Boats, Surfing Wipeouts & KFC

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:17

    Boats, Surfing Wipeouts & KFC George Will can eat my Bermuda shorts. I'm in the air right now, on a Continental flight returning from a weeklong, sun-drenched family vacation, so I'm missing the roundtable on ABC's This Week, with Will no doubt tut-tutting the significance of Gov. George W. Bush's convincing win in the Ames straw poll on Saturday night. Besides his appearance as a professorial prig of the most foul order, you get the feeling that Will doesn't have much fun in life; he probably wears galoshes in the shower. As far as presidential candidates, I doubt many would meet with Will's sniffy approval, save Plato, Cal Ripken Jr. or maybe a pol who's currently paying his wife's salary. In his Aug. 12 New York Post column, headlined "Not Ready for Prime Time? George W.'s First Stumble," Will rapped the GOP front-runner's knuckles for using the word "fuck" so freely in Tucker Carlson's profile of him in Talk, a middlebrow monthly that's currently a hit on newsstands. Will scolds Bush for not demonstrating presidential gravitas and criticizes him for telling the reporter he's not fond of reading 500-page policy documents. Fine, the damage was done. Carlson spent days with the candidate, most of it in May and June, when the Governor's campaign was just starting to unroll in public. Bush was more relaxed than was prudent with a member of the press, even a pro-life conservative like Carlson whose primary job is at The Weekly Standard. But as I wrote last week, Will has never liked the Bush family and never misses an opportunity to take a dig at the clan. While Will admits that Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan "knew the pleasures of salty language...But not in front of the children, meaning the press," as did Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon and Clinton (I'll give Carter a bye here), the uptight commentator is worried that Bush's Democratic opponent in the general election?barring some catastrophic world event or huge personal scandal, it's clear GWB will be the GOP nominee?will have an advantage over the Governor. He writes: "Bush is taking a political party along on his ride. He and it will care if on Nov. 7, 2000, people think of Gore or Bradley as an unexciting but serious professor and of him as an amiable fraternity boy, but a boy."

    What an asshole. After two terms of Clinton/Gore you'd think that Will, as a conservative, wouldn't be so obvious with his animus toward the Bush family. I hardly think an "amiable fraternity boy" could've defeated incumbent Ann Richards in Texas in '94 and then won reelection in a landslide four years later, capturing a huge minority vote. Someone perceived as a "boy" doesn't amass an historic number of campaign contributions in his first run for president; or create an overwhelming groundswell, both in boardrooms and in small-town America, to replace the scandal-scarred, irrelevant President Clinton. Bush has admitted to having a "reckless" youth; I'll bet it wasn't as "reckless" as he says, but that's what the Beltway press wants to hear. Will's problem, I'm certain, is that he was born in a bowtie, wearing glasses, and for fun in college went to baseball games, scoring every play in his notebook.

    Indeed, as it turned out, Will focused on Elizabeth Dole's third-place finish, a surprising but ultimately meaningless moral victory. The GOP simply isn't going to back Dole. It has nothing to do with gender, but rather her age and husband. Bush has charisma on the stump; Dole still speaks like a sugar-coated automaton and has the continued embarrassment of Bob Dole hawking Viagra on the tube. What the Beltway media, which has denounced the Iowa poll as a free-spending sham, is missing is that it does matter, even if no delegates were selected. As a result of Saturday's carnival Lamar Alexander will drop out of the race, Dan Quayle will soon join him and John McCain has been left in the dust (if you don't compete in Iowa, forget New Hampshire). That's not a meaningless event. Bush will raise even more money now from Tennessee, inheriting Alexander's small core of supporters, and will campaign on the high road for the rest of the fall, giving him time to fine-tune his message. Forbes, who took just 20 percent of the vote, had to be disappointed: He outspent everyone and came away with almost nothing. Gary Bauer's results had more significance.

    Jake Tapper's dispatch from Iowa for Monday's Salon was particularly amateurish, demonstrating that he's a green political reporter who unwisely is taking tips from the tired pundits he's forced to consort with. Consider this cliche-studded lede: "Gov. George W. Bush no doubt will take some comfort from his victory in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday, but he probably shouldn't take too much.

    "As former Presidents Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm, among others, can attest, winning this early vote for president doesn't mean that a candidate will win his party's nomination, let alone the whole enchilada 15 months from now.

    "Still, it's hard to argue against the fact that Bush?who first came to Iowa only a few weeks ago, and beat second-place finisher/oddball gazillionaire Steve Forbes by 10.5 percent?seems to be striking a chord among voters."

    First, I'll scream if I read one more cute reference in the media to front-runners who didn't make the cut?Presidents Romney, Muskie, Glenn, etc. The joke is over and it wasn't very smart to begin with. Second, Jake, it's reassuring that you've noticed that Bush "seems to be striking a chord among voters." That's only been obvious since the spring. Finally, the reason the Ames poll was significant, and not the "sham" that reporters claim, is because of the front-loaded primary system that's in place for 2000. Because this event was so far ahead of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, it became the de facto first test of the large field of candidates.


    But now I'll backtrack. It's Wednesday (Aug. 11) here in Bermuda and pouring outside. But that's okay, since the MUGGER family is exhausted from a morning of body surfing at the South Shore Beach, castle-building and learning about Portuguese man-of-war sea beasts, and we need a couple of hours to relax before heading out to my brother Gary's house for an afternoon of sailing. MUGGER III was a study in trepidation as he held my hand to protect him from the undertow; his brother, on the other hand, slammed into the rushing water, getting soaked, and emerged yelling, "That was nuts, man!" It's not often the boys see the actual Atlantic, or gigantic waves, so they've been pretty thrilled. It reminded me of a time back in the 60s when my family spent a day at Jones Beach and, being a cocky nine-year-old, I ventured too far into the surf. I was engulfed by a whopper, water up my nose, down my throat, slipping into the ocean, maybe forever, when my dad scooped me up and slapped my back to dislodge the suds and seaweed. That's an incident I'll never forget, and so I've cautioned my own boys to be respectful of the ocean.

    We were digging holes near the water when Junior said, "Dad, you know so much about the beach." I sort of shrugged, just told them that when I grew up we lived near a lot of public beaches, and it wasn't the same as being a kid in Manhattan. In reality, as swimmers go, I'm a .225 hitter, and haven't ever even been water-skiing. My wife, on the other hand, swims like an angelic fish, after growing up in Los Angeles, with the Pacific so close by and a pool at almost every house. Still, as a kid in Huntington, there were a number of public beaches within 20 minutes of our neighborhood, and on most summer nights, my dad would get home from the car wash and say to his boys: "Who wants to go for a dip?" We all did; after a hot afternoon of playing ball or croquet on our postage-stamp lawn, we were all sweaty and ready for a swim. We'd often go to Brown's Beach, which got kind of seedy (although it was a pretty cool and druggy hangout when I was a teenager), or Crescent Beach, which was a little farther drive but had better waves. When I was old enough, around 13, I'd hitchhike to Crescent during the day with friends like Dave Cicale, Elena Seibert, Ruthe Poma and Bobby Ringler, and we'd spend the day. Still, I was never a terrific swimmer.

    Junior's a natural in the water, taking after his mom, and is fearless?too much so, for my taste?in his swimming endeavors, and can almost lap around the pool. MUGGER III's more like his dad, hesitant in the water and nervous when the boat goes too fast, making sure he holds both of my hands.

    We're staying at the Marriott Castle Harbour again this year, since it's a five-minute drive from my brother's summerhouse. The hotel's gone to the dogs, however, since, according to The Royal Gazette, it's about to close for a major renovation, going from 400 rooms to 200, in an effort to create Bermuda's first five-star resort. I'll believe it when I see it: This island isn't technically in the Caribbean, but the food and service is just as bad, the lackadaisical attitude annoying, and with a lame-duck staff on board, most of the people here have given up any pretense of being friendly. For example, when we arrived, it took three hours to get into our suite, another two to obtain keys, and when I called the Business Center to ask for help in setting up my Internet service, I was met with this reply: "Don't ever ring here again asking that question. We don't handle computers. Call back the front desk!"

    Excuse me for taking English (which is spoken in Bermuda, being a UK colony) literally, but you'd think that a business facility would know a thing or two about computers. After that fiasco, I did what anyone should in such a situation: I called my travel agent Marv Kadesh in New Jersey (908-754-4449 for my non-New York readers; Marv handles customers from all over the country) and asked him to rattle the staff, saying he'd never send anyone to their hotel again. Well, that changed the tune of the staff and suddenly it was rock 'n' roll and the Marriott's manager was forced to kiss ass.

    We went swimming in the Cascade Pool on Monday afternoon, after all the snafus were ironed out, and I was delighted to meet a few old geezers from the Midwest who were enthusiastic supporters of George W. Bush and hated Hillary Clinton with a justified passion, almost as much as they scorned the do-nothing Congress with their hyped-up tax plan that benefits almost no one. They had a few good-natured slaps at Manhattan, but loved that Giuliani: I didn't have the time for a recitation of what a creep the guy is, and things were proceeding so well. Why argue while on vacation, especially when watching your two boys squeal with delight as they made it from one end of the pool to the other on their boogie boards?

    The fellas agreed with me, with gusto, on the absurdity of the estate tax, the most vociferous support coming from a guy who had to be at least 80, soaking his aching toes in the warm water. With him staring down the forces beyond, he made the argument, which Congress doesn't seem to get, that it's his desire to pass on his business to his children and grandchildren, and he doesn't want them to have to sell it to meet tax demands of a free-spending government. I read in the Times on Aug. 9 an op-ed piece by Susan Dunn saying that it was aristocrat Teddy Roosevelt who first had the idea of the inheritance tax. Typical TR: Overcoming health problems to go shoot lions and human beings, he thought it was unmanly and destructive for future generations to prosper from their forebears' wealth. Lifting themselves up from the bootstraps and all that. Bet he had a good lawyer to overcome any estate problems, just like the Kennedys, Rockefellers and Roosevelts do.

    On Wednesday night, after spending the latter part of the afternoon at my brother's, with the cousins finally trading those ancient baseball cards, swimming and playing whiffle ball till the gnats got too bothersome, we returned to the hotel, blew some quarters at the arcade and relaxed. The four boys had a terrific time bantering together. My brother and I were a little disappointed that we were more interested in the ball cards than the kids, but it makes sense. After all, looking a mint '54 Topps #1 of Jackie Robinson (who knew Topps was p.c. back in the 50s?) was a little over their heads. I just hope they keep the cards and check them out in their teens: It's not just the baseball, but pop culture, history and a significant slice of Americana all rolled into one. Quinn, the oldest at 11 (his brother Rhys is 7), made a smart observation when he said, "Hey, some of these cards smell like bubble gum." Gary and I explained that yes, indeed, you used to buy a pack with five cards and a stick of gum for a nickel. At the beginning of the season the pink bubble gum was pliable and fresh, but by August you could break it into 100 pieces.

    All four of the boys just rolled their eyes, especially about the nickel-a-pack part. They get a lot of stories from the olden days, just like Gar and I did from our Great Depression parents. Hard cheese, I say. Someone's got to pass on the oral history, even if the lily is just slightly gilded.

    Junior and MUGGER III can't get enough of the arcade downstairs from our suite. Not only do they have a candy and chips machine, but there are pinball and action gun games and one of those ripoff contraptions, called "Big Choice," with the claws that never bring up a prize. Of course, the first time my oldest son tried he came up with some baseball pins; useless of course, but he held it over my head that he won on his first attempt. Then it was time for air hockey. Junior and I played first and he took off to a 2-0 lead. Granted, I was being easy on him, but with time running out my competitive juices got the better of me and I slammed the little guy, winning by three points. MUGGER III's going to be five in a few days, and he beat me, not too legitimately, but he ran around the arcade, with hands held high, Nixon-style, and shouted, "I beat the air hockey king!"

    That didn't go over too well with Junior, so he settled in for a sullen game of Twilight Zone pinball. On one night, after a so-so meal at The View, where the three youngest boys told fart jokes?you know, "Beans, beans..."?and Quinn, nearly a teenager, tried to stay above it all, the eight of us trooped into the arcade and probably blew $100 in quarters. Mrs. M whomped my brother at air hockey; Quinn beat yours truly, and Aunt Terry gave me photography lessons. Just when I was about to pop her one?how dare a Londoner interfere with Pecker's sublime distracted style?some of her advice made sense, so I listened. Then MUGGER III, on his first swipe at the ripoff machine, snared two packs of '91 football cards. Just like Junior after his victory, my four-year-old looked like he'd just won the Indy 500. "And in this corner, MUGGER III, off to FAO Schwarz!" A few days later, with a babysitter in tow while Mrs. M and I were out to dinner, my younger boy won again, this time clawing up a gold alien, which both of the kids coveted. Our sons are so competitive that when we got home, MUGGER III could barely speak for excitement; Junior was watching a movie and denied they'd even been at the arcade.


    On Wednesday night, Mrs. M and I experimented with the boys, taking them to the hotel's Japanese restaurant. Pretty much a disaster, but not without its moments. The food was awful, no surprise, but it was sort of entertaining, being in a time warp, where you're seated communally (which I hate, although Mrs. M befriended a cracker brother and sister duo from Georgia) and the chef puts on a show with a thousand different knives and utensils. There was nothing on the menu that Junior wanted, save the maraschino cherry in his Shirley Temple, and MUGGER III wasn't much better. He made a stab at some miso soup, ate one claw of a tempura crab, pretended to barf and had two or three bites of fried rice. They both liked it, however, when the chef lit the grill on fire and charred the scallops, beef and shrimp.

    It reminded me of a time when my family went for a full day of sightseeing at the World's Fair in Flushing in '64, with the payoff promised being a fancy restaurant meal. When my parents decided on a Polynesian place, all the boys were pissed. I think I had a ham steak with a gooey pineapple slice on it and thought the joint, and the GM exhibit, sucked. My parents must've had it by that point: doing their duty to see cheesy exhibitions, standing on line for hours on end, with the sun burning down, just waiting till cocktail hour. They stood firm on the Polynesian selection, and I just went ballistic and pouted the whole meal through. I guess I know how my own boys feel, but looking back, it sort of kindled my interest in exotic food, even if it lay dormant for several more years.

    It was less windy at the beach on Thursday, so at my appointed break periods, when Mrs. M would watch MUGGER III dig holes and Junior got wiped out in the surf, I was able to catch up on some back reading. As usual, I shouldn't have bothered. Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek who isn't a day over 32, wrote an unbearable short obit of Willie Morris in the Aug. 16 edition, the kind that makes you wince in disgust. You ask: How in the world has Meacham managed such a fast trajectory at the newsmagazine? By writing tripe like this: "He loved long nights and lyrical prose, strong drink and, for all its sins and shortcomings, his native South... He was buried in the graveyard where as a youth he had played taps?home at last." This is bathtub gin writing. First of all, I doubt that Meacham has actually gone back and studied the few short years that Morris made his reputation by producing a remarkable?and certainly unrecognizable today, with Lewis Lapham at the helm?rendition of Harper's. Second, the "strong drink" that Morris consumed too much of was bourbon, and other potables, and no stronger, proof-wise, than the rum that goes into a girly piña colada.

    Far more authentic was the newspaper eulogy written by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Paul Greenberg, who has a few years on student council prez Meacham. On Aug. 7 Greenberg wrote about being a newspaper reporter in exile up north, "stuck in a job?and hating it," when his boss gave him a copy of one of Morris' books. He writes: "Too young, too soon, is everyone's first reaction. But no matter at what age we had lost Willie Morris, it would have been too young, too soon. He was not just a mirror of the South, but a mirror that talked back, one that was always about ready to jump out of the frame and run off... 'North Toward Home' remains a comfort, a cry, a hoot, a tribute to and expose of the swirling Southern mind, which is never more Southern than in exile. Thank you forever, Willie."

    Morris might still be alive had he followed Pete Hamill's example and given up the booze when it started to wreck his health. Whatever, you make your own choices. Hamill (who'd drool at my boys' baseball card collection) has done well for himself in his 60s: landing a contract with The New Yorker, where so far his pieces have been fairly awful, and relishing (though he'd never admit it) the role as the grizzled old beat reporter who'd spit at the thought of being Hillary Clinton's tutor in all things New York, the slang and obscure trivia. He had a good article, for the most part, in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal, called "Diversity Blarney," in which he described how the Boston Housing Authority has banned the swastika, the Puerto Rican and Confederate flags and the shamrock. Yes, it's Massachusetts, but what an odd combination. As Hamill points out, the shamrock is as symbolic of Ireland as green beer, a Hallmark-exploited device to hang on fake Irish bars on St. Patrick's Day when amateur drinkers pretend they're from Cork and go on pub crawls.

    But one of Hamill's points struck me as dead wrong, proving he's a sentimental guy who has a lot of blarney left in his old bones. He writes that Irish-Americans were once discriminated against in the United States, like most immigrants; that's true, but their persecution paled next to that of the Jews. Hamill: "But that era is long gone, brought to an abrupt end by the election of Jack Kennedy in 1960... His presence, his intelligence, his wit, his sense of irony announced a new way of being Irish-American, and he got rid of the Stage Irishman forever... Kennedy got rid of that stereotype the way Jackie Robinson in 1947 got rid of Stepin Fetchit and his shuffling servility."

    Only Hamill (or Jack Newfield) could combine JFK and Jackie Robinson in a few short paragraphs. A reality check is in order before Pete dons his tux and goes out to socialize. Kennedy's election in '60 was far more notable for the fact that he was a Roman Catholic, a religion that includes more than the Irish. Irishmen by the 60s had been assimilated into society: in politics, the media, big business and entertainment. As for Jackie Robinson, his brave and historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers was way ahead of its time, as evolutionary changes are, and it was a long time before "Stepin Fetchit" stereotypes were eliminated. After all, no one had even heard of Martin Luther King Jr. in '47 and Amos 'n' Andy was years away from being a hit with white audiences, with its derogatory depictions of Negroes. In pop culture, you could make a reasonable case that blacks had been somewhat assimilated when Bill Cosby teamed up with Robert Culp in I Spy, Clarence Williams III had equal billing on The Mod Squad and Norman Lear, in '71, had the balls to have Archie Bunker talk, to the delight of liberals, about jigaboos, spooks and niggers on All in the Family. Robinson just started the process.

    I know that historical revisionism on the presidency and the men who've served in that office has accelerated in recent years, but two recent columns made me furrow my sunburned brow. Take Harry Truman. Vilified while in office, squeaking by to his only election in his own right in '48, given a basic "Nyet!" when pondering a second full term in '52. He was largely ignored in the Camelot years, and it wasn't until the 70s that he acquired respectability. He's now a Democratic god. By contrast, Jimmy Carter and George Bush, both smart, good men?the former of whom insisted on micromanaging the country and had an ayatollah on his back; the latter saddled with a bum if quick recession and a self-destructive fib on raising taxes?were both rehabilitated rather quickly. Carter because he builds houses for the poor and sticks his nose in foreign affairs when Bill Clinton doesn't have the nerve; the gentleman Bush because he was a loyal, decent man who placed family above everything, in contrast to the current occupant of the White House.

    But Jerry Ford? This is getting ridiculous. On two successive days last week, Thursday and Friday, Ford was the recipient of glowing columns from pundits Mort Kondracke (Roll Call) and David Nyhan (The Boston Globe), whose eyes grew moist when Bill Clinton gave the accidental president an asterisk in American history, a Medal of Freedom on Aug. 11. Both lauded Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon after the latter resigned 25 years ago and put Ford in the Oval Office, with Nyhan writing, "[P]residents sometimes do what they think is the right thing, even when they know it will cost them dearly." Kondracke was worse: "Some day, if we're fortunate, we might have his like back in charge of the government again."

    Say what? Ford was a mid-witted bumpkin; nothing wrong with that, the country is full of similar men and women. But in his short tenure as president, he accomplished only three things that I can remember before losing to Carter (and almost to Ronald Reagan in the GOP primaries) two years later: the Nixon pardon, printing the ridiculous WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons, and providing a forum for his wife Betty to become the Queen of Confession. The current argument is that had Ford not let Nixon off the hook the country would've been torn asunder by the trial for his crimes while in office. Baloney. The Republic would've chugged along, business as usual. And Nixon would've prospered with a three-year stretch in Allenwood; he was the toughest of all political vultures and he'd have written even more books. Besides, it never seemed fair to me that all his subordinates were punished, but he got a get-out-jail-free card from dumb old Jerry.

    Ford got a lot of initial mileage by declaring, "Our long national nightmare is over," upon assuming office from the disgraced Nixon. Yes, yes, bleated the Beltway media, inept then as it is now. What "national nightmare"? Nixon deserved to be thrown out of office, and resigned with a shred of dignity, unlike one of his successors. When Clinton handed the octogenarian Ford (who muddled the President's impeachment process by writing in The New York Times that Clinton should be "censured," as daffy in his dotage as he was at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.) his gold watch last week, and said that Ford was "a leader of character, courage, decency and integrity," you'd think he'd have choked on those words. But of course he didn't: Clinton is oblivious to his failings, his utter defamation of the presidency, and just loves spouting platitudes. I do believe that Ford, unlike Clinton, was decent and a man of character, but he was pretty much a joke of a president, just like Clinton, although for far more benign reasons.


    I've never been one for country clubs?not that I've ever been asked to join?or that whole idea of golf, tennis, getting sponsored for membership, the sordid history of exclusion, the butt-ugly wrinkled women who've stayed in the sun too long, along with their potbellied husbands who get too friendly and long-winded after a belt or two. In Baltimore, I worked at the Johns Hopkins Club for three years, as a parking attendant, and it was an excellent job: minimal effort, I was essentially a bouncer keeping non-club members out of the lot, and though it was a bitch in the winter, I got to see the inner workings of a snooty establishment from the downstairs perspective. On the nights I didn't work, I got to eat there for a buck (which in college was pretty terrific: prime rib instead of fast food or dorm slop) and my buddy Howie Nadjari (now a doctor and married man with two young sons out on the Island) and I had a hoot with the cooks and waiters in the servants quarters. We had access to the downstairs keg and damn good drug connections too.

    Anyway, on Friday night Mrs. M and I joined Gary and Terry at the Mid Ocean Club for dinner, and if the air conditioning was way too amped up, and the food, well, club-like, we still had a grand time, chatting without the kids in tow, able to say whatever we wanted without fear of hearing it repeated. My favorite part was seeing the row of photos in the hallway on the way to the dining room: a framed set of four shots of President Bush speed-golfing in 1990, a remarkably fit-looking Winston Churchill in the early 50s (talk about retouching!), Ike and Churchill in '57 and John Foster Dulles deep in thought in one of the club's lounges. The fettuccine alfredo with shrimp was far too rich for me, but the gals ate every bite; my brother had the Bermuda chowder, certainly the best food available in this culinary-deprived colony, and then we both thought the pork chops were fine, in a home-cooked sort of way, although the modern touch of polenta wasn't necessary at a place out of time like this. I'd have preferred mashed potatoes. The dessert tray was a real throwback: peach pie, chocolate cake, whipped confections, all of which I passed on; I instead had possibly the worst espresso I've drank since being in Memphis earlier this year.

    I've been coming to Bermuda, off and on, for years now, and not much has changed, except the prices. My first visit was in 1980, and I have just a few memories: one of my nieces, a newborn, being protected by mosquito netting in her crib; the glass-bottom boat several of us embarked upon one day; a long night drinking too much Jack Daniel's; and finally, my flight home to Baltimore being delayed for several hours, so two of my brothers and I settled in at the Swizzle Inn and I got so smashed on Gosling's and ginger beer that I didn't know which end was up going through customs. That wasn't appreciated by the officials there; they like the forms filled out in triplicate, manners adhered to, no weaving, an orderly process. It's always been somewhat amazing to me that the smaller the country or territory, the stricter and more tight-assed they are at the airport. Coming into Bermuda this time, on a fine Continental flight that was only marred by a bitchy stewardess who yelled at both of our kids?she told MUGGER III, "Tighten that seat belt young man, it won't do any good being loose," as if it would make a bit of difference if the plane went down?Mrs. M filled out an immigration form for each of us. I love coming back to the U.S., with its streamlined card, one per family, with just two or three questions.

    Hamilton is Bermuda's main tourist draw, with huge yachts in the gleaming harbor, the three different shades of blue in the water, a lot of fancy stores, both very old and new, and of course the slew of souvenir shops. The four of us spent some time in town one afternoon and all had varying agendas: The boys wanted to hit a toy store, to buy more Star Wars action figures, as if they couldn't get them at home; Mrs. M purchased a bag at Gucci, facetiously saying that she only makes fancy purchases on vacation; and I wanted to add a few piggy banks to the mantle, and stock up on more of the kitsch that drives my wife crazy. We had planned a lunch at Chit Chat, a restaurant recommended by Terry, but the boys saw a KFC, and that was it. The Colonel's outpost is the only fast-food joint allowed on the Island; about 20 years ago, the local government decided to experiment with chain eateries?KFC won the bid, and it was deemed a nightmare. So: No McDonald's Happy Meals, no Taco Bells, Pizza Huts nor Burger Kings. And the KFC was miserable, as even Junior admitted when he tried the lemonade and declared that it tasted like "toxic waste." Years ago, when Al & Dina From Baltimore spent a weekend in Hamilton, they brought me back a forest green sweater from the old Smith's department store here. I had the garment until a few years ago when a torrent of Tribeca moths had a gourmet meal in our closet while the family was in Nantucket. I remembered Smith's from long ago and was eager to go back?a mistake, since it was down at the heels, and I couldn't find a thing to buy, despite the well-named label sewn into each garment.

    Al From Baltimore Reports August 15: Well, vacation's over and there's just sooo much to catch up about. Vacation was fine?I mean, I don't really like the beach, but what can you do. We went with Gary and Nina and their kids and had a good time together. It was boring or relaxing on any given day, depending on what mood I was in. The culinary highlight was the cryovaced Black Angus New York strips I brought from Baltimore, with the veal rib chops marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic and more rosemary than the Chicago Reader's Bob Roth could imagine. After eating those steaks, I was reminded of a comment by Julia Child. This country has destroyed beef. The steaks I cooked were beautifully marbled with fat, lots of thin little lines of fat. I could tell just by looking at them how good they were going to be because you never see steaks that look like this. Most of the beef raised in this country has been engineered for as little fat as possible. Which means it doesn't have any flavor. I'm boycotting regular beef starting today.

    We actually got some excellent fresh seafood from the market, which is unusual for beach resorts, although maybe that's changed. Had marlin for the first time. Nothing to get excited about. The restaurants in North Carolina, of course, were horrible. The only movie we saw was Runaway Bride, which was both horrible and idiotic, but it was the only PG-rated movie within a 45-minute drive, so what can you do.

    I loved getting my copies of NYPress at the beach?they made for one of my most pleasant afternoons and gave me a new insight. I ended up reading the last two issues the same afternoon while I had the house to myself. I was chillin' big time. I usually read them in at least two sittings. It took me almost two and a half hours to read the two issues. They are dense, with a ton to read. It's more intellectually challenging than any of the political journals I get. One of the issue's "Top Drawer" sections was tremendous. Toby Young's columns were both great. I liked Strausbaugh's rock 'n' roll piece a lot. Naturally I loved the MUGGER pix of the Smith early years. And I read MUGGER last instead of first. Collectively, the issues were great reading, much more interesting and literate than anything I read in The New York Times, which I was reading at the beach. Thank God I don't read it regularly. I particularly liked the op-ed piece from some Harvard-fellow-professor type defending Hillary's abuse interview. Only the Times would continue to defend That Woman and the shit she slings.

    On the political front, as I'm sure you've surmised, the season holds very little interest to me other than getting rid of the Clintons. I saw GWB in an interview and was completely underwhelmed. He seemed goofy and a little bit like Quayle (deer in the headlights). His denial of using the f-word in the Tucker Carlson article was particularly convincing.

    The only truly meaningful economic issue, reform of Social Security and Medicare, appears to be off the table again. Long-term, there will be no lessening of the tax burden, or even a slowing in its growth, until these entitlements are reined in. The debate over tax cuts vs. spending (which is what it really is, not debt reduction) is a political sideshow. It was bad enough when the two parties placed the real spending increases at the end of a five-year budget cycle. Now they're deferring the tax decreases to the end of a 10-year cycle. Translated: There is no tax decrease because something will happen in the next five years, like a war or recession, which will cause the Congress of 2006 whose composition we can't begin to imagine, to shift gears.

    So many good traditional Republican ideas would make sense now. Flat tax as both tax simplification and campaign finance reform (corporations wouldn't have to lobby for tax breaks). A balanced budget amendment would help clamp down government spending and its role. And, of course, the privatization of Social Security.

    Did I tell you the restaurants in North Carolina were dreadful?

    Another benefit of my vacation was two weeks of cable. No thank you. What a waste. I did enjoy Hardball, but man, the commercials are every six minutes or so. Cable is an environmentalist's dream. It's all recycled. Not just 60s programs on Nickelodeon. But interviews with Katie Couric from earlier in the day, the week, the year, the decade. MSNBC (or is it CNBC?) is all Katie, all the time. Not to mention Saved By the Bell, the Next Generation, seems like it's on perpetually. I liked some of the old movies, but that's about it.

    I'm going upstairs now to do the shopping list and watch the second half of The Godfather with Lucy.

    Oh, and I'll be checking your exchange with Ellen Willis on Slate this week. That should be interesting. And what's with the Danny/Rall/Spiegelman controversy? Don't you ever have a quiet week? Always some drama or another.

    AUGUST 16