Even Brill and Carl Icahn Can’t Ruin My Summer

Recently, we had a couple of days that summed up everything June has been supposed to be since the poet laureate of the Olduvai first took a stick and scraped symbols for “What is so rare” on a flat bit of clay.

The lady of this house and I went down to the wharf to try the new restaurant which B. Smith, the model turned chef-restaurateur, has opened in partnership with her husband, Dan Gasby. I’m happy to say the occasion was a complete success. The room is surely the most elegant on the East End, perfect pale yellow with well-spaced seating, of a stylishness that will abash the braying, self-congratulatory Nick & Toni wannabes. The food is every bit the décor’s match, and very fairly priced in the bargain.

We will return often, as we do to Jim Conti’s and Matthew Guidry’s incomparable Paradise (“Where the elite meet”). The American Hotel still stands ne plus ultra, but neither milady nor I any longer keep company with J. Barleycorn, and to enter the sacred portals du côté de chez Conklin with no intention of sampling one or several of Master Mixologist Vincent’s nonpareil shooters is akin to wearing earplugs in the Concertgebouw: an insult to the establishment and a bad example to others.

It was impossible to sit there in such surroundings, the light playing softly on the harbor, and feel anything but good will toward all mankind.

Even toward the likes of Carl Icahn, whom I … but I’ve said this already, haven’t I? Indeed, the lady of this house and my heart has come up with–in the words of the famous Peter Arno cartoon–a most interesting suggestion. You will recall that in my last column, I commented with some asperity on a tax-deduction fiddle called the “Supporting Organization” (S.O.) which The Wall Street Journal dissected in its issue of May 29. Among the S.O.’s that The Journal cited as an example of “how easily public-charity rules can be manipulated for private purposes” as possibly “a vehicle for private enrichment,” such as a warehouse in a tender offer, was one formed by Mr. Icahn. This organization, capitalized at $100 million from Mr. Icahn, with a board selected on Long Island Lighting Company-Adelphi University principles by the donor, will promote–so The Journal infers, with reason–its benefactor’s commitment (sic) to “helping children, particularly from inner-city neighborhoods, get better educations.”

So here’s milady’s totally cool idea. On June 9, Teddy Forstmann and John Walton (Wal-Mart money) announced a $100 million challenge grant to help inner-city kids get better educations through a voucher system. What a chance for Mr. Icahn to step up to the plate big-time! And no time like the present, is there, especially since the S.O. format has allowed Mr. Icahn to take a deduction now on fully appreciated property: mostly, I bet, paper the ratio of whose true quality to appraised (for tax purposes) value I’d give anything to look at. Go for it, Carl! Go get him, Teddy, John! You could be out of the blocks with $200 million tomorrow! Isn’t this what capitalism’s about?

Once you start in, this milk of human kindness shtick just won’t let go. I mean, between the beautiful Mrs. Smith across the table from me, and the beautiful Mrs. Smith who dreamed up the roasted veggies on which I was noshing, I even found it in my heart to forgive James Atlas, Chief Twerp-in-Residence to the Literary Establishment (headquartered at the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library) for not including Taki, P.J. O’Rourke and myself in the list of velvet-hand-in-iron-glove types he cited in The New Yorker of June 15 as cultural commentators who “use” invective. The list Mr. Atlas produced was clearly a roster of those (Robert Hughes, Christopher Buckley, etc.) whose good opinion the little arse-licker is anxious to gain or retain.

But I’m grateful to Mr. Atlas, you see, because, thanks to him, I realize that it must be my downy verbal evasiveness that has produced no callback from hard-hitting Steve Brill, to whose new journalistic “watchdog” magazine I was recommended as a potentially useful media-commentator of the not easily intimidated variety. I had high hopes for Mr. Brill’s new Content , especially now that Howard Kurtz, the once admired media Cerberus of The Washington Post , has been turned by Monicagate into just another talking head, flitting from cable channel to cable channel at Mach 2 jawspeed. From the prepublication flackery, most amusingly outlined by Matt Drudge (a real journalist, unlike most of his accusers), it is more and more starting to look like Content will go after the media with all the ferocity of a Payard pastry chef. In my experience, get-tough guys who have their personal softball games publicized in gossip columns are usually ready to play softball across the board. Will Mr. Brill prove to be just another adherent of the present age’s gospel that spin is all, and that the ultimate journalistic ambition is to sup with Barbara Walters? In other words, as Teddy Roosevelt might have said from the 100-pound-weakling pulpit, “Talk loudly and carry a feather duster!” Well, we shall see.

Indeed, on such an evening it was impossible not feel generous and loving toward the species and all its works.

But all that vanished the next day.

I drove up to the city to spend the afternoon with Francis. School is at an end; he will be leaving shortly for five weeks at camp, and we like our time together. After a wonderful lunch, I suggested we drop by the Andrew Wyeth show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. My son has inherited the artistic talent that runs on his mother’s side, and this is the age (11) when that talent is best served by studying technique. Whatever else you may think of Mr. Wyeth, he has technique.

When we finished with the Brandywine painter, we still had time before Godzilla , and Francis suggested we look at what else was on. We went upstairs, to a “sculpture” exhibition by someone called Charles Ray. One look–a wrecked car covered in gray paint, an oversize fashion mannequin–sufficed to convince me that Mr. Ray is utterly without talent, but 11-year-olds tend to like this sort of thing, so we soldiered on, deeper into the galleries. Our next encounter was with a group of same-sized nude figures, a family, I guess, Mom, Pop, Son, Sis, all rendered with realistic pudenda. Uh-oh, I thought, cleared my throat loudly and made noises about the giant computer-generated skink awaiting us upstreet at the multiplex, but Francis had by then proceeded to the next gallery.

I followed.

The entire next room was given over to a vivid and realistic sculpture in loving, living detail. A many-figured, same-sex (male) encounter of the sort that generally goes by the name of “gangbang.” People holding each other by the you-know-what, when the you-know-what wasn’t being inserted in another figure’s you-can-guess-where. The sort of thing whose indiscriminate public display would cause gasps even in the Castro district of San Francisco, where the jackass who has been director of the Whitney is now headed to work his miracles of oversight on that city’s new contemporary art museum.

Anyway, I grabbed my son, turned him round and headed for the exit.

Now: I’m going to put this very simply. We are warned about what our children may find surfing the Internet, but what about when they “surf” one of our pre-eminent museums! I am no prude, nor have I led a prudish life, and in my time I have seen more than a bit of pornography. But when Francis visits us for the weekend, I don’t break out the X-rated stuff, and I don’t expect our museums to do so–at least not without a warning to parents posted outside. Nor, may I add, did the guard make a move. I suspect that, knowing what was coming, he got a kick out of the prospect. Perhaps the Whitney should reuniform its guards in dirty raincoats.

The Whitney is a prime offender, God knows why, given its antecedents. This year’s appalling Andy Warhol show was thronged with kids, many in teacher-supervised groups. It’s bad enough to teach children that a Tide box is art, but did their guides know that, two galleries in, less than 30 paces away, their charges would be able admire a huge Richard Avedon photomural of naked people, including a woman with a dick! The Guggenheim Museum has an exhibition coming up of the egregiously untalented Jeff Koons; will the kids be treated to his stucco romps with his porn star ex-wife?

If the Whitney, or any other museum, is going to exhibit this kind of “art” without warning, it should lose its tax deduction, probably be closed down. The great and filthy accomplishment of the 20th century has been to obliterate the one certain beauty of life: the apartness of childhood. We now treat adults as children, children as adults. To have done so is a crime against the very essence of humanity. The victims are numberless, the villains many: war, the state, the market, the American mass media, to name a few. That our self-proclaimed “temples of civilization” should co-conspire in this is shocking beyond belief.

Rudolph Giuliani makes much of the quality of life in this city. Rather than beating on a few Pakistani cabdrivers, he might do well to pause in his busy licking of George Steinbrenner’s boots, and cast a vigilant eye on Madison Avenue and East 75th Street.

Even Brill and Carl Icahn Can’t Ruin My Summer