Fifteen years


Fifteen years is long, for a prison sentence.  Fifteen years for the rest of your life seems like the wink of an eye.  As my father was dying, talking to me suddenly as his beloved son and not a lifelong adversary who’d gotten his young father’s back up by staring at him accusingly from my crib, he expressed a feeling that stays with me.

“I wish we could have talked like this fifteen years ago,” the dying man told me, after getting a lot off his chest, with no grief for either of us.   

At the time I thought “seriously, you’d settle for fighting like rabid rats for 35 years and then 15 years of peace?”   A sadly modest request that fifteen years seemed to me.

He died the next evening and I suddenly understood that fifteen years to speak humanely to each other would have been a great blessing to everyone.   So would fifteen months have been, or fifteen weeks, or fifteen days, or even fifteen more hours.  

When the other person breathes his last, there is only the silence and the love that might have been. 

Footnote (and John Eastman’s 6 point plan for Pence to steal the stolen election on January 6 for himself and his boss)

Trump has no friends, his type never does. They regard men as base coin to gratify their passions, in a phrase used to describe Napoleon’s attitude toward other humans. Some humans’ blindly driving ambition is useful, can greatly benefit the man who knows how to skillfully use others to his own advantage. As base coin, these ambitious types can be cast away at any time and replaced by other tarnished instruments.

Nobody truly likes a deeply damaged, loveless motherfucker [1] like our former president except for ambitious lackeys and angry mobs. Angry mobs adore his relentless in-your-face, norm and common decency smashing assault on liberals, queers, mass media, disloyal party members, Muslims, Mexicans, women of color, disloyal Jews, Blacks, cripples, losers, non-Scandanavian immigrants, socialists, anti-fascists, etc. He rules his spineless, platformless (2020 RNC platform — whatever the big guy wants) party by terror. The famously vindictive man’s sure, vicious revenge, guaranteed to be visited on anyone opposing his will, is a constantly reinforced reminder that he will not be opposed, no matter how insane his demands. Here’s the thing:

This particular angry, boastful, lying Orange maniac did not invent any of the corrupt, lying, authoritarian routine he practices, and while he certainly wasn’t their first choice, radical right billionaires have found their audacious front man to be very useful for their larger purpose, keeping everyone distracted and enraged as they game democracy to protect the privileges of vast inherited wealth in perpetuity. This Orange Polyp, since he is a malignant narcissist and an amoral opportunist, is their go to guy in the war of the few to keep hold of everything, in the face of the rising threat of the John Birch and Federalist Society’s great enemy, ‘majoritarian tyranny’.

Here is what former Trump lawyer John Eastman [2] advised Trump to do in a two page Privileged and Confidential memo entitled Scenario for January 6. This is the action plan part of what Glenn Kirscher and many others have called a blueprint for insurrection.

1. VP Pence, presiding over the joint session (or Senate Pro Tempore Grassley, if Pence recuses himself), begins to open and count the ballots, starting with Alabama (without conceding that the procedure, specified by the Electoral Count Act, of going through the States alphabetically is required).

2. When he gets to Arizona, he announces that he has multiple slates of electors, and so is going to defer decision on that until finishing the other States. This would be the first break with the procedure set out in the Act.

3. At the end, he announces that because of the ongoing disputes in the 7 States, there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those States. That means the total number of “electors appointed” – the language of the 12th Amendment — is 454. This reading of the 12th Amendment has also been advanced by Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe (here). A “majority of the electors appointed” would therefore be 228. There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected.

4. Howls, of course, from the Democrats, who now claim, contrary to Tribe’s prior position, that 270 is required. So Pence says, fine. Pursuant to the 12th Amendment, no candidate has achieved the necessary majority. That sends the matter to the House, where the “the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote . . . .” Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote. President Trump is re-elected there as well.

5. One last piece. Assuming the Electoral Count Act process is followed and, upon getting the objections to the Arizona slates, the two houses break into their separate chambers, we should not allow the Electoral Count Act constraint on debate to control. That would mean that a prior legislature was determining the rules of the present one — a constitutional no-no (as Tribe has forcefully argued). So someone – Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, etc. – should demand normal rules (which includes the filibuster). That creates a stalemate that would give the state legislatures more time to weigh in to formally support the alternate slate of electors, if they had not already done so.

6. The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission – either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court. Let the other side challenge his actions in court, where Tribe (who in 2001 conceded the President of the Senate might be in charge of counting the votes) and others who would press a lawsuit would have their past position — that these are non-justiciable political questions – thrown back at them, to get the lawsuit dismissed. The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter. We should take all of our actions with that in mind.

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NOTHING TO PROSECUTE ANYONE FOR, ON MY SIDE!!! TOTAL WITCH HUNT!

[1]

Of course, sometimes motherfucker simply means motherfucker, but a few words are in order about using this vulgar and inflammatory phrase to describe a vulgar man who treats others like his slaves.

My father, during a few years of my school life, taught a group dynamics seminar where, at one point, he asked Black kids and White kids to give their thoughts on the word “motherfucker.” It’s origin on the plantation, of course, was a guy like Thomas Jefferson, rich, powerful, entitled, who, if he found your mother beautiful, was at liberty to fuck her, since he actually owned her body and controlled her actions. If a child was born, the motherfucker owned another slave, it was win-win for him. So the term was always ambiguous and multi-edged for male slaves on the plantation, you hated the motherfucker, but also, damn.

My father asked an Italian gang leader from a Brooklyn high school what the word motherfucker meant to him.

That’s the last word you hear before the fists start flying and the chains and gravity knives come out,” he said, looking across at the Puerto Rican and Black gang leaders. The Black kid smirked. My father asked him what ‘motherfucker’ meant to him.

Where I come from ‘motherfucker’ is one of the most useful and versatile words we have,” he said. “Contrary to the usage given by my Italian-American colleague over there, it doesn’t generally mean I want to fight you, unless I say it right before I’m going to fight a motherfucker. In that case, I use it as a deliberate provocation, otherwise it means a lot of things, depending on the context.”

For example?

The late great John Coltrane played like a motherfucker. Miles Davis is a motherfucker. Are you crazy, motherfucker? That motherfucker is hilarious. Motherfucker… please… That algebra test was a motherfucker. This motherfucker thinks his shit don’t stink. That motherfucker can’t take a joke. Relax, motherfucker. Motherfuckers were dancing in the street. Motherfucker be like…” and he imitated an idiosyncratic motherfucker they all knew.

My favorite dictionary definition of all-time is Merriam-Webster’s explanation of the word ‘squeamish’: “Exhibiting a prudish readiness to be nauseated.” This language-scrupulous Caucasian motherfucker has a prudish readiness to be nauseated by the word ‘motherfucker,’ and also by the unexpurgated ‘n-word’ and the common ‘f-word’. Oh, my.

[2]

Eastman spoke at the January 6 rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol. He retired from his position as a professor at Chapman University a week after January 6, which occurred amid protests from faculty at the Southern California university over his participation in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

Eastman told the Washington Post that his memo merely “explored all options that had been proposed.” In an interview on Tuesday, Eastman told CNN that the two-page memo had been only a preliminary draft. He provided CNN with a longer six-page memo laying out numerous other scenarios for Pence to follow on January 6. Eastman told CNN that during the January 4 meeting he’d had in the Oval Office with Trump and Pence, he had told Pence he should only delay certifying votes in the seven states, not try to throw the election to Trump.

The reality, however, is that a delay was simply another avenue to stop Biden from taking office.

source

Meditation on 5782

Today is the first day of the Jewish year 5782. The most religious Jews believe that HaShem, according to Jewish tradition, created the universe by performing the miracle of dividing light from darkness, land from waters and creating life 5,782 years ago, literally, as it is written. Thus Jews believed two thousand years ago and, so it is, to the most fervently religious, to this day. Other Jews see 5782 as a symbolic number, the bit about God creating all the plants and animals one by one, culminating in his masterpiece, his special children, humans, woman created out of the first man’s spare rib, as so much Biblical poetry.

Religious belief has never interested me, I have no talent for it. My first thought is armies of the fucking righteous, putting the faithless to the sword, century after century. Virtually every religion has had a turn at Holy War. The most righteous of every creed recognize that the reward of an ethical life, some version of heaven or enlightenment, belongs to the righteous of all nations, when they are not slaughtering them.

My second thought is the hotbed of anti-Semitism that was Hillcrest Jewish Center, where, for several years, I was forced to attend classes after the regular school day was over.

Beyond the “fuck that” of a kid who’d just been sprung from jail having to report to another jail for a few hours, especially on beautiful days when playing baseball was much closer to God than learning to parrot prayers, in an unknown language, that were never translated or explained, there was the silencing of all questions. The blotting out of critical thinking was the most intolerable part of the Hillcrest Jewish Center religious experience. It was a gaslighting similar to what I experienced at home, where my very clever father endlessly fought me over everything, generally by recasting whatever else we were talking about as a damning referendum on my character.

Trips to the principal’s office, fucking Frieda Berkman was her name, did not cure me of my need to question things we were supposed to believe, rites we were supposed to perform by rote, mouthing prayers we didn’t understand. After Berkman got sick of having me wait in her tiny outer office day after day under a poster that said “a teacher attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with the desire to learn is hammering on cold steel” (I asked her about that one, she didn’t like my disrespectful question at all), I was sent to wait in the plush outer office of the rabbi, Israel Moshowitz by name. Moshowitz was photographed shaking Nixon’s hand, of course. He was a big deal. I have no recollection of the pious speech he eventually laid on me about being a good Jew and just doing what I was told. I’m fairly sure it involved the Holocaust.

It took me many years to get over the antiSemitism that was instilled in me by my early religious miseducation at Hillcrest. I used to recoil from the well-dressed swarm of once-a-year hyper-religious Jews who congregated at the Yom Kippur service (the Day of Atonement is ten days from Rosh Hashana, Jewish New Year). I’d feel real disgust watching them hurry home to break their fast, in a huge hurry, all full of the righteousness of not having eaten in 24 hours. I’d walk to the synagogue to meet my father, shouldering my way past these hungry, rushing, bad-breathed creatures, and walk him home to break our fast.

I had no patience for the meaningless “please rise, please be seated” ritual of the Hillcrest gymnasium, where cheaper seats for High Holiday services were made available to those who were unable or unwilling to pay top dollar for an expensive seat in the sumptuous main chapel. Once in a while, in the gym, people would faint, and fall off their folding chair on to the lacquered wooden floor where, on other days, I’d played basketball.

No need to mention the vengeance of Frieda Berkman, who snarled at me over a loudspeaker during assemblies, or the united fucking by the synagogue itself, first in not presenting me with the Bar Mitzvah kiddush cup I had earned by reciting a few lines of Torah when I turned 13, and then by inviting me to a special service, in the Ferkauf Chapel, where, I was promised, I’d be presented with my kiddush cup. I put on a suit, went down there, “please rise, please be seated, please rise, please continue to stand,” and, at the end of the ponderous droning, there was no kiddush cup. I think of this every time I celebrate shabbat with friends who have their own, and their adult children’s, kiddush cups on the table filled with wine. I also think of how telling it was that my parents never intervened on my behalf.

So ritual for me, for the most part, so much contemptible horse shit. I say this with God Himself looking down on me, only slightly hurt. Worse things have been said by Jews, by Christians, by the otherwise righteous of all nations. If you experience a sense of community and spiritual completeness by sitting in a temple with others of your faith, God bless you, more power to you.

For me, religious ritual just reminds me of the super-religious Amy Coney Barrett, quickly ruling that religious gatherings during Covid-19 must be exempt from all health regulations, because God requires worship, and then, a short time later, ruling that an unconstitutional abortion ban in a state with a notoriously high infant and maternal mortality rate, a law designed to kill more poor women by forcing them to give birth whether they want to or not, is perfectly fine because the unconstitutional law is administratively complex. You can keep the ritualistic, inhuman religion of fanatics like Amy.

I emerged from a scarring childhood of incoherent religious idiocy, years later, to separate the moral teachings of Judaism from the empty rituals. There is a moral core to the teachings of the rabbis that is worth embracing. If you hate something, don’t do it to others. Be not intimate with the ruling authorities. Remember that you were a slave, do not tolerate the enslavement of others – freedom demands it. If you hurt somebody, do your best to make amends. A pretty good set of core principles, I believe.

These are moral precepts I have gleaned, some during interminable services (bar and bat mitzvahs, usually) where I flipped to the back of the prayer book and read Pirkey Avot, Selections from the Fathers, a short collection of pithy sayings that is part of the Mishnah, a vast book explaining every aspect of God’s laws. “Be not intimate with the ruling authorities” is in there somewhere, and it makes a great deal of sense to me. “What is hateful to you, do not unto others” is Rabbi Hillel’s famous formulation of what would later become Jesus’s Golden Rule “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and, to my mind, it provides a much more concrete guide for how to live an ethical life. If you hate something, don’t do it to somebody else. We humans know few things more deeply than what we hate.

Love, on the other hand, while precious beyond poetry, is a much shakier guide for how to act. A woman I used to know, who loved me, once gave me some counsel I argued against following. She countered that she wasn’t telling me anything she wouldn’t tell herself. I told her I knew that, but pointed out that in the past she had told herself to shut all the windows, turn on the gas and put her head in the oven, something I would never consider doing myself. In fact, I’d fight somebody who tried to insist I kill myself. She had the grace to concede that I had a point. Love is slippery as hell, and many of us don’t love ourselves as unconditionally and faithfully as we should, making it hard to love our neighbors as ourselves in the kindest possible way. At the same time, we, and those we love, are all we really have.

So I was happy today to see my smiling friends, regular synagogue goers, video me from a beautiful beach where they are celebrating today. “The beach is our shul this year,” my friend said, smiling from her beach chair, a light breeze tickling the shade umbrella under a perfect blue sky. I told her how beautiful their shul was, as she got up to take a panoramic shot of the sand, sky and ocean, and stop filming our other friend, who’d said hello but, like me, had had enough of the video conference after a short time. “Please be seated,” I should have told her.

Writing it as fiction

“Writing truth as fiction must never be done with a heavy hand,” the old man said, quoting a line from his last published short story.

“You want to write what really happened as a fictional book, that’s fine, leave nothing important out of the story, at the same time, you do the reader no favors trying to be cute about how this fictional story may be based closely on deeply experienced personal events, or events torn from the front page of the newspaper.”

“So, for example, avoiding the heavy hand, you’d never have a character immediately bring up Larry Fucking Elder and the latest California fucking recall of the Democrat [sic] governor.”

The old man shook his head. “Perfect example, and self-proving one too. It’s too late, once you do that kind of move, to undo it.”

“But isn’t that what editing’s for, man?” I said, though I was somebody else, an entirely imaginary person, living in an alternate universe. “but now that I’ve sullied my lips by mentioning Larry Elder…”

“Fine,” the old man said, “this is worth a footnote, I suppose. When the aptly named Dick Cheney set off the California Energy Crisis by deregulating energy on the West Coast, and you know the minutes of his ‘Energy Task Force’ meetings with oil executives and the identities of those executives were never revealed, per Antonin Opus Dei Scalia, they recalled a Democrat, Grey Davis, over the budget shortfall produced, down to the dollar, by the soaring price of unregulated energy on the west coast, and you quickly had the celebrity Arrrrrnold in there – probably the last reasonable Republican in office. Scalia, for his part, was huffy when asked, decried it as ‘a sad day in America” when an American journalist would ask a sitting Supreme Court Originalist about the appearance of impropriety of him flying around on Dick Cheney’s private jet while he was deliberating over a lawsuit brought against Cheney.”

“USA! USA!!!” alt-me said.

“Just one other thing, the California recall is another example of shit like the Electoral College, the filibuster, tools to keep the hands of the elites on the reins of power in an electoral democracy. As a result of this bizarre legal provision, a guy who won 62% of California’s vote can be ousted by a guy who later wins 14% of the vote, after a 51-49 decision to take the elected governor out.”

“Dass sum shit, as my father used to say,” I said, as not I.

“Living in a time when a hate jockey from talk radio gets the highest civilian honor this nation has hung around his neck by the prime beneficiary of his years of hate speech, it makes perfect sense that the tutor of American Jewish Nazi Stephen Miller, a status quo loving black former talk radio celebrity, at that, is poised to be California’s next governor if they can turn out a 51% share of their angry base in this emergency election to oust the governor elected by 62% of California voters. Makes perfect sense, right?”

“Yeah,” someone said, echoing my thoughts exactly.

“The intrusive narrator is another thing to be on constant guard against. We all know that move, Bob Hope looking directly at the camera, breaking the fourth wall and confiding to the audience ‘this is the last movie I ever do for Paramount, they let a bit player from MGM walk in right before the credits roll to steal my girl… sheesh’.”

“We hear that,” they said.

“Another thing, these pronouns y’all use these days,” said the old man.

“It have a problem with that?”

“Never mind, kid. It’s all good, as we say. I just wanted to give you my two cents about the tricky nature of writing fiction from your own life. Especially if you’re trying to take a political, humanist, stand during brutally political, inhuman times,” the old man took a thoughtful swallow of his scotch. “Nazi novelists are never at a loss for their plot lines. Anti-Nazi novelists have to be a lot smarter if they want to write something that could have any effect on those wavering toward joining the exciting mob.”

“The Exciting Mob,” she said, “it sounds like a movie from the fifties with Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin.”

“One last thing,” said the old man, “before I fade back into the ether of this guy’s imagination,” and he pointed at yours truly, incorrigible as Silvio Berlusconi in pursuit of a beautiful young hooker, “if you’re doing this to show off, just stop it. Any moron, literally, can opine without the least censorship or even the guiding hand of common sense, spew those opinions into a few sloppy paragraphs and hit ‘publish’. If you employ a savvy ‘social media’ plan, you can reach countless people with your half-formed, ill-informed yet heartfelt and deeply believed opinions.”

“What is your point, old man?”

“If you’re doing this just to show off, please just stop it.”

“OK, fine.”

Drop me a line

When I was a teenager, and I made friends who lived in other states, we’d keep in touch by letters and phone calls. Long distance calls were expensive, but letters could be written any time, drawn on, dropped in the mail and delivered within two or three days for the price of a full-sized chocolate bar (in those days less than a quarter, believe it or not). “Drop me a line,” we’d say, taking our leave of each other, and get busy, on a bus, a train, lying on a couch, setting pen to paper. It was always a great moment when a return letter arrived, particularly when a friend came up with an inventive envelope (for a time we always tried to top each other with wild, ridiculous hand-made envelopes).

Now, those were, to be sure, primitive times, very similar, in terms of communication, to the previous hundred years or so. We did not carry small, powerful personal computers in our pockets that could also be used to text, tweet, make phone calls and video chats. We sat and wrote by hand, folded the pages, put them in an envelope, addressed it, put a stamp on it and dropped it in the mail box. Seems unreal now, even though I sometimes still send drawings and scrawled notes to a small circle of people from time to time.

Here’s a “funny” thing, though. People regularly don’t know what to say when they get something in the mail (and, admittedly, my letters are often more visual than literary, so theres’s also that). As often as not I never even find out my letter has reached its intended recipient, unless I follow up later by text. I have a few theories, including that people in general don’t know how to react to “art” (particularly if it is not monetized, official, etc.), but it is notable, I think, that if you ask a question in a colorful, handwritten letter, you will virtually never get an answer to that question. Although, of course, it’s not hard to see why this letter may not have received a response:

I get that there’s something a bit maniacal-looking there. It is part of my graphomania, when it strikes, I am helpless against it. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to have a question, asked simply, unaddressed when it is written on a page, with other stuff, and mailed to somebody. This is my experience anyway, not many people are attuned to the art of old-time correspondence in our era of super-terse hyper LOL instant response-demanding knee jerks. It was not always this way, my young friends, and, like anything else, the old way was not without its pains in the ass.

I had a close friend for many years, a prodigious correspondent, who was a solipcist. By this I mean that he was convinced of his own reality in the world, (because he thought, and therefore, he was), but was not convinced anyone could ever truly know what was in somebody else’s mind or heart, or even if they actually existed, independently, outside of his perception. This belief, to me, is the essence of intellectualized alienation and a ticket to misery, as it was in his case, but he sure loved to write long, complex letters, in spite of his deep skepticism about anyone actually being able to truly understand anything he expressed.

At a certain point, tired of getting ten page, two-sided letters, mostly about his troubles and unresponsive to anything I’d written, I negotiated a deal with him. We agreed that in every letter, often at the end, we’d re-read the other person’s letter and briefly respond to everything of note. These quick responses would be set off between ellipses, the old dot dot dot (or in the Orange Polyp’s case dot dot dot dot dot dot) in the manner of famous antisemitic doctor and novelist Ferdinand Celine… the Celine section we called it… as in “now I will review and Celine your latest”.

It turned out to be a great innovation. You’d get actual feedback on things you’d written, a response.

“Yer description of the putz — on the nose … no, I never tried ayahuasca, did you ever find some?… she’s always like that, remember August 1971 for but one famous example … they suck, as you have noted whenever the name of their Nazi owner comes up … funny bit about your urinary troubles, if you know what I mean … further comments on the issue of solipcism are in order, remind me next time, if you actually DO exist independent of my perceptions of you …”

While not spontaneous or ideal, this enforced mutual responsiveness was a great improvement to our correspondence and probably extended our friendship by several years.

To me, having a dialogue is like having a leisurely catch. You throw me the ball, I hold it for a second, feeling its texture and its weight, and I toss it back to you, placing the ball in the air where you can easily catch it. We do this until we agree we’ve done it enough. Nothing is more natural, I think, than tossing a ball back and forth on a nice day.

This kind of meditative back and forth is tragically a more and more rare experience in our always in a hurry, time is money, make your point in 140 characters, too late, wait, I was distracted, what was I saying? society. Because we are always in a hurry, and time is not only money but money is free speech, and because so much free speech is also false, and the firehose of mendacity sprays full bore, torrent so powerful it can rip your skin off … I’m sorry, what were you saying? Wait, I’m getting another call… oh, God, here’s a text coming in too, a very important one, can you… hang on, Oh I don’t believe it! I don’t fucking believe it! Wait til I send you this… on second thought, maybe not, can you hold, can I call… what the hell do they want now?… can you text me later?

Ah, you know what, I’ll drop you a line.

Though I’ve learned to deal with it better and better in recent years, I am predisposed to a tic about silence by way of reply, because my father, in his most sadistic moments, would simply refuse to reply, deploying the old deniable silence (“what are you whining about, I didn’t even fucking hear you”) to wound quite effectively. So silence by way of reply when I ask a question has long had a kryptonite effect on me. Still, as a general rule, we all want to know we are being heard and replied to sensibly. It does not happen enough these days in general, which is one major reason people are so isolated and ready to jump into an online rabbit hole like QAnon that provides a false sense of community to those lonely, crazy souls who embrace it, “where we go one, we go all”, and shit.

It is worth the minute or two it might take, when a friend asks you a question that requires an answer, to actually digest what they are looking for, indicate confusion if there is any, wait for clarification and then think for ten seconds or so before giving your thoughtful reply. Worth it in my humble (and my conceited) opinion, anyway.

With the benefit of hindsight

Sometimes it is impossible to see a thing clearly, if you you feel a certain way about it, until you can look at it with the benefit of hindsight. Something you had no way to understand as significant when it happened can become clear as part of a pattern you can only see looking back. A seemingly small thing you didn’t see as any kind of problem can come into focus as an important clue to what went wrong, once the entire situation is in the past tense.

I used to be good friends with a cheerful madman, hospitalized periodically for bouts of mania, who inflicted terrible, fatal damage on his old friend’s beautiful Gibson ES-335 (BB King’s Lucille was an ES-335). The lovely guitar, a pleasure to play, had its F-holes gouged out with a file, its mellow Humbucker pickups pried out, it’s perfectly formed, smooth mahogany colored hollow body partially bashed in. The neck was violently pried off, splintering some more great wood. Its remains were then left floating in a bathtub full of soapy water covered with hair the nut had maniacally clipped from his partially shaved head. The guy in the guitar shop just shook his head sadly when he saw the brutality of what had been done to this wonderful instrument. He pronounced it dead.

With hindsight I came to understand how deep my friend’s reservoir of rage was, but that was a lesson I’d learn much later. As for the guitar he destroyed, I knew the back story right away. It makes no sense in the cold light of pure Reason, but I understood part of the rage that made the gleeful desecration seem momentarily justified to my out of control friend. The occasionally crazed man was a fairly good musician who could sometimes come up with cool parts for the songs of his friend the songwriter. He often added inventive keyboard parts that greatly enhanced his friend’s songs. The songwriter always viewed his friend as a side kick, his loyal accompanist. The songwriter, like Lennon and McCartney before him (when they gave Harrison no credit for his many great arrangement ideas and melodic contributions, like the brilliant, soulful song-making opening riff in “And I Love Her”) never gave him any songwriting credit. It wore on him over the years. Finally in a bout of mania he fucked up the guy’s expensive, vintage guitar (this guy I’m talking about, not George Harrison).

Footnote: credit or no credit was purely academic since not one of the songwriter’s songs was ever published, let alone performed and monetized. As a sign of respect and friendship, the songwriter would have been well advised to give some credit to his friend for his major help on a bunch of his tunes. Particularly in light of how things ended for that beautiful guitar, and their long friendship.

I had a friend, since Junior High School, who became a locally well-known lawyer. He explained to me, when we were adolescents, that he had to work hard in school, to graduate at the top of his class, to maximize his chances for getting into a top school that would be a ticket to professional success and ultimate happiness. His vision of success, he explained (as I smoked a joint he would no longer share — he had extra credit homework to complete), was coming home every night to a beautiful home where his beautiful wife would hand him a perfect drink as he relaxed, admiring his sunset view, as the final touches were put on his gourmet dinner. It struck me as a shallow vision of the good life, even at fourteen, but who the hell was I to judge? To each his own, or as we learned to say in our Junior High School French class “a chacun son gout“.

He worked hard, graduated at the top of his specialized high school class, went on to Harvard and then Columbia for his law degree. He got a highly paid job at a prestigious law firm which involved, among other things, defending toxic polluters against lawsuits from tree huggers. After a relatively short time, he changed sides. He took the litigation skills he developed at that corporate law firm and, taking a big cut in pay, went to work defending the environment as the lead lawyer in a branch office of The Earth’s Law Firm, fighting the same powerful world destroying scoundrels he used to represent. This move was the right thing to do, and as far as I know, he never regretted making it.

We remained close friends over the years. He didn’t like to talk about personal troubles of his own very often, feeling that the world is a bitter enough place without adding his complaints to the conversation. He seemingly enjoyed talking about my personal troubles, though, probing for the intimate details, playing devil’s advocate to show me that, arguably, the person I was having trouble with no doubt saw me as the culpable asshole, and not without reasons, which he would lay out and I would counter. I took all this in the spirit of what I thought of as friendship, in accordance with the emotional limitations of what this unhappy, critical old friend was capable of giving.

Until one day not long ago, when he called me in agitation, to challenge me about strong feelings I’d expressed to him in an email. He was very concerned, he said, that I seemed to be so disproportionately angry about a relatively small thing that had happened to me (the illegal termination of my ACA health insurance in January 2020). He was angry, in fact, that I seemed so irrationally angry, and was worried that I was going to kill myself with unhealthy rage. It appeared to him that I was full of destructive self-pity, seeing myself as the only person fucked by a giant fucking machine he was up against every minute of his life, as was everybody else. He eventually challenged me to tell him to go fuck himself. I declined, which, in hindsight was a mistake. Within a few months, after a lot of futile effort to avoid it, I essentially had to tell him that anyway.

But here’s the thing that hit me so clearly, looking at it in hindsight the other day, out of the blue, as I kept a steady pulse with a few simple chords on my guitar. I’d visited him at his new girlfriend’s house in California. He had two nice guitars and I began playing a steady, easy to improvise to rhythm part on one guitar. He began soloing over the simple changes on the other guitar. His girlfriend passed by with a big smile, commenting on how good we sounded. I played rhythm guitar behind him for the whole time we played together. The sound of a few notes in harmony, placed just right against the beat, and keeping the pulse steady as a heartbeat is the soul of guitar playing, to many of us. I never mind playing accompaniment behind a singer or another instrumentalist.

We’d both been playing since we were fourteen, he’d started a bit before me. He had been a hardworking lawyer while I’d spent those same working years, as a lawyer, working as little as possible, mostly as a low-paid court appointed piss boy, and before that, a teacher. I see now the great advantage I’d had over the years in the music department, because I loved guitar I’d spent countless hours of my life of leisure learning to play it. In his busy life of great responsibility, with much less time to play, he focused on mastering scales and modes, to solo. His soloing sounded pretty good.

After an hour or so I asked him to play a three or four chord vamp, so I could show him a bit of Gypsy guitar I’d learned. He said he couldn’t do it. The chords were simple, I don’t know what his reason was, but I didn’t press the matter. When it came up later, I told him it was fine, I’d had fun accompanying him, he sounded good.

Now, in the cool light of hindsight, this odd refusal to do a simple thing makes a certain amount of sense. Since reading the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant together in ninth grade French class, my hardworking friend often referred to himself as the Ant, while I was, clearly, the Grasshopper. In this morality play the Grasshopper played violin all the time and wanted nothing to do with his fretful friend the Ant’s constant neurotic reminders that winter was coming and that he’d better start gathering food for those long cold months. The Grasshopper mocked the Ant, played some fancy violin, and the Ant furrowed his brow and went back to work. When winter came, and food became scarce, the Grasshopper, starving, finally swallowed his pride and went to ask his friend the Ant for food. The Ant, who had worked his ass off and had no time to “enjoy” life in the reckless manner of the self-indulgent Grasshopper he had tried to warn, tells the Grasshopper to fuck off. The Grasshopper starves to death. FIN.

In that context, my friend’s anger at my anger is as understandable as his claim that he couldn’t play a D, G7 and C chord, the chords every guitar player learns in the first week of playing. He has always been a competitive man, number 26 in his highly competitive graduating class in HS, degrees from two top Ivy League schools. I have always been an under-achiever, trying my best to gain insight and become a better person. To him, as to many ambitious people, achievement and success are the only measures of self-worth, and trying to become a “better person” is an illusory pursuit, a foolish exercise in self-deception. To me, doing what I love as well as I can and treating myself and the people I care about gently seem to be my top two loser priorities.

So, picture this — he’s playing live music, with a friend who plays a steady vamp that is open and easy to improvise to, and his girlfriend loves it. Why would he start playing possibly shaky rhythm guitar, which he hasn’t spent decades perfecting and polishing (as the fucking Grasshopper, in his life of infinite leisure, has) so that his shiftless friend can start improvising in a way that could, possibly, make him look bad? It’s lose/lose for him. So he simply says “I can’t do that.”

Seen in this new light I’m tempted to drop my old friend a line, tell him concisely how contemptible and ultimately self-destructive his reflexive competitiveness is, using this petty but telling example of his inability to play three simple chords for two minutes. I’d follow up with a couple of choice politically incorrect insults from our adolescence characterizing the unfair, childishly insecure type who is afraid, in front of his girlfriend and the best friend he ever had (“I love you like a brother”) of “looking bad” somehow — or worse, letting his unworthy friend look good. Because, as every successful person knows, playing music is actually about proving your dominance over the other players…

Funny, in the moment, most of us tend to let these kind of things slip by, in the spirit of not sweating the small stuff, not making a friend uncomfortable for no reason. Those of us who are not, by nature and long habit, carping, argumentative, super-competitive douche bags (his favorite phrase for worms, from back in the day), at any rate.

We brought out the worst in each other

I stand by my original comment.

“From when I asked you what was the reason for your final, fatal estrangement?”

Yeah, when I told you we brought out the worst in each other.

“Yeah, I remember when you said that, but I have to confess, I never really got that.”

I fucking shot the guy, twice.

“OK, but it seems clear you had no intent to actually kill him.”

I took a gun and shot my oldest amigo twice, once in the thigh, once in the kneecap. In the kneecap, because it’s supposed to be excruciatingly painful to be shot in the knee. I would say the worst in each of us had been brought out by that point.

“Not so, I beg to differ, not the worst, he didn’t bring out the worst in you (though you may well have brought out the worst in him). The worst would have caused you to shoot to kill, you would have blown his brains out or shot him twice in the gut, so he’d die slowly and in great agony like in the Westerns when somebody gets gut shot

Well, sure, killing him would have been worse, in a strict sense the worst, but goddamn it, I shot a guy I’ve been friends with since we were ten years old. I would say we brought out the worst in each other, or, at the least, very bad things.

“As you admit, not the worst, bad, sure, very bad, but by your own admission, not the worst.”

Well, as Shakespeare has some poor devil say in King Lear, “as long as you can say it’s the worst, it’s not the worst.”

“Ah, you mean:

  • Edgar[aside] O gods! Who is’t can say ‘I am at the worst’?
    I am worse than e’er I was.
  • Old ManTis poor mad Tom.
  • Edgar[aside] And worse I may be yet. The worst is not
    So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’ “

Yes, I lack your eidetic, photogenic memory.

“You mean my lightning fast google fingers.”

Yes, I’m sure that is what I mean.

“But anyway, I’m interested in hearing more of this ‘we brought out the worst in each other’ business.”

Well, shooting my old friend was about as bad as it got, and, of course, I only winged the guy, or crippled him I guess is more accurate, so I guess nothing really bad happened between us…

“No need to be snide, Clyde. Precision in language is important, as you know, being an officer of the court. Bringing out ‘bad enough’ in each other is far from bringing out the ‘worst'”

Is there a point to this exercise in semantics?

“Are you referring to lexical or conceptual semantics?”

Plain old school yard semantics.

“It’s just that you are in the habit of making wild claims you later are unable to back up, I’m trying to help you communicate more clearly and not contradict yourself.”

So to avoid contradiction, for you, I need to make it clear that we brought out very bad, dark, violent things in each other, that while shooting him was, admittedly, bad, and I spent two years on probation (talk about a good lawyer), we did not actually bring out the absolute ‘worst’ in each other, unless you consider that perhaps the worst I could do was shoot somebody I’ve known for years twice, deliberately, to cause maximum pain.

“No need to be so snippy about it, I’m just making a point.”

Snippy, you say, could you give me the lexical semantic etymology of that term of art?

“Snippy is a colloquial phrase, as you well know. It means short-tempered, snarky, bitten off with an overtone of hostility, as in snipping, or perhaps, nipping. I don’t think it’s fair to take it out on me if you habitually seek a pass, a poetic license, for speaking with imprecision.”

I made the point that we stopped being friends for good once I finally understood that we were in an eternal struggle, that there was no chance of coming to any understanding, that we were locked in a zero sum game for who had the right to be more disappointed by the other, whose anger and hostility was more justified. Our rotting cadaver of a friendship had by then become toxic, septic, it had to be put out of its misery for everyone’s good. My shorthand for all that, and my abiding belief, when pressed for a summary of the reason we are no longer friends, after almost half a century, is that we brought out the worst in each other. We had no empathy towards each other, to put it as mildly, and unsnippily as I can.

“Well, there’s no reason to be so fucking snide…”

Argumentative, your Honor!

“I’m not the one making floridly exaggerated claims.”

Floridly, you say, as in floridly psychotic, complete with the fragrant bouquet of hallucinations and addled brain full of false beliefs?

“Whatever… you know, for someone as smart as you are it’s kind of sad that you can’t have a simple intellectual disagreement with somebody without getting all bent out of shape and taking it out on the other person, charging me with being argumentative. You know argument is sport with me, and I can as easily argue your side of the debate as the side I am staunchly defending against you. Why do you take it so personally?”

I only take it personally, I suppose, because I am personally being subjected to this hectoring lecture on precision in language, over a heinous and painful thing I personally did to an old friend after years of escalating hostility. I personally have to defend myself against your sporty, fun ‘I get such a kick out of being contrary!’ inquisition, or maybe prosecution is more accurate, I have to check to see if my poetic license has expired or not.

“Jesus, you really are a fucking hard-ass. You can certainly dish out the punishment but you seem incapable of taking even a gentle push to make yourself more clear.”

The only way I could be more clear, at this point, is by going home, getting my legally possessed gun (great lawyer!) and pointing it at your fucking knee.

“Oh, you talk a good game, tough guy, but this would be a second offense and you’d do prison time.”

Not necessarily, not if I killed you and buried your body here, at this scenic spot where your carcass would never be found.

(He pulls a gun out of his backpack and clicks off the safety).

“You talk a good game, pal, but now that you’ve threatened to kill me, this would be self-defense, standing my ground in reasonable, or at least articulable, fear of deadly assault, here in the great state of Florida.”

We’re in Mississippi, friend.

“Same shit, different state motto”

Well, you might as well shoot me, but, not in the knee, please, for the love of God.

“Don’t worry about that, there is only one reason to shoot somebody, and it’s not to make him limp for the rest of his miserable life.”

Your clearheadedness is an inspiration to everybody in the Laughing Academy, sir.

“Oh, I’m the crazy one? On your knees, motherfucker.”

You shouldn’t use the ‘f-word’.

“Are you fucking mocking me?!”

Oy, I wouldn’t dream of it!

Why Do You Write? (2)

The world comes into focus when I sit down to write. As I write, and rewrite, what I mean to say becomes clearer and clearer, to me and to anyone who reads the words. Writing feels very much like having a meaningful conversation with another person, an unhurried exchange with no regretted, blurted word, as little ambiguity as possible, the endless chance to make things as clear as they can be made, nothing that can’t be fixed before it’s a problem. Writing and careful editing can make everything more understandable, which in itself is a beautiful thing.

Writing feels like a talk where everyone is listened to, all confusion is heard and responded to thoughtfully, every complexity clarified. This is rare in conversation, sadly, and we fondly recall those conversations where we take the time to really hear and are listened to this way. I feel the embrace of this kind of intimate talk virtually every time I sit down to write. It matters little to me, as I write, that very few people, or no people, will read a particular piece. The conversation goes on in any case, ready to be joined at any time.

What is it, exactly, that is spurring me to write today? What do I want to talk with you about? Once you give your thoughts a title (an excellent suggestion from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I read, and took to heart, as a sprout) it becomes much easier to follow them, to corral them, to get the flow of them to make sense. Today I am writing about why we write, though, of course, I have little insight into why YOU write.

I speak for myself, obviously, as I write these words. I’m certain that many of you experience a similar feeling of connection to others when you sit down to write. This feeling is particularly precious in our atomized, virtual world where much of our communication is done in short text bursts or other digitized interactions, without the nuances of eye contact or body language. The conversational/connection angle of writing and rewriting will resonate with those of you who are motivated the same way I am.

Vonnegut said he always wrote imagining his bright, well-read sister’s reaction. If he could picture her shaking her head over something he wrote, that passage would have to be rewritten until it met her high standards, or tossed. When I write, I sometimes picture a literate stranger, in India, China, or the Ukraine, and strive to make my prose as clear and my train of thought as focused as I can. I also sometimes picture my mother’s reactions when I write, she was a keen appreciator of good writing.

When I was a boy, I used to write much more emotionally, driven by the mistaken belief that I could include everything I’d ever felt, thought or learned in the piece I was writing. I was driven by a strong need to sum everything up every time I sat down to write. I have heard this impulse compared to trying to hit a mammoth home run every time up. It took time to adjust my expectations, get better control of my swing, to learn that making good contact is the point of this game. It took time to learn to choose one thing to focus on at a time. That’s where Vonnegut’s advice comes in so handy. The universe swirls, an infinite multi-dimensional kaleidoscope, in constant, frenetic motion, making it impossible to focus on the giant themes we often feel up against. Unless you focus on one specific thing at a time, and naming that one thing up top helps. Which, of course, is not always as simple a matter as it seems.

For example, I heard a few snippets of some of the speeches at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (mein kampference [1]) in Dallas. The former president, a compulsive liar loved by 39% of Americans, continues to lie about his second term being treacherously stolen from him in a fake election. The faithful do not doubt that his lie (which would, of course, require a national, bipartisan conspiracy against him) is true — if not literally true, based only on evidence, then true in the higher, faith-based sense that true believers believe is a higher truth than the earthly, limited fact-based variant. To verify that his endlessly repeated claim of a stolen election is an audacious, incendiary lie, we need look no further than the many Republicans and Trump-appointed judges who found there was no fraud in the election the Orange Polyp still claims was rigged to steal from the rightful winner, him. To see how provocative and dangerous this lie is, we need look no further than the deadly January 6 riot and the GOP’s continued far-fetched defense of a stirred up insurrectionist mob that violently stormed the Capitol and successfully stopped the peaceful transfer of power for several hours, at the exhortation of the former president and his faithful, like his son Junior, Rudy and Alabama Representative Mo Brooks. Yet, the CPAC crowd [2] drowned the lying speakers in adulation, chose the ex-president by 70% in a poll of who these extremists want to represent their party in 2024. This paragraph would become the seed of a post, after I called it something like “Nazi rallies had nothing on these cute pups!”.

So I realize another reason I write is to digest things that are otherwise indigestible to me and to make my point of view known. Most people I know have little tolerance for discussing the depressing battle over our nation’s soul, they want to relax, enjoy life, be out in nature, eat good food together, not be tortured by someone making an all-too convincing case that we are living in Berlin, 1932. Or the soon to be violently sundered United States of 1860. I can gently judge them without blaming them, I understand their point of view, nobody likes a fucking party pooper, I hate them myself. Here, on the other hand, I can lay things out that would otherwise suffocate me, if left unvented. Writing it out here helps me process things and leaves me able to say much less to friends about the details of this ongoing horror movie we are all living in.

Thoughts lead where they do, and if we follow them carefully we can make the path of those thoughts intelligible. It gives some comfort, at least to me, to be able to see things in perspective. In the case of the paragraph about CPAC, it leads, invariably to certain related thoughts and questions. The MAGA riot actually stopped the function of government, as it was intended to, which is the legal definition of an insurrection, so why is nobody on trial for inciting insurrection? Why have none of the funders ($50,000,000 on advertising alone), organizers and promoters of the attack on the Capitol been indicted for anything? Why are there no senate investigations into senators who actively spread the Big Lie and then actively contested the counting of uncontroversial votes, based on the prevalent Republican belief in the Lie they had helped to spread (Lying’ Ted, you brazen little vampire!)? Same in the House, why no ethics investigations if members were seen conducting tours of the building for the rioters in the days before January 6? Is Merrick Garland, a thoughtful, decent man who cried at his confirmation hearing recounting how this country had saved his family from the Nazis, the right man to face off against our home-grown American Nazis? I’d have loved the even-tempered, fair-minded jurist on the Supreme Court, but I don’t know that he has the stomach to do what must be done to face down the virulent antidemocratic threat we are up against.

I see I’ll have to go where these thoughts lead me today, but I’ll go there later, in another post. Another great feature of writing is that you can leave off wherever it makes sense to leave off, and hours, even days later, pick right up after reading everything you wrote in the previous session. What you have already written leads you directly to your next thought.

Which is a magical thing about reading and writing, along with our human ability to string letter symbols into words which can then be fashioned into expressions of even our most complicated thoughts and feelings. Wow.

Another beautiful thing, you can go back, proof-read, trim, fix, reorganize, restate, clarify, polish, as many times as you need to. I’ll no doubt be back to this post a few times in the next day or two, making little tweaks.

Hey, stop me if I asked you this before: why do you write?

[1]

An obnoxious little (parenthetical) darling, adding nothing, likely subtracting, that I should almost certainly murder …

[2]

reads a bit like it was written by Dr. Bronner, but surely the work of a true patriot:

Why do you write?

People write for different reasons, just like we play music for different reasons. Thinking of music, I know some people who play music for the applause, in hope of fame, dreaming of playing to and impressing large, appreciative audiences and being thought of by others as a real musician. In writing it that way, I see I am passing judgment on them, just for doing the normal, natural thing in a competitive society where all we are is what we can prove to others we do better than most. It also suggests there is another way to think about making beautiful sounds, about writing, about doing anything we love. I will explain.

When you play an instrument to produce the best possible sounds you can on it, you are attuned to it, related to it, and you will always play as well as possible. When you pay attention to your intonation, the dynamics of your notes, how you produce different sounds, which sounds most make you love the instrument in your hands, how you bend the note, or slide to the note, or hammer it from a lower note, you are playing in a universe that has nothing to do with others appreciating it. You play for love of what you are doing, love of the sounds your fingers (or breath) and the instrument are making.

I suspect every great instrumentalist plays this way, because they love the sounds they begin to master, love the instrument that produces the sounds, love the way it interacts with other instruments in the mix. When you are in this zone, nothing else really matters to you. When you play out of this kind of love, you naturally get better and better, because it’s not a matter of practicing to attain a goal, it’s always a matter of joyful play. You are absorbed in making a beautiful melody sound as beautiful as you can, laying in a harmony or counterpoint line as perfectly as you can. There really is no better work.

You play a note on the piano. You can bang it hard, stepping on the sustain pedal, and have it ring like a gong. The instrument is called the pianoforte because it is capable of playing pianissimo (quietly) or forte (strong!). A good player can make a piano whisper too, whenever needed. You can sound some notes loudly and others quietly to achieve all kinds of subtle effects. There is a range of things you can do on an instrument capable of this palette of dynamics that were impossible to do on the instruments that preceded the piano, like its direct ancestor the harpsichord. Writing is the same thing, there is a vast range of what you can do with words, lining them up in different ways, loud and soft, for different effects.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and I’m officially an old man now. I often wrote out of a feeling of being unable to understand and make myself understood. Though I always spoke well enough, it was not enough. There were things I struggled to express, things I barely understood myself, and I found early on that writing, and thinking, and editing, clarifying what I felt and what I was actually trying to say about what I was wrestling with, was a very helpful process. Writing led me to understand things that perplexed me and it allowed me to share them, through the writing itself or talking, in light of what I’d worked out on the page.

What struck me more and more as I went along was the incomparable beauty of clarity. The writers I admire most set things out clearly. If you don’t give the reader all the necessary background, set out concisely so as not to waste her time, you are doing nobody any favors. If the solid back story needed to understand a point is missing, ambiguity floods in. There’s enough of that in life, it does not enhance expository writing, in my experience.

My goal when I write is clear expression, and I cut away anything that interferes with clarity. I often have to murder a darling, resist the impulse to make the words dance, or shimmy, or call attention to themselves. My main thought when I’m reviewing and revising my words is to make them as plain and clear as I can. This is particularly important when dealing with a difficult, perplexing subject.

For example, and this example stretches over decades, you are perplexed at an unresolvable contradiction about a parent. In my case my father was very smart, very funny, his politics always favored the underdog, the oppressed, he loved animals and treated them with great tenderness, he was insightful, keenly interested in the world and could be very reassuring when he wanted to be. A wonderful man. At the same time, he was very often irritable, angry, critical and mean. He was an abusive prick to my little sister and a determined enemy to me for most of my life. How do you reconcile these things? How is it possible not to take your father’s seething anger at you personally?

If you internalize this kind of parent’s view of you, it makes no sense, the world makes no sense, your life is a painful jumble. A devoted friend of the underdog, a man who believes deep in his soul in human equality, in a right to be free of tyranny, who teaches you to be kind to others, to treat animals with tenderness, snarling every night that you’re a venomous snake … WTF?

How do you understand this? You take an insight, like George Grosz’s comment that in order to understand how someone can behave brutally you have to study the humiliation they underwent. You read this in a biography of Grosz you are reading as you research how this political artist used his talent as a weapon, how he was forced to flee by the Nazis, who would have happily made a gruesome example of him, how he struggled in the US. You started reading about Grosz because your father once compared your drawings to Grosz’s, a compliment you did not take to heart at the time, but one you cherish in hindsight.

You have to study the humiliation that makes a man act with brutality. How do you do this? You can’t really ask the man. One kind of writer would write a novel, create a character she could interrogate, put in different situations, see how he acted, what made him brutal, fill in the imagined humiliation that made the story make sense. I am not this kind of writer, though I love good fiction I’m not drawn to writing it, my attempts over the years strike me as mostly sketchy. I need actual details to work with directly, to describe as accurately as I am able.

So I spent many, many hours conversing with my father’s beloved seventeen years older first cousin, Eli. The man was mostly estranged from his own three children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the result of his tyrannical insistence on raising them as he saw fit, not as they might have liked to have been raised. He could be very difficult, flew into a rage easily, but also, as with my mother, was very easy for me to placate if I acted the right way, backing off just a bit, like I was easing up on the gas pedal.

As easily as Eli’s face turned purple, spittle formed on his lips and he became savage as a leaping panther, he would calm down and return to being a funny, wonderful story-teller. I suppose it was the same dynamic between him and me as the one between my mother and him. They loved each other and fought constantly.

As often as he was blind to the needs of others, to his own role in making people miserable, he also had frequent moments of great insight. It was fascinating to watch these two contradictory things marching forward side by side in our conversations. If I’d spent 40 hours talking to him, I’d never have learned what I needed to know. It took hundreds of hours, over the course of dozens of drives up the twisting Sawmill River Parkway to visit him, before he thought to reveal the difficult truth I needed to know about how my father was humiliated, from the time he could stand.

It was a crushing revelation and he made it with all appropriate hesitation and regret to have to tell me, but describing it to me was an act of love that turned a light on in the universe and enabled me to start to let go of much of the pain and anger that had been building in me for decades. It allowed my father, a few years later, to have a son standing next to his deathbed who knew exactly why he felt his life was over by the time he was two. In a sense, it is a miracle my father did only as much damage to my sister and me as he did.

I have mused about this, and Eli’s gift, over the course of a thousand page first draft that is sitting on this blahg, needing another pass to start turning it into a book you could read and extract lessons from for your own life. Click on the subject “Book of Irv” to the right of this post and you will see what I’m talking about.

A word about “by Oinsketta” instead of publicizing my name, Eliot Widaen, as any normal writer would do. When I started this blahg it was to get access to a supposed archive of research on Malcolm X compiled by Manning Marable a scholar who died shortly after (or maybe right before) the publication of his biography of Malcolm X, El Hadj Malik el Shabbaz. I’d read the book in fascination, thinking it was a great and insightful work, and then the critical shit hit the fan. People who loved Malcolm (as my father had, as I do) were outraged by some of Marable’s assertions in the book. I’d seen a reference to an online archive of Marable’s research, went looking for it, found it, logged in and found virtually nothing of use there.

I remember feeling quite disgusted at the “archive”, that the sources of the controversial parts of what Marable had written had apparently gone with him to the grave. Before being able to access the Malcolm research archive site, I had to log in to something called WordPress. I logged in as my late, beloved cat, Oinsketta, created a PIN and was given a blog. That was about ten years ago. I don’t think I can change the author’s name at this point, on the other hand, I never really checked it out. On the other hand, I suppose I don’t really care enough to research it. At the same time, the clock is ticking, and I’m trying to get some of the best of my thousands of pages of writing into publishable form.

Why do you write?

One more about my mother

Here —-> is a link to one of two pieces I was actually paid for writing. It is about solving the mystery of my mother’s longtime distaste for Stephen Colbert, a comedian she should have loved as much as Jon Stewart, who she loved to pieces.

I have to point out that the cliche-prone “editor,” in return for the $250 his company paid to contributors, reserved the right to put asshole lines like this into my mouth:

” … found one that made me feel like a regular Sherlock Holmes.”

He’s probably also the author of this immortal phrase:

“One case I was proud to crack…”

Come on, Larry, couldn’t it at least have been a “caper”?

Anyway, this piece is mostly free of his editorial flourishes, and nothing as maddeningly meaning-altering as his idiotic improvements to my first piece.

Once I he published the first two I imagined I could get paid for a few of these every month, they were easy enough for me to write. He loved the first three I sent him and instantly published the first two (well, the first was a bit of a pissing contest before I could get paid, but he loved the piece and I managed to leap easily enough through every additional hoop he set up).

A bitter aside:

This imagined source of easy income curdled, dried up and blew away as I encountered Larry’s insistence on having the very last word on everything related to paying me the $250 fee. In the end he changed his mind about publishing the third one, a piece he’d immediately emailed to tell how much he loved and that he was publishing. Then he changed his mind about publishing it, without letting me know, though he could have sworn he’d sent me an email. After that, he was nothing but quibbles and I soon lost patience with the idiotic game we were playing.

I was told he gave certain authors a lot of shit about making endless changes (as he had on my first piece which I was forced to cut from 1,500 to 1,200 to 1,000 words), especially authors who wrote better than he did (just about anyone) and those who were not his personal friends (the rules applied to them were different, 4,000 or more rambling words were not a problem for him and a few of his long-winded buddies). Oh, well!  

There is no kingdom too tiny for arbitrary tyranny, I’ve noticed.

As to the mystery of why my mother hated Colbert, here is the full story. I felt like a regular Sherlock Holmes when I proudly cracked that caper, I can tell you for sure, boys and girls!