America

It’s the Fourth of July and I can’t, I just can’t. My neighbor across the street, who two elections ago had a big orange “DEFEAT OBAMA” sign in his shrubbery, and during the last election interestingly displayed no sign at all, has a honking big American flag hanging in his porch entry, as sort of a flyscreen I guess. I ought to tell him it doesn’t work that way.

My country is taking kids away from their parents and giving them back, if they’re given back, broken, and I can’t do a lot more about it than write kiddygarten postcards to voters begging people to vote for anyone who will act to stop this insanity. I don’t even like kids, but you don’t do this. You don’t.

There’s a link there at the word “broken.” Read as much as you can stand. Goddammit.

Nonetheless, I’m an American — not a Brit, though I almost did that once (and they have their own problems), not a Canadian or anything else. When I was born Eisenhower, aka the Last Honest Republican, was President. My father played in the Army Band, Pershing’s Own, and I learned first hand how full of shit the rah-rah-red-white-and-blue could be, but still, here I am. I have to find something that I can still love.

I reverted to Arthur Foote. A Unitarian kapellmeister, who studied in Europe and channeled Dvorak, Brahms and Mendelssohn, he is the only American composer I can entirely embrace. Fuck your folksy Aaron Copland first grade orchestral settings and your Charles Ives cacophony. Here is a beating heart.

Unitarianism is an interesting faith, if it is one. I don’t really understand it much. I think it basically follows the rubric “be a good person.” We could use that.

Here is the Foote piece that I always come back to. Tell me if the world isn’t redeemed at about 1:24 when the B section kicks in, or if not there when the melody comes back dancing on the roof of Creation at 7:35. An American did that. So we’re not all damned to the outer dark.

Sorry, but those are the thoughts I think these days.

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The World Sucks And Yet

This was a very depressing week to be an American. There are people, of a rather Ralph Naderish persuasion (purportedly he never broke for rest and relaxation and slept on a cot in his office) who suggest that if you’re not using the Internet for anything but organizing to fight back,  you are part of the problem.

Well we all know how it worked out with Ralph Nader.

So I must share the thing that helped get me through this weekend: vintage Sondheim with Simon Russell Beale,  Daniel Evans, and Julian Ovenden plus, wait for it, the operatic bad boy of my heart-throb dreams, Bryn Terfel. Just blundered across it. Totally incorrect in these days of #Metoo but I would tidy up the dishes for Bryn any time, if he would sing.

Nadia

This was a weird one. A little while back I resumed using a thing called Sleep Wizard which is a speedball of nutriceuticals that accelerates your progress into deep stage sleep. I’d used it for years, then tried some other things that kinda sorta did the trick but seemed to leave me with an unrelieved calendar of anxiety/futility dreams, the kind where you’re trying to dial a phone but it doesn’t work, or you can’t find a restroom anywhere that isn’t too disgusting to even exist. Fortuitously, the company that sells the Sleep Wizard got its operation smoothed out, one of the reasons I’d looked elsewhere. It’s been about a month. I have interesting dreams.  Some of them are almost good.

Last night, I was at some sort of public performance or event, a fairly informal one that seemed to be taking place in a big open room or sheltered outdoor venue, with no seats, just people on the floor. Maybe blankets. Not sure. I am not even sure what music was being performed, but at a pause, famous people in attendance were to be brought forward.

The emcee produced a slender, ethereal woman, clearly old but not hag-like — in fact her features were hard to distinguish, her hair and eyes seemed dark — wrapped in a sort of sari or swaddling so closely you could not really discern arms and legs, and introduced her as Nadia Boulanger. For those who aren’t classical buffs, Boulanger was one of the Grey Eminences of twentieth-century music, composing little in her later life but teaching and directing copiously, mentoring most of the “modern” composers you possibly have heard of: Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Virgil Thomson, to name a few. When I was young and trying to channel all my mental energy (including melodies that hit me at all hours of the day and night) I asked my father, the hornplayer, if women had ever been composers — you wouldn’t know it from the playlists of the time. He brought up Nadia Boulanger. As far as I know, that’s the only conversation I ever had about her.

But in the dream I was stunned to discover that she was, though aged, still alive (she actually died in 1979), and appearing in public for unclear reasons, other than that it was a musical occasion, at least in part. And suddenly I stood up from my place on the blanket at stepped forward and sank to one knee in front of her, welling over with reverence and joy.

I have no idea what this means. Should I start practicing the piano again? The guitar? Terrifying the cats with my singing? Or found a religion?

Bag It

So all over the Internet, according to my Twitter feed, there seems to be a rash of weeping and hand-wringing because a fashion designer named Kate Spade was found dead. Holy priorities, Batman.

Don’t get me wrong: suicide from depression is always a sad thing. Take it from someone who lost a best childhood friend that way, largely, I’m fairly sure, because her mother loved a bunch of retarded kids more than her own brilliant daughter and continually forced the daughter to interact with them. I remember the hushed explanations, the mealy platitudes reported to me from the funeral service — thanks to dysfunctional everybody, I didn’t know she was dead till she had been in the ground for a month — and the posthumous denigration of someone who was suffering. I remember clearly that the parent who had all the time in the world for the feeble-minded curtly told her own daughter to “do something about herself” when her first year in pre-med went down in flames from her emotional struggles. I have enough bitterness about the way depressed people are treated to curdle the sea.

But all this sentimentality about handbags? There are people online rhapsodizing about the “aspirational” nature of the designer product and what it meant to them — some sort of image of “adult womanhood” — as if a handbag were more than just a fucking container to carry things around in, and as if we need to carry so many fucking things around.

I have two clear memories of people who cared jack shit about handbags. One was an epicene overprivileged blonde skinny woman in a toy job at the first gym where I ever worked, who drawled “I found a wonderful sale on Anne Klein. Are you into Anne Klein?” “I’m heavily into Sears and Montgomery Ward, myself,” I replied, thinking of my $3.60 an hour part time paycheck which for Skinny Blonde was just the garnish on a placeholder gig so she could say she was a real! working! person before going home to her parents’ fancy mansion. The other was a sad matter of someone who had only been able to survive, after escaping an abusive family, by finding generous gentlemen. Things that money bought were earnests of permanence to her. I was nicer to her.

Bags? What the fuck even is it about bags? A nuisance, a drag, a thing to look after, something that no man in history has ever felt he had to own. I went from a backpack to a hip pack to a key wallet over the last thirty years and I never really looked at who designed the things. You use them. You try to find something that doesn’t drag you down. It isn’t your identity.

There are these women at my gym who drag bags around. One day soon I’m going to go up someone’s nostrils just because the idiocy of it ticks me off. You’re in the gym, lady: first off, get yourself some real gym clothes and shoes; second, if you carry something around — I do — it should only be the stuff you need to have with you to work out — this is the US so you came here in a car and the car has a trunk. Stop leaving that horse-nosebag-handbag on the floor for me to trip over. Aside from, it makes you look stupid and focused on things other than the reason you are here. Please get your day tripping self out of my sight.

But here we are, with the world and especially America burning down around us, unjust deaths by the quire piling up among our veterans and our poor people, and someone needs to grieve over a person they never knew because handbags.

America will bullshit itself to death. Been happening for years. Just putting up signposts.

Phew

A while back I wrote a frustrated, distressed post about a #MeToo accusation of George Takei. The story was disturbing, given that all political progressives and sci fi geeks love George, but it also sounded way too like the kind of thing that, well, happens. Hollywood is a weird place and can bring out the worst in people who seem admirable.

It begins to sound as if the whole thing was much less fraught than the original story suggested — an almost classic tale of mixed signals. It doesn’t have heroes, but neither does it have villains. God love persistent reporters.

A fabricated coffee meeting. Key facts withheld or walked back. A “great party story” about a sexual assault—which the accuser now says may not have actually happened.

What happens when an activist’s legacy is tarnished by the story of an old friend who later says it could have all been a misunderstanding? And how do we process such an anomaly in an era of overdue social justice?…

It all makes plenty of sense to me. Yikes, if I had a nickel for every time I thought someone was interested and put the blocks on him… oh well, I’d have a handful of nickels. But there it is. No one else has had a thing to say about Takei, gay culture of that time was known for impulsive hookups, Takei is still happily Tweeting away; meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein has turned himself in. The wheels grind slowly but exceeding small.

 

 

 

 

Ear Defenders

I have been bitching for years about the universal plague of the earbud, the solipsistic me-world accessory that isolates other gym members in their own little music bubble and makes them impervious to things like friendly conversation or requests to “work in” on the machine they’ve been hogging for three sets without getting off in between. Well, you can talk to them, but you have to cause an international incident by raising your voice and waving your hand in front of their faces and repeating yourself when they fork the gross wax-glazed bud out of their ear and say “Huh?” like an old deefer in a retirement home.

Only I seem to have joined them. No, I don’t stick things in my ears. Never have, never will; it’s disgusting, and TOO GODDAM LOUD. I don’t need my music inside my bodily orifices; I really don’t need it in the gym at all. Which is sort of the reason. Gold’s was bad enough — they had their own disgusting radio station peppered with repetitions of the same ads every fifteen minutes,, for teeth whitener or Spandex leggings or what not. Back at Planet Fitness, where I reluctantly retreated after the millionth commercial and one too many rude assholes and a paucity of warmup bikes — they pick a Sirius station, and on Sundays I can stand the classic rock, which sort of takes me back to my roots at the biker gym that was my home in the 80s. The current top forty, however, can take a hike. It either sounds like a bad case of fleas or someone banging his head on a wall for eternity, and one of the current songs features a talentless female vocalist ascending to a dramatic peak note — practically in whistle register and grotesquely flat. I was raised on real music, goddammit — Mozart and Bruckner and Schumann and Brahms. I don’t know why people need to fray their nerves with this amateurish shit all day. No wonder society is in a mess.

So what happened was, I was reading the Twitter feed of Steven Silberman, who wrote the book, literally, about autistic people finding their place in human culture, and one of his autistic tweeps posted about wearing his Ear Defenders in the subway and meeting a gradeschool-age autistic kid who was excited at the sight because he wore them too.

I perked up. I have always gravitated toward people on the spectrum, though I didn’t usually know it because “on the spectrum” hasn’t been a term for most of my life. But forex, my first decent boyfriend (my “transgender ex,” as it turned out) ticked all the boxes for Aspie whiz kid with tics and quirks — could play reams of Bach and Beethoven by heart, chess maniac, used to make weird rolling movements with his hands and hum to himself, wore clothes until they were in tatters because they were familiar and soft. The Congressional protest candidate that I worked for in the oughts used to routinely stim while driving the car, holding his hand over the air vents and waving it continually at the wrist; couldn’t remember a face for five minutes; couldn’t shut up once he started talking, did statistics for a living, handled carefully planned public speaking with grace but had genuine meltdowns when there was too much unscripted interaction. (I earned some kind of an award for stage-managing his candidacy.) He had had a ham radio call sign since his teens — a hobby that was home to autistic people before the digital age gave them a larger playground. I was always sorry that I couldn’t coax him, a man born long before adult autism diagnosis was a “thing,” into getting evaluated, but like neurotypicals (that’s me and pro’lly you) of his generation, could only hear me suggesting that he had an awful defect instead of alternative wiring.

The common ground is that I get the characteristic low threshold that autistic people have for sensory input. I get a violent headache and throw up if I view 3-D movies or even the vivid animations that often precede a feature film. I cannot be near anything like a disco or party and, lacking any desire to attend a rock concert, can detect (and be crazed by) a loud stereo two houses away that the Engineer can’t even hear. This is a “thing,” too, though it is kind of mortifying that it is termed “high sensitivity,” which sounds like I am trying to align with a cohort of tender weepers who swoon if you say “fuck.” Whatever. It makes me a good bodyworker and ruthless lifter who says “fuck” a lot in the presence of excess commotion. Maybe that is its own neurotribe.

I stuck “Ear Defender” into the search bar.

A few days later this wonderful pair of orange things showed up.

IMG_0572

They look like the headphones that a lot of gym peeps wear, they’re just not connected to anything. No one else has to know that. They muffle 37 decibels, are considered adequate for driving monster trucks or light shooting, and I can attest that while they do not obliterate the vile noise that pours from the gym speakers, they move it way up the road. Also, I don’t have to overhear screamingly banal conversation from the schlubby housewives and shuffling pudgy men who use the machines backward and operate the bikes on zero resistance in slo-mo just so they can tell their doctors they “work out.” I miss the days when only goons and buff gay men (and me) hung out in gyms.

Now I get to be the one saying “Hm?” What the hell. It’s nice and quiet in here.

 

America

I tried to get a photo, but the light was either blazing through or reflecting off the windows of the station wagon. Also I was trying not to be too obvious. With luck I’ll never see the damn thing again, but if I do I’ll have another try.

It was in the parking rank right beside the door of my gym, a beige, battered family-with-kids wagon whose windows had been repurposed as billboards, painted with white lettering in about an inch-high, fussy hand, as dense and intense as a Dr. Bronner’s soap label but not nearly so engaging. “Latinos are the Domestic Terrorists of the West!,” it said, with convergent ramblings about rapists and child traffickers and “Espanole people” (I only found out later the same day that people use that term). Oh, and Califori-something is to be hated and, most inscrutable of all, a column of words: “Celibate/Proud/Jew/Greek/Roman.” Sort of a roster of the civilizations that people usually mean when they say “Western,” but celibate? Not surprised, at least.

Presumably, someone was in there working out, who had driven this mobile hate-fest into our parking lot and would eventually come out and drive away in it, no doubt swelled with pride of some kind.

I wanted to do something and I couldn’t. Vandalism is ineffective and the front desk guys were already checking it out. One of them is deeply black, a sweet guy whose smile always elevates my mood. Our best trainer is Hispanic. I had a sort of heartburn in my bone marrow from it. I let them know how I felt, but was stumped for a better action.

So this is where we’re at. First a pickup truck that hated refugees, now this unhinged window decoration. And this is in the deepest blue part of my state.

Dear God, make it stop.