All I Want for Christmas Is World Peace, Absolute Power, and Omniscience

I thought I was immune, but the biggest snowflakes I think I’ve ever seen just started falling outside and I went around the office singing, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Good thing I’m the boss. But I hadn’t had any twinges of Christmas spirit up till then. I mean, I did feel a sympathetic tug on the heartstrings when my son Oscar wrote his letter to Santa. I was really impressed with the detail and I was rather surprised that he informed Santa that certain items could be had at Kmart—I mean, Santa’s workshop is pretty well known.

Oscar’s mom did set him straight when he asked for DVDs of the entire Indiana Jones series. Santa makes toys, she said. He doesn’t stock movies.

I have been asked a few times what I want, and I’ve been thinking about that and also what I will give to the nears and dears and the compulsories. Here are a few thoughts.

Every year I get stuff I don’t want. Stuff for the home that would never ever see the light of day in my place and clothing and accessories that are so alien to my taste that it makes me wonder if I’m getting my point across. My father-in-law has given me a black pullover three years in a row. I’m sure he doesn’t remember, but at least he remembers my name. I’m dropping hints now. In the past I’ve said please don’t buy me anything for Christmas both to my wife’s family and my own side of the bloodline. It hasn’t worked, but then last year I made a breakthrough with my mother.

Why don’t you get me something from Harry and David, I asked? I thought that might work, since Harry and David was something I remember being under the Christmas tree when I was my kid’s age. They’re the people who invented the “Fruit of the Month Club” and they sell really good fruit and sundry comestibles by mail. Last year my mom sent really good pineapples, pears, and apples. Really good. There were even edible apricots, an endanged species. And now they offer the Organic Fruit of the Month club. This is really a perfect gift for those whose tastes in consumer gifts are not exactly our own, especially if they happen to live in an area (such as most of the United States) where you can’t get a good piece of fruit.


Things have changed in recent years, but we have lived through many decades now in which fruit was mainly bred not for its taste but its appearance and its shipping qualities. But Harry and David have fruit that tastes like fruit tasted before the agronomists started fucking it up. For me beautiful, perfect fruit is genuine luxury, not pashmina and zebrawood. I can’t wait for the peaches. So to make a long story short, if you’re related to me by blood or marriage, please send fruit, no clothes or ceramics or chess sets.

I’ve been in the habit of sending some choice vintages around town to clients and the like and may do so this year. I’m a big Champagne fan and I will probably be sending out a few cases of Pol Roger—the bubbly Winston Churchill liked to sip. So legendary is this preference that Pol Roger named their premium vintage champagne Cuvée Winston Churchill. This old house, dating to 1849, specializes in the brut or dry style and so they catered to the English palate. The Britons like their champers as dry as their wit.


For my money Pol Roger’s Brut Reserve is the perfect everyday champagne. If you’re celebrating your new contract with the Yankees you might want to pop a bottle of Krug, but if you’re simply celebrating life on a diurnal basis, you can open a very excellent bottle of Pol for about forty bucks and it blows away everything else in that range with its clean dry taste. I prefer it to the more expensive, yeasty Veuve Cliquot.

Recently I got a gift package from a pal from Petrossian, the well known international purveyors of caviar, and it was marvelous. It made me think about caviar again and this year it’s back on the menu for the holidays. I come from a cabal of caviar aficionados. Once one of my homeys gave me a kilo of Sevruga for my birthday and a few of us sat around drinking Champagne and ate the whole damn thing. But in recent years, due to the criminal behavior in the area of the Caspian Sea, there has been a terrible lack of good caviar. Imporation of Beluga caviar, from the endangered sturgeon of that name, was banned by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005. In 2006 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned all trade in Caspian sturgeon caviar because of unethical practices, exempting Iran where the culture (or is it the ayatollahs?) seem to have upheld quality. On the Russian side of the sea things deteriorated terribly, and it seemed that they were willing to kill the good that laid the golden egg just for his foie gras. (What a tortured metaphor, sorry!) Anyway, the Caspian article became rare and prohibitively costly and this led to the development of alternatives.

It turns out that America, despite killing off most of its sturgeon (the Hudson used to be full of them), has turned things around somewhat to the extent that we are now producing some excellent caviar. I didn’t try it for years, thinking that Tennessee Paddlefish just didn’t sound that appetizing. But it turns out that the fish eggs being peddled by Petrossian and my other caviar stop, Russ and Daughters, the venerable Lower East Side shop (on Houston Street), are really fantastic.


Petrossian is offering an American caviar sampler that explains everything without a word, with 50 grams each of Hackleback, Chataluga Prestige, Alverta, and Royal Transmontanus caviars. I’m working on the words. Check back in 2009. Russ and Daughters is offering what they call American Ossetra from California (awesome), Hackleback from the Mississippi River Valley, and Paddlefish, which resembles Sevruga and is quite delicious. Here’s some of Russ’s paddlefish roe:


I like buying American. Haven’t quite talked myself into a Yankee car in a while, but I will give our native caviar my 100% endorsement. Buying this will help those pesky Russkies get their environmental act together.

What else do I want for Christmas? Well, after racking up more frequent flier miles than ever this year I have decided to give up on my old-fashioned spurning of luggage with wheels, and I’m hoping the wife or Santa provides me with a big rolling carry-on to match my other T. Anthony luggage. And then last year I asked for a Canon G9, the compact digital that all my photographer friends carry. Just holding the thing made me want it, and since my compact Panasonic Lumixes with their nice Leica lenses have smashed sceens, I needed something new, but there was an error and somehow I got a considerably more costly Leica, which is a fantastic camera but won’t even fit into my cargo pants, making it tough to do the undercover kind of photography I like to do as a sneaky bloggeur. And I can’t figure out how to work the thing half the time. Maybe this year Santa will listen more carefully.


I may not be Terry Richardson or Todd Eberle, but my friend Olivier Zahm, the guru-in-chief of Purple Fashion, can take artistic pictures under highly challenging nightclub conditions, so hey, I need this camera. From what I understand it can take a great picture almost by itself.

What else? I have asked Santa for an Irish passport but I’m not holding my breath. I’ve been thinking about a sauna. There’s a really great shipping container made into a sauna by Castor Design. This is no ordinary sauna, but a freestanding structure that is a recycled shipping container with a traditional wood-fired stove, with such extraordinary features as solar power, iPod stereo, guitar hookup, magnetic truck light, wool toque, and bronze antlers. This is built in Canada by Canadians who seem determined to walk the thin, jagged line between fine art and demented design. These guys also make a nice set of headphones with antlers on them, some cool stools and tables and an incomparable “invisible chandelier,” custom-made from burned-out light bulbs lit from within.



And what do you want for Christmas? By the way, if your kid asks there are seven candles in the kwanzaa kinara, and the reindeer’s names are as follows: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. The one with the red nose, Rudolf, got that way by eating amanita muscaria or fly agaric hallucinogenic mushrooms, as reindeer are wont to do. Eating these potentially highly toxic mushrooms has been known to cause flying.


Notice the similarity of this mushroom to Santa Claus.


My Plan for the Auto Industry

I am told that when I had just learned to talk my favorite activity was shouting out the names of the cars we passed on the road: “Ford,” “Chevy,” “Cadillac,” “Plymouth,” “Studebaker.” There were cars called Plymouth and Studebaker back then. The former was the entry-level brand of the Chrysler corporation; the latter was a sporty looking car manufactured in South Bend, Indiana, within sight of Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus.” According to my mother I could name every car on the road. A feat I could not duplicate today.

Cars used to be unforgettable. A dream car was something you really dreamed about.


It was exciting to be a kid in a car in those days, with no kiddie seat or even seatbelts to hold you back from bouncing around like a ping-pong ball, IDing every bogie on the road. We weren’t strapped in like astronauts; we even rode in the front seat, not having to worry about having our crania crushed by our cars’ safety features. But I digress.

My lack of car-naming ability today is, I believe, not due to any diminished mental capacity (as is my decreasing ability to remember the names of acquaintances), at least I don’t think so. No, I blame the auto industry, because even though there are far fewer brands and models on the market today, they are so much less memorable. A Stutz looked like a Stutz. A Rambler looked like a Rambler. What does a Hyundai look like? It looks like a Toyota trying to look like a Mercedes.

Back in the good old days Chryslers had fins, Buicks had portholes on the front fenders, and Continentals and Imperials had snazzy tire cases on their trunks. If silhouette alone wasn’t enough you could ID a car by its distinctive grille design or its gun-site-like hood ornament. The Pontiac featured an Indian head alluding to the Native American chieftain the brand was named for. The Oldsmobile had a rocket leading the way and one of its best models was the Rocket 88, which was celebrated in a great R & B song by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner.


Today there are some distinctive cars on the road. You can’t help but recognize the Hummer elbowing you off the road, or a two-tone Maybach; that’s the one with drapes. But most automobiles of our day have assumed a rather homogenous shape, with wind-tunnel designed lines and abbreviated back ends. Gone are the fins and the chrome and the scoops and the dramatic bumpers. Gone are the two-tone paint jobs. Even color is a rarity, aside from a handful of metallic tones that sort of blend into the smogscape. Today you’re in luck if you like black or white or a silver resembling the dull side of aluminum foil. You can still find a red car from sportier brands, but good luck finding orange, brown, turquoise, navy, or anything non-metallic except black or white. Why? Who knows. Maybe these colors look better dirty. But the chromatic monotony of the American automobile has contributed to the general turdliness of design abroad in the industry. Even expensive cars come in boring colors. I would have loved to have my S Class in British Racing Green but the closest I could get was a metallic green that looks like it should be on a fishing reel instead. But I wasn’t going to be just another black Benz cat—I’d feel like a chauffeur. If you want a cool color you have to order a Mini, which is fine for kids, but I need a family sedan.

It wasn’t all that long ago—well, actually it was decades—that Mercedes and Porsche offered real colors. The 911 came in fantastic colors—chocolate brown, mustard yellow, pumpkin orange.


So did many a Benz. Mercedes offered a fire-engine red station wagon, and two cars ago I had one in navy blue. I don’t think that’s available any more. Why? There can’t be any good reason. Why are most rental cars the color of Ocean Spray cranberry juice? It’s a mystery.

What’s wrong with lime?


Or orange?


The days when toddlers could name the brands were the great days of the American automobile, the days when a large, powerful vehicle was a crucial component of the American dream. You identified with a brand. A certain kind of wealthy person drove a Cadillac, another drove the Continental, and rich oddballs drove Chrysler Imperials.

So excuse me for this, but I don’t really blame the decline of the American auto industry on union contracts, the superiority of Japanese and German engineering and manufacturing quality, the price of gas and the industry’s lack of response to same, or even the dumb management style which maintains too many brands and models with too little differentiation. I blame the decline of the industry—from the long-ago death of Studebaker and American Motors to the recent insolvency of the Big Three—on sheer lack of creativity. What killed the American car was a lack of glamour. Those other things factored in, but I figure that when they dropped the convertible, phased out 9-passenger wagons, forgot about suicide doors and landau tops, killed the hood ornament, and emasculated the muscle car, they had pretty much given up.


I have a plan for the American auto industry. Hire artists to revive it. If I were running Chrysler I’d hire Richard Prince to bring back the Charger and the Road Runner and the Duster. How about a John Chamberlain car that looks crashed but isn’t? Artists could straighten things out in Detroit. It was 33 years ago that the prescient artist Chris Burden showed the B-Car which he built himself to achieve 100 miles per hour and 100 miles per gallon. If I were running GM I’d hire artists to rethink the whole thing and I’d hire consultants like Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z and the artist James Rizzi to vet designs for a revived Eldorado Biarritz Cadillac. Why should absurdly rich athletes have to buy Maybachs? They should be able to buy American convertibles just as long with options such as bulletproofing, saunas, and hot tubs. The great industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who designed the Coke bottle and the Lucky Strike pack, also designed a great American car, the Avanti, that was so architecturally beautiful its survived the company that produced it, and it’s still made today.

Here’s a ’62 Avanti.


Supposedly we live in an era of great industrial design. How about a Ron Arad sports car? A Philippe Starck limo? A Michael Graves taxi? A Karim Rashid cop car? Instead we have design by corporate committee and cars shaped like cockroaches.

Here’s what we want: Bright colors and two-tone cars. Convertibles. Big station wagons (not SUVs). Bucket seats, especially ones that swivel like the captain’s chairs in the old Chrysler 300 series. Crazy names. Futurist aesthetics, like the Citroen. Design references to high technology. Cadillac has gone halfway there, taking design cues from American military Stealth aircraft design, but if they were really good the CTS would be invisible on radar, too. Why not a Ford Shuttle with a heat diffusing tile exterior?



The Detroit fat cats don’t need cars shaped like jets anymore. They have their own jets to fly to D.C. in and beg for tax dollars. Hey, the head of G.M. actually owns a fighter jet or two, too. But somehow the personal gusto of the execs has failed to make it to the drawing board or translate into cars that fire the imaginations of the kids of today. My kid isn’t yelling out “Camry!”, “Civic!”

Even if a kid could name every car today, he’d probably be too embarrassed. The names are pathetic. Mercury Milan? Hyundai Tiburon? Subaru Impreza? Toyota Yaris? Nissan Versa? Volkwagen Tiguan? Ford Focus? The people naming these things must be the same ones naming prescription drugs. They must be on those drugs.