Sept. 16, 1996-Dear Friends:
Your diarist has a small favor to ask of you this week. It’s a trivial request, really. A minor consideration. The kind of small, painless entreaty that friends regularly ask of one another in America these days ….
So what, exactly, is the nature of the accommodation that I’m seeking?
Actually, it’s quite simple:
I want your unquestioning love and affection.
I want your undying respect.
I want to be a part of the pantheon of serious American personalities, a major player on the stage of American life.
I want your absolute support and acceptance.
I want a book deal at Random House, a signature line of clothing at Wal-Mart, a psychic-hotline 900 number, a miniseries on Fox, the cover of People, a contract with Nike, a slot as a commentator on CNN.
I want a place at the table.
A voice in the national dialogue.
A fawning hour with Larry King.
In short, I want absolution.
I want to be the subject of a catfight between Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer over who gets to do the interview. I want a coast-to-coast radio talk show, a swank party for my charitable foundation at “21” attended by Al Gore. I want to be the source of endless speculation and second-guessing ….
I want it all, and I want it now. Because in spite of everything that’s happened, I still believe that I have so much more to offer the American people.
Sure, I know what you’re thinking:
Milken, you’re a convicted felon.
O.J., there’s no question you killed Ron and Nicole.
Michael Jackson, you molested the kid. Gary Hart, you cheated on your wife …. Dick Morris, you’re an unprincipled egomaniac who should have known better than to be reading the President’s speeches to a prostitute.
But to all of you who would give even a moment to such cheap rumors and innuendo, I say the following:
America loves me.
America needs me.
The American people crave the insights that only I have to offer.
And, thus, I will to give credence to the rumormongers and the tabloid press by addressing any of these unfounded allegations ….
I didn’t hire the prostitute, I didn’t bill the government for my security fence, I didn’t buy off black ministers in new Jersey, I didn’t cheat the system by failing to pay taxes on my domestic help, or turning $1,000 into $100,000 by investing in cattle futures.
I am the victim in all these matters ….
Billy’s Topless Needs Your Support
April 6, 1998-Fearing that Billy’s Topless, the gemütlich strip joint on 24th Street and Sixth Avenue, was about to go out of business as a result of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign to make new York a kinder, friendlier place for Southern primary voters, I rushed down there on a recent Monday evening to see how their talented dancers and loyal patrons were holding up ….
“Billy’s Topless is like a pub-it’s Cheers with tits,” observed Jessie, a redheaded dancer I met on my latest visit, who was none too happy with Hizzoner …. A waitress asked Jessie if she wanted a drink-at my expense, of course-but, as if to make her point, the stripper shooed her away. “This is not a sleazy place,” she insisted. “There are two large motherfuckers at either end”-she meant the end of the stage, where, at that moment, three ingenues in various states of undress were coaxing paper currency from the beer-sipping connoisseurs who rimmed the stage. “If you pass that line over there”-I couldn’t see the line she was talking about, but I took her word for it-“if you touch me, if I really complain about it, the two doors open outward with your face …. ”
Jessie depicted Mr. Giuliani’s quality-of-life initiatives as a blatant attempt to deprive working people of their livelihood while pandering to his political base. “A lot of the housewives who aren’t getting fucked are mad because women are making money off this,” Jessie claimed, offering the sort of pungent analysis one rarely hears from George Will on This Week with Sam and Cokie .
A guy in a business suit at the bar, named George, seemed to confirm Jessie’s worst fears. I asked him whether Billy’s would lose its sense of enchantment were the girls required to cover up. “You’ve got to ask intelligent questions,” he chided me. “Of course it would.”
George said he visits a couple of times a week and spends between $12 and $18 an hour feeding money to the dancers …. “This place is no hassle,” he explained. ” … Giuliani is throwing out the baby with the bath water. So he’s objecting to tits? If he wants to come out of the closet, he should come out …. ”
A long-legged dancer named Charlie, fresh off the stage, had a solution to the crisis. She thought Billy’s ought to be designated a landmark, sort of like Mount Vernon. “Major motion pictures have used us as a set,” she noted. “In a way, I consider us to be historical. I think that New York, and Billy’s in particular, has cultural values you can’t find other places. Covering us up would make us just like Jersey …. ”
-Ralph Gardner Jr.
Black Tie, Proust And A Victory Over Entropy
May 25, 1998-After wrestling for longer than usual to get into his formal attire for the Film Society Gala, my husband vowed never to put on his penguin suit again (or at least “not for a year!”). The humiliation of having to ask for assistance, first with the studs, then with the snap-on bow tie, was too much. Only the prospect of serenading the honoree, Martin Scorsese, on a memorable evening of film-buff camaraderie induced him to do battle with the dread suit of armor.…
I confess to finding nothing more in the world quite as attractive as a roomful of men all dressed up for a party, and this goes double for black tie. They’re elegant in spite of themselves, their uniform a symbol of their having agreed to participate in the art of socializing. The room is electrified by whiffs of mutual attraction, but any impropriety is held in check by the edge of solemnity introduced by “le smoking,” one of the sexiest costumes in Western civilization ….
Proust pokes gentle fun at Albertine for confusing the delicious sensation of a smooth male cheek with the moral qualities to be sought in a potential husband-and whose virtue fades the longer he refrains from shaving. Although usually in agreement with Proust, here I’m completely on Albertine’s side: I consider the smooth-shaven cheek a moral triumph, a victory over entropy, one day’s staving off of the forces of decay and untrammeled, engulfing nature, and penance for all those hours in whiskers and undershirts watching pro basketball (or in the case of Proust’s narrator, lying indolently and unshaven in bed). And it’s the men who don’t do it all then time-the artists and writers and absent-minded professors, nonwalkers all, modest of wardrobe, meager of chitchat-who are the most winning when they do ….