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Published: Saturday, 9/15/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

O'Rourke's biting humor

BY PATRICK O'GARA
BLADE SENIOR EDITOR

THE CEO OF THE SOFA. By P.J. O'Rourke. Atlantic Monthly Press. 265 pages. $25.

Conservatives these days are chortling over The CEO of the Sofa, a parade of P.J. O'Rourke's prejudices and passions compiled in book form.

Mr. O'Rourke, a son of Toledo, said he was inspired by Oliver Wendell Holmes' The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, a bestseller in 1875. That book, and its author, are pretty much forgotten, and Mr. O'Rourke does not like that.

“I stole the form. I should have stolen the content,” he laments. But he is too humble. There are enough smiles, chuckles, and occasional outright guffaws to make CEO worthwhile on its own account.

Along with Holmes, Mr. O'Rourke writes glowingly of cigars, his baby, his toddler daughter, his wife, alcoholic beverages, and Hunter S. Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Where controlled substances are concerned, our man is surprisingly tolerant in a no-nonsense kind of way. Take marijuana, for instance. “How much can you really say against a drug that makes teenage boys drive slow?” he asks. It's difficult to argue with that kind of logic.

Mr. O'Rourke's long lists of dislikes bring out a deeper flaw in CEO. Because it is a compilation of previously published topical essays, some of these are dated, or downright stale. Mr. O'Rourke does not like Democrats in general, and the Clintons in particular. In one instance, Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village, receives the kind of cheerfully savage mauling that made a name for Mr. O'Rourke.

It's all horribly unfair, of course. Mr. O'Rourke attacks even Hillary's mothering skills. He cannot really expect us to believe that Hillary, when a young nursing mom, was incapable of holding the infant Chelsea right-side up. Or can he?

A red mist dances before Mr. O'Rourke's eyes when he considers Al Gore, the United Nations, and “gender sensitive” writing. For instance: “... If the fire department's standards of strength and fitness are changed to allow parity in hiring, I shall be careful to say that the person who was too weak and small to carry me down the ladder was a firefighter, not a fireman,” he blusters.

It would be unfair to say CEO is merely mindless entertainment or long-winded ranting. Mr. O'Rourke is also intent on educating us.

He tells us what celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lopez, and Eminem are really all about. And he tells us why we're better off not knowing. He cites actor Billy Bob Thornton, for example: “Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Mother was a psychic. Fourth wife accused him of abuse. How did we escape having him as president of the United States?”

Careful study of his discourse on wine-tasting indicates that spending $299 on a magnum of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 1989 is likely to result in a less unpleasant taste in the mouth than you would get from a nonvintage “Burgundy” from California (via a local grocery) at $3.99 a bottle. It is reassuring to know there are still people prepared to verify such theories.

Mr. O'Rourke's attitude toward fine wine is wholly Toledo: “Despite all the hooey about attack and finish, fruits and flowers, round, robust length on the palate, and the Robert Parker hundred-point scale, we are swallowing the stuff to get high,” he writes. “Besides that, for getting drunk, vodka is better.”

Add a cigar to the equation, and Mr. O'Rourke has another conclusion: “If I stopped drinking and smoking it would add 10 years to my life. But it would add them at the wrong end.”

In my estimation, there is always room for a man (sorry, person) with such an outlook here in Frogtown, even if he is a Republican. I intend to invite Mr. O'Rourke to come home and live in Toledo as he writes his next book - a history of Toledo. (He apologizes for this choice of book subject, as well as several other lapses of judgment, in the introduction to CEO.)

Living here, he can steep himself in the intellectual ferment of our fair city, and capture every flavor and nuance of our unique midwestern culture. He'd have no reason to miss his life in Washington. There's a cigar and martini bar next door to the new Mud Hens stadium, with plenty of opinionated white men in suits gathered round for Happy Hour every day. We have dozens of Democrats ripe for skewering, but no annoying ex-presidents.

And he could bring the family, too. As P.J. himself knows, there's no better place to raise kids than Toledo, Ohio.



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