The Breakfast Table

It’s a Wonderful Town


You covered a convention of “400 working gals dressed in cellophane” for Marie Claire? Listen, I may have been a little hasty about that magazine. If you need some journalistic backup next time you get an assignment like that, lemme know. You keep the fee; we’re talking pure altruism here.

I’m glad you mentioned Rudy Guiliani. Just now I saw on the web that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his attempt to suppress bus ads that touted New York magazine as “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for.” The question is, why in God’s name does he do this stuff? Why waste political capital, present yourself as a humorless control freak and give more attention to the ads than they’d ever get otherwise? Why not enjoy the damned ads?

Guiliani is obviously a maniac, of course, but that doesn’t particularly set him apart from past mayors (or, for that matter, the average person in New York). What does set him apart is that he’s succeeded at a job that would send any normal person raving in full flight for New Jersey, a job widely regarded as impossible and traditionally held by clowns. I’m from NYC, and until his mayoralty its entire history during my lifetime has been one of decline. Now I go there and people are actually, well, people instead of seething caricatures of man in the natural state. My wife has noticed this too. Friendliness and decency have popped up here and there through the sidewalks. The pressure’s off, somehow.

My liberal friends (meaning all of them) are apoplectic, pausing in their fulminations only to vote for the guy. They credit the economy, except that during past booms (the Eighties, for instance), NYC grew more like Calcutta, not less. They claim it’s demographics, policies launched by his predecessor (a man known mainly for his tennis game), the alignment of the planets, who knows what. One of my relatives, who fled to Long Island years ago, notes that the cops beat up black suspects, which is terrible but hardly an innovation under this mayor (and that doesn’t excuse his appalling failure to straighten out the police department). In editorials Guiliani is likened to some rigid and hectoring father-figure for the city, yet it seems to me this image mainly infantilizes his critics, who seem to prefer a New York of Wild West shoot-outs, public urination and graffiti. Maybe it’s just the liberal love of the apocalypse, or the pain of seeing your ideas-crime can’t be combated except through social change, there are no jobs, rules about public comportment are evil–thrashed by reality.

And then he does something like pursuing a funny ad all the way to the Supreme Court. I can only assume it’s all of a piece; that what makes the guy able to stand up to the tide of anarchy forever threatening to swamp the place are the very qualities that make him such a humorless martinet. What can we do to lighten this guy up? Any chance of a third press pass to the next hookers’ convention?

Working late on my novel (Ok, at Bailey’s Bar, but the Yankees won’t distract me one bit!), I remain