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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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Came back from my trip and thought about writing and wanted to write – I had adventures! – but did not write.

And I’m not exactly sure why.

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

I want to go on more trips.

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

Vulgar?

Sure.

Vulgar to a Trumpian extent, in fact.

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

The Left loves to eat its own.

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a huge amount of cognitive dissonance involved with behaviors like this, and mainstream Americans are not blind to it.
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Spent the first part of Mothers Day in a snit because the offspring were pretty late with those adulatory phone calls plus neither of them appears to have the slightest inclination to tattoo “Mom” in a big heart on their Popeye muscles.

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

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

So all in all, a good day.

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

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

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

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

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

Tribes

May. 28th, 2016 09:09 am
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We spent Thursday night at Amy’s house. Amy is a friend of BB’s sometime-lover Carol. I could imagine Amy in Huguenot garb being arraigned in front of an ecclesiastical court in 16th century France.

Amy is a high school chemistry teacher in the greater Detroit metropolitan area. “Ha-ha,” she said. “Yes. My students make a lot of Breaking Bad jokes.”

A few years ago, the local school board decided to make all high schools in the area college prep.

An insane decision: Putting kids on the college conveyor belt is only gonna increase the dropout rate. Not every kid benefits from going to college. Unfortunately, the American educational system offers very few alternatives that don’t leave non-college-bound students at a considerable disadvantage in their subsequent economic lives.

An insane decision, but a well-meaning decision. Or at least, so I assumed.

Amy shook her head. “No. A cost-saving decision. It is considerably more expensive to offer a welding class that teaches kids a skill than it is to offer a college prep class. In a welding class, the student/teacher ration has to be capped at 12 to one. In a college prep class, you can cram 40 kids into a one teacher classroom.”

Wow, I thought. Those smarmy, sanctimonious, self-serving, hypocritical assholes with their No-Child-Left-Behind bullshit.

###

This conversation continued to haunt me as we trekked deeper into the Mid-West.

Unlike many people who live on one of the Coasts where culture is ostensibly more sophisticated, I really like the Midwest. People are friendlier; personal style is actually a code and not a programmed response to the supplier-induced demand of superhumanly cunning marketers.

I’d initially wanted to tour Detroit because, you know – burned out buildings covered in graffiti and rat droppings mit attendant urban blight = Disneyland for moi. But the trip up I-75 as the sun was setting into polluted clouds was almost as good. Think Mad Max without the costumes and props. My personal nomination for the Darwin Award was a young man on a motorcycle careening 75 miles an hour while texting on his fucking phone. His girlfriend rode shotgun; they were both helmetless. Five minutes later, we saw this same guy apparently drag racing with a white Corvette. They were going about 100 miles an hour.

###

Carol, BB, and I got on very well. I was initially a little nervous about that because, you know, third wheel and all. But Carol is a really interesting woman – beautiful, brilliant, and intense – and BB, of course, was my brother in some recent lifetime, so we get along like close siblings, affection and the presumption of good faith overriding occasional squabbles. (I have a Sicilian temper, and I tend to explode when tired and overheated.)

BB is bonkers about Carol, and I can see why: They really mesh; they speak the same language. In some essential sense, too, they’re both far more generous in their notions of interpersonal relationships than I am: I don’t necessarily want exclusivity in my love relationships, but I definitely want primacy.

Carol also looks a great deal like Maria Wilhelm. When I analyze her face, it’s not a feature-by-feature resemblance, more a kind of overall stylistic similarity. They’re both an homage to the Uma Thurmond character in Pulp Fiction. The resemblance is strong enough, though, to make me want to avert my eyes from Carol in her physical presence: I'm afraid of staring.

###

WisCon itself is rather adorable. I did a few science fiction conventions back in the days when I was working for Charlie Brown at Locus, and I hated them.

More recently, Lucius took me to a Readercom in Massachusetts – I didn’t hate that one quite so much; in fact, I ended up having a really good time, but then, I was there with Lucius, so I got to sit at the Cool KidZ table.

Here, we’re dealing with a group of people, most of whom are marginalized in their ha-ha-ha real lives, who are coming together to be a tribe for the weekend.

I’m not a part of that tribe – in fact, I’m not a part of any tribe: I’m a social wolf; I have a deep aversion to social groups. My aversion is not necessarily relenting, but it is mellowing as I age: I can see the utility of tribes now, which I couldn’t see when I was younger. I can be moved by people’s tribal interactions.

I still don’t ever want to join one.

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