[Ed. note: this article was originally published on June 24, 1996.]
This is a story about two people with jobs. Two people with very important jobs. Two very important people, with two very important jobs, who are married to each other and have exactly one child.
Meet James and Winnie Dieke (“pronounced ‘deek,’ not ‘dyke’”). The perfect couple. They live in a five-room apartment on the Upper West Side. They graduated from Ivy League colleges (he, Harvard; she, Smith). Winnie is 37, and James is 42—the perfect age difference, they like to say. They’ve been married nearly 10 years. Their lives revolve around their work and their child. They love to work. Their work keeps them busy. Their work separates them from other people. Their work, in their minds, makes them superior to other people.
They are journalists. Serious journalists.
Winnie writes a politics-and-style column (“Is that an oxymoron?” James asked her) for a major news magazine. James is a well-known and highly respected journalist—he writes worthy 5,000- to 10,000-word pieces for publications like The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and The New Yorker.
James and Winnie agree on just about everything. They have definite opinions. “There’s something wrong with people who don’t have informed opinions about things," Winnie said to James, when they met for the first time, at a party in an apartment on the Upper West Side. Everyone at the party was “in publishing” and under 35. Most of the women (like Winnie), were working at women’s magazines (something Winnie never talks about now). James had just won an American Society of Magazine Editors award for a story on fly-fishing. Everyone knew who he was. He was tall and skinny, with floppy, curly brown hair. (He’s still tall and skinny, but he’s lost most of his hair.) There were women all around him.
Here are a few of the things Winnie and James agree on: They hate anyone who isn’t like them. They hate anyone who is wealthy and gets press. They hate trendy people and things (but James just bought a pair of Dakota Smith sunglasses, and they drive a BMW). They hate anyone who has appeared on TV, with the exception of Michael Kinsley and Ted Koppel (everyone else is a “lightweight”).
They hate people who do drugs. They hate people who drink too much (unless it’s one of their friends, and even then, they complain about the person often). They hate the Hamptons (but take a house there, anyway, in Sag Harbor). They believe in the poor. (They do not know anyone who is poor, except their Jamaican nanny, who is not exactly poor.) They believe in black writers. (They know two, and Winnie is working on becoming friends with a third—whom she met at a convention.) They hate music. They think fashion is silly (but secretly identify with the people in Dewar’s ads). They believe in women writers (as long as the women do not become too successful or get too much attention or write about things the Diekes do not approve of, like sex—unless it’s lesbian sex).
James says he is a feminist, but always puts down women who are not like Winnie (including her sister). They put down women who do not have children. Who are not married. Winnie gets sick at the sight of a woman she considers a slut, a gold digger, a whore.
The Diekes don’t know people who go to clubs or who stay out late, or who have sex (except Winnie’s sister). People who stay up late cannot, by their definition, be “serious.” It takes the Diekes all day (and often well into the evening) to get their work done. Then, they are so exhausted, they can only go home and eat dinner (prepared by the Jamaican nanny) and go to sleep. (Winnie has to get up at 6 to be with her child and go running, which is becoming a real chore, ever since their son outgrew the baby jogger.) At home, they are cozy and superior, and sometimes, when they’re not working, they sit around in fuzzy flannel pajamas with their son, who is 4. Winnie and the boy wear slippers in the shape of stuffed animals, and Winnie makes their slippered, stuffed animal feet talk to each other. The child is a sweet and happy and beautiful child who never complains. “But he’s a real boy,” Winnie always says to her friends. It always shocks Winnie when she says this, it makes her a little afraid, because she does not like to admit that men and women are different. (If men and women are different, where does it leave her?)
Winnie believes (no, knows) that she is smarter than James (even though she’s not sure that he will ever admit it), and as good a journalist as he is, and as good a writer. She often thinks that she is actually better than he (in every way, not just journalism), but he (being a man) has gotten more breaks. James’ style of writing and her style of writing (which she picked up from James, who picked it up from other writers of his tall, gaunt, khakis-and-button-down ilk) was not hard to figure out how to do, once she understood the motivation. Ditto for their conversational style: pseudointellectual and desperately clever at the same time: clintellectual. (Tell me I’m smart—or I’ll wound you.)
Winnie is deeply bitter and James is deeply bitter, but they never talk about it.