November 9, 2016
Waking after the long election night… What, is the world still here? There are people who still dare to go out on the street? They’re, like, heading to work or something? Really?
So I manage to walk the dog, make breakfast and pick up the paper. There I find a column by Helen Ubiñas headlined “Stunned at the Victory of Self-Destruction.” (An updated version of the printed column is here.) Her take on the election corresponds to what I wrote on June 3 about a national death wish. She talks about “the xenophobia and sexism and hatred and racism Americans either embrace or are willing to overlook to send a message. And that message,” she adds,
is one of self-destruction, because although Hillary Clinton has her flaws, her many, many flaws, the message we are sending by being so willing to make a carrot-colored caricature the president of the United States is that we are willing to throw our country under the bus, that we are willing to be the world’s punchline, that we are willing to make a man with zero political experience and less global respect the 45th president of the United States.
Yeah, that says it. My image was a flaming explosion, an Armageddon, but the bus metaphor is good too. I am feeling rather squashed right now, and some of my friends seem to be having trouble breathing.
Wasn’t it ironic to hear that this election was about “change”? When it simply reversed the previous change? How many more times will voters be able to feel like conservatives simply by choosing the candidate who’s sane and competent?Dreading the possibility of a morning like this, I’ve been toying with the idea of moving back to the land of my ancestors (some of them), and living quietly in a stone cottage, enjoying the fruits of the land (see picture) around a wee turf fire. I won’t really do that, of course, but it’s a consolation to have a refuge in mind.
More consoling is the fact that a large majority of those who are not white males voted for Hillary. So did a huge percentage of voters 18–29, and a smaller but clear majority of those 30–44.
These people are the dominant electorate of the future, folks. And they showed their disgust for the vile orange pussy-grabbing dictator-worshiping sexist racist fascist charlatan. (Oops, I was trying to be less polemical than Ms. Ubiñas.)
So what I’m saying is: there’s a good chance this is Bluster’s Last Stand.
Another, less direct comfort comes from nearly a century ago, in a passage by the English writer Ford Madox Ford. In his novel Some Do Not…, the first of the Parade’s End trilogy, set in the years surrounding World War I, protagonist Christopher Tietjens is accused of hating his own country because he detests virtually everyone in charge. His accuser is the young woman he cares for more than anyone else, so he replies honestly:
Don’t say it! Don’t believe it! Don’t even for a moment think it! I love every inch of its fields and every plant in the hedgerows: comfrey, mullein, paigles, long red purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name … and all the rest of the rubbish … and we have always been boodlers and robbers and reivers and pirates and cattle thieves, and so we’ve built up the great tradition that we love … But, for the moment, it’s painful. Our present crowd is not more corrupt than Walpole’s. But one’s too near them.
Maybe it’s the same now. Are we just too near the current boodlers to see things in perspective? Maybe Donald Trump is no worse than George Wallace (who wasn’t, however, nominated by a major party) or Huey Long (who got shot before he could be nominated). Maybe Sean Hannity is no crazier than Father Coughlin. Maybe the Alt-Right media are no more scurrilous than Marcus Pomeroy, who wrote of Abraham Lincoln in 1864: “The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer.… And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good” (quoted in Don E. Fehrenbacher, “The Anti-Lincoln Tradition”).
I hope those maybes are true. I hope.
November 8, 2016
October 30, 2016
In an unexpected development, The News from Gridleyville has been named an official outlet for TrikiLeaks, the supernal hacker group. We are greatly honored by this distinction, and we promise to exercise our responsibilities responsibly.
As you may know, TrikiLeaks specializes in secret documents involving Higher Powers, in particular communications sent through s-mail, the spiritual equivalent of e-mail. The instance presented here is a recent message between foreign ministers of the eternal kingdoms: Beelzebub, the secretary of state for The Depths, writing to Archangel Michael, his counterpart in The Lofts. The two grew up together before Bubbie, as he was known in his youth, joined the Dark One in rebellion against the Universal Authority. Their long friendship presumably accounts for the chummy tone of the missive.
We publish this now, not in an attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election, but as a possible means of allaying the world’s heartburn.
To: His Lightness Arch. Michael
From: His Darkness Beelzebub
Subject: A Little Favor?
It’s been ages, I know, I been meaning to write, but we been awful busy down here. The crowds you send us get kind of rambunctious sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining, it’s so much fun torturing these ass-monkeys it don’t hardly seem like a job, but it’s an organizational nightmare, if you get my drift. Gotta keep track of who’s been waterboarded, who’s been burned on the eyeball with the Boss’s cigars, who’s had fingernails or toenails yanked, etc. etc. We’re still using these old Power Macs that’ve never been upgraded. When I heard that Steve Jobs geek was comin’, I thought he’d bring some newer gizmos, but your boys in the Property Department musta stripped him on the way. You better check for sticky fingers up there. Just sayin’.
Anyways, geeks like Jobs ain’t the problem, they just walk around twiddling with their thumbs. It’s the other types of sinners that get bored and restless. See, the whole principle of torture—I figure you’re too high-minded to think about this stuff, so I’ll explain it to you—is you gotta give the bums a break between times. If it’s all pain all the time, they get burnt out, their minds blown, their ghostbodies wasted, so when you give ’em another, say, electric zap to the privates, they hardly notice. Which is no fun for us. So the point is, let ’em have a decent life when we aren’t working ’em over, enough that when we grab ’em up for the next session, they get the shakes and the terrors and start pissin’ their ghostpants all over again.
Now, them Lethe waters are a big help, making them forget what they been through. In fact, we’ve been mixing Lethe drops into the waterboarding, so every round’s like a fresh torture ’cause the poor suckers don’t remember what’s coming.
Still, when it’s time for their R&R, we gotta keep ’em amused. Which is hard because they ain’t allowed their former enjoyments like murder, embezzlement, fornication or political campaigns. So what do we have for their entertainment? Mostly old TV shows—and your Big Guy won’t let us have the good ones, will He? No, we gotta make do with trash like Jerry Springer, Jay Leno and Hee Haw Honeys. The ladies down here, even lots of the guys, would kill for one episode of Mary Tyler Moore. True, our audience is pretty cynical, so they get into the so-bad-it’s-hilarious shtick, but that wears thin after a while. They get mopey and grouchy, which is not the right buildup for their next turn in the Iron Maiden. As I said, they should be happy, at least content, before we work ’em over again.
So what I’m writin’ to ask, and I know you’ll wanta help me with this, pal, is maybe havin’ a top entertainer come down to us a little early. No, I don’t mean Madonna, I know the Big Guy’s got a crush on her. (Which I don’t understand. I mean, really?)
What I’m talkin’ about is that Trump dude. You know we’re gettin’ him sooner or later, and if you can make it a little sooner, I’d really appreciate it, ’cause we’ve made some great plans for him.
It’s a show called Devil’s Apprentice. He’s gonna be the host, see, along with one of my cute little acolytes—you know, the one with the honkers? He’ll love her.
Here’s the bit: Contestants will think they’re competing for a full-time job managing the Grue Crew, our pitchfork guys that stab unsuspecting people in the ass and toss ’em in the pit for their next torment. Our huge TV audience will see the apprentices run around like crazy and bust their tails to please The Donald and then get fired anyway. But then the kicker is, at the end of the show, all the ones he’s fired will get to use their pitchforks on The Donald himself.
They’ll plunk him in the pit for a special persecution—watching hours and hours of documentaries—of Hillary’s whole career!
We’ll televise that too, to show him making faces and spitting insults at the screen. Then we’ll give everybody some Lethe drops and start over with a new season.
Ain’t that genius? Talk about entertainment—our restless masses will love it!
So think about it, will you Mikey? I mean, Trump’s already old and fat, it’s not like I’m askin’ for a major speedup. Just a little before his time, so to speak.
If you need to clear this with the Big Guy, give him my best, wouldya? Him and my Boss really oughta get together sometime, clear the air, y’know, discuss new ways to cooperate in this business of processing souls.
Okay, Mikey, gotta sign off now and go sharpen my pitchfork, heh-heh.
Keep that flaming sword of yours polished, boyo.
Yours 4ever & ever & ever,
October 15, 2016
After national events of the past couple of weeks, I feel I must step forward. I’ve been silent far too long about this. It’s difficult to confess, and I’m deeply ashamed, but the truth must be told:
I am one of those people who are not attractive enough for Donald Trump to molest.
If I could do it over, I would. I’d go back and be born again, at a much later date, in a different gender and a much sexier body. Then I’d maneuver to sit next to him on an airplane or in a bar, and when he put his hand on my whatever, I’d turn and beam a big smile at him. Then I’d kick him in the balls and knock his teeth down his throat.
Which is not to say the women he’s groped should have done that themselves. It’s just a fantasy. But wait, Caitlyn Jenner’s pretty attractive and still, no doubt, has plenty of muscle. Can we arrange for her and Donald to meet in a club?
Probably, though, they’ve already met. I don’t know, I don’t keep up with celebrities.
Seriously, my fantasy illustrates a theme that’s been bothering a lot of people about the presidential race. It’s so vulgar. Did anyone think any candidate for high office in the U.S. would descend to such public crudity?
I have to admit, however—a real confession this time—that I’ve long been appalled at the vulgarity of American culture. I haven’t watched TV sitcoms since I was a kid, but when I happen to catch part of one and every joke is about sex, and stupid to boot, I ask myself: Is this all we Americans can think about? There’s nothing else funny in our country?
And though I have no qualifications as a psychologist, I suppose that so much joking about sex implies that in some ways we’re deeply uneasy about it.
Of course, I’m not a prude. In fact, I’m a child of the 1960s, when sex was invented. As a young man, I rooted for the revolution against the hidebound morality imposed by the antiquated folks past the age of 30. And, if I must say so myself, my novel The Big Happiness has some pretty darn good sex scenes in it.
Still, my distaste for Donald Trump is rooted not just in his policies (ignorant, biased, dangerous) or his fundamental character (selfish, devious, disrespectful, violent) but also in his plain boorishness. And a lot of my friends seem to have the same reaction. As my wife often says with a grimace, Ewwwww.
Confronted with Donaldian muck, the temptation is to respond in kind. For instance, I have to resist the temptation to refer to him as Ronald Rump—and worse, I’ve imagined creating a picture of his face merged with a bare ass. That would be totally juvenile, so I would never, ever do something like that, believe me, folks, never.
My fantasy about being reborn as a sexy woman so I can kick him in the groin is a more elaborate version of the same thing—responding in kind.
Therefore I post these remarks in bad taste to condemn the bad taste of the election season.
Which is an ironic way to say that our issues actually go much deeper than taste. Deeper, too, than (T)Rump’s own character issues. I’m genuinely worried about our national character. If even 40 percent of Americans vote for this guy, can we preserve the tiniest smidgen of self-respect?
September 21, 2016
Decades ago, in my neighborhood, the city tore down an entire block of traditional row houses on our main street to build a new public school. But neighbors objected to the plan because it’d supposedly create an influx of young people with dark skins. The total pale-people outrage was sufficient to preserve the lot for many years as a debris- and weed-filled mess, which came to be greatly beloved by the residents—because it afforded free parking.
Now, just one block away, a developer has demolished a small, ugly, respectable office building in order to build upscale condos. However, neighbors are again objecting to the new construction, this time because it’ll create extra traffic on the tiny street (barely an alley) at the rear of the property.
Again, as the photo shows, we possess a huge lot full of rubble that may be with us for a long while. And no one seems to mind.
I’m beginning to think, actually, that we have a love for rubble. It’s kind of cool in its own way. It appeals to the common folk. It’s not all rich and snooty like prospective condo buyers, and unlike the developers, rubble is not beholden to political insiders.
If we had a neighborhood vote, Pile of Rubble vs. Designer Condos, I think Rubble might win.
Besides, as I’ve noted in in recent posts about the political landscape, we Americans just like knocking things down and admiring the carnage.
September 7, 2016
I haven’t yet read the work in its published form. During this political season I’m preserving deniability. So if something’s wrong with the piece, please blame that guy with the flowing orange hair.
I want to thank quite a few people:
- Paul Lyons, the contest judge, for selecting the story
- Ian MacMillan himself, for creating the literary legacy that inspired the magazine to honor him in this way
- Rebecca Pyle, whose artwork—much handsomer than the story—appears as an illustration (of which you can see just a slice in the image here)
- All the members of the Working Writers Group in Philadelphia, whose comments helped mightily to improve the piece
- Chris Carter, the semi-legendary compiler of home runs and strikeouts who has nothing to do with the story but nevertheless is mentioned in passing
Sorry, Donald and Hillary, I’m not thanking you, but if America still exists after November, I will indeed be grateful to those who helped preserve our contentious union.
To read the story online, click on the image above or right here.
August 22, 2016
Late in this summer of dismal news, I welcome a chance to leave off my political screeds (four of the last five posts, I’m ashamed to say) to discuss a new book of stories by a friend of mine, Larry Loebell’s The Abundance League.
First, let me say what the book is not. Loebell is old enough to have lived through decades when American fiction has aimed to dazzle readers with stylistic flourishes, inveigle them into literary puzzles, or transport them to fantastic or dystopian worlds that have never existed. There’s none of that here. The book is stubbornly grounded on the earth that we know.
Second, it’s important to state that these stories pull no punches. Don’t let the plain black wrapper fool you. This book is sometimes shocking. That may seem an odd thing to say about contemporary fiction—what could possibly shock today’s reader? Well, how about a disabled woman, a quadriplegic with no feeling below her chest, describing in detail how she pleasures her lover—and insisting that, despite her lack of sensation, it’s fully consensual, not a horrid form of sexual exploitation? If you’re a resolutely PC person, prepare to be scandalized on occasion, not because the author is illiberal but because he’s willing to explore beyond the boundaries where our culture tells us to stop looking and stop talking.
Many of the characters, like the author himself, are close observers, giving lots of attention to small details, the “stuff” of our lives. One, an aspiring choreographer, even creates a dance piece from the movements and sounds of people in airports: “she noticed people parting around a slow moving janitor in a kind of parabola, their speed of movement a contrast of determination to languor, of progress to indolence, travelers heading toward their destinations and a laborer stuck in the routines of boring work.” Similarly, an advertising executive who calls himself “a visual guy” sees a resort’s beach bar as resembling “a Noel Coward play, a tableau of spot-lit gestures, glasses, and cigarettes.” With all the details, these tend to be talky pieces, the opposite of compressed vignettes. Yet the accumulation of particulars fleshes out the author’s rich and unsentimental vision of the way we live in the world.
A number of the protagonists are casual about their relationships, unwilling to be tied down. As the choreographer puts it, “It’s a hook-up world out there. That’s the world I run in.” Another woman, once married and now involved with a married man, “refused to desire or consider more, and she did not miss what she did not have.” Correspondingly, those who experience genuine and lasting affection find themselves obstructed or marginalized by others. They get dumped, discouraged, ignored, and in fact their love often follows paths one might consider weird: profound attachment to a dog, to an ancient carousel in the park, to an ex-partner unseen for decades.
The romantic outlook isn’t 100 percent dismal, though. The title story gives us two characters who do succeed in both physical and emotional commitment: a supermarket butcher and a produce worker. These are ordinary schlubs with no career ambitions, no grand expectations. They agree to a marriage of convenience that over time becomes a union of love. Likewise, the final story describes a slow-moving but ultimately hopeful relationship between two characters in small-town Alaska who have escaped collapsed lives in the lower 48. This story, with the impossible and wonderful title “How We Failed to Stop the War and Other Consequences of the Adolphus, Alaska, Peace March, February 2003,” offers a vision of community and mutual support in sharp contrast to the acquisitive striving of earlier pieces.
Engrossed with our material world and critical of it, focused both on the ordinary and on the weird that lies just below the surface of the ordinary, these are fascinating and unique stories, unlike those I’ve seen from any other contemporary writer.