Tilting at Windmills

November/December 2012 Woodward’s folly … Romney’s hardship … Finishing what Clinton started

By Charles Peters

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.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • Roger Keeling on November 04, 2012 5:34 PM:

    Mr. Peters, you're in fine form this month. Your point about the proliferation of government contractors during the Bush Administration is particularly important, I think. The GOP has claimed this as a way to "privatize" government functions -- that is, gain the economies and competitive benefits of the marketplace for public tasks. But the reality is that it has been nothing more than a backdoor means of reinstating the 19th century spoils system. The public is so sadly ignorant of history that most folks have no idea what a vital reform the establishment of the professional civil service was, and hence no idea how perverse it is for a major political party to try to destroy it.

    And I am so glad the magazine has returned to a format where we can read your column AS a column, rather than as an annoying series of links. I believe quite a few folks (including me) had complained about that, so thank you for listening.

  • berttheclock on November 07, 2012 9:46 AM:

    Hmmm, "Reigning in Wall Street". Yes, many on WS do believe they reign. Perhaps, with the election of Senator Warren, more real "reins" will be put in place to stop many of those rulers of wealth.

  • zandru on November 07, 2012 1:34 PM:

    I second Mr. Clock: it's "reining in". Although in a few years, it WILL be "reigning", and future etymologists will have no clue as to the origin of the phrase.

  • buddy66 on November 09, 2012 7:48 PM:

    I watched Allen G. one day at lunch in the San Francisco State cafeteria, after a speaking/reading/chanting session at that school, surrounded by hangers-on and autograph-seeking students clamoring for his attention. He had more time for helping Peter Orlovsky's severely retarded brother maneuver the intricacies of unwrapping a packet of crackers that came with his chicken soup. Allen's concerned patience was obvious, his kindliness manifest in the moment.

  • Steve on January 13, 2013 12:47 PM:

    I'm not sure why Mr Peters is so gung ho about military service.

    Why would anyone serve in an organization whose sole purpose seems to be to engage in illegal and immoral activities?

    Vietnam was an illegal and unjustified war.

    Afghanistan was largely unjustified.

    Iraq? Don't make me laugh.

    Rather than more serving in the military, I'd rather see fewer.

    As in zero.


  • Ed Pritchett on April 18, 2013 9:31 AM:

    I would respectfully disagree. If this country adopted universal service for all after high school for even just two years, and it would have to be for Everybody, no exceptions for class or wealth. Then perhaps we could temper our national blood lust bulleted above a bit since at any moment such decisions would involve the sons and daughters of the decision makers as well. It reserve war making as the last option of policy instead of casually being one of the first.