Thursday, January 8, 2009

Complex Storms

Washington Square in a side mirror. 9:00 PM. Photo: JH.
1/8/09. The “complex storms” the weatherman forecast for this neck of the woods bypassed New York leaving us a lotta rain and not-that-cold temperatures. I was hoping for a good snowstorm to slow down the city that’s definitely slowed down already, and add a little peacefulness to the potion.

I think the last great wintertime here was 93/94 when the East River channel was jammed with brackish colored, chunky sheets of ice, and the snowbanks on the streets were so high in some places that people had to wait their turn to move ahead. And, interestingly, they waited. And patiently. Snowstorms bring out the best in city folk.

Susan Bell and Joy Ingham
Today at Michael’s: Ric Burns, docu-filmmaker was lunching at the corner table. Next door was the mogul, Herb Siegel with the urbane agent, Lionel Larner. In the bay, Charlie Rose. I had lunch with Joy Ingham and Susan Bell who work with City Harvest in fundraising. I first learned about City Harvest through Joy who is a close friend of mine. She is not a flaming liberal (or conservative for that matter) but works like the devil to raise money to help City Harvest feed those of us (and there are a lot of us) who don’t have enough to eat everyday. If you don’t know about City Harvest, go to: It’s man at his best. It’s brotherly love. Sisterly love. These are extremely helpful concepts, especially in times of crisis.

I go on, I know. Next May,
City Harvest has its annual On Your Plate luncheon which is held at the Metropolitan Club. Last year, they honored Dr. Mehmet Oz and he spoke. I’d never heard him before (one of the very few I’ve since learned). He was very funny, and very smart. I was impressed by his delivery. I was mesmerized and inspired by his consciousness of good health. That is not to say I have followed it intensely or, at times, even casually.

This year, they are “honoring” this writer for reasons best explained by them. Or not explained. The idea of being honored, a modus operandi I’ve been watching closely in charity circles here in New York for a number of years, is, to my mind, often overstating the case. Not all the time, but many times, maybe much of the time. For the simple reason that in the best of all possible worlds, we owe this business of “honor”able behavior to each other and to ourselves.

That said, this year, I’m the honoree. And I’m going to talk about food, since it’s a food charity. I’m going to talk about what it’s like to break bread day in and day out with the Best Upper Sets (etc.). Not being amusing or smart like Dr. Oz, or even being a gourmet or an epicurean, I’ll have to rely on my recollection of those tables and their inhabitants. I hope to hell it works.

In the meantime, the luncheon is on May 13th at the Metropolitan Club and the ticket is $350. If you’ve never eaten at a private affair in this magnificent club that was conjured up by J. Pierpont Morgan so as to accommodate friends who couldn’t get into other “select” clubs, it’s worth the ticket. The building is close to its centennial and it remains one of the great monuments to the life and style of what Mark Twain dubbed The Gilded Age.

JP Morgan would have had a great deal to say about where we are today. I often wonder if we would be where we are today if a mind and sensibility like that of JP Morgan were in charge. That might be stretching it because Morgan is now mythic, thanks to Jean Strouse, his biographer. But Morgan’s power was his ability to control the appetites of his confreres. Or at least dominate them (all the while indulging his own). Today we have Gordon Gecko tipping the scales.

Also at Michael’s today, I saw Carmen as she was sweeping out of the restaurant. She was lunching with Katie Ford (Ford Models) and she stopped by the table of Anne Slater and Grace Mirabella.

Carmen is even more fantastic looking in person because besides having that legend-like beauty, she’s full of beans, works all the time and looks for the light. So she’s fun to be with. And she’s smart. Although, as you’ve probably read somewhere, here maybe, Carmen had money with Bernie Madoff. For a long time. Not a lot of money compared to some of those Madoff clients, but substantial for a woman now in her mid-seventies who’s been working to support herself and family (at times) since she was fourteen.

Fortunately Carmen has the wisdom of a woman her age and the optimism of a fourteen-year-old. That’s her annuity, and not a bad one to have these days.

In New York, wherever I go, the talk gets around to Bernie Madoff. Someone knows someone who ... It so happens that at this very time – perhaps it isn’t a coincidence – things have slowed down noticeably business-wise. The numbers are not only stacking into statistics but it’s in the air. Loss of funds, loss of resources.

Bernie Madoff could become the devil incarnate. That is a rough thing to say about another man. Wherever you hear about him, whenever you hear about people who knew him, who met him, who talked to him, they all liked him because he was a genuinely likeable man. A friend. A father. A husband. A brother, an uncle. A son. Except. Not unlike the good times many of us have been experiencing for these past ten or more years was Bernie Madoff. Too good to be true and totally believed.

Madoff wearing his perennial wry smile
Last night at dinner we were talking about the business of The Bonus. That seven or eight (or nine) figure bonus that Wall Streeters have been paying out to themselves for the last couple of decades. That bonus that in the past seven or eight years has run into the scores of billions (for a few thousand people) annually.

Many of us know Wall Street people – men and women – who have been pulling down multimillion dollar annual incomes because of the bonus system. I was telling my dinner partners about a young woman I know who is in her thirties and got a five million dollar bonus one year. She was outraged that it wasn’t bigger and went in to her boss to protest. She came out with an $8 million bonus.

One of my dinner partners who works in that milieu explained to me something that I didn’t know. Wall Streeters are obsessed with The Bonus. They live and die for the bonus. It’s all about the bonus. And the modus operandi (that term again) has always been, no matter how big the bonus – one, ten, fifty million – to protest that it’s enough, that they deserved more. Many would, like the young woman I know, get more. Because of this, my dinner partner explained, in his opinion, people began to think nothing of paying $8 million dollars for a three-bedroom apartment.

This led to the subject of private jets. We all know people who only fly private. Another dinner partner told us about a woman friend who told him how she and her family got all the way out to Aspen when she suddenly discovered she’d forgot to bring her son’s skis.
Gulfstream's G650.
So, after they disembarked, the jet had to fly back to New York to get the kid’s skis. Even a pair of skis had its own private jet. That was before we got to slippery slopes.

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