The Breakfast Table

Liza Mundy and Michael Schaffer

Dear Mike,

Hello and good morning. We’ve never met–oddly, since we work less than a mile away from each other–but I’ve been thinking about you all weekend, wondering whether and how you’ve been preparing for a week of Breakfast Tables and whether you, too, are the parent of young children and if so whether your attempts at digesting the news are thwarted as often as mine are. Breakfast table! Ha! This morning, I DID resolve to get up early enough to go fetch the papers and read them all, over a cup of coffee, in the cool silence of a household where no one else had yet awakened; the truth, as usual, was much different, seeing as how the alarm clock didn’t go off, thanks to these all-too-common Northern Virginia power outages, which had derailed the settings, with the result that rather than waking up before my children I was awakened BY my children, with their various early-morning demands involving chocolate milk served in complicated and if I do say so, slightly obsessive-compulsive sippy-cup-and-lid arrangements. Without boring you further, let us just say it was downhill from there, starting with a visit from the plumber that I’d forgotten I’d scheduled, and culminating in the p.a. announcement, as I was riding on the Metro into work, that “There’s a sick passenger on the train up ahead and we’ll be holding here until they decide what the medical emergency is.” At that point–still never having met you–I began wondering, “How is Mike’s morning going? As badly as mine? How does he get himself out of the house in the morning? How do other people manage their lives?” Sitting there helplessly on the train, I told myself that here, at least, was a chance to focus, really focus on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (“JDS Uniphase reached an agreement to acquire rival fiber-optics from SDL for about $41 billion in stock”) but instead found myself thinking, with fascination: a sick passenger? What sort of sickness? A heart attack? A vomiting episode? How did the other passengers react? How is the person now? Why, with all the thousands of people who take the Metro each day, are there not sickness episodes all the time? Statistically, how does that work? And is Metro still having those unnerving fires? Now that I’ve been delayed by a sick person, am I less likely to get caught in a fire? Statistically, how does THAT work?

Since we are both Washington denizens, I’m thinking that in addition to (doubtless) making sense of great national issues such as campaign finance reform and the Israeli-Palestinian summit and the selection of vice-presidential candidates, we can hash out some local issues this week such as: What is with Metro, anyway? Everybody thinks it’s terrible, but I continue to think it’s great: fast, efficient, with all these passengers sitting there reading the most diverse books and publications, everything from Anna Karenina to the Economist to the Bible. This morning I watched a guy page carefully through the Financial Times, reading every last paragraph of every article, and thought: Now, here is a well-informed person who, in a just universe, should really be doing Breakfast Table, not me. (Normally I am philosophically opposed to reading people’s shoulders on Metro, but I do enjoy eavesdropping on people with cell phones, listening as they say things like, “We just pulled away from Courthouse. We’re pulling into Clarendon now” and wondering who they’re talking to and why that person would possibly care.) I’m also thinking we could merge national and local issues and spend some time complaining about the White House’s continued barricading of Pennsylvania Avenue. At the same time, I hope that we get some decent off-the-beaten-track news items like those I’ve noticed in recent weeks: the history exam that all those Ivy Leaguers failed a couple of weeks ago, or the snippet I noticed a month or so ago, buried deep in the A section of the newspaper I work for, saying that the military had suddenly recalculated the casualties of the Korean War and found that they were not in the 50 thousands but in the 30 thousands (How do stunning clerical errors like that get made? And why was that not a front page item? I mean, the Korean War really was a conflict! And we buried this in a snippet? I don’t understand anything!). Or even the Venus-Serena Williams matchup of last week, a matchup that raised the eternal, pressing question: Why is it that women tennis players often are coached by their fathers but men tennis players are almost never coached by their mothers?

Well, it’s past the filing deadline, so I’ll go ahead and send this, hoping, incidentally, that it’s true that we haven’t met, and that you weren’t by any chance … could it be possible … no, I’m sure it wasn’t you … the person in the Metro car this morning … ???

At any rate, I hope the day goes more smoothly for all of us.

Look forward to hearing from you.

All best,