Pedro's at His Peak An early morning exchange last Sunday at the local bodega still has me scratching the old noggin. A presentable young fellow was on line with a roll of Bounty paper towels, paid for it, and put the change back in his pocket. Then, out of nowhere, he yelled at the clerk behind the counter: "That's 30 cents more than down the street, man. You're ripping me off!" Doesn't seem to me that it's worth raising your blood pressure when he could've purchased his Bounty...down the street. Dude.
Just a few thoughts this week.
1. Learning the Fundamentals. Pardon the gooey sentiment?ohmygod, have I been transported to Berkeley!?but it's a lot more fun to watch your kid play t-ball than most Major League baseball games. Last Saturday morning, at the stroke of 8, the New York Press Bears and the FSLAW.com Braves took the Downtown Little League field for a zany hour, undaunted by a steady drizzle of rain. When it was over everyone insisted that their team had won, even though the coaches tell their charges that no one keeps score. Fat chance. Truth is, it's hard to tell who wins what, since the six- and seven-year-olds don't really know the finer points of the rules, such as when you're forced out at second you can't run all the way home and claim it was a grand slam.
The Braves boasted a heavy lineup of hitters?Reuben Sinder's the Carl Everett of that squad?but the Bears kept most of the hits contained to the infield, providing a defense that was pretty amazing to watch. Junior got a few hits himself, but for the first time really excelled at catching the ball and tagging runners out at home. It was a milestone: often he daydreams if he's put in short left or is one of the three second basemen. There's an innocence to little tykes playing ball. For example, the pure joy on Junior's face when he slid into second base (completely unnecessarily) reminded me of his tender age. Sometimes, when he throws back a plastic cup of Motrin like it was a shot of tequila, or asks me why he can't go see American Psycho, another hair turns gray. The Bears aren't the tallest of boys and girls in the division, but they're a tough and determined unit. I think Campbell, Darby, Sawyer and the rest are going to provide a nail-biting season.
While I'm on the subject of baseball, Bob Guccione Jr. showed some balls (again) by putting the Red Sox's awesome Pedro Martinez on the cover of May's Gear. Jack Wright's article inside was nothing special?he hung out with Martinez for a few days in Santo Domingo?but just the fact that Gear ditched the beer & babes formula for at least a month was notable, especially since the issue probably won't sell well on the newsstands. The headshot of an unsmiling Martinez, with the headline "Lethal Weapon," appealed to me, since the pitcher is the dominant player in the sport currently and happens to play for the Bosox, but I doubt Gear's demographic will agree. (By the way, Junior, a confirmed Sox fan like his dad, assures me that this is the year the Curse of the Bambino will be lifted.)
Then again, could be that Guccione's onto something. A year ago not many people predicted that Gear could survive in such a crowded market of "laddie books." Now Details and its editor Mark "Maxim" Golin are history (although the mag will be revamped into an undoubtedly redundant fashion title in the fall) and Gear's still around, with a baseball star on its cover. Who isn't modeling clothes. Industry mainstreamers have always sold Guccione short, probably because of his father's scuzzy persona and his own obnoxious quotes in columns like "Page Six." But his original Spin was a groundbreaker, introducing Celia Farber and her exhaustive, and controversial, reporting on AIDS?in a music magazine?as well as long dispatches from the Human Keyboard William Vollmann. Guccione sold Spin at the right time, watched it deteriorate in his absence, and started Gear. I won't count the guy out.
2. Get a Table Now. Remember David Bouley's spectacular space at 165 Duane St. in Tribeca that housed his eponymous restaurant for a number of years? You'd walk in and there would be baskets of seasonal fruit in the lobby and gorgeous arrangements of flowers throughout the dining room. The waitstaff was a bit haughty, but thoroughly knowledgeable and accommodating. Bouley himself would peek out from the kitchen occasionally to see who was eating what of his meals. Once, when I ordered cheese after dinner instead of a dessert, the waiter told me his boss was somewhat offended and insisted on making me something sweet that I'd never forget. Bouley's a kooky character, like many artists, but that's what makes him tops in the business. I haven't yet tried his Austrian-tinged Danube on Hudson St.?frankly, I don't like making reservations two months in advance?but I've heard nothing but glowing reports.
Anyway, in his former location there's now the upscale Italian restaurant Scalini Fedeli, and after dining there last Friday night with Mrs. M I'm confident in calling the place an undiscovered hit. I don't really keep up with food reviews these days, but not enough attention has been paid to this terrific spot?if it had, surely we wouldn't have been able to secure even a 6:30 table on a weekend night. The atmosphere at Scalini Fedeli is true to the original Bouley; even though massive renovation was done there, the feeling is the same, with the flowers, cozy bar and a staff that's not only well-versed in the menu but extremely friendly too.
We didn't have a miss on the prix fixe menu: penne with tomato and chunks of delicious sausage; a lobster tart; Chilean sea bass with perfume of olives; and a light veal chop with salad on top. The sample of tuna tartare as a starter was excellent, as were the sorbets that came before our superb desserts of an apple tart with cinnamon gelato and a pistachio-dominated number that was sandwiched between two layers of luscious caramel crisps. The place filled up as we left 90 minutes later, but not every table was occupied.
Scalini Fedeli is going to be a monster restaurant once the word gets out: go now before the maitre d' tells you, upon request of a reservation, that he can fit you in at either 5:30 or 10:00 two Tuesdays from now.
3. Dumb and Very Dumb. Following are some of the more stupid remarks I've come across recently. The online National Review pointed out on April 6: "House Minority Whip David Bonior, in today's Roll Call, comparing the WTO riots in Seattle to upcoming meetings in Washington: 'Seattle was a great success. We hope we will see a repeat performance.' Replies House Majority Leader Dick Armey: 'Rioting, looting, and assault shouldn't be anyone's definition of success.'"
It's frightening that Bonior blithely makes such an inflammatory statement, while condemning the Cuban-Americans fighting for Elian Gonzalez's freedom in Miami. The media plays right along: the protesters against Castro are now described with the same derogatory tone as the Christian right, while the DC anti-globalization crowd is clogging up Washington in the name of a "cause," not a political agenda.
The new editor of George, Frank Lalli, reputedly a smart hire, certainly embarrasses himself on the subject of negative campaigning in his April issue. He writes, under the headline of "Fight Against Dirty Campaigns": "Send anyone you might support?including candidates for local office?a letter, fax, or e-mail saying that they will lose your vote if they go negative. Then ask friends and neighbors to do the same. Politicians pay far closer attention to such messages from what they call 'real people' than you might imagine. You and your fellow readers of George have enormous clout. Use it against candidates who have no respect for the truth."
Somehow, I don't think Lalli meant that the empowered George readers should use their clout against Al Gore, a candidate who clearly has "no respect for the truth." Do you?
I think Edward Norton is a fine actor, perhaps number one in his age group, and it's admirable that he's loyal to his late grandfather, the acclaimed urban developer James Rouse. Still, in a Washington Post profile of Norton on April 13, the young man fed writer Rita Kempley some revisionist history about Harborplace, Rouse's inner-city shopping center in Baltimore. "He would be sorry to see it now," Norton says of his grandfather, noting that the city's Inner Harbor now has a Barnes & Noble sign on the Power Plant. He says: "[W]hen the pavilions opened, there were idiosyncratic shops with funky jewelry, wonderful kites and homemade ice cream." And Kempley continues the myth: "Rouse's legacy has since mutated into a chain-store dominated example of boomer decadence of the sort that inspired last year's anti-consumerist blood fest 'Fight Club'" (the uneven film that Norton starred in with Brad Pitt).
But here's reality: I was there when Harborplace opened and there was nothing "funky" about it. Chain restaurants, overpriced food kiosks, leather jacket and shoe stores, souvenir stands; the same kind of fare you see at Rouse's Faneuil Hall in Boston and New York's Seaport. Don't get me wrong: Harborplace was a boon to the city, bringing loads of tourists to a neglected waterfront where there had once been rotting wharves, crummy seafood shacks and winos sprawled on the grass. Rouse was a commercial and planning visionary, and he wouldn't in the least be surprised by the continued expansion of Baltimore's downtown that he fostered. Rouse's development was a tonic for a city that was decaying before its residents' eyes. I didn't go to Harborplace much, but thousands upon thousands of tourists did, and still do, daily, and it brought astounding financial success to a downtown that was once deserted.
That this economic miracle was confined to a very small area of the city wasn't Rouse's fault; after all, he was a businessman doing his job. The city is still marred by crime, junkies, horrible schools and a continued exodus to the suburbs. The one positive development in the past year was the election of Martin O'Malley as the city's mayor, a moderate Democrat who's pledged a "zero tolerance" stance toward crime. Kind of like Giuliani with a heart.
The New York Times continues to double as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. In a front-page editorial last Sunday, Clifford J. Levy combined the paper's bias with bad creative writing.
His lead: "They may never have set foot in New York, have little use for big-city notions and harbor only a vague idea of which vowel goes where in the last name of the Republican who wants to be the state's next United States senator.
"But for many of the people who have been showering Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's campaign with donations from far-flung ZIP codes, just one fact matters: His opponent is Hillary Rodham Clinton. And she must?must!?be stopped."
4. When the Democratic Donkey Is Down, Kick Him Till He Bleeds. Last week, I argued against George W. Bush sticking his beak into the Clinton administration's persecution of Bill Gates and Microsoft. Most conservative commentators thought it was an ideal opportunity for Bush to get ahead of an issue, instead of either reacting to a goofball accusation by Al Gore or keeping to his low-key tour of the industrial heartland, introducing his ideas on education, health care and tax cuts. His reticence to speak out on Gates has paid off: if he'd been quick to react, the media would've unfairly tarred him with a the-rich-help-the-rich label. Bush's stance against excessive litigation is well-known, and it's likely, should he win in November, the Microsoft matter will be dropped or settled in short order.
But now, given many events recently, is the time for Bush to go on the offensive and use his bully pulpit as the Republican Party's leader. The drop in the Dow and NASDAQ last week can be attributed in part to the penurious Microsoft decision: not only did that stock suffer, but other tech companies?which have largely fueled Clinton's economy?tanked as well. Entrepreneurs can justifiably ask, If it happened to Gates, who's next with a Reno-led Justice (sic) Dept.?
Bush can point all of this out to voters?half of whom, no doubt, own some sort of stock?and repeat, repeat, repeat his insistence on tort reform. No one likes lawyers (except Democratic candidates), especially those who make millions of dollars on frivolous and exaggerated lawsuits. With the public having jitters about the economy, it's now the perfect time for Bush to lash out against the Clinton administration's coziness with $500/hour lawyers and antipathy to tax cuts. After all, there's a strong case to be made that part of the market's decline was due to investors trying to become liquid so they could meet their April 15 taxes?with the insane levy on capital gains only the most penurious and damaging to the economy.
At the same time, Bush can level an assault on the character of Bill Clinton, a safe tactic given his standing in the most recent Gallup Poll that showed him substantially leading Gore on the question of leadership and personality. The Texas Governor can crack a Reagan-like joke that last week, while protesters were fouling Washington, Clinton was at the Sequoia National Forest in California?safe from the demonstrations?issuing the following statement about the standoff over Elian Gonzalez in Miami. Clinton said: "When this thing finally plays out, in the end, the law has to be obeyed... I just told [Attorney General Janet Reno] that I strongly supported her efforts and that we clearly had to uphold the rule of law."
Bush can praise Clinton's knowledge of the law and then segue into what Robert Ray, Kenneth Starr's successor as independent counsel, said last week. In maintaining that it's a possibility that Clinton will be indicted upon vacating the presidency, Ray was defiant: "It is an open investigation. There is a principle to be vindicated, and that principle is that no person is above the law, even the president of the United States." Unlike most of the country, even Republicans, I believe that Clinton should be prosecuted, just as Richard Nixon deserved to be after Watergate. Had it not been for Gerald Ford's politically disastrous pardon, Nixon would've done time, a fair outcome considering that so many of his staff members spent months or years at Allenwood or similar white-collar detention centers.
Clinton, in yet another example of trying, at least subconsciously, to damage Al Gore's chances of getting elected, told a stunned audience at the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week that he has little remorse about being impeached by the House of Representatives. In what will go down as the most famous statement of his checkered career?aside from, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky"?Clinton said: "But on the impeachment, let me tell you, I am proud of what we did there, because I think we saved the Constitution of the United States."
Everyone knows that Clinton has enormous chutzpah, but this outburst was clearly delusional, something that Bush can harp on. How did Clinton save the Constitution? By lying under oath, lying to his staff and lying to the country? By invoking every stall tactic he could muster?executive privilege, etc.?to subvert justice? By using his power as president to alter the news cycle, such as by bombing Iraq on the eve of his impeachment, or leveling a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan just after he confessed to the American public his involvement with Monica Lewinsky?
Clinton is a sick man if he believes he "saved" the Constitution. He did his best to destroy it and that should never be forgotten. Bush has plenty of ammunition in his quest to oust the scandal-ridden Clinton-Gore team from the Oval Office?the '96 illegal campaign contributions being just one topic of conversation?but now the President has handed him another made-for-tv moment perfect for 30-second advertisements in the fall.
Gore knows that although his boss can help raise millions for his campaign, the association with the President is dangerous. At a California fundraiser last Saturday night, this was the most Gore could come up with to compliment Clinton: "Of all the good things I could say about President Clinton...I could tell you about the many, many times when I have seen him?especially in the early years?nearly buckle under the pressure of his office. But never do so."
You just know that Clinton was thinking, even while flashing a smile for the cameras: "What an ungrateful motherfucker... I wonder what Karenna's doing tonight?"
Send comments to MUG1988@aol.com or fax to 244-9864.