A Meeting Between Elizabeth Wurtzel and Jonathan Franzen
“Excuse me,” he asked quietly, “Is this seat taken?” She looked up, lusciously, from the New York Times (but in German) and blinked, still lusciously, before smiling.
“No, please go ahead.” He sat down and smiled back.
“So,” he said, “is the coffee any good here?”
She let the Times (still in German) drop to her (still luscious) lap. “No,” she said. “And I blame–”
“–the Internet,” he finished, almost unconsciously, until he realized they’d both spoken in unison. They laughed, and something warm knit the air between them together.
“The coffee here was much better before the Internet,” she said. “I’ve been to Germany.”
He scooted his chair closer to hers. “Oh, have you? I love Germany. It’s so uncool.”
“If you say you’re taking a trip to Germany, you’d better be able to explain what specifically you’re planning to do there,” she said, “or else people will wonder why you’re not going someplace where life is beautiful. Even now, Germany insists on content over form. If the concept of coolness had existed in Kraus’s time, he might have said that Germany is uncool.”
“Wow,” he said.
“I read that in a magazine,” she said by way of explanation.
“I wrote that,” he said.
“Get out of here.”
“I did, I wrote that.”
“Where did I read that?”
“I’ve never quoted anything from a magazine in my life,” she said. “That’s amazing. Don’t you think that’s amazing?”
“Look,” he said, “It spoke to you, and that pleases me.”
“Do you find the thighs of Lena Dunham inexcusable, too?” she asked.
“I do. I do. I can find no excuse for them anywhere in the works of Karl Kraus, the Great Hater, nor in the writings of any of the lesser haters who came after him.”
“Did you know that Martha Stewart went to prison, and that all of rap music has betrayed its roots because P. Diddy hosts a costume party every year?”
“I did not know this,” he said gravely, “but I have been watching a lot of those new Mac vs. PC ads lately.”
“Computers,” she said.
“Computers,” he said. They drank their coffee.
“Have you ever noticed,” she began, then halted.
“What is it?” he asked.
“No, it’s stupid,” she said.
“Have you ever noticed,” she continued, “Have you ever noticed that everything important on television is about people our age?”
He nodded slowly. “I had noticed that,” he said. “I had noticed that, because all of my friends who own television sets have told me that.”
“Not like how the Internet is,” she said, laughing a little. He laughed too. The coffee was warm and dark.
“I’ve heard of Fifty Shades of Gray,” she said, not a little proudly.
“Hmm,” he said. “Everything is wrong.”
“Facebook,” she said knowingly.
“Yes, Facebook,” he agreed. “What should the young people do?”
“The young people should rock bands,” she said, banging her fist on the table so emphatically her coffee spilled a little. They laughed a little then, because she was so full of life, just as her cup was full of coffee.
“The young people should not Jeff Bezos. Nor Amazon,” he said, then poured like half a thing of the sugar shaker into his coffee. “They should not shout ‘Whoa!’ at Mentos.”
“There is no system too harsh to stop genius,” she said.
“You’ve made a claim,” he said.
“I have, haven’t I?” she smiled.
“But of course–” he began.
“The Internet,” they finished together in chorus.
“Between piracy, and China, and digital, Hollywood is just all messed up,” she said.
“And Salman Rushdie keeps sending me emojis,” he said. A single tear fell into his sugar mound.
“Everything should be intense,” she said. “Like Led Zeppelin, or escalators, or dying inside of a forest.”
“Like King Lear,” he said. They both flung their coffee in each other’s open eyes.
“That was so intense,” she breathed, blinking. “I can’t see.”
“Could you ever see?” he asked, bleeding a little bit out of his eyes.
“Let’s go to Germany,” she cried. “Let’s go to Germany at once.”
“We are already there,” he said. And they were, and it was wonderful.