Note: today, David Brooks wrote a new column about how the wealthy are walling off lower American classes from understanding the newest cultural signifiers, which contains an egregious paragraph about him taking his friend to a gourmet sandwich shop that has received ample Twitter condemnation.
How does Brooks get his ideas? Here’s my take:
David Brooks was nervous. He had just sent a piece to his editor about why nobody wants to hang out with him, because a friend of his had bailed last week and he took it as a sign of the end of times. Now, a friend was coming to meet him at a new Italian restaurant near his home in Washington D.C. Out of sympathy? Because they thought they would get a free meal? David scoffed at that last part. Anyone dining with him would have to know that, as a New York Times writer, he has no obligation to pick up a check for anybody.
But David was worried. His friend was late. And as he sipped on a macchiato freddo with extra almond milk (after yelling at the barista, “WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR YOU TO SAY ‘ICED COFFEE WITH MILK?’”), ruminating over another idea for a column, he wondered if, after years of asking why gays would want to get married and supporting the Iraq War, his friends had finally run out of patience with him.
Just then, his friend, a 35-year-old woman visiting from New York, wearing her “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and sporting a “Future is female” button on her tote bag, entered the restaurant and sat down across from him. Before she even had a chance to say hello, he was off, ranting about how her lateness was a sign that her generation doesn’t care about honoring time commitments, and how after four years, he still didn’t understand why nobody wanted to add him on Words with Friends, even though his friend calmly explained to him that nobody used that app anymore.
“Why aren’t things the way they used to be?” he lamented. “Why are the wealthy rewriting the rules on everything? Your daughter’s not going to have the same opportunities that you had because of them!”
“I wouldn’t say that,” said the friend. “Just because I send her to a public school by our apartment in Brooklyn doesn’t mean that she has less of a chance to move upward than those rich girls from the Upper West Side.”
“But you’re buying into it! You believe that your daughter’s going to have upward mobility even though the rich have rigged the game against you, too! They’re creating a culture filled with things that people like you, who don’t have a college degree, will always feel excluded from!”
“I may not have an Ivy League-education,” she said, “but I’ve made up for it by improving my self-knowledge whenever I can. Besides, if someone drops a reference to something I don’t know, I can always just look it up online. It’s really not a big deal.”
“I can’t believe how blind you are,” he said. “You have no idea how the wealthy are cutting off access to yours and your daughter’s opportunities!”
“I’m confused,” she said. “Are you admitting that this is your fault? Because you’re wealthy. Are you taking personal responsibility for this, or do you just not like the fact that the culture is changing to accommodate diversity and it’s not going to tolerate people who disguise their condescension in the form of ‘just asking questions’?”
“Let’s order some lunch! I’ll bet you’re hungry!” he said, changing the subject, lest he be caught contradicting himself again.
“What can I get you?” the Waiter, a hipster who David assumed still lived in his parents’ basement, asked.
“What do you have that’s got pork in it?” his friend asked.
“We’ve got several choices. There’s prosciutto, soppressata, capicollo…”
“I haven’t heard of the last two,” she said. “What are they like?”
Before the waiter had the chance to sell her on these two kinds of ham, David was off again.
“Why can’t you just say ‘ham?’” he asked.
“Oh god,” said the Waiter. “You’re the guy who asked my friend why she couldn’t say ‘iced coffee with milk.’ They warned me about you.”
“They should’ve warned me about YOU!” David snapped back, indignant. “Look at you, thinking you’re better than everybody else because you work at some fancy new gentrified Italian restaurant with fancy-schmancy names for everything!”
“These are pretty common Italian names,” he replied.
“Oh, you’re just virtue-shaming me, paying off your student loan debts from that school by working at this place that’s taking part in the gentrification of America!”
“Cool it, David,” his friend said. “He’s just a waiter.”
“And that’s another thing!” David said. “How can you confuse this poor woman like that with those long words? She only has a high school education! How do you hope to include people in her economic bracket?”
“Wow, I didn’t know you needed a college degree to ask questions,” she muttered.
“You’re just blind to the ways the system is rigged against people like you!” he cried.
“Listen, if you want me to bring your friend the ham, I’ll gladly do it.”
“Oh, forget it,” he said. “We have no business going someplace like this. Come on, let’s go get Mexican instead.”
“But I haven’t even had the chance to order!” she protested.
“This place doesn’t deserve our money!”
“If you like, I can recommend some great taco trucks in the neighborhood,” the Waiter said.
“Well, there’s a new Tacomadre truck from Houston that serves tacos de maiz carintas con todo, and they’re great.”
“GODDAMMIT, SAY IT IN ENGLISH! YOU’RE CONFUSING HER!”
“He said ‘pork tacos with everything.’ I have three years of high school Spanish,” she said.
The next thing she knew, the glass of the window shattered, leaving a giant Republican-lite-shaped-hole in it as a balding mid-50s man ran down the street, furiously typing notes on his iphone for a new column about the exclusionary nature of American culture.
“Didn’t even leave a tip,” the Waiter said.
“Pretty standard of him,” the Friend replied.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.