As The Greatest Living American Writer—which I have been, uninterruptedly, since 1945 except for a brief mistake in the early ’60s when they gave the title to John O’Hara—it’s my duty to call to attention the flaws of our country. At times, this gives the impression that I’m “siding with the enemy,” as Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Kennedy said in a joint-issued statement after my two-part article “Defending The Rosenbergs” appeared in The Nation. But I love America as much as anyone who’s also a citizen of Malta and the United Kingdom for tax reasons. That’s why I criticize it so often.
My ability to challenge what the French call le quo stateuse has given my career a substantial amount of what the Germans call frisson. No one can forget my early biography of Fidel Castro, “Tip Top Caudillo,” which debuted to great reviews and better sales. Other popular works, now somewhat forgotten but which landed me on Cavett at the time, include “Stalin For Agriculture” and my book-length essay, “Why Aren’t We More Like North Vietnam?”
In 2007, my book “The Chavez Miracle” won me a luxury trip to a ceremony in Caracas, which was super-nice. Lots of people liked my screenplay for the Subcomandante Marcos movie starring Javier Bardem. Throughout it all, I’ve been very wealthy and popular. I Mao Maoed the radical chicks in my flak jacket.
So it’s no surprise that North Korea came calling recently. As I wrote in my collection of essays “Bowling For Caliphates,” I’ve long admired North Korea for standing up to “the big green bully.” “Let’s not rush to judgment about which country is better,” I wrote. “After all, The Korean War was pretty much a tie for a reason.”
Sympathetic Bylines from Disinterested Observers
I was enjoying my morning tea in my turreted office at the top of Mount Winchester, overlooking the roiling Atlantic, when the emissary arrived at the door, soaking wet even though it wasn’t raining outside.
“My name is Chan Ho Park,” he said.
“Isn’t that the name of the guy who used to pitch for the Dodgers?” I said.
“That is a coincidence,” he said.
“The government of North Korea wishes to extend an invitation to you so you can see that nuclear war probably won’t be a good idea,” said Chan Ho Park.
“We seek sympathetic bylines.”
“I am an unbiased observer of reality,” I said.
“I can place articles in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review Of Books, and New York Magazine.”
“Excellent,” he said. “Shall we book you a flight to Pyongyang?”
“Business class at minimum,” I said.
“And make sure it’s with a Star Alliance airline.”
A Sushi Restaurant in Asia
Three days later, I was sipping champagne at a sparkling new hotel in Pyongyang. Unlike what we’ve heard about North Korea, the entire downtown was very clean, and my room was spacious, well-appointed, and charming. Even though it appeared that I was the only guest at this fully lit hotel, I figured it just wasn’t tourist season right then. The alcohol was excellent, and had been brought to me in large quantities. “Drank you very much,” I said to the empty bottles.
I was watching a Japanese game show that featured young women in nurses’ outfits pouring milk on kittens. There was a knock at my door. I answered it wearing a robe spun from the finest Korean gossamer silk, all part of the extraordinary swag bag that had been awaiting me upon my arrival.
A young man stood at the door.
“My name is Hee Seop Choi,” he said.
“Isn’t that the name of…” I said.
“Of who?” he said.
“Never mind,” I said.
“I am your tour guide,” he said. “Perhaps we can go grab some sushi first.”
“Certainly,” I said. “Let me get dressed.”
A sushi restaurant? I thought. In Asia? Why, this country is extraordinary!
The next few days were a tremendous whirlwind. Not only did we eat uni and toro at a bar where I was the only customer, but we also went out for pizza, and Greek food, and then we grabbed some Thai, and had a surprisingly decent Po’ Boy at a food truck outside of a large building that used to be a dissenter’s prison called The Blood Hole but is now, I was told, an Olympic natatorium for grateful orphans.
We went ice-skating and bowling, played blackjack at a brand-new casino where I was, again, the only customer, drove Go-Karts, spent an athletic hour at a bouncy castle, saw a preview screening of the new “Thor” movie, chilled poolside with some dolphins and some ladies, smoked several potent bowls of hash, and just generally had a great time in North Korea.
I documented it all on Instagram. My readers left comments like “See, I knew that North Korea wasn’t that bad. All we see in the mainstream media is lies. People are the same wherever you go. I also want to visit to the Pyongyang Roller Coaster Park, Video Arcade Center, and Batting Cages. Looks fun!”
It was fun. Super-fun.
“Wow,” I said. “This is a really cool country!”
“I know,” said Hee Seop Choi. “Isn’t it, though?”
Then for the Big Interview
After about a week, though, I decided that I should probably get to work.
“Hey,” I said to Hee Seop. “I was thinking that I should do some interviews.”
“Let me ask my colleague Shin-soo Choo,” he said. “You have been a good man, after all.”
And that’s how, after another three days, most of which were spent receiving complimentary spa services and yoga classes, I found myself walking into the throne room of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s Supreme Boy Genius. I would be the first Westerner to interview him, ever. He sat in a velvet chair, playing on a Nintendo gaming system that, I noticed, was nearly two years out of date. Next to him sat his gaming partner, Dennis Rodman.
“What up, Worm?” I said. Dennis Rodman nodded at me.
“Just chillin’,” he said. “Diplomatically.”
Kim Jon Un put down his joystick.
“Ah,” he said. “The Greatest Living American Writer. I am a great admirer of your novel ‘Leon: A Man Of The Streets.’ It is mandatory reading for all North Korean orphans.”
“One of my best,” I said. “So, I have a question for you: How do you respond to provocative statements from President Trump that…”
“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” he said. And then he went back to playing his game.
“That will be all,” said Shin-soo Choo, who’d suddenly appeared by my side.
It wasn’t enough. I still had so many questions about The Hermit Kingdom. How much nuclear capability did they have? Would they actually follow through on their threats to attack American soil? Also, why were the streets so clean and free of traffic? What was North Korea doing right that we were doing wrong?
“Can I help you with anything else?” Shin-soo Choo asked me.
“Yeah,” I said. “When can we get something to eat?”
Unlike any of the North Koreans I’d encountered, I was starving.