This afternoon I scrubbed my usual roster of Saturday victims and we hit the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Don Giovanni.

I haven’t seen a full production for thirty years or more and I had forgotten everything but the high points. When I think of Giovanni, I usually smile; because of the lively Catalogue Aria (I’ve been known to refer to my own mille e tre); because of Zerlina’s masterful management of her jealous bridegroom after the Don courts her; because of the broad farce — flimsy disguises, walking statues, the iconic longsuffering manservant.

Only. For one thing, Simon Keenlyside’s Don was not the young nobleman who’d be put upon to rack up all those conquests, just as a matter of scheduling alone; he was a man well into the march toward middle age and cynical with it. His cry that he could not give up women, who were more vital to him than breath, had a desperate urgency. And his inflection of the Don’s lechery — that women were all his whenever he chose to covet them — put a shiver up a spine shaken by this campaign season.

You can say “I love the peasant girls — I’ll have another ten tonight” in this way or that. I kept coming back to

Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

There in the movie theater, centuries of I have the money and the land/property and the credibility and the woman over there has next to nothing and I can do what I want came crashing on my head and the music was suddenly terrible.

I played this over again when I got home.

Is It Just Me?

Am I the only person who is depressed and disgusted that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in… Literature?

Does the word even mean anything any more?

I was never going to reach even the bar of being published for money, much less the Nobel committee, but this is like a shitbag in the face to anyone who ever sweated blood trying to make a work of fiction into a solid and living thing, or went back to a cycle of poetry year after year, shaping it like a bonsai tree.

I guess all of us who ever wanted to build something worthwhile out of words ought to just go fuck ourselves, or learn to sing in an abrasive, obnoxious tone of voice.

Why Is Anyone Surprised?

The festival of shock and pearl-clutching that followed taped revelations of Donald Trump’s tackiness-to-women-in-his-own-voice astonished me. The man has shown us amply who and what he is, in one recorded utterance after another; really, did it take the word “pussy” to stun the Republican establishment, or anyone else?

More to the point: given the winks and nods to people who behave like Mister Trump over decades of the twentieth century, why is this news?

Oh, let’s go down the memory hole.

For my sins in another life, my French-hornist father wanted me to play the oboe. He got me an oboe teacher from one of his fellow Armed Forces bands. Talented motherfucker. I still have a physical memory of him standing behind me, “checking my diaphragm support,” and rubbing an erection against my hindquarters until I stamped my heel accurately into his instep. I was sixteen. I still have the oboe but I never really enjoyed playing it again. And no, I did not bring this up at home, where I was already apparently the cause of everything bad. Welcome to reality.

I had a piano teacher too, another family friend. She left me alone for a quarter hour with a house guest whose wife was somewhere upstairs. He felt overly friendly. I torqued his hand away from where his hand did not belong with main strength.


My first “shit job” after college was in a cheese and wine shop, where I learned a heck of a lot about two subjects that interested me and still do, and a good deal about what multiply married and divorced men do when they are in a position to hire underpaid females. Copping a feel in the cheese cooler was not really the worst of J. Numbnuts [not his real name] Carver’s vices; he was just a nasty human being. But, yeah, trying to cop a feel in the cheese cooler. His wife was in the office doing the accounts, a lot of good it did as he never could get the place in the black and spent his afternoons drinking Gallo in a trailer out back. Oh well.

Second shit job: Southwestern jewelry store with a family connection. Run by a couple employed at the Pentagon. She was a full blooded Native American who would go out on the rez and negotiate for amazing works of craft. He was a double-dipper colonel who was never more than two drinks away (and there was always booze in the back of the shop, and no one questioned that business model) from sticking his hand up a skirt and into underpants. Family connection, as I said. I quit wearing skirts at all, good decision, actually.

Third shit job: trade association where I was told I would do dogsbody work in the office, not any accounting, and was immediately given a petty cash box to reconcile. My supervisor was a preening bitch who took against me and immediately announced she would make it her business to run me out of the office. Larry worked across the hall and was the only person who was nice to me — a mature married man. The day I left the job a month later, not being interested in office girl fight crap, he wandered in as I was cleaning out my desk, grabbed me and pinched my nipple, and tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. He must have never cleaned his teeth; they had fur on them. I just walked and kept walking.

Fifteen and some years later, in business for myself, I had a fresh-faced Libertarian lawyer as a client — someone who had pled cases before the Supreme Court. Anita Hill was in the headlines, and I remarked in response to his scoffing, “Of course, all we have is he said and she said, but I know how it feels.” He sat bolt upright on the table. “Something like that happened to YOU?” he said.

“And every other woman I know,” I answered.

And let’s think about this: since adolescence I have been, conspicuously, someone who can chuck folding chairs off the back of a truck or heave packing cases all day, someone who could arm-wrestle a younger man to a draw. Because that was something I liked. Other people like other things. What do less physically ambitious women do?

People are shocked, shocked — on either side of the aisle — about Trumpy Gropeys? Really?

Polly Drove Steel Like A Man

I am down here on the ground floor not watching Hillary Clinton debate Donald Trump because I can’t stand it: I’d have to listen to Donald Trump. The Engineer is upstairs watching it because he’s an engineer and nothing bothers him.

I just keep thinking about John Henry: the flip side of the Sixteen Tons 45 rpm that I played over and over as a four year old precocious twit. The working man that built this country and the working woman that never got the credit. The Polish and Ukrainian laborers that worked on properties for Donald Trump without righteous immigration papers and got paid intermittently  — at times, so one hears, in vodka.

John Henry was a real person — a black man sent to prison on fluffed post-Reconstruction charges, press-ganged to build the rail lines westward, dead as so many died building the “new nation” without a fuck of a lot of acknowledgement or gratitude from the people who would profit from their labor. You can read about it in this book.

The ballad mentions his wife: “When John Henry was sick and had to lie in bed, Polly drove steel like a man.”

Yeah. Pretty ornamental ladies float on the arms of rich men, then and now. Other women suck it up and deal because there’s no other choice. Some of them drive steel.

Drive steel like a man, Hillary.

The Engineer Has An Adventure

“Looking back on it,” the Engineer said reflectively, “I realize I that when they told me about the third distillery, I was more or less doomed.”

It actually goes back a couple of years to an occasion when he picked up a magazine at the dentist’s, saw that a craft distillery had opened downtown –according to the article, the first actual distillery in DC since Prohibition — and decided to take a bike ride. When he fetched up at New Columbia Distillers, home of Green Hat Gin,* he asked for the distillery tour and was told to wait; a group would probably show up shortly. He waited. A group showed up. He followed them to a subterranean room lined with casks and found that he had joined a bottling party peopled with friends of the distillery. For an hour he filled bottles from the casks, copied the alcohol percentage onto a tax stamp, and sealed the bottles, departing at last with some of the wares at a ten per cent discount. Since then, as an avid lover of gin and tonics in the summer heat, he’s been careful not to run out. I have never been that big a gin fancier but this stuff is more like an herbal infusion, full of flowery perfumes and not suffocated in raw alcohol aromas and juniper.

So about a week back I got on their Instagram feed, on account Azahar’s friend Chantal Tseng is involved with a literary bar in another part of downtown, and was making concoctions with Green Hat gin (yes, I know this gets a little convoluted), and there was another distillery that they linked to, producing heirloom bourbon about a mile away. The Engineer likes bourbon in the winter. So he got his bike back out and headed for the premises of Jos.A. Magnus.

It was a working day for me and not till it ended did I get a call.

“I just wanted you to know I’m okay,” he said. “I’m at the third distillery. There was another distillery. One-Eight. I’m okay. I ought to be home in about an hour.”

He sounded disturbingly exhilarated. “Can you back up a little bit?” I asked.

“Ummm…. well they had a whole tasting menu at Magnus,” he said, “and after that I was still able to get to Green Hat, but after I tried the new vermouths they have and everything else really, the barman asked if I had been to One Eight. It’s another distillery. We have a distillery district. Seems like. I figured I wouldn’t be back this way in a while. They make gin. And white whiskey. It’s not bad. I should be home in an hour or so.”

I digested this. Quickly. “Are you actually okay to cycle?”

“There’s no law as far as I know against drinking and cycling –”

“I mean are you going to wipe out.”

Chastened, he said, “Well if I’m not sure I’ll take the bike on the Metro.”

Phew. “Just saying,” I pointed out, “I haven’t heard you sound like this since we were at that winery out in Leesburg in oh-eight and my client who was behind the tasting bar set us up three extra wines that weren’t on the menu, and you saw the winery cat up on the fridge and told the whole tasting bar that your mom’s cat used to do that and your mom said it’s warm and vibrates, what more could a girl want.”

(True story. The observation had fallen into one of those spontaneous silences that occurs now and then in a populous room. People edged away from us and I told him he was cut off. We had a long walk around the vineyard after. Nota bene, the Engineer’s mom is a cool babe.)

About an hour and a half later he fetched up with four bottles of liquor in his panniers, self-confessedly still slightly buzzed, having ridden the subway from downtown to the local station.

I made him document the damage while it was still fresh in his mind.

Jos. A. Magnus Distillers:

One half shot apiece vodka and signature bourbon (“$92 a bottle, gorgeous but too rich for my blood”)
A “fig ginger cocktail”
Something with gin, bitters, and a candied orange

New Columbia Distillers:

A quarter-shot apiece of
Spring Gin
“Summer Cup”
White Vermouth
Dry Vermouth
Sweet Vermouth
Navy Strength Gin

One Eight Distillers:

A half shot each of
White Whiskey

2 oz of the #2 whiskey aged in Sherry Casks

… which is the point where he phoned.

Amazingly, he benched his usual the next day, with no sign of damage. I reflected that with German, Czech and Irish ancestry, the man has been genetically selected to metabolize alcohol at the rate of a small incinerator. Still, he does not propose to repeat the performance any time soon.

“I found out later there was a fourth, but all they do is vodka,” he said. “Meh.”

If you follow old Cratinus,a my learned Maecenas, no poems can please long, nor live, which are written by water-drinkers. From the moment Liber enlisted brain-sick poets among his Satyrs and Fauns, the sweet Muses, as a rule, have had a scent of wine about them in the morning. Homer, by his praises of wine, is convicted as a winebibber.b Even Father Ennius never sprang forth to tell of arms save after much drinking.c “To the sober I shall assign the Forum and Libo’s Welld; the stern I shall debar from song.” Ever since I put forth this edict,e poets have never ceased to vie in wine-drinking by night, to reek of it by day.

Horace doesn’t mention engineers, but the liberal arts were, well, more liberally interpreted in his day.


*The Green Hat story is pretty dandy. Seems there was a chap who functioned as the official bootlegger to Congress during Prohibition, importing primo stuff from offshore –no bathtub crap for our legislature — and when he had a shipment in, he would wear a green hat to report to his office in the Cannon Building (oh yes), where Congressional aides would discreetly pick the stuff up. He was busted once and treated gently through Congressional intervention, but the next time his customers let him hang out to dry, and he sang to the Washington Post for sixteen weeks leading up to Election Day, when the hypocritical Dry Congress got the boot and Roosevelt got his Congress, giving us the New Deal, so ain’t that some history???? I salute the New Columbia guys for commemorating the guy.







Gillian went on a road trip.

She’s my client, the one on whose clothes Nickel Catmium likes to roll and perv, and I swear in between massages she never stays put. This time she hauled ass down to North Carolina, in the company of one of her “coveninis,” on account she is a committed and playful Wiccan who does earnest spells on behalf of her friends, in this case, someone tackling the quotidian horror of chemotherapy. They were occupied for the weekend putting up frozen homemade soup and performing hair spells for abundant regrowth as the pre-emptive head-shaving took place.

On the way back through some wide spot in the North Carolina road system, Gillian heard a thonk under her car and a succession of flap-flap-a-dab-a-daps as she rolled on. Pulling over at the nearest sign of intelligent life, she was told that about three miles on there was “a tire place,” where someone could at least get her car up on a lift and discern what had gone amiss, as the obvious conclusions like a blown tire didn’t seem to be responsible.

Substantially close than three miles, she saw a large illuminated sign reading Mechanic on Duty, which on closer inspection fronted a tractor maintenance and repair business. Surmising that anyone there could at least scope out her problem, she pulled over and stuck her head in the door, to be greeted by a purple-faced, white-haired redneck who seemed distinctly well into the late day’s drinking ration.

“Y’all lost your bumper liner here,” he said. “Used to they put these things on with solid clips. Now it’s all cheap plastic shit. See here? All in shreds. I can cut it off and stop the noise, throw it in the trunk so you can show it to who’s-ever does your car work. Bumper’ll rattle a little but no harm. How’s about?” Well that was fine, said Gillian. They stashed the damaged part, and as she was ferreting in her wallet the redneck added “Now, I don’t know if y’all are interested, but we got some of the best shine around here, just pulled off a new batch. Care for a slash?”

Gillian pleaded a weak head and the need to drive, but their new friend was undaunted. “Give you a good price. This ain’t like you read about where drinkin it can kill you, you gotta pull off that first few gallons. Don’t sell that part, it’s about a hunderd thirty proof.”

“Yow, you could put that in the gas tank,” said Gillian.

“Y’all hear that generator out back? Whatcha think that’s runnin’ on?” winked their new friend.

Gillian forced a twenty into his hand, and as they piled into the car, he said “Well if y’all get back through here, you know where to find the good stuff okay? My name’s Buddy.”

“Of course it is,” said Gillian as she got back into the car, and floored it.

Gillian usually brings me the pain relief unguent of the locality when she travels, which is typically far and wide. This time, she came back empty handed. All to the good, I figure.