It Matters

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Frank Bruni told a story on his blog the other day about ordering iced tea at a restaurant only to have the waiter say they’d run out. “How do you run out of iced tea?” he queried. “I ask that question not snidely but earnestly, because I know that this blog has readers in the restaurant business, and I’d be curious for an answer.”

The answers he got were vicious. “Its so hard being a privelidged [sic] customer at an upscale restaurant,” wrote Jason C. “Oh, that I had these problems,” wrote Anna. “If the restaurant has run out of whatever, just order something else and get a life,” wrote VG.

The thrust of these arguments can be summed up by Wanda: “If you want to be in serious debate, read the front page.”

The front page, presumably, is filled with things that matter: soldiers dying in Iraq, terrorists plotting attacks in Germany, Senators seeking sex in bathrooms. These readers are outraged that Frank can be so frivolous: why raise a stink over something so minor? Who cares if the restaurant runs out of iced tea–there are more important things happening in the world!

It’s logic like this that explains why so many people in America eat so badly: “Who cares what I put in my stomach as long as I eat?” It’s a means to an end, a bodily function–food goes in like it comes out–and it’s not a thing to be taken seriously. Hence the outrage on Bruni’s blog.

But what are we fighting for when we fight for freedom? What are we protecting as we sniff out the terrorists? Is it just a matter of life and death? Or is it something more? Aren’t we trying to preserve and maintain the things that make living life worth living?

Sure, whether or not a restaurant runs out of iced tea seems minor in the grand scheme of things, but isn’t that true of anything that’s not a matter of life and death? Isn’t it more a question of which pleasures we deem important and which we don’t? For example, I bet many of the people raging about Bruni’s lack of perspective had strong opinions about the final episode of The Sopranos. Maybe some of them wrote a blog post about how David Chase ruined the franchise, didn’t deliver the proverbial “iced tea” if you will. Isn’t that just as irrelevant to front page news as anything else? Don’t we spend most of our days worrying and thinking about the little things–what to wear, where to eat, how to get there–than we do thinking about the big things? And isn’t that ok?

I think it is. I think these things matter because these are the things that give life substance. If it were your last meal and you were craving iced tea and you went to a restaurant and you ordered it and they didn’t have it, you’d be pretty upset. You’d wonder the same thing Frank wondered: “How do you run out of iced tea?”

And then you’d shrug, order a bottomless martini and drink yourself to oblivion.

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