Time marches on

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Empire State Building. 6:10 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, February 1, 2021. The temperature is in the low 20s as I write this on Sunday evening. And the snowstorm in the forecast began about 6:30 p.m. with flurries, and if the forecasters are correct, it’ll continue on through Monday night into Tuesday. Sunday morning was the first time I could see my breath when I went out onto the terrace to get a look at the day with storms in the forecast. Remember when it was so cold your exhales were like steam. 

It continues to be very quiet in New York. Although the restaurants are slated to open inside (with fewer tables to create the “social distancing”). At least it’s a start as there is otherwise almost no social life for most New Yorkers.

Changing direction mid-block, Sunday night, as the snow began.
The snow at 10:30 p.m.
The accumulation this morning (10:30 a.m.) What looks “foggy” is the snow — very fine and blowing in the wind. You can see the SUV has its headlights on but the snow looks like fog.

Starting another week of empty calendars, we’ve been looking back on this time of year in previous Diaries. A lot of activity even in the quietest times simply because we humans like to be around other humans. In a very real way, we live for each other.

Another thing we’ve learned is that the weather at this exact time of the year has frequently brought us a Big Snowstorm. The following is the entry for January 30, 2009. It’s eleven years later and while some things never change, time always does. I give you the weather from that day, and then some:

January 30, 2009. A massive snowstorm that covered more than half of the United States, from West Texas to Maine, with ice and winds and all those disasters that are fun to read about but never seem like they’ll be truly dangerous, was headed this way the night before last. Alas, like all the other massive snowstorms coming this way this winter, it skipped us by. A light snow followed by rain and slush and more rain and who cares.

I’ve been hoping (against hope) for a big snow — the kind you had as a kid when it assured a “no school day.” Remember those? Why do we like it? It’s easy to figure out. A Big Snow leaves the city in a state of bright white calm and solitude. A beautiful respite, and a boon for the young ones. For a few days thereafter everyone takes his or her time, and then Winter in New York is heavenly. When it is.

Madison Square Park. 4:50 PM. Photo: JH.

Back to business. I took an old friend to lunch at Michael’s. It was sort of a treat. She had been through some very hard times health-wise and had made it through thanks to the miracles around us. She was very pleased to be there because it was jumping and New York jumping is a turn on for all of us. 

Barbara Walters.

Barbara Walters was lunching in the corner with Linda Wachner (the one-time tycoon of Warnaco and now active American/ Parisienne businesswoman). I see Barbara Walters often at Michael’s. She is often with prominent and influential people. Two days before it was with her old friend Liz Smith. I don’t know Ms. Walters although I’ve been in her company enough to be used to her presence as a woman and not a celebrity. Off-camera she’s not exactly reserved but she’s one who picks and chooses the object of her interest with a journalist’s natural instinct.

She’s always very well dressed. I notice that when she lunches with one of the more socially prominent ladies, she’s also very chicly turned out — a Chanel suit with a diamond brooch maybe — so that there is no question of stature (clothes, remember, as Mark Twain reminded, make the man (or woman). Some things never change and that is one of them.

What I find interesting about this very famous woman whom I see often at Michael’s, and know well enough to say hello to, is how after (actually many) decades as La Grande Inquistrix on camera, now made rich from it, and almost iconically prominent socially, she still has the common touch to interest all of us — whether favorably or un — in ourselves and The Way Things Are.

Now that I’m done with my Barbara Walters tribute, I’m left with the pleasure of knowing how much fun it was for my guest to see the lady. Because the “excitement” of seeing a celebrity, a household name, has worn off with time and repetition, it was a pleasure to be reminded by my friend’s reaction of the pleasure of the sighting. 

At the table we talked about Madoff. At one point or another people in New York are still talking about Madoff. My friend is a lifelong New Yorker with lifelong exposure to the life that is Southampton and Palm Beach. That kind of New York. It happens that she knows — the way you know your next door neighbors, friends or no — many of the players.

The dining room at Michael’s.

I was telling her that reporters calling me these days about it want to talk about the Noels. Walter Noel’s Fairfield/Greenwich Group hedge fund group had a multi-billion dollar exposure to Madoff. Mr. Noel and his wife Monica have five beautiful daughters, all of whom are married and four of whose husbands work or worked with the patriarch. 

For years they’ve been a constellation in the lives of many of these New Yorkers whom my lunch partner has grown up with. The Madoff catastrophe has been just that for them also, a catastrophe, according to my friend. She said there was a lot of Schadenfreude (reporters want to know mostly about that if they can) out there but in truth, she said, it’s a very terrible thing for a family to have to go through. It is not only that but it is havoc wreaked on a life graced with family. That’s not an easy one for any of us.

My friend also told me about some other friends, relatives of Mr. Madoff who suddenly have nothing. From everything to nothing. The trauma is the same we experience when robbed of our worldly possessions. Mr. Madoff robbed his own. That is the diametric opposition of Walter Noel.

Walter Noel.

After hearing her talk about the Madoff relatives, I found myself thinking the Noels are lucky, in a way: they have each other. And unlike a lot of us, they are a unit. That’s the gift of the universe. Or God’s gift.

The problem with this whole Madoff /hedge fund/investment banker/money business is that we are all now stuck in a financial conundrum that one day will very possibly change all our lives markedly and measurably before it’s passed us.

Although it is a socio-economic incident of historic proportions, it is also the result of decisions and agreements made by (groups of) people who had their hands on the levers of power and responsibility. We have yet to recognize that in order to “right” the situation, we will have to put the “righting” in the hands of those who do not have a vested interest in saving their own skins, necks. The foxes are still in the henhouse and thus is such, take it or leave it.

Furthermore, it is now a nationally political matter and at the rate we’re going it will be moreso by this time next year. Common Sense, like the Noel family solidarity, is also a gift of the universe, or God’s gift.

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