Feb 20, 2007

The Thomas Friedman mindfuck...

It's a heavy burden being the world's most influential columnist. Women expect you to live up to the legend. And we're not talking about a mustache. We mean size. Cock size. When you write like Friedman does, women expect a whopper. They're looking for a head the size of a Grannysmith apple and a shaft that dangles like a baby's arm, with veins thick as ropes. If you can't deliver, you've got to turn to modern science for help. The only catch is that, if you do elect to go with the surgical option, you've got to keep it a secret from your co-workers. Especially from your secretary. Otherwise, it could be embarrassing:

Call to Barron Center Clinic, New York City, (212) 686-7546:

* eXile: Hello, is this the Barron Center?
* Barron Center: Yes, it is.
* eXile: Can you tell me if you offer male enhancement procedures?
* Barron Center: Yes, we do, that's what we specialize in.
* eXile: Okay, good. Can you tell me a little bit about your procedure, how much it costs, that sort of thing?
* Barron Center: Yeah, sure. I can give you a quick overview. We offer two different procedures, one for lengthening and one for widening. Most men will usually want to have both procedures done on the same day. Some men want one or the other...
* eXile: I'll probably want both.
* Barron Center: Okay, well, most men usually do. We do them in our surgical center here in New York. It's outpatient. Most people will go back to work two or three days later.
* eXile: Okay.
* Barron Center: The increase in length will be approximately one and a half inches, with an increase in circumference of anywhere from 30% to 50%. The cost of both procedures in the same day is $6900. If you want to do the length and the width separately, it's $5900.
* eXile: $6900.
* Barron Center: Are there any questions you want to ask?
* eXile: Yes, are there any side effects, particularly involving hormonal disruptions? If heard stories about facial hair falling out, mustaches thinning...
* Barron Center: I've never heard of anything like that [launches lengthy speech about "pretty low" risk of serious infection]... But the kind of thing you're talking about, I've never heard of.
* eXile: Because the thing is, I'm a television personality, and I can't afford any alterations in my appearance.
* Barron Center: I've never heard of any problems of that sort, with regard to facial hair...
* eXile: Mustaches.
* Barron Center: ...mustaches, anything like that.
* eXile: Okay.
* Barron Center: Okay?
* eXile: Um, is there any chance that you could send me a brochure? Some written material?
* Barron Center: Sure, absolutely! We have a full-color brochure, with before and after photos...
* eXile: I'll be wanting to look at those.
* Barron Center: (uncomfortably) Sure... And what is your first name?
* eXile: Thomas.
* Barron Center: Thomas. And the last name?
* eXile: Friedman.

From there we went on to give our sunny Barron Center representative (whose name turned out to be "Howard") Friedman's work address at the New York Times bureau in Washington: 1627 I St., NW #700, Washington, DC 20006. Having thus made sure that this plainly-marked envelope would land on the desk of Friedman's secretary, we then went on to ask about possible dates for surgery. Howard told us that "the earliest free dates" would be between the 24th and 27th of April. We paused as though to look in a planner, then told him that the 26th looked good to us. He said great and made a note of it. We told him we'd call back to confirm.

Like CIA spies leaving careful records of the movements of phantom agents, we then went on to make plane and hotel reservations for Friedman on the dates in question, making sure to leave Friedman's direct line at work -- (202) 862-0372 -- as a contact number each time. Explaining that "delicate circumstances" prevented us from going through our usual travel agent, we called Travel Express, Inc. (202-628-8638) on H street in Washington -- just around the corner from Friedman's office -- and made arrangements to buy a set of Delta shuttle tickets to and from New York for the dates of April 26 and 27, respectively. To the question of why we needed to buy shuttle tickets through a travel agent, we had a ready answer:

* eXile: The thing is, I need a first-class seat for the trip back. I was hoping you could find me the back end of an international flight, say a 747 coming from Switzerland, you know, stopping at Kennedy on the way to Washington.
* Travel Express: (woman's voice) Uh...
* eXile: You see, I'm having surgery, and I need to sit in a comfortable seat on that flight.
* Travel Express: (pauses) Um... I'm not seeing any of these flights, either International or Dulles.
* eXile: What about the 28th?
* Travel Express: No, no...
* eXile: Oh, they just don't exist.
* Travel Express: It's just the aircraft that they use...
* eXile: Right. Is there a business class on the shuttle?
* Travel Express: No. It's all the same.
* eXile: Hm. Well, I guess I'll take the shuttle tickets, then. Can I buy them through you?
* Travel Express: Oh, sure, sure. (long pause on both ends of the line; then, helpfully) You know, I could get you an emergency exit aisle seat, they have more room -- but no, if you've had surgery, you won't qualify. You have to be able to assist others in case of emergency.
* eXile: No, I definitely won't be able to assist anybody, I --
* Travel Express: What leg is it? The left or the right?
* eXile: I, uh, I'd really rather not get into it.
* Travel Express: Well, it could determine what side of the aircraft you'd sit on. If it's your right leg, you could sit on the left side of the plane.
* eXile: It's, ah, sort of on... both sides, I can't really explain it on the phone. I'll just take any seat, any seat is fine.
* Travel Express: Uh, okay.

Once that deal was finally done -- again giving the name, phone number and address of Thomas Friedman -- we told Travel Express that we'd be back that afternoon to pay in cash. "It has to be in cash," we said. The agent gave us the exact address and directions and said she'd expect us later that afternoon.

The hotel room we reserved was at Morgan's in New York, a "superior" suite for $225 a night. The customer service rep who took the reservation was flamingly gay and we gave him, too, the name and coordinates of Thomas Friedman. There was only special request:

* eXile: Does the hotel have room service?
* Morgan's: Yes, of course!
* eXile: Because I'm going to be having surgery, and I'm not going to want to move too much.
* Morgan's: We absolutely have room service.
* eXile: What kind of cuisine is it?
* Morgan's: Um...well, I would say it's probably like a Fusion or European cuisine, very good, I'm sure.
* eXile: That's good. I'm going to need to eat.

Although we didn't have the credit card to confirm the reservation ("Tom" had left his wallet in his coat in another room), Morgan's promised to fax us a copy of the reservation agreement immediately so that Tom could "show it to the travel desk."

The last remaining step to make the whole thing work was to let the cat out of the bag. Posing as Bradley Pfeiffer, travel agent for Travel Express, Inc., we called Friedman's office and got his secretary on the line:

* NYT: Thomas Friedman's office.
* eXile: (in drippingly gay voice) Oh, hello! This is Bradley Pfeiffer from Travel Express, Inc. I'm just calling to confirm Mr. Friedman's reservation, that he'll be picking up his airline tickets this evening or this afternoon?
* NYT: Um...ah, for what flight?
* eXile: Oh, this is his trip to New York, in April, April 26th? The reservations were booked through the Barron Center Clinic in New York, and --
* NYT: Oh, I'm sorry, Bradley, I've got him on the other line. Can I call you back?
* eXile: It's (202)-628-8638. [Actual Travel Express Number].
* NYT: Okay. But he made this through American Express?
* eXile: No, actually, the reservations were made through the [speaking loudly] BARRON CENTER CLINIC in New York directly. We do a lot of work with them.
* NYT: Okay, I'll find out the details and call you back.
* eXile: Okay. That's Bradley Pfeiffer.
* NYT: Okay. Bye
* eXile: Bye!

All the pieces were now in place. The secretary would switch to Friedman on the other line and ask him about the trip to New York on April 26th. Friedman would immediately deny that there was any trip to New York and demand to know what was going on. The secretary would call Travel Express, Inc. back, ask for Bradley Pfeiffer, and find out that there was no such person. Intrigued, she would explain the situation to someone at the travel agency, perhaps even a manager, at which point she would learn that, in fact, a man calling himself Thomas Friedman had in fact reserved a roundtrip ticket to New York. The agent may recall the man mentioning surgery. Actual plans had been made, and those phone calls had really been placed -- but why? From there neither side would be able to unravel the mystery any further, until...

Sometime later that afternoon, a fax would arrive from a hotel in New York showing reservations for a suite on April 26th. Or no fax would arrive and Friedman's secretary would get a phone call from another gay-sounding man claiming to be a clerk at a New York hotel with the chilling name of "Morgan's." With any luck, the secretary would mistake the hotel clerk for the mysterious Bradley Pfeiffer and begin shouting accusations at him. Or perhaps after three ominous and inexplicable phone incidents Friedman's secretary will have already called the phone company and made sure the *66 function in the office was operational. In either case, the inquiry would eventually lead back to the actual Morgan's hotel, where it would be determined that someone identifying himself as Thomas Friedman really had called to make reservations for the 26th. Again, there would be plain evidence of not insignificant effort being put into some sort of bizarre, elaborate deception, but the reasons for it would doomed to remain a complete mystery.

The whole thing comes together finally when the envelope plainly marked "Barron Center Clinic" arrives on the desk of Friedman's secretary in a few days. Unless she happened to write it down at the time -- which was unlikely -- Friedman's secretary would not be likely to have immediately recalled the name "Barron Center Clinic" in the wake of the mysterious Bradley Pfeiffer call. She might even have tried to remember this detail later, perhaps under Friedman's own frantic questioning, and been unable to. But it will all come back to her the instant she sees that giant red letterhead marked with the Barron Center name on the 8x11 envelope. Instantly she will hear that bright gay voice enunciating clearly from above, like a Greenwich Village Mr. Clean: "Actually, the reservations were made directly through the BARRON CENTER CLINIC...BARRON CENTER CLINIC...BARRON CENTER CLINIC..." It will all come back to her: the plane reservations were supposedly made by this clinic... the answer to the mystery will have arrived...

With any luck, she will open the envelope before she finds Friedman to tell him. If she does, it will suddenly all be clear to her. Friedman's ignorant denials in particular will make a lot of sense. The surreptitious telephoning, the two-bit travel agency, the "hotel" in New York... it will all fit. In the best-case scenario for the joke, she never brings it up again to Friedman, and never gives him the envelope, or lets on that she's seen it. The whole incident will live on within her in the form of a lingering empathetic suspicion. Better yet, she eventually tells someone, and it gets around.

In the worse case, she tells Friedman, and they both call the clinic together. They'll get Howard on the line and find out that an impostor had called to inquire about surgery. That will be all there is to find out, but they won't know that. What will be next? What other plans have been made in the columnist's name? What ambiguous tidings will arrive with the next ring of the office phone? Vigilance will be the word of the day -- and embarrassing mistakes will be made.

Either that or they're onto us, and reading this on the internet a week later. What the hell. At any rate, they'll have been freaked out for a good three days or so. And it's not like they can do anything to us here in Russia when they find out. Gotta love that globalization, eh, Tom?

From The eXile

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