It's Men of the Year time, and the magazine that gave us the concept, Time, offers up as its selection (Dec. 26-Jan. 2) John Paul II, who "towered in moral stature over everyone else visible on the world stage." Hasn't that been the case every other year he's been pope, too? Of course, in 1994 he published a best seller for the first time. Good thing Faye Resnick doesn't tower in moral stature.
Rolling Stone (Dec. 29-Jan. 12) also gets in the act, picking David Letterman as its Big Guy. But why this year? OK, Dave's the funniest man on television; but last year, when he made the switch from NBC to CBS, was when he was hotter than hot -- and last month, Jay Leno almost overtook him in the ratings. Nonetheless, Fred Schruers' profile conveys Dave in all his variousness. We get sweet-tempered Dave, letting bygones be bygones with Madonna ("I realized that whatever brought her to that other place was not the real her"). We get workaholic Dave (he puts in 13-hour days at the office). We even glimpse a creature otherwise invisible to the naked eye, sensitive-guy Dave (he talks about the splattering of his relationship with Merrill Markoe).
Best of all, Mr. Schruers captures the American Gothic essence of late-night talk and its Midwestern monarchs. "Letterman shares with Johnny Carson a certain irreducible farm-belt loneliness. His jaggedly sarcastic grin and mock-angry stares speak of human distances, not connections."
Others have remarked on this element before, noting the sense of isolation that underlies all the seeming conviviality, but no one has articulated it better. Johnny sprang from where Charles Starkweather bonds with Hugh Hefner (murderous rage beneath Velveeta hedonism), and Dave belongs in an updated "Winesburg, Ohio," embracing irony -- and the deracination it brings -- as a gap-toothed antidote to despair.
At home with art
The January Architectural Digest is all English, all the issue. After a while, so many gently rolling greenswards without and oak-paneled walls within begin to blur. Look at enough country estates or Belgravia flats, and mobile homes acquire a certain visual piquancy. Of particular local interest, though, is AD's visit to the London digs of Malcolm Rogers, the new director of the Museum of Fine Arts. Mr. Rogers is not a chaste aesthetic, and his apartment betrays its owner's cheerful acquisitiveness as well as his fine eye. "This is beauty on a budget," Mr. Rogers protests; but with budgets like this (if the Van Dycks are any indication), who needs the Pentagon?
Douglas and the snowman
Compare the January covers of Vanity Fair and the Atlantic Monthly. VF has Michael Douglas. The Atlantic has a snowman. Oh, you groan, this is one of those Litlife set-ups: a glamorous, exciting monthly pitted against a staid, boring monthly. Quite the contrary. "Disclosure," the movie that Mr. Douglas is on the cover to plug, has already been out a couple of weeks, hasn't done much either critically or at the box office and, ho hum, who cares now? More to the point, who cares about Mr. Douglas' carefully contrived soul-baring ("I'd always harbored a lot of anger. . . . I don't want to do that anymore. It's a false flow of energies, equally damaging as cocaine").
Now snow, which soon enough will be general over much of the East Coast, is a part of everyone's life, something we all must deal with and, when you look at it close up, pretty amazing stuff. Certainly, Cullen Murphy makes it far more enticing than any dimple-chinned movie star. Mr. Murphy ventured out to Santa Fe this year for the annual meeting of the Western Snow Conference, a gathering of scientists, public officials and such, bringing back a blizzard of information. Did you know that it's impossible to prove that no two snowflakes are alike? That a 2-foot square of snow 10 inches deep will contain a million or so snowflakes? That glaciers cover 10 percent of the globe's land surface? Or that 75 percent of water used for irrigation in the West comes from melting snow? There's much more where that came from, and the information gets a very satisfying disclosure indeed. No false flow of energies here.