January 26, 2009
Here in the Great Unwinding
George Orwell challenged us to understand what happens directly in front of our noses, and in the case of the big meltdown, it only makes sense to step out the front door, particularly if one lives in New York’s Upper East Side. After all, if any clues to the spiritual, moral, or cultural problems of the time are present, they ought to be near by. Plus, the dog must be walked.
So out the door and down the stoop and West toward Central
Park on 71st Street and right into the thick of it – The Great Unwinding
of assets and leverage.
Third Avenue is busy, as usual on a weekday afternoon, but it is hard to tell if these men and women are special examples of greed and excess. No wears their portfolio like a jacket, and one can’t know exactly who used to work pulling the fulcrums of leverage at a bank downtown, who blew up and who got away with millions. The captains of paperwork all look the same as they always have, dressed almost to the last like English gentlemen out looking for quail, wearing forest green waxed Barbour coats and thick rust-colored corduroy pants, that sort of thing.
On their heads, typically, ball
caps with coded symbols of wealth, the triangular yacht club burgees, or the
call sign “ACK,” signifying the
Past Third, and the lovely four-story townhouse where the actor Sean Connery and his neighbor have been suing each other for six years. What to say of a culture which could support two armies of lawyers locked in constant battle over renovations? Possibly it is not a healthy one, or, conversely, was formerly of such robust health that there was time and money to be spent on nonsense like that. Two or three more doors down and there’s the little townhouse from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a love letter to decadence, but you can’t be too grumpy about that.
But up to
And there at the corner of 71st and Park hulks
In there, too, lives the woman who wrote a book about her
obsession with plastic surgery. She is married to a hedge fund guy, of course.
And also the apartment of Stephen Schwarzman, billionaire, who lives in John D.
Rockefeller’s old home. Schwarzman is soon to have the New York Public Library
named after him. That cost him $100 million. His living room, Gross reports, is
lined with books, the books having been ordered by the yard from the
Next, down the loveliest block of all, between Madison and Fifth Avenues. It’s dead quiet, as always. Not too many people can afford to live there, which keeps the mob away. Also, many of the people who can afford it, well, they’re in jail, or facing major legal problems, and other things the doormen and maids must snicker about, if the Stockholm syndrome hasn’t turned them sympathetic.
Here is Jeffrey Epstein’s place, supposedly the largest
private home in
And last, just before crossing Fifth Avenue, the Frick, silent behind its walls, a self-built monument to one of the mightiest robber barons of the nineteenth century, Henry Clay Frick. He was among the hated figures of his time – his Pinkertons killed workers, his dam flooded a village. He built the villa for himself, filled it with Europe’s treasures. We’ve gone four blocks and one thing is clear: In matters of excess and corruption, our time runs with them all. One thinks of Hieronymus Bosch, and one feels that the miracle was not that he lived in such a time of perversion, hypocrisy and depravity, but that he came to earth to paint it in such style. We could use another Bosch right now, although he probably could not afford a studio here. And stranger still how much we love it all anyway, for we are so eager to live right amid every evidence of our weakness, mistaking warnings for great achievements, imagining always that we are the first.
Posted by Bryant Urstadt at 12:04 AM | Permalink
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