On the evening of Jan. 6, the Manhattan Lounge on Second Avenue and 89th Street became the amber-lit sanctuary of that rarest breed of New Yorker: the unapologetic conservative. They came from all corners of the city-and sometimes just beyond-slipping in like refugees past the plasma TV playing Casablanca and up to the smiling man waiting at the end of the bar.
“Have you come to meet some conservatives in New York City?” he asked. His name was William Finkel and he worked for Meetup.com, a free Internet service that organizes gatherings for anyone who likes to gather (Howard Dean supporters, Harry Potter fans, self-described witches).
“We’re already all right here!” joked Jay Chaffin, a 25-year-old Harvard grad turned actor, gesturing to the four early arrivals. (When he was 12, Mr. Chaffin played the slum urchin Gavroche in Les Misérables on Broadway, and he seems to have retained some of the character’s impish wit.)
It was National Conservative Townhall Meetup Day, a monthly event celebrated in more than 600 cities by Townhall.com, a “one-stop mall of ideas” run by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Since last fall, Townhall and other right-of-center groups, including the Republican National Committee, have been taking a page from their opponents’ organizing book and getting in on the virtual community-building that has become a signature of progressive movements like MoveOn.org and the Howard Dean juggernaut. In the words of Townhall.com, “The liberals like Common Cause, the Million Mom March and the Sierra Club are doing it and it’s time that conservatives got in the game.”
But in New York City, where Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one, the evening seemed less like a chance for conservatives to get in the game than to come out of their closets; less like a rally, more like a support group.
“I pipe up at gatherings or things like that, and try to start political conversations, but usually those get squashed,” said Kate Thompson, 26, a small Texan with a big twang who uprooted to New York to become an actress, only to discover that acting-and the city-don’t really agree with her. “I either offend everyone in the room, or it just becomes clear that we’re going to have a big fight and it’s not going to be any fun any more. Abortion is the biggest hot-button issue. That’ll put a stop to the conversation in less than five seconds.”
But at the Manhattan Lounge, conversation flowed freely. By 8 p.m., some 35 people had found their way there. In one corner stood Arthur Privin, a private investigator from Staten Island, expounding on the evils of the welfare state to Stanley Yuzuk, his new friend from the Department of Corrections.
“I believe in charity,” said Mr. Privin, “but I’m against putting a gun to your head and saying, ‘Baby, you better give me money, because I know some poor family that needs this.’ That’s immoral !”
There was a budding political force in the room: Michael Benjamin, a 34-year-old securities trader who’s trying to make a run against New York’s senior Senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer, this November, mingled with his would-be constituents over mini-quiches. Nearby, a Brooklyn Law School student with wispy brown hair, fashionably dressed in knee-high boots and chunky glasses, described the loneliness of being one of only five Federalists on a liberal campus. And at the bar, a Log Cabin Republican bonded with a straight Irish-Catholic over the “hypocrisy” of those who claim to be liberal.
“I was talking to this guy in a neighborhood bar last night, and it turns out he’s a gay Republican,” said the Irish-Catholic, who had blond, buzzed hair, a ready smile and a Claddagh ring on his right hand. “And so the guy tells me that he feels so lonely as a Republican, because other gay people call him a traitor to his own kind. It was so depressing.”
“I have gotten more shit in my life from the gay community for being Republican than from the Republicans for being gay,” said the Log Cabin member, 45, who also preferred not to use his name. “At a leather bar on the West Side, I can find six Republicans in the room. Easy!”
Alienation was making for some strange bedfellows; the room was an unlikely mix of young and old, gay and straight, white, black and Latino.
“I always hated the term ‘African-American,’ because it’s the least accurate term in the world,” said Michael Andrews, the Lounge’s owner, who had left his nonpartisan post at the bar to join some of the raging conversations. “Easily the most important country in Africa is Egypt. Well, I guarantee you, when people imagine African-American, it’s not someone from Egypt. But we’re forced to use these words. It wasn’t that long ago that you could get thrown out of a history department of a small university by using ‘black’ instead of ‘African-American.'”
The crowd was abuzz with the follies of political correctness, the wonders of Condoleezza Rice, the disarray of the Democrats, the Dean phenomenon, the anti-Americanism of the anti-war cabal and the liberal bias of the media.
“Now what I’m upset about is that The New York Times considers themselves to be unbiased,” said Horacio Castro, a 29-year-old computer engineer from Queens. “That’s what I can’t understand. They just editorialize!”
“Fox News is in a lot of ways probably the least-biased thing on television,” said Ms. Thompson.
“But they’re trying to turn now against Fox and say that they’re one-sided!” said Kimberly Morella, 37, the vice president of the New York Young Republican Club.
“But Fox News always puts the big liberal on, and they always give them their time, and they don’t cut them off and they treat them with respect,” said Ms. Thompson. “And that’s not true of the regular channels.”
By 10 p.m. the crowd had thinned, promising to meet up again in another month. Mr. Privin was still regaling Mr. Yuzuk with maxims from his childhood, in both Yiddish and English, while Mr. Benjamin was recapping highlights of a recent 62-county campaign tour across the state. Toward the rear, Ms. Morella was packing up her bag to head home to Westchester, a satisfied smile on her face.
“My goal is to help further Republicanism wherever I possibly can,” she said. “It’s about getting people, especially different ethnic groups, to understand that the conservative mind-set isn’t as scary as people make it out to be.”
You, Too, Can Write Great Reviews Just Like the Pros Do!
O.K., so you spend some portion of your life reading reviews-of theater, music, restaurants, books-and, face it, you make certain financial decisions based on those reviews. Well, what the big-shot reviewers never tell you is that writing those reviews is … easy! Takes about 10 minutes. Here’s how you, too, can write a whiz-bang review, just like they do! And it won’t cost you a dime over the buck you paid for this peach paper!
Let’s take The New York Times ‘ chief theater critic, Ben Brantley. (We always knew him as Benjamin, but the “Ben” is much snappier!) Perhaps you read his review a few days ago of The Producers, where he reviewed the production with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick back in their roles. That was some review! We can’t promise you’ll be writing reviews like that right off the bat, but here’s a guide to How to Write a Theater Review Like Ben Brantley . (It will take some practice, but after a few hours, you’ll get the hang of it!) O.K., here we go:
Let’s assume it’s a musical. First, describe it as a “big fizzy cherry soda pop of a musical!”
Then, a few lines down, always call it “a sweet yummy strudel of fun and pep, with a kicky aftertaste of mellow spice.”
Finally, always describe the audience as sitting in “the gimcrack excitement of fat little German children riding ponies for the first time.”
And … you’re done! Next week: how to review a restaurant just like Biff Grimes!