Writing, although a deeply fulfilling and hyper-erotic profession, can be isolating work, particularly when you’re a person of great intellectual courage like me. If you live in an ancestral mansion atop the second-highest mountain in New England, a place so foreboding that it’s sometimes difficult to get the furniture store to deliver a replacement divan upon demand, things can get lonely, even when you’re the Greatest Living American Writer.
As always, I have no peers.
Because I’m desperately, epically isolated, I find it hard to determine whether something I write is offensive to the public, whose tastes are always changing, and who are generally stupid. When I’m being sued for “plagiarism,” “defamation of character,” or “trademark infringement” — charges that are always defeated by my powerful and frightening family attorney — I remain above the fray, as true artists must.
In decades past, when working on my regular column for The New Weekly National Standard Republic Review, America’s pre-eminent journal of ideas founded by William Dean Stanton, I’d turn to my beleaguered manservant Roger for advice and to gauge the public tastes.
As the sun set over Mount Winchester, Roger would bring me my evening Darjeeling and scone, and I’d turn to him.
“What do you think of this one, Roger?” I’d say.
“I’m skeptical, sir,” he’d say.
“I haven’t even said anything yet.”
“You have a track record, sir.”
“Okay, here goes: ‘How many lesbians does it take to screw in a bathtub?’”
“I can already tell, sir, that this will not fly.”
“How do you know?”
“What’s the column about?”
“Changing attitudes toward gender dynamics.”
“The answer is: ‘As many as can fit!’”
“Not acceptable, sir.”
Thus, I found myself spared another date in the court of public opinion. However, with the advent of Twitter, which I discovered merely five years after its founding, suddenly Roger was no longer my only sounding board.
Within days of signing on, I found myself at the center of repeated public controversies. For instance, when I referred to a regional politician as a “ching chong,” standard practice among my fellow Democrats, I found myself accused of anti-Asian bigotry, to which I replied, “You didn’t lose the love of your life on that beach in Guadalcanal so many decades ago.”
Then came the massive foofaraw when I called Kellyanne Conway “a reanimated mummy ho” upon seeing her interviewed by Bill Maher. In my day, it was considered a compliment to even acknowledge a woman’s existence in the field of intellectual battle.
If you go back into my Twitter history, you’ll find a long and well-reasoned rant that black people should stop complaining about police violence because most of them own refrigerators, an equally intelligent series of comments about how “Mexicans have an amazing work ethic despite being preternaturally lazy,” and, of course, several dozen tweets about how all white people except me and Roger and my agent should be killed immediately, “because white people deserve it, because it would be hilarious, and because it would be an interesting social experiment.”
Most shockingly, I found myself engaged in intellectual online warfare because The Nation published my experimental poem “Pedophile in a Wheelchair.” The following cry (and hue) forced 16 editors to resign from five different publications, and led to the suspension of a half-dozen Twitter accounts, some of which had attacked me and some of which had come to my defense.
When I refused to apologize and published a followup experimental poem, “Return Of Pedophile In A Wheelchair,” things got even worse.
Needless to say, it was all satire. But now the online mobs, from every corner, are asking me to apologize, saying that I made those comments from a position of “white privilege,” “class privilege,” “liberal privilege,” “conservative privilege,” and the “privilege of the privileged.”
I have no privilege other than to serve the reading public and, of course, the privilege of having received three lifetime National Book Awards, one Booker Prize, and a permanent place on the Nobel shortlist. This, I believe, gives me the freedom to say and do whatever I want.
Suddenly, though, I find myself in jeopardy of losing my screenwriting credit for the upcoming Marvel release “Dr. Strange And The Women.” I also find the contract for my book “The Duke Of Queens: Why Donald Trump Won’t End Up Being As Bad As Other Dictators” in serious danger. The producers for “The Charlie Rose Show,” which I assume is still on the air, refuse to return my call even though I’ve chosen that program to deliver an apologia and a screed.
I join other great intellectual giants and free-speech martyrs like James Gunn, Sarah Jeong, Dan Harmon, Elon Musk, Sonny Gray, Milo Minderbinder, and Chrissy Teigen as victims of our new era of online humorlessness. Twitter once seemed like merely a place for me to express myself and to try out certain ideas. But now that avenue is closed, because no one can take a joke or understand a concept with which they disagree.
I’ll have to return to my previous methods.
“Roger,” I said this morning, as he brought egg whites to my chambers. “May I audition a line for you?”
“Of course, sir,” he said.
“How do Dutch people plug up a dike?”
“Stop right there, sir. Please.”
Sometimes, the old ways are the most reliable.