The Breakfast Table

The Twin Towers of Online Irony

Dear Ron,

Good thought. What about “9/11: A Day to Shoot the Shit About Dickens”? Would it be tacky, do you think, if they billed us as the Twin Towers of Online Irony?

Speaking of tacky branding, should we have a moment of silence to honor the Times’ “A Nation Challenged”? I notice it’s back in full effect today. Actually, today’s Times bristles with inadvertently wonderful stuff. “Grieve Today, Mayor Says, And Then Grasp Tomorrow.” The picture of the surfers throwing debris from the WTC into the Pacific, and the editor of Surf News saying that “Surfing is the ultimate expression of freedom. What better way could there be to show our appreciation of that freedom and the country that affords us the opportunity to express that freedom.” And this little honey, from a News Analysis by Patrick Tyler: ” ‘We are now at high risk of a terrorist attack, for we are now at level orange,’ Mr. Ridge said with a breath-stopping bluntness.” And the faux-Jeffersonian full-page ad taken by “the employees of OppenheimerFunds, Inc.”: “We reaffirm these truths: That organizations are best defined by their people and the bonds among them. … That our families are precious; That each day is a gift.” I hate to beat a dead horse, Ron, but with entertainment like this, why would you need TV?

Of course the elephant in the room that neither of us is talking about is that op-ed piece signed “George W. Bush,” whose contributor’s note reads “George W. Bush is the 43rd President.” Now that’s class. You and I are going to have a drink tomorrow night, right? Tell you what: If you can look me in the eye and swear you were able to read every word of that, I’m buying.

I agree with you about how all these scrims—the media, the politicians, the corporate flacks, and apparently well-meaning free-lance sillybillies like that surfer guy—make it difficult to see what’s real in this. That’s the hell of it: It’s all scrim all the time. Like you, I don’t know anyone who died in the attacks. But early this afternoon in the barbershop in the subway station at Columbus Circle—that’s a plug; $10 and I look like I’m ready to go to Parris Island and pump up to whack the evildoers—I overheard a guy in another chair telling about how his wife went to the WTC just before the attacks to go to some meeting, and got turned away by security for not having the right ID. She was nearby, but luckily not inside, when the planes hit. There are a bunch of these stories, I know; some of them are even true. But we’ve seen so much of that scrim you mention that it startled me to hear a real, in-the-flesh person tell one: I felt like asking for his autograph.

So then I came up out of the subway and found much of Columbus Circle blocked off with yellow tape, people milling in the streets from an evacuated building, emergency vehicles, cops. As far as I know now, it was a construction accident at the huge AOL Time Warner building that’s going up. (In effect, a giant bull’s-eye right next door to my office.) But of course I thought at first this was some terror-related event. I looked up and the clouds were moving so fast it looked like the buildings were falling. (I knew I had a reason for mentioning before that it’s a windy day.) And I’m somebody who was not traumatized.

So yeah, it’s not all scrim, even for somebody who didn’t lose a friend or a family member. But it’s being exploited to sell everything from the human warmth of some brokerage firm (or whatever the hell OppenheimerFunds may be) to a war on Iraq. And people have the gall to complain about the nickel-dime wretches selling tchotchkes down around the WTC site. If you did manage to calm down after your run-in with Friedman this morning, can I tempt you to work up a new head of steam?

By the way, I hope I didn’t get you in any hot water with God. (Get it? Hot water? Plumbers?) I always assume he knows how you’re going to offend him before you even think of doing it. But if he was busy watching the fall of a sparrow while you were ragging on him, I’m sorry I called his attention to you. He can be a mean cuss if you pull his chain.

With liberty and justice for all,