Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Hamilton-Dalton Public Library

Mames sat behind a counter that curved like an arthritic snake along one wall of the Hamilton-Dalton Public Library, separating the staff from the patrons. Mames was staff. There were, on this late fall afternoon, no patrons.

Albert called out to her. “Mames. Coffee?” He was in a tiny room hidden behind a shelf of folders which at one time had been vital but were no longer touched. Every few months, Gloria, the head librarian, would tut-tut over the folders, mumble something about storage, and dismiss them as ornamental relics best left alone. Truthfully, over the few decades since their last use, the contents of the folders had become a mystery but not a compelling one; no one knew what was in them any more, and no one was curious enough to pluck any one down from the shelves to see what was in it.

Mames turned her head slightly, rested her chin on her shoulder, considered. “No,” she said after her moment of contemplation. “I think I've had enough.” Mames hadn't touched coffee in three years.

“Suit yourself,” Albert replied. Mames could hear Albert opening cabinets and running water. “It's so slow today. How you stay awake is your business.”

“The game,” Mames called back. “Everyone's at the game.” She opened a stick of gum and began chewing it, the most active she'd been in an hour.

The computer screen next to Mames's hand had drifted off to sleep. Pictures of the library cycled at random intervals, proof that the library was, at other times, of some use. Pictures of people sitting at the computer terminals that were, in reality, lined up on the other side of the serpentine library counter between the young adult and the dvd stacks. Pictures of children gathering around a storyteller—Mr. Haverford, delightful man if a bit too enthusiastic in his weekly performances. Pictures of the library's honest, neat exterior and the singular graceful elm tree shading its door. And pictures of the staff of the Hamilton-Dalton Public Library, staff past and present.

The same slide-show, at various points of progress, ran on all the computer screens staring back at Mames from beyond the counter.

The coffee maker began to brew, sounding like a bullfrog with a sore throat. Albert emerged from the tiny room, slipped around the shelf of relics, and took the seat next to Mames. “We should close on game days,” he said. “The people who don't go to the game take the opportunity to go shopping or something. I used to go to the movies because no one else was there. I could sit anywhere I wanted.”

Mames nodded. “And you could put your feet up and relax.”

“We could watch a movie.”

“Gloria would kill us.”

“Gloria is probably asleep upstairs in historical fiction.” Albert made the joke without realizing his correctness. Gloria was, in fact, taking a nap on the second floor of the library, in the overstuffed cloth chair, a cart of books beside her with her collapsed chin resting on her chest. “We could finish all thirteen hours of I, Claudius and she'd still be asleep.”

“Or we could watch five minutes of it and she'd pop out of a puff of smoke and kill us.” Mames tapped a random key and the computer screen snapped to attention. The last book requested, according to the screen, had been Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. 10:52 AM. Checked out by Robinson, T. Due to be returned November 19th.

Albert read the screen and said, “I sometimes wonder if that book shouldn't be in the how-to section.”

They heard the front door of the library open to their left, and turned as an older gentleman ambled down the short hallway. He was dressed for summer—the day, though closer to winter than summer, was warm. Albert whispered, “Socks and sandals,” and Mames giggled.

The older gentleman nodded as he passed the counter, and took a seat at one of the computers directly in front of Mames and Albert. Sat for a moment without touching anything. Seemed to stare at the slideshow playing out before him. Glanced over his shoulder. “Goddamn Gordon Haverford,” he commanded. Stood.

“You need help?” Albert asked the man's back.

“No,” the man responded as he moved to a computer closer to the dvds. He sat down again, nudged the mouse, and the slideshow melted away. “If I do, I'll ask.”

The strangled croaks of the coffeemaker reached a crescendo, and Albert returned to the tiny room. Mames signed in to her Twitter account to update her status: There are days where I feel like I'm sitting shiva in a cemetery.

Three people liked her status before Albert returned, his mug of coffee steaming and putting out a scent of scorched almonds so faint and so inviting it made Mames inhale more deeply than she intended—she meant to draw in as much of the scent as she could but all that happened was that she swallowed her gum and coughed.

On the second floor, Gloria snorted herself awake. She blinked a few times, taking in her surroundings, the dull colors of spines lined up like soldiers, and thought to herself, We should just close on game days. Then she stood up, pulled the cart close, and pushed it down the aisle. Each book was transferred from the cart to its proper place among the spines.

Gloria stood for a time staring out the second storey window. The Hamilton-Dalton Public Library, at the corner of Elm and Pine Streets, was across the street from the Dalton-Hamilton Public Park, with both the Dalton Center for the Arts and the Hamilton Building at its flanks, and Gloria peered down on the park and felt the Center and the Building at her sides and wondered to herself just who, exactly, the Hamiltons and the Daltons had been, and why they seemed to have fought over naming rights in a town not named for either of them. Hallsville was perhaps the only town in the country without either a Dalton or a Hamilton in its telephone book. Albert, Gloria thought, would probably say Hallsville was the only town in the country that still bothered with a phone book at all.

The park took up an entire block, and was mostly brown now with the season. Paths pushed into the park at all four corners and met a circle around a tiered water fountain spitting a geyser of water into the air. A young woman was sitting beside the fountain, staring at her phone. Beside her was a stroller. To Gloria, the stroller looked like a Conestoga wagon.

She took the elevator down and emerged behind the old gentleman, who was typing at the computer with two aggressive index fingers. Gloria surveyed the ground floor of the library and saw only sunlight spilling in through windows and dust circling the stacks like buzzards. She smelled the coffee, and she heard Albert mumbling to Mames. She squinted a bit, and could see a few words on the computer screen, the fruits of the old gentleman's persistent labor: “stop sign is sorely needed”.

Either a letter to the city council, she thought, or a letter to the editor.

Behind the library counter, Gloria asked Mames to make sure there was paper in the printer. “I think we have a letter-writer,” she said flatly. “The kids were printing out reports all day yesterday, and he looks like he might be producing a thirty-pager. Put in a new ream—the way he's typing he might need a few drafts before he gets it right.”

Mames got up and walked over to the library's only printer, kept behind the desk to assure all who printed paid their due. Albert asked, “Have a nice nap?”

“Yes, Albert.” Gloria smiled. “I had a nice nap and you know you're not to have coffee at the counter.”

“The old man doesn't like Mr. Haverford.” Albert lifted his mug but did not move from his chair. “He's hoping God damns him.”

Gloria placed a finger to her lips. The old man said loudly, “Smites him and then damns him!” and continued pecking at the keys.

“Albert.” Gloria gestured to the tiny room. “Coffee. Go.” She watched as Albert disappeared behind the shelf of relics, then sat down on his vacated chair. Mames ripped into a fresh ream of paper. The printer began to hum before she'd returned to her own chair, and the older gentleman appeared at the counter.

“Should be four pages,” he said.

Mames smiled, returned to the printer, collected his prints, and handed them to him. “Done?” she asked.

“Don't know,” he replied.

When she sat down, Mames noticed Gloria had typed out her own message on the computer screen between them: What the hell does he have against Mr. Haverford?

Mames slid the keyboard to herself and typed Who knows.

And that was how the next hour passed. The older gentleman would type, print, retrieve his papers, return to the computer. Mames and Gloria, joined from time to time by Albert, typed out an elaborate exquisite corpse of a tale about the old man and Mr. Haverford. Occasionally, Albert or Mames would say something out loud meant to conceal their true minds or perhaps to ease their own guilt over the baseless suppositions. Each nonsensical bit of conversation-- “You really think so?” or “The roast cooked too long”--sounded to them like this: “We are bored and we've nothing else to do but make up a reason for this poor old man's hatreds and vendettas.”

The tale on the computer screen behind the library counter spread itself over fifty-three pages. All three had contributed. It was Gloria's idea to add a subplot about the Daltons and the Hamiltons, and Mames's idea to bring in aliens, while Albert stuck to details of weather and clothing. They slid the keyboard between themselves at an increasingly excited pace, chuckling or gasping together, and eventually forgot to say anything else aloud. Their shared biography of the old man, who in their story was named Havisham Bartleby and hailed from a distant planet where the idea of rain was unknown, passed the time better than a nap.

And the older gentleman collected the last draft. He paid for his prints, jogged his thick stack of papers on the counter, and ambled back along the short hallway, out the front door, into the shade of the graceful elm.

Gloria closed the fictitious biography without bothering to save it. The old man's hidden life turned into a warning on the screen: If you close without saving, all changes will be lost. Do you wish to close without saving? Cancel. Save. Close.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I Sing the Body Politic

There are several quotes about sitting down contradicting other quotes about sitting down. Winston Churchill, for instance, equated sitting with comfort, saying (or perhaps not saying--like all Churchill quotes, it may or may not have actually come from his mouth) "Why stand when one can sit?" Churchill said this (or not) after being asked why he did not stand at toilets when urinating.

Shortly after, the State dinner conversation veered into the boxers/briefs debate but Churchill's position on that is lost to the ages.

Then there's the quote from Inherit the Wind: "It's the loneliest feeling in the world to find yourself standing up when everybody else is sitting down." Which is true enough--it can be quite lonely to stand when everyone else is sitting, but, as Churchill--and any man with a urinating penis--can affirm, sitting down while everyone else is standing is also pretty damn lonely.

(Not to harp on Churchill, but he was known to consume a quart of scotch each day; his lonely need to sit must've been both frequent and persistent.)

Where one sits, or doesn't sit, also matters. Rosa Parks sat in one location while George Wallace stood in another. Texas Representative Wendy Davis stood for eleven hours in the Texas State Senate, and Strom Thurmond did the same thing for over twenty-four hours in the US Senate. US Representatives sat down on the House of Rep's floor in 2016, and women once sat down in the offices of Ladies' Home Journal for the right to journal for themselves.

Personal note: I remained sitting during my senior year of high school whenever the Star Spangled Banner would start its waving o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. A thousand kids, forced into a gym to boost the egos of our athletes before that week's big game, would stand and slap palms over the approximate locations of hearts, and I'd sit quietly. And each time, one teacher or another would pull me aside after, and warn me to stand next week, and I always thought it odd because only the teachers seemed offended.

Anyway.

The President of the United States--his name is Trump--once said, "Today if you hit too hard—15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television—his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit!"

It's a tone poem of sorts. Each beat is a beat against the body. 

CTE--chronic traumatic encephalopathy--is what Trump is discussing, and it's a thing done to a body at rest or in motion. It's what happens when a body is slammed into another body. Repeatedly. It's like putting a brain inside a wrecking ball, and demolishing a building, and neither the wrecking ball nor the building get a say in the destruction. "The ball did what it was supposed to do! And the building got to stand for a while! They want to hit each other!"

The President of the United States also said this, about those bodies slamming into one another: "If a player wants the privilege of makings millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect..."


The President of the United States let this stand with an ellipsis,  because his own feeble body could not decide whether to stand or to sit. It took a few minutes to complete the thought: "...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"

But of course that's what we all do. We use our bodies to find ways to do something else, and each movement is a political statement. James Byrd--you remember James Byrd, surely--he was a man who was finding something else to do, and then suddenly became a political statement. He was both FIRED and became political in one night. Same with Matthew Shepard. Same with Trayvon Martin. Same with Emmet Till. Same with Terri Schaivo. We don't intend to be political, but our anatomy or our skin betrays us.

It may be the loneliest feeling in the world to stand up when everybody is sitting down, but we do as our conscience tells us, and we find our own comfort in that.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Florence, AL

I've told this story before. It appeared in a book published through NPR and edited by Paul Auster some years ago and probably read only by the contributors, the editor, and a few family members. Community theatre as written anthology.

The story was this: In the early-mid 1980s, in my hometown of Florence, AL, a friend and I were riding our bikes up and down Prospect Street, where we lived. Prospect Street was adjacent to, but not of, the historical district of Florence. It was one street removed from the southern gothic houses with plaques immortalizing obscure local events (one plaque never to be placed: the time elderly Mrs. Hotchkins' gay hairdresser and his partner attended a nice fall dinner at the Hotchkins home and discovered a very dead Mr. Hotchkins in an upstairs guest room; the fact that construction workers were to arrive the next day to build a new cement back porch for the secretly widowed Mrs. Hotchkins raised eyebrows but couldn't raise the dead).

Prospect Street was also a block away from the campus of The University of North Alabama, and so from my yard at any given moment I could hear the roar of Leo, the unfortunate lion kept in a cage next to the university president's home. UNA's mascot was a lion and the natural thing to do, I suppose, was to keep a live lion around to remind faculty and students of this fact. Living in downtown Florence, AL, meant it was perfectly normal to hear the roar of a beast from Africa.

And Prospect Street had the town's only Jewish Temple, which was directly across the street from my house. The first and last fistfight I got into was in the parking lot of the Temple, and I lost. Turned out my stoic form of sarcasm wasn't appreciated by ten year olds with wrecked families and few emotional outlets.

So. The day Donna and I were riding our bikes up and down Prospect was a mid-summer day. I was eight or nine, which meant Donna was about ten or eleven. Perhaps we engaged in conversation or perhaps not--what I recall, personally, about riding bikes was that I loved the silence and the peddling and the wind. A month or so later we'd move away to a new neighborhood where I was the only kid, and I'd ride my bike for hours enjoying the silence. But with Donna maybe I spoke.

Because it was hot, we also rode through the sprinklers her father set out to water his lawn, which was mostly crabgrass and weeds, but still green. Donna's hair dripped, and tiny rainbows were thrown clear when she shook herself dry. Her hair color was dishwater blond, I recall everyone telling me, and I still don't know what that means except that her hair was blond and brown and wavy but not curly like dishwashing liquid that had been agitated but was now relaxing.

Most of the houses on Prospect Street had crabgrass-green lawns, watered or not, and all except one were proper houses. Both Donna and I lived on the same side of the street, and the one house without a proper green, weedy lawn was on the other side. It was a duplex, single-storey house the color of adobe matching the patches of bald clay in the front yard. In one of the two apartments lived an elderly man seldom seen and much mythologized by even the grown-ups of Prospect Street; in the other, on this day, a new family.

Donna and I were a few days away from learning about the fate of poor Mr. Hotchkins and just seconds away from hearing Leo the Lion roar into the universal abyss. Donna had just swept her way through the intermittent bursts of the sprinkler, her bike tires leaving deep gashes in her parents' lawn, and I was preparing to follow. We heard a voice.

"Hey."

Our heads turned to Prospect, where a little girl was standing, a tiny pink bike leaning against her hip. She was brown. She was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. She was perhaps my age, perhaps a bit younger.

Donna was older than I, and we were on her lawn, so I waited for Donna to return the greeting. I looked at Donna, and waited, and enjoyed the silence which probably lasted only a second or two but seemed longer (that's when we heard Leo roaring through the slosh of the sprinkler). "We don't talk to niggers," Donna said. She shook her hair dry, and the rainbows were thrown clear.

The little girl adjusted her hip. Her pink bike heaved a weary sigh against her. "I got a bike."

"Go away," I told her. "We don't talk to niggers."

Donna pushed off and peddled her bike back onto the street, heading away from the adobe home and her own home and the sprinkler and the little girl, and I followed, avoiding the water, turning to the asphalt. We reached the end of Prospect and turned back. The little girl was rolling her bike back to the duplex, and by the time we were where we had been the girl had disappeared inside. As we passed her new home, we saw curtains in the window split open slightly. A hand moved them enough for me to see the little girl's mother peering out at me.

In the Auster-edited version of this story, written fifteen or so years ago, I called the guilt I felt that day a Gordian knot in my stomach. Auster, for reasons of his own, edited 'Gordian' out, making it a simple knot of guilt. Which was a wise edit, of course, as to remove a Gordian knot one simply needs to slice it in half and unravel the frayed ends. If I were a better writer, I would've gone on to say that the frayed ends of the split knot of Gordian guilt made the rope itself useless, and my racism was just that: a rope made useless through ignorance.

In the historical district of Florence, AL, there are many trees. Old trees. As a kid, on my bike, I'd ride along the sidewalk beside the trees and note how some were twisted and craggy, and some were straight and smooth. Some limbs stuck out at right angles and some pushed up away from the ground. I do not know of any lynchings ever done in Florence, AL, but perhaps the trees deserve their own plaques. When I first told this story, I'd just read E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News and that was how I thought of ropes--useful tools; when I saw the reference had been edited away, I realized ropes in the South mean something else entirely.

Ropes are making a come-back, I'm afraid. We're stitching those wounded, frayed ends back together. Prospect Street was--and remains--a block or so away from Pope's Tavern, a local historical landmark "filled with heavy hearts during the Civil War." Not far from the Tavern is W.C. Handy's birthplace. And not far from either of those historic spots is a park with both a statue dedicated to the Confederacy and a statue dedicated to W.C. Handy.

My mom and aunt, by the way, helped in the fundraising for the Handy statue.

Anyway, about the Gordian knot excised from me by Paul Auster's red pen: it remains. I never cut it, as one should do. I've kept it. Calcified and heavy, it remains within me, and the weight reminds me how easy it is to be an asshole.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Loss and Gain

Some years ago, my great-grandmother died. I was standing on the corner of 81st and Central Park West, about to descend into the moving bowels of the city, when my dad called with the news. For whatever reason, I'd decided to take a moment, look around, and was standing like a statue when the call came. If I had not paused, the news would've been delivered via voice mail. Instead, it was delivered directly, as I stared at the edifice of the Natural History Museum and the gaping maw of the C train station.

Death is death. It isn't a profound thing to say death exists, yet here we are. A meditation on mortality. Let us brush off the chestnuts--the dead are remembered, the pain is for the living, the journey begins at the moment the body ends--because all of that feels good, and right, and comforting.

Death is the ultimate cliche. We can live a life of originality and uniqueness, but in the end there is the end, and all of us do it. But then again, one can also say breathing is a cliche. I got nothing profound to say about death or the feeling of loss the living experience. The only way to bring something new to the slab, here, is if I were to die and then write about it.

Which isn't likely. Writing post-mortem thoughts, I mean. I'm very likely to die. Not very likely to comment on it after the fact.

One expects a great-grandmother to die, of course. Born when I was--which is to say, born of a teenage mother--I was lucky enough to have known all my great-grandparents more or less, and their inevitable ends were like stepping-stones in the river of time for me. Some parents buy their children goldfish to explain life's cycle; my parents gave me great-grandparents.

The last one to die was Ruby. She's who Dad called me about as I stood next to the Natural History Museum. And after the call, I'd like to say I decided to visit the museum. I'd like to say I went in, took in the giant whale and the minerals, reflected on the history of Earth and all the things it has offered up to us.

But nah. I closed my flip-phone, and sank down into the Manhattan land, grabbed the C train uptown, and emerged at 103rd Street. Ascended like a newly-minted god, and walked home.

And I say newly-minted god only because I had to walk up some stairs. I in no way wish to imply I became a deity. If I had, though, I'd like to think I would be benevolent, and kind, and understanding.

Loss happens. Even prepared for it, we are unprepared. Again, there is nothing profound to say about death unless you do it and manage to communicate a bon-mot after the fact. But the grief of surviving can be quite profound. Being alive, taking in air and sun and feeling blood coursing through your veins, forming thoughts and having small moments. There is a profundity in life that can't be articulated. Some days, just getting out of bed, cliche as it is, is a profound statement to the Universe.

Reflecting on loss is not something I do well. I--me--hate losing those I've known, and I've lost a lot of knowns to both death and to time. This is also a cliche: I love.

It's simple. I am bad at life, but I love those who are in my life. It is a terrible thing to wish, but an honest thing: When getting a call about a loved one's death, may you all be standing next to the Natural History Museum. It won't give you any insight into death, and it won't give you any comfort. But it will offer you a chance to go inside, and for a moment get that you're a part of a world that is worthy of a museum.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Distant Music

I was listening to the musical adaptation of E. L. Doctorow's 'Ragtime,' a work I admire in all its forms: the novel, the screen adaptation, and obviously the musical. And, while listening to the cast album, all I could think was, 'Where did this America get off to?'

True, it is a difficult America there in New Rochelle at the turn of the last century, as the white middle class sings, "There were no Negroes" and "There were no immigrants," but it was an America working toward something. There was an undercurrent of movement towards equality and mutual understanding, a jagged harmony of tension and commonality.

Since the election, by hook or by crook, of Donald J. Trump, that America is no longer an America recognize. I may as well be listening to Starlight Express--a musical about singing trains.

Once upon a time, in a land under our very feet, there was a great nation standing for freedom. Its people were flawed to be sure. Its history was not pleasant. But it occasionally lurched a bit forward into the idea of itself. The nation perceived itself to be a land of opportunity, of hope, of equality for all even as it fought with itself to resist such things. And in the fighting was the progress.

No more.

No one truly knows why, but one day the fight forward was lost. Certainly many in the nation discussed--and fought--over the reasons why it happened, but one day the lurch forward ceased, and became a stumble back into the unpleasantries of the past. The stumble became a desperate grasping back, then a stampede trampling many of the citizens of the land.

In 'Ragtime,' Henry Ford is more or less celebrated--he's got his own song, he sells a car to a black man named Colehouse, and Colehouse views this car as a symbol of social progress. It doesn't end well for Colehouse, of course, but it ends very well for Ford, who is remembered as an innovator integral to the development of modern America. What's missing from Ford's depiction in 'Ragtime' is that he was an anti-Semitic racist Nazi sympathizer awarded the highest honor a non-German could receive by Adolf Hitler.

I was brought up in post-Watergate America, in the 1970s, and Regan's America in the 1980s. I was brought up in a smallish town in Alabama. My parents were casual racists who experienced desegregation and the Civil Rights movement, and tried to raise me to be more in tune with what they perceived to be the inescapable reality of the New America: they encouraged me to live in the jagged harmony of equality and understanding. When a new black family moved into our neighborhood, Mom and Dad gently nudged me to welcome them, play with the children, become friends with them. Certainly they made racist comments about them (I was told, for instance, that if I picked my nose, my nostrils would stretch out as wide as the black kids' nostrils, a thing I stupidly believed for years), but my parents never told me to stop being friends with anyone who was not my color or religion.

Also, we lived across the street from the only Temple in town. On Saturdays, my father would refuse to mow the lawn out of respect for the process of worship--and we were not all that into worship. I think I went to church maybe five or six times in my youth.

If it had been a Catholic church, or a Baptist church, or a mosque, I'm certain my father would've been just as respectful.

Incidentally, the only time I ever got into a fight was in the parking lot of that temple. It was unrelated to religion. I got my ass kicked for being sarcastic to the neighborhood bully who probably grew up to be a Trump supporter.

Anyway, listening to 'Ragtime,' I realized I grew up in an America that currently does not exist. I grew up with a media straining to resist their centuries-old urge to belittle and demoralize minorities. I grew up with a family trying desperately to accept the idea of inclusion and equality. It was an imperfect way to grow up--in school I had four years of Alabama history and only a semester of world history, and in none of those classes was the Holocaust mentioned--but in all ways it was made clear to me that the way to the future is the way of diversity and inclusion.

Now? Now we have a government attempting to divide and to preserve something that 'once was' that never was. Make America Great Again. Except America was great.

'Ragtime,' you see, is about how America became more alive with its different shades. Certainly there's some whitewashing, but the message is there: as painful as it can sometimes be, we as a nation lurch forward and reach out for something bigger than ourselves, and hope we push our children into that forward momentum rather than drag them back into the stampede rushing backward. There is violence and tragedy in 'Ragtime' (and a very decidedly overlooked Nazi sympathizing god in Henry Ford) but it is tragedy as recognition and warning.

We failed to heed the warning, of course, and now we have people on television bemoaning 'white genocide' and complaining about multiculturalism. Once ridiculed, these people are now elected officials.

And so I don't recognize my country anymore. 'Ragtime' is now science fiction.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trump Plans a Trip to Belize

I, Donald J. Trump, am of a sound mind and more sound body, writing this from an undisclosed bowling alley within the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I write this of my own free will. No matter what Crooked Hillary may say, or that Kenyan who messed up the residence in the White House so badly I can't set foot in it. This is my confession.

Melania: It's all true. All of it. I never meant to hurt anyone that wasn't me. I'm so sorry to myself, and my future self, and to Richard M. Nixon, who built this beautiful, wonderful--it's absolutely great, believe me--bowling alley. It's why I locked myself up in here. Did you know--and I know this from the White House usher I fired--Petunia and Dick Nixon had this alley built because they couldn't stand baseball?

I understand. Who likes baseball? A Democrat would've built a baseball diamond in the White House basement, but a Republican thinks smaller. Thinks of alleys. Dick Nixon and his wife, Checkers, thought ahead. "Someday," they said to one another. "Someday we'll all want to live in alleys." So here I am.

Ignore the golden pee
To my sons, Walt Jr. and the other two, I want to say: You have sisters. And I'm not entirely sure which one of you all came from which of my wives, but I do love you all. As a group, you make up the best of my life as a whole.

Except Tiffany. Sorry, but you were the gutter-ball I sent down the lane. Your mother was brilliant in that show about a plain-spoken midwesterner from the future: Buck Rogers Follies. Honey, if only I'd gone after Bernadette Peters! It'd be you instead of Ivanka on my staff!

Or you'd have your own clothing line by now. Whichever. Whichever. It'd be a great clothing line. I know it.

Here's the point. Or the strike. Or the gutter-ball. I'm in the Nixon bowling ball rink because Daddy made a terrible mistake. Okay. I admit it. I did something Daddy shouldn't do. It's true I've spent my life doing a lot I shouldn't do, but now the pins are reseting, and as they do it becomes clear my strikes were actually gutter balls (Sorry, Tiff--we'll always have... something!).

Daddy may have to go away for a bit. But as I always say: I am with you. Mostly because you have my DNA wrapped up with you respective mothers' DNA--you can't escape me.

Haha.

Forthwith, and nonwithstanding, please be advised that you in no way have rights to the trademarked name of Trump, nor do any of you have the right to use Trump in promotional material.

I remain your loving father,
Donald  J. Trump (tm) (LLC)

PS. Please tell Bannon to pick up the pee jars outside the door.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Puppy

The night Ellen DeGeneres--or 'Degenerate' as she was lovingly called by certain television evangelists and elegant wordsmiths--leaned into a microphone and announced to a disinterested airplane terminal that she was gay, I was alone in my room. There was a TV. There was a bed. There was a closed door. A few books and magazines on the floor. An open window, which I occasionally leaned out of in order to smoke during commercials.

In 1997, having lived for a while in dorms and apartments, I'd moved in with my recently divorced father. Both of us were more or less directionless at the time--1997 wasn't a very pleasant year--and we each kept to ourselves, as if avoiding conversation would in some way conceal the possibility of failure and the reality of loss.

I was 23. I'd dropped out of two colleges in two different states. My days were mostly media-filled, in that I read a lot, listened to NPR and radio talk shows, watched CNN, spoke little, and cared less. While I'd had a boyfriend in high school, most relationships were via the internet, with an occasional clandestine hook-up here and there, usually ending in embarrassment or shame.

It wasn't that I was depressed, or that I thought of myself as depressed then. Certainly looking back on that period of my life it does seem a depressing existence. Possibly in 20 years, looking back on my current life, I will say the same thing--"It wasn't that I was depressed, or that I thought of myself of depressed then." My current life at 43 is so removed from my life at 23, both emotionally and geographically, that I cannot even guess what my life at 63 may be. If I could return now to that bedroom the night The Puppy Episode aired, and watch it with my 23 year-old self, I don't think I would.

The one constant trait stretching from 23 to 43 is that I've maintained existential angst.

Anyway, my steady diet of media had prepared me for Ellen Degenerate's reveal: Yup, she's gay. I knew this. In two years, I would meet the man who would, quite improbably, become my husband; a few years later, I would force us to move to NYC, and we would eventually get a dog, and would--no pun intended--embark on a shared journey of our own. But in 1997, at least for me, everything seemed paused. I was living in my father's house. My father hadn't yet met the woman who would become my step-mother. My mother was dating the man who would become my step-dad. My little brother, 18 years my junior, was still trying to make sense of a divorce he didn't see coming, not realizing his older brother (me) had spent years expecting it.

In the pauses of life--and not to be too poetic here--there are the changes.

So: Ellen. And 'Ellen'. I'd watched the show before, even though I was not a frequent viewer of sit-coms. As I said, I mostly leaned towards media-rich entertainment--in '97 I was into Bill Maher, MST3K, Dennis Miller, and All Things Considered. I liked indie films and indie comic books. I read Wired, and specially ordered books from the local bookstore. One can debate my level of assholetry, but I was dedicated to being different from most 23 year-old Alabamians living in a smallish town.

Jesus. Looking back now I'm amazed I met the husband, and was able to move to NYC, and find a dog that loves me.

Anyway. So 'Ellen,' the TV show, was on my radar because of the media hype surrounding the fourth season, where it was rumored she would reveal that both the character of Ellen Morgan and the comedian/actress Ellen DeGeneres were gay. I'd certainly seen Ellen DeG's stand-up. Was a fan. Loved stand-up comedy since I was too young to be watching Robin Williams live at the Met. The rumblings in the media, though, got me curious in the actual television show.

There's a line in The Puppy Episode about how Ellen--the character--unconsciously knew she was gay, and that her unconscious attempts to accept her homosexuality manifest as tiresome jokes. This of course was a meta-joke about how, over the course of that 4th season of 'Ellen', writers constructed gags and quick jokes playing off of the media's reporting of Ellen's big reveal. Thing is, watching that 4th season in real time, week to week, in my room, alone... It wasn't a tiresome gag. It was a process. Coming out is not a reveal, you see. It's a process.

A few weeks before The Puppy Episode aired, I'd met a guy online--on AOL because that's how long ago this happened--and spent the night with him. Not 'spent the night' as in had wild gay sex, but spent the night in the non-carnal sense. He picked me up, drove me to his home an hour out of town, made mixed drinks with ice and a blender, cooked me a wonderful dinner, and we talked. We watched a Bergman film. We made out. When the time came for sleep, we cuddled up to one another and... I faked sleep while he jerked off beside me. The next day, he wanted to go to brunch and I insisted he take me back home--I made up an excuse of being needed elsewhere, and we drove the hour back in silence.

Point is, I wasn't ready to be gay. All the instincts were there. But accepting the reality of homosexuality was too much. I'd always told myself if I find the right guy, THEN I'll do the coming-out thing. This was the right guy. But I still couldn't muster the courage, so rather than come out, I went inward.

Not a religious person at all, btw. I mean, I grew up in Alabama, so religion obviously stained my brain a bit. Even in elementary school, I was all about others being gay. But me? Too much work. Too difficult. I'd rather--then--be isolated and ashamed than who I am.

The night before The Puppy Episode, the guy IM'd me. He said he really liked me and wanted to hang out again. I told him, essentially, to fuck off.

What's remarkable about this entire period of my life is that none of my family ever asked, "You got a girlfriend?" by the way. Either they thought I was too icky to ever land a girlfriend, or they knew already that I wasn't interested. ANYway.

Ellen. The show aired on ABC, but our local affiliate refused to air the episode. I forget what was shown instead, but it was a religious thing with leisure suits. The same affiliate of ABC had also refused--for years!--to air "NYPD Blue," and like 'NYPD Blue', the local FOX affiliate--FOX54--saw an opportunity and aired the episode. WAAY in Huntsville, AL, in the '90s, was an uptight money-losing station, apparently. FOX-54 was ascending.

To recap: I'm alone in my room, in my father's house, leaning out of windows to smoke and snacking on Doritos, and there is the television. Laura Dern is Ellen's love interest. I've just broken up with a guy who likes me. I'm still in the closet, though supportive of those who aren't. I've dropped out of two colleges. I've got a life in shambles even though it doesn't seem a shambles.

"Susan," Ellen Morgan/DeGeneres says. Leans into a microphone. "I'm gay."

Applause.

"That felt so good. And loud," Ellen Morgan/DeGeneres says.

It took two years til I'd actually meet the man who gave me the courage to come out. But that moment, sitting in my room, astounded me. We knew it was coming, we were told, and yet she persisted. She, Ellen DeGeneres, changed a lot by simply using a word, 'gay'.

Some years later, Greg, my husband, and I went to City Hall, and were married. Officially, unquestionably, completely married. It was a long process of nearly 15 years, and not a process we thought possible when we first met in Alabama. Our dog was there. Our puppy. Not, of course, in the actual City Hall, but we had a picture of him, and I'm not sure Greg truly understood why it was important for me to have the pup's pic up on my iPhone when the judge bound us together.

It was because of The Puppy Episode.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Kehlsteinhaus

I've been President for nearly two months. Everything is awful.

Today, I met with Angela Merkel. Not a big deal. Turns out, learning to pronounce her name is tricky--it's like teaching nerds how to say 'Gif' properly. Hard 'G', people. Hit the 'g', don't ignore it.

She smells like Fritos and sunflowers. Very odd.

***

Traveling to Mar-a-Lago today. Can no longer call it 'The Winter White House,' as it is almost April. Thinking of renaming it 'Camp Barron'. Melania approves.

***

At Mar-a-Lago. Sitting in my room, on the edge of a bed so huge Scalia could die in it and not be noticed. Time. Time is something that weighs on me--I am convinced that time should be spelled with the i and the e together. Teim. Very German--always pronounce the second vowel, and no need for the consonant interrupting the precision of the vowels. I may invade Poland tomorrow.

My god, should I have shaken Merkel's hand? She intentionally sneezed into it. I saw it.

***

Dinner. Melania is across from me, her skin the color of crushed ice and her eyes like a furnace. Next to me is Bannon, who keeps talking about Watergate, which is a hotel just down the block from the White House. All I ever hear from him is 'blah blah blah.' My god, Melania is beautiful. She is the handshake I should give to Angela--the hard 'g' to my soft one.

+++

A person just came to my door. He explained himself in a way I could not by saying he was from the NSA. "Sir," he said, "there is a new breach."

"Melania just had a new kid?"

"No."

Then he continued talking. I hate being President.

Friday, March 17, 2017

White House Tour (Seamus)

You heard the lady. Maddie, thanks. Thanks. Now follow me, folks, there's still a lot to see and we're wasting time.

On your left, you'll see the Mamie Eisenhower door. Now, behind that door is where the President sleeps. Sometimes. He rarely sleeps in there, but it used to have a great effect when I'd say it. Imagine the President sleeps in there on a regular basis. Ok?

We all know he sleeps more in Florida now.

Speaking of Florida, here is the Map Room! Step in. Step... Dude, the threshold is like an inch. If you hadn't worn sandals... There. So! Ladies and gentlemen! This is the Map.

Sir. You just pick up your foot. Move it towards me. There.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Map Room! As you can see there are no maps in this room. It was so named by President Reagan because he would come into this room and ask 'Where are the maps?' To be fair, every room in the White House could be called the Map Room. Everyone kept maps away from Reagan. True story: Atlas editors were once asked to visit Reagan and pretended the entire time they were in the Map Room. Can you guess what room they were actually in?

That was a rhetorical... you're very good. I didn't expect an answer. Give her a hand, everyone. She got it right. We'll see the Presidential bathroom--or 'john,' as you said--at the end of the tour.

Now. Here's where we keep Checkers. As you see, it's an empty closet, but we put out dog biscuits jut in case....

Thursday, March 16, 2017

White House Tour

Okay. So you've all got your badges...? Okay, good. Excellent! Special badges, hold up! Perfect. Now we're at the part of the tour where we split up. Hold up the specials! Keep them up! You're coming with me. The rest of you will continue that way--Seamus, you show them where to go, I know you will, you're so good at it--and you specials come this way. Follow me! C'mon now, right this way!

All here? Okay. Good. Now, as you know, this is a very different White House, and you paid good money to see just how new it is. Let's move into the alcove here. Wave good-bye to Seamus, everyone, as he ushers away the others from us. Bye, dear!

Now. What you're about to see, you cannot discuss. See those special badges? They are sacred bonds, willing you to silence. I have been doing these kinds of tours for decades, and I assure you it is the last thing you want to do to reveal what I am about to show you. If you were to leak to a reputable news organization, I would be forced to deny knowledge of what I am about to say. Please. Don't report. Don't leak. Do not, I beg you, tell the outside world what has suddenly become a nightmare for all of us working inside the White House which, until recently, was a wonderful place to work.

To your left, you see the President's collection of trucker hats. At one time, there was a collection of gifts from world leaders. Please note the stitching on each hat, done by the finest child hands from several countries. No other hats get that much attention to detail, folks, because not many hats have such small hands doing the stitching!

And to your right, you see the collection of the President's tax returns. You'll notice it is made up entirely of empty paper. The finest paper manufactured by humanity. Until recently, that case consisted of a display of artwork sent to previous Presidents by children. You may sense a theme.

Now! We're all here, right? Hold up your badges again! One.. two...three... f...five--sixseveneightnine. Great. Just making sure. We need to keep a close count on you all.

So behind this door, donated by Queen Victoria and carved by the great wood-working artist Corbet II, you'll find one of the President's more treasured new additions to the White House. It is a woman, held naked against her will and denied human touch except in times of cleaning and feeding. No one knows her name. Note how she is perfectly clean, perfectly fed, and will not respond to you no matter how many times you ask if she needs assistance. None of us here at the White House knows why the President requires her to be here, in this small closet... We just know he never comes down here.

Now--isn't this exciting?--we move on from this to another new installation in this White House. Here is Ben. As you see, he's a small child chained to a pole. The chain, which was forged by Andrew Jackson during his time as a Tennessee Supreme Court justice, is exactly two feet long. The President has decreed that anything happening in that two-foot stretch is the boy's domain. If you wander into it--watch out!--he is well within his rights to murder you, eat your flesh, and desecrate your corpse. But he is not allowed beyond that two feet stretch. Everyone say hi to Ben!

Miss, I really suggest you step back. Just... thank you.

Now. Special badges up, everyone! Let me see them! Onetwothreefourfive... yes, nine. All here still. Good!

So. To your right, you will see an elderly woman tied with velvet rope to a young maiden. See them? Note how the old crone is forced to stare at her younger self, and the young woman is forced to stare at the elderly crone?

Well, that's part of our President's genius! The elderly woman is only 20 years old! That's right! And her younger counterpart is nearly 90! In his devious wisdom, and for reasons we here at White House tours have not worked out, the President had a young woman prematurely aged, and an old woman restored to her youth, all by the magic of plastic surgery. So the old woman looks to the past, and the young woman looks to her future--and it's hilarious because they are both looking at their present! Each sees the other as exactly how they are, as if looking in a mirror.

Now, may I direct you to this door, beyond which is the most horrifying thing you will ever see. For this, I must ask you to hand in your badges and an additional 25 cents. Right this way, everyone. You won't see the secrets of the government without an additional fee. Thank you... thanks... Watch your step now....

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Snow Day

Trump moved from room to room--from Rose to Blue--without purpose.

"I'm bored!" he announced to no one, and no one responded. From a window, he saw the snow falling faintly, and faintly falling.

And he, like the snow, finally settled on an inert surface. He collapsed onto the Irma Truman bed, buried his head into his crossed arms, and sighed. The sigh shook no one, was heard by no one, yet a few snowflakes beyond the walls of the residence heard it and failed to alter their course. The snowflakes heard the great sigh and hesitated briefly, then delicately fell into a pile of snow against a shrub, and rested.

"Bored!" Trump shouted again.

No one answered him.

No sounds in the house except the sounds of snowflakes brushing against the panes of the windows.

"I can call a drone strike right now!" Trump announced, to no one.

The snow muffled his cries.

Joyce reference. Get it? Too obvs. Oh look at the snow.
"Nuke Iceland!" he demanded. And in Iceland, a young boy shivered for the first time, sneezed into his mitten, and purchased the milk he'd been sent by his mother to buy.

"Am I President or not?" Trump asked the Mamie Clinton bed. The Dolly Clinton bed had no answer--it stared back at Trump, its sheets as blank and as white as the snow outside. The snow, which continued to fall like pieces of shredded tax documents.

"Well, yes, you're President."

Trump caught his breath, which always tried to escape him. He peered up from his crossed arms and... no.

"Must be snow-blindness," he whispered to himself. "Surely must be a morsel of mushroom from brunch."

Standing in the center--or not quite center but more center right--of the room was Ronald Reagan. Hair sculpted in a way that even masons could not imagine. The swoop of the hair. The sweep and scope. The dense thicket of hair. Trump was speechless.

"You," Reagan said, even though Trump knew he could not be there, and therefore could not say this, "are President. It's true. The snow falling outside is real, and you, Donald J. Trump, are President."

Reagan moved towards the Jacky-K bed. He put one hand on the mattress Martha Nixon had personally stitched, and Trump felt the mattress sink a bit. Trump leaned into the Reagan pressure.

And silence, except for the snow, faintly falling and falling faintly, against all of the windows of the White House.

"I'm so bored," Trump whimpered again, and again, "...bored," as Reagan moved into him.

"Call me Mommy," Reagan whispered.

"Anything. I'll call you anything," Trump said, feeling the Betty Jackson mattress sink with Reagan's weight. "Just... I won't call this TrumpCare."

At that moment, Bannon knocked. Trump, for the first time in a long time, heard another voice. It shook the room, and shook the ghost of Reagan, and Trump was, again, alone with his thoughts and the snow scraping against his panes.

"Mr. President," Bannon shouted through the Roosevelt door. "We've managed to--"

"Am I going to Florida?!" Trump trumpeted.

"Of course! Sir, we'll manage. You've had a difficult four minutes. We'll take it from here."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Q&A

Q: Let's just get this out of the way: You're his, uh, his hair stylist, yes?

A: Yes. I do his hair. If you want to call me a hair stylist, that's your choice [laughs]. It's not so much a styling, is it, as damage control.

Q: How did you get the job?

A: Ah, there's a tale, isn't it? [Pauses.]

Q [After a few minutes]: So. There's a tale. Where is the tale?

A: What tail? My goodness, he has no tail. I couldn't style that.

Q: Tale. Story. You said--

A: Of course. Dear, I'm so exhausted I don't know my tails from my tales. What was the que--oh. My goodness. How did I become his hair, as you put it, stylist. Funny thing about that. I was working in a shop downtown, and one day he just walks in. I was doing some girl's hair, and we were chatting it up like we were friends from years back, and in he walks. Stands in the doorway with a bewildered look on his face like he'd just seen Marley on the doorknob. I says to the girl, I says "There's a man who ain't never seen the light of day"--on account of his pallor, you know-- "there's a man ain't never seen the light of day." And she said back, "Watch the scissors, love. You've got them in my ear."

Q: He was pallid?

A: Then? Yes. It was the early '80s, you know. Everyone was pallid. It was fashionable then to look like you were diseased. Then of course, you were diseased, and it was suddenly fashionable to look healthy, which meant tanning and rouge and the like. He didn't like rouge, so we went with a shellac coating. But that was later.

Q: So he came in...?

A: Yes. He stood in the door. I remember it like it was two days ago. He was confused, and almost apologetic as he stood there. It was a windy spring day it was, and he had on a coat much too thick for the day but the coat billowed around him and I says to the girl in my chair, "I'm sorry dear. I'll get you a tissue." Because she was bleeding from the ear I'd poked the scissors into. And she says back, "Pah. It's nothing, love, don't worry about it. Get a load of the guy standing in the door with that thick coat on." And so we laughed a bit. Because of the coat.

Q: All you noticed about him was his coat?

A: Coat? Who thinks about such things when you see a man who has hair like a stripped wheat field?

[Pause]
Physics fail

A: The wind was blowing his lack of hair around like it hated him. I says to the girl, "That coat ought to protect him from--"

Q: About his hair...?

A: Ai, never seen anything like it. It was a single strand, wrapped around his skull. Coiled like a snake, it was, but in the wind it came loose. It shot out from his head like a narwhal's tusk.

Q: So it was rigid?

A: It was just windy. A feather would've been a bullet in the wind that day.

Q: Did he say anything to you? I mean, he's standing in the door. You've made a customer deaf in one ear with your scissors. Was it just silence, or after all this bluster, did he say something like, "My hair needs repair"?

A: Ah, I see what you're getting at. I'm the hair stylist to the President, ain't I, and you want to know how I came to be just that.

Q: Well. I mean. That is the reason I'm here.

A: Under advisement, I've been told I'm not to answer any questions.

Q: But you agreed to speak to--

A: I never touched Boris Yeltsin's head.

Q: I didn't ask--

A: Kellyanne Conway is a lovely woman, delightful. Great head of hair on her, that one.

Q: So he's standing in the door--

A: And there we'll leave him. Pish off, dear.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Non-Speculative Trump Post

Alois Schicklgruber, DDS
"I'm in a documentary mood," I said earlier to my groaning husband who had just endured a documentary about the real murderer of the Lindbergh kidnapping. "I know. I know."

Then I hit play on 'Meet the Hitlers,' a documentary about people sharing the name 'Hitler.' Produced by Morgan Spurlock. Not a bad documentary at all. The doc introduces audiences to a young, blonde high school girl in St. Louis, a sardonic old man named Gene Douglas Hitler who was born so early in the actual Hitler's rise to power his parents almost named him Adolf (Gene Douglas apparently prefers to be called 'G. D. Hitler' for reasons I'm not sure he understands), a man in Germany who was brought up by his parents to believe his was Actual Hitler's nephew and has, accordingly, lived a celibate life with few--if any--personal attachments in hopes of assuring the Hitler name dies with him, and a journalist in search of Actual Hitler's Actual remaining ancestors: three brothers descended from Actual Hitler's half-brother Alois, jr.

Alois, sr., was Actual Hitler's dad, of course. Alois, jr., was Actual Hitler's half-brother. In the 'Meet the Hitlers' documentary, a journalist traces Alois, jr., to 1940s United States, where young Alois makes a point of renouncing his more famous brother, becoming a US citizen, then changing his name to something--anything--other than Hitler. Alois sires children, and those children--three boys--pledge to never splooge out heirs. If the documentary is to be believed, those three boys are now living in a weird Long Island compound together.

Like one does.

Now. The thing about this documentary about people named Hitler--even when they aren't named Hitler any longer--is that it made me curious. While forcing my husband to watch it, I ended up tuning half of it out as I searched the internet for Hitler's dad.

Hitler's dad, it turns out, was not named Hitler. Actual Hitler's dad--and therefore Hitler himself--was named Alois Schicklgruber.

What's more, when he did eventually change his surname--he was nearly 40 before he did that--he wanted to be called 'Alois Hiedler.' In a stunning act of inefficient German governance, however, a clerk noted the name-change as 'Hitler,' and that's how a Schicklgruber eventually became one of the worst mass-murdering assholes of modern times.

Perhaps if Actual Hitler had been Actual Schicklgruber, most if not all of the 1930s and '40s would've been more pleasant. Who knows.

Anyway. So my husband and I finished that documentary, and I was still in the mood for something--anything--to watch. I settled on--after a groan from the husband--'My Friend Rockefeller,' which I am still watching. Or will soon be watching, as the husband fucked off to take a long shower 20 minutes into the Rock-doc, and I decided to stop the doc for a moment to write.

Like one does.

"My Friend Rockefeller" is about a man who created himself virtually out of nothing. He got into the best parties, circled around the best circles. Failed, as it were, upward by convincing people he was someone he was not, and worthy of being included in a social class he wasn't a part of.
Plot relevant

Ten minutes into Rock-doc, I announced to my husband, "I think I see a pattern."

"Mmmm?" my husband grunted. He was playing a game on his computer.

"We started off with a documentary about the Lindbergh baby, where they suggest Charles Lindbergh himself may have had a hand in his son's kidnapping and death. Eugenics and all that. Then we go to a documentary about people named Hitler which never once mentions the fact that even Hitler wasn't named Hitler. Hitler was also, by the way, either a vegetarian or not a vegetarian--there are conflicting reports about that--so we don't even really know what Hitler was made of. And we don't know all that much about the actual man. We know his persona, sure, and we know he wanted to be an artist and he hated Jews and was Jewish even though he had a false story created to cover up his Jewishness, and whatever."

"Drumpf."

"Well, yes. I think I'm subconsciously--although now consciously, since I'm saying it--trying to work out what the fuck we're doing with a fake businessman in the White House."

"Whose family is all about eugenics," the husband added.

"Who believes in eugenics."

There was a beat of silence, during which we could hear the dog licking his own asshole as if it were a Tootsie-Pop.

"I'm going to take a bath," the husband announced.

"I mean, can you imagine a President Drumpf?"

"A long bath," the husband amended.

"So who is this man? As with Hitler, we get glimpses of a personal life, but they aren't true insights into the man. Like Hitler, he's spent decades building a facade. Not even an image, really, like with actors or whatever. An actual facade, using words built on nothing very substantial."

"Maybe a bubble-bath."

"Exactly."

And so here we are: me in the middle of a masochistic, existential documentary binge; my husband taking a bubble-bath. And a dog still giving his asshole the attention it deserves.

A  Faux Schicklgruber running the country.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trump V (Because it's the fifth one I've done)

This may be an exaggeration of Iceland.
The horses along Central Park South were  uneasy.

The Man passed each carriage, passed each horse, and imagined each animal's essence pass into him. The Man became each carriage.

As he approached the Plaza Hotel, heading East from Columbus Circle, he stopped next to a particularly virile beast strapped to a velour and dark oak carriage. The Man inhaled the horse, exhaled fire.

"Sir," a young woman in his company said to him. "We can't stop here."

The Man turned away from the horse to consider the tight group surrounding him, and addressed the young woman by scowling at her through his mask. It was a Guy Fawkes mask. His youngest son had suggested it to him.

"I'm sorry, sir," the young woman said. "It's just not safe."

"If I want to stop, I will stop. I can make magnificent stops. The best stops. When I stop, we all stop. Believe me." But The Man was wearing a mask, so what the young woman--and the company, and the horse--heard was this: "Mmmf Imf ffon ffop..." etc.

Another member of The Man's company, a tall man wearing a balaclava imprinted with the face of Bugs Bunny, leaned in close to The Man. "Sir. She's right. If this is to work, you must keep moving. We're not at the protest yet."

The Man reached out to touch the horse. His stubby fingers brushed the horse's forehead, and an electricity passed from the horse to himself. The Man recalled a recent past where he approached the horses without supervision.

Electricity traveled from the horses to The Man like lightning shooting from Eyjafjallajokull to the heavens. He needed to touch the horses. And now he was warned away, and could only mutter "Mmmfh mmust fying--" before his company surrounded him and urged him toward 5th Avenue, away from the horse. Away from the virility of the animals.

As The Man was trotted across Central Park South toward 5th Avenue, the young woman explained, "Sir, sorry, sir. But you can't stop unless we secure the area."

"MMfay," the man said. "MMfay."

"I need you to be more affirmative, sir."

"MMFAY!" The Man said through his Guy Fawkes mask.

The company and The Man jogged to the intersection.

The young woman noticed first, and said, "Okay, we need to stop for a moment."

After a rest, The Man regained consciousness. He looked at the world around him, and the past month felt like a dream. He felt like George Bailey, from 'It's a Wonderful Life', returning to Grover's Corners after a near-fatal plane-crash. Or like Blanche returning to Tara after a dreadful chifforobe incident.  Or Dorothy, returning to Nebraska.

Everything was normal again. He knew the corners--Central Park there, Plaza there, Apple Store, there, and beyond was Cartier, and over there was Tiffany, and just two blocks away, down 5th, was Trump Tower.

Regaining his breath, The Man ripped his mask from his face. While most of his company panicked, and formed a human shield around the President, Trump was delighted the young woman faced him.

"I can now speak clearly," Trump said. "So clearly. The mask is gone and I'm right here."

"Yes sir," the young woman responded. Then hiccuped. "Sorry." Then sneezed. "Jesus. Sorry, sir."

"I have felt the power of the universe."

"Sir. You wanted to go into the crowds. You wanted to understand their minds, and be a better leader," the young woman--

"No need. NO need. I have done what I said. I came down to this protest, and I've touched a horse. I will need that horse in Congress on my side."

The young woman, facing downtown at the chaos, muttered to herself.

Trump replied, "I am a gentleman of a company."

The young woman faced Trump. "A company, but you never say which one."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

That Swedish Incident

The light from outside fell like a corpse across the floor, where Trump sat. The light was dense and yellow and external.

"Melania," Trump said. "Flip on the lights."

Trump meant the overhead lights, but Melania turned on the flashlight to her phone and held it up.

"The light switch," Trump said. "Find the--"

"All lights are gone," Melania said.

Trump sighed. "We live in a house with more rooms than our penthouse. Why are there no light switches?"

"Maybe because it was built before electricity?" Melania smiled. She was standing against one wall of the Blue Room, posing as if Avedon were about to photograph her, with her phone extended at such a fashionable angle that light became impractical.  Which was unfortunate, as Avedon understood light.

Trump pulled a piece of paper up to his eyes and squinted. There was silence. The silence was as dense as the dead external light. Melania held her pose, and her phone's light fell across her shoes, but ventured no further.

"I've got to get this done," Trump growled. "I can't do it without decent light." He gestured up to the ceiling, where crystal chandeliers dangled like promises. "Those lights gotta work, Mel. There must be a switch somewhere."

Melania sighed. Her body released the pose. "I don't know," she said. "I've asked the staff. They are to not understand where the light switches are either."

Trump, crosslegged, shifted his expansive ass so that he could look at his wife. In doing so, he knocked over a pile of wooden sticks. The sound ripped through the silent house, and attracted no attention.

"Goddammit, Mel," Trump exclaimed. "Look what you made me do!"

Melania dropped her phone--which continued to shine--and put on her best apology face, which wasn't helpful in the dark Blue Room. "Oh, Donnie. I'm so sorry. Let me help--"

"I don't need help. I need light."

Bits of a futon were spread out before him like what would become Frankenstein's Monster. He only needed to assemble the pieces into a whole. The absence of true light made Trump angry. Melania sensed his anger.

"Donnie. Look. I can ask the help to--"

"I don't want the help." He lifted an allen wrench up to his temple.

"But they may know where the light switches are! Donnnnie." Melania spread her lips in a way she knew was beneficial to humanity.

"These lights are the worst lights. Horrible lights. I will not deal with these lights. I will assemble this futon without any lights." Trump removed the allen wrench from his temple and stabbed it in the general direction of fake wood, and missed.

Some days later, Michael Flynn wandered into the Blue Room. Light no longer fell thickly like a corpse--it flowed into the room like water. At midday, there was nothing to fear and nothing to dislike. It was a beautiful room and Flynn took a seat on a newly-installed sofa.

Flynn took a moment--he consumed the new atmosphere as one would consume a new country. The Blue Room: where Grover Cleveland married, where he could view the south lawn, where he...

In the dwindling light, Flynn caught a gleam shining out of the shag carpet. He bent over and reached out.

Just before the futon collapsed, Flynn asked, "Is this a missing screw?"




Phone to Bind Them All

Paul Ryan, twirling a rubber-coated dumbbell through his fingers, leaned back in his office chair and said, "Hm."

He said the "Hm" to no one, as there was no one in his office. As the dumbbell--a twenty-pounder the color of Gargamel's dreams, the color of Ryan's eyes--shifted from one finger to another, Ryan heard himself say "Hm" and felt the need to respond to himself.

"Ugh," he answered. He dropped the dumbbell to the office floor.

The loud thunk of the weight smashing into the aged wood elicited another required response from Ryan. "Oof," he said. Again, to no one but himself.

The initial 'Hm' beginning this strange self-contained conversation had, of course, begun 77 minutes earlier, when, curious, Ryan had turned on his television--framed nicely in an Ikea shelf put together by his wife--to watch Donald Trump's impromptu press conference. He watched the President approach the podium as if he were stalking wounded prey, and for 77 minutes Ryan was transfixed.

20 minutes in, he wished he were a smoker like his predecessor.

40 minutes in, he reached for the dumbbell.

50 minutes in, Ryan was certain time had stopped entirely, and there was nothing left to do but wait for the contraction of the universe to compress him into a tight ball, then rip his atoms from his other atoms.

A minute after the press conference, all that was left was: "Hm."

Ryan was the only man left on earth. Then phone on his desk rang.

He answered. "Hm," he said.

"Mr. Speaker," his assistant responded. Ryan always found it odd that his assistant--whom he could clearly hear behind his door--never simply shouted out to him. "I have... you know. He's on the line."

"I don't know who." Ryan stared at the numbers of his phone. "Not... surely. I mean, he just left the..." Ryan gestured to the television. "It's still live. He--"

"He's on the phone."

"But he just left the--"

"I don't know, sir. We don't have a TV out here. But we do have a phone, and the President is on it. Shall I put him through."

Ryan did not say the things the President should be put through. Ryan did say this: "Hm."

Which the assistant took as an affirmation, and suddenly there was a voice bursting into Ryan's tidy ear.

"Paulie. Man. Paulie! Did you see--"

"Hm." Then: "Mr. President. What can I do--"

"Paulie, I just gave one helluva presser. That's what it's called, right? Presser. And I pressed and I pressed and didn't confer with anyone. ANYone. I just pressed. So pressed."

Ryan checked the television screen. He could see the podium, and he could see the curtain--a strange yellow embroidered curtain reminding him of his grandmother's house. To the left of the screen, the color of the curtain, was The Hair hovering above the outline of a suit.

"Sir," he said, "part of you is still on camera."

Ryan saw The Hair shift, followed by a bit of the suit. "I'm still on?"

"Yes sir. Yeah."

The Hair moved off camera, and the camera cut to Wolf Blitzer.

"You're now.... Hm." Ryan leaned down, picked up the discarded dumbbell. He began to lift it up to his face over and over, occasionally framing his face with both the receiver and the weight as if his face were between parenthesis.

"Paulie, I just did what you guys told me to do. FANTASTIC. I told them, fantastic. Told them I wasn't interested in what they had to say. What they write. They're wrong. You guys were right, you know that. I should've done that two weeks ago."

Ryan cleared his throat. "Good, Mr. President."

"Russia my ass. I'll show them Russia."

"I don't know about that." The words slipped out before Ryan could stop them. So he countered himself before Trump could respond. "Not sure Russia is the main point here. What matters is that you." Ryan searched. Found. "You put them on notice! You put them on notice, sir. Reagan called press conferences 'feeding the beast' and you slayed the beast today!"

Ryan waited but nothing came back to him. After a moment, he heard his assistant shout--finally, simply shout--from the outer office: "He hung up! Want me to call him back for you?"

"Hm," Ryan muttered to his empty office. Then, louder: "God, no."


The One

No matter how insular, the moment Air Force One accelerated down the runway to liftoff it was impossible to ignore the engines screaming, straining, pushing toward the moment where the wheels slip from the asphalt and rest on air.

Trump did not hear the engines. Fastened loosely in a recliner near a port window, he heard the Florida crowd cheering each word slipping sharply from his soft lips. His eyes were closed though his face was turned toward the open plane window--all the better, as he hated watching the earth sink away from him. He hated liftoff.  Loved the race down the runway, loved the final push against gravity, but hated the moment where things went from Earth to nothingness.

"Raaaaaaaaaah!' Air Force One's engines screamed. And in his mind, Trump heard the crowd of Florida.

"The media lies to you," he'd said. "But I will tell you the truth!"

"Raaaaah!"

Once the plane had leveled and the engines--the crowds--became silent, Trump opened his eyes to see the blankness of the universe from his window. He lifted his tilted head from the recliner's headrest, touched his hair back into place. Inhaled. Popped off his seatbelt, which split apart like a broken rubber band.

"Look at this shit," he mumbled. Melania, a few chairs up and reading a fashion magazine, glanced back at her husband, then followed his gaze, a gaze more general than direct. "Look at the beige. The blue. The leader of the Free World needs bold colors. No wonder we've been so soft for decades. For decades." Trump stood, one hand on the back of the chair before him. "For decades. It's psychological, Mel. The Presidents have for years been forced into dullness. I want bold."

Melania returned to her magazine. She hadn't the benefit of hearing the Florida crowds nor the plane's engines. She certainly wasn't listening to her husband's words. In her ears were earbuds. She was listening to Beyonce's Lemonade at the suggestion of her new Chief of Staff, someone named Reynolds.

Trump lumbered into the aisle, turned away from his wife to the back of the plane. A steward lunged out of nowhere to catch him as he stumbled. "Not yet got my sea legs," Trump joked, taking the young man's hand and pulling it toward him, almost sending the steward into his own stumble.

With some effort, the steward--who was named Eduardo, not that Trump ever asked--assisted Trump on the unsteady journey from the main cabin to the Presidential cabin. The Presidential cabin was Trump's term for the area of the plane where there was a bed, desk, and television. After three weeks with Trump, Eduardo knew to steer Trump toward the bed. He helped lower Trump stomach first onto the mattress, then left without a word.

Trump lifted one hip and shoved a hand into his pants pocket, fished out his phone, and brought it up to his face. The screen popped to life. Icons of apps swam in a blue sea. He selected the one most resembling a bird, and waited for a moment.

Then he began to type, a letter at a time, first one thumb then another punching against the alphabet as if he hoped to crush each letter.

Eduardo, meanwhile, walked along the aisle to Melania's chair. He stood beside her for a moment, waiting, watching her flip through her magazine. He cleared his throat, first politely, then pointedly. Sighing, he bent a bit and, careful not to touch her directly, waved a hand against the air near her face. Melania jerked a bit, then plucked the earbuds from her ears. Beyonce's diminutive voice could be heard, bitter and sweet.

"Sorry to--" Eduardo began.

"Yes, please, to have a Diet Coke." Melania forced a smile that seemed more of a sob. "Do not of course tell President. He is to sleep."

"Yes, ma'am." Eduardo, and all the staff both grounded and airborne had learned that "He is to sleep" was Melania's way of asking if her husband was now monitoring social media. "He is very much to sleep."

Melania's smile became less of a sob and more of a relief. "Good. He... needs to sleep."

"I'll be right back. Sure you don't want anything else?" Eduardo returned upright. "We do specially stock--"

"Diet Coke. And do not say words." She nodded firmly, then returned the buds to her ears.

Eduardo moved to the front of the plane, passing random people not in his charge. He got to the kitchen, opened one of the refrigerators, and found one of the three cans of Diet Coke left in stock. As he brought out ice and a water glass, another steward, Pen, entered.

Pen assisted the flight crew. She'd been a part of Air Force One for almost as long as the first wing had been affixed to the fuselage. During the first Bush administration--the father, not the son--she'd been offered a promotion and refused. "We see what you do," George I had said during a particularly long flight to Geneva. "Barb and I would love you to come work for us back here."

"Thank you sir," Pen had said then. "The most important thing to me is to take care of the person flying the plane. And all due respect, but when you're in this plane, you're just a passenger. I can better serve you by serving the cockpit."

So Pen, for years, was the steward who made sure the cockpit was served. Eduardo, in 4 years, had only seen her three other times.

She always made him nervous. Her history with the plane was, to him, a marvel.

"Hey kiddo," she said.

"Hi." He smiled, and wondered if his smile, too, seemed more of a sob.

"Hard times." Pen wasn't asking a question. "I know. I'm sorry."

"They're okay for now."

"The times?"

"No. My family. They're--"

"Okay for now. Good."

Pen reached into a cupboard and retrieved a bag of chips. "Glad to see you." She stood for a moment, looking at him. Pen was a sharp woman--sharp features, sharp uniform, sharp voice. But she softened for a moment and whispered, "Very glad."

Eduardo watching Pen leave the kitchen, heading back to her duty. Then he cracked open the can of Diet Coke, poured it into the water glass. Cracked the tray of ice and dropped cubes in. Listened to the fizz, which sounded like a crowd of people cheering him on.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Robe

It was after 6:30 in the evening, and no one was fast asleep.

Trump stood at a window, watching a fountain spurt again and again, reminding him of his youth. Behind him, on a makeshift TV stand constructed from the remains of the Resolute Desk, a television blared the evening's news.

Donald J. Trump, alone in one of the most crowded houses in the United States, sipped from his tumbler of water, scratched himself through his terrycloth robe the color of freshly-crushed red grapes, and stared at the fountain. The spout pushed higher, then lower, then higher, and each spurt shattered into a white foam like melted snow.

Beyond the fountain was the fence. Trump admired the fence. Sharp, rigid. Upright. It reminded him of a Sunday morning at military school, where all students were upright, rigid, and sharp before reveille.

Trump imagined snow falling, and falling faintly, upon that fence. Then he imagined the blood. And the fountain began shooting out blood, and the lawn outside his new residence was bathed in a bright red light. The light was from an ambulance passing the residence, silent like his mother's hugs, erratic like his father's support. The fence and the fountain vibrated red lights, and Trump tightened the belt of his robe. Turned away from the window. Turned toward the flickering blue light of his television.

There was a knock at his door. His eyes were settling, finally, on the television, but now his ears were pushed into service, followed by his voice, which barked out an exasperated "What!"

His eyes dimmed a bit. Whatever was on the television slipped away as he slammed his glass onto what happened to be his bed. The glass hit the softness of the mattress, overturned, and leaked itself onto the cotton duvet.

"Mr. President." The voice, muffled by the Grant Door, donated by the Daughters of the Something. Every piece of this residence, in this house, was donated--there was not one corner owned by the Trump family, and it annoyed him. Fumbling with the overturned glass on the Roosevelt duvet, Trump yelled, "I'm standing on the goddamn carpet Betsy Rossini carved out of her own pubic hair! What?!"

Silence.

Trump loosened his belt. Exhaled. Flipped the robe like a drowning penguin, brought it closer to his body. Secured the belt again.

"...Bannon has gone silent..." the television said.

Trump glanced at the bed, wet but unstained. And un-wived. The bed was empty, and would remain empty until he crawled into it, which he did not want to do. He missed his normal bed. "I make hotels," he muttered to himself. "Now I'm staying in one."

Trump realized the next two spots he could live were Club 33, and then the apartment at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

A tentative knock at the Grant Door. A careful voice. "Mr. President."

"Yes. I am Mr. President. The President." Trump worked his toes into the Betsy Rossini carpet--unaware with each toe-flex that it was a rug Mamie Truman had selected--and scraped his fingers into the terrycloth of his own robe.

"Mr. President, it's your nightly snowcone. Made fresh, sir."

Trump moved toward the door, almost knocking down the makeshift Resolute Desk television stand.

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