A Twist of Manhattan's Elite I'msomewhat tardy in reporting on the Mother's Day festivities at the MUGGERhousehold, but with good reason: a 24-hour virus no doubt caused by a batchof beef lo mein fried in rancid oil. That Sunday morning started off just swell.I awoke with MUGGER III and we played until Junior awoke and dialed up Nintendo64's Zelda, which was far more interesting for my younger son than the makeshiftwrestling matches we'd been having. Meanwhile, Mrs. M slept in, but when shemade her entrance, the boys quickly gathered a bunch of gifts. And what a haul:a collection of MAD comics from the 70s, some homemade flowers Juniormade in school, a few framed pictures and three photo albums that chronicledthe past year's holidays and our trips to Bermuda, Los Angeles,London and Paris. My troublesdidn't start until five minutes into the splendid production of The Wizardof Oz at the Garden; it was a whiz-bang show, with dramatic pyrotechnics,and the story moved along briskly with no intermission. Jo Anne Worleywas a convincing Wicked Witch of the West-the boys' favorite-andMickey Rooney proved he still has about 15 steps on Bob Hope andother geezers from his era playing the hapless Wizard. When we left, we raninto NYPress' Kim Granowitz, along with her mother andnephew, while Junior bought cotton candy with a cool rasta hat, and MUGGER III-orrather, Dad-got snookered on a $20 plastic replica of the Tin Man.
No, whatgot to me was one whiff of MUGGER III's hotdog. From that point on, I knew Iwas in for a day of bed rest, along with continual trips to the facilities.I slept, caught up on reading, but was mostly down for the count.
Fortunately,the malady subsided largely by Monday afternoon, just in time to attend TheNew Yorker's party at Da Silvano in honor of their stafferKurt Andersen's new novel Turn of the Century. Mrs. M metJohn Strausbaugh and me at the restaurant on lower 6th Ave. and it wasa little odd seeing so many journalists who've appeared in this column in aless than flattering light. It was comforting that Andersen, his lovely wifeAnne Kreamer and Random House publisher Ann Godoffprovided us entree to the affair, so we felt somewhat immunized from the badvibes that hacks like David Granger, Ken Auletta and CalvinTrillin sprinkled throughout the environs like puff-clouds of mediocrity.(Actually, I was tempted to ask Trillin's advice on barbecue in Memphis,a city I'm visiting in two weeks, but didn't have the bad taste to introducemyself. I'm sure he hasn't seen my suggestions that he be sent to a retirementhome for over-the-hill writers like Richard Berke and Timothy Noah,but just in case, I kept my distance.) The New York Times' AlexKuczynski, a perky reporter with a husky voice, mock-strangled me for mynasty remarks about her mistake-riddled media articles in that paper's businesssection. Michael Hirschorn, late of Spin and now writing for theincreasingly kooky Michael Kinsley's Slate, was gracious,diplomatically insisting he was satisfied with any ink at all.
LarryDoyle, a writer for The Simpsons, was in from L.A. and complainedthat I once wrote he went to Harvard (since he was a Spy andNew York alumnus under the Andersen regime, what would yousurmise?) and maintained, proudly, that he matriculated at a school in Illinois.Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter and his wife Cynthiabreezed in and immediately felt at home, not letting on, at least to me, theupcoming storm with writer Jennet Conant, who resigned later in the weekwhen her VF article about the horrific Brill's Content was spiked.Conant let everybody in the world know that it was a "sad day for VanityFair," but who knows, maybe the piece just plain sucked. GQeditor Art Cooper was beaming, and his wife Amy made my day bycomplimenting a new windowpane suit and gold-patterned tie.
I snappeda few pictures, and hung out in a corner by the entrance and watched the biggestcollection of notables I've seen in a coon's age. I guess I'm just not usedto these affairs, but New Yorker editor David Remnick really threwa star-studded party for Andersen. I chatted with former MassachusettsGov. Bill Weld for a few minutes and he let on that while he's mostlyaboard the George W. Bush bandwagon, he also has shreds of enthusiasmfor Lamar Alexander (bringing the bitter Tenneseean's followersto about four) and John Kasich ("a fellow who's 47 going on 35").Tom Brokaw strolled in, just minutes after he completed his NBCbroadcast, and I didn't have the nerve to introduce myself to Joan Didion,one of my favorite writers of the past generation. Who else: Conan O'Brien,Andersen's old Spy partner Tom Phillips, Charlie Rose,Kathleen Turner, James Cramer, Harvey Weinstein,Nora Ephron, Newsweek's Rich Turner and Stanley Crouch.
TinaBrown was nowhere in sight.
It was whenEric Alterman and George Stephanopoulos cruised into Da Silvanothat I put away the camera and stayed outside for good. While getting a mineralwater from the bar I did see the duo deep in conversation with Time'sWalter Isaacson and the thought of what could emerge from that meetingrattled me enough to last a week. I ran into my old friend Susan Orlean,an accomplished author and New Yorker staff writer, as well asthe Post's Mary Huhn and finally "Page Six"'s RichardJohnson, who was rather subdued, except to say that he fully approved ofthe Brill's Content May gossip issue. Johnson and I have had numerousfeuds in the past, but they're always short-lived; he's a fine fellow. I wasn'tso jolly last Sunday when his column plumped a Toby Young bit from Taki'sNYPress "Top Drawer" section without mentioning our paper,but what the hell.
On May 17,Kuczynski, in a Times piece called "Fact, Fiction and the MediaFishbowl," chronicled the event, eliciting a post-mortem from Andersenthe next day at lunch. He told Kuczynski about meeting Kathleen Turner, theactress whose finest role, in my mind, came in John Waters' underappreciatedSerial Mom. Andersen: "She was the one famous person I didn't know.She asked me to sign her book. It was one of those surreal moments where I feltlike I was in some specific, high-end Disney attraction where you can feel likea celebrity for five minutes, having flashbulbs go off in your face while yousign a book for a famous actress."
Satiatedfrom such a strange gathering of self-absorbed journalists and the like, Mrs.M and I walked home, tucked the boys in and ordered takeout from Kitchenettedown the street. No fear of ptomaine poisoning from that cozy beanery. The shellswith marinara and garlic were just fine, as was the turkey meatloaf and mashedpotatoes.
Andersen'sfirst novel has received mostly glorious reviews, particularly DanielAkst's in last Friday's Wall Street Journal. Akst wrote: "Cana book destined for every beach blanket and nightstand in the Hamptons reallybe any good?... The answer to [this question] appears to be yes, judging bythe evidence of Kurt Andersen's elegant and relentless fictional sendup of theway we live now, or at least of the way a few of us live-the rich, noisy, media-obsessedfew for whom Seattle and Silicon Valley have lately supplanted Washington asthe most important places outside of New York and Los Angeles."
The book,which had an astonishing first printing of 100,000, also received raves fromSalon's James Poniewozik ("[W]hat he has created is impressive:a well-imagined picture of an info-teeming, overmediated, very possible nearfuture, and, more important, of a class of people whom words, literally, fail"),The New York Times and Suck. Less enamored was The New YorkObserver's Adam Begley, who wrote a pissy, passing-as-smart, I-Know-Tom-Wolfe-And-You're-No-Tom-Wolfereview in that paper's May 17 edition. It's my suspicion that Begley, and theObserver's editors, anticipated a stream of gushy reviews and decidedto start the backlash. Begley whines about Turn of the Century:"It's good but not great, smart but not brilliant, engaging but not astonishing...Part of the problem is that Mr. Andersen is not good with emotion. He can doa speakerphone but not a crying jag."
Begley'sarticle screams out that he's not the "player" that he describes Andersenas; that the author has gotten a free ride because of his fabled track recordin New York journalism. It's jealousy, if you ask me, for even though I knowAndersen, before I did I'd always considered him the finest journalist (withthe exception of John Strausbaugh) in Manhattan.
On the subjectof the Observer, I detect that editor Peter Kaplan is runningthe show on autopilot. What else can explain his allowing "Off the Record"columnist Carl Swanson to get away with a cliche like "There's alwaysbeen a bit of friction between The New York Times Magazine andthe legions of ink-stained wretches who fill that paper every day." Ink-stainedwretches! My bet is that if one of the stiffs at the Times spills a dropof mayo on his Brooks Bros. or Gap dress shirt he'd bellow, "Eeehhheww,gross." That's how close they get to ink in the 90s. That said, Swanson'spiece on the battle between Magazine editor Adam Moss and thedaily Times writers was his best item in many weeks. He took out bothfactions. Moss expressed concern that the daily reporters might not report the"ruthless" pieces he's looking for, as if his product actually hasteeth. On the other hand, Swanson writes: "Occasionally a Times Magazineeditor is confronted with an angry daily mandarin who demands, 'Do you knowwho you're dealing with?'"
But backto Kaplan and the increasingly lethargic Observer. Sure, it's a bonusthat Joe Conason is on vacation, but Tish Durkin's takeson New York politics aren't filled with insight; columnist Anne Roipheis allowed to soil the pages with her racist tripe; the paper still employsRex Reed; and if Kaplan has taken a look at "The Eight-Day Week"quasi-listings section in the last year I'd be surprised, judging by what getsprinted.
(I've hadmy ups and downs with the Observer, as a reader, and don't think my currentobservations are compromised by unsuccessful attempts to raid two of the paper'sbest columnists, Michael Thomas and Ron Rosenbaum.) Pataki & Giuliani: OutfoxingThem All This isa minority view, but I believe that both Gov. George Pataki and MayorRudy Giuliani will emerge as political winners in their latest "feud."At issue is the imminent abolition of the commuter tax, a decades-long windfallfor New York City at the expense of suburban residents who work in thecity and are taxed without representation. After desperately trying to raisehis national profile in a vain attempt to launch either a presidential, or morelikely vice presidential, bid, and getting nowhere, Pataki has returned toAlbany and made the first positive decision since his reelection last year.In a bizarre coupling, Pataki has as his ally Sheldon Silver, the Democraticassembly speaker from New York City. A tax cut of any kind, as Pataki knows,is smart economically and politically. The city, which has a reported surplusof $2 billion, can withstand the $210 million or so, depending on what figureyou believe, that will be returned to suburbanites.
Giuliani,for his part, gets his police troubles off the front page and the opportunityto use his soapbox as a fierce defender of New York City's interests, upcomingSenate race be damned. In a joint press conference with Democrat City CouncilSpeaker Peter Vallone on Thursday, Giuliani thundered: "Until Ileave this job, whenever that is, I will always be clear on the fact that firstand foremost, you're the mayor of New York City, and you've got to fight forwhat you believe are in the best interests of the city. People always want areduction in their taxes, so maybe it will hurt me politically, but the messageI'm trying to send is, 'Don't mess around with the city.'"
I wouldn'tbe surprised at all if Pataki and Giuliani colluded on this script. In the Senaterace, no matter who his Democratic opponent is, the Mayor has to attract a sizableminority of city voters; strong rhetoric such as he issued on Friday only bolstershis image as a tough-guy pol who won't let Albany boss him around. On the otherhand, it also proves to his upstate and suburban base that he's a fighter whowill bring home the pork for New York once he gets elected to the U.S. Senate.
The Post,in a quirky editorial last Thursday, came out against the tax cut. "Ifit becomes law," the writer said, "New York City will survive. Andordinary New Yorkers, who already expect nothing in the way of leadership andintellectual integrity from Albany, won't be surprised or disappointed by thischeap trick, either. But they deserve much better."
Excuse me?Didn't the Post help Pataki get elected twice to the governorship? Andsince when is this paper against tax cuts? Seems to me that John Podhoretzis too rattled by goofballs questioning his military record to see the truevalue in this responsible legislation.
The NewYork Times, predictably, is also against the tax's repeal. The paper blastedboth Pataki and Silver, editorializing on May 17: "Mr. Silver argues thatthe city has a fat surplus and can afford the loss. This shortsighted view doesnot recognize that the surplus is probably temporary while the loss of commuterrevenue would undoubtedly be permanent... It is time to end the games. A verylarge city could get hurt."
Yes, thecity's surplus might be temporary. And you can bet, Times wisdom notwithstanding,that the commuter tax would be reinstated in a flash, especially if a Democraticgovernor is in Albany, when the city's in a pinch. Gross, Quasi-Gifted and Broke (ForNow) Fishwrap,a glossy zine that's published sporadically by MartyWombacher,and has a rather presumptuous subscription price of $20 for "four fishues,"strikes a balance between a grossout high school underground publication anda grownup magazine that can be pretty funny, and on occasion recalls the bestof National Lampoon in the very early 70s. For example, in the last edition,the cover pictures Sonny Bono with the headline "Our First AnnualCelebrities Who Skied Into Trees and Died About A Year And A Half Ago Issue!!"Fishwrap roasts NAMBLA, Judy Garland, Claire Danes,Jerry Seinfeld, Esquire, Spin, Gear, MichaelStipe and Spike Lee. It celebrates the often groundbreaking publicationsthat mainstream journalists still refer to as "supermarket tabloids."There's an incongruous, but not entirely dull, cartoon of Bob Dole asHitler. My favoriteitem in the latest Fishwrap was written by Wombacher, a stupid but funnysendup of editors' letters in more "respectable" publications likeDetails and Esquire. He writes about a media party he crashed,and while he partook of the food and drink, he says, "It was a typicalmagazine party filled with public relations phonies, pompous writers and editorsand idiot-ass publicists." Wombacher doesn't fit in, he says, but doesn'tmind being the biggest "asshole" in the crowd. He continues: "Anyhoo,I'm minding my own business, drinking and thinking hateful thoughts and prettymuch wishing death on the whole stinking party. Then a friend of mine introducesme to one of the many female publicists in attendance that night.
"Iknow I'll get in trouble for this, but the woman was a little, umm, how shouldI put this...well, she was a big fat slob. And don't get me wrong, I don't judgepeople by their weight. I'm in pretty rotten shape myself, so I'm the last personwho should care about weight on people. And I think a few extra pounds on awoman more often than not looks pretty good. Remember when Madonna started outand she had that little roll around her tum-tum? I liked that. A lot."
Curious?Call Wombacher at 212-243-6197 and see what this odd misanthrope has to say.Or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Uh-Oh, Someone's Gone Over The Edge Manhattan'sinsular journalism society is quite unbelievable. It's not even high schoolbullshit we're dealing with here-strictly kindergarten. Last Saturdaymorning, while I was editing an article for this week's issue, I received aninstant AOL message from Joe Conason. The transcript reads asfollows: Conason: I have a question for you. Smith: Go ahead.
JC: I would like to hear the tapes of your interviews with Lucianne [Goldberg] andKurt [Andersen].
JC: Both say that you distorted what they said about me by selective editing.
JC: Badly distorted.
RS: That's not true. As you know, transcribing is a laborious process, but we'renot in the business to distort what anyone says about you. I think you knowthat I have a free hand in my column to say what I want about you.
JC: If it's not true then why not let me listen to the tapes?
JC: I am inclined to believe Kurt.
JC: Not as sure about Trixie, of course.
RS: I'll talk with Strausbaugh, but we're not in the habit of letting other peoplelisten to our tapes. Are you?
JC: But she sounded sincere-told me she complained to you.
JC: I've done it on occasion.
JC: I could understand your reluctance.
RS: Lucianne didn't complain to me. Kurt didn't complain to me. In fact, both werevery favorable about the interviews.
JC: I didn't say Kurt complained to YOU. Lucianne told me she did.
JC: If not to you then someone else at NYPress.
JC: These are tiny threads in a tapestry of abuse, but interesting because theyrepresent provable facts...
RS: She didn't complain to me. No one has ever complained to me or John after beinginterviewed, even Bobby Kennedy, who was pleasantly surprised by the way hisinterview turned out.
JC: You keep changing the subject to other interviews.
RS: I'm not changing the subject. I want to know what your complaint is and whatyour conspiracy theory is.
JC: I'm sure all the people you flatter love you Russ, but that's not what I'm askingabout.
JC: I told you my complaint. I have no "conspiracy theory." Since youhave publicly declared your hatred of me more than once, I don't think paranoiais the issue here.
RS: Why don't you let me interview you and you'll see that we conduct and edit ourinterviews in a completely professional manner. You up for it?
JC: Don't have time for that right now. I would consider it later but only if Icould establish that you edited others' comments about me fairly...
RS: I don't hate you. I hate your writing. I don't know you. But if you didan interview with us you could tape it too.
JC: Somewhere I have a clip where you named me on a list of people you "hate,"and your constant abuse of me has been quite personal. Why do you want to interviewme?
RS: I think it would make interesting reading. What clip is that? I don't know you.Why would I hate you. I think your writing is wrong and you're arrogant as hellon tv but I don't know you so I don't hate you.
RS: Well, I'm done with this. Email me later.
Conasonnever did get back to me. But I did receive the following statements from LucianneGoldberg and Kurt Andersen.
Goldberg: "What the hell is he talking about? I think he's on some kind of tear.Maer Roshan, of New York, QUOTING ME in an interview in February wrotethat I said Conason was a 'sniveling Clinton toadie.' Now Conason is not speakingto Roshan. He should go back and finish high school before he plays with thebig boys. Maybe he will stop speaking to YOU if you tell him I said to go fuckhimself. Conason is right. He shouldn't trust Trixie. I'd stab him in the backthe first chance I got. Go out in the sunshine. I have to do my show but thereis no reason you should suffer."
Andersen: "Joe, with whom I am passingly friendly, phoned me about my comment inthe New York Press q&a. I was glad he did, so that I could reiterateto him what I had said to you guys-that he's smart and that I don't (Muggerishly)hate his writing, but that his diehard pro-Clinton predictability is why hisObserver column has left me pretty cold over the last year or so.
"Ialso pointed out to Joe, by way of quasi-excuse-making for my quasi-dis, thecontext-that it was in response to Russ' suggestion that Joe is to the medialeft what Laura Ingraham is to the media right. And I also mentioned, afterhe brought up a story of his I once published, that Salon, to which hecontributes, had finally published an important correction concerning that piece.I can only speculate that one or both of those remarks of mine may be what hetook as some confirmation of his distortion allegation.
"Butwhat you said I said about Joe Conason was, I'm confident, what I said: thatI tend not to read his columns because they so seldom surprise me."
Case closed. No Panic On the Upper WestSide Oh, c'mon!You can stomach another story about "blue collar" populist/millionaireMichael Moore, right? Last Friday, the Post's "Page Six"ran a funny item about how Moore has now targeted MUGGER's friend LucianneGoldberg, no doubt for his horrendous Bravo show The Awful Truth.Moore has set up a camera trained on Goldberg's apartment, apparently in retaliationfor her alliance with Linda Tripp. On his website, Moore says, "Lucianne,it seems, does not respect the privacy rights of others. She believes in keepingan eye on persons who are a threat to the country. So do we."
RichardJohnson writes about a recent talk show on which they both appeared: "Mooremakes the dubious claim that when Goldberg politely kissed him on the cheek,he whipped out a cotton swab and a baggie and saved a sample of Goldberg's saliva.'With someone like Lucianne, it's best to be prepared. Now I have this if everI should need it,' Moore dead-panned.
"'Ohplease,' Goldberg groans. 'If this is a joke, it isn't funny, and if it's serious,it's probably actionable. Which is fine, since my lawyers haven't had anythingto do in weeks.'"
And now,as the geriatric pundit William Schneider would say, here's the storybehind the story. Goldberg told me later that Friday afternoon: "Ihave retracted my invitation for him to use my guest room because the cost offumigation is too high. The man is a yutz but his biggest crime is that he isn'tfunny. When I met him he fawned, literally reached out to touch my sleeve likesome lovesick kid. I have turned down several offers of money to put up varioussigns. I think I'll just go with 'Moore Sucks.'" Pod and Popeye Before Iget into a tidbit about Post editor John Podhoretz and his apparentlyuncontrollable temper, did anyone else notice the full-page ad in the Postlast Friday promoting "The Party of the Century" for this upcomingNew Year's Eve? It's an event that'll be held at the JavitsCenterand featuresAndrea Bocelli, Sting and ArethaFranklin,plus a "gourmet" dinner, open bar and breakfast. Think I'll bringin the turn of the century in a more sedate manner, but what got me was thepicture of Sting in the ad: The guy can't be much more than 45, yet he lookedfor all the world like Frank Sinatra at 65. You can keep all that yogaand tantric "exercises" he allegedly spends hours on each day. And on Sunday,that card Cindy Adams had a funny section in her column: Her scoop, suchas it was, said that Barbra Streisand is on the outs with the Clintonsand didn't show up at a recent Democratic fundraiser in Beverly Hillsthat was organized by "the three big big big bergs Spielberg, Katzenbergand Geffen who's rich enough to buy his own entire berg... [Streisand] wasn'tthe main attraction. This Andrea Bocelli singer-who's suddenly everywhere likecrabgrass these days-was the larynx du jour."
But backto the Pod. I was reading the excellent obscurestore.com on Friday and cameacross this exchange between Ira Chineson and Podhoretz.
Chineson: "Since your editorials repeatedly refer to President Clinton as a draftdodger, I think it might be nice to know what exactly is your record of militaryservice? Of course there is none. All there is, is a desperate and patheticattempt to appear much tougher than you are. It's easy to sit in your officeat the Post, subsidized by that great American Rupert Murdoch, and bang yourwar drums, but when it was your turn to put your pampered butt on the line,I can almost bet you were in graduate school along with the great majority ofRepublican chicken hawks."
Hmm. I thinkIra gets a little kinky when he refers to GOP "chicken hawks," andbully for the Pod if he did protest the Vietnam War, a Democratic war,by the way, just like Kosovo, but read this reply from the Post'seditorial chief. I thought I had a sailor's mouth.
Podhoretz: "Sorry, moron, but I'm 38 years old, fully registered for the draft butnever called to service. In fact, I tried to get into the Naval Reserves in1988 but was turned down because I was, yes, too old. So fuck you."
Pod, Pod,Pod. Tell me, in all honesty, that you'd relish hitting the decks for 1000 pushups,commanded by a superior like Chineson? Turning International I guessI'm a publicity whore like so many other journos, as Taki might say,but I did get a hoot out of JoannaColes' take on the Geo Stephanopoulosbreakfast at the 92nd St. Y that I wrote about some weeks back. I mentionedher in my piece; we sat next to each other and marveled at the antipathy thecrowd seemed to harbor toward the press, as if they were all stand-ins for LannyDavis. Coles' article ran in the April 14LondonTimes, andalthough she's based in New York she's clearly still amazed at the pacehere, describing the reaction of a friend who thought she was daft for attendinga morning lecture. "And in London," Coles wrote, "it's true,nothing would have persuaded me to attend a breakfast lecture. But here, thehours from 6 to 9am are viewed as time aching to be filled, and not just byjoining the early-bird run around the Central Park reservoir." She thengently mocked the power-breakfast ladies who bragged, in between bites of "bagelswith cream cheese and smoked salmon," "decadent chocolate muffin[s]"and "swollen mulberries," who claimed they could extend their workingday by getting up so early.
Coles caughtthe drift of the lefty crowd filled with lawyers much as I did, as well as Timemanaging editor Walter Isaacson's obsequious introduction of thecurrently well-compensated Stephanopoulos, who was one of the lucky few survivorsof Bill Clinton's corrupt administration. (Fine, call me a "Clinton-hater."You tell me what president has disgraced this country, both at home and abroad,more than Clinton. And don't even dare mention Nixon: After all, it wasClinton who gave such a crocodile-tears-infused eulogy at that tortured president'sfuneral in '94.)
Coles thenpoked fun at yours truly: "A man with a briefcase dotted with dinosaurand Disney stickers hustles into the empty seat next to me. It's Russ Smith,one of the city's wealthier mavericks, and owner-editor of the New York FreePress, a weekly conservative free-sheet, and author of The Mugger,a column that constantly berates liberal journalists. He produces an old camerafrom his bag and darts up to the front of the stage where, crouching low, hestarts taking illicit snapshots like an excited teenager at a rock concert."
Ahem. Ithink Coles was trying to be complimentary-and she was charming in person-butthere are those nasty facts she must get a better grip on. First, the "oldcamera" was purchased at Harrod's just two weeks before the event;there are dinosaurs on my briefcase, but no Disney characters, justFuriousGeorge, Soul Coughing and Power Ranger stickers; and thiswas no "rock concert" to me. Just another event on MUGGER's oftenmundane calendar. Little League and Pony Rides It was abrutal Friday at 333, with the elevators slower than usual-more thanone tenant is following NYPress' lead in going through the fine printof our leases looking for escape loopholes-and the entire staff in an energeticfrenzy. For starters, our website designers have been in the production roomday and night working out the kinks; by the time you read this we shouldbe up at nypress.com. Then our garrulous art director, Mike Gentile,was popping in and out of everyone's office-his space invaded by the techies-andtrying to tickle our funnybones with his ribald sense of humor. I had to shoohim away several times and tell him to get back to fucking work. Mrs. M wasout with her friends Edie and Jon at the Knitting Factoryto see Eugene Chadbourne, Jonathan Segel and Victor Krummenacher,so I stayed late at the office, saw the hilarious Christopher Hitchenson Hardball and then came home to relieve the sitter and allow Juniora post-bedtime viewing of The Brady Bunch. (Hitchenshas never dealt well with editors at NYPress, mostly because of Cockburn'spresence, and is very condescending, but the man's an erudite laugh factory,even when he's had more than a couple of belts of grain alcohol down the hatch.That said, I thought his column in the current Vanity Fair, "OldEnough to Die," was packed with emotion but short on substance and logic.Hitchens blasts the U.S. for executing minors who've committed murder,but cites only three examples. His first is a case from 1944. He then tellsthe story of Sean Sellers, an Oklahoma youth who was "putdown like a diseased animal" for "the casual murder of a store clerkand the deliberate slaying of his mother and stepfather.")
The nextmorning was finally a picturesque spring day in New York, and it waseven warm when the NYPress Giants faced off against theRadical@Media,Inc. Angels at 8 a.m. sharp. The Downtown Little League runsa tight ship. Mrs. M's dad Rudy and stepmom Daisy were in town,so we had grandparents rooting for the little nipper, but the Angels were thetoughest team the Giants have faced yet. They had a dynamite pitcher-first basemancombo (even though the tot on first had a mouth that was more fitting for afourth-grader) and after the game even Scott Franchi, our NomarGarciaparra, wasn't sure who won. Which means the Giants probably tooktheir first loss for the season; no matter, all the players were happy, especiallyMUGGER III, the team's mascot, who had run of the snacks since it was our turnto keep the athletes nourished between innings.
We wentback to the apartment for coffee, and Rudy and Daisy inspected the new loftfor the first time, and especially liked our private roof where on a clear dayyou can see the Colgate clock across the Hudson. Mrs. M boughtthem sweaters from Paul Stuart and they gave our tykes some toys-as ifthey need them-and Rudy and I talked baseball. As an Illinois native,he's a lifelong Chisox fan and is a master at baseball statistics; infact, at the age of 61, he just received his third master's degree, this onein mechanical engineering.
They leftat about 10:30 for a long lunch at Daniel, and then the boys, Mrs. Mand I went downstairs for the annual Washington Market Schoolstreet fair, a homemade event that they look forward to for months. As the grandparentswere leaving, Mrs. M tried to get the kids to shower them with kisses, but Rudywas having none of it: "Kisses, schmisses, I want a handshake. It's notlike we're going back to L.A. right now!" I totally agreed, and winkedat him that it was a chick sort of thing.
Naturally,MUGGER III made a beeline for the Pokemon booth, while Junior createdhis own cookie for two fair tickets, an awful combination of three kinds ofsweet paste, oatmeal and M&M's, while Mrs. M found out that for thefirst time in years she wasn't slated for fingernail polish duty. Junior's notalways an outside kind of guy, so I took him and his buddy Gabe Wax downto Game Park for Gameboy paraphernalia and we retired back tothe homestead, while Mrs. M and our youngest yakked it up with all their friendsfrom the school and neighborhood. Soon another six-year-old joined the bunch,Reuben, and then MUGGER III and Mrs. M returned so it was a full house.While I was writing, the boys fooled around, playing a wrestling game calledMercy, which required a bit of supervision since laughter can turn to tearsat the touch of a semicolon, but while Nickelodeon played in the backgroundit was a rather subdued, as these things go, afternoon.
Later, Rudyand Daisy stopped in for a Kitchenette takeout dinner and told us oftheir lunch at Daniel and afternoon at the ballet. Not surprisingly, they ravedabout the restaurant, the skate, sorbets and salad with shrimp and avocado mentionedas the highlights, along with a $97 white burgundy, and as we looked out thewindow they asked about the alleged empire that David Bouley promisesto build here in South Tribeca. It's quite a plan: Along with his alreadyexisting Bakery, Bouley's working on an Austrian restaurant, wine store,gourmet shop and a reopening of his original kitchen on Duane St. I don't seeany evidence of it yet, but if and when this complex is completed, it'll onlydraw more Uptowners to the neighborhood, who'll ooh and ahh at the quaintnessof it all, along with comments about just how civilized downtown has become.
On Sundaymorning Junior and I studied the Major League standings and found thatthe Bosox had won again-eight of nine, thanks in large part to the stupendousPedro Martinez and miraculous rookie Juan Pena-and now sharedfirst place with the faltering Yanks. By the afternoon, as any Beantownerfan would expect, the Sox were back in second, but if Tom Gordon canstay healthy and the team starts hitting consistently, it's the Playoffsagain. And probably a sweep by those dratted Injuns. Still, it's morefun than rooting for the Havana, I mean Baltimore, Orioles.(Oh calm down, all you David Corn beatniks: I, too, think the U.S.should establish full economic and social ties with Cuba. Fidel'son his way out, and it's only a matter of time before the tiny island is restoredto prosperity. Casinos! Showgirls! 94 proof piña coladas! Hotels! Couldbe the 51st state before Puerto Rico. Cry in your chardonnay, Pat-Patthe Water Rat Buchanan.)
I went offto the office for a supposed hour, which stretched longer because of my damnupgrade to AOL 4.0. Which sucks. Crashes every 10 minutes. Then stoppedin at the Fourth Estate newsstand on Hudson St. and found to my horrorthat no copies of NYPress were delivered last week: Mr. John Baxter,please report to the principal's office. And check your shiv on the way in,dude.
Later, wemet up with Rudy and Daisy at Odeon for brunch where Junior had a healthymeal of french fries and exactly four strawberries. MUGGER III, the big eaterin the family, polished off a pizza and some frites, while the grownups allhad eggs. As always, the service at Odeon was delightful but this time aroundthere was a twist: Aside from the waiter asking if I'd like another "splash"of coffee (guess he's a Bush supporter), when the check came and my father-in-lawpaid up, the fellow said, "Thanks so much, Rudy!" as if we were inLos Angeles or Denver. My, I was thinking, we're not in Manhattananymore, Irving, and promptly hightailed it home to take a nap whilethe rest of the group went off to King's Pharmacy. Gore Pushes The Panic Button-Again Al Gorehasn't had a decent political week since mid-December, when he joined BillClinton on the White House lawn, after the latter's impeachment inthe House, and claimed that his boss will go down in history as one of the nation'sgreatest presidents. You'd think that Gore, a supposedly educated and savvyman, might've kept his trap shut: No one, save perhaps Sidney Blumenthal,would make such a ludicrous statement. Since then, although he's collected bucketsof campaign contributions and endorsements, petrifying potential primary opponentslike Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and Bob Kerrey, it's allbeen downhill. There arethe polls, which his advisers keep telling him are meaningless, that show himbeing clobbered-particularly among women, Clinton's strengt -by George W.Bush and even Elizabeth Dole. As Maureen Dowd wrotein a devastating column on May 16: "Embarrassingly, [Gore] is losing thewomen's vote to [Bush], the same vote that Saturday Night Bill [a phrase Dowdfilched from Dick Morris, by the way] kept solid despite sexual harassmentcharges, despite an affair with an intern, despite humiliating his wife, despitea rape accusation. Mr. Gore, ever the faithful husband, ever the champion ofdiversity, shows up with posies and chocolates and women voters slam the doorin this face."
The Beltwaymedia's become infatuated by his lone challenger, the equally soporific BillBradley, speculating that the country is simply tired of the present scandal-plaguedadministration.
Two weeksago Gore's wife Tipper revealed that she suffered from depression aftertheir son was seriously injured in a car accident back in 1989. She didn't revealin a May 7 USA Today article what drugs she took or the exact natureof her treatment, but told The Wall Street Journal's in-houseliberal Al Hunt that "I finally reached the point I was comfortabletalking about this openly." Okay. I guess it's just coincidence that this"point" arrived just as her husband is tanking in the polls. Thatdoesn't bother Hunt. He wrote on May 13, reacting to cynicism within politicalcircles: "But so what? She's hardly the first political figure, businessmanor athlete to try to seek the most advantageous avenue for a sensitive story."
I thinkthe New York Post's Andrea Peyser was closer to the truthin her column of May 8: "In time for Election 2000, Tipper Gore has adoptedher pet disease... But the way Tipper describes her victorious tango with herdemons is a bit too calculated and way too neat. She won't spill her symptoms,other than to admit she gained weight, which we already knew... But if she reallywants to milk depression-to make it work for her the way playing the courageousvictim of adultery worked for Hillary-she's got a lot of work to do."
But lastweek was certainly the low point of Gore's campaign, at least so far. For starters,he tapped former California Rep. Tony Coelho as the chief strategistin his election effort. Coelho, of course, resigned from Congress after accusationsof financial improprieties, although no charges were ever brought against him.Still, Coelho's an odd choice for a man who's neck-deep in accusations of campaignfinance violations of his own.
Strangerstill is the fact that Coelho was recruited by Clinton in the summer of '94to oversee the Democratic Party's battle against the GOP in that fall's congressionalelections. According to The New York Times' Richard Berkein a May 11 article, "Less than two months before the election, Mr. Coelhotold USA Today that 1994 would be 'a normal, off-year election' and not as devastatingas many Democrats feared." Obviously, prescience isn't Coelho's long suit:The GOP won the House for the first time in 40 years and caused an abrupt changeof policy, more conservative, at the Clinton White House.
To makematters worse, Clinton called Berke at the Times last Thursday nightto acknowledge that while Gore's been stumbling he "still expected [him]to win his party's nomination in 2000." Now that's an enthusiastic endorsement!Clinton told Berke: "It is true that I have urged him to go out there andenjoy this. I have told him to go out and have a good time. I want people toknow him the way I know him. I want people to see him the way I see him."According to Saturday's Washington Post, Gore, who was traveling in NorthCarolina, had no idea that Clinton would share his concern with the Times.The Post's Ceci Connolly wrote: "'People today are not ina good mood,' said one Gore loyalist, describing the vice president as angry.'He was furious,' said a Gore political adviser. A congressional Democrat, afterspeaking to a Gore adviser, described the story and stir it caused as a 'disaster.'"
Part ofthe problem is that Clinton, who'd be doing Gore a favor if he simply playedgolf for the remainder of his term, can't reconcile the fact that '96 was hislast campaign. He's best on the hustings, pressing flesh, remembering the namesof obscure assemblymen and lapping up the attention from the dwindling few inthis country who still want to suck up to him. Kosovo? Too much of aheadache. China? That was on Bush's watch. Naah, let's get outand eat some chicken-fried steaks and win this thing for Al!
The BostonGlobe's pair of blithering idiots, columnists David Nyhan andThomas Oliphant, are trying to help Gore, but their opinions are so myopicand goofy that the Vice President would be better off if they went on sabbaticalfor the next year. Nyhan, on May 16, had a splendid suggestion for Gore: Whynot skip all the suspense and just announce that he's chosen former Sen. GeorgeMitchell as his running mate? I really have no clue as to whether Nyhanis a victim of Alzheimer's disease, but on the off chance he isn't, you'dthink he'd remember that elder statesman Lloyd Bentsen didn'thelp Michael Dukakis a bit in 1988. As I've written before, if Gore wantedto shake things up, he'd select Maryland's Kathleen Kennedy Townsendfor his ticket; she's an earnest legislator who'd be sure to narrow the gendergap. Not to mention grabbing what's left of the Kennedy magic.
But Oliphantis simply naive. Read the following paragraph, from his May 16 piece, and tellme the Globe pundit isn't on a high dose of happy pills: "The ideaof complete continuity in policy is everything to Clinton and Gore. The handGore is fated to play with is a strong one, certainly better than what GeorgeBush was playing with at this point in 1987 and a far cry from the mess RichardNixon wrestled with in 1959. At the margins it is probably made a bit strongerby the fact that there's no denying Gore's role at the apex of decision makingin the Clinton government."
I've seenOliphant on C-SPAN and he appears to be the most pleasant man in Washington,so my recommendation for an immediate lobotomy is made without malice. DoesOliphant really think that Gore being "at the apex of decision making"in Clinton's disastrous and criminal administration is a positive forhis campaign?
There wasone piece of good news, albeit slight, for Gore last week: Some of the pressis tiring of Bradley's Adlai Stevenson shtick. The strongest articlewas written by The National Review's Jay Nordlinger forthe May 31 issue. Nordlinger's tired of Bradley's sanctimonious sermons on race,claiming that the former basketball player thinks he has a monopoly on mixingwith black people. He writes: "In Bradley's mind, it often seems, drinkingfountains are still separate, little girls in pretty dresses are being blownup in churches, and Bull Connor's dogs continue to bark... At his best, [Bradley]is tolerable-even thoughtful. But at his worst, he succumbs to a vision of himselfas the lone white knight in an odious and venal land. And when he gets intothat mode, there's no chance of reasoning with him: The rest of you honkiesmight as well be wearing sheets." Dissent In the Midwest Some NYPressreaders complain about the letters to the editor that come from conservativereaders across the country, who read my column via theJewish World Reviewwebsite, which is linked on MattDrudge's page. By and large,unlike many Manhattanites, people in the heartland aren't offended by my anti-Clintonrhetoric or libertarian political views. Last week, however, when I attackedJerryFalwell's absurd campaign against Anheuser Buschfor its advertisement showing two men holding hands, the tide turned. One correspondentwrote: "I usually enjoy your writing, and I get the impression you areconservative... I'm perplexed why you are disturbed about Falwell's attack onAnheuser-Busch. Most people I know are opposed to the homosexual lifestyle.If God says it's an abomination who is a man to argue?" And then this:"I see how you got your nickname MUGGER. You like to mug every religiousleader in sight and all things religious... or is it just all things Christian.God will not be mocked." This lastfellow did write later to apologize for his hasty letter, saying it was justa "conservative knee-jerk reaction" on his part.
Still. I'dlike to clear up a few matters. Falwell is a buffoon. As is anyone who believesthat homosexuals don't deserve the same civil rights as heterosexuals. And toup the ante to my readers outside New York City: I'm pro-choice (withthe exception of late-term abortions), pro-immigration and opposed to a returnto the mythical 50s culture that Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, DanQuayle and William Bennett seem to believe is possible. I don't believein censorship, and all the blather from politicians about clamping down on theentertainment industry for violent and sexually explicit films and televisionshows, while they accept campaign contributions from actors, studio chiefs andpolitical imbeciles like David Geffen, is the most vile current exampleof hypocrisy. I'm an economic conservative who believes that the less governmentinterferes with the lives of American citizens, the better. I'm against affirmativeaction and excessive gun control laws. I'm against punitive business regulationsthat liberals love to lash entrepreneurs and corporations with. I'm in favorof capital punishment. Finally, I'm against liars who reside in the WhiteHouse.