Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

vivian-gordon-murder-walkerAnthony Weiner is so very, very New York. So is Alex Rodriguez the just suspended Yankee third baseman.  Even though they once called Arkansas home, Bill and Hillary Clinton are so very New York, too. They Clintons are spending August in the Hamptons don’t you know, while Hillary takes a little break from the $200,000 a speech circuit. Cashing in can be so tiring.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the biggest big city in the world. It’s the capitol of everything from food to finance, but New York is also the world center of entitlement and excess. And its almost always been so. Long before Weiner was tweeting his Anthony to complete, but always attractive strangers New York’s mayor was a dandy dresser and world-class grafter named James J. Walker. That’s Hizzoner nearby at the height of his power and corruption in the late 1920’s. Nice suit.

Had Jay Gatsby existed anywhere other than in Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel Walker would have been at one of his Long Island parties. Not for nothing was Walker called “The Night Mayor of New York.” When the Yankees were home at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx the mayor was there. While in the State Senate Walker pushed a bill legalizing big-time boxing in New York. His seat ever after was a ringside. The mayor was so good to the boxing world that he’s in the Boxing Hall of Fame and the Hall named its biggest award for Beau James.

Long before Weiner’s encounters with electronic communication and sexting, Jimmy Walker, the very married mayor, had a thing for a New York show girl and living very, very large.  Ben Hecht, the Chicago reporter who wrote The Front Page, once observed: “Walker is a troubadour headed for Wagnerian dramas. No man could hold life so carelessly without falling down a manhole before he is done.”

For a while – a long while – all the city loved him. New York has always loved good copy and Walker always practiced the first rule of New York – don’t bore me. But eventually the excess, the recklessness, the corruption and, yes, the sense of entitlement that is such a part of the New Yorkers who think they have it made caught up even with Gentleman Jim.

Then New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt, eying a presidential candidacy in 1932, opened the manhole for Walker and down he went. As he took the stand Walker quipped, “There are three things a man must do alone. Be born, die, and testify.” With an indictment hanging over his slick backed hair Walker headed for Europe and only came back when the heat was safely turned way down. In that way, too, Walker was an earlier example of New York entitlement. The motto must be: “Do it and do your best to get away with it.”

Weiner, a seriously troubled guy with a pathological need for tabloid attention, seems determined to go down texting. Shame isn’t the way new York rolls. Weiner will never be mayor, but he may actually expand the definition of New York excess as he grasps for Gracie Mansion. The Clinton’s web of relationships with Weiner’s wife Huma – the candidate and spouse live in a fancy Manhattan apartment owned (of course) by a wealthy Clinton supporter and Ms. Weiner worked for both Bill and Hill – is all of a piece with the New York Times Style section, which most weeks reads to those of us who live anywhere west of the Hudson River like the house organ of the truly beautiful and entitled. Not to mention the frequently clueless and the tasteless sons and daughters of excess.

A-Rod, the perfect New York combination of talent, arrogance, excess and entitlement, seems ready to do everything possible to postpone his ultimate punishment at the hands of the game that made him a gazillionaire in order to make the Yankees – more big excess from the Big Apple – pay him extravagantly for going through the motions for a few weeks of this baseball season. Maybe he needs the money. Buying up evidence, not to mention banned substances, can be expensive.

Thank me. I’m not even going to mention Eliot Spitzer.

At least Beau James Walker had the grace to resign as mayor when the luster finally wore off.  Still, as they say, nothing succeeds like excess. When Walker finally came back to Manhattan and before his death in 1946 many New Yorkers continued to love the man who made his sense of entitlement a political virtue. His sympathetic biographer wrote in 1949, “He stayed Beau James, the New Yorker’s New Yorker, perhaps the last one of his kind.”

Guess not.

 

PC Run Wild

NY Health Department Bans…a Cat?

I am a sucker for old, historic hotels and among the many I love is the Algonquin in New York City. Not because the rooms are great – they aren’t. Not because the restaurant is fabulous – it isn’t. I love the place for the atmosphere, the history, for the famed Algonquin Roundtable.

In the 1920’s, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and Robert Sherwood, among others, lunched every day at the round table in the Algonquin lobby and cracked wise about politics, matters literary and popular culture. Great one liners have survived and many are displayed in the hotel.

Benchley, all but forgotten by many today, was an actor and writer and edited Vanity Fair. He famously said after returning home in a driving rain storm, “Let’s get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.”

Eighty years ago, a sorry looking cat sauntered into the hotel lobby from West 44th Street and stayed as stray cats who are fed and find a warm place to sleep are wont to do. Ever since the Algonquin lobby has had a cat – always named Matilda - who has pretty much had the run of the place – until last week.

The New York City Health Department says Matilda is in violation of the portion of the city’s health regulations that require animals be kept away from places where food is served. No, seriously. This is not news of the weird. It is the end, potentially, of a sweet and old tradition. This is also in the category of a solution in search of a problem.

I’ve always kind of liked the big city’s well-heeled mayor, Mike Bloomberg. Never met the guy, but like that he seems to have an independent streak and doesn’t appear to suffer fools easily. One day he is telling off President Obama for punting on the Super Committee and the next evicting the Occupy Wall Street crowd. He’s still regularly mentioned – I’m sure he likes it – as a credible third party candidate in 2012. This cat story is going to test his leadership skills to the max. There is – believe me – a very strong cat lobby in these United States.

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post broke the Algonquin cat story – under the headline “Meow’trage at Algonquin” – and has been all over these developments like cat hair on a black sweater. One column blared: “In Bloombergistan, government lackeys have gone mad.” The columnist didn’t like the city’s cat edict, apparently.

Others have been having fun, as well. “Nanny Bloomberg Bans Cat,” says FOX News. And my personal favorite: “Hotel Leashes Pussy.”

Post Columnist Kyle Smith noted, as I have every time I’ve been at the Algonquin, that the cat is typically, day and night, asleep under an wing chair in the lobby bar, far from food. The lobby bar, by the way, is ground zero for old money New York. Some duffer in a bow tie sips a cocktail, while talking with some ancient woman drowning in pearls about the art gallery he had just visited or the charity dinner they are soon to attend.

As I said earlier, people don’t come here for the food. They come because the place feels classy and old. The drinks aren’t bad, either.

The real story here, big surprise, is that the Algonquin cats I’ve observed never – never – come near anyone. Few self respecting cats do that sort of thing. Matilda obviously knows that old money is so yesterday, so, well boring. Why cozy up to an wrinkled old New Yorker working on his third Manhattan when you can sleep under a wing chair?

I’ll be disappointed if Mayor B doesn’t find a way to make this ill-fated cat decision go away. The guy was, after all, able to finesse the one-time limitation on a New York Mayor seeking a third term. He ought to be able to talk to someone over in the health department about this little 80-year tradition at the Algonquin. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I have plumbed the great and witty depths of Dorothy Parkerisms for a suitable quote to illustrate what, I suspect, most folks will see as a silly case of political correctness run wild.

Before I get to the punchline, however, a quick reminder of what the very witty Ms. Parker was capable of:

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy,” she said.

And, of Katherine Hepburn as an actress, Parker said: “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

And this: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

What might Ms. Parker have said about the New York Health Department’s banning of the Algonquin cat?

How about this: “You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”

Mayor Bloomberg, fix this outrage. There must be an historic preservation exception. If not, create one. Some things simply need to be maintained, including the Algonquin Hotel cat.