A serious omission

NO MATTER what you may have heard, I am not sulky about being omitted from New York magazine's list of the treasures of New York City.

This rumor was probably started by a busybody who eavesdropped on my conversation with David Halberstam during the opera intermission the other night at Lincoln Center.


All I said to Halberstam was, "I was a little surprised that when New York magazine asked you to name one of the treasures of New York you named Jules Feiffer instead of me."

"A little surprised" is all I said. Not "furious." Not "betrayed by a man to whom I have given a lifetime of friendship." Just "a little surprised."


Not that I don't treasure Jules Feiffer myself. I do. Jules Feiffer is a treasure, all right, but he is not the Empire State Building.

I mention the Empire State Building because New York magazine's list didn't include it. It did, however, include the top of the Citicorp building (it's beveled), a man who gets stains out of neckties, two saloons, a football player and seven -- yes, seven! -- places that dispense food. Apparently groceries are to New York what Pieces of Eight were to the Spanish Main.

I wouldn't want to be included on a list of New York treasures that omitted the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building is New York's one indispensable treasure.

Remove it from the skyline and you wouldn't even have New York anymore. You'd have Philadelphia 10 times over, with Citicorp's beveled roof thrown in.

When I saw that the Empire State Building wasn't on the treasure list and noticed that I, too, was missing, I realized I'd had a narrow escape. "I'd be embarrassed to turn up on a list of New York treasures that doesn't even include the Empire State Building," I told my wife.

"I'll take a good necktie-stain remover over the Empire State Building any time," she said, ignoring my point entirely, which didn't surprise me since she has a terror of elevators and has sworn not to set foot inside the Empire State Building until they install an escalator.

Skimming the magazine, I was upset to discover that Anna Quindlen, one of my dear colleagues in schmoozing and opinionating, had been pronounced a treasure of New York.

"Anna Quindlen must feel rotten about turning up on a treasure list so tacky it doesn't even include the Empire State Building," I told my wife. "I ought to phone and tell her not to cry. It could happen to anybody."


My wife pointed out that though the list omitted the Empire State Building, it included Balducci's, a victuals retailer in Greenwich Village. While she didn't want to speak for Anna Quindlen, she went on, she would personally consider it a nice compliment to be declared as valuable to New York civilization as Balducci's.

I would have let the matter rest there if I hadn't bumped into David Halberstam at the opera. The world, of course, knows him as author, raconteur and investigative journalist, but I have known him, man and boy, as a friend. Or so I thought. I have often said, "David Halberstam is a man I can go to the well with."

Now, studying this magazine in which Halberstam, having been asked to name a New York treasure, had named Jules Feiffer, I told my wife, "And I always thought David Halberstam was a man I could go to the well with."

"Nobody goes to the well these days, except maybe in India," she said.

"Well, let me put it this way," said I, suppressing a snarl. "I thought he was a man I could go up in an elevator with."

"Instead of sulking because you didn't get labeled 'Treasure,'" she suggested, "why don't you go up to Lincoln Center and catch the intermission of the opera? You know David never misses a night at the opera. You can tell him how you feel."


That's how this silly rumor got started. David had just emerged from the Opera House, radiant with the reflected glory of "Rigoletto" or "Siegfried" or something equally preposterous, when I braced him and said, "I was a little surprised to see that when New York magazine asked you to name one of the treasures of New York, you named Jules Feiffer instead of me."

"Surprised?" he said. "But surely, old chap, you didn't think I would put a man I could go to the well with on a list so shabby that it omitted the Empire State Building?"

Poor Jules Feiffer.