The old Toy Building on 23rd and Fifth added a certain Art Deco-Jimmy Walker flair to the proceedings last night, as the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy raised a few nickles among its friends, in a gathering that featured a Mayor who wants to be President, and several New Yorkers who want to be Mayor. The Artist and I arrived just after a whirling thunderstorm raked Madison Square (we ducked into in the Metropolitan Life Tower, the tallest building in the world for four years a century ago, for a few dry moments). Really, is there a better architectural patch of Manhattan than Madison Square? The Flatiron Building is regal, but even the Shake Shack has style.
Madison Square was once the upper limits of civilization in town. Indeed, the land upon which the 100-year-old Toy Building sits was deeded to free blacks early in the 18th century for farming, and their struggle was certainly well-honored by the speeches given by the Rev. James Forbes, formerly of Riverside Church and now a fellow member at DMI, and Cornel West, the Princeton firebrand. Both freely referenced the words and deeds of Dr. King, whose movement the Drum Major Institute was formed to promote. Rev. Forbes introduced the night's newsmaking honoree, fresh from California and fresh out of the Governator's party. Michael Bloomberg snuck in a sneaky jab at his former opponent, Freddy Ferrer (once DMI's president) but he was also subdued and teary-eyed, having arrived from the hospital where he visited the family of a city firefighter who perished in a suspicious blaze. Line of the night went to my pal Andrea Batista Schlesinger, DMI's capo de tutti capo, who complained half-seriously: "we tried to honor a Republican, but missed it be one lousy day." Voltaire would have loved it.
I counted at least three people in the room who go to sleep thinking about following Mayor Mike - the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, and Comptroller Bill Thompson (I may well have missed Adolfo Carrion, the Bronx Borough President, an impressive politician who I spent an hour with recently). Of course, Bill Wachtel - whose father started the organization in support of Dr. King in 1961 - was everywhere, knowing everybody, and meeting those he didn't. Before the speeches, I managed to chat with fellow board members Cecilia Clarke, founder of the incredible Sadie Nash Leadership Project serving young women, and Bruce Charash, founder of Doc to Dock, which sends excess American medical supplies to Africa, and the omnipresent Dawn Barber.
Later, Elana Levin (and who better?) rounded up the bloggers (I'd missed Lindsay Beyerstein, who snapped a couple of photographs before racing out to the Richard Thompson concert in Brooklyn). I did get to schmooze a bit with Barbara "Mahablog" O'Brien, who kindly brought me the printed program from Steve Gilliard's funeral. I read it on the train home, my ears still ringing with the exhortations of Rev. Forbes and Dr. West, feeling inspired.
A week earlier, the inspiration came from the impeccable hospitality of M.A Peel, who put together a wonderful evening under the stars on the Upper West Side in honor of the talented and prolific group of bloggers who have gathered under the newcritics banner to lay bare their inner feelings on movies, music, literature and television.
It was like a superheroes convention - in addition to Mrs. Peel, there were Blue Girl and Jon Swift, Lance Mannion and the Self Styled Siren, and Neddie Jingo (who was delayed by the nation's airline system and I sadly missed by departing pre-midnight). The real-namers were also in evidence - somehow, we seemed a paler, weakly bunch compared to the hearty nom de plumers. Chervokas was his usual verbose self, Brendan Tween made the rounds, I spotted the cultured power couple Kathleen and Manny Maher, and Maud Newton had the dish on all the publishing action (Random House's Gerry Howard was all ears). Jim Wolcott brought his bird-watching specs and filed a report from the field:
"When you get right down to it," writes Matt Taibbi, getting right down to it, "the American left is basically just a noisy Upper West Side cocktail party for the college-graduate class."
Although not a college graduate myself (Greenwich Village beckoned, forcing me to put my nebulous academic prospects on permanent hold), I attended just such a party last week, an elegant rooftop gathering at dusk hosted by the action-adventure heroine M. A. Peel and graced by the elegant sight and flight of a snowy egret across the the dusky skyline, and what we lacked in noise we made up for in charm, deportment, intellectual deftness, and our ability to hold our liquor (not a problem for me, since it I was on a Diet Pepsi mobile drip). I suppose to hostile outsiders of the right and left our bonhomie and shared belief in the sustaining value of reason, liberal ideals, and Billy Wilder films might have seemed insular and a shade naive, but that's why those surly bastards weren't invited--we wanted to enjoy ourselves.
Dennis Perrin was also among the bloggers, being a new newcritic recruit (and a great one) and he also wrote about the soiree - but he met one of those interesting local types on the way:
After the galleries closed, Smilp and I drove to the Upper West Side to attend the newcritics party that was the main reason for my visit. He dropped me on Broadway and went to find a parking space. As I walked around, waiting for his return, I noticed a pair of very shapely legs on a small woman striding with purpose, talking loudly into her cell. She looked vaguely familiar from behind, so I walked past her and quickly glimpsed as I did. And lo and behold, it was The Nation's editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. She appeared to have some kind of technical problem that wasn't being addressed, which gave her voice added edge. I'd only met Katrina once before, at a Nation party in the Village ages ago, and that didn't go all that well, so I turned and strolled southward, where Smilp soon joined me.
The party had already commenced, with several clusters of people chatting on a rooftop overlooking the beautiful Manhattan skyline. I had not met nor knew any of these people personally, so it was nice to actually place a face with their respective blog.
I feel the same way, Dennis.