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In the bottom drawer of my bedside table, you will find, if you care to look, dozens of intricately folded pieces of paper, almost all of them from the early post-Cold War era. They are what the French call billets-doux, what you might call love letters, and what I call “proof that I was awesome in middle school.” Why do I keep them? Because I find it difficult to throw away anything containing the phrase “you’re sexy,” especially if it’s written by a girl and addressed to me.
After stumbling upon these old letters at my mother’s house last year, I transported them to my apartment in Washington, D.C., where I can read them whenever I feel nostalgic or vain. Which is all the time.
These letters, you see, are a history of my adolescence. It is a history of which I am exceedingly proud. What are for many people the most awkward years in life were, for me, my glory years. I was at my social peak—popular, good-looking, and obsessed with being popular and good-looking. Thanks to these letters, you don’t have to take my word for it.
After a conversation about politics, my grandmother and I used to say, “Isn’t it terrible how Republican we are? Aren’t we just hard-bitten, incorrigible Republicans? Isn’t it terrible?” Yes, it is. I am so Republican, I sometimes worry about myself.
I never wanted to be a partisan (and I never wanted to be a Republican, though that’s another, if related, story). I would rather be a nice above-the-fray type. “A pox on both their houses” and all that. David S. Broder, the late “dean” of the Washington press corps, seemed to float above the parties. And think of two other Davids: Gergen and Brooks.
Many of my colleagues say, “I’m not a Republican, I’m a conservative.” They usually say it with pride and satisfaction (self-satisfaction, actually). Well, I’m a Republican, as well as a conservative. I’ll vote for (almost) anyone with an “R” after his name.
From our December 2011 issue.
Fifteen Christmases ago I prepared to leave Washington, D.C., and a five-year stint in politics, to return to journalism. It was a perilous journey.
The plan was straightforward: Finish work as a Capitol Hill staffer on Friday the 20th; spend Saturday loading my little Saturn; crash that night on a friend's sofa-bed in the suburbs (where a loaded car would be less likely to be broken into); drive to a maternal aunt's house near Asheville, N.C., on Sunday; and arrive home in New Orleans on Monday the 23rd (with a jaunt Christmas Day to my paternal grandparents' in Pass Christian, Miss.), there to logistically regroup for a while before my new job in Little Rock.
I’ll risk cliché by saying it seems like we just did this a few months ago. Cliché perhaps, but true nonetheless. Hours and days last as long as ever, but the years whiz by.This isn’t a complaint. Christmas is joyous and I like it, even with its aggravations. There are fewer of those now as the family is smaller. Attendance at Christmas dinner at chez Thornberry, once a boisterous affair with young and old human celebrants in double figures and numerous dogs probing all perimeters for handouts, has dwindled, in the words of the song, to a precious few.
But these few are indeed precious. And recognizing this is a good part of what Christmas is for, even though carols, presents, decorations, and parties remain in the forefront of what has been largely a secular celebration. This was the case even before our cultural transmission belts and their keepers went post-everything.
A FEW MONTHS back I was standing in a car park in the UK smoking a cigarette. Not one of those hideous underground car parks, but a nice one, in the open air. A woman in a white 2008 Fiat Panda drove two hundred yards over from her spot and pulled up next to me and wound down the window. “Your smoke is damaging my health, please put your cigarette out,” she said. I just stared at her, unable to speak. Her face was wreathed in this curious mixture of jubilation and vindictiveness and—I don’t think this is going too far—hatred. She hated me on sight. And she was utterly jubilant in being able to do so, that she had someone in her sights on whom she could exact her vituperation. Seeing me smoking satisfied some desperate craving within the woman, more desperate perhaps than the one I have which makes me smoke cigarettes. She may well have been driving around all day searching for someone to persecute. My guess is that she worked in a local government social services department, probably as a middle manager, and owned cats, but I cannot prove this. That may be just my prejudice coming through.