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Jewish World Review March 12, 1999 /24 Adar 5759


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Like Father, Like Son:
New Hampshire in Another Era

( WHEN I WAS A KID, in the early 60s, my family of seven would make one or two road trips a year to New Hampshire, in a Dodge station wagon that, after several hours of driving, was pretty snug. Weíd go to visit my grandfather in his one-room Derry apartment, and if that was fairly depressingó-he was in his 80s, ornery as a bobcat and didnít recognize any of us, least of all Boy MUGGER, the last of his only childís litteró-once we completed that task and settled into a cheap motel, I always had a ball.

It hardly mattered that our lodgings, on Beaver Lake, were bare-bones: latrines outside, kerosene lamps, the smell of pine overpowering. There were the Boston newspapers to read, pillow fights, staying up late and eating fried Ipswich clams in paper cones.

My father, who grew up in Beverly, MA, and then went on to the University of New Hampshire, was somewhat melancholy, at least as I remember, on these trips. He didnít get on particularly well with his fatheró-his parents had divorced when he was 17, and you can imagine the scandal that caused in uptight New Englandó-but felt an obligation to at least check in on the old coot.

On the other hand, after the dog-and-pony show, and Grandpa had given us all some broken alarm clocks or stop-watchesó-he was a jeweler, who went bust in the Great Depressionó-my dad would cheer up immensely, reveling in the landscape of his youth, the cool nights, that were so different from our suburban homestead on Long Island.

After school he moved to New York City, lived at a YMCA on 34th St., began his career as a chemical engineer and then met my mother, a native of the South Bronx, who was then at home and commuting to Met Life. In the spring of 1940, Mom and a few girlfriends took a trip to Cuba, her first time out of the country, which she spoke about often as a "last fling." That November, on my fatherís birthday, Mom and Dad were married, although neither set of parents attended the wedding. She was Irish Catholic; he was Protestant and mixed marriages just werenít tolerated. But my Uncles Joe and Pete were on hand and Iím told it was quite some party that followed the ceremony. I have a number of pictures taken at that time and itís eerie to look at them: a couple deeply in love, with their whole lives in front of them, much younger than I am now. Itís funny, but photos from the 50s arenít so exuberant; I guess thatís what five kids and the struggle to make ends meet will do.

So now Iíll get to the point. Last Tuesday, we had a lavish family dinner at City Hall, the excellent steak/fish joint on Duane St. in Tribeca. (The NYC economy is so flush that not only did I have to give my credit card to the hostess at City Hall, but was required to fill out a form stating our intentions. If we didnít show up, my card would be debited $250.) As we feasted on crabmeat cocktails, oysters, steaks, Caesar salads and grilled fish, one of my brothers told a truly spooky story. He was at a barbershop the other day on 51st St., getting a trim, and after finishing the Journal, took off his glasses and mused about the upcoming day at work. Heís nearsighted, so everything was kind of fuzzy, but as he was looking at the wide expanse of mirrors he saw a man that couldíve been my fatherís twin, "a dead ringer," strange since Dad passed away in í72. Was his mind playing tricks, he wondered, and then wandered off in thought. A few minutes later, my brother, whoís 54, suddenly realized that he was looking at his own reflection. He found it all very sobering and realized the cliche that every son eventually turns into his father was true.

Stop Complaining

IíM PRO-COP: In a perfect world, if funds permitted, a beat patrolman would be on every other corner, helping the infirm across the street and shackling crack dealers and sending them off to prison. And although I find Mayor Giuliani an abhorrent, demagogic politician, an embarrassment to the city I live in, no one can dispute the fact that Giulianiís New York is safer than that of David Dinkins or Ed Koch. Crime is down, the bums have by and large flown south for the winter and thereís not the feeling of dread about walking home after dark that there was 10 years ago.

And yet, I wasnít offended in the least by Art Spiegelmanís controversial New Yorker cover last week, "41 Shots 10Ę," a pointed reference to the unconscionable killing of Amadou Diallo last month. Cops demonstrated in front of the magazineís offices, Giuliani said the drawing showed a "sick, distorted kind of prejudice" against the police department and the president of the Patrolmenís Benevolent Association, James Savage, called for a boycott of all Conde Nast publications until The New Yorkerís management apologizes. I spoke to editor David Remnick last week and he has no such intentions. "I support their right to protest," Remnick said, "itís not pleasant to hear the anger of policemen who work in danger. But Iím no enemy of the NYPD. I think the cover did its job in arousing people, to get them to talk about the situation. But it wasnít gratuitous, it wasnít something that was intended to make a splash for its own sake."

Art Spiegelman is a brilliant artist. His Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus is a contemporary masterpiece; his covers for The New Yorker, which include an Hasidic man kissing a black woman, another piece that caused silly controversy, have helped electrify a once-musty magazine. I donít agree with Spiegelmanís opinion, captured in a March 5 New York Times "Public Lives" profile, that cops, because of the Diallo killing, are now seen as bullies, but thereís nothing wrong with provoking conversation about the incident. Besides, itís a matter of the First Amendment, something that the New York Post editorial page has apparently forgotten. Iím often in sync with Post editorials, but their harangue against Spiegelman was jingoistic garbage. The paperís editorial addressed this message to Spiegelman: "If youíre burglarized, or your family is menaced by thugs, you should be consistent. Call Al Sharpton instead of 911. See what that gets you, Spiegelman, you creep." What a load.

Robert Lederman, the artist who dogs Mayor Giuliani like a piranha, sent a letter to the Post, excerpts of which follow: "Your two editorials attacking Art Spiegelman for his New Yorker magazine cover are consistent with previous attacks by you on the group A.R.T.I.S.T. and on my paintings of Mayor Giuliani as Hitler. While freely expressing your own First Amendment rights in support of the Mayorís racist police state you attack artists, writers, elected officials, reporters and civil rights leaders expressing contrary opinions as being irresponsible or worse... As his editorial mouthpiece you do us a great service by exposing Giulianiís intense hatred for artistsí freedom of speech."

But while the Postís pandering to its audience was predictable, if crude, The New York Observerís editorial on the same subject was downright hypocritical. Headlined "The Smart-A** New Yorker," the writer, perhaps owner Arthur Carter, absurdly accuses Remnick of Tina Brown-envy. Frankly, I think the Spiegelman cover was one of Remnickís smartest moves as editor, and goes a long way toward exonerating him for the October display of Clinton hagiography in the magazineís "Talk of the Town" section. That aside, what is the Observer if not a "smart-a**ed" newspaper thatís directed to approximately 2000 Upper East Siders?

The editorial reads: "But in Tina Brown and David Remnickís New Yorker, the response to the heartbreaking killing of the 22-year-old Mr. Diallo is a bad visual pun, a cocktail party quip." Can anyone deny that the entire content of The New York Observer is a "cocktail party quip"?

Even the online zine "Suck" got into the act. First, they demean Spiegelman: "Determined not to let his remaining career become a dull second act to his one great achievement, the Maus creator has spent most of the 1990s trying to shock the bourgeoisie with a series of magazine covers that could only be judged outrť by people who consider Nightline a searing indictment of American culture."

If "Suck" could muster a "second act" to rival Spiegelmanís maybe it wouldnít be considered an anachronistic, jejune website. Then, not content to crucify their own crooked mayor, Willie Brown, the San Francisco-based Sucksters take aim at Giuliani: "Next time he takes a break from maneuvering for a Senate seat and cheating on his wife, Rudy might want to consider how lucky heís been that nobody has taken the peaceful Diallo protests to their next logical stage: burning down Gracey [sic] Mansion."

JWR contributing columnist Russ Smith --- AKA "MUGGER --- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments on this article by clicking here.


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10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith