Tonight

I don’t know anyone who was born in Syria, needless to say, I don’t know anyone who has had to flee Syria since it became, so far as I can tell, the battleground of a tyrant who intends to cling to power no matter what and regional powers who want a piece of the action and fundamentalist militants and fuck knows what else. Who can tell any more.

I was born in the palmy aftermath of the Second World War, when in America at least — my Brit friends have acquainted me with a less swimming narrative — suburbia was thriving and people who had survived deployment were fathering families and going to school on the GI bill and slapping down the down-payments on houses and saving to send their kids to colleges which wouldn’t bankrupt either generation. No Fortune 500 company hired me, but I had the platform in an increasingly unequal economy to scratch, claw and clobber my way to a house. I love my house. My house cares for me. It protects me.

No one (yet) has any reason to bomb my house or the neighborhood where it sits.

No one (yet) has dropped anywhere near me chemical agents that sear lungs, blind eyes, execute whole families.

I get up in the morning and I bitch about the people I have to deal with performing my everyday errands. The sky is blue, when it isn’t raining the blessed and gentle rain of the Tidewater. Nothing evil falls from it.

I live in Paradise. I have a few dollars to send to the UN refugee aid, after making sure my future is taken care of. No one has yet ripped it away from the sky.

I don’t know what to say or think about the state of the world, or Tomahawk missiles. I do have to think that we in the United States can take the chance on people who are running away from a sky that, on a random day in a random place, can rain hell on the home you have worked for your whole life.

I am lucky. So lucky.

Dover Beach

I have been sparse in the last weeks and months. Not all, but some of that owed to nail-biting over the election.

So here we are.

I don’t know what we do tomorrow. It’s not clear yet who in America will suffer most, or what government actions will most require our outcry. I am only here, in the improbable company of Matthew Arnold:

The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Dons

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.

Sixteen.

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.

Politics

I have often posted about politics in the past. Lately it has been too damn depressing.  I was surfing around, however, at a Facebook page titled Historians Against Donald Trump, kicked off by the iconic Ken Burns, and some fuming and festering in the comments about illegal immigrants made me realize: you know, goddamn, at least one of my ancestors was an illegal immigrant. No shit.

What the story is, at least as my father told it to me, is that once upon a time there was a Norwegian able seaman named Michaelssen who put into port in the great city of New Orleans, and Herr Michaelssen, whose antecedents are fairly sketchy, apparently decided he had had quite enough of the seafaring life. Having jumped ship, he made his way inland, and I mean way inland, finally fetching up, like Odysseus, at a point where people didn’t know what his oar was and had to ask. We’re talking Nebraska here.

Just speculating, but I don’t think he went through an immigration office. Eighteen hundred something. He married into a German family that had entered in a more formal way, and eventually there was a daughter who married a second-generation Scots-Irishman, which is sort of a parlayed Norwegian anyway, und so weiter until you get to me.

But, you know, all very very white and Northern, which I guess is the difference. No stories of great-great-grandfather Michaelssen (who did change his name to avoid awkward inquiries, to something very drab and English) encountering suspicion from the authorities or hysteria from the populace.

Just sayin.