Diary of a Saloon Owner: DEC/NOV2005
by CAROL JOYNT
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31...First of all, Happy New Year. We wish you peace, happiness, good health and prosperity in 2006.
We're back in Georgetown after our interlude in paradise, feeling rested, clear-headed, even enthusiastic about returning to the challenges that were put on hold. As much as I loved basking in the sun, taking long walks, swimming in salt water and having lazy time with my son, a stand out pleasure of this trip was having time to read. I used to read books all the time, because I had a husband who took care of everything. In the past several years, reading fell to the wayside. It's not that I gave it up, but by the time I get into bed with a book each night I make it through about two pages and I'm catching Z's. It can take a month to read a chapter. But in the past two weeks I read four books, plus magazine articles. It was a kind of bliss.
Now I'm committed to catching up on movies. Last night was "Brokeback Mountain," and the next time someone says, "Oh, you mean the gay cowboy movie," I will be able to say, "No, the good cowboy movie." Yeah, it's gay but that really is not the over-arching theme. It's about not being able to go for what you really want. It's about denial and emotional self-torture. It's troubling and sad and, like I said, good. HEATH LEDGER's performance is wonderful to watch, but all the players are excellent. Like the world where it takes place, it is lean and spare and moving. Now I will hide in movie theatres for the next few weeks, until the Q&A lunch season resumes at the end of January.
It's been a vast and enriching year for us, for Spencer and me. We've traveled 6,000 miles across the U.S. and back. We've been to - in no particular order - Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Iowa, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Florida and the Bahamas.
Our last night on Harbour Island, at the bar at our hotel, we met a Braziian man and woman who said they were trying to visit all the interesting places in the world and could we make a recommendation. "Where have you been that you would recommend?" the man asked. I told him about our cross country trip and fondly endorsed the idea of them driving across America. He frowned. "But we want adventure and interesting places," he said. He got my short hairs up. "We spent three weeks driving around America and we had adventure every day," I said. "And not all but alot of it is beautiful and interesting." It bothered me that he didn't get it, that he was not opening his mind. He was thinking, "how boring, America." But that's not what I found. Sure, anytime you drive 6,000 miles there will be some patches that are tedious, but we drove through cornfields and over rocky mountains and along a wild coast, we visited high desert and grasslands and rolling plains and deep canyons. We saw Chicago, Jackson Hole, San Francisco, Big Sur, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Sedona, Santa Fe, Kansas City, Louisville. I would like every country, and every year, to be that fat with adventure.
Now, in '06, if I can sort out Nathans, then maybe I can move on with my life. On Feb. 1 it will be 9 years since Howard died, and 9 years since I began the struggle and, honest, I'm ready to be free of the past. That's my goal in the new year. After all, people are supposed to go to restaurants to eat, not to be eaten by the restaurant. I don't want to be the woman who a bar had for lunch. That's my goal and I'm sticking to it.
Good luck to all. Have fun tonight. Don't drive if you can help it. See friends, kiss and hug at midnight, and wake up with a plan.
Oh, and please Redskins, WIN!
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 29...One quick day in Miami before heading north. Spencer has not been here before, or at least not that he remembers. We came through as a family when he was 3, on our way down to Key Largo to pick up a boat we chartered to go down around the tip of Florida then back up, through the Everglades, up along the Gulf Coast and then back through the Okeechobee Canal to Fort Lauderdale. It was a wonderful trip, but he doesn't remember any of it. Today I will try to pack in for him Key Biscayne (where Nixon used to hang out with Bebe Rebozo), Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Bal Harbour (where all kinds of good union organizations have their annual "winter" meetings), and varioius points I remember from news of politics and crime. Of course, what he'd really like to see is the house where Tony Montana lives (lived). We'll see.
The Mandarin Oriental, while not in the center of the action, so far has proved to be a lovely hotel. The level of service is excellent, and there's so much to do right here: pool, interesting if not real beach, nice lawns, all kinds of fitness activities, good food, friendly people. It appears swanky, because it is, but is in fact quite easy going.
Later...Lots of splendid driving around today, to the south and back up to the north and in between. Visited the state park on Key Biscayne to climb to the top of the lighthouse. We could see all the way to the Gulf Stream it seemed. Then a stop in Coconut Grove, which has not aged well since my last visit a decade ago. From there through Coral Gables and then down to Ponce De Leon for lunch at Shortys Barbecue. We had sliced pork, baby back ribs and chicken, plus fries, cole slaw and garlic bread, washed down with root beer. It's all picnic tables and packed. I like Florida barbecue. Shortys is Florida via Georgia - a good combination of sweet and spice.
Some more South Beach. There would have been more but there's no place to park. Worse than Georgetown. Makes Georgetown seem easy. Advice: don't drive to South Beach. Being in a convertible helps, however, with the endless cruising and inching along in slow bumper to bumper traffic. Visited the actual beach, too. So many buff, almost bare, very tan, and did I say buff, bodies. Geez. Then around and about, showing Spencer Star Island, where the sequestered celebs and rich folk live.
LATER STILL...This evening we visited the shrine: Joe's Stone Crab. We managed to land a table without a really really long wait and the meal was as good as ever: hearts of lettuce salad with roquefort dressing, a double order of select crab claws with mustard sauce, creamed spinach, "skinny" fried sweets and, of course, large slices of Key lime pie. The place was packed, of course, with new arrivals being told the wait for a table was three hours. I don't know how they do it but they get it done and have been getting it done for years and years. I'm in awe of the place and hope it is there forever. The Mandarin gave us a lift over to the restaurant in the hotel's house black Hummer. Spencer wa thrilled. It felt so Sobe to arrive that way. What a last night on holiday.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 28...Our bags are packed and we're ready to go, and wouldn't you know that just last night a contingent from Washington - the Barths - rolled into the bar at our hotel. They had just arrived and will be here for two weeks - the lucky ducks. They wanted to know where to go, where to eat, what to do, and we gave them our short lists of favorites: lunch at Sip Sip, drinks at Rock House, sunset at Valentine's, wading in The Flats, dinner and the beach at Pink Sands, partying at Vik-Hum, late night waterfront golf cart drives. That's about it. We spent most of our time on the beach, swiming, running, walking and, especially, reading.
Now all I have to do is get my head screwed on right about boarding an airplane. Only those who understand this irrational fear can relate to what I'm saying.
Back to the bright side: I've had lots of time to think up ideas for Q&A lunches in the spring, and I'm eager to get back to the business of booking lunches. It involves a lot of begging, and then more begging, and then still more begging. A tropical recharge helps.
The owner of our hotel is a record producer. There is always music, all the time, and everywhere except the beach. As I write this in the library off the great room the music has begun for the day...in this case a swaying, thumping, Latin bit with the recurring and only lyric: "This is so..."
BTW, everyone here misses JIMMY HENDRICKS. I think the island's bartenders may have to name a new drink after him, like White Tornado, or Southern Storm.
LATER... Apart from the plane rattling an awful lot our flight was uneventful. Only six passengers in a space for 20. Up, across and down. Voila, we're in Miami. It's worth noting we blew through customs with a smile and a wave. Never has it been so easy to get through that airport. We were in and out of the airport in under 15 minutes and at the hotel in another 15. A breeze. Right away we parked our bags and hopped in the rental car, which got upgraded from an economy to a mid-size convertible. We kept the top down all evening, cruising Collins Avenue, Ocean Drive, Lincoln Road, and all the way up to Bal Harbour and back before a groovy dinner at the Setai. Spencer and I both were eager for a meal of a whole range of ingredients, rather than just the few available on Shark Island. We began with a salad of spicy Thai beef that had been lightly grilled and mixed with excellent paper-thin onion slices; the Snapper Tikka, which was okay but not great; a wonderful Pad Thai with plump grilled shrimp, and then Kurobuta pork tenderloin grilled under flames and basted with soy and pineapple. It was delicious. Dessert was passion fruit wontons for Spencer and kaffir lime parfait for me.
We sat adjacent to the open kitchen, which is quite a good show within a hotel lobby that is abundant with decor drama. It shouted SOUTH BEACH and RIGHT NOW.
Setai did something I saw all over Shark Island and increasingly in New York and other restaurant towns: they added 18% tip to the check. That's fine. I don't mind. I think it's a good idea. I'm not sure how I feel about the other feature on the bill, which is a place for "additional gratuity." I'm for the former but not the latter, and I wonder when this tip included idea will sweep Georgetown.
I'm seeing a lot of drinks menus at restaurants. But Setai is the leader of the pack with not just a wine list, not just a martini list, and not just a champagne list , but also a "drinks" list. It means a lot of lists for customers to wade through, but I'm intrigued by all the possibilities for libations. I'm not a big drinker but I like to have a cocktail and I especially like to be enticed by something that is fresh and interesting and made with real ingredients rather than mixes. It's worth the extra freight if the drink is delicious. I'm still thinking of the blood orange martini I had at Rock House. Using a real blood orange made the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. Try a blueberry margarita sometime. Good and good for you.
Tomorrow we will mostly be circling Joe's Stone Crab, waiting for the moment we can get in without waiting two hours, but at all other times I will be showing my son the Miami I know, which includes a couple of political conventions way back, and lots of wild and crazy visits with his father over the years.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27...It's impossible to be here and not think about that catastrophic day a year ago when the tsunami hit, and it's especially poignant when walking in the morning on the beach of a calm and peaceful sea. Our days begin much the same way as that fateful day began for the tourists at Phuket or the seaside residents of Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and I'm sure that if the tide pulled out an astonishingly far distance some of us would have wandered out, curious to see what was up, never thinking that a mass murderer was winding up to attack. Not now, of course. Now, as after 9/11, people talk about their security, in this case tsunami security: where's the high ground, and what to do. Here on Shark Island, though, there is no high ground. No high buildings, either. It's a sandbar, made by the sea and someday to be reclaimed by the sea...but let's hope not any century soon.
Today everyone will be recovering from their Junkanoo hangovers. However wild and late it was here, on Nassau it went ALL NIGHT. From midnight to dawn. That's the tradition. The Junkanoo there is 20 times the size of what we had here. During the night I was able to receive Nassau on my trusty ancient transistor radio (I can get WTOP, too) and the live coverage was a delight: music, color commentary about floats and costumes, and the occasional enthusiastic interview.
If you've never done a Junkanoo, you owe it to yourself, and your family, to book on a Bahamian island next year for Boxing Day or New Year's.
We drove around the island today, exploring and saying farewell for now to some favorite spots. Our most favored area is the "the flats," where the water is about a foot deep for hundreds of yards in every direction. In the midst of it all is a huge piece of driftwood. It was there 7 years ago, when we were last here, and when Spencer was 7 and a little guy. He was astounded by the driftwood then, and also that he found a dead baby octopus nearby. He is still impressed with this hunk of wood, especially that it hasn't budged or changed since we were last here. We had lunch at "Sip Sip," on the deck overlooking the beach and endless horizon of aquamarine and teal blue sea. They have a half dozen items on their menu I would gladly steal for Nathans - not the least of which is the lobster quesadilla and the curried chicken salad. I also like the Sip Sip rum punch, made with cranberry and pineapple juice plus a "float" of 151 proof rum.
We said good-bye to lots of roosters, chickens and baby chicks, too. For every person on this island there are at least a dozen chickens, and they are absolutely free range: in the yards, in the streets, always underfoot. In the West Indies it is goats, here it is chickens. And pigeons, too. Why there are pigeons is a mystery.
I'm about to say good-bye to island life again for a while. Once I lived in the West Indies for a year, and it was the best time. I got hooked. That probably explains why in one of my past life regressions with DR. RICK LEVY I was a teenage dolphin. That was the past life that made the most sense.
BOXING DAY, DECEMBER 26...Junkanoo tonight through the streets of Shark Island was an explosion of good spirit. Take your average high school marching band, amp it up, put everyone in wild feather costumes, a fair amount of flesh, lots of funk, start an hour or so late, begin with the littlest marchers and build to the big kids, includes lots and lots of brass, fill the streets with revelers, and that's a slight taste of Junkanoo. Spencer and I hooked up with the Ourvaroff family - Mom, Dad and the "the boys." We all lamented the departure today of JIMMY HENDRIX, who as I write this is probably back in the U.S. More about him below...
EARLIER...At 11:30 last night the phone rang and Spencer answered. "Mom, it's for you. Collect from Nathans." My stomach tightened, because late night calls from a saloon never hold good news, and that rule is multiplied when you own the saloon. I reached for the phone. "Yeah?" It was a man, and I recognized the voice, half serious and half suppressed laughter. "Okay. Nathans is on fire. Get out of bed. We're all here and we're headed to Gusty's and you've got to come with us." It was my "new man," as Spencer calls him, JIMMY HENDRICKS, who is here at the Briland Inn with his 18 family members, leading all in endless rounds of touch football, tennis, basketball, fishing, drinking and raising hell. He has been very attentive and provided some good laughs -- though I scolded him for last night's prank -- and departs today for Tampa with his wife and children. The "new man" part is a joke. The small world part is he knows Nathans and raised hell there in his earlier hell-raising days. To me is comes across as... through and through CIA. We did not go to Gusty's. And it turns out Gusty's was closed and then ended up at the Vik-Hum, where MICK JAGGER, among other lummies, has signed the walls. Not certain I'm suited to be a mother who drags her son to nightclubs at midnight -- though I let Spencer decide. Nonetheless, until 3:30 a.m. the wind carried the goings on across the island to my ears - music and singing, and some near-wailing. It poured, too, and the wind howled. But this morning we have a cloudless sky...and the chance to further analyze the arrival last night of four tall, handsome gentlemen who could easily be British commandoes, though Jimmy tells me they are rugby players, or ex rugby players, who each now owns/operates at business a business of his own in the U.S. The name is Ouvaroff. Sweetly, they are here with their mum and dad.
CHRISTMAS DAY, DECEMBER 25...My opinion of sitting through a Sunday church service was readjusted this morning after we attended the Christmas day service at "Uncle Sam's" Church of God. For one thing, no reason to yawn. For another, there was more dancing and clapping than in many nightclubs. We were welcomed warmly by the local parishoners, men, women and children, who asked us to stand and introduce ourselves: name, hometown, etc. During the "peace" everyone sang and danced through the pews, stopping only to embrace each other. Spencer and I got enough hugs to last a long while. But best of all was singing traditional Christmas Carols - Joy to the World, Hark the Herald, Go Tell it on the Mountain, and more - to a reggae or calypso beat, and the accompaniment of tamborines, keyboard, drums, blocks and many hands clapping and feet stamping the floor. The choir of elderly ladies - "the young girls," Uncle Sam called them - dressed in their best outfits and bouffant hats in brilliant jewel colors, or silver or gold - had the stage to themselves for several songs, and it was impossible to sit still as they rocked back and forth and hit the rafters with their high notes.
It rained this morning but the sun broke through late afternoon, casting a lovely light on the white sea foam as it broke on the beach. The tranquility of the colors makes me want to live my life swathed in shades of teal, aquamarine, sapphire, sand and pink, or simply live my life here on this beach. I said to Spencer at lunch, "If I have to be in this #*!?&*! service industry I'd much rather own a small island resort than a corner bar, Don't Stop De Carnival not withstanding." He was like, "Yeah, right." His standard response to much of my blather.
Sand castle building is practically a competitive sport here on Shark Island and seems to be the domain of children and fathers. The children go at it with a joyous innocence, while the dads go it at like it's a day in life or death mergers and acquisitions. So, we have some cruise ships on the beach, various elaborate castles, the Great Wall of China, a Simpsons storyboard and one whole family essayed in sand. This evening as I wallked there was a large German shepard sniffing its way down the beach and stopping at each sand creation. It sniffed, lifted its leg and gave each one a big whiz. The little children backed off in horror. The parents seemed uncertain what to do. (Say "shoo" maybe?) I wondered if it was Ebenezer Scrooge, here as a dog. Dogs, and the occasional horse, run up and down the beach without supervision, but fortunately not often.
I was told by a hotel guest that a major movie star will be arriving here tonight for the week, with his family, as he has done in years past. I'm not sure what that will do to the dynamic. Last year featured also the Duchess of York. I think I'd almost rather watch him than her, but my book, "Snobs," is fun enough and I think a glimpse into the lives back home of many of the people in our midst. Tonight: Junkanoo! Tomorrow: Boxing Day!
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23...As I write this in the library, a calypso band is playing holiday music in the adjacent great room. We've just had a fascinating dinner with ROBERT ARTHUR, local businessman and auteur, who has enough compelling stories to tell about people and events on Shark Island that he could write one helluva juicy novel. What we now know about KEITH RICHARDS, ELLE MACPHERSON, FERGIE, LENNY KRAVITZ, and others too numerous to remember, could also make for a top rated reality series called, of course, Shark Island. It's been that kind of night, and it is that kind of island. But in fairness, it's also lowkey enough that most of the boldfaced names go unnoticed. Who cares about them, anyway? Robert said as of Dec. 26 the airport will be maxed out with private jets; no more permitted. Really, so wannabe.
Anyway, the big news tonight is that the chef has been fired. It's reasonable again to eat dinner where we're staying. This was sudden but greeted with great joy among the residents (and, I think the staff). Changes were immediate in tonight's dinner menu. I was ready to eat peas and rice from here on out, but now it's not necessary. Had a wonderful crabcake followed by delicious grilled tail of Bahamian lobster.
We had sunset drinks at Rock House. The owner, WALLACE TUTT, was back in town and an energetic presence. He'd been to Alabama to visit with his family and - in the spirit of the holiday - enthusiastically passed around a tin of mini pecan pies from his mother. Is it vitamins or is he a naturally UP human? If vitamins, I want his prescription.
EARLIER: Distressed to read of the demise of Radar magazine. It's the first new good magazine I've read in years and now, after only three issues, and after getting hooked on it, I read MORT ZUCKERMAN has stabbed it in the heart. What a shame. It was actually funny. Try to grab this last issue. You will lol at the fraud phone calls to agents for ANNA NICOLE SMITH and STAR JONES, two peas out of the same pod if there ever ever were. I'm still giggling as I think about it. This is the kind of smart magazine work we used to see in the wonderful SPY magazine of long ago. Does Mr. Zuckerman have any sense? I wonder.
Tunred on the Today Show this morning, hoping to get updated on the news. It was the top of the hour and the anchors were out "on the plaza," as they call it, when KATIE COURIC announced, "we have breaking news." I braced myself, both eager to hear some real news but worried too that it might be something awful. Then she said, "...and we go back to the North Pole." Duh? That was about it for news from the good folks at NBC. So no need to ask why I'm thankful for having my laptop here on our tropical holiday. Who needs TV news, after all?
The hotel is stirring. I was up to see the sun rise, though there were some clouds at the horizon. I ran two miles and watched the clouds change from pale blue to lavender to mauve and pink and then, at the top, there was this bright burst of fuschia that sparkled across the water. Nice way to start the day. On to a new book. "Snobs" by JULIAN FELLOWES. This is a good island for it, because here you have a constant social game going on as people arrive at restaurants hoping they will be rubbing elbows with zillionaires or at least some leathery Brit author, and lots of turning of heads as new arrivals walk in the door. It's not as bad as the Hamptons. It's not even bad. It's human nature, I suppose, but fun to watch.
Have not met any zillionaires yet, but last night after dinner Spen and I walked the docks, admiring the yacht flesh. We were particularly taken with a giant sportsfisher yacht because of the lights it had on UNDER water, allowing us to view lots of little fishies in their nighttime ritual. The owner invited us aboard. We had a brief chat. I asked if he is retired. He said, "as soon as I sell off one more company I will be." Sigh. Of course. That's how we all live.
Follow-up on our compatriots here. It's always like this at a small hotel. There will be some group you find off-putting and then over time they endear themselves. We'll see, but our robust American crew approached Spencer this morning and invited him to go with them to the island basketball festival. He gave a tentative, "yes," and then later said to me, "Why did you get me into this? You know I don't play basketball." I said, as a mother would, "Well, you said yes, and besides, it could be fun. It was nice of them to ask you. Go check it out." The patriarch, MR. JIMMY HENDRICKS, stopped by me on the beach, and squinting at him through the sunlight, I smiled as he said, "We all know white boys can't jump. We'll last 45 minutes." Or, maybe they'll show yankee gringo grit and sprit. More later.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22...So you probably think, Okay, it's warm and sunny and there's lots of rum flowing, but does it feel like Christmas down there in the Bahamas? The answer is an emphatic yes, but not in the conventional way. If anything, it is simpler and sweeter. Happily not part of the scene is frenzied shopping. In the evening we stroll by the local churches and inside the locals are singing Carols, but Carols that have the sway and lilt of Conch rhythm. Some of the houses are decorated with bright, colorful lights. There are Christmas trees in the windows, sparkling and twinkling. With the Victorian architecture it is a lovely sight. And given that most of the houses are painted the brightest shades of pink, yellow, blue, green, rose, salmon, saffron, cornflower, lavender, lime and orange...you get the picture. In the main house here where we're staying there is a tall Christmas tree, and it's pine and it's real and it smells like Christmas. It is covered with twinkling lights and African ornaments. Every day I walk by and inhale a big whiff of holiday spirit.
Walking on the beach is the most wonderful exercise. Though many people walk with i-pods, I choose to listen to the surf. It is brain massage. A year's worth of thinking is reviewed, untied, let to unspool out over the endless sea, leaving my head clearer. I think a lot about Nathans, of course. Jeez, I think so much about Nathans. I review where I am versus where I hope to be. My thin-ice present and my dubious future. I weigh what it means to be almost 3/4's of a million dollars in debt, and how much longer I can go on, with the debt growing regardless of all our efforts. It is a hemorrhage that can be stopped only one way. So, when Santa asks me what I want for Christmas it is only one thing: a new lease. Love would be nice, too, but love has to wait. Gotta win the war first. Gotta get on solid ground. Gotta get some security. Men reveal their hearts to me, but the circumstances always are inappropriate. I can't do that, whatever it is they want. So, I keep a condom over my heart.
Lastly for this evening, what's nice about Shark Island is that it is virtually at capacity but doesn't feel it. A few more people will arrive tomorrow, but the hotels and private homes are filled. However, on the beach it is never crowded. I can count the people on three hands. The restaurants aren't crazy like St. Barth's, with three times the people who can fit in vying for a table. Nah. It's laid back here. And the bistros are charming and fun and the food is clever. The hotel food isn't so clever, unfortunately, but we had a groovy lunch today at a place called Rock House. Good, fresh, gazpacho and awesome lobster club sandwiches. And last night I fell in love with the Boathouse at Valentine's Marina. Handsome, handsome place.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21...The first day of winter and we were on the beach all day. Fortunately, we've had new arrivals from France and Germany, to add to the Italian and British groups, but none can outnumber our burgeoning family from the American south. This group has grown... from 12 to 18, providing the right number to field teams for a morning long and profane touch football game on the otherwise quiet beach. It was funny to watch the Europeans glance over their sunglasses at the robust American group, including the father (BRUCE WILLIS) and uncle (BILLY BOB THORTON) Imagine the soft splash of the surf pierced by loud shouts of "Hut, Hut, Hut." At "halftime" they stormed into the sea with with what had to be a Rebel Yell.
We walked down the beach to the Sip Sip for lunch. It is a chic little dune high bistro with
a porch overlooking the beach and the sea. It is painted the brightest shades of blue and green and seems to attract the most beautiful people on the island. I had a good rum punch and a delicious salad of grilled shrimp, black beans and salsa. Spencer had a virgin Pina Colada and a lobster quesadilla. It was fun to watch the action. Almost every woman who arrived was a young mother toting an infant. This is an island of babies. No complaints.
All is not lost here, though. The numbers of attractive teenage girls is encouraging, even though Spencer is steadfast in not making the first move. We sat with a few of them last night, along with the other parent, but could come to no concensus on whether we should all hook up for dinner. A father invited us to join them tonight, but my traveling companion voted "no."
About a chapter to go and I'll be done with the bio of EDWARD BENNETT WILLIAMS. Again, like so many powerful, accomplished men, it is a story of being driven by forces that may have denied him any opportunity to feed what gnawed at him. So many successes and still so many hills to climb.
But it is a good story. It would seem a natural for a gifted Hollywood filmmaker. What an opporunity for an actor. Williams had all of it - the highs, the lows, the torture, the many personalities, the drama, the pathos, and all those wonderful moments in the courtroom. Nonethelss I'm ready to
move on to "Brokeback Mountain."
We watched sunset from the Yacht Club on the harbor, where the big BIG yachts are tied up. The yachts may be blingy and grand but the Yacht Club is charming and handsome and a wonderful place to have a rum drink and watch the sun slip beneath the tide. On the TV they had the Weather Channel, delivering bad news about cold weather east. That and the NYC transit strike. New Yorkers arrive boasting about how they got out of town -- against all odds -- and use their stories to lather up during more and more rum drinks.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20...You know the phrase, "another shi**y day in paradise." Well, that's the story here on Shark Island, a small sandbar that combines the architecture of Nantucket, a wave of new American wealth like St. Barth's, with the youthful, international and sybaritic abandon of Ibiza. But remarkably quiet and relaxed for all of that. Rum, reggae and rock n' roll. A long run on the beach this morning, a long walk this afternoon, reading, falling asleep reading, more reading, some walkabout, lunch on a deck overlooking the harbor while the rich guys' yachts arrived for the holiday. Their white decks gleamed in the sunlight, especially brilliant against a few dark clouds that passed over mid-day.
Our small hotel is like checking into a house party. Our host is a charming, tan, thin, upright fellow who would be played by RALPH FIENNES in the movie version (or, in an earlier era, DAVID NIVEN). There is an attractive young Italian couple with a baby, who sucked up all the handsome and beautiful molecules. They keep to themselves on the beach, as do the few other couples, old and young. There is one man who is here alone, and from what we can tell, two women - one older, one younger - also traveling solo. Last night at the bar, the man sat near the younger woman but did not move over to speak to her. They nursed their pina coladas two barstools apart and nothing else happened. The older woman, who was the first to arrive for dinner, sat alone at a table and read a book, plugged into her i-pod, with the house cat at her feet. Then there is a large American family who stepped out of the pages of TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, God bless them. Because what would a remote, tropical, small hotel be without a large family reunion to provide loud, alcohol-fueled fun? They consumed the bar at sunset. They over take the beach, the pool, the tennis courts - wherever they might be. There is appears to be one man in charge, and he's a riot to watch and listen to. Mouth never stops. Coarse, wild - one can only hope he's in on the joke.
But then this other couple walked in. He's in a three piece summer suit with pocket square and bow-tie (think OLIVER PLATT) and she's in a prim Sunday church dress (FRANCES CONROY). I thought, "Hmmm. Wonder what they'll make of this scene?" Guess what? They gathered the boisterous group together and ushered them over to a long table for dinner. Bow-Tie and the old lady seem to be in charge of all of them, and one wonders if they also are the money in this familial equation.
Should be interesting as the week plays out and more members of the cast arrive or change places.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 19...Up with the sun this morning to get to the Nassau town dock in time to catch the local ferry to the out islands. The boat was not crowded, the beginning of our retreat from crowds and amusement park/mall civilization. I slept for about an hour, with the sun on my face, a breeze coming across the top deck from the speed of the boat. The sea was virtually flat calm and it was possible - after I woke - to look over the side and see the bottom through the gin clear water. We would cross over the occasional deep coral head or bed of seaweed. Sometimes I would spot a big fish or the wreck of someone's small fishing skiff. It was lazy and mindless and I loved it. I turned my head back and forth from the sea to my book, EVAN THOMAS' biography of EDWARD BENNETT WILLIAMS. Why that book? Because I'm always trying better to understand lawyers. They are a separate species.
We are at our destination. I am in the early stages of a warm, soft free fall into nothingness. For three months it has been warp speed, and now I'm down to 100 mph, and by tomorrow morning it will be 5 mph, I hope, and then full stop. I am in the library. It is a Moroccan fantasy, with a little Bangkok and Kenya for added spice. The floors are old wide-beamed wood planks, the walls the color of saffron. All the many louvered doors are open to the night. There are candles in every direction, fans twirling slowly overhead, subtle African drum music lilting through the room. It is the early part of the evening. No one has appeared yet for cocktails before dinner. Spencer is reading his book nearby on a large sofa that has about 20 pillows.
We did a little beach time today, but not too much because of our pale skin, and then some exploring around the small central town via golf cart. Then we ran a couple of miles on the beach. It is a good beach for running. Not too hard, not too soft, powdery. You can run barefoot. Some people like their powder on the slopes and some people like it on the beach. For me, beach, and for me beach means Bahamas. If it's sailing you want, go down island to the West Indies. But for beach this region is the best.
I was struck to learn the news about the Chalk crash, given that only yesterday I was writing about Chalk after listening to their planes take off and land in Nassau harbor. How awful. It's not for no reason that flying gives me anxiety attacks.
Looking forward to dinner. Wondering what our friends in Washington are up to. Chillin', for sure. Chilly chillin'. Wish everyone could be here with us. This is a different kind of Christmas -- a warm Christmas -- but not bad, so far. It could become a habit. Most of all - it's not depressing. No ghosts of Christmas' past.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18...We spent part of the day exploring Nassau. It was already sort of crummy when I first visited more than 30 years ago. Time, cruise ships and Atlantis have not helped. The Atlantis impact is probably the most profound. Just as when a Walmart sets up shop in a region and sucks the life out of the Ma and Pa shops, Atlantis pulled most of the shopping over to Paradise Island. While the bone structure of colonial Nassau can be glimpsed behind the worn and weary shop facades, the main drag is a tired commercial boulevard. Add the frenzy of cruise ship invasions and it's not terribly pleasant. The good news is that under the bridge the local fisherman and produce merchants still sell fresh cracked conch, fruits and vegetables and piping hot Johnny Cakes. Also, the Chalk Airways seaplane continues to arrive and depart with a loud roar on trips between here and Miami.
We hopscotched around Atlantis. We're slightly weary of it already. Too many people. It feels like the population doubled between yesterday and today. The line outside the Market Place buffet is 70-75 people long. As I sit here at Plato's writing, four little boys are playing a loud game of chase around my table. It's fine, but not everybody's idea of a peaceful evening.
Down the hall is the casino. It's a memory to walk through and hear the hum of the craps tables and the slots mixed in with the Christmas carols.
From what I can tell, most of the people here are English speaking and likely American, and from no one region. A small number of Asians, some Hispanics, but by and large American, and white. Two thirds of them could stand to lose 10-20 pounds. This fact can't be ignored because everyone is wearing a bathing suit. Spencer, who once on a trip to French Guadeloupe complained that he'd seen "too many naked boobs," (he was 10) today said he'd seen "too many man boobs." But everybody is getting along: nice, friendly. Spencer also observed that the parents at Atlantis seem "very in" to being with their children, while the parents at Ocean Club seem "bothered to have them around." I think that's because if the family comes to Atlantis it has to be about the children, though Ocean Club had a handsome Kids Club and a gorgeous children's pool hidden in a well landscaped jungle. The women on the chaises looked to be nannies.
Tomorrow morning early we head to the Out islands. We're taking the native ferry boat, that will depart from the town dock and stop at various islands along the way to our destination. We're looking forward to it. I'm especially looking forward to being on the water.
EARLIER...Up at the crack of dawn, an advantage at a vast place like Atlantis: opportunity to explore. This morning I wandered alone from the main building, Royal Tower, to the Sports Center (they ding you $15, unfair) then to the marina (awesome yacht flesh) to the outdoor shopping arcade (still sleeping, but attractive, colorful architecture masking the Paradise Island edition of mall shops), through the lobbies of the other Atlantis hotels - Coral Tower and Beach Tower. While Royal Tower is the top of the heap place to stay here, (and the club level rooms the top of that heap), I was impressed with the more human scale of the Coral Tower, and if I returned with children that's probably where I would book rooms. It's just as well situated on the property, but it's 9-10 stories rather than 19-20, and all the rooms appear to be fully glass fronted with views. The lobby is lovely and not a Grand Central Station of shops and eateries.
Just as on a cruise ship, food is the thing here. Food is everywhere. Unlike a cruise ship, you pay for every little sip and bite a la carte. I'm back at Plato's, of course, my internet access base, where last night's 20-somethings with potent blue cocktails have been replaced by older people having coffee from paper cups and breakfast pastries on paper plates. The bar is now a "quickie" breakfast buffet, featuring attractive croissants, cinnamon buns, muffins, bottled Tropicana juices, fresh fruit by the piece. But around the corner is the Market Place, a much larger everything-you-can-eat buffet ($21 per person).
What I particularly notice is the trill of the pre-teenage children as they enjoy the entire complex. They dance on tip toes at the sight of the fish, the water slides and rides, and the many different kinds of pools. For the littlest visitors there is an ideal interior "beach" where they can play in the "surf" like the big kids but without giving Mom an anxiety attack. I've noticed the real surf on the real beach is a little too strong for small fry. For this place to work well for teenagers I think they would need to be here in multiples. It would be fun to bring Spencer back with some of his buddies. They would be up and down the 60-foot Mayan water slide all day, in between visits to the beach and the Lazy River tube ride. I think they'd be impressed, too, with the sharks, the barracuda, and the giant manta ray. The latter definitely got Spencer's attention.
Though I don't gamble, the casino is appealing. Not large, but large enough. Though children can't gamble, the family can come in and stand behind Daddy or Mommy and watch while the nest egg is pissed away, or a new fortune won.
Today we'll explore Nassau. There is a Christmas police parade at 3 o'clock. The Bahamians choreagraph lush, colorful, and lively parades, the stand outs being the Christmas and New Year's Junkanoo parades. They are like Carnivale in Rio, with everyone grinding and winding in wild abandonment to the multiple steel bands. I did my first Junkanoo in the early 70s, when Nassau was still famous for HUNTINGTON HARTFORD, HOWARD HUGHES and JAMES BOND. It was newly free of British rule, and the cruise ships had not yet achieved the numbers of a Naval fleet. The British Colonial was the hotel. My boyfriend and I - we were here on a boat, tied up at the town dock - danced in the streets until dawn, side by side with men and woman wearing not much more than feathers.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17...It's always something, isn't it? Happily (and uneventfully) made it to Nassau by lunchtime, got into our room with a view, semi-unpacked and out into the glorious, warm sunshine and powdery white sand, beaming. Shot this pic and that pic and thrilled at the opportunities for spectacular pics, when it hit me: I forgot the USB cable that allows me to download the pics from the cybershot and onto the laptop and therefore up into the blog. I have an APB out to DENNIS DUNBAR and MICHAEL FOWLER back in cold Washington, and they'll do what they can to get me the necessary cable, but I may simply have to be a better writer and SHOW you what I see. (Not fair? Well, let's see.) Hey I forgot my make-up, too. But I remembered the bikinis, the books, the sandals and the coppertone. A woman has to have her priorities.
As I write this I'm sitting in Plato's. No, not the retreat, merely the lobby lounge, the only region of the vast Atlantis Royal Tower that has wireless internet access. It is packed and loud - a virtual cruise ship bar. To my left and right and rear are pods of young people sipping drinks of blue or green in tall glasses. They laugh a lot. A modified and electrified steel band is covering all the major Christmas songs, some more successfully than others. Packs of families wander by, with Dad casting a yearning gaze at the 20-something women and Mom appearing spent, with a toddler bundled in her arms and asleep on her shoulder and another crying at her knee. It would be easy to dismiss this entire enterprise as Disney meets Vegas in a bucket of water, except it doesn't have the cold, hard bonhomie of Disney or the salacious joie of Vegas. It's certainly glitzy and garish and plastic and programmed, but the staff are genuinely friendly. It doesn't feel like the staff training involves cattle prods. The physical plant is in good shape, the hallways bright, the services provided with some sense of purpose and pride. I couldn't stay here longer than our planned two days (we could leave now, actually), but for little kids it is a rip roaring fantasy come to life. Water, The water everything and always something to do.
The slides are the E-ticket, and they deliver. I splurshed down a few of them and survived. It's fun, even if the water is colder than expected. The fish in the tanks everywhere are big and real and appear healthy. There are lots of sharks and rays, but there are smaller creatures, too, that are interesting. A tank of spiny Bahamian lobster and starfish. Smaller tanks of pretty tropical fish. It's easy to see all the fish - to get up close, by looking into the water or through the glass panes of giant aquariums. There are endless paths to walk this way and that. And a good beach, but it's too overrun with local guys huckstering the jet skis. Literally, you can't walk 10 yards without being hit up with, "Hey, mon, want some sport action?"
What we have done is explore Atlantis but do most of our eating next door at the Ocean Club, which is a welcomed retreat. Spencer and I both like O.C. a lot. It is quiet and gorgeous. My advice: if you have someone you love and would like to explore that love more deeply or re-ignite the flame, cash in little Billy's college fund and get yourselves down to the Ocean Club for a few days. It is a helluva sexy place, and steadfastly private, and a two hour nonstop flight from Reagan National on USAirways. Jet Blue flies here from New York. We had lunch there today on a deck overlooking the aquamarine sea. I had lobster in daikon wraps, and a cripsy salad of fennel and greens. Spencer had Bahamian lobster roll. We returned for dinner and sat outside again, on a terrace at Dune, overlooking the sea, listening to the surf and watching the moon rise. Brazilian music played gently in the background. I started with fresh conch salad and Spencer had Thai chicken and cocoanut milk soup. I followed with a crab cake of Stone crab. Different. Good. Spencer had just-caught Mahi Mahi. We shared tropical sorbet for dessert and then walked back to Atlantis on an empty beach lit by moonlight. I was barefoot most of the evening and wore a dress that weighs about 5 ounces. This is the way to live in mid December.
Spencer did observe, however, that "I should be with some girls my age and you should be with a man your age." I hope you noticed how he made his plural and mine singular. But that's okay. One man is enough for me. Or, one man at a time. But we're doing okay. He's worried we'll get to the Out Islands and he'll be bored, but I pointed to the stack of books. However, if Santa delivers some teenage girls to our hotel that would be okay, too.
Ah, well, I must finish my pina colada and return to the room. We have a pretty smart view of the whole complex with the ocean wrapping round. There's a lot of electricity getting used here at night, but in the spirit of the holiday it seems just right. Most of all, it's warm. Warm, warm, warm. The breeze is gentle. The tree frogs are singing. The surf is splashing. That's the whole point, right?
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15...The bags are packed (well, almost), errands completed (just about) and my stomach is in a knot, naturally. Nathans seems to be ready to sail into the thick of the holiday period with fresh paint throughout, a tasty menu, and most of all a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Please try to stop in for a drink or a meal -- certainly a glass of "Howard's Egg Nog" -- and then write to me about your experience. While you're on the virtual trip to the Bahamas, I'll have your email to give me a virtual visit to Nathans. Interestingly, almost every third person I talk to has some variation of the bug that hit me this week, either head, throat or lower. Maybe it travels from the head to the throat to the lower regions. Whatever, it's not fun.
Back to the organizing.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14...No particular reason for not having written in the past 24 hours except that life is moving at warp speed, even in snow, sleet, freezing rain and old school rain. Work, errands, end of school duties, seeing friends for some holiday cheer, and basically getting stuff done. For those of you who this summer read the blog, checked out the photos and virtually came along with us on our 3-week cross country road trip, Spencer and I are about to embark on another (smaller) journey we hope to report on here. Saturday morning we depart for Nassau to visit Atlantis, and then after two days there off to one of the Out Islands, and then eventually back through South Beach. To the extent we can find wireless internet connections we will post the blog and photos on a daily/nightly basis. As I sit here still feeling the dregs of my bout with the flu do I need to underscore how much I'm looking forward to warm weather? Or how many times I thought about the sun today as all of us endured the famous Washington "wintry mix?" I'm looking forward to rum, reggae, conch fritters, Bahamian lobsters, fresh grouper, Johnny Cakes, and south Florida's Stone Crab Claws, among other delicacies in this fertile region. It's a small getaway but a welcomed getaway. The only hurdle before me is getting on the airplanes. I'm not very good about that. I can see friends who know me and who have flown with me reading that and saying to themselves, "what an understatement." Dear friends IZETTE FOLGER and KATHI KNISE understand. When Kathi and I worked together at CBS News Nightwatch, we used to call each other from the airplanes when our flights took off. If I was flying I'd call her back on the ground. "I'm up," I'd say, "freaking out but up." She would do the same with me. It's irrational to others but real to us and any fearful flyer knows what I'm talking about. Yes, I can sail across oceans and drive cross country without hesitation, but simply writing these past few sentences has put butterflies in my stomach. More tomorrow when I'm calmer and ready to change the subject.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13...Not looking it, but feeling much better, and thanks for your cards, letters and emails. Well enough to run a half dozen errands during Spencer's half-day of exams. Then some lunch. My first
meal since Saturday. Tomorrow I will even take on Costco. That's a sure sign of feeling well again (even if not entirely sane.) Tonight Nathans is closed for regular business because one of our law firms is having its holiday party there. It's the only night we'll be closed like this, and we did the samething with them a year ago. It's a fun way to use Nathans: drinks and finger food in the bar and then dinner for 65 in the dining room. After dinner, they return to the bar for more drinks and merriment by the juke box. If most of them are on their way home by 10 or 11, we'll open the bar to regular business.
Late this afternoon, in an empty search fora white t-shirt, I stopped in two major department stores: Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Both were eerily empty. I mean, empty like not even on a sleet-swept day in February. I asked one of the sales staff about it, and he said, "This is what it's been like. Not like the headlines, is it? A very strange season." Noticed considerable markdowns in both stores, but no white t-shirts such as I was seeking.
Speaking of strange seasons, do you feel removed from the holiday revelry this year? I do, and I don't know why. I felt this way even before getting knocked out of the holiday party circuit by stomach flu. Is it that World Wrestling Federation way the media kick off the shopping spree with "Black Friday?" Is it the dull weather? Is it cell phones and satellite TV and IM's and text-messaging and email and the zoom-zoom-zoom if daily life? Are there fewer parties? Is the national mood simply more subdued? Is it the war? Is it the economy? Is it mid-decade burnout? Will all this change in another week and the holiday spirit will overtake everyone?
For you Fleetwood Mac fans, STEVIE NICKS and other members of the band were in Nathans Saturday a week ago for dinner. Somehow I forgot to mention this. They came in late, sat in the back room and had a good time and were gracious to fans who stopped by their table. Howard was a big Fleetwood Mac fan. One year - late 70's, early 80's - when FM were at Cap Centre, Howard booked a skysuite, a limo and invited my brothers and their dates to come with us to the concert. When we got there the concert was cancelled because LINDSAY BUCKINGHAM had a bad throat. Howard felt terrible that my brothers were without a show. We returned to Nathans, had a bite to eat, and then he chartered a plane (with pilots) and took everyone up to NYC to Studio 54. We landed in Newark at midnight, a limo waiting on the tarmac, and were whisked to 54th street and inside the disco, which was at its peak and as wild as ever. My brothers and their dates were delirious. This was much more exotic than a Fleetwood Mac concert. We drank champagne and danced until 4, got a snack at a nearby Japanese all-nighter, returned to Newark and flew home on the clouds at dawn. That's what I think about whenever I hear a Fleetwood Mac song.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12...Well, let's see. Finally back in bed, but it's late afternoon. Doctor would have wanted me to stay in bed all day, and there was a time long, long ago when that was the standard expected of anyone under the weather. But not in this new century, and not if the sufferer has a child to get to school and a business. Restaurants do not stop in their tracks for a little thing like the owner having a bug. Besides, Mondays are when the bookkeeper is in and we can go over stuff and take a measure of just how good/bad the accounts are and whether we have to tighten our belt another notch during the week ahead. It's always something. More later. Now I want to get some sleep and try to break my fever.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11...Went to bed poker happy and woke up this morning with what seems to be raging stomach flu. The doctor does not think it's regular flu, and I did have a flu shot; there's no vaccine for stomach flu. All day bed bound, coping with fever, aches, chills, and the other symptoms that don't need to be detailed here. I'm subsisting on ice chips. When I have a moment of balance, Spencer has me drill him with questions for his upcoming exams, then I collapse back onto the pillows, suffering. Even my finger bones ache. I know why this happened. Last week I boasted to Spen that I have not been sick in bed one day in the 8 years since Howard died, and that I can't afford to be. Ah ha! That's probably when lightning struck, because I am now fully sick in bed. If you've been particularly close to me in the past 72 hours, be warned, because the contagion happens before the symptoms appear.
I did take a few moments to do up a Nathans News page on the left hand column, which will run through the holidays. Every little bit of Nathans News will be posted there.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10...Ended this evening in a family poker game where the dealers were alternately a 13 year old and a man of the cloth and the fellow who walked home with the pot of dollar bills is an elected official ("I'll buy the city a baseball stadium," he said), and the players included parents and children. We had a helluva good time playing mostly Texas Hold 'Em. I'm not a poker player, but I guess I am now after winnning a few hands, one of them with three queens. I'm told poker's the rage these days and it is easy to understand why. Once the basics are understood the hook is set. People have suggested I host "celebrity" poker games at Nathans, but first I'd have to get the celebrities then I would have to find out if it is even legal. I have no idea whether bars in this city can host poker games. But I'm dense when it comes to rules of the bar business. It was a a couple of years after I inherited Nathans that I learned 18 year olds could not drink. Fortunately I am not one of the people administering alcohold to customers, and my employees do know the rules. However, the city allows businesses to sell lottery tickets and that's serious gambling. Maybe we could do it if we didn't use money, but do people play it for the fun of the action (as we did tonight) or for the money? Clearly this matter has to be researched. Poker could be a warm way to get through the lean months of January and February. You know, a little game in the back room, five or six people, some beer and Nathans house made chips, maybe the winner gets a free dinner. And we don't even have to have celebrities. I mean, geez, enough with celebrities. They are high-maintenance and self-involved most of the time, anyway. The biggest celebrity in our game tonight was a 3-pound brand new puppy, who brought good luck to at least one player.
Kudos to PATRICE MILLER, who taught me the ropes tonight.
EARLIER... There was a survey recently - done by what group I don't remember - asking for nominations for the best weekend brunch in Washington. Nathans did not make the list, and that's unfortunate. Of course this will be taken as the sour grapes of an owner rejected, but that's not how it's meant. I'm a tough critic, especially of my own place, and and I'm an especially tough critic of brunch, a meal that's not at the top of my list of proper meals. But Nathans weekend brunch is a great brunch, and it's even made me a fan of brunch. In fact, I have to resist popping down there for a waffle on Saturdays AND Sundays, because the waffles are THAT good. They are the best waffles in the city, and I've gone round to sample many. The eggs benedict are brilliant, with the eggs poached just enough to run beautifully when punctured by a fork, the hollandaise freshly made and tasting like it - not too thick, not too thin, a good slice of Canadian bacon, a crunchy English muffin that holds up to the egg and sauce. Oh, my! It's a little bit of heaven when chased by a Mimosa ($5.50) or a Bloody Mary. Sets you right for the day ahead, whether that day involves errands, sports or a nap on the sofa.
While I'm at it, there was another survey done recently by someone (I don't remember) about meat loaf, as in "Who has the best meat loaf." Once again, Nathans not mentioned. But our meat loaf is world class. I should say LOREDONNA LUHR'S meat loaf, because this is a creation of our chef and people come in begging for it. We served it as the meal at this past Wednesday's Q&A lunch, and patrons were licking their plates clean. (Well, not literally, but almost.) There are no fillers, no stretchers, it is all pure goodness, with a succulent and moist quality matched by flavor. Add some mashers and a good glass of Syrah and, baby, you've got it made.
With the sun out, the temp not too frigid, this will be a good today to wander the shops of Georgetown. Funny, but apart from Amano and Leonidas chocolates, all my holiday shopping was done online. It has been so much fun. The comfort of home, the ease of the keyboard, any time of day or night. Land shopping has become a drag. The malls? Forget it. But even the chain shops are no fun. Staff often don't know the merchandise, parking is difficult, it's more hassle than pleasure. Even New York has lost some of its charm as a delightful place to shop. But the online shopping spree is a kick, and I'll go so far as to say if I could operate my restaurant virtually online, rather than in reality at Wisconsin and M, I'd make the change in a heartbeat. Imagine if you could sit there ordering what you want and I could sit here serving it to you - all online. Hmmm. Taste those waffles now. Here's some warm maple syrup with melted butter. How about some fresh plump blueberries? And, ooooh, how about I top up your ice cold glass of champagne with fresh squeezed orange juice? Sit back, relax, let me take care of you, darling. That's how it could be.
Lastly, I'm bummed that Brokeback Mountain didn't open in DC this weekend. I'm a hankering to see that film. I don't care whether it's men kissing each other or men and women kissing each other, but I'm eager for a good love story...
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8...Today I've been from Sterling, Va., where I picked up my repaired little mini, having survived its encounter with a Mack truck, to Capitol Hill, where I returned Santa's costume to Backstage, and then to Georgetown and Nathans, before sneaking away to my favorite "safe house," the perfect little Makoto restaurant on MacArthur Boulevard, before heading off to school carpool. Soon it's off to have some holiday cheer with a friend and then back home to help Spencer study for exams. My role is to "drill" him on all kinds of subjects. Last night it was atmosphere, clouds, global warming, ozone, radiation, wind, and so forth. Go ahead, just ask me to breakdown cloud structure or the global versus the local winds. A couple of years ago I drilled him so often on Latin that when a test was given to parents by the Latin teacher on "back to school night" I got 100% correct. No one was more shocked than I, but to this day the other parents think I'm some kind of Latin whiz. I never studied Latin a day in my life. To the extent I know any language I learned it on the street in the country where it is spoken, which is why my friends in France say I speak their language like a "Parisien gangster." Nonetheless I can shop, eat, direct taxis, and pull off bank heists like a naturale.
I shouldn't tell anyone about Makoto, actually. It is my safe house. I go there when I want NOT to be found. I take a box at the counter, plug in my I-pod, order the "lunch box," watch the chefs work their magic, and daydream about a better world. It is serene, separate, private, and unlike any other place in this city. The service is polite and exceptional. The food makes my palate spin. I could live on the broth of clams and mussels. When my meal is done and I'm ejected back out into the cruel world it's like I've been to a spa, a brain and food spa. I take special friends there sometimes, too, and they always love it.
Will it snow tonight? Will everyone overreact? Yes and yes. Stopped in the Safeway today to buy some necessary items and the shelves were cleaned out. No toilet paper, no English muffins, limited milk. Isn't that why we live in the city, so we can get to the store in a storm? People in line with carts overstuffed with groceries - enough groceries for a week or more. There wasn't any panic yet but it felt close to the tipping point. Speaking of panic. Note to self who is scared of flying - don't panic on an American air carrier if possible. Certainly don't shout "bomb" unless it's for real. The times have changed completely and there's no margin for even a moment's missed step. That fellow in Florida probably had a panic attack brought on by not taking his meds. Probably thought to shout "bomb" would clear the aisles. Well, yes, but that's not an option anymore when the law officers are trained to think not twice but once.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7..."Santa" JACK EVANS got up from his sickbed today to appear at the Q&A Cafe. So, many many many thanks to Jack, who I know would rather have stayed at home rather than appear at a crowded lunchtime event. But he was terrific - answered all the questions except one - and if you didn't know he was fighting a fever you never would have guessed.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6...In the world of booking TV talk shows, the worst possible thing that can happen is losing a guest at the last minute. Losing two guests is def-con 3. Right now I'm in def-con 4. JOHNNY APPLE, much to his own dismay, had to cancel tomorrow's lunch due to a throat ailment and medical tests. So, in a blast of clever thinking, I came up with a witty sub who agreed to first appear anonymously in a Santa costume and then later as himself and do a newsy Q&A. We had about a dozen cancellations due to the change, but still enough people agreed to keep their reservations to make for a lively and fun lunch. About 50 or more. So I've been psyched about going forward, and have rented the Santa suit, bought the holiday cookies and even picked up little gifts for the patrons for "Santa" to pull out of his bag. NOW THIS: I've just called the mystery guest's home to go over the details of tomorrow's lunch and was told by someone that he's in bed with a 102 degree fever and can't talk. "But what about my lunch?" I selfishly bellowed. "He won't be doing any lunches tomorrow," the person said with more self assurance than I was prepared to confront. This is a situation. If I still worked at LARRY KING LIVE or NIGHTLINE, the clout of Larry or Ted would be enough to pull in a last minute replacement. But in the bar booking business it's a different game altogether. I beg for a long, long, long time before I land guests for my little show. An overnight booking is an ambitious quest. I've made some calls. Won't say who to, but if any one of them said "yes" it would be a big enough deal to make all the patrons feel they more than got their $25 worth. But if I fail, what to do? What to do? Meet them at the door with the Egg Nog we've whipped up and wish them on their way. See if they want to come in and help us eat some of the food - meat loaf - Lore prepared? Worst case scenario is we just take the hit. But the night's young. The people I've called probably are at holiday parties. Maybe I'll get a call tonight. But how fortunate that I phoned the man's home this evening. Imagine. But for that call I'd be expecting him to show up tomorrow, with no clue otherwise. My stomach is in a dozen knots. My mind is racing. I'm in a panic, but it's a moderate, manageable, optimistic panic. Bottom line: If you have a res for tomorrow, don't bail. I will work this out, somehow.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 5...This is the news from the Q&A front. Wonderful R.W. "Johnny" APPLE, journalist extraordinaire and author of the terrific travel memoir and guide, "Apple's America," has been struck with a mysterious illness and his doctors want to do some tests this week. Understandably, Johnny ranks that over appearing at a Q&A lunch. I couldn't agree more with his decision to opt out of the Nathans appearance, but still I want this lunch to happen on Wednesday. It's our last of the year and, in a way, a gathering of the lunch family to share holiday spirit and wish each other well. My challenge was to find a replacement for Johnny Apple. How do you do that? Who is there who can fill his considerable shoes? I wondered and I wondered and I wondered and then the lightbulb went off: why, SANTA CLAUS, of course. So I called the North Pole and begged and, voila, the sub for Mr. Apple on Wednesday will be Mr. Claus. Now, we ...grown ups know Mr. Claus is the fantastical embodiment of our childhood fantasies -- an empty suit, if you will, which we fill with whatever. In this case, it's a mystery guest. The perfect mystery guest. A man who has been in the news probably too much for his taste of late, and with equal parts naughty and nice. I've sent out an email to the 330 people on the list, including the 75 who booked for Wednesday, and hope hope hope most reservations will stick. Some have cancelled, but others have signed on for the fun of it. I promise - it will be fun. It will be amusing and interesting. Also, yummy, with eggnog and our very good meat loaf and a holiday dessert. Plus each other's company. And a chance to hear, before anyone else, some of the lunches already booked for January and February. So, please come. It's a warm place to be on a cold day mid-week, a respite from the hectic pace of work and holiday madness. And, you know, sometimes you just have to trust me to put on a good show.
Wish I had the power to influence the weathercasters and their frothed up drama regarding the snowstorm that wasn't. It seems harmless, but for those of us who earn our $$$$ in the restaurant biz, a bogus forecast is a business killer. At 5:30 this evening the Georgetown streets were desolate and the Nathans bar was populated by a lonely bartender and two tables of two. And, honestly, the weather just isn't that bad. A nuisance sleet, if anything, here in the city, and a moderate snowfall elsewhere. In Buffalo they would think we are stark raving mad to report this as a lead news story at all. Welcome to the beginning of the Washington winter.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4...Is there any dish more fun to make than risotto? It's practically an aerobic exercise, especially once it's on the stove and at the stage of ladling in the broth and stirring the rice. It's a process that once begun cannot be abandoned until completed, and focus is essential. I love it. Especially on a Sunday night. Tonight I made porcini risotto using a dried mushroom from Dean and Deluca. It's La Madia from Umbria. Soaked the mushrooms in water for 30 minutes. Set them aside and saved the broth. Diced up a half onion and tossed that into a half cup of melted butter. When the onions were translucent I poured in a pound of Vialone Nano Rice, the risotto of Venice - harvested in September - and started stirring. Added a half cup of Fume Blanc and kept stirring, and then added the bowl of fully resusciated mushrooms. For the next 20 minutes added ladle after ladle of porcini broth until the rice was al dente, then a dusting of salt and pepper, a half cup of grated parmesan and some chopped parsley. A neighbor came over for dinner and the three of us enjoyed risotto at the same time as enjoying HOWARD STERN with ED BRADLEY on 60 Minutes. Go Howard.
Anyone who has been a regular at Nathans over the years knows that at holiday time we serve Howard's Egg Nog. This is a tradition HOWARD JOYNT began 20 years ago after falling in love with the Egg Nog served at White House Christmas parties. He researched it, got their recipe, worked on it, and out of that came his own version. People are always asking for the recipe - so here it is:
12 eggs, separated
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 cup blended whiskey or bourbon
1 cup brandy
1 cup dark rum (Gosling is great)
2 cups milk
1 quart heavy cream, chilled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
In one large bowl, beat egg yolks with the sugar until they form a lemony ribbon. In another bowl reserve the egg whites. To the egg yolks alternately and slowly add rum and bourbon/whiskey. To this add the milk, vanilla and most of the heavy cream. Beat the egg whites and add that to yolk mixture. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let stand for at least two hours or longer (best overnight) in the refrigerator. When ready to serve beat the last of the cream into a fluffy whip and fold that into the bowl. Grate nutmeg on top and serve with a ladle into festive mugs or sherry glasses. (Sometimes at the White House they add Egg Nog ice cream to keep it cool).
We will serve Howard's Egg Nog next weekend through Christmas Day. Be sure to stop in for a cup.
Will it snow? Will it snow? The worst part of snow forecasts in the mid-Atlantic is that even the most trained weather expert can't really accurately predict the patterns of winter weather. How many times do we prepare for a "significant" snowfall only to get a lame "dusting?" But aren't we all hoping for snow? I am. A late evening blanket of fluffy powder, but still dense enough to make good snowballs. How about a good snowball fight followed by fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and hot-buttered rum? That recipe tomorrow, if it snows...
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 3...In from the cold, sitting by the fire, listening to a little holiday music, a bowl of buttered popcorn at hand, writing the diary... A serene picture, eh? Yes, except for the argument with the resident teenager about the need to make plans that stick. It must be the age, or is it the sex? Was my life this chaotic at 14? Or maybe growing up in the cocoon of a suburban neighborhood made my comings and goings so much less fraught. Friends were around the corner and down the street, not a Beltway ride away. There was one movie theatre and, if we were lucky, two films, not multiples of multiples. In any given evening, like last night, Spencer's plans can change 3-4 times. A sleepover can be scratched at the last minute, or planned at the last minute, the movie changes and the theatre, it can be a drop-off in northwest at 6 which becomes a drop-off in Bethesda at 6:15, or Potomac or McLean, and then a sudden call at 7:15, saying the movie started earlier than the group thought and they're all standing outside with nowhere to go, or they go to another movie that lets out 45 minutes later than the scheduled pick-up time, or can he go to someone's house who i've never heard of, or can so-and-so and so-and-so come spend the night? Part of the problem are cell phones. Cell phones are the absolute worst companion for a teenagers' kaleidescopic social whims. They allow indecision to thrive. Last night, when I waited for him outside a school dance (and then he asked if he could go home with a buddy for a sleepover), each boy and girl who came out of the doors immediately flipped open a phone. Each and every one. Now, it's likely they were phoning parents (thank God), but not necessarily.
All I asked for tonight was that I can go out on a dinner date, have a some wine, and not be called in the middle of the entree to drive to wherever to provide the ride home that I'm told right now is guaranteed by another parent. I've heard that before, the problem is the other parent hadn't been told. Of course, I'd rather he call me than ride with someone I don't know. It's just that a parent wants some idea of what's going on. Some idea. Some little bit of a plan. That's the root of the argument here by the fire with the holiday music in the background. We'll get through this; all parents and teenagers do.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2 ...Sitting here with my friend JIM SPELLMAN, showing him how website magic is done. In fact, I'm writing this very sentence just so he can see how I put it up on the world wide web. Part of my argument to him as to why he should have a blog, and a website, and that if a lame brain like me can do it, then everyone can do it.
EARLIER...Got my ears burned off at dinner last night by a close friend giving me the lowdown on everyone's extramarital affairs. I am so clueless. I am so so so the last to know. And these aren't even the same flings I wrote about in an earlier entry. This is a fresh crop. What it confirms to me is that nothing has changed in the last thousand years - put two people in close proximity who have chemistry and there will be combustion. Marriage vows, moral values, religious parameters, devotion to children, concern for one's own reputation -- all of that falls away when confronted with pure passion. Okay. I'm down with that. But there was so much tonight. I'm wondering if there's anyone among my acquaintances who is NOT enjoying a little action on the side. (Well, me for one.) This much I know: there's a well known married liberal columnist who is tangled up with a profitable conservative lobbyist, and a married woman of the arts who is getting it on with a man of the CIA, and a very wealthy and married business woman who has her eyes on the same CIA operative, unrequited, while the CIA op is despondent because his first affair has gone sour. There was one night when half of this group were in the same room together and only two of them were with the one who owned their heart. But they sat on a sofa holding hands driving the others insane. I heard about all of this over martinis and crostini before the others in our party arrived. I'm now rendered incapable of looking anyone in this city in the eye and not wondering about their secret lives. But, hey, this isn't murder or war, this is love and sex. I'm an advocate for both.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2...Our morning radio listening is a hopscotch among HOWARD STERN, DON IMUS, OPIE and ANTHONY, and WTOP all-news. This morning I kept returning to Imus, because in his moments of clarity he had a pretty good rant on regarding the Bush Administration and the Iraq war. His guests can be as much of a Hollywood Squares mixed-bag as LARRY KING LIVE, and this morning was no exception with both DONALD TRUMP and BOB SCHIEFFER weighing in on the war. Though quite different in their style and demeanor, Trump and Schieffer had approximately the same thing to say: nobody knows what to do in Iraq, including politicians and generals; the war can't be "won" in a conventional sense, and if we walk out today or next year whatever we've built up will collapse, the Iraqis will not fight for themselves, it will revert back, and a new, potentially worse-than-Saddam dictator will take control. For some time now, and especially since the goofy Saddam trial began, Imus has been suggesting someone unlock his cell and let Saddam have his old job back. We could pack up and leave and life would go on. Imus is kidding (sort of), but having watched a ittle of the trial, and noting that defense lawyers have been killed and there's a death threat against the judge, and so far the evidence hasn't been too fierce, one has to wonder whether Saddam will be found guilty. And what if he's not? What if it turns out like some of the gangsta' trials here, where due to fear and intimidation no critical witness comes forth and there's no real evidence to convict? What do we do then? One last note on Iraq. I watched some of Bush's speech at the Naval Academy. He looked tired and uncertain, and that was in front of "friendlies."
Please note the passing of one of journalism's superstars: HUGH SIDEY, who died last week in Paris. He was a mentor to me, and a friend, and he was too young to die at age 78. When I was a kid LIFE MAGAZINE was it. When it arrived each week I grabbed onto it before anyone else in the family got near. I loved the pictures and the stories, but I particularly liked to read Hugh Sidey's column about Washington and politics. As a teenager it helped me feel informed and like an insider. He was a icon to me, like WALTER CRONKITE, and one of the reasons I was inspired by journalism as a career. In 1970, when I was covering the protest movement for United Press International, I got a phone call from the columnist NICHOLAS THIMMESCH. He said he'd been reading my stories and wanted to meet me. We met. Nick was a tall, imposing, self-confident conservative. We talked for a long while about journalism and my career goals. "You should meet Hugh Sidey," he said. "He's looking for stringers at Time." Hugh was the Washington Bureau chief for Time. "I'll call him,"Nick said.
A few days later I was having lunch at Sans Souci with Hugh Sidey, an Iowa native who nonetheless carried himself with big-city polish and grace. This was a lot for my 19-year-old brain to compute. Sans Souci was the most famous power restaurant in DC, the Palm before the Palm. French and elegant, it reflected the gloss of the Kennedy era. Cub reporters like me knew this was where all the media hot shots had lunch. And here was I, a news wretch, across a white tablecloth from a news God. Not only that, he was talking to me about becoming a stringer for Time. While I sat dumbfounded, various Washington notables stopped by the table to give Hugh a handshake or a pat on the back, to trade some gossip, maybe tell a joke. For the next year I kept my staff job at UPI and was a stringer for Time, with Hugh as my editor and guide. Eventually he said he wanted me to meet MURRAY GART, chief of correspondents, to see about "coming aboard," as he put it.
All of 21 years old, I was brought into Time Inc., as a member of the staff of "FYI," the so-called in house "organ" (their word) but really the school newspaper. Various divisions of Time Inc., put young people onto FYI as a trainee program -- you learned all about the corporation by covering it -- before placing you on the staff of Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, T&L Books, etc. I reported stories for FYI and the New York Bureau of Time. It was heaven. Whenever Hugh was in NYC, or I was in Washington, we had a chat or a meal. He always kept up on me. Even when I jumped ship after a year, and crossed town to become Cronkite's writer at CBS News, Hugh and I kept up with each other. He was interested in everything. He loved to talk about television. He was keenly aware of its impact on the publishing industry; after all, TV news single-handedly murdered Life Magazine.
Hugh continued running Time Magazine in Washington for years, and writing his column, "The Presidency," for Time. Presidents liked him. They liked talking to him and confiding in him. I think his calm, sophistication and cornfed wisdom gave them comfort, and they sensed he represented a view of America that was much broader than the Lafayette Square perspective. He cared, too - about the presidency, and politics, and the country. It was always there with him in any conversation, his great love of being part of the process.
In later years, when I returned to Washington to work at CBS News again and then at the Brinkley show, Howard and I would often run into Hugh and his wife, Anne, at Lion D'Or. We always seemed to be there on the same nights, about two tables apart, and we'd laugh about that and talk together for a while. We said we'd get together as a foursome, but we never did. In a way we were a foursome, even if two tables apart.
The last time I saw him was at a school football game about a year ago. He was there for his grandson and I was there for Spencer. He looked and sounded marvelous. "You've got to come do one of my lunches," I said. He was delighted that I'd found a niche for my journalism in the context of owning a bar.
He would have been fatalistic about dying, heartbroken about abandoning Anne, but I think at some level appreciative of the fact he died in Paris. It would appeal to the romantic in him. God speed, Hugh, and thank you.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30...Driving the streets of Georgetown is a challenge that is part of the fun and madness of living in the neighborhood. The streets are about as wide as a lasagna noodle and when cars are parked on them it creates all kinds of opportunities for motorists to play fierce games of chicken. My faves are when the guys driving giant trash trucks bear down on me, wild eyes flaring, not conceding one centimeter. In the spring and autumn these narrow, crammed streets fill up with the parked vans and pick-up trucks of the carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc., who play starring roles in the serial renovations. While they are a necessary part of the fabric their vehicles are often TOO large for the streets and their mirrors stick out to HERE. I dodge them the best I can but today one clipped me good. My right rear view mirror hung limp and wasted, mere strands of wire holding it to the mother ship. However, Tom at the Exxon saved the day. Where my car is concerned, Tom often saves the day. Twenty minutes in Tom's "sick bay" and the mirror was back in place and I was back out in the game, doding and weaving my way down 31st Street.
I could write about President Bush's Iraq speech today, but I purposely choose not to. It's this simple: it makes me crazy. I want out of this war. I'm tired of listening to Administration excuses. I'm trying to keep my mental balance as we cruise through the holiday season, and listening to anybody try to make excuses for this bungled, idiotic war makes my hair go on fire. There's no excuse that justifies one more death of someone's child, husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father. Enough. Rep. JOHN MURTHA should be admired for his courage to take a stand. It's a lonely place to be, going against this Administration, but maybe he won't be lonely for long.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29...It's happened before and it will happen again, but some of our very best and most interesting Q&A lunches draw the smallest crowd. Today with KENNETH FEINBERG was an example. If there were a Michelin guide for Q&A guests, Feinberg, the Special Master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, would get 3 stars. The good ones make it easy for me, too; the interview simply rolls off the brain. But, all is not lost. Now that we have SOUNDTRACKS, the interview will be available here online. It may take 24 hours to get it up, but it will be up by tomorrow. We covered everything from where the name "Special Master" derives to when he thinks it would be appropriate to release to the public the transcripts of his hearings with the families of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He had many anecdotes to share, and while some were understandably sad, there were others that had us howling. It is a shame more people weren't there to hear him -- we had a crowd of 30 (with 7 no-shows), but I understand - it's a rainy day, it's the holiday season, life is crazy. I'll be a fan of his for life, because he paid the lunches a huge compliment: "This is so civilized." Thank you very much. That's the goal. After 15 years producing TV talk shows, civilized was what I wanted most to provide, along with interesting conversations and good meals. This is not our parents TV talk show. This is something new and different and you can't really know why it works until you've been to one. I hear that again and again from patrons and guests. Do you hear that MAUREEN DOWD, TOM FRIEDMAN, NEWT GINGRICH and BARRY MCCAFFERY? That's not sour grapes, by the way. One thing I learned in TV is that you keep knocking until someone answers the door.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 28...Often, timing is everything. This evening, after a yummy dinner of sausages with peppers, onions and mushrooms, the project at hand was to string some Christmas lights. Midway through it became apparent they were in a hopeless tangle. I stopped and started over. Also took an email break, where there was this missive from a reader of this online diary:
In April, Maya Angelou was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on her 70+ birthday. Oprah
asked her what she thought of growing older. Angelou said, "I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."
There was more, but I loved the timing of that part best of all.
We have updated information on VITO ZAPPALA, who is recovering from bypass surgery. He is out of intensive care and in a cardiac recovery unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. If you would like to drop a note or send flowers, here is the relevant info:
Mr. Vito Zappala
Johns Hopkins Hospital
600 North Wolfe Street
Baltimore, MD 21287
While I have not yet bothered him with a phone call, I'm sure this bypass provided the improvement he's been looking for. At least that's been the experience with others who've had the same surgery. The day before they feel as wilted as an autumn leaf, and a few weeks later they are like new again. We're certainly hoping that's the case with Vito.
Tomorrow is our Q&A lunch with KENNETH FEINBERG. Of course, I hope everyone will come. I'm so eager to hear what he has to say about his experience as special master of the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. The Q&A lunches were created as a response to 9/11, and we try to revisit that catastrophe when we can, but this will be the first time we've heard from an individual who was so deeply, intimately and importantly involved in the a heartbreaking aftermath. It's going to be an icky, drizzly day - what better than to come to Nathans for a good lunch, and some food for thought, as well.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27...Does everyone feel ready to return to work tomorrow? I certainly don't. There will be a desk full of headaches waiting, but hopefully also some good numbers from the long holiday weekend. The streets seemed crowded with people, but I didn't see a lot of shopping bags. And the mild weather today did not feel like the holidays. Nonetheless, Christmas is 27 days away, and coming at us like a locomotive.
A friend and I today did something I've not done in ages: have brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel. I was curious about what they've been up to and with Spencer off at the Redskins game there was time to go and slowly appreciate the all-you-can-eat buffet. It's a sumptuous as ever, and the sparkling wine flows without hesitation. I loved the seafood, especially the shrimps with sauce Louis and the smoked salmon, and the vegetables, passed on the beef and turkey and eggs benedict but tried the carved sea bass, sampled the Dim Sum, which was good but not great, and loved the chocolate fountain. I know they are showing up everywhere but they are fun, and the Four Seasons offered every possible kind of treat to drench in chocolate, from fresh fruit to pretzels and biscotti, plus marshmallows and rice krispy bars. What I missed were the bowls of fresh fruit that used to be offered at the dessert table. No raspberries, no strawberries, no blueberries or blackberries or pineapple. But when I asked, a waitress brought me a huge bowl of beautiful blueberries. Fat and happy, we walked over to the Loews Georgetown to see "Rent," which holds up surprisingly well after all these years. When it opened on Broadway an AIDS play was something new and shocking; AIDS was relatively new and shocking. Now, we're all more sophisticated about the disease and there are sophisticated treatments, too. The music is good, but I hoped they would have opened it up more, added more dialogue, made it a little more of a movie and a little less of an opera. But these are minor complaints, because the cast is so good and the singing is astonishing. What's realy astonishing is that most of the cast are original from the Broadway production. They must have been teenagers then, because they don't seem old now. ROSARIO DAWSON is new to the cast, and is a showstopper as "Mimi. " It was fun to see WILSON JERMAINE HEREDIA reprise his role as "Angel." And I've always liked ANTHONY RAPP, though he doesn't seem to appear in films often enough. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys the Broadway experience up on the screen, or who simply likes the sound of good pipes.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26...I just heard a news story about the ways shoppers need to protect themselves before heading out for holiday gift-buying. Geez. It's like preparing for an excursion into Blade Runner territory. Tips like: don't dress well, don't carry a handbag, no jewelry, wear your credits cards and cash close to the body if you can, zippered pockets are best, and so on. It helps me to appreciate the sentiments expressed by Timmy at Thanksgiving dinner. "I do all my shopping online now," he said. "I set aside an entire day. Open some good wine, pull up to the computer and have at it." That sounds so much more appealing than having to dress in consumer camouflage to go to the mall. We used to dress well to shop, but we also used to dress well to fly, to go to a Broadway show and to go to religious services. That's all in the past. In fact, flying now demands studied anonymity in dress, demeanor and luggage. A few years ago Spencer and I flew through Miami to the islands. Our luggage was ancient but it had a designer logo all over it. When our bags came off the conveyor at the small island airport they were handed to us wrapped in cellophane. The reason? At the Miami Airport some criminal baggage handlers had cut them open with knives and looted miscellaneous items like jewelry and electronic gear. The airline security chief said, "It's the designer logo. You'd be better off buying cheap, ordinary baggage. It attracts less attention." I'd already learned that lesson regarding Europe. Across the pond thieves will dump all your belongings out and steal the luggage if it has designer appeal. So now I buy $50 duffle bags and use them until they fall apart. I dress for comfort and to be as invisible as possible. The only thing about my flying routine that hasn't changed is the combination of drugs I need to get myself on the airplane.
As for holiday gift-buying. I did a lot of it at my friend ADAM MAHR'S charming shop, AMANO, on Wisconsin Avenue in upper Georgetown. He has a wonderful assortment of charming gifts, including a terrific box of assorted old-fashioned candy, which is a delight for little and big kids. He has great pasta sauces and cookies and candies, plus all the gorgeous tabletop items he's famous for. A favorite item is the tiny silver mirror compact engraved with, "Desperate Housewife." I bought a few to give to special friends. Adam's number is 202.298.7200. My remaining gift buying, for those who live elsewhere, will be done through ELI ZABAR's great website, www.elizabar.com. Once there, click on "online store." There is something for everyone on your list, and they do a terrific job of packaging. I also love See's Candies, because they are good and old-timey. Personally, I can polish off a box of their chocolates in one sitting. The website is www.sees.com. If you are looking for foodstuffs here locally, like a great bottle of olive oil or maple syrup or maybe some gifts of assorted spices, contact the wonderful FRANCES CHASTAING, at Dean and DeLuca. She is head of packaged foods there and knows everything about everything. Her number is 202.342.2500 ext. 250.
The only down note for me so far this holiday: Nathans Thanksgiving day business was below last year by almost $2,000, which was a surprise. The possible reasons: so many people traveled this year. Many more than the past few years. Another reason: maybe we were too expensive at $28.95 for the full 4-course dinner. I thought that was a good deal, but maybe we should have gone lower. Another reason could be the way Georgetown is so rapidly changing from an adult to a teen venue. Our businesses, at least down on M Street, no longer thrive on the 35-55 age group. The fundamental Georgetown shopper and eater is late teens to early 30s, with the largest group being in the early 20s. You can see the trend in Clyde's very popular Sunday night "wine night," which attracts mostly young people. We're trying to do the same, but who knows if we can get there. I don't know how to make Thanksgiving a 20-something event, but maybe by next year I'll have it figured out. Turkey wings, perhaps? Cranberry and pumpkin shooters?
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25...It feels unfair to write about our splendid Thanksgiving. Unfair because we were fortunate to have each other -- more than two dozen of us -- a bounty of food, drink and good cheer, an intact warm home (well, chilly air but warm hearts) that was not in a war zone or the recent path of a hurricane, and we each slept with the assurance of a peaceful night. We were thankful for all of this. I was particularly thankful to have a heart that aches less than before, and a softening of my resistance to let the company of others make me less lonely. Either I'm reaching the end of my rope or I'm maturing.
Most of us spent the night Wednesday at our friends' home and many of us of all ages were up early to be able to see the spectacle of the hunt. Handsomely dressed riders on handsomely turned out horses grouped in the nearby field to begin a Thanksgiving fox hunt. We served them sherry before they galloped off after the hounds. Later a group of us taking a hike were stopped by one of the hilltoppers who asked, "Have you seen the fox?" We shook our heads. We hadn't seen the fox but if we had we still would not have told.
That was it for outdoor exercise, though the teenagers ran around outside till dusk. For the adults the remainder of the day was devoted to loafing by the fire with a book, napping, having a drink, conversation and food preparation, with each of us taking a turn in the kitchen to whip up the dish we were assigned. The bird was 24 pounds and needed hours to roast to a golden doneness. The brussels sprouts came late in the agenda, but it was a pleasure to have my time at the stove. The recipe worked and people seemed to like them (most not all and none of the children). My favorite items were the spicy mashed sweet potatoes, the sprouts, the dark meat, the fresh cranberry sauce, the pumpkin cheesecake and the caramel cake. The country ham was good, too. We could choose from a dozen different wines the host opened - champagne, whites of all varieties and the same with reds. Daunting. I stuck with the '03 Inifinity shiraz.
Did I mention the dogs? There were 6-8 dogs in the house party, all of them tiny except for one big female German shepard who had all the dog parents and the baby parents anxious. Would it have been Thanksgiving otherwise? After a period of tense but not scary positioning it was decided the big dog would have freedom of the floor while the tiny dogs would be sequestered on the stairs behind a baby gate. This solution seemed to please everyone, including the dogs and particularly the tiny dogs, because the stairs gave them full view of the feast from a sprawled position. Each little dog had a step and between each post was a little dog face looking out at us. No barking. No complaining.
Dinner was followed by clean-up, then visits to the bonfire down the hill from the house, then back to the house for football, nibbling, more football, more nibbling and then - thanks to the teenagers - a dance party deejayed by anybody who had a fully charged i-pod. This means we danced to the groove of the past and the future - the Four Tops and Kanye West. Needless to say, between turkey and twirling, sleep came easily.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23...Shortly we will head out of town, like thousands of other Washingtonians. We're headed west to be houseguests of good friends who will host a Thanksgiving dinner for 28 people. Wow. I'm responsible for the brussels sprouts. I love that, because I love brussels sprouts, especially the idea of making them for 28 people. For this meal I will first trim them, then boil them in salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain. In a separate pan I will melt a load of butter and add walnuts that have been broken into moderate sized bits, then I will add the B.S. and stir them with the walnuts and butter. I'll put all that in a bowl and then saute fresh bread crumbs in a little more butter...just long enough to make them buttery brown, and then I'll cover the brussels sprouts with the bread crumbs and voila, ready for the table. If each one of us is preparing a dish this will be one fantastic feast (and one crowded kitchen). It's a poignant occasion because the hosts are about to sell the house -- really a small estate -- after years of living there and hosting many wonderful Thanksgiving feasts. I hope to take long walks and maybe even catch a nap.
Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals to cook, though since Howard died I've more often been a guest than the cook. But for 20 years I cooked that meal for us and our families and it was always a long, fun and delicious day. I'd be up at dawn to prepare the bird, and during the many years we lived in Upperville, Va., in a 200 year old farm house, I'd have a fire going all day in the kitchen fireplace. The house had 9 fireplaces, and all the ones that were downstairs were blazing on Thanksgiving. People would arrive at 2 o'clock for champagne, smoked salmon, shrimp, and caviar. We'd put the food out around 3 or 3:30 - platters of carrot mousse, pureed broccoli, green breans, peas, mashed white potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes with browned marshallow topping, cranberry sauce and cranberry gratinee, turkey, sausage stuffing and also oyster stuffing, Smithfield ham, rolls, salad. We'd have good Beaujolais, because the youthful acid of the wine would beautifully cut through the heft and grease of the meal, but there would also be champagne and white wine and cider. Then there was a dessert buffet of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, ice cream, cookies, candies. After stuffing ourselves we'd all go to the den to watch football on TV and snooze, and after I cleaned up the kitchen I'd set out sliced bread, cranberry mayo, sliced turkey leftovers and stuffing to make sandwiches. Just writing that memory works up an appetite. We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and again, if you decide not to cook, please give Nathans a try. We do a wonderful job with this meal, and the dining room looks smashing with the red and white table cloths, the small white Christmas lights, the wood floor and red leather banquettes, and DAVID KENNERLY's terrific photographs.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22...Anybody who is old enough to remember the Nixon Administration and the Vietnam war and the protest movement will remember these things: first they blamed the media, then the liberals, then the demonstrators, then Congress. The Nixon White House never blamed themselves. They were simply doing what was right, and to pull out of the war too soon would be a costly mistake. We had to "stay the course." To criticize administration policy was cowardly and unpatriotic. Sound familiar?
We have an update on VITO ZAPPALA, Nathans general manager who has been ill with a heart condition. He had bypass surgery Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He is in intentisive care now but should soon be moved to a regular cardiac ward. So far, he is recovering on schedule. It's good news to us here at Nathans and I know it's also good news to his many friends and fans who have inquired about his health. If you would like to drop him a note or send flowers, the address is:
c/o Johns Hopkins Hospital
600 N. Wolfe Street
Balitmore, Md. 21287
Before sending flowers, first call the hospital to make sure he has been moved from the ICU. The number is 410.955.5000.
Have you made your plans for THANKSGIVING DINNER? If you prefer to relax and have others do the cooking, please consider dinner with us at Nathans. Our Thanksgiving menu offers:
ROAST TURKEY WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS
CHOICE OF SOUP OF SALAD
WITH STUFFING, VEGGIES, GREEN BEANS
MASHED SWEET POTATOES, GRAVY, AND
PUMPKIN MOUSSE CAKE OR
WARM APPLE PIE
All for $28.95
Reservations can be made with JON MOSS at 202.338.2000. We are serving from noon to 8:30 p.m., and the menu includes other items like grilled fish, steaks, pasta and, of course, our famous hamburgers.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21...Back from New York, a little tired, a little fat, and a lot broke. However, we had a good time. The kind of time we have no where else but NYC. We met DAVID DINKINS, BILL DEBLASIO, and, the big thrill for Spencer, AL SHARPTON. We saw seriously bold-faced names like HOWARD STERN and KATE MOSS, though at separate times and separate locations. But most of all we spent time with friends, ate great meals, ran the reservoir, and walked everywhere. And for me, having once lived very contentedly there at 254 West 4th Street, it was, as always, a homecoming. The drive home was swift and uneventful. We loaded the car with groceries, and we will be eating New York until practically Thanksgiving. I'll be detoxing, too.
Got a solid reminder I was home today when Direct TV FOR A SECOND TIME did not show for an appointment to repair my dish. This meant a second whole morning of me sitting and waiting to no avail. Called the repair company, DSI and, like the time before, they said the repair man came but no one was home. So not true. They said they called. Also so not true. Called Direct TV and got no satisfaction. The woman at the other end ...of the line kept saying "I'm sorry." Finally, I asked her, "Why do you keep saying your sorry?" She did not have an answer. I requested that they send a different repair company to deal with the problem, but she said, "I'm sorry, we can't do that." I reminded her I pay extra for a "protection plan" just so repairs go smoothly, but that I was getting no satisfaction from this extra expense, to which she said, "I'm sorry, but that's the best we can do." To which I said, "but you've done nothing, and since the beginning of October." And she said, "I'm sorry." Oye vey. Life's too short. I said, "What if I switch to Dish network?" She said, "That's fine, m'am, if that's what you'd like to do?" As a business owner I admire companies that are so fat and happy there is no incentive or need to keep customers. Boy would I like to live on that planet.
While we were away I don't feel I missed anything (oh, the dog and the bird), but I am sorry not to have seen in Congress when those otherwise lifeless individuals debated Iraq. It's a shame the repuglicans were able to trick the democrats out of the right vote, but the fact the debate started at all is encouraging. We need that debate to happen again and to be bigger and louder and stronger, and to keep happening until the voice of wisdom gets the job done and gets our troops out of there. Bush says it would be a costly mistake to pull out now. Oh, I suppose it's not a costly mistake to stay there and sacrifice more soldiers' lives? That's the costliest mistake of all.
It occurred to me that since nobody is BOB WOODWARD's source on the VALERIE PLAME leak, maybe it will turn out to be former CIA Director WILLIAM CASEY from the grave. He was a great source for Bob once upon a time.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19...We spent almost the entire day downtown, wandering Soho, from gallery to store to gallery to food boutique to more galleries and stores, winding up at our beloved Balthazar for delicious, loud, crowded lunch. A dozen tiny northern and western oysters for me, plus the Balthazar salad, and streak frites for Spen. May I once again recommend the Balthazar cookbook as an ideal holiday present. It is a practical usable and also tantalizing cookbook. While having our lunch, KATE MOSS breezed by with a baby in her arms and a large posse of young women. Only once did she get up to leave the table, causing the baby to cry loudly (it looked like a cigarette attack), but when she returned she was an attentive and loving mother. Later we walked the meat packing district and then headed back up Madison to order food from favorite places to pick up and take home with us tomorrow: meat from Lobel's, cake from Greenbergs, assorted delicacies from EAT. This evening we hooked up with old friends the Malloch-Browns. Trish drove in from the suburbs with daughter Madison, who is the same age as Spencer. We went to Osteria del Circo, where the teenagers sat at one table and the mothers sat way across the room at another table. A good arrangement. Also, the mothers had pasta flaked with generous shavings of white truffle. The scent is enough to cause hallucinations on my palate, but the taste finished me off altogether. Such a good thing. Seated next to us was "money honey" MARIA BARTIROMO, who owner SIRIO MACCIONI attended to with fawning devotion. It was a lovely Italian dance of shared affection. Then we and the teens headed back uptown for dessert at Sant Ambroeus on Madison, where the pastries are ridiculous. I had pear tart, Spencer Primavera sponge cake with fresh fruit and pastry cream, Trish the chocolate mousse cake, and Maddie the sorbet sampler and an Italian hot chocolate, which is like having a chocolate bar melted in the cup with some whipped cream on top. I have been so bad and it feels so good. Back to reality tomorrow, alas.
Where do I begin in my rapture about Megu? Yes, it's Japanese but it's like no other Japanese I know, except maybe Nobu but with more SHOW. The $10 million decor looks like $10 million decor, with eye-popping dramatic touches of light and architecture. The central bling is the Buddha carved of ice that sits in the middle of the room in a bath of rose petals with a single flame burning in front. While we diners feast on endless delicacies of top shelf veggies, seafood and carne, sipping exotic cocktails, heads soothed by groovy music, heads turned by occasional passing celebrity, the sweet Buddha melts. The ritual at the end of the meal is to pass by the Buddha, fill a wood ladle with water from the rose petal bath, and pour it over his head to make a wish. This caps an amazing meal. Let's see: we had edamame beans on the stalk planted in a pot of salt, a platter of perfect sashimi from a dozen varieties of sea creature, asparagus stalks coated with crunch on a stick, warm arugula salad in a tofu crepe, spicy shrimps, roasted silk cod, strips of raw Wagyu beef that we cooked only briefly on a steaming hot stone, and dessert that included green tea pastry cream torte and lovely sorbets. If you are seeking a memorable meal, do Megu. The phone is 212.964.7777. The address is 62 Thomas Street in Tribeca.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18......Walking up Madison Avenue after lunch today in the grill room of The Four Seasons I said to Spencer, "If I could have lunch there once a week the Q&A lunches would be booked up from now till the end of the lease." This was after AL SHARPTON came by the table to say hello to WALTER CRONKITE, who was our lunch date. I asked Sharpton if he would do a Q&A lunch and he not only said "yes," but he gave me the name and number of the person to contact to set it up. Oh, I hope it comes true. What fun. Another visitor to the table was former Mayor DAVID DINKINS, and current NY City Councilman BILL DE BLASIO, who hopes to become council chairman. Seated right behind our table and likely listening to every word was MORT ZUCKERMAN, who is otherwise known as LLOYD GROVE's boss at the New York Daily News. MARY MCFADDEN breezed by, also. It's that kind of scene in the grill room, day after day after day. From my point of view, it's one stop shopping for bold face names. However, the food is also delicious. I had lentil soup with sausage, followed by a red beet salad and butterscotch pudding. Spencer had rare ahi tuna, lightly grilled, and lemon panna cotta, and Walter had the lengtil soup and had crab cakes, and the butterscotch pudding. Isn't New York great? Having butterscotch pudding on the menu? Otherwise, we gossiped the whole time - none of which I can print here.
Who would have thought the VALERIE PLAME leak story would be an item that could take the mainstream media apart? It feels like that is what is happening with this latest turn of events, the turn that happened with BOB WOODWARD's revelation he'd been given the Plame name by a source before it was whispered to MATT COOPER or JUDITH MILLER. Yesterday and today feel like Woodward's bones are being gnawed on, as Post employees debate HIM on their internal blog that serves as the electronic office water cooler.I saw Bob at the corner of 31st Street and Dumbarton Avenue on Saturday afternoon. He looked troubled but it probably had more to do with being late to get his daughter and her friend home than to being already in the throes of this story coming out. Or, it could be the conversation he'd just had with BOYDEN GRAY. As I walked up, Bob asked Boyden, "How is it at the White House?" Boyden burst out laughing, to the extent he's able to register a burst. I asked, "So that's a laugh line these days?" Boyden waved the thought away, made his farewells and walked away. Bob surely does not enjoy this episode, but he's a big boy and can take heat like no one else.
It's a lovely, frosty morning in western Connecticut. Soon down to breakfast and then on the road. Wonderful crispy roasted chicken last night with "smashed" potatoes (smashed is the new mashed) and buttered vegetables, all with a tasty Aussie Shiraz. Big decision of the day is whether to dine at Megu or Babbo. Seriously, this is a tough choice, the kind of options we don't have in DC. Will likely go with Megu because Japanese food has been my cuisine of choice lately, though Babbo is supposed to be so astonishingly wonderful. Circo tomorrow night with our friends the Malloch-Browns. Can't wait. But mostly just looking forward to walking the streets of NYC, which I have loved since first living there in 1972. My first night as a New Yorker is as clear to me now as it was then. It was March, it was evening, I was very young, and I walked the city streets for hours, gaping, admiring, wondering, falling in love. Madonna's new CD has the cut, "I Love New York," which we will play rolling down the highway.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17... We have arrived in another place. At last! Since Labor Day it has been an ordeal of constantly pounding my head against rocks. To be able to continue at this pace, and to be good for any of the people who depend upon me for paychecks, a getaway was required. Checked out of town at noon today, immediately after a sweetly uneventful visit to Washington Radiology to get my breast examined. The exit was marked by a heavy dose of Kanye West, the open road and optimism. Route 95 was a breeze today - we flew all the way to inner Connecticut, and then it slowed to a snail's pace, but who cared? Obviously I was in profound loft due to my exam at WRA, where nothing was found. Major shout out to Dr. Glassman and Laura - I know his last name and her first - who in different ways got me through this difficult week. Laura because as a scheduler at WRA she volunteered to call me back with any cancellations that came along, which is why I was in there today rather than January. I recommend her to any and all who need to get an appointment with Washington Radiology. Ask for Laura, by all means. She looked out for me, and how often does that happen in this cold world? Dr. Glassman did the examination today, and he was all business and bedside manner, too. First he assured me he could not find anything, and then he answered all my questions. This is what I learned: the kind of pain I'm having happens a lot. It is phantom pain. The medical community does not know why women have this malady. He asked me, "Do you eat a lot of soy?" I said I have tofu a couple of times a week. He said soy products, which boost estrogen, create some of the same problems as hormone therapy - like phantom breast pain. It proved once again that every experience teaches us something.
Anyway...time to go to dinner in the cozy dining room of the charming inn that sits nestled in the mountains of western Connecticut under the full moon.
Additionally about last night's party for TED KOPPEL: no surprise, but much of the cocktail conversation focused on whether DICK CHENEY was BOB WOODWARD'S secret source who gave Bob the name of VALERIE PLAME even before it got leaked to MATT COOPER or JUDITH MILLER. In most cases, there was no runner up. Not KARL ROVE; not SCOOTER LIBBY.
Inside small business ownership: one of the decisions facing me at Nathans is what to do about the ice machine. This would be a no brainer if the future of the business could be counted on, as in having more than a few years on the lease. Uncertainty forces an owner to weigh big dollar decisions. We could buy a new machine for several thousand dollars, but to make that purchase we need a payment plan and we can't get credit due to debt and, again, the uncertain future. So for now we pay a small fortune in daily delivery of fresh ice. The amount we pay weekly for ice would more than cover monthly payments on a big purchase ... but, well, go back and read from the beginning. It's the circle of sole proprietor saloon life.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16...The farewell party for TED KOPPEL this evening was a ... happy gathering for ABC News in a year of turmoil and sadness. It's not that anybody there wanted to see Ted depart Nightline, or for Nightline to basically come to an end, but everyone knows Ted is getting out at the top of his game, and that it requires three people to fill his shoes. There's no other way to head for the exit. Plus, it was a reunion of Nightline employees from over the years, which means a gathering of some of the most interesting people in and out of broadcasting. Spencer and I were joined by HARRY SHEARER, in from the West Coast, who was his usual playful self. In a room packed with 400 media people he wanted to know what's the deal with ANDERSON COOPER, as in is he or isn't he. He recalled that in a recent interview Cooper was asked if he is gay and Cooper said he wasn't going to talk about his private life, or similar words. What Harry wanted to know, from anyone who would get engaged in the discussion, was - does this matter? If he is, can't he just say so? Wouldn't this be a healthy message for CNN to promote? Only JEFF GREENFIELD got into the debate with Harry, but the question clearly got under his skin. "Who cares?" was his end note. For patrons of the Q&A lunches, there was good news from DAN RATHER. He said he will appear, and that he'll be in touch to set up a date. I invited Ted, but it's clear he plans to enjoy some clear space for the near term. But he didn't say "no." Ted and his wife were glowing, and it wasn't only from the blast of the photographers' flash. Harry, Spencer and I departed wondering if Ted is the last serious newsman in television and with him gone will Nightline ever again have any you know whats. To one long-time Nightline star I called it the "new" Nightline, and he winced. I can't wait to see what Ted does next. That's the programming to watch for.
Through wind and rain and a 25 degree temperature change, PATRICIA DUFF flew down from New York to appear today at the Q&A Cafe at Nathans. Oh, and with laryngitis, too. But she seemed in good spirits, happy to be among friends like JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, and though not at all comfortable with being questioned, got through our back and forth before a filled room. Afterward she said she thought I was mean -- hopefully lower case mean -- and McLaughlin said it was because I included questions about her marriages and husbands. Not too many really, but some, and I explained that it was necessary. A lot of people know Patricia mostly through her marriages and it would have been odd if I did not weave them into the interview. It was not meant with malice, more as a platform to show the rest of the story. And when we moved to other topics, like her work in politics, in fundraising, in campaigning for matrimonial law reform, and her career as a TV chat show host, she appeared to relax. Clearly she enjoys her work with Plum TV. She said Washington is on a list of cities where the owner wants to make the network available. Right now it is seen only in Aspen, the Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, the Upper East Side - domains of the rich and powerful. I asked if she felt the elitist demographic of Plum ran counter to her liberal politics. "No," she said, after some thought. Like so many others we've talked to, she thinks HILARY CLINTON has a lock on the '08 Dem Pres nomination. Later McLaughlin pulled me aside to say being the frontrunner does not necessarily mean HC can land the nomination. Whatever. It's way early in this game. A thousand political twists and turns will happen before any conventions gavel to order. Regarding the other Clinton, Patricia's friend, Bill, she said she had not seen him in a while. But she said she did have lunch yesterday with ex RON PERELMAN, after we talked about the myriad complications of their nasty divorce and child custody war. It was an interesting conversation. Tough, because she didn't want to talk, but engaging when she did.
This fortunately took my mind off other stuff. Tomorrow some tests and then we get out of Dodge for a few days. Cannot wait.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15...My son came up with a brilliant antidote for stress and the blues. Last night he sat me down in front of the TV and introduced me to the DVD collection of comedian DAVE CHAPPELLE. A particular favorite was a series of CHARLIE MURPHY recollections of living the high life in Hollywood with his brother, EDDIE MURPHY, which included a wicked take on the late RICK JAMES. Laughter always works against the dark side, doesn't it? Which is why I'm especially happy one of my best friends is arriving from Los Angeles tonight. He's a comedian and he always makes me laugh. He's come from the airport to our house for a late dinner. I'm roasting chicken, and will make a caesar salad from scratch, because there's no reason to have a caesar any other way - torn Romaine lettuce, a fresh egg boiled for only one minute, the wood salad bowl creamed with fresh garlic, good olive oil, fresh lemon juice, a splash of Worcestershire, ground pepper, fresh grated Parmesan, all tossed together, anchovies optional. Tomorrow night we're off to the Kennedy Center for the TED KOPPEL farewell fete. It's not like he's going away. He's only going away from Nightline. But since Ted is Nightline, his farewell is worth at least the Kennedy Center. The brief time I spent as a Nightline producer, during the first Gulf War build-up, was one of the best legs of my career, almost entirely because of the time spent in close proximity to Ted. My favorite part of the work day was sitting at the table in the conference room, chomping on our carry-out, and going back and forth with Ted on any number of issues. The pleasurable part was that with Ted you always had to be on top of your game. You didn't open your mouth unless you had the goods, or the chutzpah, to go the distance with your argument. My brain was never under-used there.
I had a good phone chat with PATRICIA DUFF yesterday evening. Really, you would be silly to miss tomorrow's Q&A lunch with her. Since I mentioned game, it was clear to me that Ms. Duff has game. This will be a fun lunch, even though she's silly in thinking she will disappoint. Not a chance.
My day was diverse, and spent mostly in Sterling, Va. The body shop for the wounded little car, elsewhere for cinder blocks, a hit on Costco for supplies. I spent most of the time lost. It's a mess out there. I was happy to get back to the city, calling Washington Radiology every 15 minutes to see if I could snag a cancellation. No luck. I'm still on the docket for Thursday, which means two more restless nights. I want this to turn out okay. I want my doctors to be right. We have friends whose teenage son just had a scare. There was a biopsy, etc., and then the long, anguishing wait for results. Before the diagnosis was in the mother said, "I know it's a virus. I know that's all it is." She turned out to be right. Whatever it is it is benign. I said to her tonight, "from now on I'm calling you with all questions that can't be answered." Chalk one up for mother's intuition.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14...A day of breasts, body shops, insurance, doctors, scheduling mammograms and ultra-sounds, being on hold for long periods of time, car rental, and as much stress as the luge without brakes. The thing is, I can't turn to alcohol, because that's a downer, and drugs are addictive (who has time for an addiction?), and it seems the only logical course is to push on through. But it takes a toll. Suddenly it's late afternoon and you're in the carpool line and the exhaustion feels like Friday but it's only Monday. My friend DOROTHY MCGHEE called and, after listening to an update including what's up (or, actually, not) with lease negotiations, gave me a lovely pep talk and said these words I've heard before: Carol, you need a break. To which I said, as I always do, I've been trying to snag one for 8 years. Where is it? I'm ready. Dorothy may not know it but she is my break. She listens to me and makes me laugh. The breast doctor was great because he saw me right away this morning, rather than making me wait a week, but his examination, while optimistic, was inconclusive and he wants the pictures took - just to be safe. So we don't know enough about the breast issue and I'm just a touch nuts on that score. When I called Washington Radiology they said they could take me in January! I said, "I think the doctor wants me looked at a little sooner." They said, "You can call back for possible cancellations." So, every 15 minutes I called and gradually gained ground - from January to late November in Sterling, Va., to late November in Chevy Chase to now, at last, Thursday in Chevy Chase. But if I could go to CVS right now and get it done I would. Why doesn't CVS offer mammograms and ultrasound? If men needed mammograms they would be as available as gas pumps. On another track, had to deal with my little car that got run over (Friday) by the Mack truck and try to get it into the body shop, but also have everything approved by the insurance company, and everybody knows how that process goes. That project was a minimum of 15 phone calls. Really, it would be easier to just leave the car where it got hit and walk away. Our street is being torn up for new water mains, and I got home and couldn't park, and then Nathans needed checks signed and someone to go to the bakery, and we have to get the Christmas decorations sorted out, and the ice machine is still busted, and the day bartender called in sick, and I learned my health insurance won't cover prescriptions anymore after I changed companies because our last manager let my insurance lapse, and of my bills submitted for the last year they agreed to reimburse only $52!!! That was enough to make me want to throw frogs. but you take all this and have to pack it away, because you pick up the child at school with a big smile and a kiss and try to present the notion that life is as rosy as a Gulf coast sunset. He had school gossip and news on his Latin test and was very unhappy because his cell phone is not working. Oh, boo hoo. I said, "I'll trade a breast problem for the cell phone problem." He said, "gross. I don't want your boob." Anyway we had a good sashimi dinner and I enjoyed a glass of good pinor noir, and I have this blog to keep me warm. Life could be worse, I know. I could be GEORGE BUSH.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13...I was primed to write about how I let the lovely nature of the weekend overtake my gloominess, and to cap it with the Redskins win over the Tampa Buccaneers, but as the website was cranking up ... the Redskins lost by one point! Ouch. And a big boo hoo. I'm told that at Nathans the bar was packed and silent for the last 5 minutes. No kidding. Nonetheless, apart from a frustrating and mindless and LONG conversation with DirectTV this evening, it was a nice weekend. Yesterday I went to see "Pride and Prejudice," but slept through two-thirds of it so I can't say whether it was fabulous. It was pretty, and it has a happy ending (duh), but it seemed to have a lot of talk. Then last night the fundraiser for the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, where we played three intense rounds of championship charades. Thank goodness there were professional actors on my team. GREGORY MCCARTHY, the Mayor's chief of staff, was the other amateu, though he was just fine when he got up to perform. Me? I don't know. I was better at guessing than acting, but had a lot of fun. It's a wonderful school and theater in the basement of the Lutheran church on Wisconsin Avenue at Volta. If you've always wanted to go to acting school, here's your chance. The phone number is 333.2202.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12...Alas, there's been another setback in my quest to save Nathans. How many of them can we endure? Did the small-business-salvation-Gods note my ballsy attitude of Thursday? Did I tempt fate? How do I resist despair on a golden Saturday in November? Do I invite the vultures in for tea and a closer look at my flesh? That would be the worst choice, but sometimes the worst choice is the only choice. The problem is: vultures won't leave me anything but bones - my own. It's eight years of this, though. Eight years of climbing up a jagged incline with only my bare hands. My entire well-being is hitched to a group who own me, and who in some remote way care about me, but who don't recognize my scream for what it is. Saving Nathans saves me, but we all benefit. I have to think about this very hard, and not be distracted by things like parties and having fun. Though tonight I will amend that rule briefly. I'm one of the participants in Conservatory Celebrity Charades to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. at NCDA at 1556 Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. The cost is only $30, which is not bad for a gala reception, a show, good company, and lots of laughs. If you've ever wanted to throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at the likes of JACK EVANS, GREGORY MCCARTHY or me, here's your opportunity. And all for a good cause.
BTW, I did enjoy the party last night. Lovely home, beautifully decorated, marvelous music, candlelight, food, guests. Very grown-up. European, even. Talked for a long time with a man who is about to depart for Amman and Baghdad. Conversation about those places is the ideal antidote to too much self-focus.
I will now start pumping myself up and trying to get my attitude back on right.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11...If ever there was a day to have another nervous breakdown today would be a prime candidate. You know how we all have at one time or another made a crack about getting hit by a Mack truck? Today I got hit by a Mack truck, or at least my little tiny car got hit, ferociously sideswiped by a hulking monster whose driver did not see me even though I had the right-of-way. Awful sound of fender being ripped away, crushing metal, and had the truck been over one more inch I would have been among the crushed. This happened on Wisconsin Avenue, where it merges from two lanes to one at the Safeway, about two blocks south of where an 18-wheeler ran over my previous tiny car a couple of years ago. I should get the message one of these days. Add to that some painful mysterious breast malady that has driven me to distraction (except for the wreck) all week. Breasts. They are wonderful and horrible all at the same time. Breasts. They can be toxic. Breasts. I just want them to be pretty and well, just be there, happy and dormant. But then they go and act weird and the paranoia is maddening, especially for a hypochondriac like me. And then my son, who had a half-day of school, has been mad at me all afternoon. "You never do anything for me." And variations on that sentiment hour after hour. So tonight I will go to a party. I need a party. And it's just around the corner. What I really need is to hit the road for a about a week - a long, long, long drive with good music and no particular destination, except maybe water and sun. For now, the party will have to do.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10...Sigh. Three invitations for neighborhood parties sit nearby on my desk at home, each for tonight, each tempting and interesting, but each party started an hour ago and I'm here in a t-shirt, jeans and running shoes, my hair in a messy knot, having just cleaned up after dinner, my youthful zest down to an eighth of a tank, and it's a school night. Nathans stuck an I.V. in my carotid artery today and proceeded to SUCK. What wears me down is always a variation on the same theme: they don't think I mean what I say. But, guess what? I don't waste words. If I say it I mean it. Just like a parent. I love being a parent in my private life, but not in my professional life. It gets tedious. The saloon business, even on its best days, is a chaotic storm of personalities, many of them trying to fly under the radar, which is what gives the bar culture it's renegade glamour. It's a hub for people who don't want to play by the conventional rules, the rules that guide the "grown up" working world. Okay. Fine. However, it is still a business. There have to be somes rules, and they have to be obeyed, and if they aren't obeyed then the disobedient need to be fired. Because I'm not a restaurant professional some people believe they know better than I, even though I'm twice the age of almost everyone who works at Nathans. It's not a complicated business. It does not require a high I.Q. Cleverness, for sure, some math skills, a good idea, someone else's money, and occasional spurts of hard work. (The instincts of a bank robber help.) Starting out, as I did, with an unworkable rent, a tough lease and a quarter million dollars of "rolling" debt, which has doubled in 8 years, is a sea anchor on success. But giving up is not on the menu. Years ago, when I settled with the IRS, I had the option to hand the keys to the government, turn and walk away. Nathans would have been gone in 24 hours. This would have allowed me to continue in my own career, and likely thrive. I didn't do it for three reasons: 1. I thought Nathans had value and that I could sell it, pocket the value, and take care of my son; 2. I didn't want to bail on the employees; 3. I didn't want to screw the landlords. All I've wanted in return is to make a living. If employees steal that cuts into my ability to make a living, and also jeopardizes the security of the business and the wages of all who work there. So, and you know who are, and I'm aiming this at you: cut it out. Let's all work FOR Nathans rather than only ourselves.
And while I'm at it: to the sharks circling again, nudging against me in the murky waters of Washington commerce - Nathans is not for sale. I'm working another dream right now, a long-march that has a destination, my own small war, but let's see if I can win. If I fail, then eat me alive. Until then, take your cold, scaly selves elsewhere.
On the bright side - the really RED bright side. I'm trying out red checked table cloths in the back dining room. I think they look charming, warm, and inviting. They make me want to eat lasagna, drink chianti, make googly eyes at a knight in shining armor, and tickle his knees under the table. It's where I want to be when the first snow falls. I hope all of you like it, too.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9...It's always the ones I don't expect to be good that turn out to be exceptional. I'm referring to the Q&A Lunches. And while I am referring to the lunches I'm not referring to the quality of the guest. It has more to do with the overall picture. Will I be any good? Will I be on top of it? Will I get beyond my nerves and go somewhere unique with this conversation? Will I get the best out of this person? I knew CAROLE RADZIWILL would be an interesting interview. I was up until 1:30 in the morning finishing her good book, "What Remains." It left me in a funk precisely because it was well done and moving. Also, it took me right back into the hospital ICU, the good news/bad news drama, the hope-filled highes and crushing lows that lead to the deathbed of a husband losing his fight, to the madness and sorrow of being robbed of the heart of your heart too soon, too young. This morning I sat down to write questions and stared at a blank page. What do I ask her? How do I get into this? Where do I go with all this loss and pain? I knew the patrons would want to hear dish about her life in the orbit of the Kennedy clan, and that is valid, but it was the first time ever that I would be interviewing a woman who had walked a similar path to mine. I wanted to go somewhere with that. Carole and I both grew up middle class, we found our natural habitat in the glossy and exciting world of journalism and broadcasting, we won awards and made friends with household names, we married our Prince Charmings, and we held on to them as they left us forever. It would have taken a day to cover all the territory that was in my head, and we had only 35 minutes, but she was lovely, endearing, candid, sweet and I could tell from the stillness in the filled room that everyone hung on her words. So many of them afterward said, "I wished you'd gone on with the interview. It ended too soon." That's the best compliment. They end when they do because I feel I have a contract with the patrons to end on time so they don't have to rudely get up and leave in the middle of the show. People have jobs to get back to, errands to run, obligations - so I keep my word that every lunch will end at 1:30. However, I agreed with the observation that Carole Radziwill could have held the room a while longer. I hope she sells lots of books, keeps writing, and has success with the novel-in-progress.
The Carole Radziwill interview is available at the SOUNDTRACKS page.
BTW, if you like Carole's book you might also want to take a look at my memoir, "Innocent Spouse," which can be read here online. Yes, it's self-promotion. But if I don't tell you, who will?
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8...Because people ask me, here is the story of the VALERIE PLAME photo that seems to appear somewhere in the world about every five minutes. It's the little picture that could.
Last fall JOSEPH WILSON appeared at one of The Q&A lunches at Nathans. Valerie came with him. We'd met at a small dinner at Nora, and when I invited him to do a lunch he accepted with ease. Valerie said she would come, too. I found them to be a friendly, typical couple with two young children at home. Yes, she had all this drama surrounding her, but at dinner she was more interested in talking about naps and pre-schools. At Nathans she did not take questions but she was friendly and available to the patrons. I introduced her and she smiled and waved from her seat at table #42. After the interview with Joe, she sat beside him while he signed and sold books in the front room. As I always do, I took a pic for this website. Joe and Valerie looked into the camera with big smiles. Click. I put the pic up on the website and that was that.
Cut to this summer. I'm driving cross country with Spencer. We're somewhere in the middle of South Dakota, when Nathans calls to say Nightline would like to use the pic of Joe and Valerie that's on the website. Sure, I said. I'm an ex Nightline producer. Happy to oblige. An hour later I got another call. MSNBC wants to use the pic. What? Okay. Then I track down a news station amongst all the country and western radio and learn that Rove-Plame-Libby-Miller-Cooper ARE the news. That explains the sudden interest in this photo that has been on the website for months.
In Wyoming Nathans calls again. Newsweek wants the pic. Then another call. The Al Franken show wants the pic. Then CBS News. Then CNBC. BBC. The numbers of requests were huge, and the process could not be handled by my staff at Nathans; they had their hands full running the restaurant. I was in and out of phone contact, rolling West on Route 90 at a high rate of speed. I called DAVID KENNERLY for advice and he referred me to Getty Images. In Wyoming or Idaho I made a deal with Getty and they took over the pic.
Since then the photo has appeared round the globe. It has been in magazines, newspapers, on network and cable television, and the cover of one magazine that I know of. It's having a photo 15 minutes of fame. What's fun for me is I get email from friends everywhere saying "I saw Nathans on TV." Occasionally the caption mentions Nathans. Not always. Sometimes Valerie's head is cut out and superimposed on a different background. Or Joe is cut out. But it's always THAT pic. That or the one from Vanity Fair.
I didn't realize it was such a big deal until DAVID BURNETT, a long-time Washington photographer, caught me at a party and said I had the hottest shot in news, "the picture no one else has been able to get." Sort of like catching a special moment with Madonna, I suppose, or Britney or Paris, but not making that kind of money. No, I'm not getting rich on it, but it is an interesting sidebar to the larger, more important story. More interestig is the Joseph Wilson interview. Cut and paste this into your high speed browser.
If you would like to listen to the interview with Joseph Wilson, go to Soundtracks.
Georgetown has lost another of its bright lights - SYLVIA THOMPSON, wife of DODGE, mother of LIZZIE and KATY, and beloved teacher to so many, many Beauvoir School boys and girls. Her body was found today in Piscataway Creek, a tributatory of the Potomac. She was the victim of a likely kayaking accident. I heard the news this morning and prepared myself all day to tell Spencer, who liked her so much. They got along well when he was in her class, and she always had a special "hello" for him after services at our church. He and so many of his former classmates, and hundreds of other children and families, are feeling a deep sadness tonight, remembering "Mrs. Thompson." And here I am almost finished with CAROLE RADZIWILL'S book about so many deaths, too many deaths. It is, yes, a too sad night. So, I will leave it here until tomorrow, thinking of the Thompson family with prayers for all.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7... Every death has a story. CAROLE RADZIWILL has had so many deaths it is certain she will have many stories to tell at her Q&A this coming Wednesday. Her book begins with the deaths of her best friends - JOHN KENNEDY, JR., his wife CAROLYN BESSETTE KENNEDY, and Carolyn's sister, LAUREN BESSETTE. John was cousin to Carole's husband, ANTHONY RADZIWILL, who died three weeks later after a long battle with cancer. Her book gently but with meaningful detail takes the reader inside these friendships, her own love affair, the deaths and the aftermath. She takes you to lunch with her iconic mother-in-law, LEE RADZIWILL, sister of JACQUELINE ONASSIS. And she takes you to the deathbed of Jackie, head wrapped in a bright scarf, eyes closed, hands folded, where Carole felt awkward and detached. She takes you on early-in-their-romance outtings with John and Carolyn, and details their last conversations. She takes you inside John's airplane and describes what it was like to fly with him, and to graphically imagine what it might have been like in that small plane at its catastrophic end. This will be an interesting Q&A. I'm looking forward to it.
None of us can predict what will happen to the Whitehurst Freeway, but something will happen one of these days and if you care to learn the options and to have a say here's your chance. The DC Department of Transportation plans a series of open houses for YOU THE CITIZEN. Here are the dates and times:
-- Open House 1 - Tuesday, November 15, 2005, The Melrose Hotel, 2430
Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20037, 5:00 - 9:00 PM
-- Open House 2 - Wednesday, November 16, 2005, Bank of Georgetown, 1001
Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007, 5:00 - 9:00 PM
-- Open House 3 - Monday, November 21, 2005, St. Mary Armenian Church, 4125
Fessenden Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20037, 5:00 - 9:00 PM
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6...Enjoyed a very good dinner at Nathans last night, and an especially good bottle of Marquis Philips "Integrity" - so much so that my friend and I ended up climbing three flights of stairs to the dimly-lit apartment of a gypsy fortune teller who sat me down opposite her in a curtained alcove, scrutinized my palms and declared, "There's a lawyer in your life." Duh.
Otherwise a gorgeous night. The streets were filled with couples, families, wandering tourists, college students on the prowl. It felt festive. And it most definitely did not feel like early November. The combination of the golden leaves and the golden air made for a very tasty Saturday, even though I spent most of it shuttling around the city in incredibly heavy traffic. Where do all these people come from? In the early evening we stopped by a party out in the Virginia suburbs. Driving back to Georgetown around 7 pm on Route 66 it was miles and miles of gridlock. Where were they coming from? Where were they going? Certainly not Georgetown. After we passed the exits to Lee Highway and Arlington the traffic thinned substantially. Maybe people in Virginia simply like to get in their cars and drive around on Saturdays. Curious. I never wanted to drive a car - ever. I started driving only after Howard died, and now I drive every day. I don't mind it when the road is clear, but otherwise it is a pain. This may sound odd coming from someone who drove 6,000 miles cross country and back this summer, but that was mostly open road. It was a pleasure. I would do that again, except for lower Idaho. That was torture. I'm a fairly conscientious driver. I obey the rules, look out for others, try not to speed. Nonetheless my friend Myra says I drive "like an Italian man."
The new issue of Washington Life is out with excerpts from the Nathans Q&A with MICHAEL ISIKOFF. I'm pleased they run these slices of text from the interviews. It's a helpful platform for Nathans and the Q&A lunches. The next one they'll feature is like the CAROLE RADZIWILL lunch coming up this Wednesday ... but that's no excuse for YOU not to come.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5...Shortly we're off to the 7th Street NW Olsson's books to hear our dear friend JUDITH OWEN perform songs from her new CD, "Lost and Found." You have not heard "These Foolish Things," and "Night and Day," until you've heard them sung by Judith Owen. They are favorites of mine and stand out, but every cut is spectacular. Judith will sing at 2:30 today and again live Monday night at the IOTA Club in Arlington. It's at 2832 Wilson Boulevard and Judith goes on at 8:30 p.m. I think Judith is unique, but she's in a class with CASSANDRA WILSON, DIANA KRALL and JANE MONHEIT. If you love what those women do with a song you will love what Judith does with the songs of others and her own compositions. Her website is www.judithowen.net. Also, as some of you may know, she is married to our other dear, dear friend, HARRY SHEARER, the actor, comedian, writer, director, musician. Sometimes Harry plays bass for Judith, and typically he would be here for her performances, but he's just wrapping the new CHRISTOPHER GUEST film out on the West Coast.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4...Friday afternoons always feel to me like I'm just making it to the finish line. As in, if I can make to Friday then I'll have the weekend and, well, sigh. Right now business is good. Certainly better than summer and September. We're able to pay some of our spring bills. I'm not being called "deadbeat" on a daily basis; it's down to every other day. This is a relief. But I get piled on with unsolicited advice. Men, in and on the edges of the business, especially like to give me advice as if I don't have any idea what I'm doing. This usually has to do with my being the "little woman" in what's perceived as a man's business. I do not quibble with the notion that bars should belong to men. The Reason? Women are smarter than to own a business that is basically booze and cash and cigarette smoke and thieving and lying and more booze. Anyway, I may not know what I'm doing all the time but it has nothing to do with my being a woman. Also, I'd like to point out: Nathans is still open. It may be struggling. It may be on the ropes in terms of $$$$. But we serve up delicious food every day. We have an engaging staff. The drinks are good. The decor is unique and charming, if a little threadbare here and there, but we are -- I repeat ARE -- getting it done. Would I like a break? Yes. Would I like not to be the life support system of Nathans? Yes. Would I like to go to bed one night and sleep till dawn without wakeful worrying? An unqualified yes.
Meanwhile, I'm thinking of my friend DANIEL BOULUD, who by not being among the New York restaurants to receive 3-stars from the new New York Michelin guide proves that the guide cannot be trusted. Daniel, his restaurant on East 65th Street, is a solid three stars. Daniel himself is a solid three stars and has been since the day he arrived in the U.S. from France.
And, yes, the pic you see everywhere in the media of VALERIE PLAME and JOSEPH WILSON was taken by me here at Nathans when Joe appeared at the Nathans Q&A Cafe. No, I am not getting rich off of it. If only.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3...Lawyers, lawyers and more lawyers. Lawyers are what I eat, sleep, think, dream, and that's the way it's been for eight years. I hope someday a law school asks me to give a lecture on my life with lawyers. As I write this, I'm in the airless, windowless, basement office with the battleship gray walls...with just one of my lawyers. We will work and then have lunch. It's part of business. This is not to put down lawyers. My father-in-law was a hugely successful patent lawyer. On more than one occasion lawyers have rescued me from certain blunder. My bad experiences with lawyers are few but I keep them in mind with an elephant's memory.
One thing about yesterday's Q&A with RICK KAPLAN. The CNN/AARON BROWN firing story broke at the end of the lunch. Had I known I would have asked Rick if 86'ing Brown was the price CNN had to pay to keep ANDERSON COOPER. Because I did ask Rick whether he shares the belief that Cooper is the hottest anchor commodity on the market right now. He did not take the bait.
If you would like to listen to the Kaplan interview, copy and paste this link:
It should work, but it is important you have high speed internet access.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2...The Q&A lunch with RICK KAPLAN today was interesting and funny but most of all, for me at least, a warm reunion with Rick and other friends from TV news. We had a great turn-out. Not one empty seat. Rick started the fun by calling me at 11:45 to say, "I'm still in the plane and we're still on the runway in New York!" Actually he was outside the kitchen door, but I grew a few more gray hairs just the same. This is why Rick reminds me -- and he's gonna hate my saying this -- of an exasperating older brother. I'm laughing as I write, because Rick does not want to be my brother - older or younger. But he is my good friend and it meant a lot that he flew to Washington just to do today's lunch. I'm also grateful for his giving all of us a candid glimpse inside the day-to-day of a network news president and the vagaries of the cable universe. He also time-traveled back to the early days of Nightline, where he was executive producer, and shed light on his long, long friendship with (former President) BILL and (NY Senator) HILLARY CLINTON. To listen to him talk about them it is clear the friendship is deep and sincere, but he would not tell us whether Sen. Clinton has promised to MSNBC her first interview after announcing for the White House.
I'm counting the days until "Jarhead" opens this weekend. Until then, I listen to KANYE WEST and PUBLIC ENEMY and hope the film is as good as the trailers and the early reviews. SAM MENDES is a lovely director, and the cast includes some of the best young actors, like JAMIE FOX, JAKE GYLLENHAAL, PETER SARSGAARD, CHRIS COOPER. Any one of these men is good all on his own, but imagine them as a group?
Who's among the few or the many who could care less about PRINCE CHARLES and MRS. PRINCE CHARLES visit to Washington today? That's my little hand rising in the air for the former. The only thing about Prince Charles that interests me is how a man can grow to his mature age and still be waiting to get the job. It has to do untold damage in the departments of self-esteem and overall joy of living. Don't we all need meaningful work to thrive? In order to get the job he's been waiting his entire adult life to enjoy he first has to wish his mother dead. Where's Shakespeare when the Brits need him?
Am I the only one giggling about the curious reference to PATRICK FITZGERALD in yesterday's Reliable Source column? His spokesman, RANDY SAMBORN, actually called him a "confirmed bachelor." In the handbook of code those words usually mean only one thing. Maybe at the Special Prosecutor's office they speak a different code.
I didn't even know SEN. HARRY REID had a pulse and then yesterday he showed how wrong I was. Maybe the democrats do have a little life left in them. It would be fine with me if they shut down the Senate every single day until we resolve WHY we're in Iraq and WHEN we plan to depart.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1...Okay, we got through Halloween. It was a gorgeous evening, not crazy, but interesting and busy enough, with about a third of the crowd on M Street in costumes. Didn't see one political costume, which surprised me, though did see numerous people parading as the "Scream," and perhaps that's political statement enough. Also saw one Ali G, lots of tiny pumpkins, an assortment of princesses and knights, several French maids, a few S&M masters and one woman in a cowboy hat carrying a horse's head on a stick. Exactly. At home, before heading to Nathans, I put out a mountain of candy on the front steps. Ten minutes later all of it was gone. This is not the way it used to be, which is unfortunate, but then a lot of Halloween is not like before. For example, in my day most of the treats were home-made and it was fun to look forward to the candy apples and popcorn balls, brownies, cookies and tiny paper bags of kitchen fresh peppermints or fudge. Now it seems like everyone buys the same bags of assorted candy at Costco, which is handed out to the children, who come home with bags of re-assorted mixed candy that basically looks the same way it did in the bag from Costco. But they're happy, and they get their sugar high, so all was well in our corner of the world last night.
I look forward to RICK KAPLAN's visit to the Q&A Cafe tomorrow. We go way back to the CBS Evening News circa l972-73, and some intersections a long the way at ABC News and CNN. Rick is a big-shot media executive who has had a fascinating career, with significant roles at Nightline, World News Tonight and Prime Time Live. He was especially important to the shaping of Nightline at its peak and I'm eager to hear his views on the show and TED KOPPEL as both come to a parting. I also want to find out what the challenge is like for him in trying to shape MSNBC into meaningful competition for CNN and Fox News. To my taste there are too many pretty people and not enough gravitas, but that's me. Most likely the pretty people dominate cable TV because that's what the viewers demand. Or is it the executives? I'm not sure.
What happened to "Weeds" on Showtime? I'd fallen hard for that show -- and there are so few to fall for -- and it hasn't appeared the past two Monday nights? The appeal wasn't so much the portrayal of the solo mother as a week dealer as much as the authentic humor that threaded her life as a woman getting it done all alone. Also, MARY-LOUISE PARKER is perfect in the lead, and ELIZABETH PERKINS and KEVIN NEALON are sweet, too. We met JUSTIN KIRK during one of our trips to L.A., just after he'd starred in HBO's "Angels in America." What a good looking man. Wow.
It's pasta night at our home this evening, while Spencer works his way through a desk full of homework and I study what's happening in the media.
Hit these links for PAST DIARIES:
|February (first diary)05||