The Breakfast Table

Space Turd

Dear Nick,

Are there no fact checkers at this breakfast table? Yesterday I identified the female astronaut whose career was wrecked by John Glenn in the early 60s as Jessie Cobb, when she is in fact Jerrie Cobb. I have just learned that a petition is circulating to pull Glenn out of his space suit and replace him with Cobb, which would be, if NASA accedes to the petition, the biggest victory for women-as-a-class in this dreary election season.

Not that I want to deprive us of a ticker tape parade, if that is indeed what is at stake. You will have noticed, Nick, that the worst thing about the present moment, from a media-industry point of view, is that we have no single scandal, crisis, royal drunk driving death or celebrity murder trial to enliven the talk shows and “bring us all together, ” a la OJ, for example, or Monica. Right after the Gulf War, social scientists coined a term for these things–“rally events”–and they have become the essential nutrient that sustains people like Geraldo and Larry King (who was reduced last night to a snore-filled full hour of Frank Gifford reflecting on his life and loves). Without a rally event-of-the-moment, journalists in general grow peckish and anxious–hence no doubt the relentless flogging of John Glenn’s excellent adventure. For a moment there, it looked as if the Glenn launch might make the cut–because hurricane Mitch was glowering at Cape Canaveral, or Kennedy or whatever it is. Imagine the thrilling countdown for a Mitch vs. John match. But Mitch has been downgraded to Category 3 and is heading for Mexico anyway, i.e., off of the U.S. media radar screen, leaving CNN with little to report this morning except that, in a concession to his age, NASA is packing some Metamucil wafers for Glenn. Maybe this will be the cliff-hanger that transfixes the nation and nourishes the talks: Will he manage to move his bowels in space?

Last night I caught a potato-faced fellow on Fox News somberly reporting a decline in consumer confidence and abundantly editorializing thereupon. What does it mean when consumer confidence falls? It means that people are HESITATING before making those purchases. And what does that mean? Potato face shook his head. It could be the End, months before the scheduled end at Y2K. I felt myself gripped by guilt, for indeed, I have been hesitating myself: not buying new sneakers until I find a 1/2 price sale; searching for a potable $7 pinot noir, failing to purchase a bubble jet printer for my laptop. So yes, I should help out, I should run out to the mall and BUY. But what will the Visa folks have to say about that, given their snippy response to last month’s late payment? And you have to start wondering: Who is the super-ego here? There’s the ancient Protestant one, implanted deep in the sub-brain, intoning SAVE, and now here’s Rupert Murdoch’s man screaming SPEND. And I recall how, only months ago, we were being upbraided for failing to save and unflatteringly compared to the thrifty Japanese -who are now of course universally denounced for failing to squander their earnings at a sufficiently energetic rate.

Help, Nick: What is a good citizen of the global economy to do?

Re the 19th-century vibrators: As a minor expert on the fun topic of 19th-century gynecology, I can report that such instruments were used not just to induce pleasure in the pleasure-deprived, but to detect sexual responsiveness in ordinary women, that being a symptom of serious underlying disease.