If Tom Wolfe were writing The Bonfire of the Vanities today, he'd need a scene in the Grand Havana Room in New York City. It's an Olympian den fit for what Wolfe called "Masters of the Universe" -- the super-rich gods of finance who today go by "the one percent." Taking up the penthouse floor of 666 Fifth Ave., the Grand Havana Room is a private, by-invitation-only cigar club and four-star restaurant. Through its windows, you can see the toiling salary men 39 floors below as they scurry about like ants, some furtively smoking in doorways, ever fearful of Nanny Bloomberg's All-Seeing Eye.
Named by Business Insider as one of the "11 exclusive clubs Wall Streeters are dying to get into," the Grand Havana Room is where power brokers and celebrities hobnob with captains of industry in one of the last places where it's still legal to smoke in the Big Apple.
Immune as I am to the seductions of class resentment and Jacobin envy, I will admit it: I love the place. If invited, and if I could afford it, I'd join.
The one question I have is: Who's paying for Al Sharpton's membership?
"The Rev." is an omnipresent member of the club. After his MSNBC show, he'll swing by for dinner and cigars amidst the other Masters of the Universe. I couldn't confirm that he repaired there after he broadcast his radio show, "Keeping it Real," from Zuccotti Park to show his solidarity with the 99 percenters.
The reason I ask who's paying for his membership is that Sharpton's relationship with money has always been complicated. When he claimed he didn't have the resources to pay damages in a defamation suit he lost, Sharpton was asked in a deposition how he could afford his suits. He didn't own them, he replied, someone else did. He was merely granted "access" to the garments as needed. The same went for his TV, silverware, etc.
There's a metaphor in there somewhere. In our overly therapeutic culture, we talk a lot about "enabling" pathologies, self-destructive behavior, etc. Well, Sharpton is a pathology enabled by the very system he loathes.
In a healthy society, Sharpton might be on parole now -- not the must-get guest for Meet the Press and Today on issues of racial justice. He was a ringleader in perpetuating the evil Tawana Brawley hoax, in which he and two corrupt lawyers (now disbarred) falsely accused assistant district attorney Steven Pagones and others of gang-raping a 15-year-old girl in a racist attack (Brawley claimed that she'd been smeared with feces and had racist epithets written on her body). No person of any ideological stripe could doubt it was a fraud -- except, that is, for the unrepentant Sharpton, who recently insisted "something happened."
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