Sunday, October 19, 2014

Don't leave home without them

 
The New Yorker's Patricia Marx, and alpaca, at the drugstore.
     I subscribe to just three magazines: Consumer Reports, The Economist, and The New Yorker. 

     Consumer Reports, not as a practical tool—it isn't as if I need them to help me choose a blender—as for the magazine's skeptical tone. So much in the media is blathering, mendacious corporate hype, it's refreshing to see scientific sorts asking: is this any good? Does it work? Should you buy it? I enjoy reading the smartly-written publication, but I also want to give Consumer's Union the money, to support what they do.
   Reading The Economist is, as I've said before, like having an extra brain. Not only do they bring news of corners of the world that we'd never seem to hear from, hear cries that otherwise would be smothered by our big comfy American blanket, but the magazine applies a keen outsider's eye to this country as well. Even their coverage of Chicago is fresh and interesting. 
    And The New Yorker. Nothing needs be said. Either you get it or you don't. I've subscribed to the magazine for 30 years, and my father has subscribed to for 60 (and my son Ross, insisted on getting both it and The Economist at college. That's my boy!)
     Last week's issue, dated Oct. 20, sat on my nightstand for a few days—I've finally got around to reading Keith Richards' Life and find it hard to put down (like Consumer Reports, it's a question of tone. It isn't what Richards reveals so much as how he reveals it, his voice. I find him as interesting writing about the Boy Scouts as he is writing about the Rolling Stones, maybe moreso). But I cracked  The New Yorker Saturday morning, and was rewarded with Patricia Marx's delightfully-conceived and bravely-executed takedown of emotional assistance animals. 
     Basically, the American with Disabilities act allows for service animals—seeing eye dogs, monkeys that can do tasks for paralyzed people, that kind of thing. And glomming onto this are self-indulgent pet owners who want to bring their animals places, and pretend they have emotional issues, and get ersatz credentials and animal vests from for-profit groups. Thousands and thousands of people do this, and people let them, because we're trained to defer to anybody claiming any kind of disability whatsoever, however marginal or illegitimate it might be.  
     Marx skewers this woeful situation by getting a variety of rebarbative animals certified then traipsing around Manhattan with them: a 30-inch long snake, a four and a half foot tall Alpaca, a turkey. She flies with a 26-pound pig, Daphne, to Boston, and takes her to tea at the Four Seasons. 
     The responses of the flustered clerks, maitre d's and flight attendants are priceless. The story is like Borat, the intersection of generally-polite, generally-accommodating America  with Dadaesque insanity. One clerk at Chanel flees the snake but another suggests what snakeskin handbag would best match it, and for only $9,000. 
     While I have never spotlighted someone else's story on my blog before, I'm spotlighting this one, because it does so many neat things, stomping on a social wrong most people would be too timid to tread gingery upon (I thought of Patricia Marx as more of a member of the supporting cast at the New Yorker, the woman who did those delightfully droll shopping reports. Obviously I underestimated her; this article, in my mind, boosts her to star status).
     Given the way victimhood and disability have seized the whip hand in American culture, I sincerely think Marx's piece represents an important shift in tone: the cresting of a wave, the reassertion of a modicum of balance and common sense, where your needs to bring a service hippo into the china shop are now balanced by the needs of the people in the shop not to share it with your pacaderm. 
     I'm sure she is hearing howls from those who have had their asses kissed for so long they consider it a birthright, people who feel they are adults in every sense but the chance that their actions might bear scrutiny.  So I felt, besides the inherent good of sharing her story, I would add my applause, for what it's worth. It took courage, as good things often do.
     Don't take my word. Read her story, "Pets Allowed," by clicking here. It helps if you share someone to share it with. I must have read a quarter of the piece out loud to my wife, laughing hard, tears in my eyes. Bravo.

12 comments:

  1. My three are People, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker (a nice balance, I feel). Except my New Yorker subscription expired a month ago, and until I find a good renewal deal I've been reading it online or at the library. Ms. Marx's article sounds like a must-read; good for her. And thanks for the link.

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  2. These people also save the $200 that it costs to fly their dog on an airline by claiming their dog is a service animal. They also likely are able use the shorter security lines and are the first ones on the plane during early boarding. By the way, Adam Carolla has been railing on the "service animal" topic for at least a few years.

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  3. I enjoyed The Economist dusing the year I had a subscription, but ultimately it was too much of a time commitment. Too many "corners of the world" to keep up with. (Who knew a sphere could have so many corners?)

    Roy

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  4. If you only had one source for being well informed "The Economist" would be a good choice. I also like to read "The Guardian" and "Daily Telegraph" on line to escape our somewhat cloistered media world.

    In addition to important stories that are covered lightly or not at all by the American media looking at reader comments in these papers is instructive. For one who spent a few years in England at a time when attitudes toward America were grounded in gratitude for the help we gave them when their backs were against the wall, the extent to which we are now seen, particulary by the young, as an international bully is startling. Much of the criticism is patently unfair, but understanding that not everybody loves you can be salutary. As Kipling put it, "What knows he of England who never from England has gone."

    I cancelled my New Yorker subscription a few years back when it became that the great years of Thurber, White, Benchley, Cheever, et al were well behind it, but now that I have time to spend in the public library enjoy it for what it is.

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  5. Disagree strongly, Neil. Sure, Marx was audacious, but lacked even Borat's honesty. Marx admits to "concocting a harrowing backstory" to inveigle a clinical social worker to giving an appropriate evaluation. Marx also admits to doctoring even that letter for her other outings. She lies about getting permission from the company to bring a turkey on the bus. Courageous? Really?
    Nor are all of the recipients of her stunts blindly accepting, even by Marx's own account. The startled boyfriend dropped his can of soda. The salesman refuses to serve her and her snake. The maitre d' refuses her access. The bus attendant wants to know about immunizations (Marx lies again). The Amtrak ticket agent initially says Marx can't bring the alpaca (but says ok when Marx shows her the doctored letter). Marx was stopped at the museum by both the tour guide as well as the "higher up" Paul, allowed in by their boss, again doubtless via a phoney letter.
    And Marx displays an appalling irresponsibility toward the animals' well-being. The turkey's head turned purple with stress at the deli. The alpaca also became stressed on the train, and again at the museum. "How is that even allowed?" Says an airplane passenger. Even Marx's taxi driver relents only after repeating that it's illegal for her to bring in a non-service animal.
    After years of effort, many if not most Americans now will defer to people with disabilities, a social good that Marx gleefully exploits, dishonestly.
    With all that I also found her writing to be pedestrian, granted, a subjective opinion. With your usual impeccable taste and discernment (really) I'm surprised that you single her out when so many other writers and so much other great writing deserve the praise -- even in the same issue, including Packer's piece on Snowden and Poitras, Anderson's reportage on the Central African Republic, and ironically, and not in a good way, Menand's article on copyright which discusses, among other things, the argument that a web site's link to another article (as you provided for Marx's) might be considered a violation of law. I think you'll feel differently about the piece after a second, closer reading.

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    1. I agree that there is an aspect to the piece that seems to reflect poorly on the deferral that the public, at long last, has learned to extend toward those of differing abilities. Although, given your concern for the turkey's stress (it's head wasn't being chopped off, was it?) I would guess that you dislike her point and backfilled your objections afterward. It isn't that it's written so well, so much as it's a romp, and even in its edgier state, the New Yorker doesn't romp much. Those other articles do sound interesting, particularly the copyright one, and I will get to them ASAP. Thanks for writing.

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  6. Love the article, but whom is she educating? The public or the cheats?
    John

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    1. The public, surely. The cheats no doubt are away of what they're doing, and already have a self-serving rationale at the ready.

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    2. I suppose you're right, but it must be nice to know that phony credentials , blatant lies and cutesy animals all work to gain admittance to planes, museums and restaurants without serious opposition...so far.

      John

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  7. IMHO the best magazine being published today is the Atlantic.

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  8. You are a lucky man and I am very jealous that you have never suffered from PTSD or any other Anxiety disorder or know anybody that has. I wish I could say the same.

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    1. How do you know? I think you're confusing misuse with valid use. This article is about people who misuse the system, it doesn't suggest there aren't people who need these pets. It's a subtle point, and I can see how it might fly by somebody.

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