15 APRIL 1995, Page 47

High life •

Going up in a

puff of smoke


s the Queen Mother's favourite poet said, 'April is the cruellest month,' especially for smokers in New York. At 12.01 last Monday morning the law went into effect. I happened to be at Mortimer's, followed by Elaine's, my two favourite watering holes in the Big Bagel, but the smoke police were nowhere to be found. The owners of both places are friends of mine as well as smok- ers, so we puffed away to our lung's content, but that was it. All this week, the city's tough anti-smoking law has been the talk of the town. On Monday evening, at a gala cele- bration of my old editor Clay Felker at the Pierre Hotel, I lit up among 750 people. No one told me to put it out, so I did after awhile. The next night, at a black tie Pen lit- erary gala, in Tavern on the Green, I tried it again and was almost lynched by the man- agement. It is truly the end of the good times in the Bagel.

Thinking back I remember all the places where we used to smoke. We smoked in school and we smoked in the cinema. I even smoked in hospital when I was laid up with a broken leg. We knew it was bad for us, but so what? Now the health police are every- where. First, smokers were assaulted with warnings on cigarette packets. Then they were segregated into special sections, like lepers. Finally, they were banned from pub- lic buildings and since last Monday smokers have been robbed of one more refuge, restaurants.

The irony of it all is that, were the Bagel Singapore — a clean and well run city with no crime to speak of — I would understand. Noo Yawk, however, is a stinking place where black and Hispanic drug dealers proposition one on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight, where people riddled with TB sleep in front of one's doorstep, where crim- inals regularly shoot each other, and a place Whose population tends to spit even more than they do in Mohamed Fayed's birth- place.

. Therefore the ban on smoking is literally like trying to repair the ventilation on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. As I was leav- ing for the Pierre party on Monday, I thought I heard shooting but my driver said it was kids playing with firecrackers. The next morning I read about a gangster who had been shot two streets down from me. He took six bullets just as he was leaving Lenox Hill hospital, where he was visiting a friend. The Hispanic man who shot him sped away in a white Cadillac whose number plates were given to the fuzz by tens of onlookers. Two hours later the alleged gunman was picked up in his white Caddy while cruising a red light district. He is at present singing like you know what. The Mafioso who was hit will survive but will never walk again. His spine was severed. The Mortimer's crowd who wit- nessed the whole thing couldn't even have a ciggy to calm their nerves.

Otherwise everything is honky-dory. When the talk is not about smoking, it's about Edgar Bronfinan Jr's takeover of MCA. Opinions are divided. Is he a fool or a genius? I'd say neither. He sold Du Pont blue chips, a consistent and highly profitable part of Sea- gram's bottom line for more than a decade, to buy into the entertainment business. To me it's a bit like selling a large house with land in order to buy an enormous yacht. But the Bronfmans are neither nice nor stupid. They must know something we don't. Perhaps the liqueur business will one day go the way of tobacco: It's happened before, helping the Kennedys and the Bronfmans to make their fortunes by becoming bootleggers.

Americans will put up with everything, lack of tobacco, lack of booze, masculine women, crime, illegal immigration, Bill and Hillary Clinton, but they will instantly lynch anyone trying to stop producing the crap we see on screen nowadays. Ergo the Bronfman entry into the entertainment business. What is interesting is the 'stupid grandson theory,' developed by Keynes. JMK said that by the time management has passed from its founders down the family line, the grandson blows the company apart because he didn't earn his credentials the hard way. Bronfman Jr hasn't, but then Keynes never got it right either.