Monday, September 03, 2007

THE NEW REPUBLIC DIARIST - Spiders Don't Have Lungs

IT SMELLED LIKE SLOW DEATH IN THERE. Thai take-out food. Bong water. Nightmares …

This is a senior editor’s office at The New Republic. Like all the rooms here it is small and austere; a natural habitat for amphetamine-powered liberals in white shirtsleeves – or if female, a Hillary Suit in crypto-sexual earth tones. Apart from the stacks of festering garbage, the only decoration is a bust of Pontius Pilate bearing the legend, “What is Truth?”

The senior editor himself, whom I’ll call Shifty, looks as if he has never been out of this office, perhaps having evolved out of the huge patch of oatmeal-colored mold that’s creeping up the wall. I am here to see Shifty because he has somehow gotten inserted into the long and tangled editorial chain between the writing and the publication of a piece – that is, he has been called upon to do some actual editing. Imagine Queen Elizabeth being ordered to drive up to Yorkshire and clean a septic tank.

Shifty grabs the article out of my hand and begins to read. This turns out to be a most unpleasant thing to witness, because he apparently stops breathing when he reads. By the time he gets to the third page his hands are trembling and a blue cyanotic stain is creeping up his face and down his neck. Finally he finishes and slams the piece down on his desk, then looks up and fixes me with an icy stare.

“Spiders don’t have lungs,” he says.

“What? Okay. But, uh, there’s not actually anything about spiders in that piece. It’s about the G8 Summit.”

“I know what it’s about, retard, I just read it!” He grabs the pages and throws them at my face. “My point is, spiders don’t have lungs!”

“Okay. Why are you saying that? What does that mean?”

“My God, can’t you hear them? Breathing in the walls? But I know it’s not spiders – I know there’s not a big tangled clump of bloated spiders breathing behind the walls, because spiders don’t have lungs!” His voice drops to a horrified whisper. “Do they?

“Actually I think they do.”


“Insects don’t have lungs,” I explain, “but a lot of arachnids have lungs. So if there was like a huge cluster of giant Black Widow spiders in there - with glistening, pulsating abdomens – I guess they’d all be breathing. If that’s what you were thinking of. Or if it was, like, big honking scorpions or something.”

This information seems to calm him a bit, and he settles back in his chair. “Then, I’m not crazy.”

“God, no,” I say, picking up the pages off the floor. “You’d be crazy not to worry. You want me to put something about spiders in the article? You know, to warn people?”

“Yeah, yeah, that sounds good. Spiders, and something bad about Dick Cheney. That should fix it up.”