Gross, Quasi-Gifted and Broke (For Now)
By Yoni Ben Ploney
JewishWorldReview.com -- FISHWRAP, A GLOSSY ZINE that's published sporadically by Marty Wombacher, and has a rather presumptuous subscription price of $20 for 'four fishues,' strikes a balance between a grossout high school underground publication and a grownup magazine that can be pretty funny, and on occasion recalls the best of National Lampoon in the very early 70s.
For example, in the last edition, the cover pictures Sonny Bono with the headline 'Our First Annual Celebrities 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, Michael Stipe and Spike Lee. It celebrates the often groundbreaking publications that mainstream journalists still refer to as 'supermarket tabloids.'
There's an incongruous, but not entirely dull, cartoon of Bob Dole as Hitler.
My favorite item in the latest Fishwrap was written by Wombacher, a stupid but funny sendup of editors' letters in more 'respectable' publications like Details and Esquire.
He writes about a media party he crashed, and while he partook of the food and drink, he says, 'It was a typical magazine party filled with public relations phonies, pompous writers and editors and...publicists.' Wombacher doesn't fit in, he says, but doesn't mind being the biggest jerk in the crowd. He continues: 'Anyhoo, I'm minding my own business, drinking and thinking hateful thoughts and pretty much wishing death on the whole stinking party. Then a friend of mine introduces me to one of the many female publicists in attendance that night.
'I know I'll get in trouble for this, but the woman was a little, umm, how should I put this...well, she was a big fat slob. And don't get me wrong, I don't judge people by their weight. I'm in pretty rotten shape myself, so I'm the last person who should care about weight on people. And I think a few extra pounds on a woman more often than not looks pretty good. Remember when Madonna started out and 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's Always The Yellow Brick Road: A Twist of Manhattan's Elite
I'm somewhat tardy in reporting on the Mother's Day festivities at the MUGGER household, but with good reason: a 24-hour virus no doubt caused by a batch of 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 Nintendo 64's Zelda, which was far more interesting for my younger son than the makeshift wrestling matches we'd been having. Meanwhile, Mrs. M slept in, but when she made 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 Junior made in school, a few framed pictures and three photo albums that chronicled the past year's holidays and our trips to Bermuda, Los Angeles, London and Paris.
My troubles didn't start until five minutes into the splendid production of The Wizard of Oz at the Garden; it was a whiz-bang show, with dramatic pyrotechnics, and the story moved along briskly with no intermission. Jo Anne Worley was a convincing Wicked Witch of the West-the boys' favorite-and Mickey Rooney proved he still has about 15 steps on Bob Hope and other geezers from his era playing the hapless Wizard. When we left, we ran into NYPress' Kim Granowitz, along with her mother and nephew, while Junior bought cotton candy with a cool rasta hat, and MUGGER III-or rather, Dad-got snookered on a $20 plastic replica of the Tin Man.
No, what got to me was one whiff of MUGGER III's hotdog. From that point on, I knew I was 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 The New Yorker's party at Da Silvano in honor of their staffer Kurt Andersen's new novel Turn of the Century. Mrs. M met John Strausbaugh and me at the restaurant on lower 6th Ave. and it was a little odd seeing so many journalists who've appeared in this column in a less than flattering light. It was comforting that Andersen, his lovely wife Anne Kreamer and Random House publisher Ann Godoff provided us entree to the affair, so we felt somewhat immunized from the bad vibes that hacks like David Granger, Ken Auletta and Calvin Trillin 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 introduce myself. I'm sure he hasn't seen my suggestions that he be sent to a retirement home for over-the-hill writers like Richard Berke and Timothy Noah, but just in case, I kept my distance.)
The New York Times' Alex Kuczynski, a perky reporter with a husky voice, mock-strangled me for my nasty remarks about her mistake-riddled media articles in that paper's business section. Michael Hirschorn, late of Spin and now writing for the increasingly kooky Michael Kinsley's Slate, was gracious, diplomatically insisting he was satisfied with any ink at all. Larry Doyle, a writer for The Simpsons, was in from L.A. and complained that I once wrote he went to Harvard (since he was a Spy and New York alumnus under the Andersen regime, what would you surmise?) and maintained, proudly, that he matriculated at a school in Illinois.
Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter and his wife Cynthia breezed in and immediately felt at home, not letting on, at least to me, the upcoming storm with writer Jennet Conant, who resigned later in the week when 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 Vanity Fair,' but who knows, maybe the piece just plain sucked. GQ editor Art Cooper was beaming, and his wife Amy made my day by complimenting a new windowpane suit and gold-patterned tie.
I snapped a few pictures, and hung out in a corner by the entrance and watched the biggest collection of notables I've seen in a coon's age. I guess I'm just not used to these affairs, but New Yorker editor David Remnick really threw a star-studded party for Andersen. I chatted with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld for a few minutes and he let on that while he's mostly aboard the George W. Bush bandwagon, he also has shreds of enthusiasm for Lamar Alexander (bringing the bitter Tenneseean's followers to about four) and John Kasich ('a fellow who's 47 going on 35'). Tom Brokaw strolled in, just minutes after he completed his NBC broadcast, 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. Tina Brown was nowhere in sight.
It was when Eric Alterman and George Stephanopoulos cruised into Da Silvano that I put away the camera and stayed outside for good. While getting a mineral water from the bar I did see the duo deep in conversation with Time's Walter Isaacson and the thought of what could emerge from that meeting rattled me enough to last a week. I ran into my old friend Susan Orlean, an accomplished author and New Yorker staff writer, as well as the Post's Mary Huhn and finally 'Page Six''s Richard Johnson, who was rather subdued, except to say that he fully approved of the Brill's Content May gossip issue. Johnson and I have had numerous feuds in the past, but they're always short-lived; he's a fine fellow. I wasn't so jolly last Sunday when his column plumped a Toby Young bit from Taki's NYPress 'Top Drawer' section without mentioning our paper, but what the heck.
On May 17, Kuczynski, in a Times piece called 'Fact, Fiction and the Media Fishbowl,' chronicled the event, eliciting a post-mortem from Andersen the next day at lunch. He told Kuczynski about meeting Kathleen Turner, the actress whose finest role, in my mind, came in John Waters' underappreciated Serial 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 felt like I was in some specific, high-end Disney attraction where you can feel like a celebrity for five minutes, having flashbulbs go off in your face while you sign a book for a famous actress.'
Satiated from 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 Kitchenette down the street. No fear of ptomaine poisoning from that cozy beanery. The shells with marinara and garlic were just fine, as was the turkey meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Andersen's first novel has received mostly glorious reviews, particularly Daniel Akst's in last Friday's Wall Street Journal. Akst wrote: 'Can a book destined for every beach blanket and nightstand in the Hamptons really be any good?... The answer to [this question] appears to be yes, judging by the evidence of Kurt Andersen's elegant and relentless fictional sendup of the way we live now, or at least of the way a few of us live-the rich, noisy, media-obsessed few for whom Seattle and Silicon Valley have lately supplanted Washington as the most important places outside of New York and Los Angeles.'
The book, which had an astonishing first printing of 100,000, also received raves from Salon's James Poniewozik ('[W]hat he has created is impressive: a well-imagined picture of an info-teeming, overmediated, very possible near future, and, more important, of a class of people whom words, literally, fail'), The New York Times and Suck. Less enamored was The New York Observer's Adam Begley, who wrote a pissy, passing-as-smart, I-Know-Tom-Wolfe-And-You're-No-Tom-Wolfe review in that paper's May 17 edition. It's my suspicion that Begley, and the Observer's editors, anticipated a stream of gushy reviews and decided to 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 do a speakerphone but not a crying jag.'
Begley's article screams out that he's not the 'player' that he describes Andersen as; that the author has gotten a free ride because of his fabled track record in New York journalism. It's jealousy, if you ask me, for even though I know Andersen, before I did I'd always considered him the finest journalist (with the exception of John Strausbaugh) in Manhattan.
On the subject of the Observer, I detect that editor Peter Kaplan is running the show on autopilot. What else can explain his allowing 'Off the Record' columnist Carl Swanson to get away with a cliche like 'There's always been a bit of friction between The New York Times Magazine and the legions of ink-stained wretches who fill that paper every day.' Ink-stained wretches! My bet is that if one of the stiffs at the Times spills a drop of 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's piece on the battle between Magazine editor Adam Moss and the daily Times writers was his best item in many weeks.
He took out both factions. Moss expressed concern that the daily reporters might not report the 'ruthless' pieces he's looking for, as if his product actually has teeth. On the other hand, Swanson writes: 'Occasionally a Times Magazine editor is confronted with an angry daily mandarin who demands, "Do you know who you're dealing with?'' But back to Kaplan and the increasingly lethargic Observer. Sure, it's a bonus that Joe Conason is on vacation, but Tish Durkin's takes on New York politics aren't filled with insight; columnist Anne Roiphe is allowed to soil the pages with her racist tripe; the paper still employs Rex 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 gets printed.
(I've had my ups and downs with the Observer, as a reader, and don't think my current observations are compromised by unsuccessful attempts to raid two of the paper's best columnists, Michael Thomas and Ron Rosenbaum.)
Uh-Oh, Someone's Gone Over The Edge
Manhattan's insular journalism society is quite unbelievable. It's not even high school stuff we're dealing with here-strictly kindergarten. Last Saturday morning, while I was editing an article for this week's issue, I received an instant AOL message from Joe Conason. The transcript reads as follows:
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