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On the same day a police officer in Minnesota was acquitted of murder after pumping five bullets into a man during a routine traffic stop, a girl in Massachusetts was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for sending a text.

The girl’s name is Michelle Carter; her victim was Conrad Roy III. The two met in 2012 when Carter was 15 and Roy was 16, and proceeded to develop a relationship that might at one time have been described as a folie a deux. Though they lived relatively close, they seldom saw one another, preferring to communicate through the heightened intensity of text. And many of their texts were about death. Specifically, his death and what her reaction to it would be.


On June 19, 2014, Carter texted, But the mental hospital would help you… I’m telling you, if you give them a chance, they can save your life.

(Carter had done her own stint in a psychiatric ward, presumably on the basis of documented behaviors that included cutting, anorexia, and severe depressive episodes.)

It doesn’t help, Roy texted back. Trust me.

(Roy had made at least four previous suicide attempts.)

Four days later, Carter was still trying to talk her boyfriend down: What is harming yourself gonna do? Nothing! It will make it worse!

Make the pain go away like you said, Roy replied.

But by July 7, Carter was helping Roy with his Internet research into dependable methods of generating carbon monoxide fumes inside a locked motor vehicle.

Five days later, Roy drove his truck into a Kmart parking lot just outside Boston, turned on the water pump he’d jerry-rigged to produce the deadly gas, and killed himself.


Teenage suicide is at least as old as Romeo and Juliet. Okay, okay — the Carter/Roy texts don’t rise to the level of Shakespeare’s poetry. But then Shakespeare’s characters didn’t have access to Google.

In retrospect, many of Carter’s texts to Roy are so ghoulish that given what happened to Roy, they seem positively heinous. One is tempted to use words like “immoral.”

However, it’s not at all clear that Carter and Roy are the only two teenagers in the history of Planet Earth to exchange texts of this nature, given the histrionic nature of adolescence in general and the apparent lack of oversight that both sets of parents in this case seem to have exercised.

If we’re not reading about other dead teenagers in Big Box parking lots, it could well be because the vast majority of teens don’t share Roy and Carter’s complicated psychiatric histories.

And the public may consider itself lucky that Roy’s web search for “suicide by cop” proved less fruitful than his other research.

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In the opinion of Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz, who handed down the decision, the irrefutable evidence of Carter’s culpability was an exchange that took place when Roy appeared to change his mind as he sat breathing fumes. Roy opened the door to the cab of his truck and staggered out. Carter was on the phone with him at the time. She told him to get back in.

“She called no one and finally she did not issue a simple additional instruction — get out of the truck,” noted Judge Moniz.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, reckless or wanton behaviors that create a likelihood of substantial harm are sufficient to justify a finding of involuntary manslaughter.

And to Judge Moniz, Carter’s conduct constituted wanton and reckless behavior.

But did it?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts found Judge Moniz’s verdict so troubling that it immediately issued a statement noting that the verdict “exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions… Ms. Carter has now been convicted of manslaughter, based on the prosecution’s theory that, as a 17-year-old girl, she literally killed Mr. Roy with her words.”

Many might be inclined to dismiss the ACLU’s arguments by noting that the Supreme Court put limits on free speech in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969): Incitements to lawless actions aren’t protected under the First Amendment. But nowhere in the General Laws of Massachusetts do injunctions exist that specifically enjoin against either suicide or the act of persuading someone to commit suicide.


No transcript exists of Carter’s last phone call with Roy. We know it took place from cell phone records, and we imagine we know its substance through communications Carter subsequently had with members of her social set.

On the night of Roy’s suicide, Carter texted a friend named Samantha Boardman: He just called me and there was a loud noise like a motor and I heard moaning… I think he just killed himself.

Two months later, Carter sent Boardman a text that was far more incriminating: Sam, [Roy’s] death is my fault like honestly I could have stopped him I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I fucking told him to get back in Sam because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldnt [sic] have him live the way he was living anymore I couldnt [sic] do it I wouldnt [sic] let him.

But how reliable are the self-reports of a teenager with severe mental illness? A teenager, moreover, who was struggling to cope with changes to an antidepressant regimen that had left her — according to her expert psychiatrist — “involuntarily intoxicated?” (Okay, he was getting paid. Handsomely.)

One thing that’s clear from the voluminous texts exchanged between Carter and Roy is that Carter had a talent for hyperbole and a tendency to dramatize. It’s possible Carter may have glamorized that last fateful phone call with Roy for the benefit of what she imagined was an appreciative audience.


Carter continued texting Roy after his death. No fewer than 80 times.

You probably thought I was okay with it, she wrote in one of those texts, and You talked about being in heaven and being my angel and at the time I went along with it because i knew you weren’t gonna do anything. But you fucking did it and I’m so sorry I didn’t save you.

Once again, considerable ambiguity clings to these postmortem texts. Are they an expression of remorse? Proof that Carter wasn’t really assisting Roy because she never honestly expected him to follow through on it? Or a CYA strategy?

But the trail of breadcrumbs unifying events in this tragic story must lead to some causality. Justice demands it. So do news junkies. Even if the likely culprit may well be the culture of social media, which dominates the lives of teenagers and grownups alike, and which fetishizes the experience of the traumatized individual.

In other news…

Dreamed that I was in Italy and walking up a boulevard with benches and large octagonal paving stones (the Eastern Parkway of my youth? the parkway leading up to the Prado in Madrid?) when I spied Steve R_______ sitting on one of those benches.

He had a large sketchpad; he was drawing with color pencils. He looked quite unchanged from what he’d looked like in his 20s, which I thought quite odd.

When I was about five feet away, he lay down supine upon the bench, drew his sketchpad over his chest and closed his eye.

“Can I talk to you?” I asked.

No,” he said through clenched teeth.

It was quite clear that he recognized me and that he thought I was in the throes of some Story of Adele H-type stalker-y obsession.

And I wanted to tell him how unfair that was. Okay! So sometimes late and night, I did Google him! Read patient reviews of his medical practice. Once or twice (okay, three times! okay, more times than that!) I had checked out FB profiles of his bee-yoo-tee-full children! But that wasn’t stalking! Was it?

But even in a dream, a girl has her pride! A rebuff is a rebuff!

So I kept walking.
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Summer in the country is punctuated by the sound of machines. The thrum of lawnmowers. The buzz of trucks depositing natural gas into basement tanks so that air conditioning units can continue to run. Weird undefined hums that could be the sound of equipment sucking out a septic tank or could be the mating call of some gargantuan Godzilla insect preparing to take out Hyde Park.

I have no real-time social encounters scheduled for the next week. Which is kind of a drag, but also deliberate: I had three social events scheduled last week that I elected not to make appearances at since it was very evident to me that I had been invited to be one of the extras charged with providing background clamor. Free liquor just isn’t worth that.

I’m lonely. I’d like a playmate. I like the people I know in Hyde Park, but except for Ed and Pat, I wouldn’t say that anyone here speaks my language.

When I was younger, I hated those mundane little conversations that most people have: Stop and Shop is having a sale on mangoes! I went to Crave for lunch and I had this fabulous little salad with fresh beets! CVS was out of my thyroid meds, can you imagine?

Now, I sort of enjoy them. I see them as neutral interfaces through which friendly intentions are announced. It’s a type of verbal signaling that substitutes for the fact that humans are uncomfortable sniffing each others’ butts.

But it’s not banter. And it’s not the exchange of ideas. So it’s not play.

Or at least it's not a type of play that captures my imagination.

With all his faults – and their name was legion – Ben was a most excellent playmate. And I miss that.

I can’t imagine a time when I won’t miss that.

And I can’t imagine finding another such playmate.
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In my heyday, when I worked for Time Warner and ICM (then one of the largest entertainment agencies in the world), I was something of a marketing genius.

I thought outside the box. And I was up on all the latest technologies.

I haven’t done anything vaguely promotional in decades, and it’s a point of honor with me to ignore as many of the latest technologies as possible. Technologies come; they hover in the cultural imagination briefly, beating their wings like dying mayflies. And then they disappear.

That’s the current cycle.

One imagines that some day – maybe soon – this mad technological acceleration will stop. But I think it will keep going so long as supplier-induced demand (i.e. marketing) continues to be a force.

Boy Genius and Peter Thiel – bestest pals in real life, it turns out – both think the Civil War is coming. Boy Genius even has a timeline: 99 months.

I hate it when current events give credence to Boy Genius’s wacky theories. Like when BernieBros lose it bigtime at Republican baseball games. But then, why should Islamic terrorist get to have all the fun, right?

Anyway, I still think outside the box.


I bring this up because four people in the past few weeks have asked, “So! Do you have a Patreon account?”

And me being me, and having this weird point-of-honor thing about making art in obscurity because it’s purer to be exploited by Da Man (ri-i-i-ght…) then to coax people to pay for stuff you like to do, instead of answering, “Of course! Give me money! I’ll email you the particulars!” and scampering off to create a Patreon account, I merely answered, “Nah.”

Maybe I sighed.

Then yesterday, [personal profile] sulphuroxide and I had a long conversation about insta-celebrity. About repackaging me as an insta-celebrity.

“They make money!” [personal profile] sulphuroxide pointed out. “And lots of people out there would be willing to support you. It’s better than working for the Scut Factory!”

Ya think?

Of course, I’m absolutely the wrong demographic for insta-celebrity being 65 years old and all. Although one could argue that merely represents an unexploited niche!

And I am excessively charming in – ha, ha, ha – real life. Charismatic even. At least, when I’m not in one of my isolationist funks. I also have this bizarre drawling voice that makes it seem as though I’m imparting hot gossip even when I’m discussing Nietzsche.

Anyway. Something to think about.

I have approximately 400 pages of two highly entertaining novels on my hard drive.

It’s pretty obvious that the old publication models – snag the agent, snag the book contract – are obsolete.

Even if I didn’t go the YouTube star route, there should be some way I can do something with those.

No, not epublishing and pimping on Amazon: While it’s true that a few people (most notably the Fifty Shades of Gray writer) have used self-publishing as an avenue to success, for the most part, all self-publishing does is add dollars to Jeff Bezos’s swelling coffers.

Something more… interactive.

I’ll have to give the matter more thought. Outside the box, of course.


In other news, here’s what 60s femme fatale Anita Pallenberg looked like just before her recent death:


And here's what she looked like in her ravishing youth:


They are dropping like flies, those cultural icons of my long-ago, misspent youth.
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I’ve decided to give up on Imaan.

It’s been a year.

Two weeks ago, there was some issue with her phone, and she was texting about having had to go to the hospital but being at work… It was all very vague.

I am VERY concerned, and I’m sure u r 2! Lois Lane texted me.

Actually, I’m NOT concerned, I texted back. Cause I know for a fact she’s lying about being at work – Island Empress is closed on Mondays.

This week I let Lois Lane be the liaison. Imaan didn’t respond to Lois Lane’s texts and FB messages until 11 o’clock at night and then only with, Sorry! I can’t pay my phone bill.

Leading me to believe that she may have been fired from Island Empress.

Last time we met for tutoring, she was bristling over some workplace slight and announcing her intention to march in the very next day to confront the manager.

I cautioned diplomacy and restraint. “It was hard for you to find that job,” I pointed out.

“I get job at McDonald’s!” she sniffed.

I frowned. “You have a job at McDonald’s?”

“No! I get job at McDonald’s!”

Aha! “Get” is the future tense of “have” in the Imaan lexicon.

I feel badly for her. I see the terrible situation she’s in very clearly – essentially alone in a country she did not want to come to with no resources whatsoever. Living with that awful dysfunctional family. No friends her own age.

But, I’m necessarily limited in what I can do for her. I practically adopted Summer while I was tutoring her, but I don’t feel that strong emotional connection with Imaan. Missing tutoring sessions? It happens. But I cannot abide being lied to.

I’m replacing Imaan with a young Algerian man named Samir – 24 years old; has an engineering Masters; speaks Urdu, Arabic, a smattering of French, but practically no English. Lois Lane describes him as “driven.”

“Very, very driven. He already found a job! He’s fixing cell phones 48 hours a week in some underground tech sweat shop in Wappingers –“

“Oh, wow!” I said. “Free phone repairs! I love him already! And he can probably get us an excellent deal on iPhone 8s!”

I’d told Lois Lane that I particularly want to work with Islamic students.

It’s the one small thing I can do to strike out against the anti-Moslem sentiments espoused by the present clown act in Washington.


My intermediate English class continues to go exceedingly well. My students love me. They just love me. They do manual labor in 90-degree weather all day, and instead of hurrying home to take a shower and toss back a few brews in front of Telemundo, they come to my class.

That never fails to humble me.

They’re really thirsty for knowledge.

And they’re so smart.

I can’t speak to the nature of their sacrifice. My sense is that they come from horrible little towns in Mexico where their life would have been shit. Their lives are probably a lot better here. But their lives are not as good as their children’s lives will be, and that’s the real kicker.
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Third day in a row of sweltering temps.

If I was truly virtuous, I’d be out the door at 7:30am when temps – still in the 70s – are manageable. Since I’m deeply flawed, I don’t manage to get out till 8:30am when the mercury is up over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. And I berate myself throughout the entire course of my run/fast tromp/crawl/whatever you want to call it. I cut the run/fast tromp/crawl/whatever you want to call it short. From three miles to a mile and a half. ‘Cause I don’t want to die of heat stroke.

Of course, if I was mentally healthy, I’d be congratulating myself for getting out the door at all.

‘Cause it’s not as though I like exercise. When I was younger, I liked it. Now? The best I can say is that I don’t mind it. Now, it’s something I do – like brushing my teeth, like drinking lots of water – to stay healthy.


On Friday, B sent me an email. LOL read the subject line. Ran into strangers in Catania today, he’d written.

With this snapshot:



On the train ride back from Chicago, I amused myself by looking out the window, by chatting animatedly with a portly but attractive lawyer, and by reading Matthew Desmond’s exceedingly brilliant book, Evicted.

The lawyer was the spitting image of Godwin. No, not Godwin as he’s likely to be now – although truthfully, who the hell knows what Godwin looks like now? If I had to guess I’d say that he’s grizzled and that he has wiry grey hairs sprouting unattractively from his ears.

No the lawyer looks like Godwin looked approximately 35 years ago when he was as pink and plump and creaseless as a newborn baby, and I was flirting with him. This was odd because I reckon the lawyer and Godwin are approximately the same age.

The lawyer was extremely well spoken. Good with puns. Good with banter. At some point after we had wrung all the humor out of our mutual dislike of airports and TSA, and our speculations about how Amish men managed to keep their hats on when they fall asleep on trains, the lawyer tapped my book lightly: “What are you reading?”

Evicted,” I said. “Excellent investigation into one of the leading factors that keeps poor people poor in this country. Did you know that most poor working families are living unassisted in the private rental market and are spending half to three-quarters of their income on housing costs?”

“I did know that, as a matter of fact,” the lawyer said. “I used to be chief counsel for the NYC Housing Authority. At the point in time when housing projects had fallen into massive disfavor so we were shutting them down. And, of course, theoretically, many people who were eligible for public housing in projects should have been eligible for housing vouchers. Except at that particular point in time, we were gutting the welfare system. So…” He shrugged.

“You must read this book!” I screeched. “I should be finished with it by the time I get off in Poughkeepsie –“

“Well, then, we’ll trade books!” cried the lawyer.

Except I wasn’t finished with Evicted by the time I got off the train.

The lawyer insisted on giving me his book anyway – a first edition omnibus of three Flashman novels. It had obviously occupied a place of pride in somebody’s library for many years.

“Oh, you shouldn’t,” I said.

“Oh, I should,” he said.

He also gave me his card.

He kept touching my hand when I said goodbye to him. Our farewell, in fact, had the feel of two old lovers who’d been meeting once a year for a day of hot sex in a hotel for decades and decades.

And now I’m gonna have to read the book. Even though I have absolutely no interest in George MacDonald Fraser. Because when someone gives you a book, it’s like a bookclub selection from God.


It wasn’t just my white liberal guilt that made me respond to Evicted so deeply.

Long-time readers may remember that a mere five years ago I was living in absolute squalor in the Cement Bungalow 10 miles outside of Ithaca in a town called Freeville, then as now the capital of Tompkins County’s thriving methamphetamine industry.

I had to maintain a house.

After vanishing completely off the face of the planet for four weeks, Ben had magically reappeared with a new girlfriend who was so in-LUV that she was willing to let him crawl into her life like a hermit crab. She was footing all the bills. And Ben had decided to take me to court for custody of Robin. Now that he had a girlfriend that could afford Robin’s standard of living.

This could have been a joke.

Except that it wasn’t.

There was no fucking way I was gonna let Ben have custody of Robin.

Because I was determined that Robin was gonna graduate from high school, and I didn’t trust Ben to see that through.

So, I took Ben to mediation and I won. Lucky me! A surly teenager! All mine except for visitation.

I snagged a horrible minimum wage job that paid $850 a month.

And the rent on the Cement Bungalow was $650 a month.

Yes, yes, yes – I certainly had the qualifications and the resume to snag a better job although at that point in time, I was so broken in mind and spirit that I think any interviewer would have called Security to have me forcibly ejected from his/her office after the first round of questions. (And what do you think you have to contribute to [Corporate Name Goes Here]?)

Everything I owned on the planet was in storage in Monterey.

And storage costs money – which eventually, after I used up my small savings, I could no longer pay.

The role that storage facilities play in homelessness is one of the scenarios discussed at some length in Evicted.

Long story short – my friend Susan (Max’s godmother) who owns a lot of real estate in West Oakland told me she would take my stuff and store it for me in the basement of one of the properties she owned.

Except that she didn’t.

She and her husband Jeff (whom I do not like), and Marybeth and her husband Kim (the perps in the photo above) and Max went through the stuff, loaded up a small part of it. Max put that small part in storage in San Francisco where it remains to this day.

The rest got auctioned off. I assume.

I could just imagine their conversation while they were doing it –

“Poor Patty! Why did she ever start that business in the first place? I could have told her it was doomed to failure –“

“It’s not that she’s stupid. She’s smart. But she’s got no common sense –“

“And what the hell is this? Why did she put this into storage? Why didn’t she just get rid of it?”

"Why didn't she have a rainy day fund?"

Etcetera, ad nauseam.

Oh, I tortured myself pretending to be a fly on that wall.

The utter humiliation of it. The shame.

Sort of as though your closest friends had all of a sudden decided to conduct a colonoscopy on you. For kicks.

There was really nothing I could do. I didn’t have any money.

Money is really the only thing that protects you. Don't have it? Better convince yourself that you like the feeling of free fall.

Susan and Marybeth were actually doing me a favor.

I knew that.

And yet I felt so betrayed.

Reading Evicted was very healing because it made me realize that this horrifying experience that had shamed me to my very marrow wasn’t unique but evidence of a pattern of systemic societal failure. In my case, when a bunch of Wall Street bankers decided to get rich by loaning money to people who didn’t have any and selling that debt – bam! Twenty percent of the American economy had to be surgically amputated. I was part of that 20%.

The families described in Evicted just had the misfortune to be born poor.

Don’t kid yourself: There’s plenty of bank to be made exploiting the poor.


Anyway, I have made it up into the middle class again. By dint of a lot of hard work.

But I will never speak to either Susan or Marybeth again.


Max tells me they are somewhat mystified by this.

Fuck ‘em.

Seeing that photo of Marybeth and Kim did make me cry, though.
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I did absolutely nothing of any substance all weekend, I mean ab-zo-loot-leee nada! And felt very guilty about it, too, which detracted considerably from the mindless pleasure of nada.

I watched all 10 episodes of The Good Fight and liked them.

I watched a heartwarming movie about a woman and her bomb-sniffing dog, Megan Leavey. And cried. And thought about Milo.

I played The Sims for hours. I’m currently fleshing out the backstory of an autistic genius, so that’s taking up a lot of time.

I read two (count ‘em) biographies of Jerry Garcia and mused for a long time about what an altogether unpleasant little man he was albeit an extremely fine guitar player.

Really, one of the most fascinating things about Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead is that so many of us started out like that – going for adventures in painted buses, dropping vast quantities of acid, cramming together in rat-infested Victorians in the Haight. While a tiny fraction managed to turn that backstory into iconography, the vast majority turned it into failure.

Of course, “failure” is one of those words with no hard definition. I’m alive and in relatively good health two full decades after Jerry Garcia’s expiration date.

But I don’t have the money to plan a spree trip to Cuba let alone to maintain an aggressive heroin habit.

Isn’t that failure?

Can I mention here how much I loathe Jack Kerouac? And Ken Kesey? How I think On the Road and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are two of the most over-rated books in the 20th century bibliotheca? Badly written and misogynistic.

Meanwhile, it’s summertime in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley. I have to get out of the house by 8am if I want to go running since by 9am, it’s 80 degrees.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon sitting on a grassy bluff high above the river, occasionally looking up from my books to take a sip of water and take in this view:

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I’m a little perplexed by the latest Democratic/Progressive narrative in which James Comey is a white knight singlehandedly saving American democracy.

Don’t get me wrong: Trump is mega-creepy. But it seems to me that he was well within his rights to fire Comey. (In fact, Obama ought to have fired Comey as soon as Comey interfered with the November election.) The Constitution explicitly places the President above the law in such matters: The Justice Department and the FBI operate under the executive branch of government; The President can order them to do whatever he likes.

So. Abuse of power?


Obstruction of justice?

No way.

Plus, the prospect of a President Pence is a whole lot scarier than the reality of a bumbling President Trump because Pence is not bumbling, so it’s likely he would be able to push a whole lot of his creepy agenda in.

No, the best thing for Progressives is if Trump remains in office, but is kept on the ropes for the next four years. This strategy will swing both the 2018 and 2020 elections.


But the big news yesterday was the UK election. Despite what can only be described as a disastrous rout, Theresa May is refusing to quit.

I didn’t follow the UK election closely enough to know whether any poll or pundit had predicted a hung parliament, but hung parliaments are actually not that rare – that’s how David Cameron got in as Prime Minister in 2010, after all.

I do know that the Conservatives had a majority going into the election and that Theresa May called for the election as a vote of confidence in her policies – so there’s really no way to interpret the loss of 23 seats as anything other than a slap in the face. A completely unnecessary election undertaken for the sole purpose of party advantage, and now she’s hiding out from the electorate: Pffftt.

The pound took a nosedive. Time to start planning that trip to the Tate!


In other news, it was a bright, sunshiny day! I soaked up a massive amount of Vitamin D.

I’m toying with the idea of writing something about the Comey narrative. What really strikes me is how short and dramatic the pivotal moment was that turned Comey from a progressive bop clown into a hero. When Comey lost the election for HRC, he was Public Enemy # 1. But then Trump fired him and bam! He was a good guy! The Comey of my enemy is my friend.

The brevity of that pivot and the confusion it caused is best demonstrated by that audience that showed up at the Ed Sullivan Theater on May 9th to see Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. Unaware that the narrative had shifted while they were standing on line, these audience members actually clapped when Colbert announced Comey’s firing – Buzzzzzz! Wrong reaction!

Nothing that 15 minutes in the Reeducation Camp couldn’t cure, of course.

It’s so amazing to me that partisans on both sides of America’s political divide continue to believe the narratives dangled before them by a media that’s only interested in tricking their eyeballs into watching ads.

I mean, Jeez! What’s up with that? Are people really that stupid?

(It’s a rhetorical question! Don’t answer!)
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After dreaming about it, I was moved to Google-streetview the old apartment on Telegraph Avenue. It’s still there! And it’s still got the adult bookstore on its ground floor. So funny!

Those bay windows on the second floor are the ones Danny jumps out of. The tree, though, was the merest sapling when I lived there.


Dreamed that Max (my oldest son) and I were running around on the subway. And I was in an odd, petulant, resentful mood – Max was not paying enough attention to me! So at some point when he was running to catch a train, I deliberately dawdled behind so that I missed the train. And then it occurred to me that I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was. That the subway system had changed dramatically since the last time I’d been on it. I was now quite lost.

In the dream, Max was very excited because he’d just adopted Justin. (Robin’s high school best friend who committed suicide his first year in college.) “It’s a weird thing to do, I know,” he told me. “But I’m absolutely convinced I can save him.”


Weather has turned spectacular, so I’ve been spending as much time as I can outside, soaking up that Vitamin D.

The Goddess of Smartphones has got her fountain back:


She really is the Goddess of Smartphones, as you can see from this highly pixilated close-up:


Smartphones would not be invented for another 100 years when this statue was created, so credit those Vanderbilts with prescience as well as with obscene amounts of money.


RTT is a bit disturbed by the fact that his father hasn’t contacted him since his father has been in Europe.

What if that woman murdered dad? he texted.

This was the first I’d heard that Ben was flying off to Europe to meet a woman.

I found it pretty amusing that he would keep that info from me. Honestly, B – after all this time, do you think I really care?

B’s always had the capacity to get completely caught up in the adventure of the moment to the exclusion of everything else – particularly when the moment has a female costar.

I’ve seen this numerous times, but this is the first time RTT has experienced it.

I debated explaining it to him: This is the way your father reinvents himself when he finds his present reality too constraining. Likely he’s telling the woman – whoever she is – a complicated series of lies. He’s a bestselling novelist in the States! Or maybe a ghostwriter for a bestselling novelist. Or maybe a lion tamer with a traveling circus.

Avowals of grand passion will be exchanged: I never thought I would feel this way again! I don’t see how I can live without you.

At my present remove, I find this behavior almost endearing.

It wasn’t always.

But then I realized it benefits Robin in no way whatsoever to learn these truths about his father. So I texted him back, Trips are really ABSORBING as you know. I’m sure he’s fine. He’s living a life that’s outside his daily routine and reveling in it, you know?

Robin and Ben have a curiously codependent relationship in which Ben nags Robin relentlessly and continuously.

I’m sure it does feel strange to Robin to have that nagging disappear so suddenly.

But Robin is 22 years old now.

He shouldn’t need to be nagged.
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Vivid dream: I was back in my apartment in Oakland on Telegraph Avenue. My very first apartment! The one that sat over a storefront that most of the time was the Independent Driving School but sometimes turned into an adult bookstore and on at least one occasion took up tax preparation.

I’d arrived there through some sort of vaguely Orphan Black-ish cloak-and-dagger activity. I was hiding out from menacing authorities! My trusty backup squad consisted of two LJ friends whom I’ve never met – smokingboot, a Brit, whom I envision as quite ethereal, and Rob H.

Smokingboot was showing me around the apartment, which she’d decorated entirely with mirrors, stained glass, and quaint Tales-of-Hoffman-ish automatons – I remember one automaton, embedded somehow in one of the stained glass windows, was the simulacrum of a famous 1920s tennis star and would recite the tennis star’s entire biography if prompted.

I was going to have to hide out in this apartment for some unknown reason.

I looked around and thought, That’s not so bad; I kind of like this place


The Oakland apartment is a major touchstone in Where You Are When: Ybel lives there, and it’s the apartment where Danny and Megan keep staging colorful suicides in various iterations. That plus special guest appearances by LJ pals made me think: Aha! I’m dreaming about writing.


During my absence, western Dutchess County somehow metamorphosed into the Cotswolds. It rains. And rains. And rains. And the gardens bloom!

Mostly it’s been a manageable drizzle, but sometimes it pours. Not something I’ve felt like going out in, so I’ve been under-exercised and generally crochety.

I suppose I’m gonna have to break down and join a gym.

I hate gyms.


That Grateful Dead documentary made a strong impression on me. In particular, the Haight/Ashbury footage from the late 1960s.

I was a student at Berkeley at the time – yes, yes, I was only 16, but I’d skipped two years of school – and I hopped the AC transit bus into the City often. Golden Gate Park was one of my very favorite places to drop acid.

In a way, it’s the same thing that appeals to me about small towns – it’s as if remnants of the past are trapped like genies in flat black and white images or in abandoned, dilapidated buildings lining an empty Main Street.

Who knows what powerful magic those genies might be able to perform if released, right?

In particular, I stared at Bob Weir who in my benighted 20s seemed to me the very epitome of male beauty. Today, all I can think is, Damn! What a slack-jawed, country bumpkin-looking moron. Pretty but very obviously dumb as blunt nails.

The editing in the documentary was very weird; it jumped from a scene of Weir on the stage to a shot of Weir as an old man – well: a man my age – climbing into an ecologically friendly motor vehicle and buckling up his seat belt with a trembling hand. The dumbness is a constant. I wonder how come I missed that back in the day?

In retrospect, I can see all sorts of things that were wrong with the Dead scene. It was a complete male chauvinist fantasy. Women existed to be fucked, to prepare food, or to do those weird, whirly hand dances – their straight, carefully-parted-down-the-middle hair flying – while the Dead played Dark Star.

About a year later, I started modeling professionally, which took me frequently to New York where I hung about on the fringes of the Max’s Kansas City/Andy Warhol Factory scene. Incipient punk. A lot more dangerous than the Grateful Dead scene, but – oddly – a lot more egalitarian when it came to gender roles.

Still. There was something about the Dead that spoke to me, and I continued catching the occasional show and doing the occasional tab until Garcia dropped dead.

Whereupon I gave up psychedelics altogether.


The Former Democratic Congressional Candidate’s brother posted this photograph of her looking elegant and imperious and as though she would snap the head off anyone who made a stupid remark.

This is how I would like to remember her.

Except that I didn’t actually know her when she was this person.
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Came back from my trip and thought about writing and wanted to write – I had adventures! – but did not write.

And I’m not exactly sure why.

Trips are good. Trips reaffirm you as the primary stakeholder in your own life; the center of your own narrative, if not of the universe.

I want to go on more trips.

But I guess I’m so innately lazy and undisciplined that a week is all it takes for me to lose a habit.


After a couple of days, the small adventures of everyday life began to take over the brain cells allocated to trip memories.

For example: One afternoon, I was tromping fast or running – whichever one you want to call it – through the Vanderbilt Estate when I was passed by a car. Not a limo, but a black car – Crown Victoria maybe? And inside that car sat the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress. This was really confusing to me because I’d heard through the grapevine that she was desperately ill, too ill to leave her bed, or so, I’d been told.

If the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress saw me, she made no sign.

When I got home three hours later, there was an email: The Former Democratic Candidate for Congress had just died.

And this was just very weird because it strongly suggests that the Vanderbilt Estate is either the hellmouth or the pearly gates, I’m not exactly sure which.


And yesterday, which I’d put aside for writing about my trip, I could not wake up. All day long I had that really frustrating feeling of trying to jumpstart my mind as though it was a power mower or a chainsaw, and feeling it sputter and spurt as fuel was fed but remained unsparked.

Finally, I gave up and watched a six-hour documentary on the Grateful Dead.

I would never describe myself as a Deadhead, but I did see the Dead in concert innumerable times. Dead concerts were always a great place to do psychedelics. Plus I really liked the fact that here was this huge underground phenomenon that had received little or no acknowledgement from the mainstream press and PR machines; a whole transient economy and community that came together and then dissipated in the time it might take a handful of itinerant Buddhist monks to make a sand painting. Think Burning Man without the hype.

Still. Jerry Garcia as a Christ figure is stretching it.


Before I forget – there are three pieces I’d like to write in the coming week:

(1) The Kathy Griffin saga. Think what you like about the tastelessness of swinging a severed and bloodied head – hey! It worked for Salome! And for Judith! – this was a woman who was prepared to do battle on the enemy’s own turf.



Vulgar to a Trumpian extent, in fact.

Fighting fire with fire is not an inherently bad thing, so I was deeply puzzled when Griffin was castigated by both the Left and the Right.

The Left loves to eat its own.

But this one makes me wonder whether the real reason the Neanderthals lost out to Cro Magnon Man wasn’t because they were too polite.

(2) A deconstruction of the Hillary Body Bag trope. I have a list of all of Hillary's (alleged) bodies, and it’s far more extensive than Seth Rich and Vince Foster. But I'm wondering if there's another episode in American political history where a particular politician was accused of so many back channel murders. I have this sense that it’s a hoary narrative, but I just don’t know enough history to support that contention. So I’m fishing around for 19th century or 20th century examples.

(3) Why Americans don’t care about climate change. And I suspect that Trump called the zeitgeist exactly right here: Most Americans will actually concede that scientists are right and that climate change is happening. But they don’t give a shit. Why? Because climate change, indeed environmental issues in general, are widely perceived to be rich people’s causes. As though one morning, the One Percent woke up and realized, Uh oh! We’re sharing a planet with those dirtbags. We gotta do something.

Naturally, every strategy for reducing greenhouse gases has a disproportionately large effect on the poor.

How many tons of carbon does the Lear Jet that Al Gore uses to travel between climate change conferences generate anyway? But you’re not gonna find Al Gore reserving a seat on Amtrak any time soon.

There’s a huge amount of cognitive dissonance involved with behaviors like this, and mainstream Americans are not blind to it.
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Really odd dream… I was acting in a movie. Or was it a play? It was hard to tell them apart. And I’d been given a set of lines to memorize except that I hadn’t memorized them, and the performance was immanent. I wasn’t really sure what to do: Did I smuggle the lines in on a piece of paper and surreptitiously glance at them from time to time to remain letter perfect (which would surely ruin my performance), or did I make up lines that seemed like a logical response to the other actors’ lines (which would almost surely ruin their perfomances)?

Peter O’Toole was attending the performance, and I was introduced to him. Not the beautiful, mad-blue-eyed Lawrence of Arabia Peter O’ Toole but not the alcoholic walking cadaver he became later in his career either. “Ah, yes: You wrote that novel,” he said, politely taking my hand.

And he looked at me – and his gaze was the most provocative, astounding thing ever because I could see in the infinitesimal contractions and dilations of his pupils and the microexpressions that flitted across his face a world of subtle communication that was far, far beyond my limited capacity ever to understand.

I was supposed to essay a British accent in the original script.

I cannot do a British accent while Peter O’Toole is watching, I thought. Even though I’m actually not too bad at British accents.

Then I was being hustled off to the set of a reality TV show – unrelated to the original script I had failed to memorize.

The premise of this reality TV show was that the contestants would be filmed while being asked to identify the subject matter of various photos and pictures. Audience members at home would then vote on the contestants’ reactions via Twitter and other social media platforms unknown outside my dream, and the contestants with the lowest votes would be ejected.

“Should I go to hair and makeup?” I asked the producer.

“Oh, we don’t do hair and makeup,” said the producer. “You should have done that at home.”

But, of course, I hadn’t. I’m going to be the first one voted out, I thought. A very pale, somewhat witchy-looking old woman with practically invisible eyebrows. People at home are gonna hate me.

The first category was Marvel Superheroes That Don’t Exist, and the example given was Chifa Man – who was the offspring of a Chinese railroad worker and an immortal Incan goddess/priestess, born outside Lima in 1884.

Fuckin’ ridiculous, I thought. And then it dawned on me that this reality TV show was a protracted marketing focus group and that everything in this world was either a marketing focus group or an actual sale.

And there was really nothing I could do to escape from it –

-- except to wake up --

-- which I did.
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It’s been hot. Very, very hot. Eighty-degrees-Fahrenheit-by-9-o’clock-in- the-morning hot.

This means that by the time I’m coffee’d up and Daily Mail-ed up enough to want to go out and exercise, it’s too hot to go out and exercise.

Consequently, I haven’t exercised for the past couple of days. At the same time, I haven’t slept well for the past couple of days. Are these two things connected? Seems likely.

I felt the urge to become politically involved in the orchestrated momentum leading up to the last Presidential election and the hysterical churn of the first few months after Trump won.

But it’s obvious the Sooper Sekrit Political Group is just another dead-end time sink at this point.

Before I got involved with the Sooper Sekrit Political Group, I was very involved with the Dutchess County Political Action Alliance – but it soon became very clear to me that the only “action” the DCPAA is committed to doing is allying with larger state progressive groups that want to use ground members as background extras in various useless rallies and protests. That’s an insult to my intelligence.

At this point, I’m thinking that all the high drama on the American political stage is just a battle for advertising dollars being waged between MSNBC and Fox News.

The words of the ZMan echo: I slowly came to the conclusion that the whole Right-Left dynamic was just a myth… If the Right-Left construct is just a version of good cop/bad cop where the people in the media hustle the rest of us so they can live above their utility, then what’s really going on in the world?

And the always relevant Bion of Borysthenes quotation. You know the one. The boys throwing stones. The dead frogs.

I care but not in the way I see my agitated Progressive friends caring. I think they’re having trouble separating the Figure from the Ground. And the Ground, she is changing…


Also, I have my own Work – which I pretty much have ignored for the past few months.

My own Work may never amount to anything, but it is mine – my own “sensemaking” to borrow Boy Genius’s ridiculously pompous phrase.

Why have I been ignoring it?

Partly a lack of discipline.

Partly the fact that I make my supplemental monies writing and that those writings have to happen on a timeline over which I have no control – so that when those deadlines have been met, I am often all written out and mentally exhausted.

Partly, though, because I’m not allowing myself to be absorbed into my own imagination. I’m allowing myself to be absorbed into other people’s imaginations. It’s more of a social thing, doncha know.

Not really sure what to do about any of this. I’m done being hard on myself in any way, shape, or form. The world is hard enough on me already; I don't see why I should give it any additional help.

But I’d like to figure out a way to get back inside my own imagination.
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Spent the first part of Mothers Day in a snit because the offspring were pretty late with those adulatory phone calls plus neither of them appears to have the slightest inclination to tattoo “Mom” in a big heart on their Popeye muscles.


Went running – and almost literally ran into Donnelly Paulson, himself running for the Dutchess County Legislature. Although, unfortunately, not from my district.

I suspect Donnelly spends so much time walking his dog on the grounds of the Vanderbilt Estate because he sees it as a way to connect with potential voters. He’s not shy about introducing himself: “Hi! I’m Donnelly Paulson, and I’m running for…”

When I encountered him yesterday, though, he was a bit shaken up.

“I’ve just spent 20 minutes talking to a couple of Trump voters,” he told me. “And they don’t seem to care one whit that Trump has broken practically every one of his campaign promises.”

I shrugged. “Even Nixon after his impeachment managed to maintain a 28% approval rating. You figure Trump’s gonna retain about 30% of his base no matter what. They didn’t vote for him because of his campaign promises. They voted for him because he pisses off the right people. They voted with their middle fingers, you might say.”

Donnelly shook his head. “I just don’t understand it.”

“Well,” I said. “You can’t afford to alienate them. Just because they voted for Trump doesn’t mean they won’t vote for you. In local elections, people tend to vote for candidates they know and like personally. Politics is really secondary. Most people know Jack Shit about local issues.”


Donnelly is waaaaaay hunky. Hunky to the point that were I 15 or 20 years younger, I might seriously entertain a crush. Tall, dark-haired. Did I mention tall? Tall! Looks a bit like George Mallory after whom my LJ is named. A social studies teacher at Poughkeepsie High School, which has got to be one of the noblest and hardest jobs ever invented.

In the evening, Pat and Ed invited me over for dinner. And that was nice, too. Excellent food, stimulating conversation.

So all in all, a good day.

Except at one in the morning, I woke up in a complete panic.

I was actually so freaked that I had to drink myself back to sleep, which is always problematic.

The panic seems to be revolving around my planning for my Memorial Day trip. Except there’s no reason for me to be panicking over my Memorial Day trip. I like Carol; I’m certain I will have a good time hanging out with her. I like Chicago; I’m certain I will have a good time hanging out there. Whistler’s Mother is back at the Chicago Art Institute! Plus Toulouse-Lautrec and Sunday on the Isle of Grant Jatte! And the Thorne dollhouses!

There’s some part of me, though, that’s getting more and more and more reclusive. Like really, I’ve got my living space configured precisely the way I like it, so why should I ever leave?

I suppose that’s the part of me that’s raising all that fuss at one in the morning.
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Yesterday it rained. And rained. And rained.

I worked desultorily. Read an Inspector Wexford mystery that I’m absolutely certain did not exist until I scored it a local library book sale for five cents1 . Tried to watch an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on Netflix: The Benighted Orphan is one of my favorite literary genres though Anne of Green Gables is not a particularly outstanding example of the genre. But the Netflix adaptation is just awful: I would have been much more entertained watching the annoying actress who played Anne get eaten by slobbering zombies.

I began making concrete arrangements for my upcoming trip.

And I spent waaaay too much time on FB arguing with the members of the Sooper Sekrit Political Group. They’re all guys, and you have to figure that if they’re spending their Saturday nights on FB arguing about idpol, they’re loser guys.

But, of course, here I was on a Saturday night, arguing about idpol on FB.

So, I suppose I’m a loser, too.


L was particularly chatty yesterday.

She wanted to keep tabs on me because she knew I was feeling weird and freakish.

But she also want to gossip about Katy Day whom I know I have written about in this journal before (though I can’t now remember what pseudonym I gave her.)

Katy Day has a severely retarded 26-year-old son who lives at home; a sardonic, right-wing, Trump-voting husband who’s chronically ill and who spends most of the week harvesting the Big Buck$ in New York City, and a 23-year-old daughter, Misty, who looks like a fairy-tale princess.

This week, Katy Day was hit with a perfect storm when the husband contracted some sort of antibiotic-resistant systemic fungal infection and Misty was hospitalized following a suicide attempt.

“She didn’t actually take enough pills to kill herself,” L sniffed.

“You sound like you’re really angry,” I noted mildly.

“Well, I am. Imagine doing something like that when she knew what her mother was going through!”

Personally, my sympathies are all with the daughter. I actually had a dream about Katy Day once in which some floating, omniscient figure explained to me that the son’s retardation was really Munchausen by proxy.

No, I am not saying my dream was true.

What I am saying is that Katy Day is a control freak at an almost pathological level and also kind of a drama queen. And that caring for the son at home allows her unfettered exercise of both those tendencies.

“Oh, of course!” I said to L. “Still. It can’t have been easy for Misty growing up under those circumstances. She would have learned at an early age that the best way to get attention was to be utterly helpless and dependent.”

“She has mental health issues!” snapped L. “And she loves Greggy very, very much. They all do! Greggy is a sweetheart!”

“Well, of course, he is,” I hastened to soothe L. “And, of course, they do.”

Greg does have a very sweet disposition, and Katy Day takes wonderful care of him so that for that first fraction of a second when you see him, what you see is the very handsome, very tall young man he would have been had some mysterious malady not knocked him down in his third year.

What Greg has is not autism.

Neurologists, biological psychiatrists, and other doctors aren’t exactly sure what it is.

Psychiatrists aren’t exactly sure what Misty has either. Some say bipolar disorder; others say borderline personality syndrome.

Personally, I think it’s the family situation. Growing up in the shadow of a severely disabled older brother who got all the mother’s attention, with whom she could never compete. It cracked Misty in some essential sense.

And maybe if she’d had more innate emotional and psychological resilience, it wouldn’t have cracked her. I dunno. Both Benito and Caro Snowdrop have disabled siblings who lived at home while they were growing up. And they’re fine.

Anyway, it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to articulate my own thoughts on the matter in any way that was going to be palatable to L, so I gave up trying.

Instead, I nodded and sighed and shook my head at appropriate intervals in her dramatic narrative: Katy Day, Living Saint.

It’s not like I have any real connection to the Day family. Who cares what I think of their family dynamics?

But I do have a real connection with L, so if something I say upsets her, I’ll think of ways I can stop saying it.

As a parenthetical note: L is the only person I’ll deign to have half-hour conversations with about that weird cup mark that seemed to be burned into the kitchen counter. The many ways I had tried (and failed!) to scrub it off. How she had used Ajax or Bon Ami (she forgot which) and finally gotten rid of it.

I can’t imagine having conversations with anyone else about subjects like this.

But with L, I actually enjoy it.

1 This was probably one of Ruth Rendell’s first published novels. It appeared in 1969. It’s particularly interesting to read it as a footnote in the evolution of her singular signature style. Here, her clever descriptions are a bit too arch and ramble on for way too long, and Wexford’s internal dialogues are neither illuminating nor particularly entertaining to read but pedantic.
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“There’s a tunnel in the basement of the old building,” Lois Lane told me. “It ran beneath the arterial –“

“Mill Street,” I said.

“—all the way to Conklin Avenue on the other side. It was an underground railroad stop. There was a false wall, but you know. The building was in such awful shape – all the bricks were crumbling, trees growing up through the foundation. So you could see it. Billy –“ her boyfriend “– grew up on Conklin Avenue, so he knew where it came out.”

I’d absolutely hated the Literacy Center’s old building with its rabbit warren of gloomy rooms, its perpetual miasma of mildew and the scent of the dead animals that had crawled into its crumbling walls over the course of a century and a half.

And there was a lot of underground railroad activity in Dutchess County.

But I’m more inclined to think that this tunnel was dug around the turn of the 20th century to serve as a conduit for underground telegraph wires.

I’ve done a lot of research into the history of this locality. No Quakers lived in Poughkeepsie proper in the 1840s and the 1850s. And Quakers were the guiding spirits behind the underground railroad.

“What happened to Poughkeepsie anyway?” I asked Lois Lane. (Long-time readers will recognize this as a question that has obsessed me since I moved to the Hudson Valley four years ago.)

“Crack cocaine,” said Lois. “And prisons – parolees have to live near ‘em. And rehabs. Because wherever you have ostensibly recovering junkies, you will have an equal or greater number of non-recovering junkies. And, of course, the line separating those two groups is very, very permeable.”

“During the 80s and 90s, there were a lot of wild parties in those underground railroad tunnels,” she added. Wistfully.


Lois Lane and I were socializing.

For some reason, the Vassar Art Department had decided to book the actor Federico Castellucchio (Furio on The Sopranos) for a lecture.

I was interested because, you know, Furio. (Have you thought about flooring?)

Lois Lane was interested because fr-r-r-eeee!

Lois Lane is someone I’ve wanted to socialize with for a very, very long time. She speaks the language, she’s really fuckin’ smart, and she has a fascinating backstory. Moreover, there is something almost saintly about her – no, no, I’m not exaggerating – a halo of pathos: She’s someone who’s known great pain and has come out the other side without the protective amnesia that most people develop when they’ve had the experience of great pain.

I’d put out tiny feelers from time to time, but I’d understood when I was rebuffed. I can see how much it takes out of her to maintain that façade of normalacy; I sensed that her needs for decompression, down time, isolation were probably much, much greater than mine. No hard feelings.

So, I was shocked and pleased when she suggested this outing.


Castellucchio – who mispronounces his last name Casta-looch-ee-yo – turns out to be a fairly talented artist who knows a lot about 16th century Baroque painting, so his lecture turned out to be fairly entertaining even if he’s no longer the steely-eyed stud in the Angel Raphael hairstyle that Carmela Soprano lusted over. I should note here that Carravagio is one of my favorite painters (plus talk about your interesting backstories.)

Lois Lane was too broke to do dinner afterwards, and I didn’t want to embarrass her by suggesting that I would pay for her to eat. So we chatted in the parking lot outside the Literacy Center’s new, rather boring but completely odorless digs.

“What was the moment that turned it all around for you?” I asked softly. “Was it when you were institutionalized?”

“Not the first time,” Lois Lane said. “Not the second time. But the third time… I was really strung out and hooking on the streets. And there was this girl. And I can’t even remember what I did for her, but she remembered what I did for her.

“And, of course, I got busted and was standing in front of the judge in my little orange jumpsuit. ‘You used to be a Marine!’ says the judge all shocked. Because I was ex-military, they gave me a light sentence, right? But part of it was lockup.

“And I get this package. And it was from that girl. It had gummy bears and coffee and all the things you’d need to make coffee in lockup, and a bunch of other stuff you need when you’re in that situation. And she’d written a note: You were very kind to me when I needed it, so I want to return the favor. And I’m going to say what you said to me then: You’re too good to be doing this.

Lois Lane sighed. “That’s really what did it.”

I nodded. “The message in the bottle.”

“I mean, not that it happened overnight. It was a long, long, long struggle. I was homeless for a while there. I was –“ She bit her lip and stopped talking for a couple of moments. “It was the beginning, though.”

“What happened to the girl?”

“Last time I heard, she was strung out. And hooking.”

“You really need to write a memoir, you know,” I told Lois Lane.

She’s a fine writer.

“Also you really need to come with me to the Brooklyn Museum to visit the cat mummies.”

“I would like that,” Lois Lane said. “I would like that a lot.”
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Feeling really, really awful for poor RTT – who failed his chemistry final, which means he failed his chemistry class, which means once again his graduation is in doubt.

The kid really tried. Studied hard, took practice tests, did study groups with his friends.

Probably why he got so depressed: He knew without knowing.

There’s a big knot in my stomach and that awful adrenalin lurch in my shoulders.

Because there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make it better for him. Nada.

He’s gonna have to get up, dust himself off, go in to see his academic advisor, see if they will let him substitute a summer school class – Tompkins Community College teaches an equivalent class – and just generally deal with it.

Chemistry was virtually impossible for me, too, back in the Jurassic when I took it at UCB.

Well. Not all chemistry – I actually got As in Organic Chemistry from a notoriously difficult teacher, William Calvin, Nobel Laureate. But that’s because Organic Chemistry is mostly an exercise in applied acrostics. I still remember the final: You are on an island with access to every catalyst and reagent known to man, and EtOH. Synthesize [name of your complex polysaccharide goes here.]

But Physical Chemistry. I would have flunked Physical Chemistry. Except that Berkeley had a student strike that quarter, and the professor was sympathetic. So I got a very, very low C-.

I mean, the Ideal Gas Law. UGH.

Robin suffers from what I suffer from: This notion that if you’re innately talented at something, then that something can’t be worth pursuing.

Neither of us is innately talented at chemistry. So hey! We gotta take chemistry classes. So we can flunk 'em.

The very definition of low self-esteem.

I understand why I have low self-esteem.

But I don’t understand why Robin has low self-esteem.

How did I fail him?


Between feeling horrible for Robin and feeling beaten down in the whole political arena, yesterday was not a very good day. I toiled at the Scut Factory. I went out in the afternoon, tried to exercise, but got tired and winded after a mile and a half.

What’s the point of being alive? I wondered.

Which is a ridiculous question.

There is no point.

You just are.

You deal with it.

You try to strike the right balance between distraction and mindfulness.

The rest is just brain chemicals.
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I don’t know what to make of Comey’s firing. Seriously.

Clearly, the guy was incompetent and deserved to be fired.

But I find myself looking at something that’s a good thing if you believe the Good Guys did it (or would have done it) but a bad thing if you believe the Bad Guys did it (or would have done it.)

This sets up a paradox in which the conditions surrounding the event register with more significance than the actual event itself, which is a level of abstraction that my poor concretistic mind finds almost impossible to process.

All my Progressive friends are screeching, Constitutional crisis!

They see Comey’s firing as part of some complex long game for bringing down the Deep State.

It’s a ploy to stall the Russian investigation! they're wailing.

My own thought is that if they were actually depending upon an FBI investigation into Trump’s Russian ties led by an incompetent like Comey to bring Trump down, then there’s a plutonium plant in Hanford Washington I’d like to sell them.

Shouldn't Obama have fired Comey? And wouldn't that have been a good thing?

I was so confused, I asked Ben, So is firing Comey a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know how I’m supposed to react.

It’s a very bad thing, he said. On the one hand he was responsible for Clinton’s loss, at least in part. On the other hand, he was conducting the only legitimate investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. The next FBI Director won’t. On top of that, tonight the White House says Comey was fired for failing to charge Clinton with a crime. So however bullshit it is, the next FBI Director probably will... This is Nixonesque.

Okay! Well. At least, I know what I’m supposed to believe.

I guess I’m gonna start practicing how to say President Pence.
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Dreamed that the family – that would be me, teenage Max, elementary school-aged Robin, Ben, Milo, and Fritz – had moved into a bad neighborhood in San Francisco.

And that puzzled me because even in the dream I knew, There are no bad neighborhoods in San Francisco: It’s all been gentrified.

We’d left a little house that had been perfectly satisfactory to our needs. Or maybe we were returning to the Bay Area after a vacation.

Either way, the new apartment was filled with other people whom I barely knew. It was cheap: Ben had reassured me of that. And we had a suite of rooms there. Or at least, that’s what I first assumed.

But as I wandered around the apartment, I couldn’t find our rooms.

Moreover, one of the pets was missing, a mottled grey basset hound named Russell or Leonard – the name kept changing. Apparently, before we’d left on vacation, I’d called someone and asked, “Could you take care of Russell or Leonard for a few months?” and they’d said, Sure.

Except now, I could remember who that person was.

Note: In real life I’ve never had a basset hound named Russell or Leonard.

Do you know who I left Russell or Leonard with? I asked Max. And he blew me off in his typical teenage fashion.

I asked Ben. Oh, you mean our other dog? said Ben. And he pulled something off a high shelf and it was Xena’s head attached to a dog collar. Which, I know, sounds horrific. But in the dream, was not particularly horrific.

Milo was wandering around, circling and recircling, and I realized: He hasn’t been walked. Also, there wasn’t a scrap in the house for him to eat.

Since you’ll be living here, we should talk, said a man. And I realized that he was the boss of this apartment or commune or whatever the hell it was, and that I had to be very nice and charming to him because if he kicked us out, then where the hell could we go?

The apartment was somehow connected to a very famous concert hall that was just next door.

The boss and I sat down at a window – a really breath-taking view of the cityscape and a bridge. It appeared we were 500 feet up in the air. This is why Ben took the apartment, I thought. This view. And for a moment, I understood. Though the apartment was horrible impractical.

Poor Milo kept circling me and circling me. His back hindquarters were all mangy. I need to take him out, I thought. I need to find him something to eat.

Next door to the building where the apartment was stood the concert hall. Some hugely popular band was playing, and the line of fans wrapped several blocks. They were all punk fans: tattoos, Mohawks, piercings.

There used to be a grocery story here, I thought.

I looked down and discovered I was naked to the waist, my breasts on full display. But that didn’t seem to bother anyone, so I tried not to let it bother me.
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I continue in this mood that’s not exactly bad but is definitely combative. I’m keeping a lid on it: There’s no real utility in lashing out. Reaction formation is your friend! But it would deeply please me to be rude and incorrigible. So, I’m isolating a bit more than usual.

I did have one totally wonderful moment yesterday.

I put the fear of God into Imaane when I read her the riot act recently. She’d shown up 20 minutes late to three tutoring sessions in a row, so I sat her down and said, “Look. Stuff happens. I know that. And if that stuff makes you late, and you text me you’re gonna be late, I’ll understand. But if you’re consistently late, that’s a pattern. That means you’re not committed to the work we’re doing together. And I’m going to stop being your tutor.”

“I am sorry, Beautiful Teacher!” Imaane cried, deeply penitent. “I will not do it again!”

“Okay! And ‘consistently’ ends in ‘ly,’ so it’s what kind of a word?”

“It is adverb!”

Since then, Imaane has actually been showing up early to our tutoring sessions – which consist of reviewing the homework assignments I’ve given her, reading Little Women aloud for an hour and then reading the DMV’s Driver Manual in English for 30 minutes. (Imaane wants to get a New York State license!)

Meg longed to walk in the conservatory, Imaane read and frowned.

“’Conservatory’ is kind of a room with lots of plants,” I said helpfully.

“No. Long,” said Imaane.

“Well, the word means two things,” I said. “Long.” – I spread my hands out to denote length. “That’s an adjective. But when it’s a verb, it means to want something very, very much.” I spread out my hands again in exactly the same gesture.

Imaane’s eyes lit up.

“So in a way, the two meanings are connected –“

“Yes!” Imaane cried.

She’d gotten the figurative function of the English language!

And from that moment on, she was eager to apply it.

My Annie Sullivan moment.

“Relate” means “telling a story,” but that meaning almost implies its other definition “to form a connection between two things.” “Foretell” is almost a literal transliteration of the Latinesque word “predict.” (Imaane knows a bit about Latin because she speaks fluent French.)

I could see Imaane falling in love with the English language!

And that was a pretty sight.
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Anyone-But-Le-Pen swept to a resounding victory in the French Presidential election. This stays the slouching of What Dark Beast for at least one more decade, I guess.

And if it were up to me, I would never publish anything under my own name. I would always adopt kludgey pennames like Ernest Delving or Frank. B. Leaf.

The whole popularity contest of publishing even in really tiny obscure outlets is just too hard on one’s stomach.


Boy Genius is having another snit, and this makes me question the wisdom of continuing to work with the Sooper Sekrit enterprise. In general, I don’t like Boy Genius (though I do like Alpha Male.) Dealing with male divas is always a lot harder than dealing with female divas; they’re less easily placated. I enjoy the work with the Sooper Sekrit Political Group, but there’s no denying a lot of opportunity costs are involved: I’m waaaay behind on back episodes of The Real Housewives of New York City, and I haven’t done any of my own scribbling in ages.

I continue in this weird prickly mood. Communicating with human beings other than B and Max feels like walking a runway that’s been placed over a minefield. Human interactions are just fraught with complications. Remaining on the defensive is exhausting.


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Every Day Above Ground

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