As Time Goes By, You Can Call 2005 Year of Schwarzman

The other day, contemplating a couple of more or less recent news items, I had a thought. As we all know, the Chinese Zodiac consists of a 12-year cycle of which the segments are variously designated as the Year of the Monkey, the Year of the Pig, the Year of the Snake and so on. It should come as no surprise to readers of my stuff that I was born in the Year of the Rat.

We are presently living in—or through—the Year of the Rooster, an apt name for a time in which strutting and crowing have become behavioral imperatives and hallmarks of style. But if we set China aside for a minute, I thought: Why not construct a zodiac specific to the news-dominating fauna of post-postmodern Wall Street finance capitalism? We could have the Year of the Trump, the Year of the Milken, the Year of the Grubman, the Year of the Meriweather, the Year of the Smartest Guys in the Room. So what about this year? Well, how about 2005 as the Year of the Schwarzman?

This has been quite an annus mirabilis for Steve Schwarzman, C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group. A breakout year, you might say. The chairmanship of the Kennedy Center came his way. The splendors of his lifestyle and the glittering pearls of his career were recorded in a long article in the Business section of the Sunday Times. Many saw it as a puff piece; others, this writer included, saw it as an egregious lapse of judgment on the part of the subject. Had I been asked, I would have advised Mr. Schwarzman—whom I barely know, but who seems to me to be a pleasant enough little chap, always well turned out, and with a bright smile for the masses—to forbear. Much better to be a mystery man, a shadowy, discreet puller of strings and pusher of buttons.

The thing is, if one wishes to be taken seriously, one should not be reported in the company of the sort of people for whom serious folk are never at home, the sort found with regularity in what is, for social butterflies, climbers and like-motivated assholes, the kind of schooling ground that the Farallon Islands are for great white sharks: David Patrick Columbia’s New York Social Diary, a monkey house in Prada that anyone with a developed sense of the ridiculous must relish.

But anyone on the way up is entitled to a few mistakes, say I. Which brings me to the two news items that occasioned these reflections.

The first was that Mr. Schwarzman has bought the Water Mill house belonging to Susan (and her late husband Carter) Burden for a reported $34 million, or a mere $1 million less than was received for Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits by the New York Public Library, on whose board Mr. Schwarzman sits. This is a juxtaposition I need not dwell on, although it may account for the several worried calls I’ve received since the announcement of Mr. Schwarzman’s election to the board of the Frick Collection. Well, we shall just have to see, shan’t we?

Many have been the happy hours I have spent at the “Burden house,” as it will always be known to people with any memory. Its sale marks the closing of an era. Certainly it’s a trophy property worthy of the others in the Schwarzman collection: the big apartment at 740 Park Avenue, a.k.a. “the old Steinberg apartment,” and a house in Palm Beach, also said to be a landmark.

I must say I do find it amusing that this acquisition puts Mr. Schwarzman right around the corner, more or less (in the way Bosnia is right around the corner from Serbia, or the Hatfields lived right around the corner from the McCoys) from Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, which the same administration that handed Mr. Schwarzman the Kennedy Center plum has marginalized to the point of irrelevance in this nation’s power structure.

What relations are now between the two, I cannot say, but one hears …. I can’t help thinking of Dante ( Purgatorio, XI): Credette Peterson … tener lo campo, e ora ha Schwarzman il grido. Oh, isn’t it always the way? If they’re not upset about who gets the money, they’re upset about who gets the ink.

Of equal interest was the announcement the other day that Blackstone is raising a buyout fund of $12.5 billion. That’s a lot of money. Where is it coming from? Participants weren’t identified, other than certain funds of the State of New Jersey, but their commitment came to less than 1 percent.

I find this really interesting to speculate about. As I see it, the key word here has to be “China.” Maybe not as an investor going in, but more than likely as a key prospect when it comes to exit strategy. After all, the point of buying something is to sell it: The question is, to whom? Who will be our next Greater Fool? This is the question the shrewdest minds on Wall Street have always asked as they crank up a new scheme.

Well, there are the Chinese, with all those dollars. Haven’t they tried to buy Unocal? Maytag? Plays itself, doesn’t it? This way, the greenback holders based in Shanghai and Beijing and points elsewhere will be able to avoid messy takeover fights, will be able to do one-stop asset diversification. Not that I think this is necessarily a bad thing. Quite the contrary: If the Blackstones of this world should be the instruments to bring about a much-needed enfoldment of China into the private U.S. domestic economy, then the Year of the Schwarzman will be an occasion as much for celebration as for mirth.