The spy! Remember? He brought himself to the attention a Featured Speaker, so it’s not as if he intended to stay cloaked the entire trip.
Found him in person. He sat in on a confab at the cognac-and-cigar party. Friendly fellow; I expected someone lurking in the corners radiating spiky waves of disapproval, but he was genial, preternaturally youthful for a forty-year-old father of three, and Matt-Modine lanky. A likeable fellow - but that's the trick, isn't it? I’ve done enough feature stories to know how you work the target. My problem is that I enjoy getting along more than I enjoy standing apart. The Feature Writer’s Theme Song:
We’ll find out what sort of man he is when the piece comes out. Some smile and soaks it all up and shiv everyone in the back from the safety of the studio because they has bills to pay and mouths to feed; some play it square and on the level. It's a matter of decency- a quality that’s an impediment for a middling writer, and a boon for a great one. I didn't get much of a take last night, because he mostly observed - which was wise - and only asked me one question about libertarianism.
We were having a discussion about private property and civil rights - whether a photographer or cake-baker should have the right to turn away a gay couple, for example. I’m incoherent on the issue, alas. I think someone should be able to refuse service because the customer is a red-haired banjo player with brown socks. I am suspicious of defining everyone’s private business as a public accommodation. OTOH, being black or Asian or gay or white and being refused service at a restaurant might be one of those things the market solves in the long run, but it’s no damned good when you’re hungry and you just want a burger.
When I asked about his tone, he gestured at the cigar party and said something about a Tom Wolfe tone. (When I sat down I pegged him as John Smith, the boyish WASPy reporter in the most recent Wolfe novel.) I said that was irresistible, wasn’t it? This morning after breakfast I sat down and wrote up the previous evening from the perspective of a liberal journalist who’s not trying to slant it all overtly, and wants an obviously Woflian affect. Keeping in mind that it’s impossible to write in that style without sounding like a broad bad attempt to mirror Wolfe’s tics without getting the essence of the reason for his style, here is what I wrote the morning after. The author is The Spy, and has been listening to me babble on for some time.
“Non-contiguous information streams!”
The short man in the luric shirt leaned back as if he just revealed the secret of hedge fund strategies or the true third mystery of Fatima. It was hard to concentrate on what he meant - the party had reached its prandial peak, everyone braying and haw-hawing and shrieking and cackling (a bright contrast to the early hours, when the early arrivers looked into their drinks as though there might be hemlock in there, not that this was a bad thing what with Obama and all. Kato I owe a cock to Asclepius - well there’s the problem, isn’t it? The debt? Except it’s a trillion cocks and it’s China instead of ass-scapel or whoever) and everyone had a snifter of cognac and a king-sized Louisville-slugger ceeegar.
And thus equipped, standing on the back deck of a luxury liner where lobster would appear if they fluttered pink digits at the help, did the Good Losers, the Bygone Class, discuss how to reconnect with the Common Man.
“Non-contiguous information streams,” said the short man - O God, that shirt; the pink of a sick parrot; a woman said it looked like something a male stripper would wear. So “Magic Mike” hit pay-per-view in the assisted living community. Proof! Right there! That was the thing with some of these old people; they didn’t exactly ooze the sort of pucker-lip disappointment with the way the kids had mishandled their national inheritance; none of that Archie-Bunker rue over recalling the way Glen Miller played / songs that made the hit parade. When they were young it was the Sixties - O brave times! O summer, O Love - except these were the ones in the Sears permapress pants and sensible slacks-suits stepping over the teargas canisters to get to class because they wanted to Live the American Dream, not stand over its body like hairy Abbie Hoffman gibbering acid is groovy, kill the pigs, pissing on the corpse -
“It just means they each side gets their data from a sealed-off source. Epistemic closure is the hot term. Or just plain old echo chamber. Conservatives program their TVs to skip MSNBC, Liberals loath Fox.”
He’s still explaining! Where did he get that ridiculous line? Too many syllables for Hannity, insufficient dread and doom to have slithered out of Glen Beck’s paranoia snakepit. Who tries to get a point across with a term like non-contiguous? Might as well tie concrete blocks to a harpoon ::::: but on he goes, oblivious that his cigar has gone out along with his point. It’s Cuban - verboten! - but what did the other guy, the one in the ascot and the cane and the wispy lines of tubing delivering medicinal O2 to the white-tufted caves of his nostrils, what did he say about smoking Cuban cigars? The ceremonial destruction of contraband.
“ - maybe perpetually parallel data-paths says it better, if you want,” pink-shirt was saying. He had a lot at stake with this idea. It could be expanded into a National Review article, perhaps, with all those alliterative plosives lined up like knuckles in a fist. But his thesis - if you could call it that, which no one outside of a cognac-soaked smoker would call it - wasn’t even true for him, since they’d already talked about what the others, the liberals, the Democrats, the statists as the purer-than-thou acolytes of Saint Ayn liked to call them - the others had needled the equine musculature of the Romney flank with all those Cayman japes, and here the Right was making fun of tomorrow’s destination as well. They were taking an excursion to see what was left of Mitt’s fortune, one joked. Stand broiling in the sun outside some low anonymous building where the dwindled Mitt-pittance sulked in cool computerized ledgers, and shout:
HOPE IT WAS WORTH IT, MITT. HOPE YOU HAD A GOOD TIME.
The reporter scanned the deck, wondering if there was an opportunity missed - a timpani-bellied man over there, jowls inflated beyond design specifications, stabbing his phone as if he could humiliate the thing into grabbing whatever stray tendrils of digital floss were depending from heaven out here. No. Over there: three proper young ladies in off-the-rack LBDs, smoking cigars and giggling with the naughtiness of it all, wondering if one sucked or just puffed. Later. Right now, this table was a gusher that made him feel like James Dean covered with crude - pink-shirt wouldn’t shut up; there was a doctor, a bona-fide sawbones describing the effects of Obamacare with the facial expression of a man trying to screw off the stuck lid off a jar of rancid peanut-butter, a painfully decent and oh-my-stars Lutheran lady whose liberal epiphany - Saul on the road! Scales clattering like trash-can lids - came when she was given unto her that most precious of conservative tropes, that most savored and treasured apparition, the Surprising Revelation from a Minority Person that confirmed her beliefs! She was right along along! Grapes, it was. Chavez, it was. Long ago boycotts, stories in college papers yellowed bound shelved forgotten. Statues to Chavez now, streets in his name, but she hangs on to the Parable of the Minority Person - who no doubt gets browner and browner in memory as time passes, looks less and less like a lady in a Penneys frock with a Chevy in the driveway but turns into a squat peasant villager from “Treasure of the Sierra Madres” in a Mayan-patterned frock and a donkey with a blanket thrown over his back - all the better to reinforce the point. She wasn’t just saying this because she was white. She was saying this because she was right.
The rhyme! Pure coincidence!
He focused on pink-shirt again, who had somehow stopped about The Thesis and was blabbing about Cyd Charisse’s legs - real up to date, this crowd, so au courant. But “Singin’ in the Rain” was a favorite of his, he had to admit. Took a while to stop thinking typical fifties - saccharine sex-scared Norman Rockwell repression when someone said Debbie Reynolds, because truth be told (and that’s what he was here to do, after all - sidle through the smoking throng, fish a fact from the bowls of cognac, and find the truth and tell it) she was kinda hot in that kid-sister’s best-friend sort of way. Was that how it started? One day you’re forty - prime of your life! All your hair! Skills honed hawk-talon sharp! - and then you admit that you’d do Debbie Reynolds if it came to that. That’s how it starts! Debbie Reynolds! If they’re right about her, then everything is up for grabs! Never mind Debbie, though. Screw her. Cyd Charisse. Pink-shirt had a point . . .
. . . But now they’re on to architecture, and it’s all gone to hell as well what with Gehry and . . . and . . . well, Gehry - ::::: OVER HERE :::::: someone shouts and a hail-fellow hurrah gusts up, and he beholds the prize of them all, striding his way! The most rare of rare birds in this gilded aviary, the man who might as well be wearing the Pope hat and waving the miter in absolution for all, just by being there. Just by being there with them. Behold in all his power: The Black Conservative.
We’ll see how it compares to the real thing.
Roatan was nice.
The only true beach day of the entire trip, since I subscribe to the Cruise Philosophy of Patrick, a regular on these voyages: if you have to take a cab to the beach, it’s not worth it. You want to walk off the ship, go a few yards, and there you are. Otherwise fuggedaboudit.
(The shot at the top of the page was taken with the iPhone’s panoramic feature, by the way. Every photo in this series was taken with the iPhone. This was the trip where I realized my point-and-shoot has been eclipsed and made redundant.)
I’ve been here before. Last time it was cool and it rained. This time it was hot and sunny until it suddenly turned cool, and rained. The ship in the harbor is still there, and still half-sunk for your viewing enjoyment:
Turns out there are several wrecks around Roatan, some of which were intentionally sunk to provide Mystery and Excitement for scuba divers.
Tomorrow: Finally! The end. By the way - previous installments of the trip can be accessed by the calendar on the right, now fixed. Sorry about that.