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Midge Decter and the Taxi Driver

by BRUCE JACKSON

The Wrestler

For years I’ve thought Midge Decter was, like her lunatic husband Norman Podhoretz, a far-right ideologue on all matters social, political and sexual who’d conned everyone into thinking she was smart enough to have her ideas, no matter how loopy, taken seriously. Like Podhoretz, she is a silly person.

This was confirmed, perhaps proven beyond a reasonable doubt, in “Midge’s Mash Note,” Larissa MacFarquhar’s “Talk of the Town” piece in the November 3 New Yorker.

“The air in Midge Decter’s apartment last week was not particularly humid,” writes MacFarquhar. “Decter herself, sitting on her living-room sofa in a blue wool turtleneck, black pants, and tennis shoes, appeared cool and dry. She sat with her legs crossed and her right hand wedged between her thighs. Every now and again, she removed the hand and fiddled with the neck of her sweater. There was no sign, in other words, that she had only recently emerged from the composition of a sweaty new book about the Secretary of Defense, ‘Rumsfeld.’ She spoke of her subject admiringly, but without obvious emotion. ‘The key to him is that he is a wrestler,’ she said. ‘A wrestler is a lone figure. He battles one on one, and he wither wins or loses. There is only one man on the mat at the end of a wrestling match. It is no accident, as the Communists used to say, that he wrestled.'”

In her book, and in the remainder of their conversation, Decter detailed just how manly and sexy a figure she found the Wrestler.

This bears some thought, this conversation between New Yorker reporter Larissa MacFarquhar and neocon Mother Superior Midge Decter, with her right hand wedged between her thighs, maintaining her cool and talking about how sexy she finds Donald Rumsfeld , particularly in his lone role as the Wrestler.

The first thing that should be noted is that wrestlers don’t do any of it alone. Masturbators and players of solitaire do it alone; wrestlers need a partner the entire time. A close partner. Of all the contact sports, wrestling is the closest. Football players wear huge amounts of body armor and run into one another. There are strict rules in football about laying on of hands and how long hands can be kept there. Boxers wear gloves and the referees are always breaking up their clinches; if they close-dance too much the audience boos and throws things into the ring. Sumo wrestlers grapple one another standing up, but they never do it on the ground. Never in front of audiences, anyway.

But wrestlers, oh, the wrestlers: they wear spandex swimming trunks and they hug and squeeze and fall on top of one another and squirm around and get points only by pinning both of their opponent’s shoulders to the ground. Both shoulders! Get one on the ground and the opponent slips out and you’ve got nothing; you have to start all over again. It’s pinnus interruptus. Both shoulders! What other contact sport do you get to pin both your partner’s shoulders to whatever is under him or her?

(Wrestling fans of the world: please, spare the me hate mail you are even now composing. I’m not disapproving. I think any way consenting adults want to collaborate with other consenting adults in pinning or being pinned is just fine. This is about Midge Decter’s inability to distinguish solitary from collaborative enterprises, and the implications of that for readers of her political prose.)

The wrestling match doesn’t, as Decter would have it, end with one person on the mat. It ends with two, one triumphantly atop the other. The two of them finally, and for that one supreme moment, motionless. In that supreme moment a third person intrudes, the referee, who gets down on his knees, places his head as close to those pinned shoulders as he possibly can, and, if the pinning has indeed been properly achieved, yells, “Yessssss,” or some equivalent thereof. Whereupon the two wrestlers separate and for the first time since they stepped onto the mat, their bodies relax completely.

Midge Decter, I have to conclude, doesn’t know jack-shit about wrestling, or contact sport. If she is capable of looking at two sweaty grown men on a small mat, one atop the other, and seeing in that space only a single triumphant hero, how can anyone possibly trust anything she says about sex or politics?

I do wish MacFarquhar had told us whether or not Decter’s right hand had been locked in place or had been moving during their conversation.

The Taxi Lady

I met another New Yorker the same day I read MacFarquhar’s “Talk of the Town” note. She was a taxi driver and she drove a lawyer friend and me from LaGuardia into Manhattan. The lawyer was sitting on the right side of the back seat, so she and the taxi driver could talk through the window in the sheets of heavy plastic above the back of the driver’s seat. They talked mostly about which route to take and about all the joggers we began seeing once we got over to Fifth Avenue. It was only two days until the New York Marathon, so the town was full of them.

After we dropped the lawyer the taxi driver made one final remark about the joggers–“Don’t their legs get cold running around dressed like that on days like this?”–before turning to what was really on her mind.

“They should send Bush to Iraq and let him run the place,” she said. “That place is already totally screwed up by him so how much more could he screw it up? And it would be good for us. Send him there and don’t let him ever come back.”

I asked her what happens then. She’d given that some thought.

“Then we have a problem because we’ve got that vice president nobody ever sees. He’s no damned good. He’s as bad as Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is no damned good. He’s always making wisecracks, but he’s no damned good.”

She had an accent–Hispanic. I wanted to ask where she was from but I didn’t want to interrupt her.

“You know who should have been president? Powell, that’s who. He’s a decent man, and now Bush has got him standing up there and telling lies. Powell knows what war is about. If he’d been president we wouldn’t have this damned war. It’s got to be destroying him, standing up there and telling lies for Bush.”

“He’s a good soldier,” I said.

“Yeah. And he’s telling lies. I bet it’s killing him inside. And Condi, you see her lately?”

I said that I had.

“You see her face? She used to be pretty, now she’s not pretty any more. She looks old. It’s because of all those lies she’s been telling. You tell likes like that, it shows on your face.”

She paused to yell at a car that had cut her off. “And those Democrats, what are they offering us? Nothing! That one who ran with Gore last time–”

“Lieberman?”

“Yeah, Lieberman. Why’d Gore want to run with a guy like that for? There’s only one of them who’d be any damned good.”

“Who?”

“Clinton?”

“Which one?”

“Bill, of course. Bring him back.”

“There’s that amendment that says….”

She waved me off. “It says you can’t follow yourself. But if you’re out four years, then you can come back. I asked lawyers about it. I get lawyers in the cab and I ask them and that’s what they told me. So bring Clinton back. He had problems, but not like this. Get rid of that goddamned Rumsfeld, first thing. That man is evil, you know that? So is Bush. Here we are.”

Indeed we were. I got out, paid her, we wished one another luck, and I went to my meeting and she went on to wherever her next fare wanted to go.

The Truth

I did not make any of that up; I swear it. Every word I’ve just told you is as true as what Larissa MacFarquhar told the New Yorker about her encounter with Midge Decter.

As soon as I got out of the cab I dictated into my recorder as much of the conversation as I could remember and that’s all you got here. Had I wanted to invent a sane American citizen who wasn’t buffaloed by Fox and CNN and the jive put out by the pros and cons and neocons, I might have invented someone like that taxi driver, but I didn’t. She was a real woman driving a real yellow taxi in New York City on October 30, 2003, telling me what she thought about the people running the government of the United States. Unlike Midge Decter, she didn’t find a single one of them sexy, or useful, or heroic.

I got out of that cab feeling good about America. My money’s on the taxi driver.

BRUCE JACKSON, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo, edits the web journal BuffaloReport.com. His most recent book is Emile de Antonio in Buffalo (Center Working Papers). Jackson is also a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: bjackson@buffalo.edu

 

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Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo

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