I?m in Bermuda and Rick Lazio Isn?t It?s just before five a.m. last Tuesday, and an unshaven white geezer ambles, not stumbles, into Morgan?s Deli on Hudson St. in Tribeca, with a crooked grin on his face. Mentioning to no one in particular that it?s now dark at this hour in August, he whispers to a customer: "You know, this just hasn?t been my day." That got my attention, and the cashier?s, and then the fellow said, "I?ve got a brand new halogen lamp here, just 10 bucks. Any takers?" No one bites. It wasn?t "brand new," and what the heck would you do with a battered lamp at that hour in the morning? The sales pitch continued, finally subsided, and then he got down to business. "I?m so damn broke. Can I have a cup of water?" he said to my friend behind the counter. I wanted to spare the cashier the embarrassment of his having to turn the semi-bum down?it?s a strict policy, even when the store isn?t crowded, not to dole out freebies?so I gave the guy a buck and directed him to the bottled water section. Whether he pocketed that dollar and scraped up some change to buy a can of Bud, I don?t know: I wasn?t going to stick around for the final act. "Just hasn?t been my day," I said to the concierge Boris when I got back to my apartment building, telling him the story. We both shook our heads. Even though Boris is Russian, he understood when I said that perhaps this gent was the product of a dysfunctional family, maybe a mother and grandmother squabbling in his presence when he was four years old. Calling all representatives of the Green Party: have I got a candidate for you!
Last Wednesday night I received the following e-mail update on the state of NYPress? deluxe offices from Andrey Slivka. It wasn?t surprising: we?re used to almost anything around here, whether it?s a fire in the boiler room, water turned off for 72 hours, elevators that stop and start without bidding but mostly don?t open at all, molehills of cigarette butts in the stairwells. But this was new: "Holy fucking shit! I just saw a fucking roach in the elevator lobby outside the back door. I?m serious. I live in a fucking hovel in Brooklyn?I?m used to roaches, and I kill huge-ass waterbugs all the time in my shower, with a rolled-up Improper Bostonian. But this one was fucking huge: I thought it was a mouse. Easily the length of my middle finger. Holy shit, I?ve got the creeps. You?d need a .22 to kill that bad boy. We?ve got roaches at 333 the size of lemurs!"
Well. No writer?s block/Angry Young Ukrainian angst on that nifty passage. Coincidentally, at the MUGGER household we?ve had our own invasion of insects, although fortunately on a less severe level. It seems that MUGGER III discovered a bunch of tiny ants in the dining room: his mother was horrified, but our bruisin? scamp thought it was all very curious. While Junior took to snuffing the microscopic varmints with his Star Wars action figures (leading Mrs. M to scold him, "Honey, use a towel, those toys will scratch the floor!"), our younger son just stamped them out with his bare foot. To which I said bravo, Davy Crockett lives in Tribeca! Soon, MUGGER III was obsessed with the ants, wishing they were the giant black ones, and I swear he was about to start naming them, maybe keeping a few for pets, before Mrs. M called an exterminator.
It reminded me of a time back in ?69 when our household in Huntington had a scandalous infiltration of cockroaches in the kitchen. My mom was pissed. She blamed my brother Doug: he?d just returned from Baltimore for a visit, and she suspected that cockroach eggs were incubating in his pile of dirty laundry. Urban roaches on suburban LaRue Dr.? This wouldn?t do, and so she bought an extra-strength container of Raid and sprayed those devils in the middle of the night, when they were snacking in the pantry. It got a little obsessive; Mom thought she was in the jungles of ?Nam, wiping out enemy forces. I was a peacenik, of course, and stoned, and admonished her for the display of John Wayne bravado.
NYPress controller Paul Abrams and I took an arduous trip out to Long Island City last Thursday morning, a jaunt to retrieve some old baseball cards I needed for the trip to Bermuda, where my boys and their two cousins, Quinn and Rhys, will divvy them up. We have a bunch of stuff in storage at the Moishe?s vast facility, items Mrs. M didn?t need for the new apartment but couldn?t bear to part with. Like a set of Alice in Wonderland furniture Junior and MUGGER III used for a few years, old baby clothes, lamps, a crib; all expendable if you ask me, but I didn?t carry the little nippers inside my belly for nine months each.
On the other hand, there?s my own important loot stashed away: oh, some 1500 record albums, boxes of books, three trunks of memorabilia from my days in Baltimore, most of it City Paper-related, old paintings Mrs. M did in college and on Ludlow St. years ago, a suitcase of ancient Amex and Visa receipts that, God willing, I?ll never have to produce for an IRS audit. Also, several containers of family pictures that are priceless.
Paul had been in Cannes and Nice at the end of July, so we had plenty of business to chat about while he negotiated the unbelievably heavy traffic for a summer day in New York. I guess the 59th St. Bridge was groovy 32 years ago, but it sucks now: it took us forever to get across the ugly structure, stopping and starting, as huge trucks took advantage of all the smaller cars trying to reach their destination. It?s always amazing when you?re stopped on a bridge, or in a tunnel, and you see all these damn union workers fucking around, drinking coffee, hauling the occasional cable or hose from one spot to another, and mostly doing a whole lot of nothing.
Once we got off the bridge it was hard to decipher the directions from the Moishe?s secretary, and so we got a little tour of Long Island City, tooling around on 31st St., 31st Pl., 48th Ave., getting well-acquainted with haunts like Hunter?s Points Golden Fountain diner, the Y&K bodega, a place that had the best-looking watermelons I?ve seen all summer and this monster Culligan truck that we sat next to for 10 minutes while waiting for a brassy traffic cop to let us through a construction site on the road. I told Paul she?d make a great sales rep at the paper; this was one mean-looking mama. At one point we found ourselves heading back to Manhattan on the bridge, until Paul pretended he was in The French Connection and pulled off a smooth 180-degree bat-turn back to Queens.
We finally arrived at Moishe?s, and man, do they run a smooth operation. Once I paid an errant bill for the last month?s storage fee, we were treated like American royalty and escorted by an amiable young hippie up to the third floor and our two lockers. Good thing I wasn?t wearing a suit that day: finding the damn baseball cards was a chore I wasn?t ready for. Opening boxes, moving furniture off to the side, breaking the locks on trunks?this was a true pain in the ass. And of course I got sidetracked, looking at long-forgotten correspondence and 45s from the mid-60s. One ancient photo I retrieved was especially dear to me: it?s a snap of my dad when he was just eight years old, standing next to his grumpy father in Beverly, MA, in the year of 1924. It?s the only picture I have of Dad as a youth: when he was in college at the University of New Hampshire his parents? house burned down and they lost everything of value, which wasn?t much, since it was the Great Depression and my grandfather, a jeweler by trade, was out of work. But all the family photos, save the one reproduced on this page, bit the dust. There?s also a terrific shot of my parents right before one of my brothers? wedding in Huntington, at Old First Church, back in ?67, and a formal family portrait that was painstakingly done, as I recall, in 1960.
I also retrieved some of that memorabilia from Baltimore. One summer day in ?78 there was a sausage-eating contest sponsored by Polock Johnny?s, a local fast-food chain, and our photographer Jennifer Bishop captured both the winner, a huge fellow from East Baltimore, and the runner-up, who promptly barfed seconds after she finished her work. I liked Polock Johnny?s; of course it depended on which outlet you patronized. There was a franchise on The Block that served up sausages with the works?the only way to eat one of those suckers?that always left me with a queasy stomach. On the other hand, my friend Mark Hertsgaard?s dad opened a branch on Greenmount Ave., just a block from my ratty apartment, and I ate there three nights a week without any ill gastro effects. Maybe it was because I always stopped in at Godfrey?s Steer & Beer after my Polock Johnny sausage, and had a pitcher or two of National Premium, which undoubtedly killed any pigmeat germs.
Another set of photos came from our ?87 "Best of Baltimore" party, a rustic bash atop Federal Hill in South Baltimore. The occasion was doubly celebratory for Al From Baltimore and me: the day before we?d sold the paper to the Scranton Times. Just months later, after traveling in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila, Berlin, London, Athens, Rome and Milan, I moved to New York and laid the groundwork for NYPress.
But inspecting those baseball cards was, in the slang of my youth, a trip, man. My oldest brother, a Cleveland Indians fan back when that was a lonely passion, began collecting in the late 1940s; I finished about 20 years later. So we?ve got thousands of the cards?Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield would weep at the sight of Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo and Willie Mays?spanning two decades of change in the sport. Visages of players from the Washington Senators, St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia Athletics are included. And there?s Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brave; Casey Stengel in his Mets uniform; a few utility men from the Pittsburgh Pirates; and more damn Yankees than you could shake a Darth Maul action figure at.
Here?s the inside scoop on the back of Topps card #258 from ?54; it?s a mini-history of one James "Junior" Gilliam, Brooklyn Dodger: "With just 2 seasons of Organized Baseball under his belt, Jim captured the 2nd Base spot in the Dodger infield. A switch hitter who plays the outfield as well as the infield, ?Junior? was the All-Star 2nd Baseman and the Most Valuable Player in the International League in ?52. With the Royals in ?51, he hit .287, batted in 73 Runs and scored 117 times." Also included was an easy "Dugout Quiz" question: "What player is referred to as ?The Barber??" As Pete Hamill would tell Hillary Clinton, none other than Sal Maglie, of the New York Giants.
Personally, my epiphany came when I saw all the Dick Stuart cards. Stu?or, as nasty sportswriters called him, "Dr. Strangeglove"?was my first baseball hero, mostly because he hit something like seven homers in a three-day period when I was visiting Boston in ?63. He was a hell of a slugger, but struck out a ton and couldn?t field for shit; now he?s a forgotten first baseman who doesn?t even merit an asterisk in a left-wing baseball book by the likes of Ken Burns. I?ve got Stu as a Pirate, with the Bosox, and finally as a Philadelphia Phillie. My mom, bless her soul, didn?t share my enthusiasm for Mr. Stuart. Seems that one year I wrote him a fan letter, c/o of Fenway Park, and the schlub never responded. Mom was pissed: how could an athlete (especially one who probably didn?t get much mail) be so insensitive as to snub her baby boy? She urged me to ditch the lug and find another player who wasn?t so mean. "C?mon Roovy [her nickname for preteen MUGGER], find another Boston star who?s worth your trouble."
Eventually, as Stuart slid deeper into mediocrity and then retired to open a bar or car dealership (or whatever pre-millionaire baseball players did when their legs were shot), I latched onto Yaz and Jim Lonborg of the "Impossible Dream" ?67 Red Sox, and then Freddy Lynn, Jim Rice and Luis Tiant. Later it was Roger Clemens (but never the choke-artist Wade Boggs), and currently, of course, along with Junior, I favor Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra. I?ve long stopped collecting baseball cards, although the boys have a notebook full of current players, but at 44 I?m still a fan, even if I don?t consider these guys heroes, as I did Dick Stuart in the early 60s. Weird, but a satisfying diversion from the news of the day, the idiots in DC government and the media, and the amazing spectacle of the Voice?s Cynthia Cotts auditioning for a job with Talk not only in her own paper but in online zines as well.
George Will wrote a fine summary about the dispute between the Major League Umpires Association and Major League Baseball in last Thursday?s Boston Globe, although his description of Baseball America as the "bible of the church of baseball" was pretty sickening. Obviously, the umpires are men out of time: their salaries are nowhere near the level of the pampered prima donnas who verbally abuse them; the instant replays on tv point out their frequent errors in judgment; and the days of the hilarious mock-arguments that Orioles manager Earl Weaver was probably the last to master are long gone. The umps are bitter, lazy, unappreciated and out of luck. Frankly, given my opinion of unions in general, I say stop griping and find another job. There are plenty of young men who?d like to replace them and certainly will. Umpires are just one more casualty of the evolving game; I don?t think anyone will miss the current crop. And with the replacements, maybe the games will be shorter, a bonus to anyone who remembers the standard two-hour contest.
I can?t stand it when The New York Times editorializes about baseball. The short blurbs are so laborious and studded with cliches that they must be the reward for some hack in the overstaffed news department who was reamed out one day for a trivial infraction, like forgetting chief Howell Raines? lunchtime Diet Coke. So on August 6, Times readers, always the victims of internecine squabbles at the paper, are punished with this statement of the obvious: "Rather quietly, it seems, Major League Baseball has worked its way through two-thirds of the regular season and is now entering that part of the year when each game seems to count for a bit more than it did in the spring." No shit. It?s only been that way since Adolph Ochs bought the Times in 1896.
The first impression I had of Talk?s debut had nothing to do with the magazine itself, but rather with the rush of other periodicals to fawn over editor Tina Brown and showcase her de facto assassination of Hillary Clinton without even reading a copy of the monthly first. And of course the lack of imagination: Newsweek, The Washington Post, the Daily News, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, the New York Post and too many other hinterlands newspapers to mention all had the identical headline, "The Talk of the Town." What, did Tina Brown once work at The New Yorker?
I?ll bet that in about 18 months she?ll wish she still did.
I obtained a purloined copy of Talk last Monday afternoon, two days before it went on sale, but too late for last week?s deadline. A fellow from London?s Guardian asked me to write a quick analysis of the issue, but I was tuckered out and told him to fetch the dictaphone, which he did.
After all, where does one begin? Certainly the most embarrassing element of Talk?s first number was Brown?s "tb notebook," the essay on the final page. That the magazine?s editor-in-chief is a crummy writer is no secret; you just have to remember her schoolgirl ooze in The New Yorker over Bill Clinton?s dashing appearance in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal. The closing paragraph makes it clear that none of her subordinates have the balls to actually edit their boss: "So here?s Talk. We hope you enjoy the conversation. An editor can see only the flaws, but she?s our baby and she?s breathing." No wonder executive editor David Kuhn is rumored to be sending his resume to other publications all over Manhattan.
Describing Talk?s look, Brown writes: "Of course, we needed a new format, one that would reflect the accelerated boom and flash of modern American life. Our editorial ideas drew us to the slightly over-size look of the European ?news-yellows,? with their multiple-image covers and glossy photo reportage, along with the tactile, rollable pleasure of their thin, color-saturated pages. That?s what seemed right: a portable magazine, designed to be read over a coffee or rolled up and stuffed into a gym bag rather than placed on a coffee table to be admired from afar."
Even if you ignore the obvious slap at rival Vanity Fair, what a load of hooey. Talk, aside from the vapid name, does sport a handsome logo (I especially like the red background behind the "t") and it?s well-designed, with top-flight illustrators and photographers. But spare me all this Euro talk of "news-yellows" and the "tactile, rollable pleasure" of putting the magazine in your back pocket. In fact, Talk looks remarkably similar to The New York Times? Sunday magazine, with a nod to Britain?s Hello! The initial heft of the issue (I love how publisher Ron Galotti?s declaration last spring that he was limiting ad pages to 100 went by the wayside) makes it impossible to roll up; and I imagine Talk will appear robust commercially through the fourth quarter. Perhaps in the winter months, when the hype has vanished and ad budgets are slimmer, the magazine will be easier to fold into whatever shape you wish.
That is, after you?ve finished reading "The Hip List," only the most astonishing snippet of anachronistic window dressing in the first issue. With no explanation, these are a few of the items the Talk staff, aping Egg magazine circa 1990, thinks are way cool, bay-bay: "Earth tones," "Scabby knees," "Vietnamese food," "Thick-cut bacon," "swordfish," "Science" and "Potted meat."
The headline writing is poor: what smart editor would let the following groaners go by without calling an executive meeting: "Fur Sure!," "Reach Me at the Beach" and my favorite, "The Houseguest From Hell." Then again, when a magazine heads a group of short articles with the phrase "The Conversation," cliches elsewhere should be no surprise. Aside from Frank DeCaro?s funny piece "Krav Maga, Talk?s resident fat guy fights back," in which he describes his discomfort at a training center, there wasn?t much of interest in "The Conversation." (DeCaro cracked me up with this paragraph: "For one thing, my outfit was all wrong. I was the only man between there and West Hollywood wearing a lavender surfer-boy T-shirt emblazoned with a row of hibiscus flowers. I wasn?t dressed for a fight, I was dressed for a luau at Harvey Fierstein?s.")
Whiner-for-hire James Atlas mines the same material he?s been peddling for years now: how it?s just not fair that professional journalists and authors aren?t as affluent as in decades gone by. He complains, in half-jest (and that?s giving Atlas the benefit of the doubt), that his agent is "far richer and more famous than I am." Go into another line of work, Jimbo: you and the reading public will be happier. The New Republic?s Dana Milbank, relieved temporarily of carrying Al Gore?s water for TNR owner Marty Peretz, calls in a story about the anchor of New Hampshire?s WMUR, Karen Brown, who, surprise!, is schmoozed by presidential candidates and their minions. NYPress? Bill Monahan contributes a throwaway Fodor?s travel short on Gloucester, MA; Roger D. Friedman, a hack writer whose presence contradicts Brown?s ballyhoo about attracting fresh and vital literary voices, has a stinker of a publicity tear-out for the Huvane Brothers, who?ve gone into the talent representation business. Friedman?s best line, in the first paragraph yet: "Either way, if your musical sequel to Bad Lieutenant hurts Ms. Talent?s career, you?ll find the answer on the double-quick. You?ll never eat anything, at all, in this town again."
Before taking a look at the two main stories, Lucinda Franks? nauseating exercise in Hillary Clinton hagiography, and Tucker Carlson?s dated-but-studded-with-firecrackers essay about his travels with Gov. George W. Bush, a few other minor quibbles. Galotti was up-front from the start that there would be no Chinese wall between edit and advertising in Talk; and indeed the ads disguised as "Pocket Fashion" shorts in "The Conversation" prove him as a man of his word. Martin Amis? review of Thomas Harris? Hannibal is three months too late and 3000 words too long; the fake letters to the editor section, "channeled through Christopher Buckley," is a frightful effort worthy of another defunct magazine, Fame; the full-page photos of male celebrities like Hugh Grant, Ricky Williams and Harrison Ford are the sort you?d expect in a prototype, not an actual issue; and the gatefold spread "The Best Talkers in America: Talk Presents 50 Big Mouths We Hope Never Shut Up" is another derivative feature, say from Esquire circa 1999. What a waste of three expensively produced pages to shine up the likes of Alec Baldwin, Martin Scorsese, Ted Turner, Gloria Steinem, James Woods, Barney Frank, Beck, Barbara Bush and Arianna Huffington.
And that?s the basic problem, and the reason for Talk?s probable downfall: the magazine and Brown are caught in a time warp. There?s no demonstrable reason for this publication to exist, other than Brown?s urge for a new project (whether it was her choice or not to leave The New Yorker is still open to debate). Recycled writers and artists, pretty pictures, a naughty Gwyneth Paltrow, "The Unsolved Mysteries of Princess Diana," a nod to redneck culture and that?s it. There?s not a shred of evidence that Brown understands she?s in a rapidly changing media environment: this magazine could?ve debuted at any time in the 90s. In fact, looking at Talk for the first time since last Tuesday (I never finished the magazine once Vanity Fair, with its David Maraniss book excerpt on Vince Lombardi, arrived), it already seems like an artifact of a decade that?s about to turn over. Brown will go the way of the duo she?s so closely identified with: the Clintons.
No one is better at creating hype than Tina Brown: the last two weeks are ample proof of that valuable skill. But once the buzz has died down, once the original staff turns over, what will become of Talk? Not much, I imagine, because as Michael Wolff pointed out in an excellent Aug. 9 New York column, co-owner Hearst won?t be nearly as indulgent of Brown?s expensive whims as her previous employer, Conde Nast. Sure, the first issue of Talk sold out everywhere (especially in New York and Los Angeles), and it probably will for the second issue as well, even though the projected cover star Johnny Depp doesn?t match Hillary Clinton?s sick newsstand appeal. I?ll be very curious to see next March?s issue: either Brown will get a grip and concentrate on the magazine?s actual content instead of hype, or it will ultimately fail. Bet on the latter.
As for Franks? piece on Hillary and her husband?s tortured childhood, it?s safe to say that this Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist won?t be taken seriously again. In an article that was obviously approved of, if not actually vetted, by the White House (Sidney Blumenthal is at last let out of the doghouse!), Franks? work is shot through with hyperbole and embarrassing adoration. As well as with mistakes. For example, she writes: "The only people who have not lashed out at [Bill Clinton] in public are those he has hurt most deeply, his wife and their daughter, Chelsea." What about Al Gore, the last victim of the scandalous Clinton regime? Yes, after great urging by his campaign staff, he recently condemned the President?s moral behavior. But after Clinton was impeached, Gore said his boss would be remembered as one of America?s greatest presidents. Franks boosts Hillary?s supposed common touch with the recollection that in Ireland she drank from a "chipped mug," just like the locals. The following quote could be my favorite: "In the Middle East, throngs of villagers come out to cheer her. Hillary?s popularity is rooted in something more than her celebrity status: she has actually changed people?s lives." Like whose?
As Brown said on Good Morning America last week, "What you feel is this is a couple who share the passion for the world, for doing good for politics, for making life better for other people. This is their great bond, and it really has brought them together with almost a sort of spiritual intensity." Maybe Tina?s right: Sexy Sadie, where did you go?
Luck is a key component to any winning presidential campaign, and George W. Bush has a truckload of it. Had Carlson?s feature on him not been eclipsed by Franks? idolatry of Hillary, the tabloids would?ve made sport of the Texas governor for using the word "fuck" so frequently with a journalist. But with all the First Lady psychobabble hoopla (you?d think Baby Bill was the victim of a two-way strap-on session with his mother and gran), the story was mostly ignored. Not in the Bush camp, however. You can be sure the candidate was given a stern dressing-down by the organization?s leader, Karl Rove. Don?t get too comfortable with reporters. Watch your mouth. Don?t make too many funny jokes. In reality, it was a good lesson for Bush: he might?ve been cocky after Lois Romano?s and George Lardner Jr.?s seven-part series in The Washington Post didn?t lay a glove on him and actually lifted his profile. For example, Hardball?s Chris Matthews was approving: praising Bush for quitting drinking cold-turkey, saying that a lot of men have the same problem and will admire the governor for his tenacity. And besides, said Matthews, an inebriated Bush was just sticking up for his dad when he verbally attacked Al Hunt in a Dallas restaurant in 1986. That?s family, the talk-show host implied. Rev. George Will, never a fan of any Bush, was clucking in his priggish way on This Week last Sunday, complaining that GWB?s language wasn?t presidential; never mind that he and countless colleagues rush to bend over for Sen. John McCain, who?s probably a lot more profane than Bush.
But don?t expect any more close-up and personal pieces about Bush in the future.
I?ve had it with the absurd tax debate in Congress. Let Bill Clinton veto the toothless Republican package, blame it on his granny and table any action until the next administration takes over in January, 2001. Gov. George W. Bush will reveal his own tax platform later in the year. If he?s elected president, and Congress remains controlled by the GOP, sensible legislation will be passed.
In the meantime, I can?t let a few opinions go without note. I love New York?s Charlie Rangel as much as the next political observer?he?s consistently entertaining, has a Hollywood raspy voice and seems like a hell of a guy?but his Washington Post op-ed piece on July 20 was typical of the demagoguery that Democrats foist on a disinterested public. Rangel writes: "[GOP Rep.] Bill Archer says that if ?the money stays in Washington, the politicians will surely spend it.? It?s unfortunate that Republicans have resorted to such a cynical argument to justify his unwieldy tax package. If they are right, it means we are stuck with massive debt, Social Security and Medicare problems forever because, according to their logic, politicians are simply unable to act responsibly."
Charlie, they?re right. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, are irresponsible and will spend any money available to them for their pet pork and entitlement packages, instead of returning money to the taxpayers.
And an Aug. 2 Baltimore Sun editorial on the estate tax inadvertently made a very good point. "In reality," the piece read, "most wealthy people have taken a variety of steps to protect their estates from taxation." That?s right: because they?re forced to in order to protect their families. Eliminate the estate tax and the result would be not only the fair retention of a lifetime?s earnings, but less billing hours for lawyers and accountants. Sounds quite pleasing to me, if not to the Democrats who count on their campaign contributions.
In Newsweek?s Aug. 16 edition, the Jonathan Alter-mentored "Conventional Wisdom" spouted the same line, proving that the weekly by all rights should have this tagline under its logo: "An Unofficial Organ of the Democratic Party." The dig read: "Tax Cut: People don?t want it, Greenspan doesn?t want it, but GOP?s gotta have it. Typical." Typical only of yet another publication distorting the Fed Chairman?s remarks about a proposed tax cut.
Finally, in his syndicated column last week, Bill Buckley cut through the class war rhetoric and delivered some plain facts, according to IRS filed tax returns. Buckley finds that 10 percent of the American population is paying 60 percent of the taxes; 50 percent of the country?s citizens are paying 4.6 percent. He adds that in 1995, "48 million Americans paid zero tax." Minority Leader Dick Gephardt can rant all he wants about the poor and middle class getting screwed by the Republicans, but the figures don?t add up.
Of course, Gephardt has a new ally in turncoat Michael Forbes, the Long Island congressman who became a Democrat a couple of weeks ago. Forbes, who is bound to be defeated in his 2000 reelection bid?the state and national GOP organizations will make sure of that?wasted no time in ingratiating himself to President Clinton, the man he voted to impeach just last December. On Capitol Hill last Thursday, accompanied by Gephardt and Sen. Tom Daschle (the party?s new hitman), Forbes addressed the person he once said "has almost retreated from any sense of remorse." Forbes: "Mr. President, your own tireless and dedicated work... has earned the Democratic Party the trust and the confidence of a majority of Americans... You have talked to America about what unites us, while the opposition talks about what divides us. You, sir, have talked about the next generation, not the next election. Thank you so much for your leadership."
At last count, Forbes had not yet withdrawn his endorsement of Gov. Bush.
It?s true that Mrs. M and I don?t often venture too far afield on the nights we go out to dinner; by the end of the day we?re both bushed and the thought of traveling uptown to favorite spots like Cafe Trevi or Victor?s Cafe 52, checking our watches to make sure we?re home by nine to relieve the sitter, just isn?t worth it. And it?s not as if there?s a shortage of fine restaurants in Tribeca. (Now if only neighborhood activists would relax a bit and stop throwing up roadblocks in front of other commercial enterprises who want to occupy abandoned buildings?say a Borders, Barnes & Noble, Gap or movie complex?we?d be on our way.)
But for some reason we?d never eaten at Sosa Borella, a charming Italian/Argentine beanery just south of Canal St. on Greenwich. Kind of hard to find if you?re unfamiliar with Tribeca?those who use Nobu as a landmark would be stumped?and I have no idea if it?s been "discovered" by the city?s dominant food critics. I suspect not: we ate there twice last week and it was just half-filled, although I?m told it?s jammed at lunchtime with nearby office workers. In any case, Sosa is a jewel, much in the way that Mexican Radio in East Soho is: comfortable, reasonably priced, staffed with courteous help and a chef who delivers terrific food. I?ve had two of the char-grilled, thin pizzas, one with beef Bolognese, plum tomato and gorgonzola, the other topped with sausage, arugula, artichokes and havarti. The grilled shrimp Caesar salad scored with one of our companions on Friday night, as did the grilled mozzarella, and roasted beets with goat cheese.
We?ve sampled several pastas?fettucine with shrimp, penne with mushrooms and chicken, ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese?and all are recommended. The hungry diner goes for the parrillada, an Argentine mixed grill with a delicious sausage, chicken breast and short rib, along with a tomato salad. Or the tuna steak with tomato-chimichurri sauce; or else, alternatively, the filet mignon accompanied by sauteed spinach and mushrooms.
Sosa Borella simply isn?t to be missed: I?ll bet that even a number of Tribecans don?t know about it, and I hope that changes, because the owners there deserve Danny Meyer-like success.
At Friday night?s dinner there, we even had a little political talk after Jeff and Amy Koyen?s description of their Alaskan trip and John Strausbaugh?s presentation of his photos from Umbria. Our friend Rick, while cutting through a short rib, out of nowhere said, "Oh, you mean that cokehead George Bush?" I guess Tom Daschle has reached out and touched my lawyer friend. Or maybe Rick?s just having sympathy pangs for Lamar Alexander, the once mild-mannered presidential candidate who now rails that money is the ruin of politics, and damn that well-connected son of a president, anyway!
I won?t predict the finish of this Saturday?s straw poll in Iowa, other than to predict that whatever Bush?s eventual showing, it?ll be deemed a disappointment by the press. Frankly, I don?t agree with those crybaby Gore partisans that the Texas governor has received an extended honeymoon from the media, but it?s certain that a contrived "spontaneous" backlash is in the works for Bush. Better now than later.
It?s once in a pink moon that I take the side of the New York Times editorial page over its far superior counterpart at The Wall Street Journal, but on the controversy regarding gays in the Boy Scouts, put me in the Times column. It?s a stupid debate, only made worse by talk-radio hosts like Sean Hannity bleating Gary Bauer-like acrimony on the air. Last Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts can?t exclude gays from its ranks. Sounds fair to me. The Scouts argue that it?s a private organization, even though it?s had 87 million members in its history, and that it?s having its First Amendment rights violated. Seems to me that we?ve been down this road before, years ago, with racial disputes. What private club today would have the balls to publicly say, for example, "We exclude blacks, Asians, Jews and Poles"?
The Journal?s editorial, which appeared last Friday in its "Taste" section, reads: "Parents want their sons to be Boy Scouts not because they are bigots but in large part because of the moral values this private organization stands for. Surely families have rights too?notably the right to freely associate with whomever they wish." What baloney. I was a Boy Scout for years, as were my four brothers, in Huntington?s Troop 12. My parents didn?t encourage scouting to instill "moral" values; that was their job. Rather, they wanted us to have another outlet to meet new people, one that would include hiking, learning to tie knots, identifying flora and fauna and writing essays on citizenship and history. Besides, as my mother used to say, one more extracurricular activity would help on college applications. I didn?t care for the militaristic tone of the Scouts?in the late 60s, it was deemed a pretty uncool group?but I made a lot of friends, some of whom were probably gay. I wouldn?t have known or cared.
Obviously, any scoutmaster who molests or harasses his charges needs to be dismissed?same as any teacher or anyone else in the workplace. Otherwise, I just don?t see the problem. As the Times wrote on Aug. 5, "The organization would serve its mission better by ending its ugly prejudice against homosexuals, and adding to its list of Boy Scout qualities the virtue of tolerance."