I WALKED INTO a coffee shop Monday morning and stood in line for a cup of coffee, black, while people ahead of me ordered skinny lattes and half-caf cappuccinos and double-doubles and I didn’t mind the long wait — I was brought up to wait — we were a large family, service was slow. Waiting is an opportunity to think. I once stood in a long twisty line at airport security and in the course of shuffling along remembered how violent Pom-Pom-Pullaway was on the Benson School playground in 1950 and how I went in the library to escape being pummeled and fell in love with books and became a writer, all thanks to the lack of adult supervision. Had teachers kept the bullies under control, I might’ve become an anthropologist.
Three big TVs hung on the coffee shop wall and each one showed two talking heads, male and female anchors, talking about the news, I assume, though the sound was so low you couldn’t be sure. They were attractive people in a generic way and everyone ignored them. These faces are seen in cafes and airports and waiting rooms all over America, and I suppose they imagine they are playing a large role in the life of the nation, whereas their function is more like that of houseplants. They’re décor.
I talked to the woman who took my order. She is from Somalia and her husband drives a cab and their oldest daughter is in college, majoring in math, and the second daughter wants to be a writer. And right there was the real news, not the silent noise on the screens. The real stories are all around us. I had dinner last week with two old friends and on Sunday morning, one of them woke up and the other was unconscious from a massive stroke and died that afternoon in the ICU. He’d been quite himself, jovial and witty, and two days later he was gone. So I had supper Sunday night with his widow and her daughter at an Italian restaurant Ira liked to eat at with his retired pals. He was a good man, a judge in the New York state system, a faithful public servant and also a humorist, as many people in public service are. It’s hard to accept his absence.
Compared to ordinary life — immigrants supporting their ambitious children, the loss of a friend — our national life is flooded with trivia. The Times reports that in his term thus far, the Chief Twit has issued 11,000 tweets, each one faithfully reported by all of the fake journalists. To a person my age, the verb “tweet” seems inconsistent with the Office of the Presidency, a cartoon word, coming from the beak of a canary in a cage. Winston Churchill barked and growled but he never chirped. But times change.
The advantage for our man is that he can twitter as often as he likes, including early morning when most likely his hair would be sticking up at odd angles and he’d be unable to appear on camera, but he can sit up in bed and address the nation with a few sentences and the Lying Press will faithfully report it, word for word.
The other advantage of tweeting is the brevity. Other Presidents felt obliged to explain, lay out arguments, provide context, but you can’t do that in 280 characters, you can only mutter or shout.
In a year, after American voters have had their say about this vainglorious vulgarian, we’ll hear about plans for the Trump library — two words that do not sit comfortably together — which likely will wind up at Mar-a-Lago, though, what with his having governed by Twitter, all of his presidential papers could be stored on one floppy disc. Perhaps he will build a chain of libraries with shopping malls, each with a replica of the Oval Office where you can have your picture taken for $59.95, two-minute color video for $189.50.
In the meantime, nothing happens. The nation is mired in garbage. Congress is on a long road of impeachment that goes nowhere thanks to the fact that facts don’t matter and a quid and a quo are a quack and a quirk and he’ll be acquitted and meanwhile four trillion words will have been spoken. The theme of this presidency from the very beginning has been: “Nothing matters.”
You have to admire the dedicated civil servants to whom it matters deeply, but the odds are against them. Rest in peace, Ira. We will make do without you.