Barely two weeks after New York Times columnist and helicopter humanitarian Nicholas Kristof blasted the poor for smoking too much pot and having too many TVs, one of his targets had the gall to sneak into his unlocked Philadelphia hotel room on Saturday morning. Kristof had neglected to completely shut the door when he went down to the lobby to get some coffee.
But never fear. When Kristof returned and confronted the burglar holding the still-sleeping Mrs. Kristof's purse, he threatened to throw his hot coffee right at the culprit. When the man dropped the purse and fled the premises, our intrepid columnist immediately gave chase while his wife called security.
Kristof didn't even need to think twice. After all, he was in the City of Brotherly Love for a meeting of the American Philosophical Society.
I chase after him, hot on his heels.It's the same way that he only tackles greedy TV owners who are poorer than he.
“I’ll stab you with a knife if you keep coming,” he shouts at me. I don’t see a knife but I stay a couple of paces behind him just in case. At the second floor, he exits the stairwell. It’s the restaurant level, and he barrels through a screen into the restaurant, sending it crashing to the floor. I chase after him and shout at a horrified waitress to call security. We rush past her and now he takes the main grand staircase into the lobby. At this point, with other people nearby and not wanting him to escape out the main door, I jump him. There’s a tussle, and I pin him in a full nelson. (This is less heroic than it sounds, because he’s scrawny; I only tackle thieves who are smaller than me.)
Last month, it wasn't a homeless man who threatened Kristof, but the stereotypical pit bull terrier in an unkempt front yard in Arkansas, where he had helicoptered down to take a concerned look at how deadbeat mothers neglect their children. Our intrepid columnist was absolutely aghast at the living conditions of Emanuel, the 13-year-old boy living there.
Emanuel has three televisions in his room, two of them gargantuan large-screen models. But there is no food in the house. As for the TVs, at least one doesn’t work, and the electricity was supposed to be cut off for nonpayment on the day I visited his house here in Pine Bluff: Emanuel’s mother deployed her pit bull terrier in the yard in hopes of deterring the utility man. (This seemed to work.)The home, filthy and chaotic with a broken front door, reeks of marijuana. The televisions and Emanuel’s bed add an aspirational middle-class touch, but they were bought on credit and are at risk of being repossessed. The kitchen is stacked with dirty dishes, and not much else.
What many Americans don’t understand about poverty is that it’s perhaps less about a lack of money than about not seeing any path out. More than 80 percent of American households living below the poverty line have air-conditioning, so in material terms they’re incomparably better off than poor families in India or Congo. In other ways their lives can be worse.And that was it for that column. Kristof offered no policy prescriptions for, say, an increase in the unconscionably paltry monthly food stamp stipends for poor families. The problem is that not enough of us understand the plight of poor Americans the same way that Helicopter Nick does. And why should we even bother? Kristof reassures his liberal readership that the lives of the poor could always be worse.
Now, back to his thrill-packed weekend hotel adventure. He breathlessly broadcast the details out to the world which he covers like a plastic garment bag -- before, apparently, he'd even had a chance to drink his weaponized coffee:
My published response:I’m shouting that he’s a thief, others are screaming, things are flying around, and the members of the American Philosophical Society step out in the lobby to see the fight and figure out what’s going on. A hotel bellman rushes over and assists, and then another, and we restrain him until the police show up. The man is furious and threatening me. Then we all go to the police station to make a statement; he turns out to be homeless and unarmed. I somehow messed up my thumb in the fight but am otherwise just fine; Sheryl and I are both relieved and thankful for the well wishes. Here’s a local news report on it.Two main takeaways. First, thank goodness he didn’t have a gun. Second, always, always, always, lock your hotel room door, even if you’re only going to be gone a couple of minutes.
This column reminded me of the slapstick hotel scene in Mel Brooks's "High Anxiety" -- right down to the ironic backdrop of the American Philosophical Society confab.It could always have been worse. The columnist-philosopher could have asked the bellhop who'd helped him tackle the homeless guy to bring him up a copy of the Times. And then, when Kristof was washing off that horrible homeless smell in a hot shower, the annoyed bellhop could have re-enacted the High Anxiety re-enactment of Psycho and attacked him with his own column.
So, now that we know Nick is a super-hero who can tackle skinny, homeless purse-snatchers, maybe he can devote some future columns to the problem of homelessness itself. How about (despite the sudden elite need to make nice with Trumpy) advocating for a federal guaranteed housing policy? And I don't mean homeless shelters that are more dangerous than the streets, or temporary fleabag hotel rooms. I mean a clean, permanent apartment for anybody needing one. We could even start with Trump Tower, now that Trump has found himself some new digs.
Was the burglar lurking in Kristof's fashionable hotel because he was starving, having had his food stamp stipend cut off in that recent bipartisan move to help the poor get out of their lazy hammocks of luxury? Or was he in search of some quick cash for an opioid fix? Kristof apparently didn't ask, given his throbbing thumb trauma.
But thankfully he doesn't forget the obligatory media Takeaways. The lessons of this whole ordeal in the Age of Anxiety for Well-Off But Very, Very Nervous Philosophers is to be grateful that not all desperadoes have guns, and always lock your doors. You just never know when the collateral damage of our trickle-down society is lurking just outside to steal your money and knock your security as well as your thumbs right out of joint.
But thankfully for weekly global destinations and for helicopter journalism, Kristof is safe -- if not quite sound.
Because now that Trump is a done deal despite Nick Kristof's best scare-mongering efforts over the past year or so, our intrepid poor-fighter is now willing to admit that he actually might find common ground with the man he once found so abominable.
Only days before the hungry homeless guy wandered into his luxury hotel room and tried to steal some cash in lieu of the flat-screen TV or contents of the hospitality fridge, Kristof lectured his liberal readers,
When a former Ku Klux Klan leader like David Duke is giddily celebrating a political triumph for his values, how can we not ache for our own selves.Yet, like it or not, we Americans have a new president-elect, and it’s time to buck up. I’ve seen past elections that were regarded as the end of the world — including, in many Democratic circles, the Reagan triumph of 1980 — and the republic survived. This time as well, our institutions are stronger than any one man. We are not Weimar Germany.With any luck, Trump will sign all of Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan's anti-poor legislation and get those TVs and marijuana cigarettes out of the filthy homes of the impoverished right quick. Liberals will just have to philosophically buck up, if only for the sake of themselves. And I hear there's already a booming therapy market for those still achingly and frantically looking for scapegoats, such as working class whites.
It was disgraceful that many Republicans eight years ago tried to make President Obama fail. That’s not the path to emulate. Today, having lost, we owe it to our nation to grit our teeth and give President-elect Trump a chance.
Let the poor eat the leftovers, tastefully wrapped in the flaky crust of old Sunday New York Times luxury real estate sections, and sanitized for our protection.