The Breakfast Table

The Rise of Weather Wimpiness

Floyd is making me believe more strongly in a Divine Power: From the moment yesterday that I professed to you my belief that acts of God are now invariably overhyped, this one began heading directly toward metropolitan New York–toward me, I’m thinking, and my flip, callow hubris. The kids’ school canceled classes at 6:45 this morning, which has led me in turn to try to weasel out of a book-reading-and-signing I’m supposed to do tonight. I do think people are bigger weather wimps today than they were when we were kids. (Canceling school because of rain?) But then, I was a kid in Omaha, Nebraska, where weather wimpiness was literally unthinkable. In fact, extreme weather is the most interesting part of life in Nebraska. (Extreme weather and, briefly, when I was 4, Charles Starkweather, the real-life serial-murderer Martin Sheen played in Badlands.) The one time, around 1967, that a tornado actually touched down in our yard–a little tornado, but still–I was away at summer camp. I have never regretted missing any event more.

There’s an idea for a new cable channel: Weather Planet!, a cooler, next-generation Weather Channel that would broadcast nothing but radar and video images of extreme weather from all over the world–heavy snow, flash floods, golf-ball-size hail, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, cyclones, temperatures less than zero or more than 100. As long as you’re in Los Angeles, why don’t you go ahead and sell the idea this afternoon to Barry Diller or Rupert Murdoch or somebody. We’ll split the money.

Tomorrow’s headlines today: Although the story may not have appeared in the Los Angeles edition of the New York Times being placed right now outside the door of your splendid suite at the Peninsula, 8,668 of the New York grade-schoolers who were informed last spring they’d flunked, and had to take remedial summer courses, did not in fact flunk. The tests were incorrectly scored by the private firm that gave them. (You really would think that if a giant public-school system could do one thing itself, aside from installing metal detectors, it would be to administer a standardized test.) How many hours until one of those kid’s families file suit against the city for emotional distress?

And I’ll bet the Times national edition didn’t include the story about the special new millennium commemorative-edition manhole covers ConEd is installing. They have a 3-D psychedelic pattern–the Manhole Cover of the Future, circa about 1972. At a press conference, someone asked the ConEd guy if the swirly new Op Art underfoot might not dangerously addle drunks stumbling through the gutters of Times Square–a splendid old-fashioned kind of Hildy Johnson question, I thought.

I know, I know what you’re thinking: Enough with the obsessive-compulsive glimpses of the old days.

OK, here’s something wholly new: the Beavis and Butt-headification of society at every stratum. Yesterday I happened to meet a top executive of a huge, ultra-Establishment corporation, a conservative-looking middle-aged man in a suit and tie, who described certain Web sites as “sucky.” “They suck,” he also said. His language inclined me to like him. But it was mildly shocking, as if my mother were to call me tonight and tell me she thought Action was “totally awesome.”

Since this is our last day, and Action premieres tonight, we won’t be able to discuss its merits here, and whether you think it’s true in its depiction of Hollywood. But reading the reviews of the show in the paper this morning, I wondered: Do you have your own ghastliest-show-business-moment? I’ll bet you do.