James Fallows,

James Fallows,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 28 1998 3:30 AM

James Fallows,

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Last Lap
       8 a.m.: Up. Hey, I'm not fighting anymore.
       Through noon: Our household divides the labor.

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  • Tom sleeps.
  • Deb and Tad make another last-items-on-the-checklist shopping run: the drug store, the foul weather gear depot, who knows where else.
  • For me, Scylla vs. Charybdis: I can clean up the office or I can start down the trail of tears (the list of unreturned phone calls). I pick up the phone.

       Also through noon: Three surprising interruptions in the phone call returning process.

  • Clinton speaks in Worcester, Mass. The guy looks terrible! (CNN looks pretty bad itself, spelling the city's name, onscreen, as Worchester throughout the speech. Hey, guys, that's how we tell the difference between England and New England.) It must be dawning on him what he has done to himself. Just guessing, but perhaps quiet time with Hillary has helped make this clear! I can't escape the feeling of seeing a dog that's been run over and, though still kicking, is not going to recover. Realize I've had this feeling about Clinton before: in January 1992, during the draft letter/Gennifer Flowers week. Can he do it again? Little box in the corner of the screen shows the Dow on its long descent.
  • Get a call from a truly stupendous titan of the software world, whose name would make all staffers of Slate fall to the ground in terror. He manfully keeps his mind off what the plunging Dow may be doing to his own fortune. We discuss odd possible twists in my future career.
  • Another and odder call, with another possible career twist. This one taking Deb and me to the very university that is about to claim possession of both our sons! Hmmmmm. When can Deb be trusted with this information???

       12:30 p.m.: Tom appears for the day. Takes control of my ThinkPad to fix links and monitor traffic at the Web site he runs.
       1: Family lunch to discuss the Douglas MacArthur Option: having the whole family go to college, not just the kids! (Mama MacArthur moved into the hotel at West Point when her Dougie became a cadet. Worked OK for them.) Boys reserve judgment.
       3: Back on the phone call trail. No more surprising developments. Except this one: I see a quote in the second issue of Brill's Content (yes, the same one heaping deserved praise on Slate's own Scott Shuger). The quote is from Rick Segal, head of Microsoft's PR efforts against IBM's rival operating system, OS/2, in the early 1990s. Back in those days, in computer forums, I read message after message from Segal and his associates about how terrible OS/2 was. Now he says: "OS/2 was superior, in every way, at the time. ... There isn't a Microsoft person on the planet--if they're being honest--who wouldn't say that absolutely." Hmmm, maybe the conservatives are right, and Clinton's "how, exactly, do you mean 'sex'?" logic chopping has affected our nation. Should "wouldn't say that" be read as subjunctive/hypothetical? (All Microsofties would make the admission if asked now, after the victorious battle?) Or as the weirdo tense called future/past? (The future/past is familiar from heavy breathing nonfiction writing: "Clinton would come to rue the human weakness that ..." In our case here it would mean that this is what they said at the time.) Ahhh, another unsolvable mystery of science.
       3:30: Tom and Tad--different hair color, identical size, both looking shined up in khakis and nice shirts--go downtown to see a financial adviser! The lawn mowing money and the earnings from summer jobs should be sunk in an IRA rather than sitting, chumplike, in low interest bank accounts. They smile at news of the Dow down 350 points. A buying opportunity for those with the 50 year investment perspective.
       5: Our friends the Gotterts--mother, daughter, and son who were Tad and Deb's hosts in Madagascar--arrive for a visit. Long flight has taken its toll on the son; we show him up to bed. Father back home in Antananarivo.
       5:30: Tom and Tad out on a run. I use a big mirror to look at my Achilles' tendon area. One on right is roughly twice as big and swollen up as one on left. I think the technical term for this is "inflammation" or "age-related body collapse." Grrrr.
       7:30: Guests recover, family barbecue, more friends of Tom and Tad arrive.
       9: Ward Cleaver-like, I say, "Hey, let's go to a movie"--and prepare to pack six of Tom and Tad's contemporaries into our van. Almost sell them on Pi, until we see an online review that begins "Art-house all the way." End up with last night's near miss, The Negotiator, actually far better than the action flick its trailers implied. The two mothers stay home to watch Wag the Dog.
       Midnight: Get back home. Diarist's week is over, full of the routine family traffic that is about to be over too.

When he last appeared as a Slate diarist, James Fallows was one year into what proved to be a 22 month run as editor of U.S. News & World Report. He is "taking the summer off" and will resume his previous role as a magazine writer and National Public Radio broadcaster in the fall.