In the newspaper biz there is an expression, "burying the lede," which means to put the most important part of the story, which typically should be close to the beginning, deep in the body of the article. If I come home from work, say hello to the wife, putter around a bit, then suddenly remember some bit of exciting news, I might say, "Whoops honey—I buried the lede."
Sometimes burying the lede is done intentionally, to provide a bit of flair at the end—"a kicker," to use another journalistic term. And sometimes, I believe, the writer just doesn't seem to realize how incredible a certain fact is, and it ends up stranded in the middle of the story.
This was the case in the New York Times article "The House That Calvin Built," splashed across the top two-thirds of the front page of the SundayStyles section this past Sunday, with a huge photo of the $75 million house that fashion designer Calvin Klein is buliding in Southhampton, New York. It is your general Rich-Man-Builds-House story, chronicling the five years the project has taken, the reaction of neighbors.
A neighbor I spoke with who started the lengthy story bailed out before getting to the amazing part. I stuck with it for the same reason anybody reads these stories, to feel a shimmer of the warmth of the super wealthy. And there were delights that kept you reading. The Klein spokesman's fussy refusal to comment on the matter: "At this time, Calvin really doesn't want to participate in any editorial on the house." At first I thought the spokesman didn't grasp the difference between an editorial on the editorial pages and a puff piece in the style section. But, upon consideration, I realized his reply just reflected fashionspeak for the words that go around photos. It's all "editorial" to them, and he might have a point there.
The wonder didn't occur—and I guess I'm burying the lede myself here, though I consider it providing context—until the 30th paragraph, when author Jacob Bernstein, following a description of the former mansion on the site being chopped up and carted away, serves up this stunner:
After that, a life-size mock-up of the two story house was built of plywood on the property. That project was so substantial that it required a building permit from the Village of Southampton and wound up costing approximately $350,000, according to two sources close to Mr. Klein. So that Mr. Klein could get an even better idea of what it was to be like, the furniture he had in mind was created of foamcore.Have you ever heard of such a practice in your life? Have you ever imagined it? Of course not. I truly believe, if you locked F. Scott Fitzgerald, Barbara Cartland and P.G. Wodehouse in a room and charged them with dreaming up the most indulgent follies of the rich they could imagine, they would never come up with that image—the plywood sample house — not in a hundred years. The faux tester house, with its foam furniture, built so Calvin Klein can wander through and make sure that everything is Just So before the real house gets built.
That's a big drawback of being rich, I believe—I'm guessing here, but I feel fairly confident. Wealth gives you the illusion that you can have everything Just So, everything to your liking, all the time, and allows you to go to ridiculous lengths to try to get it. Not to take anything away from Calvin Klein. As a young man, I owned one of his bomber jackets and was immensely proud to have it. And now, his boxers and undershirts—just the best. Wouldn't wear another brand; nothing else will do. So he earned his money, and if he feels compelled to spend it in such a patently crazy, controlling and almost sad fashion, well, there you go. If I read of the plywood dry run house in a Christopher Buckley novel I'd smile, shake my head and think that Buckley had gone a bit over-the-top, and strayed into overbroad parody. That it is instead a factual occurrence is a matter of wonder, and deserves the widest possible dissemination.
To read the entire New York Times piece on Calvin Klein's house, click here.