Write your own Thomas Friedman column!
1. Choose your title to intrigue the reader through its internal conflict:
a. War and Peas
b. Osama, Boulevardier
c. Big Problems, Little Women
2. Include a dateline from a remote location, preferably dangerous, unmistakably Muslim:
a. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
b. Islamabad, Pakistan
c. Mohammedville, Trinidad
3. Begin your first paragraph with a grandiose sentence and end with a terse, startlingly unexpected contradiction:
a. The future of civilization depends upon open communication between Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon. If the two don’t speak to each other, the world edges closer to the precipice of total war. If, on the other hand, they manage to engage in open conversation and resolve their differences, Israelis could soon be celebrating Seders in Saudi Arabia. But for now, the two men can’t speak. Why? You can’t make a collect call from Bethlehem.
4. Use the next few paragraphs to further define the contradiction stated above, peppered with little questions making it look like you’re having a conversation with the reader. Feel free to use the first person:
a. My first thought was to ask: Why no collect calls from Bethlehem? It’s easy to call collect from Bosnia, Kosovo, even Uzbekistan. Am I sure? Of course I’m sure. I was in each of those places just a few weeks ago, making collect calls all over the world. No problem. So why can’t Arafat call collect from Bethlehem?
5. Remember: Thomas Friedman is the Carrie Bradshaw of current events. Think Sex and the City , write “Sects and Tikriti”:
a. How can Islam get to its future, if its past is its present?
b. Later that day I got to thinking about global civilizational warfare. There are wars that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that take you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant clash of all is the one you have with your own civilization. And if you can find a civilization to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.
c. Maybe Arabs and Israelis aren’t from different planets, as pop culture would have us believe. Maybe we live a lot closer to each other. Perhaps, dare I even say it, in the same ZIP code.
6. Name-drop heavily, particularly describing intimate situations involving hard-to-reach people:
a. The Jacuzzi was nearly full when Ayman al-Zawahiri, former surgeon and now Al Qaeda’s head of operations, slid in.
b. It was Thomas Pynchon on the phone. “Tommy,” he said, probably aware we share that name ….
c. Despite the bumpy flight, I felt comfortable in the hands of a pilot as experienced as Amelia Earhart.
7. Include unknowns from hostile places who have come to espouse rational Western thought and culture:
a. I visited Mohammed bin Faisal Al-Hijazi, former top aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, now a reformer and graduate of the Wharton Business School.
b. Last year Nura bin Saleh Al-Fulani worked in Gaza sewing C4 plastic explosives into suicide bombers’ vests. I caught up with Nura last week in Paw Paw, Mich., where she sews activity patches on the uniforms of Cub Scout Pack 34.
8. Make use of homey anecdotes about your daughters, Natalie and Orly, enrolled in Eastern Middle School, Silver Spring, Md.:
a. My daughter Natalie, a student at Eastern Middle School, a public school in Silver Spring, Md., asked me at breakfast: “Daddy, if my school has students who are Muslims and Jews and Christians and Buddhists all working together, why can’t the rest of the world be that way?” There was something in the innocence of her question that made me stop and think: Maybe she has a point.
9. Quote a little-known Middle East authority at least once in every column:
a. Stephen P. Cohen
b. Stephen P. Cohen
c. Stephen P. Cohen
10. Conclude your column with a suggestion referring back to the opening contradiction, but with an ironic twist. Make sure the suggestion you proffer sounds plausible, but in fact has no chance of happening:
a. Driving into Bethlehem in the back of a pickup, I wonder: What if Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon sit down and play a game of poker? And what if the stakes are these: If Sharon wins, the Intifada is over. If Arafat wins, Palestine gains statehood. One game of no-limit Texas hold ‘em, and the Middle East crisis is resolved. Just like that. Yasir and Ariel, deal ‘em out.
Confessions of a Secret Smoker
Now that smoking is nearly outlawed, Secret Smokers such as myself must tell our stories. My smoking career extends for 33 years, yet I never bought a cigarette. Let me explain.
I first smoked in the spring of 1970, when I was 16 years old. I found a pack of cigarettes in the hallway of my high school (the Bronx High School of Science). It was a box of Marlboros. For a moment I hesitated, then reached for it. The pack was a little more than half full.
Cigarettes were quite rare at Bronx Science. Probably less than 2 percent of the students smoked. The 3,400 young people in this school (90 percent were Jewish) were studious, college-bound. They had no time for self-destructive habits.
I hid the Marlboros in my bookbag and rode home on the bus. Soon I would smoke Cigarette No. 1 of my life!
That night, I went for a walk alone. I must have stolen matches from the kitchen. I walked and smoked through the streets of Inwood (the northernmost neighborhood of Manhattan). I had already tried marijuana, so I smoked cigarettes the same way-inhaling deeply into my lungs. In fact, I would never learn the correct method to smoke tobacco.
The cigarettes themselves had no effect. I was surprised by the blandness of smoking. This strong addiction and widespread habit seemed based on nothing. Cigarettes were like pot without the pot. The whole ritual was useless, except for its aesthetic beauty. In the black night, I became a point of red light-like the light the Great Gatsby watched from the end of his dock (or was that blue?).
Also, I enjoyed the smoke rising up against the tyranny of gravity, twisting with light agility. Psychic researchers sometimes take photographs of disembodied “spirits” which exactly resemble this smoke.
For several evenings I wandered, smoking in the nighttime corridors of Inwood. The cigarettes were free, so I smoked them quickly. I felt I was walking down a ramp with my burning ember, deeper into some dark crevasse. One night it rained, a misty spring rain. I walked, hatless, toking, through the reflective streets. When I finished a cigarette, I would toss it down, and its red light would bank and spark on the wet street.
Smoking is minimalist: the light of the cigarette, the red of the burning tip, the gray smoke. Red, white and gray are the colors of the Smoker’s Flag, a flag that has never flown over any nation.
Always I was alone with my cigarette. Once, however, on Dyckman Street, I met a friend. “I didn’t know you smoked,” he said, with a touch of fear.
Clearly I had crossed some boundary, between the Wholesome and Good People-the people on television-and the Cataclysmic, Dangerous People-the people in movies.
“I just found some cigarettes on the floor of my high school,” I explained.
“Oh, I see,” my interrogator answered, walking off. Did he believe me?
My parents (who were unobservant) never noticed the smell of tobacco on my mouth.
If I had continued to receive free cigarettes-if I worked in a cigarette factory, for example-I might have smoked my entire life.
I had my 12th cigarette in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1973. I was living in a “collective” (with a group of friends) called the Green Lantern Coop. I shared a room with Joan, my girlfriend. Earlier that year I had flunked out of college; now I was becoming “a writer.” (My actual job was sweeping up at a construction site.) In the evening I would sit at Joan’s desk, writing. One day someone gave me a cigarette, which I smoked at this desk.
My poetry was quite lighthearted, consisting of verses such as:
With my every action
An animal comes out of me.
This morning, when I smiled,
Two white ducks waddled out.
Whenever I cry,
An aged flamingo stands by me.
See, even as I write this poem
A donkey appears, braying .
Nevertheless, within the curling smoke of my Winston, I became what the French call un vrai poète , an Actual Writer-solemn, infinite, arduous. Though I was just 20 years old, I felt 40-even 46. I puffed little, allowing the smoke to rise on its own. The smoke bent around my head, curious, as I wrote. (This was the first cigarette I had smoked indoors.)
My next cigarette came 19 years later, in 1992. The Unbearables, a group of bohemian writers, organized a poetry reading on the Brooklyn Bridge. Afterward we held a party at Tzaurah Litzky’s house, in Brooklyn. This is the same building Hart Crane lived in. As we stood on the rooftop, talking and viewing the East River, someone offered me a cigarette. I accepted.
I held the cylinder in my right hand and discovered that I need not puff. I watched the cigarette-was it a Camel?-slowly diminish, as if by magic. The wind was smoking my cigarette. I felt free and lofty.
This was the first time I had smoked with other people.
Will I ever quit tobacco? No. My habit (unless I am deluding myself) is benign. Since 1970, I have smoked an average of 14¼34 cigarettes a year (which is slightly less than half a cigarette, for the innumerate). It has been 11 years now since my last one. Quietly, I prepare for my next cigarette. I refuse to stop smoking.