I first met P.J. O’Rourke in 1988 following the release of Holidays in Hell. P.J. was Washington’s hippest journalist, writing for Rolling Stone magazine. Holidays in Hell was his personal account of conflicts that he had covered in the shitholes of the world. Making points with his biting humor, he wrote about places like Lebanon, El Salvador and Korea.
The Wall Street Journal blurbed Holidays in Hell by labeling P.J. O’Rourke “the funniest writer in America” — although it is completely fair to ask what the WSJ knows about humor.
When my wife and I met O’Rourke, we were working on Capitol Hill. The fact that we had a young son made our lifestyle somewhat foreign to his point of view. One time when we had dinner together, P.J. was planning a trip to Pakistan and we were planning a trip to Disney World.
But that was then and this is now. My son just graduated from college, and the Republican Party Reptile is now married and has young kids of his own. My wife and I went to Ireland last year. P.J. and his family went to Disneyland.
Revenge is a dish best served in a souvenir sippie cup with a lid that has black mouse ears.
Holidays in transition
Just released, Holidays in Heck is P.J. O’Rourke’s sequel to Holidays in Hell. While the two books are distinguished by their times and O’Rourke’s evolving position in life, they are connected by P.J.’s never-aging humor.
My favorite chapter from Holidays in Hell relates to the 36 hours O’Rourke spent in Managua at a time when Nicaragua was the hot bed of foreign policy debate. “Is Nicaragua a Bulgaria with marimba bands or just a misunderstood Massachusetts with Cuban military advisers?”
In 1987, whether to send aid to Nicaragua’s anti-communist Contras was one of the most important issues facing the United States Congress. Today many members of Congress would be hard-pressed to pick out the nation on a globe.
But at the time, a politically charged O’Rourke finished his visit to Managua by drinking heavily at the home of the American ambassador and calling for a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua.
In Holidays in Heck, O’Rourke invades Disneyland, goes skiing in Ohio and takes the family with him on a business trip.
Oh my, how holidays change.
From commies to artists
One fun thing about Holidays in Heck is that P.J. O’Rourke’s vacations are now a lot more like mine. When he swipes at a topic, it’s one to which most parents can relate.
For example, P.J. takes the venom he used to feel for Daniel Ortega and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and turns it loose on modern artists.
“I assumed modern artists were all members of the great bohemian turkey flock of ardent individualists, looking up with beaks uniformly agape at identical high ideals of world peace, economic justice, ecological harmony, and governmental funding for the arts. Before my visit to the Biennale I supposed that all artists thought alike. It never occurred to me that they didn’t think at all.”
O’Rourke’s 2008 visit to Disneyland with the wife and kids turns into a dissertation on the updating of Tomorrowland. “According to Disney, the shape of things to come takes shape at Pottery Barn, with a quick stop at Restoration Hardware for classic ‘future touches’ and a trip to Target to get throw rugs and cheap Japanese paper lanterns.”
And some O’Rourke advice on taking your kids on a business trip: avoid hotels and stay in apartments. “You do not want to get to the point where the room service waiter ditches his tray outside the door and runs down the hall heedless of his tip rather than face your kids.”
I loved Holidays in Heck just as much as its prequel. P.J. is helping us all get older. I’m just not sure that I’m ready for to the final installment in the trilogy … Holidays in Hospice.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.