The Last Song is Always the Same when a Friendship is Dead

One of Charles Bukowski’s swarm of trivialities, the accumulation of which send a man to the madhouse and can kill quicker than cancer, is people who insist they’re your friends.   Friendship (I’m referring to the kind of close, hopefully lifelong, friend we rely on) requires mutuality, above all else, a common desire to treat the other person’s feelings gently.  Sometimes a relationship becomes heavier on one side than on the other and after a time things become insupportable.  If both friends are not trying their best to keep things mutual, in balance, things will eventually go badly.  The end of a friendship tends to be the death of many small cuts.   The music it goes out on as it dies is always hauntingly similar, as I have noticed over the years.

Maybe because I was raised in a house of hissing rivals, the comfort of friendship has always been very important to me.     Friends, they say, are the family we choose.  A parent may be an unhappy, demanding, critical person who reflexively crushes any sign of excitement or spirit in the child, but friends, the kindred souls we find and choose to befriend, hopefully don’t act this way.   A good friend, of course, will never knowingly crush your dream or piss on your enthusiasm, never withhold sympathy when you are in a tight spot.   

When a friend sees you’re hurt, they will be quick to find out why, see what they can do to make you feel better.  Until that sad day arrives when, for reasons that are always complicated and impossible to know for certain, that is no longer the case.   Your friend, for whatever reason, may decide that nothing you say or do can change anything that is bothering you in the relationship.   This unresolvable conflict will inevitably escalate until the friendship is a shambling zombie devoid of the soul that once animated it.  Cue the end music, which is always familiar.

I’ve been through this sad cycle enough times over the years that I’ve come to consider myself something of an expert (I’ll come to that in a moment).   I can recognize the familiar signs now, and know, after a certain point, that my efforts will probably be in vain, though I always try to save a moribund friendship, apparently I can’t help myself.  Call me sentimental, I’ve tried, try still, to hold on to even very frayed friendships — a thing not always possible or desirable.  The death of good will is something I have a very hard time grasping, it seems.  It’s a sad thing to resign yourself to not being able to work things out with someone you once shared a great relationship with.  But it is far sadder to remain in a relationship that is no longer mutual, has become intolerably troubling.

I used to condemn my father for the way he cast his closest friends over the side, to the sharks.  If they hurt him, they were dead.   As a kid this struck me as typically immature behavior on my father’s part — people we loved and laughed with many times were suddenly as absent as the dead.   When I’d ask the old man about the latest casualty, he’d snarlingly describe how they’d shit on him.    He was an insecure and hard man, quick to condemn and unable to forgive, and it always struck me as just part of his weakness to cast dear friends out of his life that way.   I’ve come to realize that sometimes ending a friendship that has become toxic is the most merciful thing you can do for yourself.

The song at the end of every long, intimate relationship remains uncannily the same, the hints of the refrain in the lead up and its final statement as the last music you will hear from that particular person.   At the end of most of my long friendships that eventually had to be put out of their misery: an indignant protestation of love.   That’s the common theme in virtually every friendship I’ve watched die, in spite of my efforts to keep it alive.  The friend swears they love me, but that I am a vicious, unloving fuck.   I think about this problematic statement of love each time I pick up the hammer to solemnly drive the stake through a heart and move out of the moldy graveyard.   

“You complain that I have mistreated you,”  says your aggrieved old friend “and you go into this long description of something that, frankly, I can’t even begin to understand, let alone take responsibility for — and I also dispute it — but you can’t end our friendship, pal, because I LOVE YOU.”    This desperate trump card comes out when all else fails, and it is a tell.    “You can’t be hurt by me, as you irrationally claim you are, BECAUSE I LOVE YOU, man!”

The first of these several sad standoffs came about twenty years after high school.   A close high school friend named Tom, a young man damaged beyond repair, apparently, by his father, an uneducated man who nonetheless had no respect for his son’s educational achievements or his professional career, somehow placed me in the position of being the approving father he never had.   

We do this sometimes, place new, more sympathetic people in the roles of problematic family members who did us wrong.   There is nothing inherently unhealthy about this desire to make a painful past thing right by reenacting it in more sympathetic circumstances, except that much of the time it doesn’t work out the way we might have unconsciously planned.  

I had no idea, until very late in the game, that Tom was expecting the validation from me that he never got from his affable but ignorant, crushingly opinionated father.   I had no hint that this could remotely be the case, until it was way too late, when he revealed this was why he was so furious at me.  Tom began a series of escalating passive aggressive moves, until I could finally not miss how enraged he was.   I then learned how I had failed him.   Never ONCE did I validate him for his educational or professional achievements!  Not one fucking time!   Then, too late, I made the connection, and only after the mad idea had been stated out loud.   

When I realized the friendship was over, I told Tom the reasons why.  I immediately got a letter from Tom (this was decades ago, when we still wrote words on paper), telling me that nothing I could do could end our friendship.    He understood that I was trying to pretend we were no longer friends but that, no matter what I did, we would always be friends.  I used a photocopying machine to enlarge and print out his memorable line, decorated it with a nice, floral frame, and hung it on the wall in my kitchen:  “sorry, pal, but it’s not in your power.”

How right he was.  

Last fall I spread the ashes of the most unhappy, demanding, manipulative person I have ever known.   We’d been friends for years, close friends.  Over those years I saw Mark make and lose countless friends.   His most compatible girlfriend (the only one I knew who was funny, likable and fairly sane) was not good enough for him — something about the unworthiness of a club that would have somebody like him as a member.    When he changed his mind, years after dumping her, she considered carefully and then declined his offer of eternal love.   Another great betrayal in his life, a betrayal I played a supporting role in.   

Everyone Mark ever knew ultimately betrayed him.  I finally wrote him off years ago, after a long, doomed struggle to fix things.   One day his brother, Gary, got a call from the medical examiner, they’d found his little brother’s corpse, in a chair in his house.  Gary flew down to supervise the cremation and tie up the dead man’s business affairs.   He felt terribly guilty, having not spoken to his estranged brother in three years.   I hadn’t spoken to Mark in maybe 15 years.   Gary acknowledged that Mark had had no other friends, and that if I was willing, he’d appreciate the company as he went to spread the ashes (he also needed a guide to show him where the lake was).   He and I trudged to the guy’s favorite lake, on a gorgeous day, and spread the poor fuck’s ashes in that sparkling, clear water.  Then we had a nice lunch on the lake, exchanging illuminating stories about the unhappy departed as we ate our sandwiches.

We humans all carry pain, and anger, and grief, and other things that are hard to bear alone, like loneliness.    Many of us did not have the nurturing childhood we would wish for people we care about.   We can sometimes come to understand the limitations of our parents, the great difficulty of becoming your own nurturing parent, the necessity to move past anger about things we did not receive when we needed them as vulnerable children.  Things, by the way, that sadly our parents were incapable of doing for us any better than they did.   

Coming to grips with these painful things is very difficult.   I understand that not everybody is cut out for this kind of work.   Forgiving the unforgivable seems like an impossible task, to those who despair of the effort.   No matter how much progress you may think you’ve made, or may have actually made, there will always be pain there, and the chance that strong emotions will flare up, however profound the understandings you may have reached.   This is our fate as sentient beings.

Here’s a common mechanism I’ve seen a few times, for how the combustion of a friendship can come about, and it usually seems to be, at least in my life, centered around who has the right to be angry or hurt.  Express anger or hurt, about anything, to somebody who has learned only to swallow and repress anger, deny hurt, and you will often provoke anger in return.  This anger tends to be wild and rage out of control, since it is so threatening to the person that they spend their whole life choking it down.  The rage of somebody who almost never expresses anger is truly terrible to behold.   

The way this cycle of anger works is not hard to understand, in hindsight.  They have plenty to be angry about, much more than you do, actually, and you don’t hear them whining about it.  Yet you go on and on, self-righteously ranting about an intolerable injustice you have suffered, casting about for a remedy that doesn’t even exist, outside of the realm of creative imagination.   Even if it is a clear injustice you’ve suffered, even if you have a right to be angry about it– you have no right to tell them why you’re so angry, even if they ask.   They don’t get to tell anyone about their anger or their pain.  Never.   

So they will question whether what you’re angry about is really that bad.  They may point out that Job, in the Bible, suffered far worse than what you claim to be going through.   They will suggest that not everyone would be so mad, just because they were arguably the victim of something that could make a person angry.   Just because something happened that made you angry, that might make someone else, even most people, reasonably angry, does not give you the right to be this angry.   And just because I impatiently question your right to be angry doesn’t give you the right to be angry at me for reasonably questioning your unreasonable right to be mad!

You could see this as neglecting the first law of friendship when you see a friend upset — listen to her, hear her out,  sit with her until she’s calmer.  Friendship 101:  first do no harm. 

Recently my oldest friend, who I’ve known since Junior High School,  called to challenge me about an email I wrote him that he’d found uncharacteristically snide, and inaccurate.    What right did I have to write him a snide, inaccurate email, he wanted to know.   We argued about the extent of the snideness of my email, which he eventually conceded had been small — and the email had turned out not to be snide and inaccurate, but merely snide–  but still strikingly snide, coming from me, a person who generally refrains from snideness, at least as directed toward him. 

He told me he’d called because he was worried about how disproportionately angry I seemed to be, simply because I’d had my health insurance suddenly terminated without notice.  He argued that I was excessively, unhealthily, irrationally angry.  After an hour trying to convince me of this, and growing frustrated, I imagine at the irrational persistence of my anger, he screamed at me, challenged me to tell him he was an asshole and to go fuck himself.   I took a gentler tack and by the end of the long call we had worked things out.  He told me he loved me, apologized for making me angry.    We seemed to be on the right path.  But, of course, if I’d paid attention to the background music, I’d have known this reconciliation would turn out to be an fond illusion. 

Then his next offer to help came, in any way I specifically requested, in figuring out how to right this injustice I complained of.   Of course, if I was not 100% specific in my request for help, he kept pointing out, he couldn’t really specifically help me.  Our emails went back and forth in this way, two lawyers making distinctions, splitting hairs, seeking clarification, reframing what we were actually really discussing, and so forth.  He constantly restated his desire to help in any way he could.   

When I told him, after many annoying questions, that the greatest help I needed was not being forced to debate every point of how he could help and how he couldn’t,  He said I was being unreasonable.   When I pointed out that professions of incomprehension of my anger and his endless, cool, clarifying devil’s advocate questions had inadvertently hurt me, he said that because the harm he’d inflicted had been inadvertent, as I myself had conceded, it was wrong of me to hold him responsible, or even point it out to him.   And so forth.

Things escalated, as they do in these sorts of impasses.   He apologized in an email for accidentally hurting me and then proposed we talk on the phone again.  I called.  Within fifteen minutes he was so enraged he cut me off to yell “you think I’m an idiot, I’m a fucking moron!  I’m an asshole!”    Then, as if resting his case, he hung up on me.   He clarified by sending me a text informing me that he no would no longer tolerate being “reamed” by me. 

So be it, all clear enough now.   A few days of writing and thinking it through, I pretty much understood what had happened, that there was nothing further I could say or do to fix this broken thing.  The matter of our friendship was out of my hands.

Then, as often seems to be the case in a long friendship in this digital era, a long email.  Not mentioning his angry childishness, but defending himself a bit, telling me how important my friendship is to him, and asking me to consider this decades-long friendship and asking me to get back to him when I felt able to. 

He also pointed out, I’m not sure why, that his apology in that long, angry phone call about my snideness, had been a desperate attempt to calm me, since I was so out of control, and that he’d “abjectly capitulated” not because I’d made a strong case for why he should, but merely because I’d been so upset and he saw no other way to continue the conversation.   He’d greatly appreciate my reply he wrote, as he considered me his closest friend, and would continue to hold me in that high esteem until after he heard from me that I wasn’t his friend.

I thought of my buddy Tom. 

I waited a couple of weeks, and, goddamn my better nature, wrote him the most thoughtful analysis of our impasse I was capable of.   I spent a few days carefully combing out any formulation I thought might offend him.  In the end I was fairly proud of the piece, one of the best things I’ve ever written, I think.   

It described Complementay Schismogenesis, a dynamic that our impasse was a vivid illustration of.   Two very different types locked in a conflict, the respective efforts of each of them to resolve the conflict makes the schism deeper and wider.   It went into the infernal lawyerly habit of reframing: taking the discussion in a completely different direction so as to change the subject away from the issue at hand.   It talked about the first requirement of friendship: to listen and try to understand before responding.   I reminded him of my particular vulnerability: the hurtfulness of getting silence as response to my question or concern.   It was as deep a discussion of our particular friendship as I could have written. 

I urged him to take his time considering everything I’d written, that there was a lot to think about, a lot to consider, that our friendship was clinging to life at this point.   I reminded him that there was no need for a quick reply, that a rushed or emotional reply would not be helpful, with our badly damaged friendship on the line, as it clearly was.

Naturally, two days later, I got his thoughtful, unfailingly high-minded email.  A friend gratefully replying to his oldest friend’s attempt to get their friendship back on solid ground.    He thanked me for my thoughtful reply and the clear effort I’d made not to hurt his feelings.  He told me he appreciated how I tried to express my feelings.   I couldn’t help noting, as I read, that he’d not responded to a single point I’d raised, or even mentioned one, beyond what is embedded these two perfectly reasonable, well-written paragraphs (note the reframing, by the way):

I know you’ve tried earnestly to educate me as to the nature of the various flaws you perceive in me, and I appreciate that. I know you’re trying to help me be a better person as well as a better friend. I’d like to be able to tell you that, thanks to you giving me a good shaking, I now see the light, and painful though personal growth may be, I see the situation and see myself as you  do.  I’d like ti telk (sic) you I’m confident that I’m on my way to being the better person and friend you’d like me to be. I’d like to be able to say that I can therefore offer you assurance that you need not be concerned that I will again act in a manner that hurts your feelings in a similar way. This would indeed be a happy outcome to all of this. I value our friendship, and know that neither of us is pleased with the prospect of such a long and rich friendship coming to an end. 

At the same time, I have too much respect for you, and too little ability to knowingly try to con a friend, to feed you a line just to smooth over a rough patch. I can certainly assure you that you’ve given me much valuable food for thought, and that I take very seriously everything you’ve said to me. I can assure you that in whatever interactions we might have in the future, I will strive be more aware of how my actions might affect you, and strive to avoid causing you pain. Yet, I understand that we all will determine for ourselves the sorts of behaviors we will tolerate, and the sorts of people we want as friends. So if the person I am at this point in my life isn’t someone you feel you can trust, or my various assets and liabilities just don’t add up to someone you want as a friend, it will sadden me greatly but I’ll understand. You deserve to surround yourself with people who make you feel good. If you conclude that doesn’t include me, my best to you, and thanks for everything–is (sic) been a great ride in countless ways. I’ll hope that at some point you change your mind, and I’ll be here if you do. 

This time there was no need for further delay, my last words on this great ride of our long friendship went back to him at once:   

I understand that this patronizing gloss of a response allows you to believe you’ve acquitted yourself with fairness and integrity, subject to whatever admitted emotional/moral limitations may be in play.   I have too much respect for you to pretend otherwise.  From my point of view, silence would have been infinitely preferable to this last gust of your familiar, unerringly rational superiority, so impeccably polite and correct you can hardly smell the seething, or the fear.

Style tip: the undeniable pathos of it aside, the tell-tale, suck-my-ass bitchiness of lines like these kind of gives the emotional game away:

And, I’m aware that this pain is on top of a lot of other stresses with which you’ve had to contend over the past months–health issues, sudden loss–twice–of health insurance, the pandemic, dismay over the sorry state of our government and our predatory economic system, conflicts in other personal relationships, and so on. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for you.   

I suggest next time you feel called upon to respond to a detailed, vulnerable, emotionally nuanced attempt to save a valued friendship you have already evacuated on, from an old friend you claim to love (and who refrained from lambasting you for acting in the childishly dickish way you unapologetically did the last time we spoke) you follow this template, which works exactly as well as what you’ve written and has the advantage of brevity:     

 
Eliot,
I did appreciate what you wrote last year. I apologize for not writing sooner. I do not however wish to continue dialogue or be in a relationship with you at this time.
Please respect my feelings and refrain form further contact. I honestly wish you well. 
Noam

You have my sympathy, I suppose, for the indigestible lack of nurturing in your early life that left you this rigidly implacable.  You win — your indomitable, bullying father did a more thorough job on your psyche than poor old Irv ever could on mine.    Please tell R_____ I wish her the best of luck, and my best to your sons.   

We’ll have to allow those last words you said to me, before hanging up in rage back in April, to be the final zero-sum words on this matter — true and complete they turn out to have been.   

Then, the stake driven, I put down the hammer and noticed, to my relief, the silence, that fucking music had stopped.   Now all that was left was to digest how my accursed better nature had once again allowed me to believe it was in my power. taking somebody at his word, to carefully think things through, state them as clearly as I am able and have a positive effect on an unresolvable impasse.

What is wrong with us, America?

The New York Times, a highly literate, aspirational outlet for its liberal-minded, well-to-do demographic, sometimes publishes extremely well-researched, important stories.  I have serious concerns with the many things they do not report, their reflexive decision to couch every story, no matter how outrageous, in reasonable-sounding terms, the way they have sometimes directly colluded with the worst things our government does (often simply by agreeing to silence), the massive influence they exert in allowing a murderous status quo to function smoothly and efficiently, but I appreciate that they are also a vital and important news source.   They ran this headline yesterday:

Screenshot_20200506-212539_NYTimes (1)

This widespread child hunger, among young children, in the wealthiest country in human history, is happening as American farmers are destroying massive quantities of food, plowing it into the ground, dumping it, trashing it.   Thousands of tons of edible crops, eggs, dairy products, disposed of because the market for these foods has been eroded by the mass closures necessitated by our efforts to control the pandemic.  

A caller to a radio show recently asked a supremely reasonable question on-air: can’t the military or the national guard send trucks to collect this food and get it to hungry Americans who are already lined up, waiting for it?   The earnest politician she was asking spoke of a few related matters, but they ran out of time for him to answer that specific, excellent question.  I’d love to hear a good answer to why that isn’t being done, as at least one in five young children in America is malnourished and farmers are destroying vast quantities of food.

Presumably shipping that food directly to poor people would be Communism, an unAmerican affront to freedom and liberty.   Indecent, unAmerican, to distribute free food it is much more cost-effective to simply destroy on the spot since it can’t be profitably sold.  

In any case, the president clearly does not care how many low-income Americans have to die, as long as his ratings stay above 38%, the stock market remains upbeat and his chances of winning reelection are viable.   Don’t forget, he registered his 2020 re-election campaign on the day of his inauguration in January, 2017.    

One in five young American children are hungry in our land of food abundance, reports the New York Times.

What is wrong with us as a people?

Low-paid workers, many of them migrants, are recently ordered by the president, by scrawled Executive Order (as he refuses to use the Defense Production Act to order companies to produce needed personal protective equipment, tests, ventilators and other things vital for combating the plague), to show up for their shifts in American meat processing plants.  Never mind safety, never mind health, to hell with the pandemic — the nation needs warriors, says the president, to hack up those slaughtered animals and turn them into meat!   No matter, really, if  he winds up having to walk back this or that particular order, edict or pronouncement, he will announce he was being sarcastic, or meant the exact opposite of what he said.   He’s playful as a puppy!

The same cannot be said for the strongman of the Senate, the man who takes grim pride in his nickname, The Grim Reaper.  He is the proud, rictus-faced murderer of any humane bill that reaches his desk, he simply leaves them on his desk to die of neglect.  No vote, no nothing, make me do it, loser!   This well-married son of a couple of non-entities is not going to let any Commie-style legislation past him.   Getting a law past him that favors the average person over the extraordinary persons he represents, those well-funded corporate persons who keep him in power, is harder than getting a pork chop past a hungry wolf.  

You can read about what motivates this sick, destructive, unprincipled, soulless fuck in great detail in  How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief  an exhaustively researched article by the great Jane Mayer.   He is presently seeking to pass legislation to protect our largest corporate persons from that fearsome army of aggressive plaintiff’s lawyers always ready to frivolously sue any business who negligently kills anyone or doesn’t protect their imagined health or rights sufficiently.  Shades of the legislation, at the dawn of the eternal War on Terror, to immunize mercenaries and other military contractors for things like torture and collateral damage.

Lewis Black got several of the last great laughs out of my mother that she ever had, in his one man show from the Kennedy Center, which we watched together on TV in the spring of 2010.  A big laugh came when he aptly described our electoral process. He asked the audience:  when was the last time you went into the voting booth and cast your vote for somebody you really believed was an excellent person for the job?    (For my parents it might have been Adlai Stevenson, who lost against Eisenhower a couple of times and then lost the 1960 Democratic primary to JFK)   No, said Black, you don’t get to vote for that person, ever.  You go into the voting booth, pull the curtain  AND IT’S TWO BOWLS OF SHIT, YOU GOTTA PICK ONE!

Our current reality TV-star, largely ignorant, compulsively  “sarcastic” president ran against Hillary Clinton, a highly competent but problematic politician.  The Democrats went with her because it was “her turn”.   During the lead-up to the 2016 election I heard that Donald and Hillary were the first and second most hated politicians in America.  Sounded about right to me.   I don’t recall which was number one most hated and which was number two, (both smell like number two to me) but, apparently, the best man won, by 78,000 surgically applied votes in every county in the three or four states the big man needed to win the Electoral College.

The bowl of shit the corporate Democrats are proposing as their candidate to beat Trump “like a drum” in 2020 is a vain, surgically enhanced old man with a famously winning televangelist smile and a dodgy political past featuring a lot of right-wing compromises.  He was the long-time senator from Delaware, the corporate incorporation capital of America, after all.  

To be clear, as I did with Ms. Clinton in 2016 (and her husband before that), I will vote for the clear lesser of two evils, hold my nose and choose the bowl of shit not labeled “Trump”.  I will urge everyone I talk to to do the same.   I won’t pretend, though, as the New York Times will, that President Biden will bring about a return to decency, make everything normal again here in the land of the feee and the home of the brave.  He will be a better president than Trump, without a doubt, but so would almost anybody.  After all, Trump is the worst president in American history by a country mile.  How bad?   He makes people, even on the left, nostalgic for his runner up as worst-ever president, George W. Bush.

May we be objective here for a moment?   The smiling blue collar Biden is something of an unapologetic jerk.   He charms his way out of the worst accusations thrown at him, using folksy, workingman’s humor.  After he was publicly admonished for touching women who didn’t want him to touch them he made a joke, putting his arm around a male on the stage with him.   “Look, I asked his consent, he said it was OK,” Biden said to the crowd, who gave him a hearty laugh.   It was probably less funny to any woman he’d been inappropriately handsy with.    Listen to Jeremy Scahill’s excellent analysis of the giant turd in the Biden/Democratic punch bowl

Trump is an absolute pig who takes pride in being that way and has threatened to sue every woman who ever accused him of being what he undoubtedly is, (particularly the ones who are not his type, women he wouldn’t rub against with Mike Pence’s dick).  He was lying about suing them all, it turns out, but then, that’s just his way, he’s litigious, full of puffery.   On a more sincere note, he nonchalantly indicated he’d like to have sex with his daughter Ivanka, you know, if he could get away with it.   He said it like a joke.   “I’d definitely date her,” he said, as his favorite daughter cooed uncomfortably next to him during the TV interview.   He said many other things about women much worse than that.   If you have no problem with a guy like him, he’s probably your man.  Join that solid 38% who love him no matter what he does.

But Joe Biden, self-proclaimed champion of women, has got some serious credibility problems of his own in the matter of his treatment of women, including his occasional unwanted shows of physical affection to women he interacts with.  I thought Jeremy Scahill’s was the best presentation of this truly perplexing situation that I’ve heard yet.  His recent interviews with journalist Melissa Gira Grant and former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores were detailed and thought-provoking.

We don’t always stop to think that when a powerful man says, of an accuser’s allegation, “it never happened” it also means “she’s lying.”   Joe Biden says, unequivocally that it never happened, that he never pushed his aide up against the wall and shoved his hand up her skirt and down her panties; therefore, the then young aide, Tara Reade, is lying, she’s a vicious liar.  

The Democrats have been insisting loudly, especially during the administration of a proud serial sexual violator,  that we must give women who complain of mistreatment by powerful men the presumption of credibility (ask former Senator Al Franken, lynched by zealous members of his own party).  As Biden himself said during the Boof Kavanaugh hearings:  

“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real.” 

Which, of course, is quite different from what he’s saying now, about Tara Reade’s allegation — in her case, she’s simply lying.

Recall his words and actions as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Anita Hill made allegations against now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Note that Biden did not even support Thomas’s nomination, he was among the 48 who voted “nay” in the 52-48 confirmation [1].   He chaired that committee around the time he is accused of feeling up his young aide in the rudest possible manner.  

He allowed Anita Hill no corroborating witnesses, allowed her to be roughed up by the men of the committee who were allowed to ask her to tell them repeatedly exactly what she claimed Clarence Thomas had said about her lovely breasts and the pubic hair on the Coke can, and how she felt, (was she really humiliated or just flirtatious and later feeling scorned, as women do?)  and why she made no complaint,  and then was forced to tell the same shameful things again, and grilled about why she continued to have a professional relationship with her former boss if he had actually sexually harassed her and made her feel so humiliated, why she didn’t use the brand new sexual harassment laws to bring him to court and humiliate herself … etc.   Biden chaired the circus, which Thomas indignantly called a “high tech lynching”, Biden held the gavel, had the power to make the abuse of Anita Hill stop at any time [2].  

Biden never apologized to Anita Hill, beyond saying, around the time he threw his hat into the ring to be the 2020 Democratic bowl of shit, that he wished there was more he could have done to stop what was done to her.  (Note the lawyer’s use of the passive voice– what was done to her– not what he, or anyone else did– nobody actually did anything, it was simply done, shit happens, gosh…).  It’s not as though he had the power to do more than he did … it isn’t like he was the chairman of the committee, representing the majority on it, or anything like that…

Besides, as he points out, this lying woman, Tara Reade, is talking about something that never happened twenty-seven years ago!   Where was she with her false claim all these years when he was being vetted over and over again?   Since she said nothing all those years, why believe her now when it’s very politically convenient to suddenly come out with this smear?   Biden’s most visible female surrogates, vice presidential hopefuls all, are forced to point out that they believe Joe and that the New York Times reported, about Tara Reade, well, she, there were some holes in her story, and other reasons to doubt she was the most reliable historian… and… and… the New York Times did a thorough investigation several weeks ago and determined…

Get ready to hold your nose, folks.   Joe Biden is the man Tom Perez, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic brain trust have chosen for you, brought back from the dead on the eve of his defeat, by the coordinated Super-Tuesday eve efforts of a united national party intent on not allowing a vigorous debate about the future of America, the minimum standard of decency we citizens actually deserve, what protections for human citizens are actually needed against merciless corporate persons.   We’ll chose the bowl of shit the Democratic party puts in front of us, if we know what’s good for us.   What choice do we really have?   Do we really want to wake up in November living in the Fourth Reich?  I don’t think so.

What is wrong with us, America?

 

 

[1] The ultra-conservative Thomas received 8 confirmation votes from Democrats; one each from Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Virginia; he got both motherfuckers from Louisiana and Georgia.   Proving how much times have changed her in American race relations, even white southerners recognize the value of putting a black klansman on the nation’s highest court for his lifetime.

[2]  The Republicans who confirmed temperamentally unsuited right-wing extremist Boof Kavanaugh to his lifetime post on our highest court, learned a valuable lesson from the Thomas/Hill shit show.   They enlisted a woman to sympathetically grill Kavanaugh’s main accuser, Christine Blasey-Ford.   As a result, Blasey-Ford’s testimony was heard in full, and believed by most Americans who heard it.   During the break FOX news was in despair, it appeared to be over for choir boy Brett.   It would be up to the angry white Republican men on the committee, led by a crying Lindsey Graham,  to support the indignant, snorting, crying Kavanaugh so he could be confirmed.   Fucking babies.

Keeping It In Perspective

These are extraordinarily scary times, an historically realistic multi-dimensional horror show going on all around us.   It is good to keep that firmly in mind and then not dwell on it.   What was already hard has been made monumentally harder by this plague, a plague of deadly disease on top of the devastation already done by hellbent deadly maniacs.   It’s good to remember how disorienting this imposed self-isolation is.   A few of us may have already crossed the line toward real paranoia.   We must remember to be very gentle with each other in these times.

It’s easy, after weeks of isolation, out walking on a mild night in early May (the streets here in the epicenter have been virtually deserted for weeks), to see the small clusters of approaching people as threats, infectious carriers of gruesome suffocating death.  The reflex to fear others turns out to be quick to acquire.

“Oh, no!” Lucy says and points to a group of silhouettes moving closer and closer, some, we see can already see, are not even wearing masks.  

“Christ,” I say, suddenly in a full-blown zombie movie, “there must be twenty of them, it looks like they’re  trying to keep six feet apart.”  

They are walking slowly, stiffly, in a loose phalanx across the wide street, spreading from sidewalk to sidewalk.   As we approach it becomes clear we’ll have to pass right through them, within breathing distance, as they rotate in every direction to wish each other well, calling out with big exhalations of breath that are visible as plumes in the humid night air.    Looks like a scene out of that plague movie with Dustin Hoffman where you see the green cough cloud travel into all the surrounding lungs in that crowded movie theatre.

It is easy to see them as zombies, shambling closer, unsteady on their legs, many in masks, others without masks, wearing strange, alienated expressions, not making eye contact.   In other states, we hear, hoards of them have massed at the capitol, carrying guns, demanding the right to return to normal life during this time of a massively infectious, deadly plague without a cure.  

 The zombie president urges them on.   Real Americans need to be free, freedom means normal life, going outside, going to work, buying things, voting in person, eating in restaurants, going to the movies and the beach, getting your hair done, getting an “I Survived COVID-19” tattoo, before it’s too late.   The urge to go about your normal life is quite understandable.   The angry, lemming-like drive to raise your gun and scream “fuck Fauci and so-called Science!  We demand FREEDOM!” maybe a little less so.    

These people on the street in Queens are just regular folks, out getting some fresh air on our first real Spring evening, greeting neighbors they haven’t seen in weeks.

Anyway, because you can’t be too careful during a deadly plague, my love and I slip on our N95 masks as the hoard approaches.  N-95s are the ones that not only protect others from anything we might exhale but also protect us from airborne pathogens that might be swarming toward us in the night air.   As we get close, we reach under our long coats, take out our baseball bats and begin swinging with all we’ve got.   As everyone knows from the zombie movies, the only way to kill one is by busting their head open.   There’s a loud wet pop, then another one, they begin quickly dispersing, making their dismay loudly known as they scatter.

“Shit,” Lucy says to me, her eyes suddenly wet, “I guess they weren’t zombies.”  

“True,” I say, looking down  at the two unmoving at our feet, the others rushing off in all directions “zombies keep coming no matter what, don’t they?” . I’m suddenly seized with regret.   

The wail of a police siren breaks my train of thought and we take off at a good clip, Lucy verbally googling the closest Trump 2020 campaign office as we run.  Our thinking is that this is a place we might realistically seek sanctuary, particularly if we give a large donation.   They’ll protect us, we stood our ground, Stand Your Ground, right?   Plus we honestly believed those old zombies threatening us were actual zombies.   If we truly believed it, it’s OK, then, how could they really not protect us?    The Alan Dershowitz Principle from the impeachment show.   It’s worth a shot, anyway!

It’s Essential to Have Words to Describe Tricky Things

Without the language to describe something, it’s hard to even conceptualize the thing we may want to talk about.   We see this everywhere.   In the absence of a good frame in language, you basically have to invent a way to talk about things that are hard to make clear.  When you have the phrase — voila! — it’s instantly much easier to have a meaningful discussion.

When I heard our scarcity-based economic system called “extractive” and the sustainable alternative called “regenerative” a light bulb went on — it’s a very clear, concise way to describe an energy policy based on burning up resources that can’t be renewed, a regime that has taken us a long way toward destroying the planet we all live on– and a saner alternative.   A fossil fuel run economy is “extractive” by it’s nature.

Yesterday I heard a great phrase that explains the forces that ensured the rise, and unchecked power, of the Mitch McConnells and the Donald Trumps — “Plutocratic Populism” — unpopular policies that benefit only the super-wealthy that are ushered in by mass popular rallies of galvanized angry have-nots funded by the plutocrats, who ride these tractable hoards, booted and spurred, as their kind was born to do, in their quest for ever more well-protected privilege.    

Same with racism.   One response to centuries of deep institutional racism in our great land, an organized movement to protest regular police shootings of unarmed minority citizens– “Black Lives Matter”– has been seized on by very fine people on both sides — an overdue demand for justice;  another example of unprovoked rage by dangerous, very angry people [1].  

I am thankful to a friend who, several years back, clipped out a little definition of an odd, ingeniously descriptive term for a tricky, but widespread, problem and called my attention to it.  The concept is called Complementary Schismogenesis, and it explained a lot about a certain kind of irreconcilable difference that only gets worse the more energetically both sides try, blindly, to resolve it.  

My every attempt to calm you down only makes you more upset, and vice versa. Seeing the other incomprehensibly more upset, instead of less, we redouble our vain efforts, to similar effect, our now mutually impatient, morally obtuse-seeming responses increasing the frustration between us.   Let me see if I can find the clipping, which was sent to me in digital form.

I can’t find it.  I did find this 2012 drawing, though:

what  2-19-11003

 

 

Turns out I’d written out my take on Complementary Schismogenesis pretty clearly four years ago:   

Complimentary Schismogenesis, I am told, is when two opposites are locked in some kind of conflict, neither getting what they need out of the arrangement, the attempts of each to resolve it, coming from opposite orientations, only make the problem more intractable, tighten the knot.   The schism continues to deepen as the two struggle cluelessly in opposite directions to heal the underlying fissure.

If we assume everyone is somewhat fucked up, damaged by life, laboring under certain sometimes vexing disabilities, friends are those whose asshole side we are able to overlook.  The friend has other lovable qualities we value that counterbalance the bad tendencies we all have.  We extend the benefit of the doubt to friends, a benefit we do not readily confer on random people we encounter.  

I told a friend recently that whatever other problems we may have had with each other over the years, we both are confident that neither of us would, seeing the other strapped in the electric chair, throw the switch before insisting that every single witness had a chance to speak.  He agreed.

 

Only one thing has changed since then, the guy who agreed that if I was strapped to the electric chair he’d let every witness for me speak before throwing the switch, may have revised that generous offer, the witness list might no longer be very extensive.  

The precipitating reason for this recent falling out — my attempt not to get angry when hurt wound up infuriating my friend who honestly had no way of knowing how upset I was since I didn’t even fucking scream at him like a normal person who claims to be so goddamned upset!   Plus, I was an aggressively self-righteous cunt about my “right” not to be “hurt,” even thoughtlessly, innocently.

My attempt to remain mild made him wild.  

If the glove don’t fit, don’t have a snit.

The Difficult to See Slow-Killing Murder of (attempted) Love (Part 2)

Love is what we all seek in life, what every living creature needs to flourish, even to survive, and I don’t mean to shit on anyone’s interpretation of love.   We all know what love feels like when we are loved, virtually every one of us has been blessed to feel this and remembers it gratefully.   I’m going to try to analyze how thwarted, frustrated or imperfect love can lead to anger, violence, lifelong hatreds and other terrible things.   Not thwarted in the sense of a hope for love that is rebuffed, most of us know how bad that kind of romantic strike-out feels, but love that is not given in a way the loved one can derive real support from.

I have to be fair.  Not everyone is always good at expressing their deep feelings for others.  I’m not.   We are all creatures of our upbringing, our genetic predispositions, society’s often unrealistic and harmful myths [1].    I’ve only recently made a habit of returning Sekhnet’s regular “I love you” greetings, and I’m glad I have, but it was something I had to learn.   My father, as he was dying, lamented that he had had no idea how to express love, never having seen it done in the miserable home he grew up in.   Made me feel great tenderness for the poor devil and even sadder about his last-hours’ struggle to make peace with a representative of the people he’d hurt by his disabilities.    It really was not his fault, in a certain very real way, as I finally came to see.

I woke up today an hour or two before I was done sleeping and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I woke up thinking about fairness, what it feels like to be the victim of unfairness.  A regular theme, of course, but as I was recently shrieked at by an outraged old friend who keeps a close watch on his emotions, I woke up wondering if I’d been unfair.   Was it really fair of me to ask for things this old friend was clearly incapable of giving?   Clearly he didn’t think so, nor would he admit he is incapable of anything– he’d always given me his best version of philia and agape (two crucial kinds of love that don’t involve romance) and I’d ungratefully, maliciously taken a greasy, prissy dump on it.   Incoherently demanding yet more of him, after all he’s struggled to give, over more than half a century, an intolerable demand that was irrational and fundamentally unfair.

I thought of a phone call I had a year or two ago.  The wife of another childhood friend I could finally not continue to negotiate the terms of a frayed adult friendship with.   She informed me that I had to remain friends with him, and her, and their two sons, because they loved me.   “We love you!” she told me, and I know she was telling me the truth, the deepest truth she knew, an undeniable truth.    I knew it myself, they clearly did love me.  Then she gave me the ultimatum:  forgive him immediately, I’m giving you this one chance, out of love, but if you don’t — you’re dead.  I told her what had become unbearably clear to me:  “forgiving” a person who can’t see he’s constantly hurting you, no matter how many times you try to make it clear, is kind of impossible.   We came to a kind of understanding, out of mutual love  — I am a dead man writing today.  

I don’t think I need to give the details of that situation beyond this restatement of what I was being asked to accept:  love is what we feel toward you, not how we may sometimes act toward you.   My husband and I, now long-since estranged and living apart, practiced our best version of love for years, fighting, making up, storing grievances, yelling at each other, hating each other, making up, storing grievances, etc.   We loved you the same way.   It was the best we could fucking do, and we fought with you MUCH LESS than we fought with each other, you judgmental fucking asshole!

I am not trying to sound morally superior to anyone (he said, unconvincingly).   It’s pointless to judge people on the basis of what they’re unable to do, just as it’s important to get away from them if it has a bad effect on you.   I guess I draw the line where someone demands the right, out of love,  to treat me in a way I can’t tolerate.   It’s a bottom line for everyone, I suppose, not accepting being treated badly, unfairly by people who claim to love you.   It may take a long time to get to that bottom line, but in the end, somebody you feel is treating you unkindly will not be able to convince you that they are treating you well.  Or that the treatment  is the best you deserve.  

Again, not to knock anyone’s life choices, many people come to accept that what they get from those closest to them is the best they deserve.   More power to them if they are comfortable in that belief.    My parents had a lot of personal demons, both of them had been ruthlessly subjugated by very angry mothers from the time they could sit up and look at the world.   In the end, I felt loved by both of my parents, nonetheless.   We fought constantly and at times I felt I hated them, but I know I was loved.   Funny how those things can all be true.   One thing I emerged from childhood convinced of:  I did not want to replicate the unhappy lives of either of my parents.

There is a subjective element of love, for sure.  When we are full of love for somebody we truly want only the best for them.   It is not always possible for us to give it, but we always intend to give it and we hope our intention outweighs our mistakes or failures.   We all have our limitations and our needs.   We have design flaws.  We can’t help being angry when someone we try to always show love and patience to is ungrateful for our best efforts.    None of this is hard to understand.

The hard part, it would appear, is not letting our disappointment show in a way that infuriates somebody who loves us, no matter how imperfect that love might feel to us.   A secret to avoiding their fury, I would guess, is never to expect more than the person who loves us is able to give.  

 

 

[1] One example: you must always forgive every hurtful thing that is ever done to you, it is primarily for yourself that you must forgive, to free yourself from the pain of what was done to you.   This sensible sounding idea is repeated in many forms, by many of our subcultures.  To forgive is divine, even if the ability to easily hurt is human.   Jeanne Safer brilliantly lays out the destructive fallacy of this A Good Person Always Forgives dictum in her book Forgiving & Not Forgiving: A New Approach to Resolving Intimate Betrayal.  

Look, it should be clear enough: you have no moral obligation to forgive the unrepentant serial rapist uncle who has only fond memories of raping you and keeps insisting you just have an irresistible ass, LOL!  Is it necessary to resolve things within yourself to close off the pain the evildoer caused, absolutely, but to forgive?   That’s some pretty divine ability to forgive right there.   Fuck that puto. Forgive him right after you forgive Hitler, or whoever else might have murdered your family in the name of bettering the world…

How to Deal with Unintentional Tasering

This tricky subject is definitely a work in progress, though I have a few strong theories I’ve been testing.  I am referring to the best way to react after someone close to you, with the very best of intentions and full of love, accidentally tasers you in the genitals.  Intentional tasering is another subject for another day.

Undeniably, this unintended injury hurts like Evangelical hell, but what is the best thing to do when you have recovered the ability to speak, and breathe, and refrain from writhing on the floor in agony?

I’ve had the opportunity to ponder this from time to time during my more than six decades of the occasional tasering virtually all of us experience once in a while.   I am trying to hold myself to a difficult standard of peacefulness in my personal life, a standard I wish was more universal.   I try to live a life of non-harm, what Winston Churchill’s little brown man in the diaper taught the world is called Ahimsa.  

Ahimsa is a strong, principled stance against violence that resists violence without inflicting it.    It has its limits, as far as I can see, I certainly would drop it like a bad habit if somebody was coming to kill me or do me or a loved one bodily harm, but as a general principle of behavior that would vastly improve all life in this world, I can find no fault in it.

Violence comes in many forms, some of them devilishly sneaky.   Being acutely conscious of exactly what hurts me, in its many shades and nuances, I try my best not to do it to people I care about.  In the abstract, I care about all people.  So, since I try not to react truculently to things like an accidental application of electric current to my testicles — if I know the shock was delivered unwittingly — I should also be working on not lashing out angrily at misguided Nazi-admirers, though that will have to be a project for another decade, I think.  Certainly the subject for another essay.

Hard enough in my personal life, not to get up from a tasering and smack somebody hard across the nose, before remembering that the taser was not applied with any ill-will.   The person may not even have realized they were holding a taser.  The first things to do when you are angry, I’ve learned, at a high personal cost, are breathe, wait, and think.  Your head will clear and after some time passes you will have a better idea than your first angry response.   Hard to do, friends, but very important, if you don’t want to live in a shrinking world of constant, eternally justifiable conflict.

I’ll give you an example, if I can, of a subtle form of tasering that may be delivered inadvertently.   Each of us has been sensitized to certain mistreatment by our upbringing.  To some people, silence is a perfectly valid response to a question.   “Hmmmm… you have very much provoked my thoughts, excellent inquiry… wow… let me work this one between my silent lips for a while as I meditate on your provocative line of self-reflection.”   I can picture Shakers, or Quakers, or some silently praying sect, nodding sagely, exchanging small smiles, while they ponder something deep one of them has offered.   On the other hand, there are people, and I am one of them, who have had strategic silence deployed against them, sometimes in a cruel manner, from their earliest memory.   When I ask a friend “what do you think?” and I hear no reply, it has the effect of a hard, accidental knee to the groin.  

This is because my father, a deeply troubled man, lived his personal life with a helmet and flak jacket on, probing with his bayonet whenever he felt cornered, which was often, since he lived in a trench with an opening on only one side.  If I’d ask him for something that was impossible for him to give — like non-judgmental emotional support in a moment of fear, for example — if he couldn’t deflect my question by framing it as another instance of my sniveling emotional neediness (sadly, I began displaying this lifelong trait at a very precocious age) — he would set his jaw and say nothing.   “Dad,” I would ask, at five, or six, before I learned better, “you are seriously not going to say anything?”   Silence and a short thrust of his bayonet would be his only reply.  As a result, I became very sensitive to this kind of silent reply when I ask things of people.  

My father, a highly intelligent man who was able to present his point of view adroitly, always argued that people cannot change on a fundamental level.  I can grant him part of that point — our fundamental natures, our original impulses, are very hard to change.   We are born with certain traits, we emerge from our mother’s womb more or less emotional than others, more or less prone to fear, anger, violence, calmness, happiness, whatever.  Then, of course, how we are nurtured plays a large role in how powerful these impulses remain in us.  Then, ideally, if childhood works out, we become adults with choices, people free to learn crucial skills we realize we lack, work on improving the limitations that increase our suffering and the suffering of those we care about.  

On a fundamental DNA level, sure, one person will still feel a reflex to be angry while another, given the same stimulus, will be reflexively optimistic, or whatever. My father’s argument, if taken to the logical extreme, is ultimately a defense of the wisdom of hopelessness, a proof against our ability to learn and improve ourselves, no matter how miserable we may be in our current stinking foxhole.  We should note that my father changed his view on this, and sincerely regretted he had not examined the view more carefully, hours before he died.

So the question, after being accidentally tasered by someone close to you, comes down to this, as far as I can see: a short series of direct questions to be put simply to ensure against future accidental genital tasering, each hopefully to be answered with a clear “yes.”  [1]

Do you understand why that thing you pressed the trigger of sent an electrical current to some very sensitive nerve endings in my privates?  

Can you relate to a sensitivity in yourself that would react the same way, if I accidentally sent a small charge of electricity there?    

Do you see my “please do not taser” area clearly now?  

Will you kindly promise to refrain from sending another jolt there?  

Outside of that, I see only the potential for more shocks to what my eight year-olds in Harlem sometimes referred to as my privacy.   If what constitutes a taser to the good friend’s privacy is not made clearly understood between both friends, feel free to live your life flinching, ducking, ready to writhe.   It doesn’t seem a viable life strategy to me, though we all have our own opinions on such things, one supposes.  

If somebody cares about you, they should be able to understand your non-angry explanation of why their sincere attempt to help you hurt you so much.  They should then make an effort not to taser you in the same place, ever again.  Kind of a bottom line, I think, in what we should expect from our loved ones in this best of all possible worlds.

 

 

[1]  Practice tip:  if these questions are not asked carefully, with supreme humility, they will result in the opposite of the intended effect, if the person you are seeking peace with is prone to flying off the handle when angered.    Live and learn…

We must often make do with the best we can do

Dr. Pangloss, an absurdly optimistic character created by Voltaire, famously lived in the “best of all possible worlds” where everything happened for a preordained purpose, even the most senseless and horrific things.  As I recall he kept this belief even after half of his ass was removed by cannibals for use as a ham (and many other equally atrocious things befell him and his student).  Easy to laugh at a panglossian chap like that as we look around at a world that could certainly be better in many obvious ways, but I mention him to remind myself that sometimes doing very little is actually the best we can do in this world, and doing that little takes us, in a real sense, to the “best of all possible worlds.”   Under less than ideal circumstances, of course, but still, by far the best alternative available to us, the little we can do.

Being able to transmit complicated thoughts and difficult emotions in words is a gift of being human.    It is among the miracles of being a “wise ape.”  True, it exists along side our susceptibility to mass terror, mass murder and so forth, but our ability to speak, to read and write, is, in itself, a great blessing.   Words that literally change the world can sometimes be conceived and written.   Words can save a person from despair when she reads them, actually save a life.   Save a single human life, say the sages, and you have saved all of mankind.

Many of us write here on the internet [1].  We write for many reasons — to entertain, inform, make our opinions known, for attention, the illusion of writing for a readership, to brag, to show off our skills and our humility, to pretend to wisdom or expertise, to sing, to play, to force ourselves to write as well as we can, to drum up business, to gather an army of followers to invade and conquer other websites, to pass the time, etc.   But every one of us knows, I think, that, confronted by a sudden vexation, it is a great advantage to be able to write it out clearly.  

The ability to write clearly allows us to set things out for others to share and also, to see things more clearly ourselves.  Often this thinking-writing process is the best we can do and the time we spend here becoming better at writing with clarity is time well-spent when the last seconds are ticking away on the clock and the game is on the line.

You get screwed by a bureaucracy, say you lose your health coverage, without warning, during a deadly pandemic (to take a random example).   Frightening, disorienting, unfair, possibly illegal — just writing these words provides the beginning of relief.  Putting a scary or aggravating scenario into clear language does something to neutralize panic.  The practice of writing an aggravation down, tweaking the lines for clarity and brevity, adding helpful details, deleting distracting ones… an excellent discipline for taming thoughts and feelings that might otherwise run amok and rob you of rest in your slumbers. 

We’re living in a fucking worldwide plague, literally, with cynical, calculating, clueless cretins in charge of Federal Emergency Management and many other areas of public health, safety and liberty.   The thought that the forces of greed and death are exploiting this tragedy to gain even greater advantage over the masses of us worldwide is objectively horrifying.  There are many reasons to be concerned, afraid, magnified by disorienting loneliness during this time of “social distancing” when the closest to socializing many of us can get is the telephone or “social media” which is a shorthand for how to be in touch without actually venturing anything personal that you wouldn’t want the entire world to know about.  

Social media fosters the actual opposite of intimacy, it creates the superficial illusion of connection.  Intimacy is a rare and life-sustaining form of friendship that can only be achieved one on one, over time, with the ongoing sharing of vulnerabilities, values and trust.  You cannot, strictly (or even permissively) speaking, share real trust via social media, trust me on this.

Being old school, you reach out in your isolation to write a personal letter to an actual flesh and blood friend, knowing that she has a tendency to freak out sometimes and suffer in silence, to make sure she’s okay, extend a hand for mutual support.   “This plague is a disorienting ordeal, n’est-ce pas?  I hope you and your pup are OK” you write in a hand-written letter that sets out some of your own worries.

The answer comes directly a few days later, typed and delivered on your phone’s beautiful, glowing screen.

“Me and Bonesy are fine, old friend, thank you for asking, and, as you know, even if I was struggling and terrified, which I am not, thankfully, I wouldn’t be a whining, self-pitying wuss like you and make a squealing incoherent federal case out of bad luck that is entirely of your own making, pal.  Thanks for reaching out! Always great to hear from you.  Please keep in touch.”  

You might think, poised over the tiny keys of your phone: it appears my old friend might be in  trouble, I wonder — is there anything helpful I can do from here in my own quarantine?   Well might you wonder.   You might want to write a few hundred words, to make the wonder something you can set out in front of you, organize, study, explain a bit to yourself, mull over.   Edit, clarify and repeat.   Word to the wise.

 

 

[1] It occurs to me from time to time that I need to figure out how to collect the probably millions of words I’ve composed and posted here on this website the last few years and save them in a format I can store on various hard-drives.   If I had a mass of readers I’d ask for any ideas about how to do this, but since few stop by, I’ll keep the question to myself.  On second thought, anyone have any ideas?  Does WordPress still have something like that old RSS feed that can be copied and pasted easily?

Now Good Americans are actually happy about the deaths of Bad Americans during a plague

I don’t consider myself a particularly evil person.  I get angry, for example when I’m overpowered by somebody who grabs my arm and keeps slapping me hard in the face with my own hand, asking solicitously why I keep hitting myself.   I may have a lower threshold for being bullied than a more highly evolved earthling, but I do my best to remain as mild as I can, under circumstances that sometimes make mildness seem a very unappealing option.    Anger is a good warning system, it seems to me, not to give in the urging of righteous, enflamed feelings and do something outright evil.  And yet…

The other day I saw a piece quoting the evangelical minister of a mega-church, telling his flock, in a packed church, at a time when more reasonable people were “social distancing” all over the world, that faith protected him from COVID-19, that the Lord would protect all the faithful.  He added a nice underscore to the effect that AND YOU CAN TAKE THAT TO THE BANK, PRAISE GOD!   A couple of weeks later this man of God was dead of COVID-19.   It immediately struck me as a rare instance of justice, a wonderful “good for you” joke on a pompous, influential, ignorant jackass.   I posted the short news item here.  

So a fellow citizen, as opinionated as any of us have an absolute right to be, died a horrible death in ironic circumstances and I took in his death only as a great punchline.   Never thought about it any other way.

Served the ignorant snake-oil selling motherfucker right, was my only thought as I posted it here, thinking myself wry, for the few and the misguided to read.   Good joke, no?   “God loves and protects righteous people like me, this so-called virus is God’s message to the accursed non-believers, ignore what these people of no faith are telling you… oh, shit, I … I … can’t breathe…. what in Lord’s name?   Ahhh, get me… to … the h-h-hospital…” 

Is it really funny?  Yes, and definitely also not funny at all.  Is it funny to laugh about a death sentence someone got just for being a fool or a blowhard?   Laughing about it reminded me of what I read years ago about the officially approved humor of the Third Reich, at a time when other humor was increasingly punishable by death [1].   Nazis were not without humor, many of them loved to laugh.  What made them laugh?   A good, spicy Jew joke was surely a winner at the old brauhaus. A joke about Hitler being a little nuts?  The weakest penalty for that was referred to as the “Hitler Cut”– castration.

Hoo, boy, right away, a bee line to that dark place with the Nazis…

Am I saying it’s wrong to laugh when a bully of some kind, while berating you and brandishing a club to beat you with, slips on a banana peel and lands wrong, cracking his skull and spilling his brains out on the sidewalk?   Of course not.  I’m just saying… what have we come to as a species when we “wise apes” celebrate the actual deaths of people who espouse views repugnant to our own?     Put the shoe on the other foot, picture a death sentence for someone you agree with for expressing what you both believe, it’s easy to see the sickness of it.    

Hypocrisy is not a crime, though, in the absence of all other sports and most entertainments during this plague,  it’s become something of our national pastime here in our gruesomely divided states of America.

 

[1] Richard Grunberger had a chapter on Nazi humor, if I recall correctly, in his The Twelve Year Reich, A Social History of Nazi Germany 1933-45.  

About the tome, from Jeff Bezos’s ad:

“In chilling detail, this social history brilliantly demonstrates the awesome power of a brutal government to corrode the human spirit.”–Wall Street Journal
 
“Invaluable for every student of the Nazi era.”–New York Times Book Review
The 12-Year Reich, the first comprehensive social study of the Third Reich, shows what the Nazi regime proffered as the “ideal” society and how the German people responded. Along with the violence, corruption, persecution, public extravaganzas, the ever-present Party, and the cult of the Fuhrer, a ghastly imitation of ordinary life went on.
How did people talk during the Third Reich? What films could they see? What political jokes did they tell? Did Nazi ranting about the role of women (no make-up, smoking, or dieting) correspond with reality? What was the effect of the regime on family life (where fathers were encouraged to inform on sons, and children on parents)? When the country embraced National Socialism in 1933, how did that acceptance impact the churches, the civil service, farmers, housewives, businessmen, health care, sports, education, “justice,” the army, the arts, and the Jews? Using examples that range from the horrifying to the absurd, Grunberger captures vividly the nightmarish texture of the times and reveals how Nazis effectively permeated the everyday lives of German citizens. The result is a brilliant, terrifying glimpse of the people who dwelt along the edges of an abyss-often disappearing into it.

A Vision of Heaven

As a child I had a picture of heaven as a place of eternal peace.   I’m sure this came from my father, who, though angry and embattled while he was on this earth with the rest of us,  is living in such a place now.   My child’s image of heaven was of old enemies meeting on a cloud, embracing and laughing off their old, earthbound enmity.  Their old reasons for hating each other now delicious jokes to be shared and laughed about together in the ever-after.

I was reminded of this today, when I had a wake up call from Elaine at Healthfirst, the health insurance company that has done so much to impersonally fuck me over lately.  Apparently my DFS complaint, which I had attempted to revoke by email on Tuesday, had been quickly assigned to an investigator who contacted Healthfirst.  Good to know that process still works so quickly, anyway.

The last time Elaine and I spoke, things had not gone well.  I had asked her pointedly several times if she was drunk.  I eventually hung up on her after one too many incoherent, drunk-sounding answers from the Resolution Specialist.  That was back on March 7, I think, the last, and ugliest, of several long conversations we had.

She began our conversation cautiously, as you might imagine.   I immediately informed her that I’d contacted DFS to retract the complaint (I believed I had finally successfully done that last night on their website).   I told her that this time Healthfirst was not to blame for the termination of my health insurance.   I told her I wished Healthfirst had contacted me on March 11, when they were informed that they needed to terminate my insurance effective March 31. I could have prevented the cancellation of my health insurance if I’d had a heads up from them in time to stay insured.

She explained that the March 11 notice Healthfirst got contained the same claim my on-line, inbox-posted version had — that I’d received two notices to remedy my easily fixable error, one the day after I re-enrolled and the March 11 notice I was never notified of.   Healthfirst was in the same boat as I was, it seemed.   No other notice had been sent to anyone, I never got the March 11 notice in any form, until after my insurance was terminated and it was too late to do anything about it.  Unlike Healthfirst, only I had had my health insurance interrupted for a month during a plague, but that wasn’t Healthfirst’s fault.  

The odd thing is how gentle our conversation was.  I had no animus toward poor Elaine, a native Russian speaker doing her best in a difficult language.   Her promised written summaries had been the best she could do, subject to redactions from “regulatory”, I grasped that now.   It was not her fault that NYS does not provide consumers with the laws that protect them from, for example, termination of health insurance without notice.  

“Did you call the New York State of Health?” Elaine asked sympathetically.  I explained to her that on a good day one cannot easily get through on the phone, during the pandemic wait times are much longer.  The reps one eventually speaks to there are as limited in their knowledge and their power to help as the ones at Healthfirst, they cannot see the entire picture or explain difficult things that are difficult, or even impossible, to explain.  She seemed to understand this.   I told her I’d found and fixed the mistake easily on-line.  If only I’d had notice to do it sooner!

Thinking about the surprisingly pleasant call afterwards (she’d been palpably relived to get no fight from me), and how we wished each other well, and spoke for the first time without defensiveness or anger on either side, two humans in very similar little boats, I was reminded of my childish view of heaven.   From the minds of children…

 

Inner Dialogue, Pandemic installment #1

I used to have frequent conversations with the skeleton of my long-dead father.  I did this for about two years, almost every day, sitting at the computer, taking dictation to the steady beat of my tapping fingers, thumb adding off-beats on the space bar.  Once in a while I read one of these chats, often out of curiosity after I see someone has clicked on one (as somebody did yesterday) and realize I miss talking to my witty lifelong enemy, now that he is dead and full of self-knowledge and empathy.

“Who are you talking to, motherfucker?”  

You’re a droll one, doll-face.  You know goddamned well who I’m talking to.  I’m having what you might call an inner dialogue, something that becomes necessary from time to time to straighten out my unruly thoughts, if you know what I’m saying.  

“Talking to yourself…”    

I’m going to ignore these interruptions.   The nagging, niggling voice of the reflexive interrupter is not something to be interrupted by, if you seek clarity of any kind.  

“If you say so, Chief.”  

You can be 100% correct in your analysis, based on specific past experience and outside knowledge, your overall analysis can be dead on, and you can still, in an individual case, be wrong.  For example, you can be dealing with an inhuman bureaucracy, bent on saving money by cutting the eligibility of anyone it can, in a system brutally skewed toward protecting the privileges of the privileged; that bureaucracy can have twice or more arbitrarily fucked you, in excruciating detail, for reasons they later reverse — and in “the instant case”, as we are taught to say by law professors,  you may have simply been fucked by your own inaction or error, the inhuman bureaucracy in that particular case virtually, or at least legally, blameless.

“Seriously, man, who are you talking to?”

That is a disgusting and fake question.  You have a sickening smell.   You’re a disgraceful excuse for an interrupter!  

“Apologies, SIR!”  

As you were.  Now men, it is very important, and I say this to you as a role model and the steward of your morality, that you not be confused by these competing truths.   Both things can be true at the same time, even if one is more true at the moment than the other.  Do not doubt your essential analytical skills because you find yourself mistaken in one instance.   Yes, the enemy is brutal and sneaky.   Yes, sometimes you fall asleep at your post with your hand on your dick, mouth open, vulnerable to even the kindest, most considerate attack.  

“Sir, yes Sir!”

The exploitation of your vulnerability, even if done by the enemy in the most considerate possible way AT THAT TIME, does not mean that at any other time your ruthless enemy will not revert to character, not revert to the supremely inconsiderate beast it also is.  

Your faith in your fact-based analysis, men, should be as clear to you as a glass of pure water.  Be the water, not the glass.

“Bruce Lee, Jeet Kun Do, the Way of the Intercepting Fist.”  

Just so.

You can live on a low income, by choice, and not really be entitled to call yourself low-income, though why you would want to do that  is another question entirely.  You can be protected by someone who loves you, who has the means to protect you financially from the worst, and still be vulnerable to the same institutional cruelties that routinely kill many other people in your situation.   

Be self-effacing at your own risk, men.  Remember, the boy who cries “poison gas!” in a coal mine filled with odorless gas will still be killed by the poison gas he can’t smell.

It’s may be easy to view someone you feel has not worked as hard as you, at least not for pay, as a whiner complaining about the brand new rope being used to hang him.  

To consider me a pampered stuck pig screaming in pain from a self-inflicted wound I imagine is another of the thousand cuts freely given to anybody who speaks up, or stays silent, howling at unbearable, over-amped length, tediously advertising myself as the most learned and righteous of victims, giving pompous, imagined voice to the other, voiceless, real victims, is to paint only a corner of the larger picture.  I am also, potentially, with the right marinade and glaze, and slow-cooked to a turn, a very tasty rack of ribs.

“Sir, yes SIR!  Oh, yum! SIR!”