Voices in the Audioblur

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I am in an airport, immersed in audioblur. I can almost make out what CNN is murmuring (the Arctic or maybe Iraq will melt by 2040); almost make out what a teenager with studs in her lips is whining into her cellphone (is there such a term, among young people, as "shazbot"?); almost make out the announcement of what is causing the latest extension of our flight delay (either "weather" or "whatever"). The people in the news and the people droning and losing their minds around me here are beginning to run together.

That man over there may be a defector oozing polonium, that glazed-looking youth may be on the verge of keeling over from taco-related E. coli, that haunted-looking woman may be the notorious one poor, anonymous soul who was kicked off her flight early in the week for lighting matches to cover her toxic farts. I feel for her. Shouldn't planes have a farting section?

And shouldn't airports have a reading section? I stare at the item in the New York Times about the rare white Chinese river dolphin finally driven "functionally extinct" after surviving for 20 million years, and then I look at my knuckles. They, too, are white. In the midst of this low-decibel bedlam, how can anyone concentrate long enough to read anything? Except, up there on the screen, the crawl. Got... to... focus... on... the... crawl.

The crawl says: 60% of Americans polled would be "enthusiastic or comfortable" with a Presidential candidate who is female or black. That's good. We should not rule out candidates categorically. (Except, no more doctors. I think we can agree on that, now that Dr. Bill Frist of Tennessee is shuffling off the political coil. It's one thing for a lawyer to prove reprehensible in aspiring to the highest office in the land, but when it's a healer, it hurts. Surely no one will vote for another cardiologist, now that we've had Frist — that's a pun, son — in the hearts of his countrymen.)

Ah, but someone has popped onto the screen who is wearing a Cautionary Look. Wait! Isn't that the same bland necktie, the same bland jacket, the same bland face of the man who was trying surreptitiously to blow his nose into USA Today over there by the recycle receptacle just moments ago? Now he's on TV? I lurch over closer to the screen. Maybe he's warning me not to get on that plane.

No. He's warning us all to be skeptical of poll results: "People tend to tell pollsters what they think they want to hear."

I recoil from the notion that a scientific sampling of the American people, too, can lie. But how can we know for sure? What if a pollster were to ask me, "Do you think people tell pollsters what they want to hear?" Having heard the news, I would have to say, "Yes." Which would not be what the pollster would want to hear.

A conundrum. But what is this on the screen? A dolphin. In China. With an enormous human arm shoved down its throat! It's not enough that they're overfishing dolphins to extinction, they're torturing the last survivor! Is there at long last no decency left...?

But wait. It's all right. It's good news. Two blue dolphins were choking on plastic they ate off the side of their aquarium pool, and no medical instrument could access the blockage. So, for a change, something sensible was done. The world's tallest man, all seven-foot-nine of him, was summoned — from the flock (of what, yaks?) he was herding in Inner Mongolia. His great long arm reached in past the gag reflex, grabbed the plastic and pulled it out! Mission accomplished.

Come get me, world's tallest man.