A Poke in the Ribs

by Matt Soriano | 10/30/01 6:00am

The past six weeks have been something out of the sort of book you find in an airport departure lounge. A horrible attack on America. An evil billionaire bad guy hiding out in an exotic foreign locale. Everybody except George W. Bush panicking at the sight of white powder. But we're at war now, and the media is all over comparing Sept. 11 to Pearl Harbor and the present to World War II. Our grandparents are sitting back in their armchairs overdosing on schadenfreude as they sit around and discuss how much better things were in the old times:

"No siree, back in the '30s when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor there wasn't nobody donatin' to no trust fund on no Internet. No siree, we went to church -- passin' the plate, and we was lucky to get more than 15 cents because times was hard back then -- and the reverends weren't politically correct back then either. Hell, sulfur, brimstone, burning Mohammedans in the fiery pit, oh, yes siree they whipped up a fury. That was the spirit back then."

Yep, that was the spirit. If you remember World War II -- and the limits of my memory extend back all the way to when I watched "Saving Private Ryan" -- boy, it's like nobody had any fun at all. Yet during all of the tumult and destruction, somebody must have told the story about Patton loading up on fluids and then ceremoniously urinating into the Rhine when his troops crossed it in January 1945. The kicker was that he sighed and called it "the pause that refreshes." Humor and absurdity remind us that we're human. Our current enemies seek to deny us not our Pacific colonies or our trade with Europe, but our very freedom to enjoy liberty itself. Fun is the exact thing that terror denies the citizens of a free nation. It should be our patriotic duty to recognize and enjoy the absurdity of our situation rather than worshiping it or tiptoeing around it in hushed whispers. To that end, I'm going to buck the trend and make the longest possible list of things that I like (or at least find tremendously funny) about the current national crisis.

Empty Airline Seats. I don't know about you folks, but I laughed maniacally when reviewing fares for my family's vacation to Puerto Rico this winter. Airlines have been charging exorbitant fares to squeeze tall people into Lilliputian seats for too long. If you're willing to fly, the scales have turned drastically in your favor. Maybe they'll give me the whole can of Coke this time, too!

Not Being Able to Open the Mail. My mother's situation reminded me of this little chuckle. She's a physician who practices in Hamilton, N.J., the epicenter of one of our nation's latest Postal Service anthrax attacks. If you know about doctors and the three chains of communication: mail, the phone and the pager, you'd be able to hear my mom's squeals of joy as she enjoys a vacation from reading the mail. "Yes, Mr. Golddigging Trial Attorney, I know your frivolous malpractice lawsuit is in the mail. But, you see, we're in Hamilton, New Jersey, so I guess we'll have to reschedule the deposition. Oh? Well, I'm not free till next August. Ta ta!"

Unemployment. Thank the good Lord that maybe something'll stop the mindless procession of eager Ivy Leaguers to consulting/financial services/the State Department. Yes, it's hard to fathom a life of actually producing goods rather than managing, financing or consulting on them. But guess what! It's the way everyone's been surviving since the Sumerians' proto-economy. We'll survive.

Unintentionally Hilarious Anti-American Protestors. In this I'm referring to the Internet parody image of Bert peeking out from behind Osama bin Laden which made it onto thousands of posters displayed by the local fundamentalists outside the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka. It's hard to imagine the same God who inspired the Blue Mosque and Chartres also inspired that episode of graphic design.

Fox News Coverage of America Striking Back. Now we don't have to wait till the weekend to watch football -- er, news. We can get continuous 24-hour coverage of retired Army guys discussing the crucial fourth-down situation -- I mean, conflict -- and using their light pens to sketch out the plays -- er, tactics. I have my money on the U.S. Air Force by 10,000. Go team go!

The Irrelevance of Chandra, J-Lo, Brad Pitt, Tom & Nicole and other similarly repugnant Hollywood entities. Isn't it bliss?

Airport Security Hypervigilance. I'm chuckling already to myself as I watch the same minimum wage schlubs solemnly go through the same laughably insecure security procedures that worked so well on Sept. 11. My personal favorite is: "Has anyone unknown to you packed your luggage?" What am I supposed to say: "You mean somebody like Osama bin Laden? Oh, no, he's not unknown to me at all."

The Kindness of Ordinary Americans. For the last six weeks I've seen more charity being extended, more families clutching their kids, more husbands and wives holding hands, more flags flying and more courtesy than I have in any six weeks of my entire life. I'm filled with pride at how Americans deal with an attack on their freedom. Every day I thank God I'm a part of the great family that stretches from sea to shining sea.

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