Rod Dreher, the New York Post ‘s movie critic turned conservative news columnist, was pacing the housewares department of the Gracious Home store on 67th Street and Broadway. Dressed in jeans and hiking boots, Mr. Dre-her, 32, had a di-lemma-namely, which version of the Cafe Froth milk frother to buy, the automatic, hand-held Turbo model, or the more stylish manual model. After some deliberation, he went with the Turbo.
“It sounds pathetic, I know,” Mr. Dreher said sheepishly. “But I find that I take such joy in the simple things in everyday life-going to the store, cooking food. I used to go out a lot. But I’ve changed. I’ve gotten older, I guess. I don’t find the thrill in staying out at bars. I mean, I do go out, but I enjoy staying at home with my wife and reading or watching TV.”
Mr. Dreher is like a lot of young married guys in New York-he shops at Pottery Barn, listens to jazz, wears a goatee, suffers a low-carb diet-except for this: He writes the most conservative column in the city. Since he made the switch from movie critic to pundit two months ago, he’s unleashed his wrath against everything from the Brooklyn Museum of Art to anti-Christian violence in India to … Miss America.
“There she is, Mi-i-ss Amer-ri-caaa-the slut!” began his column in the Sept. 14 Post . “I’m kidding,” he added, “but only a bit.” That one went on to mourn the decline of a pageant that would allow divorced women and women who have had abortions to compete; it also scolded the New York intellectual elite for its attitude toward Middle America. “What is different is that, out there, divorce and abortion are considered evidence of failure,” he wrote.
On Nov. 18, in the wake of the brick attack on Nicole Barrett, Mr. Dreher had something of a Charles Bronson moment. Depicting his own subway-station encounter with a homeless man, Mr. Dreher wrote: “And then he hesitated on the stairs, eyeing my wife and child through yellow eyes, muttering gibberish. I decided to wait there with them until the train came. It was a long five minutes as he inched down the stairs to the platform, watching us. I kept my fists balled up. All I could think was: Remember Kendra Webdale. And: I’ll kill this freak before I let that happen to my family.”
So what’s a guy like that doing in a city like this? Growing up in St. Francisville, La., Mr. Dreher flirted with the liberal politics he now reviles. As a student at Louisiana State University, he fell in with the liberal crowd, partly because they threw the best parties and partly, he conceded, to rile his father, Ray Dreher. His liberal fling ended when a picture of him among a group of anti-Contra protesters made the front page of the local paper. His father was not pleased and threatened to cut his son off if he didn’t quit the left-wing rabble-rousing. Mr. Dreher went to no more protests after that.
“I had a typical collegiate disgust for the politics of my dad,” he said. “I thought I was protesting for the working class and then one day it hit me: My dad and his friends are working class, and they’re voting for Reagan.”
Since the recent birth of his son, he talks with his father every day. “I think about him a lot,” Mr. Dreher said. “He lived by his own moral code, and he’s true to that code. He had integrity. I live in the shadow of that unassailable integrity.”
After graduating college in 1989, Mr. Dreher got a job at The Washington Times as a TV critic. In 1993, he converted to Catholicism, the result of reading The Seven Storey Mountain , by Thomas Merton. The TV writing got old, and Mr. Dreher returned home to try his hand at fiction. He lived in an old plantation house in the Louisiana woods and read Flannery O’Connor and Robertson Davies for inspiration, but the words would not come. So he returned to newspapering, eventually landing at the Post .
He lives in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, with his wife, Julie, and baby Matthew in a red brick building. “It’s tough sometimes, when you realize you’re in a significant minority within the city,” he said. “But there’s a sense of solidarity among us. There’s a small group of conservative writers.”
He keeps in mind the lessons of his father: “My dad has this sort of visceral conservatism. He believes in individual responsibility. It’s interesting to come to New York and encounter this attitude in immigrants to New York.”
Mr. Dreher is not so crazy about New York’s intellectual elite. “I don’t understand how a whole class of intellectual people go to great lengths to be sensitive to everybody except a little old Catholic lady in Carroll Gardens. Maybe it’s a class thing,” he offered. But he is crazy about Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “I love the Mayor,” the columnist said. “I feel like he speaks for me.”
So this anti-abortion Southerner, living in Rudy’s New York and working for Rupert Murdoch’s paper, feels very much at ease: “I could move to a lot of other places in the South where I would feel more at home,” he said. “But this is a very exciting city.”
Dinner at Og’s
In the year 10,000 B.C., on what is now Manhattan, a man named Og killed a large boar after much effort one morning. Blood was dripping down from the sharpened stone tip of his spear and gushing from the boar’s neck.
Just then, there was a stirring in the bushes and through the vegetation came a man known as Ak. He looked upon Og with an expression that said, “Whoa, nice boar.” Then his expression softened, as if to say, “I’ve had no hunting luck today.”
Og approached Ak and-to use a translation that keeps the flavor of their language-he said: “Ak! Come me cave! Eat boar! Bring mate!” Og smiled in an attempt to seal the invitation.
But the look on Ak’s face was downcast. He said: “No!”
Og moved even closer to Ak, petted his hairy shoulders and said: “Ak help drag boar, Ak eat boar with Og!”
And so the two Manhattanites of 12 millennia ago dragged the heavy beast, leaving a blood swath all the way back to Og’s cave, located at what is now Park Avenue and 32nd Street.
Og’s mate, Lop, had prepared the pit with fire stones. The men shoved the boar into the pit. The small hairs on its side, not really noticeable until now, curled away in the intense heat.
Ak kicked at the ground. Og petted his hairy back: “Ak bring mate!” said Og. “Eat boar!”
Ak walked the equivalent of about 20 blocks to his own cave. His head was swirling: Eat at cave of another? No! Go back on hunt! But sun was high, animals hiding. So it was boar at Og’s or no meal at all! How would he tell his mate, Eeg?
Back at his cave-at what is now West 46th Street-Ak faced Eeg.
“Ak no hunt?” she said.
“Eat boar tonight!” said Ak, ducking the question.
“Eeg like boar,” said Eeg. “Where boar?”
“Boar at Og cave.”
Eeg looked angry. “Get boar! Og thief!”
“No! No!” said Ak. “Og no steal! Og kill boar!”
“Og kill boar?” said Eeg. “Og eat boar!”
“No,” said Ak. “Og, Lop, Eeg, Ak eat boar! All eat boar!”
“At Og cave?” said Eeg, screwing up her mouth. “Sound nice!”
Eeg spent the afternoon threading flower petals onto her body hairs and rolling in scent. Ak went down to the river to hunt for fish, but caught nothing. He came upon a mastodon on his way back, but wouldn’t you know it, he had the wrong spear.
Darkness fell. Ak and Eeg, feeling jittery, made the walk over to Og and Lop’s cave. The boar was cooked. Lop laid fatty hunks upon special flat stones. With flowery branches lining the walls and wood carvings placed here and there, this cave was really something. Ak could see that Eeg was taking in every detail.
She made small talk with Lop (who had large breasts, Ak noticed) and even with Og himself. “Big boar!” she said-and when she said this to Og, Ak felt as if he had been cut with a sharp-edged stone.
When Og and Lop were absent from the eating area, Eeg looked at Ak with an imploring expression that said: “Don’t be silent! Say something!” So a bit later, Ak mumbled, “Meat. Tasty.” Og patted Ak and smiled. “Friend!” said Og. This Og-how did he always know the proper way to behave and the right thing to say?
After the meal, on their way home, Eeg said she liked Og and Lop’s cave very much-but wasn’t it a bit far from the river? They got no breeze! Sure, the flowery branches were a nice touch-but Eeg said she planned to find some seashells for their own cave, once things got a little less crazy. Eeg also mentioned that Ak had better kill something big. They owed Og and Lop-owed them a feast! Something better than lousy old boar!
As sleep approached Ak on the straw mat, these thoughts struck him: At Og’s cave, everyone seemed to be having a nice time. The boar was tasty. The talk was gentle. There was laughter. So why did he now feel so stormy inside, so upset? And why was Eeg lying at the edge of the mat, with her back to him?