Abe Hirschfeld is the Michael Jackson of New York society. A dangerous loon convicted for a murder-for-hire plot, but who still gets his ass kissed on a regular basis because he's a rich guy. So rich, in fact, that Mark Ribowsky was probably paid a lot of money to help write the Abe autobiography Crazy and in Charge. Ribowsky must be proud to have his name on a classically crappy vanity press product?right down to the petty chapter headings. (Chapter Twenty-Three: "How Mario Cuomo Stabbed Me In The Back"; Chapter Twenty-Nine: "A Political Vendetta")
There's one big difference, of course. Hirschfeld's nutty reminiscences include recent appearances on Larry King Live. And poor Al Hirschfeld?no relation?is thankfully not around to be embarrassed at how one of his Abe caricatures is now trotted out for the book cover.
Anyway, I'm curious to see what kind of crowd Abe draws to his combination book signing/kick-off for his U.S. Senate candidacy. I'm certainly impressed when I arrive at the Trustees Room in the New York Public Library, and the first person I see is Joe Franklin. (Joey Adams is dead, but he'll later be invoked in Abe's speech.)
The press corps, however, is pretty pathetic. The media table is full of geriatrics. The photographers are a little older. They seem to have spent many fine years working for the New York Resident and the Chelsea Clinton Journal. They're over by the table where Abe is doing a book signing. One grotesque old gal complains that the other photographers are jumping on her arranged tableaux. Her big idea? Abe holding up a copy of his book.
There's also an obese guy pushing around a baby carriage stuffed full of plastic bags. He keeps shouting, "Where's my camera?" Manhattan Spirit, I'd guess.
A decent crowd is already buzzing around the buffet. Everybody's dressed nicely, but I get the feeling that the food has been breathed on pretty heavily. I settle for grabbing a canape from a roving waiter. I've never met this waiter before, but he pays me a nice compliment by letting me know that I obviously don't belong here.
"Surreal, right?" he whispers. "This whole thing's surreal!"
And that's even before Hirschfeld makes his speech. His opening statement notes that our country's media is all "bribed by the bin Laden organization." That makes for a nice awkward pause. Abe's just warming up, though, and also wants us to know that Al D'Amato, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Clinton, and Some Guy at the IRS have all been "pushed into going against Iraq." I have no idea what that phrase means. Neither does Abe, who'll go on to constantly contradict himself.
He rambles for a long time, taking credit for the success of Tony Blair and complaining that Ariel Sharon "likes wars." It's one of the few times I've been grateful to see a crowd talking over the speaker. This includes the political associate who introduced Abe, although he's quick to start shushing the crowd when Abe loudly complains that nobody's listening.
Unfortunately, the crowd quiets down just as Abe gives up and goes into an attempted comedy routine. Abe's very proud of his collection of old jokes that he claims to have written. Everyone laughs heartily.
To be fair, though, Abe's no less pathetic or witty than Michael Moore. And it's nice to see a crowd that gets enthusiastic over pro-Zionist statements. Lyndon LaRouche's supporters don't even get chased off the sidewalks of the Upper West Side.
The crowd has grown into an impressive sea of hair dye and bad combovers. There are also a few toupees like we haven't seen since Ray Milland's old Columbo episodes. As the evening wears on, the upscale setting can't cover up the night's true vibe. Petty disputes break out by the open bar. A guy in an ill-fitting suit asks an ancient bottle-blonde to point out the "local dignitaries." And somebody's propped up a bad painting of a woman with her nipples prominently displayed. Bob Guccione wouldn't have it in his house.
This place is simply full of desperate hustlers?who, naturally, are the only people left who'd cultivate a relationship with old Honest Abe. There's me, too, but at least I head out early. The publicist catches me at the door, and asks if I want to talk to the man himself. I explain that I'm running late for a big event at the midtown Hooters. Besides, what could I possible say to Abe Hirschfeld? I'd rather piss off Bobby Durst.