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Woke up in the middle of the night to the loudest peal of thunder you can possibly imagine. I’d been caught in one of those labyrinthine dreams that are so enveloping, so elaborate they’re like alternate lives, but all I can remember from that parallel existence now is that I was holding a baby. The baby had been hideously neglected; I’d actually caught it when it had fallen off of something. It had the most adorable, serious, earnest little face; it wanted so desperately to please.

Mama, I said to the baby, and its little lips pushed together, trying to make an M sound. Dada, I told it, and it struggled to make a D, all the while peering at me anxiously: Do you like me? Please like me!

###

When I woke up at my regular time this morning, I was dreaming of Balinese music. Odd. In my 20s, I really loved Balinese music and listened to it all the time. But I haven’t listened to Balinese music in years.

###

Thunder in the Hudson Valley is like thunder no place else. Something about a valley bisected by a river surrounded by low mountains. A single peal of thunder can go on and on and on for 30 seconds.

###

I’ve been in a funk for the last few days.

That asshole still hasn’t paid me, and though that hasn’t had a ripple effect on finances in general – and probably won’t have a ripple effect since Scut Factory funds kick in tomorrow – it still had the effect of making me feel absolutely worthless on some essential level because (A) It’s a relatively small amount of $$$ and yet, I’m so marginal that the lack of it has a measurable impact; and (B) because I’m absolutely powerless to make this asshole pay up. He’s apologetic, citing cash flow problems of his own. As soon as he gets his $$$, he’ll pay me my money. Etc, etc. But I don’t give a shit about his cash flow problems. He should have figured out his cash flow problems before he hired me to write his oh-so-boring legal research paper. Which I turned into something interesting.

Being in this kind of funk paralyzes me on some basic level. It leaves me absolutely unable to focus, shrinks my already microscopic concentration span to something that approaches Alzheimer’s levels. I crave distraction. I’d love to get drunk or high. (I’m scrupulously avoiding alcohol and consciousness expanders because I don’t think the impulse to get drunk or high when I’m feeling like this is a mentally healthy impulse.)

It’s kind of like being trapped in dead space.

###

I should just pull out one of the current projects and do eeeet.

‘Cause you know. It’s never any more mystical or more complicated than that.

###

Samir talked to me for a long time about djinn this morning. Apparently, everyone who lives in the Atlas Mountains believes in djinn, even if they’re deeply immersed in programming projects that require the use of the VHSIC Hardware Description Language, which is the easiest way to get integrated circuits to communicate with one another.

I like scientists whose thought processes are not constrained by the empirical model.

“Yes, I think you are the type of people djinn talk to,” he said, but when I asked him to elaborate upon that remark, he shook his head and laughed.
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This (may I say) hideous portrait of me commemorates my first meeting with Samir.

Who knew that applying eye makeup was one of the unique challenges of old age?

Samir is very bright, very focused, very… fierce in the sweetest way imaginable.

Lois Lane had described him as struggling with conversational English, but he’s actually pretty fluent. Vocabulary words are missing here and there: Exploit, prejudice, secular, profit.

Lois Lane had also told me he speaks Urdu, which had me expecting someone of Indian descent. (A bit bizarre in Algeria, I had been thinking, but hey! Indians are the shopkeepers of Africa, and they are everywhere.)

But Samir’s native dialect is Amazigh.

He’s a Berber. He comes from Batna.

As an icebreaker, I had Samir show me the photos on his phone and tell me the stories behind them.

His father. His brothers. His mother, his sisters, his aunts – they wore hajib.

“Here, we are building a house,” he narrated. “In Algeria, we build from stone. Not like here where you build from wood –“

“Right,” I said. “You live in a desert. No trees!”

He looked at me a bit oddly. “I do not live in a desert. There were forests in Batna. But they were all destroyed in the war.”

Oh. Right-t-t-t-t! Batna was the center of the Algerian resistance in the war against French colonialism.

Duh.

Samir speaks French, but he hates the language. He hates France!

He also speaks Arabic.

His tutoring objectives are laudably specific: He wants to get high marks on the TOEFL exam so that he can enroll in a top PhD program. His field is electronic engineering, and he already has a masters degree from the university in Batna.

Forgive me for preening here, but he’s so-o-o lucky to have me as his tutor since reading comprehension is a huge part of the TOEFL exam, and I am like a whiz at teaching reading comprehension. Honestly. They should bottle me.

###

I got home and thought about poor Imaan. Who hasn’t posted a selfie on FB in weeks but who has effected a rather drastic name change: Now, she’s posing as “Angelina.”

Angelina?

I wrote her a little note: Are you okay? I’m worried about you.

And got this note back replete with typical Imy effusion and hyperbole: Ohhh I'm so glad to ask about me I lost ur number and I told Lois to say to you text me you can't imagine how much I miss u and I wanna see you I love u

###

“Maybe she had to use her money for an – ahem! – procedure,” said Lois Lane when I filled her in on this exchange.

“I know what ‘procedure’ you’re talking about, girlfriend, and I’m pretty sure it’s against the Moslem religion,” I said.

“I think so, too, however given her situation…”

Lois Lane is just convinced that Imaan has gotten knocked up.

But I had that conversation about sex with Imaan. Imaan is not one to go in for casual sex. The only way Imaan would have gotten pregnant is if she’d been seduced by the patriarch of that dreadful host family she lives with or by someone at Island Empress. Or gotten raped.

I think it’s far more likely that she mouthed off to her manager at Island Empress once too often and got fired.

Anyway, I’m gonna do coffee with her next week. See what’s up.

###

I spoke with Samir a little bit about Imaan, too. Talked about how bright she is but how few resources she has, how anchorless that leaves her. Mentioned that I had been trying to get her to go to the Peekskill mosque.

“It’s just a train ride away –“

“But there is a masjid here in Poughkeepsie. On Main Street.”

Right, I thought. That place that looks like a crackhouse. Always hood rats hanging out in front. It’s right next door to a low-rent tattoo parlor.

“Is that the mosque you attend?”

“Yes,” Samir said. “It is a very good place. Many Moroccans. Their wives, their children, too.”

Samir is religious. Like Imy, he won the green card lottery. His patron here in the States is an Algerian who came over in the early 80s and worked his way up from day-laborer to owner of the seediest gas station on Main Street, the fuel ‘n’ go attached to the convenience store where the Twinkie packages all expired in 2016, but there are 10 different brands of 40-ouncers in the broken cooler.

“I respect him, but he sells beer,” said Samir, shaking his head.

“Well, he kind of has to,” I said. “He doesn’t make any profit selling gas – do you know that word, ‘profit’?”

“Muhammad is a prophet,” Samir said, frowning.

“Different word!” I said. And wrote the word down on one of my omnipresent Post-its. “Look it up!”

Samir consulted the e-dictionary on his phone. “Ohhhhh!” he said.

“No money to be made in selling fuel after you pay purchasing costs and taxes,” I said. “Gas station owners make their profits off what they sell in their convenience stores. And no convenience store is going to stay in business in New York if it doesn’t sell alcohol.”

“Ah!” said Samir. He frowned and shook his head.

Anyway, I got Samir interested in meeting Imy.

No, not a LUV connection.

But as someone of approximately his own background and from approximately his part of the world who desperately, desperately needs some kind of help. Imaan is a flighty girl, she lacks Samir’s focus, and she’s not gonna survive this Amerika thing without some kind of assistance.
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Whoa! Such a dream:

I was playing an odd kind of augmented reality game on the grounds of the Vanderbilt estate. The point of the game was to capture and then release the souls that the Vanderbilts had enslaved in order to come by their millions (or corrected for inflation, I guess, billions.)

Turns out that the Vanderbilts didn’t make their millions through shipping and railroads, no.
When Cornelius was a boy, he came across a witch in a forest, and that witch gave him the secret of sucking… I guess you could call it either “luck” or “karma” from people.

Anyhoo, once that luck or karma was sucked, its former owners were doomed to lives of hideous poverty, humiliation, and pain while the Vanderbilts leveraged all the good things that should have happened to those people to the Vanderbilts’ own advantage.

The souls of these people were still ensnared on the grounds of the Vanderbilts’ various real estate holdings, and if you had the right kind of equipment – something that looked like a combination of a smartphone and a metal detector – you could capture those souls. And then you had the option of either keeping them in some sort of cloud captivity or releasing them. Except if you wanted to release them – and, of course, in the dream, I did – you had to debrief them, listen to their tragic stories. Which was kind of a downer.

And I kept thinking, I’ve listened to as many of these downer narratives as I am gonna listen to, thank you very much! Except that then, I’d find another lost soul, and I’d think, But you can’t abandon him/her to an eternity of floating in Vanderbilt purgatory!

But I was getting very tired…

And then I woke up!

###

Tony told me a story that I visualized so vividly while he was telling it that it actually brought tears to my eyes.

The members of my intermediate English class were talking about their experiences when they first arrived in the United States.

“I come here in winter, and it snow,” Tony said. “I was 21. I never seen snow. I never feel cold like that. And they take me to –“ He consulted briefly with Romulo in Spanish.

“House cleaning,” said Romulo. “House cleaning job.”

“Yes, house cleaning job. Somewhere. I don’t know where. And they say, ‘We come back,’ and they leave me. I am alone, and it snow. And I cry.” He laughed. “I cry. But they leave me there, so I clean house. They don’t come back, so I cry some more.” He laughed again.

“But they did come back,” I said. “Eventually. Right?”

“I don’t know!” Tony said. “I don’t remember. But I am here now, so…” He shrugged wryly.

Tony is definitely my favorite among the students in that class. He’s the handyman at Linwood.

The Linwood estate was originally owned by the surgeon general who took care of the Continental Army’s wounded during the Revolutionary War. He was married to a Livingston, of course.

By the turn of the 20th century, the house had fallen into hideous disrepair. Eventually, it was purchased by a prominent brewer. (Beer would really seem to have been the way to get rich in the 19th century! Many of the prominent fortunes hereabouts – including the Vassar fortune – were made by brewers.) The brewer’s name was Jacob Ruppert, and he is probably most famous for having owned the Yankees during Babe Ruth’s run with the team.

Ruppert tore the old mansion down and constructed a rather hideous Queen Anne monstrosity in its place.

One of Ruppert’s descendents left that monstrosity to a very small order of Roman Catholic nuns – the Society of St. Ursula of the Blessed Virgin Order – who are based in (of all places!) Kingston across the river.

The nuns razed the mansion and built a modern spiritualist retreat.

If you wanna retreat there, you will have to pay the Big Buck$.

In my younger days, I might have characterized my feelings toward Tony as a mild crush. But now that the tyranny of hormones no longer cloud my perceptions, I’m able to see the connection for what it really is: We are not strangers. I know him from somewhere. Possibly from some early incarnative sojourn on Planet Earth. Or Planet Trappist-D.
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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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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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This whole America thing has been very hard on Imaane.

She’s fearless. That goes a long way.

But she’s discontent. Restless. Insanely bored.

She knows practically no one her own age in Poughkeepsie, where she lives, except for the adolescent kids that belong to her Moroccan host family.

The Moroccan host family sounds pretty fucked up. At least in the narratives Imaane spins about her own life. The mother, the most vindictive of harpies; the father, the most worthless of unemployed louts. The 17-year-old daughter, a thief who steals from Imaane and spends that money on Victoria’s Secret lingerie.

“She smokes weed,” Imaane says, stretching the word out into three syllables.

And then two weeks ago, the host daughter ran away from home.

“Her mother tell her, You must stay home. But then she sneaks out of house. And then she calls me, ‘Imy, please cover for me,’ because her mother, when she catches her, she slaps her. And I say, Okay, but this is last time. Because it is wrong what she does, she smokes weed, she drinks alcohol. But then her mother catches her and says, Leave my house if you will behave like this! So the girl, she say, Okay.”

“And she hasn’t come back yet?” I ask.

“No,” says Imaane. “And she do not call. They do not hear from her.”

“Well, that’s not a good situation,” I say. Wondering to myself: How does a 17-year-old Moroccan girl support herself when she’s on the streets? “Did they go to the police?”

“No, no. She’s okay. When I call her, when her brother call her, she answers. When her mother call her, when her father call her, she do not answer.”

“But where is she?” I cry, picturing a brothel in the shadow of Poughkeepsie’s one legitimate tourist attraction, the Walkway Over the Hudson. They would dose her with regular injections of fentanyl-flavored heroin. Or maybe they would restrain her with Odalisk-style ankle irons.

Imaane shrugged and did that little French pout thing with her mouth.

“They should call the police,” I said.

Imaane shook her head very firmly. “No. No. In Morocco? We never call the police. You don’t understand.”

Actually, I do, though. I’m American born, white, middle class. But whenever I see a cop car on the road that appears to be traveling in my direction, I start shaking. I like cops, understand, but they scare the shit out of me, and I avoid dealings with them.

I might loosen up on that one if I had a missing kid, though.

###

It was Monday, but the Literacy Center was closed, so we couldn’t do our regular tutoring session. (I’m forcing her to read Little Women!) So instead, I took her for coffee at the hip café where the Vassar students hang out. And then for an invigorating tromp around the Vassar campus.

Personally, I’m not in love with the Vassar campus. Architecturally, I find it very bland, and I have yet to encounter the ghost of Jackie Kennedy on any of my rambles around Sunset Lake. But I kinda feel like a useless liberal arts education is the Never Neverland all immigrants should aspire to.

Imaane played with photo filters:

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As we approached the tennis courts, her phone rang. Such a beat-up-looking thing, her phone, with its shattered screen and its girliest-of-girly pink sparkle case.

Imaane flicked a button, growled some words, flicked another button and laughed. “You know to what I say?”

“It sounded like you were saying, ‘Fuck you,’” I said carefully.

(Of course, I didn’t tell her that everything in Arabic sounds like “Fuck you” to me. Noises you might make while clearing your throat, preparatory to spitting in someone’s face. Very jingoistic of me, I know, I know.)

Imaane laughed. “My boyfriend. He goes to the military in Morocco, yes? The académie?”

“Academy. Yes. It’s an English word, too.”

“He call me every day! He call me two times in a day. Three times! But then he go on vacation, he never call me for three weeks. When he call, I say, ‘Oh, you are bored, so you call me now.’ And he hang up. And then he doesn’t call. Before, I say that and he laugh, say, ‘Imy, you are the most beautiful girl in the world!’ But now, he don’t call back. So we through.”

I nod diplomatically.

“And it’s good. Because he is there, and I am here, and he is military – they would never let him into this country. But my heart, my heart…” She does that charming little Gallic thing that I’ve seen other people do when their fantasy lives are fueled by French colonialism: They beat on the left side of their chest with a cusped hand and sigh dramatically. “I need American boyfriend.”

“Ummmm,” I said. “Imy, you know, relationships in the States are a bit more complicated than they are in Morocco.”

“What you mean?”

“Well, here they often involve sex.”

Sex?” Imaane wrinkled her nose. “No. I no do sex. If I’m married, I do sex.”

“R-r-right,” I said. “But here, you know, it’s kind of an expectation even if you’re not married. Maybe you should meet guys through your mosque –“

“The mosque is in Peekskill. I don’ have car –“

“You could take the train –“

“Train! Train! It take too long,” she scoffed. “What I do on train?”

The same thing you do off a train, I thought. Text and take selfies.

###

Else? I spent a great deal of the week associating with people who are smarter than me.

Needless to say, I was bored to tears.

I also toiled for the Scut Factory, which means those tears turned to salt licks.

I did have a conversation with a couple of middle-schoolers yesterday that was right up my alley. We’d all shown up at the Vanderbilt Estate to play Pokemon Go.

“Gotta catch those Onix while you can,” the kid with the glasses told me. “The nest is changing in 40 minutes!”

“Wow. That soon?” I asked. “What’s gonna replace it?”

The kids shrugged.

It dawns on me that the world would be a much better place if all social, cultural, and economic battles took place in a training gym.

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I’m feeling incredibly cranky. Like if I were Jehovah, Zeus, or Odin, I’d be smiting revenants left and right, and thinking up incredibly inventive plagues to visit upon them.

###

Like yesterday… The last day of taxes, right? Jerry, the administrator at the TaxBwana site at the Dead & Dying Mall, asked me to come in even though I wasn’t on the schedule because he was anticipating that a great hoard of taxpayers who’d put off doing their 1040s till the very last minute would drop in – and he was right.

There’s a certain art to providing services for huge numbers of clients.

You gotta assembly-line them somehow. Those long, personal conversations one enjoys having to establish rapport must be deferred – in the interests of serving as many clients as possible.

Likewise the giving of helpful advice that one knows clients will ignore.

So anyway, one of my first clients was a cook holding down three jobs. He was getting a small refund from the Feds but he owed a shitload of cash to New York State because he wasn’t having enough state taxes withheld from his various paychecks.

True, English was not his first language. However, I think he understood enough English to follow this conversation. I base this deduction on the fact that he was also paying child support, and when I asked him, “Any chance that the mother of your kids would let you declare any of them as dependents?” (since that would be an alternative method of decreasing his tax liability), he snorted and said, “Absolutely not – she hates me.” That’s actually a fairly high level exchange so far as English as a Second Language is concerned.

After I finish crunching the numbers, I always sit down with clients and give them the opportunity to review the form with me and compare it to their 2015 form. During this brief discussion, we’ll talk generally about ways they might be able to reduce their tax liability in the coming year: I am not a financial advisor, but I play one in the world of nonprofits!

About half the time, they’re interested in having this conversation; about half the time, they’re not.

This man was definitely not.

The next step is to trade places with a colleague. I will proceed to reduplicate all the work my colleague did preparing the tax forms, and he or she will reduplicate my work. This is our quality assurance process.

So anyway, the woman who QAs the cook is Little Miss Bleeding Heart Liberal who decides he needs a Spanish interpreter to explain the complexities of the state withholding system. And this proceeds to take up 45 minutes during which time the line of people actually waiting to have their taxes done grows longer and longer.

And frankly, I am wanting to grab Little Miss Bleeding Heart Liberal by the hair, pound her head into the nearest wall, and then invest my life savings in Make America Great Again baseball caps because everything she’s doing is a total waste of time. Plus – and vanity is everything, after all! – she is majorly disrespecting my assessment of what needed to be done in this situation. It isn’t virtue signaling, exactly; I could see she was a helpful sort who goes out of her way to have pleasant conversations with strangers on supermarket lines when said strangers look stressed. She had a good heart.

But it was just so unnecessary.

I would bet $100 – serious bank for me! – that the cook will not march into his HR office this week demanding to fill out a new W-4.

###

From taxes to my intermediate English class. With a brief break to eat bad pizza but helas! not to exercise.

Can you tell I need my exercise?

Because it uses up all that kinetic energy that otherwise gets channeled into fantasies about pounding well-meaning individuals’ heads into walls!

###

Got home and Max called. He’s doing well. We discuss Imane’s latest misadventures –

Max laughs. “It’s so funny the way you keep calling her, ‘My little bad girl.’”

“Well, she is a little bad girl! I mean, I feel an enormous amount of affection for her. But there’s no denying that she’s got that grifter thing going. Of course, most 20-year-olds I know kinda do.”

“Really? You think so?”

“Oh, absolutely. Not in their interactions with other 20-year-olds necessarily. But don’t you remember? I remember very clearly! When I was 20, everyone over the age of 20 was old, and old people really don’t matter very much unless you happen to be related to them.”

“Huh,” said Max. “You could be right.”

“I am right,” I said. “And furthermore, 20-year-olds don’t distinguish between old people. You could be 30 years old; you could be 60 years old. Thing is you’re old, so you don’t count! You should be starting to pick up on some of that yourself since you just turned 30, which makes you officially old –“

“Huh,” Max said again.

###

One of the things Max told me in that conversation was that he was going to delete his Facebook account.

Second person yesterday to announce the imminent deletion of a Facebook account.

Really, I should delete my Facebook account. Facebook is an enormous time sink. Plus it’s a guaranteed method for fanning suicidal thoughts should you happen to log on to it while feeling depressed. Look at all those happy selfies! you'll think. All those people are living rich, rewarding, successful lives! Meanwhile, my most meaningful personal relationship is with Dr. Who. Who never pays any attention to me! And come to think of it, neither do any of those people living rich, rewarding, successful lives on Facebook.

I don’t delete my Facebook account for the following reasons:

1. It is my only way to keep in touch with the scattered DiLucchio Tribe.

2. I communicate regularly with Lois Lane on Facebook.

3. I am an administrator for the Sooper Sekrit Political Group – which is busily gearing up for world domination.

And that means that some day, there will be a big bronze statue of me with an inscription, Mother of the Revolution! Right there on Wall Street, right there between the bull with the big balls and the petulant little girl! But only if I remain on Facebook.

The Sooper Sekrit Political Group, though, is really fucking annoying. Constant thrashes over identity politics.

I loathe identity politics.

Though I’m completely on board with many of the constituent movements commonly filed under the general heading of “identity politics.” I think Black Lives Matter, for example, has an incredibly important agenda, and I thought it was smart of them to hire mega-ad agency J. Walter Thompson: Their message must go mainstream; it’s too important to remain marginalized.

But so far as I'm concerned, the only important battle in a political sense is the battle between the 99 Percenters and the One Percenters.

Everything else is a complete distraction.

What’s called identity in today’s "politics" (sic) is really just an extension of the Starbucks divide-and-sell-more-beverages doctrine, a way to distract people struggling to keep their heads above water from the fact that they have more in common than they have to disagree about.

Identity politics is a reflection of market segments, a methodology that was created to sell ads to television networks. It’s kind of the Left’s replacement for class, but it can only exist under mass market conditions.

B-day!

Apr. 12th, 2017 07:23 am
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My ESL students gave me roses and also an extremely beautiful bracelet made of Mexican silver.

I was beyond touched.

I run into Tony sometimes at the Hyde Park McDonald’s where he does second shifts after putting in a full day of manual labor as one of the groundskeepers at the Big Old House that’s right across the road from the Wyndcliff ruins. (What can I say? I like McDonald’s French fries!)

Romulo’s been out of a job since last October.

Ines cleans houses.

Adaline works retail at the Dollar Store.

Etcetera.

Long-stemmed roses represent serious bank for my ESL students.

I felt honored. And humbled.

###

Else? I had an extremely pleasant, low-key b-day that included another elaborate floral tribute from der kinder and celebratory cupcakes from the Hyde Park tax squad.

I spent hours sitting in on a bench overlooking the Hudson River reading The Best American Short Stories 2015, soaking up the resonance of the beyond gorgeous afternoon. (“Beyond” is the adjective of the day, I guess.) Say what you will about T.C. Boyle as a Pynchon Lite novelist, he’s got a crack eye for good short fiction: This is the best collection of Best American Short Stories I’ve read in many years, and there’s one story in particular – Fingerprints by someone named Justin Bigos – that was like nothing I’ve ever read before and stunningly brilliant.

Speaking of stunningly brilliant fiction, tax season is over on Friday, so I will have run out of excuses for not buckling down and creating some myself.
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Dreamed I was in this super luxe-luxe-luxe hotel. The bathrooms were like heaven on earth! I was with Lucius, and I was a much younger version of myself.

Some of the guest rooms had terraced gardens leading out from their doorways into the hall, and these gardens were mini-jungles of bright orange bromeliads and other exotic plants. Somehow I knew that the guests in the rooms with the terraced gardens were very, very old people who were close to death. And I thought how much better off these people were to be living in a super luxe-luxe-luxe hotel than living, say, in a condo, isolated and alone. (Quick shot of those condos: similarly terraced gardens but in this big sinister-looking building with huge plate-glass windows that had been built on the site of the old Ebbetts Field stadium in Brooklyn.)

I was very sick in the dream, and wandering around the halls to find a heavenly bathroom that was unoccupied so I could cool off in a heavenly shower.

Lucius felt my forehead: “You’re so hot!” he said, feigning concern.

And then he began to kiss me, and I knew I had to let him kiss me. He was the most horrible kisser in the world: His idea of kissing was to open his mouth for a passive exchange of saliva. But in the dream, I had to put up with it. There was something I wanted out of him, and this was the only thing I had to barter with.

As is so often the case in my dreams, I was simultaneously acting in it and narrating it from a kind of third-person omniscient perspective…

###

I was busy, busy, busy, busy this week.

And I will be busy, busy, busy, busy today though in the social sphere: My kinda, sorta cousins Pearl and Sybil have invited themselves up for the day, and I will have to entertain them.

Pearl is visiting from Albuquerque. The original plan was for me to trek into NYC and hang out with them there. But Sybil decided she wanted to do a road trip. And I get it! I mean, I do: When you live in the city, you seize every opportunity to get out of the city.

And I’m excited to see them.

It’s just that I’m not feeling terribly entertaining.

###

Busy, busy, busy, busy is in some ways a pleasantly nostalgic feeling for me. It’s how I felt throughout most of my productive years as a member of the workforce.

These days, though, I seem to need a lot more time to sit around with my eyes unfocused. I’m perfectly content doing nothing. And if I don’t do nothing for at least a few hours every day, then I begin to develop almost Captain Queeg-like levels of paranoia: Everybody hates me. I can’t do anything right. Every little minor disagreement or jockeying for power in the social minute becomes a Puccini opera: Nobody’s gonna sleep. Not ever! And especially not you, Princess!

###

I did the former social worker’s taxes yesterday for the third year in a row.

The first year, I remember, she was very lucid. We had a long discussion about how awful it is to be poor and aging in the United States.

Last year, she was a bit... off. And poor financial planning had resulted in a big tax debt.

We’re not supposed to offer “financial advice”, but I choose to interpret this as meaning we’re not supposed to say, “Psst! Buy high! Sell low!”

I’ve gotten pur-ty good at looking at someone’s tax situation, figuring out what they might want to do to minimize liability and avoid penalties. The “minimize liability” stuff I generally do keep to myself. But I figure I’m performing a public service to talk about the “avoid penalties” stuff because nobody else is doing it apparently, not even the financial advisors for whose services some of these people are paying thousands of dollars a year.

I mean, c’mon! It’s not rocket science to deduce that if you take a $50 k disbursement for a 1099-R type fund, you need to allocate 15% or so for federal income tax because not only is that extra amount pouring into your coffers but some portion of your Social Security will also become taxable income.

Anyway, last year I had a long conversation with the social worker during which I outlined in specific detail (which was exactly as boring as anyone reading this might suspect) what she would have to do to avoid getting hit with a huge tax bill same time next year.

She actually had a fairly big income, so paying taxes shouldn’t have been a problem.

She was so upset at the end of my talk, she was crying. I walked her out to her car. Somewhat inappropriately hugged her.

This year when she showed up, she seemed completely demented. Like a homeless person or something. I was seriously alarmed. Something was going on with her, but whatever that something was, of course it was none of my business.

And she hadn’t taken a bit of my advice. She found herself in exactly the same situation with regards to her taxes this year that she’d been last year.

I didn’t give her any more advice. What would have been the point of that?

I did tell her, “Don’t be surprised if you get a notice from the IRS informing you that they’re imposing a penalty.”

She gave a little screech. “A penalty?”

I sighed. “The IRS has the right to impose a penalty if you owe more than a thousand dollars in taxes. In my experience, they generally don’t if it’s a one-time slip. But this is two years in a row for you, so…” I shrugged.

I tried to have a melodramatic conversation with Chas about the social worker after we were done for the day, but Chas wasn’t buying.

“It’s gonna happen to all of us eventually,” Chas said cheerfully, meaning feebleness; inattention to buttons, zippers and hygiene; general loosening of associative skills.

Ain’t gonna happen to me, I wanted to say. My long-term care insurance policy is a gun.

But since I don’t actually own a gun, nor do I know how to shoot one – although one of the Sooper Sekrit alphas has kindly offered to teach me – I just shut up.

###

My other memorable client this was a retired cop.

Very hard-boiled.

Determined to trip me up.

After hectoring me for 20 minutes, he finally seemed convinced that despite the purple hair and dangly earrings, I actually knew what I was doing, and he let up for the rest of the hour.

Towards the end of the tax preparation session, he said, “I know I’ve been giving you a hard time. I want to tell you what’s going on. When I go home today, I’m going to have to put my cat to sleep –“

And he began to cry. This hardboiled guy!

So I reached over and grabbed his hand and patted it for 20 seconds or so.

Which was my Inappropriate Behavior With Clients for the 2017 tax season.
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Imaan would not listen to me when I gently, gently, gently pointed out to her that she wasn’t yet ready for prime time i.e. community college. She’s a headstrong 21 year old after all. And actually, it’s good that she doesn’t listen to me when I tell her stuff like that.

So I spent a large chunk of yesterday chauffeuring her to the local community college, interpreting and watching while she got her heart broken by half a dozen administrators. Yes, she’s made great strides in spoken English. But she can barely read or write. So, no, she’s not an appropriate candidate for college at this time.

Still, we got enough information to put together an actionable list:

1) Get official ID card verifying Dutchess County residency

2) Hire exploitively expensive academic processing agency to procure Rabat High transcripts.

“But I have transcripts!” Imaan objected. “I bring with me. I pay $40 to have them translated into English!”

“Right,” I said. “But see, you could have changed them. All those Fs on your transcripts? You change them into As!”

“But I have no Fs,” said Imaan. “I am A student.”

“Right,” I said. “But they don’t know that.”

I left who “they” were deliberately vague.

###

Imaan wanted to take me out to lunch afterwards, but I didn’t want her to waste her hard-earned money on me-e-e-eeeee and besides, I had this yearning, burning, churning feeling deep inside. Drive home right this very minute, now! it hissed.

And exactly two minutes after I drove by it, a restaurant on 9G burst into flame. The building was destroyed; the entire road was shut down for 10 hours.

That was my second woo-woo-woo Cue Twilight Zone theme experience for the day!

My first was as I was grabbing a favorite bracelet of mine from my jewelry box. It’s a trinkety little thing, tiny plaques with pictures of saints and rhodonite beads strung together on cheap black elastic.

I’d be sad if this bracelet fell apart, I thought.

So, naturally, five minutes later, it did fall apart, leading me to wonder:

A) Had I jumped a tiny, tiny, tiny distance into the future?

B) Had thinking about the bracelet falling apart caused the bracelet to fall apart?

C) Was this just a coinci-dinky?

###

I’m in a fretful mood this morning. My little plate feels overfilled. Of course, there’s very little that I have to do these days, but there’s a lot of stuff that I think I should want to do, so I tend to pile it on. And then I get resentful.

Really, it’s remarkable how little I would do – or would have done my entire life – had not my particular dissociation neurosis taken the form of a really annoying and nagging super-ego.
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Yesterday, I raced around nonstop between 8:30 in the morning and 10pm at night.

And I rather enjoyed it.

This sort of timeline was pretty typical back in the days when I was a corporate executive.

I don’t think I’d want to do that again seven days a week, but I wouldn’t mind doing it three days a week on some kind of ongoing basis after tax season is over.

It’s kind of reassuring to be accelerating under somebody else’s stream power. And it carries over. Makes me more productive in my own down time. Otherwise – as noted here on numerous occasions – I fall victim to my overpowering laziness. My deep love of entropy. Fuck it, I’ll say, confronting the sprawl of self-started, half-completed projects on my desk. Aren’t there at least five episodes of ‘Watch What Happens?’ I haven’t seen yet? Maybe Andy will finally get LisaR to tell him what’s really going on with her lips.

###

Romulo paid me the nicest compliment. Romulo is my most advanced English student. Dutchess Literacy has been pressuring him to move up into the Advanced English Class. (I teach Intermediate English.) I suppose their funding is partly based on stats that demonstrate their students advance.

Romulo keeps telling them, No.

“I tell them yesterday to just stop asking,” Romulo told me last night. “Because you best English teacher I ever have. I have lot of English teachers. I stay with you.”

Well, I do try hard.
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I dreamed about a magic groundcover plant! It came in three varieties: a kind of silver green, a bruised purple, and a sky blue, and each variety had one good agricultural property and one bad agricultural property. I was at some kind of serf town hall meeting where we peasants were furiously debating which one we should plant.

As is my wont in dreams, at the same time that I was a character in the dream, I was also the omniscient narrator, furiously writing it up as a kind of economic parable with much attention to semicolons and virtuoso style.

###

It’s good that I’m writing fiction in dreams because in real life (ha, ha, ha), I spent yesterday writing a white paper on – eek – online lead generation and its legal pitfalls (FTC, CPFB), which was every bit as ghastly and tedious as it sounds, and which, furthermore, the client fuckin’ loved, which means there will be more white papers on online lead generation in my future because who can say, No! to ready cash? Not me!

Max is doing an internship in Alaska this summer and is proposing to drive Annie’s ancient Volvo all the way from Berkeley to Anchorage – a prospect that fills me with sheer terror. I want desperately to give him a couple of grand and say, Take the fuckin’ ferry from Bainbridge.

Robin turns out to have strep throat, but he got a referral to an ENT because there’s definitely an anatomical irregularity in his sinuses that is causing him to contract multiple sinus infections. I am assuming he will need to have that surgically corrected. If the referral is through a regular doctor, it wouldn’t count as cosmetic surgery, which means – theoretically at least – it would be covered by his insurance. But I don’t know how high his deductible is.

So! Many, many incentives to turn myself into a cash-burping machine.

iman


I finished the white paper just in time to scurry off and tutor Imane.

Who greeted me looking as though a bomb had just fallen on her.

Her Sara Crewe living situation has gotten a whole lot worse. Indeed, I don’t see how she can continue living there.

But where can she live?

Even if I were in a position to offer her a place to sleep, I’m not so sure I would. Taking in errant teenagers didn’t work out so well for Doris Lessing (I’m not a Jenny Diski fan!) And fond as I am of Imane, I’m not crazy about self-involved young people in general. The one I gave birth to is enough for me.

To try and cheer Imane up, I took her out to a café frequented by hip Vassar students. I bought her an expensive caffeine concoction and waved an expansive hand around the room: Work hard, little girl, and some day all this could be yours!

Imane was impressed by the Vassar students. They dress in expensive clothes, have expensive computers and waft that expensive parfum – Eau de American Privilege.

“It is my dream to go to Vassar,” Imane told me fervently.

“Well, I think it’s possible,” I said. “My plan was always to get your English up to a certain level and then make appointments with the Admissions Deans at Vassar and Bard to see what resources might be available.”

“But Vassar is private school, yes?” said Imane. “Very expensive.”

“Vassar is a private school,” I said. “But paradoxically enough, private schools often have access to more resources than public schools. They have endowments.”

“What is ‘paradoxically’? What is ‘endowment’?”

“’Endowment’ is when somebody dies and thinks, ‘Vassar! That was the only place I was ever happy!’ So they leave all their money to Vassar,” I said. (I decided to take a pass on explaining “paradoxically.”)

“You think that will work?” Imane asked incredulously.

“I think it might work” I said. “You’re Moslem. In the current political climate, I think we may be able to leverage that with rich white liberal arts colleges.”

Imane seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the meaning of the word “leverage.” Or at least she didn’t ask me to define it.
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Finally got a new passport.

Such are my paranoia levels that for the past two weeks, I’d been obsessing that the State Department would send me a letter: Upon review of your passport application, we find that we cannot grant it. In fact, Nazis will be showing up at your door a little later this evening to help you begin your next life transition -- as a lampshade.

You’d think I’d been brought up on the south side of Chicago, my suspicion of the gub’mint is that intense.

I have no idea what this distrust springs from.

True, I was tear gassed a number of times as a protestor in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But I’ve never been arrested. And I can’t think of a single felony beside the obvious consciousness alteration ones I’ve ever committed.

Possibly, I read 1984 at too tender an age.

###

Selfless public service has not been all that much fun this year. I continue to like my clients – this week, for example, I had an adorable 99-year-old woman who was all dolled up for her visit to the Tax Man with rouge, diamond ear studs and (I kid you not) white lace gloves. She was stone deaf, so her harried daughter – probably a decade older than me – acted as translator.

The 99-year-old woman has $300 deducted from her pensions, and since her pensions are so tiny, she doesn’t need to have taxes deducted from them at all.

I pointed this out to the daughter when I was reviewing the 1040 with her after all the calculations and crunching were done.

The daughter laughed. “Oh, we know,” she said. “We do it because Mother gets such a kick when she gets that check for $300 every year.”

###

I don’t much like the other TaxBwana preparers I’m working with, though, except for the ones at the Dead & Dying Mall.

The TaxBwana preparers at the Dead & Dying Mall are efficient and never have IT problems.

The other two sites are rife with IT problems; the printers balk at printing, and when they do decide to print, they print out War and Peace, a compendium of every obscure worksheet used in calculating tax liability. This stretches what should be an hour sit-down into an hour and a half.

Chas, the administrator for the other two sites, while basically nice enough, gets very testy and rude in that Old White Guy way when frustrated by IT problems. Since IT problems are ongoing, he’s almost always testy and rude, so I don’t enjoy working with him. And espirit de corps is probably 50% of the reason why anybody does volunteer work, right?

I love the bizarre little village of Staatsburg, but if I do this next year, I’m definitely not gonna do Hyde Park.
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me


Very jolly few days culminating in a terrific yesterday traipsing about the Big City.

One of the things I like best about Alan is that he really, really, really likes plants. Thus, trips with him to the enormous and wonderful New York Botanical Garden are a treat. I can trail in his wake listening to him talk about the various botanical species we encounter and his own adventures taming them, or I can just tune him out and loose myself in the astonishing beauty of the flowers.

We caught the tail end of the tulips:

tulips


And as you can see from the picture above, we caught the azaleas at their peak. The lilacs were also in bloom:

lilac

And the beautiful exotic grasses, columbines, and pygmy daffodils in the rock garden:

grasses

I have to say, though, that my biggest thrill was finally seeing the one stretch of virgin forest along the Bronx River (more of a stream actually), which is all that remains of the way things used to be. A mere 400 years ago. Before there was an Empire State Building.

before

Afterwards, Alan and I repaired to a fancy, fancy bar, sipped bourbon, and discussed the mysteries of the universe while I eavesdropped on two nattily dressed Chinese billionaires drinking white wine at the table next to me. They spoke in Chinese, but their conversation was peppered with terms like “Amazon” and “intellectual property.” I figured they were speculating about expanding Ali Baba into the American marketplace. Chinese billionaires love white wine. I can’t imagine why.

###

When I got off the subway at Canal Street an hour later, I felt disoriented. And then I heard a voice: “Patrizia?”

It was Summer! Whom I’d subwayed down to meet. Pretty propitious running into her on the crowded street when we were each independently wending our respective way to our rendezvous at a Kosher vegetarian restaurant called Buddha Bodai.

We passed a Haagen-Dazs store that was giving out free ice cream. The line extended for blocks. It was obvious that many people had spent their day getting free ice cream and then standing online for more free ice cream:

group


Chris joined us while we were waiting online. There was lots to talk about so the wait went quickly.

He didn’t get his H1B visa, so it’s looking as though they will not be staying in the States. They are debating the respective merits of settling back into China versus settling back into Japan. (Due to her complicated family history, Summer holds a Japanese passport.)

First time I ever had an extended conversation with Chris. He is quite bright. Summer has always told me that he is extremely atypical for a Chinese male: “He is more interested in happiness than money!”

I will miss Summer a great deal if she leaves. But for the first time, she was talking children. So, yes. They’re through with the free-floating stage.

###

Speaking of children, Max arrives here tomorrow. Saturday, we drive up to watch RTT in 2! two! too! graduation ceremonies.

I’m actually mildly anxious about this. Part of that is due to the thought that I will have to drive with time limits in a city (Syracuse) that’s very congested and filled with insane motorists. Part of that is due to my thought that while I’m positive RTT loves me, he really doesn’t like me very much, and I just cannot go through another episode of acting like myself and having him lash out at me because I am so-o-o-o embarrassing. Enough, Robin! Tolerance is the mantra of your generation, shuffling as you do through the identity politics polka. True, I’m not black, and I’m not transgender. But my life matters, too! Right? Right?

###

I also wanted to write about Scott Fitzgerald since for research purposes, I’ve been reading a book called Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of ‘The Great Gatsby.’

The first few chapters of my work-in-progress take place in New York in the early 1920s. This calls for a lot of research. Research is time-consuming. So, I figured I’d let someone else do the research for me – in this case, an academic called Sarah Churchwell who wanted to write about The Great Gatsby in the context of the decade (1920s) that created it.

It’s an interesting book. Filled with interesting details. For example: During the 1920s, there was no uniformity among NYC traffic signals. In some neighborhoods, red lights meant stop and green lights meant go, while in others red lights means go and green lights meant stop. Traffic police sat in these oversized cement perches rather like lifeguard stands, directing the local flow.

The book also sheds considerable insight into Fitzgerald’s composition techniques.

Like all writers, I’m fascinated by how other writers write.

In the 1920s, Fitzgerald had not yet embarked upon the ripest period of his lifelong alcoholism, when everything, you might say, was fermented. But he spent the greater portion of his days relatively ripped.

Which meant he had only an hour or two every morning between quaffs of Alka-Seltzer to work on his art.

He wrote maybe 100 words a day.

Possibly this accounts for my own sense that The Great Gatsby is so overwritten as to be barely readable.

Yes, yes, yes. The novel is a stylistic masterpiece. Many of its individual sentences are so beautifully composed that they make me want to weep.

But the book has no connective tissue. It’s like this fossilized collection of beautiful sentences, a subtextual framework that feels more like an engineering accomplishment than a piece of art.

I much prefer Fitzgerald’s short stories to his novels, as breezy, superficial, and banal as they may be. They feel more authentic.

Lots more to be said about that, but helas! No time.
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On my final day of volunteer tax preparation this year, I had three clients in a row whose spouses had died in December 2015. Go figure.

Then I tromped off to a Bernie Sanders rally.

bernie1


My first client was the saddest. A single woman. Very pleasant.

I asked about healthcare. “I had it through my employer,” she said. “But then they laid me off. Now I get it through the VA. I’m a vet.” She smiled wanly.

“Well, VA healthcare is excellent,” I said. “I mean – there have been some problems with access to VA care but the delivery of the services is first-rate. Really, a model for the nation. And it looks as though you moved this year, yes? From Hyde Park to Kingston –“

She nodded. She couldn’t speak. Her eyes were filled with tears.

“Kingston’s a really cool little city!” I said with all the enthusiasm I could muster. (It happens to be true!)

She sat for a minute or so blinking to regain possession of herself.

“When my… friend died,” she said, “her two daughters swooped in and grabbed everything. They had no use whatsoever for their mother while she was sick. No. They left all of that to me. But after she died in December, they couldn’t wait to get their hands on the house. It was her house. I didn’t even have the chance to get most of my things. They just threw me out. I was lucky, though. My friends in Kingston had a house. They love me; they offered me a room –“

A room is what I have at L’s house. I mean, I also have the run of the rest of the house, too, of course. But I like my room. I like hanging out in it. It has all my plants, my art and photographs up on the walls, my colored lights, my music setup, my books, my cats. Of course, I was brought up in a very tiny apartment in Manhattan. Large houses feel unnatural to me although God knows, I put in my time maintaining one while my children were growing up. But I never liked it. I like this.

Should I offer her a glass of water? I wondered. Tissues? But there were no tissues. So I just sat waiting for the client to regain her composure so we could proceed with the mundane business of W2 forms and 1099-INTs.

When she started to talk again, she began telling me about her days as a novitiate –

“Wait!” I said. “You were a nun?”

“Not a nun,” she said. “I never took my vows. For a while, though, I thought that was what I wanted to be. Then I learned more about myself.“ She smiled bitterly.

“I see!” I said. “But you say you earned income last year? So you have a W2?”

###

Second client had a driver’s license with a Penn Yan address!

“Wow!” I said. “You’re a long way from home!”

“You know where Penn Yan is?”

“I do! My X-husband’s people are from the Southern Tier. They had a summer cottage on Lake Keuka –“

Our house was on Lake Keuka,” she said, and then her eyes filled with tears.

She’d had a marriage certificate, though, so, I got to put the decedent’s name and death date on the joint return.

They’d been poor as church mice. But happy, I could tell. She’d brought in her husband’s driver’s license. Very handsome man. And she had the… aura of someone who’d been well-loved during her lifetime.

“My daughter lives down here,” the client told me. “She thought it would be better if I came down to live with her –“

“She’s right,” I said. “Keuka is gorgeous, but I wouldn’t want to be living alone there during the winter. You’ll like it here, you’ll see! There’s really a lot to do and see –“

“My daughter and I are starting a business together,” she said, brightening. “We set up an Etsy shop.”

“What are you making?”

“Stuffed animals!”

“Ohhhhhh! I love stuffed animals!”

“And we’re doing a craft show at Locust Grove –“

“Maybe I’ll see you there,” I said.

###

My third client with a dead spouse was in her early 90s. Pleasant woman, legally blind, limited hearing. I got the distinct impression that she enjoyed that, actually. Her daughter did most of the talking. When I brought up her husband’s death in December, 2015, my client seemed genuinely surprised. I think she thought that he had died a long time before.

Then I gathered my things together and went off to the Bernie Sanders rally at Marist.

bernie5


I waited in line for two and a half hours to get into the event. The demographics were interesting. Majority of people on line were young; maybe 15% were over 50. (Interestingly enough, all races were represented.) But there were very, very few people in that 25 to 50 age range, which left me thinking that Hillary Clinton’s appeal must be primarily to people in that age category.

I asked everyone standing on line around me who they would vote for it Sanders doesn’t get the nomination. Maybe as many as 20 people.

Without exception, they all said they wouldn’t bother to vote.

(This is obviously not a representative sample. Still. Interesting…)

Sanders is a much better speaker in person than he comes across as being on edited news clips. His voice, for example, was not hoarse or rheumy or old-sounding at all, not even toward the end of his hour-long speech – which does make one think about the way purportedly objective media interject their own bias into ostensibly objective reporting.

I think he spoke extemporaneously for about 15 minutes before he launched into his standard stump speech because he spoke about how moved he'd been by visiting the FDR Museum in Hyde Park a few hours earlier.

He’s funny, too.

“My opponent, Secretary Clinton, received $250,000 for a speech she gave to Goldman Sachs. Imagine that. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars! I begged her to reveal the substance of that speech because for $250,000, you know that speech had to be the repository of all human wisdom during the last 2,000 years on this planet, and I really wanted to hear it. That speech must have been a revelation! Composed in prose so fine that Shakespeare himself would weep! But Secretary Clinton refused to divulge its substance! ‘Hilary,' I said, ‘if you’ll tell me what was in your Goldman Sachs speech, I’ll tell you what was in my Goldman Sachs speech', ‘cause you know what was in my Goldman Sachs speech? Nothing! That's right! Know how many times I’ve spoken to Goldman Sachs?” He held up his hand in a big circle, and the crowd chanted, “ZERO!”

Okay. I am making him slightly funnier here than he actually was. But only a little.

It's sadder and sadder to me that Bernie Sanders doesn’t have the proverbial snowflake’s chance in that dark realm co-governed by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump of winning the coming election. I think he’s such a good man. And a capable man.

But, uh, no. Middle America sees “socialist” on a resume and thinks, “Stalin.”

###

Speaking of The Donald, he’s scheduled a rally here on Sunday in a much larger venue – the Dutchess County Convention Center! In the heart of the ghetto!

I was thinking of spending the weekend in Ithaca, but now I’m thinking I’ll stick around for this. Though I'm undecided whether I'll sit through the stump speech or protest so I can arrange to get myself bopped on the head by one of his campaign heavies. That should be good for a couple-of-thousand-dollar payoff, right? Plus, insane publicity for Today's Exciting Cat News!
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This is Times Square – maybe 20 years before the time I’m writing about:

nyc2


A very steampunk Times Square. I’m enchanted by the warrens of weird little storefronts, vaudeville theaters, and hotels.

In fact, the Times Building had not yet been constructed, so this place is still Longacre Square.

In 1904, there were only 8,000 cars in America. The average American lifespan was 47 years of age. Mississippi had more inhabitants than California. There was no income tax. There was no canned beer. Opium derivatives were sold openly in drugstores, advertised thusly: Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.

Times Square had changed a great deal by the time Henry and June were hanging out there. I’ve been searching for pix from the 1920s, but there seem to be remarkably few of them.

###

There’s no way Bernie Sanders will carry New York, so he’s out of the electoral equation as of 10 days from now.

His economic message continues to resonate most deeply for me.

True, that Daily News interview was quite ghastly. His understanding of the legal aspects of banking is undoubtedly flawed, but then he’s not a lawyer. (Many of us see that as a good thing.) I suspect he’s exhausted. I suspect he never expected to make it as far as he has.

Multiple learned pundits are now picking apart Sanders’ contention that reinstating the Glass-Steagall provisions of FDR’s 1933 Banking Act would reform the banking system. I disagree. I don't think economies of scale work in any service industry.

Glass-Steagall essentially segregated banks into two categories. Banks could either deal with small customers, taking deposits, lending mortgage money, making small business loans, or they could deal with the more speculative aspects of high finance, buying and selling stocks, bonds, and loans, and overseeing corporate merges. They couldn't do both. Reinstituting Glass-Seagall would lead to the breakup of the big banks because it would force banks (once again) to specialize.

Banks have a very basic function in a capitalist economy. They take in money, and then they loan it out again. Once the money is loaned out it, is returned to a bank, which can then loan it out again: This increases the amount of money in the economy. This combination of greed, ingenuity, and willpower is what creates wealth.

Financial tools like credit default swaps, on the other hand, generate currency from currency without wealth ever entering the picture. There are endless problems with financial tools and pretty much no upside whatsoever for the working class.

Hillary Clinton proposes to monitor excesses through regulation, which would apply to the entire financial sector. So, I suppose the choice between Sanders and Clinton is a choice between a mechanism that changes the ecology or a set of rules that police the ecology.

###

Would Glass-Steagall have prevented the rise of the credit default swap market that catalyzed the 2008 economic collapse?

Honestly?

I have no idea.

Glass-Steagall did exert pressure toward greater transparency in financial markets -- always a good thing -- but speculative investors were finding ways around that. I guess in the final analysis, I like Sanders better than Hillary Clinton when it comes to reigning in Wall Street because I just don't see Hillary Clinton pulling a Thomas Beckett on that one, and she is so deeply, deeply enmeshed in that culture.

###

One of the very interesting things that's happening now is that wealth creation appears to be entirely based on Chinese labor. Here in the States, we're rapidly encroaching upon an era where wealth/money/whatever you want to call it is being uncoupled from the traditional Marxist function of labor. So, really, here, it's an increasingly imaginary concept – in the sense that wealth exists through some sort of social consensus but it's not tied into a physical reality. In that sense, Bernie Sanders is kinda like Julian the Apostate.

There is truly massive, epic labor in China, though. I mean, c’mon! They built an entire magnetic bullet train system in five years.

###

Yesterday was my last day doing taxes in Staatsburg. I like Staatsburg: It has a strong sense of The Weirdness. Anything could happen in Staatsburg. It’s like a portal to an alternate reality that’s just waiting for the right spell to open it.

My last client of the day was a very distinguished gentleman in his early 70s who’d been drinking a lot – or so his complexion and the frayed collar of his expensive tailored Oxford shirt suggested.

He was a very recent widower, filing a joint return: His wife had died on December 17.

“She was the one who managed this kind of stuff,” he told me.

Coming in was obviously quite painful for him. He sat there reading a dog-eared copy of a Zane Grey Western while I pored through his documents. Ohhhhh! Lots and lots of income – over $200K! On which he owed a huge amount of taxes, but wait a minute – in 2014, they had itemized

“Do you have your property tax statements?” I asked.

“No,” he said. My question seemingly had irritated him. “Am I supposed to have my property tax statements?”

“Well, uh, yes,” I said.

Stare down.

“Well, what do you want me to do?” he snapped.

Well, I want you to sign over all your assets to me in an irrevocable trust! I thought.

Instead, I kept poring through his 2014 tax returns. Prepared by HR Block! They’d done okay by him, too. Put him in the black by a couple of hundred dollars. But how? Ah! There it was. He had a business! A business that consistently lost money!

Now, I am perfectly capable of preparing a Schedule C that shows losses, but as a member of the volunteer tax brigade, I am enjoined from doing so – probably because returns with Schedule C losses are audited at a much higher rate, and unlike HR Block, we don’t indemnify the people for whom we do returns.

“I’m afraid I can’t finish your return,” I said. “Turns out that it’s out of scope. But, here. I’m going to make you a list of every single document you have to bring in to your tax preparer –“

“Can’t I just file for an extension?” he snapped.

“Well, you can,” I said. “But you’d need to file that extension with a $12,000 check. So, I think it would be in your best interests to get your taxes finished before the filing date.”

So then I spent half an hour making a list that any 11-year-old of average intelligence could understand of all the types of documentation he needed to hunt down and bring in. ‘Cause you know – I’m a living saint.

I did not expect to get thanked, and I wasn’t.

###

The woman before him was just as annoying. A Mafia princess type, now entering her late 40s, which alas! signifies the end of her reign. Though her red talons looked to have been worked on by God’s own manicurist, I was pretty sure her DD breasts owed their buoyancy to some human plastic surgeon’s ingenuity.

She was another one who hadn’t brought in half her documents.

“Why do you have to tell them I got unemployment?” she wheedled. “Can’t you just tell them I didn’t get unemployment?”

Well, I could, I thought, if you'd just kept your mouth shut about the unemployment. And what is that shade of lipstick you're wearing? Kardashian Labia Pink?

“That would be unethical, wouldn’t it?” I replied instead with my perkiest smile. “I’ll make you an appointment to come to Hyde Park on Tuesday. I’ll come in early, and we’ll get this finished up! But you’ll need to bring me your 1099-G.”

“How do I get that?” she moaned.

So then I spent half an hour walking her through the process of going online and downloading her 1099-G.

“Why don’t you just do it for me?” she coaxed.

And that would have been easy enough to do, except I didn’t like her; she incited all my incipient SBP (Serious Bitch Potential): There was no fucking way I was going to do anything to make her life easier. Her life had been easy enough.

Chances are she won’t show on Tuesday. Which means she’ll miss out on a $1,000 tax refund.
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Still in the throes of relentless activity. Upside is that I feel just like Maria in West Side Story, twittering around on my toes; trilling, I feel pretty! slightly off-key. Downside is that I tend to lose purchase of my own thoughts if I don’t spend at least a couple of hours every day sitting in a corner with my eyes unfocused. Maybe that’s some metabolic equivalent of mediation? Dunno. Anyway, I can feel my attention span growing shorter and shorter and shorter.

I am having fun, though.

###

Like, for instance, I had a totally terrific birthday weekend. L took me out for lunch at CIA’s excellent French restaurant where I had one of the most fabulous meals I’ve ever eaten: deconstructed pineapple upside down cake and BLTs as amuses bouches; a chestnut soup; a grilled dorade that actually, yes, melted in my mouth; Mimosas with mint; and a deconstructed lemon bar, which the restaurant comped (without being asked.)



Afterwards, I drove out to Rhinebeck and wandered around that quaint little town for an hour or so. Carmel on the Hudson, right? Scored a trio of exotic eaux de Cologne at a little tchatche shoppe that was going out of business plus a remaindered copy of Little Failure at the surprisingly good indie bookstore. (I’m a beeeg Gary Shteyngart fan.) Went to see Noah Baumback’s While We’re Young. (Five-word review: All About Eve Meets Williamsburg.)

Next day, accompanied Seraphina to Harlem for Ayana’s Natural Hair Expo. Almost bailed on that ‘cause you know – natural hair, not a White Girl thing. Plus my eyes needed unfocusing.

Very glad I didn’t, though, because I had the best time, not necessarily at the Expo itself (which was very badly organized though I walked away with an enormous number of samples, which now, of course, White Girl Hair or no White Girl Hair, I’ve got to try) but just hanging out with Seraphina in Harlem on a glorious, glorious day.



We sat on a stoop in the radiant sunlight waiting for the fashion show to begin and just gabbed about everything – childhoods, families, hopes and dreams. Talk fest continued over lunch at Sylvia’s and after the show, when we spent several hours shopping along 125th Street.

Back in my day, 125th Street – particularly its intersection with Lenox Avenue a/k/a Malcolm X Boulevard – was the heart of the riot zone.

Today, though, it’s one huge shopping mall.

Seraphina is looking to get out of the social services business and into the hair business, so after the fashion show, she carted me into half a dozen or so of the hair emporiums lining the Ave, and I scored five boxes of that cheap, cheap, cheap Revlon 112 Colorsilk Luminista, which is the only hair dye evah to turn my locks the deep aubergine I adore, and which, sadly, is not being manufactured anymore, so whenever I go anywhere, one of my quests – like finding the Holy Grail or that winning Lotto ticket – is to hit up every pharmacy in a five-mile radius in the hopes of hunting down a single box.

On the Metro-North ride home, we were surrounded by all sorts of bizarre people having bizarre conversations, which drove us into absolute hysterics. Don’t think I’ve lost it that hard since Susan and I got booted out of a Tai Kwon Do dojo 30 or so years ago for laughing hysterically through Master Bliss’s lecture on rising chi.

So much fun.

###

This is the final week of taxes, so I’m doing a lot of work in the Tax-Aide brigade, too.

Yesterday, for example, I had this client who brought in an oversized Manila envelope bursting at the seams with receipts, which he obviously expected me to organize. I mean, no shit – there were at least 200 of them. And they were all donations to Brother Parsley Jack’s Christian Brigade or Sister Amy Lordpraiser’s Hallelujah Life Mission. The absolute dregs of the TV evangelical channels, in other words.

He was a sweet little guy who obviously meant well, which is why I didn’t tell him to organize the damn things himself. He’d retired from some state job – probably as a janitor at some high school or something – and that pension combined with his Social Security gave him a rather substantial retirement income for a single man living alone in a mobile home park.

Took me an hour and a half to organize his receipts. They totaled something like $14,000.

At first, I was outraged. Wondered if I should call the Dutchess County Social Services hotline and report this as elder abuse.

Then I thought, Hey! It’s no business of yours how this gentleman chooses to spend his money.

Are these nonprofits to which he’s donating money complete scams?

Sure.

But then, so’s Hillary Clinton’s contribution pitch webpage.

Of course, I would prefer it if he was donating $14,000 to cancer research.

But, you know. I don’t get to make decisions for other people on how they spend their money.

###

I’ve also been reading RTT’s novel-in-progress. He sent me the first 120 pages.

It’s good. The kid has a natural sense of rhythm, momentum. That’s something you can’t be taught – you’re either born with it, or you’re not. Sure, it has issues. It’s gonna require a lot of line editing and some serious plot tweaking and reorganization of the info flow to the reader if RTT wants to snag an agent. But that’s stuff that can be fixed in a subsequent draft.

A rhythm problem can’t be fixed, ever. A rhythm problem means the person writing what you’re reading doesn’t know how to tell a story.

I was gonna tell RTT how great it was regardless of how great it was – I am his Mom, after all – but I was very happy that I could say it and mean it. I was really impressed.

12 Monkeys

Dec. 17th, 2014 11:27 am
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My own all-time favorite Christmas movie is 12 Monkeys, a dystopian fantasy about the end of civilization as we know it and an attempt to rectify the mistakes that led up to that end. Bruce Willis plays a convict given the chance to redeem himself by traveling into the past to investigate the origins of a plague that’s wiped out most of mankind, forcing the few survivors to huddle underground.

Never been a big Terry Gilliam fan. Brazil? Clunky. The Fisher King? Maudlin. The Monty Python ouevre? Spotty.

Problem with most of Gilliam’s work for me is that you’re always being fed two separate streams of information, the visual and the narrative, and Gilliam often seems to be struggling to find synergy or syncretism between the two. In 12 Monkeys, though, possibly because Gilliam is working from someone else’s script or possibly because one of the film's underlying themes is the unreliability of all remembered information, this approach works. Even the irrelevant becomes relevant.

The movie never changes, Cole tells Kathryn. It can’t change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you’re different. You see different things.

The film’s climactic scene takes place during the Philadelphia Christmas shopping rush in 1996. The holiday might seem incidental to the perceptual puzzle, except that nothing is incidental in this movie. The viewer has to pay close attention at all times, which is almost impossible to do in a single viewing. 12 Monkeys has to be seen at least twice to appreciate the world-building that went into it. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, and it still amazes me.

One of the key strengths of 12 Monkeys is Bruce Willis’s performance. He plays Cole, the convict, as a simple, poignant Everyman, shyness and brutality in conflict, and it’s the acting highlight of his career. He is just superb. Madeleine Stowe is also excellent in the role of a kidnap victim called upon to be terrified but also magnetized in some essential way that disputes the core tenets of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Without these two performances, 12 Monkeys would be a less entertaining, standard issue Luc Besson movie about the colorful -- or colorless – future.

Throughout 12 Monkeys, Cole faces the paradox of his own death – a philosophical conundrum apparently inspired by a short French film called La Jetée. His death is revealed to him in a series of memories, which he thinks are a bizarre, reoccurring dream. He sees his older self die as a 10-year-old boy in an airport, watching the police gun down a crazy psychotic – who, unbeknownst, is the older version of himself, a philosophical DO-loop, an existential perpetual motion machine from which there can never be any escape. He doesn’t recognize his older self, he can’t recognize his older self, but the Madeleine Stowe character, who knows about the dream, recognizes him and there passes between them a moment that’s so complex and passionate and moving that it makes me shiver every time I see the movie.

I watched 12 Monkeys again last night. I’m still in hyperspace. Just very teary and – here comes my buzz word again – porous.

I’m writing a time travel story, so possibly this material is even more poignant for me than usual. Dunno. Sometimes I just feel like life is so fragile, and the most beautiful flowers grow in junkyards where no one ever thinks to look.



In other news, life continues to be good. On Sunday, I met up with A to see the Matisse cutouts at MOMA – they were interesting, but did make me ponder the whole function of art as a non-fungible commodity. I could make these cutouts! In fact, I have made these cutouts. I couldn’t, on the other hand, make One: Number 31, 1950, which actually has an extraordinary amount of composition behind its chaos.

Then I sat through the last two classes of tax training. Studying federal and New York State tax codes is a lot like studying Torah or the Qur’an. Or possibly the Upanishads. Just a huge amount of arcane information that makes no logical sense whatsoever but illuminates the bizarreness of the culture that cobbled them together. The codes dealing with the implementation of Obamacare are particularly arcane, and I predict a lot of crash-and-burn around the Affordable Care Act come next April 15th.

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