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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Thoughts About Fifth Avenue

Greg worked today. I now understand just how honest he was when he said, as I prepared to go in to work on Wednesday, he needed me to stay home. Spending a day alone in this new America is a difficult thing. Not even Waf, our dog, was much of a comfort (though he tried--he curled up with me every chance he got, pressing his warm body against my own or offering up his belly for deserved, but depressing, belly rubs).

Around 3.30, after watching Kate McKinnon's SNL cold-open for perhaps the twentieth time since last night, I decided to venture downtown. It was doubtful there were still protesters outside of Trump Tower, but I needed something to do. I set a goal: I need new earbuds, so I should go for new earbuds.

I could get them anywhere, but I wanted to get them from the Apple Store at the corner of 5th Av and 59th. The glass cube. Which just happens to be a block away from Trump Tower.

Jesus. Trump Tower.

5th Av is a gaudy stretch of a gaudy city. I never realized just how fond of 5th Av I was until today, when I walked along its sidewalks and pushed my way through its crowds. There are the iconic stores, of course--the Versaces and the Tiffany and the shell that was once FAO Schwartz. There are smaller bodegas, too, and none of that matters anymore. 5th Avenue, near 59th Street, is now--and will remain for a while--a no-pedestrian area.

Each holiday season--am I allowed to still call it a 'holiday season' or am I required to say "Christmas" as if none of the other religions matter?--a giant Baccarat snowflake is hoisted over 5th Av. It dangles in its crystalline glory above one of the busiest avenues in the city, near the Plaza, near the Apple Store, near Trump Tower. It hangs there for a few months and usually reminds us of kindness and hope. In 2002, it was renamed the UNICEF Snowflake.

One need only follow a few simple, cynical points of reference: Tiffany & Co. at 5th and 57th, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Audrey Hepburn, Donald Fucking Trump. Audrey Hepburn spent a great deal of time working for UNICEF. Donald Trump once owned the Plaza Hotel.

The UNICEF star, today, seemed more like an asterisk than a reminder of hope and of joy. It now hangs over a part of the city--the nation--where no one is allowed.

Walking along 5th Av was not pleasant. There are still remnants of the New York I remember, like the occasional food cart and the clueless tourists, but there's more. I walked along the sidewalk from 42nd Street to 59th, and got to the point of the Avenue where cops clogged the path. Barricades urged me off the usual path and into the street, which was blocked off, and where police cars sat with revolving Drudge Report lights flashing at me.

An older black guy stood next to me, his arm extended and with his iPhone recording, telling his virtual audience, "Not my city, man. Look at this."

And he spun around as slowly as he could, and what he revealed to his virtual audience was desolation and flashing lights. And cops milling around like hostage takers.

One of the cops--an Irish guy with bright pink cheeks as smooth as the surface of milk--was standing near the barricade, chatting up two blonde girls. I interrupted.

"I just need to go to the Apple Store," I said.

Pink-cheeked Milk Surface registered annoyance. He glanced at the two blondes, rolled his eyes. "You gotta go over to Madison."

"So I need to go around? But it's literally right there." I pointed, both helpfully and impotently.

"Yeah, around," one of the blonde chick's assured me.

I almost felt bad for intruding.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Arguments, Open

The opening of Shirley Jackson's classic The Haunting of Hill House begins with an equally classic opening line: No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

I've never actually read Hill House. I know the story, I've seen bad film versions, and I've read the first paragraph a million times. But I've never read the book itself, and I've certainly never truly understood the first line until this week.

This Tuesday.

Shirley Jackson is one of those writers people praise but seldom read. Her work is iconic--we know about Hill House, we know about "The Lottery"--but few of us have sat down to read what she wrote. And by 'few' I mean me. And by 'iconic' I mean her works are constantly referenced but seldom comprehended.

Consider the opening of Hill House. The full paragraph is a wonder, giving the reader a slow slide away from their own lives to the reality of the book:

No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

First off, the reason I mention Hill House is because G and I were out walking Waf a few nights ago, as we usually do, and we went to Inwood Hill Park to give Waf a sniff of the cove and a chance to be ignored by ducks. We passed a communal library outside of a restaurant--the communal library has been there for quite a while, even shelves with books offered up by strangers to interested readers, sitting out on the sidewalk with a 'Leave a Book/Take a Book' sign scrawled along the top, and a plastic tarp protecting the books. Whenever I can, I leave a book. Sometimes, I check to see about taking one.

Hill House caught my eye on this dog-walking night. Next to it was We Have Always Lived in a Castle, which was tempting. But I went with Hill House because it was familiar to me through culture but not through actuality; as much as I've loved the title of We Have Always Lived in a Castle, Hill House was the book which made me feel a fraud for knowing but not reading. So, having left a book a few weeks ago, I chose to take a book. The three of us went on our way. Waf delighted in the heartbreak of duck scorn, and sniffed the acrid air around the cove. Greg, my gay-married husband, chattered away about his day. It was a nice evening. The book was in my hand.

It's now nearly four days since the Presidential election of 2016, and I'm only 19 pages into the book.


One of the last kind moments of the week was when I leaned over to glance at the communal library's selection. So many great books. So many crappy books. Books with impressive covers and bad reviews, books with scuffed covers and damaged pages, books with thin spines, children's books, best-sellers and obscurities. Waf nudged my calf. Greg stood patiently. The light from the corner restaurant spilled out along with the sounds within, as if the light made sounds of dinnerware against plates. The air was cool and the nearby park smelled of a promising autumn. And I tried to choose a book: The Haunting of Hill House, or We Have Always Lived in a Castle.

As we walked away, my choice of book in hand, Waf kept leaping up towards it as if the book were treats. He wasn't exactly wrong. The book was, and is, a treat.


No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

I've no idea if that is true. I hope--I dream--it is true. We all hope organisms are capable of being as we are, which is to say we all hope dreams in all organisms are possible.

And as I find absolute reality utterly vile, I'll extend this hope--this dream--to President-Elect Donald J. Trump.

Sir, I do wish you an ability to dream complex and vivid dreams. I hope those dreams inform your absolute reality of Twitter fights and slights and phantom Mexicans hoping to defile American daughters. I hope your dream of a world where...


Can't. Can't do it. Here the talk of Hill Houses and Castles end.

Many have said to me over the past few days that I should admit defeat, should accept the will of the people. But no, I will not.

No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

We're facing an unrelenting reality. Even if I drive a car into a tree--which happens in Hill House because that's a reality I cannot change, no matter how atmospheric the novel may be--I will fight reality.

Also: trans friends are in pain and I do not want to see them in pain. Hate crimes are up because sensible doors are shut. Greg and I may see our marriage voted away by the new Supreme Court. And communal libraries may, in the future, be the only libraries we have. Choose wisely, and don't let anyone say we should cooperate with those who would extinguish dreams.
Haunt this house.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Arguments, Closing

In New Hampshire, election places are now open (and possibly closing--NH seems to exist in dogs-life moments), and we're well on our national path to a new fate. As usual, we have two paths even when a few among us in need of corrective lenses see at least four paths. And no matter the amount of paths, each leads deeper into the vagueness of a snow-covered wood (only one of the paths will, of course, lead us to a denuded forest, but that's not what I'm discussing right now, you climate denying assholes).

Since those of you who are not interested in voting for Hillary Clinton are not interested in facts--or have some weird interpretation of facts--I won't bother using facts. Voting has begun, after all, and what you've heard is what you believe.

I'll just say this: Hillary Clinton is a terrible campaigner. She is not good at stumping, she is not good at debating, and she is not good at making you feel good about yourself. She is not someone you'd want to have a beer with, and she is not someone you'd trust if you went shopping with her. None of those things is her job. And when she's actually doing her job, she's quite good at it.

I bumped into an older woman today. She's regal and a Southern expat like myself, and about Hillary's age. I've known her for years, and we've had quite a few fun and animated political discussions. She said this, after I made a joke about perhaps never seeing her again after Wednesday: "I just don't know what we're going to do. Both of them [guess which both] are corrupt as all get-out, and neither of them care about it."

It saddened me that this woman felt both Clinton and Trump were equally corrupt.

"And she is a war hawk!" the woman said, placing her hands to either side of her head. "Thanks, I really need more war!"

As I nodded, shrugged, and winced, the elderly woman continued. "And Bill will be prowling the White House. Who knows what he'll be doing."

"Or not doing," I suggested.

"Imagine the future Monica Lewinskys he'll accumulate!"

"Maybe," I said, "they should sprinkle saltpeter in his food."

The elderly lady, perhaps the only person I encountered today, got the joke, and laughed. "There's an idea!" she said.

Except it wasn't an idea. It was a reflexive comment on how women use Bill Clinton's actions to justify their own distaste for Hillary Clinton.

(Which is, I should add, not my man way of discounting Bill's actions.)

One of the weirder things about this election is that women are more concerned with defending Donald Trump's recorded admissions of sexual assault than Bill Clinton's, and pretending either men have anything to do with Hillary Clinton's ability to govern.

"Honey," one can almost imagine Hillary saying. "I know it's late and I'm about to negotiate a trade deal with Hitler's younger kid, but could you put the hooker down and go to bed?"

There are four paths diverging in the wood, and which one will you take?

There's this path: "I don't know, President Stein, but I took a vaccination and guess rather than developing autism I hallucinated you being President."

There's this other path: "President Johnson, D.C. is not in the actual state of Washington."

There's this twisted, dark path: "It's not for me to say, sir. I'm just the Press Secretary. But I do have Putin on the line."

And this other path: "Madame President, Bill's in the secretary pool again. And Prime Minister Trudeau is on line three."

There are many reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton. None, I'm afraid, involve her ability to do the job assigned to her. Most, it's true, involve reasons having nothing to do with her public service. Refusing to vote for her on principle is like refusing to breathe because someone farted.

Or like refusing to cite a certain Frost poem at a high school commencement because it's been done before.

Look: my point is, one can take the road not taken. But you ultimately know who's woods these are, and when the path diverges into a rather startling four paths, the only difference it makes is what you tell future generations which path you voted to take. And that you get your eyes checked.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Art of the Trump in the City

My relationship with Donald Trump is complicated. The most expected complication is that I have no real relationship with Donald Trump.

Yet here we are.

When I was a kid, Trump's Art of the Deal was a thing. Art of the Deal (more formally known as The Art of the Deal, but we'll skip formalities) was a best-selling book about bullshit before there was a best-selling book about bullshit, which is called On Bullshit.

On Bullshit is a much better book because it cuts through bullshit rather than making it into an art. It also has the benefit of being 100% less bullshitty as it is written by someone other than Donald J. Trump.

This was prescient, btw.
Art of the Deal was left out on coffee tables around America and other unsuspecting countries, and was possibly translated into other languages but no one speaks about that any more. It was on bedside tables. It was in the floor next to suburban toilets. No one got rich from reading it, but it was as widely-read as Peyton Place in its day. (A lot of people at least got laid from Peyton Place.)

The only people who got rich from The Art of the Deal are those who ghostwrote it, those who published it, and those who appeared on the cover of the book. None of them, ironically, read the book.

My parents bought the book. They left it laying about like casual porn for me to find. To their credit, they also let me read my Bloom County books in peace--and Bloom County truly had a different view of Donald Trump.

Seeds planted.

Some years passed--in Trump years, some wives passed--and I moved to New York City.

From a small town in Alabama, littered with Art of the Deal books, I fled to a place littered with Trump buildings. And one of my first interviews for a job was with a man who eventually said, "Have you seen Apprentice?"

Again, informal. What the man meant was The Apprentice, but when it comes to Donald Trump, the only time 'the' is required is when saying The Donald. Or, of course, The Litigant.

The interview was in a Midtown studio pretending to be a Midtown office. There was a beautiful view of buildings looking out at buildings looking out over the Hudson. And there was a table as long as a deli window, and as unappealing--rather than meat, across the table were slabs of humans, sitting in chairs like pools of olives, like cheese awaiting a grating.

Each of them, from olive to cheese, had a greasy copy of my resume in hand, and each read it in their own way, some as a dramatic interp and some as a class assignment.  The olives pitted it. The deli cheese sliced it. 

Some weeks before, I'd spoken to my little brother. I was living in a terrible apartment in Morningside, and he'd just seen Donald Trump approach lower Manhattan in a helicopter, so he wanted to know if I, too, had seen Trump's helicopter.

"He flew in over Lady Liberty," my brother said in a voice that implied a swooshing hand gesture.

"Ah... yeah, I saw that." I hadn't--I was too far uptown and too buried in buildings to see much of anything. But it seemed important to him, so I pretended. Twelve years living in NYC, I understand: you see the city so often when you're not in the city, you sometimes just need a reference point. I was the reference point.

"Did you see him waving?"

"No. But I have terrible eyesight. I'll ask Greg if he saw the wave."


Two days later, sitting across from a phalanx of slick hair and pitted olives, I was in an interview going so badly that I was advised to take lessons from Apprentice episodes.

The position, so far as I could tell, was for a medical concern. It was my understanding that I would be tasked with forcing hospitals in Manhattan to purchase useless software, and then making sure they properly used the software to more inadequately serve their patients. As the man, sitting at the end of the deli window table like a butcher explained to me--while his collection of olives and cheeses and human meats nodded--they were a Company, and the Company required a person to go out into the world and make sure Things Got Done.

I nodded along with the deli selection.

"We need you... Marcus. May I call you Marc?"

"Up to you."

"Marc. We need you to make sure," and here the man templed his fingers over my resume, "each client agrees to use our product in a way beneficial to the Company."

"Perhaps," I replied, "I'm wholly unqualified for this."

"Let's see. Let's role-play."

Jobless, living in what I think Dickens would call penury, obligated to help my future husband make ends meet, and I said, "No."

"It's just a formality." One thing about the man at the end of the deli window table: he had a hairline almost down to his eyebrows because his constantly-furrowed brow drove it there. Looking at his collection of olives and cheeses, I knew instantly why the man kept his brow furrowed: it gave the impression of deep thought when, in reality, there was no thought more deep to him than an PowerPoint slide.

"I'm not gonna role-play."

The man un-templed his fingers and sighed. He nudged my resume a bit as if testing it for life. "You know, this." He flicked the resume. "This is a work of art." Then he looked at a young woman sitting off to the side--she'd been taking notes, and when the man looked at her, she stopped noting much of anything other than the man's gaze. "It's not your fault," the man said, and I then understood it had been she who had asked me to the interview. "This resume would fool Donald Trump."

Not making that up. The man actually said my resume would fool a man known as a fool.

Then the man turned his gaze back to me. "Have you seen Apprentice?"


"Watch it. You could learn from it."

And that is how my younger brother gave me a point of reference.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

On One Half of All Men

On behalf of all men, I would like to apologize for Donald Trump.

Not because I represent all men, and not because I am an enlightened individual open to ideas foreign to my gender, but because I am a human being, and someone should really apologize for a man who cannot apologize for himself.

Donald Trump has an undiagnosed disorder that prevents apologies. It happens. I once knew a woman incapable of saying the word 'juxtaposition' without gesturing wildly and then spitting on a knuckle--any knuckle, not just her own. I once knew a guy who could not say 'Jesse Jackson' without following it up with a racial epithet.

Speech impediments are real, and are not always limited to speech. Gestures matter.

And Donald Trump, I'm sad to say, lacks the ability to understand both basic speech and token gestures.

When I was a kid, I had a lisp. It's true. I lisped, and I followed up my lisping with limp-wristed gestures. Fortunately, there was a special class at my elementary school where I was sent, twice a week for one hour, to learn how to avoid my lisp and--by extension--lose the limp-wrists. After two years, third and fourth grades, I became a man qualified to apologize for Donald Trump and all the other men who cannot bring themselves to say the words "I am sorry" without following those three simple words up with a "but".


It is true, in my non-lisping, firm-wristed post-fourth-grade life, I have said a lot of things about what I'd like to do to various men, and I've said those things well beyond a locker-room setting. I've said, for instance, and in a movie theater, that I would like to fuck Cillian Murphy.

I've said I would like to give head to the guy downstairs who is a dancer and yet who smokes like a chimney and probably shouldn't be both a dancer and a smoker--seriously, eventually one must pick one or the other, or else you'll Fosse yourself into a coma--and I said that in my own home. To my husband!

I have said, perhaps more than once and in many places non-adjacent to locker-rooms, that I would like to get butt-fucked by the entire cast of Hamilton and would provide the strap-ons to the Schuyler sisters if needed and accepted.

When I was getting rid of my lisp and limp wrists two hours a week for two years, I learned the difference between 'I would like to...' and 'I just do.' For Donald Trump, and those who suffer from his debilitating speech impediment, it is a challenge to separate the gesture from the action.

It is a shame Donald Trump never had the chance to go through Apology Conversion Therapy--if he had, he may have learned how to be a human being and apologize. As with my speech therapy, Apology Conversion Therapy teaches one how to pretend to be someone you are not. It teaches you to avoid your natural self, to pass, to get along. ACT reminds one that the gesture is more important than the words.

Yet here we are. Donald Trump, a presidential candidate of a major party in the United States' political bicameral system (let us stop pretending tricameral is a thing this election), cannot even ACT his way into a genuine apology, and that is a sad thing. He cannot apologize for something he said 10 years ago, as a 60 year old man, instead assuring us that--as a 70 year old man--he's changed his ways. If only Donald Trump had gone through a similar two hour class in elementary school as I, perhaps he would understand, Dude, you don't need to actually change; you just need to fake it til you make it.

In my case, I learned to fake it til I got cock. In Trump's case, he just needed to fake it til November 8th.

So. On behalf of all men, I apologize for Donald Trump--and not because, as I said, I am a man. But because humanity itself has failed to give Donald Trump the tools needed to say 'I am sorry' and shut the fuck up. Instead, Trump suffers from a common ailment: Inability to Apologize.

If only we could've ACT'd sooner.

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