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Jewish World Review July 2, 1999/ 18 Tamuz 5759


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Make Room for MUGGER --
I’M NOT BY 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 celebration of their 40th anniversary—there was no doubt who loomed largest in my snapshot memory of the mobbed cocktail party. Not socialite Brooke Astor, escorted by a young man; not Henry Kravis, accompanied by The New York Observer’s Michael M. Thomas (just kidding, Mike!); and not even Time’s Walter Isaacson, who was a pleasure to gab with about politics 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 remarks made 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 grabbed a moonlighting limo driver, who was probably killing time until Steve Florio was through glad-handing inside the Four Seasons. It was a smooth ride and I didn’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 a taxi—but it was the guy’s bad rug that made her think he was another Son of Sam. Darn that Spike Lee! Now everyone’s reliving the Summer of ’77.

It was so crowded that Mrs. M and I staked out a spot by the bar and stayed put for the first hour, chatting with the delightful D.D. Ryan, an hilarious and highbrow lady from the Upper East Side who chainsmoked, drank bourbon and told us grand stories about Manhattan social life in the 40s and 50s. The first hook that got my funny bone working was when she described her ex as a “wusband,” a word that everyone from “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker” cracks up at, she said, using another antiquated phrase that I haven’t heard in years. D.D.’s a veteran of the fashion mag 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 have much to add. Occasionally, I’d dive in to the mob, and, aside from marveling at the spread—caviar, a roasted pig, crabcakes, ham, beef and oysters—I enjoyed speaking with GQ’s Art Cooper and Alan Richman, while taking good-natured guff from host Graydon Carter, who chastised me for bringing along a camera. Uh, Graydon, Mr. Fancy-Pants, that aces you out of this week’s party pictures.

Not that the paparazzi weren’t out in full force—guests were almost blinded by all the flashbulbs 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 had to read the gossip columns to find out who, aside from the few media people I knew, was actually in attendance. I did spot the ubiquitous Fran Lebowitz, and contemplated introducing myself to Art Buchwald, but thought the better of it since I never could stomach his column. You can only whore yourself so much. So I missed Jann Wenner, Ellen Barkin, Ashford & Simpson, Martha Stewart and Tom Wolfe: Life goes on.

Early on, I did say hello to James Brady, the Hamptons denizen who’s written a score of books, as well as contributing columns for Advertising Age, Crain’s New York Business and Parade. In the late 80s, I used to clip Brady’s articles, thinking one day I’d devote a MUGGER blurb to all the 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, and never got around to giving jolly Jim a sound thumping. He may be a Democrat, and his constant nods to the Mantle-Berra-Martin Yankees and newspaper floors where reporters still drank and smoked remind me uncomfortably of Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield nostalgia, but the man has not a whit of pretentiousness about him.

After I took his picture, he politely thanked me and moved on: So I was taken aback when I rejoined D.D. and Mrs. M and there was Brady, fetching drinks for the two of them. He got a jab in: “So I finally meet the MUGGER. I had no idea what you looked like! The most conservatively dressed man in this room and you write such a monstrous column! What a Jekyll & Hyde situation!” I nodded and took note of his sartorial blunder: Jim, sir, please don’t ever let me see you again with a double-breasted suit in conjunction with a buttondown shirt. That’s deeply offensive.

Here’s an item from the Brady archives, found in the March 28, ’88, Crain’s, in which he gives advice to Peter Kalikow about the New York Post: “Beef up the financial pages. If the Post is to be our only afternoon paper, 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 late in the day. This means whatever else the Post offers, there is a reason for 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 leading reporter. Cover our town better!”

Later, I engaged D.D. in some political chatter, but that went nowhere. She reviles the holy 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 evening date, so Mrs. M and I took another spin around the room, sampled some foie gras, spoke briefly with Vanity Fair photographer Gasper Tringale and called it an evening. Both boys were awake when we got home, so while I read MUGGER 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 Bunch and then the three of us waited for the steamed vegetables and noodles to arrive from Au Mandarin.

Not quite unrelated, a few days earlier, MUGGER III’s book of choice was The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes, a funny story by Phyllis Krasilovsky that’s about a lazy bachelor who loves to eat but not clean up after himself. He runs out of dishes and eventually has to improvise: “Then one night he looked in his closet and found that there wasn’t one clean dish left! He was hungry enough 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 his ash trays.”

What’s remarkable about this story, is that casual mention of the ash tray, an endangered household 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 schoolteachers all over the country, should they have a copy of the book, skipping over the ashtray reference.

This reminded me of a smart column written on May 10 by The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby, the first winner of News Corp.’s “Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism.” Jacoby takes issue with the antismoking pandemonium that’s in vogue today and disputes, aided by a report in Regulation by Robert Levy and Rosalind Marimont, the common figure of 400,000 smoking-related deaths each year. According to the Regulation study, that number is inflated by the deaths of smokers who are also obese, had high cholesterol, abused alcohol, exercised little and had bad diets.

Jacoby isn’t advocating smoking; no one does anymore. He’s simply stating that the hysteria over its evils is overblown, as are the lawsuits and government restrictions imposed on the tobacco companies. And let’s not even get into the myths of secondhand smoke. He concludes: “For all the talk of protecting children, the average age of death from a smoking-related illness is 72. Measured by years of life lost, smoking is a much smaller problem than alcohol consumption. The number of young people killed by smoking is—zero. All this and more Levy and Marimont calmly explain. Their lucid article provides a fine corrective to the ever more hysterical tone of the antitobacco crusade.”

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.


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

©1999, Russ Smith