Bubblicious, &c.

In Times Square, New York City, on March 18, 2020 (Andrew Kelly / Reuters)
On living ‘in a bubble,’ Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Charles Barkley, Fou Ts’ong, and more

Do you live in a bubble? That’s a frequent accusation, isn’t it? That you live in a bubble (while the person who is accusing you of this lives in the great, broad world).

I guess everyone, to a degree, lives in a bubble — lives in his own environment, with his own friends, his own foes, and his own experiences. Once in a while, a person comes along who seems world-inhabiting. Who seems to inhabit the whole, wide world.

Shakespeare would be the best example, I suppose. I don’t think he did much traveling in his life. How could you, then? But he seemed to know everything: rich and poor; royal and common; male and female; virtuous and wicked.

I’ll always love Maya Angelou for her reflections on Shakespeare. When she was a girl, she said, she thought Shakespeare must have been a little black girl, like herself. Otherwise, how could he know exactly how she felt?

On December 27, Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, issued an attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci, calling him a liar and whatnot. “Many in elite bubbles believe the American public doesn’t know ‘what’s good for them,’” wrote Rubio, “so they need to be tricked into ‘doing the right thing.’”

“Elite” is another popular word, to go with “bubble” or “bubbles.”

Does Fauci live in an elite bubble? I don’t know, he seems pretty wise to me, and he has devoted his entire life, I gather, to infectious diseases. He wants to combat them, and now would be a pretty good time to do it.

You are familiar with the phrase “coastal elites.” Sometimes I am playful with this. When people say “coastal elites,” they’re usually not talking about the Carolinas. Or Georgia. Or Florida. Or Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama. Or Alaska!

Are they?

The truth is, every society, every pocket, has “elites.” That includes Minidoka County, Idaho. There are always insiders and outsiders. When people say you live in an “elite bubble,” I think they essentially mean, “I disagree with you, and I hate you.”

I often hear people say that they are “deplorables” who live in “flyover country.” It seems to me they are nursing grievances (as people tend to do). (It is universal.) When I hear “deplorables” and “flyover country,” it is usually from the mouths of people who are “owning the insult.” I seldom hear “coastal elites” use those phrases.

Elitism can be annoying, for sure. But so can anti-elitism, can’t it? The proud, preening, boastful kind.

Last week, Peggy Noonan wrote a beautiful column about how the world might spring back to life, after this miserable, murderous pandemic. She has a vision, a dream:

We are gathered in a darkened theater, 1,500 of us, for the first time since March 2020. The orchestra starts, the curtain rises, and on the stage a crowded old railroad coach is in full cry. The train conductor booms, “River City, next station stop!” And in the audience applause starts, unplanned, just erupting . . .

She is dreaming of the revival of The Music Man, on Broadway. It was scheduled to open last year, with Hugh Jackman as (Professor) Harold Hill and Sutton Foster as Marian (the Librarian). Should be darn good.

When I hailed Peggy’s column in a tweet, someone responded, “Quite out of touch and elitist. Everything does not revolve around NYC and theaters.” I cite this tweet because the sentiments it expresses are so common.

I find it depressing, that tweet. Peggy Noonan knows that everything doesn’t revolve around New York City and theaters. Everything doesn’t revolve around any one thing, does it? She was simply anticipating the chance to see a great show, live and in person.

The Music Man, incidentally, is about small-town life in Iowa. Probably 20 years ago, I wrote a piece about it, and its creator, Meredith Willson. I argued that The Music Man is The Great American Musical. I can’t find the piece, frustratingly. Maybe I’m not a good enough Googler. The piece is included in a collection, Here, There & Everywhere.

But back to Peggy. She lives in New York and writes for a newspaper called “the Wall Street Journal.” Yeah, she probably goes to a show or two. Sue ’er. People go to shows all over the world, incidentally. I have happy memories of summer stock in rural Michigan.

Our tweeter has said that Peggy is “out of touch” — no, “quite out of touch”! (Again, I don’t mean to single out the man. I am quoting him because he speaks in the language of so many.) How is Peggy out of touch? She is one of the most in-touch writers around. She has ample experience, myriad interests, a capacious mind, and a big heart.

Granted, no one is in touch with everything. But is our tweeter more in touch than Noonan? Is he in touch with different things?

You may not be in touch with me. I may not be in touch with you. Is either of us guilty? I don’t think so. (But let’s get in touch sometime.)

No politician ever lost election by damning “elites” who live in “bubbles” and are “out of touch” with “real people.” But that does not mean we all have to talk, or think, like politicians. And, a news bulletin: All people are real (whether we like them or not).

Grievance, resentment, self-pity, bitterness, envy, contempt — these are enemies of well-being. We all struggle with them. We’ve all wallowed in them (unless you are a saint, which I hope you are). But may we kick their butts one day.

• Speaking of kicking the butt of something awful: “Anthony Hopkins marked 45 years of sobriety with an inspiring message to fans.”

“Forty-five years ago today,” said the great actor, “I had a wake-up call. I was headed for disaster, drinking myself to death. I’m not preachy, but I got a message — a little thought that said, ‘Do you want to live or die?’ And I said, ‘I want to live.’”

Good, good answer.

“All in all, I say hang in there. Today is the tomorrow you were so worried about yesterday. Young people, don’t give up. Keep fighting. Be bold. Mighty forces will come to your aid. That’s sustained me through my life.”

Mighty forces will come to your aid. Yes, yes. So wonderful.

• A story about another Brit, Stanley Johnson, father of the prime minister. He is applying for French citizenship. A very interesting story. But I just want to say, here and now: Heavens’ sake, what hair! Magnificent hair! Click on that link and check ’im out. The Johnson family — say what you will — has big-time hair.

• Sir Charles Barkley was confronted with the name of Mark Daigneault. He had never seen it before. He both heard it and saw it written out on a screen. Mark Daigneault is the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder (an NBA team). Sir Charles is an NBA Hall of Famer, as you know. His comment? “He has a hockey name.”

Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

• Richard Thornburgh has died at 88. He was governor of Pennsylvania for two terms, and U.S. attorney general under Reagan and Bush (41). I loved talking to him. I looked for an excuse: e.g., Pennsylvania politics. So sharp, and such a gent. The kind of politician who is truly a public servant.

I probably shouldn’t say, “Doubt he could get elected today” — but I will.

• Fou Ts’ong has died at 86. He was a Chinese-born pianist with British citizenship. I reviewed him. But I knew nothing of his life until I read the relevant obituary in the New York Times. Stunning.

His father, Fu Lei, was a leading intellectual — a scholar and translator of French literature.

Militant Red Guards accused Mr. Fu, a translator of writers like Balzac and Voltaire, of having “capitalistic” artistic taste, among other crimes. They humiliated and tortured him and his wife for days until the couple, like many other Chinese, were driven to suicide.

For the full obit, by Amy Qin, go here.

• For probably a year now, my neighborhood in New York City has been underpoliced. Severely underpoliced. (That is part of a big story.) For the first time in at least 20 years, people camp out in bank vestibules, where ATMs are. Some are harmless, simply seeking shelter; others are not.

The other night, I was going to do some banking, and I saw that someone was in there — not banking but kind of hanging out. Looking more closely, I saw that he was a security guard. I had never seen one of those, in the vestibule.

After I did my banking, I said to him, “Do you mind if I tell you, I’m glad you’re here?” He smiled and said, “I don’t mind at all. A lot of people are telling me that.”

I’m not surprised.

• A different New York story. It’s January 1 and I’m standing on a street corner. A lady — a stranger to me — says, “Happy New Year.” (Yes, this happens in New York.) I wished her the same. I added, “I hope that 2021 is better than 2020.” She said, “Well, we’ll have to make it that way.”

Such a wise observation, don’t you think? Volition and effort count. Happy New Year, y’all, and talk to you soon.

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