The economy in New York City is so bad, goes the line, that the Mafia has had to lay off five judges. We are in Manhattan—the Bronx and Staten Island too—and such jokes are endemic. However, it is 60° in November and the matrons on Fifth Avenue are stepping on one another at the post-Thanksgiving Day sales. It is a nasty scene, worse than Beirut.
New York in the fall, before the wintry blasts sweep between the towers, is a wonderful place. The leaves are still out in Central Park, as colorful as the plastic that rains down on Bloomingdale’s counters. The town is divided over a bitter strike at the Daily News with management still getting the paper out each day but with news vendors afraid to sell it for fear of losing their kneecaps. A paper that sold 1.1 million copies a day is now bleeding to death at maybe 350,000. They play hardball in New York.
John F. Kennedy Jr.—known locally as Superhunk—at long last argues his first case in court as a member of the New York bar, after failing the bar exam on his first two tries (tabloid headline: HUNK FLUNKS!). His Legal Aid client? A nice chap who is appealing after being found guilty of grabbing a woman’s purse at Broadway and 110th and then throwing his victim onto the subway tracks. An ordinary New York crime.
I bet my friend two bucks that, in a city of nine million souls, someone familiar will be bumped into before the weekend is over. At David Merrick’s revival of OH-KAY!, a 1930 Gershwin musical with an all-black cast, a chap slips into a seat ahead of us just as the curtain goes up. It is Robin MacNeil of the MacNeil/ Lehrer Newshour, a good pal.
It is discovered that the Mafia, changing with the times, is now into the environment. This is a step up from garbage. One of the partners behind the notorious New York garbage barge, the floating orphan that went on a long sea voyage in 1987, has been pinned in a racketeering suit as leader of the Lucchese organized-crime family that runs a garbage cartel on Long Island. Now, say police, the boys
have moved into recycling, because that’s where the money is—with illegal dumps. The greening of the mob.
The wonder of Broadway, absolutely the best thing on it, is the incredible Maggie Smith as a dotty tour guide in Peter Shaffer’s Lettice & Loveage. At intermission, a face I had not seen since college 114 years ago comes over and introduces his daughter. In a sudden midnight downpour outside a restaurant, looking in vain for a taxi ... the chap in front with an umbrella turns around. He’s from Ottawa. Six bucks. Ivana Trump obtains a court order banning her husband from selling or borrowing against any of their three posh homes to ease his growing financial woes.
The equivalent of heaven, on a Sunday afternoon, is to order the veal chop—roughly the size of a large dog—at Barolo’s, a new place in SoHo, the former warehouse district that has replaced Greenwich Village as the place to be
on Sunday afternoon. Four hundred copies of Donald Trump’s book, Trump: Surviving at the Top, once sold for $30, go on sale for 30 cents.
On the Upper East Side, in Jackie-O-land, the towers with doormen dressed like admirals stretch high above Central Park. It is sidewalkto-sidewalk limo-ville, with fur coats that brush the pavement. At dusk, a few feet away, the homeless claim their tents and plastic shields and old newspapers for the hovels that are their sleeping areas on the benches that look up to the towers that look down upon them. Michael Milken, the junk-bond king who personally made $550 million in one year and is headed to jail for 10 years, has been told that when he goes in he cannot wear his hairpiece, which a friend once described as resembling “a small dead animal.”
Leona (“only the little people pay taxes”) Helmsley, one is only faintly surprised to discover, has plenty of material in the rooms of her hotels boasting how the convicted tax evader has written a cheque for $42 million to the Internal Revenue Service. In the bar at the Plaza, a reporter who used to sit outside my office appears out of the crowd and demands a beer.
The New York City health department recalls some 750,000 condoms, many distributed free to community groups, because they may be defective. Somehow, this doesn’t seem quite the same as General Motors. When you hire a calèche for a trot through Central Park, the horses now wear a sort of loose diaper and the driver takes along a buddy as an outrider—muggers, you know.
On upper Lexington Avenue is Mortimer’s, the mandatory stop for the ladies who lunch. Exposed brick. The customary ficus benjamina in the corner by the window. The ladies who lunch are right out of The Bonfire of the Vanities, as Tom Wolfe described them having “starved themselves to perfection.” They are “X-ray ladies,” so thin that if they stand against the light you can see through them.
The menu fits. A “Baby Caesar.” Slices of toast that resemble a piece of stiffened gauze. Everyone in the restaurant kisses everyone else, which is to say they don’t kiss each other but smack the air a nanosecond away from contact, for fear of smudge. It looks like the mating dance of blue-lidded herons.
In upstate ski resorts, proprietors are inundated with applications from yuppie ski bums jettisoned by Wall Street in the downturn. Trading wine bars and face lifts, as they say, for Tbars and chair lifts. At one ski hill, normally 10 per cent of job applicants are over 30. This year: 75 per cent. At the end of the weekend, I’m owed 10 bucks.
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