Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The tiger or the tiger

There I am, stirring the sweetened, condensed milk into the pumpkin pie filling, trying to keep an eye on the clock to make sure the pie shells don't overcook, trying to figure out how many skillets of corn bread I'll need for my dressing and the phone starts RINGING.

Thomas Friedman's on the couch, in shorty robe, watching TV.

"Could you get that?"

"This is really important," he whines.

"I don't have a spare hand!" I yell.

"But future Archie just met old Archie and Betty and is about to meet old Veronica! I can't walk away until they show Jughead!"

"Lug head," I snap, wiping my hands.

"No, Jughead!"

"I was talking about you," I muttered grabbing the phone.


"Oh, hello, Gail."

It was Gail Collins, not taking in a breath, but she often seems oxygen deprived. Mall's open, but no one's shopping.

Gail was sobbing now. Something about her life should be Austen not Dickens, how hard it was for a woman of class and sophistication to compete with the "hotsy to trot tootsies in this damn town" and how she had the whole day planned, how she would drop subtle hints that she was "betwixed" to David Brooks.

That's the condensed version and I'm just throwing it out there like I tossed the condensed milk into the pumpkin pie filling. There's no need to reflect on it, it's sugary and taking it in straight will turn you diabetic.

"Gail, I've got four pie shells in the oven, cornbread cooking in the cast iron skillet and I'm in the middle of making pie filling. Get to the point?"

"No, Betinna, I can't come to Thanksgiving dinner," Gail said seeing an invitation where none was offered. "Thomas Friedman is destroying my day. He has ruined my day! Ruined!"

It was the damn column. Apparently people still read it, a small audience, but a vocal one. And they weren't pleased. It was as though they asked for turkey and dressing and got a plate of cabbage and candy corn. It wasn't what they wanted and what it was made everyone ill.

"Welcome to my world, Gail."

What did she expect? What did anyone?

"George Bush's Third Term"?

I mean come on. The brain dead have larger thought waves.

Thomas Friedman is an overstuffed ottoman with frill ruffles, stuffing falling out through the tear everyone notices but pretends not to.

"Look, Gail," I said checking the pie shells, "He write 'election day 2005.' I told him to use 'inaugurated.' Just point that out, say 'What the hell does he know anyway?' and I'm sure people will stop screaming at you over the phone."

"It's not just that --"

"Damn it!"

"Betinna, I really don't need attacks from you as well. Davy is wearing his ass pants today and I'm tense enough as it is," Gail sobbed.

"That wasn't at you," I said setting two pie crusts on top of the stove and sucking on a burned thumb.

"Betinna, Davy in his ass pants always gives me the strange tingles."

"Strange tingles." Elaine and I had so much work to do. But at least we'd been able to get her to abandon the term "rump pants." As Elaine told her, "It's an ass, not a roast."

I really didn't have time for this. I didn't have time for Thomas Friedman Monday night, stoked to the brain, bogarting the bong, and convinced that every word was "golden."

"Oh man oh man, I'm golden tonight!" he's squealed. "John Tierney is going to read this and need viagra! Nicky K will whimper like the little mongrel he is. And Bill Keller, oh my God, Betinna, 'The walrus is Paul!' I just got it! 'The walrus is Paul!' Do we have any cheese nips?"

That's how the column read.

I rewrote the whole thing but Thomas Friedman read it the next morning and said it read like Cindy Sheehan emerging from a Herbert Marcuse workshop.

He then worked himself in a tizzy because he had to "ride the wave" of public opinion but he wasn't sure where it was headed. He worked himself up so much he broke the bong.

It was interesting explaining to the attending in the ER how the glass got in his ass. What happened? He sat on it. Was it a bottle? No. Was it a knick knack? No. Was it -- It was a bong! A bong! He sat on his glass bong, now get the glass out of his ass.

The whole time Thomas Friedman just lay there asking, "Can I go now?"

We got back, I thought I could knock out the pies. But no.

As soon as he's stopped feeling guilty ("Did you see the way the doctor looked at me?") over being a "hop-head," Thomas Friedman needed more pot. He can't roll a joint because he gets the tip so wet it's as though it fell in the toilet. He remembers something about William Safire using a honey container shaped like a bear in college. So he's rummaging through the cabinets and cursing at me for buying organic honey in a glass jar.

He's freaking out because "the dude" is about to bid farewell.

"What will the world be without Ted Koppel's Nightline!" he screams over and over.

Finally Dexter Filkins happens by. He was home for the holidays, having caught a flight with Ahmed Chalabi.

"Everything in my life that matters, I can do in a toilet!" Dexter brags.

His mother must be so proud.

He grabs some aluminum foil, disappears in the bathroom for five minutes and emerges with a bong he's fashioned out of the cardboard from a roll of toilet paper.

They take hits on the couch, weeping, as they watch Koppel's final broadcast.

Then they pieced together Thomas Friedman's "George Bush's Third Term." Dexter used every creative writing technique he'd honed in Iraq. So Gail should really be screaming at Dexter. There I was with a burned thumb, food to cook, a huge spread to prepare for tomorrow and I'm dealing with Old Maid On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.

Needing to get off the phone, I reminded Gail that when Davy wore his sock, his pants had a nice bulge in the front.

"Oh, Betinna," Gail half-giggled, half-panted, "you're so naughty. But I did notice a wiggle in front when he was walking --"

"Great, seize the day, Gail, seize the day! Call me tomorrow and let me know how it turned out,"
I said hanging up the phone.

Looking over, I saw Thomas Friedman had wandered into the kitchen and was using the good carving knife to scratch his back. Would that I could hang up on him.