Here's to the Ladies (and Gentlemen) Who Lunch

By: Jesse Oxfeld The Week magazine puts on a series of lunchtime "Conversations" at Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in New York's Grand Central Terminal. At each one, Sir Harry Evans moderates a discussion among assorted notables about some timely event. Today was the latest installment, with Henry Kissinger and Dennis Ross discussing Mideast peace over a meal of poached salmon and asparagus.

There's no guarantee the panelists will say anything particularly interesting or unexpected at these events, but there's always fun to be had in seeing who shows up -- and trying to imagine what some of these folks are doing there. Tina Louise, better known as Ginger of "Gilligan's Island," is, I'm told, a regular.

So let's leave the political analysis to others, for a change, and instead present a taxonomy of The Week lunchers, listed in order of decreasing importance:

The first group we'll term the Sideline Players. They're people who have some involvement in the topic being discussed but aren't part of the panel -- an example today was Somaia Barghouti, from the Palestinian Mission to the United Nations. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, was there, too. Typically, Evans will call on a few Sideline Players for quick responses.

The next group is the Big Shots Emeriti. They're elder statesmen of New York, and often of the media, and they lend the event a bit of gravitas. Sometimes Evans will call on them; sometimes he won't. The Week is happy to have them at the event, at least partly because something they say, or their mere presence, might land a mention in a gossip column. And they're happy to be there, partly because they may have little else to do. Abe Rosenthal, for one, represented this category at today's event. Ed Koch has been at others I've attended. So has, if I remember correctly, Osborn Elliott.

Next comes the People Who Lunch. None of the Reporter Types (more on them later) has any idea who these people are, nor why they have a few free hours in the middle of the day for chilled fish and sometimes warmed-over commentary. They seem older than average, richer than average, and better groomed than average, the men with thinning hair and bespoke suits and the women with shellacked 'dos and Jackie O. sunglasses. Perhaps they're Week advertisers. Perhaps they're friends of Week advertisers. Perhaps they're friends of Felix Dennis. Like lecture-series subscribers at the 92nd Street Y, they come, one presumes, to hear famous people deliver their standard talking points.

Also, as with the Big Shots Emeriti, one suspects this is what they do every day: Wake up on Park Avenue, put on a nice suit, and go to a luncheon.

At last comes the Reporter Types. This is a broad and well-represented category. New York Daily News gossip Lloyd Grove sits near the front of the room, right next to the Sideline Players' table, and he's there to because he'll write about what some boldfaced name in attendance -- a panelist, a Sideline Player, a Bigshots Emeritus -- did or said, which will help him fill his column and will give The Week some coverage bang for all their event bucks.

Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, conversely, sat near the back. It's tough to imagine he'll write anything about the lunch, but it's his job to be aware of stuff, and he probably didn't have anything else to do at lunchtime today. (The Week, of course, would be thrilled if, at some point down the road, a remembrance of lunch past led Alter to drop a quick reference to the event or the mag into his column, with its 3 million-plus circ.)

Last, there's always a sizable contingent of bloggers and smart-aleck reporters for media trade publications. We -- er, I mean, they show up for the free lunch, and we/they will write about any of these people, except, naturally, the panelists. Players, Emeriti, Lunchers, other Reporters -- especially other reporters -- are all boldface names to us.

But there's still one last group. I haven't mentioned it yet because it's unclear how to rank them. In real-world respects, they're probably some of the most important people at the lunch. But in the context of the lunch, they seem almost like afterthoughts. It's the What? group, so named because that's what you involuntary exclaim when seeing one across the room. Spotting these people is the highlight of a The Week lunch, and the What?-ier, the better.

For example, I entered the dining room on Thursday, looking for friends I could eat with, and my eye glanced past -- of all people -- Phillip Seymour Hoffman. What? Tina Louise, clearly, is a What? Richard Meier, the architect, was at the main table with the Sideline Players. Dr. Judy, the radio sex therapist, asked a question. I was told Gay American Jim McGreevey was there. Even Jeff Jarvis was in attendance, typing away at his laptop, despite the event having nothing to do with the transformative power of blogging.

But there were two at today's lunch who, while very different, perhaps outdo all What?s at all The Week lunches.

First, sitting toward the right of the house, Mr. Christopher Walken.

And, sitting house left, none other than Tony Danza.

Who presumably has some deep thoughts on the Middle East.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Scroll the Latest Job Opportunities From The Media Job Board