May 20, 2010

What the WASPs Lost

The block I’ve lived on these past 35 years is next to what no less a Manhattan authority like Woody Allen has called the most beautiful street in the city. This time of year the elms and poplar trees give my block a country feeling, which for me is as good as it gets. Country living in a city is what it’s all about. An English writer once described the place as being without trees, “but as if by a miracle little heaps of twigs and blown leaves gather in the gutters.” Looking out my window I wonder what city she was referring to. The Bagel is leafier than London, at least where I live, so there. The copper church roofs glisten at sunset, the lights come on at the Rockefeller Plaza, the lambent air intoxicates, the theatre crowds, the pretty girls in their summer frocks, all give promises of sex and summer. This is Manhattan at its best.

And even this late in the game I still like going to parties and getting drunk. Good parties, bad parties, it’s all the same under the grape. Last week I lunched at the Four Seasons restaurant with the headmaster of my old prep school and a classmate of mine. The Seagram Building where the restaurant is located was where I held my first-ever job. It was a ship-chartering office and my father had sent me there to learn the business. I was fired one week later for tardiness, absenteeism, and insubordination. The boss who fired me was a great sailor, whose boat “Ondine” was among the fastest of that period. Huey Long was a fabled drinker and womanizer but insisted I be on time although we’d be out together all night. When my dad asked him why he fired me, Huey said I wasn’t cut out for the office. Truer words were never spoken. Last week after a liquid lunch I looked at the Seagram fountains and thought back of the time I first crossed the esplanade on the way to work. It all seemed so damn glamorous and not a track suit in sight. Huey Long’s wife was a real beauty and I’d flirt with her whenever I saw her dirty hubby’s hands feeling up my girlfriend’s thighs. Which they did nonstop and with every girl I brought to the table. Huey died long ago and there were puns galore about his name and lifestyle at his memorial service. He loved the fair sex even more than my father and I did, which for a WASP is really saying something. 

“In one generation the WASPs lost everything: Wall Street, the banks, the media, and now the Supreme Court, which back in 1836 admitted its first Catholic and under great protest to boot.”

And speaking of that rapidly disappearing species, this is the first time since the creation of the nation that the Supreme Court does not include a Protestant justice. It is made up of Catholics and Jews, without a WASP in sight. The Protestant downfall was not sudden but it sure was quick. In one generation the WASPs lost everything: Wall Street, the banks, the media, and now the Supreme Court, which back in 1836 admitted its first Catholic and under great protest to boot. The reason for the fall is attributed to globalization, the rise of technology and the primacy of education. I say bull—t. The WASPs lost it because third and fourth generation money does not try as hard, nor does it elbow its way to the top. Trust the great Greek philosopher Taki, the WASP lost it for lack of trying, c’est tout.

The powers that be which replaced the dinosaurs are politically correct bores and busybodies. I knew the times were a’ changing when a man tried to stop me kicking a tree in the park years ago. I hadn’t even made a scratch and was just using it as focus for my kicks when he produced some kind of license and threatened to call the fuzz. I threatened him in turn, telling him I would gladly switch from the tree to him. He went looking for a cop but as it always happens, there was no blue uniform around when that pest needed it most. Last week the Empire State Building Lightning Partners rejected the Catholic League’s request to honor Mother Teresa’s centenary by illuminating the tower in a three-tiered blue-white-blue display. (Surely the tree bore must be on the board.) Oddly, the Empire State Building was alit in red and yellow last autumn to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist revolution by that arch prick Mao, a man with the blood of 77 million on his hands. In other words mass murderers are to be celebrated over a humble saint-like woman who won the Nobel Prize for her goodness. Where are you bombers when one needs you?

Still, I’m off to London with a heavy heart. For all the glass towers and gentrification, the Bagel is still a city of houses, stoops, even tenements. Roofs still hold water towers, bodegas are thriving, and the girls are the prettiest anywhere on earth. The culture is transfixed by youth and I for one am for it. Who the hell needs grumpy old men? One of the most unpleasant experiences of my life was to sit at lunch with Kingsley Amis, an unattractive little man who probably got laid four times in his life yet thought himself an expert. He was the quintessential old bore, grumpy and unpleasant and very, very common. Thank God for youth and thank God Amis is where he belongs.        

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