September Eleventh wiped out my Rolodex. Many former classmates, colleagues, and clients perished in the attacks. My sister, a vice president at J.P. Morgan, was spared because she had cancelled a presentation to take her infant son to the doctor. But Windows on the World, the elegant penthouse restaurant in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, was destroyed. During the Reagan era, my parents used Windows on the World as a deprogramming room. Whenever I read too much Dorothy Day, criticized Milton Friedman, or thought of chucking advertising to enroll in graduate school or write a social novel, they would wine and dine me at Windows on the World. They wanted me to know what I would lose if I stepped off the velvet treadmill.
The food was fine, but most people came to eat the money. With annual revenues of $37 million, Windows on the World was America’s highest-grossing restaurant. A six-month wait for a reservation was common, but Papa’s Seventh-Avenue clout always secured a table. Although I preferred Angelo’s on Mulberry Street, I enjoyed the panoramic view: New Jersey, the Hudson, Midtown, Uptown, the Bronx, the East River, Brooklyn, and Queens. From 107 stories up, the horizon actually curved. On bright days, the skyline shimmered and east Long Island was a polished emerald. On gray days, snow fell up and clouds tutued the Empire State Building. Below Olympus, the Wall Street traffic was a Matchbox set, and traffic choppers hovered like dragonflies over Roosevelt Drive.
All this could be mine, Papa preached, if I wised up and stopped knocking America. Didn’t I know this was the greatest country in the world? Where else could a shepherd boy from Abruzzo, who had never owned a dress shirt until his Confirmation, create haute couture for politicians and starlets? The wait staff nodded and beamed. Coming from Angola, Bangladesh, Columbia, Egypt, Guyana, Jamaica, and Thailand, they believed this American Gospel. Their faith, hope, and charity sustained them and made them tolerate the boorishness of their so-called betters.
On many occasions, I wanted to hurl the beautiful people off the observation deck. Junior brokers from Cantor Fitzgerald jockey to break in American Express cards. A shapely Republican fundraiser smokes a Montecristo and explains how Ayn Rand can change her Mexican busboy’s life. Norman Mailer threatens the wine steward with an ice bucket. Mick Jagger orders a waiter to snatch a camera away from Andy Warhol, who insists on snapping pictures. A drunken investor baits the Ugandan ambassador: “What did the cannibal say when he threw up the missionary? You can’t keep a good man down!”
When I glower, Papa chides me. If the staff were being such good sports, why couldn’t I? Yes, these people were swine, but swine dig up truffles. You don’t need good people to have a good society, thank God; only good things. Ignore the jerks. Instead, admire America’s beauty and power.
Che meraviglia! What a wonder!