Gore Needs to Raise the Bar Here's anovel idea: Why doesn't Veep Al Gore resign, cut a deal with BillBradley and spend from now until November of 2000 campaigning for the presidencywith the former New Jersey senator as his runningmate, unbound from thechains of Clinton Corruption? It's not so far-fetched, although I doubtGore has the imagination and integrity to pull it off. Still, it was anotherdisastrous week for the beleaguered Washingtonian: When a Democrat has to spendtime in California, answering the sometimes hostile questions of gayand lesbian activists, something is very wrong with the campaign. He was alsoheckled by gays in New Hampshire and Tennessee. Granted, quittinghis office (which he should've done last fall) is a tactic Bob Dole triedin '96, to little effect, but Gore could finally become his own man and trulyclaim the moral high ground. The media would eat it up. And nowPresident Clinton is pissed off at Gore for the traitorous act of statingon national tv that his boss' conduct during the past year was deeply disappointingto a family man-a father of a very pregnant daughter, his handlers tookcare to point out-such as himself. An anonymous aide told New York Timesreporters John M. Broder and Don Van Natta Jr. that the President was "livid" and "To the people who he is very closeto [like who?], he's expressing how hurt he is and his dismay at theVice President. It is not a passing thing. He is very upset." It's difficultto ascertain whether this was a shrewd tactic on the President's part to helphis understudy or whether he's really steamed, given the twisted petty feudsand revenge that define the current White House; close call, but I'llgo with Clinton's solipsism on this one.
On the otherhand, it was a splendid week for Gov. George W. Bush, as he continuedhis whirlwind tour of the country, collecting endorsements and buckets of money,and also making his positions on the issues clearer. Pundits are poking mild fun at his geographical gaffes-"Grecians" was a dilly-but it's myguess that Dan Quayle has taken the fall for future candidateson that score, much like Douglas Ginsburg made it acceptable for a politicianto admit he or she has smoked pot-but only as an experiment!-in the past. Besides,with Gore as a challenger, who tells tall tales of slopping the hogs and creatingthe Internet (although Bush should drop that joke from his repertoire; it'sgetting old), I don't know that he has much to worry about on, as WilliamF. Buckley says, the "verbal typo" front.
The mainstreammedia, which is clearly befuddled by Bush's remarkable rollout, was desperatelylooking for something to criticize the candidate on besides the empty chargethat he hasn't defined what "compassionate conservatism" means. So, when Bush went to Capitol Hill last week to meet with the legions ofGOP legislators who've pledged their support, as well as hold a fundraiserthat would drop another $2 million into his kitty, there was much gnashing ofteeth over whether Mr. Outsider was getting too cozy with the Washingtonestablishment he's supposedly running against.
This isa stupid argument. First, the DC swing was just part of a nationwide tour that's now included Iowa, New England, Pennsylvania (where hespent time with future vice president Tom Ridge) and Florida;as this issue hits the street he's in California, laying the groundwork fora knockout electoral punch. Scoff if you will, given the GOP's disastrous showingin the '98 elections there, but Bush, who has a slim lead among California voters,according to an L.A. Times poll, has at least a 50-50 shotof winning the state, and thus the election. With California's sizable Hispanicpopulation, and rural areas that have traditionally been Reagan country,Gore can't, unlike Clinton, consider the state a gimme. That's why he speaksin pig-Spanish anywhere he can, regardless of the crowd's ethnic makeup.
But therewas nothing at all wrong with schmoozing for a period of 24 hours with the membersof Congress whom Bush might be working with in 2001. Liberal strategists andpundits, clearly clutching at straws, had hoped Bush would be photographed withhis arm around Tom DeLay, this year's Newt Gingrich, or BobBarr (who's subsequently endorsed Steve Forbes, a mixed blessingfor the increasingly bitter self-philanthropist), and provide dazzling advertisingfodder for Gore in the general election. But Karl Rove, Bush's JamesCarville (although not nearly as mouthy or hungry for public adulation),isn't dumb: When Bush made his pilgrimage to DC, DeLay was "tied up"in meetings and couldn't attend the festivities.
Now to thepundits: Most simply can't stomach the idea of a Republican in the White House,especially if Bush's luck holds out and he doesn't have a cantankerous primarystruggle. A newspaper friend of mine was joshing around the other day, askingwhy I've singled out David Nyhan, David Shribman and ThomasOliphant of The Boston Globe for such rough treatment in this column.After all, he said, no one takes the Globe seriously, implying that Ilook foolish by doing so myself. First, I read that paper because it's availableon the Internet and I like to keep up with its Red Sox coverage. Second,I'm an equal-opportunity (that's a sop to my buddies at The Nation) critic:Oliphant might be considered a joke in Washington, Nyhan a lazy journalist goneto seed, but they're no worse than any number of their colleagues in the elitepress.
I can tickthem off one by one: Richard Cohen, E.J. Dionne and Mary McGroryat The Washington Post; Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins,Richard Berke (a reporter in name only; he's by far the most biased politicalwriter in the country, which was only proven by the fact that Clinton calledhim to criticize Gore's sluggish campaign) and Bob Herbert atThe New York Times; Lars-Erik Nelson from the Daily News;The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt; Newsweek's JonathanAlter and Eleanor Clift, soon to be joined by the $300,000 biweeklycolumnist Anna Quindlen; and Time's Margaret Carlson. Mindyou, that's just a partial list; I haven't forgotten tv clowns like PeterJennings, Bernard Shaw and Geraldo, to name just a few.
Dowd tooktop honors last week, in a very crowded field, for the stupidest column aboutGov. Bush. Using Hollywood as a backdrop, for a change, Dowd last Wednesdaycompared the Bush family to The Godfather's Corleones, a torturedconceit, and dredged up as many cliches as she could in 800 words. She likenedGeorge W. to hothead Sonny, for example, and then wrote: "It isentertaining to imagine the former President Bush as a preppy Don Corleone,sitting up at Kennebunkport overseeing the family councils, with Jeb as Michael,Neil as Fredo and Doro as Connie. [Dowd has no role for Marvin.] Don Georgio would receive political supplicants, dispense favors and ask for servicesfrom the vast group of politicos and policy hands under Bush family protection."
The Post'sCohen is already nostalgic for Bill Clinton. In a ludicrous June 22 column headlined"The '50s Are Back," the petrified pundit writes: "But just asthe Republican Party of old was no joke, neither is today's. If anything, itis defined by a hostility toward minorities-all sorts of minorities-and by acraven cowardice on the part of its more moderate members. The truth of thematter is that the party is having a crackup. If it were a person, it wouldbe medicated."
If Cohenwere a person, he'd be called "in denial." For in fact, Gov. Bushwon 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in his reelection last fall in Texasand attracted more blacks than any previous GOP candidate. Why do you thinkGore is concentrating so hard on the Hispanic vote? And far from having a "crackup,"the Republican Party is fairly dancing in the aisles, finally proposing meaningfultax legislation and looking forward to reoccupying the White House. And as faras the 50s are concerned, Cohen might read some history of that era: Not onlywere scores of Democrats against integration, but John F. Kennedy,while president, wouldn't make a move on civil rights without considering theSouthern segregationists of his own party.
Cohen'sJune 15 "With a Name Like Bush" minimizes Gov. Bush's upset win overthe popular incumbent Ann Richards in 1994, saying it doesn't compareto FDR's polio or JFK's World War II combat. Of course it doesn't:While Bush was enjoying "frat house bawdiness," Clinton was gettinghis ass shot off in Vietnam.
The columnistasks: "Could George W. Bush survive the equivalent of an impeachment ora war that seemed for a time to be going nowhere? It's impossible to say, butit is possible to say that nothing in his experience has prepared him for whatmight be coming." Terrific. Let's all clap our hands that Clinton had theright stuff to survive impeachment. What a coup for the United Statesthat was.
Time'sCarlson is also nervous, complaining about Bush's stance on abortion. As he'sstated many times, Bush is pro-life, but unlike past GOP candidates won't makethe issue a centerpiece of his campaign. He won't impose "litmus tests"on possible Supreme Court nominees. You'd think that would cheer a liberallike Carlson; instead, she calls for him, in a June 28 column, not to waste"$60 million on slick ads and a fog machine of road-tested, split-the-differenceplatitudes." Obviously Carlson, like most of the Beltway establishment,wishes Bush would be a do-or-die pro-lifer, like the kooky Gary Bauer,so that Al Gore can continue the Clinton administration.
USA Today'sWalter Shapiro, a John McCain supporter (until Election Day, whenhe'll vote Democratic), wails on June 23 that Bush's campaign appearances are"more sizzle than steak." He continues, writing about a speech inSouth Carolina last week, "That scene encapsulates the contrastfacing GOP voters: McCain's substantive rhetoric risks being drowned out bythe hyped-up enthusiasm for Bush, a candidate who seems to equate vaguenesswith victory."
That's nonsense,as The Nation's Eric Alterman pointed out in his July 12 column.Alterman, unlike this writer, believes that the elite media is enraptured byBush, snowed by his good looks and aggressive campaigning. Near the beginningof his piece, Alterman is downright nasty, writing a paragraph that could befighting words within the Bush family: "And 'Dubya' seems to get alongwell with his parents, at least when more than 300 reporters, including thirtytelevision crews, are invited to watch." He's the first reporter I've readthat actually questions Gov. Bush's devotion to his family. Alterman might notbelieve it, but just as the Kennedys stuck together, the Bush clan will worklike dogs to get their son and his brother elected.
But unlikethe pundits who share space on tv shows with him, Alterman doesn't think Bushis vague on the issues at all. He's a "right-wing Republican," theNation scribe warns, who's in favor of cutting taxes, privatizing SocialSecurity and instituting school vouchers; he's opposed to trivial lawsuitsand won't pay lipservice to environmental wackos. And Alterman's correct: That'swhy Bush will defeat Gore and his prediction that "The tin man wins ina walk" is all wet. Let's Party Down With Hillary My thanksto Sam Schulman, an integral cog in Taki's "Top Drawer"section that appears weekly in NYPress, for intercepting the followingmemo from Tina Brown about Talk's upcoming party. "To:Talk Staff
"Subject:Final Copy for Invitation
"Pleaselook this over for final comments. I want to thank Sam Sifton for his memo,which I shared with many of you, making a definitive argument against spelling'Honor' 'Honour.' Sam, you have saved the day once again.
"NowI must say a few stern words. If the rest of staff were as loyal as you, Sam,this ghastly thing with the party venue would not have happened. In fact I mustconfess my disappointment that in this moment of crisis, I had to turn to MauriePerl, of all people, still at Conde Nast, for the brilliant suggestion of analternative venue, which I understand is one of the most Talked-aboutplaces in fashionable Long Island.
"Now,enough gloomy faces. Let the revels now begin! Please remember that while youare there to have fun, the following duties must not be neglected:
"Eavesdrop:Sam has provided a form to report comments on Talk or its editor by CondeNast personnel. Please attend Sam's Profile Recognition Sessions.
"Stayin the background. Do not approach Miramax or Disney talent or executives.These people are here to help our enterprise, not to be bothered by insignificantnobodies.
"Bekind to Hearst people. They are not like us, I know, but they are our partnersin this millennial venture, and they are extremely sensitive to fancied snubs.Sam, darling, this means you too.
"GiveRon elbow room. Ron needs his personal space-his work at this event willbe intense. Those of you who have worked with him before do not need to be toldthis. Do not bother him with greetings. Wait until he summons you.
"Secrecy.Do not reveal who our surprise Cover Girl (or guy!) is to anyone.
"That'sall, 'Talkies.' Now let's make this a success."
The NewYork Post's Keith Kelly wrote a "Counting Down to Talk"article on June 22, reporting on the competition between George and Talkfor the privilege of plastering Hillary Clinton's mug on theirSeptember issues. Guess who won? After all, George is about to go downthe tubes, and Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein is close to the Clintons(and a significant contributor to Democratic candidates). So close, in fact,that Rudy Giuliani nixed the magazine's planned soiree at the BrooklynNavy Yard, presumably because the city doesn't sanction "politicalevents" on public property.
In the unlikelyevent that Talk editor Tina Brown was as gushy about the Mayoras she is about Hillary, and planned a story on him, there's little doubt thatrules would've been bent. Nonetheless, everyone from Liz Smith (who shillsfor both Brown and the Clintons) to The New York Times declaredRudy's outburst as another Talk publicity coup. I shouldn't forget TheWall Street Journal's Al Hunt, who remarked on last Saturday'sCapital Gang that Rudy's pique had only served to further Brown's interest,because "I don't think anyone heard of that magazine before Rudy did thatsilly, silly thing..." Sure, Al. As the court jester of Beltwaymedia social life, it's really believable that you and your dining companionshaven't succumbed to the Tina-Hillary lovefest. After all, you're on the samesordid side as those two despicable characters.
CGguest Rep. Charlie Rangel (a pinko, certainly, but a damn entertainingone) chimed in: "[T]he Mayor feels very, very awkward with people and especiallywomen and especially bright people. You know, that guy has never been down toWashington, never met with the delegation. He hasn't the slightest clue as towhat's going on in the Senate. I think we have an exciting potential candidateand she'll win and win big." The National Review's KateO'Beirne added: "How should I feel? [Giuliani's] always seemed comfortablewith me. I'm not bright enough, I guess."
In fact,the Times, in a stupid June 23 article by Dan Barry describingthe contretemps, actually discovered a new word: "[Giuliani's] decisionhas done more than temper excitement over yet another lavish party in the bigcity; it has also blessed Talk magazine with the all-important element knownas buzz [italics mine]."
Welcometo 1987, Times men and women.
But onceTalk's party is held, and fawned over in the gossip columns, Brown'shangover won't come from too much champagne. Although her obedient minions areremaining intractably tight-lipped about anything that concerns the venture,this is a publishing disaster that will quickly unfold within the industry.As I wrote two weeks ago, the lack of a direct-mail pitch to entice chartersubscribers is baffling; the reliance on a Brown video pitch isn't likely topersuade many potential readers.
Circulationblunders aside, what's even more foreboding is Brown's insistence on flackingfor the ill-fated Hillary Clinton. A bombshell report from the Brill's Contentwebsite on June 25, written by Matthew Heimer with assistancefrom proprietor Steven Brill, says that not only will the First Ladybe the subject of Talk's premiere feature story-and will no doubt beon the cover-but that the story has been promised to be sympathetic. Accordingto Brill's, as well as the Daily News' Celia McGee,the piece will be written by the liberal Lucinda Franks, a former NewYork Times reporter who has hobnobbed with the Clintons in the paston Martha's Vineyard and who accompanied Hillary to North Africain March, on assignment for Talk.
But here'sthe Brill's scoop that's so damaging to Talk's credibility: "Accordingto Sidney Blumenthal, a special assistant to President Clinton and a close adviserof the First Lady, the First Lady's press office was assured by 'people at themagazine' that the article would be 'friendly' and 'sympathetic.' Blumenthaladded that Mrs. Clinton had personally asked him to allow Franks to interviewhim for the article." Not surprisingly, "Franks did not return callsseeking comment on any such agreements."
So Sidney'sout of the doghouse, and all is forgiven (at least temporarily) for the dustuphe had with Christopher Hitchens earlier this year. It must make Talkstaffers proud that their magazine will be performing the same function forHillary Clinton that The New Republic does for Al Gore.What a way to start a magazine! In fact, a publishing executive based in Manhattanwho has close ties with several Talk employees told me recently thatthe monthly's shop is not a happy place to work right now, especially with Brown's(and, one would surmise, her husband Harry Evans') political agendaso bald-faced.
But let'sskip the bubbly and get back to the New York Senate race.
The June28 New York Observer ran a fascinating juxtaposition of opinion on pages4 and 5. In an editorial, which I assume was written or dictated to an underlingby owner Arthur Carter, the paper called for Rep. Rick Lazio tocease his self-aggrandizing publicity tour in support of a possible GOP primarychallenge to Giuliani. Lazio has little to lose-save pissing off the Mayor-bymaking noises about running for Senate. He raises his statewide, and national,profile, thus positioning himself for a more sensible campaign against the publicityhound Chuck Schumer in 2004, while setting himself up as an alternativeshould Giuliani do something really stupid, not just Giuliani stupid,in the coming months. The pressure from the Republican National Committee,as well as the George W. Bush presidential organization, will be intensefor Lazio to get back in line: Enjoy your appearances on the cable shows andMeet the Press, Karl Rove might be saying, but don't mess withour New York strategy once the campaign really gets going. Lazio, like loudmouthPeter King, another Long Island Republican congressman, will bea good soldier in the end.
The Observer'seditorial is somewhat less forgiving of Lazio: "The Long Islander seemssuspiciously willing to allow his potential candidacy to be used by Mr. Giuliani'sdetractors. No doubt he is unaware of the havoc he could cause for his party[is that an Observer typo, or does the writer really think Lazio is thatdumb?]... Mr. Lazio certainly shows signs that he'll be an important playerin state politics in the not-very-distant future. But he'll throw it all awayif he continues to undermine Mr. Giuliani. Does he really want to help electa scandal-tainted interloper instead of his fellow Republican?"
On the followingpage of the Observer there's a mystifying column by Ronald Goldfarb,headlined "Echoes of Kennedy In Hillary's Run," which equates theFirst Lady's greedy grab at power with Bobby Kennedy's successfulSenate run against Republican Ken Keating in 1964. (Mind you, this isno brief for the Kennedy clan's own naked ambition, just a comment on how sillyGoldfarb's comparison is.) I don't give a hoot about the carpetbagger "issue,"even though Kennedy was certainly more familiar with New York than the FirstLady. Granted, Bronxville and the Carlyle Hotel aren't exactlyNew Paltz, but Kennedy knew his way around the state better than Hillary.Goldfarb was a speechwriter in RFK's campaign, so I imagine he's getting onin years, and is a rabid Democrat to this day, which perhaps explains his myopia.In explaining his boss' run, he conveniently omits the fact that Kennedy firsthad his sights on becoming Lyndon Johnson's veep for the '64 election,and when the vindictive LBJ turned him down he came to New York to pick up aconsolation prize. But there's no doubt that Kennedy, who was his brother'sclosest confidante, as well as attorney general, was vastly more qualified tosit in the Senate than Hillary Clinton.
Yet Goldfarbwrites: "Both had attractive and lucrative opportunities aside from theSenate. Both would face ugly charges and a bruising political fight. Both wouldrun on their own records but bear the burdens as well of the glamour of theirPresidential mentors... Both faced critics' concerns about the undesirabilityof family dynasties." Now, as my mother used to say, hold the phone, Jack.What "record" does Hillary Clinton have except for those Rose LawFirm billing documents she hid in the White House? What "glamour"does her husband possess? And who the hell has ever spoken about a Clinton "dynasty"?
Bobby Kennedy'sSenate campaign was hard-fought and he didn't nearly match LBJ's vote totalin New York that November of '64. And rather than being related to a presidentwho has disgraced the nation, he was the brother of a very recently martyredleader of the free world. Aside from the insignificant carpetbagger similarity,the comparison between Hillary Clinton and Bobby Kennedy is insulting to thelatter and simply factually inaccurate.
Last week'sLA Weekly (a Village Voice-owned alternative paper) ran an interviewwith Germaine Greer, conducted by Barbara Ehrenreich, and theportions devoted to Hillary Clinton aren't pretty. And remember, Greer and Ehrenreicharen't to be confused with Tom DeLay and Bob Barr. Greer isn'ta Hillary fan, saying, "She shares a bed with the head of state, maybe,sometime. And, so what? She's an attorney. Big deal. There are women attorneysall over this country. She gets a job of huge importance..."
Ehrenreichthen asks, "You mean health reform?"
Greer: "Mm-hmm,and screws it up. Surprise, surprise, because that job should not have beengiven to someone in Hillary's position in the first place. So why is NOW soindulgent to Hillary and Bill? I just don't get it, you know. I really sympathizewith Elizabeth Wurtzel when she said it was a big failure of American feministsthat they didn't defend Lewinsky. That they didn't see how vulnerable she was,that they didn't see her pathetic willingness to deceive herself about her relationship with the president as symptomatic of what women do all the time. And then theysay, well, he's pro-choice. He's pro-abortion, in the way that every libertineis pro-abortion. And how pro-choice is he when he allows the United States togo on starving the United Nations of funds, because the United Nations is thoughtto support abortion programs in the Third World? There's nothing to be expectedfrom this man. And that NOW should be pussy for him drives me nuts."
When Ehrenreichasks her subject about Hillary's Senate race, the revered feminist is just asblunt:
"Iwas incensed when she was allowed to address a plenary session for the U.N.Women's Year in Beijing. Every time I've been to a Women's Year Conference,we've had the wife of a head of state telling us what was what, reading a preparedspeech from nowhere-and that included, I may say, the great Imelda Marcos. Andwe had to applaud. And of course Mrs. Clinton. Get out of my face. Now thereare women all over the world who've kept their own burrow, who should be there talking to us. Not the widows or wives of politicians."
The Journal'sAl Hunt, sensitive 80s guy that he is, simply isn't on the same page as thegutsier Greer. In a fawning, greasy paean to the First Lady on June 24, urgingher not to run, Hunt argues that the Senate isn't good enough for a saint likeHillary, writing, "Is Hillary Clinton really ready to devote hundreds ofhours to public-works projects or in government affairs committees? Or to spendher weeks shuttling to Buffalo or Syracuse on cramped commuter planes?"
The answer,of course, is no. Clinton wouldn't give a rat's ass about small-bore issuesin Buffalo; she'd take for granted seniority status to speak out aboutNATO, illiteracy in Bombay and lob grenades at GOP senators.
Here's thepart of Hunt's column where my new best friend Germaine and I will excuse ourselvesto barf: "Hillary is the Clinton of both substance and character. She isdeeply committed to issues like children's health and welfare but isn't theideologue so often depicted by critics. She has achieved almost iconic statusto many women." Yeah, she's got so much character that she's let aideswallow in legal bills while protecting her lying, scumbag husband. She's socommitted to welfare that she went along with the President's GOP-inspired paringdown of that wasteful entitlement. What horseshit!
BillMonahan, who originally asked for the assignment of covering the Rudy-Hillaryrace for NYPress, has begged off. He wrote the other day: "Belaythe Hillary offer. Just say she's bogus and leave it at that. I have a theorythat she's actively attempting to exhaust disgust. When critics are speechlessand everything's been said she'll just waddle on to victory. She loses in NewYork, she notches up a defeat for women everywhere, thereby winning. She hasno brains whatsoever. It's fucking unwatchable."
Sick ofHillary-talk? Tough luck: The ice-cold mama is with us for the next 16 months.I'll finish with the prim George Will, writing more delicately in theJuly 5 Newsweek. Will doesn't agree that Giuliani will own the GOP primary:He's speculating that both King and Lazio will enter the race, even forcingRudy out of the race. Balderdash. Nonetheless, read Will for his superb commentson the First Lady:
"[S]heneeds a self-esteem infusion. She is running because running is what the Clintonsdo. Campaigning may be a metabolic necessity for them; it certainly istheir lifetime vocation. He has been campaigning since law school. Tagging along,she has led an entirely derivative life, from rainmaker for an unsavory LittleRock law firm to unmaker of health-care reform. But now she inherits the familybusiness, which consists of living off the land, nomadically soliciting moneyto fuel campaigns. Well-known not for any achievements but only for her well-knownness,she personifies the politics of celebrity. Does she worry that by keeping thecloud of Clintonism on the public's horizon, and by siphoning up Democraticmoney, she will hurt Al Gore? Are you kidding? A reasonable surmise is thatshe wants him to lose, so she can fulfill her manifest destiny in 2004."
Are youlistening, all you Upper West Side liberals who believe Hillary is "charismatic"and the future of the Democratic Party? Make Room for MUGGER I'm notby nature a pander bear, and don't fall for third-rate schmooze, but when Mrs.M and I left the Four Seasons gala last Thursday night-a celebrationof their 40th anniversary-there was no doubt who loomed largest in my snapshotmemory of the mobbed cocktail party. Not socialite Brooke Astor, escortedby a young man; not Henry Kravis, accompanied by The New YorkObserver's Michael M. Thomas (just kidding, Mike!); and not evenTime's Walter Isaacson, who was a pleasure to bullshit with aboutpolitics and isn't shy at all about returning a verbal shot to the gut. Hands down,it was the guy at the coatcheck station, who, when I retrieved my briefcase,said, "My favorite bag of the night. That 'Furious George'sticker and all the Pokemon stuff is tops, boss!" Those kind remarksmade me happy that Junior and MUGGER III would still be awake when we got home.Not that getting a cab was easy on Park Ave. at 8:15 p.m.: Instead, we grabbeda moonlighting limo driver, who was probably killing time until Steve Floriowas through glad-handing inside the Four Seasons. It was a smooth ride and Ididn't know why Mrs. M was kicking my foot; I thought she was worried we'd get slammed with an exorbitant tab-actually, just $15, a buck or two more than ataxi-but it was the guy's bad rug that made her think he was another Sonof Sam. Damn that Spike Lee! Now everyone's reliving the Summer of'77.
It was socrowded that Mrs. M and I staked out a spot by the bar and stayed put for thefirst hour, chatting with the delightful D.D. Ryan, an hilarious andhighbrow lady from the Upper East Side who chainsmoked, drank bourbonand told us grand stories about Manhattan social life in the 40s and50s. The first hook that got my funny bone working was when she described herex as a "wusband," a word that everyone from "the butcher, thebaker and the candlestick maker" cracks up at, she said, using anotherantiquated phrase that I haven't heard in years. D.D.'s a veteran of the fashionmag trade and she and Mrs. M had a ball talking about design and decorating;I was mostly silent during this phase of our time with her, just didn't havemuch to add. Occasionally, I'd dive in to the mob, and, aside from marvelingat the spread-caviar, a roasted pig, crabcakes, ham, beef and oysters-I enjoyedspeaking with GQ's Art Cooper and Alan Richman, while takinggood-natured guff from host Graydon Carter, who chastised me for bringingalong a camera. Uh, Graydon, Mr. Fancy-Pants, that aces you out of this week'sparty pictures.
Not thatthe paparazzi weren't out in full force-guests were almost blinded by all theflashbulbs popping, with celebrities posing patiently for 50 different publications.Frankly, I could've been next to a movie star and wouldn't have noticed: I hadto read the gossip columns to find out who, aside from the few media peopleI knew, was actually in attendance. I did spot the ubiquitous Fran Lebowitz,and contemplated introducing myself to Art Buchwald, but thought thebetter of it since I never could stomach his column. You can only whore yourselfso much. So I missed Jann Wenner, Ellen Barkin, Ashford& Simpson, Martha Stewart and Tom Wolfe: Lifegoes on.
Early on,I did say hello to James Brady, the Hamptons denizen who's writtena score of books, as well as contributing columns for Advertising Age,Crain's New York Business and Parade. In the late 80s, I usedto clip Brady's articles, thinking one day I'd devote a MUGGER blurb to allthe malarkey he writes about anyone who'll send him or an assistant press releases.But over time, I warmed up to "Brady's Bunch" in Ad Age, andnever got around to giving jolly Jim a sound thumping. He may be a Democrat,and his constant nods to the Mantle-Berra-Martin Yankeesand newspaper floors where reporters still drank and smoked remind me uncomfortablyof Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield nostalgia, but the man has not a whit of pretentiousness about him.
After Itook his picture, he politely thanked me and moved on: So I was taken abackwhen I rejoined D.D. and Mrs. M and there was Brady, fetching drinks for thetwo of them. He got a jab in: "So I finally meet the MUGGER. I had no ideawhat you looked like! The most conservatively dressed man in this room and youwrite such a monstrous column! What a Jekyll & Hyde situation!" I noddedand took note of his sartorial blunder: Jim, sir, please don't ever let me seeyou again with a double-breasted suit in conjunction with a buttondown shirt.That's deeply offensive.
Here's anitem from the Brady archives, found in the March 28, '88, Crain's, inwhich he gives advice to Peter Kalikow about the New York Post: "Beef up the financial pages. If the Post is to be our only afternoonpaper, then Wall Street is its game. Since they stopped playing day baseball,late market prices have been the one real incentive to buy a second paper latein the day. This means whatever else the Post offers, there is a reasonfor the News or Times or Newsday reader to buy a late Post...Get Steve Dunleavy back from Channel 5, not as an executive, but as the leadingreporter. Cover our town better!"
Later, Iengaged D.D. in some political chatter, but that went nowhere. She reviles theholy Henry Hyde and is looking forward to voting for Hillary Clinton,even though she claims to be conservative. D.D. finally met up with her eveningdate, so Mrs. M and I took another spin around the room, sampled some foie gras,spoke briefly with Vanity Fair photographer Gasper Tringale andcalled it an evening. Both boys were awake when we got home, so while I readMUGGER III a bedtime story-he insisted on a recitation of John Judis'excellent but fatally dated profile of Steve Forbes in the July GQ,but I opted for lighter fare-Mrs. M and Junior watched The Brady Bunchand then the three of us waited for the steamed vegetables and noodles to arrivefrom Au Mandarin.
Not quiteunrelated, a few days earlier, MUGGER III's book of choice was The Man WhoDidn't Wash His Dishes, a funny story by Phyllis Krasilovsky that'sabout a lazy bachelor who loves to eat but not clean up after himself. He runsout of dishes and eventually has to improvise: "Then one night he lookedin his closet and found that there wasn't one clean dish left! He was hungryenough to eat out of anything, so he ate out of the soap dish from the bathroom.It was too dirty for him to use again the next night, so he used one of hisash trays."
What's remarkableabout this story, is that casual mention of the ash tray, an endangeredhousehold item that wouldn't be uttered in any children's story written today.And, in fact, Krasilovsky's book came out in 1950. I can just imagine schoolteachersall over the country, should they have a copy of the book, skipping over theashtray reference.
This remindedme of a smart column written on May 10 by The Boston Globe's JeffJacoby, the first winner of News Corp.'s "Eric BreindelAward for Excellence in Opinion Journalism." Jacoby takes issue with theantismoking pandemonium that's in vogue today and disputes, aided by a reportin Regulation by Robert Levy and Rosalind Marimont, thecommon figure of 400,000 smoking-related deaths each year. According to theRegulation study, that number is inflated by the deaths of smokers whoare also obese, had high cholesterol, abused alcohol, exercised little and hadbad diets.
Jacoby isn'tadvocating smoking; no one does anymore. He's simply stating that the hysteriaover its evils is overblown, as are the lawsuits and government restrictionsimposed on the tobacco companies. And let's not even get into the myths of secondhandsmoke. He concludes: "For all the talk of protecting children, the averageage of death from a smoking-related illness is 72. Measured by years of lifelost, smoking is a much smaller problem than alcohol consumption. The numberof young people killed by smoking is-zero. All this and more Levy and Marimontcalmly explain. Their lucid article provides a fine corrective to the ever morehysterical tone of the antitobacco crusade."
I risk anunforgivable cliche here, but the reservation lady at El Teddy's,my favorite Tribeca restaurant, is one shrill Taco Nazi. Mrs.M was planning a small party of 12 to celebrate my 44th birthday last week,and she called two days in advance to book a table. That wouldn't do, the womanreplied, and said she'd have to call back at a more convenient time. O-kay,Mrs. M seethed, and followed instructions: 24 hours later the woman took a creditcard number and informed my wife that it would be a set menu and the group wouldn'tbe seated until everyone arrived. Message to owner Christopher Chesnutt:MUGGER feels your organizational pain, but why not relax a little?
In any case,the dinner was a lot of fun and as usual, El Teddy's kitchen presented fineMexican food, even though I couldn't order queso fundido. Everything was servedfamily style, and there was plenty of it: fried calamari, salads, shrimp tostadas, shredded beef with avocado and a mild white cheese, seared rare tuna, smokedchicken and goat cheese quesadillas, chicken enchiladas and bowls of guacamole.
With themargarita shakers being tilted to and fro, it was a grand occasion, and as isthe norm at such gatherings, a lot of gossip spilled, mostly about past NYPressemployees, scattered all over the city, who always manage to sniff out a PuckBldg. party the paper throws. The champion in this regard is Eli Catalan,a former Classifieds and retail sales rep who never misses a shindig; it's alwaysa pleasure to see Eli, no matter what incarnation of life he's passing through,especially since he was one of the original staffers of the paper when we startedup in '88. Eli's by nature a bottom-feeder: Whether it was selling space tothe sleazy rug traders or storing unimaginable junk in his office-discardedcomputer cables, say, or bicycle tires he picked up in a garbage can on Broadway-Idoubt he's changed much over the years.
One othertopic of conversation was Jessica Willis' pan of Amy Sohn'sRun Catch Kiss in the current Black Book, a horrid magazine thatsomehow has stayed afloat for more than two issues. Willis, a past and presentNYPress contributor, writes: "The sex-maniac persona is boring andloaded. That's why men stopped playing it and are now content to let the femalestake the risks and make idiots of themselves. Run Catch Kiss makes astrong case for celibacy and wholesome hobbies. The book is retailing at $23,which is the price of a dinner, a mild drunk, or a summer utility bill. Besides,Sohn writes the same stuff (only shorter) in a weekly newspaper. A free one."
On Saturdaymorning the boys and I departed for Junior's final Downtown Little Leaguegame of the season, leaving Mrs. M at home to shake off a bug that infiltratedher system sometime during the week. It was my kind of weather, extremely hot,kind of like the Sahara on the ballfield, with tarps over the dugouts,but I was in the distinct minority: Most of the players and parents couldn'twait till the contest was over and they could retreat to cooler environs. Juniormade his best fielding play of the season at second base-which was gratifying,since he's given to daydreaming in the field-and Alexandre Wedmore hit a grand-slammer that helped the NYPress Giants to an astoundingvictory. Of course, kids on the other team said just the opposite, and who reallyknows, but I think our team creamed those pesky Tigers. After the game,it was time for photo ops and trophies: MUGGER III, the Giants' mascot, wasblue because there wasn't a souvenir for him and it broke my heart to see himwander off to the side, almost in tears. Cari Stahler, seeing what washappening, interceded with some DLL official and absconded with an extra trophyfor my four-year-old. His face lit up and he ran back to the team to pose forpictures.
Pardon mefor taking the Lord's name in vain, but Jesus Christ, am I gettingsoft as I add another circle to my tree trunk. When the team was together, andI received a plaque for sponsoring the team, and they shouted several times,NYPress!, NYPress!, NYPress!, with Junior and MUGGER IIIleading the charge, I was wishing I had a hanky on hand. It was a sentimentalmoment that can't be recaptured and one I'll never forget.
Now: SinceI'm on religious borders here, what in the world did the House of Representativesthink it was accomplishing by that inane Ten Commandments bit of legislationtwo weeks ago? It's a stupid issue and only obscures more important ones, likelimiting federal government interference into the lives of American citizens.Ditto for the absurd flag-burning amendment. As a kid, I remember the Ten Commandmentsframed on a wall of my elementary school and didn't pay much attention to it; I recall far more clearly the air-raid drills in the early 60s. Public schoolsand religion don't mix: If a child wants to pray, I believe that's his or herchoice, and perhaps there should be a five-minute time set aside for such anactivity, like before recess or at the end of the day. And, of course, it shouldextend to all religions, not just the Judeo-Christian doctrine. But ramminga Ten Commandments bill through Congress won't do a bit of good in combatingthe moral decay of this country. And neither will feel-good, symbolic gun controllaws.
Later onSaturday, after an excruciating half-hour at the Union SquareToys R Us (although as far as the irritation factor, this particularbranch can't compare to the surly clerks who staff the Herald Squarelocation), where the boys loaded up on Star Wars paraphernalia, we tooka cab up to the office. They insisted on opening their booty in the car: Myfavorite items were the four-bits rubber worms, frogs and snakes that came fromthe vending machines near the exit of the store. In fact, they played with thosecritters more fervently than the more expensive toys. It reminded me of oneday down at Mill Dam Park in Huntington, when I blew a buck ona tuna sandwich at the local deli; a friend of mine, Jimmy Trant, wasrelishing his penny Tootsie Roll pop more than I did my edible. It wasa lesson I never forgot: A high price tag doesn't necessarily mean superiority.I passed this wisdom onto my kids but they weren't interested; just anothertired yarn from the "olden days."
As usual,our research team was hard at work on Saturday, checking facts and finding obscuredocuments for writers. In a media age where once-standard practices are ignoredby idiots like Slate's Michael Kinsley, I'm glad NYPresshas invested in a diligent team that discovers mistakes in our writers' copy.
BethBroome, for example, asked me if it was kosher that Adam Heimlich,in a music piece this issue, disputed Entertainment Weekly's insanenotion that the Beatles phenomenon in America was due partiallyto a nation still in mourning for President Kennedy. Right. As if thekids who donned Beatles wigs and cried tears of rapture when they saw John,Paul, George and Ringo live, or on Ed Sullivan'sCBS show, gave Kennedy's assassination even a moment's thought a weekafter it occurred.
True, errorsstill find their way into NYPress: I was appalled that my misspellingof Bobby Thomson's name made it into print several weeks ago,but those goofs are few and far between, unlike most mainstream (and betterfinanced) publications. I was particularly proud of the department, when lastFriday they discovered that "Top Drawer" writer Toby Young,whose slated contribution this week was a lament about an expat Brit's confusionover this country's Fourth of July festivities, was an almost word-for-worddouble-dip that he published in a London daily last year. Spike!
Small improvementshave taken place at 333: The far-left elevator, although it still rumbles,now moves almost at World Trade Center speed. It's been 18 months inthe northern Chelsea neighborhood for NYPress now and we're fullyadapted: The pace is quicker than get-up-at-11-Soho, and the amenitiesare fine. Once you've made your bones at Burke & Burke, it's thecoffee joint of choice, and particularly interesting with the internationalstaff that's on hand. My favorite shop in the neighborhood, though, is RainbowCard & Photo, the store where every Monday I get film developed verycheaply and the kind proprietors always remember my name. A far cry from theclipjoints on lower Broadway (one of which is now out of business: You'd betoo, charging $18 for a package of 36 4-by-6 prints).