Rudy’s No Artist
Oh, the critics have called Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a philistine for cracking down on street artists and seeking budget cuts for cultural institutions. They’ve portrayed him as a workaholic, a despot with a utilitarian streak. But that was before he let everyone in on his little secret: Not only does he have a passion, but he has a passion for one of the fine arts.
The secret was unveiled at the Leica Gallery in the East Village. On his way to the podium, the Mayor noticed a crooked picture on the wall and paused to straighten it. A careless reporter had leaned against the picture moments before.
Mr. Giuliani’s photo exhibit- View From the Capital of the World -offers sweeping shots of the bridges and the skyline. It’s a tidy portrait of the city. The Mayor focused his lens on human beings for just a few of the 24 pictures on display-and those were mostly firefighters and rescue workers, testament to the photographer’s empathy for embattled heroes.
Our Mayor just wanted to share the fruits of his hobby with his fellow New Yorkers, to show another side of himself. Alas, it only gave the critics more to snipe about. His sweeping shots of the skyline, they said, suggest a ruler with an aloof view of his empire, a leader with little feeling for his subjects.
So there was the Mayor at the Leica Gallery, defending himself once again during what was supposed to be a light press conference.
“Somebody wanted to know why I didn’t take pictures of more people,” he said, gripping the lectern. “O.K., I’m going to tell you why. I started doing that and they started running away.”
Laughter. The Mayor grabbed someone’s camera and lurched toward a guest. “What does it look like when the Mayor comes up to you?” he asked. “They started running away. That got to be a little difficult. And I’m sure it would have been a whole big thing about invading privacy or something else.”
Mayor Giuliani’s sudden aversion to thrusting cameras into people’s faces was refreshing. After all, he has allowed his police force the unprecedented use of cameras for surveillance of public spaces. As part of his war on drugs, two cameras stand at the western end of Washington Square Park, spying on dog walkers and chess players. He has also expanded the use of security cameras in housing projects.
Mr. Giuliani may relax by taking photos of the city he loves, but he also seems to think cameras make a useful surveillance tool in the war on perverts. Just hours before appearing at Leica, the Mayor offered a suggestion on his call-in radio show to people looking to drive porn shops out of their neighborhood.
“You can take pictures of people going in there,” he said. “Oh, boy, it really does cut down on business … You know the kind of people who go in there. They probably don’t want other people to know that. You might be doing them a favor, because you might start getting them to deal with their problem.”
Back at Leica on May 15, a reporter mentioned the street artists who were protesting outside the gallery, screaming about the Mayor’s forbidding them to sell their works on the street without a license. Five of them had been arrested.
So did Mr. Giuliani have a message for his fellow artists?
“I don’t consider myself an artist,” said the Mayor. “Next question.”
A Folk Antihero
My friend Kurtis Bell flew in from Los Angeles for a visit. After spending the days slugging back Budweisers and popping the occasional Valium or Tylenol P.M., he found himself in Dorrian’s Red Hand Restaurant, the Upper East Side dive, on the night New York Yankees pitcher David Wells was at the bar, celebrating his perfect game.
At the moment, David Wells is a folk hero, not only for retiring 27 Minnesota Twins in a row, but because he drinks a lot of beer and makes wise-guy remarks from time to time. At Dorrian’s, he was having a decent time, despite the presence of about a dozen men staring at him. The New York Times reported that Mr. Wells was drinking champagne at Dorrian’s, and that is probably true, but what kind of folk hero would he be if he was not doing shots and drinking beer, which he definitely was.
Kurtis went up to him, talked to him about Marv Albert for a minute, then told me it was time to go. “This is a sausage party,” he said, gesturing toward all the men in the room.
We went back to my apartment, but Kurtis wasn’t done yet. He took a Valium, then slipped out to get a six-pack at the deli. Kurtis Bell is no folk hero, but he’s got to be as much of a party animal as David Wells. Something else you should know about Kurtis: He was actually fired from the MTV Beach House. He should be a folk hero for that alone. But the thing about being a folk hero is you’ve got to have some kind of accomplishment to go with the screw-ups and heavy drinking, and Kurtis is lacking in the accomplishment department, even if he is great to be around.
He’s unusually lithe. He has curly hair and wears loose clothes. He’s trying to be an actor in L.A., which means he’s not doing much.
“Pretty much I wake up, I go get a newspaper, Variety or Hollywood Reporter , fax out a bunch of résumés, don’t get any responses,” Kurtis said into my tape recorder. “About 3 in the afternoon, I go get myself a 12-pack of Budweiser, sit down, watch Jerry Springer , drink a beer or two or three. Sometimes I drink too much and fall asleep around 5, wake up at 9, eat a little something, go back to sleep.”
“What about going out at night?”
“Yeah, I do a lot of that. Life of the party wherever I go. Always doing the shock-value shit, talking about John Wayne Gacy and getting blood on the clown suit.”
“Can you keep up with the partying?”
“I’m older now. I find my digestive system can’t really hold up with the amount of drinking, can’t handle the amount of beer you take in, and you have a lot of problems with your feces , and it doesn’t stay together too well. And sometimes when you’ve been drunk all night, you can go home at 4 o’clock in the morning, but for some reason you wake up at 6 , and you’re like, What the hell is this all about? There’s a couple ways you can get around that. No. 1 doesn’t always work, is you get up and get yourself another beer or two. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and you keep drinking until the six-pack is gone, and you fall back asleep again. Another way is taking Tylenol P.M. or a Valium.”
“Can’t you just toss off?”
“No,” said Kurtis. “Usually when you drink that much and you’re hungover, you get whisky dick. You try, but you can’t whack it.”
“How you doing with the ladies?”
“Los Angeles is not a good place for me, but when I was living here last, I was getting lots and lots of girls. When I’m buzzed, I’m pretty suave and smooth.”
One night during his visit, after Kurtis had been pounding beers all day, we went to the deli for some water and Gatorade-detox stuff. At the counter, Kurtis took a step back, lost his balance and fell onto the muffin table. Back at the apartment, he passed out with his shoes on.
Another time we found ourselves walking around in the daytime among all the hippies and rasta guys in a big drumming circle in Central Park. I asked Kurtis, “How many women have you slept with?”
“Fifty-six,” he said. “But the only problem is, I’ve only had sex about 56 times.”
Kurtis was drinking from a Budweiser tallboy. The drumming circle thing was really happening. Bubbles, smoke, beards, floppy reggae hats, bandannas, babies, bare feet. Kurtis approached a hippie chick and asked her, “Is there a connection here with a Grateful Dead type of situation?”
“This is more an offshoot of the 60′s be-ins,” she said, “but actually I wouldn’t be grateful if I were dead, in spirit or mind.”
“I have a joke for you,” said Kurtis. “What do the Deadheads say when they run out of pot? ‘God, this music sucks.’”
“I guess that would be appropriate in my mind, too,” said the hippie chick.
Kurtis leaped into the middle of the circle and started pogo-ing up and down amid all the trippy dancers. He looked very serious as he danced like a maniac. He tried to move in on three barefoot girls, but they stepped away.
“Rejected!” he yelled in mock horror. Didn’t bother him. He was drinking from his can as we strolled to Sheep Meadow.
“So you’re a complete alcoholic?”
“Borderline, absolutely. Sometimes I go on the three-day binge, sometimes I can go without it, but, yeah.”
“What’s it like?”
“I call it being on . If I’m at a party, being an alcoholic, I’m entertaining everyone, pulling down my pants and showing my lily-white ass, that sort of stuff. And everyone loves it.”