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Full disclosure here: I’m not a Frank Lloyd Wright fan. His Prairie Houses always make me flash on Danish modern furniture, which I think is fuckin’ ugly.

I don’t see why form should have to follow function.

I kind of like architectural elements that have no practical use whatsoever.

This makes me the perfect ghost writer for a project that’s a Frank Lloyd Wright hatchet job.

###

Didn’t hear from Celeste for a week, and then yesterday, I did. Your email somehow disappeared, she wrote.

No, no, no, Celeste: The dog ate it.

Anyway, she is game to go. Though we still don't have a contract. And I won't work without a contract.

I am scuttling off to NYC tomorrow to spend a few days in [profile] lifeinroseland’s beyond beautiful apartment and play in museums and possibly go to a play and hopefully finish the Alice/Nell story, which is now up to 12,000 words and has two (count ‘em!) working titles, The Green Sickness and The League of Arbitrary Assuageurs, neither of which is good.

When I get back, hopefully John will have whipped up a contract, and I will have figured out a way to record Celeste when I debrief her.

And then I will debrief her.

Since I am in New York, and Celeste is in California, I won’t be able to feed Celeste psychoactive substances to lubricate the debriefing process – but knowing Celeste as I do, I trust that Celeste will be able to handle that end of things on her own.

###

I’m about a third of the way through The Fellowship, the book that gives the skinny on what really went down in Taliesin. I don’t want to carry it with me to NYC since it’s an enormous tome, must weight 15 pounds. So I’ll try to finish it this evening.

###

Oglivianna, the third Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright, was a Gurdjieff acolyte. She completely dominated Wright for the last 30 years or so of his life. Under her management, Tailiesin drifted into the familiar Scientology/Synanon-style cult. It will give me great pleasure to do a hatchet job on Oglivianna, and I hope Celeste feeds me some really disgusting details about her personal hygiene.

You don’t hear much about G.I. Gurdjieff anymore, but when I was a gorgeous young girl, Gurdjieff was still quite the thing. I may have seen the film Peter Brooks made from Gurdjieff’s book Meetings With Remarkable Men. I may even have read the book. And Luke had an unfortunate dealing with an exceedingly unpleasant woman named Helen Palmer who was a psychic focusing on Enneagram interpretations (a Gurdjieff thing) and who tried to rip him off over some expensive real estate.

I’ve been around many people like Gurdjieff over the course of my lifetime. That's that Zelig thing again: I've stood on the sidelines watching while any number of interesting events transpired.

The success of authoritarian self-styled mystics always amazes me. Most people are sl-e-e-e-e-eeping! sez Gurdjieff. Well, sure. But you don’t have to do ridiculous dances to wake up. All you have to do is pay attention.

Plus I’m not sure there’s any great utility to waking up.

It’s not like you’re gonna be able to change anything.

The more you see, the more you understand. And the more you weep.

###

Also, I’ve been listening to The Maltese Falcon on tape as I’ve been driving the last few days.

It’s really terribly written.

Why is it considered such a masterpiece of American literature?
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The photo streams out of Houston are wild. More of that, But it can’t happen here – can it? Bwah-hah-hah-hah! vibe.

Does it matter that the catastrophe is meteorological and only in part manmade? (Rises in sea level – almost certainly due to climate change and other human disturbances, most notably oil drilling – made the storm surges half a foot higher than they would have been a few decades before. Sea temperatures are also approximately two decrees warmer than they were a few decades ago, which means the storm had the ability to absorb more water.)

No, not really.

It can happen here is your basic scare scenario.

I can remember sitting in the back seat of my grandfather’s old Chrysler a million years ago or so, listening to him explain how, inevitably, the seas would rise, and everything we were familiar with would drown. I was only three or four at the time. His words scared the shit out of me.

###

Some of those Houston pictures are downright heartbreaking:




And, of course, some humans are always eager to prove their essential pettiness.

My various social media feeds are filled with vengeful progressives. A state that gave us Ted Cruz and George W. Bush can just go fuck itself!

Hey, assholes! I want to write. Harris County is a Democratic stronghold; it went for Hillary Clinton by 12%.

But I restrain myself.

Because, really: What is the point?

I’ve always liked Texas, and yes, I have spent time there. Larry McMurtry country, doncha know. Unlike the anal inhabitants of the benighted midWest, Texans are very friendly even when you disagree with their politics.

###

Houston will impact the U.S. economy as a whole. Texas has the 10th largest economy in the world and exports more than the states of California and New York combined.

You can expect to pay at least 25 cents more per gallon at the gas pump for the next six months or so. Possibly, this will renew the interest in fracking the northeast’s shale fields.

Difficult to say what effect this will have on the stock market – which, despite all the reasons that it shouldn’t, has continued to perform strongly since Trump took office. Energy stocks should stall. On the other hand, construction stocks should benefit.

###

I got through my awful mood over the weekend by submerging myself in escapist movies and novels.

I was practically snorkeling!

First, I wondered why I had such a strong aversion to seeing Dunkirk despite being a big Christopher Nolan fan. It’s because I remember seeing another film about Dunkirk, and I thought it might be Atonement. It’s not: The middle section of Atonement takes place as Robby Turner is traveling to Dunkirk; he never makes it.

Where, oh where, do all those images in my head of soldiers huddling on a grey beach with broken Ferris wheels behind them come from? I wonder.

Atonement is a pretty good novel and a not-completely-awful movie.

There’s something about the actor James McAvoy I’ve always found… compelling. And so, the scenes where Cecilia tries to snap Robby out of his fugue states – Come back to me! Come back – moved me.

Then I had to watch The Prestige – for like the tenth time: It’s one of my favorite movies (and I love the novel, too, although the novel is very different from the film) – and then I had to watch The Shining! In between I had to go out to breakfast and hike around the Point and try to figure out what Alice's secret games were when the grownups weren't looking.

Weather hasn't completely returned to me, but at least I'm not tearing up at pictures of dogs.

I suppose I should line up some social expeditions for when I travel to NYC in the next few days to water [profile] lifeinroseland's plants.
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I’ve been sad since I got back from the Southern Tier.

Very, very sad.

Maybe even depressed.

Is there a difference? I think there is. Sad would seem to be connected to a precipitating event in one’s own personal life; depressed seems more like a systemic clamp down, what John Barth once described as “without weather.”

It just seems to me that my life is singularly irrelevant and meaningless – no, scratch that “singularly”: All lives are irrelevant and meaningless.

So what’s the point the point of being alive?

I don’t really have a whole lot to contribute to the collective experience of Life on This Planet.

###

Of course, the proximal cause of the feelings is that sense of total abandonment kicked up by B.

I’m hardwired to respond to abandonment.

Plus I haven’t been “abandoned” because B and I have not been an item for eight years now.

If I never replaced B, that’s entirely on me. I’ve had opportunities. I just didn’t work them. It seems to me I don’t have very much to offer: I’m a woman in her 60s, attractive for my age with the most interesting personality you’d ever hope to meet, but I have nothing in the way of dowry, no financial security.

And really, I don’t want a lover or a husband. I want friends with whom I can have long, interesting conversations about art, politics, economic geography, and the meaning of life on this planet.

I suppose what it is, then, is that I feel invisible. I hold up my hand, and I can see straight through it.

Also, I’m lonely. I crave other voices in my inner dialogue. LiveJournal used to be good for that at least, but these days it’s radio silence.

###

And then there’s politics. Politics nauseates me.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – Trump is a cancer. Andrew Johnson’s ghost is breathing a huge sigh of relief: Thank Gawd: I wasn’t the worst President ever! Ditto Warren Harding, John Tyler, William Henry Harrison, James Buchanan.

But the thing is Trump isn’t entirely the creation of rightwing racists.

Trump just as much a creation of big news media – on both sides of the political spectrum. There would be no Trump without the 24/7 news cycle. Right-tilting media may be drumming up Trump enthusiasm in support of a racist agenda, but left-tilting media is drumming up Trump paranoia because then we’ll feel the need to be hypervigilent - and hypervigilence translates into lots and lots of eyeballs and lots and lots of $$$$.

I don't know what the answer is. I really don't.

I only know that I feel like I'm being had.

###

I’m trying not to let too many things circle round the black drain. I’m exercising. I’m balancing my checkbook. I’m avoiding alcohol.

But honestly, if I had an “Off” button, I’d push it.
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I forget what we were talking about. I forget why we were talking about it. I forget why we were standing by the side of a road.

It’s odd what you decide to forget.

I remember I was 18. I remember the boy and the girl both had long stringy hair parted in the middle. You could tell them apart because the boy had one of those ugly pubic hair beards.

It’s odd what you decide to remember.

“Does she know how to get there?” the boy asked. “Will she know she’s there when she’s there?”

“Does she even know that the name of this flower is chicory?” the girl asked.

And that’s how a common roadside flower became inextricably linked in my mind with that intense, restless, wordless longing the Portuguese term saudade.

There’s a lot of chicory by the side of the road in late August.

Growing up the way I did, it’s not surprising I have major abandonment issues.

###

So, the eclipse.

We only got to 70% totality here, but I was very curious to see what effect that might have on wildlife.

I couldn’t score eclipse glasses. Samir had given me some workarounds – they don’t have eclipse glasses in Algeria, but they do have eclipses: “If you have old computer diskettes – they have the film inside them, yes? The filter. It is the proper strength. Also film for cameras that you develop if you put it together back to back.”

Alas! The disadvantages of living in an economy based on built-in obsolescence: I had neither diskettes nor camera film. So, I made a pinhole projector out of an old cereal box.

The National Park Service was hosting some kind of big event on the grounds of the Vanderbilt mansion, so I took off to points north – the eerie (even without an eclipse) little town of Staatsburg, the vast greensward that swoops from the stately Beaux Arts Mills Mansion down to the glittery blue river. At the last minute, Linda and Ed decided they wanted to come, too.

What I noticed was that the temperature dropped. It was very hot, and then suddenly, it was comfortable.

And the shadows lengthened, but it seemed that my eyes were playing tricks on me because the day did not get noticeably darker. I think that’s one of those brain compensation thingies.

Crickets and cicadas started chirping.

I followed the progression of the eclipse in my pinhole viewer. I was thinking bunnies might start to pop out on the lawn since they’re crepuscular creatures. But they didn’t.

“I have glasses,” called a nice woman who, with her husband, had set up lawn chairs about 50 feet away from where I was sitting. She let me look through them. OhmyGAWD! Spectacular!

At the moment when the eclipse was as full as it was gonna get in Hyde Park, NY, the dozen or so few people who were scattered about on that vast lawn all rose and came together spontaneously to form a big circle. We held hands and then, one by one, we thanked the Universe for allowing us to witness this awesome event. Some of us called the Universe “God.” Many of us made wishes – for world peace; for harmony between all men, between all living creatures; for kindness and goodness to prevail.

It was a very sweet moment.

We didn’t sacrifice any virgins, though, so likely our wishes fell on deaf ears.
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At 4:30 in the morning, Max texted me.

Are you awake? he asked.

Well, I am now, I said. What’s up?

Turns out that he was T-4 hours from Alaska departure and was freaking out because his airline (Delta if you’d like to boycott them) was going to charge him $400 for the baggage he was taking back to California.

He’d made the trip to Alaska in a car. A very old car. A car so dilapidated, I was convinced it was going to fall apart on some deserted stretch of highway in British Columbia.

(You know that highway. The plat du jour at its one lonely diner is always long pork. There’s a service station that still sells gas for 23⊄ a gallon, and it’s staffed by zombies.)

Somehow, though, the car managed to make it all the way from Berkeley to Anchorage, but there was no way it was up to making a return trip.

There’d been a lot of stuff in that car, and much of it made the trip back to California with Nathan and John after they drove up to visit Max. But a lot of it was being crammed into suitcases in the hours before his flight.

What am I going to do? asked Max.

With more notice, you could mail some stuff to yourself, I said. But I don’t think you have the time to do that now. You’ll just make yourself anxious. If I were you, I’d just go ahead and check the bags – and think of this as a teachable moment. Resolve NEVER to get yourself in this situation ever again. Theoretically, at least, $$$ is a renewable resource.

I thought a few seconds and added, I’ll cover half the cost of the bags.

Am I fuckin’ nuts or what?

Should I feel flattered that my kid reaches out to me in times of need? Or should I feel like I’m being had?

###

After the plane arrived safely, Max called. “Thanks, Mom!”

“For what? Two hundred bucks is not a huge amount of money – “

“Oh, yeah. Well, that was very generous of you. But I mean, thanks for talking to me. I was really starting to feel anxious and panicky, but communicating with you really helped me calm down.”

Then he told me that one of the suitcases contained 60 pounds of fish on dry ice that he and his father had caught the last week he spent in Alaska when Bill went up to visit him.

Are you kidding me? I paid for Bill’s fish?

Until recently, Bill, please to note, made around $200,000 a year as a research neurophysiologist for Allergan. He has stock options! Why didn’t Max call his father when he was freaking out about luggage overages?

Oh, well.

The only sane reaction to the things that happen to us every day is laughter. Most of the time.

###

This was the same day I noticed that Ben had removed me from his Facebook flist.

As a matter of fact, I was traveling up to T-burg that very afternoon: Last time we’d seen each other, Ben and I had made a date to watch the Trumansburg Fair Demolition Derby preliminaries together, and tonight was the date.

Ben called to review logistics. “What time are you planning to get here?”

“Around 5pm. I was planning to stop in Roscoe along the way to see if I can talk Donald Trump Jr. out of committing suicide. Supposedly, he hangs out a lot at the town bar.”

Hilarious banter ensued.

“So,” I said. “Facebook. Not that anyone gives a fuck about Facebook, you understand, but why did you unfriend me? Just out of curiosity. Are you mad at me or something?”

“No! I’m not mad at you at all! I just figured that since we’re friends in real life, we don’t have to be friends on Facebook!”

Ho-kay!

The logic seemed a bit… off. But wotthehell.

###

But the truth came out when I arrived in T-burg.

“See, Dana and I are negotiating a relationship contract,” Ben told me. “And this book we’re reading says it’s a really bad idea to stay in contact with your exes on social media.”

“Well, we are exes,” I said. “Although frankly, I don’t think of you as an ex. I think of you as an extremely close friend.”

“Well, you and I text all the time. And we talk a lot on the phone. I figure we don’t need to use social media to stay in touch.”

This, of course, is true. Although I imagine the next thing they will be negotiating in their relationship contract is the inadvisability of regularly texting or calling your exes.

Since the new girlfriend lives 3,000 miles away in Sicily, and since, to date, they’ve spent less than two weeks breathing in each other’s carbon dioxide molecules, I think negotiating a “relationship contract” may be a bit… premature. But, hey! Mine is not to judge.

And I suppose if the goal of a romantic relationship is the formation of an impenetrable dyad that’s orthogonal to any other intimate relationship with a member of one’s sexual gender preference, then it makes perfect sense to cut off communications with me. Ben and I are definitely emotionally intimate (though I no longer feel the slightest degree of physical attraction toward him.) And any emotional intimacy that takes place outside the dyad is a form of emotional infidelity, right?

Thing is that’s just such conventional thinking.

And I’ve always given Ben credit for thinking outside the box.

But Ben has always been what I describe as an emotional hermit crab. He crawls into the preconstructed lives of his inamoratas. He’s very chameleon-like. He adapts and adopts.

And for a guy with such an excellent sense of humor, he’s strangely attracted to humorless women. I think I’m the only woman he was ever with who actually bantered along with his riffs. Dana is a therapist – of course! – and so far as I can tell, a hipper, more international reboot of the basic dour Jayne LeGros model. Humorless in other words.

Kinda like Ben's mother. I mean -- since we're pretending to be therapists here!

###



Apparently, they spend 20 hours a week on average Skyping.

“What do you talk about?” I asked.

“Everything. Anything,” he said.

But from the little snippets he let drop, it mostly seems like they talk about his problems. “When I first told Dana, I’d been a junkie, she said, ‘But that’s not your dirty little secret, is it? Your dirty little secret is really something quite different.’”

“Like what?” I asked. Ever hopeful for some fresh hot gossip!

He shook his head. “Oh, you know. The usual crap. The traumas that go on in everyone’s childhood.”

The intimation of secret knowledge that penetrates through his usual lies and manipulations is like Spanish fly to Ben!

My feelings are hurt but whatever. He seems really happy right now, and he has a right to that happiness, and I understand why he wants to do whatever it takes to help ensure that happiness.

If I can’t draft anyone beside Ben to be the other voice in my own inner dialogue, it's on me.

###

The Demo Derby turned out to be great fun, and tonight Ben, RTT, and I will be teaming up again for Trivia Night at Atlas Bowl.

Tomorrow I take off, and I’m not sure when or if I’ll be up this way again.

“I think that fuckin’ sucks that Dad took you off his friends’ list,” RTT said. He said it many times. He meant it, too.

“Oh, I don’t care, honey,” I said. “I mean Facebook is hardly the psychic roundtable at which all true emotions are arbitrated, right? People do what they need to do to make themselves happy. And anyway, the only two people on this planet who aren’t entirely replaceable for me are you and Max.”
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Desert-FLW-Olgivanna


The other book I’m reading right now for background on the Celeste memoir project is called The Fellowship. It delves deeply into the cultlike aspects of Tailiesens East and West.

Of course, I’m not gonna start any actual work on the project until there’s a contract in place.

Celeste is in the index. Her father was one of Lloyd Wright’s many “apprentices.” Her mother was Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s chief handmaiden. Their last name is misspelled throughout the book (though they get Celeste’s last name right in the acknowledgements) as is the index spelling of the first name of the brother who committed suicide. This leads me to believe that The Fellowship must be riddled with other inaccuracies.

But even if only half of what’s in the book is true, what a wild ride, man.

Olgivanna was a Gurdjieff acolyte. You can think of her as the Yoko Ono of architecture. Plus there’s a straight line of descent there that leads back to minor members of the Bloomsbury and D.H. Lawrence circles – Katherine Mansfield, Mabel Dodge Luhan.

My own early immersion in a cult – Synanon – inoculated me and left me quite immune to all that cult stuff. Come to think of it, my Synanon experiences are probably what led me to develop my sense of humor as a tactical weapon. Cults do not like humor!

Anyway, the right voice for this project – assuming it ever gets off the ground, which it may or may not do: I don’t actually like Celeste all that much although as I read The Fellowship, I can see that a lot of the stuff that irritates me about her – a certain cheerful, deterministic obliviousness – are actually survival mechanisms – would be the deadpan voice that Jeannette Walls uses in The Glass Castle. In the opening chapters of The Glass Castle, this voice is used to humorous effect: the outrageous behavior of the adults seen through the uncomprehending eyes of the child. As the narrator grows older, this voice perfectly captures that trapped, exhausted feeling behind the constant vigilance necessary to maintain one’s own safety…

Anyway, we shall see if this project gets off the ground.

###

In other news – speaking of constant vigilance – I, too, am feeling exhausted, physically exhausted, like the way you feel after a coast-to-coast plane trip that you’ve spent staring out the window, willing the plane to stay in the sky.

Charlottesville seems to be an exception to the Five-Day Media Cycle Dictum, which states: Every five days, there will be some new incident the media will focus in an effort to distract people from digging more deeply into systemic, long-term issues.

But even Barcelona terrorists can’t chase Charlottesville from America's front pages.

I am thinking Charlottesville may be an honest-to-God tipping point.

But I am very, very tired of it all.

It is important. Really, really, really important.

But I'm ready to stop thinking about it.

I suppose this is the downside to not having a routine that can co-opt my thoughts and make me think about other things: I don’t have the discipline not to think about it.

unnamed-1


This is the time of year when I would expect to see the first reddening an oranging of the leaves, but everything remains this intense, almost blinding green.

In fact, I read somewhere that this has been one of the greenest summers ever in these parts, though God knows how they measure that one.
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The scariest thing to come out of the Charlottesville coverage is this 22-minute documentary from Vice media, which yes, yes, yes, is truly horrifying, but which, at the same time, has this oddly audition-like quality to it as though the Nazis were really trying out for their own reality TV show – think Duck Dynasty with more guns, more hate speech, less facial hair.

Watching it, I couldn’t help wondering: If they’re serious Nazis, why are they letting that feisty girl reporter follow them around? Wouldn’t serious Nazis feel too much contempt for this feisty girl reporter to let her embed? Wouldn’t one of them had taken her aside to deliver a little sermon (which her cameraman would capture on tape): “Your purpose is to breed baby Aryans"?

Obviously, the intent of Cantwell’s chest-thumping and motel-room heat display was to inspire fear.

And it did inspire fear except at the same time, the tiki torches really made me giggle.

Also, as a big fan of the Second Amendment, this documentary made me want to write I told ya so! emails to all the friends with whom I basically agree politically except when it comes to their hysterical denunciations of the Second Amendment.

Call me paranoid, or call me someone who suffers epigenetic PTSD, but since earliest childhood, I’ve had this recurring nightmare about gun-toting soldiers who show up at a family dinner in some undefined but highly familiar time and space (embroidered tablecloth, silver goblet, two loafs of challah.) Come with us, they bark. The other members of my family nervously begin packing suitcases. I’m the member of the family who says, Hell, no. I’m not going anywhere. Just go ahead and shoot me.

But I keep wishing I’d perfected lucid dreaming techniques so I could reach for a piece and take a couple of the storm troopers out with me.

I love the Second Amendment. In fact, I think I'm gonna join the local gun club.

###

If there’s a star of the Vice video, it’s Christopher Cantwell, the alt-right shock jock of a radio show called Radical Agenda who clearly lies about his gym attendance: Cantwell has a gut on him like an albino walrus.

Trayvon Martin radicalized him: “When the Trayvon Martin case happened, and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and all these different things happened, in every single case, it’s some little black asshole behaving like a savage, and he gets himself in trouble, shockingly enough.”

That “shockingly enough” is straight out of the Rush Limbaugh rhetorical playbook. In fact, Cantwell sounds so much like Rush Limbaugh so that he could take over Rush’s show on those days when Rush might want to take a little oxy holiday.

He’s only spreading ideas, Cantwell tells the foxy blonde Vice reporter, so that somebody more capable than himself will take those ideas and create a movement. That somebody will be someone like Donald Trump but not Donald Trump himself – because Donald Trump gave his daughter to a Jew!

“A lot more racist than Donald Trump,” says Cantwell. I do believe he thinks he’s flirting with the foxy blonde reporter! “I don’t think you could feel about race the way that I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl.”

Could this be the solution to Neo-Nazism we’ve all been looking for?

Clone Ivanka! Or if bioengineering isn’t yet up to this task, reproduce her lady bits in warm, yielding silicon and cram them inside a sex doll.

Stick those Ivanka sestras and Ivanka sex dolls on a traveling bus to 4chanistan!

Alas! Cantwell’s moment in the media high beams as an embodiment of macho was destined to be brief. Yesterday, a new video emerged in which Cantwell blubbered like a baby because he’d discovered that there might be a warrant out for him. He gave out his phone number! I’m not sure whether he wanted the foxy blonde Vice reporter, Ivanka, or the Charlottesville police department to call him.

###

Cantwell does raise a salient point here, though: Exactly where were Mr. and Mrs. Kushner while Der Donald was exchanging coy verbal semaphores with the Neo-Nazi command posts?

I mean Jared Kushner is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Surely, he can’t be down with slack for neo-Nazis.

Or can he?

What a fuckin' putz.
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Except that yesterday I slid right back down the Facebook rabbit hole!

And I thought to myself, This is insane. This has reached the level of obsession of some 4chan loser playing first-person shooter games.

###

The big controversies in Facebookland yesterday had to do with free speech and publishing private information: Should Nazis have the full protection of First Amendment safeguards, and is doxxing a good thing to do with Nazis?

I suppose in an era where text messages can suffice as grounds for second degree murder convictions and the Justice Department can subpoena for info on visitors to an anti-Trump website, we can all kiss civil liberties protections goodbye.

But just for the record: I’m in favor of the First Amendment and against doxxing.

I feel pretty strongly about it, too, but no – my opinions have nothing to do with any platitudes about civil liberties.

They have to do with the fact that these things are double-edged swords: They can easily be used against people on both sides, and that it is very dangerous to set these kinds of precedents.

When – for example – Obama decided to rule by executive fiat, he basically manurered the ground for assholes like Donald Trump.

Is this a particularly subtle point or something?

Do you honestly want Richard Spencer’s boy scout troop running your face through facial recognition software and showing up at your condo with a tiki torch next time you attend an anti-Trump rally? Because I don’t – and this is absolutely what is going to start happening if doxxing becomes the default.

Any way you slice it, the United States is tilting toward fundamentalism. Whether it’s Mike Pence (™)-brand Christian fundamentalism or some Leftist fascism cobbled together from competing brands of identity politics, I’m not sure. Probably the future seesaws back and forth between these two poles for the next century or so.

But even if you find Nazis scary – and yes, I’m a Jew: of course, I do! – it’s insane to strip away the legal and social protections that protect you against these types of things.

###

Anyway, about the fourth time I got lambasted for Nazi sympathies and “pearl-clutching” – this time by an overweight white guy who made a killing in Palo Alto real estate 30 years ago and who you just know used to read Playboy Magazine for the articles – I thought, Fuck this shit.

I wrote a colorful reply inviting said white guy to cram his head up his narrow-bore rectum to lick his ulcerated duodenum (commiserating, ‘cause I knew his head was so swollen it would be a tight fit.)

And then I resigned from the Sooper Sekrit Political Group.

This should really cut way back on any time I have to spend on Facebook.

###

In other news, I began reading T.C. Boyle’s The Women because it’s a fictionalized account of Frank Lloyd Wright’s love life.

I’ve always thought of Boyle as an exceptionally tight writer, so it was surprising to discover how bad the prose is in this book. It’s actually banal.

You write just as well as Boyle writes! I told myself.

Part of the rah-rah-rah! internal process.

It’s awfully hard for me to see any relevance to my own thoughts, to my own fictions in a world that’s little more than a conveyor belt for awful political events.

And August is half over.
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charlottesville


In case you’re wondering what really went down in Charlottesville on Saturday…

You had a bunch of people wearing costumes. In fact, Charlottesville could have been subtitled: When Cosplay Goes Wrong.

The majority of self-styled white supremacists who showed up there are male Millennials who live in their mother’s basement, who play a lot of first-person shooter games, and who can't get laid. Their spirit animal is Dylan Klebold. They’re actually too stupid to understand the full significance of the Nazi regalia they sport. They only know that it seems to be a trigger. They're invisible people. Who are suddenly... VISIBLE.

They’re pushing the envelope, in other words. If we do this, they’re saying, you’ll have to notice us.

###

On the other side, you had a more diffuse group of well-meaning individuals who are triggered by Nazi imagery.

###

But manipulating the marionette strings behind the scenes, you always have the same cadre of billionaires who subscribe to a specific political and cultural system.

Let’s call that system Neoliberalism!

Neoliberalism perpetuates the extreme wealth inequality that results in economic scarcity, deteriorating infrastructure, and the inability to improve real wages, health, or happiness for the majority of people living in the United States today.

Neoliberalism thrives by pitting groups of working class individuals against each other. This is the way they maintain the fragmentation that allows that tiny elite of 0.01% to hoard all viable resources on this planet. Incidents like Charlottesville are a command shadow puppet performance that's executive produced by the members of that 0.01%.

Just remember: The ruling class wants the 99% to be fragmented.

The ruling class wants the 99% to focus on the players. Not on the play.

That’s the larger context you must keep in mind when you think about Charlottesville.

We’ve gotten used to Koch Bros-style tactics. Mercer/Bannon tactics still have the capacity to make us lose sight of the larger picture.

###

Which is not to say that Nazi imagery doesn’t trigger me because, of course, it does. Big time.

I got physically nauseated reading The Daily Stormer.

I had to take a half-hour shower in extremely hot water when I logged off the site.

I wanted to go all Maenad on the asshole who runs the site. Tear his dick off. Feed it to a coyote.

Instead I researched rallies in protest of the White House’s tepid reaction to the events in Charlottesville.

Found one in Poughkeepsie. Went to it.

###

Anyway, yesterday was a complete waste of time. I’m deeply disgusted with myself.

I did not get one lick of remunerative work done, and Alice still doesn’t know how to react to the sight of her cousin sitting in a car with the ghost of her dead father. So all in all, a completely useless day.

You’d think I know better by now, right?

As an early Internet adopter and all.

Social media is always the La Brea Tarpit.

There is never any excuse to stay on Facebook any longer than it takes to “like” the latest photos of your kid’s girlfriend and your pal in Kerhonkson’s engaging granddaughter, flirt desultorily with that guy you should have run away with 25 years ago (but didn’t), and play a couple of rounds of Bejeweled Blitz.

That should take – what? Twenty minutes?

Thing is once you’ve been infected by the social media worm, it is literally impossible to go back to thinking your own thoughts. I’m convinced this has to do with the fact that stuff you read transforms voices in your head that are the analogous to audio hallucinations – they pack that kind of power and compulsion. Social media creates symptoms of psychosis in people who aren’t necessarily psychotic.

Facebook is the only social media I do. (I don’t count LJ as “social media.” LJ is an upload of the actual diary I’ve been keeping since I was 12 years old.)

But I am thinking the next time I allow myself to slide down that particular rabbit hole, I’m gonna delete my Facebook account.
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detroit


Saw Detroit. Man, that is one harrowing movie.

It’s a narrative I’m very familiar with: I read John Hershey’s The Algiers Motel in 1968 when it was first published. I was 16, and the book had a profound effect on me. It’s a literal reenactment of the infamous Milgram experiment.

There’s no behavior so depraved that a human being won’t do it if the responsibility for that behavior can be shunted up some chain of command. The three people who read this journal may be thinking, No, no, I wouldn’t!

Except yes: You would.

And so would I.

And that right there is the root of all evil.

###

I’m not at all sure I understood the extent of the racial divide in this country when I was 16. New York City in those days was integrated in theory but segregated in practice. For example: PS 87, the elementary school I attended – right around the corner from the Museum of Natural History! – had lots of black students, but there wasn’t a single black kid in my class. There weren’t any black kids at Hunter College High School either, which you could only attend if you scored above 90% on its incredibly arduous entrance exam.

My mother’s family – educated Jews - called black people schwartzes.

My father’s family – uneducated Sicilians - called black people niggers.

I can’t remember what I called them. But I knew that when you met a black person, the doctrine of equality meant you had to pretend there were no differences. I still remember with great gratitude the black nurse who took me aside my very first day on the wards and said, “Our skin gets ashy. Ya gotta use lotion. You don’t brush our hair like you brush your hair. They didn’t teach you any of this stuff in nursing school? Well, no. They wouldn’t.”

###

The 1967 Detroit riots were probably the deadliest and most destructive in American history. That same year, there were riots in Newark and in Plainfield, New Jersey, in Milwaukee and in Minneapolis. The next year, Martin Luther King was shot, and the riots spread to more than 100 other cities – including Berkeley, where your faithful narrator was a member of the People’s Park mob that got tear-gassed and shot at by Alameda County sheriffs.

(Come to think of it, I was a veritable 60s Zelig of sorts, having been present at (1) the screaming hoards of teenyboppers welcoming the Beatles to the Plaza Hotel in 1962; (2) the 1969 People’s Park riots; and (3) Altamont.)

There’s never been a definitive account of the events that took place at the Algiers Motel on the night of July 25 in which three young men ended up dead. Ballistics analyses linked their deaths to firearms commonly used by the Detroit police. Three cops were subsequently charged with homicide, but Kathryn Bigelow couldn’t use their real names since they all got off. She couldn’t use any of the material in Hersey’s book either since the rights could not be secured.

For the record, the cops’ real names are Robert Paille, Ronald August, and David Senak.

Bigelow’s film draws heavily from the memories of the surviving victims and includes a lot of speculation, particularly about the death of Fred Temple who was the last of the three men to be slaughtered. In that sense, Detroit has to be viewed as fiction.

###

Bigelow has always been an interesting filmmaker from my point of view because she defies gender expectations. She makes unsentimental movies about the effects of violence – a traditionally male expertise. (Interestingly, she was once married to James Cameron who makes bloated, sentimental movies about sinking ships and climate change.) She’s a very attractive woman, too, which should be irrelevant to any conversation about talent, but (let’s get real) isn’t.

The critics who liked it liked it a lot.

The critics who didn’t like it didn’t like it becaw-w-w-w-se:

(1) It was excessively violent. How could a director tell an actor to administer these brutal blows, not just once but repeatedly? decried a squeamish New Yorker reviewer.

(2) It was an example of cultural appropriation! Movies about black people should only be made by black people! (Ya gotta believe this line of reasoning was an underground whisper campaign paid for by Spike Lee.)

(3) It didn’t show the rich cultural life of people in Detroit! Well, no. Because then it would have been a bloated, sentimental movie and her X-Husband could have made it.

###

I was the only person in the audience for Detroit – a 6:30pm showing on a Friday night, and this doesn’t auger well for Detroit’s chances of earning back its initial investment. Even black people are staying away from this one, and I can see why: When you’ve moved well beyond dire events in the history of your people, you might appreciate if not exactly enjoy a movie about those events. My mother’s family members were all big fans of Schindler’s List.

But as the failure to convict Philando Castile’s murderer indicates, the United States has not moved beyond the events portrayed in Detroit. Young black men continue to be humiliated and slaughtered by white cops and watching that transpire on a screen without the slightest promise of redress is just too, too painful.

###

In other news, I spoke at some length with Celeste, and the story of Tailisen is even kinkier and weirder than that I’d initially thought.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s third wife Oglavanna is Gloria Swanson straight outa Sunset Boulevard. A Gurdjieff groupie! Taliesen West was just this festering brew of weird sex and egos!

And then there was that whole subplot with Stalin’s daughter!

This will make a fine bestseller! And it’s a memoir! So, you know – someone’s opinion!

The best thing would be if I could stumble across any supporting evidence to prove that Frank Lloyd Wright spent the last years of his life as a bumbling old idiot, being dressed up in white suits and wheeled out on special occasions (his keepers, all the while, hoping that he didn’t pee on himself ‘cause, you know: Depends hadn’t yet been invented, and pee stains white suits.) And that his apprentices designed all the buildings! Including the fuckin’ Guggenheim!

But I suspect that might be a little too much to hope for.

Sigh…

Anyhoo, I must read The Fellowship : The untold story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship, which apparently is the definitive smear book about Tailisen as well as T.C. Boyle’s The Women, which apparently is a novel about Oglavanna.
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unnamed Celeste has asked me to collaborate on her Tailisen memoir.

Project has lots and lots of commercial potential: Celeste’s father was Frank Lloyd Wright’s second-in-command; Tailisen was a cult without the Koolaide; there were all sorts of kinky 1950s weirdnesses going on there, plus Celeste got polio – and they sent her away (baaaaaad Frank Lloyd Wright) ‘cause you know, disabled children, such a downer. Not good design.

Problem is I’m not at all sure I can collaborate with Celeste. She’s kind of a flake, and her X-Husband with whom she is presently living (though I don’t know whether they’re inhabiting or cohabiting) kind of has a crush on me.

“I’d rather ghostwrite it than collaborate,” I told Celeste. You know me: I like to keep things strictly invisible at all times! “Plus, Celeste, I’m a real snob about writing. I don’t work and play well with others at all. You’d have to give me final cut over the first draft."

Anyway, we’re gonna Skype about it tomorrow.

There’s $$$ involved up front – although not a huge amount of $$$, and since our kids are besties, I’d be reluctant to wring too much out of her. I’m 100% positive such a memoir would capture a commercial publisher’s interest, though, so I could put in for some percentage of the advance and subsequent earnings.

Photo above is the lovely little Celeste aged four or so sitting at Frank Lloyd Wright’s side.

I like the way that Frank Lloyd Wright was carefully costumed – white suit, dark tie, and is that a pocket handkerchief or a boutonnière? – and yet his pants legs are too short!

I’m giving Celeste reading assignments: The Glass Castle (example of a superb memoir); The Astor Orphan (example of a terrible memoir.)

And we’ll tawk.

###

In other news, as a loving parent and a concerned cat owner, you’d think I’d care more about the stories of imminent nuclear showdown with N. Korea being trumpeted throughout the 24/7 news cycle these last few days.

But I don’t.

We have always been at war with Eurasia. Or is it Eastasia? Or is it Oceania? Wait! Aren’t we Oceania?

International politics can be so confusing.

###

Plus – Chris and Summer posted FB pix of a recent trip to Newport, RI, and now I am obsessed with going to Newport, RI, because I want to see the mansions! Big Houses ‘R’ Us!

And it’s only like 200 miles away from where I live so the trip is completely doable except that I’m so phobic about driving these days that I literally spent half an hour last night tracing and retracing the Google maps, thinking, I could do this! (No, you couldn’t.) Yes, I could! (No, you couldn’t.) until I finally burst into tears.

I have felt really out of it the last few days if it comes to that.

Not sad exactly.

But useless.

Irrelevant.
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Spent all day yesterday in a deep, depressive funk – which had nothing to do with the awfulness of Everyday Above Ground and everything to do with the rain, which just would not relent!

It rained, and it rained, and it rained. And then it rained some more. And so, I spent all day thinking about those poor people living in Lagos and Somalia, or dying of slow, painful, wasting diseases in other parts of the world. Or dying of quick, murderous assaults.

Any way you slice it, life is suffering and pain. There really is no payoff for being alive.

This morning, though, shafts of wan sunlight are going mano a mano with the cloud cover, and I’m feeling 10,000% better. Life may be marginally endurable. (That’s a highly qualified conditional.) Because without life, there would be no ripe peaches or crème brulee. Without life, there would be no Real Housewives of New York!

###

Sometime during the fever pitch of yesterday’s anomie, I got into a political argument with an acquaintance. That sort of thing nearly always results in self-reproach and yep, even a little bit of self-hatred the following morning. I mean, honestly! Did I really think I could change his mind? (Snort!) No, I just love the mellifluous sounds that come out of my throat when I open my mouth. I have such a large vocabulary. I enjoy showing it off.

“So, you really think there’s a difference between Republicans and Democrats?” I sneered.

And I would have won the argument, too, except my acquaintance wasn’t in the least bit interested in arguing; all he was interested in was venting his immense hatred for Donald Trump.

See, I’m not entirely sure I hate Donald Trump.

I mean – in a way, it’s as if some Borscht Belt comedian has been elected President, you know? Donald Trump is such an endless source of laughs; it's hard to hate someone responsible for so much mirth.

I know, I know -- I probably should hate him. Legislative failures notwithstanding, he has managed to do a fair amount of damage in his short term of office, notably in the fields of consumer, worker, and environmental protections.

Here’s the thing, though: You know the most effective way to combat rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

Plant more trees.

It really is that simple.

But such a low-tech prescription would make no money for anyone, which is probably why no one on the Left is touting in as a solution. No, the solution clearly must involve Expensive Technology and carbon taxes that will inevitably shift the costs of cleaning up the planet onto the shoulders of the poor.

(Meanwhile, that Expensive Technology is waiting impatiently in the wings for the current tech bubble to pop so that it can become the next economic bubble.)

Ever wonder why the Democratic Party – then in power – did so little to change Wall Street after the 2008 housing crash? It’s because Remocrats, Depublicans – they both like money! And they view periodic breakdowns of the financial system kind of like forest fires – necessary so that new little bubbles will grow! So that they can make more money!

###

But anyway, who gives a shit about this kind of stuff? Certainly not me.

I’m too busy trying to solve the mystery of the strange little town of Windsor, New York where I espied this strange little shop a year or so ago:

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Here’s a close-up of that front window:

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Look at all those amazing dead things! Don’t you want them in your living room? I know I do!

Who is Amanda April June, why does she have a shop in Windsor, and why is that shop always closed? Also why is there a shop completely dedicated to Lionel toy trains in Windsor? These are the real mysteries. Not the rise and (inevitable) fall of Donald Trump.
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This photo reminds me of An Infinite Summer, a beautiful, beautiful short story by the Brit novelist Christopher Priest in which – for no apparent reason - characters are frozen into tableaux, which only some of the characters can see.

Look at the three of us! Aren’t we beautiful? And we will remain preserved inside this timeless moment for always, the older woman, the two beautiful faun-like children, the sun setting at just the right angle to enhalo the girl and the boy in unearthly radiance. Us. Forever.

###

Also in T-burg, I passed a sign on a back country road crudely lettered, Colonial Encampment.

Naturally, I had to investigate.

I drove three miles along this deeply rutted dirt road (extremely grateful for my new tires and new suspension system) and found myself in this camp where between 50 and a hundred men, women and children dressed in 18th century clothing were running around on top of this hillside pretending to be European settlers. It was pretty cool! They were having some kind of musket fire-off in the nearby forest. The fog swirled; the woods echoed. Neat!

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Then I sped off to Ithaca where I watched a simulcast of the National Theater’s newish production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

The real Peter Pan has naught to do with the bowdlerized Disney version but instead is a deeply weird piece of fancy filled with archetypes and profound anthropological insights into the land of childhood imagination – although now that harried parents are thrusting iPads into their two-year-olds’ hands, I suppose children no longer have imaginations: They’re just one more demographic to market to.

I first read Barrie’s novelization of the play – Peter Pan and Wendy – when I was five years old or so, and the book has stayed with me:

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

This, my friends, is a deeply, deeply creepy image.

… and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.

Which means the cycle stops tomorrow since children whose parents let electronic devices tell them stories are merely consumers-in-training who will grow up to be deeply dull little conformists.

Which I suppose is good for collective intelligence.

But not for art.

The casting in this production was especially interesting. In nearly every production ever performed of this play, Captain Hook is essayed by the same actor who plays George Darling, the children’s father. (This tradition harkens back to Gerald du Maurier who starred in the very first production of Peter Pan. Du Maurier was the father of the novelist Daphne – herself no stranger to deeply weird fiction – as well as the uncle of the boys who inspired Barrie to write the play.)

In this production, Captain Hook is played by the woman who plays Mary Darling, the children’s mother.

In full pirate drag, she is ghoulish:

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On the drive home, I finished listening to the audio book of Fates and Furies. Yes, yes – I read the book. But I wanted to figure out exactly how Lauren Groff managed to achieve the effects she achieved, and listening to the words somehow gives me a better handle on that.

###

Got home, went off and tutored Samir.

When I got home from tutoring Samir, Max called from Alaska.

“It must be getting darker there earlier now,” I said.

“Yeah,” Max said. “Gets dark around midnight.”

“Wow!” I said.

“When I first got here” – June – “it was light pretty near 24 hours a day,” Max said. “I mean, yeah. Degrees of light. Dusk. Twilight. But light.”

Max will be returning from Anchorage to Berkeley in 10 days. Nathan asked Max to be his best man, so that means Max will be returning to the East Coast for the wedding – which I think is supposed to take place in New Haven some time around Christmas. (Yay!)

“You should come!” he said.

“I think most properly that invitation is supposed to come from Nathan,” I said.

Also Max is considering applying to UCB’s public policy school when he graduates from law school. My alma mater!

“Since public policy in the criminal sector is what I’m specifically interested in,” he said.

“It’s the second best public policy school in the nation!” I cried.

“Nope. It’s the best,” he told me.

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This may be one of my favorite pictures of Max ev-uh:

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“Saudi Arabia is set to execute some kid today,” said B. “A Shiite kid. Eighteen years old. You know what his crime was? Two years ago, when he was going to school in Michigan, he attended a rally that was critical of the Saudi government.”

“And the moral of that story is: Never go to school in Michigan,” I said. “That is just insanely barbaric. And stupid.”

“Humans have been executing other humans for insanely barbaric and stupid reasons for thousands of years,” B said.

“Yeah. Right. Well. That’s why I never get too bent out of shape whenever I’m confronted by the prospect of human extinction,” I said. “Human beings are obviously a failed experiment. Sometimes I wake up, and I think, It’s all just too beautiful – this sky, these trees, these wonderful sunsets. And then I remind myself: This is sentimentality wished on you by the limitations of your sensory receptors. If you could perceive these phenomena as they really are, you wouldn’t think they were beautiful, you wouldn’t think they were horrible. They would just be. Frankly I think it would be a good thing if some Stephen King mutation virus wiped out the human race.”

“Not me,” said B. “I think it would be a good thing if the aliens invaded. And the human race learned to work together against a common enemy.”

###

On Thursday, I took RTT out driving. And he did reasonably well. Although clearly, he didn’t like it much.

After that, I chauffeured him around on various errands and slowly watched his mood darken for no appreciable reason – much as my own mood occasionally darkens for no appreciable reason.

We are very much alike, RTT and I. Although he is much more charismatic and therefore extroverted than I am.

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In the evening, B and I went to the Zerbini Family Circus at the T-burg Fairgrounds. Quite the nostalgic little circus, and one does wish all those animal rights protestors and PETA people would go fuck themselves. I traveled with a circus for seven months; I’m in a position to know. Circus people don’t mistreat their animals: For one thing, they’re tied to those animals by strong bonds of affection; for another, those animals are their livelihood, which for practical reasons, they’re not going to undermine.

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Yesterday, the BoyZ were both at work, so I went exploring. Well. Not New World exploring. I drove to Montour Falls where I hadn’t been for at least 20 years.

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See this house? Twenty years ago, I wanted to buy it. Twenty years ago, I was actually in a position to buy it. The problem, though, is that it was in Montour Falls! What the hell do you do in Montour Falls?

The falls after which the town is named are directly in back of the house:

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Twenty years later, the town is slowly, slowly gaining a little prosperity on account of its proximity to Ithaca, which has become a hot real estate market.

The Montour Falls library has real Tiffany windows:

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In the evening, RTT’s girlfriend came to town, specifically to accept my invitation to take them out to dinner.

(I’m afraid I couldn’t take them out anywhere fancy since that asshole still hasn’t paid me my money, and it’s looking like Small Claims Court is in my future.)

The RTT gf is extremely beautiful and extremely thin, so thin, in fact, that I wondered about anorexia. But no – I saw her put actual food in her mouth and chew it. And her teeth are flawless, so no bulimia.

Her name is Marissa, and she seems very sophisticated! She just got back from a month in France studying at the Sorbonne – she and RTT Skyped for hours every day! I like her, and, of course, I love RTT. Still, watching them last night – RTT had invited several members of the crew over, so the house was like the set of Entourage – I wondered how she could put up with this: RTT was forcing her to watch multiple episodes of Wet Hot American Summer as a testament of LUV.

“Don’t you think Marissa would rather be watching the original Breathless with Jean-Paul Belmondo?” I asked.

“Nah, she is loving this!” said RTT, and Marissa laughed. Of course, she’s only 20. Maybe she doesn’t know what she’d rather be doing yet.

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And lets hear it for Too Much Pressure – second place winners in Atlas Bowl’s Wednesday Trivia Night!

We didn’t get the one hour of free bowling. But we did get to take home a shitload of designer beer!

###

I was very saddened by the news that a grassfire is threatening to take out Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley.

All throughout the 70s and the early 80s, this was my stomping grounds. Back then, I rode my bicycle something like 150 miles a week: I’d start out on Spruce Street, cut south on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, come down from the Berkeley Hills on Claremont, and then peddle home on the city streets.

In my mind, this time in my life is suffused in a golden haze – although if I think about it unsentimentally, this was not a golden moment: I had a serious drug problem and the angst, which is always a constant in my psyche, had not yet been shown its seat at one of the tables farthest from the podium.

But in my golden sentimental memories, the Grizzly Peak Boulevard parkland I sped through, hunched over my handlebars, is a place out of time. I just know if I close my eyes and squeeze them hard enough, I can go back there. Bibbit will be beside me, it will be a glorious summer day, and the two of us will be singing, Someday My Prince Will Come and laughing hysterically.
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I have two-thirds of the Eleanor Roosevelt ghost story written. Which is better than no thirds of the Eleanor Roosevelt ghost story written, right?

In any event, I’m off to the Southern Tier in a couple of hours where I will be doing no writing whatsoever.

So! In the interests of keeping some kind of momentum going – it’s waaay too easy to push partly written manuscripts aside and never, ever look at them again – I am posting that two-thirds of a ghost story here.

Where it can reproach me into finishing it when I get back.

THE GREEN SICKNESS

for Brian Buchbinder


(i)

She’d recognized the thing on the street instantly when she spied it from her bedroom window. She’d seen it before but not for a long time. A very long time.

Horseless carriages they’d called them then, and indeed, the vehicle that rolled past her window did look more like a carriage than it did like a modern automobile with its canopy, its oversized wheels, its brass sconces in which - most improbably against this damp dawn - white candles flickered. The horseless carriage glided past the townhouses on Massachusetts Avenue without a sound and disappeared when it made the turn onto Dupont Circle.
She saw it, and her hand fluttered to her throat, her breast. )

(ii)

The closest thing to freedom was her bicycle. She pumped up Connecticut Avenue furiously, feet on the handlebars, just so she could coast down to Dupont Circle at breakneck speeds.

The boys – most of them – fell off their bicycles when they attempted this feat. But she never did.

Twelve hundred miles away, her famous father stormed a famous hill. )

(iii)

“My favorite niece,” Papa dubbed Nell.

A small kindness that cost him nothing – these were Papa’s favorite kindnesses – for no one ever saw Nell after her mother died. Her mother’s mother – the addle-brained Mrs. Ludlow Hall – had whisked the girl and her two younger brothers away to a gloomy estate called Oak Terrace in the far off Hudson Valley.

Shortly upon arrival, the youngest brother had promptly died. )

###

His daughter arrived the following day and missed the jam tarts. She’d traveled first by train, then by ferry, then by train again – and the unexpected snow stalled the train – and finally by carriage. Mrs. Ludlow Hall had sent her in the care of a coachman.

“Most inappropriate,” Edith murmured to Auntie Bye, Papa’s older sister, who’d just arrived from Washington D.C. for the Christmas festivities.

“Perhaps,” said Auntie Bye who was as sensible as she was kind-hearted. )

###

The visit was not a success. Papa had devised a roster of entertainments for the children; Papa’s children knew better than to complain.

But Cousin Nell with her pained eyes, her diffident voice, her habit of putting her hand in front of her mouth when she spoke as though this might disguise her large protruding teeth – it didn’t; it only made it even more difficult to hear a single word she said – Cousin Nell had been so obviously frightened by the physical nature of Papa’s entertainments and by her rough-and-tumble cousins that it drained much of the fun out of the holiday traditions and games.

Christmas was celebrated with a familiar assortment of activities. )

(iv)

Oak Terrace looked like the type of place where the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” might go to seek employment as a cook. It stood in the middle of the wood. The wood was so dark that the trees growing there looked dead even in the middle of the summer.

Just in case this didn’t make the house seem funereal enough, Mrs. Ludlow Hall had had the windows on its ground floor enshrouded in heavy damask draperies )

###

However hot it had been sitting bored and restless in the sepulchral sitting room, it was even hotter outside. Not a branch stirred; not a bird chirped: The silence, like the heat was total.

But then, there came a noise.

And, there! It was again. )

###

Nell did not rejoin Alice that day.

“Your cousin has been taken ill,” Mrs. Ludlow Hall announced when she came into the sitting room later that afternoon. The longcase clock had just struck eleven; Mrs. Ludlow Hall was wearing a pink dress. Alice had never before seen an adult woman in a pink dress.

“Ill?” snorted Alice. “She’s not ill. She’s –“ )
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I continue in this – what would you call it? Very nihilistic mood.

Fortunately, there is social media where I can insult people with impunity ‘cause you know what? They don’t really exist.

In my real life, I am laying low ‘cause when I’m in this kind of a mood, I can do real damage. In fact, if anything, I’m being extra treacly sweet. Classic reaction formation, doncha know.

I’m frustrated by my utter inability to craft anything on the written page in which chance coaligns with choice as perfectly as the two do in my mind. That must mean I’m a baaaaad writer, right? And that I should give it all up and put The Real Housewives of New York on 24-hour playback.

(Presently, I’m stymied by the fact that when Alice stumbles upon Nell sitting in her dead father’s car, and Nell begs, Don’t tell!, Alice is gonna try and extract something from Nell. And the only thing I can think of that Alice would try to extract is a promise to drive that car herself, Alice being a speed demon and all. And this does not fit into the plot as I outlined it at all.)

###

Politics in America continue to be one big fucking mess.

You read it here first: We’re gonna be in a proxy war with China within three months. It’s the only way Trump keeps his ratings up among the base.

An if I read one more come-to-Jesus rant from self-styled Lefties sympathizing with the “white” working class, disguised as a Medium article or a blog entry on sites with names like Uncensored Truth, I will explode.

Fuck the “white” working class!

The working class is the working class. I celebrate the working class!

I intensely dislike attempts to set members of the working class against one another through divisive tactics like pretending "white" working class people have different self interests than "black" working class people or "purple" working class people.

After reading Devil's Bargain, it is well nigh impossible for me to read Come-to-Jesus rants like these without seeing every single way the writer was manipulated by both the "Right" and the "Left."

It's like wearing those X-ray glasses that they used to advertise on the backs of comic books.

Oh, gr-r-r-r-reat!, I’m thinking. You finally got around to reading "Hillbilly Elegy!" Know what? It's a sucky book, badly written, and its author subsequently coopted by Peter Thiel to the degree that his latest crusade is preaching Payday Loans are really a good thing.

Fuck that shit.
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I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the president. I’m here to serve the country. – Anthony Scaramucci, White House Communications Director

I broke down when I read this.

I cried and cried and cried.

I hate Southern Italian men.

I hate every single fucking thing about them.

That’s because I’m a Southern Italian woman. Thank Gawd, I got away.

But come to think of it, aren’t all men disgusting? All women, too? All human beings?

What’s the point of being alive?

###

After about three hours or so, my sense of humor returned. Isn’t it great that all those years of secret yoga practice are finally paying off for Bannon? I thought. Though, really, someone should tell him that some tasks – blowjobs, for example – are best left outsourced.

The point of being alive is obviously to feed cats, to watch The Real Housewives of New York, to eat ice cream, and to see wonderful things like these in antique stores:

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Before I had my mini-psychotic episode, I’d spent a pleasant enough day futzing around with various writing projects. The Eleanor Roosevelt Haunted Childhood story has a structural problem: I invented a coachman as the receptacle for the ee-ee-veeel spirit of Elliott Roosevelt, but there’s also an unpleasant male relation lounging around Oak Terrace, Valentine Hall.

Two sinister male presences seems like too many. Plus – Chekhov’s Gun.

The coachman works better for my purposes since I can kill him off at the end of the story. But Valentine Hall is an actual historical element; he lived at Oak Terrace during the same period Eleanor Roosevelt lived there and he was so fucking weird – an 1899 U.S. tennis champion, a mad alcoholic with the habit of shooting at passers-by from the window of his bedroom. It would make a lot of sense (and cut the story by at least 2,000 words) if Valentine Hall becomes Elliott’s ee-ee-veeel introject. Except historically, Valentine Hall doesn’t die until 1937.

Decisions, decisions!

I will futz some more today.

And make money. That asshole apparently is never going to pay me, so I find myself short with all the bills attendant on the first of the month looming ahead. I’ll be able to pay them all, but it’s seven days of ramen dinners for me.
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Credit where credit is due:

Donald Trump is such a talented cultural terrorist.

Consider this morning’s tweetage:

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow...... ....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming..... ....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.

There goes Caitlyn Jenner’s Big Dream of becoming a Marine sergeant!

###

This is a Big Deal because it’s a basic civil rights issue.

Let's say that Pacific Islanders constituted 1% of the U.S. population (I have no idea whether they do or don't; this is just for the sake of argument), and let's say Trump banned all Samoans from joining the armed forces. Today's tweetage would be something comparable in terms of the basic issues involved.

But it’s such a hot button.

I’m convinced the dialogue around transgender bathrooms is what won the election for Trump.

Personally? I think people have a perfect right to do whatever they want to their own bodies and to justify that any way they please. Do I think some people are born into the wrong bodies? No. But that’s because I think constraints like “femininity” and “masculinity” are cultural constructs devised by a patriarchal society that have little or nothing to do with the actual physical experience of being either female or male. If someone wants to claim a gender that has nothing to do with their genes or their genitals, that’s A-Okay with me, though.

Frankly, I don’t care who shares my bathroom. And I don’t understand why the U.S. doesn’t go for the European solution and install unisex public in all new private and public buildings.

I am against expensive public works projects designed to retrofit existing toilets, but that’s only because I think the money would be better spent elsewhere. Like on schools. Or public transportation systems.

Economic resources are limited at the local level.

But transgender bathrooms are a red flag for anyone who’s even just a little bit right of center. So I don’t honestly know how you go about having conversations about transgender bathrooms or about the right of trans individuals to join the military without derailing conversations that have larger implications for the common good.

###

Trump is able to create a reflexive fear and terror in a significant portion of the American population by violating their norms and expectations about the social code. He does this for political gain and profit, to gain credibility with his base.

Hitler was good at that, too.

###

In other news, I met up with BB’s pal Magdala in Kingston yesterday. We walked around Kingston, which is an interesting little city and oh-so-historic: The 17th century graveyard of the Old Dutch Reform Church is filled with the names of local towns and bridges.

Magdala is an interesting woman. She lived in a tiny Moroccan village in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains for three or four years. She married a Moroccan musician, 15 years younger than she is. She fell in love with him because of his voice.

Of course, I was dying to ask, And do you seriously believe that he fell in love with you? Or did he just see you as a meal ticket?

But, I didn’t.

Because, you know, propriety.

Fortunately, the subject came up on its own without my having to bring it up!

The marriage ended, she told me, because she’d had to come back to the States for a couple of months to take care of her dying mother, and when she returned to the tiny village in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, her husband had become an alcoholic. And violent. Threatening to kill her.

“It seemed like such a change,” she said to me. “But then sometimes I would think: Maybe it’s not a change. Maybe he always felt like that. Maybe he was just using me.

“Well,” I said as diplomatically as I could. “The cultures are certainly very different. And I don’t know how many questions would be asked about an American woman who disappeared in Morocco.”

I remembered thinking that exact thing about Imaan: For about a year there, I really was the closest thing she had to a mother. And yet, there really wasn’t any closeness. I was dispensable. I was not part of her tribe, so in some essential sense, I didn’t matter.

(It’s funny. I never felt that way about Summer – who comes from a culture that’s even more unlike mine. I’m tempted to pontificate about the essential differences between Middle Eastern and Chinese cultures here. But I’ll spare you.)

We started talking about North Africa in general.

“I’ve been to Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia,” I said. “Libya sounded interesting, but it always scared me.”

“Libya used to be a great place under Gaddafi,” Magdala said. “I sure wouldn’t go near it now.”

“Under Gaddafi?” I asked.

“Sure! Oh, come on. You can’t believe anything the American propaganda machine churns out. The Libyans adored Gaddafi. Everyone in North Africa adored Gaddafi. He wanted to create a United States of Africa. That’s probably why the U.S. put a target on his back.”

“Make Africa great again!” I said. “A populist!”

“Absolutely, a populist,” Magdala said.

And a consummate narcissist!”

“I suppose,” Magdala allowed.

“Like Donald Trump!” I said.

Magdala was taken aback. “Well, I wouldn’t compare Gaddafi to Donald Trump,” she sniffed.

“Loved by his base? Hated by everyone else? Sounds like Donald and Muammar were separated at birth!”

“I suppose there are similarities,” she said grudgingly.

timgad


In other North African news, Samir – my Algerian student - is really, really smart.

He’s a programmer, right?

A programmer who deals with abstractions that are far more complex than computer programs, which are still based on syntax. He’s an electronics programmer, which is pure machine logic, ones and zeroes that follow no syntax save applied mathematics. It’s a kind of crystalline approach to thought, which is light years beyond anything my brain could approach.

But, of course, he knows computer languages.

I had this thought that since he is a programmer, and I’m trying to teach him to read English very, very quickly, that it might be useful for him to define English as a set of objects and instance variables.

“So,” I said. “You are going to be looking at these sentences for three things: Subject, verb, and object. The subject does the action; the verb is the action; the object is the thing the action is done to, okay?

“Everything else is a modifier. Think of all those modifiers as variables and methods inside invisible parentheses, okay?”

I read a sentence: A tradition as old as the civilization itself, Greek pottery can be studied as a chronicle of ancient Greek society.

“Subject: pottery. Verb: study. ‘Study’ is what they call an intransitive verb, so it doesn’t do something to the so much as affect the object. Object: chronicle.”

I peered at Samir intensely. “Get it?”

He nodded thoughtfully. “But what is ‘chronicles’?”

“Stories. History. Old stories.”

He nodded again.

I read another sentence: It was designed to fulfill a functional rather than decorative purpose, so Greek pottery was fundamentally related to everyday life, not separated from it.

“Subject?” I asked.

“Greek pottery.”

Pottery,” I said. “’Greek’ describes the pottery.”

I could see the lights flickering in his brain.

“Verb?”

“Related,” Samir said.

“Very good,” I said. “Object?”

“Life,” he said.

“Excellent! Furthermore, the Greeks’ pottery is an essential source of historical information because so much of it survives today. Subject?”

“Pottery.”

“Verb?”

“Is.”

“Object?”

“Source.”

“Very good!”

“What is ‘furthermore’?”

“Also. In addition to. TOEFL uses reading comprehension examples from academic writing, so the writers are going to use a lot of words that people never use, but you will have to know them. Although vessels may be broken, even these remnants of pottery contribute to contemporary historians’ understanding of ancient Greek culture. Subject?”

“Remnants.”

“Verb?”

“Contribute.”

“Object?”

“Understanding.”

“Excellent!”

“But what is ‘remnants’?”

“Things that are left over. Things that remain.”

“Ah!” he said.

And then he began to tell me about the lost city of Timgad, a Roman city almost perfectly preserved because it lies in the Sahara desert just south of the foot of the Aures Mountains where Batna, the city he grew up in, lies.

Timgad was his playground when he was growing up. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but since it’s in Algeria, nobody goes there. And since there’s no money for public works administration in Algeria, there are no officials to keep curious teenage boys from exploring.

After that, Samir began to tell me about the lost city of Tkout, which is even more obscure than the lost city of Timgad: It exists on no map whatsoever. It’s the ruin of an Amazighe city that flourished well before the birth of Christ, about 100 kilometers outside of Batna. The hovels of the modern prefecture of Tkout – many of them constructed from the stones of the forbidden city – were the birthplace of the Algerian War for Independence.

Two more places I long to go to.

Two more places I will never go to.

###

Nothing happens for a reason.

Everything happens for a reason.
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The fabulous [profile] lifeinroseland is visiting this weekend. Whirlwind of activities!

Exciting tour of the Poughkeepsie ‘hood!

Strange dinner cobbled together from ingredients found at Ocean State Job Lot.

Sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

Dragonboat fest!

Local Downton Abbey sighting!

Rhinebeck retail! (I bought a $3 pair of scissors at Sharpy’s!)

More sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

Barbecue with L’s drunken boyfriend!

Sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

###

Today’s itinerary:

An intimate meetup with the Biggest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere.

Antiquing in Cold Springs.

Teary farewell!

###

I am dying to see if that pink Dior jacket in perfect shape that I didn’t buy for $50 three years because it was a tad too small is still in that antique store in Cold Springs.

It was still there two years ago although bizarrely, the store had doubled the price – I mean, if something doesn’t sell, aren’t you supposed to discount it?

The jacket was beautiful, and for an entire year, I tortured myself: I will write away to Hong Kong for fabric swatches to find one that will match its precise color – something between Hello Kitty and that frothy color you get when you beat Cool Whip into raspberry jello – and then I’ll find some struggling seamstress who is struggling to make commissary money to send to her sons – all three of whom have been locked away in the Fishkill Correctional Facility on cocaine trafficking charges – and I will pay her $25 bucks to lengthen the sleeves and do something about the shoulders –

But damn! A hundred bucks for something I can’t possibly ever wear? I don’t know.

If it’s still there, it should be up to $200 by now.

###

C is a pretty bright guy, but when he drinks, he turns into a total redneck. And not just any redneck: a redneck with liberal kneejerk biases. Thus, instead of the usual All Muslims are scum! from C, you get, All Republicans are scum!

“And the bastards are trying to shut down Poughkeepsie’s bus system!” C growled.

He had started slurring his words.

One of the big local issues hereabouts is that Dutchess County is finally wresting control of the city of Poughkeepsie’s flailing bus system. Really, the City of Poughkeepsie should not be running anything. The City of Poughkeepsie can barely keep its streets plowed in the winter: I still remember Adventures in Grocery Shopping between the months of December and March when I was living in Poughkeepsie and I did not have a car. They involved hopping from ice floe to ice floe kind of like Eliza fleeing the hounds.

Lois Lane does not have a car and is completely dependent on the public transportation system, so I get weekly updates on just how awful the City of Poughkeepsie’s administration of its bus system is.

Public transportation, in fact, is one of those few areas where economies of scale make perfect sense.

So, it was kind of a ridiculous argument to be having, plus I have a deep sense of C’s underlying tragedy – I can hardly look at him without flashing on the beautiful young artist wife who went mad and the beautiful young artist daughter who went mad: How do you survive tragedies like that without hating yourself, without thinking, It was something I did, I drove them mad?

Nonetheless, I continued having it – fueled, no doubt, by my deep contempt for Joel Tyner whom C kept citing as some kind of an authority. Joel Tyner is the flamingly left-wing county legislator from Rhinebeck, a weasely attention ‘ho of a type that’s very common in Berkeley – I used to date his clones regularly, which no doubt accounts for my deep, irremedial hatred for him. Talking about Joel Tyner in front of me is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Anyway, at some point, I realized I had an incredibly well-behaved guest sitting to my left who had not made a peep but who no doubt was bored to tears by this conversation, so I made C shake hands with me – See? We’re still buds! We can still discuss the finer points of cinematography in “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”! – and toddled off to the Patrizia-torium where I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

What a ridiculous movie, and how Hitchcock must have suffered when Selznick and the Hayes Code board forced him to tack on that awful ending.

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