Jewish World Review July 28, 1999/ 15 Av 5759
One result of John Kennedy Jr.’s death, I predict, will be Hillary Clinton deciding not to run for Senate in New York after all. She can dream up a handful of explanations: her work as First Lady, the importance of electing Al Gore, family obligations, blah blah blah. But with her poll ratings slipping, and with the death of Kennedy—which only exposes Clinton as a crass opportunist, a third-rate substitute for the charismatic candidate that New York Democrats yearn for—I’ll bet she takes the money and stashes it away for some other use. Her replacement? No, not Nita Lowey; she can’t win.
It’ll be Bobby Kennedy Jr., and he’ll defeat Rudy Giuliani in a close election. Kennedy has previously opted out of the race, citing his five young children, but his father had even more kids when he was attorney general, and then a senator and presidential candidate. Besides, with JFK Jr. gone, the media will demand Bobby’s candidacy.
Hillary’s diminishing desirability was powerfully expressed by Democrat Bartle Bull in the July 21 New York Post. He writes: “New York Democrats face an ugly decision. Do we support her, thereby disregarding a lifetime of dishonesty, and accept policy and party as substitutes for integrity? Or do we support Mayor Giuliani, a person of integrity and intelligence and energy, one of the best mayors in our lifetime, but rather unpleasant and overbearing, and a man often unable to discern when to be tough and when to be accommodating? As a lifelong active liberal Democrat, I find the choice not difficult. In all our campaigns, we were trying to work for decent and intelligent government. Neither Clinton can give us that. It is not in their character; and their hands are too dirty.”
There were two delightful stories in last Sunday’s New York Times. First, a front-page report by Don Van Natta Jr. describing how the Democratic Party, spooked by Gov. George W. Bush’s popularity and fundraising prowess, is seeking “to raise an unprecedented amount of the unregulated party donations known as soft money, perhaps as much as $200 million by November 2000.” This news is not good for Vice President Gore, who, along with President Clinton, has continually called for campaign finance reform. But what’s another example of raw hypocrisy to the free-fall Gore campaign?
In Monday’s New York Post, Ellen Miller, who heads Public Campaign, “a grass-roots group pushing campaign-finance reform,” said: “Hypocrisy knows no bounds. It’s no surprise. But the boldness of it is.” Miller predicted the money chase will “backfire on all the candidates,” but I doubt Bush is too worried. Last time I checked, he hadn’t accepted money from Buddhist nuns or agents of the Chinese government.
As of my deadline, the Times editorialists hadn’t yet commented on this contradiction. I can’t wait.
Inside Sunday’s first section, Richard Berke, in a story that had to be assigned, given his obvious political bias, wrote about the resurrection of President Bush, who is now more popular than when he was defeated by Clinton in 1992. Berke quotes Robert Teeter, a key operative in Bush’s unsuccessful reelection effort: “People just automatically say ‘If this guy [Gov. Bush] is George and Barbara Bush’s son, we don’t have any question about those personal qualities that we were fooled on by Clinton.’ That’s where his family heritage really works for him.” In another quick turnaround, Berke ascribes President Bush’s high polling numbers to the fact that people confuse him with his son; as recently as three months ago, the Texas governor’s popularity was dismissed by people who insisted that respondents were just mixing him up with his father.
Nonsense. Winning the White House back, with the prospect of retaining both the House and Senate, trumps any stand on abortion in the 2000 election. Bank on Ridge being tapped as Bush’s runningmate.
An Endless Summer: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
I haven’t a clue why, but this July has been the longest month I can remember in a coon’s age. As a middle-aged, working adult this isn’t quite normal: the seasons and years are supposed to, and usually do, scatter in the wind like those calendar pages in Frank Capra movies. As a child, the summer—after the initial giddiness of being released from another year of school—dragged on and on. The repetition of sandlot ballgames, capturing fireflies in a jar, swinging from the vines in the forest behind our housing development in Huntington, hours upon hours of watching re-runs like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, My Little Margie and Mr. Ed on the tube and racing around the neighborhood on a battered bicycle, became boring by the beginning of August. Even my mother’s bounty of a nickel for every cricket bumped off in the garage lost its thrill. I was usually ready to get back to school.
Talk to someone under 35 and chances are they’ve never heard of it. I was reminded of Turkish Taffy just a few weeks ago, when Victor Bonomo died at age 100. As the Times obit of July 4 read, it was a “brittle candy bar whose wrapper instructed buyers to smack it and crack it into many edible pieces,” and beat anything else on the market for me, even Dots, Watermelon Sticks and Hershey chocolate almond bars.
By coincidence, just days after Bonomo died, Aaron S. Lapin, the creator of Reddi-wip, another culinary icon of the frozen-food 50s and 60s, also passed away, at 85. I remember those spray cans of whipped cream stacked in the refrigerator that my mother seldom cleaned; sometimes, I’d spray some of it on a bowl of instant pudding or jello, and the ancient Reddi-wip would come out green. Not Lapin’s fault, just my mom’s pack-rat sensibilities, which extended even to the kitchen. I’m sure some of my friends tried to huff those cans, but that kind of buzz never really interested me; and when Cool Whip was introduced in the late 60s, those Reddi-wip cans finally disappeared from our house.
Yet this month of July in 1999 seems endless. My family and I are going to Bermuda soon, and as I make and receive calls at the office, scheduling appointments, I’m usually sure I’ll be out of the country on a specific day. But sure enough, there are plenty of time slots to fill.
I can’t figure it out. It’s not the heat. As I’ve written before, 90-degree days with high humidity are my idea of a perfect climate. And I don’t think the JFK Jr. tragedy explains this strange feeling, although the constant media coverage and dirge/carnival atmosphere in Tribeca is nothing short of surreal.
One break in the tedium last week was a visit from my longtime friend Joachim Blunck, in Manhattan for a few days from Los Angeles. JB was the first art director I ever worked with: he helped found Baltimore’s City Paper back in ’77, and introduced a visual level to that alternative newspaper that was far ahead of the curve. One night, after a flimflam publisher of a dreadful community monthly in the city tried to buy us out, and thus snuff his competition, JB, Alan Hirsch and I told the jerk to bug off and then got smashed at the Clark Street Garage, reveling in our youthful hubris. After several pitchers of National Boh, I told JB, “The future of this paper has no limit: you’ll be Milton Glaser to my Clay Felker.” What can I say, we weren’t yet 22.
JB left City Paper in ’81 (at a farewell party, lacking the dough for a fancy present, I dug into my archives and gave him a Vol. 1, No. 1 issue of National Lampoon) and went on to work as director of production systems at Murdoch Magazines. He then became a cocreator and producer of The Reporters and A Current Affair, was the executive producer of Good Day New York, moved to L.A. to work for Fox’s television division and most recently was the executive producer of The Howie Mandel Show. But we stayed in touch. JB was responsible for the original design of NYPress, including our signature “P,” and helped me think of the paper’s actual name over lunch one day in December of 1987.
We actually met in September of ’73, when I arrived at Johns Hopkins for a week of acclimation before classes began. My roommate Mark and I thought JB, who, as a sophomore, was a captain of the Orientation Committee, was an incredible nerd. He was dressed in bell-bottoms, with a wool Kangol cap in the 100-degree heat, and barked orders at the school’s newest recruits. Forget this, Mark and I thought, and skipped the pep rally to get stoned in Jenny Gilchrist’s dorm room.
The night before I left for Baltimore, one of my brothers counseled me that I shouldn’t be a wiseguy and think that my college experience would be especially unique. My father had died the year before, and he felt it his duty to pass along some wisdom, remembering his own indiscretions at Brown during the 60s. He said, “You’re going to have a great time, and think that you’re pulling pranks that no one else has. I’ve got news for you, it’s all been done before. Remember this: a lot of people believe their college experience was the peak of their lives. That’s sad. Don’t let it happen to you.”
I nodded, but didn’t pay attention. On the third day at Hopkins, after buying a pack of Kools for 35 cents (a reminder that a generation ago, Baltimore was much more Southern than today and closer, at least in spirit, to tobacco country), Mark and I attended a meet-and-greet with the university’s president, Steve Muller, and got dressed up in suits and ties, believing this was a real hoot. No one noticed, but we thought it was pretty cool.
And as our college years proceeded, JB and I were on different sides in the petty political squabbles that define campus life: he was involved in student government and I was an editor at the twice-weekly newspaper. The two factions didn’t get along. In 1975, he organized the annual Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, quite an impressive one, actually, that featured Russell Baker, David Halberstam, Pat Oliphant, Carl Bernstein, a debate between Pat Buchanan and Seymour Hersh and Stan Lee. JB didn’t appreciate the News-Letter’s irreverent, drug-tinged coverage of his events. When the Student Activities Council tried to withhold funds from the paper later that year, JB was on the side of the First Amendment enemies: only a mass-petition drive saved the paltry $5000 we received from the school.
Anyway, after graduation, we’d grown up some, and both recognized that stupid clique politics shouldn’t stand in the way of a new enterprise. Grudgingly, Alan and I accepted that JB was a real find, a guy who could take over production and add a crucial element to the embryonic newspaper. Because he’s German, and was in his youth very strident and controlling, a lot of staffers called him “Der Nazi” behind closed doors. One day, on deadline, he reduced a tough-as-nails reporter, who doubled as proofreader, to tears when he said “Sorry, no more corrections, no more paste-up, out of my room!” He mellowed considerably as the years wore on, but never lost his creative vision.
JB offered this anecdote from those long-ago days: “You might recall that I kept delivering my allotment of 7500 papers to locations in Fells Point up till November, ’79, even though by then we had a circulation department.
“What generally happened was that, after driving the boards to the printer in West Virginia (supplementing my weekend sleep with a hit or two of speed), and returning at about 2 a.m., I’d get a few hours of sleep, arrive at the office on N. Charles St., clean up and then do my rounds. I always looked kind of beat. The bartenders in Fells Point got to know me quite well. I’d start on the northwest side, drop a stack of papers in a pub, and the bartender, seeing that I looked tired, always offered me a shortie. This happened in every bar. By the time I hit the Cat’s Eye, I was trashed, and the bartender there would give me another beer.
“Obviously, first thing in the morning on Wednesday I’d be back in the office, hungover, and by noon we’d be stoned. I think that I eventually snapped, and you and Alan packed me off on a vacation. I never delivered papers again.”
We had a delightful meal last Wednesday night at Honmura An, my favorite Japanese restaurant in the city (not as celebrity-saturated at Nobu), one that Mrs. M and I frequent often. While catching up on current events, trading snapshots of our kids and indulging in stories from Baltimore, we ate very well: Japanese rare roast beef, asparagus salad with a rich sesame, sauce, smoked salmon with sweet onion and dill, fried chicken meatballs, bowls of udon noodles with monstrous tempura shrimp, steamed seafood dumplings and sashimi. JB and Mrs. M ordered a sea urchin special that looked to me like the aftermath of a bum’s Wild Irish Rose dinner. But they ate every bite, along with the raw shrimp on the side.
I told JB that Jim Brady, the well-traveled writer (his latest book is The House That Ate The Hamptons) whose columns appear nearly everywhere, had mocked me a few days earlier in Crain’s New York Business. But it was a friendly, Ghostbusters slime, in retaliation for my comments a few weeks ago about his wearing a button-down shirt with a double-breasted suit at the 40th anniversary party for the Four Seasons restaurant. I simply can’t let a sartorial faux pas such as that go without mention.
Brady’s not strong on the facts, but his piece was pretty funny. He wrote: “We were then joined by... Russ Smith, who is editor and publisher of a strange but wonderful weekly broadsheet called New York Press, which has fine color photo reproduction, Crayola cartoons and splendidly opinionated columns, which go on for pages. Mr. Smith, conservatively dressed (for a Menshevik), is a Harvard man, which always kills me, and so when he began asking ‘innocent’ questions, I fell swiftly into his cunning trap and gave an exceedingly long account of Coco Chanel’s funeral in 1971.” I can only imagine he was taking a dig at me with that Harvard slur, and a biting one it is: the city’s media elite is littered with that school’s graduates, almost all of them sucking up to each other and networking in an early-90s sort of style.
But Brady’s a good sport, a guy who’s been around the block and a Democrat who, I’ll wager 20 beans, won’t be fooled by Hillary Clinton, but will instead pull the lever for demagogue Rudy Giuliani. Those two candidates are so odious that I’m in a quandary myself; but the prospect of picking up a GOP senate seat surely tips any smart voter in the Mayor’s favor.
The rest of the week proceeded in slow motion: we dropped the kids off
at camp, had sandwiches from the spectacular Columbine for dinner (or
else chicken taquitos from Tribeca’s Gloria’s), read MUGGER III a bunch
of books at bedtime and marveled at Junior’s fascination with the first
Austin Powers movie. On Saturday, I caved in to the boys and took them
to Toys R Not Us at Union Square, bought Lego, Star Wars action figures
and a bunch of slimy rubber worms and centipedes from the vending
machines. Mrs. M has no patience for those gloppy creatures, and so
they’re confined to the kids’ bathroom, where they’ve constructed a
fantasy world of their own. We also dropped by 333 for a couple of
hours, making a pit stop at the Healthy Choice deli for chips and
soda—the water was turned off again—and while the kids played, Andrey
Slivka and I tried to mop up the mess John Strausbaugh and Lisa Kearns
had left before going to
07/23/99: Stop the Whining!