Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The middle-of-nowhere stuff

The Madoff in Manhattan Watch. Picture a penthouse way up in the clouds. Ruth Madoff is in shape, energetic. A big customer at the local gym where she was said to be spending a grand a week on a private trainer. Word is she paid in advance but she’s put her “series” on hold.
1/6/09. January may not be the cruelest month for Mr. Eliot but for a lot of us, it comes close. Forget the New Year business; it’s all the old stuff that we dragged along with us. The middle-of-nowhere stuff.

Yes there’s sometimes sunshine but it’s most often gray in New York from sunrise to nightfall. And cold, so-so cold not even oh-so cold, sometimes wet cold. A lot of people who can afford to get away, go away and stay away. Can you blame them?

Aside from that January has always been a month I associate with being depressed about one thing or another. The kind of depression where it’s easy to think the world is not only too much with you but not worth the time.

Then comes February, however (I always remind myself) and Valentine’s -- even if you don’t have one -- and it gets darker later, the light is returning; and we’re on our way to New Hope (the head trip, not the town).

On this date, one year ago, Senator Obama was winning the Iowa caucuses. He gave a speech. I was compelled to write about.

From NYSD, January 7, 2008:

The big news over the weekend was Obama’s winning  the Iowa caucuses ... I've seen him only twice now. The first time was when he "announced" in Springfield, Illinois. I thought at the time that he was going evoke the emotional response from young people that John Kennedy did in 1960, maybe even more so because he has the regular ordinary-kinda-guy looks that appeals more to today’s younger generation (maybe all generations?) ... (The Iowa) speech was a real winner and being delivered in the most favorable atmosphere and light, Obama looked like a real winner, head and shoulders above EVERYBODY else. He was elevated by the moment to a height that will remain.

What Mr. Obama provides by his presence, his generation, his intelligence and his oratory gifts is freshness, newness in a time when same-old-same-old is decrepit. I got an email the next morning after the speech from a friend mine in another state, a man about forty, who has been a Republican supporter since he started voting. He wrote to tell me he was for Obama.

That “friend” from “another state”
later became disenchanted with Obama and voted for John McCain.
Readers of yesterday’s NYSD may recall that among Bernie Madoff’s passions is vintage watches. When he was in London he’d visit George Somlo in the Burlington Arcade and build his collection. Bob Schulenberg reminded us that he did a sketch of George Somlo and his wife Sandi at the Autumn Antiques Show at the 7th Regiment Armory last October. Schulenberg also did a rendering of one of the Somlo watches, an 18th century timepiece with a $25,000 price tag.
A year later, the candidate of focus is Caroline Kennedy, the most prominent prospect of choice by Governor David Paterson to succeed Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Although “candidate” is a misnomer. From the Manhattan point of view I would say it’s a popular idea. I know people who are against, people who are for -- because they like her -- and people who think it’s politics as usual. Then there are those who are caught up in the Camelot image that Jackie dreamed up After the Fact. Jackie died a rich woman and because of the men in her life. But if Jackie had been born a generation later – her daughter’s generation – she’d have ended up a rich woman on her own. She was smart, she was clever and she was ambitious.

It is curious that Caroline Kennedy is abandoning her well known privacy for this Senator business. It is surprising that she seems both unprepared and uninclined to deal with the sudden exposure. Did she think the way of the world would change for her and her alone? I wonder if she is deeply shy. Sometimes we hope that when we are very shy.

I wonder who is advising her. Her interviews have been awkward and evidently do not portray the woman who is greatly admired by her friends. You do not know who those friends are, incidentally, because Caroline Kennedy’s close friends do not talk about her with anybody outside her circle and family. Privacy is as privacy does.

This creates a disconnect between her stated objective (to be appointed to the Senate seat) and her self-presentation. I don’t doubt her sincerity but right now she’s like an actress who hasn’t prepared for her audition. Most of that can be remedied with a coach, however (see NYSD 01.05.05). But under the present circumstances one can wonder if she really does want the part.

With some exceptions, those who have dealt
with her speak respectfully and at times glowingly of her intelligence and integrity – seconding the public’s image of her. Those who are less impressed are turned off by her apparent disinterest. In the last analysis, she appears to be more resolute than passionate, although some believe her early public support of Obama reflects her real “passion” politically.

Her other problem is the “privilege” aspect. Until now, bearing the mantle of her late parents and brother, her quiet, unobtrusive public presence has been treated with near reverence. Do Not Touch. No Talking. Sunday’s New York Times reported that when she took the post with the Board of Ed in New York, she was exempted from making personal financial disclosure that is required of public servants. Such exemptions are very rare.

When it came up, she forsook the salary that came with the post for a $1 a year honorarium instead. It would be less than cynical to presume that was to done to justify her exemption. Mayor Bloomberg who takes a $1 a year instead of the official mayor’s salary, provides full financial disclosure. Caroline Kennedy has stated that if she’s made Senator, she will make full disclosure. There is no reason not to believe her, as there never was. However, the matter of presumed privilege remains.

Privilege is now standard fare in modern American politics. Over the past half century, and possibly beginning with the Presidency of John F. Kennedy when security was beefed up measurably, privilege as a political image became elevated to the imperial. His assassination only strengthened that policy. It also created a mythic image that has become his patrimony. That tells you a little something about those of us who buy into it.

Yesterday in the Daily Beast Tina Brown pointed out that Caroline Kennedy is the American equivalent of the Royals whose disinterest in people personifies boredom.

Last night on my way to dinner, we were stopped at an intersection by the flashing red and blue lights of a cortege of black limousines, SUVs with serious looking security detail in the front seats. There been five vehicles in this cortege, taking the Right of Way. The world stopped for them. Whoever they are/were. Some politician. Maybe a visiting foreign dignitary, maybe a Senator or whoever (not a President – not enough security). Whoever they were, they were “important.”

New Yorkers today are used to politicians riding around in corteges of black SUVs with tinted windows and escorts and sirens to navigate their Selves through the madding crowd.

Privilege is to the politician what greed is to the banker; parallel lives. And it is bankrupting the world as we know it. We should at least expect someone who can talk to We, the People. That’s what John F. Kennedy did. That is why his daughter is even given the enormous considerations she is given. Would that it were a brilliant irony of history, and that she turned out to be her father’s daughter. The real stuff of Camelot, no doubt. Expecting the unexpected.
Last night at Swifty’s (illustration by Bob Schulenberg), the place was full up front room and back. At the table next to us, Bob and Barbara Taylor Bradford were entertaining friends and Joan Rivers. Joan’s a friend too, of course, but don’t you think she should always get separate billing? She’s been off somewhere working but she’s back in town. Joan Rivers is as much fun to be around as she is on TV. She’s a few decibels lower, of course, but she’s just a wit who’s about thirty-five years younger than she says she is. Of course she’s got the wisdom of the Methuselah. And can she talk. I don’t what they were talking about but Mrs. Taylor Bradford is right up there, 75 million books later. There were opinions and information.

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