Chron­i­cler of our era

New York Daily News - - EDITORIAL -

Tom Wolfe died Mon­day, hav­ing writ­ten thou­sands of pages of crack­ling lit­er­ary commentary on this strange, in­fu­ri­at­ing, en­thralling place we call modern Amer­ica. We’re New York­ers, and we’re mem­bers of the press, so we in­clude here a brief ex­cerpt from “Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties,” in which the shal­low and cow­ardly mayor, speak­ing to a rau­cous crowd, re­al­izes he’s been set up by the city’s most pow­er­ful black preacher, an amoral op­por­tunist:

“He peers through the scald­ing glare of the tele­vi­sion lights. He keeps squint­ing. He’s aware of a great mass of sil­hou­ettes out in front of him. The crowd swells up. The ceil­ing presses down. It’s cov­ered in beige tiles. The tiles have curly in­ci­sions all over them. They’re crum­bling around the edges. Asbestos! He knows it when he sees it! The faces they’re wait­ing for the beano, for the rock fight. Bloody noses! — that’s the idea. The next in­stant means ev­ery­thing. He can han­dle it! He can han­dle heck­lers! Only five-seven, but he’s even bet­ter at it than Koch used to be! He’s the mayor of the great­est city on earth — New York! Him!”

Hiz­zoner fails, mis­er­ably, to com­mand the crowd. The nar­ra­tive con­tin­ues:

“A wave of the purest self-pity rolls over the Mayor. Out of the cor­ner of his eye he can see the tele­vi­sion crews squirm­ing around in the haze of light. Their cam­eras are com­ing out of their heads like horns. They’re swivel­ing around this way and that. They’re eat­ing it up! They’re here for the brawl! They wouldn’t lift a fin­ger. They’re cow­ards! Par­a­sites! The lice of pub­lic life!”

Wolfe’s words, not ours.

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