Sanjay Gupta


Some evenings back, I went to a talk by Sanjay Gupta.

I felt like a spy or a detective. Most reports say that much of the work in either profession is drudgery. Maybe that’s an understatement.

I wasn’t being paid to hear Gupta by some frail old billionaire in trouble or some Government official engaged in treachery.

I wasn’t an agent hired to fight back against schlock.

I had attended on my own, and I deserved the two irritating, wasted hours.

People magazine’s “sexiest man alive” spoke to a large audience. It was a scrupulously crafted talk with all the positive-thinking trimmings: I must believe it had been painstakingly composed by expert button pushers: primatologists-for-pay. So: Self-effacing jokes mostly poking gentle fun at men. Indirect plugs here and there for books. Happy stories of mom and dad. Happy stories about the wife and kids. “The power to Make a Difference.”

Gupta’s was a low-key relentless resume saying that for him, the most traveled of the CNNers, everywhere on the globe is, well, pretty nice (though in some places there are a few problems with “justice”), with a few quick references to Haiti in the earthquake, Somalia in the famine, tsunamis, being embedded with US military units in Iraq and (in the one promising intimation) the “intoxication” of flying to disasters (but with no mention of shortly flying back).

And there was lots of free medical advice. Today’s Grand Rule is, You’re heretical if you’re not medical.

Medical advice about anything.

There was an interminable Q&A focussing entirely on health. “What is good and bad about Obamacare?” “What would have been your top three job priorities if you had accepted Obama’s offer to be Surgeon General?” “Is Bill Clinton’s new diet healthy for everyone?” And so on.

The general principle behind Gupta’s cheerful answers could be seen in the old joke: Question: “What is your favorite color?” Answer: “Plaid.”

About an hour into Gupta’s monotony of soundbites, Harold Arlen’s and E. Y. Harburg’s classic song, “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,” came back to me as my mysterious mind (mysterious just like yours) desperately ran here and there seeking escape from the fatuous, claustrophobic sweet talk, and that old song about the demise of the Wicked Witch of the East not only sounded wonderful by contrast but in its celebratory summons also seemed sadly out of date in these times of the relentless smiley faces of public celebs.

Be happy, don’t worry. Wicked or not, all the other witches–North, West and South–are now dead too.

I thought to myself, Well that certainly wasn’t the intention of the composer and the lyricist. They didn’t mean to imply all witches should be gone.

In the day of those two songsters, and in L. Frank Baum’s day, you wanted to have some witches around. The Wizard of Oz is called a “fantasy” but that doesn’t mean it’s unrealistic, does it? Of course not! (At that moment a cell phone went off next to me, followed shortly by intent texting [for which for once I could sympathize], so I briefly returned from Oz. But I found I could get there again even without a twister.)

Well, anyway….

By now I was less aware of Gupta, a good thing.

L. Frank Baum well knew there have to be bad people and bad forces, including fraudsters: for example, Winkie Country and the sinister air force of flying monkeys in frightening formations against a dark, lowering sky, coming to kidnap our favorite travelers. (Does your mind go to “Stuka”? And from there to the whispering ghosts of your Primal Selves in their times of swamps and caves?)

Well, anyway, maybe the silly idea sprang up a little after The Wizard of Oz that the witches of the North, South and West needed a Ding-Dong! too. A Pollyanna fantasy anew.

I wondered when the unfortunate notion might have occurred. How far back? Was Wallis Simpson to blame?

Anyway, L. Frank Baum’s flying monkeys, now on their own, still need something to do. Ditto the Wizard.

You could see the Wizard and the grounded monkeys, including me, in the packed auditorium.