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Jewish World Review June 30 2000/ 27 Sivan, 5760


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Consumer Reports

Lunch with Drudge -- MATT DRUDGE, whose growing empire is now housed in a Miami high-rise, stopped by for a delightful lunch on Monday afternoon, and I offered wholehearted congratulations for his reporting on John Connolly's aborted Talk/Miramax book The Insane Clown Posse.

Make no mistake about it: this screed, which dished dirt on Ken Starr and his staff, as well as other enemies of the Clintons, would've been published had Drudge not received the first five chapters through, I suppose, a double-agent at the beleaguered Talk bunker. Clinton apologists like Joe Conason are moaning that vast-right-wing conspiracists like Drudge, Lucianne Goldberg and Ann Coulter can't take a hit of their own medicine, but I doubt that's the case. After all, Conason and Gene Lyons published a long defense of the Clintons, The Hunting of the President, and hardly a peep was heard, except from the authors, who complained about the choice of reviewers at The Washington Post and New York Times.

(Funny, you didn't hear the same self-righteous squawking when Peggy Noonan's The Case Against Hillary Clinton was lambasted in The Washington Post by Jane Mayer or in The New York Observer by Nina Burleigh, the former Time chick who famously said she wouldn't mind giving Bill Clinton some energetic head.)

From what I've heard, and not from Drudge, the book was given the green light as far back as December, with Tina Brown's and Disney chief Michael Eisner's approval. This makes sense: Brown, not yet off her pink cloud from the barrage of publicity at Talk's debut last August, was no doubt thrilled to help the Clintons out. What she didn't bargain on was that Connolly would be such a creep, hiring private detectives (and I doubt the Talk/Miramax advance would cover his expenses; do you smell the work of James Carville and Sidney Blumenthal here?) to find out who on Starr's staff was gay and whether Goldberg was a "fag hag." When Connolly started delving into the sex lives of Brown's dinner companions, that's when the ruckus started.

Junior and I had a great time at the Marlins-Brewers game on Monday night, even if it was eerie, less than a week after being packed like rodents into the sold-out Bombers-Bosox game at Yankee Stadium, to see most of the Marlins' Pro Player Stadium empty. We had terrific seats: fourth row right behind home plate, and if not for the net we'd have scored a couple of foul balls. Here are the pluses of a modern facility like Pro Player: decent food and no lines at the concession stands. That's where it ends.

It seemed as if there were more ushers than fans, making it impossible for us to sneak into empty first-row seats behind the Marlins dugout. In fact, entering one section, an employee stopped us and said no one was allowed back in until the batter had finished his turn at bat. This kind of holiness wouldn't play in New York: it's not the opera we're talking about, remember. It was stunning, from our vantage point, seeing the entire upper decks vacant, just an orange expanse of seats. I don't care for the National League to begin with, but I do love seeing baseball at any time of the day, in any city, and chatting with some of the fans, who were disgusted by the Floridian attitude toward baseball. "It's an immature sports community," said one New York expat, "at least where baseball is concerned. Even when the Marlins won the World Series it all seemed fake. People clap as if they're in church."


But Junior was all smiles, especially while tracking the Marlins' mascot, Billy, one of those corny attractions that losing teams need to keep their small number of fans amused. During the seventh-inning stretch my boy skipped over one section and high-fived Billy on top of the home team dugout. It was his thrill of the trip, especially since for an instant he was on the scoreboard screen. I'd never have allowed him to scamper away like that at Yankee Stadium or Shea, but here I had a perfect view of him; it was like when he was at a street carnival a few years ago and Barney the Dinosaur showed up. The game was inconsequential: Brewers winning two-zip, with a paid attendance of 7612.

The next day was a flip-flop for the boy. He had a difficult time sleeping-the excitement from the game I figured-and in the morning registered a temperature of 103 degrees. It wasn't long before he was upchucking his Marlins hotdog and cotton candy, and moaning with stomach pains. It didn't help one bit that the illness his brother had passed on would cause us to forgo the dog races in Little Havana that day. Instead, while MUGGER III and Mrs. M went out for a ride to Bal Harbour, our seven-year-old, who can get a touch dramatic when sick, watched Nickelodeon while I read the morning papers. Which almost made me sick. The June 20 New York Times editorial was hilarious. It praised Al Gore's copycat "retirement plan" for Americans, saying it was the "safer" alternative to Bush's market-driven partial privatization of Social Security. This is just more evidence that the Texas Governor is driving the campaign: two months ago, had Gore proposed that the government give Americans tax credits, the paper would have said it was a "risky scheme." But no, now that Gore's campaign is in disarray, with labor potentially a bigger problem for him than the right-wing Christian baseis for Bush, anything goes with the Times. Frankly, I agree with William Safire's opinion in the Times on June 26: raise the retirement age. The life expectancy of the country's citizens is many years longer than when the entitlement was first introduced by FDR; it only makes sense that people work a bit longer before going on the dole.

The Wall Street Journal, also on June 20, offered some common sense in its editorial on the same subject: "It might have been different. Bill Clinton, after all, made political hay by breaking with his party's orthodoxy on welfare, trade and a balanced budget. Mr. Gore could have shown his independence and foresight by proposing a similar breakthrough on entitlements. Instead he decided he only had to change his clothes."


Later in the day, MUGGER III and I took a quick spin into Little Havana, stopping for Cuban coffee and grape soda and buying a bunch of knickknacks at a $1 store, including some ancient and dusty transformer toys that interested him a lot more than anything from FAO Schwarz. It's incredible sometimes, how money is relative with kids. The smallest things, like his film canister collection, or a rock from the beach, hold a lot more value. This one's a puzzler. I remember when I was kid, using a buck of the money I earned mowing lawns to buy a deli sandwich at the park for lunch instead of eating some humdrum leftover at home, and looking at a buddy's penny-Tootsie Roll pop and thinking he'd made the wiser choice. Anyway, at the same store I bought a little figurine of a bride and groom at the altar for Mrs. M, which at least momentarily made her feel better about the skunk who nabbed her wedding ring. I also got a couple packages of dried Quijote chorizo and two Cuba keyrings.

One thing I hate about Miami, and it's easy to forget, is that it's a Sun Belt city, where you have to drive almost everywhere. It's almost as bad as L.A. So from South Beach, it's a $40 cab ride to the Marlins' stadium; $25 to different malls; and $30 to Little Havana. There's no real concentration of shops or neighborhoods like in New York. Not to mention that hailing a taxi requires more than a mere wave of the hand.

By Wednesday morning, we'd had it with the Delano, Miami, cars, room service, busted elevators and $12 ballpoint pens at the gift shop. By this point, the chlorine in the pool had given Mrs. M a headache, so we kept our morning jaunt there short. Reading about Pedro Martinez losing to the Yankees in The Miami Herald, a crummy daily, meant I couldn't even open the Times till later in the afternoon, and I just stuck to the Journal. Naturally, it's almost impossible to find The Weekly Standard in Miami, but I had a copy Fed Exed along with some business documents and that's what I read before taking a siesta: a fine article by Geoffrey Norman advocating the secession of Vermont from the U.S. Suits me. In 10 years, Cuba and Puerto Rico will officially be part of the United States, so why not lose Ben & Jerry-land.

Chicken Run had opened in selected theaters, which, as Junior pointed out, meant that Burger King was giving out new come-on toys for the movie. After the kids ate, we walked around, went to an anonymous Cuban restaurant for lunch and had a pretty good meal: rice and black beans, roast pork, breast of chicken and ice cream that neither of the boys touched. I'm not too picky about Cuban grub. It's one of my favorite cuisines, but the range between sublime and horrid isn't as expansive as it is in Italian or French. Give me the beans, ropa vieja, Cuban coffee and shrimp in garlic sauce, and I'm happy. At this place there was a really cool lollipop machine that played a 15-second round of carnival music after you deposited a quarter. Even though the candy was pretty rancid, we still popped a lot of quarters in that contraption.

We returned to New York on Thursday, with Mrs. M vowing never to step foot in Florida again. Apparently, the boys agreed: after lugging our bags into the apartment, they both kissed the map of the world in their room, thrilled to be home. I think it was just a bad-luck vacation, but in the democracy of our domestic unit, my pro-Miami vote has been defeated at the polls. The weekend was relaxing, with Junior completing his Downtown Little League season and Mrs. M taking them to the park for a massive water-gun fight. Later on we all started a coin collection, dumping the contents of some 15 piggy banks. Any coin that was minted in 1970 or before was kept, along with the new state quarters, plus nickels and pennies from the boys' years of birth. Kind of corny, a Norman Rockwell diversion, but it beats staying at the Delano.

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

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© 2000, Russ Smith