T.S. Eliot must have been forethinking the end of this millennium when he wrote his famous line about the way the world ends: “Not with a bang, but a whimper.” Or with a breaking of wind.
We certainly seem determined to conclude our particular stretch of the thousand years stretching to the present from the Conquest of Ceylon and the establishment of the Archbishopric of Gniezno, not to mention “the flourishing of the arts in Ghazni” (high spots of the previous an mil cited in my copy of The Timelines of History ) with a series of low borborygmus notes.
I’ve been collecting a few as I sit here waiting for the Luxuryfinder.com Web site to finally get up and running. This is an enterprise, unforgettably limned a few months ago by The New York Times ‘ incomparable Monique P. Yazigi, off which this column expects to nourish itself in the way a jackal feeds off wildebeest carrion. Luxuryfinder.com bills itself as “Where generation luxe shops the Web.”
Don’t you just love it? “Generation luxe !” It’s really one of the great phrases, it lies on the tongue like foie gras !
I for one can’t wait to see what the stuff on offer will be; so far, all that’s to be had is a series of rather tired travel come-ons, rather like those Tatler “special promotions” that come all stuck up with bits of perfumed silver paper and make it difficult to savor the party pictures. These are for events-Royal Ascot and the Cannes Film Festival are two-that the sort of people I expect think of themselves as “generation luxe ” would prefer to avoid, precisely out of fear of finding the room filled with other self-designated members of “generation luxe .” What people like this want is to get away from people like themselves, and into better company. That this is easier said than done is the sorrowful lesson of “duh Hamptons.” Luxe is as luxe does.
A more suspicious soul than I might hazard the speculation that the site’s delay in coming on line with actual merchandise suggests that the initial open-to-buy is perhaps less than initially implied. Perhaps there have been hesitations on the part of the site’s backers, whose rogue’s gallery of likenesses, accompanying Ms. Yazigi’s Times article, I have had glazed onto a pencil mug, which I touch each morning with the same hopeful reverence that seafarers-and now hedge fund managers-rub the stomach of the little Buddha in the lobby of India House. Perhaps it has been borne in on these worthy gentlemen that there may be something self-contradicting in backing a Web venture attempting to promote its singular taste and refinement in which the most visible partner is surnamed Gross. Some I know to be family men, who may be disconcerted by Luxuryfinder’s current print ad, which shows what appears to be a hooker being flown to a Super Bowl assignation and which may rekindle uneasy memories or stir moral longings, or cause questions to be raised at the dinner table as to whether this is the kind of goods or service (I’m not sure which is the right word) Luxuryfinder will be procuring for its clientele. But that’s their worry.
Then there was the Ryder Cup. The golf was terrific, and even better than the golf was the wonderful Nike commercial that choreographed Tiger Woods and a bunch of duffers to the strains of the “Blue Danube” waltz. But the good stuff got lost in the kerfuffle over the American team’s behavior, wholly understandable but wholly unacceptable, when Justin Leonard holed his long putt and set off general jubilation, a good deal of it right on José María Olazábal’s line.
A golf green is not an end zone. It’s just that simple. What sets golf apart is its tradition of manners and dignity. There are champions in other sports who comported themselves like golfers-Arthur Ashe, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Unitas, Dr. J-but they were exceptions, practicing in their respective disciplines what in golf is supposed to be the de rigueur norm.
For fans with a memory, there were a couple of ironies implicit in the situation. For one, unless memory plays me false, wasn’t it Justin Leonard who grumped about the distracting “irrational exuberance” displayed by Matt Kuchar’s father (caddying for his son in the same group as Mr. Leonard) a couple of Masters ago? At least I don’t recall the senior Mr. Kuchar racing around the green while Mr. Leonard was trying to line up a putt. The U.S. side’s performance was in poor taste, but was clearly not as gross an offense to sportsmanship as the behavior of the Tiger Woods équipe a few years back, when the prodigy finally, after an incredible comeback, closed out Steve Scott to win his third straight U.S. Amateur. It was a match for the ages, but when it ended, Mr. Scott and his caddie, who happened to be his fiancée (now his wife), were left standing off to one side, virtually neglected, while Tiger and his family and handlers and various golf stuffed shirts and parasites celebrated what was, for them, clearly not a thrilling victory. For members in good, gloomy standing in the “Whither Golf?” set, there was other bad news: the unseemly business of pay-for-play versus play-for-country that marked the run-up to the event; the behavior of the gallery, often more appropriate to Fenway Park than to the Country Club, that clearly owed something to the greed of the P.G.A., which oversold the event by some 50 percent and packed the grounds to the bursting point. There was the in-everyone’s-face, pustular presence, right on the course, of a gated community of tents reserved for corporate fat cats; this is now an established fact of Majors golf, but familiarity doesn’t lessen contempt and a sense of inappropriateness. When Alan Greenspan leaves the Fed and looks around for something to do next, he ought to consider taking over the P.G.A. (or the U.S.G.A., for that matter), because the game’s sovereign organizations seem to have more respect for the green in the bank than the green of the links. Definitely a millennium downer.
Golf may recover from this, but it may never recover from a sight memorialized in a Vanity Fair photograph that shares a bulletin board in my office with other memorabilia of the way we live now: assorted hate mail, pieces on media sellouts and hypocrisy; a Doonesbury strip in which the president of Walden, addressing the graduating class of ’98, boasts of having delivered on the college’s pledge to students interested only in “credentialism and having a good time” by accommodating “declining educational standards” and providing “less for the college dollar.” It’s a sequence that nicely prefigures Monique Yazigi’s recent piece on the roles their children’s private schools play in the social-climbing strategies of “generation luxe ” Manhattan parents. As a Buckley alumnus, I can only say “Amen!” to Ms. Yazigi’s findings although I would fault her for leaving out one vignette: a moment perhaps as defining of present-day private-school values as the tassels on the loafers of one headmaster I can think of, namely the scene in James Stewart’s Den of Thieves in which Dennis Levine, freshly arraigned for insider trading, is shown working the crowd of mothers congregated at pickup time outside the Episcopal School.
Anyway, the golfing image to which I refer is of none other than our next President, the Prince of Swine, a.k.a. the Donald. He is kitted out in tweed plus-twos and a floppy cap, and he is carrying a vintage club evidently borrowed from a Polo ad. Posed obliquely to the sun, he squints in a manner that emphasizes a physiognomic trait upon which this column has often dwelt: His mouth appears to have migrated from elsewhere in his anatomy. Anyone who allows himself to be thus photographed is clearly playing with quite a few cards short of the accustomed 52. And yet he seems quite serious about his qualifications, possibly because he has gone recent Presidents one or two better in such key Presidential departments as bimbo chasing and stiffing creditors and investors.
I must say, I don’t think it’s fair! Here we’re just barely crawling out of this millennium, and we already have this to worry about in the next!