Francis Albert Sinatra tells us that New York is the city that never sleeps. That is true, in normal times. When, in the 95° July heat, it is invaded by 4,288 delegates to a Democratic national convention, trailed by 15,000 camp followers of the press, it is a city out of control. Claustrophobia becomes a way of life.
The new name the locals have for Gotham City is Calcutta-on-the-Hudson. This is understandable since the Reagan-Bush expansive policies on deregulation have deregulated the loony bins also, thousands of marginal nut cases being loosed on the city streets that have become their bedrooms.
Along Fifth Avenue, outside Bergdorf-Goodman and the gold-plated Trump Tower and Salvatore Ferragamo’s $175 ties, just past the Plaza, America’s remnants litter the sidewalk. As the limos pick up the high officials and more plush delegates of the political party that represents the unwashed, the unions, the blacks, the poverty-stricken, there are the young men, halfnaked, sitting with cardboard signs stating, HOMELESS—VICTIM OF AIDS. It’s the city that doesn’t care. Or is immune. Or is paralysed.
The president-to-be, William Jefferson Clinton, goes out every morning—as all modem politicians do—for a jog. This is in Central Park, where on any average day a clutch of joggers are mugged, robbed or chased, terrified, back to their expense-account hotels.
Presidential candidates suffer no such bother, being monitored by flunkies, bodyguards, public relations managers and such. Clinton cannot really jog; he is a big man—just a tiny lilliletre short of George Bush’s 6 feet, three inches—and awkward physically. He takes 15 minutes to jog a mile. (Can we imagine anyone clocking Harry Truman on his morning strolls?) As his minder explains, “He starts slow and tapers off.”
He is not there to jog, of course. It is to give the photographers a TV bite, to show Ameri. cans that a 45-year-old president-to-be is fit. The serious nature of it all is demonstrated by the fact that he gets in a car to go and jog. As he is about to enter, a man approaches and thrusts
a newspaper and a pen at him, requesting an autograph.
As Clinton is about to sign, the man shoves a fetus in a plastic bag in his face. Clinton throws the newspaper to the ground and jumps in the car. He then jumps out—I like a guy with a temper—and hurls the pen to the ground. The city that never slips.
There isn’t a cop in New York who doesn’t have a New York accent. There isn’t a waiter in New York who doesn’t have a foreign accent. Everywhere there are signs—DAN GOE HOME. VOT FOR DAN. Clinton obviously has a sense of humor—the warm-up singer before his speech is a woman named Jennifer.
On the day the Democrats arrive, there are 15 human beings murdered in New York and eight wounded. That’s not even a one-day record. Four Catholic priests are robbed at gunpoint. A Clinton delegate from San Diego proudly points out that 104 delegates are
openly gay or lesbian. My favorite banner inside Madison Square Garden is held aloft by a delegate: SAVE THE PLANET, KILL YOURSELF.
We are all agog at the prospect of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, the finest political orator in captivity, delivering the formal nominating speech for William Jefferson, whose father was killed in a highway accident three months before he was born, whose alcoholic stepfather beat his mother, who became a Rhodes Scholar and went to Yale and plays the saxophone wearing shades on the Arsenio Hall show and does a great Elvis imitation.
We are aware that Clinton, in a taped telephone conversation, mumbled about Cuomo possibly being a member of the Mafia and we await, with trepidation and suspense, the Cuomo speech. Will he simply shame Clinton with his eloquence by comparison, scarcely mentioning his name?
Cuomo does not mention his name once. He mentions it 28 times in a 27-minute speech—surpassing the mention 24 times of the pronoun “I.” Three, four mentions would have satisfied the Clinton crowd; eight would have delighted them; 28. ... ? Here is a man who seriously wants to be secretary of state.
On the comer of Seventh Avenue and 33rd, outside the Garden where Joe Louis reigned and Bill Bradley did hoops and Mark Messier now muscles, Marilyn Monroe appears, a blonde in red lipstick, eff-me pumps and a white pleated dress that spiralled in the heat bouncing off the sidewalk. She puckered her lips and twirled her skirt, saying, “Give my best to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur,” before one of the 2,000 cops on hand to keep order said: “Take off, Marilyn. Get back in your coffin.” Down the block an Uncle Sam on stilts was pushing Jews for Jesus: “He won’t raise taxes, he’ll raise souls from the dead.”
At the piano bar in the Pierre a philosopher with a Greek accent is discussing Hitler with a Brit: “No mind so simple could have achieved what he did. Craziness is a matter of greatness.” Late at night, all thoughts seem profound.
There are 11,787 registered yellow cabs in New York. Since there are 15,000 alleged members of the media mob here, this would seem almost an equal battle, delegates, as we know, of the working-class party immune from taxis, since they all seem to have chauffeured limos the length of an expense account.
Inside the Garden, a speaker continually refers to “George Herbert Hoover Bush.” Another gets a chant going: YO GEORGE. GET A GRIP. GET A LIFE. GET ANOTHER JOB.
New York, very impatient, wants another president.
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