Jewish World Review July 29, 2002/ 20 Menachem-Av 5762


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You really got me | Who knew, underneath all the feminist dung Katha Pollitt phones in to The Nation, that the 52-year-old gal is capable of splendid writing?

Sweet-as-sugar Katha contributed a fine first-person essay titled "Learning to Drive" to the July 22 New Yorker, a charming description of her attempts finally to earn a license from New York's Dept. of Motor Vehicles.

Her motives were twofold. First, to provide a lyrical account of negotiating stop signs, school buses and parallel parking under the instruction of a kind Filipino instructor named Ben; and second, to savagely attack her ex-boyfriend (Pollitt refers to the man as her former "lover," but that's a little too 60s for my taste, sort of like a hippie saying, "Oh man, I can't wait to ball that chick!"), a philanderer who apparently broke her heart and left the poet/abortion advocate with shattered self-esteem.

I wasn't interested in this section too much-revenge in print isn't pretty-although Pollitt did let on that before Mr. Gourmet/Marxist took over her apartment, she was quite capable of "tim[ing] a meal so that the rice, the meat, and the vegetables all come out ready together." The meat! I had no idea carnivores were allowed to write for The Nation, one more example that a cliche like "You learn something new every day" is rooted in truth.

I read the following passage and was dumbfounded that a woman whose political columns are so full of hate and a lifetime of "Question Authority!" rhetoric could write a paragraph of real beauty.

She says: "Because it takes me a while to focus on the task at hand, Ben and I have fallen into the habit of long lessons-we drive for two hours, sometimes three. We go up to Washington Heights and drive around the winding, hilly roads of Fort Tryon Park and the narrow crooked Tudoresque streets near Castle Village. What a beautiful neighborhood! we exclaim. Look at that Art Deco subway-station entrance!

Pollitt doing her thing

Look at those Catholic schoolgirls in front of Mother Cabrini High, in those incredibly cute sexy plaid uniforms! I am careful to stop for the old rabbi, I pause and make eye contact with the mother herding her two little boys. It's like another, secret New York up here, preserved from the forties, in which jogging yuppies in electric-blue spandex look like time travelers from the future among the staid elderly burghers walking their dogs along the leafy sidewalks overlooking the Hudson. In that New York, the one without road-raging New Jersey drivers or sneaky cyclists, in which life is lived at twenty miles an hour, I feel sure I could have got my license with no trouble. I could have been living here all along, coming out of the Art Deco entrance at dusk, with sweet-smelling creamy-pink magnolias all around me."

Regardless of her narrow-minded, meanspirited political screeds in The Nation, I hope for the best in Pollitt's personal life-even if she's a proud atheist and gets queasy even looking at the American flag. Let the ex-boyfriend (whom the New York Post's "Page Six" rudely identified on July 17) rot, while Katha and her daughter move on to a new chapter in their lives.

Although I obtained a driver's license (on the first try, thank you) at age 16 in 1971 back in Huntington, upon moving to Baltimore for college I mostly called it a day when it came to getting behind the wheel. There was no need to have a car in a city with mass transit-not that I could've afforded one anyway-and besides one long road trip to Texas during freshman year, a nutty, 90-mph amphetamine-fueled blitz through the South (since this was 1974, my roommate and I, exhausted, tried to lodge at a Knoxville, TN, motel but were turned away because of our long hair), my vehicular excursions were confined to short errands when I visited my mother's home outside of Trenton.

Now, I haven't driven a car since the age of 25, which provides no end of amusement (and consternation when no cabs are available) to my sons. Mrs. M, a superb driver, commands the family station wagon and I sit white-knuckled in the front seat. It doesn't make much sense, since I ride in rickety cabs all the time without a worry, and have no problems in limos, but put me in a car with one of my brothers or my wife and I'm a bundle of nerves. Just another quirk in the aging process, I suppose.

By the way, New Yorker editor David Remnick got some gas from the website last week when it was revealed that the majority of the weekly's writers are men. Instead of ignoring the "scoop," or responding that he wouldn't be held hostage to affirmative action, Remnick was a wormboy. He told USA Today's Peter Johnson: "We are publishing a lot of women, some of the best journalists and fiction writers around, but it's clearly not enough. It will change." Oh, great. I can't wait for the inevitable novella from Toni Morrison, accompanied by a feature on the Manhattan comedian/fraud named Reno.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith