the infuriating softball questions of Orin Hatch
Thursday, December 6 2001
These days, on the few occasions when I go into the Manhattan office, I've been buying my coffee and bagel at the little cart on the corner of 8th Avenue and Lincoln in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The bagels there are decidedly better than the stale sawdust-rich confections sold by Pakistani cart merchants in Chelsea. But this morning, while fumbling with my semi-defective MTA pass in the subway station, I managed to slosh my coffee and burn the working surface of my left thumb. I didn't know how bad the burn was until I was seated in the train. Soon I realized I would lapse into agony unless I kept the burn pressed against a piece of cool stainless steel. Lucky for me, there is plenty of stainless steel to choose from in a New York subway car.
On the way from the subway station, I had to keep stopping to press my thumb against cool metal objects: lamp posts, door jams, rails, even scaffolding.
Once I was in my office building, I climbed to the top of the stairs and ducked immediately into the bathroom with the idea of running some deliciously cold water over my thumb. But I'd forgotten that this was a Launch.com bathroom, one of many cash-burning monuments constructed back during the Great Dotcom Boom. Everything in this bathroom, from the automatic lights to the self-flushing toilets, is computer controlled. There are no knobs or switches, only motion detectors and photoelectronics. To flush a toilet, one simply dismounts. Or that's the idea. In practice, of course, the automatic flushes so-initiated serve only to toss one's turds head over tail repeatedly in the bottom. Most employees are forced to resort to the tiny override switch hidden beneath an unsanitary-looking black lump of rubber.
Since there are no knobs on any of the sink faucets, they dispense water of a pre-determined lukewarm temperature when the sensors "see" your hands. This temperature is useful for washing normal hands, but it is far too high to provide relief to a burn victim.
Once I got to my desk, I had to keep my thumb firmly pressed against a cold can of root beer. After three hours, I finally reached the point where a bandage and wad of wet paper were enough to keep the pain from distracting me.
Before I'd left for work this morning, I'd been watching Attorney General John Ashcroft testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on CNN. The first questioner had been Orin Hatch, and I was once again reminded of why I hate that asshole. It's a weird kind of hate, the kind where his face looks as though it's been fabricated from painted rubber. I remember Hatch from the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas debacle and countless other hearings before and since. His smarmyness and (in this case) his softball questions seemed diabolically calculated to clash with every thought in my head. What he was saying and the way he was saying it was, for me, the oratorical equivalent of two-inch-long glue-on fingernails traversing the entire length of a blackboard (with a dash of tin foil and Styrofoam chewing thrown in). By contrast, George W. Bush is so poor at formulating and presenting his ideas that I often find his attempts at oratory amusing, even slightly endearing. Oh look, the poor retard shit his pants yet again!
Now as for John Ashcroft himself, I find that man terrifying. It isn't just that this Neanderthal is in charge of enforcing the federal laws of my country. And it's not that he has successfully amassed powers sufficient to launch an American version Pinochet's Chile. I'm talking about the way he talks: that gruff little Midwestern growl that he uses in place of vowels when he's nearing the end of his breath. It always startles me to hear his inner-Satan momentarily revealed in this way. It's the verbal equivalent of seeing wires and metal hanging out of the Terminator's face after he's been blasted with a Skud missile.
The Burritoville between 7th and 8th Avenue is where I usually eat lunch when I'm in Chelsea these days. Every time I'm there, I notice that though the staff, the decorations, and the food are all Hispanic, the music playing is, without exception, popular adult-contemporary rock and roll. This must be a calculated decision on the part of management to attract just the right sort of clientele. The song playing when I showed up was "Sing" by Travis, and sure enough, most of the people eating there looked like the sort you'd see at a Travis show, except for this one beefy ex-Marine type wearing a pro-New York City tee shirt and yelling angrily into his cell phone.
For most of this season, at least since the attack on the Whirled Trade Center, the weather in New York has been remarkably stable. The temperature has gradually become warmer, if anything, and there's been practically no rain. It's such a weird thing to walk around on a balmy afternoon and see Christmas decorations that I've begun experiencing that strange "adrift in time" feeling familiar to me from my days on the West Coast. Back then, I'd see a string of lights and have to ask myself, "Wait, is it Christmas already?" - though it would actually still be August.
I can never refuse the Discover Channel show about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I'm watching it for the third time.
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