October 16, 2008

Peggy Noonan was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and is a graceful essayist and good Catholic lady who happens to be a political conservative. I haven’t seen her in years but sometimes we exchange emails. She has written a book about how badly Americans need Patriotic Grace, the title of her opus, and I bought it just as the news of a Catholic archbishop being found strangled on the Brighton Beach boardwalk came in. The killers took his wallet, his cellphone and his shoes. Peggy thinks that Washington is a city run by two rival gangs who have a great deal in common with each other, ‘including an essential lack of interest in the well-being of the turf on which they fight’.

Once upon a time the killing of a priest used to arouse such revulsion, even very bad people would come forward and provide info to the fuzz. But the recent assaults on God in general, and the Christian and Catholic religion in particular by scum like Christopher Hitchens and a clown by the name of Bill Maher, have clouded the issue. Mugging and killing a priest for a cellphone is now looked upon — well, like stealing an apple was during the good old days. Peggy wants a more amiable political discourse in order to improve our brutish impulses. Poor Peggy. Poor us. The killers of the priest are unknown, but I’ll bet my last dollar that they are either Russian gangsters or hoodlums on drugs as well as generous welfare. Open borders have not helped. The Brighton Beach area is crawling with ex-Soviet criminals, all welcomed here after the fall of the only system which knew how to handle them.

My son lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and I’m worried sick each and every day. When I first set eyes on the place back in the late Forties, there was a luminous, guileless sense about it. It was a collection of little towns which those living there loved almost as much they loved their one and only Brooklyn Dodgers, the baseball team which moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and is now owned by Rupert Murdoch. The move signalled the death of Brooklyn in a way. The cohesion went out of the borough, it flew west, where the big moolah lay. Small shops and even smaller family banks shut down, their windows shuttered with plywood, their customers driven away by African and Hispanic immigrants. Looking at old pictures, one sees confident, happy working families posing in their Sunday best, the men in fedoras, the women in their bonnets, the boys proud in their penny loafers. Now all one sees are scowls, f—me shoes, and tough guy poses. And we have the politicians and human greed to thank for the change.

Brooklyn was one of those Norman Rockwell places with neighbours talking eyeball to eyeball with each other over a picket fence. Soldiers would come home from the wars and while still in uniform would sit with their mom while she peeled potatoes in the kitchen. As I remember it, or at least as I imagined it, it was an Eden untouched by avarice or violent crime. The violence was between criminals, the way it should be. All this is now gone, replaced by giant malls, graffiti, crime and lotsa immigrants who no speaka de inglis. Mind you, there are some very nice areas in Brooklyn where young people have moved once they were priced out by real-estate speculator sharks. Which means the credit crunch could be a godsend if it puts developers (destructors) like Aby Rosen or ex-governor Eliot Spitzer in the red. It got me right here, as they used to say in Brooklyn, pointing at the heart.

Not everything is gloomy, however. Harry Worcester was in town and I threw a party for him with beautiful girls down at Waverley Inn. In the next booth sat Robin Wright Penn, a terribly attractive woman with old-fashioned, winsome looks. She asked me while we were both out for a ciggy what kind of name Taki was. I told her it was the most common name in Greece. ‘But you’re not common,’ said the divine one. I gently took her arm and tried to steer her away. That’s when her hubby, Mr Penn, arrived and grabbed the other arm. ‘Don’t worry, I’m 72 and harmless,’ I told him. ‘No, you’re not. I know all about you,’ said Mr Penn, ‘from Michael Mailer.’ (Michael told him about the judo.) End of romance.

And by the time you read this the best party of this century — it is only eight years old — will have taken place. Nicky Haslam’s ball for his 70th was bound to be the ball to end all balls, and I missed it because I had to be of all places in Washington, the armpit of the world and a place full of ugly, shrill American women, to boot. I feel bad because Nicky flew over for my 60th, but he had so many young stars, an old Greek man would have added zero to the bash.


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