The Duke Still Rules; Crime As a Career Track
I've gotsome very bad news for media liberals: Even though it received little mediaattention, a recent Reuters/Zogby poll shows the Duke to be America's favoriteactor of the century. Yes, dear readers, John Wayne, always riding tall intothe sunset, is more popular than those grimacing, foul-mouthed twitching midgetswho pass as film stars nowadays. Almost asgood is the women's side. Katherine Hepburn, the haughty, impeccably manneredConnecticut Yankee who never even came close to uttering the f-word onscreen,or anywhere else for that matter, is numero uno among the weaker sex, with theworking-class heroine Meryl Streep in second. It's the Duke and Kate, followedby Jimmy Stewart and la Streep, so take that and shove it, as they say, allyou Hillarys, Bills, Harvey Weinsteins, Jerry Springers and Alec Baldwins ofthis world.
This isparticularly satisfying to old-timers like yours truly, but it is also is atriumph for the values of John Wayne, whose last movie, The Shootist,was released in 1976. (I'd love to see who will remember Alec Baldwin 23 yearsafter he makes his last miserable flick.) Which means that the sex-and-violencemoral relativists, the Doom and Quake adrenaline-pumping shystersand their ilk haven't had their way with all of us. Mind you, they've had theirway with our children, who were the ones they had targeted in the first place.
But beforeI go on about these godawful Sammy Glicks, a few words about the Duke. CharlesGlass, "Top Drawer"'s regular London correspondent, was once his chauffeur.Glass is one of the few true lefty-pinkos I like. He's from that other sideof the planet, born and bred in Los Angeles, and as a high school student becameWayne's driver for three months. They say that no one is a hero to one's butler,and that also applies to drivers. Charlie described the Duke as the most considerateand friendly man he'd ever worked for. I say it's typical. Character countedback then, and being friendly and considerate to one's employees was a sinequa non. It was also a time when no one questioned that character counted. (TheDraft Dodger's tantrums against the peons who cannot answer back are legion;so what else is new?)
Liberals,needless to say, have always hated the Duke. They portrayed him as a bully whohated Injuns and yellow people. Horse feathers. In Wayne's movies the Indiansmore often than not were defending themselves from whites who had cheated onthe signed treaty. Both Fort Apache and Hondo are tributes tothe Indian way of life and honor. Most of Wayne's films were morality plays,with America depicted as a place worth loving and respecting. The violence wasmuted and never gratuitous, never in slow-motion, never gory. It occurred inthe service of good versus evil. Political Correctness was never their strongpoint.
So, thenext time you see young Buddy, or even Muffy, plunged into a three-dimensionalcomputer video world where you must kill to survive, rent a John Wayne video,or better yet, buy one.
And speakingof honorable men, good old Bill Clinton, by far the most dishonorable man everto inhabit the White House, never disappoints. Last week he trivialized theproblem in our movies, music and video screens by announcing a federal probeinto the use of violence. As in everything he says and does, the Draft Dodgeris being less than honest. There is absolutely f___ all the government can doabout the violence except to pass a censorship law, and Clinton is as likelyto do that as I am to go down on Andrea Dworkin. The whole purpose of the exercisewas electioneering as usual, this time for the benefit of the grotesque Hillary.
All Clintonhad to do if he really cared about the violence was to read the riot act tothose who provide the moolah, his Hollywood gang, and he could have done itright in their backyard a couple of weeks ago. In Beverly Hills the Draft Dodgerraised $1.7 million and told the Sammy Glicks exactly what they wanted to hear:"There's no call for finger-pointing." His grotesque consort was evenmore hypocritical. "What kind of values are we promoting when a child canwalk into a store and find such video games...blah, blah, blah," announcedan indignant Hillary. I wonder if she brought that up last time she was schmoozingSpielberg, whose DreamWorks makes many videos where a win is based on how manypeople you can blow away.
It has beenestablished beyond any reasonable doubt that video games help people overcomethe natural human reticence to kill another human being. Troops are now trainedby video games to learn to kill, the Marines being one example. Yet the mediatreats any candidate who directly blames the industry as a censorship-lovingfascist, just as the media treats any candidate who happens to be devoutly Christianas one having an illness.
Underminingour traditional values and institutions and replacing them with "scientific"mores and bureaucracies was always the explicit mission of the intellectualleft. It took a long time but it is now acceptable to murder wantonly onscreen.Soon it will be acceptable to seduce underage children onscreen. Where it willall end I do not know. What I do know is that we need John Wayne. And that goesfor Joe DiMaggio, too.
THE TIRED HEDONISTCareer Criminals Most journalistsI know have ended up in this profession because they failed at everything else.For the lazy and spottily educated, it is hard to beat journalism as a way ofearning a decent living. But there is, I think, a more promising career paththat is equally open to those who have botched their prospects elsewhere, onethat goes sadly unconsidered by most young men and women today. That is crime.
If the professionof crime has something of a bad reputation, that is because most practicingcriminals are stupid. In North Carolina, a state that has one of the highestrates of bank robbery in the nation, more than two-thirds of the perpetratorsare caught within a year because of their sheer idiocy. According to an articlethe other day in The New York Times, one of them wrote a holdup noteon the back of his own personalized deposit slip; another tried to rob a bank'sdrive-in window from the backseat of a taxi.
Statisticsshow that the average IQ of convicted criminals hovers around 90. You may thinkthat this is because only the dumb ones get caught. Criminologists have disprovedthis hypothesis; the ones who get away, they have shown, are dumb too. Still,it seems plausible to me that there could be a set of super-intelligent super-criminalswhose tremendously lucrative illegalities are not even suspected, let aloneprosecuted. This would explain, for example, Goldman Sachs.
But if mostcriminals are on the dim side, that makes a career of crime all the more auspiciousfor young people who are reasonably intelligent. Having respectable middle-classantecedents and a college education is also a great advantage. How many commoncriminals have the social grace to defuse an awkward situation with an easy,"Good evening, officer"? If you are apprehended and put on trial,there is probably an Episcopalian minister or Reform rabbi somewhere in yourfamily who will testify to your character. (Having a Catholic cleric as a relativeis less helpful-Vincent "the Chin" Gigante was vocally backed by hisbrother, a priest in the Bronx, and he got put away.) And let's face it, inNew York being white furnishes a great head start in a life of crime: You aremuch less likely to come under suspicion by the authorities, and if you do,you are generally treated with courtesy and presumed innocent until proven guilty.If you are a white woman, the illicit booty is there for the taking.
The firstquestion confronting a young person considering a life of crime is: Should Ibe self-employed or join the mob? There are still five Mafia families in NewYork, and their ranks are so depleted and geriatric that they are probably acceptingapplications from candidates whose last names do not end with a sounded vowel.But the "L.C.N.," as the FBI calls it (for La Cosa Nostra), is notvery impressive anymore. It used to be involved in glamorous rackets like numbers,drugs, loansharking and prostitution. Today it is in garbage, fish, concreteand the coatrooms of strip clubs-and barely holding on to those. Besides, Mafiosiare uncosmopolitan; most of them don't even possess passports to surrender attheir arraignments. John Gotti Jr. drives a minivan, at least when he is notin jail awaiting trial. Not quite our sort, dear.
The aspiringcriminal is better off working alone. (If accomplices are necessary, it is bestto bump them off when the job is over.) But what sort of criminal work to pursue?First, you should consider that not all forms of lawbreaking are equally lucrative.I know one fellow who stuck with loitering for eight years before he realizedit did not bring in any money. Second, you should start with something ambitious.Many beginners drift into crime with a series of petty and barely profitablecapers-stealing plants from in front of Brooklyn brownstones, pinching the oddpillowcase from Bloomingdale's. Only after they've been caught and acquire a"record" do they start to get serious about crime-and by then they'vesquandered their initial advantage: their clean reputation.
Mind you,a crime can be ambitious without being complicated. In fact, complexity is bestavoided. Those who erect elaborate swindles make a lot of money initially, butthey invariably come to a sticky end. Ivar Kreuger, a Swede who used forgeryand deception to parlay earnings from his father's match-manufacturing intoa worldwide financial confidence game, committed suicide in 1932. Charles Ponzi,the inventor of the "Ponzi scheme," died a pauper in Rio de Janeiroin 1949. Robert L. Vesco, the "fugitive financier" who was chargedwith defrauding investors of more than $200 million, is languishing in a Cubanprison. My own uncle was until recently prospering from an intricate schemeof mail fraud he had concocted, but then the postal rates went up and he losteverything.
Even thatold standby, murder for profit, can be tricky for the beginner. A 130-page learningtext entitled Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractorsused to be available, but the publisher, Paladin Press of Boulder, CO, recentlyagreed to stop selling it after a costly lawsuit was brought by two familieswho said a man had read it before killing their relatives for hire. Apparentlyit was not that good, for the paid assassin is on death row.
Counterfeitingis simpler, thanks to the march of technology. No longer is it necessary toconstruct elaborate, noisy and easily traceable printing operations that producepiles of counterfeit money that must be slowly leaked into circulation. Instead,you can simply use your personal computer and laser-jet color printer to turnout a serviceable bogus bill on an as-needed basis. And for the ethically scrupulous,counterfeiting has the advantage of being the most moral of crimes, since youare in effect stealing an infinitesimal amount from each of your fellow citizens,in exact proportion to how wealthy they are. Unfortunately, the Secret Servicewould like to reserve this particular form of theft for the Treasury Dept.,so they come down on even small-time counterfeiters with terrific zeal and severity.Not recommended.
Robberywith violence is profitable in rural areas, where one can hide behind a hedgeon a country lane with a hammer, wait until someone who is well-attired andof slight physique walks by, jump out and hit him on the head, take his moneyand return home in time to have a bath before dinner. In the city this modusoperandi must obviously be modified. Earlier this year, a thief described asa 35-year-old white male was making a practice of jumping out of a van on theUpper East Side when he spotted a nicely dressed older woman, punching her inthe face and absconding with her handbag. The simplicity of his method mightbe admirable, but the lack of chivalry is wholly deplorable.
Then thereis "Impersonation with Intent to Defraud." You enter Tiffany's, announce,in a slight Welsh accent, "I am Harry Evans, give me some diamonds,"then go off and sell them on 47th St. This has the disadvantage that it cannotbe repeated too frequently.
Finally,if you are extremely lazy, you might devise an effortless scam. I, for instance,have managed to bilk Park Avenue dowagers out of several thousand dollars onthe pretext of collecting for the National Anti-Luncheon League. A subscriptionof $42 a month, I tell them, entitles them to go without 14 luncheons.
Before youset out on a potentially lucrative career of crime, you should reflect on thesmall but real contingency that you will be detected, convicted and incarcerated.If you are a man, you may decide you are not the type who would "do well"in prison. Still, your no doubt brief stay in the Big House will be made easierby the thought that when you get out, no matter how disgraced your name maybe, a career in journalism will always be open to you.
HAMLET Suddenly Samuel Berger After theChinese nuclear espionage scandal broke, the President and other members ofthe administration began to refer to National Security Adviser Sandy Bergeras "Samuel Berger." I could see this change in Sandy's nomenclaturecoming for a long time.My grandmotherwould have adored him for trading Sam for Sandy. His hold on this quintessentiallyAmerican mid-century name lasted nearly a whole career. Now he has lost it.Anyone could have warned him. Resolutely looking the other way while nuclearsecrets flowed into the same Chinese pockets that campaign contributions cameout of is exactly the kind of behavior that turns Sandys into Sams. In the early1950s, as I galloped on my rocking horse "Trigger," my grandmother,nee Lebensberger, would watch me intently, and intone suggestively, "Yourname is Cowboy?Sandy!"
I neverbit. She was appalled that my parents named me as Jewish-sounding a name asSam. And Sam was an unusual name for the time. When I was seven, I rode in ataxi with my grandfather Sam and the taxi driver's license informed us thathe, too, was called Sam. When told of our names, he turned around, looked atthe two of us and announced, "We're the last three Sams in the whole cityof Chicago."
But thenewfound popularity of the name-now having been purged of its Lower East Sideflavor and favored for toddlers on the Upper East Side-doesn't erase the stingI felt when Sandy Berger's name was taken away from him. Sandy Berger was thePresident's friend; Samuel Berger is someone in whom the President has completeconfidence. Sandy Berger is Bill Clinton's favorite; Samuel Berger will be exoneratedwhen all the evidence is in-of course some of it may never be released. SamuelBerger may be working on a book project before the year is out. He may not hearhis old name again until it is uttered by Judith Regan: "Sign here, andI'll give you your check, Sandy!"
AnotherSam story will take place soon: This is going to be the summer of Summerof Sam. And the cases have something in common. When David Berkowitz wasarrested, my closest friend, now chairman of a major university English departmentin the West, actually wailed: "It would be a Berkowitz. Why did it haveto be a Jew?"
In eachcase, the villain is not only a villain, but a representative Jew. Spike Lee,a master of how to epater les juives, is releasing his film this summer,and no doubt it will be filled, as Mo' Better Blues was, with imagesof Semites, lovingly and vividly depicted as conniving, brutal, coarse, money-lovingand, interestingly against type, murderous as well (though in a cowardly, unmanlyway).
But nothingLee does in his teasing, puncturing films will be as effectively puncturingas Berger's action. Sandy Berger-haimish, hard-working, team player-has beenreplaced by Samuel Berger-venal, calculating, dishonorable. Samuel, alas, isa better name for the Berger to come. And it is Clinton, with his unerring ear,who has begun the desandifying process.
During thejourney through Yugoslavia in the 1930s memorialized in her great book BlackLamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West noticed their driver Dragutin engagedin an act of spiteful and petty anti-Semitism against their guide and friend,called Constantine. Her husband responds sympathetically. The driver "knowsquite well that Constantine is not a whole man, and that he has in some waybeen destroyed, and Dragutin fears infection. Now I understand some other causefor anti-Semitism: many primitive peoples must have received their first indicationof the toxic quality of thought from Jews. They know only the fortifying ideaof religion; they see in Jews the effect of the tormenting and disintegratingideas of skepticism."
To ordinaryAmericans, who expect officials holding the office of national security adviserto act in a disinterested and patriotic way, Samuel Berger, with his cynicismand coruscating selfishness, may seem appalling in just this way. In an administrationwhose corruption is so diverse and far-reaching as Clinton's, there is greatopportunity for villainy. Why can't I help wishing that, of all them, the onewho looks most like he allowed his country's security to have been compromisedin exchange for money were truly a Sandy, not a Sam?
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City Curbs Don’t Comply with A.D.A.
Top Chefs in Small Toques
A Debate Over Parking on 74th St.
This Week in Central Park
The Portrait King
Grading Restaurants on a Curve