Well, it’s good news, here at bittersweet-comic-personal-essay-political-satire-with-a pimento-stuffed-olive-and-a-twist-of-gay-as-a-goose bootcamp.
Not just done.
Done, or even DONE. There’s nothing more. I am squeezed dry, like a lemon wedge squeezed repeatedly by a blue-haired lady over her Dover sole in the dining room of her cheap seaside bed and breakfast, somewhere on the south coast of England, possibly Portsmouth, where the paint is peeling off from the salt wind, the hydrangeas nod their heavy rain-laden heads and the bathroom smells of bay rum and lavender sachets …
… She eats her tea alone, spinning out her final days, fading with the twilight. The crisp yellow spritz of lemon juice, the delicate mauve taste of the sole. Soggy chips and coleslaw with salad creme … Squeeze …
I’ve finished shoe-horning in the yacht race out of Newport with the Bright Young Things; the obligatory interlude with the aliens who teleport the entire Jones clan to their spacecraft for an extended nightmare of intimate probing; a trope now so eagerly anticipated, it’s practically a family tradition—Little House on the Prairie, with sphincters;
A little musical bon-bon with the young, but still scary, Angela Lansbury that will have your grandad rubbing the stained crotch of his sweatpants against the newel posts in the seventh floor stairwell at “Sunset Lodge,” and, of course, The Scene with the Dinosaurs that finally explains, without the baggage of words, the ultimate meaning of our existence.
This involves a Club Pack of ground beef that was left out in the sun too long and in a surprise coup assumes the office of President of the United States. Giant Patty for Prez! is all the slogan s/he needs to win hearts and minds with shock and awe, but Patty’s Presidency’s a polarizing one, and soon there’s just two camps: The Pity People, who want to tax the middle class until they’re poor, fuck the poor, then give it all to the forty-seven old white guys; and their sworn, mortal enemies, the Patty People, who want to do all of that exactly the same, but with tear gas.
Once again our intrepid Marines, half of them in clingy cotton floral-printed sundresses and the other half grabbing their butts without consent, deploy their secret weapon: A firehose with the diameter of the Lincoln tunnel that originates in a genderless washroom in Texas, snakes its way across the half-submerged south eastern states and floods Giant Patty, Washington, D.C., and most of Park Slope, Brooklyn, with chunky tsunamis of Kraft Sandwich Spread; reminding us once more that none of us ever really enjoyed having the word “chunky” associated with food.
Not. At. ALL!!
In the thrilling dénouement, Hillary, in full Carmen Miranda kit, lobs a giant pineapple at “that leetle Corteth beetch”, knocking the upstart Socialista for a loop, but finally gets her corporatista comeuppance when Robert Mueller, lumpy as a sack of potatoes in a pair of blue tights which I’m not even sure belong to him, catches up to Hillsy as she shakes her maracas on top of Mount Rushmore and smacks her in the cha-cha-cha with a salt-packed anchovy fillet. Hillsy then falls to her death, which renders her temporarily speechless.
Epilogue: Just as the credits are about to roll, Bernie Sanders wanders in with his hair looking angry and confused and spoils everything.
I know, I know.
It’s been done.
On the other hand: Buy my book. It contains absolutely nothing I’ve mentioned here.
My dialogue with a climate-change denier in sheep’s clothing continues.
On Friday, November 23rd, 2018 the U.S. federal government published the National Climate Assessment, which is endorsed by NASA, NOAA, the Department of Defense, and 10 other federal scientific agencies not normally viewed as tasked with frivolously stirring up the public for the sheer wedgeness of it all.
But first, Scientific Expert, your claim that:
The relative silence [of the media] on [asteroid collisions, genetic engineering] proves that climate change is a political wedge issue —
How on earth does it “prove” anything of the kind? Here’s our fundamental disagreement in a nutshell:
You: The relative silence proves there is an agenda. Me: The relative silence is because these are not the most important issues / issues that the average person can affect in any way.
Certainly I agree with you that hidden agendas exist, probably more than we will ever know, and I’m not naively suggesting that we should believe everything we read in the papers without questioning it.
And another answer is certainly, “What gets reported is whatever sells.” If that’s the case, surely they’d be reporting on the impending asteroid, were that our fate, in the hope of maximising profits before before we’re all vaporised. Who would choose to push climate change? Climate change is not sexy; Hollywood screenwriters are not tossing about ideas for “Climate Change II: Failure of the Wheat Crops Over a Ten-Year Timespan!”
I do suggest it is a basic principle of reading a situation that, in the rush to interpret its hidden agenda, one does not overlook its most obvious meaning.
For all I or you know, teams of concerned scientists are at this moment creating the missiles to knock out that asteroid; or just perhaps, the asteroid threat is not as immediate and not as amenable to the drastic day-to-day changes of behavior that are required globally to put the brakes on the climate juggernaut we’ve set in motion.
I mean, what can the regular human do about asteroid impacts? I say, leave that to the experts — NASA and Lars von Trier! Or I guess we could all run out and throw medicine balls at each other, to build up muscle strength in our arms so we can, at the crucial moment, just hold the asteroid at bay. A futile gesture, but it passes the time while we wait for extinction.
As for genetic engineering of, say, a biological weapon, that’s a legit concern that falls roundly under the heading of terrorism, which I suppose would be in hand had not the Trump regime emptied the ranks of government of everyone appointed by or supposedly allied with Obama, and neglected to replace them. Oh, my mistake — replaced them with oil industry lobbyists and members of Trump’s family.
Maybe Trump, who states, “climate will probably change back” — now there’s a reassuring statement by a highly-qualified nerd-type guy clearly allied with science and reason and not afraid to show it — should be on your list of existential threats, just above “asteroid.”
And, I’m sorry, but — you tell us that our Holocene ancestors took cataclysmic change in their stride and survived in their caves? Are you serious? I nearly choked on my GMO’d hamburger patty laughing when I read that. Was that supposed to be reassuring?
Either you’re teasing us, you rascal, or you’ve got one great first-class seat on that get-us-outta-here spaceship that carries the billionaires off to the new Las Vegas they’re building, somewhere in another galaxy that will appreciate them.
But back to that pesky report: The reasons for dumping this on the busiest shopping day of the year are not hard to figure out.
I quote from The Atlantic (and I’ve provided the link below to the full article):
The report is blunt: Climate change is happening now, and humans are causing it. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” declares its first sentence. “The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”
…The report visits each region of the country, describing the local upheavals wrought by a global transformation. Across the Southeast, massive wildfires — like those seen now in California — could soon become a regular occurrence, smothering Atlanta and other cities in toxic smog, it warns. In New England and the mid-Atlantic, it says, oceanfront barrier islands could erode and narrow. And in the Midwest, it forecasts plunging yields of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice.
You’re correct that there will be time to decide what to do. That time is urgently, irrevocably, existentially now.
Even worse than the deniers? “Experts” who downplay the crisis.
Dear Scientific Expert:
you have scientific cred like nobody’s business, yet you get all rolly-eyed on climate change. That’s what I don’t get. As far as I understand, and I understand maybe slightly more than the average bear, there is near complete consensus in the relevant scientific community about global warming and the urgent need to address this before it’s later than the too-late it already is.
Yes, agreed, climate is not inherently stable in that it undergoes macro-level shifts over time. I get that. And yes, those who, as Noam Chomsky pointed out, have an independent income and/or the chops to spend their entire lives uncovering the truth, should question what we read in the papers. Good luck with that one. (Though I do seem to recall that the New York Times, more relevant to me than Canada’s The Globe and Mail — I like my news first-hand — has been pretty clear on the consensus that we’re in big trouble. I don’t recall much hesitation along those lines.)
Notwithstanding all that, I don’t share your jolly optimism about how we averted a scheduled programming, ice-age catastrophe by creating a we-interrupt-your-scheduled-programming polar ice-cap melting catastrophe. Your comment reminds me of a Trumpism — and I’m sorry, I don’t mean that to be quite as insulting as it inevitably turns out to be because of it being, you know, Trump — along the lines of “gee, it’s pretty darn cold today, so much for the fake global warming hysteria promulgated by Democrats!” Or friends I hear saying, “Thank god for global warming, now I get to wear my Speedos in Toronto in February.” Or Reagan’s “If you’ve seen one giant sequoia, you’ve seen ’em all.” You get my drift: The pin-headed, narcissistic benefit or one’s agreeably devil-may-care attitude to life does not outweigh or negate the reality of the actual disaster.
If the conservative spectrum would stop, yes, denying the fact of anthropogenic global warming due to the hothouse effects of greenhouse gases, largely produced since the industrial revolution and now in overdrive, then it wouldn’t have to be “politicized.” (It’s analogous to “identity politics.” Stop discriminating against me on the basis of my identity, and we won’t need the identity politics. Kind of thing?). Like, not just questioning the data. Destroying the data, reams of data. Denying as in “this is not happening, it’s a hoax.” That very word, “hoax.” Do YOU think global warming is a hoax? Clearly not. How can that NOT become politicized, and who’s politicizing it?
Your reasoning leaves me rolling MY eyes. (Maybe we should get an act together? No, I guess not.) Yes, in theory there is triage to be done. There are indeed umpteen worrisome things, from nanobots setting up training camps in our blood vessels to whether pin-headed narcissist Elon Musk will crash his spaceship into a nuclear facility, but that doesn’t change the fact that seas are going to be rising and the situation is projected to look pretty dire by about 2050. I’ll be ninety-five then, though I won’t look it, and I’d like to visit Fort Lauderdale in my bath chair, attended by disco-boys wearing silver hot pants and not much else, before it turns into the underwater theme park of Disney’s dreams, or the final scene of “A.I.”.
The thing about not knowing, forgive me for reminding you, is that you don’t know. Also, you don’t know what you don’t know. I can imagine any number of scenarios arising from higher sea levels that are pretty darn existential. You see, I somehow feel that mass migrations of hundreds of thousands of hysterical, hungry, homeless Americans, and Canadians for that matter, from the coasts when the giant tide rolls in, or the fallback from Category 6 hurricanes— yes, 6, they don’t quite exist yet, but they’re projected for next September; these are mega-hurricanes that will level everything in their path like a smart bomb — I suspect this will not be a little thing in a country with crumbling infrastructure, no real health care, a whole lot of guns and a FEMA that is barely functional. How many troops will you have to call out then, and where will the wall be and will the cyber attack on the internet be far behind? I don’t believe that you can’t imagine this just as easily as I can.
I guess, in the end, two things. Your scientific cred plus your dismissive attitude makes the word “agenda” pop up in my mind like a scary clown out of a scary clown box; and secondly, your dismissal of the dire situation we are in, existential or no, is irresponsible, in that it is likely to be condensed in those politicized minds to, “See? A science guy and he says it’s not important. Let’s get the second Hummer.” Yet another voice added to the “hoaxers” and the deniers, whether you intended that or not; and more obfuscation of those very people you are already so impatient with who just don’t get it, and more confusion added to all those media outlets who fail to explain so that average joes can understand the way you understand.
And every qualified voice like, I assume, yours, that adds to that negative drag on this task we needed to have begun twenty years ago weighs about one tonne more than any given voice added to the scientific consensus that we must begin.
It all adds up to some pretty politicized pooh-poohing, if you ask me.
I ’m charging my phone at a study carrel in the local library, part of the Wellesley Community Centre. The centre serves St James Town, an enclave of three-pronged high rise apartment buildings from the early 1970’s.
These were the bachelor pads of that era, the swingin’ place to live, where you could see the dramatic view from your balcony and swim in the pool on the penthouse floor; where on Saturday night you could dance the frug with some groovin’ mini-skirted chicks with Sassoon hairstyles and pink-frosted strawberry lips. Now the buildings are a little decrepit, but feisty, like me, another relic of that era, and they house one of the most diverse populations in this most diverse of cities.
In the colorful, chaotic precincts of St James Town you’ll see mothers and grandmothers in traditional Indian dress, bearded Pakistani men in white pants and tunics, some women in full-length black wearing the niqab (and talking on cellphones); men and women from francophone Africa speaking a seductive demotic French that lilts with an unhurried, more earthy music, walks with a broader, more languid sway of the hips than the French you hear in Paris or Montréal. And of course, kids to correspond. Kids by the cartload! It’s a family enclave of the world family.
This afternoon many of those kids are at the community centre, playing basketball, or right here, in the library, studying and doing homework and as always, finding ways to subvert the unspoken law of silence! It’s good to see them, good like graduation pictures and home-cooked dinners and rough-and-tumble fights that collapse into laughter, good like getting to bed early.
It reminds me that I haven’t been in a library for what feels like a demi-lifetime, and I think the overdue police may still be after me since 1990 for dropping off those books that were a year past their time at the College Street branch, where the entrance to the library is guarded by two huge statues of mythical Asian beasts.
But maybe the switch-over to the digital age wiped out my shame.
When I was seventeen, we lived on St Clair Avenue, mid-town, and by walking a few blocks west I would arrive at the charming, one-storey St Clair Music Library, which was set in its own modest garden like a suburban bungalow, but with better bones. Here I checked out music scores—I was training to be a concert pianist—and, I’m astonished to recall, long-playing records of classical music. (Remember LPs?) Thanks to the St Clair Music Library, now an embassy, I first heard the astonishing and almost unplayable (except by Yvonne Loriod, the composer’s wife) “Vingts regards sur l’enfant Jesus” of Olivier Messiaen, and because I’d checked out the piano score as well, I could follow along and untangle every retrograde canon, every twittering bird song, every raga.
Music library. Is there even such a beast, now? I suppose there’s no longer any need for one, now that cultural memory is gone, or perhaps the kids are all listening to Messiaen on Spotify.
My home town, Whitby, Ontario, had its own Carnegie Library, built by the tycoon who tried as hard as he could to give away his fortune. He knew that his good fortune meant he had to give back. I remember the thrill of reaching age twelve—was that the real criterion? I’ll say it is—and being entitled by virtue of being 12 to take out six books. What a little budding intellectual I must have looked like, walking home with them!
Carnegie knew that countries, especially vast countries, needed to find some common ground for its people, so they could speak to each other, understand each other as fellow citizens. Engaged citizens, most of them not rich, some of them definitely poor, need to grapple with ideas, indeed, need to know how to form their ideas and express them coherently. How else in that era would so many disparate types of citizen in such a vast country become literate or share a common culture except through reading the classics of English literature, verified as wholesome and freely available to all? The Public Library was a source of civic pride, proof you’d arrived, proof of decency and equality and right aspirations.
Libraries are old-fashioned, in the best way: They recall a time when reading was the prime entertainment for kids — and what a sense of accomplishment it gave me, when I was little, to borrow a book, to think that the library had lent this to me, trusted me, and that I was responsible for it.
How many lessons, how much growing up there is already in just borrowing that book; so much learning about civility and belonging and being entrusted with something of value.
And then sitting with it, sometimes with a parent or sometimes on your own, and finally to make sense of it, to have everything fall into place, to understand how an argument works, and logic, also magic; to take pleasure in the choice of words, to discover that some words are funny and some are serious, or sad, or beautiful; to discover that a sentence can scare you or thrill you or make you laugh, or cry— is there any astonishment in adult life to equal that giant leap forward into independence, that click of understanding?
Libraries are old-fashioned because they recall a time of community and shared values: A time when every person, wherever they were from, and whatever their background, aspired to read and to learn, and it was a cause for shame to be illiterate. To be illiterate was to be shut out.
Reading was how you looked under the hood, deconstructed the engine of your own language — how it worked, what was formal and informal; what you could say in front of Aunt Milly (Ladies’ Home Journal) and how you might want to sound as class valedictorian (Emerson) and what should only be said to the girls and the boys in the locker room (Mailer/ Anaïs Nin). Words meant something, they had lives and personalities and relationships with each other; they had connotation and context. You absorbed the right use of your language.
In the 1950s and 1960s, when I was a child, you read and learned without being sneered at as “elite.” There was no one to call you “elite” because they wanted to read and learn, too.
(“You’ve actually read all of those books?” some people say to me when they see my two modestly-packed IKEA bookcases; they say it as though I’ve done something impressive but slightly distasteful when they weren’t looking, pulled something over on them; and the unspoken question is clearly: “… and why would you — or anyone — want to?”)
Libraries are a common resource that reminds us of when we still thought without shame in terms of common resources, when our priorities about what is essential included learning and reading; when it wasn’t “socialist” to think that essentials both tangible and intangible must be available for all. Public libraries were a product of our belief that literature and book-knowledge were riches, and that riches of all kinds, whether books in the library or clean water from the tap, could and should be shared.
Big glitzy bookstores, the Barnes & Noble’s and their ilk, must believe they have their hearts in something approximating the right place — and true, they’re selling books, not manufacturing nerve gas, which is a start — but they have no obligation to the community, only to their bottom lines.
They’re upscale, not for everyone; they say, “reading is a lifestyle choice, not an essential; it’s a paying proposition for — yes! — the elites; it takes place on private property, for customers, not citizens, so you can’t hang around here too long, and if you don’t like reading, no problem—how about a cashmere scarf or these apple-cinnamon scented candles after you finish your coffee?”
Barnes & Noble might close down one day, it never belonged to us. It’s the book as object that you buy; your special book that’s yours alone (guilty as charged, q.v. my bookcases). Sure, you could spend your money on far worse things, and reading is always good.
I think libraries, though, unlike bookstores, are humble, and humbling and, almost as much as for the books they make available, that is why we need them, especially now.
They put you in your place, that’s to say, your place; tell you you’re a useful part of something bigger than just you;
that you’re a trusted citizen, engaged and aspiring not just for yourself but for that common good without which an individual cannot realize her aspirations;
they remind you that you’re neither above nor below anyone else.
Well, well, well, America. Aren’t we full of surprises. You little freckle-faced rascals!
You’ve done something good. You’ve made a start on redeeming yourself; made a little wobbly-oopsy baby-step towards taking America from a state of total insanity back to the regular, day-to-day state of verging-on-insanity that we all know and love.
Democrats control the House — unprecedented wins for women, women of color, Native, Muslim and LGBT candidates — you’ve been holding out on me, you sly puss! Sincere and heartfelt congratulations.
We won’t, not yet anyway, take on those topics of: Gerrymandering and voter suppression, Republican specialties, and it is a toss-up whether you’d classify these activities as art, for the exquisite finesse in the redrawing of boundaries; or sport, for the breathtaking speed of execution and their brazen exhibitionism. Either way, any close-call vote is suspect, notably in Georgia, where I understand the person in charge of the election’s integrity is also a candidate. Conflict of interest much?
The post-mortems are already underway, but as a Canadian I can just take the day off and spend it sighing with relief. I can still remember — and, youngsters, let me take a second to hook my thumbs behind my suspenders — how my loins shuddered and my flanks trembled from my absolute shock a couple of years ago when, in the wee hours after the election, I heard a crowd of voices outside my apartment on Sherbourne Street, in Toronto — if you’re not familiar with the geography, just think “up there” — then somebody saying something like, “Holy fuck, TRUMP!”, then everyone bursting out laughing.
It was, indeed, holy fuck Trump, and were I to say that you’ve exceeded my expectations by reining him in a little, please note that this is sincere — but also a bit like those desperate compliments you give your friend who’s just made their acting début in the local amateur production of “The Mousetrap,” where they say the line “dinner is served” with the gawdawful stiffness of those who have thought too much about how to say “dinner is served,” then disappear for the rest of the evening.
And you are obliged to sit through the whole damn play because you have to go backstage afterwards and tell them, “Well, gosh, Darlene, I’ll be honest — I never knew you had it in ya!”
So, here’s the deal. You got your common sense back, sort of — though it involved waiting until Trump was literally on the verge of holding a fascist-style parade, I can imagine the armed Boy Scouts in formation and modestly-clad girls performing gymnastics, because healthy women are needed to breed the Amerikanisches volk — and you have partially put a little bit of a check on Republicans run amok —
But—and I have to go here, yes—you just couldn’t elect another ssssshhhhh! black! man! for Governor of Florida, could you? That was way too much to hope for. That’s still just too errrrrr crunchy and difficult to get your heads around. We understand, and don’t forget — baby steps! It’s important not to take on more menschly normal than you can handle at a go. Saving the Free World from Trump is just fine for today.
‘Cause we know how the last black guy worked out, right? I mean, can you just imagine those Klan members’ brains, with those racist neurons and synapses firing back and forth — slave!/POTUS! slave!/POTUS! error! error! error! — until the cognitive dissonance was just too much overheating of the circuits. The greatest cross-burning opp of a lifetime, and whitey’s got mind-frazzle!
And, right on cue, like an army of rejects from a Cronenberg casting call, comes The Awakening. In this riff on The Manchurian Candidate, an entire shadowy doppel-nation of slumbering fascists is stirred into action by the opening words of Obama’s inauguration ceremony. Their eyes take on a remote, permanently glazed appearance as they stock up on ammunition, check the tire pressure, maybe research the End of Days, because what else could this be?
Your best friend has changed his name to “Biff,” buzzed his hair and joined The League of Pretty White Boys. Next thing you know he’s going skinny dipping in the bayou with his new buds, putting “Gurlz keep out!” signs on his treehouse and getting suspiciously interested in Physical Culture. You can no longer have a meaningful conversation because your values don’t align and besides, it’s really hard to talk when he’s playing “Ein Heldenleben” at full volume…
… And I know, like any marketer knows, that sequels are a shoo-in because they combine just enough novelty with a big helping of the familiar and predictable. In which case, I think it’ll knock ’em dead in Des Moines, how about you?
All that ugly racism awakened, yet from Obama: class and grace and decency, eight years of taking the high road . Like, what was that crazy-ass American Dream fucktard-ery all about?
I mean, stop the merry-go-round of normal! I need to take my crazy pills and chase them with a big, hot, foaming, rabid Trumpstein of white supremo!
— so, you’ve made a tiny initial act of reparation for the sinking-in-synch of democracy worldwide that Trump has enabled. You’re like the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman who throws dirt on the lady’s carpet so he can demonstrate how “nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” Or you threw a banana peel in front of good government and it slipped and broke its ankle and now it’s finally off the crutches, and where does that leave us? Right back where we started.
So don’t go all self-congratulatory and amber-waves-of-grain just yet. Keep going, and don’t lose this momentum. Take out your smartphone now and make some movies or even animated GIFs of all of you being happy and jumping around so you have a reference if you forget what momentum means.
Don’t lose momentum. Prove that you’ve learned the lesson:
Democracy is not the default. Goodness is not the default. Fairness and empathy and love and justice are not the norm. These things are precious and extraordinary and they have an exquisitely fine-tuned eco-system, an equilibrium that can be destroyed.
Prove that you know: the fight for democracy is never done. There is no time off.
We will never let you forget that, somehow, you guys were put in charge of democracy— god only knows why — and then someone yelled, “Chicken ‘n biscuits ‘n Red-Eye Gravy!!! AND FRAHS!!!” and you all just spun around and you lost your grip and you dropped it.
Just don’t drop the democracy. OK? Wear rubber gloves if you need a little more traction.
Also, get Young People to vote. If they ask what voting is, tell them it’s something easy that they can microwave and eat right out of the box and someone else will wash up after them.
In fact, tell them that voting is all about them and you’ll do it for them, if they’ll just come along. You’ll have their socks pulled on and their laces tied and their noses wiped and them ready to head to the polls faster than they can say, “That’s so, like. Totally woke!”
Also, make sure Bernie doesn’t run again. For anything. Maybe run for coffees, at least that’ll get him out of the house. But in that case, make sure he’s the only one running for coffee, take care that he knows that you know he’s in charge of the coffee, and if he drops the coffee, just pat his little nutty professor head and say there, there and tell him you didn’t really want coffee anyway.
I mean, you dropped the democracy, you’re no one to judge.
Because I would say, work on your universal health care. Work on this one concept, so you can shout those words in, say, a crowded theatre, without someone screaming back “Satanic Socialist Hillary Communism Obama!” and you’ll have taken an important first step. Leave the hygge and the full-frontal free-meatballs-for-all social democratic platform with lingonberry sauce until you’ve got a little more practice under your belt. K?
And please, it’s alright. No, honestly. Don’t apologize about your little mishap with the world’s peace, order and freedom.