Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Diasporic Dining XXXXIII: The Running Footman

Somewhere in the December 14, 1970 edition of New York Magazine, mention is made of a restaurant called The Running Footman, located at 133 East 61, only a few blocks from Bloomingdale's. In the same issue you can read pieces like “RFK Freshly Remembered” (Interviews by Jean Stein, edited by George Plimpton) and “Confessions of a Youth Marketeer” by Andrew Tobias. There are reviews of restaurants by Gael Greene, of theater by John Simon and an advertisement for Rober Grimsby and Bill Beutel on Eyewitness News and one for a lost Catskills Institution called The Corcord which reads “Do Your Christmas Shopping Early at the Singles Weekend.”  Farrah, Straus and Giroux advertises Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers for $5.95. The Running Footman was a creature of its times, a clubby restaurant, with an English hunt scene theme. It occupied a long narrow room presided over by a maitre d' who met you at the top of a small set of stairs which descended into the main dining room. It was the kind of place that was filled with people who looked vaguely familiar and had achieved something short of celebrity status, affluent people who were more prone to being known and respected by those in the industries in which they worked than to the general public. The Running Footman was the vestige of an age in which income inequality of the kind we see today (where middle and upper middle class diners are almost poor compare to hedge fund managers) hadn’t yet reared its ugly head. Thomas Piketty the author of Capital in the 21st Century wasn’t even born. You might have found readers of Vance Packard's The Status Seekers, at The Running Footman. There was a driver named Tiny who was actually huge and fat and who was popular with patrons of The Running Footman. His stretch limo added to the atmosphere of aristocratic entitlement that made the restaurant popular on the Upper East Side of its time.

Monday, October 24, 2016


illustration from Flaubert's  Madame Bovary  by Charles Leandre
There's a longing for promiscuity, an emotion that some may experience when they read or hear about the romantic and glamorous liaisons or others. This is a modern day form of Bovarysme which equates the known and familiar with boredom. “Familiarity breeds contempt” goes the old saw. But there are others who experience less a longing for promiscuity than a promiscuity in their longings. The chief characteristic of this emotion is an obsessive glimpsing into lives that seem to be preferable to one's own. You look at another person’s existence whether it involves multiple lovers, money, travel or even just working out of the house (when you have to commute to your deadly job) and feel you’ve been left out. The longing for promiscuity is actually a subset of the promiscuity of longing containing as it does a relatively narrower set of dissatisfactions mostly relating to the bedroom. While the longing for promiscuity is a squall, promiscuity of longing is like one of those large destructive storms that leaves a wide path of destruction in its wake. It's the direct confutation of Buddhist precepts like living in the now or wanting what you have and is predicated on a perverse from of romanticism that values what has yet to be over what is. The promiscuity of longing is like a systemic disease that eventually will infect every part of your being. From being simply a faithless lover, you turn into a person who is ultimately disloyal to everyone.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The United States of Anonymous

Anonymous insignia (Kephir at English Wikipedia)
Russia and the United States are the two great military powers, with China coming up in a shaky third place. But ironically one of the great powers in today’s world is not a country with a well-armed and manned military, but rather Julian Assange’s Wikileaks whose leverage within the theater of world politics derives from information. In the 21st Century it may not be those with the largest armies or most baleful weapons that possess the advantage but those who know who does. If you’re a superpower you might be more interested in launching a pre-emptive strike against Wikileaks than you would against your own rivals. The only problem is that there’s nothing to strike at. You may aim your weapon at the cloud or even try to spray it with the cyber equivalent of DDT, but information is like those deadly flesh eating bacteria that are capable of continually morphing into new and more antibiotic resistant forms. Let’s say you have a conventional weapon. What makes any form of aggression work is the element of surprise. However when you're up against a super hacker like Wikileaks or Anonymous, you’re offensive is going to be pre-empted, with your enemy being able to intercept the missile before it reaches its target. But it’s not only on a literal battlefield that wars take place. Insider knowledge of companies and of unreleased government policies (for instance when the Fed is going to raise its interest rate) gives those with information and a certain degree of guile a huge competitive advantage. Hacking can be used for purposes of terrorism, yet, in a way, hackers and those whose ammunition is information become formidable adversaries precisely because like their terrorist colleagues, they often don’t occupy any specific coordinates in time and space. You can run but you cannot hide does not apply to smugglers on the information highway. They can do both.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Oak Tree and the Thimble

photo: Pavel Krok
The following quotations were found outside the entrance to Manhattan Mini Storage on l07th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam: “Raising a baby in a New York City apartment is like growing an oak tree in a thimble,” “Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry my kickball trophy fell on the baby again,'” “material possessions won’t make you happy; maybe they will.” One wonders about the CVs of the writers of these aphorisms, as they look like the kind of thing you generally find in a fortune cookie. Do the Chinese bakeries which produce adages run training and extern programs to demonstrate how koan writing can be used in other venues and are the sayings adorning Manhattan Mini Storage a product of this? Naturally these phrases also bear some resemblance to haiku and they're not the kinds of things you usually associate with a facility where the mundane business of storing things is the matter at hand. Storage facilities are like maximum security prisons for personal items, Their stolid brick exteriors often look like them so the presence of a simile, in this case the invocation of the oak tree and the thimble (reminiscent of the serendipitous meeting of the sewing machine and umbrella on a dissecting table in Lautrement’s definition of surrealism)  humanizes an antiseptic atmosphere with the presence of poetry. We’ve seen poetry in in the subways, dirty limericks on the doors of bathroom stalls and now here they're decorating a penitentiary for soon to be forgotten items.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Is There a Cure for Narcissistic Alexithymia?

photograph: Juliana Lopes, Rio de Janeiro

In a column entitled “Trump’s Sad, Lonely Life,” (NYT, 10/11/16) David Brooks writes the following, “Trump continues to display the symptoms of narcissistic alexithymia, the inability to understand or describe the emotions in the self. Unable to know themselves, sufferers are unable to understand, relate or attach to others.” Unfortunately this particular illness appears to be contagious since it’s spawned so many conversations that are characterized by the kind of bulldozing that’s the result of people trying to force their will on those with whom they're speaking. Those who are opposed to Trump won’t listen to those who are for him and when you’re watching CNN Trump surrogates and their critics constantly interrupt each other in exasperation. But what about support groups for narcissistic alexithymia sufferers. If there were a 12 step program, the first step would be “We admitted that we were powerless over narcissistic alexithymia and that our lives had become unmanageable.” But who else would qualify for Brooks’ analysis? Is Kim Jong-un a victim of narcissistic alexithymia? Are admirers of Trump like Putin, who display narcissistic tendencies, possibly suffering from this ailment? What is the prognosis and what are the possible treatments? It’s doubtful you are going to find narcissistic alexithymia on the WebMD or Mayo Clinic sites, but is there any hope for both the victims and the victims of the victims of this malady? One final question, is the inability to apologize a recurrent symptom of those suffering from narcissistic alexithymia ("Donald Trump's Apology That Wasn't," NYT, 10/8/16)?