"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 21 December 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
High Anxiety



Practicality makes certain

demands - and practical people

are willing, quite reasonably,

to listen. Steven Skilkin, for

example, faced the challenge of

living in a 10,000-square-foot

house; how, in such a home, does

one go about obtaining a meal?

One certainly doesn't walk down the

stairs. Here's Mr. Skilkin's

architect: "We came up with an

8-by-10-foot section of the main

kitchen - an arc-shaped segment

with cabinets, counter top,

refrigerator, and a microwave -

that can travel to each floor

like an elevator. It sounds a

little extravagant, but if he

wants that turkey leg he left in

the refrigerator last night, he

can just press a button." Of

course, when you put it that

way, it doesn't really seem

extravagant at all.


Lifestyle copy feeds most

magazine journalists their meat

and potatoes, but newspapers are

still using the extra-light stuff

largely as a garnish. The


isn't-real-journalism attitude

shows: After The New York Times

ran a story on funny Asian

translations of American film

titles in November, the comedy

webzine that invented the titles

pointed out to the newspaper

that they weren't actually,

like, real. And the Times

reporter who wrote the

whoops-it's-not-true report

explained himself in this way:

"I'm disappointed and depressed.

If it was hard news, I probably

would have been more vigilant.

But it was a light item."


The hey-it's-just-light-stuff

attitude has a greater daily

effect on the general direction

of lifestyle coverage at the

editorial level, though. When the

real editors upstairs deign to

point their softer companions in

some vague new direction, the

results can easily be worse than

the product of long-standing

editorial laissez faire.


The Los Angeles Times is a

powerfully queasiness-inducing

example. That newspaper's

longtime View section one day

became the Life and Style

section, then more recently

transformed its

begging-to-be-put-to-sleep self

into some hideously awful thing

called Southern California

Living. The "Smart Aleck"

featurette appearing on page

two, for example, asks readers

to provide the humor for staff-

written scenarios. Asked

recently what the president of

the United States should do

after his term ends, readers

came up with hilarious answers

like: "He should pimp." A few

pages deeper, and the Times

offers professionally written

comedy: The Rugrats, to

paraphrase a 1 December joke,

have become so big since the

debut of their movie ... that

they'll now only "poo-poo" into

"cloth diapers." And then

on the same day there

was the 150-word profile

of a guy who - get

ready - laughs during sitcom

tapings for a living. One

question comes to mind: Who is

this for? Poo-poo jokes? Pimp

humor? Inside-sitcom-production

featurettes? Pauly Shore does

live in Los Angeles, we're

pretty sure, but he's only one

guy. How many newspapers can he




Then there's The Wall Street



If The Wall Street Journal were

a person, it would live on a bus

bench and converse meaningfully

with the passing traffic. Actual

human beings, after all, have a

limited capacity for making

sense of radically contradictory

messages bubbling up from

different parts of the brain.

Not so the strangest newspaper

on Earth. Day after day, largely

without exception, the best

reporting in the country - the

best reporting in the

English-language press - appears

on the Journal's front page

(and, really, throughout the

news pages). Alix Freedman's 18

June story on the use of the

antimalaria drug quinacrine to

sterilize women in the third

world, for example, was rightly

pointed to in the October issue

of Brill's Content as the kind

of tough, smart journalism that

can actually make the world a

measurably better place.


Rather impressively, the

Journal also reaches deep into

areas of the United States that

don't often show up in

publications edited in New York;

take the 13 November front-pager

on an arson fire at a tiny

Northern California town's high

school, a story that neatly

explored the evolution of

community in rural American

life. (For another recent

example of the same kind of

reporting, read the 28 October

page-one story on the

controversy among onion farmers

in Georgia; another national

paper would have made it seem

quaint. It's not.)


And then, bellowing from the

right side of the newsroom,

there are the hatchet-murderers

on the editorial pages -

hammering their polemics into a

stone tablet with primitive iron

tools. Bill Clinton, he bad man.

Dow go 15,000. Liberal fire bad,

burn. Max Boot.



And so it was an interesting set

of possibilities that arose

early this year, when the

Journal introduced a new

lifestyle section to its Friday

edition: Ed-pages raw red meat

stew, or elegantly prepared news

side-supper? The section, titled

Weekend Journal, turned out to

be both. It turned out - unlike

the wandering, identity-free

Southern California Living - to

be run by people who've locked

on to their demographic with

remarkable clarity; folks who

read the Biddletown Post-Bugler

probably wouldn't know how to

relate, exactly, to a story

about "a growing number of

wealthy pragmatists" who find

that they need a different

kitchen for each wing and floor

of their home, a story the

Weekend Journal came up with

back in March. ("Cooking, after

all, can be so unglamorous -

particularly in open-plan family

kitchens where chaos is

difficult to conceal.") Nor

would they murmur approvingly,

we suspect, at the 20 November

story on wine snobs who simply

couldn't be expected to drink

from ordinary restaurant

glasses. As the deliciously

named Andy Kuntz, a frozen

custard retailer in Missouri,

explains, his $75 Sommelier

Hermitage glasses are perfect if

"it's a real classy dinner."


Meanwhile, the Journal's bizarre

sane/not sane dichotomy drifts,

at the end of every week, into

the Weekend section. There is,

yes, a sort of cultural

editorial page at the back of

the section, complete with a

classy title that has to make

Andy Kuntz want to bust out the

fancy stemware: It's called "Taste." Among

the recent tasteful contributions

was deputy ed-pages

chief Max Boot's helpful

explanation of the political

differences between professional

athletes and professional

entertainers. Footballers and

baseballers hang to the right,

Boot explained, because they

work at jobs that require

personal accomplishment;

Hollywood types hang to the

left, he continued, because

there are so many fucking Jews

there. This isn't exactly how he

phrased it, but it's close

enough for hand grenades or

horseshoes. Or, you know, The

Wall Street Journal's editorial



There's a terrific, nouveau

piss-elegant scent wafting up

from the Weekend Journal, a

delicious odor of frantically

perfumed sweat from people who

are trying way, way too hard.

And it makes for great reading.



Consider that there are plenty

of people wandering this Earth -

and Texas, too - who make Steven

Skilkin look elegantly

restrained in the area of

kitchen architecture. A Los

Angeles couple living in a

23,000-square-foot house (or

maybe we should call it a

23,000-square-foot "house") have

kitchens on each floor, with

additional kitchens in the guest

house, pool house, and tennis

court area. This, they explained

to the Journal, isn't

extravagance any more than

Skilkin's Willie Wonkaesque

elevator-kitchen: It's just good

healthful common sense. "When

the property is so big,"

explained Dr. Irene Kassorla - a

psychologist! - "you can't be

running to the kitchen all the

time. You'd kill yourself."


Still better, mobile home park

developer George Gradow and his

wife, Playmate-turned-actress

Barbi Benton, maintain

professional and residential

kitchens in their

27,500-square-foot Aspen home,

known locally as the "double

double-wide." (Who but a mobile

home park developer could

reasonably be married to

Playmate-turned-actress Barbi

Benton? And who but Barbi Benton

could be married to one of the

nation's most important

mobile home park developers? See

how elegant fate is?) And real

estate developer Dennis Pryor

and his wife "like the fact that

having a commercial kitchen

minimizes their contact with

food preparation." ("We're very

much offended by cooking

smells," Pryor explains.)


Finally, wonderfully,

caterer-to-the-silly-rich Colin

Cowie describes precisely the

value of keeping a kitchen near

each and every individual

section of your home. "You have

the ability to alarm the rest of

the house," he explains, "and

remain in an isolated capsule."


Here we have something

approaching heaven: isolated in

an alarm-encased capsule, free

from the nasty old world,

swaddled inside the private

world you built with your

mobile home park fortune.


And the best part? You'll have

something to read while you're


courtesy of Ambrose Beers