A Really Horrible Post. A Total Disaster. A Total Disaster. Sad. Believe Me.

 

My mom says it’s a brain tumor. She had us in tears, laughing, while she defended her theory. I almost started believing her – after all, she spent her entire career in the medical profession. I went so far as to google brain tumor symptoms – but, alas, they didn’t really jibe with the increasingly apparent behaviors. The constant word repetition along with vague and simplistic vocabulary. The impulsiveness, the emotional stunted-ness, the name-calling, the lying, the self-aggrandizement. The propensity to never meet a conspiracy theory he couldn’t believe. I could go on. I kept googling – but this time starting with the symptoms – until I struck gold.

So now, in my expert capacity as an English Literature major, I am revealing my promised (internet) medical diagnosis of He Who Shall Not Be Named. To make it as exciting as possible, I will begin with the symptoms and the question – “Does this remind you of anyone??”

According to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center:

Apathy is often the first symptom reported . . . People experiencing these changes may become self-centered, emotionally distant, withdrawn, unaware of the emotions of others . . .
Impulsive behavior is another common complaint from caregivers who may find the changes in social and personal conduct embarrassing or frustrating. These behaviors are often associated with a lack of inhibition, resulting in impulsive or inappropriate behavior, such as overeating, outbursts of frustration, touching strangers, urinating in public or diminished social tact. . . . Restlessness, irritability, aggressiveness, violent outbursts or excessive sentimentality are not unusual either.
There is usually difficulty in reasoning, judgment, organization and planning, and consequently, these patients can be quite gullible and fall prey to scams on the computer or in person . . . . In some people, inappropriate sexual behavior occurs.
There may also be repetitive or compulsive behaviors that may include hoarding, doing the same thing over and over (for instance, reading the same book several times or walking to the same location again and again), pacing, or repeating particular “catch phrases” over and over in their speech.
The person with (this disease) may experience false thoughts (delusions) that are jealous, religious or bizarre in nature. Or they can develop a euphoria – excessive or inappropriate elation or exaggerated self-esteem.
Even though they might complain of memory disturbance, patients can usually keep track of day-to-day events and understand what is going on around them. Also, their language skills and memory usually remain intact until late in the disease . . . Indeed, often the person has little or no awareness of the problem behaviors.

 

I rest my case.

Now I am wondering how to go about starting one of those online petitions. Mine would sound something like this:

“I, the undersigned, demand that the new pwesident undergo a complete physical, including an MRI and PET scan, specifically to look for signs of Frontotemporal Dementia. Furthermore, until such an examination is completed, I would really appreciate it if someone would take the nuclear codes away from him.”

brain

Inaugural Blackout

Is it just me, or is anyone else out there getting really irritated at the way he keeps saying everything two or three times in a row?

Before I started writing this post today, I intended to do some internet research on what possible medical condition he has. (Search terms: “symptoms: word repetition, impulse control, pathological lying . . .”) I believe I figured it out too. But that will have to wait till tomorrow.

Because I got sidetracked with the transcript of the inauguration speech. I started circling the word repetitions. Then I suddenly remembered a post from Joan about blackout poetry, which I have been wanting to try out ever since . . .

As usual with such things – I was overly ambitious – this took me hours and hours. At the end I had a whole list of ideas of what I would do differently the next time – starting with better materials.

But here you have it – such as it is – my first blackout attempt and my latest contribution to the Resistance:

inaugural

 

Hail to the Chief

hail1

I have no idea where they came from, but we inherited this ancient German encyclopedia set and these books have spent most of their lives since collecting dust in my library. Recently, however, I took one off the shelf on a whim and gave it a closer look. My first discovery was the old Germhail2an script which I find quite difficult to read. Then I looked at the copyright and saw that these books were published in 1937 in Leipzig, Germany. Almost exactly 80 years ago.

 

1937 . . .

If memory and my high school history teachers serve, 1937 was four years after Hitler’s election to German Chancellor and one year before he annexed Austria, kicking off the march toward World War II in the process. I wondered, what was the mindset of the people who let these developments happen? What were the facts of their world? Here on my library shelf were five volumes with the answers to my questions.

I first tried to think of non-political things I could look up. Things that might have been new at that time. My husband suggested “Jazz”.

After struggling a while with the kooky letters, I learned that Jazz “arose out of English and Scottish folksongs and operetta music as well as the plantation work songs and religious singing of the North American negro and their dances which stemmed from Africa. Jazz is foreign to the German music sensibility.”

The word “negro” stood out. In German it was “Neger” and that is a word that is no longer socially acceptable around here. I assume, however, that no one in 1937 Germany had a problem with it.

I looked it up and read about where the negros come from and all the places they were shipped off to as slaves (“See ‘the Negro Question’”), a litany of their – seemingly unattractive – physical attributes, and (dubious) cultural influences, leading to the fact that: “The power of state-building is inherently lacking in the negro.”

Apparently, (I’m paraphrasing now) their industry is limited and mostly agricultural. Only one tribe in Liberia developed a real written language. Their mostly religious artwork only reached any heights in one part of West Africa. There seems to be a general musical talent. “Intellectually they rapidly developed, but the negro quickly lagged behind the people of European cultures; he is not suited to autonomous cultural work but does not die out when coming into contact with higher cultures, rather resigns himself to it.”

This little nugget of wisdom was immediately followed by the term “Negerfrage” (“the Negro Question”), meaning the dangers of racial mixing and the “negro-ification” of white peoples in places where they live in close proximity. It is a long, convoluted, and disgraceful entry which I stopped reading after the third sentence.

Of course there was one more thing I had to look up.

 

hail3I read about Adolf’s youth and long (seemingly heroic) struggle to finally be elected leader (with 36.8% of the votes). I “learned” how “very early on he became a decisive enemy of narcissism as well as Judaism and realized that nationalism and socialism only seemed to be antithetical, and that the German worker had to be restored to his traditional role.” How he turned a small Workers’ Party into a movement. How after gaining power, he successfully dismantled the longstanding dominance of political parties and the parliamentary establishment. “In foreign policy, he stood for a policy of peace and accommodation based on German honor and equal status.” Or, in simpler terms, he promised to make Germany great again. After that, he consolidated all the power and proceeded to get over 90% of the votes for basically everything he wanted. And there the story ended. For the time being.

To be continued . . .

 

I’ve heard we are living in a “post-factual” world – probably because we have become used to powerful people saying things in front of live cameras and then denying having said it two days later.

But that can’t be true because, clearly, facts are not static things – they are the always changing, commonly accepted perceptions of reality as we grow and learn.

I would say we are living in an era where facts are simply buried under a mountain of manure. Sort of like in Germany in 1937.

Our outgoing president reaffirmed his faith in people just yesterday and I agree with him. I still hope and believe that 80 years from now, people will look back at the encyclopedias of 2017 and have no trouble distinguishing truth from today’s transient turds.

I’ll Be Bach

 

2016 sucked and – so far – 2017 blows.

The first half of the sentence above seemed to be a generally conceded judgment – I heard it on news shows, read it in blogs, agreed with it in conversations . . . Of course, there is no one in my bubble who voted for or is excited about the prospect of the pwesident-elect. No, that is not a typo –it is the name I have decided on and will start using one week from tomorrow: “Pwesident Twump”. (My second choice was “President Tweet”). The second half of the sentence comes from the fact that I woke up on January 1st with a terrible head cold. And now, 11+ days later, I still haven’t quite kicked it. I don’t understand it. Those 2000 tissues, 20 plus cups of tea and 2 full seasons of Star Trek Voyager really should have done the trick. At least I got myself back into good enough shape to return to work on Monday. I also did over 20 turd removals and helped old Dog Three stand up at least 50 times.

Of course, all of this activity pales in comparison to all the stuff I DIDN’T do – basically everything on my ambitious set of resolutions and First-Week-of-the-New-Year project list. I did not quit smoking. I did not tune out political developments in my home country. I did not banish the moth havens from the kitchen cupboards. I did not do any mountaintop removal from the ironing pile. I did not start my daily ballet regimen. I did not drag Dog Four and Devil Cat to the vet for their shots or get any counsel on what to do about Dog Three. I did not take down the Christmas decorations or tree. I did not write my adoption progress reports to send to Ethiopia. I did not get my hair cut. I did not organize my teaching materials. I did not take up the piano again. I did not read or write blogs (with one drug-induced exception) . . .

But all that changes now.

Or if not exactly now, then . . . soon. Very soon.

Wait for it.

ill-be-bach

 

 

69th Street

Our wise, conscientious and more-educated-than-the-common-rabble electors have spoken – not with any partisan blindness or pecuniary self-interest, mind you – and I now have to finally come to terms with the impending inauguration. As much as it pains me, (sigh), it seems America has no alternative but to become white, oops! I mean “great” again. Like it was in the Happy Days or the pre-Sixties 60s. The time when I was a child and life was wonderful.

 

It really was wonderful, my childhood.

69-gangBorn originally in one of those industrial subdivisions, my parents moved me and my four siblings into a different community with a fabulous school system when I – the youngest – was just 3 years old. We inhabited an enchanted place on an elm lined street full of not technically modest houses. 69th Street. With 7 houses on each side of the block between the road on the crest of the hill and Pickle Alley at the bottom, a sufficient number of 3 to 16 year olds spilled out into the streets daily to ensure me an endless supply of group games and seminal experiences.

There were the Grands – a weird brother and sister I never really connected with but they had the greatest tree swing in their yard. (Decades later they visited me in Austria and I found them both charming.)

There was Ellie – my very first friend. We were so loyal to one another that we could be cruel and distant with impunity, never threatening the core connection. (She later had a hard life of serial losses and intermittent addictions/institutionalizations. A few years ago, I even heard that might not be alive anymore. Lately, I did some internet research and found evidence that she had recently remarried. That heartened me.)

There were the Champions – the most beautiful family that ever existed, but who somehow struck me as unhappy. Even unhappier were the Aspens, who lived right next door.  The kids were standoffish and the parents universally disapproving. My one experience with Mrs. Aspen was when she decided to take us kids to the opera shortly after our dad’s death. I was 8 or 9 at the time and was not exactly enthralled with Madame Butterfly. When I dozed off, Mrs. Aspen was deeply offended and proceeded to scold me on the ride home – much more harshly than my mother ever had. I avoided her like the Plague after that.

69th Street was also home to the Savage family with an uncountable number of kids. The youngest one was my age and had older twin sisters, one of whom was a witch. But, boy (!) could she play piano! And tell wild stories!  At the same time!

Then there was the house that seemed to change occupants every two years. For a short time, Katy, the Reverend’s daughter, lived there and she became my fast and furious best friend (“Sorry Ellie!”) until she moved away (“Hello, Ellie!”)

And then there were the Olders – all of them blindingly red-headed. Scott was my age. He was weird. He needed a comb and to lose the handkerchief he blew his nose into and then stuffed back into his pocket.  He was my first official boyfriend. (And he died on his bicycle two blocks from home at the ripe old age of 15.)

Those kids were my gang. We met up regularly in different constellations and in different flashpoints. We secretly explored the yards of the childless houses on the block. We played statue-maker and kick-the-can and (when it rained) Monopoly. We made hysterical attempts at strip poker after first donning layer upon layer of extra clothes and then arguing about whether we had to take off both or just one sock after a loss.  We made excursions to the Village for ice cream. Sometimes, this or that pairing would succeed in separating themselves from the pack on the way home. They would share an awkward moment of twosome-ness in Pickle Alley, then rejoin the pack and proceed to whisperingly ignore one another. For a while, some of us turned an old car on blocks into a clubhouse. Once, when Savage Boy wanted to come in, one of us told him he had to guess the (non-existent) password first. It quickly went from funny to cruel. After that, the clubhouse lost its charm and was abandoned. And we were all nicer to SB for a while.

In winter there were magical snow days with their social perfection. Everyone was released from prison for a day. First we all pitched in to shovel out driveways, but after that, there were a billion new toys to play with and no adult supervision. And then there was hot cocoa.

As I grew older, there were days when I didn’t automatically go out and meet the neighborhood gang after school. I stayed inside and watched TV. It was the afternoon and there were reruns – mostly of popular series from the preceding decade. Brady Bunch, Beverly Hillbillies, Dick Van Dyke, Green Acres, I Dream of Jeannie, Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons . . .

Of all the shows I watched, the one with the most diverse cast of characters was probably Gilligan’s Island.

What I didn’t understand until much later was the demographics of my childhood. Whether it was my neighbors, the TV I consumed or the snow days . . . they were all completely white. The city was about 99.9% white and, I’m guessing, 90% Republican.  The vast majority of my friends had dads who left for work in the morning and housewife mothers who didn’t. (If any of my other classmates also carried a house key to school, I didn’t hear about it.)  In economic terms, we all landed smack-dab in the center of the middle class.  We were suburban. We were monotone and . . . bland.

Enter Josephine.

She was my mom’s household help. From my perspective an incredibly large black woman who entered my life once a week. There were a few times when I stayed home sick from school on one of Josephine’s days. She made me scrambled eggs and they were runny and sort of slimy. I gagged just a little when I swallowed them. I might have wished that mom would find a new cleaning lady – one who made better eggs. But that feeling didn’t stick. Josephine was kind and she checked up on me throughout the day.

I remember my mom and Josephine sitting together over coffee and talking as equals in their very different languages. I remember Josephine taking bags and bags full of our old clothes and toys to her car.  I learned that she distributed these things among needy kids in her own neighborhood. She and my mom had created their own private goodwill network.

Years later I suspected that it was important for my mom that we have contact with people different from ourselves. Josephine was not the only example of my mom’s attempts to widen our horizons and diversify our experience of the world. Her own childhood coincided with the Great Depression which hadn’t left her family unscathed. I think she knew how very limited our worldview on 69th Street was – or, I should say, would have been. Or I should say, could have become.

69 was a number that could make young teens giggle and blush, but it was also the number most similar to yin and yang. Without Josephine, witho69-yin-yangut all of my mother’s Josephines, my childhood days could have been all yang with no yin – just a sort of upside-down apostrophe. More contracted.  Incomplete.

 

About four weeks from now, our nation will say goodbye to yin and then just hang there, symbolically and spiritually diminished. An upside-down apostrophe, signifying nothing.  A people who identifies themselves by what they are NOT, not realizing that the exercise alone makes them only half of what they once were.

The Mobiest of Dicks

Call me Ishmael.

I, too, once suffered from recurrent wanderlust which kept me traveling around the world after college for several years. There was nothing like taking off for a new place to cure restlessness and malaise. Eventually, however, I settled down far from home and it is from here that I watch my country battle the great white whale.

The last time my brain started associating the events of Election 2016 with some work of literature, it conjured up a mental image of Dragon Lizard Donald devouring Goat Clinton for show. Now I keep thinking of a larger-than-life book I never actually finished (the Cliff Notes sufficed for the test) but whose symbolism must be familiar to all English speaking people (who have also not read it.) The extended metaphor works in so far as I am somehow removed from the action, observing from a distance. It also works in that many adversaries of Trump view him as pure evil while others see him merely as a wild animal acting on instinct. But then the metaphor breaks down in a major way. Where’s my Ahab?  All I see are a whole lot of Ahab-ettes, mad at losing a leg to stand on, defiantly convinced of their righteousness, chucking their little harpoons from the confines of a cable news studio or for the benefit of cameras. So far I don’t like where any of this is heading.

moby

Snippets of Conversations I Had This Week

 

Wednesday, November 9th

The whole world is still unspeakable. My cell rings and I see it is Mark, my colleague. I hesitate. This will be the first post-travesty conversation. I pick up and say

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

There is an awkward silence.

“So,” Mark says, “are you studying for your (Austrian) citizenship test?”

It felt good to laugh.

 

Wednesday, November 9th (later)

I text my friend 2T – a fellow American living in Austria:

“How are you holding up?”

She answers, “Surprisingly well. I have accepted it. You?”

“In complete denial.”

30 seconds later, my cell rings.

 

Thursday, November 10th

I watch the news and tell my husband how much I wish I could join the protests. Go out into the streets.

“What would that help?” he asked.

 

It would help me. I could make a sign saying “I’m with the 75%!” or  “#notmypresident” and go be with like-minded people. I could stop feeling despair and fear and start sending a message. It would empower me.

 

Friday, November 11th

My (Hungarian) cleaning lady arrives in the morning. I talk about how cold the weather is suddenly. She laughs and answers,

“Yes. Yes.”

 

Saturday, November 12th

I finally reach my mom on Skype. She tells me a story about her visit to the doctor and a conversation with the receptionist there. This woman told my mom how Hillary had 100s of classified emails on her private server and that 1000s of people had died as a result.

“I didn’t even know what to say to her!” my mom said. “I just left.”

 

Sunday, November 13th

Invited to a family lunch, no one knows if or how to start the conversation. I put them out of their misery by bringing it up myself. One of my well-meaning relatives tries to console me by saying,

“And who knows? Maybe it won’t be that bad, maybe it will all turn out okay.”

Everyone in the room starts to laugh.

 

Monday, November 14th

I call my friend and fellow teacher to confirm our dinner plans for tomorrow. I haven’t seen him in ages. He says he has been stressed out non-stop since the school year started.

“Yeah, it was like that for me too,”  I replied, “but now that the world is coming to an end, everything seems easier.”

We both laugh.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow.