Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Keeping Us Ill Informed

Life since Friday has been, more than usual, a living hell.

Friday morning I made the mistake of reading the latest column by my husband Thomas Friedman. Things have not been good between us since the trip to Jersey.

As he goes through bottle after bottle of vitamins as though they are Pez candies and I inch ever closer to the door of freedom (which actually involves keeping our place and sending him packing), I remember something a woman must have told me as a child: "It is work."

That is my first real memory and I am wondering if I have recovered it because it is a message.
Recent events have had me wondering about my own family living in whatever village they live. With mudslides and hurricanes, they may be gone.

Many months ago, I pulled the atlas down from the book case. This was when I was a complete idiot and still believed that if Thomas Friedman said it, it must be true. So I wasted hours looking in vain for "Back Water Village."

Now that I know that was intended as an insult, I know little else and Thomas Friedman always tells me when I ask, "Betinna, you have blocked it all out for a reason. Listen to the great Thomas Friedman."

So when I heard a voice, I like to think it is my mother's, telling me: "It is work" . . . I took it as a sign. No other memories or sound bytes have surfaced thus far but I hold out hope.

And I have tried to follow the words of my mother. Friday, it took three hours, but I made it through Thomas Friedman's latest: "Keeping Us In The Race." I had a nasty bruise on my chin from hitting it three times on the kitchen table as I nodded off while Thomas Friedman molested the English language in a way far worse than I, "ESL Betinna" as Thomas Friedman calls me, ever could.

Having finished the column, I set about doing what Thomas Friedman wrote of, planning a lively dinner that would promote indepth, issue oriented conversation. Knowing that he will not listen to me, I made sure on Friday to invite lively people.

I invited Ty because he is funny and because Thomas Friedman is scared of black brothers so I thought that would help keep Thomas Friedman in line. If one brother, or "bra" as Thomas Friedman insisted upon calling Ty, could keep Thomas Friedman in line, surely two would be even better so I also invited Cedric. Cedric is tall and imposing and just moved into the building. To make sure Thomas Friedman would stay awake, I invited our neighbor Rebecca who usually pretends not to notice that Thomas Friedman drools over her breasts until, as she puts it, he gets too close with that breath more deadly than anthrax. To have someone newsy and well read, I invited dear Gail Collins because I know she spends most Friday nights at home watching America's Most Talented Kid. She claims she's just "really into" reality television but Elaine and I know she uses PAX TV to feel the empty void in her life.

She outed herself on our trip to DC when she wondered what it would be like "to be really glamorous and independent like that Sue Thomas, FB Eye." I invited the new neighbor from across the hall whom I don't know much about except his name is Seth and he's always carrying a book so I figured he must be smart. I figured right because he declined the invitation. I invited Jess because he's always so polite and nice to me and he's real easy on the eyes as well.

Mrs. K was desperate for an invite and dropped hinting as the hours grew closer to the dinner party.

"Betinna," she sobbed, "I cannot take another Friday night of franks and beans and Nicky K."

I hear her. Believe me, I do. But since Thomas Friedman and Nicky K's last encounter ended with Thomas Friedman's hands wrapped tightly around Nicky's neck, I lied and said I had already dangerously exceeded the guest to chair ratio.

She was a good sport and pretended to understand but in the background I could hear Nicky K asking her to pull the TV dinner trays in front of the TV because he felt like watching The Sandlot during dinner one more time.

I was kind of surprised that a woman as smart as she is, married to a columnist for the New York Times, could spend so many empty nights and then I remembered my own sinking boat of a marriage.

At the deli I bumped into a playwright named Ron and thought "How New York!" and immediately invited him to the party on the spot.

I thought I had an interesting mix and was eager for the evening to begin. I had hand washed Thomas Friedman's silk shorty robe and thought not making an issue out of his wearing the robe would make the evening easier. Maybe people would find him avant garde?

He was in the kitchen rifling through the sacks of take out and wondering why we couldn't just have Ritz crackers and canned cheese?

"It's good enough for David E. Sanger and he hangs out at the White House," Thomas Friedman huffed.

I put on some Sade and the guests made small talk while Thomas Friedman kept following me around insisting that if I had to do take out, Mickey Dees has a perfectly suitable dinner menu.
Needing a break from his whining, I lied and said I didn't think Rebecca was wearing a bra tonight.

I didn't see him for a half hour which gave me just enough time to warm everything up and set it out. As I did, Gail Collins saddled up beside me and whispered that she thought Ron had "a Newland Archer quality." Having heard that he was single, I tried to suggest she go talk to him.

"Oh dare I?" she asked giddy with excitement. "Dare I, Betinna, dare I? Can you imagine the passion that could exist between us? The type of passion one only comes across in the novels of Edith Wharton."

"Uh-huh," I said counting the water glasses.

"He would be mad for me, mad, mad, mad. And I for him. And then we would steal away for a private moment."

Private moment?

Who knew Gail Collins had it in her?

I was all ears waiting for the naughty bits to begin.

"He would press his cheek to mine and I would press mine to his. Oh Betinna, the moment could be so magical. And then I would look at him with longing and regret as I declared that for us to stay together would kill what I loved in him most. Just like the Countess tells Archer."

"Damn it, Gail," I said frustrated since she long ago exceeded the sell-date on her own Age of Innocence, "you're not the lead in a period novel. You're a grown woman. You have urges."

Gail giggled nervously as a blush crossed her cheeks and she bowed her head.

Ignoring her, I announced dinner was ready and everyone took their assigned seats.

Right away, Cedric brought up an interesting topic, the committment we need to make to our communities, the need to engage on the most basic level.

Thomas Friedman, staring at Rebecca's chest, offered, "I engage on the most basic level."

Rolling her eyes, lighting up and reaching for the wine bottle, Rebecca attempted to ignore him.

"What I'm saying," Cedric continued, "is that we are our environment."

"Don't be bringing your revolutionary talk to my dinner table, Cedric X," Thomas Friedman snapped.

I tried to convey "Ignore him" with my eyes but I think Cedric was already two steps ahead of me.

"I'm saying that we don't just owe a societal debt, we have a societal investment."

"Watch out for that one," Thomas Friedman said to Ty, "he'll be looting before the night is over."

And that was it for Ty and Cedric who both rose from the table and walked out.

"Hey, who invited the PC police!" Thomas Friedman called out loudly, greatly amused with himself while I implored Jess, Rebecca and Ron to stay a bit more.

Gail Collins was too busy trying to strike coy and demure poses to register anything that was said.

Jess tried to save the evening by talking about the importance of arts.

"Arts, schmarts. Give me Baby Spice shaking it in a tight skirt and that's all the culture I need! You hear me, Rob?"

"Ron," I corrected.

"Hey, what was the deal with Ginger Spice? She was a chunky little plain thing. If I want to see that, I can pop over to Gail's office."

"Oh, Thomas," Gail Collins cooed.

"Ron's a playwright," I said attempting to steer the conversation to some of those higher topics Thomas Friedman spoke of in his column.

"The last good play was Hair," Thomas Friedman said opening another bottle of wine.

"You like musicals, do you?" asked Jess.

"I like boobs. Bouncing boobs. Big boobs. Naked boobs. Naked broads. That's theatre!"

"Oh my," Gail Collins said fanning herself furiously, "It's getting so racy. Betinna, is this a blue party?"

"Ron, what kind of plays do you write?" I asked still thinking I could create that magical, serious dinner discussion that Thomas Friedman had spoken of.

"Well --"

"You got naked broads in 'em?" Thomas Friedman asked drinking straight from the bottle. "Naked broads sell tickets."

"Actually, it's a political play," Ron explained.

"Boring. B-O boring," Thomas Friedman declared leaping to his feet and heading towards Rebecca. "You know what people like? Sexual choreography."

With that Thomas Friedman attempted to thrust his crotch in Rebecca's face repeatedly until she reached over, grabbed him by his testicles and offered, "Kimono boy, you can park it in your chair with everything intact or you can lose these mini-marshmallows right now."

Muttering under his breath, Thomas Friedman returned to his seat while Gail Collins leaned in close to Ron.

"The air is ripe with the the heat of passion. Will you join me on the balconey?" Gail asked Ron.

Before he could reply, Thomas Friedman hollered, "Balconey? It's a fire escape! Good God, Collins, it's like you have 40 Year Old Virgin carved in your frumpy forehead!"

Flushed with anger, Gail Collins nodded to me, "Betinna, I bid you good night."

Attempting to be a gentleman, Ron stood which Gail took to mean he wanted to leave with her.

Clutching him firmly, Gail Collins declared to the confused Ron, "You couldn't be happy if it meant being cruel. If we act any other way I'll be making you act against what I love in you most. And I can't go back to that way of thinking. Don't you see? I can't love you unless I give you up."

As she left sobbing, Ron declared, "She lost me at hello."

Thomas Friedman found that hilarious.

"Jerry MacGuire! Funny movie! With a subtext! Jerry represents Michael Jackson!"

Well it wasn't the pressing issue of how to fix the country or a discussion of the theater but maybe there was still hope for the evening?

"Know what was missing?" Thomas Friedman asked. "Sexy broads. You hear me, Roy?"

"Ron," I again corrected.

"Big boobed, sexy broads," Thomas Friedman said, ignoring me and punctuating his 'critique' with a belch.

"That Renee Zellwigger, she'd shrink the nads with her sour puss face," Thomas Friedman declared downing more wine. "Hollywood ain't go no hot broads? Is that it? All the fine pieces of tail are off making Girls Gone Wild videos? Pretty soon, they'll be left to cast Judy Miller! Anyone else notice that she dropped a ton in jail? Lost the double chins. Looks like she had work done but forgot to fix the boobs!"

Suddenly everyone broke into yawns and noted the late hour before leaving.

"Great dinner," Thomas Friedman declared, scratching his armpit with the neck of a wine bottle. "Great conversation. I could get a column out of tonight. We should do this more often."

And repeat the 20 most embarrassing minutes of my life?

As I cleaned up, Thomas Friedman began ticking off the subjects he felt we'd covered: Freedom of the press (his mention of Judith Miller), the dearth of solid entertainment (the lack of nude women on stage and "hot broads" in movies), Hurricane Katrina (his crack about looting) . . .

As I scraped the plates, I thought again of Mrs. K having to fake enthusiasm over seeing The Sandlot yet again. I thought about the dinner party. And it suddenly hit me that everyone who writes for the Times creates their own myths. It's not just Judy with her WMD coverage, it's everyone. In his columns, Nicky K strikes a brave stance despite being one of the biggest cry babies in the tri-state area. Todd S. Purdum pretends to be close to the action despite the fact that his odor results in everyone backing away, far away, from him. Dexter Filkins pretends that he's traveling up and down Iraq and seeing things with his own eyes.

These bores are the great fakes poisoning our discourse.