Last night, the streets of New York were deprived of their corduroy and tortoise-shell glasses as the literary Three 6 mafia gathered at Pravda for Harper's Annual Christmas Party. Gridskipper editor (and former Harper's intern) Joshua David Stein ventured into the thick of it with photog Tina Tyrell to document the wan depravity of it all. Be sure not to miss the special secret song inside: It reveals some fascinating secrets about Lewis Lapham's urinary habits.
The Grand Old Party
By Joshua David Stein
...If time stood still, which contrariwise moveth so round that a froward retention of custom is as turbulent a thing as an innovation; and they that reverence too much old times are but a scorn to the new.
Girl at Mall: Oh my god!
[laughs at Freud's introduction]
Sigmund Freud: You seem to be suffering from a mild case of hysteria.
Girl at Mall: You are such a geek!
[walks off with her friend]
Billy the Kid: Way to go, egghead!
Sigmund Freud: Wha...?
Sigmund Freud: What is a geek?
— Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Not so long ago, when Lewis Lapham still helmed Harper's magazine and the office was filled with smoke from his unchained melody of Parliaments, the annual Christmas Party was the stuff of legend. To hear Lewis tell it, one might, without undue surprise, stumble upon Kurt Vonnegut defrocking a young Mia Farrow, or Walter Cronkite making the acquaintance of a young Jayne Mansfield's buxom. As an intern at the magazine, it was hard not to imagine the Christmas party as the orgasm that made the 10-6 skullduggery of the internship worth it, even more than the lunch with Lewis at the end during which he'd tell variations on a story involving him as a cub reporter, a koala, and delivering the goods (with his organ) to a wealthy San Fran widow. But tempis fugit mors venit. Smoking got banned, Lewis got canned and last night at Pravda, Harper's looked its age.
Here, in a vaulted basement vodka bar, elegant captains of industry, bespectacled journalists and dyspeptic former interns gathered to celebrate another year of getting on with it. The party wasn't a bore, exactly; just staid. For a magazine that once advocated the assassination of the President, that indicted the same man for voter fraud, that so insouciantly played with the possibility of time travel as it pertains to reportage, one have hoped form for some vestigial radicalism. Alas, no one seemed desirous to upset the delicate balance of champagne flutes on silver trays. Marlene Kahan, a taut-yet-aged woman who began introducing herself as "working for ASME" but quickly amended the title, metonymically, to, "I am ASME," pondered whether "dancing on the table, after this martini" would enliven things. Wiser tempers concluded it would most likely result in a herniated disk and flashbacks to Kingpin. Tony Hendra, who may have Down Syndome, seemed happy as a clam casino, glowingly declaring this the best party Harper's had thrown at Pravda since last year, when Harper's threw a party at Pravda. After hours of staring at Harper's circa 1880, Paul Ford, aka Gary Benchley, the adorable writer tasked with yolking Harper's archives online, cast the party a success, growing glassy-eyed and giddy over tumblers of cachaca. Sinclair "Pee Wee" Smith, and his fiance Kristen Richardson, an ex-intern, bemoaned the jumping of the Harper's party shark: "Back when I was an intern, there was smoking upstairs and coke in the bathroom." Sadly, there was neither. Searching for the missing element, Richardson paused and suggested, "Jews?" But Frederick Kaufman, one of the few Jews there and professor of Journalism at CUNY, suggested, "We should yell anti-semitic slogans at Art Spiegelman." As Shuggie Otis' "Strawberry Letter:" played, it became clear the party was at war with itself. More than lingering sales or the shortage of tail to chase, that is the coal in the Harper's stocking. When Francine Prose jumped ship early on she told us she had never stayed for the Harper's Christmas dance party We didn't have the heart to tell her there never was one. No one was singing the same tune.
Second to Alec Baldwin, the elephant not in the room was Roger Hodge, the current editor. Home. he claimed, sick. Instead, it was up to deposed king of Harper's Lewis Lapham to work the room and rally the troops. Yes, he of the large cock and no socks, the gravelly-voiced demagogue. His fingernails tobacco-stained but well-kempt despite their froward struggle against time. As a cub editor, I had worked with Lewis at his fledgling, (and perhaps stillborn) quarterly just a few months ago. And when we shook hands, his bright eyes clouded behind his glasses. "Hi Jim, great to see you." It took a moment to realize the minence grise had erred. But by then, he was outside, blowing Parliament smoke out on to the empty wintry street, and doing what he does best: retelling stories of Christmases past.