of course.
I’ll talk with Strausbaugh, but we’re not in the habit of letting other people listen to our tapes. Are you?
But she sounded sincere—told me she complained to you.
I’ve done it on occasion.
I could understand your reluctance.
Lucianne didn’t complain to me. Kurt didn’t complain to me. In fact, both were very favorable about the interviews.
I didn’t say Kurt complained to YOU. Lucianne told me she did.
If not to you then someone else at NYPress.
These are tiny threads in a tapestry of abuse, but interesting because they represent provable facts…
She didn’t complain to me. No one has ever complained to me or John after being interviewed, even Bobby Kennedy, who was pleasantly surprised by the way his interview turned out.
You keep changing the subject to other interviews.
I’m not changing the subject. I want to know what your complaint is and what your conspiracy theory is.
I’m sure all the people you flatter love you Russ, but that’s not what I’m asking about.
I told you my complaint. I have no “conspiracy theory.” Since you have publicly declared your hatred of me more than once, I don’t think paranoia is the issue here.
Why don’t you let me interview you and you’ll see that we conduct and edit our interviews in a completely professional manner. You up for it?
Don’t have time for that right now. I would consider it later but only if I could establish that you edited others’ comments about me fairly…
I don’t hate you. I hate your writing. I don’t know you. But if you did an interview with us you could tape it too.
Somewhere I have a clip where you named me on a list of people you “hate,” and your constant abuse of me has been quite personal. Why do you want to interview me?
I think it would make interesting reading. What clip is that? I don’t know you. Why would I hate you. I think your writing is wrong and you’re arrogant as hell on tv but I don’t know you so I don’t hate you.
Well, I’m done with this. Email me later.
Conason never did get back to me. But I did receive the following statements from Lucianne Goldberg and Kurt Andersen.
“What the hell is he talking about? I think he’s on some kind of tear. Maer Roshan, of New York, QUOTING ME in an interview in February wrote that I said Conason was a ‘sniveling Clinton toadie.’ Now Conason is not speaking to Roshan. He should go back and finish high school before he plays with the big boys. Maybe he will stop speaking to YOU if you tell him I said to go fuck himself. Conason is right. He shouldn’t trust Trixie. I’d stab him in the back the first chance I got. Go out in the sunshine. I have to do my show but there is no reason you should suffer.”
“Joe, with whom I am passingly friendly, phoned me about my comment in the New York Press q&a. I was glad he did, so that I could reiterate to him what I had said to you guys—that he’s smart and that I don’t (Muggerishly) hate his writing, but that his diehard pro-Clinton predictability is why his Observer column has left me pretty cold over the last year or so.
“I also pointed out to Joe, by way of quasi-excuse-making for my quasi-dis, the context—that it was in response to Russ’ suggestion that Joe is to the media left what Laura Ingraham is to the media right. And I also mentioned, after he brought up a story of his I once published, that Salon, to which he contributes, had finally published an important correction concerning that piece. I can only speculate that one or both of those remarks of mine may be what he took as some confirmation of his distortion allegation.
“But what you said I said about Joe Conason was, I’m confident, what I said: that I tend not to read his columns because they so seldom surprise me.”
No Panic On the Upper West Side
Oh, c’mon! You can stomach another story about “blue collar” populist/millionaire Michael Moore, right? Last Friday, the Post‘s “Page Six” ran a funny item about how Moore has now targeted MUGGER’s friend Lucianne Goldberg, no doubt for his horrendous Bravo show The Awful Truth. Moore has set up a camera trained on Goldberg’s apartment, apparently in retaliation for her alliance with Linda Tripp. On his website, Moore says, “Lucianne, it seems, does not respect the privacy rights of others. She believes in keeping an eye on persons who are a threat to the country. So do we.”
Richard Johnson writes about a recent talk show on which they both appeared: “Moore makes the dubious claim that when Goldberg politely kissed him on the cheek, he whipped out a cotton swab and a baggie and saved a sample of Goldberg’s saliva. ‘With someone like Lucianne, it’s best to be prepared. Now I have this if ever I should need it,’ Moore dead-panned.
“‘Oh please,’ Goldberg groans. ‘If this is a joke, it isn’t funny, and if it’s serious, it’s probably actionable. Which is fine, since my lawyers haven’t had anything to do in weeks.’”
And now, as the geriatric pundit William Schneider would say, here’s the story behind the story. Goldberg told me later that Friday afternoon: “I have retracted my invitation for him to use my guest room because the cost of fumigation is too high. The man is a yutz but his biggest crime is that he isn’t funny. When I met him he fawned, literally reached out to touch my sleeve like some lovesick kid. I have turned down several offers of money to put up various signs. I think I’ll just go with ‘Moore Sucks.’”
Pod and Popeye
Before I get into a tidbit about Post editor John Podhoretz and his apparently uncontrollable temper, did anyone else notice the full-page ad in the Post last Friday promoting “The Party of the Century” for this upcoming New Year’s Eve? It’s an event that’ll be held at the JavitsCenter and features Andrea Bocelli, Sting and ArethaFranklin, plus a “gourmet” dinner, open bar and breakfast. Think I’ll bring in the turn of the century in a more sedate manner, but what got me was the picture of Sting in the ad: The guy can’t be much more than 45, yet he looked for all the world like Frank Sinatra at 65. You can keep all that yoga and tantric “exercises” he allegedly spends hours on each day.
And on Sunday, that card Cindy Adams had a funny section in her column: Her scoop, such as it was, said that Barbra Streisand is on the outs with the Clintons and didn’t show up at a recent Democratic fundraiser in Beverly Hills that was organized by “the three big big big bergs Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen who’s rich enough to buy his own entire berg… [Streisand] wasn’t the main attraction. This Andrea Bocelli singer—who’s suddenly everywhere like crabgrass these days—was the larynx du jour.”
But back to the Pod. I was reading the excellent obscurestore.com on Friday and came across this exchange between Ira Chineson and Podhoretz.
“Since your editorials repeatedly refer to President Clinton as a draft dodger, I think it might be nice to know what exactly is your record of military service? Of course there is none. All there is, is a desperate and pathetic attempt to appear much tougher than you are. It’s easy to sit in your office at the Post, subsidized by that great American Rupert Murdoch, and bang your war drums, but when it was your turn to put your pampered butt on the line, I can almost bet you were in graduate school along with the great majority of Republican chicken hawks.”
Hmm. I think Ira gets a little kinky when he refers to GOP “chicken hawks,” and bully for the Pod if he did protest the Vietnam War, a Democratic war, by the way, just like Kosovo, but read this reply from the Post‘s editorial chief. I thought I had a sailor’s mouth.
“Sorry, moron, but I’m 38 years old, fully registered for the draft but never called to service. In fact, I tried to get into the Naval Reserves in 1988 but was turned down because I was, yes, too old. So fuck you.”
Pod, Pod, Pod. Tell me, in all honesty, that you’d relish hitting the decks for 1000 pushups, commanded by a superior like Chineson?
I guess I’m a publicity whore like so many other journos, as Taki might say, but I did get a hoot out of JoannaColes‘ take on the Geo Stephanopoulos breakfast at the 92nd St. Y that I wrote about some weeks back. I mentioned her in my piece; we sat next to each other and marveled at the antipathy the crowd seemed to harbor toward the press, as if they were all stand-ins for Lanny Davis. Coles’ article ran in the April 14 LondonTimes, and although she’s based in New York she’s clearly still amazed at the pace here, describing the reaction of a friend who thought she was daft for attending a morning lecture. “And in London,” Coles wrote, “it’s true, nothing would have persuaded me to attend a breakfast lecture. But here, the hours from 6 to 9am are viewed as time aching to be filled, and not just by joining the early-bird run around the Central Park reservoir.”
She then gently mocked the power-breakfast ladies who bragged, in between bites of “bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon,” “decadent chocolate muffin[s]” and “swollen mulberries,” who claimed they could extend their working day by getting up so early.
Coles caught the drift of the lefty crowd filled with lawyers much as I did, as well as Time managing editor Walter Isaacson‘s obsequious introduction of the currently well-compensated Stephanopoulos, who was one of the lucky few survivors of Bill Clinton‘s corrupt administration. (Fine, call me a “Clinton-hater.” You tell me what president has disgraced this country, both at home and abroad, more than Clinton. And don’t even dare mention Nixon: After all, it was Clinton who gave such a crocodile-tears-infused eulogy at that tortured president’s funeral in ’94.)
Coles then poked fun at yours truly: “A man with a briefcase dotted with dinosaur and Disney stickers hustles into the empty seat next to me. It’s Russ Smith, one of the city’s wealthier mavericks, and owner-editor of the New York Free Press, a weekly conservative free-sheet, and author of The Mugger, a column that constantly berates liberal journalists. He produces an old camera from his bag and darts up to the front of the stage where, crouching low, he starts taking illicit snapshots like an excited teenager at a rock concert.”
Ahem. I think Coles was trying to be complimentary—and she was charming in person—but there are those nasty facts she must get a better grip on. First, the “old camera” was purchased at Harrod’s just two weeks before the event; there are dinosaurs on my briefcase, but no Disney characters, just Furious George, Soul Coughing and Power Ranger stickers; and this was no “rock concert” to me. Just another event on MUGGER’s often mundane calendar.
Little League and Pony Rides
It was a brutal Friday at 333, with the elevators slower than usual—more than one tenant is following NYPress‘ lead in going through the fine print of our leases looking for escape loopholes—and the entire staff in an energetic frenzy. For starters, our website designers have been in the production room day and night working out the kinks; by the time you read this we should be up at nypress.com. Then our garrulous art director, Mike Gentile, was popping in and out of everyone’s office—his space invaded by the techies—and trying to tickle our funnybones with his ribald sense of humor. I had to shoo him away several times and tell him to get back to fucking work. Mrs. M was out with her friends Edie and Jon at the Knitting Factory to see Eugene Chadbourne, Jonathan Segel and Victor Krummenacher, so I stayed late at the office, saw the hilarious Christopher Hitchens on Hardball and then came home to relieve the sitter and allow Junior a post-bedtime viewing of The Brady Bunch.
(Hitchens has never dealt well with editors at NYPress, mostly because of Cockburn‘s presence, and is very condescending, but the man’s an erudite laugh factory, even when he’s had more than a couple of belts of grain alcohol down the hatch. That said, I thought his column in the current Vanity Fair, “Old Enough to Die,” was packed with emotion but short on substance and logic. Hitchens blasts the U.S. for executing minors who’ve committed murder, but cites only three examples. His first is a case from 1944. He then tells the story of Sean Sellers, an Oklahoma youth who was “put down like a diseased animal” for “the casual murder of a store clerk and the deliberate slaying of his mother and stepfather.”)
The next morning was finally a picturesque spring day in New York, and it was even warm when the NYPress Giants faced off against the Radical@Media, Inc. Angels at 8 a.m. sharp. The Downtown Little League runs a tight ship. Mrs. M’s dad Rudy and stepmom Daisy were in town, so we had grandparents rooting for the little nipper, but the Angels were the toughest team the Giants have faced yet. They had a dynamite pitcher-first baseman combo (even though the tot on first had a mouth that was more fitting for a fourth-grader) and after the game even Scott Franchi, our Nomar Garciaparra, wasn’t sure who won. Which means the Giants probably took their first loss for the season; no matter, all the players were happy, especially MUGGER III, the team’s mascot, who had run of the snacks since it was our turn to keep the athletes nourished between innings.
We went back to the apartment for coffee, and Rudy and Daisy inspected the new loft for the first time, and especially liked our private roof where on a clear day you can see the Colgate clock across the Hudson. Mrs. M bought them sweaters from Paul Stuart and they gave our tykes some toys—as if they need them—and Rudy and I talked baseball. As an Illinois native, he’s a lifelong Chisox fan and is a master at baseball statistics; in fact, at the age of 61, he just received his third master’s degree, this one in mechanical engineering.
They left at about 10:30 for a long lunch at Daniel, and then the boys, Mrs. M and I went downstairs for the annual Washington Market School street fair, a homemade event that they look forward to for months. As the grandparents were leaving, Mrs. M tried to get the kids to shower them with kisses, but Rudy was having none of it: “Kisses, schmisses, I want a handshake. It’s not like we’re going back to L.A. right now!” I totally agreed, and winked at him that it was a chick sort of thing.
Naturally, MUGGER III made a beeline for the Pokemon booth, while Junior created his own cookie for two fair tickets, an awful combination of three kinds of sweet paste, oatmeal and M&M’s, while Mrs. M found out that for the first time in years she wasn’t slated for fingernail polish duty. Junior’s not always an outside kind of guy, so I took him and his buddy Gabe Wax down to Game Park for Gameboy paraphernalia and we retired back to the homestead, while Mrs. M and our youngest yakked it up with all their friends from the school and neighborhood. Soon another six-year-old joined the bunch, Reuben, and then MUGGER III and Mrs. M returned so it was a full house. While I was writing, the boys fooled around, playing a wrestling game called Mercy, which required a bit of supervision since laughter can turn to tears at the touch of a semicolon, but while Nickelodeon played in the background it was a rather subdued, as these things go, afternoon.
Later, Rudy and Daisy stopped in for a Kitchenette takeout dinner and told us of their lunch at Daniel and afternoon at the ballet. Not surprisingly, they raved about the restaurant, the skate, sorbets and salad with shrimp and avocado mentioned as the highlights, along with a $97 white burgundy, and as we looked out the window they asked about the alleged empire that David Bouley promises to build here in South Tribeca. It’s quite a plan: Along with his already existing Bakery, Bouley’s working on an Austrian restaurant, wine store, gourmet shop and a reopening of his original kitchen on Duane St. I don’t see any evidence of it yet, but if and when this complex is completed, it’ll only draw more Uptowners to the neighborhood, who’ll ooh and ahh at the quaintness of it all, along with comments about just how civilized downtown has become.
On Sunday morning Junior and I studied the Major League standings and found that the Bosox had won again—eight of nine, thanks in large part to the stupendous Pedro Martinez and miraculous rookie Juan Pena—and now shared first place with the faltering Yanks. By the afternoon, as any Beantowner fan would expect, the Sox were back in second, but if Tom Gordon can stay healthy and the team starts hitting consistently, it’s the Playoffs again. And probably a sweep by those dratted Injuns. Still, it’s more fun than rooting for the Havana, I mean Baltimore, Orioles. (Oh calm down, all you David Corn beatniks: I, too, think the U.S. should establish full economic and social ties with Cuba. Fidel‘s on his way out, and it’s only a matter of time before the tiny island is restored to prosperity. Casinos! Showgirls! 94 proof piña coladas! Hotels! Could be the 51st state before Puerto Rico. Cry in your chardonnay, Pat-Pat the Water Rat Buchanan.)
I went off to the office for a supposed hour, which stretched longer because of my damn upgrade to AOL 4.0. Which sucks. Crashes every 10 minutes. Then stopped in at the Fourth Estate newsstand on Hudson St. and found to my horror that no copies of NYPress were delivered last week: Mr. John Baxter, please report to the principal’s office. And check your shiv on the way in, dude.
Later, we met up with Rudy and Daisy at Odeon for brunch where Junior had a healthy meal of french fries and exactly four strawberries. MUGGER III, the big eater in the family, polished off a pizza and some frites, while the grownups all had eggs. As always, the service at Odeon was delightful but this time around there was a twist: Aside from the waiter asking if I’d like another “splash” of coffee (guess he’s a Bush supporter), when the check came and my father-in-law paid up, the fellow said, “Thanks so much, Rudy!” as if we were in Los Angeles or Denver. My, I was thinking, we’re not in Manhattan anymore, Irving, and promptly hightailed it home to take a nap while the rest of the group went off to King’s Pharmacy.
Gore Pushes The Panic Button—Again
Al Gore hasn’t had a decent political week since mid-December, when he joined Bill Clinton on the White House lawn, after the latter’s impeachment in the House, and claimed that his boss will go down in history as one of the nation’s greatest presidents. You’d think that Gore, a supposedly educated and savvy man, might’ve kept his trap shut: No one, save perhaps Sidney Blumenthal, would make such a ludicrous statement. Since then, although he’s collected buckets of campaign contributions and endorsements, petrifying potential primary opponents like Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and Bob Kerrey, it’s all been downhill.
There are the polls, which his advisers keep telling him are meaningless, that show him being clobbered—particularly among women, Clinton’s strengt —by George W. Bush and even Elizabeth Dole. As Maureen Dowd wrote in a devastating column on May 16: “Embarrassingly, [Gore] is losing the women’s vote to [Bush], the same vote that Saturday Night Bill [a phrase Dowd filched from Dick Morris, by the way] kept solid despite sexual harassment charges, despite an affair with an intern, despite humiliating his wife, despite a rape accusation. Mr. Gore, ever the faithful husband, ever the champion of diversity, shows up with posies and chocolates and women voters slam the door in this face.”
The Beltway media’s become infatuated by his lone challenger, the equally soporific Bill Bradley, speculating that the country is simply tired of the present scandal-plagued administration.
Two weeks ago Gore’s wife Tipper revealed that she suffered from depression after their son was seriously injured in a car accident back in 1989. She didn’t reveal in a May 7 USA Today article what drugs she took or the exact nature of her treatment, but told The Wall Street Journal‘s in-house liberal Al Hunt that “I finally reached the point I was comfortable talking about this openly.” Okay. I guess it’s just coincidence that this “point” arrived just as her husband is tanking in the polls. That doesn’t bother Hunt. He wrote on May 13, reacting to cynicism within political circles: “But so what? She’s hardly the first political figure, businessman or athlete to try to seek the most advantageous avenue for a sensitive story.”
I think the New York Post‘s Andrea Peyser was closer to the truth in her column of May 8: “In time for Election 2000, Tipper Gore has adopted her pet disease… But the way Tipper describes her victorious tango with her demons is a bit too calculated and way too neat. She won’t spill her symptoms, other than to admit she gained weight, which we already knew… But if she really wants to milk depression—to make it work for her the way playing the courageous victim of adultery worked for Hillary—she’s got a lot of work to do.”
But last week was certainly the low point of Gore’s campaign, at least so far. For starters, he tapped former California Rep. Tony Coelho as the chief strategist in his election effort. Coelho, of course, resigned from Congress after accusations of financial improprieties, although no charges were ever brought against him. Still, Coelho’s an odd choice for a man who’s neck-deep in accusations of campaign finance violations of his own.
Stranger still is the fact that Coelho was recruited by Clinton in the summer of ’94 to oversee the Democratic Party’s battle against the GOP in that fall’s congressional elections. According to The New York Times‘ Richard Berke in a May 11 article, “Less than two months before the election, Mr. Coelho told USA Today that 1994 would be ‘a normal, off-year election’ and not as devastating as many Democrats feared.” Obviously, prescience isn’t Coelho’s long suit: The GOP won the House for the first time in 40 years and caused an abrupt change of policy, more conservative, at the Clinton White House.
To make matters worse, Clinton called Berke at the Times last Thursday night to acknowledge that while Gore’s been stumbling he “still expected [him] to win his party’s nomination in 2000.” Now that’s an enthusiastic endorsement! Clinton told Berke: “It is true that I have urged him to go out there and enjoy this. I have told him to go out and have a good time. I want people to know him the way I know him. I want people to see him the way I see him.” According to Saturday’s Washington Post, Gore, who was traveling in North Carolina, had no idea that Clinton would share his concern with the Times. The Post‘s Ceci Connolly wrote: “‘People today are not in a good mood,’ said one Gore loyalist, describing the vice president as angry. ‘He was furious,’ said a Gore political adviser. A congressional Democrat, after speaking to a Gore adviser, described the story and stir it caused as a ‘disaster.’”
Part of the problem is that Clinton, who’d be doing Gore a favor if he simply played golf for the remainder of his term, can’t reconcile the fact that ’96 was his last campaign. He’s best on the hustings, pressing flesh, remembering the names of obscure assemblymen and lapping up the attention from the dwindling few in this country who still want to suck up to him. Kosovo? Too much of a headache. China? That was on Bush‘s watch. Naah, let’s get out and eat some chicken-fried steaks and win this thing for Al!
The Boston Globe‘s pair of blithering idiots, columnists David Nyhan and Thomas Oliphant, are trying to help Gore, but their opinions are so myopic and goofy that the Vice President would be better off if they went on sabbatical for the next year. Nyhan, on May 16, had a splendid suggestion for Gore: Why not skip all the suspense and just announce that he’s chosen former Sen. George Mitchell as his running mate? I really have no clue as to whether Nyhan is a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, but on the off chance he isn’t, you’d think he’d remember that elder statesman Lloyd Bentsen didn’t help Michael Dukakis a bit in 1988. As I’ve written before, if Gore wanted to shake things up, he’d select Maryland‘s Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for his ticket; she’s an earnest legislator who’d be sure to narrow the gender gap. Not to mention grabbing what’s left of the Kennedy magic.
But Oliphant is simply naive. Read the following paragraph, from his May 16 piece, and tell me the Globe pundit isn’t on a high dose of happy pills: “The idea of complete continuity in policy is everything to Clinton and Gore. The hand Gore is fated to play with is a strong one, certainly better than what George Bush was playing with at this point in 1987 and a far cry from the mess Richard Nixon wrestled with in 1959. At the margins it is probably made a bit stronger by the fact that there’s no denying Gore’s role at the apex of decision making in the Clinton government.”
I’ve seen Oliphant on C-SPAN and he appears to be the most pleasant man in Washington, so my recommendation for an immediate lobotomy is made without malice. Does Oliphant really think that Gore being “at the apex of decision making” in Clinton’s disastrous and criminal administration is a positive for his campaign?
There was one piece of good news, albeit slight, for Gore last week: Some of the press is tiring of Bradley’s Adlai Stevenson shtick. The strongest article was written by The National Review‘s Jay Nordlinger for the May 31 issue. Nordlinger’s tired of Bradley’s sanctimonious sermons on race, claiming that the former basketball player thinks he has a monopoly on mixing with black people. He writes: “In Bradley’s mind, it often seems, drinking fountains are still separate, little girls in pretty dresses are being blown up in churches, and Bull Connor’s dogs continue to bark… At his best, [Bradley] is tolerable—even thoughtful. But at his worst, he succumbs to a vision of himself as the lone white knight in an odious and venal land. And when he gets into that mode, there’s no chance of reasoning with him: The rest of you honkies might as well be wearing sheets.”
Dissent In the Midwest
Some NYPress readers complain about the letters to the editor that come from conservative readers across the country, who read my column via the Jewish World Review website, which is linked on MattDrudge‘s page. By and large, unlike many Manhattanites, people in the heartland aren’t offended by my anti-Clinton rhetoric or libertarian political views. Last week, however, when I attacked JerryFalwell‘s absurd campaign against Anheuser Busch for its advertisement showing two men holding hands, the tide turned. One correspondent wrote: “I usually enjoy your writing, and I get the impression you are conservative… I’m perplexed why you are disturbed about Falwell’s attack on Anheuser-Busch. Most people I know are opposed to the homosexual lifestyle. If God says it’s an abomination who is a man to argue?” And then this: “I see how you got your nickname MUGGER. You like to mug every religious leader in sight and all things religious… or is it just all things Christian. God will not be mocked.”
This last fellow did write later to apologize for his hasty letter, saying it was just a “conservative knee-jerk reaction” on his part.
Still. I’d like to clear up a few matters. Falwell is a buffoon. As is anyone who believes that homosexuals don’t deserve the same civil rights as heterosexuals. And to up the ante to my readers outside New York City: I’m pro-choice (with the exception of late-term abortions), pro-immigration and opposed to a return to the mythical 50s culture that Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, Dan Quayle and William Bennett seem to believe is possible. I don’t believe in censorship, and all the blather from politicians about clamping down on the entertainment industry for violent and sexually explicit films and television shows, while they accept campaign contributions from actors, studio chiefs and political imbeciles like David Geffen, is the most vile current example of hypocrisy. I’m an economic conservative who believes that the less government interferes with the lives of American citizens, the better. I’m against affirmative action and excessive gun control laws. I’m against punitive business regulations that liberals love to lash entrepreneurs and corporations with. I’m in favor of capital punishment. Finally, I’m against liars who reside in the White House.