My drunken heckling of General Petraeus landed me in a spot of bother

But it didn’t elicit any real answers to my questions about such reliable ‘allies’ such as the Saudis and Pakistanis

High Life

14 Apr 2016

New York

Harvey Keitel, the actor, rang up to invite me to a Marine shindig where General Petraeus would be guest speaker. The venue was Carnegie Hall, and I arrived late having had a tough session at the karate dojo. I was also very dehydrated. Next to me was a beautiful young woman by the name of Aimee, who introduced me to her fiancé, a familiar-looking young man with a friendly manner. I looked at his place card and it read ‘Rupert Friend’. That meant nothing to me. Finally, I asked him whether we knew each other. We did not. Still, the guy looked awfully familiar. Aimee untied the Gordian knot. ‘Perhaps you’ve seen him in Homeland, the TV series that got as good as it gets — for a while, anyway.’ The penny finally dropped.

By this time, however, I had consumed three very large glasses of wine and my head was spinning. Harvey, at the next table, made take-it-easy gestures. He was with his wife Daphna, and next to them were Robert De Niro, an acquaintance, and De Niro’s wife Grace. Before the general’s speech there was an auction. By now the wine had turned into Niagara Falls, and even my great friend James Toback, the director, was making the kind of gestures that flight-deck controllers make when trying to land a jet fighter on a pitching aircraft-carrier.

Among the items auctioned was a dinner with De Niro and Keitel and a look-see at one of their movies. It began at $2,000. I bid three. A lady somewhere at the back bid four. Up we went a thousand at a time. Finally, I raised my hand for ten thousand, but ‘with a condition’. ‘Which is?’ asked the auctioneer from Christie’s. ‘That I watch the movie alone without having to eat with the two of them,’ said yours truly. Both Keitel and De Niro broke up. Their wives howled, Grace yelling at me, ‘If only you knew how right you are.’ I didn’t think it was that funny, but the place was going wild. Suddenly, and serendipitously, I heard a desperate woman’s voice over the din: ‘Eleven thousand!’ I was saved. As you’re reading this, she’s probably having dinner with her two heroes. And I must say that it isn’t every day film actors laugh at themselves when a drunk makes a silly joke. But both of these men have a sense of humour to go along with their enormous talent.

My friendship with Harvey Keitel began the first time we met at a Chuck Pfeifer lunch for people who don’t move their lips while reading. It was at a gentlemen’s club in New York about 20 years ago. I asked him what a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn was doing in the Marine Corps instead of ‘being in Wall Street screwing Christians’. He roared with laughter and asked no one in particular, ‘Who is this guy? I like him.’

Well, it was a fun night at Carnegie Hall, not even spoiled by a ghastly neocon by the name of Max Boot interviewing the general and sounding as though a valet were asking the questions. General Petraeus got a very raw deal — only in Anglo-Saxon countries does one lose one’s job for bedding a woman. Boot should stick to fluttering like a moth around celebrity flames and leave the questions to – well – yours truly. I repeatedly interrupted with questions about Pakistan enabling the Taliban to operate with impunity, and about Saudi Arabia having made it possible for thousands of schools it pays for to spread Jihadism around the world. But I didn’t get any real answers. That I understand. The general has to be careful what he says, especially about such reliable ‘allies’ as the Saudis and the Pakistanis.

The evening was not only great fun, it also had some zany moments at the end. On my way out with my friend Chuck Pfeifer — a double Silver Star winner in Vietnam — a man accosted me and in an aggressive manner demanded to know if I were an Iraqi. I replied that, however impossible it was to accomplish, he should go and reproduce himself. He made a move, so I put up my dukes and told him to go ahead and throw the first one. ‘Repeat what you said.’ ‘Go and fuck yourself!’ Nothing. But as Chuck and I walked off he gave the game away by calling me a Greek shit. Fighting at my age should be against any doctor’s orders, but there are always wise guys who don’t like it when someone else is having a good time. Asking famous people hard questions doesn’t endear one either.

So I awarded myself a present that I picked out from an ad in the dear old Spectator, an ad that appears next to this column: a beautiful but very inexpensive Cobra and Bellamy antique watch — they never go out of style — which was delivered to my New York address in a beautiful package. The lady who answered the telephone could not have been more polite, and the watch is beautiful and works like a dream. You see the good things that happen when one drinks after training?


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