• Phantasmagoric 'Ghosts'

    The best show on Broadway opened last week 20 blocks north of Times Square, at the Metropolitan Opera. If "The Ghosts of Versailles" were a musical, a producer would exclaim to artistic director James Levine, "We have a hit on our hands, J.L.!" The crime is that it won't draw the vast audience of "Les Miserables" or "Cats": to borrow a line from one of its characters, Louis XVI, "It's only an opera. " ...
  • The Year Of Yeltsin

    Like a conqueror galloping in from the steppes, Boris Yeltsin claimed the office that Mikhail Gorbachev had occupied when he was general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Then Yeltsin mounted his assault on Gorbachev's last stronghold: the Kremlin, about half a mile away. He went to Gorbachev's third-floor presidential office in the old fortress on Red Square to accept what amounted to the surrender of his archrival. "It's over," Yeltsin told his staff when he returned two hours later. "Mikhail Sergeyevich himself will make a statement in the near future." ...
  • The Christmas Star--Or Was It Planets?

    As sure as mid-December brings out eggnog and enough bearded men in Ared suits to make you believe in cloning, so it inclines astronomers' thoughts to the Star of Bethlehem--the "Christmas Star" that led the Three Magi to visit Jesus in the manger. There has never been a shortage of ideas: 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler put his money on a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C. which, he thought, would have caused a star to explode. More recent notions have centered on novas (stars that suddenly grow brighter), such as one in 5 B.C. This holiday season, a British scientist makes the case for a comet, while an astronomer at Case Western Reserve University argues for a planetary conjunction. Both imply that the tinsel should be stashed near the Easter baskets: the comet as well as the conjunction appeared in the springtime. ...
  • Vote Bong Bong

    Is the political future of the Philippines named Bong Bong? There's much talk that the fun-loving son of Ferdinand and Imelda will again bring the Marcos name to prominence. Rumor has Bong Bong running next year for governor of Ilocos Norte province--an office he held once before. Some think he will later aim for the presidency. But many think Bong Bong is too much of a social butterfly to be taken seriously.
  • A Moment Of Joy

    Rosalie Johnson wasn't expecting a memorable Christmas. She lives at Jamaica Armory, a homeless shelter operated by New York City. So the Christmas dance at St. Mary's Church in Queens earlier this month was a special occasion. It was also special because of her hosts: homeless men at the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence in Queens. They organized the affair--complete with mistletoe, a cappella singers and a rap group--for residents and women from shelters around the city. Everyone danced. Some made plans to get together again with those they met. "Just because I'm homeless doesn't mean I can't have a social life," said Calventi Harriot, another guest. For others, Christmas will be unspeakably bleak. A 28-city survey released last week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that 15 percent of those seeking emergency shelter were turned away this year.
  • Life After Cuomo: Trouble For Bush

    When New York Gov. Mario Cuomo exited from a presidential race he had never entered, there were Republicans--and Democrats--ready to declare the contest over and to anoint George Bush for four more years. "Cuomo was by far the Democrats' best candidate," said GOP strategist John Sears. Democratic lamentations were long and loud. Cuomo was a "towering symbol," said Rep. John Lewis. The Democrats "missed a big opportunity," said Democratic consultant Greg Schneiders. The faithful treated Cuomo's valedictory in Albany last week as a bittersweet elegy to what might have been. ...
  • Through A Glass, Darkly

    Something happened to me the other night while I was closing down the bar that I tend, and it's been nagging at me. It was late, there were only a few people left in the bar and I was sitting down to a nightcap of a shot and beer. Suddenly an older man stuck his head in the door and shouted this holiday greeting: "Hey, everybody, you're all a bunch of f-ing Scrooges ... every one of you!" Then he disappeared. At that, someone at the bar turned to me and said, "Only in New York. . ." I beg to differ. I think the man with the rude words was on to something. And I don't think it's happening just in New York City. ...
  • Dirty Pictures

    In California, anything can be art-even smog. Environmental artist Kim Abeles is making "smog sculpture" out of treated Plexiglas on which she layers paper stenciled with a human heart or lungs. Then she places the Plexiglas outside to collect the kind of debris southern Californians breathe every day. After 30 days she removes the paper--and what's left is a sculpture created out of particulates. Abeless smog-art project, sponsored by the California consumer-affairs department's auto-repairs bureau, is meant to remind folks to obey anti-smog laws. What's next: Weight Watchers sponsored "cellulite art"?
  • Some Bargains Come Only With Age

    Is someone on your gift list feeling badly about getting older? Try tucking Unbelievably Good Deals & Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50 (Contemporary Books. Paper, $795) under the Christmas tree. Author Joan Rattner Heilman lists scores of reasons for never denying your age, from discounts on air fares and hotels to ski trips, bike tours and even "sleepaway" camps for seniors. At 60 you can get a free pet from Purina (including vet visits and food), and at 62, you can qualify for free lifetime admission to any national park. You can also volunteer to be a national park guide, perform public works in Israel or fight pollution for the EPA. ...
  • Tootsie Pop

    Donald and Marla were playing footsie last week, but it wasn't at a cozy table for two. During a row in a Washington hotel lobby, according to The Washington Post, a well-heeled Maples threw her shoes at Trump as guests looked on. She also tossed her 7.5-carat rock. Marla's spokesman said it was just a minor disagreement and that she was merely being " playful." They went dancing right afterward and to church the next day. Maybe everyone should put a sock in it.
  • Love Ya, Baby

    China is back in Hollywood looking for movie deals. Before the 1989 uprising, the Chinese were hawking their country as an exotic locale for making movies. Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" and Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" were shot there. Tiananmen Square brought an abrupt halt to such coproductions. Now, Hollywood seems to have softened its stance. A team from the China Film Co-Production Corp. will soon visit several studios, including United Artists and Warner Bros. One possible project: a new James Bond film.
  • A Magical Mystery Tour

    The athlete dying young is a popular figure in all the darker crevasses of our minds. It assures us that, yes, there is a Jehovah, and also that nobody is ever that strong, that sure, that safe-not Ernie Davis, not Harry Agganis, not Babe Didrikson Zaharias. And AIDS, we know, takes no prisoners. So there is something terribly unsettling, surreal, about seeing Magic Johnson now, moving about the court, as athletic and commanding as ever he was-cutting, dribbling, shooting, working up a good sweat. It must be Tom Sawyer at his own funeral. Or James Dean, popping out of the crumpled Porsche in his red jacket and saying, see kids, don't drive too fast. Or Lou Gehrig moving to the microphone and saying, look, rather than dying just now and having a disease named after me, I'm going to hang around and be a spokesman about this awhile instead. ...
  • Big Man On Campus

    As usual, all's quiet on the set-and off. Woody Allen is currently shooting his latest project, which is about the only information the overly protective director is willing to divulge. Even an official from Barnard College in Manhattan, where parts of the unnamed movie are being filmed, was turned down after daring to ask to see a script. Allen can't hide the fact, however, that he recently replaced British actress Emily Lloyd with Juliette Lewis, the pouty teenage daughter in "Cape Fear." And we also know that Allen and Lewis play a writing professor and student. But do they engage in extracurricular activities together? Cut!
  • Short Chic

    The Goldilocks of "PrimeTime Live" has always liked being on the cutting edge of journalism. Last week ABC's Diane Sawyer took shear delight in acquiring a new short coiffure, but professed astonishment at the media curiosity it aroused. "I do a year doing investigative reporting," she said, "and you call about my hair. What's this world coming to?" Sawyer did not disclose how long it took to trim her famous mane, but chances are it was something more than 60 minutes.
  • Any Family Can Make History

    Years ago my mother and I sat talking at my kitchen table while a portable recorder taped our conversation. I had decided to make an oral history of our family while there was still time and memory. My mother was born in Berlin in 1902. When Hitler came to power in 1933, she and my father fled to Holland; two years later they came to the United States. The family that stayed behind died in the Holocaust. ...
  • Conspiracy-Theory Edition

    Was Oliver North on the Grassy Knoll? Did Castro push Robert Maxwell over the rail? Wasn't that James Earl Ray with George Bush in Paris in October 1980? PLOTS Conventional Wisdom Grassy Knoll No hay there. JFK buffs have moved on to Mumbling Woman and the Three Tramps. Oct. Surprise Sources very dubious. But CW still likes the smell of treason in the morning. M. L. King Plot Jesse Jackson, in foreword to J. E. Ray's new book, calls for spec. prosecutor. Why not? Pearl Harbor Did FDR know? CW's so weary of the 50th anniversary, it doesn't care anymore. R. Maxwell Old CW: Capt. Bob killed for fortune. New CW: Capt. Crook walked his own plank. Moon Landing Staged in a studio? Millions thought '69. Oliver Stone, call your office.
  • Buzzwords

    Between grunts and groans, here's how furniture movers talk: What movers call their profession. Usage: "Hey, Moe, how many years you been humpin'?"Overstuffed furniture. "Load all the O.S. onto the truck first."Carrier Packed. When the company does your packing for you.When a customer lives on an upper floor of a highrise building. "That move was hell. She lived way up in the air in that new coop on 59th Street." To lift a piece of furniture in order to get it through a tight space. "Yeah, hook that sofa right, then jack it and we're home free."
  • Stamps

    Out of bounds: the Columbus, 0hio, post office, for its unconventional Christmas greeting. You know those cheery "Season's Greetings" messages printed over the canceled stamps on letters you receive in December? Well, some joker in Columbus inserted the phrase "You Bitch" into the stamp-voiding machine. So 12,000 letters left the post office emblazoned with this Yuletide message. "We had intended to have holiday greetings," explained post office spokesman Ed Johnson, who says the prankster will be disciplined. "It turned out ... different."
  • A Troublemaker For Our Times

    It's only a movie," Alfred Hitchcock once said, calming the concerns of Kim Novak and putting his scarifying visions into tidy perspective. Hitch was right, of course, and wrong. No movie is only a movie, and least of all Oliver Stone's JFK, which is destined to become fodder for every op-ed writer in the country. Stone's movie puts the critic-and the audience-in a strange, indeed absurd, position: we are asked not only to pass judgment on its virtues as an entertainment but to hand down a judgment on history, which in this case means rendering a verdict on the CIA, the FBI, military intelligence, anti-Castro Cubans, Lee Harvey Oswald, Clay Shaw, LBJ and everyone else who is in one way or another implicated in the conspiracy that, Stone argues, resulted in the murder of our 35th president in Dealey Plaza. ...
  • I'll Have Water. And Make It A Double

    Japan, the land of a million trends, gets more like California every day. At Tokyo's wildly popular Aqua Bar, you can't buy a beer or slow-gin fizz; you can only purchase mineral water--and cheap it isn't. Patrons fork out up to 550 yen ($4.30) for a carafe of any number of mineral-water brands. At first, Aqua Bar was frequented mostly by young, black-turtleneck types. Now everyone goes. Recently a group of teenagers came in. Each ordered a different brand and then they held a water-tasting contest.