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From Left to Write

Libertarian curmudgeon and author P.J. O'Rourke muses about fatherhood at 50, the politics of cigar smoking, and why economics is funny.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

(continued from page 2)

His focus shifted to the target-rich environment of national politics in his 1991 best-seller Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government. "When you get into something like politics, it's not really that hard to tell right from wrong," he says. "I mean things that are greedy and hurt other people or are wasteful and stupid are greedy, wasteful and stupid. You don't have to get in the middle of the abortion debate or into the middle of prayer in schools to analyze right and wrong in government. You don't have to grasp the thorniest plant in the garden, you can just pull on the ordinary weeds."

O'Rourke followed Parliament up with two more best-sellers: Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice and Alcohol-Free Beer and All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty. These books not only made sense of the nonsensical issues playing themselves out on the world stage, they made those events, well, funny. And accessible. Like in his assessment of those fearing overpopulation, O'Rourke blithely points out what it really means is, "Just enough of me, way too much of you."

Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut, a 1995 collection of O'Rourke's work from his days as an underground journalist to his current post as an international correspondent at Rolling Stone, is a primer for the uninitiated, the Un-O'Rourked, if you will. That is, of course, if you can find one. Everyone from the most liberal Gen-Xers to right-wing neo-cons devour him. Sometimes he's so far to the right you'd swear he was left.

W ith Elizabeth tucked in and Barney thankfully replaced by The Platters, O'Rourke and Tina finish preparing dinner. Peeling potatoes and freshening everybody's drinks, O'Rourke explains the joys that come with marriage and most importantly, fatherhood, occurring later in life. "My marriage to Tina is much different than my first practice, starter marriage, the Ikea marriage: you have to put it together and then it comes apart on its own. Falling in love at 45, as I did, has one great advantage. You know what to do about it: get married and have a family. Younger guys are under the impression that there might be other options. As for fatherhood at 50, there are two advantages: one, you can (almost) afford it. And two, when the kid gets up in the middle of the night, you're up anyway, taking a leak.

"When Tina and I got married, we definitely wanted to have a real marriage, real family, the whole thing. I think that when kids come to young parents, it's very disruptive. Young parents are often broke and sort of harried in their existence, and this isgetting in the way of their social life. Yes, it's probably not so easy to be older parents in the sleep deprivation department. If we were in our 20s, it would be a little easier to get by on four hours of sleep a night. But other than that, everything is so much better. Elizabeth's totally an addition to our existence, rather than getting in the way of anything that we were previously doing. It's just a ball."

O'Rourke sets the dining-room table and gushes further about his daughter: "She's always been full of pep. She smiled right away; they said it was gas, but I don't believe it. She got a joke within the first three weeks of life. She understood she was being mocked and she laughed."

Discussing a recent trip to India, O'Rourke talks about how being away from his wife and new daughter for a month made him so homesick that he cut his trip short. He describes a call home: "I was flying from Calcutta to Hong Kong and had to change planes in Singapore, and naturally it screwed up. It never does that unless you're really tired and really want to get someplace. So I'm in the Cathay Pacific lounge and Tina was putting Elizabeth on the phone. It was a bad connection, a lot of cracking. So I'm going at the top of my lungs, 'Woogy-woogy-woogy-woo! Woogy-woogy-woogy-woo!' and finally I put the phone down after about 10 minutes of that and I realized that everybody in the lounge had moved away from me. Not only did I have to spend the night there, I didn't have anybody to drink with. They all thought I was crazy."

His title at Rolling Stone is international affairs desk chief. "I asked them, back in '85, to give me a big, long impressive title because I was headed to Asia, where everyone hands out business cards all the time." Of course, having a press credential from Rolling Stone frequently poses interesting and oftentimes humorous hurdles for O'Rourke. "Plenty of people can call up a world leader and say they're from The New York Times or one of the networks or Time magazine. Try calling up and saying: 'I'm P. J. O'Rourke from a large rock that moves around.' It definitely keeps you humble when you have to present credentials from Rolling Stone. Yeah, I'd be a power to be reckoned with at an Aerosmith concert, but not during an international crisis. The Saudis are not going to give me a visa: 'A large-rock-that-moves-around magazine that features pictures of Madonna with cookie tins over her tits? Forget it! You're not getting in here!' "

Not content to rely on press conferences to get his information, O'Rourke delves into his subjects by focusing on the man on the street--or, more accurately, the man in the local bar.

"As a journalist, I've never found it very useful to interview people at the top of the political food chain. Those people did not get into control by being dumb enough to spill their guts to a reporter. It takes a certain kind of egotism that goes into a reporter saying to himself, 'I'll go over here and meet Boris Yeltsin and he's going to tell me stuff he's never told anybody else.' Even if you are Bob Woodward, Yeltsin is not going to say, 'Look, just between you and me, Monday we are going to invade Finland.' "


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