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The quintessential, slightly hoarse upper-class Manhattan honk, Tom Wolfe once theorized in New York magazine, can only be produced by the proper Eastern boarding schools, too many cigarettes over too many years and a great deal of whisky and gin. New York's founding editor Clay Schuette Felker, 51, attended a public high school in Webster Groves, Mo., has never smoked and rarely drinks anything stronger than cambric tea. His accent remains stubbornly and glottally Midwestern nasal. He flunks the honk test.

Nonetheless, Felker's weekly Almanac de Gotham lays down standards of aspiration, acceptance and rejection as rigid as any set by Louis Quatorze. Along with genuinely useful "urban survival" features, it gives the insecure a superior feeling of being inside, offering them a blend of fact and fantasy. It portrays an unreal stream-of-consumption world whose Gucci'd, Pucci'd denizens glide between Parke-Bernet (the t is not silent) and La Grenouille (the maitre d's name is Jean), send their children to the Dalton School, winter in St. Maarten or Gstaad, summer in the Hamptons, patronize the priciest boutiques but also thriftshop, and know exactly where to find the best buys in catered canapés, scuba lessons, English butlers, conversational Italian, take-out lasagna, abortions, exterminators, '76 Beaujolais, yachts, docks, clocks, stocks, rocks, lox and woks. Also rijsttafel, macramé and dog psychologists who make house calls. With all this, plus extramarital affairs to save their marriages and therapeutic sex with their shrinks, New York's New Yorkers lead busy, busy lives.

Clay Felker, the creator and curator of this ineffably rewarding world, screams a lot. He insults people. He falls asleep at dinner parties. His wispy, graying locks go uncombed, his custom-made Savile Row suits look as if they had been bought at a manufacturer's fire sale—they do not disguise his paunch. He is variously described by associates and acquaintances as autocratic, devious, dishonest, rapacious, egotistical, power mad, paranoid, a bully and a boor. Almost in the same breath, the same people call Felker a genius. "He's always been tough, restless and driven," says George A. Hirsch, now publisher of New Times, who quit as publisher of New York after four years of corporate karate with Clay. When New York was still struggling for survival, he adds, "Clay would pace the room, hyperventilating as he does when he's excited, and say, 'I think there's a great chance for us. Maybe we can take over ABC or Time Inc. I don't know how it's done, but I know they do these things.'"

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