The Transom

Astor Family Circus “It’s like a seesaw, isn’t it?” said Peter Himler of Flatiron Communications, and Edelman’s former chief media

Astor Family Circus

“It’s like a seesaw, isn’t it?” said Peter Himler of Flatiron Communications, and Edelman’s former chief media officer, yesterday on his cell. “One day the grandson commandeers the media, and the next day, the father! And the next day, the son grabs the headlines!”

On Sunday, July 30—Day 5 of the Astor Family Circus—it was time for Anthony Marshall, the 82-year-old son of Brooke Astor, to shine in The New York Times. He appeared at the gates of the family estate in Westchester, on a maternal visit, with priest in tow. He spoke out strongly against his own son, Philip Marshall, who had recently filed a suit demanding a change of custody for Ms. Astor.

The elder Mr. Marshall is represented in the media by Brooke Morganstein, of Citigate Sard Verbinnen.

The next day, the paper wrote: “Socialite’s Son Pays a Visit, Then Lashes Out at Those Accusing Him of Mistreatment.” The article ended with local police informing the media that no more press conferences would be held outside the family home in Holly Hill, in Briarcliff Manor.

Sniffy police or no, his point had been made. “I think she did a great job in yesterday’s papers,” Mr. Himler said of Ms. Morganstein.

Not every public-relations professional agreed.

“I know a P.R. photo op when I see one, and that was the biggest setup I’ve ever seen—the other day, coming out the gates of his mother’s house? It was not a good setup,” said a major publicist, who asked for anonymity as part of a wise policy of never commenting (by name) on the public-relations activities of competitors.

Ms. Morganstein very politely declined to comment.

Fraser Seitel, of Emerald Partners, is “helping out” Ms. Astor’s grandson, Philip C. Marshall, he said on Monday—he has worked with the Rockefeller family for some time. “I was working for Mr. Rockefeller, and Ms. de la Renta,” he said—David and Annette!—before his duties grew to include the younger Mr. Marshall.

On Monday, the younger Mr. Marshall responded to an e-mail that one should “Please contact Fraser Seitel … with any questions.”

Sam Singer, who runs Singer Associates in San Francisco, handled a nasty family dispute a few years ago that resulted in Denise DeBartolo York seizing control of the San Francisco 49ers from her brother.

Mr. Singer said yesterday by phone that he thought the elder Mr. Marshall had battled back fairly well in the press. He also thought he saw a flaw in the avoidance of the No. 1 question being asked in New York City this week: Exactly what transpired in the Astor family in recent years that led to the distinctly un-Astor-like interfamily litigation? The absence of this information reflected slightly worse on Ms. Astor’s grandson. “What’s taken him so long to speak up?” Mr. Singer asked. “Why has Philip, the grandson, waited this long to file a legal complaint?”

Despite that potential shortcoming, and also despite being the bringer of the lawsuit, young Philip Marshall has, in his seeming silence, maintained a semblance of the family dignity both by not grandstanding outside the family manse and by using the reserved Mr. Seitel. Mr. Seitel never appears to be playing to the cheap seats—he manages publicity without much in the way of fingerprints. (If, indeed, he manages at all! The best public-relations work, after all, can be a rather Zen practice of extending one’s blanket of silence over one’s client.)

The Astor family debacle reminded Mr. Himler of the Pritzker family crackup a few years back, during which the Hyatt Hotel heirs squabbled over distribution of the family’s massive wealth.

“If you’re advising these families,” Mr. Himler said, “the ultimate thing is to not play it out in the court of public opinion. They both lose, in my opinion.

“It’s a stain on her legacy,” he said of Ms. Astor. “She was a grand dame and so revered, and it’s a shame that it’s come to this. Yeah, it makes sense for both sides to get their points of view across, but to me it’s a lose-lose. Here you have a wonderful woman who’s such a part of the fabric of New York—and here you have this dispute which is hurting her legacy, which is unblemished.”

Family disputes are always horrific, Mr. Singer agreed. And “published family disputes are the worst kind.”

—Choire Sicha

Priapus Shrugged

Mark Warfel, the sleek plastic surgeon with a tendency to turn up against a backdrop of Hamptons scenery on Patrick McMullan’s party-photo Web site, has been seeing quite a bit of the penis these days.

Dr. Warfel has a large storefront on 16th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, called the Warfel Institute. With designer discretion, it could pass as a dermatology clinic.

Oh, but it is not. Inside, Botox is shot and noses are Winona Ryder’d; breasts go up cup sizes and down; big calves are birthed or aborted; nipples snipped to stand at attention like little eraser-stub soldiers.

And now Dr. Warfel is considering crossing the line that, in the world of plastic surgery and urology, separates the men from the boys. He is considering adding penis enlargement to his repertoire.

“It’s an open field for improvement,” he said by phone the other day. “I don’t think there’s anybody good doing it.”

“Fringey people do it,” Dr. Warfel said, “and you get fringey results.”

A great number of penis-enlargement surgeries seem to take place in California, or, at least, outside of New York. One major local practitioner has been Dr. Douglas Whitehead, who is also the president of the American Academy of Phalloplasty Surgeons.

Bad news, boys!

“At the present time, I am not performing surgery due to a medical injury,” Dr. Whitehead said the other day.

There are other locals, including on Long Island. But.

“There are a couple of people who are known for it,” Dr. Warfel said. “One went out of business, one died, and one had his license removed.”

So Dr. Warfel has gone to view a couple of penis-enlargement surgeries at “a surgery center in New York” that he declined to name.

Who goes in for enlargement? About 20 to 30 percent of the clients, Dr. Warfel estimated, had rather small penises.

Wait—only 20 to 30?

“Probably the majority of people who come in—just anecdotally—are young, good-looking guys in their 20’s and even 30’s, with average to above-average penis size.”

Weird, right? At a little over 10 grand for both girth and length operations, one of these average-sized guys could just pay 100 hookers $100 each to come over and moan about how large it is.

Right now, there are two methods of adding girth to a penis: injecting fat, or wrapping the penis in layers of cadaver skin.

Both have drawbacks, in that the body would like to absorb both fat and skin. Even corpse skin.

For length, the penis is separated from its mooring—its suspensory ligaments—and, essentially, given a yank to bring more penis above-board. The problem then is that an erection, without that tether, may not be able to point itself in its former preferred direction. Picture a gravity-free Snickers bar stuffed in a deflated balloon.

Oh, and one also runs the risk of cutting nerves along the way to the yanking, according to Dr. Paul Weiss, a plastic surgeon in Manhattan.

(For those who would like to learn more, one can find more pictures of bloody and freshly sutured male members on the Internet than on a bad field trip to the nudist-run blender factory.)

Soldiering on, then:

Dr. Warfel’s barrier to entry in this exciting (and lucrative!) field is dealing with practicalities: insurance, in particular. And he’s not crazy. “There is a climate of litigious people in our country,” said Dr. Weiss.

If you think all those women with problem breast implants were quick to court, wait till you see a guy with a malformed crotch run for his lawyer.

None of that seems to bother Dr. Warfel.

“You could probably do two in an afternoon,” he said.

“I think if I could put my hand to it, I could make it last,” Dr. Warfel said, and he didn’t even giggle.


Our Beirut

At an Upper East Side dive bar last Thursday night, Beirut dominated conversation. Patrons discussed strategy, identified targets, questioned alliances.

Many Manhattan bars offer, with various degrees of irony, darts or video games. The Big Easy, a vaguely New Orleans–themed establishment at 92nd and Second, is perhaps the only watering hole in New York City known for its Beirut. Past its long bar and a deer-shooting arcade game are four Beirut tables.

Beirut is the frat-house admixture of Ping-Pong and the drinking game usually called “quarters” that gave many children of the 80’s and 90’s their first experience with alcohol poisoning, as well as their first exposure, however limited, to the sometime tragedy that is modern Lebanese history. It is played on tables about twice as long as they are wide.

At each long end hovers a team of two. Ten plastic cups, each half-full of beer, are arranged before each team in a bowling pin formation. Play begins when one team projects a Ping-Pong ball toward the cups of the other team. Gripped aloft between thumb and forefinger, the ball is usually wrist-flicked directly at a target cup. More ambitious players will attempt to bounce the ball off the table. When the ball lands in a cup, the cup is removed and a member of the defending team must drink its contents. Teammates take turns launching balls and imbibing after losses.

The ball frequently ends up on the floor; cups of water wait on either end of the table for token cleaning.

On Thursday, splashings could be faintly heard over the roar of 18-month-old hip-hop hits, each dropping Ping-Pong bomb the sound of another young American becoming slightly more intoxicated.

“I think this place is for a bunch of guys that think they are still in college,” said Jessica, the bar’s blond server. She squeezed her way around Beirut players and spectators, hawking $6 shots of vodka and Red Bull. “They are losers who work all day, who want to relive the good old days. Beirut is the closest they can get.”

Every few minutes, someone barked, “Re-rack!” The request, which must be fulfilled as a matter of etiquette, forces the opposing duo to refashion the remaining cups before them back into triangles or diamonds.

The vodka–Red Bulls were proving a hard sell. Jessica is a recent college graduate and an aspiring journalist. “They tip horribly,” she said. “And they claim that Beirut is enough for them—so they’ll never buy a shot!”

The Big Easy pricing equation is already decidedly nonlinear and possibly ethically challenged. On Thursday nights, women can purchase cups of beer for $1, while men pay five times that for the same. Either gender, though, can secure a pitcher—for use in Beirut, or just for downing—for $10.

“This bar is great,” said Shaun, a young man in a dark blue dress shirt, his top three buttons undone. He was at a Beirut table with five or six friends. “We all work for the same place; we all work for—wait, I shouldn’t say where we work. Anyway, we come here together after work every Thursday night.”

He was later seen aggressively grinding his khaki’d pelvis against the buttocks of a young blonde woman, a co-worker.

By 9:45 p.m., the Big Easy resembled a war zone. Movement became difficult as the crowd swelled in numbers and the terrain deteriorated with stickiness. All paths into and out of the narrow room appeared blocked or in the crossfire of increasingly wayward Ping-Pong balls.

This chaos raised a question. Is it appropriate for American adults to be getting drunk with a game named after the past aerial bombing of Beirut, considering, well, the present aerial bombing of Beirut?

“Yeah, we are aware of what’s going on,” Shaun said. “In fact, we are tributing every game we play to Beirut and the turmoil going on there.”

And what did waitress Jessica think of the political implications? “I think they should probably just concentrate on making a living,” she yelled of her customers. She rolled her eyes at a man in shorts, who had just told another waitress to dispense whipped cream directly in his mouth in exchange for the purchase of a Jell-O shot. “They are disgusting.”

At 10:20 p.m., one of the tables buckled in on itself, sloshing beer all over the grimy floor and sending grown men chasing after the clicks of tiny bouncing balls. Already the crowd was starting to thin. Tomorrow, Friday, was a workday, and people needed to catch commuter trains. Also, the last U.S.-chartered cruise ship would slip out of the Bay of Beirut with 500 fleeing Americans onboard.

Still, hopes for international understanding weren’t completely doused. “I’ve never been in a club like this before,” said a fellow named Sebastian, a German expatriate left behind in the bar. “In Germany, we just drink the beer; we don’t play with it.”

—Jonathan Liu

The Transom