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Off the Deep End

December 20, 2016

VALPARAISO FICTION REVIEW cover, Winter 2016One of my psychologically weird stories (okay, I know my faithful readers are saying, “Aren’t they all weird?”) has just appeared in Valparaiso Fiction Review. The lovely cover image shown here is linked to the issue’s table of contents, which has impressed me mightily because I’m sharing space there with Gary Fincke and Susan Neville, among others.

The story, “Deep End,” is about a guy who has trouble with swimming pools. Apparently there’s an old trauma that he’s forgotten—but of course his wife now wants to put a pool in their back yard. Typical First World problem, maybe, but I found the psychological exploration interesting. So the story’s about forgetting, and then remembering, and then perhaps forgetting again.

For better or worse, it’s a distraction from politics and the decline of American civilization.

 

authortalkimage

The ambitious editors of Superstition Review have been assembling a massive collection of audio and video clips by their authors, and they invited me to add to it. Hence I’ve recorded a brief audio segment discussing my story “Ranger Ringo” that the magazine published in 2008. Originally I titled the clip “The Role of Memory in Autobiographical Fiction,” and it’s basically a guide to writing about your childhood when you can’t remember your childhood. Here are a couple of links that take you to the clip:

http://blog.superstitionreview.asu.edu/2016/12/13/authors-talk-sam-gridley/ (This includes the editor’s intro., a link to the original story, and a picture of my late dog Simon—who is obviously the best part of the enterprise.)

https://clyp.it/dutuwwzm (the audio clip only)

Please don’t tell Fergus (the guy grinning out at you from the top of this blog) about his predecessor. He thinks he’s an only child.

Bluster’s Last Stand?

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?

By IProspectIE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

photo by IProspectIE, via Wikimedia Commons

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.)

Trump voters in the near future

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.

Election Day

November 8, 2016

WebVotingSticker

Click either sticker for a rant about their meaning.

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?

Yo, Mikey,

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,

Your pal,

Bubbie

In Bad Taste

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.

trumpass1Confronted 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?

For the Love of Rubble

September 21, 2016

Pile of RubbleDecades 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.