|March 6, 2009. Thursday in New York was sunny and mild. We turn the clocks ahead this weekend, adding some more light to our day. Which we are very much in need of right now.
A reporter called me from a magazine for a story she’s doing on how this economy has changed the social life in New York. This is the subject de jour right now among the print publications including the newspapers.
How has it changed? I don’t know the answer to that question. One journalist suggested that people weren’t going out as much (her observation, not mine) because they didn’t want to appear frivolous. Her words. Nah, I don’t think so. The Glittering Getarounds will always like to go out. Even if it’s to someone else’s house. (Not just any Someone Else, of course.)That’s New York. That’s part of the reason they live here and pursue social life here. They don’t care if anyone thinks they’re frivolous. Besides, for the most frivolous ones it’s just an act anyway. You know, like the world’s a stage.
The question: how is this affecting social life, etc. is irrelevant. It shrouds the reality. This is a situation where everybody is feeling it in some way or another.
Something has changed. I think the sense of this is so strong with a lot of people that it bothers them to the point that they can’t even talk about it.
Vanity Fair is talking about it. They’re running a piece on Bernie Madoff. You’d think old Bernie the Bum would be yesterday’s mashed potatoes by now. I mean how much more can you read about a man who kept stealing and stealing and stealing and people just kept handing it over (and taking it out)? Read this article: you find you can read more. The beautiful Carmen, the elegant, soigné and gotta-getdown Carmen too, a friend of mine, it turns out, knew Bernie very well. Longtime friend. Through a mutual friend. And took lots of pictures of him too because Carmen likes to take pictures of her friends all the time. Carmen lost all that she had with Bernie the Bum and her friend – Norman Levy – who introduced her to Bernie and has since died (in his 90s), left three foundations which are now kaput. This man did everybody in. Everybody. His best friends. The people who gave him a lift, a push, a life. He ripped them all off.
Of course he didn’t intend to. I suppose thieves often don’t intend to.
I was reading the piece in The New Yorker about that guy Sir Allen Stanford, the MGM version of the King of Antigua. Another one ---albeit small potatoes compared to Bernie.
So how is this affecting social life in New York? The only way it is affecting it directly is anybody who had their income attached in some way to Bernie Madoff (or the financial industry overall) is not out spending money on nightlife and exquisite duds and dresses. The manicure still. The pedicure maybe yes. The blow-dry for the girls (maybe the guys too?)(like the manicure), probably. Unless they don’t go out, and then… you can let it slide. If that’s the way you want people to see you. In New York. I don’t think so.
As far as the parties are concerned, the parties are going to continue, at least for now. Because a great number of them are philanthropically connected. So much of New York social life is that today. The charities will not only still need to raise money, they will need to find ways to raise more, which sounds like an impossibility if you consider the oncoming fundamentals. Still, that’s the reality too: more needs, more money. Crunching numbers I might be pessimistic except New York has people with powerful creative abilities to move mountains, even if only an inch or two. We are our brother’s keeper – although that still eludes a great number of us.
What I think about it all personally, what I am always thinking about is how am I going to write about what’s going on in New York without reporting on the subtext. The mood. That’s what’s changed. I don’t think you can put a date on it. It doesn’t date back to August 2007 as much as September 2008 and Lehman Brothers. A friend of mine, as I’ve reported here before, an heiress lost $85 million the day Lehman tanked. Poof. In one day. Fortunately for her she has the facility of disinterest in those matters beyond her control (at least financially). “It’s not as if I earned it,” she shrugged. Nor will she mourn it, fortunately for her.
My friend is hardly indifferent to the realities of the purse. She’s never been extravagant like so many people I know with that kind of money. She lives comfortably and smartly, and compared to us working stiffs, a lot better – you know: bigger living spaces, more than one; trips all over the world when it comes up, a good wardrobe, jewelry. But even if it wasn’t the money, it was. Because that’s the boat many people are in.
Alexandra Lebenthal’s written about this very succinctly in her guest diaries for us. The subtext is uncertainty, an uncertainty that covers many areas of one’s life. I had lunch with a friend of mine, a very successful longtime private investor, much under the radar but well thought of in the financial community (because he made a fortune and kept it and so did his associates). He told me that he’d recently had a conversation with a colleague, a contemporary of his (50+), also with a record of success. The man asked my friend what he thought of what was happening; what he thought was gonna happen…? My friend replied with dismay: “I thinking we’re looking at a collapse.”
The colleague looked dumfounded. He advised my friend not to say that to anybody if he “wanted to be taken seriously.”
On either side of that point view is what is happening in social life today. It’s also what’s happening in the taxi cabs and the stores and the restaurants and on the sidewalks. Deep uncertainty for all of us.
And so the zeitgeist is Bernie Madoff. This is not good. I know he’s a drop in the bucket compared to the centi-trillion dollar derivatives market waiting in the wings to perform its eleven o’clock number. But Bernie Madoff and his actions, his despicable behavior in an organized society – which evidently how humans operate successfully – personifies the situation. You don’t know who your thief is. Or if it’s your friend or grandpa’s best friend. All but the dumbest have that in their consciousness these days, whether they know it or not. This is what’s going on in society in New York today.
The parties, the social life, the goings-out will continue. That’s the rattle of the taxis and the rumble of the subway trains. That’s what brought millions of us here from everywhere, plying our trades. That’s what gets me pushing the words around. The goings-out’ll just take a new form, and no doubt a highly creative one. When the cloud of uncertainty lifts. Art for art’s sake? Yes, but no. Art for real.
Meanwhile, the British who once ruled the earth and the waves and have seen it all, so to speak, have a different slant on what’s happening, at least what was happening in Hull, in Northern England where they have had great flooding. Queen Elizabeth II herself is doing the drill in her majesty’s way, visiting the victims, and dressed with them in mind . (“Queen cheers up the people of Hull with an eye-catching canary hat.”) And her subjects just thought it was lovely. At least that’s what the Daily Mail would have you believe her subjects were thinking. Tragedy and all. It does get a laugh, you have to admit.