The bright young women of New York

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The Metro-North as seen from atop the Park Avenue tunnel on 97th Street. 8:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, August 22, 2022.  Another beautiful, sunny weekend in New York, with temps in the upper 70s to the upper 80s, and hints of rainstorms that never actualized. At least by the time of this writing (8/21 9 p.m.), there’s no sign of it. 

This past weekend seemed especially quiet. One measure of mine is the number of parking spaces available in the neighborhoods that I travel to. Usually on a Saturday and then especially on Sunday, there are few if any available. Meaning: the town’s around. This past weekend, however, there were so many empty spaces it that it looked like almost everyone had left.

Park Avenue mid-Sunday afternoon.

Of course we are now just days away from September where everything always changes in American life. Schools open, vacations are over. And it’s back to work. Although the past three years has altered that routine for many of us, still leaving its mark.

Here at the NYSD, these have been very quiet months, leaving us to our own devices of interest and maybe some laughs. Today we’re sharing a couple of moments from our archives involving, separately,  two remarkable New York women — both born and bred native New Yorkers as well.  And only five years ago. What struck me when I first came upon this Diary was how different the overall atmosphere of city life was compared to these “quieter” times of today.

Friday, January 20, 2017. Inauguration Day for our 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. Yesterday was mild, overcast, and in the high 40s. I had to go to lunch at Michael’s, and traffic mid-crosstown, was on the quiet side for that time of weekday. The barriers are still up on the sidewalks of both blocks south of 57th Street and by Trump Tower. However, the crowds had otherwise subsided from the mob scenes of the last several weeks, waiting for a glimpse of The Man.

Evidently people already knew that the President-elect was not at home. Otherwise the sidewalks were empty.  Michael’s was very busy but relatively calm.

Alexandra witha copy of Valley of the Gods.

The bright young women of New York.Last night was mild also although rain is said to be on the way. I went over to the Upper East Side apartment of Sheila and Tom Wolfe for a book party they were hosting for their daughter Alexandra who has just published Valley of the Gods; A Silicon Valley Story (Simon & Schuster). I knew nothing about the book as I never saw an invitation (mine was an email from the author), nor had I heard about its content.

Alexandra and I have known each other for quite a few years (even though she’s a kid to me). We met through one of those phone calls where the journalist calls to ask me what I think of this or that social New York character (being the all-knowing one that I am, of course). Very often they’re only looking for a quote they can use to brighten up the story. Alexandra, who is also a person who is easy to laugh, was then working for the New York Observer. She is a great interviewer, and she also laughs at all my stupid jokes. She must bring that out in people. Anyway, it’s always very flattering. She has a great laugh too.

So on my way to the party, I got into the elevator with a man who was also going to the same party and had known about the book. He told me that Alexandra had been covering Silicon Valley for quite some time and this book was about a project of Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley tycoon (Hulk Hogan, anybody? — Also a backer of Donald Trump’s Presidency) who has made several fortunes from his investments. The project involves showing people how there are alternatives to pursuing a future without a college education.

Alexandra with Mary Karr.

Mr. Thiel’s fellows (the twenty chosen) are given $100,000 to spend on whatever project they decide. The idea isn’t to discourage college educations but to encourage innovation, inventiveness, imagination and foresight. Among other characteristics. It’s not so much innovative as a revival of the old tried and true ways. I always use Henry Ford as an example of what people can do without a college degree.

Back at the beginning of the Automotive Age, a farmer’s son (whose father considered him lazy), young Henry (he was a very young man then – with a natural high mechanical aptitude and accompanying curiosity) could see that the Steam Engine could change the life of all farmers (and we were a nation of farmers at the time).

His project was making a car. For the people, not the elite. That car grew into a civilizational movement that dominates the entire civilization a century later. I get the impression that Peter Thiel is all for encouraging that kind of life-changing Project.

Alexandra’s “Valley of the Gods” is about some of the individuals who applied for the Thiel “fellowships.” Brilliance, eccentricity, imagination, foibles and intense personalities often come with the mental package of the simplest inventions.

Alexandra with Vicky Ward.

So, I get to the party and the Wolfes’ apartment is jammed — the entrance gallery, the library, the living room. Wall to wall people and everyone having a great and jolly chat. Tom Wolfe was in one crowded room surrounded by friends and admirers enjoying pleasant conversation. The author herself was nearby, sporting a glass of champagne and having a laugh with another author, Vicky Ward.

So I stopped and asked to take their picture. Then another friend of the author came up to her about something, (I think her name was Mary Karr), and I took their picture together. And then I took the author holding her book (which reads very fast and clearly — as I learned from just jumping into it to get a feel for it).

Alexandra Wolfe is a very smart young woman. I almost want to say “girl” but she’s probably in her early 30s (or late 20s). And she’s an excellent journalist, covering her subjects with a thoroughness that is often concealed by her very bright and sharp conversation.  But sometimes it seems there’s something about me that makes her laugh all the time.  She was doing that last night. Maybe it was the champagne? I asked her to inscribe my copy of the book and she wrote: “Dear David, Thank you so much for the years of hilarious lunches … Love, A.”

I was very flattered that she thought of our lunches that way although I don’t think of myself as that “hilarious” — leaving me to wonder what it is about me that makes her laugh all the time. Maybe I should look in the mirror?

The frames (of my store-bought glasses) broke while taking them out to look at the menu and Steve Millington brought me a selection of Eye Bobs, along with a mirror to check it out. Not bad. Really nice.

More bright girls of Manhattan. Tuesday night Joy Ingham invited me to go to the opening night of Jill Kargman at the Café Carlyle. A born-and-bred New Yorker — the daughter Coco and Arie Kopelman — she is a familiar social figure in Manhattan because of her parents. I think she went to Chapin (I think Alexandra Wolfe went there too), and after that Yale in three years.

I first heard about her talents when she co-wrote some best-selling chic-lit novels. But then then the stand-up comedienne emerged in the public eye. Six years ago she spoke at a City Harvest luncheon. She’d just written a new book Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut which was then on the New York Times Bestseller List.

DPC with Topsy Taylor, Jill Kargman, and Joy Ingham at the City Harvest luncheon.

It was my job to introduce her. I had heard she was a very funny speaker, but I’d never heard her, nor had I read anything she’d written. When she came up to the podium, she made a couple gracious statements about being there. The perfect lady. She then jumped off into telling us about her life, and soon people are guffawing. The first laughs come as a surprise because at the outset the story sounds very serious. The material is at times not for the faint-hearted or morally rigid, but the delivery is so ingeniously, hysterically funny, she’s gotcha whether you like it or not. Special.

I can liken her only to Joan Rivers in her approach. She’s a naturally classy lady. But the comedy is zany-brainy, wit-silly hilarious commentary on her self, her family, her world, our world, the world. Off-stage, so to speak, she’s a bright, attractive, young East Side matron in appearance; wife, mother with three young children. She told me at the time that she doesn’t get but two hours a day to write. The rest of the time … daily life with three little ones.

I’d seen her popular BRAVO show, Odd Mom Out (adapted from her novel “Momzilla”) which is now going into its 3rd season. She not only stars in it as a Manhattan young mother, but also created and wrote it. Tuesday night, however, was to learn more.

The Café Carlyle, is a nightclub, a cabaret. Bobby Short reigned there for more than three decades. Woody Allen plays there part of the year on Monday nights with a Jazz Band. Judy Collins plays the Café Carlyle, as does Steve Tyrell. The last time I saw Debbie Reynolds perform was there. The late great Elaine Stritch performed there regularly.

These little Chanel items at the table next to ours turned out to be a birthday cake (really) for a lady at the table who likes Chanel (really?) and her friends surprised her with cake, just before Jill Kargman went on stage.
Jill takes the stage.

And now Jill Kargman, Manhattan mama, social commentator for her entire generation; former Yalie, chic-lit novelist, TV star. And she sings too!! And she’s got a great voice. Broadway will beckon. There’s a natural ease in her stage presence like that of a veteran. Dressed in black, accompanied by her musical director Pablo, she sang eight songs to accompany her bits. She’s also a great impressionist.

And you laugh. She’s gotcha, like I said; and always with the big wide sweet warm smile on her face, like she’s having a good time too. I left the Café Carlyle that night with the feeling I had seen at an enormous talent that is only beginning to flourish despite her already great success.

Proud mama Coco Kopelman (center) with Victoria Kempner, Melanie Holland, Karen Klopp, Nancy Sambuco, Martha Glass, and Catherine Carey.

The cast of Odd Mom Out also stopped in to support their co-star: Abby Elliott, Sean Kleier, and KK Glick.

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