AllPolitics - Pundits & Prose


Primary Fixation

By Calvin Trillin

(TIME, February 26) -- You could argue that as a way to brighten up a long gray winter, Joan Collins' suit against Random House was the literary equivalent of the Forbes campaign in Iowa--wacky, saturated with money and ultimately embarrassing to all concerned.

My wife made that argument. She's been trying to wean me from total dependence on the Republican presidential campaign as a news diet. Whenever she hears Lamar Alexander say it's all going to be over by March 12, she sees me on March 13 wandering around like a zombie, mumbling the planks of Morry Taylor's platform as part of some kooky mantra.

She thought the Collins trial would distract me. Random House was maintaining it shouldn't have to pay Collins the $1.2 million advance for her novel because her manuscript was subliterate gibberish. Her lawyer, who implied that Random House's real problem with Collins was that her celebrity had faded since they'd signed her up, could have summed up his case with one question: "You were expecting maybe The Brothers Karamazov?"

All very juicy, I said, but not compared with the Forbes campaign. Steve Forbes, doing that great comedy-club impression of what would happen if some mad scientist decided to construct a dork robot, turned out to be, when inserted into the Republican presidential campaign, a walking fragmentation bomb.

Before you knew it, they all started eye gouging like a bunch of Demo-crats, and Bob Dole arrived in New Hampshire charging that corporate fat cats were getting rich while the working man took a licking.

"Apparently Joan Collins discussed the writing process while she was on the stand," my wife said one morning. True. Arguing that Random House's response to her manuscript should have been to send over a couple of the gnomes it keeps in the basement to write the books celebrities sign, she described the writing process as "a living amoeba."

Sure, someday when I can't seem to get the sentences unsnarled, I might push back from my desk and say wearily, "The writing process is a mass of protoplasm containing a nucleus surrounded by a flexible outer membrane."

But what is that compared with Dole attacking the capitalists? A man whose overriding concern always seemed to be keeping the world safe for Archer-Daniels-Midland now talks like a Bolshevik. This is beyond living amoebas.

"Strom Thurmond hints that he may run for another term in the Senate, at 93," my wife said.

But that just made me think of all the ways Lamar Alexander manages to paint Dole as a geezer without using the word old. In TV interviews, he keeps saying, "I have new ideas, and Senator Dole has, er, ah, Washington ideas." He constantly asks if Dole is the person to lead the country "into the next century." If Thurmond jumped into the Republican presidential race, which now doesn't seem all that farfetched, Alexander could say Strom's not the man to lead the country into his next century.

"Did you see the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show?" my wife asked, almost desperately. She knows I love to watch those little woofers trot around the ring at Madison Square Garden.

"I'll catch up with that later," I said. "This will all be over on March 12."

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