cominer

Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Managing Mailer

In Entertainment, Media, Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 at 9:16 am
Norman Mailer, Miami Book Fair International, 1988

Image via Wikipedia

In 1969, Norman Mailer – already a successful novelist and somewhat notorious character – decided to run for Mayor of New York with the already legendary columnist Jimmy Breslin as his running mate.

The brilliant Joe Flaherty wrote a marvelous memoir of the campaign called “Managing Mailer.”

While the title is technically correct since Flaherty was the campaign manager, reading the sadly out of print book (excerpts can be read here), it quickly becomes clear that there really was no managing Mailer.

When I interviewed him in 2007, he said of that campaign:

“Looking back on it, there was something highly comic about the whole thing,” he said. “Not at the time, of course. Breslin and I worked as hard as we ever worked. One of my favorite remarks at the time was that my mother didn’t raise me to work this hard. The press thought it was a lark, but it wasn’t a lark. It was a bone-depleting journey.”

“What is comic about it, what I find comic about it, was how little political sense I had compared to how much political sense I thought I had. What I didn’t understand was that a freshman doesn’t run for president of the fraternity.”

I bring this up because there are two books out that deal with managing Mailer later in life. One by Norris Church Mailer, his sixth and, as she likes to point out, last wife. She was with him for about 32 years, pretty much longer than he was with his other five wives, combined.

Her book, A Ticket to the Circus, is a loving though very honest memoir of those times. It’s not always pretty but even when she writes of Mailer — or her — having an affair, there is no question that the bond that held them together was love (though, as she makes clear, sex was also a part of it (“No matter the circumstances of our passions and rages, our boredoms, angers and betrayals large and small, sex was the cord that bound us together”).

It was a relationship apparently few thought would succeed. After all, when they met, he was a 52-year-old literary giant and she was a 26-year-old single mother from Russellville, Arkansas.

“Bella Abzug gave me her phone number and told me to call her, at any hour of the night, if I needed to get away from him, and she would come get me,” she writes of an encounter soon after moving to New York.

But…

“His clear blue eyes lit up when he saw me,” she writes of their first encounter. And she was leaning toward smitten as well. “He had broad shoulders, a rather large head (presumably to hold all those brains) with ears that stuck out like Clark Gable’s, and he was chesty, but not fat, like a sturdy small horse.”

It was clearly a complicated relationship.

During the publicity swing for his novel Harlot’s Ghost — a time when she figured out Mailer had been having an affiar — Sam Donaldson was doing a story about Mailer and he asked her what it was like to live with him:

“Well, Sam, it’s kind of like living in a zoo, One day, Norman is a lion; the next he’s a monkey. Occasionally he’s a lamb and a large part of the time he’s a jackass.”

She tells of their trips, their love letters, their children, their grandchildren, their tender moments and their fights, which could be just awful.

As The New York Times put it, “A Ticket to the Circus is not a tell-all memoir; it’s a tell-enough memoir.”

Meanwhile, the other book about Mailer, Mornings with Mailer: A Recollection of a Friendship by Dwayne Raymond who worked for him the last four years of his life, helping as he wrote his last books, is surprising.

Picking it up, it’s hard to escape a first impression of someone who worked for Mailer, probably didn’t know him so well and is trying to cash in.

But then you start reading it and you quickly see how much Raymond not only cared about Mailer but was involved in his life the last few years (a point of view, I later discovered, is fully supported by Norris in her book).

Raymond had been a waiter in Provincetown when the Mailers convinced him to come work for them, helping Norman as an assistant but also doing the cooking and shopping and helping Norris who was battling cancer.

While Raymond had had the writing bug and was a reader, his knowledge of Mailer at the time was thin.

“I had no basis for what to think about Norman Mailer. I knew he lived in town, but I’d never seen him and knew nothing about how he lived. I figured if hew as crazy enough to stay here all winter long, he was probably a fairly regular guy.”

And, if you only knew Mailer from Raymond’s book, that’s probably the Mailer you would know: a fairly regular guy who, while maybe having some eccentricities, loved his family and cared about those around him.

“To look back on my time with Norman now is like peering through a kaleidoscope: vibrant images churn in imprecise order. What emerges as I shadow more than a thousand days with him should be clear but that is not the case. The memories that do rise to the surface are often as inexplicable as the fog that gathers over the harbor of our town.”

Okay, maybe a little purple but it’s hard not to see it — and the whole book — as a heartfelt, loving portrait of Mailer. And while Norris’s book gives us Mailer the Man, Raymond’s book really is about Mailer the Writer, taking us into his office as he crafted his final work.

Spending time with either book is time well spent. Spending time with both gives you a a deep portrait of a man, a writer, who while not always loved, was clearly a giant who was not always so well managed.

Cathleen Schine's Wonderful, 'Sensible' New Book

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 8:43 am

Make no mistake — a positive review in The New York Times Book Review, especially on the cover — can sell books.

About a month ago, I wrote about the trouble I was having finding Cathleen Schine’s new novel, The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Powell’s, in Portland where I live, couldn’t get copies, same with Barnes and Noble. Even online Barnes and Amazon had been listing it on backorder.

I reached out to Schine’s publicist at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Laurel Cook, to find out if there had been some sort of production problem — after all, it had received a front page, fabulous review in The New York Times Book Review and it seemed it shouldn’t be so hard to get the book.

“Even though there were a substantial number of copies printed and advanced, the demand after the NYT review was unprecedented,” Cook said.

So, I waited and a couple of weeks ago, I went back to New York for Passover and renewed my search, striking out at the Barnes and Noble on Broadway and 82nd and another store before finally finding a guy who knew a guy.

The question now is, Was it worth it?

The answer?

Hell, yeah.

Listen. I’m not the first person to talk about how wonderful this book is.

Read what The New Yorker had to say

or

Adam Kirsch at Tablet

or

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

“When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five,” the book begins.

Joseph’s wife, Betty, is stunned when he tells her that after 48 years, they have irreconcilable differences.

“Irreconcilable differences? she said. Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?”

Beginning with whomever wrote the copy for the book’s dust jacket, there is no shortage of people comparing the novel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — just transported to Westport, Connecticut.

And certainly that’s true to a large extent. Betty stands in for Mrs. Dashwood; her daughters, Annie and Miranda, for Elinor and Marianne; Cousin Lou is there for John Middleton.

But stopping at the comparisons doesn’t do Schine or her book justice. With all deference to Austen, Schine has taken a recognizable quantity and layered it so deeply, with plot twists and language that is witty without being overdone, that you are the richer for having spent time with it.

“In the contested apartment, Betty Weissmann took some satisfaction in finishing a bottle of Joseph’s favorite single malt. Some satisfaction, though not much, for Betty did not like single malt whiskey.”

and

“Betty watched her daughter from the other side of the room. How serious she looked. Attractive, in a severe sort of way. Betty remembered giving Annie a sweater with sequins, just a few sequins, very tasteful, very chic. The look on Annie’s face — it was pure, such pure dislike. Betty smiled. It was like the time Annie had wanted a cowboy outfit and they gave her a pink cowgirl skirt. It had offended her, even at five. If she had known the word ‘garish’ at that tender age, she would surely have used it.”

and

“The waves were uniform and hushed, each gentle white hiss followed by another. She saw some sea glass, a nice lage piece, beautiful muted green, but she was too stiff to bend down and pick it up.”

Almost every page brings a moment of joy, a moment that will have you delighting in the book. Schine builds her book masterfully — so much so that you don’t realize the true achievement until you’re close to finishing and wanting to slow down so the sad moment when the book will end, is postponed.

It was only a matter of time

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Najibullah Zazi has pleaded guilty.

Zazi, one of three men indicted last September for plotting to attack New York City, told a federal judge in Brooklyn that he was guilty of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to murder and providing material support to Al Qaeda.

Just last week, his father — Mohammed Zazi — who had been charged with obstructing the investigation into his son, was granted bail.

And somehow it did seem inevitable given that even before he had been indicted — when he was just at the center of a million questions — it had been reported that he was cooperating and was considering pleading guilty.

While that was in September… sometimes these thing just take time.

I guess it’s score another for the criminal justice system.

Harold Ford: Keeping Podiatrists Happy

In Politics on January 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm
WASHINGTON - JULY 13:  Former Rep. Harold Ford...

Image by Getty Images for Meet the Press via Daylife

I know there’s a lot of big stuff going on today.

The election in Massachusetts. News out of Haiti. Word that the FBI broke the law for two years getting phone records. And, most disturbing, new evidence that three prisoners at Guantanamo may have been murdered.

I’ll have more on those last two at another time but first let’s go a little off subject and talk about what a lousy candidate Harold Ford Jr is turning out to be.

I mean, at the rate he’s digging a hole for himself, he’s going to be running for the Senate in Beijing.

In eight short days, he has gone from coming across as elitist to advocating child abuse. If I’m Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Ford hopes to challenge, I’m dancing for joy. If I am a deceased friend or relative of Ford’s I’m spinning in my grave. If I’m not dead, I perhaps am wishing I was.

First, there was the interview with The New York Times where he was asked if he was a Jets or Giants fan and replied he is closer to the Tisches, the owners of the Giants, than he is Jets owner Woody Johnson. He also talked about when he “in in town” he likes to have breakfast at the Regency and his only real experience on Staten Island was landing there in a helicopter with the police commissioner.

Then, he gives an interview to The Daily News — an interview the News says was “granted under the condition that the questions be limited to his rationale for running, and not issues ” — in which he says “”I love New York, I love the smell of New York.”

Finally, yesterday. He’s at  Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network for the annual Martin Luther King Day Memorial and he says:

“We as a nation need to be disciplined. If there were ever a day in which an electric cord ought to be used on all of us to remind us of what’s good, what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong, it’s on the King holiday.”

That’s right. If there was ever day where it was okay to beat your child with an electrical cord — it’s Martin Luther King Day.

Harold Ford may be a very smart man. I mean he did get elected to Congress a few times and a lot of smart people seem to like him. But pretty soon the only people who are going tow ant to vote for him are stand up comics and political cartoonists.

He’s like a jobs program for the podiatrists who are going to have to keep removing his foot from his mouth

Tales from the End of the Trail: Licensed to Hopefully Not Kill

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

So, yesterday I made the mistake of suggesting that scaring people instead of trying to engage in honest political debate was really not such a great idea.

My point was that Rush Limbaugh and others have every right to criticize the President, I just wish they would do it with facts instead of fear; that really what they’re doing is what President George W. Bush suggested the terrorists were doing: trying to scare people so much they are unable to act, move on with their lives.

Some intelligent, perceptive commenter wrote in to ask why I hate America.

So, today I’ve decided to go in a different direction and try something light-hearted.

While I grew up just outside of Manhattan, I’ve spent most of my life in the land of, “If you can’t get there by subway, is it really worth going?”

It’s not that I was anti-car. I just didn’t see a need for anything beyond cabs and emergency vehicles.

The lack of a license originally probably stemmed from a laziness in high school — or rather a different set of priorities. I could walk to and from school, to and from the library, to and from the train station. I had friends who would pick me up, give me rides for the rest.

And then I was living in the City and people just assumed I was one of those lifelong New Yorkers who had never bothered to get a license. I saw no need to dissuade them.

The minute Amy and I decided we were going to move to Oregon, I knew I was going to be in trouble.

Regardless of whatever reasons I had had for not driving before, I was going to need to buckle down and figure it out.

Within 48 hours of moving, I was signed up for driving class. Amy and I agreed that if we wanted to stay married it would probably not be a good idea for her to teach me.

The first day, I remember waiting for the instructor to pick me up and focusing on what had been In fact, my one driving experience.

I was maybe ten years old and my mother’s parents were taking care of my brother and me. I had gone to the store with my grandfather to the store in his red Dodge Dart that I can still remember seemed bigger than a boat. When we got back in the car to go home, he directed me to sit in his lap. Neither of us wore seatbelts. I don’t know that it was a simpler time as much as it was just a different time.

I scooted across the front seat and into his lap. He told me to put my hands at the top of the wheel. He started the car and bookended my hands with his and together we drove the five blocks back toward his house. When we turned the corner and it was a straight 300 feet back to his house — and, I’m pretty sure, there were no other cars on the road — he removed his hands and I steered on my own the rest of the way.

My instructor, whom I’ll cal Mr. White because I can’t remember what his real name is and that was the color he turned every time he was in the car with me, convinced, I’m sure, he was never going to see his loved ones again.

It was a lousy experience made more difficult by the fact that no matter how many times I explained that not only was I getting my first Oregon driver’s license, I was getting my first driver’s license EVER, he couldn’t seem to get his head around that concept.

There was lots of, “Well, Mr. Miner I don’t know what they teach you in New York but that’s not how we do it in Oregon.”

Admittedly, I didn’t help the situation because for the first few lessons he was talking about things like staying in my own lane, signaling before turning and not running red lights.

But with each lesson, I got a little better. The problem was that because he couldn’t figure out that this was really going to be my first driver’s license, we spent very little time on basics.

After nine lessons in three weeks, came time for my road test.

It was pouring rain and I was not optimistic but I figured since it rains, let’s just say frequently, in Oregon, I figured I would have to suck it up. Sitting in White’s Toyota Corolla — a brand and make I still refuse to get in, the entire experience was so traumatic — I tried to figure out which was going to be worse: failing my road test or telling people that I had failed.

I had decided that both were pretty much going to suck equally and that maybe the best solution would be just having White drop me at the airport so I can just hop on a plane and head back to New York and subways. I would send for my stuff later.

“Are you Mr. Miner?” a balding man who looked twenty years older than I felt — even though we were probably around the same age — asked me, opening the passenger door to the Corolla. He had a clipboard in his right hand and a somber expression on his face. “I’m Mr. Adams and I will administer your road test. Before any driving, let’s just make sure everything’s in order.”

He spoke so quickly, so efficiently, there wasn’t time for me to charming, or at least try to be charming. I suspected that even if I had had all the time in the world, he really wouldn’t have given a damn. If nothing else, my lessons with White had taught me that driving instructors may be the most humorless of bureaucrats.

Adams walked around the car, making sure that all the lights are working, got in the car and directed me to back up, which I did but only after trying with the emergency break still on. Not a good start.

Pulling into the street, I made a left, another left, a right, switched lanes, parallel parked, pulled back into traffic, switched lanes and then he told me to head back to the DMV lot.

Since I could barely see the white lines on the road because of the rain, certainly not as well as I could see Adams overly dramatically gripping the handle above the door, I was pretty sure I had failed, something he confirmed for me moments later.

Thanks to the help of friends and maybe the sympathy of my second test administrator, I passed when I took it again three weeks later.

Since then, I haven’t hit anyone, let alone, killed anyone.

I know it’s keeping the bar low but it makes being disappointed that much harder.

It Almost Makes You Want to Give Up

In Crime, World on January 8, 2010 at 7:57 am

I mean, really.

In giving his update on the investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to get explosives on to a Detroit-bound plane he allegedly planned to blow up, President Obama yesterday said something that has made my head spin.

First…

“I’m directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively — not just most of the time, but all of the time.  We must follow the leads that we get.  And we must pursue them until plots are disrupted.  And that mean assigning clear lines of responsibility.”

Take a minute and read the first part again.

“I’m directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively — not just most of the time, but all of the time.”

Now, I’m not a law enforcement professional.

Nor do I play one on TV.

But what the hell????

It’s been eight years since September 11th — hell, it’s been almost 17 years since the first attack on the World Trade Center. The United States has been the target of many attempted plots since then.

There was Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and others being convicted of a plot to blow up bridges and tunnels in New York City.

There was Ahmed Ressem’s plot to attack LAX at the millennium.

An alleged plot to blow up synagogues in the Bronx. Iyman Farris in Ohio. Richard Reid the shoe bomber.

The list could go on and on.

Now let’s assume that the government has been pursuing leads. I mean, after all, there likely wouldn’t be indictments without leads having been pursued.

But…

You really have to wonder why the President felt the need to make that a big point of his speech…. You have to think the whole pursuing leads thing is second nature.

Oy.

Speaking of oy….

As has been made perfectly clear, the intelligence community failed in this one. The signals were there and they just botched it.

What it makes it all the more astounding is that more than THREE YEARS AGO — when Richard Reid was arrested in his failed attempt to blow up an airliner — brilliant writer and noted intelligence analyst Calvin Trillin went on The Daily Show and warned the world the next attack could very well be the underwear bomber.

Really. Go about four minutes in and watch for thirty seconds.

And then go buy all of Trillin’s books because that way, as the world goes to hell, at least you’ll have many good laughs on the way.

The War at Home

In Crime, Politics, World on December 17, 2009 at 5:35 am

There’s no doubt that there’s still a war going on — on several fronts. Afghanistan, Iraq. Some of it defensive, some of it aggressive. And a lot of it here in the United States.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment held a hearing that brought that point home.

Jane Harman, the California Representative who chairs the committee, started off rattling off a now familiar list of names: Ahmed Abdullah Minni and Ramy Zamzam, among the five Americans recently arrested in Pakistan for allegedly “attempting jihad against the United States” in Harman’s words; Najibullah Zazi, the hot dog vendor charged with plotting to attack the New York City transit system and, of course, Major Nidal Hasan, responsible for the Fort Hood massacre.

Harman talked about how “since the number of Americans who are either being recruited or are self-recruiting to carry out terrorist attacks here or abroad is growing”… it’s important to know what the “triggers” are.

“We need to be able to intervene to stop individuals in our schools, neighborhoods, religious centers and jails who are persuaded by extreme violent messaging, whether through the internet, friends or mentors to commit violent acts. Before it is too late.”

Harman’s colleague, Representative Bennie Thompson added that “we must be vigilant to ensure that those who bear the brunt of detecting, identifying, disrupting and dismantling efforts by terrorists to strike at us — our citizens, our homeland and our allies — have the adequate resources and tools to do so. We must be vigilant that we do not slip back into a September 10, 2001 mentality regarding the sharing of information.”

While there’s a lot to be said for that, the problem is that in its zeal to maintain that post-September 11th vigilance, the government occasionally has trouble stopping itself from crossing the line between vigilance and violating the law, as demonstrated by documents released by the Department of Homeland Security in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Included were documents that showed DHS collected information about a conference in Georgia (the state) where the speakers were Americans and that they prepared a report on the Nation of Islam.

And then, there was the fact that DHS performed a threat assessment on planned abortion demonstrations in Wisconsin.

DHS Admits Writing Threat Assessment on Abortion Protest

DHS Admits Writing Threat Assessment on Abortion Protest

So, while it’s true that there’s a war going on, there’s also the the fact that it’s very easy to lose sight of what the actual threats are. It’s more important than ever to try and keep things in context, not try to scare people and look at the facts before rushing to judgment.