The latest example of the need for expensive items that I’ve become aware of is the trend toward custom tailoring. When my fellow journalists appear on television now I notice that they’re all wearing suits that are tailor-made. I can recognize some of these garments because back in the 1950s I actually had two, purchased on Saville Row at the fire-sale prices that prevailed when the British economy was in desperate straits. Back then you rarely saw such a suit in America. And journalists in particular could be counted on to wear off-the-rack suits that almost always appeared to be rumpled. Now the Style section of the New York Times is running an article called “Embracing the Right Fit, ” in which the Times’s men ‘s fashion editor, Bruce Pask, says “the suit should properly contain the body. It ‘s a very empowering thing to wear a jacket that hugs the torso, a shape that you fill completely and appropriately. ” As the Times’s next paragraph suggests, this means “a skilled tailor. ” And custom-made suits start around $2,000 and the prices can go considerably higher depending on the fabric and the identity of the tailor.
The tired, the poor, still
It is ironic that New York City, once the magnet of so many immigrants from countries where the moneyed elite presided over the poverty of the masses, has come to be just like those old countries. The median income for the top fifth of New York City is now $223,285; for the bottom fifth it’s $8,844, according to census figures reported by Sam Roberts in the New York Times. In Manhattan the distribution is even worse: for the top fifth the mean annual income is $391,022. For the bottom, it’s $9,681.
Allen Ginsberg, Part III
In this column recently, I may have seemed to blame Allen for my own phase of intellectual snobbery. But let me clarify. The root of my snob phase lay in my own insecurity as a young student from West Virginia finding myself immersed in what seemed to be the infinitely more sophisticated world of New York. I never saw snobbery in Allen. What may have seemed like snobbery was that he and the other beats felt different from other people. He had grown up with a mother who had severe mental problems. He once told me how she had ripped off her clothes, leaving herself nude, standing in a New Jersey bus station with Allen as witness to the scene. It’s hard to find anything in common with the Leave It to Beaver world when that has happened to you.
When I started to recall these memories about Allen I realized I had seen sides of him that weren’t widely known, like the fact that he kept one foot in the respectable world until at least 1954. Though I saw him on at least a hundred different occasions, mostly in the late ’40s and then after we reconnected in 1967, he never, after that first effort to introduce me to marijuana in 1946, smoked, ingested, or injected an illicit substance in my presence. And when he consumed alcohol it was only in the most moderate amount. Another surprising memory is of the time we made a joint appearance before a college political science class, and he expressed concern about the percentage of the budget that went to paying the interest on the national debt.
In one of my recent columns, I also told of a less attractive side of Allen’s, in which he was acting as a PR man for himself and his fellow beats. The only other thing that troubled me was his acceptance of casual Turkish bath anonymous sex. I once asked him how he could justify it and he said, “Well, it’s fun.” That was an amusing answer, in a way, but it was also harsh and that harshness was unusual for Allen. At his best, a side I saw more often, he could be a saint. The public probably saw this most clearly in the effort he made to persuade antiwar protesters to remain peaceful instead of following the incendiary counsel of the Jerry Rubins and Abbie Hoffmans. I saw it in countless acts of personal kindness.
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