Friday, January 2, 2009

All is Quiet in New York

Looking west towards the Empire State Building from the FDR. 4:15 PM. Photo: JH.
1/2/09. Happy New Year. The weatherman forecast snow and winds although New York saw only flurries and not much in the way of wind. The city was quiet to these eyes on New Year’s Eve although the cabbies were busy. I went to dinner at Swfity’s with friends I dine with every New Year’s. Many of us had the Dover Sole, preceded by by Corncakes and Caviar with Crème Fraiche. Dessert of choice: Caramel Ice Cream with Butterscotch Sauce. A glass of champagne came with the dinner. No one wanted it as I was at a table of mainly non-drinkers.

Meanwhile, there were a lot of New Yorkers with their feet planted firmly in the sand ... or the snow ... depending. In St. Barth’s it was wall-to-wall/yacht-to-yacht boldface and son of boldface and movie stars galore, such as:  Richard Gere and Carey Lowell, Daniel Craig, Marc Jacobs, Beyonce and Jay Z, Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Buffett, Gilles Bensimon, Patrick Demarchelier, Russell Simmons, LA Reid, Jon Bon Jovi, Rupert and Wendi Murdoch, Ziyi Zhang, Ron Perelman, Peter Brant and Stephanie Seymour, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Letterman, Paul Allen, Richard Meier, Lorne Michaels, Brad Grey, Larry Gagosian, Mike Ovitz, Penny Marshall, Giorgio Armani, Steven Dorff, Roger Waters, Clive Davis, George Soros, Bryan Lourd, Zani Gugelmann, Bettina Zilkha, Valesca Guerrand-Hermes, Andrew Saffir and Daniel Benedict, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Tory Burch, Aby Rosen and Samantha Boardman, Nate Berkus, Olivia Palermo, Kelly Klein.

The hot parties, according to my little birdie, were Larry Gagosian's sit down dinner at Nikki Beach, Paul Allen's pre-New Year's Eve party on his monumental floating palace Octopus; Mariah Carey's New Year's Eve performance, and Ron Perelman's veddy exclusive New Year's Eve party. (Ed’s note: at my dinner at Swifty’s one of the guests was talking about Paul Allen’s monumental yacht when it was in Capri last summer. Mr. Allen throws all of his garbage into the lake – the lake being the Mediterranean – before he ships out. This disposal technique outraged the local population as well as the annual visitors who see it as just another arrogant gesture toward everybody else, not to mention the environment. Is it the same in the Caribbean?)

Page Six in the New York Post ran a picture yesterday of George Soros at one of those parties, sitting on a lounge between two younger (although not young) women. One woman looked like she was trying to manipulate the hem of her dress from under the foot of Mr. S. and the other woman looked like she was taking in the scenery while waiting for a bus to take her to another destination and maybe slightly less boredom.

Hot spots this season in St. Barths: Maya's, L'Esprit de Salines, Le Ti St Barth, and after hours spot Yacht Club.

Meanwhile out in Aspen, as you may have read here early last night if you were reading (and presumably you had better things to do), they had a bomb scare because some guy left some explosives in an alleyway behind a couple of banks. The man was on vid cam and was later identified as James Blanner, age 72, of Denver. Mr. Blanner had been in trouble before and served time for forgery. This little foray into botched extortion was prettily presented: bombs wrapped as Christmas presents. But then something happened along the way and Mr. Blanner abandoned his project, leaving the bombs behind in an alley where they were discovered and detonated. Meanwhile Mr. Blanner went up into the mountains and shot himself to death.

The upshot of this deadly caper was that it just about ruined business and a lot of partying spirit in the town’s biggest night of the year, business-wise. Mr. Blanner managed to make it harder for all of those around him who, like himself, needed the money, probably for their rent. Of course he also made it harder for the boldfaced names who were in Aspen instead of St. Barth’s. And there were plenty of those. So everybody lost.

The Aspen perp-botch has been interpreted by a lot of people on the web as a kind of consumer-insurgency. Mr. Blanner is from the Viet Nam War generation. During the late 60s and early 70s, Colorado was a destination for a lot of then young people who were looking for an alternative life-style, who were looking to simplify their lives and get closer to the earth, a kind of get-back-to-the-basics way of life.

A friend of mine, a New York boy who’d done the Collegiate/Ivy League undergrad/business school/Wall Street entrepreneurship route gave it all up in the early 70s and hit out for Aspen. It was paradise for this guy and a lot of others during those palmy days of less is more and cabin people living. A lot these “expatriates” from convention were children of the well-to-do and the upper middle income classes. The dropping out by starting out afresh.

Then came the roaring late 80s and the new tycoons, and more more more, flying in on their own jets and building mega-chalets to match their bank accounts and egos. My friend, who’d long settled in there and lived the ascetic lifestyle of his generation’s bliss, hated the scene. He once told me that every time he passed the airport with its wall-to-wall private jets, he could only think that if it didn’t risk the possibility of actually hurting somebody (or killing them), he’d love to blow up every plane in the place. My friend, incidentally, is as pacifist as they come (he’d been a Marine also), would never do such a thing but his attitude mirrors that of the community that was virtually driven from the place by the wealth that took over and then congratulated itself for its economic transformation. Perhaps Mr. Blanner was one of those guys. Turned desperate.

Meanwhile, down among the sheltering palms in the land of the lucky (and now not-so-lucky) and rich and golfers, Palm Beach, the town is recovering from the initial shock of Bernard Madoff’s Swindle where he broke many of his neighbors and their families. There were those who lost but many more who never went near Mr. Madoff and did not lose. So, as a result, Palm Beach, so they say, is back to its old self again with parties parties parties and great weather, great golf and egads. Life has returned to normal. Ish.

Which brings me back to our table down at Swifty’s on New Year’s Eve. The talk was about Bernie Madoff, surprise, surprise. A bore, you ask?  Not yet anyway; a tale that just keeps growing like Dickens. Nicholas Nickleby Bleak House.  Not quite. At least not yet. I was telling my dinner partners the story I heard about a man who’d met Mr. Madoff in his neighborhood. They were contemporaries. They’d see each other passing by, the way New Yorkers become familiar with their neighbors faces without ever knowing them. They both often ate at a local eatery (Donohues on Lexington and 64th where a lot of very well known  -- even chichi -- New Yorkers eat when they want a real home-style meat and potatoes meal). The two familiar faces would exchange pleasantries.

One day Mr. Madoff suggested they grab some dinner together, which they did. The conversation was pleasant, each man telling the other something about himself (his business). The man found Mr. M to be a kind of nice, unsophisticated guy. And when they were finishing up with coffee, Mr. M told the man how nice it was to get to know someone with whom he didn’t have to talk Wall Street, etc. ... and with that, the man noticed that Mr. M’s tone of voice changed and he began to talk about his “fund.” He went into what the man recognized as a sales pitch – although clever and careful. He told the man how he, Bernie, would let the man into his “fund,” something that he did for no one because everyone was dying to be included in on his guidance.

The next day the man called an old friend whom he relied on for financial advice and told him about Bernard Madoff’s fund and how he was considering putting some money into it. What did he think? The old friend listened and then called back a few days later, having looked into it. The old friend advised the man that it seemed like a scam; he advised him not to go into it.

Several days later, not having seen or called Mr. M, the man got a phone call from him. They had a friendly chat about many things and none of them about business. Then just before they were to hang up, Mr. M -- again his voice changing tone that had a kind of harshness and what the man perceived as a kind of desperateness -- went for the kill. Sorry, wrong number. The man didn’t go for it. This occurred just a couple of weeks before the news broke. Bernie Madoff was running for dear life, his life.