Friday, November 13th, 1998
Hey, check it out. There’s a web page that tracks the movements of Tom Wolfe through Atlanta—up to the second, complete with a Java applet that flashes a little guy-with-a-white-suit icon in the precise neighborhood where…oh, I’m just kidding. Let’s all take a deep breath.
Sure, the pop journalist turned pop author wrote an Atlanta white pages-size story largely set in Our Fair City, and yeah, in predictable fashion, greater metro Buckhead’s movers and shakers were alternately swooning over and repulsed by the strength of Mr.Wolfe’s attentions. One could have forecast as well the Godzilla-level promotional blitz—aided and abetted by the all-too-available author who plopped down in talk show chairs from PBS to CBS in support of his latest movie—er, novel.
But even I’m stunned by the meta nature of this particular frenzy, where we seem to be talking about the event of the book’s arrival, not the work itself. (And yes, that’s just what I’m doing here.) “It’s really big!,” we’re breathlessly informed. “It took 320 million years to write,” we are led to believe. Even normally sober NPR anchor Robert Siegel presented Wolfe with the results of his math homework: “By my calculations, the title of the book appears one-tenth the size of your name on the cover.”
With Virginia-gentlemanly good humor and something resembling detached bemusement, Wolfe seems to egg it all on. He patiently spun the same anecdotes for Charlie Rose that he dropped in his Time cover story—which was worth watching if only to see how Rose would work in the fact of his ex-marriage to Mitchell-house-saviour Mary Rose Taylor. (Answer: rather clumsily.) And Wolfe told any interviewer within earshot about how at first he led the novel astray, setting it in New York. Finally, yes, we know—after a visit or two here—and to the south Georgia estates of Atlantans with more money than sense—he was convinced that the path to his true Zen Dickensian opus was right down Peachtree.
So when Wolfe’s and Atlanta’s paths again crossed over the last few days, we’ve been treated to the spectacle of a daily “Tom Wolfe Watch” in the Journal-Constitution that, while it didn’t take note of which specific public washrooms he favored while in town, came darn close. I’m closing my eyes now and trying to imagine an editor committing limited newsprint and newsroom resources to this kind of tripe. I’m trying to imagine a reporter being ordered to summarize everything—everything Wolfe does, mumbles, dines on, and regurgitates within a four area code region. I’m trying, really.
Maybe as a public service, I should summarize the genuine world news the JourCon shoved out of the way for this hoo-hah. A volcano is getting serious in Mexico…two earthquakes hit China…intense winds battered the Pacific Northwest…what? You don’t care? You prefer to know who got to touch the hem of his really white garment at the tony History Center party? You’d like to know, really, was he making fun of our town, or..uh..what?
Ah, well. You know where to go for that.