No New Age for This Dad; Just Green Hair and Pop Stars
Riding up the elevator last Thursday night a neighbor took a peek at my battered briefcase, covered?every square inch?with stickers the boys have affixed over the last several years, and said: "Hey, I guess that's a way to keep in touch with your inner child!" I smiled through clenched teeth and bid the guy goodnight. Obviously, it was an appalling encounter, and I had half a mind to mouth off at Mr. Berkeley for even voicing such a Jon Corzine-like inanity.
Lucky for him I was in a swell mood, just returning from a meeting of the New York Young Republican Club, where I gave a speech that was especially well-received, especially after I predicted Bill Clinton would burn in hell for soiling the presidency and deceiving his supposed friends, but primarily for humiliating his daughter. (The room was silent when I stuck to my Tom Ridge-for-Vice-President shtick: this ideological-purity-over-victory jazz has got to stop.)
But the bag is pretty cool, and I often get stopped in the street by little kids who recognize the Pokemon, Bugs Bunny, Dragon Tales, Furious George and Power Ranger emblems. The other day, standing on line at a midtown deli, a woman smiled broadly and said, "That looks like a carrying case for a banker or artist. Which one is it?" Neither, I replied, it's a journalist's briefcase. She recoiled with a sniff of disgust, God knows why, and shuffled off with her Diet Coke and bag of Doritos. I felt like a whipping boy for the sins of The New York Times.
I have an easier time conversing with the youth of New York City than with the Bobos: kids are far more tolerant and are usually actual fans of the toys my sons buy. The other day, after Junior's graduation from first grade (I know, that's a little precious. Who ever heard, at least in the old days, of "graduating" from a class in elementary school?), Mrs. M took the sprout to St. Marks Comics on Chambers St. to pick out a couple of cheap DragonBall Z action figures for himself and MUGGER III. Naturally, our younger son, who wasn't present, complained about the choices his big brother made, so later in the day I took him back to the shop to exchange a Frieza for a Vegeta, a Goku for an S.S. Broly. Our five-year-old has great difficulty in picking out toys. He's just overwhelmed by the vast array of options. I just sat back and gabbed with the store's two young attendants.
They were having a mild debate over which tv show came first: Pokemon or Digimon. The fellow and I knew it was the former; the girl with pink hair was wavering for the latter. No way, man, I told her, I've tracked this information. Pokemon debuted on Sept. 7, 1998, at 7 a.m. Since she admitted she was always asleep at that hour?what twentysomething wouldn't be??the point was conceded. But we agreed that Digimon's opening song, which is a direct cop from David Bowie's "Thin White Duke" phase, is one of the prime attractions on tv today.
She then went into rhapsodies over Bowie, and asked if I was going to his upcoming show. I demurred, said Bowie in 2000 just isn't the same as Bowie in the 70s. Revved up, I told her I'd seen the superstar live in his glam-rock days, in Philly back in '73, but that, more significantly, I'd caught one stop of the "Heroes" tour at the Capital Centre in Maryland. It was a spellbinding concert, I said, as she looked at me slackjawed?my friends and I hopped up on acid, entering the arena just as Bowie sang "Joe the Lion." That date was fairly wild: the restrooms were full of young kids smoking dope, shooting up and puking, and everyone had cigarettes dangling from their mouths.
She just said: "Wow. My mom was pregnant with me in '77 and she told me that she always listened to Bowie on her headphones. I think that's why I'm so obsessed with him now." That, in turn, took me aback, but when she said that today's music sucked, I had to brag a little more, telling her about '73 Springsteen shows at venues that held only 1000 people because that's all he could draw; and about seeing Elvis Costello at Georgetown University when he was a skinny and angry guy with guts, snarling at the crowd, singing "Lipstick Vogue" and "No Action" with an intensity that proved that anyone who says the 70s were just about disco never knew a damn thing about music anyway.
Junior's commencement exercises were a treat, even if they were odd. The ceremony was held in a church on Park Ave., and when the first-graders marched in and sat behind the kindergarten classes, Junior gave a quick look back, saw his mom and dad, gave a shy wave and then sat up straight like a model student. He was in a black suit and red tie, long hair over his collar, looking like a rock star. When one of the fourth-graders, who was moving on to the institution's middle school, handed the American flag over for safekeeping to a third-grader, my wife and I smiled sweetly at each other. Then Junior's class sang "Goodbye, First Grade" and ceded the stage to the second-grade boys.
As I said, this premature "graduation" was a little weird. I didn't even show up to my high school gala?no one with any brains did back in '73?and when my turn came at Johns Hopkins I almost missed that one, too. I'd been to a long and mostly liquid lunch at Cafe des Artistes in downtown Baltimore with my oldest brother, my mom and Al From Baltimore, and on the way up to the campus we bought a sixpack of Pabst to go. Since I was receiving the journalism award that year, I had to meet in a designated spot, and the university's president, more distressed at the fact that I hadn't a cap and gown?I'd forgotten to order them?than at seeing a beer in my hand, quickly dispatched someone to get me suited up correctly for the stage.
It turned out to be a long two hours. Adm. Hyman Rickover was a bore, but nothing compared to the campus favorite, Prof. Ric Pfeffer, a Marxist who was booted from the school a few years later. I had to pee like a racehorse the entire time, and once I received the award, which has since vanished into some trash heap, I discreetly slunk away, took care of business and met my brother and mom. Later that night, we went to what passed as a fancy restaurant in Baltimore at that time, Uncle Charlie's Bistro, as I remember. The next day, a little worse for wear, I reported to work at my newspaper, City Paper, and finished up a story about the local state's attorney race.
John Strausbaugh, in his "Publishing" column two weeks ago, was right on the money: mock the 70s all you want, but that just means you didn't have any fun. Forget the knockoffs of Studio 54 in every second-tier city and think of what actually occurred to make the 70s as extraordinary a decade to be alive in as any other. Watergate, Roxy Music, relaxed college requirements, punk rock, the Patty Hearst kidnapping, cheap dope, no AIDS, the Red Sox-Reds World Series of '75, the stirrings of the Reagan Revolution, the bankruptcy of the underground press, John Mitchell doing time in the pen, Martha Mitchell mouthing off to any reporter who'd answer her gin-snitted, late-night phone calls, the two Godfather films, Taxi Driver, Steely Dan and a trio of vital national magazines: National Lampoon ('70-'72), Rolling Stone ('70-'73) and New Times (mid-70s).
And that's just off the top of my head.
Now that school's out for the summer, Junior's going to dye a swatch of his thick hair a New York Press shade of green. My wife and I were fairly aghast when the notion was first broached, gingerly, by our son last March, but we figured resistance would just cause unnecessary havoc. He's only seven. Maybe if the boy gets a lot of this rebellion stuff out of his system now?and who knows what else is yet to come??he'll be a model teenager. A Christian who doesn't drink or smoke. (Already, he's saying, "Dad, you know that James [Bond] likes his martinis shaken, not stirred.")
Besides, fashion advice from parents, no matter how prescient, just doesn't work. I was telling him in a cab the other day about a May 23 Wall Street Journal front-page article that noted that the latest trend in Hollywood is wearing slippers as outdoor footwear. Denzel Washington, for example, donned a pair of $200 Stubbs & Wootton black-velvet numbers for the Golden Globe awards last January. Readers might remember that your flashy correspondent, who should get paid by GQ to write a fashion-tips column, started wearing Paul Stuart slippers everywhere last summer; for that breach of normalcy I was derided by my friend Jeff Koyen, a redneck-turned-yuppie, as the next Howard Hughes. Hah!
Anyway, Junior couldn't care less. I told him the smart move would be to get a crewcut for the summer and dye half of his head green; he replied that that was, like, dumb, dad, since nobody else did it. I didn't bother getting into the nonconformist rap. I'd already lost my audience. Just like I don't lean on him too hard for his budding musical tastes, horrid though they may be. I'm just thankful that he dances and sings and finds pleasure in pop songs. That the groups he favors are Eiffel 65, A*TEENS, S Club 7 and Backstreet Boys is like stabbing me in the heart, but so be it. In fact, Mrs. M and I have encouraged him (shudder) to buy the original ABBA version of "Dancing Queen," a song that he and MUGGER III sing nonstop these days. One more step up on the stairway to heaven, if you ask me. On a trip to Tower the other day, I did buy him a starter set of the classics?Rubber Soul, Revolver, Between the Buttons, Blonde on Blonde, Meat Is Murder and Otis Redding and Hank Williams box sets?but I imagine they'll get dusty until CD players are obsolete and the music will have to be purchased once more. At that point, on his dime, I hope.
On Saturday morning, Junior's Downtown Little League team, the Bears, walloped the Mail Box Blues?now that's a nifty name?in a game that took 100 minutes, far longer than the usual hour. The Blues' manager, a nice guy from the looks of it, was so damn punctilious with each batter, setting up the ball on the tee, making sure the player got in practice swings, that over in the Bears dugout, mascot MUGGER III, myself and the other parents were going nuts. It was about 90 degrees?I got my first sunburn of the summer (it only takes a ray or two)?and this guy was treating the match like it was Pedro Martinez vs. Randy Johnson. It's funny. As the baseball season progresses, and the weather grows warmer, there's more of a competitive edge on the field, and not always for the better. For example, one of the Blues' players was a real jerk, shoving and kicking Bears base runners and even telling one of them, "If you get a hit next inning, I'm going to kick your ass!" Good thing he didn't say that to Junior, for my bruiser would've popped him in the kisser, and I'd have been hard-pressed to scold him.
Which brings me to an inane article in the June 22 Rolling Stone by Rosanne Cash about the 250,000-Mom March. What a crock of shit. Cash writes about that Democratic Party rally that took place on Mother's Day: "We marched. We yelled, we trembled, we were in mourning with the mothers who had lost their children, we were pissed off, and we were not to be denied. Steve Buscemi marched with Raffi. Rosie O'Donnell marched with Courtney Love. Reese Witherspoon marched with Marian Wright Edelman. Hillary marched with all of us."
Cripes. I'm the first to sympathize with parents whose children have been killed by insane gunfire, but demonizing the NRA and endorsing Hillary Clinton is pretty stupid. Parents should be thankful that their offspring aren't being sent off to die meaninglessly in Southeast Asia, like more than a generation ago; and they ought to consider the far more numerous adolescent deaths that have nothing to do with guns. For example, I'm in favor of prohibiting kids from driving cars until they're 21. A drastic measure, perhaps, but think of how many lives would be saved. It's not only drunk driving by inexperienced teenagers who believe they're immortal that's the problem, but also the wild pranks that are a function of youth.
There's a window in life?say, 17 to 25?when you do all sorts of foolish things, daring reality, thinking you'll survive it all. Not everyone does. I remember a wiseass kid in the neighborhood, tanked up on beer, diving from the roof of a split-level house into a swimming pool back in '71. He didn't quite make his target and has been paralyzed ever since.
There's a reason I'm a skittish passenger in automobiles, and it has nothing to do with the couple of accidents I was in as a teenager. One spring break, my buddy Howie Nadjari and I visited a friend at Dartmouth and four of us then drove down to New Haven in two separate cars. Howie and I were stoners, the other guys were Bud-men, fortified not only by hops but by out-of-control testosterone. As our cars flew down the highway at 95 mph, the two drivers purposely dodged in and out of lanes, and at one point bumped up next to each other so that they could exchange cigarettes. I was scared out of my wits and have been behind the wheel?despite a typical high school career filled with after-hours suburban cruising, knocking over garbage cans and the like?not even a dozen times since.
The year before, my college roommate and I took a road trip down to Texas from Baltimore. We had to deliver the car to a spot outside of Houston by a certain deadline. That meant nonstop shifts behind the wheel, going 90 mph with no sleep for two days. Granted, there's not much traffic on the highways of Alabama, but still?one nod-off at the wheel and I wouldn't be writing this column today.
So. It galls me that the Democrats of this country, the celebrities who require attention-fixes when they're not attending premieres, acting snotty to fans at restaurants or doing spates of actual work, go on and on about America's gun culture. It's precisely because there's no war going on right now, no daily body counts on the tube, that idiots like Rosie O'Donnell can froth at the mouth about gun control. These liberals don't understand how lucky American kids are currently, with a fabulous economy and no wartime draft. Random acts of violence at schools?which are happening at a time when crime in the U.S. has declined, by the way?would not be exploited by a ratings-driven media if there were bigger stories to cover. The nation's insane and sick fascination with the O.J. Simpson car chase and subsequent trial will be a prime example for future historians of the bounty of the 90s in the United States: times were so good that citizens could actually be riveted by that madman's crime.
Newsweek's Anna Quindlen, who plays den mother to less intelligent women like O'Donnell and Cash, was a speaker at the Mother's Day march in Washington, and she didn't disappoint her acolytes when it came to offering mushy rhetoric and virtual Hillary endorsements. Writing about the death penalty?and she's just the latest windbag to bash Gov. Bush for Texas' number of executions, as if his predecessor, the revered Democrat Ann Richards, didn't preside over a then-record number of snuffings during her one term as governor?Quindlen goes on about Tucker Carlson's Talk magazine article last year, in which Bush allegedly made fun of convicted killer Karla Faye Tucker. Annoyed that the press last summer gave more attention to the GOP presidential nominee's "wild past" than to his death-penalty record, the former New York Times Earth mama writes: "Personally, I'd vote for a former cokehead over the kind of guy who makes fun of dead women any day of the week." Oh, really. What about a person who makes fun of dead men, Anna? Hon. Now that's a lesson for Quindlen's children: side with confessed murderers over politicians who may or may not have made tasteless jokes. I doubt she'd say the same thing about Sen. John McCain, who's been known to crack a crass funny now and again.
Quindlen's a dangerous woman, precisely because she is smart and respected. But she's typical of the modern feminists who excoriated Clarence Thomas but remained silent about Bill Clinton's public record with women. What about a column next time, Anna, about the IRS' audit of Juanita Broaddrick? Maybe The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz could add a word to your impressive vocabulary: it's called rape. Whoops, I forgot: you write for Newsweek.
Bush Needs a Guts-Transfusion Last week's political news was fairly run-of-the-mill. Another makeover for Al Gore; George W. Bush polling extremely well on his Social Security reform plan (59 percent favor it, according to USA Today); Jon Corzine's $35 million primary win in New Jersey (which will backfire in November, mark my words: his opponent, Bob Franks, might be a bland and moderate Republican, but voters are going to be sick and tired of Corzine's mug); Rick Lazio gaining even more traction against Hillary Clinton in New York, despite his horrible taste in music; and the usual babble of talk-show pundits claiming that U.S. citizens aren't currently paying attention to the presidential race, as if they will come November.
In addition, Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, in his June 12 column, essentially told the GOP's right wing to get over their hesitation about Bush's preference for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as his runningmate. Making clear that Ridge, although nominally pro-choice, is firmly opposed to partial-birth abortion, Bartley wrote: "In fact, Gov. Ridge lands squarely in the mushy middle of the abortion issue, a position he shares with the majority of Americans, 80% maybe. To be up front about it, that is also where I stand. God has never revealed to me when the soul enters the body, and I don't think science has anything useful to say on the subject."
Bartley doesn't endorse Ridge, of course, but read between the lines and he's counseling fellow conservatives to look at the big picture?like defeating Gore and preventing Dick Gephardt and David Bonior from running the country.
One issue stood out in my mind, however, and I thought it was a disastrous Bush campaign mistake: Why the hell didn't the Governor lacerate the lawyer-beholden Clinton administration, the Justice Dept.'s vindictive Joel Klein and Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ruling that Microsoft be broken up? Bush has privately said he wouldn't pursue this kind of flat-earth litigation in his administration. Now, after he's successfully traversed the Social Security waters, which were once assumed to be treacherous, and as he's gaining more confidence on the stump with a sound and far-reaching defense plan, why doesn't he stand up for entrepreneurship and expose this scandalous ruling for the farce it that is?
It's not as if he'd lose points politically. Anyone who agrees with the harsh judgment is squarely in Gore's or the blessed Ralph Nader's camp anyway. An angry speech detailing exactly why and how Bill Gates, and by extension any person who has the guts to pursue the American Dream, got screwed last week would represent extraordinary leadership, certainly the kind we haven't seen at a national level since Bush's father marshaled world allies to fight against Saddam Hussein.
This example of Bush's cowardice is disheartening. After all, when Time's Margaret Carlson, a squishy Hillary Clinton-liberal of the most pernicious kind, praises the Republican candidate for his silence, surely that's a wake-up call to Bush's Austin hq. Carlson, on last Saturday's Capital Gang, said: "George Bush is wise not to comment, because he wants to follow the law, and actually the country is fortunate that there are people like Joel Klein and Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson willing to take on this icon of the dot.com IPO world, these, you know, rich guys who don't think there's any place in America for regulation, and they should just be able to take away your privacy, decide what you're going to have."
What a chilling nod to class warfare and ignorance. While Carlson and her Democratic friends were taking the safe route to their own cushy careers, innovators like Gates took chances with their own lives, daring to be great instead of settling for being upper-middle-class know-nothings. Gates is just one representative of the group of entrepreneurs who've fueled the economic boom that Bill Clinton takes credit for. And while nitwits like New York Times editorialists pontificate about the just reward for Gates' hubris, just think of all the men and women who've also tried to rise above mediocrity, who worked day and night, but failed. That Gates is the scapegoat for the entrepreneurial class of the 90s?like Michael Milken was in the 80s?is a crime in and of itself. Joel Klein ought to be disbarred, along with Clinton. Then they could both find jobs with Talk/Miramax.
There's value in the guts and vision of these Americans, and just because Gates is now fabulously wealthy is no reason to punish him. Sure, Microsoft sometimes operated on the border of existing antitrust laws; that's what happens when speed-of-light technology is beyond the comprehension of a legal system that adheres to laws passed more than 100 years ago. Judge Jackson, who's barely computer literate, was pissed off at Gates' attitude?as if his obnoxious testimony should have anything to do with the future of Microsoft?and Joel Klein's just a Clinton stooge who was gunning for a personal victory.
Bush should speak out now for all Americans who, in the immortal words of Bill Clinton, "play by the rules." The real rules, those intended by the Founding Fathers, not those subverted by current politics.
Despite the temporary success of Bush's effort, he remains too timid. His silence on an enormously important issue like the discriminatory action against Gates is reflective of his strategy: campaign as if you're the incumbent, even when you're the challenger, and, in light of the strong economy, draw sharp distinctions between yourself and Gore.
The New York Times, not surprisingly, recommends that Microsoft's appeal go straight to the Supreme Court. Even Howell Raines and his two-fingered typists can see that if the case drags out through the election, and Bush wins, a new Justice Dept. will probably drop the entire proceedings. As that's the most probable outcome, why doesn't Bush just say so now? It's not as if he won't be cheered by Americans who've profited by the techno revolution, both monetarily and in the quality of their lives.
In its June 8 editorial the Times piously wrote: "Though the content of Judge Jackson's ruling was unsurprising, the tone was startlingly stern. Microsoft, he says, has been 'not credible,' 'untrustworthy,' 'disingenuous.' And he added, 'There is credible evidence in the record to suggest that Microsoft, convinced of its innocence, continues to do business as it has in the past and may yet do to other markets what it has already done.' Judge Jackson sided completely with the government in part because he mistrusts the company. Yesterday Microsoft reaped the well-deserved consequences."
The following day, The Wall Street Journal was far more realistic in its own editorial: "To state it simply: Either the New Economy's corporate roster opens up new opportunities for the kind of fun and games that subsidize the Beltway establishment?or it shuts them down."
Forty-One Shots of Attention Why is aging rock star Bruce Springsteen sticking his nose into the business of New York City? As widely reported in the press, Springsteen's written a new protest song, "American Skin," about the tragic death of Amadou Diallo. The song indicts not only Rudy Giuliani and the city's entire police corps, but also the four acquitted officers who mistakenly shot the innocent immigrant.
Part of the lyrics run: "Lena gets her son ready for school/She says now on these streets Charles/You got to understand the rules/Promise me if an officer stops you'll always be polite/Never ever run away and promise mama you'll keep your hands in sight/Cause is it a gun?/Is it a knife?/Is it a wallet?/This is your life/It ain't no secret/It ain't no secret/The secret my friend/You can get killed just for living in your American skin."
Springsteen begins and ends the song, which hasn't been recorded yet and was just debuted last week in Atlanta, with the repetitive shout "41 shots!" The affluent pop star began a two-week stand at Madison Square Garden on June 12, the profits of which, I'm sure, will be handed over to the Diallo family, with a cut to Al Sharpton. Giuliani, upon hearing about the song, said, "Unfortunately, a lot of people have exploited this case. I don't know that that's the situation here."
Springsteen's turned a little bit creepy. If the Diallo killing affected him so greatly, why didn't he write the song shortly after the incident happened? That's what Neil Young?along with Crosby, Stills & Nash?did just days after the Kent State University student killings in 1970, recording and releasing the battle hymn "Ohio" almost instantaneously. (Ironically, the lyric, "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming/We're finally on our own/This summer I hear the drumming/Four dead in Ohio," proved to be illusory. After the horrible events of May 4, college students found out that demonstrations weren't just keggers with a bit of drama thrown in; the student antiwar movement wound down soon after.)
I have nothing against protest songs. Bob Dylan was a master of the art in the early 60s when he was a very young man and there was a lot more social unrest in the country. He also, at that point, wasn't living in a Hollywood mansion, but rather in a cheap apartment in the Village, still mooching money and drinks from people. Springsteen's now 50, and this latest song does seem to represent a selfish quest on his part for a personal Fountain of Youth. In 1987, he wrote the following in the stunning "Brilliant Disguise": "I'm just a lonely pilgrim/I walk this world in wealth/I want to know if it's you I don't trust/'cause I damn sure don't trust myself."
The man has a point: I don't trust Springsteen either.
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