Mugger's Western Diary Happen to Like New York

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MUGGER'sWestern Diary Happen to Like New York

Sothe start of the family's Western trip was a little weird. That'swhy California, specifically Los Angeles, was invented, if youask me. The difficulty began mid-way through a Continental flight toLAX, when Mrs. M and I were trying to take a nap, but the kids were tooantsy to cooperate. The parents in front of us, with a two-year-old, had nosuch problems; as the bruiser husband poured down glasses of brandy, chasedby beers, his wife drinking vodka, their child was a Christmas-like angel,cooing at the stewardesses and minding his manners. Not so MUGGER III, who waspissed that he couldn't sit next to mom during this portion of the excursion.He got so mad at me at one point, he yelled, "I hate you, Dad, and greenisn't my favorite color anymore!" In his four-year-old devilish mind,he knew that would get my attention, since we share the same preference. Thenext day he felt contrite and said, "But Daddy, I was only kidding whenI said that."

The trafficwasn't bad: In no time, we cruised by the Santa Monica Pier,up the Pacific Coast Highway, past all the landmarks I'd rememberedfrom previous visits. The only catch this holiday season was that Barbara hadmoved from her familiar Winding Way abode, about 20 miles north, and as we turnedright at Neptune's Net, a seafood dive popular with bikers who tankup on Budweiser before continuing on to Santa Barbara, the drivergot worried. It was getting dark, and because of the tension, we could onlyhalf-appreciate the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Up and up we droveinto the hills, with no guardrails, dirt patches at times, until finally Mrs.M intuited where her mother's new sprawling estate was. When we arrived,I handed the fellow a $50 (or in Manhattan slang, a Tribeca foodstamp) and he said, "Thanks sir, and please pray for me. I don't knowhow I'll get down the mountain." I agreed, but Barbara, an old cowhand,was having none of it. Buck up, she told him, don't be such a pussy, andgave him directions. Later, she claimed he was a Muslim, not used to such terrain,but I told her no way?after all, taking cabs in Manhattan every day I knowmy Mideastern brothers?this guy was definitely one petrified South American.

I alwaysloved the original Rancho Sol Del Pacifico, with its shingle house, lemonand lime trees, horse stables and a clear view of the Pacific, but Barbara andher husband Al's new digs are something else. Junior went throughthe grand entrance, took a look around and said, sounding like a Bowery Boyfrom the 1930s, "Pretty snazzy. Hey, this is all right!" Thehouse is some 10,000 square feet, with wing after wing after wing, every nookand cranny packed with memorabilia from her kids' childhoods, first-placeribbons from the horse shows, about 50 antique guitars, statues and glass figurines,knickknacks collected at swap meets and, best of all, for our two boys, a movietheater downstairs. If I've seen The Brave Little Toasteronce now, I've seen it 100 times. They never tired of it, as long as thecartoon was accompanied by Cap'n Crunch and Goosebumps fruitroll-ups.

There'sa swimming pool outside (but in California that's as common as an elevatorin New York), a hot tub, tennis courts, basketball setup, go-carts anda melange of macaws and other annoying parrots that squawk constantly. And ofcourse a posse of dogs and cats roaming throughout the spacious grounds. Amongthe thousands of curios, my favorite is a wooden plaque in one of the johnsdepicting six dogs, of all breeds, taking a piss against a fence. When we settledin, Barbara had a turkey dinner prepared, with a toy carousel playing Christmashymns, and Junior perked up when "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" spunaround. He also took a shine to an 1876 piano, and surprised the dickens outof me by playing some fairly decent music. When I was six, if I was ever neara piano, I just pounded on the keys: Junior has a delicate touch and it wasa pleasure to watch. MUGGER III played with the dogs and immediately said hewanted one for our own apartment: He's a cute and sweet little nipper butMrs. M and I put the kibosh on that in a split second. Then they both lobbiedfor a cat. Nix once more.

Going tothe supermarket for provisions is an outing on the order of riding from Tribecato Inwood. It's the day's diversion. We shopped at Hughessupermarket, dodging celebrities from the nearby Malibu colonies, loaded upon avocados, watermelon, hot dogs, soda and tomatoes; the kids picked up odiousbags of cotton candy that must've been manufactured when the local baseballteam was still called the Los Angeles Angels, and a few action figures,as if they needed them. I took a stroll over to the outside newsstand and bought$50 worth of periodicals. The Los Angeles Times really sucks: Not onlyis it unwieldy, but the editorial page is a joke, the front section has almostno news and the arts coverage is far inferior to that of New Times Los Angeles.I finished the Sunday paper in about five minutes.

This newsstandis pretty cool; the kids who operate it smoke cigarettes, crank the Cureon their boombox, yet are just as pleasant as everyone else in L.A., which doestend to get on your nerves. There's a prejudice for West Coast publications.For example, I couldn't get a copy of the newest Weekly Standard,and the dusty issues of The Nation dated back to when Stalin stillruled the USSR. But they had Coppola's Zoetrope frontand center, and of course the supermarket tabs. The headline on the Enquirertold of Hillary Clinton slamming Bill in the face on impeachmentday?so hard that the President told his Secret Service agents to "keepthat bitch away from me" and had to wear makeup for several days. I believethe story for a couple of reasons. One, often the tabs break stories that appearin the mainstream press several weeks or a month later, and then claim themas their own; more importantly, one of the Enquirer's lawyers isDavid Kendall, the barrister who screwed up Clinton's case so badly.(Though not as recklessly as attention-hog Robert Bennett, who should'vesettled the Paula Jones lawsuit in a backroom deal and refrained fromappearing on the Sunday talk shows.)

WarrenSt. John did a fine job profiling David Talbot and his White Houseorgan Salon in the January Wired?who knew that Talbot'sbrother was Gilbert on Leave it to Beaver or that the editor once joineda swingers commune and a lesbian collective??letting the windbag hang himself.Talbot's a bad guy. He had the nerve a few months ago to pitch Salontote bags for contributions as if the online mag were a nonprofit enterprise;as St. John writes, Talbot's smacking his lips, prematurely I think, overan IPO on the magazine. St. John closes his lengthy piece with a friendly disputeTalbot and his wife have about where their second home will be when the WallStreet cash pours in: He wants to live by the ocean, she wants to be upin Napa. I'm sure Salon readers, and underpaid contributors,sympathize with the Talbot's lifestyle dilemma.

On Mondayafternoon we had company: my old college friend JB (who designed NYPress)and New Times executive editor Mike Lacey and his wife Kathleen,along with their sons Rourke and Colin. They marveled at Barbara'sspread, took a gander at Boney Ridge and the Pacific and on that daythere was a clear view of Santa Catalina, apparently a big-deal islandto the nuts who live in this part of the country. (The next morning was foggy;and with the clouds just overhead it seemed like we were in heaven. On the otherhand, most nights you can actually see stars, which in Manhattan is a once-a-yearoccurrence.) While the kids alternately played on the tennis court, exploredthe hot tub and orchards and eventually wound up downstairs watching moviesand the 100 or so fish in the pond, the grownups sat out in the sun, drinkingwine and soft drinks, eating cheese and nuts and talking politics, educationand restaurants.

Mike andKathleen have a second home on the Pacific that's in the process of renovation;personally, with the natural disasters that hit Malibu every third year, I thinktheir choice was suspect, but they're Westerners, based in Phoenix,and have a different mindset. Rourke, who's nine, looked like a New Yorkerwith his baggy pants and Green Bay Packers wool cap pulled over his face,but his sweet disposition quickly belied his homeboy get-up.

The childrenplayed well together, and for me it was a real sight: I've known Laceysince '79, when we drank until dawn, got up a few hours later for conventionseminars, sounded off at the moronic publishers we were in attendance with andthen had liquid lunches to get back to ground zero. It's a different lifenow, one that suits me fine. Not as wild as those days, which I wouldn'ttrade for the world, but a lot more healthy and serious. Instead of downing$50 shots of scotch, which Lacey conned me into buying for him at a conferencein the late 80s in Denver, he spoke of the perfect sushi at Matsuhisain L.A., where dots of red pepper oil made the dish a work of art. Mrs. M andKathleen got along famously, the weather was perfect and a more congenial afternoonI can't remember.
The Curse of Neptune's Net Imentioned earlier the landmark Neptune's Net, the biker bar righton PCH, before the turnoff to Barbara's estate. The lastday I was in Malibu, before heading off to the GOP "Weekend"conference in Phoenix, was tranquil until the afternoon. The boys wokeme up just before 5, fetched bowls of cereal and retreated downstairs for anotherviewing of a Chipmunks film. Since I couldn't figure out the coffeemaker?made a huge mess trying to make a pot, and then burned my fingeron the grill in an attempt to boil water for tea?I settled for a microwavedEnglish Breakfast cup and made some calls to New York. Mrs. M arose around7, we gabbed with her mother and some friends that dropped by and then MUGGERIII presented me with his Curious George keyring to take with me forgood luck. Junior gave me a book of Rugrats stickers just to double upon the safety factor.
Later, Barbara,some of the dogs and Junior went to feed the horses, while Mrs. M, MUGGER IIIand I ventured out into the real world for some lunch. That meant McDonald'sfor my son; a cheeseburger with no ketchup, pickles or onions, cookies, milkand a Bug's Life toy. Then we went across the street to La Salsa,aka The Big Mexican (named for the giant hombre with red peppers in hishand whom you can see almost a mile away), and had delicious steak burritoswith two kinds of salsa, black beans and guacamole. La Salsa may be a chain,but its grub puts any Mex restaurant in New York to shame.

By the timewe got back it was almost time for my cab to meet me at Neptune's Net forthe long drive to LAX. Junior, who'd finally adapted to the Californialifestyle?he wasn't even afraid of the dogs anymore?was dyingto go to the beach with his boogie board, so we parked at Neptune's andwent across the highway for a quick tumble in the water. Trouble was, this wasn'ta beach proper and so there was no way to get down to the ocean but to stumbleover rocks, bits of glass from beer bottles and rough sand. We slid down partof the way, and once MUGGER III hit the salt water he wailed with tears froma giant scratch on his leg. We scooped him up, made it up the hill and I wentinside Neptune's for Cokes and lemonade.

What a trip.Bikers still in a fog from the late 60s, gulping down 50-ounce draughts of Miller,everybody smoking, a few brave people eating nasty-looking fried clams and nota smile in sight. This wasn't the land of Have A Nice Day. After sneakinga Merit in the back, taking a piss in the lean-to, I saw my cabby andtold him I'd be ready in 10 minutes. I brought the drinks to the car andfound Mrs. M had stepped on a bumblebee, the first time she'd ever beenstung in her life. It hurt like hell and the entire MUGGER family was cursingNeptune's Net. My wife's a sturdy soul, so she was stoic while Juniortold us a story about how the potato chip was invented. Mrs. M wasn't consoledwhen I told her that I'd been stung hundreds of times growing up on LongIsland, where the yellow jackets liked to feast on rotten apples in thefall, but the kids were fascinated. I kissed them all five times and headedoff for the cab.

Turns outthe driver was from the Bronx, was a regular at Yankee Stadium,but had been in Southern California since '71 and never even consideredreturning back East. We started talking politics, but it went downhill fast:He was with Clinton, claiming a blowjob wasn't really sex and whatthe fuck, Monica will become a millionaire just for getting down on herknees 20 or more times. Then it was on to unions, the rich raping the country,the crime rate in L.A., where's FDR when we need him, and just whenhe launched into a pro-Dick Gephardt shtick, I changed the topic. Thiswasn't improving my mood. Actually, he was a jovial fellow, showing methe sights of Malibu, the mansions on the hills, and eventually got around totelling me about the novel he's been writing for 24 years. I groaned tomyself, but it turned out this was pure Neptune's Net bad juju.

Back inthe early 70s, when he was in school studying business, holding down a job,putting in 18-hour days, his wife was pregnant with twins. One morning, sheknew she was in premature labor but did nothing about it; didn't call herhusband or a doctor, but instead went to Disneyland and took a whirlon the rides, all the while bleeding profusely?one twisted and guilty chick.Someone finally noticed, she was rushed to the hospital and, this being thedark ages for preemies, the two boys were hooked up to incubators for a dayand then died. She blamed her husband, my taxi driver.

They bothwent into deep depression, separated and then four months later she calls himup and says let's give this marriage a second chance. They're makinglove and just as he's about to have an orgasm she screams, "I onlywanted your seed! Now get out!" Turns out she was pregnant already by anotherfellow, but since they weren't divorced the cabby had to pay child supportfor the daughter who was eventually born but wasn't his. He went into aseven-year tailspin, drank heavily, gained 100 pounds, lived on carry-out foodand was plagued by panic attacks. She continued to hate him, blamed him forthe premature twins and further tried to ruin his life. He couldn't leavehis house, went broke, ate like Rosie O'Donnell and kept a razorby his side. He thought of killing his wife but didn't want to pick upsoap in prison for the rough boys. Finally, he met a woman in Santa Barbarawho helped him snap out of it, got an agent to turn this story into a tv movieand that's when we arrived at LAX. God knows what the sequel would be,but I wasn't ready for it. If Edgar Allan Poe were alive today,he'd have an outside barstool at Neptune's Net, sipping at a glassof rotgut red wine, writing on a laptop and listening to my mother-in-law'sdamn macaw far in the distance.
A Starbucks Conspiracy Majorairports in this country suck: Flights are delayed more often than not becauseof all the air traffic, the terminals are in constant states of renovation andas a result they resemble bus stations at their very grimiest. My flight toPhoenix last Tuesday night was held up for two hours, some jazz aboutfog in the Bay Area, but who really knows, so I became quite intimatewith my stretch of temporary real estate. There was a Starbucks, a shittynewsstand and a bar that was jumping; that's one thing about airports that'spretty cool: No matter what time it is, at least after 9 a.m., anything goesand no one raises an eyebrow if you're getting sloshed two hours beforenoon. In fact, the bartenders are happy for the company. This night I was drinkingcoffee and $2.50 bottles of spring water while watching the dregs of humanitypassing before me. A group of Deadheads held a seance on the ground,in the middle of a thoroughfare; a Russian immigrant family played cards andasked questions about my laptop; three young girls, obviously underage, werefalling off their barstools from too many grasshoppers.
It all remindedme of an awful Greyhound trip I took as a kid from Los Angelesto Houston. At the station I bought a bottle of tequila, a dozen limesfor a quarter, a ream of magazines?this was '76 and Mother Joneswas pretty sharp back then?and then got on the bus. I was located in theback, in the smoking section, next to an American Indian with a scar that ranfrom his temple to cheek. Not a good seating assignment. He was a nasty motherfuckerand once his sixpack ran dry, he spied my tequila and demanded some. "Noway, pardner," I replied, "that's a present for my buddy in Houston."He took out a switchblade and all of a sudden we were making toasts, with fresh-squeezedlime, to the Navajos and the little Arizona town where he grewup.

Meanwhile,back in the john, a hooker was taking on three guys at a time and finally, falling-downdrunk, propositioned the driver. This fellow smartly radioed ahead and she wastossed off the bus, with her ramshackle suitcase, on the side of the road. Asfor the Injun, after about eight shots of tequila he passed out; I was too wiredand stared ahead in silence, chainsmoking and praying for survival. This evildude got off in Phoenix, we said our farewells and I got the fuck backon the bus and had an uneventful, if long, trip to Houston. We'd make pitstops and I'd smoke a joint but I was still in a time warp when my friendpicked me up. In a rare socialist mode, I thought every newly elected president,as Jimmy Carter was at the time, should be required to ride a Greyhoundaround the country and see how miserable mass transit is in the U.S.

Anyway,back to LAX and I'm sitting next to this elderly couple by a bankmachine; he's reading some trashy novel, she's doing needlepoint andI'm stuck perusing Anthony Lewis' latest tirade against HenryHyde and Gail Collins' presidential endorsement of BillBradley in The New York Times. Meanwhile, Marty Peretz'slapdog for Al Gore in The New Republic, Dana Milbank, hasa hitjob on Bradley in New York. What a night.

Severaldays later, returning to New York, I loitered in Phoenix's splendidairport for an hour before my flight, buying toy scorpions and cactus candyfor the kids, See's chocolates for Mrs. M and taking advantage ofa rare smoking area at a bar. I read the Sunday Times, drank coffee andlaughed when an old geezer asked the bartender, at 7:30 a.m., if he could havea beer. "Why sure," the mellow worker responded, "I sure can'tmake a living selling pretzels and coffee all day." The trip home was abreeze, but once I arrived at Newark the snafus began. The luggage conveyorbelt didn't work, so hundreds of grumpy people were swearing and killingtime, waiting for their bags. A woman on the p.a. system said the delay wasbecause of "weather conditions," but no one was buying that hokum.After all, it was clear outside, if cold, so there were other problems gummingup the works. Newark's a joke; a single snowflake will close the airportdown, and even a heavy rainstorm will delay flights up to four hours. Not thatKennedy or La Guardia is much better.
MUGGER & the Martians Sorryto dump on Maureen Dowd again, but she invites the criticism. I'mthinking specifically of her ludicrous Times column on Dec. 27. She begins:"When it comes to New Year's Eve, I am firmly in the camp of pinkchampagne and black cha-cha heels." I'll bet. I'm sure she watchedsome old Michael Douglas movie and ate Devil Dogs and Doritoswhile curled up on the coach in comfy jammies and slippers. Dowd continues: "I can't fathom the phenomenon of trekking off to resorts to attenda lot of earnest panels and hang out with all the same people we are sick ofseeing on MSNBC." She was referring to Clinton's RenaissanceWeekend in Hilton Head and the conservative counterpart The Weekend,which I attended at the Biltmore in Phoenix. Dowd is bipartisanin her digs, but is nastier to the GOP: "But now Republicans call it 'TheWeekend,' the event formerly known as 'Dark Ages,' to disguisethe uncomfortable fact that Republicans have, in fact, brought about the DarkAges."
Now, I askyou, is such absurd hyperbole a way to bring in the new year? If these are theDark Ages, I can't wait until civilization kicks in. After all, why doyou think Clinton still gets high approval ratings? It's because peopleare working, their pockets are stuffed with money, the only war (for Americans)is played out like a PlayStation game and Mark McGwire hit 70round-trippers.

I'dbeen in Phoenix for less than a day but already I was content: My suite waslarge, a heated pool was right outside the terrace, the room service was quickand I had the best red burro of my life at a Mexican dive called Rito'sin Garfield, a rough and tumble Hispanic crack neighborhood, with myPhoenician friend Jim Larkin, at lunch. Hardball was on in thebackground while I wrote, my e-mail box was overflowing since MUGGER'sonline version at Jewish World Review ( linked on The Drudge Report and Salon took a week off. Aside fromseeing the fruity Michael Kinsley on Crossfire, and missing mywife and boys, it was pretty damn relaxing.

Last Wednesday'snews of the day was that John McCain is ready to run for president. Likeall longshots, the idiots in the adoring Boomer Beltway media say it might nottake as much money for such an attractive candidate (translated: He was a POWso they could protest against the war, smoke pot and get laid a lot) becausehis message is so compelling. Come again? He's for campaign finance reformbut raises cash from PACs for his own races. He's in favor of a huge taxin the form of a tobacco bill. That might play with The Washington Post'sRichard Cohen, but not with GOP primary voters.

I was distressedto read a New York Post editorial on Jan. 1 extolling McCain's candidacy.While the paper disagrees with the "maverick" Senator on some issuesthey feel he's a man of integrity. John Podhoretz should talk topeople in Arizona. The Post's editorial said: "McCainis a legitimate American hero who inspires wholehearted respect and admirationfrom friend and foe alike... A presidential candidate who can serve as a genuinerole model for America's youth." As a Korean War veteran inArizona once famously said about McCain: "He wasn't a hero; he justgot caught."

McCain mightbe immune from Sidney Blumenthal since Clinton feels guilty around theSenator, but the guy's personal baggage is plenty. Girls, girls, girlsand a lot of questionable land dealings too. And he tells mean jokes about teenagerswho used to live in the White House. McCain's a scumbag who hasnothing else to do. I don't minimize his horrific POW torture in Vietnam,but his bad luck there doesn't make him a hero. And as a role model forAmerica's youth, the Post will find out in months to comethat McCain, an adulterer who was mixed up in the Charles Keating scam,isn't all that clean. As he told the Times' Katharine Seelye,who covered The Weekend in the same biased, snotty manner she did the Dolecampaign in '96, "I've had a colorful past." He might compete,perhaps outlast Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle and John Ashcroft,but no one is stopping the George W. Bush express in 2000. I don'tknow why McCain doesn't just admit he's seeking the secretary of defensepost in a Bush administration. Now, with his temper, that might be dangerous,but George W. will have to cut some deals on the way to the nomination.

Then again,I was speaking with a friend at a cocktail party at the Biltmore who spun anotherMcCain theory. It goes like this: McCain builds up momentum slowly, hopes Bushstumbles in the summer, is the beneficiary of media boredom with Bush and SteveForbes around Labor Day and then rides a Colin Powell-likewave in the fall to become Bush's main challenger. He makes foreign policythe key issue, maybe skips Iowa, scores an upset in New Hampshireand then coasts to California. But as another journalist told me, "IfI do my job right, McCain has a half-life of six months." Cheers to that.Jeez, in the Arizona Republic on Thursday the news of McCain's exploratorycommittee barely made the front page. There was nothing on the op-ed page, savethe four-day-old Dowd column I mentioned above and a George Will essaythat was also growing a beard.

Maybe I'mgetting old, but David Broder doesn't seem nearly the wishy-washypundit he did just a year ago. Actually, it's just because he's soanti-Clinton that I've come around to actually finishing his columns inThe Washington Post. Like the one on Dec. 30, which was his annual, andcorny, message to readers about all the times he screwed up in the past 12 months.I bet Broder even goes to church. Most of his mail came from people who saidhe was too hard on Clinton. Broder, to his credit, was earnest but steadfastin holding his ground, writing: "I have said?to the intense irritationof many of you?that resignation would be a true act of contrition by apresident who admits he has 'misled' his colleagues in governmentand the American people. It would be a voluntary act, prompted only by his conscienceand his respect for his oath of office. And it would permit a man who sharesClinton's entire agenda, but is unimpaired by his character deficits, toassume the presidency?as the voters have ordained."

A profilein media courage. While dimwits like Clarence Page and Lars-Erik Nelson,not to mention about 90 newspapers, have recanted their calls for resignation,Broder stands tall. He may have excessive reverence for the institution of thepresidency and all that baloney, but I respect him enormously for bucking thetrend among his sorry colleagues.
Before the Gloom Set In Istopped in briefly at the opening shindig for The Weekend and, shy guythat I am, didn't meet many people. One disconcerting note at registration was that the nametags had everyone's first name in large type (so WestCoast) and their surname practically in agate. I did inject myself intoa conversation with two archconservatives eviscerating Democratic Rep. ZoeLofgren from California for her imbecilic hypocrisy during theHouse Judiciary Committee proceedings. David Horowitz, one ofthe event's organizers (and an occasional contributor to this paper), openedthe proceedings and gave a short speech, clutching a bottle of water like BobDole did with his pen on the campaign stump. Arizona's Rep.John Shadegg then gave a homey talk, recalling Barry Goldwater,mentioning that Dan Quayle lives near the Biltmore and encouragingconventioneers to shop, shop, shop in the nearby stores. Good for his district.He wasn't too impressive?it was mostly a chamber-of-commerce kindof greeting?but he did make the important point that the Democrats'talk of a coup during the impeachment proceedings was a bunch of hogwash.
BillKristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, was brief in his remarksbut typically witty. "What kind of year was it?" he asked the crowd."Well, the stock market is up and Bill Clinton was impeached." Thatline got the biggest roar of the night, including some whoops from a few fellowswho were guzzling rum & Cokes. I spoke to Kristol a few minutes laterand commiserated that Trent Lott was backing down again, just as it appearedhe was growing a backbone, by talking compromise in the Senate trial. If allthese goo-goos like Jimmy Carter and Jerry Ford can stay out ofthe fray, let the holidays recede and the GOP senators just stay quiet and stayoff television, then every day a compromise for censure isn't reached,the worse it is for Bill Clinton. If the trial lasts two weeks, he'soff with a slap on the butt. If it goes longer, witnesses are called, and itkeeps going until March, say hello to President Al Gore. Again, I justdon't understand why Democrats, who don't like Clinton, aren'tdragging him out of the Oval Office in favor of an incumbent who'llhave a head start on the 2000 presidential election. I'm not behind thescenes at the White House, thank God, but maybe that's the strategy:If a censure isn't immediately forthcoming, on Jan. 23, when Gore becomeseligible to finish Clinton's term and run for two on his own, this plangoes into effect. With a full pardon for both Clintons, of course.
Now, ifMatt Drudge is correct, and he usually is, about the Star'supcoming report on Clinton's purported love child, born to an underageblack Arkansas prostitute 13 years ago, the political landscape willshift once again. Allegedly, the Star has photos showing the teenagerto be the spitting image of Clinton, and he wants to meet his deadbeat dad.No wonder Clinton's the first black president. The DNA testing is beingdone, the boy and his family are sequestered and aides at the White House aredirtying their drawers. Shucks, I'm sure Chelsea always wanted alittle brother. And just imagine what Hillary will do after this bombshellbreaks. If I were the President, I'd wear an iron jockstrap to bed.
Drudge Is the Hero OnThursday morning I hosted a panel at 8 a.m. (unlike alternative newspaper conventions,the room was packed at this early hour) that was ostensibly about letters tothe editor. Laura Ingraham, cohost of the event, introduced the seminarand brought down the house with a brief joke: "It's 10 a.m. in HiltonHead right now, and in between spiritual meetings and rounds of golf, PresidentClinton has promised there will be no bombings today. Pharmaceutical plantsin the Third World are safe."
I did feelsomewhat out of my element in this crowd; most of the attendees were older andrabid religious-right loonies, but several elderly ladies asked for my autographon their copies of NYPress, so there were compensations. I wondered:Once these diehards got past MUGGER and Chris Caldwell'scolumn and ventured into Amy Sohn-Jon Ames territory, to say nothingof the adult ads, would their opinion of NYPress take a turn for theworse?

The WallStreet Journal's John Fund, Bill Kristol, theChicago Tribune's Jim Warren and Phillips Publishing's(parent of Regnery Books) Tom Phillips were my co-panelists andthey all exceeded the five-minute limit on remarks, which kind of pissed meoff because I had plenty of jokes, too. Phillips said, "What was bad forthe country this year was terrific for Eagle Publishing. We had seven bestsellers.In fact, we're now shrink-wrapping a Bill Clinton sixpack to sell."And Warren, as is his trademark for his ubiquitous tv appearances, made a wryjoke before going into a semiliberal spiel: "I'll try to make thismercifully short after those thinly veiled commercials for Regnery Books andThe Weekly Standard. I find letters to the editors boring; I don'tread them or the editorials, so I'll go on to another topic." As usual,he was pretty funny, although he did get a little flinty when I reminded himthat he once claimed he would never appear on tv on the talking head shows."I never said that," he protested. "Sorry," I laughed, "Iwas mixing you up with Eric Alterman." Warren didn't thinkthat was funny either, but we shook hands anyway.

Before theq&a session, I reminded the audience that Larry Flynt was in leaguewith the White House, that Maxine Waters should go live in a countrywhere there are real coups and stay there, and that Trent Lott,given a shove by the eloquent Lindsey Graham, might still do the rightthing and make sure the impeachment trial in the Senate lasts more than twoweeks. Preaching to the converted, of course, but it's not like I couldget away with this commentary on the Upper West Side.

MattDrudge was the keynote speaker at lunch on Thursday and of course was acomplete hit, with applause lines (real ones) coming more frequently than atClinton's State of the Union address last year. He's the manof the moment, especially in this crowd, and is justifiably milking it for allit's worth. As the assembled ate awful-looking food?iceberg salads,iced tea and pasta?Drudge fed them a healthier diet of one-liners. He said,"I see the new Gallup poll, the year-ender, about Bill Clinton being themost admired man in America. Up from last year?18 percent, as a matterof fact, three times more popular than the Pope. Hillary is third?that'ssome sandwich." Drudge chuckled and waited for the audience's laughterto die down. He spoke of his tangles with Sidney Blumenthal, made hilariouscracks about the hypocritical Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post?"Hesays the Internet is all about gossip: Then why is he always trolling AOL tofind some of his own?"

As an anti-Clintonsoldier, Drudge spoke of the irony of operating out of his one-bedroom Hollywoodapartment. "I close my blinds so that the neighbors can't see I'mwatching C-SPAN," he joked. He played to the audience by lampooning hiscelebrity neighbors: "Yeah, I love the limousine liberals who drive upto a mansion, go through gate after gate and tell the driver to keep the carwarm while they go inside for an environmental fundraiser."

Drudge wasa little flummoxed by a questioner who asked about accountability in the media?howcould he know what he put on the Web was accurate? Drudge dodged that and asked,"Why don't you ask CNN the same question?" Asked if he had acounterpart on the left, Drudge said no, "But there is an organization:It's called The Washington Post." He promised an earthshakingscoop in the next few days, which turned out to be the love child, but wouldn'tgive many hints. Henry Hyde was the originally scheduled keynote speaker:"But while Hyde, with whom I'm glad to be walking on the same Earth,"Drudge said, "is working in Washington on the Senate trial, Bill Clintonis playing golf. Gives you an idea of who cares about the law in this country."

After alate afternoon lunch with Jim and Molly Larkin at Los DosMolinos, a consistent Phoenix New Times "Best Of" winnerfor burros and cheese crisps, I returned to the Biltmore for some readingand a snooze. The Weekend conventioneers were out for various activities:some went on a mountain hike, others went to a shooting range, others, I imagine,repaired to a midday church service or AA meeting. This is a strange bunch, but I feel comfortable in most settings, whether it's among Bible-thumpers,bankers, race track bums, barflies or jocks watching a football game on a wide-screentv. I draw the line at smelly hippies, young or old, whose idea of hygiene isa gargle of herbal tea in the morning, but basically I'm pretty tolerant.So when I set up shop at the Biltmore's bar on New Year's Eve,drinking espresso and club soda while poring through The Nation,it didn't bother me one iota that silly folks drinking blue cocktails andwearing rented tuxes surrounded me, or that the hotel's decorations, mixedup with Christmas lights and balloons waiting to fall at midnight, weren'texactly my idea of smart taste. My friend Michael Formica, an impeccabledesigner in the Village, would retch at the scene, but that's hisline of biz, not mine.

Later, around10:30, I stopped in at the New Year's Eve party at the Squaw Peak Terraceand had a chuckle watching these hardcore conservatives, some dressed incostume, including Drudge-like fedoras, dancing to "YMCA" and?youhad to be there?a version of "The Macarena." Personally, I thinkit would've been pretty cool if Soul Coughing landed this gig?thejunketeers wouldn't have known the difference and the irony factor wouldbe all the more sweet?but I was underdressed in a torn leather jacket andhightop Converses, so I split after about 15 minutes. After all, I stillhadn't eaten dinner.

However,giving the Jan. 11 Nation a close read, which seemed a benevolent actof protest at The Weekend, I was struck by how long I could actually stay withthe magazine. First, there was Arthur Miller, the literary equivalentof Arthur Schlesinger Jr., weighing in on the impeachment "crisis."Miller wrote Death of a Salesman and The Crucible and wasmarried to Marilyn Monroe, so his life hasn't been a waste, butthis gent ought to rest on his laurels and not get mixed up in politics andlook like a silly old fool reliving his glory days of the 50s. Miller once wrotewith distinction; now he's reduced to parroting the lines of forgettablejournalists like The Boston Globe's Thomas Oliphantand David Nyhan, complaining that "Our Bloodless Coup" is allabout sex. You'd think that Miller, who was well acquainted with real McCarthyism,would know better. Instead, he writes: "After all, can there be not oneamong the half-thousand members of both houses who has never lied about sex?Can we expect a confession from that one fellow, or lady perhaps, before heor she votes to destroy Bill Clinton forever? Don't hold your breath."

Why Clintoncommands Arthur Miller's fealty is beyond me. I assume he's in thethroes of old age and prone to silliness: It's a shame he doesn'thave the dignity of Joe DiMaggio and just keep silent.

Anotherold nag in the Nation stable, no doubt considered "a national treasure"by its readers, is Calvin Trillin. I was never a fan of the self-consciouslyfolksy Trillin, although he sure makes Kansas City barbecue sound tasty,but he's reached the stage where he's the Jules Feiffer ofhumor writers, a literary fixture who just makes you think, "Please retire,now!" Trillin's contribution to The Nation in this issue isstupid beyond belief: "In every century, it seems,/The Constitution'sput to test/Important questions must be asked/And ours is, 'Did he touchher breast?'"

Turn thepage and Christopher Hitchens offers some relief. He recounts a storyabout Henry Kissinger at a cocktail party telling a Nation colleagueof his that Bill Clinton "does not possess the strength of character tobe a war criminal." Hitchens carves up Nation readers and liberalsalike, unmasking their hypocrisy of protesting Clinton's impeachment whileapplauding his "demonstration bombing" of Iraq. How wonderfulto read in The Nation a columnist calling Liz Holtzman a "womanof obvious low mentality," who possesses an "untidy mind" andexposing the fraudulent John Conyers of Michigan as "Nixonian."

The conclusionof his column, called "The Thief of Baghdad," is a stunner: "So,is it thinkable that American liberals, in defending what they regard as Clinton'sown precious sexual freedom, have eagerly acquiesced in the random killing ofcivilians in unpopular countries? Well, they are the same morally null individualswho bleated that Judge Starr was a pornographer and who now flourish the bribeddisclosures of Larry Flynt. It turns out that Clinton does possess the strengthof character to be a war criminal, but preferably when it's all about himself."

I freelyadmit that I'm of the William Safire school on Iraq. Why not occupyBaghdad, knock off Saddam Hussein and get it over with beforecasualties quadruple in a protracted land war? All this dicking around withrandom bombing for political purposes is criminal. Like it or not, mine is aconsistent position: It's when liberals like Chuck Schumer, RobertTorricelli and Conyers, who vilified George Bush on Desert Storm,but weeks ago rallied around their morally bankrupt leader, are exposed thata writer like Hitchens is so valuable. Especially in The Nation.

It'sstill the holiday season, so even I have a kind word or two for Katha Pollitt.Although she's firmly in the camp that believes Clinton is being persecutedbecause of sex and only sex (I guess hush money and selling military technologyto the Chinese government for campaign cash aren't crimes), she did comeup with a great line: "As usual, warmongering is proving to be pure politicalViagra. Clinton's ratings, already stratospheric, now rival Christ'sand Santa's."

And givemy sweet gal Katha brownie points for honesty. Even though she calls Trent Lotta "newly outed white supremacist" because he spoke before a racistgroup, while excusing Clinton's denunciation of Sister Souljah todistance himself from Jesse Jackson, a complete contradiction, she'sclear about the current constitutional "crisis." "I've opposedthis whole impeachment business for one reason: I don't want the Christiancrazies, antichoicers, gun lovers and racists?let alone Sam and Cokie?tohave the satisfaction. I'd rather see them endlessly hoist with their ownhypocritical petard by Larry Flynt, hero of the hour, whose million-dollar rewardfor Republican sexual scandal has already rid the stage of the maritally challengedLivingston."

One morebit of The Nation before I let you go. And, as they might say at thatmagazine's offices, it's a downer: Yes, Eric Alterman. I'll bebrief. Besides making an egregious error in his column, saying the Republicanshave a "lame-duck majority," when in fact their control was merelyreduced by the last election, Alterman whips up his readers by making bogeymenout of Tom DeLay, Bill Kristol and Robert Bork (all American heroesin my book). But Alterman, perhaps with a nudge from James Carville,veers toward hysteria at the end of his piece, writing, "Whatever one thinksof Bill Clinton, his opponents must be thwarted. They are the enemies of democracyand of the Constitution that insures its possibility. We long ago lost the luxuryof choosing our allies. This is war."

War?Against what? It's not as if a kook like Bob Barr is running forpresident. Alterman has chosen the side of Bill Clinton, Carville, Sidney Blumenthal,David Kendall, Janet Reno, Terry Lenzner, Larry Flynt,John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Jerrold Nadler and Dick Gephardt.My team? George W. Bush, John Engler, George Pataki, BobKerrey, Michael Kelly, Steve Forbes, Alex Cockburnand Robert Bartley. What side are you on?
Heading Home Iwoke up early on New Year's Day, read the Arizona Republic?whichtook exactly three minutes?and then sprinted to the gift shop to get acopy of The New York Times. For some reason, they deliver very few editionsto the Biltmore and I was lucky to purchase the last of two copies theyhad. Not like that was reading War and Peace either. I drank an entirepot of coffee, but for some reason fell asleep an hour later. I'm surethey gave me decaf by mistake; then again, I was lumbering through the atrociousGeorge magazine, which contained yet another Howard Kurtz articleon why the media is held in such low esteem. I swear, Kurtz is like MarkKostabi: He must have an assembly line of interns churning out the samearticle, with a few different anecdotes, and then sells them further down thefood chain of glossies. Coming next month, count on it, Kurtz on Clinton'sthree mulligans at Hilton Head, exclusively in Details. Afterthat, it's on to POV, Icon (nah, they don't pay enough),Esquire and, ultimately, Hustler.
JohnKennedy's "Editor's Letter," in which he heaps effusivepraise on John McCain for taking on the tobacco industry, was more lamethan usual. For example, in hyping Kurtz's article, Kennedy writes: "Theresult is a fascinating examination of how the press has mutated into a separateconstituency, with its own particular aspirations and agendas increasingly differentfrom yours." But not yours, Mr. Kennedy. His conclusion is a prime exampleof why Kennedy, or his ghostwriter, should find another line of work: "Lestyou think we've become a little too dour, you can turn to James Carville'spresidential platform on our back page and Al Franken's riotous piece somewherein the middle. Because all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." I doubtthat Kennedy doesn't fit enough "play" into his schedule, butAl Franken is "riotous"?

Friday morning'spanel, "The Republican Party: What's Ahead?" chaired by GroverNorquist, was unusually cantankerous and therefore extremely entertaining,although one of the panelists, GOP chairman Jim Nicholson, would probablybeg to differ. Nicholson, who's a shoo-in, don't ask me why, for anotherterm, was a snooze, professing his optimism for the party, replaying the victoriesof Republican governors last fall and saying that in just 15 months, when aGOP nominee is selected, the party will at last have a leader. When his soft-pedalapproach was booed, he sighed and said, "I'm glad you all came herebecause it shows you care."

AriannaHuffington was disgusted and made it plain to the audience, two-thirds ofwhich hailed from California. "I don't know why we'rehaving a tribute to Newt Gingrich tomorrow night here. If it wasn't forhim, Bob Dole wouldn't have been the candidate in '96. The Republicanshave to stop being a Royalist party. The era of big government is over in rhetoriconly. Look at all the handouts Bill Clinton is giving away, and no Republicanwill challenge him because they think they'll be branded as mean-spirited.We have a long way to go before 'compassionate conservatism' becomesa reality."

I'mnot a big Arianna fan, maybe it's the accent or plain overexposure on tv,but she was loaded for bear this morning and I've never been more impressed.She continued: "There are too many pollsters and focus groups in the RepublicanParty. Take the pledge and hang up on pollsters. We'll only win on ideasand principles. Take Jesse Ventura. He didn't have any polls or pollsters.Every tragic decision in the '98 campaign was because of polls and focusgroups. Just stop them!... Bob Livingston should've resigned a long timeago and not because he cheated on his wife. He lied to the people by not cuttingspending and caving into Clinton's budget... And who is this Denny Hastert?He's a good old boy, a pork guy who makes you yearn for the charisma ofDick Gephardt. If you have tears to shed, shed them the first time Hastert ison Meet the Press. Jim [Nicholson] said we'll have a leader in 15months. That's an eternity. We need a leader now. Denny Hastert is nota leader!"

Pat Caddell,who's been a Democratic consultant to George McGovern,Jimmy Carter, Jerry Brown and whoever else would have him, was invitedjust to stir up trouble, I suspect. Remember, long before James Carvillewas a famous consultant, Caddell was directing McGovern's victorious '72drive for the Democratic nomination, drinking with Hunter Thompson, andbecame maybe the first celebrity man behind the scenes. He was sharp as a tackthis New Year's Day, excoriating the GOP for blowing the elections in California.The audience was with him, and glared at the stunned Nicholson as Caddell letloose: "The elections in California were thrown away. You guys had thewinning hand and it ended up with Matt Fong's mother on tv asking peopleto vote for her son. And this was against the weakest of candidates! I havenever seen a party roll over and play dead the way the Republicans did in California.You all talk about James Carville. He's nothing special, he's hardlyever won an election!"

Caddellthen went on to talk about Chris Cox's congressional inquiryinto the Chinese connection in the '96 election and how missile technologywas probably sold for chump change. "The '96 campaign was the mostcorrupt in history. Forget the sex with Clinton. You Republicans don'tknow how to pick your fights. Janet Reno is a disaster. Just because you'reweird doesn't mean you're independent. She should be impeached."

Finally,as angry audience members lined up to ask questions and scorch Nicholson, onefellow said: "I'm probably the oldest person here. I voted for FDRover Alf Landon in '36. Then I got smart and voted for Willkie in 1940."The moderator, Norquist, broke in and quipped, "That wasn't an improvement."

Later, Iducked in and out of John McCain's keynote speech, whichwas a bore and just confirmed to me he's really running for a cabinet postwith George W. Bush. A lot of talk about service to your country, howhe's not in it for the glory but to restore basic values, and poof, I neededanother cup of coffee. I was out in the lobby, talking to a few journalist friends,and asked them what they thought of Matt Drudge's tantalizing scoopon his website that he spoke of the day before. "Oh, you mean the lovechild," one of them said, as if this were common knowledge. "Yeah,that should break soon in one of the tabloids. Clinton had a child with a blackprostitute back in Arkansas, he's a teenager now, and wants to see hisfather. How do you think that will play with the American public? A deadbeatdad! Yeah, that might make his popularity ratings go down."

I came backto New York on Saturday, missing Rudy Giuliani's breakfastspeech, in which he enraged the audience by saying Clinton should be let offwith a censure, and the sendoff to Gingrich, but I was just as glad to go home.I'd had a wonderful time at the Larkins' spacious home on Friday afternoon, inspecting Jim's religious shrine in the back woods, lookingat the weird flora and fauna and watching their three kids?Kathleen,Jack and Quinn?run around and cause mischief. Jim lit a Havanastogie and we talked for a few hours, with filets on the outdoor grill, champagnein the ice bucket, and it was a relief to be with a non-Weekend groupof people. I'm for cutting taxes, putting more cops on the street and gettinggovernment the fuck out of my life: Some of the Weekend conventioneers livein a far different world from mine, and three days of it was plenty for me.

January 4

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