Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A very quiet Monday in New York

Walking along Fifth Avenue. 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
February 3, 2009. Sunny winter’s day yesterday in New York; a very quiet Monday in midtown Manhattan.

The talk was about Bernie Madoff
in a midtown restaurant that the famous swindler frequented often. Asked about him, the waiter remembered him well. Why? Because he was “one of those black cards.” Black cards? Yeah, you know, the American Express Titanium.

In case you’re one of the seven people in Manhattan who doesn’t know what that is, it’s the Credit Card To End All Credit Cards. Just having it means you’re loaded. (Although nowadays I wouldn’t bank on it.) When it came out, it had an annual fee of $2,500 and you were expected to charge a quarter million bucks a year on it. Or preferably more. And for that you could go anywhere your little heart desired. Upgrades as plentiful as M&Ms and the service staffs bowing and kowtowing. When your tchotkes become objets.

I think that’s the way the creators saw it. The waiter at the midtown restaurant who remembered Bernie Madoff and his Titanium saw it another way. “Everyone knows those people with that black card are the world’s worst tippers. Bernie Madoff never once even left ten percent on his bill, and he came in here all the time.”

Meanwhile, if you didn’t know already,
a web site called The Pacific Gate Post has posted a “letter” allegedly possibly maybe-who-knows written by the old el cheapo black carder himself. Called “Bernie Madoff – a Letter of Explanation?” the editors claim that this epistle was found in the trash outside Bernie’s Upper East Side co-op, all balled up, like someone had second thoughts and threw it out. Why of course.
Bernie in his penthouse apartment.
In the letter, which argues for common sense in the matter, the letter’s “Bernie” basically says the obvious: You think he was the only one on Wall Street ripping off the public and rewarding himself big time? Read it, if you haven’t. True or false, it raises some salient questions for the perspicaciously inclined among us.

More Meanwhile Alexandra Lebenthal, our esteemed investment guru, has written another one of her thought provoking commentary-as-short-stories for today’s NYSD. Called “Wallflowers,” Alexandra takes a look at what that $1.2 million John Thain spent on spiffing up his (former) office at Merrill Lynch meant in the old time economy of working people crunching numbers on Wall Street. Alexandra points out, among other things, the class lines that these offices drew not just for Mr. Thain but many many others in positions similar to his. Those days, it would seem, are gone. If not forever, at least for some time.

Liz Smith celebrated her 86th birthday yesterday. I mention the number because Liz is wont to and also I know girls half her age who still lie about theirs, clinging to their thirty-something imagined images. She’s a simple girl yet so diverse she’s hard to define. If Mae West were Peter Pan, maybe. Maybe it’s just that she still is a kid.

I’ve been to a few of Liz’ birthday parties. One of the most memorable was her 80th which was given for her at the old Le Cirque (when it was located in the Palace Hotel). A very young Michael Buble sang and hundreds of her nearest and dearest serenaded her with Happy Birthday.

When I say “hundreds of nearest and dearest,” it’s almost not hyperbole because there are many people within Liz’ sphere of interest – professionally and socially – who feel very close to her. I’ve been an admirer since she first started her own column back in the early 70s. I held her in such esteem from afar for so long that it never occurred to me that I might one day count her as a personal friend. It was only after we became friends about ten years ago that I really learned what a truly awe-inspiring woman she is.

Liz is one of those givers in life. She’s the real thing. There’s no fanfare or razz-matazz about it; she just does. When we first knew each other and I was telling her one day that JH and I were going to start the NYSD, the first thing she said was: “do you need any money?” I was floored. Imagine; she just came out and asked me. And she asked me again a couple times after that, just to be sure. We didn’t, as it happened, but nevertheless ... That’s a very small example of her largesse. There are all kinds of stories of her generosity with her time and her money to assist or help out personal friends, public charities and anyone else who needs a hand. When her 80th came, she asked anyone and everyone who knew her who might get her a gift to give it to the city to help the citizens. They raised hundreds of thousands and then later, through her Fete de Swifty, she raised millions more for city programs.

I wouldn’t describe Liz as religious per se
but she is a good Samaritan. A lover of a good time, lots of laughs, not to mention good books, good movies, good shows, good interviews, she is too. At 86, I’d peg her as a girl now in her late 30s who’s finally got the lay of the land and is looking to make the most of it for herself and everybody else she comes in contact with. When she got off the bus in New York sixty years ago, Walter Winchell was the undisputed king of the Broadway columnists. For anybody getting off that same proverbial bus today with stars in his or her eyes, it’s now Miz Liz who wears that crown. And the luckier we all are for it. So you see, there’s always something to be thankful for in this heckuva-town.
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