I had lunch today at Ammos Estiatorio on Vanderbilt Avenue with my friend John Leo. John, who had a long and distinguished career as a columnist at US News & World Report, is a resident scholar at the Manhattan Institute, from whose parapets he wags a stern and scornful finger at the soggy ignorance of our culture. When we met in the early ’80s, he was working at Time, writing cover stories on ice cream and other urgent topics of another dark and stormy era, and I was working in the PR agency of his good friend, the much-missed John Scanlon. When I was thinking of becoming a writer, John was one of two writers whose advice I sought, the other being Nicholas Pileggi, then of New York magazine and more recently, of Wise Guys and Goodfellas and Casino. Both gave me identical advice: “Write as much as you for wherever you can, and go to a lot of parties.” It was good advice, and I pass it along to all the whippersnappers who come to me for guidance, always giving appropriate credit to those with whom it originated. Thanks, men.
I watched the ceremonies marking the end of baseball at Yankee Stadium, and as pleasant as it was to wallow in nostalgia, it all felt a little manufactured to me. I’ve always enjoyed going to Yankee Stadium; coming out of the concourse into the grandstand and beholding the field is really a special thing that never fails to deliver a thrill. But let’s face it–the concourse is narrow and gloomy and the bathrooms are smelly, and the seats, as at so many ballparks and theaters, were installed at a time when people were smaller and thinner. Hopefully the new park will be an improvement, without ruining the central attraction. What has made going to see the Yankees play has always beenthe Yankees–their talent, their confidence, their starpower, their swagger. It was very special after the game when Derek Jeter led the team on a lap of the field, doffing their caps and saluting the fans as they went. So many heroes–Jeter, Rivera, A-Rod, Mussina, Giambi. But the reality is that this is a third place club that hasn’t been in the Series since 2003 and hasn’t won a championship since 2000. Not bad for any other team, not good enough for the Yankees. If they want to continue the great tradition across the street in the new place, they’re going to have to get younger and better.
I had a very nice time Friday night at a fundraising dinner marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Hudson Valley Writers Center, a terrific organization that celebrates, teaches, and promotes writing. The event honored Ben Cheever (above, though murky)who is quite a good writer and a good friend of writers, and as worthy a recipient as I could think of. The event was held at the awesome Sleepy Hollow Country Club in a building which wa designed by Stanford White. It was my good fortune to share a table with Jerri Lynn Field of the Writers Center, Jeff Gordinier of Details and his charming wife (Jeff and I once worked for EW together), and some other good people. The entertainment was provided by Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States. I enjoyed the poems he read quite a bit, especially this one, called Adage.
Adage by Billy CollinsWhen it’s late at night and branches are banging against the windows, you might think that love is just a matter . of leaping out of the frying pan of yourself into the fire of someone else, but it’s a little more complicated than that. . It’s more like trading the two birds who might be hiding in that bush for the one you are not holding in your hand. . A wise man once said that love was like forcing a horse to drink but then everyone stopping thinking of him as wise. . Let us be clear about something. Love is not as simple as getting up on the wrong side of the bed wearing the emperor’s clothes. . No, it’s more like the way the pen feels after it has defeated the sword. It’s a little like the penny saved or the nine dropped stitches. . You look at me through the halo of the last candle and tell me love is an ill wind that has no turning, a road that blows no good, . but I am here to remind you, as our shadows tremble on the walls, that love is the early bird who is better late than never.
Elizabeth Austin, a vice president of corporate communications at Playboy in Chicago, as well as a friend of Joanne Gruber, as well as an alumna of The Washington Monthly, as well as a friend of Nick Thompson, has, in the course of other correspondence, asked “Did I tell you how much I enjoyed The Coup? It spoke to me particularly, as I was working for the Lieutenant Governor at the time…”) Well, no, Elizabeth, but better late than never. Some messages later, after noting that she really didn’t know me well enough to send me poetry, she sent me a poem. And a nice one it is.
Literature in the 21st Century
by Ronald Wallace
Sometimes I wish I drank coffee
or smoked Marlboros, or maybe cigars˜
yes, a hand-rolled Havana cigar
in its thick, manly wrapping,
the flash of the match between
worn matchbook and stained forefinger,
the cup of the palm at the tip,
the intake of air, and the slow and
luxuriant, potent and pleasurable
exhale. Shall we say also a glass
of claret? Or some sherry with its
dark star, the smoke blown into the bowl
of the glass, like fog on portentous
morning, the rich man-smell of gabardine
and wool, of money it its gold clip?
Sometimes I wish I had habits
a man wouldn’t kick, faults a good man could
be proud of. I’d be an expatriate from
myself, all ink-pen and paper in a Paris café
where the waiters were elegant and surly,
the women relaxed and extravagant
with their bobbed hair and bonbons, their
perfumed Galoises, their oysters and canapés,
and I’d be writing about war and old losses˜
man things-and not where I am, in this
pristine and sensitive vessel, all
fizzy water, reticence, and care, all reduced
fat and purified air, behind my deprived
computer, where I can’t manage even
a decaf cap, a mild Tiparillo, a glass of
great-taste-less-filling light beer.
I wish I felt better about the state of things. I wish that Jim Cramer wasn’t saying we had just averted a Depression, and I wish the New York Post wasn’t reporting that we were 500 trades away from a meltdown, and I wish Chris Dodd and John Boehner weren’t on TV saying that the Ben Bernanke had used language so apocalyptic that they couldn’t repeat it in front of George Stephanopoulos and his viewers. What I really wish is that Paul Krugman felt better about Hank Paulson‘s plan. As Joe Nocera pointed out in the Times on Saturday, the Treasury Department is really kind of making things up as they go along, and now it really seems like what we’re doing is giving total control to Hank and telling him to solve things. Which may be fine. It worked when Felix Rohatyn ran Big MAC and pulled New York City through the crisis. So often in life, what’s true is that while would like to have a great plan, and one would dearly love to have the best plan, what one really needs is a good plan, or failing that, just a damn plan that everyone can get behind! William Kristol, who is usually a simple-minded thinker, says that our goal in this predicament is to try to limit the damage to that which occurs in a typical recession, which seems to me like a pretty good goal. Given that the crucial part of this problem seems to be a crisis of confidence, maybe lit’s best if we let Hank Paulson become a big old saucer into which we can pour all this panic and allow it to cool. Hope so. But I’d feel better if people were listening to Krugman.
We got a visit at the office yesterday from the great James Ellroy, the author of L.A. Confidential, American Tabloid and other classic too numerous to mention. The classy Ellroy brought champagne for the staff, regaled us with memories of his favorite Playboy jokes and cartoons, talked about recording pornographic grunts for Velvet magazine in the early eighties, appreciated Jennifer Thiele, advised Chip Rowe to ask for $25,000 for his life rights, compared Barack Obama to a lemur, admired Chris Napolitano‘s hair, commented on the book Steve Hodel wrote about the Black Dahlia, and announced that he had just agreed to write four more pieces for us that will comprise a memoir of the women in his life. Terrific news indeed. (Above right, James with the valiant Amy Loyd and Chris of the gifted hair, and left, he and me.)
The New York premiere of the documentary In the Family was held at the Paley Center in Manhattan the other night. Underwrtten by the Playboy Foundation, the film examines the emotions and issues that arise when a woman learns that she has a genetic predisposition to breast or ovarian cancer. With intelligence, anger, sadness and surprising cheer, the documentarian Joanna Rudnick examines this subject, and, most dramatically, chooses herself as the lens through which to examine this topic. Because of the devastating history of these diseases in her family, Rudnick had herself tested, and found that she carries a gene that has left her terribly vulnerable to these illnesses. It’s an enormously affecting film; as Rudnick explores the possibility of having her breasts and ovaries removed by surgery, we, too, are gripped by the terrible choice she must make between gambling with her life or sustaining major, life-changing procedures. Along the way, Rudnick talks with other women who faced the same choice; candidly and sympathetically shows the impact her condition has on her boyfriend; and looks at the political and business angles on her condition. Telling a story like this through the prism of one’s own life has to be one of the hardest things a journalist can do, and Rudnick does it brilliantly. (Above, Rudnick, second from right, discusses the film with Dr. David Fishman, Tania Simoncelli of the ACLU, film subject Luis Redrazza and Pat Mitchell of the Paley Center.
My friend David Jensen treated me to a day at Shea yesterday, where the first place New York Mets showed that poor relief pitching and a lack of timely hitting will ruin the Sunday afternoon of many a fan. Of course, whether the Mets won or lost wasn’t really relevant, since Dave and I had more fun just talking about wives, children, work, career, politics and secret parking places. Thanks, Dave!
Above right: The Mets’ David Wright hit two homers, but the rest of the line-up acted like a bunch of banjo hitters in making Atlanta’s pitching staff look like Atlanta’s old pitching staff. The scoreboard tells the tale: the Braves put up a five-spot in the ninth to steal a win.