Manny Streisand’s Other Girl

Manny Streisand’s Other Girl

These days, not a whole lot happens to Esther Grodin, who is 92 years old and lives alone on the Upper West Side. Maybe she takes a little sojourn to Barnes and Noble. Maybe she goes to exercise class at the senior center. One day last week, however, Ms. Grodin showed up at the V.I.P. entrance at Madison Square Garden, where she was whisked inside to listen to Barbra Streisand’s last-ever performance. Then she went backstage to chew the fat with Barbra and designer Donna Karan. They talked about Barbra’s father, Manny Streisand, who died when the singer was 16 months old and who, at some point in the 20′s, before he married Barbra’s mom, had the hots for Ms. Grodin.

It all started about a decade ago. Ms. Grodin–no relation to grumpy TV personality Charles Grodin–was cleaning out some old stuff and came across some dusty love poems that Manny Streisand, a heartsick fishmonger’s son from her neighborhood in Williamsburg, had dropped off at her house in the 1920′s. Mr. Streisand was persistent in a way that today might merit a restraining order. Ms. Grodin remembered him once hanging off the back of a trolley car on which she was riding.

Mr. Streisand wanted to marry Ms. Grodin. Alas, “I was not ready for marriage,” Ms. Grodin, who is a bit hard of hearing, yelled into her phone. “I knew I was going to go to school.”

If Manny Streisand had gotten his way and married Esther Grodin instead of Diana Rosen, who he later married, what a meschuggene world it would be. No “People Who Need People.” No Yentl . James Brolin might be trolling for young tail on the Sunset Strip instead of safely nestled under Barbra’s duvet.

Ms. Grodin didn’t marry Manny, but she did keep his love letters lying around for 75 years. “I guess there was an attraction,” Ms. Grodin said. “I guess I felt more interested in him than anyone else.” She remembered hearing in 1943 that sunstroke had killed her ex-boyfriend, although biographies say that he actually died as a result of an old head injury.

So, about 10 years ago, after digging up the letters, Ms. Grodin sent them off to Ms. Streisand. “I thought the letters would have a little bit of a meaning to her,” she said. “They didn’t have meaning to me anymore.”

Eventually, Ms. Streisand called Ms. Grodin, and the story of the letters made its way into Ms. Streisand’s onstage introduction to the Yentl tearjerker, “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”

And when Ms. Streisand decided to call it quits, Ms. Grodin got a big invitation backstage.

While Ms. Karan listened, Ms. Streisand barraged her with questions, trying to get to the heart of the mystery of Streisand père . Ms. Grodin did her best. “What could I tell her?” she asked. “He was my boyfriend as a kid. He used to follow me around wherever I went.”

Barry Strange

Former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry has been called many things, many of them having to do with his 1990 arrest for smoking crack in a hotel room. But now, one “very weirded out” guy is calling Mr. Barry a serial seat moocher.

Derek LaVallee, a 28-year-old professional living in Washington, D.C., didn’t think his seat on United Flight 37 from Washington to Los Angeles on Aug. 13 was all that great. It was the last row in coach, right near the bathroom. “The chair didn’t even recline!” said Mr. LaVallee, who requested that the details of his profession be withheld.

The seat apparently was better than the seat given to Mr. Barry, who, like Mr. LaVallee, was on the flight and would later attend the Democratic National Convention. Shortly before takeoff, a flight attendant approached Mr. LaVallee and asked him if he was aware that Mr. Barry was traveling on the same flight. Mr. LaVallee said he hadn’t noticed.

Then, according to Mr. LaVallee, the flight attendant asked him if he would mind giving up his aisle seat for Mr. Barry, who was further up in the cabin and apparently not happy with his own. “Yes, actually I would mind,” Mr. LaVallee said he told the flight attendant, who then dropped the subject. Mr. LaVallee remembered that he joked to his assistant, who was sitting next to him, that Mr. Barry was “smoking crack” if he thought that he was getting Mr. LaVallee’s aisle seat. Later in the flight, awkward glances were exchanged when Mr. Barry queued up for the john right in front of Mr. LaVallee’s seat.

Then, on Friday, Sept. 2, Mr. LaVallee and a colleague were taking a 1:00 p.m. Amtrak train from Washington to New York to attend the U.S. Open. Twenty minutes after the train rolled out of Union Station, a familiar figure walked down the aisle and looked at Mr. LaVallee, who, with his companion, had nabbed the banks of seats in the front of the car that face one another. It was Marion Barry, and he was eyeing Mr. LaVallee’s perch like it was a free hot dog. “Are you two staying in these seats all the way up to New York?” Mr. Barry asked him expectantly. Mr. LaVallee said that he sure was–at which point, he said, the former D.C. mayor walked away, head hanging.

Mr. Barry’s publicist, Raymone Bain, did not return The Transom’s calls for comment. “I feel weirdly stalked, like everywhere I go I’m going to see Marion Barry,” Mr. LaVallee said.

God, Guns & Ted Nugent

“No, I’m not carrying a gun,” Ted Nugent said. Mr. Nugent, the rocker, bow hunter, right-wing activist, clothing designer and, lately, best-selling author, glanced down at the bulges in his camouflage-decorated sport coat and then shot back a look that left little doubt there were at least a couple of firearms holstered beneath his outerwear.

On Sept. 20, surrounded by the bland decor and Muzak of the Borders book store on Second Avenue at East 32nd Street, Mr. Nugent came packing heat to a book-signing for his new memoir, God, Guns, & Rock ‘n’ Roll .

It was not exactly the kind of place where a couple of Glocks would come in handy (unless maybe Emeril Lagasse was doing a cooking demonstration on another floor), but as Mr. Nugent put it, “I will never be defenseless.”

Here in New York, where gun-shy liberals are bountiful and wild game is not, the fans were not exactly lining up for a signed copy of Mr. Nugent’s book. But the man known as the Motor City Madman, who still wears his hair long and sports a soul patch, had his memories to keep him company. “I just did 500 people at a bookstore and another 500 people the next morning at a gun show,” he told Harry McCullough, a clean-cut sales consultant to Regnery, his publisher.

By the end of the signing, even by Mr. Nugent’s somewhat generous count, only 20 fans had showed up during the two-hour session. To his credit, these included twiggy, blond Ann Coulter, author of Regnery’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton , and Dave Quick, guitarist for the hard-core band Jack Black. Mr. Quick wanted a photo opportunity and some advice on what sort of gun to buy for his fiancée.

“I wouldn’t get a semi-automatic for a woman,” Mr. Nugent replied diffidently. “I’d get a revolver. I think she’d be much better off with a titanium five-shot revolver, .38 Special. Because a woman is a little limp-wristed.… For every woman on your Christmas list, get them a .38.”

Mr. Nugent loves shooting. When he began talking to his publishing house’s owner, Al Regnery, about doing a book, he went out to the effete Mr. Regnery’s place in the Virginia mountains and fired off round after round on machine guns. “[Ted]‘s an incredible shot. I think out of 30 clay pigeons, he brought every one of them down,” Mr. Regnery said. Mr. Nugent could only compare that pleasure to the “sensual stimuli fest” that was his son Rocco Winchester’s 10th birthday party. “We fired off machines guns with the Washington state police,” he said.

The tradition of gunplay that began when Mr. Nugent was a child growing up in the Detroit neighborhood of Monroe, Mich. In his book, he recalls chasing his older brother Jeff around the woods, “banging plastic and tin cap-guns at each other in our daily mock cowboy shoot-out.” The brothers soon learned to shoot real guns together at family gatherings, and eventually became prominent in their chosen fields: Ted, as the gonzo guitarist behind such classic rock tunes as “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” and Jeff as a hard-charging executive in cosmetics who, in December 1999, became the chief executive of Revlon.

Mr. Nugent was not in town to see his brother, though. He was here for national media exposure. Although he twice referred to the major networks as “lying sacks of shit,” Mr. Nugent seems to enjoy the press. And, he suspects, the press enjoys him: “I give fascinating, funny fucking interviews,” he said. Mr. Nugent had already been interviewed by Geraldo Rivera, and appeared on the Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes show as well as NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien .

Mr. Nugent appeared on Conan the same night as Senator Joe Lieberman. And characteristically, Mr. Nugent had enjoyed meeting Mr. Lieberman’s security more than meeting the Vice Presidential candidate. “This is what’s fascinating about being me,” he said. “There must have been 30 Secret Service agents. Each one made it a point to come visit me. They were all fans.”

The highlight? “When the director of the Secret Service contingent, who was this good-looking middle-aged woman–middle-aged like me–took me to the side. I thought that she was going to frisk me,” Mr. Nugent said, “You know, see if I was armed in the presence of a Senator.” But really, Mr. Nugent explained, the hotsy-totsy Secret Service agent wanted to tell him “that my song ‘Stranglehold’ had caused her to exceed the speed limit in multiples of 100 percent.” When it finally came time to meet Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Nugent said that he shook the Senator’s hand and “saluted him for his career … though I told him I was not voting for him.”

Mr. Nugent likes officers of the law, several of whom showed up for an autograph at Borders. “I dedicated my book to you guys,” he said. “I support the NYPD,” he added, “under every instance I can imagine. Except the nightstick-up-the-ass thing.”

As you could imagine, Mr. Nugent is not a fan of New York City’s hunting laws. “I know when I’m in Manhattan, I can’t go out and whack a pigeon, though I have in the past,” he said. As with all of his kills, Mr. Nugent claimed that he ate his pigeon–or “squab,” as he called it–after cooking it at the Gorham Hotel on West 55th Street. “You just take their jammies off and fry ‘em up,” he said.

It was almost time for Mr. Nugent, his wife and tour manager to have lunch. But this time there would be no pigeons involved. This time, Mr. Nugent went off in search of a pastrami sandwich.

–Ian Blecher

The Transom can be reached at agoldman@observer.com