Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dressed to ...

Andy McDowell slides through her two daughters on stage last night at Dressed to Kilt. 9:30 PM. Photo: JH.
March 31, 2009. Sunny and brisk yesterday in New York.

The heaviest mail we got yesterday was about the man on Madison Avenue last Saturday who was looking for money to feed his family. I was surprised by the response, which was much greater than the response to the stories about the two countesses and their marital woes.

There are many who have had that experience of being approached on the street. Quite a few of us who are wary of people on the streets asking for money. There is a commonly held notion that the simple act of asking for charity is an “easy way out,” and deems them unworthy.

I don’t see it that way. Getting to that point in life means already having gone through some kind of degradation and deprivation, like losing a job, a home, a personal loss like a partner or a child. To ask a stranger for help one must put aside all personal pride just to survive the day. A lot of us have no idea what it’s like to be caught in a bind without money for food. Many of us are overfed as it is. Some believe there are all kinds of services out there to take care of these people. That is a false assumption many times. Many times the self is hard to move. “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out ...” is not just a song, but an anthem about the human spirit.
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Back in the 1990s I had a conversation one day with my now late friend Dorothy Hirshon about this very subject. Dorothy was an activist when it came to charity (she was a big animal rescuer too). She was also a repository of cultural, social and historical information, and loved sharing it. In her late twenties and early thirties during the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression, she was a young, beautiful woman married first to Jack Hearst, one of W.R.’s sons, and then to Bill Paley, the young radio tycoon.

The very rich, she pointed out, continued to live comfortably even if not as grandly as before for some of them. However, she said, there were also a lot of panhandlers around, people without money or shelter, and they were everywhere. It wasn’t uncommon for a man to show up at someone’s kitchen door looking for food. Very often he’d be invited in to sit at the kitchen table and served up something hearty and warm.

Dorothy anticipated the situation we are in now and expressed wariness about these times. “We aren’t the kind of people who will invite someone into our kitchen and feed him a meal anymore.” Alas, and often for good reason.

Nevertheless, The response to my story about the man on Madison Avenue is reason for all of us to take heart. There is a lot of it out there.
A taste of last night's Dressed to Kilt by JH. More video footage coming tomorrow ...
Last night in New York was the annual Dressed to Kilt event, this time held at M2 at 530 West 28th Street, presented by Glenfiddich.

M2 is an adjunct to, or part of a club called the Mansion, located way over west between 10th and 11th Avenues -- the equivalent to the middle-of-nowhere to this Upper East Sider. And with a mob outside.

I’ve been going to the annual Dressed to Kilt (“A Scottish Homecoming”) for several years now, and in the past two or three years have been one of the “judges” (don’t ask). Last year Donald Trump was one of the judges (there are about fifteen or twenty). This is kind of a rowdy, get-down event although very nicely done and a great promotion of Scotland and its commercial activities. What used to be called “good, clean fun.” And funny. I was surprised to see The Donald there. He is, a tycoon, after all. But he was there, did his part -- waved his number cards (categories: 1, 2 and 3 -- 3 being the best) – and I’m sure it was in some way good for business. He was slated for this year’s according to yesterday’s Page Six. Uh-uh; not this year. Sir Sean Connery and Lady Connery were also the honorary hosts.
I got there about 7:30 and went backstage right away. Backstage in this case was one of the club rooms with its miles of leather banquettes and long oval bar (brick walls). Mobbed with the event people, makeup and hair people, costume assistants, PR assistants, and the band of “models” ranging from athletes, ballet dancers and actresses, to a fiddling quartet of Scottish lads and lassies dancing a jig. There were dancers, acrobats, beauty contest winners, rock singers, all in Scottish tartans in a wide variety of designs and concoctions. Introduced by Dr. Geoffrey Carroll, one of the “Kilt” creators, and the models came out one or two at a time, walked the runway to the end where a bank of photographers were snapping away, as the crowd applauded and whistled and occasionally cat-called. The show ran about a half hour forty mihutes. Lots of applause, lots of laughter, lots of smiling.

That’s why I like “Dressed to Kilt.” It’s just fun and funny, just this side of zany. Yet it’s a completely commercial enterprise, advertising, promoting Scottish business in America, unabashedly, and benefiting the Friends of Scotland charity. And with lots of laughter, how could it go wrong? Answer: it can’t and doesn’t.

While I was sitting by the runway waving my “judge” cards for each contestant, JH was in another part of the room making some videos of the evening. We’re going to run those tomorrow along with a slew of photos I took backstage of everyone getting ready and partaking of the totally stocked open bar.

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