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Jewish World Review June 25, 1999/ 11 Tamuz 5759

MUGGER

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http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
WHEN YOU’RE A KID, birthdays are pure magic. Actually, some adults, like NYPress art director Mike Gentile, never get over it: My calendar always has Jan. 20 circled, because that’s when he says the year officially starts.

But if you’re born in July or August, like MUGGER III, school-wise, it’s a bad deal: Not only do you miss out on parties with your mates there, but so many people are out of town that private bashes are often sparsely attended. That’s why it was so cool that Joe, MUGGER III’s teacher, on the last day of the semester, set aside time last Monday to celebrate my boy’s birthday two months early.

It was a simple half-hour ceremony that had Mrs. M fighting off the waterworks. She and Junior had purchased and doled out the snacks—gummy bears, Gatorade and Pringles—and then all the kids gathered in a circle while the “birthday boy” wore a crown. My favorite segment of the activity was when MUGGER III walked around a lit candle five times, once for each year, and after each revolution, stopped to hear comments from his parents about what he was like when was one, two, etc. Smart-aleck Junior piped in with, “He cried a lot,” or “He tried to snake my Power Rangers,” while I remembered that as a newborn he didn’t sleep much, and when he was four he told me stories about his imaginary friends who drove all the poisonous blue, yellow and purple ants out of the United States. Mrs. M was a touch more sentimental, saying, “When he was one, MUGGER III was cute as a button, just like now,” and “He had the best appetite of any boy I ever saw.”

Then Joe asked each of his friends what they would buy MUGGER III if they had unlimited cash at their disposal. Thirteen out of 15 pupils chose some kind of Pokemon paraphernalia, speaking in a code that was foreign even to me, and I’m pretty much of an expert on the fad. Once that was completed the kids dug into the gummy bears, I stopped in at Mary’s Fourth Estate newsstand and then got back to work, to stare down the Deadline Nazis, as some crank out in Seattle I once knew would bleat repeatedly on difficult afternoons.

Lately, my younger son has a new shtick: He asks me to eat his toe, which I do and then pretend to barf. Keeps him rolling with laughter for five minutes. I’ve also been counseling both boys to watch out when they jump from the jungle gym in the park. Why, Dad, they ask me like I’m some kind of sissy. I tell him about the neck injury I incurred when I was 11: My brothers and I played a game of leaping down the dozen steps of stairs in our house, with pillows at the bottom. One day I didn’t make it all the way and pinched a nerve in my neck that haunts me still.

One or two muscles are so kinked up that if I read in a funny position, or slouch in a chair the wrong way, I’m punished by two days of solid pain. If I want to carry the boys on my shoulders I know there’s a price to pay and Tylenol doesn’t do a damn bit of good. One time, years ago, the day before Mrs. M and I went to Jamaica for a week, I hurt my neck and literally couldn’t move it from side to side. My doctor prescribed medication that sort of relieved the pain; once I got on the rum tonics I was in a better state of mind. Mrs. M thought it was a riot back then: A year ago, however, she encountered a similar ailment and finally knew what I was talking about.

On Saturday morning, after arising at 5 with the boys, playing with Pokemon cards and Star Wars action figures and watching Secrets of the Animal Kingdom, the four of us trooped down to the ballfield for the next-to-last Downtown Little League game of the season. The NYPress Giants were playing the Highland Production Bulls—who sported slick fielding—and, although I’m not supposed to say this, pasted their opponents. Scotty Franchi hit a grand slammer, Gabe Wax hit the ball ferociously and Jack Reidy ran all over the field trying to make an unassisted triple play. I think he actually succeeded. During the game, MUGGER III told me he had to pee like a racehorse so we went over to the portable potty by the side of the field. It was pretty raunchy inside, but I told him to hold his nose and ignore the foul conditions. You’re never too young to cope with adversity: After all, 60 NYPress employees are forced to endure the shoddy amenities at 333 every day of the week.

Later in the day, it seemed like the whole team went to the carnival between Reade and Chambers St., organized by King’s Pharmacy. Marc Brandell, King’s chieftain, was a real mensch for throwing the affair for the neighborhood kids: There were several rides—the Berry Go Round the favorite in our family—and a cool guy who spun fresh cotton candy with the finesse of a glassblower. Junior claimed he puked in the Caterpillar ride but I think he was just joshing around. There was a sub-rosa Miss Subway, as in the chain of sandwiches, who showed up, a bit to Marc’s consternation, since this was a noncommercial shindig, but she was colorful and grabbed a lot of attention, if not business. The most satisfying aspect of the carnival was that it was homemade: Not a traveling sausage vendor in sight, and none of those obnoxious carnies who travel from week to week to the city’s overloaded schedule of prefab festivals. Even though one of the rides had a flat on the Jersey Turnpike early in the day, and the cops were slow to tow a couple of trucks that blocked the street, the Kings carnival was a huge hit, and I’d say that Marc has etched himself as one of the Good Guys—recalling the 60s WMCA DJs—of this tight-knit neighborhood.

I was up before everyone else on Father’s Day and engaged in a lengthy instant e-mail discussion with a fellow from Tennessee. Initially, he was complaining about some technical aspect of our website—which I forwarded to Jeff Koyen—but then we got down to politics. He was in Carthage for Al Gore’s kickoff speech last week and wasn’t impressed: Said that the Veep was imitating George W. Bush with his Spanish routine and that he definitely won’t vote for any Democrat next year. As for Bush, “It’s a matter of whether I want to pull the lever for someone who’ll win or go with the Libertarian candidate.” He then made the observation that Bill Kristol looks just like Bob Woodward—perhaps, but thank G-d Kristol doesn’t have that horrendous Midwest accent of the wealthy author who squirrels away his best material for books rather than releasing more frequent front-page reports for The Washington Post—but then I had to give up the iMac so MUGGER III so could turn on his Superman CD-ROM.

When Mrs. M got up it was time for presents and this Dad made out like a prince: seersucker swimming trunks, a summer sweater and snazzy blue and gold cufflinks. I was permitted to watch the Sunday talk shows in relative silence and was lucky enough to see George Will make a fool of Dick Gephardt on This Week. The Minority Leader couldn’t back up a single claim of his about guns sold at flea markets, and when Will pressed on he just claimed he didn’t have the statistics in front of them, but it’s an awful state of affairs and if it weren’t for Tom DeLay...

We then went to a theater in the East Village to see Tarzan, an absolutely delightful movie, despite the Phil Collins soundtrack and Rosie O’Donnell’s voice for one of the apes. Our favorite part, all four of us, was when young Tarzan jumped in the water from a cliff and then, from under the water, pulled the tail of an elephant, who screamed, “Ow, my butt!” Also, as usual, it was freezing inside. Don’t these chain owners realize that it’s 1999 and people don’t escape to movie theaters anymore to beat the heat? That almost everyone has some form of air conditioning?

Anyway, I’d heard on a talk radio show that Al Sharpton apostles were complaining about Tarzan because it’s set in Africa and therefore makes fun of black people. Here we go again. First of all, I hope that linguists carry the day soon and the silly term African-American is retired. C’mon: My grandparents were born in Dublin but I describe myself as a white person who lives in the United States. That’s accurate. Why the double standard?

Before I took an afternoon nap, I brought the July 5 New Republic to bed and was startled by the most scathing review of Kurt Andersen’s Turn of the Century I’ve read yet. This was incendiary material; the writer, Lee Siegel, seemed like a hyperactive preacher looking for one last glass of whiskey. I have no idea what his agenda was, or whether Marty Peretz put him up to it—TNR’s irksome owner is feuding with James Cramer, a friend of Andersen—but once Siegel called TOC’s author a “sociopath,” I knew it would be hard to get to sleep. Siegel writes: “Perhaps when the century does turn, the anthropologists will be able to examine why a book so empty of wit, imagination, and humanity is being hailed in the universe of newspapers and magazines as a work of wit, imagination and humanity.”

But that’s just a touch of Siegel’s wrath toward the Milosevic of American letters. He traces Andersen’s career, often inaccurately, and dismisses his cofounding of Spy—easily the most influential magazine startup in the past two decades—as the work of a social climber. “[A]t Spy, Andersen knew how to flatter the rich and famous by provoking them, just as a certain kind of undergraduate learns how to flatter his instructors by provoking them. An undergraduate approach to life, presented as sophisticated entertainment, and vouched for by a lavish expense account, appealed to a lot of people in Manhattan in the Reagan years.”

I could go on, but you get the point. Wouldn’t it be splendid if this remarkably nasty essay about Kurt Andersen was entirely honest, and unadulterated by past snubs, either social or professional, or a command from his editor for a hit job? I doubt it, but Lee, here’s a deal: If this review wasn’t about settling a score, give me a call. NYPress is always on the lookout for writers who can conjure up such pure invective. And at this paper, unlike TNR, you’ll have real editors and factcheckers working on your pieces, so that the mistakes that any journalist makes will be caught, and won’t wind up marring your printed material.

Siegel’s review didn’t induce drowsiness, so I turned to Dana Milbank’s “White House Watch” and that did the trick. As I’ve written previously, Milbank, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is Peretz’s pet lapdog for the current Gore campaign. I can just see Dana in a pen, hypnotized by Professor Marty—when he isn’t distracted by calls from the Vice President or Israel—and told exactly how to spread the gospel of Señor Gore’s destiny. In his current dispatch, Milbank obediently yips and yaps at George W. Bush, complaining about the press accommodations in his campaign and making a joke about the Governor’s “blue” blood, as if Gore were an immigrant who climbed to this level in politics by dint of his hard work and charisma.

Milbank wasn’t present for the Iowa swing of Bush’s whirlwind trip last week, but he had a “good excuse”: “I was picked off by Al Gore, who held a series of meetings with journalists yesterday at his residence. It was an obvious ploy to reduce Bush’s press contingent, and I fell for it. Given the choice of Bush’s plane with 105 reporters or Gore’s dining room with three others, I opted to watch Bush’s Iowa jaunt on TV.” But our unbiased reporter caught up with Bush’s “Great Expectations” tour in New Hampshire, where he grew tired of the candidate’s “pleasant platitudes,” as opposed to Gore’s “mind-numbing array of proposals.”

Yet, just paragraphs later, Milbank does a 180 and says, “Bush had been making some troubling nods to the right on this tour.” It seems that Milbank is disturbed by Bush’s “conservative boilerplate” of cutting taxes, an increased military budget and partially privatizing Social Security. Maybe it’s just me, and a majority of the country, but those are the kind of issues that will send Marty Peretz’s protege into a frustrating, if lucrative, retirement.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

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06/16/99: Bush Begins His March: The Beltway Pundits Pout
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02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
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02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
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10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith