The Breakfast Table

Seeing Red


Congress is working hard to avoid a government shutdown?! Wait a minute, I thought the government already was shut down. Ok, let’s say they succeed in averting a true shutdown. How will we know? When every man, woman and child in the country gets a subpoena from Kenneth Starr? Until he investigates Chuck Knoblauch, the guy’s got no credibility with me. (Actually, I forgive Chuck Knoblauch, who prompted the New York Post’s indelicate headline, BLOCKHEAD; it’s his misfortune, after blowing the Yankee game the other day, to be the latest focus of what Scott Spencer called “a city perpetually in the throes of some metropolitan amazement.” I believe he’ll make it up to us against Cleveland tonight.)

Speaking of Congress, I hear that between moving to impeach the president and making fools of themselves, our elected representatives are wrestling over how many billions in aid they should give to farmers. I have always been puzzled about this business of farm bailouts. A writer I know, James Bovard, claims to have calculated that the sum of all farm subsidies, price supports, etc. is sufficient to have purchased the entire capital stock of every single farm in America (at which point we’d all starve, of course, but you get the idea). Besides, why always the farmers? Nobody is organizing any kind of bailout for novelists. We sit here day and night, pecking away to provide food for thought, dependent on the winds of public opinion and the vagaries of Oprah Winfrey, knowing only that whatever we write, it won’t matter. It’s a hard life, believe me. How about some modest tax subsidies to encourageMcDonald’s to distribute novels instead of Snoopy dolls over there in Hong Kong?

Jose Saramago won’t need any such help. You probably saw in today’s papers that he just won the Nobel Prize for literature, good for about a million bucks, which goes a long way in the Canary Islands, where he lives. (He’s a Communist, yet.) What a coincidence that the first of his works to be quoted in the New York Times today is Baltasar and Blimunda, set during the Portuguese Inquisition–this amid our own auto-da-fe in Washington.

Well, I guess I’d better sign off now and see if I can get my own next novel finished; since we’ve resolved to stiff Sloan on this Slate gig, I’ve been feeling guilty. I’m also gonna look into joining the Communist Party, in case it comes in handy someday during prize season. I have a sense that my lukewarm feelings toward collectivized agriculture, reeducation camps and other peculiar features of the workers paradise might be holding me back with the boys in Stockholm. Heck, for $1 million I’d even spend a couple of summers in Pyongyang. I’ll bring the sunscreen if you take care of sandwiches.