Win a Date With E.J. Dionne
Contests to "meet your favorite columnist" could easily get out of hand.
Nicholas Kristof writes a man's column. As he describes his life twice a week in the New York Times, Kristof (who just won this year's Pulitzer Prize for commentary) actually lives the fantasy that seduced us all into the column racket in the first place. Partying all night while accepting large bribes from businessmen who don't want to be mentioned in print and movie stars who do? No, no. That fantasy comes later. I mean: stripping down to your loincloth and swinging through the trees to some distant place of misery that those other lazy bastards are too fat and old and weak to get to, and rescuing victims of oppression with your superpower of worldwide publicity. No joke, he does good. But also: cool!
Not that Kristof ignores women's issues, either. He opposes rape, for example. Chicks love that.
So naturally I was intrigued by a promotion the Times has been running: "Win a Trip with Nick Kristof." Gosh. Me? On a trip with Nick Kristof?? Wowie. Nick himself writes: "I'm looking for a masochist. If your dream trip doesn't involve a five-star hotel in Rome or Bora-Bora, but a bedbug-infested mattress in a malarial jungle as hungry jackals yelp outside—then read on." He adds, "Don't expect comfort so much as diarrhea." How on earth did Kristof know about my bedbugs-and-jackals-and-diarrhea fantasy? Bob Woodward promised me he wouldn't tell anyone else.
The rules say you have to be over 18 and a college or graduate student, but I can fake both of those. And Nick reassures us that those "boring" lawyers have "nixed" some of his usual favorite activities, such as "hiking through Afghan minefields, riding a camel through Darfur, or sneaking illegally into Zimbabwe." And all it takes is "a 700-word essay on why you're the perfect traveling companion for Nick Kristof." Very tempting. I wouldn't have to tell them that I snore. And I could use a few tips on how to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Then I try to picture the scene. It's the middle of the night. We're in a small tent pitched on the rocky slope of a mountain trail: me, Nick, our trusty guide, three prostitutes we've rescued from a life of sex slavery, and four local businessmen unjustly accused of insider trading on the village's primitive, hand-pumped stock exchange. Outside, the jackals are yelping. Inside, nature is calling. Urgently. Am I man enough to face the jackals, or masochist enough to wait until morning? Answer: Whatever. I'm tough. I can handle either of these. But ultimately, the jackals are less terrifying than the thought of one more minute listening to Nick's tales of all the real adventures he's been on that make this one seem like a game of paddycakes. I flee the tent, am devoured by the jackals, and Kristof gets a column out of it.
No, in the end, I have to be honest with myself. These days, my dream doesn't involve bedbugs and jackals, but a five-star hotel in Rome. That's why I have decided instead to enter the Times' next contest: "Win a Trip With Tom Friedman."
Tom writes: "The world, as you know, is flat. If you're not afraid to fall off the edge, if you dream of running up travel expenses that would finance Hannibal's army, if you fantasize about meeting presidents and prime ministers and reminding them that the world is flat, if you can go to Davos and Aspen and Bilderberg and still get it up for the Bohemian Grove, then you may be the right person to accompany me on a unique 'World Is Flat World Tour.' We will be staying in the best hotels and interviewing world leaders day and night. You may find yourself discoursing in Arabic about the flatness of the world with a group of Saudi princes, or even asking the Pope himself, 'Do you agree with Tom Friedman that the world is flat?' All it takes to apply is a 700-word essay on 'Why the World is Flat.' " Tom himself will choose the winner, and they'll immediately be off to St. Petersburg, where you will get to operate the PowerPoint for Tom's presentation titled: "Flatter Will Get You Nowhere: The Limits of World Flatness."
Or maybe I should wait and Win a Trip With Maureen Dowd. Maureen writes: "Are you girl enough to come shopping with me and my best friend, Jill? Can you dis the defense department and find the shoe department at the same time?"
The Washington Post has chosen, so far, not to subject its columnists to this kind of embarrassment. But how long can it hold out? I'm psyched for "Win a Trip With George Will." Finally admitting his uncanny resemblance to Mr. Peabody, the scholarly time-traveling dog on the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show, George takes a lucky companion back to the 18th century, where they will explain the original meaning of the Declaration of Independence to its signers.
Join David Broder in a tour of Midwestern capitals. You'll interview more lieutenant governors than there are stars on the flag. Or take seething lessons from Charles Krauthammer. Or write an essay on, "Why I have no interest in a trip with Robert Novak." Novak writes: "I'm looking for people who want to travel with me as little as I want to travel with them." The lucky winner won't have to.
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for the Washington Post and the founding editor of Slate.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker