The Breakfast Table

Smoke-Detecting Beetles and Gold-Rubbing Celebs

OK, here goes, under the gun of an editorial meeting, in 20 minutes’ time, to discuss the previous week’s acquisitions, proposals, paperback deals, foreign-rights deals, etc. Or, as my son used to say, “and etc.” Sometimes in these editorial meetings, people are very curt: Last week, someone described a proposal about the economics of the Far East, and one of his colleagues responded, “That’s just a magazine piece. What makes you think it could be an entire book?” To which the proposer replied, “Why don’t you take a look at it yourself?” These meetings are often fun, too, but they are not un-tense; they give you a small taste of what it must be like to be a diplomat: The size and shape of the table creep into the actual substance of the discussion, the seating pattern and its variations imply fault lines and new alliances, the “jokes” speak volumes.

Breakfast is diplomacy, too, as it turns out, so after our first fight I solicitously ask you, Did you sleep well, dear? Was your event fun? Do you think all men are handsome in black tie, or is it just me? Before Tina Brown arrived at The New Yorker, I hadn’t had a tux on for work in 23 years; the first year she was there, I and my colleagues were trotted out to six or seven such affairs. They were always far less and more fun than I expected them to be: less because the official parts of them were so punitively tedious, more because of the kinds of social and professional subtleties touched upon, delicately, I hope, in Paragraph 1. Your Barkin/Perelman rumor is excellent, even if it throws me into even greater-than-usual self-absorption by making me lament that no gold-digger or -rubber would ever bother with my pins. Do you know either of the principals? Do you by any chance know Catherine Zeta-Jones? I know you have only the best show-biz connections, so I’m hoping to turn this brief liaison to good stargazing effect.

But it’s too early for me to indulge too deeply in such rich gossipy fare. My speed at this stage is the “Science Times,” especially today’s edition, with its wonderful piece, by Warren Leary, I believe, about a beetle that has a smoke detector in its antennae that tells it when there’s a forest fire and whether a certain tree, Pinus sylvestris, is on fire, so that it can fly–as far as 30 miles–and get a head start on the other beetles that might want to lay its eggs in this dead or dying tree. Some of the eggs hatch the following fall, some the fall after, some the fall after that–in case there are no convenient forest fires for any given batch to keep the ol’ DNA rolling along.

Any analyst could tell you immediately how tight a knot is tied by your Perelman/Larkin bit and my beetle fascination, I’m sure.

Your turn.