NEWARK, Delaware -- One of the weirder aspects of the hyperwired age in which we live is having relationships with people you've never actually met. This, of course, is facilitated by Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Internet message boards and text messaging, media that collectively have sounded the death knell for the quaint practice of letter writing. Typical of this phenomenon is that while I've made some good friends in my five-plus years of blogging, I've only met three of them in person.
The most recent is the estimable Joe Gandelman, full-time editor-in-chief of The Moderate Voice and part-time ventriloquist, with whom I had a delightful dinner this week at a brewpub in the small Delaware university town where I have a pied-à-terre, which for those of you not conversant in French is a term for a rat hole where I live when not luxuriating at the DF&C's mountain hideaway.
Joe is an abstraction for the vast majority of the many people who have read his political and social commentaries and a distraction for the many people on the left and right whose heads explode over his determinedly moderate tack in these vitriolic times.
Anyhow, few of us have ever seen or met Joe. That is unless they happened to be watching CNN during one of his talking-head appearances or stumbled on one of the state fairs, carnivals, shows for earthquake and wildfire victims or other events where he plies his part-time trade with a wisecracking dummy whom he never quite succeeds in hypnotizing, an elephant with a squirting trunk, a dragon who breathes smoke, a lovable shark, three kinds of dogs and a genie's head in a box.
(For the lowdown on this Shadow Joe, read "7 Weeks, 7 Fairs & A Van Full of Dummies" by Yours Truly. And weep.)
Anyhow, Joe has an uncanny resemblance to Wallace Shawn in My Dinner With Andre, and it was only a matter of time before the brewpub's hostesses, waitstaff, sous chef . . . oh, and a homeless guy with wraparound sunglasses who collects aluminum cans in a shopping cart, lined up for his autograph. I felt a little left out, perhaps because I look nothing like Andre Gregory, Shawn's co-star in the 1981 Louis Malle-directed classic.
This brings up an aspect of Joe that shines through in his writing and many good works: He's got an enormous heart, which was further confirmed the other evening when he tried to convince me that I may not look like Gregory with my a bald pate and gray beard, but am almost as handsome. Almost, he said. Almost. (The nerve.)* * * * *I'm not big on rules, typically observing them in the breech, but I do have a rule regarding discussions in brewpubs and other places that serve alcohol: Never talk about religion, politics or whether O.J. Simpson was guilty.
But because it was Joe, I didn't object when he steered the conservation to Tea Party darling Christine O'Donnell's upset victory over gadzillion-term Congressman Mike Castle right here in teensy weensy Delaware, which is not a suburb of Philadelphia as even smart people often believe.
For those of you who have spent the last few days in a cave or a coma, practically overnight O'Donnell has become even bigger than even Snooki on Jersey Shore.
This, Joe and I agreed, is an astonishing accomplishment for someone who is utterly unsuitable for public office, is a tax deadbeat who used campaign cash for her condo rent and personal expenses, lies and then lies about her lies like a certain former half-term Alaska governor, has morphed from being "loose" while in college to having very strict views on what even consenting adults should not do in the privacy of their bedrooms, is virulently anti-gay (her sister is a lesbian), and in short makes Jerry Falwell seem like a flaming liberal.
O'Donnell, like Snooki, is a cutie pie. (Or not. I'll let you be the judge.) And also like Snooki has been on the wrong side of the law.
But unlike Snooki, whose defense for her recent arrest for being a nuisance on the beach (I'm not making that up) was a thought-provoking "I'm too pretty to be in jail," O'Donnell has lashed out at her accusers. And while Snooki revels in the media glare, harsh or otherwise, O'Donnell flees from it, especially when uppity reporters have the temerity to do their jobs by asking her to explain all the nutty stuff she says.
Joe and I both ordered the fish and chips platter, and Joe drowned his platter in an ocean of Heinz ketchup, which I presume is a habit gleaned when he was a foreign correspondent in India, where his good friend Swaraaj and others of course drown everything in Heinz ketchup. I had a couple glasses of the brewpub's IPA, while Joe sipped on a single cask-conditioned raspberry ale, which he barely half finished but did leave a cute foam moustache on his upper lip.
Perhaps Joe wanted to be on his best behavior because the homeless guy with the shades was really Christine O'Donnell, who was watching him because he's an undocumented alien hereabouts and therefore ripe for a citizen's arrest. But it is more likely that he needed to be clear headed for the next leg of his thousands-mile-long trek, which eventually will take him back to the relative sanity of Southern California.
Always thinking, that Joe, always thinking.