Saturday, June 25, 2011


Melinda Laffer (please see [1] below)

[1]  Please see Here.

[2]  And also Here.

President Barack Obama (please see [2] above)

        Reading these news stories early this morning, I found myself thinking of them as two polar, but closely related in dynamic tension, aspects of the Depression being provoked and stoked by the president and his political party.  The first story takes place on Long Island and the second on its (geographically) close neighbor, Manhattan Island.  Unspeakable, unjustifiable in any respect, and horrifying as the Laffers’ actions were, I still find myself thinking about what their wedding pictures might have looked like, wanting to know about the details of Private First Class David Laffer's army service and its aftermath,  and of a time when they had hope.   Discontent though I am these days, these thoughts – all of them, about both stories and their implications (at $35,800 a ticket; that must have been quite a dinner at Daniel for the high-minded and corrupt) -- put my own situation in some limited but salient perspective.

         Thursday I spent a few hours in Manhattan.  My business these days normally seems to take me downtown to SoHo, Greenwich Village and TriBeca, but two days ago I was in the midtown precincts where I worked for so long, where we used to have an apartment and where we were married (oddly, it seems, and coincidentally, in the premises now occupied by Daniel).

Borders store, East 57th Street at corner of Park Avenue, Manhattan (Defunct.  Former site of Le Pavillon restaurant and First Women's Bank).

Left to right:  Liz Carpenter (former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson), Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Betty Furness at the opening of the First Women's Bank, New York City, October 1975

Mary Jane Russell photographed at Le Pavillon by Lillian Bassman.  Harper's Bazaar, 1950

        The day was gray, pleasant and rainy, but Manhattan was like a ghost town.  Everywhere I walked I saw a great deal of "tony" commercial real estate empty and boarded up, including fancy jewelers like Gioia and the lovely large Borders store at East 57th Street and Park (originally home to Le Pavillion, New York's first grande luxe French restaurant, and later to the First Women's Bank, which made a big publicity splash and had "presence" during the Carter years, the time when Ms. magazine was at its commercial zenith).  The long commercial street front at the Trump Plaza apartment complex on Third Avenue is now utterly vacant and the former Loews Tower East cinema just up the avenue is a sad, abandoned wreck.

Trump Plaza apartment complex, Third Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan.  The ground floor formerly contained various prestigious commercial establishments.

Loews Tower East, Third Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan.  Defunct.

          Window-gazing at Daniel Boulud's former place of employment, Le Cirque (now re-relocated to East 58th Street from its original Mayfair House location, which was where Caroline and I were married) said everything.  At 1:15 pm on a weekday afternoon, acres of tables stood empty, adjacent to a desolated bar room populated by only a few jacketless young men in shirt collars with female companions in sundresses.  No barman seemed to be on duty.   Don't get me wrong -- I'm no Nancy Reagan/Betsy Bloomingdale nostalgist and Caroline and I didn't even like our wedding at the old, exclusive Le Cirque. I suppose it's possible that if you live and work in Manhattan every day, you don't notice the decay or you need to shrug it off in order to survive.  To a current New York City outsider, however, but also someone who knows the city well, the scene  was absolutely shocking and the mood reminded me of the days after 9/11.  It was as though someone had dropped a bomb on the city.

         And while most of us spend our 2011 "stay-cations" staying put during what CNBC has dubbed "Stay-cation Summer" (replacing last year's unsuccessful White House "Recovery Summer" offering ), others will "safari" in splendor en (extended) famille in Botswana, experiencing precious moments of personal growth on the public dime.

Two above images:  Le Cirque, East 58th Street, Manhattan.

Current site of Restaurant Daniel; former site of Le Cirque. Mayfair Hotel (formerly Mayfair House), East 65th Street, Manhattan.

Haven Drugs, Medford, Long Island, New York

David Laffer (please see [1] above)

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama with daughters Sasha, 2nd right, and Malia, right (aka "Senior Staff"; see Update below), are welcomed by traditional dancers as they arrive in Gaborone, Botswana, Friday, June 24, 2011.  Charles Dharapak  /  AP


  1. well, i have found that history has served up quite a number of public figures who have experienced personal growth on the public dime. nothing new, there.

    what is fascinating is your description of a crumbling empire. i don't know, i was in manhattan last winter and was shocked more by the m&m superstore, the shrine to lego and the sanitized midtown than anything else. chelsea seemed to be full of fresh energy and new businesses. my old far west village neighborhood had years ago transformed itself from haven for transvestite prostitution to haven for the chic and precious -- and, as of my last visit, still appears to be thriving in its pretensions and is, like the rest manhattan, utterly unaffordable for most humans. if it sounds like i am waxing nostalgic for the days of grit and grime and low rent, perhaps i am. in my mind's eye, there was something compelling about it. passionate. on the other hand, i have lately missed my parents' parties, where women wore long dresses and men wore ties and they smoked and drank and sang show tunes with the piano player as if they hadn't a care in the world.

    the truth is that what i know about le cirque could fit in a thimble. i don't visit the city enough to have a finger on its pulse, so i don't know much about that, either. what i do know is that as i grow older, i want things to line up with my memories. i pine away for what was, even if only a veneer.

    by the way, i adore that photo of the first women's bank gathering. fantastic. lewis

  2. Hi Lewis and thanks. One's perspective matters, obviously. These impressions were gleaned walking around our old apartment neighborhood in the mid-to-upper East 50s and East 60s, where the plethora of empty storefronts has grown significantly. The effect was actually amplified during a visit that day to Sony Music headquarters on Madison Avenue. Normally, the sound of record companies, which is one I know well, is one of loudness and great cheer. But inside Philip Johnson's edifice you could hear a pin drop (and it's not the first time I've noticed that effect there -- all post-downturn). Of course you can see these signs elsewhere (driving east on Route 30 from Paoli (just west of where we live) through the Main Line villages and towns into Philadelphia has aspects of Russell Lee Farm Services Administration/Depression photography), but on the upper East Side (and looking through the windows of Le Cirque at high-business hour), it's absolutely shocking. But with unemployment rates this high, you can't expect a robust retail sector. You're not mistaken in your observations about some other Manhattan neighborhoods. Apart from some residual affection I have for various things in New York and sections of the city, I really don't enjoy it any more, in part because it has become so unaffordable for most people and, especially, young people wanting to start an interesting life. I kind of loathe Le Cirque based on bad wedding memories. My favorite restaurant in the whole world, La Caravelle (you might call it Kennedy Administration classic French), closed a few years ago and a lot of my affection for the city vanished with it. We didn't/couldn't go there too often, but the food was superb and we were treated kindly, like family, which was an extraordinarily nice thing. They served martinis in beautiful small wine glasses that were etched with the image of the French sailing ship called La Caravelle. I'm glad you liked the Women's Bank photo. I thought it was cool also and it really brought something back for me. (By the way, I experienced that space as Le Pavillon, the bank and, most recently, my local Borders.) It was our bank for a spell and I stood in line there once next to Billy Idol, post-Generation X and pre-solo success. He looked spectacular and was very pleasant and happy to be recognized. For what it's worth, the Chelsea gallery scene is ok and does its job now that SoHo is no longer a mostly art neighborhood (I mean, it's about the art, not the neighborhood, basically), but it's a part of town that I've never warmed to, although there are a couple of pretty enjoyable, but not great, Spanish and Thai restaurants down there that are affordable and neighborhood-friendly. In the end, however, I was unexpectedly affected by that Post article about the Laffers and it stirred my imagination a little. What happened to make them snap? I don't expect that, given current news coverage editing demographics, anyone is ever likely to inquire. Curtis

  3. Hello,
    I was wondering where you found the image of Liz Carpenter, Bella Abzug and Betty Furness at the opening of the First Women's Bank, New York City, October 1975? I am looking to use this image for an online exhibition and need help located its original source. Please email me at