L’espirit d’escalier

A saleswoman, just now, making small talk as she showed us samples before working up the estimate of a price, asked me what I did before I retired.  I told her I was a lawyer, and that I hated it.   Her daughter is a litigator, she said brightly, works for Aiken Gump [1], presumably litigating on behalf of corporate clients.  I smiled, sort of.  A moment later, l’espirit d’escalier [2] caught me and I had to shrug, with almost Gallic resignation, thinking of my missed much better answer to “what did you do before you retired?”– about my law career, my teaching career, about my life in general:

I conspicuously lacked the serenity to accept the things I could not change.


1] oy, my achin’ gump, as Sekhnet and I reflexively say whenever we hear the name of that law firm

{2]  L’esprit de l’escalier or l’esprit d’escalier is a French term used in English for the predicament of thinking of the perfect reply too late.

Slice of a NYC minute

I was walking in my neighborhood last night around midnight and I passed a young couple as I crossed the street toward my apartment.  They looked like they’d recently graduated high school.  The young woman was wearing very short shorts and a low cut tank top that clung to her in a very nice way.   As they passed me she caught my eye and said, “sir, he’s going to fuck my brains out tonight.”  In that split second our paths crossed I nodded, said “excellent idea” over my shoulder.   I meant it, too.  

Other People’s Problems

Truly, and this is a feature of human nature, it seems, if you don’t actually feel the pain or discomfort of somebody else, the best you can do is express abstract, if sincere, sympathy.   If you don’t know what the full extent of the misery really feels like, meaningful empathy is pretty hard to pull off and action to change the painful condition is literally unthinkable.

The real-feel temperature here in New York City at the moment is, let’s see… ah, what am I even whining about?   Only 109.   Actual temperature 97, though it is only 89 in the living room where I was playing the guitar a few minutes ago. 

I whine, but I can easily get relief from this killing heat and humidity.   I can get into a car chilled to 70 degrees, head over to a refrigerated supermarket for some cold drinks (in fact, I think I will, as soon as I’ve finished this little bit here), sit in a frosty cinema being entertained, and cooled, for a few hours.

What if you can’t do any of these things?   Suppose you are too poor to afford a movie or even a cold drink?   If your city or town is merciful they will have cooling centers in public buildings on a day like this.   An air-conditioned room where drenched, stinking poor people can gather to cool off for a while.   It saves a few lives.   In a wealthy country, that’s possible, you can set up cooling centers in public buildings to save a few poor souls from their inescapable anguish.    In poor countries, in towns without mercy, you just have to persevere on a day like this.

Seriously, though, if you have central air-conditioning, or even a room in your home you can cool off, remove the humidity from the air, you can ride out this kind of brutal weather pretty easily.   

On days like this I keep thinking of the billions of poor people all over the globe who have no relief from common torments of this sort, who simply, if the going gets tough enough, die.  I’m thinking of those poor bastards Trump has locked up, the stinking children he doesn’t allow to wash, the ones he has warehoused in cages that he insists are better than the shit-holes they come from.   Other desperate refugees detained on their way, fleeing death in their own countries, looking to America for refuge.   America to the world’s desperate: fuck you, assholes!   Spoken in my voice, through the glorious megaphones of our great, exceptional democracy.

If my brain wasn’t parboiled it would make me want to holler.

I’d better shut down this poor laptop, I could fry an egg on the metal.  Stay cool, everybody.