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Peggy Noonan Has Jokes! And Showtunes! And America! And A Monkey!
Talbot the adorable capuchin returns to help the grand doyenne of the Wall Street Journal write this week's column.
Ah, the life of a busy writer and thinker! You were always so in demand. Colleges, dinners, conferences. She thought of William F. Buckley, the old sod, who had lived his own full life of intellectual ferment in the salons of this great nation. Perhaps she was following in his footsteps. All she needed was a Spanish fascist whose virtues she could extol.
This week she had gone to the hinterlands, she had, or at least Indiana, which was more or less the same thing to a sophisticate of Manhattan’s Upper East Side such as Peggy Noonan, sister in good standing of the Order of the Baclofen Brume. She did so love the middle of the country, that place of rock-ribbed Americana, that beacon of freedom, that sprawling horizon-to-horizon vista of monuments to the nation’s great derring-do.
Indiana! Where the wind goes sweeping down the plain! Or something! Was that the song? She strode across her parlor floor to the cabinet where she kept her beloved Broadway records, which were ordered by how strong had been the cocktails she could order at intermission from a bar nearest the theatre where they had originally opened. The Music Man ... Into the Woods ... Hair ... oh, that had been a multiple-martini intermission, for sure.
All that nudity! Yes, it had been 1968, but if she wanted to see such debauchery, the grindhouses of Times Square had been mere feet away. Back in the days when just the name Times Square could conjure a certain romanticism, so long as you ignored all the stabbings ...
“Snap out of it, Peggy!” The booming voice rolled through her apartment, shaking the walls, rattling the burned-out frame that had once held her portrait of Robert Taft. She stumbled backwards, hand clutching her chest, like some frightened gamine in a Poe story. What was this spectral presence that demanded her attention?
“It’s me, you idiot!” The voice boomed from overhead. She looked up. There, in the chandelier that was now swaying precariously ... could it be ...
“Yes, it’s me! Talbot the monkey, back at your service again ! Pardon the bullhorn, I had to make sure you heard me!” He tossed aside the bullhorn and swung himself into the air, landing right on the liquor cart.
“Hi, Peggy,” he cried, his voice now reduced to its natural squeakiness. “The editors at the Wall Street Journal knew you had a busy week, what with traveling and talking and more traveling and talking and eating and talking! So they sent me to make sure this week’s column gets filed by deadline!
“Golly, I am super-thrilled to be back here,” the tiny adorable capuchin added. He pulled the stopper out of the crystal decanter she kept full of Amaretto in case Truman Capote ever stopped by. Talbot tipped the decanter up and took a deep gulp. “Ah,” he said as he wiped his mouth. “Thought I’d get a head start.” He hopped off the cart, still gripping the decanter, and scrambled over to the typewriter that sat in the middle of her parquet floor.
“Now,” he said through another mouthful of Amaretto. “What do you have for us this week ?”
I’ve just had a Buckley-like week — at Purdue University in Indiana to speak with students, then back to New York to interview Henry Kissinger for the White House Historical Association, and then on to make the main speech to the Al Smith Dinner, the Archdiocese of New York’s big annual bipartisan charitable fundraiser.
“'Buckley-like!'” Talbot exclaimed. “When did you squeeze in something about the goodness of segregation? Ha ha, just kidding! This Amaretto goes right to the head, doesn’t it?”
They were worried that our political polarization might prove fatal, that we might lose our democracy. They see signs of it. A student asked how Trump supporters can believe, after all the investigations and judicial decisions, that Joe Biden lost and he won. I said there are a lot of parts to that. Americans have always loved conspiracism, it’s in our DNA.
“That’s true, but I’d have gone with something more direct. Like, say, there’s a mental health crisis in America and a fair number of conservatives are nuttier than a family of squirrels trapped in a cymbal factory. So much clanging and noise, and then throw in some Tucker Carlson. Yikes. I'm terrified just imagining it."
The only thing I could think of to help was keeping lines of communication up and the conversation going.
“That’s definitely how you talk to those Trump supporters the students are worried about, yes sirree! The same people who think George Soros led a vast conspiracy to steal the election from Donald Trump and there is a plague of transgender children peeing in the wrong bathrooms. Very important to keep those conversations going.”
In the seven years since Donald Trump came down the escalator, mainstream media has changed its nature. I understand why they thought they had to stop Mr. Trump — our big media come largely from New York, which had known him for more than 30 years and saw him not as the commanding presence on “The Apprentice” but as a con man who always seemed to operate one step ahead of the law. They felt they had to oppose him, but that very opposition left them not “reporting” but becoming what only some of them wanted to be, openly activist and of the left.
“Ya know what?” Talbot dashed over to the liquor cabinet and began pulling bottles out fast enough to form a tornado. “I’m not even gonna bother with this one. Nope, Mr. Murdoch doesn’t pay me enough. ‘All the peanuts you can eat,’ my rosy pink ass. Throw in a Mercedes S-class, Rupes, and then we’ll talk.”
I went home to New York and, on Wednesday night, to interview Mr. Kissinger. With a book out and crises brewing he’s on the scene and, at 99, treated as what he is, a legend.
“A legend! That’s for sure,” the monkey cackled from inside a giant fort he had built out of liquor bottles. “Can't wait for several million Cambodians to hear that one.”
The trick at the dinner is to be funny as possible while training your fire equally on both parties. The assumption is everyone’s better when they’re laughing. I did my best. Chuck Schumer’s been in Congress so long that medically he’s considered a pre-existing condition. Kevin McCarthy told me at the last national prayer breakfast that Jesus loves America best, that’s why the Bible is in English.
“So we’re going to pad out the rest of the column with your Al Smith Dinner jokes that otherwise couldn’t get you a slot in an open-mic night in the bar of a Fayetteville Ramada?” Talbot was splayed out on the floor, his voice fading. “Fine by me. Wake me up if there’s a nuclear war. On second thought, don’t.”
At that, the capuchin began snoring like a gravel truck in low gear. How did such a tiny creature make such loud noises, Peggy wondered as she slipped the decanter from his hand and gently laid a bottle of Tylenol and a glass of water next to his sleeping form. Truly it was a mystery to ponder.
[ WSJ ]
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