Thursday, June 16, 2005

Let's Talk About Thomas Friedman

Quicker than he cry out "Gut check time!" and faster than he can string together a whole host of half-baked Mc-Ideas on how to have it his way in a flat world, Thomas Friedman finally managed to prove to people passing by that he wasn't John Bolton, but that he was possibly something far, far worse.

There we were, Wednesday morning, on our way to the Second Avenue deli he liks so much, he was talking real fast, rubbing his belly while he spoke of, "Rice pudding! Rice pudding! Betinna, I'm going to get me some rice pudding!" when it finally happened.

"Aren't you Thomas Friedman?" an elderly woman asked approaching us.

I don't know who was more shocked, Thomas Friedman or me.

This never happens. Trust me, this never happenes. When he's announced for a book signing, the two or three people that turn out for it generally know he's Thomas Friedman but despite all of his talk of "a cabbie from Bejing," "an elevator operator from Belfast," "a taxidermist from Belgium," no one ever recognizes him.

They mistake him for John Bolton a great deal. It's the mustache and I have tried and tried to get him to lose it. He thinks it makes him look distinguished. I think it makes him look like he's part of the Ant Hill Mob in search of Penelope Pitstop, but hey, I'm just the wife.

So that a woman recognized him was a huge deal. Even the born with a finger on the bragging trigger Friedman was at a loss for words for about thirty seconds.

And that's all it took for her to rolls up her newspaper and hit Thomas Friedman over his big snout with it.

"You're a stupid, stupid man!" the elderly woman spat before walking out.

It was like something out of The Runaway Bride but when I said that to Thomas Friedman and told him he was like Richard Gere, that only angered him more.

"Oh and who's Julia Roberts? Judith Miller!" he whined. "I am America's sweetheart! I am! I am!"

Not today, Thomas Friedman, not after "Let's Talk About Iraq" which seems to have angered everyone from the five burroughs of NYC and beyond.

We never made it to the deli. After about the twenthieth person accosted Thomas Friedman on the street, we hailed a taxi and went home. Apparently some days, the only thing to do is sulk in the safety of your shorty robe which is exactly what Thomas Friedman proceeded to do.

"Why do they hate me!" Thomas Friedman sobbed.

"Come now," I said trying to point out the obvious, "You've given them good reason."

Thomas Friedman glared at me, asked me if I'd been taking my vitamins but then went back to focusing on himself.

"It's not my fault that stinking liberals have no plans!"

"Now Thomas Friedman, you do not know that. That is why you are in trouble. You go off half-cocked making your half-baked statements in your half-assed way and it comes back to bite you in the ass. Just because your paper doesn't report on something doesn't mean it has not happened."

"That is it!" Thomas Friedman hollered. "It is because of the paper! It is not because of me! I am still the toothsome sweetheart of America! I am just trapped in a stupid vehicle like when Julia Roberts had to promote I Love Trouble!"

"Thomas Friedman," I said evenly, "no one forced you to endorse that we go into Iraq with overwhelming force. There are people who think we do not belong there. That we shouldn't be there. That having made the mistake of invading and occupying we should now do the right thing and get the hell out so that the Iraqis can decide their own fates."

"Nonsense! They are a backwards people, not unlike yourself. What would they do if we did not tell them what to do?"

Thomas Friedman is never wrong. It is always everyone else in the world. Living with Thomas Friedman, that's one of the first lessons you learn.

By late afternoon, after he's spent the entire day watching Passions, The Young and the Restless and Green Acres while eating his beloved cheese in a can directly out of the can and getting most of it on his shorty robe, Thomas Friedman was a mess, a sobbing mess.

Thinking maybe this was the time to attempt to reach him, to provide him with a dose of reality of what the left did and did not think, I logged onto the computer and hunted down "Should This Marriage Be Saved?"

I'm thinking maybe this will help him understand what some on the left think and how insane his remarks were. But he keeps interrupting over and over with "Who's Sandy?"

"Sandy is Iraq!" I scream after the fourth time I've had to stop to explain to him. "The speaker is the United States! Sandy is Iraq! The marriage is the occupation! Jesus, you're supposed to be a writer! Can't you follow an analogy!"

"You don't have to be so huffy," Thomas Friedman says miffed, smoothing the edges of his shorty robe.

"Look, this is the part that's about you. Do you want to listen?"

"Me?" Thomas Friedman asks excitedly. "Oh read it! Read it, Betinna!"

So I do:

"You've got to make it work!" that's what I get told. And like last Sunday my friend Tommy, well he's not really my friend. I don't even care for him. I don't know why he's always showing up telling me what I need to do. I'm not so sure he even knows what he should do himself. But he always issues these proclamations like some coach from Hoosiers morphed into Dr. Phil with a dash of Sally Jessy Raphael. Or something.
So Tommy's blustering to me, "Improv time is over. This is crunch time. This marriage will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won't be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile." I don't even know what that means! I don't think he knows either. I would've asked him but I was afraid that he'd babble on some more, you know?
I mean, I just wanted to get away from Tommy. Trust me, a lot of people feel that way. It's not just me. I was all, "Uh huh, later Tommy."
Then I bump into Nick. Now Nick seems like a good guy. I don't doubt that he cares, but we're always getting into disagreements because Nick is the type who makes these "universal truth" statements but often doesn't have all the facts. I'm sure you know someone like that. (Hopefully, you aren't someone like that!) He's the type who'll say, "No one ever cared about foreign athletes until the missionaries went ___" wherever. And you can say, "Woah, Nicky! That's not true. The Olympics have been going on for decades! Longer even!" But he's just read something about some missionary and he's convinced that history has just begun or something. He means well. That's what I try to remember, that he means well.
So Nick weighs in with, "If you leave too soon, Sandy will fall apart. There are areas that aren't strong enough to take this, areas in Sandy." Or like, "Sandy could sink into this really dark period and do you know about mortality rates in a situation like this, because I do!!!!" And then he's giving these examples that he just read and I'm already tuning him out.
I pay attention when I hear him say something like, "Granted, my argument for staying the course is a difficult one to make to you when your immediate concern is your own life. There's no getting around the fact that if you stay, you will be unhappy at best. And at worst, who knows . . ."
I think he's going back into morality rates. I don't know. I nod and stand there thinking about what I need to pick up at the grocery store.
"I also have to concede," he begins and that gets my attention because I always forget he uses that language not to make a real concession, but as a debating ploy, "that this friend of yours who's saying you should just end it may in the end be proven right: perhaps you and Sandy will stick it out and even so end up divorcing? After squandering both of your lives, both of your dreams."
Nick means well, but he really loves the sound of his own voice, so I hurry away while he's still yammering on about how the marriage has left Sandy "desperately vulnerable and it would be inhumane to abandon . . ."
I'm just trying to get back home, you know? Wow! That works on so many levels. Talk about insight. Anyway, so then I bump into the Billy Goat Gruff, you know the type. I'm sure there's at least one who lives in your neighborhood. Willie's always screaming, "Turn down that music!"

"Do you get it, Betinna!" Thomas Friedman exclaims interrupting me.

I sigh thinking that at least he's understood, he's grasped an idea that never made the pages of the paper he works for.

"I was top-billed! Not Nicky K! Not William Safire! And Judy Miller isn't even mentioned!"

Thomas Friedman was dancing a little jig on the shag rug carpet, his shorty robe flying up and down as he jerked his body with a kind of energy one doesn't expect in a stocky man of his age.

"Top-billed! Because I am America's sweetheart! I am!"

Want to talk Thomas Friedman? That's Thomas Friedman. From the beginning to the middle to the end, it always has to be about him. He'll never learn anything that hasn't been trumpeted on the pages of his paper and he'll never move beyond focusing on himself.

Ripping off his shorty robe, he ran out into the hall screaming, "I am America's sweetheart!"

I didn't hear of him or from him until nine hours later when the vice squad called. Now I've got to go all the way crosstown to bail him out of jail because he got picked streaking up and down Lexington Avenue.

And that, in a nutshell, is life with my husband Thomas Friedman.