Gore Needs to Raise the Bar
Here’s a novel idea: Why doesn’t Veep Al Gore resign, cut a deal with Bill Bradley and spend from now until November of 2000 campaigning for the presidency with the former New Jersey senator as his runningmate, unbound from the chains of Clinton Corruption? It’s not so far-fetched, although I doubt Gore has the imagination and integrity to pull it off. Still, it was another disastrous week for the beleaguered Washingtonian: When a Democrat has to spend time in California, answering the sometimes hostile questions of gay and lesbian activists, something is very wrong with the campaign. He was also heckled by gays in New Hampshire and Tennessee. Granted, quitting his office (which he should’ve done last fall) is a tactic Bob Dole tried in ’96, to little effect, but Gore could finally become his own man and truly claim the moral high ground. The media would eat it up.
And now President Clinton is pissed off at Gore for the traitorous act of stating on national tv that his boss’ conduct during the past year was deeply disappointing to a family man—a father of a very pregnant daughter, his handlers took care to point out—such as himself. An anonymous aide told New York Times reporters John M. Broder and Don Van Natta Jr. that the
President was “livid” and “To the people who he is very close to [like who?], he’s expressing how hurt he is and his dismay at the Vice President. It is not a passing thing. He is very upset.” It’s difficult to ascertain whether this was a shrewd tactic on the President’s part to help his understudy or whether he’s really steamed, given the twisted petty feuds and revenge that define the current White House; close call, but I’ll go with Clinton’s solipsism on this one.
On the other hand, it was a splendid week for Gov. George W. Bush, as he continued his whirlwind tour of the country, collecting endorsements and buckets of money, and also making his positions on the issues clearer. Pundits are poking mild
fun at his geographical gaffes—”Grecians” was a dilly—but it’s my guess that Dan Quayle has taken the fall for future candidates on that score, much like Douglas Ginsburg made it acceptable for a politician to admit he or she has smoked pot—but only as an experiment!—in the past. Besides, with Gore as a challenger, who tells tall tales of slopping the hogs and creating the Internet (although Bush should drop that joke from his repertoire; it’s getting old), I don’t know that he has much to worry about on, as William F. Buckley says, the “verbal typo” front.
The mainstream media, which is clearly befuddled by Bush’s remarkable rollout, was desperately looking for something to criticize the candidate on besides the empty charge that he hasn’t defined what “compassionate conservatism” means. So,
when Bush went to Capitol Hill last week to meet with the legions of GOP legislators who’ve pledged their support, as well as hold a fundraiser that would drop another $2 million into his kitty, there was much gnashing of teeth over whether Mr. Outsider was getting too cozy with the Washington establishment he’s supposedly running against.
This is a stupid argument. First, the DC swing was just part of a nationwide tour that’s now included Iowa, New England, Pennsylvania (where he spent time with future vice president Tom Ridge) and Florida; as this issue hits the street he’s in California, laying the groundwork for a knockout electoral punch. Scoff if you will, given the GOP’s disastrous showing in the ’98 elections there, but Bush, who has a slim lead among California voters, according to an L.A. Times poll, has at least a 50-50 shot of winning the state, and thus the election. With California’s sizable Hispanic population, and rural areas that have traditionally been Reagan country, Gore can’t, unlike Clinton, consider the state a gimme. That’s why he speaks in pig-Spanish anywhere he can, regardless of the crowd’s ethnic makeup.
But there was nothing at all wrong with schmoozing for a period of 24 hours with the members of Congress whom Bush might be working with in 2001. Liberal strategists and pundits, clearly clutching at straws, had hoped Bush would be photographed with his arm around Tom DeLay, this year’s Newt Gingrich, or Bob Barr (who’s subsequently endorsed Steve Forbes, a mixed blessing for the increasingly bitter self-philanthropist), and provide dazzling advertising fodder for Gore in the general election. But Karl Rove, Bush’s James Carville (although not nearly as mouthy or hungry for public adulation), isn’t dumb: When Bush made his pilgrimage to DC, DeLay was “tied up” in meetings and couldn’t attend the festivities.
Now to the pundits: Most simply can’t stomach the idea of a Republican in the White House, especially if Bush’s luck holds out and he doesn’t have a cantankerous primary struggle. A newspaper friend of mine was joshing around the other day, asking why I’ve singled out David Nyhan, David Shribman and Thomas Oliphant of The Boston Globe for such rough treatment in this column. After all, he said, no one takes the Globe seriously, implying that I look foolish by doing so myself. First, I read that paper because it’s available on the Internet and I like to keep up with its Red Sox coverage. Second, I’m an equal-opportunity (that’s a sop to my buddies at The Nation) critic: Oliphant might be considered a joke in Washington, Nyhan a lazy journalist gone to seed, but they’re no worse than any number of their colleagues in the elite press.
I can tick them off one by one: Richard Cohen, E.J. Dionne and Mary McGrory at The Washington Post; Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, Richard Berke (a reporter in name only; he’s by far the most biased political writer in the country, which was only proven by the fact that Clinton called him to criticize Gore’s sluggish campaign) and Bob Herbert at The New York Times; Lars-Erik Nelson from the Daily News; The Wall Street Journal‘s Al Hunt; Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter and Eleanor Clift, soon to be joined by the $300,000 biweekly columnist Anna Quindlen; and Time‘s Margaret Carlson. Mind you, that’s just a partial list; I haven’t forgotten tv clowns like Peter Jennings, Bernard Shaw and Geraldo, to name just a few.
Dowd took top honors last week, in a very crowded field, for the stupidest column about Gov. Bush. Using Hollywood as a backdrop, for a change, Dowd last Wednesday compared the Bush family to The Godfather‘s Corleones, a tortured conceit, and dredged up as many cliches as she could in 800 words. She likened George W. to hothead Sonny, for example, and then wrote: “It is entertaining to imagine the former President Bush as a preppy Don Corleone, sitting up at Kennebunkport overseeing the family councils, with Jeb as Michael, Neil as Fredo and Doro as Connie. [Dowd has no role for Marvin.] Don
Georgio would receive political supplicants, dispense favors and ask for services from the vast group of politicos and policy hands under Bush family protection.”
The Post‘s Cohen is already nostalgic for Bill Clinton. In a ludicrous June 22 column headlined “The ’50s Are Back,” the petrified pundit writes: “But just as the Republican Party of old was no joke, neither is today’s. If anything, it is defined by a hostility toward minorities—all sorts of minorities—and by a craven cowardice on the part of its more moderate members. The truth of the matter is that the party is having a crackup. If it were a person, it would be medicated.”
If Cohen were a person, he’d be called “in denial.” For in fact, Gov. Bush won 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in his reelection last fall in Texas and attracted more blacks than any previous GOP candidate. Why do you think Gore is concentrating so hard on the Hispanic vote? And far from having a “crackup,” the Republican Party is fairly dancing in the aisles, finally proposing meaningful tax legislation and looking forward to reoccupying the White House. And as far as the 50s are concerned, Cohen might read some history of that era: Not only were scores of Democrats against integration, but John F. Kennedy, while president, wouldn’t make a move on civil rights without considering the Southern segregationists of his own party.
Cohen’s June 15 “With a Name Like Bush” minimizes Gov. Bush’s upset win over the popular incumbent Ann Richards in 1994, saying it doesn’t compare to FDR‘s polio or JFK’s World War II combat. Of course it doesn’t: While Bush was enjoying “frat house bawdiness,” Clinton was getting his ass shot off in Vietnam.
The columnist asks: “Could George W. Bush survive the equivalent of an impeachment or a war that seemed for a time to be going nowhere? It’s impossible to say, but it is possible to say that nothing in his experience has prepared him for what might be coming.” Terrific. Let’s all clap our hands that Clinton had the right stuff to survive impeachment. What a coup for the United States that was.
Time‘s Carlson is also nervous, complaining about Bush’s stance on abortion. As he’s stated many times, Bush is pro-life, but unlike past GOP candidates won’t make the issue a centerpiece of his campaign. He won’t impose “litmus tests” on possible Supreme Court nominees. You’d think that would cheer a liberal like Carlson; instead, she calls for him, in a June 28 column, not to waste “$60 million on slick ads and a fog machine of road-tested, split-the-difference platitudes.” Obviously Carlson, like most of the Beltway establishment, wishes Bush would be a do-or-die pro-lifer, like the kooky Gary Bauer, so that Al Gore can continue the Clinton administration.
USA Today‘s Walter Shapiro, a John McCain supporter (until Election Day, when he’ll vote Democratic), wails on June 23 that Bush’s campaign appearances are “more sizzle than steak.” He continues, writing about a speech in South Carolina last week, “That scene encapsulates the contrast facing GOP voters: McCain’s substantive rhetoric risks being drowned out by the hyped-up enthusiasm for Bush, a candidate who seems to equate vagueness with victory.”
That’s nonsense, as The Nation‘s Eric Alterman pointed out in his July 12 column. Alterman, unlike this writer, believes that the elite media is enraptured by Bush, snowed by his good looks and aggressive campaigning. Near the beginning of his piece, Alterman is downright nasty, writing a paragraph that could be fighting words within the Bush family: “And ‘Dubya’ seems to get along well with his parents, at least when more than 300 reporters, including thirty television crews, are invited to watch.” He’s the first reporter I’ve read that actually questions Gov. Bush’s devotion to his family. Alterman might not believe it, but just as the Kennedys stuck together, the Bush clan will work like dogs to get their son and his brother elected.
But unlike the pundits who share space on tv shows with him, Alterman doesn’t think Bush is vague on the issues at all. He’s a “right-wing Republican,” the Nation scribe warns, who’s in favor of cutting taxes, privatizing Social Security and instituting school vouchers; he’s opposed to trivial lawsuits and won’t pay lipservice to environmental wackos. And Alterman’s correct: That’s why Bush will defeat Gore and his prediction that “The tin man wins in a walk” is all wet.
Let’s Party Down With Hillary
My thanks to Sam Schulman, an integral cog in Taki‘s “Top Drawer” section that appears weekly in NYPress, for intercepting the following memo from Tina Brown about Talk‘s upcoming party.
“To: Talk Staff
“From: Tina Brown
“Subject: Final Copy for Invitation
“Please look this over for final comments. I want to thank Sam Sifton for his memo, which I shared with many of you, making a definitive argument against spelling ‘Honor’ ‘Honour.’ Sam, you have saved the day once again.
“Now I must say a few stern words. If the rest of staff were as loyal as you, Sam, this ghastly thing with the party venue would not have happened. In fact I must confess my disappointment that in this moment of crisis, I had to turn to Maurie Perl, of all people, still at Conde Nast, for the brilliant suggestion of an alternative venue, which I understand is one of the most Talked-about places in fashionable Long Island.
“Now, enough gloomy faces. Let the revels now begin! Please remember that while you are there to have fun, the following duties must not be neglected:
“Eavesdrop: Sam has provided a form to report comments on Talk or its editor by Conde Nast personnel. Please attend Sam’s Profile Recognition Sessions.
“Stay in the background. Do not approach Miramax or Disney talent or executives. These people are here to help our enterprise, not to be bothered by insignificant nobodies.
“Be kind to Hearst people. They are not like us, I know, but they are our partners in this millennial venture, and they are extremely sensitive to fancied snubs. Sam, darling, this means you too.
“Give Ron elbow room. Ron needs his personal space—his work at this event will be intense. Those of you who have worked with him before do not need to be told this. Do not bother him with greetings. Wait until he summons you.
“Secrecy. Do not reveal who our surprise Cover Girl (or guy!) is to anyone.
“That’s all, ‘Talkies.’ Now let’s make this a success.”
The New York Post‘s Keith Kelly wrote a “Counting Down to Talk” article on June 22, reporting on the competition between George and Talk for the privilege of plastering Hillary Clinton‘s mug on their September issues. Guess who won? After all, George is about to go down the tubes, and Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein is close to the Clintons (and a significant contributor to Democratic candidates). So close, in fact, that Rudy Giuliani nixed the magazine’s planned soiree at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, presumably because the city doesn’t sanction “political events” on public property.
In the unlikely event that Talk editor Tina Brown was as gushy about the Mayor as she is about Hillary, and planned a story on him, there’s little doubt that rules would’ve been bent. Nonetheless, everyone from Liz Smith (who shills for both Brown and the Clintons) to The New York Times declared Rudy’s outburst as another Talk publicity coup. I shouldn’t forget The Wall Street Journal‘s Al Hunt, who remarked on last Saturday’s Capital Gang that Rudy’s pique had only served to further Brown’s interest, because “I don’t think anyone heard of that magazine before Rudy did that silly, silly thing…” Sure, Al. As the court jester of Beltway media social life, it’s really believable that you and your dining companions haven’t succumbed to the Tina-Hillary lovefest. After all, you’re on the same sordid side as those two despicable characters.
CG guest Rep. Charlie Rangel (a pinko, certainly, but a damn entertaining one) chimed in: “[T]he Mayor feels very, very awkward with people and especially women and especially bright people. You know, that guy has never been down to Washington, never met with the delegation. He hasn’t the slightest clue as to what’s going on in the Senate. I think we have an exciting potential candidate and she’ll win and win big.” The National Review‘s Kate O’Beirne added: “How should I feel? [Giuliani's] always seemed comfortable with me. I’m not bright enough, I guess.”
In fact, the Times, in a stupid June 23 article by Dan Barry describing the contretemps, actually discovered a new word: “[Giuliani's] decision has done more than temper excitement over yet another lavish party in the big city; it has also blessed Talk magazine with the all-important element known as buzz [italics mine].”
Welcome to 1987, Times men and women.
But once Talk‘s party is held, and fawned over in the gossip columns, Brown’s hangover won’t come from too much champagne. Although her obedient minions are remaining intractably tight-lipped about anything that concerns the venture, this is a publishing disaster that will quickly unfold within the industry. As I wrote two weeks ago, the lack of a direct-mail pitch to entice charter subscribers is baffling; the reliance on a Brown video pitch isn’t likely to persuade many potential readers.
Circulation blunders aside, what’s even more foreboding is Brown’s insistence on flacking for the ill-fated Hillary Clinton. A bombshell report from the Brill’s Content website on June 25, written by Matthew Heimer with assistance from proprietor Steven Brill, says that not only will the First Lady be the subject of Talk‘s premiere feature story—and will no doubt be on the cover—but that the story has been promised to be sympathetic. According to Brill’s, as well as the Daily News‘ Celia McGee, the piece will be written by the liberal Lucinda Franks, a former New York Times reporter who has hobnobbed with the Clintons in the past on Martha’s Vineyard and who accompanied Hillary to North Africa in March, on assignment for Talk.
But here’s the Brill’s scoop that’s so damaging to Talk‘s credibility: “According to Sidney Blumenthal, a special assistant to President Clinton and a close adviser of the First Lady, the First Lady’s press office was assured by ‘people at the magazine’ that the article would be ‘friendly’ and ‘sympathetic.’ Blumenthal added that Mrs. Clinton had personally asked him to allow Franks to interview him for the article.” Not surprisingly, “Franks did not return calls seeking comment on any such agreements.”
So Sidney‘s out of the doghouse, and all is forgiven (at least temporarily) for the dustup he had with Christopher Hitchens earlier this year. It must make Talk staffers proud that their magazine will be performing the same function for Hillary Clinton that The New Republic does for Al Gore. What a way to start a magazine! In fact, a publishing executive based in Manhattan who has close ties with several Talk employees told me recently that the monthly’s shop is not a happy place to work right now, especially with Brown’s (and, one would surmise, her husband Harry Evans‘) political agenda so bald-faced.
But let’s skip the bubbly and get back to the New York Senate race.
The June 28 New York Observer ran a fascinating juxtaposition of opinion on pages 4 and 5. In an editorial, which I assume was written or dictated to an underling by owner Arthur Carter, the paper called for Rep. Rick Lazio to cease his self-aggrandizing publicity tour in support of a possible GOP primary challenge to Giuliani. Lazio has little to lose—save pissing off the Mayor—by making noises about running for Senate. He raises his statewide, and national, profile, thus positioning himself for a more sensible campaign against the publicity hound Chuck Schumer in 2004, while setting himself up as an alternative should Giuliani do something really stupid, not just Giuliani stupid, in the coming months. The pressure from the Republican National Committee, as well as the George W. Bush presidential organization, will be intense for Lazio to get back in line: Enjoy your appearances on the cable shows and Meet the Press, Karl Rove might be saying, but don’t mess with our New York strategy once the campaign really gets going. Lazio, like loudmouth Peter King, another Long Island Republican congressman, will be a good soldier in the end.
The Observer‘s editorial is somewhat less forgiving of Lazio: “The Long Islander seems suspiciously willing to allow his potential candidacy to be used by Mr. Giuliani’s detractors. No doubt he is unaware of the havoc he could cause for his party [is that an Observer typo, or does the writer really think Lazio is that dumb?]… Mr. Lazio certainly shows signs that he’ll be an important player in state politics in the not-very-distant future. But he’ll throw it all away if he continues to undermine Mr. Giuliani. Does he really want to help elect a scandal-tainted interloper instead of his fellow Republican?”
Amen, Brother Carter.
On the following page of the Observer there’s a mystifying column by Ronald Goldfarb, headlined “Echoes of Kennedy In Hillary’s Run,” which equates the First Lady’s greedy grab at power with Bobby Kennedy‘s successful Senate run against Republican Ken Keating in 1964. (Mind you, this is no brief for the Kennedy clan’s own naked ambition, just a comment on how silly Goldfarb’s comparison is.) I don’t give a hoot about the carpetbagger “issue,” even though Kennedy was certainly more familiar with New York than the First Lady. Granted, Bronxville and the Carlyle Hotel aren’t exactly New Paltz, but Kennedy knew his way around the state better than Hillary. Goldfarb was a speechwriter in RFK’s campaign, so I imagine he’s getting on in years, and is a rabid Democrat to this day, which perhaps explains his myopia. In explaining his boss’ run, he conveniently omits the fact that Kennedy first had his sights on becoming Lyndon Johnson‘s veep for the ’64 election, and when the vindictive LBJ turned him down he came to New York to pick up a consolation prize. But there’s no doubt that Kennedy, who was his brother’s closest confidante, as well as attorney general, was vastly more qualified to sit in the Senate than Hillary Clinton.
Yet Goldfarb writes: “Both had attractive and lucrative opportunities aside from the Senate. Both would face ugly charges and a bruising political fight. Both would run on their own records but bear the burdens as well of the glamour of their Presidential mentors… Both faced critics’ concerns about the undesirability of family dynasties.” Now, as my mother used to say, hold the phone, Jack. What “record” does Hillary Clinton have except for those Rose Law Firm billing documents she hid in the White House? What “glamour” does her husband possess? And who the hell has ever spoken about a Clinton “dynasty”?
Bobby Kennedy’s Senate campaign was hard-fought and he didn’t nearly match LBJ’s vote total in New York that November of ’64. And rather than being related to a president who has disgraced the nation, he was the brother of a very recently martyred leader of the free world. Aside from the insignificant carpetbagger similarity, the comparison between Hillary Clinton and Bobby Kennedy is insulting to the latter and simply factually inaccurate.
Last week’s LA Weekly (a Village Voice-owned alternative paper) ran an interview with Germaine Greer, conducted by Barbara Ehrenreich, and the portions devoted to Hillary Clinton aren’t pretty. And remember, Greer and Ehrenreich aren’t to be confused with Tom DeLay and Bob Barr. Greer isn’t a Hillary fan, saying, “She shares a bed with the head of state, maybe, sometime. And, so what? She’s an attorney. Big deal. There are women attorneys all over this country. She gets a job of huge importance…”
Ehrenreich then asks, “You mean health reform?”
Greer: “Mm-hmm, and screws it up. Surprise, surprise, because that job should not have been given to someone in Hillary’s position in the first place. So why is NOW so indulgent to Hillary and Bill? I just don’t get it, you know. I really sympathize with Elizabeth Wurtzel when she said it was a big failure of American feminists that they didn’t defend Lewinsky. That they didn’t see how vulnerable she was, that they didn’t see her pathetic willingness to deceive herself about her relationship
with the president as symptomatic of what women do all the time. And then they say, well, he’s pro-choice. He’s pro-abortion, in the way that every libertine is pro-abortion. And how pro-choice is he when he allows the United States to go on starving the United Nations of funds, because the United Nations is thought to support abortion programs in the Third World? There’s nothing to be expected from this man. And that NOW should be pussy for him drives me nuts.”
When Ehrenreich asks her subject about Hillary’s Senate race, the revered feminist is just as blunt:
“I was incensed when she was allowed to address a plenary session for the U.N. Women’s Year in Beijing. Every time I’ve been to a Women’s Year Conference, we’ve had the wife of a head of state telling us what was what, reading a prepared speech from nowhere—and that included, I may say, the great Imelda Marcos. And we had to applaud. And of course Mrs. Clinton. Get out of my face. Now there are women all over the world who’ve kept their own burrow, who should be there
talking to us. Not the widows or wives of politicians.”
The Journal‘s Al Hunt, sensitive 80s guy that he is, simply isn’t on the same page as the gutsier Greer. In a fawning, greasy paean to the First Lady on June 24, urging her not to run, Hunt argues that the Senate isn’t good enough for a saint like Hillary, writing, “Is Hillary Clinton really ready to devote hundreds of hours to public-works projects or in government affairs committees? Or to spend her weeks shuttling to Buffalo or Syracuse on cramped commuter planes?”
The answer, of course, is no. Clinton wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about small-bore issues in Buffalo; she’d take for granted seniority status to speak out about NATO, illiteracy in Bombay and lob grenades at GOP senators.
Here’s the part of Hunt’s column where my new best friend Germaine and I will excuse ourselves to barf: “Hillary is the Clinton of both substance and character. She is deeply committed to issues like children’s health and welfare but isn’t the ideologue so often depicted by critics. She has achieved almost iconic status to many women.” Yeah, she’s got so much character that she’s let aides wallow in legal bills while protecting her lying, scumbag husband. She’s so committed to welfare that she went along with the President’s GOP-inspired paring down of that wasteful entitlement. What horseshit!
Bill Monahan, who originally asked for the assignment of covering the Rudy-Hillary race for NYPress, has begged off. He wrote the other day: “Belay the Hillary offer. Just say she’s bogus and leave it at that. I have a theory that she’s actively attempting to exhaust disgust. When critics are speechless and everything’s been said she’ll just waddle on to victory. She loses in New York, she notches up a defeat for women everywhere, thereby winning. She has no brains whatsoever. It’s fucking unwatchable.”
Sick of Hillary-talk? Tough luck: The ice-cold mama is with us for the next 16 months. I’ll finish with the prim George Will, writing more delicately in the July 5 Newsweek. Will doesn’t agree that Giuliani will own the GOP primary: He’s speculating that both King and Lazio will enter the race, even forcing Rudy out of the race. Balderdash. Nonetheless, read Will for his superb comments on the First Lady:
“[S]he needs a self-esteem infusion. She is running because running is what the Clintons do. Campaigning may be a metabolic necessity for them; it certainly is their lifetime vocation. He has been campaigning since law school. Tagging along, she has led an entirely derivative life, from rainmaker for an unsavory Little Rock law firm to unmaker of health-care reform. But now she inherits the family business, which consists of living off the land, nomadically soliciting money to fuel campaigns. Well-known not for any achievements but only for her well-knownness, she personifies the politics of celebrity. Does she worry that by keeping the cloud of Clintonism on the public’s horizon, and by siphoning up Democratic money, she will hurt Al Gore? Are you kidding? A reasonable surmise is that she wants him to lose, so she can fulfill her manifest destiny in 2004.”
Are you listening, all you Upper West Side liberals who believe Hillary is “charismatic” and the future of the Democratic Party?
Make Room for MUGGER
I’m not by nature a pander bear, and don’t fall for third-rate schmooze, but when Mrs. M and I left the Four Seasons gala last Thursday night—a celebration of their 40th anniversary—there was no doubt who loomed largest in my snapshot memory of the mobbed cocktail party. Not socialite Brooke Astor, escorted by a young man; not Henry Kravis, accompanied by The New York Observer‘s Michael M. Thomas (just kidding, Mike!); and not even Time‘s Walter Isaacson, who was a pleasure to bullshit with about politics and isn’t shy at all about returning a verbal shot to the gut.
Hands down, it was the guy at the coatcheck station, who, when I retrieved my briefcase, said, “My favorite bag of the night. That ‘Furious George‘ sticker and all the Pokemon stuff is tops, boss!” Those kind remarks made me happy that Junior and MUGGER III would still be awake when we got home. Not that getting a cab was easy on Park Ave. at 8:15 p.m.: Instead, we grabbed a moonlighting limo driver, who was probably killing time until Steve Florio was through glad-handing inside the Four Seasons. It was a smooth ride and I didn’t know why Mrs. M was kicking my foot; I thought she was worried we’d get
slammed with an exorbitant tab—actually, just $15, a buck or two more than a taxi—but it was the guy’s bad rug that made her think he was another Son of Sam. Damn that Spike Lee! Now everyone’s reliving the Summer of ’77.
It was so crowded that Mrs. M and I staked out a spot by the bar and stayed put for the first hour, chatting with the delightful D.D. Ryan, an hilarious and highbrow lady from the Upper East Side who chainsmoked, drank bourbon and told us grand stories about Manhattan social life in the 40s and 50s. The first hook that got my funny bone working was when she described her ex as a “wusband,” a word that everyone from “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker” cracks up at, she said, using another antiquated phrase that I haven’t heard in years. D.D.’s a veteran of the fashion mag trade and she and Mrs. M had a ball talking about design and decorating; I was mostly silent during this phase of our time with her, just didn’t have much to add. Occasionally, I’d dive in to the mob, and, aside from marveling at the spread—caviar, a roasted pig, crabcakes, ham, beef and oysters—I enjoyed speaking with GQ‘s Art Cooper and Alan Richman, while taking good-natured guff from host Graydon Carter, who chastised me for bringing along a camera. Uh, Graydon, Mr. Fancy-Pants, that aces you out of this week’s party pictures.
Not that the paparazzi weren’t out in full force—guests were almost blinded by all the flashbulbs popping, with celebrities posing patiently for 50 different publications. Frankly, I could’ve been next to a movie star and wouldn’t have noticed: I had to read the gossip columns to find out who, aside from the few media people I knew, was actually in attendance. I did spot the ubiquitous Fran Lebowitz, and contemplated introducing myself to Art Buchwald, but thought the better of it since I never could stomach his column. You can only whore yourself so much. So I missed Jann Wenner, Ellen Barkin, Ashford & Simpson, Martha Stewart and Tom Wolfe: Life goes on.
Early on, I did say hello to James Brady, the Hamptons denizen who’s written a score of books, as well as contributing columns for Advertising Age, Crain’s New York Business and Parade. In the late 80s, I used to clip Brady’s articles, thinking one day I’d devote a MUGGER blurb to all the malarkey he writes about anyone who’ll send him or an assistant press releases. But over time, I warmed up to “Brady’s Bunch” in Ad Age, and never got around to giving jolly Jim a sound thumping. He may be a Democrat, and his constant nods to the Mantle-Berra-Martin Yankees and newspaper floors where reporters still drank and smoked remind me uncomfortably of Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield nostalgia, but the man has not
a whit of pretentiousness about him.
After I took his picture, he politely thanked me and moved on: So I was taken aback when I rejoined D.D. and Mrs. M and there was Brady, fetching drinks for the two of them. He got a jab in: “So I finally meet the MUGGER. I had no idea what you looked like! The most conservatively dressed man in this room and you write such a monstrous column! What a Jekyll & Hyde situation!” I nodded and took note of his sartorial blunder: Jim, sir, please don’t ever let me see you again with a double-breasted suit in conjunction with a buttondown shirt. That’s deeply offensive.
Here’s an item from the Brady archives, found in the March 28, ’88, Crain’s, in which he gives advice to Peter Kalikow about the New York Post: “Beef up the financial pages. If the Post is to be our only afternoon paper, then Wall Street is its game. Since they stopped playing day baseball, late market prices have been the one real incentive to buy a second paper late in the day. This means whatever else the Post offers, there is a reason for the News or Times or Newsday reader to buy a late Post… Get Steve Dunleavy back from Channel 5, not as an executive, but as the leading reporter. Cover our town better!”
Later, I engaged D.D. in some political chatter, but that went nowhere. She reviles the holy Henry Hyde and is looking forward to voting for Hillary Clinton, even though she claims to be conservative. D.D. finally met up with her evening date, so Mrs. M and I took another spin around the room, sampled some foie gras, spoke briefly with Vanity Fair photographer Gasper Tringale and called it an evening. Both boys were awake when we got home, so while I read MUGGER III a bedtime story—he insisted on a recitation of John Judis‘ excellent but fatally dated profile of Steve Forbes in the July GQ, but I opted for lighter fare—Mrs. M and Junior watched The Brady Bunch and then the three of us waited for the steamed vegetables and noodles to arrive from Au Mandarin.
Not quite unrelated, a few days earlier, MUGGER III’s book of choice was The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes, a funny story by Phyllis Krasilovsky that’s about a lazy bachelor who loves to eat but not clean up after himself. He runs out of dishes and eventually has to improvise: “Then one night he looked in his closet and found that there wasn’t one clean dish left! He was hungry enough to eat out of anything, so he ate out of the soap dish from the bathroom. It was too dirty for him to use again the next night, so he used one of his ash trays.”
What’s remarkable about this story, is that casual mention of the ash tray, an endangered household item that wouldn’t be uttered in any children’s story written today. And, in fact, Krasilovsky’s book came out in 1950. I can just imagine schoolteachers all over the country, should they have a copy of the book, skipping over the ashtray reference.
This reminded me of a smart column written on May 10 by The Boston Globe‘s Jeff Jacoby, the first winner of News Corp.‘s “Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism.” Jacoby takes issue with the antismoking pandemonium that’s in vogue today and disputes, aided by a report in Regulation by Robert Levy and Rosalind Marimont, the common figure of 400,000 smoking-related deaths each year. According to the Regulation study, that number is inflated by the deaths of smokers who are also obese, had high cholesterol, abused alcohol, exercised little and had bad diets.
Jacoby isn’t advocating smoking; no one does anymore. He’s simply stating that the hysteria over its evils is overblown, as are the lawsuits and government restrictions imposed on the tobacco companies. And let’s not even get into the myths of secondhand smoke. He concludes: “For all the talk of protecting children, the average age of death from a smoking-related illness is 72. Measured by years of life lost, smoking is a much smaller problem than alcohol consumption. The number of young people killed by smoking is—zero. All this and more Levy and Marimont calmly explain. Their lucid article provides a fine corrective to the ever more hysterical tone of the antitobacco crusade.”
I risk an unforgivable cliche here, but the reservation lady at El Teddy’s, my favorite Tribeca restaurant, is one shrill Taco Nazi. Mrs. M was planning a small party of 12 to celebrate my 44th birthday last week, and she called two days in advance to book a table. That wouldn’t do, the woman replied, and said she’d have to call back at a more convenient time. O-kay, Mrs. M seethed, and followed instructions: 24 hours later the woman took a credit card number and informed my wife that it would be a set menu and the group wouldn’t be seated until everyone arrived. Message to owner Christopher Chesnutt: MUGGER feels your organizational pain, but why not relax a little?
In any case, the dinner was a lot of fun and as usual, El Teddy’s kitchen presented fine Mexican food, even though I couldn’t order queso fundido. Everything was served family style, and there was plenty of it: fried calamari, salads, shrimp tostadas,
shredded beef with avocado and a mild white cheese, seared rare tuna, smoked chicken and goat cheese quesadillas, chicken enchiladas and bowls of guacamole.
With the margarita shakers being tilted to and fro, it was a grand occasion, and as is the norm at such gatherings, a lot of gossip spilled, mostly about past NYPress employees, scattered all over the city, who always manage to sniff out a Puck Bldg. party the paper throws. The champion in this regard is Eli Catalan, a former Classifieds and retail sales rep who never misses a shindig; it’s always a pleasure to see Eli, no matter what incarnation of life he’s passing through, especially since he was one of the original staffers of the paper when we started up in ’88. Eli’s by nature a bottom-feeder: Whether it was selling space to the sleazy rug traders or storing unimaginable junk in his office—discarded computer cables, say, or bicycle tires he picked up in a garbage can on Broadway—I doubt he’s changed much over the years.
One other topic of conversation was Jessica Willis‘ pan of Amy Sohn‘s Run Catch Kiss in the current Black Book, a horrid magazine that somehow has stayed afloat for more than two issues. Willis, a past and present NYPress contributor, writes: “The sex-maniac persona is boring and loaded. That’s why men stopped playing it and are now content to let the females take the risks and make idiots of themselves. Run Catch Kiss makes a strong case for celibacy and wholesome hobbies. The book is retailing at $23, which is the price of a dinner, a mild drunk, or a summer utility bill. Besides, Sohn writes the same stuff (only shorter) in a weekly newspaper. A free one.”
On Saturday morning the boys and I departed for Junior’s final Downtown Little League game of the season, leaving Mrs. M at home to shake off a bug that infiltrated her system sometime during the week. It was my kind of weather, extremely hot, kind of like the Sahara on the ballfield, with tarps over the dugouts, but I was in the distinct minority: Most of the players and parents couldn’t wait till the contest was over and they could retreat to cooler environs. Junior made his best fielding play of the season at second base—which was gratifying, since he’s given to daydreaming in the field—and Alexandre Wedmore hit
a grand-slammer that helped the NYPress Giants to an astounding victory. Of course, kids on the other team said just the opposite, and who really knows, but I think our team creamed those pesky Tigers. After the game, it was time for photo ops and trophies: MUGGER III, the Giants’ mascot, was blue because there wasn’t a souvenir for him and it broke my heart to see him wander off to the side, almost in tears. Cari Stahler, seeing what was happening, interceded with some DLL official and absconded with an extra trophy for my four-year-old. His face lit up and he ran back to the team to pose for pictures.
Pardon me for taking the Lord‘s name in vain, but Jesus Christ, am I getting soft as I add another circle to my tree trunk. When the team was together, and I received a plaque for sponsoring the team, and they shouted several times, NYPress!, NYPress!, NYPress!, with Junior and MUGGER III leading the charge, I was wishing I had a hanky on hand. It was a sentimental moment that can’t be recaptured and one I’ll never forget.
Now: Since I’m on religious borders here, what in the world did the House of Representatives think it was accomplishing by that inane Ten Commandments bit of legislation two weeks ago? It’s a stupid issue and only obscures more important ones, like limiting federal government interference into the lives of American citizens. Ditto for the absurd flag-burning amendment. As a kid, I remember the Ten Commandments framed on a wall of my elementary school and didn’t pay much attention to it;
I recall far more clearly the air-raid drills in the early 60s. Public schools and religion don’t mix: If a child wants to pray, I believe that’s his or her choice, and perhaps there should be a five-minute time set aside for such an activity, like before recess or at the end of the day. And, of course, it should extend to all religions, not just the Judeo-Christian doctrine. But ramming a Ten Commandments bill through Congress won’t do a bit of good in combating the moral decay of this country. And neither will feel-good, symbolic gun control laws.
Later on Saturday, after an excruciating half-hour at the Union Square Toys R Us (although as far as the irritation factor, this particular branch can’t compare to the surly clerks who staff the Herald Square location), where the boys loaded up on Star Wars paraphernalia, we took a cab up to the office. They insisted on opening their booty in the car: My favorite items were the four-bits rubber worms, frogs and snakes that came from the vending machines near the exit of the store. In fact, they played with those critters more fervently than the more expensive toys. It reminded me of one day down at Mill Dam Park in Huntington, when I blew a buck on a tuna sandwich at the local deli; a friend of mine, Jimmy Trant, was relishing his penny Tootsie Roll pop more than I did my edible. It was a lesson I never forgot: A high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean superiority. I passed this wisdom onto my kids but they weren’t interested; just another tired yarn from the “olden days.”
As usual, our research team was hard at work on Saturday, checking facts and finding obscure documents for writers. In a media age where once-standard practices are ignored by idiots like Slate‘s Michael Kinsley, I’m glad NYPress has invested in a diligent team that discovers mistakes in our writers’ copy.
Beth Broome, for example, asked me if it was kosher that Adam Heimlich, in a music piece this issue, disputed Entertainment Weekly‘s insane notion that the Beatles phenomenon in America was due partially to a nation still in mourning for President Kennedy. Right. As if the kids who donned Beatles wigs and cried tears of rapture when they saw John, Paul, George and Ringo live, or on Ed Sullivan‘s CBS show, gave Kennedy’s assassination even a moment’s thought a week after it occurred.
True, errors still find their way into NYPress: I was appalled that my misspelling of Bobby Thomson‘s name made it into print several weeks ago, but those goofs are few and far between, unlike most mainstream (and better financed) publications. I was particularly proud of the department, when last Friday they discovered that “Top Drawer” writer Toby Young, whose slated contribution this week was a lament about an expat Brit’s confusion over this country’s Fourth of July festivities, was an almost word-for-word double-dip that he published in a London daily last year. Spike!
Small improvements have taken place at 333: The far-left elevator, although it still rumbles, now moves almost at World Trade Center speed. It’s been 18 months in the northern Chelsea neighborhood for NYPress now and we’re fully adapted: The pace is quicker than get-up-at-11-Soho, and the amenities are fine. Once you’ve made your bones at Burke & Burke, it’s the coffee joint of choice, and particularly interesting with the international staff that’s on hand. My favorite shop in the neighborhood, though, is Rainbow Card & Photo, the store where every Monday I get film developed very cheaply and the kind proprietors always remember my name. A far cry from the clipjoints on lower Broadway (one of which is now out of business: You’d be too, charging $18 for a package of 36 4-by-6 prints).