The Breakfast Table

Merrill Markoe and Todd Hanson

Dear Merrill,

Good morning! It’s an honor to share breakfast conversation with one of the few people the disgruntled smartasses of my formless generation can genuinely look up to as a formative influence. So, it was with particular pleasure that today, as I do every day, I padded across the floors of my suburban Long Island home in my color-coordinated L.L. Bean slippers, pajamas, and bathrobe matching set, sat down in my spacious breakfast nook over my customary English muffin and marmalade, took a sip of this delightful Turkish blend my wife and I picked up in the most adorable little catalogue we found, and began flipping through the day’s periodicals in search of something pithy and clever to ruminate upon. And boy did I find it! It looks like the Gore camp is really in a tizzy over the latest …

Er … ah, AHEM. OK. So I’m lying. I, uh, don’t live a life anywhere remotely near what I gather the average reader of Slate must be like. (No offense, everybody.) To be honest, I was up until about 4 or 5 a.m., as I am almost every night, watching Space Ghost cartoons in a drugged haze, after seriously pissing off my editor by turning in the week’s Onion assignments really, really late. Since, like many self-hating depressives, I don’t normally even get out of bed until at least noon, it sure felt weird dragging myself into the corner store to buy the morning editions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (for some reason they didn’t have the Washington Post) for the first time in, gee, um, oh, say, my entire life (I generally do get around to reading USA Today, but that’s because I get paid to make fun of it) and wondering just how a longhair dropout like myself somehow ended up, for this one week anyway, being an actual official employee (of sorts) of our man Bill Gates, the Richest Guy in the Freaking Universe.

But I did find something wonderful, actually, and right on the front page of the Journal: the profile on Takahito Sakurai, the Tokyo composer who creates the music that announces the arrival and departure of Japan’s commuter trains. Because the schedule is so busy, each composition has to be only seven seconds long, but he still considers it his mandate to make each one of them True Art. Too cool. When you consider that Japan is also the center of something called the Osaka Noise Scene, a sort of hardcore punk based solely on feedback and industrial sounds played at screeching, distorted levels, you get a situation where the tie-wearing salarymen (a great word) are listening to seven-second music on the platform and the punk kids are listening in bars to extended hour-long jams that sound exactly like a screeching, out-of-control train. It’s this sort of postmodern news story that I love the most, because you’re not sure if it makes you want to laugh or cry. (My favorite type of found comedy any day.)

Also, I realize we’re supposed to keep this current and newsy, and this is definitely an old story by now, but I just have to ask what you think about the whole Death of Irony debate that everybody was talking about a while back. As a Master Ironist yourself, you must have had some thoughts about this character Jedediah Purdy or Jed Clampett or Tom Joad or whatever his mame is. I myself thought it’d be cool to take out a full-page ad someplace as an “Open Letter” to the guy from the Onion staff saying “Dear Purdy: We’re sorry. We were just trying to be funny. We only wanted people to like us. We promise not to do it again,” etc, but I can’t afford a full page of the paper I work for, let alone of a publication a sincere, earnest gentleman of his ilk would be likely to read.