The Breakfast Table

The ’80s: The Decade That Wouldn’t End

Of course I know you know that designs on plates with chocolate syrup are very late ‘80s. And the fact, as you note, that they haven’t gone away supports another of my theories–that the ‘80s themselves haven’t gone away either. Just as 1960-63 was the end of the ‘50s, and 1970-73 was the end of the ‘60s, we are now a record-breaking 17 years into the present decade, culturally speaking. These may be the end of the ‘80s we’re now living through, but I would argue that the ‘90s as a culturally distinct decade (the Internet aside) does not exist.

Cornish game hens, drizzled chocolate syrup, friends sleeping with friends’ husbands–food plus adultery! I am honored to be the vessel for such a thrilling outburst of classic Ephronism. So … How come this leitmotif informs your fiction and now your public e-mails, but not your movies (except the one based on your novel)? On the other hand, I guess You’ve Got Mail involved quasi-adultery, and it did have the great Hanks-scooping-up-the-caviar scene. And Mixed Nuts had a food title.

I like Mark Green. I’ve donated money to Mark Green. Even though I guess he’s a notch or two to my left, I’d vote for him happily against Hillary or Rudy for practically any office–because he has a sense of humor and seems like a vital, mentally healthy person of strong character. So don’t make me out to be some kind of right-winger just because I voted for Giuliani and never much liked Bill Clinton and don’t live on the Upper West Side.

Back to hurricane readiness before I sign off for the day. (Civil defense! Yet again, I’m seeing all news through some ‘40s/’50s/early-’60s prism. Maybe I should have a doctor check this out.) Anyhow, I have an impolitic question: Have any of the big disasters we’ve been serially warned about for the last 20 years (multiple hurricanes, one or two comets, mobs of starving children post-welfare-reform, etc.) actually occurred in New York? The media-boy cries wolf an awful lot.

OK, maybe I’m a conservative after all.

And indeed, I’m afraid I do think most cops in New York ticketing the double-parked car of a courteous black man carrying cats would speak exactly the way my cop spoke to me on Court Street in Brooklyn. In fact, it was his stern, ridiculous policemanese–“Step away from the vehicle!”–that surprised me, since I’m, you know, white, and middle-aged, and wear glasses.

I too like Bill Bradley, and expect to vote for him in the primary. A friend of mine who’s a theater director recently told me that I should tell another friend of mine who’s a speechwriter for Bradley that he, the director, would like to help coach the candidate in big-audience performing skills. Which I think would be a good idea. And which I also think is a very rich premise for a comedy sketch.

But my problem with politics these days (which I suppose can come across as conservatism–and may well be, in the old-fashioned sense) is that politics don’t and really can’t matter all that much in this country right now. There are rough, large consensuses on all the big issues–economics, social welfare, civil rights, women’s rights, war and peace, even abortion. And they will continue as long as the economy chugs along like this and we stay out of wars any longer than a mini-series. Sure, there’s a biggish, scary lunatic right–the Gary Bauerite creationist anti-gay regiments–but they’re not going to be running the country or amending the Constitution anytime soon. In fact, Pat Buchanan is right about the virtual indistinguishability of the Democrats and Republicans. I sympathize with both Buchanan and Warren Beatty viscerally, if not ideologically. I really think national politics kind of needs to be blown up and rebuilt. For the couple of weeks seven years ago before he revealed himself to be a horrible, crazy gnome, Ross Perot seemed to me like a great idea. And if next November the candidates are George Bush, Al Gore, and Jesse Ventura, it isn’t inconceivable that I would pull the lever for Ventura. And I certainly wouldn’t be very upset if Bush won, even if he can’t name a single book he’s ever read. (One final theory of mine: In presidential elections, the candidate who wins is the one who seems 1) most convincingly like a sportsman and 2) happiest. I think the only clear exception to the rule from FDR-Hoover through Clinton-Dole is 1968, but that one was very close, and it was 1968, when all bets were off.)

Have a safe trip to Los Angeles.