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January 5th, 2005

  A Day in the Life


The first real working day of 2005. It's been two weeks since the last National Review editorial meeting, so there must be one today. I set the alarm clock for 5:30 last night so I can do half an hour's news browsing before taking the train into the city. In the event, some half-conscious fretting over personal issues wakes me up at 4:00. Can't get back to sleep, so get up, have early breakfast, idly browse the web, read the paper.

Arriving at NR world headquarters, there seem to be suspiciously few editors around. Uh-oh. Checking with Kathy Lopez, I learn that, yep, I have forgotten the three-week holiday break. There is in fact no editorial meeting today. Grrrr. Nineteen different NR employees greet me with: "Oh, did you think there was a meeting today?" New Year smile starts to hurt my cheeks.

Trip not wasted, though. To get to Manhattan it's an hour each way on the train, and twenty bucks return fare, so I "stack up" reasons to go in, and have plenty of calls to make today. I even have non-editorial business at NR: an expense claim to file. At this point I learn that Rich has had a change of secretaries, voluptuous Jane having been replaced by petite Erin. I file my claim with Erin, send a couple of faxes (home fax broken), and head out into the Great Wen.

First stop The New Criterion, to get some advice about promoting the work of a friend, a Chinese painter who wants to get known here. Spend half an hour chatting with James Panero and Dawn Steeves, both of whom know the NY art scene well. Learn some interesting stuff. Gallery owners take fifty percent on an exhibition. Seems like a lot, but apparently artists don't mind because the owners cover all the expenses of the reception party, promotion, etc. Left a catalog of my friend's work, Dawn says she'll send me names of some likely galleries. Most encouraging thing: they seem to like my friend's work. I like it myself, but I don't know nearly as much about art as these guys, so have no confidence in my judgment. Nice to see it confirmed.

Down to Chinatown by subway for some shopping. We are all out of Chinese liquor, which I and my wife both like to sip on cold winter evenings. I load up at the liquor store on Mott Street: one big bottle each of Fen Jiu, Wu Liang Ye, Mao Tai, and Shaoxing wine. Stop off at the pastry store for some sesame-seed balls, which the kids like. Chinatown seems hardly to have changed since I lived here back in 1973. Every so often the city comes up with a scheme to refurbish the district, but the merchants all shout it down — they don't want to lose the business while the work is being done. Still very Cantonese. I display my own fragmentary and highly unreliable command of that language in the pastry store, making all the girls laugh.

Next stop the Olympic Tower in midtown to see the Alexander the Great exhibition. A small display, but some nice stuff. I especially like the "fulcrum" pieces: tiny busts, horse's heads, and so on, made of bronze, as decorations for symposium couches. Very evocative — you can imagine the Greeks (and, by that point, all the non-Greeks Hellenized by Alexander's conquests) lounging on their couches exchanging witty remarks and ogling the dancing girls. And boys, I guess. What was that all about? Must re-read Vic Hanson's piece in NR.

I ask the curator whether there is some political aspect to having this particular exhibition at this particular time. I know the Greeks are seriously unhappy about this new Alexander movie. Some lawyers in Athens have even tried to get the moviemakers to show a disclaimer at the beginning of the thing, stating that it is a highly fictionalized account of the great conqueror. Well, that was the news a couple of weeks ago. The movie got such terrible reviews it's now hardly being shown anywhere, so the issue is probably moot; but I ask the curator anyway. He, a circumspect Greek, says: "Possibly … Maybe … Could be …" The message I get is: Yes, we're just setting the record straight here.

Round the corner for lunch at Fresco's with Wally. We have the fixed-price lunch, neither of us being very well in funds, and Fresco's not a cheap place. ("Some wonder if the check is in dollars or lira" — Zagat Survey of New York City Restaurants.) Then of course, we spoil the whole point of going fixed-price by drinking half a dozen glasses of wine each, swamping the food bill with the wine bill, ending up with a $140 tab, but getting a nice winey buzz on. Wally grumbles about the Plaza Hotel. He is one of the organizers of the annual Petroushka Ball, held every year in the Plaza Grand Ballroom to benefit a Russian children's charity. However, the Plaza is under new management, and they've announced they're going to get rid of the Grand Ballroom, so this coming Petroushka will be the last one held there. If anyone has a handy ballroom for rent in NY city, please let me know.

At this point, as usual, we decide we haven't drunk enough, and head to a local bar. Sitting there at the bar is Joe, a mutual acquaintance from our old First Boston days back in the Reagan boom years. We spend a happy afternoon reminiscing. Joe, now in his late 50s, ran one of the mortgage desks at First Boston back in those days. Glory days! — in 1985, the year I myself joined FBC, the entire graduating class of Harvard Business School all applied for jobs at the firm. Joe: "We had fourteen hundred applicants for seventy slots." It all went pear-shaped in the late eighties, though, and Credit Suisse came in and bailed out the mess. Joe left, founded a little consulting firm, did all right.

We talk backgrounds. Wally's grandfather was an itinerant Russian Orthodox priest in Canada, going round trying to set up congregations among scattered groups of Russians. Joe's was a bootblack from Naples. "I remember him coming home and stacking up nickels and dimes. He didn't have too much education, but he could count money all right." Joe had a year of college, then, at nineteen, got a job as a messenger on Wall Street and worked his way up to manage that trading desk. My own grandfathers were both coal miners in England. The three of us — we have now been drinking liquor for an hour or two on top of all that lunchtime wine — got a bit maudlingly patriotic, marveling at how easy it is, or perhaps was (Joe: No, still is) to make your way up in America. What a country! Bootblacks, itinerant priests, coal miners — and here are their grandkids in a pricey bar in midtown Manhattan, doing nothing at all in the way of useful work, getting stewed and flirting with the barmaid.

Get out of there around six, after five and a half hours of steady alcohol intake. Stumble down to Penn Station, sleep all the way home. Large cup of coffee at the station kiosk, so I am pretty clear headed by the time I get to my car. Drive home very carefully. Kids whoop with pleasure to see daddy, run round me chattering the day's news and each other's misdemeanors. Dinner on the table, God bless my long-suffering wife. Fall asleep in front of The O'Reilly Factor. So far 2005 is shaping up pretty well.