Taki LE MAÎTRE Modern Man Gstaad ? While schussing down knee-deep powdered slopes and churning through snowy cross-country paths, the only noise that is constant in this most beautiful alpine setting is...the ringing of mobile telephones. I'm in Gstaad, better known as the mecca of the rich and lifted, and probably the most beautiful and quaint village in good old Helvetia.
Mind you, it is not only the rich. Yesterday I came across a very old peasant woman carrying firewood on her back, a walking stick in one hand, the egregious mobile in the other. On the chairlift on my way up to the Eagle Club, a five-year-old Russian boy accompanied by a ski instructor took out the contraption and jabbered away nonstop. He never once looked around at the majestic mountains towering above us, or at the beautiful valleys below, not even at the imperious eagle diving and floating in and out of the solitary cloud. No Henry David Thoreau he!
That very evening, a column by Michael Kelly in the International Herald Tribune caught my eye. Try to disconnect was the message. Kelly's lament was that he received 179 e-mails, of which only 20 were of any value. He is proud of consciously not having watched a single second of "ABC's 25 hours of blather," or "CNN's 100 hours of 'coverage'" of the nonevent that was New Year's Eve, or the rest of the "specials" that we had been told ad nauseam we had to watch if we are to be connected.
Well, I got news for you, Mr. Kelly. I, too, failed to watch a single second of that crap, but I'm one up on you. I received exactly two e-mails, one from John Strausbaugh, the other from Charles Glass. They are the only ones who know my e-mail address, and I hope they keep it that way. Better yet, I do not own a cellphone?never have, never will?and I do not watch television. (Only golden oldie films and the occasional football match.)
I'll even prove it to you. My young daughter has a very pretty and polite friend staying with us here in my chalet. They were at Nightingale-Bamford School together. Her name is Shoshana Lonstein and she created a small sensation when she entered the local nightclub. Another friend their age, Philip Radziwill, clued me in. Apparently Shoshana used to go out with a tv star called Seinfeld?ergo her celebrity. The bliss of never having heard of Mr. Seinfeld (it's probably unfair, but most people on tv are vulgarians, so I don't think I'm missing a hell of a lot) made up for the abuse I took from the young, who now think I am the dumbest man on the planet.
Ignorance, then, has to be bliss, at least where all this modern crap is concerned. I do not know how to use the Internet and do not plan to learn. I send my copy in following the instructions typed by my secretary. (Push button that says on once, click on Internet at top of launcher box, click once on AOL, wait a minute, a box will appear titled Welcome...) I do not know how to shop via the Internet, do not have my tv connected to my computer, only use the latter to count words and to delete, and do not plan to learn to use it as a dictionary, a thesaurus or for sex late at night.
My friend and writing guru Lenora DeSio was furious when I stopped using my manual typewriter a couple of years ago. "That's why people write as badly as they do," she says. "Who has time to think?" Until recently Auberon Waugh, son of Evelyn, used to mail his copy to The Spectator written longhand. (I hear he's gone modern on us, but it's only a rumor.)
Oswald Spengler, the great German philosopher and historian, predicted that Western culture is in its twilight and will fall prey to mass manipulation and materialism. How right he got it back in 1918. Here's Kelly again: "Do you remember when people who wished to consider themselves informed watched the network evening broadcast news every day? They did so because the broadcast presented a reasonably intelligent and coherent synopsis of each day's important events... Indeed, the anchors no longer even speak in sentences. They utter fragments."
And as far as popular television and music is concerned, fuggedaboutit. Now that Bill Buckley's Firing Line is over, shouting, ranting and soundbites have replaced what once stood for eloquence and rational thought. The reason people on television are as inarticulate as they are is because no one reads anymore. And even if they did, there is no time to expand one's argument under today's format. No wonder our entertainment is as debased as it is. An articulate, well-read person would have the p.c. Nazis up in arms. Egalitarianism wouldn't stand for it. Talk about dumbing down.
But back to cellphones. No one can convince me that what they're doing is so important it has to be discussed in the middle of dinner. Over a cellphone. Yet here in Gstaad, a place where the new rich come to relax, show off, spend money and perhaps meet their betters (believe me, they sure try), cellphones have replaced person-to-person conversation. At the Eagle Club, the committee finally passed a statute that forbids cellphones inside the clubhouse. The first man I caught using one was an incredible vulgarian from Monte Carlo?rich as Croesus, mind you, that's how he got in?so I pounced. He didn't like it, but he turned it off. Two members of the committee congratulated me for taking a stand. Last week, once again inside the club and proud as a peacock for having shut the lowlife up, I heard the familiar sound. Up like a flash I followed my ears while drawing attention to myself from various old-guard members too deaf to have heard the ghastly noise. Then I spotted the perp, happily talking away into a bright yellow phone, not making the slightest effort to conceal it.
It was my daughter, and I haven't been up to the club since.
Classicus FEATURE On $5000 A Day In the 1950s there existed a series of travel guides for England (or France or Italy) on $5 a day. Frankly, England wasn't worth more than $5 a day. These were still the austere postwar years when a visiting Yank kid would snivel that he couldn't get a glass of decent milk or fresh orange juice, making him as popular with the locals as his GI forebears whom the Brits famously described as "overpaid, over-sexed and over here." When the Yank described London as the "asshole of the world," the Brit rejoinder was, "Yup, and you're just passing through!"
Today, if you're considering a week in London, you had better figure on spending an average of 5000 simoleons a day. And this is not going overboard, either. No caviar dreams and champagne wishes?well, maybe just a little.
For starters, you will want a decent roof over your head, and right now the top-drawer establishment is the Ritz on Piccadilly. It's run by Giles Shepard, who's on the Committee at White's and is the only real gentleman in the lodging trade. Maybe the only real gentleman ever.
The Ritz, in fact, for a palatial edifice, has relatively few rooms and is surprisingly intimate. From the moment you check in everyone will know your name. The doorman will greet you; the hall porter will greet you and hand you your key without having to be asked. The Ritz may not be the best hideaway for a dirty weekend, but one imagines the staff would sniff the situation out pretty quickly and act accordingly. Unlike its eponymous Parisian cousin, owned by the (slander omitted) Mohammed Al Fayed, the London Ritz has no bar, but makes up for it with the most beautiful dining room in Christendom. Oval in shape, with a view of Green Park, and a staff, chef and bill of fare that must have Cesar Ritz smiling down from above?it is simply the best. The only drawback to the Ritz is the dreadful scene at the afternoon tea lounge where, for about $50 a head (the reason why), a collection of badly dressed, ill-groomed yahoos puts on a parade that would make a Moroccan souk look elegant by comparison. Never mind, you can always nip around the corner for a sharpener at White's or Boodle's.
You can expect a bill of about $1200 a day for a decent suite of rooms, nothing royal or presidential, if you throw in breakfast and the minibar. Add the 17.5 percent tax, it starts to become real money.
Brits of a certain age used to say that you couldn't buy a pair of shoes or get a decent haircut in New York. Your fanciest New York barber will want to give you a shearing that will make the back of your head look as sharply clipped as a Southampton nouveau millionaire's boxwood hedge. The back of a proper haircut should be an infinitely subtle gradation from skin to hair. It's not supposed to look like a Kenneth Noland hard-edge painting. Look at Donald Trump or Mayor Giuliani (does he go to a barber or a taxidermist?) and you'll have to admit that New York is headquarters for bad men's hairstyles. In New York a haircut may be one of the few things whose value is inversely proportional to its price. The less you pay, the better you get.
Not in London, though. Not only are there Geo. F. Trumper and Truefitt & Hill, but, for the very best, you need not even leave the Ritz. Head up to the salon of Mr. James, the distinguished Viennese barber, and he will get you straight with his scissors and razors for about $70. There's just one fearful moment when you are in Mr. James' hands and that's when he slips a black hairnet on you, and you are faced with looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing Lily Tomlin staring back. Fortunately Mr. James' lair is a one-chair operation with no waiting area, so you are unlikely to be surprised by anyone.
Once he's been barbered a man needs to get out and about. Unlike New York, where any place a swell would want to go is within a 20-block radius of 66th and Park, London is spread out. There's Mayfair, St. James', Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Kensington, etc., and you will need some motor transport to get around. We all know how nice the London taxis are. The drivers even speak English. But they are twice as expensive as in Manhattan, so you might as well have a car?nothing fancy, a Ford or Mercedes sedan?and a driver. This will set you back, oh, $500 a day.
Obviously, if you are in London during "the season" (not recommended) you've got Ascot, Wimbledon or Henley for entertainment. At other times you may be lucky enough to make a run out of town for some huntin', shootin' or fishin.' Better get onto it fairly quickly though, because the Blairite Labor government is shaping up to outlaw all three. They are also in the process of throwing the hereditary peers out of the House of Lords, which puts a real damper on social climbing with the aristos. What's next?the gallows for the Queen and her royal family?
Leaving aside culture, a man can have a fairly full life in London shopping and eating. A couple of pairs of Mr. J. Hunter Lobb's shoes (with trees) will dispose of the better part of our $5000, and be well worth it. He says customers regularly bring in shoes for repair that are up to 50 years old. Anderson & Sheppard remain the top-drawer tailors. They are reluctant to do business with a new customer without an introduction, and will refuse to deal with you if they don't like you.
Shirts have become a problem. Turnbull & Asser has an Egyptian owner and with the passing of the last sainted Tucker brother, Bowring, Arundel has fallen into the hands of grasping South Africans who insist on immediate payment by credit card. With Holland and Holland bought by the French, one is confronted with the phenomenon of great traditional merchants being overhauled by foreigners. Out of spite from having lost their own stores, the Brits, ironically, have come to New York to ruin our classic establishments like Brooks Brothers.
London has the best restaurants in the world. New York has two smart joints, Swifty's and Harry Cipriani. (Okay, three, if you don't mind the cloak-and-suiters at Grenouille.) London has got Caviar Kaspia, Harry's Bar, Mark's Club, the restaurants at the Ritz and Claridge's, The Connaught and Wilton's. Caviar, smoked wild salmon, grouse, partridge, a brace of snipe (don't forget to squeeze the brains out), Dover sole, Whitstable oysters?it's a gourmand's delight. You just can't get any of this in New York. The rub is that it's bloody dear. You can count on close to $200 a head whether it's bangers and mash or a grouse. Bring plenty of ready money because those Brit friends of yours whom you've entertained so lavishly in New York and Southampton are going to want you to come to their places for a glass of champagne and then let you entertain them lavishly at dinner.
The final topping to a night out in London is Annabel's. No question about it?the world's best nightclub. There is actually a part of it where you can sit and not hear the music. But it is also the only place where you are likely to see a titled gentleman or a banker actually enjoying doing the funky chicken, mashed potato or whatever jigging around is now called.
You know what? You are going to have such fun and blow so much loot you might as well go the whole hog and buy yourself a round trip on the Concorde. What the hell.
Toby Young ARRIVISTE
Britain vs. America I've just returned from Britain, where Tony Blair's government is facing a barrage of criticism following the country's disastrous millennium celebrations. Even by British standards, which are pretty Third World at the best of times, the millennium festivities were a complete fiasco. The giant Ferris wheel that had been constructed for the purpose?the London Eye?failed to turn due to a faulty clutch; the so-called River of Fire, whereby fireworks going off in sequence along the Thames were supposed to create "a tidal wave of exploding light," was a damp squib; and the 10,500 VIP guests at the Millennium Dome, a $1.2 billion pimple designed by Richard Rogers to commemorate the turn of the century, had to queue for up to three hours to get in because the Metropolitan Police only managed to get five of its 12 security scanners to work.
As a resident of New York for the past four and a half years, I found this sorry spectacle particularly disheartening, because Americans are so good at organizing public events. Imagine the uproar if the ball had failed to drop in Times Square this year! Howard Stern would have hunted down the city official responsible and had him on the rack the following morning. In London, the reaction to the millennium fiasco was typically British: people were pleasantly disappointed. The whole comedy of errors was a shining example of that much-loved maxim known as Sod's Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. We like nothing more than a good, old-fashioned British balls-up, particularly when it's broadcast to the world live on CNN.
From time to time I think about spending more time in London. I have no wish to permanently abandon New York?obviously?but the price war between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic has driven airfares so low I could now afford to divide my time between the two cities. I'd have to keep this information from the various British publications I work for that have me down on their mastheads as "American Correspondent." But I don't think I'd have too much difficulty persuading them I was still living in New York. Among British journalists there's a noble tradition of covering shooting wars in the Third World from the saloon bar of a Fleet Street pub. I know one British hack who filed a gripping, eyewitness account of the bombing of Belgrade from his bedsit in Parson's Green.
The real obstacle is that, having lived in America for several years, I don't know if I can cope with Britain's Third World standards. Initially, when I settle into my seat on a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, I'm filled with nostalgia. I'm looking forward to seeing the red telephone boxes and the black taxis, the changing of the guard. However, the moment I set foot in Heathrow all my illusions are shattered. I was expecting a Merchant-Ivory costume drama and instead I find myself in a Mike Leigh movie. The skin! The hair! The teeth! It's too much social realism. The red telephones boxes stink of piss and the black taxis are driven by racist bigots who insist on sharing their views on immigration with you while you're stuck in a traffic jam for half an hour. ("That'll be 50 pounds, squire.") The guard may change, but nothing else does. I feel like one of those Indian medical students at Harvard forced to return to Calcutta during the holidays. Within minutes of arrival, I can't wait to get back to civilization.
Simple tasks, like withdrawing money from a hole in the wall, are extraordinarily complicated in Britain. Over there, where ATMs are referred to as "cashpoint machines," people spend so long entering their passwords they might as well be typing in the complete works of Shakespeare. Once they've withdrawn their money they don't automatically take two paces to the right as they do in New York, either. On the contrary, they stand there thinking about what to do with themselves, oblivious to the throng of people patiently waiting behind them. Needless to say, these gentle souls don't utter a sound. If it takes longer than expected to withdraw that day's "beer money," they're pleasantly disappointed. They don't even object if the machine runs out of cash just before they insert their cashpoint card. That's Sod's Law.
In New York, if someone spends more than two minutes at an ATM the people standing behind him start getting restless. After three minutes he starts getting screamed at and, if the miserable fuck is still there after five, some upstanding citizen pulls out a .45 Magnum and blows the son of a bitch away.
It's not just cashpoint machines, either. The act of buying a newspaper, a transaction that never lasts more than a few seconds in New York, can take all morning in London. In my local newsagent in Shepherd's Bush, the Pakistani shopkeeper chats to each of his customers in turn, politely asking them about their spouses, their children, their medical ailments. It's the British version of retail therapy?and each patient is on the couch for at least 15 minutes. By the time I eventually reach the counter the newspaper I'm clutching is out of date.
The flipside of all this is how incredibly good-humored the Brits are. As they muddle through their daily lives, puzzling over the automatic ticket dispensers in the London Underground, they have these dreamy, benevolent expressions on their faces. The more things go wrong, the happier they are, raising their eyes to the heavens and bonding with their fellow sufferers. To them, life is just one cosmic joke and, to quote another popular British maxim, "You gotta laugh or you'd cry."
In spite of the hopelessness of Britain's millennium celebrations, in spite of the needless logistical problems of day-to-day living and in spite of the difficulty Brits have in operating the simplest of machines, I miss this cheerful stoicism. There's a sense that, however bad things get, they're all in it together. Sometimes, very occasionally, I wish I was over there, suffering good-naturedly alongside them.
George Szamuely THE BUNKER
Villain or Victim? Deviousness and bullying are the hallmarks of the Clinton administration. They are abundantly evident in its persecution of Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist, currently under indictment and being denied bail. Last March we were told that Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, was suspected of being a Chinese spy. He had allegedly passed on to Beijing the secrets of the W-88 advanced miniaturized nuclear warhead, supposedly America's most sophisticated piece of weaponry. Months went by and no charges were proffered. Finally, in December, Lee was arrested and charged?not with espionage, however, but with mishandling secret nuclear weapons data.
This was odd, to say the least. The government admits that the 59 counts it has charged Lee with have nothing to do with the earlier investigation. The "mishandling" referred to in the indictment took place in 1993 and 1994. The W-88 design, however, was supposed to have come into China's possession in 1980s. The weapon was allegedly first exploded in 1992. The government also admits that it has found no evidence?despite three years of intensive investigation?that Lee had spied for China or for anyone else. "It seems abundantly clear that we can't, from anything we have, conclude Wen Ho Lee disclosed the W-88 information," a U.S. official is quoted as saying.
The government claims that Lee moved vast amounts of secret data?"sufficient to build a functional thermonuclear weapon"?to an unclassified computer system. He then transferred the files on to 15 computer tapes. Lee argues that he did this to make his work easier. Six of the tapes were found in his office. Two were determined to contain unclassified data. And seven are missing. Lee says he destroyed them. The government says there is no evidence that he has done so. But there is no evidence that he has not done so either. Yet the government succeeded in denying Lee bail. The FBI claims that releasing Lee on bail would force the agency to commit vast numbers of Chinese-speaking agents and translators fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese to monitor his communications so as to ensure that he did not turn over the tapes to foreign governments. At a recent hearing the judge agreed. Lee did indeed pose an "unprecedented" threat to national security.
The claim is bizarre. According to the government, Lee transferred the "classified" material in 1993 and 1994. So how come he still has not gotten around to passing it on to a foreign power?
Wen Ho Lee, a 60-year-old man, now sits in a prison in New Mexico. The trial is probably at least a year away. He has surrendered his passport and has offered to take a polygraph test. He is permitted to see his family for only one hour per week. An FBI agent is present throughout. And the conversation has to be in English.
Lee's treatment is very different from that of John Deutch, former director of Central Intelligence. Thirty-nine of the counts Lee has been charged with carry maximum sentences of life imprisonment. What happened to Deutch? Last August it was revealed that Deutch had worked on classified material on his unsecured desktop computer at home. His punishment? His security clearance was suspended. No jail time. But then Deutch, unlike Lee, is pals with Strobe Talbott and other Friends of Bill.
The Chinese nuclear spy scare was a crock from the beginning. Typically, the most ridiculous articles appeared in The New York Times. Reporters regularly spluttered about "one of the most damaging spy cases in recent history." They fulminated at alleged government inaction. And they repeatedly called for "arrests." But who was to be arrested? What exactly had the Chinese done?
Hard as it may be for our superannuated Cold Warriors to grasp this, China has been a nuclear power since 1964. It really makes not the slightest bit of difference if China acquires a few more missiles or smaller warheads or more accurate guidance systems. No one is thereby less secure than before. Since China stubbornly refuses to engage in aggressive behavior against anyone, it is reasonable to assume that its nuclear missiles are weapons of last resort. As nuclear powers go, China, after all, is very much of the second-division sort. At present it has 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The United States has about 5000. China also stopped nuclear testing in 1995.
It is very flattering for Americans to assume that no one in the world could possibly develop nuclear weapons other than through stealing their secrets. But where are China's spies? Back in the Cold War, the FBI used to pick up a Soviet spy a day. So who is spying for Beijing? Last May a House select committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox published a report with this startling conclusion: "The People's Republic of China (PRC) has stolen classified design information on the United States' most advanced thermonuclear weapons... The successful penetration by the PRC of our nuclear weapons laboratories has taken place over the last several decades, and almost certainly continues to the present."
Wonderful stuff. But what is the evidence for this? Who penetrated our nuclear laboratories? What exactly was stolen? The Cox committee could come up with nothing better than again Wen Ho Lee (even though it did not name him) and again the W-88 warhead.
Both claims are extremely dubious. Back in 1995 a Chinese official approached the CIA and handed over a Chinese document dated 1988. It described the country's nuclear weapons program and allegedly mentioned the W-88, describing some of the warhead's key design features. The CIA later decided that the official was working for Chinese intelligence all along. This was a reasonable assumption. Spies regularly approach the intelligence services of foreign powers with "information" about supposed "penetration." The aim is to sow confusion and to divert attention from real spies to nonexistent ones.
The Chinese succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Since 1995 Americans have been obsessing about the "penetration" of Los Alamos even though there was not a scrap of evidence that it had taken place.
For all the overheated bluster about the alleged ultramodern W-88 design, it is actually 30 years old. Last June President Clinton's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board reported that technical information about the W-88 "had been widely available within the U.S. nuclear weapons community" as early as 1983. Much of the information about U.S. nuclear weapons systems is available on websites. Indeed, recently the FBI took to publicly complaining that Chinese espionage is difficult to investigate because the Chinese often take advantage of scientific exchanges and many other forms of informal contacts. Apparently, they gather sensitive information from such a wide range of sources that it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly how American secrets leaked out. The scoundrels?going to conferences and seminars to find out what U.S. scientists are up to!
So why is Lee being persecuted? For Clinton, scapegoating Lee is very convenient. First, it distracts attention from the 1996 election fundraising scandal. Cracking down on alleged Chinese "spies" ensures that Al Gore will not be troubled by questions about his having accepted money from the Chinese government. Second, if Lee had spied for the Chinese then he must have been doing it back in the 1980s. Consequently, the "loss" of America's secrets can be blamed on Reagan and Bush.
Third, the ludicrous story of Chinese "penetration" of our laboratories has served to swamp the real story. It was the Clinton administration itself that revealed to the world most of America's nuclear "secrets." As William Broad explained it in the Times: "Back in 1993...the Administration decided that the best way to keep the nuclear arms race from heating up again was to get the world's nations to sign a test-ban treaty. The idea was that even if a country knew how to make a bomb, it couldn't perfect new ones...without physically testing new designs. So development of new weapons would be frozen... Releasing many of America's nuclear secrets was seen as an essential part of this strategy, since it would signal a new global order in which nuclear know-how was suddenly and irreparably devalued."
A 60-year-old man sits in a prison cell in New Mexico and faces the prospect of never coming out again. He is paying a heavy price for Clinton's slimy political maneuverings. Sadly, he is not the first nor will he be the last person to do so.
Jim Holt THE TIRED HEDONIST
I Am a Stalker As we all continue to wish George Harrison a speedy and complete recovery from the wounds inflicted on him by a crazed knife-wielding "fan" a couple of weeks ago, we each of us would do well to reflect on our own potential for becoming a celebrity stalker. I myself, I regret to say, have had to struggle against this dark proclivity.
My first episode of stalking took place in late winter of 1997. Entering Grand Central Station to catch a commuter train to my house upstate, I recognized Sam Waterston buying a magazine at a newsstand. This gave me a little tingle. Almost involuntarily, I approached the celebrated actor, intending to say something nice to him?but what? At the last moment, my muses clustered round. "Mr. Waterston," I blurted out, "you played the best Hamlet that I have ever seen!" (For indeed back in the 70s I had chanced to see a youthful Waterston play the Prince of Denmark onstage, and he was awfully good?much more interesting than, say, Ralph Fiennes.)
Waterston must have been pleasantly surprised to hear himself being praised for this noble but long-forgotten role, and not for recent hackwork like Law & Order. His initial look of alarm at being accosted by a stranger melted into an expression of wistful gratitude. "Thank you!" he replied with real feeling, in his characteristic raspy timbre.
Thinking the encounter had gone rather well, I withdrew from Waterston's presence. I dawdled around Grand Central for a bit, glowing slightly from my brush with greatness, then went downstairs to get on the train. Entering one of the middle cars, I was greeted by a horrible sight: there, seated inside, was Waterston again!
He did not look very happy to see me. He must have thought I was following him. Taking a seat as far away from him as possible, I tried to appear nonchalant, but I fear I only succeeded in looking more suspicious. The sole reading material I had, embarrassingly, was a copy of Vanity Fair. I buried my head in it. Two hours later the train was nearing the last stop on the Harlem line, which happened to be my station. Practically everyone had already got off except for me?and Waterston. Another terrible coincidence. Now the actor was looking distinctly apprehensive, no doubt wondering how he was going to shake off this obsessed fan in the wilderness of Dutchess County. As our glances met while we exited the train, I produced the ghastly semblance of a smile?pure psychopath, I'm sure?then made a beeline to my car in the parking lot, never looking back.
Thus did I become an accidental stalker. As varieties of celebrity-stalking go, this one is fairly benign. I certainly harbored no homicidal intentions toward my target; I was merely the puppet of chance.
Even deliberate forms of stalking can be innocent. Brent Staples, a New York Times editorialist, wrote a book a few years ago in which he admitted to stalking Saul Bellow; but his motives, as he described them, were entirely philosophical. The celebrated English playwright Alan Bennett had a sort of stalker, a sweetly mad old biddy, whom he actually allowed to live in a battered van in his driveway for more than a decade until her death in 1989; he even wrote a rather good play about her.
More serious forms of stalking involve unauthorized use of the celebrity's appliances or furniture. Another of George Harrison's obsessed fans, a woman named Cristin Keleher, broke into Harrison's vacation home in Hawaii, cooking pizza in his kitchen and doing her laundry in his washing machine. Last year a woman broke into Brad Pitt's house and spent the night in his bed.
In general, female celebrity-stalkers seem to be less dangerous than their male counterparts, except perhaps to themselves. For years David Letterman was stalked by a deranged woman who tried to get onto his property in Connecticut. Letterman joked about her freely in his monologues, but then things turned somber when she took her own life. Andy Warhol, it is true, was very nearly shot to death in 1968 by Valerie Solanas, a delusional hanger-on and the founder of SCUM (Society For Cutting Up Men). Yet the obsessive assassins of John Lennon and Gianni Versace and the would-be assassins of George Harrison and Ronald Reagan (a political target, strictly speaking, but John Hinckley was really sending a message to Jodie Foster) were all men.
Stalking a celebrity may be a sign of infatuation; trying to slaughter that celebrity is something else entirely. The standard theory is that homicidal stalkers are obsessed with their victim's fame, which they want to steal for themselves. But if this is true, why do potentially violent stalkers seem to go after such doubtfully illustrious targets as Billy Joel, Don Imus, Olivia Newton-John, and "singer" Jaci Velasquez?
In some cases, the desire to injure or kill a celebrity would seem to be motivated by purely esthetic considerations. That would explain sites that reportedly can be found on the Web with titles like "Beat Up Drew Barrymore," "Slap a Spice Girl" and "Dismember Tori Spelling." Another website, I have heard, presents a fantasy involving Mariah Carey and a steamroller. An expression of psychopathy? Perhaps, but it might be nothing more than an especially spirited bit of music criticism.
My own impulse to stalk certain celebrities, while perhaps regrettable, is born of devotion to them, not of a desire to harm them or to steal their fame. At the moment, I would be stalking Cornel West if I weren't so lazy. As it is, I have been composing bits of light verse about him and following his frequent television appearances. Last week on Charlie Rose, West proclaimed that he has always been "full of hope" about the future.
"Not only that," Rose responded, "you've also been full of..." But he did not finish the thought.
Minnie Raphael THE BROOKLYN VIEW
New Year's At Home I have a confession to make: I've never gone out on New Year's Eve. Actually, once when I was 17 I went to the Fillmore East to see the Chambers Brothers, but I was home by 11, so that doesn't really count. The point is, nobody in my family goes out on New Year's Eve. It's the one holiday we are all together. After 20 years at my house, this year the party moved to my brother's. The crowd ranged in age from nine to 75 and included assorted in-laws and friends. It also included some guy nobody knew. My brother thought he was one of my husband's friends; I thought he was my sister-in-law's cousin's boyfriend. We finally found out that he was a friend of my nephew, who got there late and forgot to tell us he had invited his friend.
In my family, you are obliged to party on New Year's Eve, whether you want to or not. It's a tradition that started with the wacky Femianis, my mother's side of the family. When I was growing up, anywhere from 30 to 40 aunts, uncles and cousins would gather at my grandmother's house in full force every Dec. 31 to eat, drink and cause mayhem until the wee hours. My grandmother lived in the first apartment, her sister Susie lived in the middle and my family lived on the top floor, so if anybody got too partied out, there were plenty of beds available. Which is pretty ludicrous, considering that, once upon a time, the whole family lived within a 10-block radius.
The night began with a fish banquet that Grandma and my mother had spent all day preparing. After dinner, the tables would be cleared and pushed to the wall to make room for dancing. Then Grandma would break out the liquor and pass around the party hats. Yes, they wore them all night.
The women would drink whiskey sours and daiquiris; the men drank scotch or rye. With my mother leading the way, they'd sing every big-band tune ever recorded. Cousin Angelo would tell dirty jokes that we kids were not allowed to hear; Aunt Henrietta would dance the Peabody with Uncle Joe in the kitchen and the teenagers would be doo-wopping in the living room.
My two brothers and I were the babies of the family, but we partied right along with the grownups. My Aunt Gertie kept us supplied with Shirley Temples, which we drank in long-stemmed cocktail glasses. When midnight came the aunts would dress my brother Philip, who was the youngest, as Baby New Year. In a white satin sash with the new date emblazoned on the front and a crown for his head, he would be paraded around the rooms on my father's shoulders. Just like a male stripper, he'd return with fistfuls of coins and dollar bills stuck in the sash.
Then my grandmother would tell my brother Joe and me to grab our coats and we'd go outside and bang on pots and pans. Soon we'd be joined by the other families on our block and we'd stay outside until my mother screamed that we'd get pneumonia and we had to go back inside.
The Femianis had their own rules about New Year's Eve, which were strictly observed by all. First, you had to wear new clothes, because they believed if you looked like a pauper on New Year's, that's the way you'd look all year long. Second, you had to be smiling when you yelled out "Happy New Year." If you had a sour puss on, Grandma used to say, your face would stay like that all year long. Finally, you had to kiss every single person and wish them all well. If you missed anyone, there would be bad blood between you during the year.
Of course, Femiani rules were made to be broken, although for some reason the clothing ordinance was always upheld. As soon as the New Year came in, for example, the same crazy party animals who were whooping it up a second before dissolved into an ocean of tears, awash with sentimentality for the past, yet grateful to have survived another year. We kids would cry with them, even though we had no idea why. And the kissing ritual didn't hold up well, either. The night always ended with one of the relatives fighting with another over petty jealousies and family grudges the New Year just couldn't erase.
I treasure the images those New Year's Eve parties have imbedded in my heart: Uncle Louie, my mother's brother and my favorite uncle, teaching us how to play craps until my mother caught him and made him stop... Uncle Mike paying my cousin Lillian and me $5 to sing "Wake Up Little Susie" in my Aunt Susie's ear when she had passed out from one too many whiskey sours... My mother bringing a tear to my father's eye as she sang "If You Were the Only Boy in the World," their wedding song... Grandma, always laughing, standing at the stove, stirring the sausage and peppers after midnight, party hat still on her head.
They're no longer with us, those crazy, fun-loving Femianis. Grandma died before I graduated elementary school; she wasn't yet 60. The cousins married and moved away from the old neighborhood. The aunts and uncles got older until, one by one, they passed away. Our New Year's Eve parties were changed forever.
But we've kept the tradition alive. And as I looked at the little ones this year, my brother's children who aren't yet teenagers, I wondered what they'll remember about New Year's Eve when they become the family elders. Will they think back with fondness as I do? Will their children hear stories about their wacky relatives as my children have, over and over? And will the family still be together as we are now?
I hope so. At the very least, of one thing I can be sure. There won't be any sour pusses when the bells ring. I've made sure they observe that Femiani rule.