Freedom Starts at the Cookie Jar

Why I'm going to pitch a new reality show called "The Deadliest Batch"

| Thu Jun. 30, 2005 3:00 AM EDT

IT HAD GOTTEN TO THE POINT where I was taking Bikram yoga classes to cool off, so, yeah, I was glad to be getting the hell out of New York. Plus the great thing about watching the news on a plane is you've got the barf bag right there. Why I watch anymore, I don't know. I think it's just to keep track of the stories that don't get any traction.

A lot of people are still pulling for that Downing Street memo (about a guy who lives in a white house wanting a war no matter what), to finally make some big waves in the press, now that the question of sleepovers has been put to bed -- and by the way, even if Michael Jackson got off on everything, he still qualifies as an honorary Catholic priest, right?

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But here's something you may have missed -- that to me is way more disturbing than anything else I’ve heard in a while. The Cookie Monster came out recently and said that, from now on, he's going to start calling cookies a "sometimes food." Mind you, I know about the craziness that erupted over whether or not to liberate PBS from government funding and all that, but I am not talking about anything so trivial. I'm talking about a Copernican shift in my reality that, frankly, I’m not ready to handle.

A sometimes food? But you are the Cookie Monster. What, are you watching your waist now? You don't even have a waist. You just slope down to a furry blue hemline, as far as I can tell. Ever since my childhood, I have related to that primal scream, "Cookie!" To this day I still confuse raison d'etre with oatmeal raisin. So please, don't futz with one of my fondest childhood archetypes to appease some misguided food-pyramid revisionism.

Kids know better than to trust a monster that counts calories. That's what I loved about the Cookie Monster; his message rang true. Sure, you can argue that a certain president was being true to himself when he gave the wrong definition for the word disassemble, which he mistook for the word dissemble, while he himself was in the act of dissembling, during a press conference. But to me it's not nearly as straightforward or charming.

For him, though, it works brilliantly, playing right into that mistake mystique that he's cultivated so cleverly over time. Every gaffe adds to his error aura. And no memo is any match for it. Of course, how he spends his grammatical capital is none of my business. But I would love to see a "Leave No President Behind" bill signed, just to reset the bar for the future.

I'll tell you, though, there's only one person I’d ever be interested in having as my future president. I think the country would agree with me unanimously -- and we can't afford her. It would be quite a pay cut for Oprah. What would she gain from stooping so low as to slum it in the Oval Office?

On the other hand, Pope... Now that would be a viable career move for her. There's some prestige in that. Pope Oprah. Poprah. She wouldn't even really have to change her name, just meld it into the title. And put on the hat.

I can so see it. After this current clash of civilizations shakes out, there's going to be a power vacuum. Who better to fill it than someone with that kind of money and ratings, a unifying real-life lovable bobble-head figure that preaches healing and closure and shows up at your house for surprise makeovers? She wouldn't just be a ceremonial stooge, either. She'd actually be in charge and control everything in the world, except her weight. And it wouldn't matter because under those robes, who cares?

Anyway, I noticed something on my way back from wrestling a flight attendant in the galley for another Oreo. Nobody on the plane was watching the news. Nearly everyone onboard had tuned their individual little chair-back TVs to one of those Discovery Channel-type reality shows, where these guys were risking their lives -- dying, literally -- to catch Alaskan king crab.

Every five seconds somebody's going overboard. Guys are biting it left and right, because it’s so dangerous. It’s a staggering death toll, and people are loving this show. Because it's for crab. If it's war, then everybody's getting upset, there's controversy, memos, it gets all personal, and families can't talk to each other anymore. As a nation we are much more unified about crustacean consumption than we are about foreign policy. You will never see a "no-blood for crab legs" bumper sticker.

Honestly, I had never stopped to even consider the human cost represented by the heap of crab legs piled up like firewood at an all-you-can-eat buffet. On the other hand, I am not about to start eating imitation crab just to save a few deck hands. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as imitation terrorists. So it's not like we could substitute, even if we wanted to make the sacrifice. Obviously we’re in need of distractions, and lots of melted butter.

Luckily, "War of the Worlds" is going to open any day now, and I can't wait. What better escapist retreat from a real war, started on a fudged pretext, than a fictional war, started by aliens from outer space, for no apparent reason whatsoever, except so Tom Cruise can go on every talk show possible and swear he's really really, really in love this time.

Sure, I wish I could just see it as a movie, a fun summer blockbuster, the way I would have when I was a kid. Especially 'cause, you know, summers and childhood, they go together, and the heat takes you back to a time you were naturally limber without practicing no damn downward dog pose.

I don't know, though, if any of those memories are gonna be spared. I mean, I can't even hear any of those lyrics anymore -- "do re mi, A B C, 1 2 3, baby you and me girl" -- without headlines popping into my head, like, "Culken Testifies." Kinda ruins it for me. And the monster whose dependable cry became my earliest personal mantra -- that cookies are to be eaten on sight and until they are all gone -- has suddenly and unforgivably flip-flopped on his position. They are now to be eaten in moderation, at unspecified intervals.

Who wants to live in a world where cookies are a sometimes food? Where's the outrage over this? Why isn't anybody digging up the Sesame Street memo?

I don't know what it's all coming to, exactly. But I have faith that we'll get through this. And when we do, I say, give unto Poprah what is Poprah's. And give unto the Cookie Monster the whole bag of double-chocolate-mint milanos.

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