The Breakfast Table

Commercial Interruptions

Dear Michael,

May we pause, here, for a brief commercial interruption? I can’t believe that in my dispatch this morning I forgot to mention the Metro scene I saw last night. (I know that people in “The Fray” really hate these subway accounts, and despise me for eavesdropping on all these boring people, so I am going to include them whenever I can.) Anyway, my stop came up last night and I was elbowing my way toward the door, and it was a short train, of course, so we were all mashed in there together, and as I went through the crowd I saw this young guy holding a latte cup (no kidding, a latte cup! Like Fawn Hall with her banana! Doesn’t he know you can’t eat or drink on the Metro? Where does he think he is? Seattle? New York City?), and he was reluctantly bidding goodbye to a young woman he’d just met, and what he said to her, as he walked through the sliding doors and out of her life, was, “Too bad! If I lived in the area, I would have asked you out!”

On her behalf, I wanted to say to him: “Ohmigod! Like, just thank you so very much!”

Alternatively, what I wanted her to say to him was, “If you lived in the area, I would have said no!”

Alternatively, what I wanted to say to him, myself, was: “Couldn’t you have stayed on for one more stop and given her, like, your e-mail address? I mean, is your life so fixed and immobile at this point that you couldn’t have explored this tantalizing romantic possibility a little bit further? If you’re not going to be a fool for love now, when will you be?”

Would it have been better for him just to say, “Nice to meet you?” To keep her from brooding over this missed opportunity all her life?

I’m sorry. I just had to get that out of my system.

Also, are you satisfied, Mr. D.C. resident, that the Newseum may soon be moving across the river, from Rosslyn to Pennsylvania Avenue, leaving that part of Arlington with few cultural attractions aside from cheesy sports bars that are eternally being renamed after whatever Redskins player has most recently retired? Anyway, I think that, if you people in the district are going to take the Newseum away from Virginia, you have to be willing to accept some other castoff items, too. You have to take our recently retired state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”; and you have to take NRA headquarters out on Interstate 66; and, come to think of it, you can have I-66 too, and its rush-hour gridlock; and you can also have every last one of the undergraduate men at the University of Virginia who show up for football games wearing ties and khakis and blue blazers. Our university fraternities. You have to take all our university fraternities.

The only thing you can’t have is the Krispy Kreme franchise down on Route 1 in Alexandria.

But I digress. What the Newseum is full of (for people who don’t know) is old news photos, and in your previous dispatch this is what you have got me thinking about, old photos and how some of them age so well, acquiring layers of meaning and poignancy over the years (all those JFK photos, the never ending stream of photos showing JFK and Jackie and the children: in Massachusetts, in Georgetown, him eternally lifting up John-John and her eternally standing in the doorway, wearing some sort of fragile summery shift, looking on) and how others age so very badly, making the people in them look even more ridiculous than they did at the time the photo was taken. In that latter category would be the Christine Todd Whitman photo that you pointed out, which looks worse for Whitman with each new case of racial profiling. Also in the “aging badly” category would be every private photograph that was ever taken of any American in either the 1960s or the 1970s, because in that picture said American would have either a big Afro (true of whites and blacks, men and women) or a big perm, or a Fu Manchu moustache, or big mutton-chop sideburns, or all of the above.

It’s just funny, how photos change and metamorphose and take on new significance, new resonances, depending on their new context. I remember recently seeing the cover of a book about French children killed in the Holocaust. Back when those photographs were taken they were just ordinary shots of ordinary children playing on the beach, but 50 years later, they had become truly unbearable to look at, and yet impossible not to look at, so much beauty, lost.