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Jewish World Review June 11, 1999/ 27 Sivan 5759


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In the Days Of Gold --
My friend Bill McGraw, who’s a reporter at the Detroit Free Press, sent me a 23-year-old artifact the other day: a propaganda sheet we produced in Denver when we both worked at College Press Service (CPS), a collective of five young journalists who wrote a semiweekly AP-style newsletter for more than 450 college and alternative papers. Our wages were slim—$75 a week—but we had a ball: drinking blue margaritas at the Satire Lounge, eating peyote buttons in the park by our ramshackle office and relishing the satisfaction of seeing our bylines in maybe 100 papers a week. One sideline venture that Bill and I noodled around with was Agitation Press, which had the now-dated slogan of “Specializing in bad taste, cheap shots and low blows.”

In the edition Bill sent me the other day I had an article, under the name “Baltimore Blizzard,” called “Denver: He Expected Wells Fargo, Got Bottomless Bar Instead.” The short essay, written by a green, 21-year-old MUGGER, follows below.

“Perched atop the weather chart of the Denver Post each afternoon is a slogan that any normally jaded Baltimorean would dismiss as a gratuitous puff: ‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado.’ But to native Coloradans—anyone who’s lived here more than seven weeks—these words are nothing less than a Rocky Mountain understatement. Hour upon hour a jet-lagged prisoner is subjected to wild rhapsodies about the spring water, pure air and most of all, the mountains. It’s no use explaining that Coloradans had nothing to do with the creation of this ‘Climate Capital of the World,’ ’cause they persist in pushing ‘their mountains.’ “The sentiment is grating, but can be excused if not understood. Resort town that it is, Denver ain’t a half-bad place to settle down.

“I always thought Denver was the typical post-World War II city, with miles of suburbs and steely Eastern construction. A mini-Los Angeles, twin sister to Houston. The Wells Fargo wagons and teams of bandits heading for the high roads were supposed to be long gone. Just the storybook past.

“Maybe I relied on the Baltimore Sunpapers too much, but I was shocked to see rows on rows of three-story houses, featuring wide balconies and gargoyles, trap doors and stained-glass windows. And the silver-rich pahdnahs who were swilling whiskey back in the 1880s would be surprised to see every third house brandishing a ‘for rent’ sign.

“Just a pop fly from my apartment, Colfax Ave. roars on. Within a 20-block radius all the staples on a big city street can be had: McDonald’s, Arby’s, pawn shops, bottomless burlesque shows and a constant stream of panhandlers and winos searching for busfare or a morning jolt of caffeine. What makes Colfax unique, however, is that while scarfing down a nationalized Whopper, the mountains check you out.

“And the Coloradan air is a treat. Despite what the Rocky Mountain News says about the orange scum hiding the Denver skyline, to a hardened trooper of real Eastern pollution, the air is just fine.

“Something I didn’t reckon on is the torturous heat in these six-shooter environs. Oh, it’s dry all right, but 95 degrees is unbearable under any conditions, humidity or no humidity.

“So, parochialism aside, I guess the natives have a claim in saying ‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado.’ Then again, you won’t catch any Westerner peeling the powder-blue ‘Maryland is for Crabs’ t-shirt off this boy’s back.”

An Acute Sermon

I’ve been rough on Slate writer Timothy Noah in the past six months; his ludicrous condemnation of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page (and WSJ boardmember Dorothy Rabinowitz in particular) is galling, especially considering that Noah at one time was employed at that paper. Also, his earnest, super-uptight liberalism is just so tiring in 1999. That’s what a stint at The Washington Monthly, Charles Peters’ revered magazine of mindless thumbsucking, will do to an impressionable young man or woman.

But Noah’s May 20 “Chatterbox” item in Slate, “What Did You Do in the Debacle, Tony?” was a terrific sermon from Pastor Tim, as he questioned why reporters didn’t, upon Tony Coelho’s ascension to Al Gore’s campaign guru, delve more fully into the former congressman’s role in the ’94 elections. As Noah points out, Coelho was brought on in the summer of ’94 to help Democrats that autumn; few saw the GOP tsunami coming in July of that year, especially Coelho, who told the press just two months before the election that he expected normal midyear results.

Noah asks: “So what exactly was Coelho’s role in the Democrats’ Waterloo? Determined to get to the bottom of this, Chatterbox phoned former White House aide George Stephanopoulos. He said that Coelho really did have minimal involvement. ‘He was basically a spokesperson,’ Stephanopoulos said, ‘and did come by for several meetings.’ [Isn’t it grand that Prof. George still feels it necessary to call a man a “spokesperson.”] Recommending what? Stephanopoulos couldn’t remember... Hmm. Is this the same George Stephanopoulos who told [Washington Post writer Lloyd] Grove back in 1994 that Coelho was ‘a strong voice at the table’?”

Some conservative writers I know think that Coelho’s involvement in Gore’s campaign is a plus; the man knows how to shake down people for money. But like Noah, I don’t agree: This is a backstabbing creep who had to resign his congressional seat for ethical reasons (a fact that the GOP will remind reporters of every day) and is only out for himself. Gore has enough baggage on the campaign finance front. Surely he could’ve picked a rainmaker with a cleaner past than Coelho.

Gotta Catch ’Em All!

Since Junior and MUGGER III are less than two years apart in age, there’s a continual, if usually joyful, rivalry between the boys. So when Junior snatched his foul ball at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago—his special day with Dad and two of his uncles—he lorded it over his little brother with gusto. Fair is fair and so last Wednesday I picked up my four-year-old from school and we went on an excursion of our own, beginning with a trip to Chameleon Comics on Maiden La., where we loaded up on Pokemon trading cards (the really cool ones are in Japanese), figurines, key chains and comic books. The Pokemon craze, which started last September, is in full bloom; all over the city comic book and video shops are running out of paraphernalia. So the tip about Chameleon, a mother lode of Pokemonia, from the boys’ friend Jackson Sinder, was a godsend. As I mentioned previously, when Nintendo picked up the rights to Pokemon they saved their company from going the way of Sego, and ceding the entire market to PlayStation. I spoke with one of my brothers in London and the fad is just beginning there: Virgin Records expects its first shipment of trading cards in October. So when my family visits theirs in Bermuda this August, Junior and MUGGER III will be real heroes to their cousins Quinn and Rhys.

After buying out Chameleon, or so it seemed to me, MUGGER III and I cabbed up to the office and stopped at Burke & Burke for refreshments. I required a double espresso; my son picked out a can of Coke and a bag of chips. The darling cashier, who cooed about MUGGER III, gave him a gratis Cadbury “Picnic” candy bar, as if he needed any more sugar. The Irish woman who prepares coffee at lightning speed was a doll as well: “What a cutie you have there,” she said. “But of course I can see his good looks come from you!” That’s a load of blarney, of course, but what a sweetie she was. Once upstairs, MUGGER III emptied his bag of loot, spilled Coke all over, shed his sandals, watched some Nickelodeon and then set upon terrorizing NYPress employees who were trying to work that Wednesday afternoon. He told me on the way home that it was one of his favorite days of the year.

That morning, as I was getting ready to take Junior to school, MUGGER III came out with a whopper, one that didn’t amuse Mrs. M one bit. Out of nowhere, he said “Yeah, Animaniacs really sucks... I mean, rocks.” Junior was smiling, my wife wasn’t, and on the cab ride uptown I asked my boy where his brother learned that expression. He looked at me like I was a preacher or something and replied, “Well, where do you think? I taught him.” Oh great, I thought, remembering that when I was a kid, seven years old, I was sent to my room for saying the word “God” in front of my own mother. That night, while dining with Jeff and Amy Koyen at El Teddy’s in Tribeca (I varied my routine somewhat, choosing the stewed beef instead of the queso fundido), Amy related a similar situation when she was young. One day, she casually used the word “schmuck” in conversation and caught hell, I mean heck, from her parents.

Last Friday, Junior graduated from kindergarten and we all attended a precious ceremony at Central Presbyterian Church on Park Ave. His class sang “Let’s Make the World a Happy Place,” while the first-graders chose “We All Sing With the Same Voice” for their part in the proceedings. Fortunately, there wasn’t any long-winded speaker who gassed on about Kosovo and the responsibility that’s being passed on to today’s youth. That’ll come later for my boys.

It’s seemed that in the past several weeks one out of three Washington pundits gave their own version of a commencement address, and The Washington Post’s Michael Kelly was no exception. As I’ve noted before, I don’t think satire is Kelly’s long suit—he excels at straight-ahead writing about who’s telling the truth and who isn’t—but I did like the conclusion to his June 2 piece, “Welcome to the...Real World?” Kelly wrote: “Finally, dear members of the class of 1999, if I can proffer only one piece of advice above all, it is this: Become a celebrity. Ours is a just and righteous land, and all are equal in the eyes of the law.

But some are more equal than others, and the most equal are those who have graced the covers of People, Time, Us and Rolling Stone. Hold before you always the shining examples of Latrell Sprewell, O.J. Simpson, Marv Albert, and of course our first celebrity president, William Jefferson Clinton. And, remember, nobody pays retail anymore, why should you?”

On Saturday morning, the NYPress Giants finally met their match in the Downtown Little League: the Spaghetti Western Padres. Man, this team could field, hit and compete without a hint of cheating. I didn’t keep score, it was too painful, and though Junior and his buddy Scott Franchi protested that the Giants won, they knew in their hearts that the team was undefeated no longer. But hey, even the Bosox’s Pedro Martinez, the most powerful pitcher in the Major Leagues this year, has lost one game. Boston’s romanticized team is on a tear, even holding down first place for all of last week, and the reason is their pitching, as well as superstar Nomar Garciaparra. I fully expect the Yanks to finish atop the AL East by season’s end, but the rest of the American League, with the exception of the Indians, is playing so badly the Red Sox might as well start printing playoff tickets now. Don’t like to jinx the team, but wouldn’t it be ironic if 1999 was finally the year they recaptured the World Series championship for the first time since 1918?

Sunday morning was the typical routine at our loft: the boys up early, bugging their mother to arise, and yours truly combing the Drudge Report. There was one twist: Junior was dressed up as Darth Maul, from the new Star Wars movie. The three of them saw the film while I was in Memphis, holed up in the Danny Thomas suite, trying to make sense of the 100-plus papers that make up the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. I was happy to find out from Andrey Slivka that Natalie Green’s Buffalo Beat was admitted into the AAN, even more tickled that the spineless organization performed true to form and tabled the controversial motion as to whether to exclude weeklies that have been bought by dailies.

That afternoon Mrs. M and I finally were able to attend one of Taki’s weekly roundtables with his stable of “Top Drawer” writers. Usually, this group of late-risers goes to Elaine’s on Sunday night, where they hold forth for several hours, gossiping, planning their NYPress section and having a drink or eight. However, on this occasion, Taki made the gracious concession not only to schedule the meeting for Sunday afternoon, but also downtown, at Odeon, just a few blocks from our apartment. On our way to the restaurant, Mrs. M and I saw for the first time a brand-new NYPress street dispenser, a thrill that’s perhaps peculiar to us, but exciting nonetheless. At Odeon, Taki was in top form, spinning yarns that involved about 18 countries, three dukes, half a dozen heinous Manhattan editors, seven girls left behind in the old days and fond memories of James Goldsmith. Toby Young, we learned, sold his Mick Jagger story yet again, meaning that he got paid three times for the same piece: Good thing for old Tobe that it appeared in NYPress first.

Scott McConnell and I agreed that Rudy Giuliani will defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2000 Senate race but Taki wouldn’t believe it. He thinks Hillary will win. When I suggested that fear drove his prediction he simply nodded an assent. Taki also went with the obvious matchup of Bush vs. Gore for the presidential race, although he acknowledged he’s a Pat Buchanan supporter. I conceded that Buchanan is indeed the intellectual in the crop of GOP candidates, certainly the finest speaker, but his views on immigration, just for starters, were too 18th century for my liking. Taki apparently had no use for that opinion so he told marvelous stories of dinners with Buchanan, which segued into a chat about his friend John O’Sullivan and then Bill Buckley and somehow ended up with a discussion about Greek yachts. You have to be on your toes to keep up with the man: get lost for even a momentary daydream and you’ve missed three hilarious anecdotes.

Toby had a copy of Alexander Chancellor’s new book about working with Tina Brown for a year at The New Yorker, still available only in the UK, and assured the table it made for saucy reading. Odeon isn’t conducive for a roundtable gabfest, so we had barely a chance to chat with George Szamuely, Sam Schulman, John Strausbaugh and his wife Diane. Next time, perhaps, if we’re invited back, we’ll suggest a less noisy setting. If You’re Going to... Cleveland

Ttwo weeks ago I speculated that the dishonest Slate “Book Club” exchange about Turn of the Century was inspired in part by what I perceived as editor Michael Kinsley’s rivalry with Andersen. One reader debunked this theory, and although I’ll stick to my original opinion, this person did have an interesting comment: “Well, I’m no expert on Kinsley’s psychology, but if you pointed a gun at me and said opine or else, I’d guess that Kinsley doesn’t care at all about Andersen, because Kinsley’s orientation is Washington, not New York. He took me to lunch once and I had the impression of a smart 10-year-old somehow blown up to adult proportions, like that kid in Big. Hard to read a guy like that. Assuming he has normal feelings of jealousy, though, I don’t think they’d be about a guy who wrote a novel. As for magazines, I think Kinsley feels his league is the Times, Washington Post, The Economist and The New Yorker (the editor’s job of which neither of them got, anyway), not Spy or a city magazine. Just my hunch.”

Finally, I must make a correction. In last week’s column I wrote that Allen Barra now wisely writes for The Wall Street Journal instead of the Voice, where he spent many years on the film and sports beat. Voice managing editor Doug Simmons, a peach of a fellow, set me straight, sending me a eulogy of Joe DiMaggio that Barra contributed to the Voice on March 16 of this year. My error. I should be more careful: Problem is, since the Voice’s Wednesday edition is available online Tuesday afternoon, I simply read Nat Hentoff, James Ridgeway and of course Cynthia Cotts, and then I’m done with the paper. I do pick it up on Wednesday morning, but only for competitive reasons, to scour their array of display ads.

Oh Heck, Who Cares What Year It Is?

With Tim Hall’s recent, unexplained departure from The New York Hangover, has NYPress nemesis/watchdog Chris Brodeur taken over his editing duties? Hall was a standup guy and we had a casual, but sincere, friendship. Now, in the June Hangover, I detect Brodeur’s hand in a screed against this paper. The article, headlined “Back Talk,” with the junior high byline Basho Katzenjammer, is written by someone who must’ve had a very nasty hangover indeed when he/she put crayon to paper.

It’s very confusing. In a rambling jihad against NYPress, Katzenjammer writes: “Does anyone not know that Mugger, the non-entity who lives to consume and never goes broke, is really publisher Russ Smith? Russ hides his indulgences behind a pseudonym so we won’t see him using his trust fund to publish a forum from which he can whine about food and drink and poor service and taxes and democrats and Clintons who won’t lose the presidency or be evicted therefrom.”

All common themes with MUGGER-bashers, but my name has appeared on my column for 14 months now, and since last August on the front page of the paper. Too much Thunderbird does strange things to the mind. Apparently the writer, who claims an intimate knowledge of NYPress, doesn’t even know where the paper is now located: “Maybe NATO should check out that big Serb-Supporter target on the roof of the Puck Building. Nahh, Nixon that—Mugger Smith will probably be elsewhere, waking up with a hangover and wondering who to skewer.” As 333’s horrendous maintenance crew is all too aware, NYPress moved from the Puck Bldg. in November of 1997. And it’s rare that Alex Cockburn and I are consigned to the same concentration camp. The writer continues: “The NYPress of April 21-27 shows the lower depths of this spoiled, stylistically bereft preppy’s nastiest graffiti. On that front page like-minded reactionaries recklessly indulged in Clinton bashing that bordered on the traitorous... Cockburn raved about children blown to pieces being Clinton’s way of erasing the memory of Monica. He’s one of those jello-for-brains who imagined out loud that years of warnings to Saddam were all a setup to spring bad ol’ Bill from his sexual problems.” And NYPress’ excellent Chris Caldwell isn’t spared either. “Caldwell is hardly worth the ink of response...a sniveling member of Russ’ stable who couldn’t write for matchbooks but calls supporters of Kosovars ‘unhinged,’ calls the KLA ‘drug-runners’ [and] insults every leader involved.” Imagine that. A newspaper with opinions about the Kosovo intervention. Calling Mr. Tim Hall: Please rescue the Hangover!

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


06/09/99: Pollution Alert: Hillary Clinton Loves New York
06/03/99: Life in the Danny Thomas Suite
06/02/99: A McCain For All Seasons
05/28/99: Brill's in The Wrong Profession
05/26/99: Gun Control Solves Everything
05/20/99: Gross, Quasi-Gifted and Broke (For Now)
05/19/99: Gore Pushes The Panic Button—Again
05/14/99: Watch Out: There's Someone's Behind You
05/12/99: Memory? What's That You Asked?
05/07/99: There Will Always Be a Washington, DC
05/05/99: Colorado Exploitation: Why Can't CNN Just Go Home?
04/30/99: John John: I'll Moonlight, Too
04/28/99: T.J. Walker's The Man!: A Former Clinton Disciple Repents
04/23/99: Baseball and Politics
04/21/99: Sharpton's Nostalgia Trip Is a Bust: The Backlash Is Immediate
04/16/99: Notes From A Baltimore Hick: Pressing My Nose Against the Window
04/14/99: The Bush JugGoreNaut Continues; Send Sharpton to A Rwanda Fat Farm
04/09/99: John McCain's Moment
04/07/99:The Media Flips: It's No Longer "Just About Sex"
04/05/99: The Gore Republic Gets Dressed Up. So What?
03/29/99:Louder Than Bombs: Jetlag and English Manners
03/26/99: Hollywood's Horror Show
03/24/99: Black Ops Mark Vietnam War, Class War & the POW/MIA Issue
03/19/99: The Wealthy Survivor
03/17/99: Clinton's a Broken Man: The GOP's Huge Opportunity
03/12/99: Like Father, Like Son: New Hampshire in Another Era
03/11/99: Who is Dorothy Rabinowitz?
03/10/99: It's George W.'s to Lose
02/26/99: Springsteen Ain't No Chopped Liver; Vanity Press Musings
03/05/99: This Must Be the New World: The Mainstream Is Left Behind
02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant's Advice
02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton's Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of '98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving's the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr's Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar's: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith