The Erosion of Manners

A couple of days ago, I watched a traffic light change from red to green and, within a nanosecond, heard the insistent honking of an impatient driver. The car ahead of his had not leapt forward quickly enough.
Said car, instead of reacting to the horn, stopped dead. A very big man who had more muscle than fat came out of the driver’s side, walked to the offending car, and smashed his very big fist into the car’s hood, leaving a sizeable dent. Then he returned to his car and drove away.
I couldn’t see the face of the dented car’s driver, but his vehicle failed to move and the light turned red. More honking followed.
Part of me thought the large-fisted man had done exactly what I have wanted to do a hundred times given the same situation. Few things are more annoying than the cretin behind you who hits his horn the moment the light changes. I have, on two occasions a few years ago, deliberately stalled my car, popped open the hood, glanced at the engine, then leapt back into the driver’s seat and sped away just as the light went from yellow to red. This is the single-person version of the Chinese fire drill of our youth.
The recent incident made me think about anger, and that there seems to be a lot more of it now than even a few years ago. We are becoming an increasingly irritated society. Studies have shown we’ve grown more impatient, perhaps as a result of faster-than-ever communications that have, in turn, bred a need for faster and often ill-advised responses.
I believe there’s another problem as well. Our freedom of almost everything has slowly been eroded and every day brings the removal of yet another sliver of autonomy.
Whether it is driving from Point A to Point B in a gnarl of traffic or going cross country, we are hemmed in by rules and regulations that often seem ridiculous. Why wait two minutes at an empty crossroads for a light to turn green? Why drive a car at fifty miles an hour when it is easily capable of twice that speed? Why linger in the left go-faster lane when a laggard is blocking it and driving slowly?
These, of course, only apply to driving, and I’m sure contribute to road rage, but anger and a basic lack of propriety appear endemic nowadays. I see it in the faces of people waiting in line for a cashier, a teller, or a waiter. We are giving others less and less time to respond to our needs. Waiting has become an insult rather than a modern necessity.
At a quite expensive restaurant recently, I watched an unhappy waiter trying to talk a patron into a more expensive meal. At a computer store, a salesperson harangued an older customer into buying a replacement policy for a just-purchased computer. At a Starbucks, I listened to two young women openly-and loudly—criticize the work of the sole barista behind the bar. All this-including the car-punching—occurred within a week.
What I find particularly disconcerting is that I am among the worst of offenders. From the confines of my leased rice-burner, I holler at people to move, to turn, to get the lead out! I have, however, the good sense to flash my one-hand gestures below the dash, and keep the windows rolled up. I smile at the elderly lady painstakingly counting nickels, dimes and pennies at the checkout. And when the car bearing New Mexico plates turns left in front of me, I keep my honking to a civilized three-seconds. Like Teddy Roosevelt, I believe politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience.

 

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NDA

A writer friend asked me why I was blogging less lately. I couldn’t tell her the truth, as that might be a violation of the nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreement (NDA)  I am considering signing with the Trump people. At least, I think it’s with the Trump people. I perhaps did not read the document as carefully as I should have, but it did look all legal and above-board and it was signed by what I think was an Italian lawyer.

Like the NDA proffered to and rejected by Omarosa Manigault, the former Trump reality star and White House aide, the document offered me stated that I could not “make disparaging comments about the campaign, Mr. Trump, [Vice President] Mr. Pense, any Trump or Pence Company, any Trump or Pence family member, or any Trump or Pence Family Member Company or any asset of any of the forgoing own.”

Ms. Manigault turned down a non-job offer of $15,000 a month as incentive to sign the NDA. I was offered weekly discount coupons to McDonalds but have been holding out for more. I wondered why I had been singled out since I have not really broken any important Trump- or Pense-related news, with the notable exception that, according to a former purveyor of White House news, Mr. Trump is also known as a highly flatulent individual whose emissions can clear any room, including the Oval Office. To be absolutely honest, I do not know if this purported flatulency is a fact. I have not been invited to the Oval Office recently, but apparently everyone is talking about it, in hushed tones, of course. Some are said to be holding their breath awaiting further developments.

I was honored to be recognized by POTUS, and I am not going to disclose anything of importance, so you can probably stop reading right now. I suspect you already know that Donald is the worst president ever elected. I can say this without violating the offered NDA since it is neither news nor new.

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Moviepass’ Bait & Switch

If, like hundreds of thousands, you bought a Moviepass a few months ago, right now you are probably as pissed off as I am. I not only purchased a monthly plan for myself, but I also bought an annual membership as a gift for a friend.

For a while it was neat. I live near a movie complex and saw a bunch of films no spectator in his or her right mind should have paid $12 for. Thoroughbreds was a good example, as was Annihilation. I’d add to that the blockbuster from Marvel, Avengers Infinity War, a true scrambled egg of a film where (spoiler alert) everyone turns to ash at the end.

Yesterday, I wanted mind-numbing entertainment. I walked to the theater complex debating between the latest Mission Impossible and Mama Mia. Both got good reviews on the meaningless and inconsequential film index (about an eight), but the problem was, neither film was available to Moviepass holders, unless an additional fee of six dollars was paid for MI and eight bucks for Mamma Mia. Ok, so six or eight bucks isn’t a big deal, but the bait-and-switch made me angry enough to go home, where I tried to make sense of the gobbledygook that MP’s pr people were putting out. I discovered that Moviepass had deliberately blacked out Mission Impossible so its members could not use their pass to see it. They also removed the better movies from the roster in popular cinemas, and essentially gave members the finger, telling us it was for our own good. Then, in spite of reassurances that everything was just peachy, the company went broke. As of yesterday morning, MP reportedly had to borrow a few millions from a venture company simply to keep the business afloat.

I understand that businesses occasionally get overzealous and have to take a step back, but when that is the case they should have the decency to own up to their mistakes. Moviepass does not. It obfuscates. I hate that.

I have a friend whose concept of social justice dates largely from the 60s. His bible is Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book

This is what my friend suggests.  Go to your local movie house, the one that features good and bad films.  Use Moviepass to get a ticket to the bad film. Use the ticket to get into the good film. Bait and switch, just like Moviepass did.

Now, you understand that I do not in any manner, shape or form, condone such an action. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. And that is all I have to say on the subject. Enjoy the movie.

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Breaking (he he) News

Oh My God! This just in!

At breakfast this morning, I ran into a former journalist friend who is still active politically. He told me something truly shocking.

I am, frankly, almost loath to share this item because it lowers the presidency to even greater depth, but I can’t resist. I never claimed to be Carl Bernstein. Here goes.

 It appears that Trump is earning a new status as possibly the most flatulent prez since the 350-pound William Taft. This explains why, in most photos, cabinet members appear to stand a far as possible from him while still remaining visible. It also goes a long way to clearing up the mystery of why Melania and Don do not share rooms, much a less a bed. Somehow, I am not surprised. I suspect this is not fake news and present it here because it is important to know all we can about the leader of our great nation.

My journalist friend added a caveat: “I hear that’s what people in the White House are saying.”

And now back to our normal coverage.

Sometime between sleep and wakefulness in the early morning hours, I thought I heard the rumblings of a mob forming in the streets. I smiled. Finally! Power to the people and all that. I woke up to the same-old same-old and realized the mob I’d imagined gathering was actually the drunks at closing time. They’re noisy, staggering, and fond of setting off car alarms.

Then I read about the new threat to the US—Montenegro. According to Trump, the Montenegrin are an aggressive lot, poised to launch World War III by invading Russia if provoked. This would be problematic as Montenegro is the newest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As such, according to Trump, the United States and other members of NATO would be forced to take up arms and defend the tiny principality.

To be fair, this ridiculous mouse-that-roared scenario was not originally broached by Trump himself—I doubt Trump has the faintest notion of where Montenegro is. No, the notion was posited by Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host whose concept of European geography is possibly as challenged as that of POTUS. It was, I suppose, meant as a joke, but Trump’s joyful response, referring to the Montenegrin, was, “They’re very strong people; they’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive. And congratulations, you’re in World War III.” That’s disturbing. It implies an abysmal lack of knowledge of NATO’s guiding principles, and a willingness to embrace the stupidest illustration to prove a point.

Montenegro is not to be confused with other mini-nations like its neighbor, Kosovo, or the equally tiny Lichtenstein. There are approximately 622,000 Montenegrin, and I doubt all that many harbor violent thoughts. Mostly, they entertain tourists, fish, and cultivate crops that are consumed locally. There’s a growing service industry, but the country is just now beginning to recover from the political instability of its neighbors.

The issue, of course, isn’t Montenegro, but the ongoing and aggressive ignorance of the US President, who appears willing to accept any absurdity as fact, and then further broadcast it. Hence, according to Trump, we deal with honest leaders in North Korea and Russia, foolish ones in England and Germany, and we must rely on his self-declared status as a very stable genius to make sure our country is protected from unfair trade, the military weakness of other nations, and, of course, the lying media.

Personally, that sulky pout of his, ready at any moment to break out into petulant rage; those cheeseburger-fed jowls; the little piggy eyes that show shrewdness but no intellectual intelligence whatsoever—all these displays of infantile behavior are enough to make me heave my breakfast bagel.

There is no relief in sight. This truly frightens me. Or perhaps the mobs are covertly forming in the countryside and will take to the streets soon.

One can only hope.

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Absurd

If you’re a writer and a blogger, these are easy times. Subjects worthy of a few hundred words crowd the paper’s front pages and vie for space. In a way, this is a chronicler’s heaven. It’s so facile to write that is has become hard.

Reprise that old joke once applied to addicts and alcoholics: How do you know when Trump is lying? His lips move.

The rampant dishonesty of cabinet members is almost too easy. Who could have even foreseen something as ludicrous as Pruitt’s second-hand mattress? Who would have thought even a dumb-as-a-post politician could believe and legitimatize one of the world’s most repressive dictators? Oh, and do so while belittling far smarter and more competent allied leaders. The wildly entertaining porn reports have subsided, but they’re sure to resurface as soon as Trump denies them again. Crooked lawyers who represent POTUS and take advantage of such an honor? Par for the course in these sad times.

Really, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The truth has become a negotiable commodity and lost its allure. Diogenes is weeping. Me, I remain amazed that we have not taken to the streets with buckets of hot tar, fathers, torches and pitchforks, because, let’s face it, a leader who routinely defies the laws of the land does not deserve constitutional protection. It’s going to get worse as Trump increasingly alienates friends, sucks up to repressive regimes and generally acts like an asshole. The opposition—read Democrats—is so caught up in playing king of the mountain that it is missing the only opportunity to change things in the very near future.

I see and read about Trump and the only recent leader I can compare him to is the late Idi Ami of Uganda, who proclaimed himself world heavyweight boxing champion and King of Scotland. Uganda was once called the Pearl of Africa, and Amin almost singlehandedly drove the country back to poverty, not to mention ridicule. Idi is dead. Trump, apparently, is not, even though the orange look is beginning to display a  recently deceased and embalmed appearance.

In this era, the absurd is in charge. The pharmaceutical industry responsible for fentanyl, which has caused thousands upon thousands of death, is in court to make sure its drug is not used in legal executions. Might make Big Pharm look bad, ya know.

Less than twenty immigrant families have been reunited with the children kidnapped by ICE. That leaves approximately 2880 unaccounted kids living in detention camps.

There’s a strong chance that the once-again-conservative Supreme Court will roll back Roe-Wade. The probably-incoming replacement for retiring Justice Kennedy, believes the President is above the laws and should not be held accountable for transgressions.

The EPA is sanctioning the hunting of grizzlies and red wolves. Who here remembers the clubbing to death of baby harp seals?

Actually, it’s probably better to forget that dismal era. Trump is likely to sanction the clubbing of baby immigrants.

 

 

 

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Going, Going, Gone

I sent the galleys of my novel, L’Amérique, to the publisher today, with a cover letter apologizing for the myriad of corrections. It’s sort of embarrassing, thinking a manuscript is over and done with and, rereading it (and having friends read it as well), discovering errors, typos, and inconsistencies on almost every page. After more than a half-century of dealing with words, you’d think I have a certain expertise in this line of work, but no–the serial comma still escapes my attention; semi-colons remain mysterious. I use numerals when I should write out numbers, and vice-versa; and my love affair with both sentence fragments and run-on sentences remains alive and well in spite of many interventions.

I’m having a bit of post-partum depression. This is the book I’ve wanted to write for a few decades. It altered my life, not always in positive ways. I rewrote it, edited it, went apoplectic over other editors’ suggestions, realized the suggestions were largely right and applied them; I had second, third, and fourth thoughts, and finally hurled the manuscript to its final destination. Now, barely hours after washing my hands of it, I, well… I miss it. The space it occupied on my desk is strangely empty, and I wonder if the more than hundred-and-fifty pages taken out should perhaps have stayed in.

The publisher of L’Amérique also signed another book, Montparnasse, and it’s time to finalize that one too. Plus, there’s Dope, an unfinished sequel to an earlier novel, Thirst. Dope needs an ending. Another finished novel, Lurid Tales, is seeking a home and four other partially written books beckon. Some have legs, other don’t.

For the past few months, I’ve been working on The House on Belmont Road, a fictionalized memoir of the years spent in downtown Washington rehabbing an eight-bedroom townhouse with the help of well-meaning friends and strangers. House is the third book in the L’Amérique trilogy. I haven’t even begun Book Two.

All this to say, there’s no lack of things to write, but L’Amérique was special. If I were to be allowed authorship of only a single, must-write book, it would be this one.

And now it’s written.

How very, very odd.

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America the Hateful

For the past few months, the United States has been forcibly separating immigrant children from their immigrant parents and placing the kids—some 10,000 so far—in vacant Walmarts, church basements, and detention centers in fourteen states. There is one word and one word only for these actions. They are obscene.
The fact that lawmakers have endorsed such a policy is obscene as well. That Americans who love their own children have not risen up en masse is, yes, obscene and beyond comprehension.
Laws permitting such foul and despicable behavior are generally extent in nations we call totalitarian—North Korea, for example. What would happen here were we to hear of other countries allowing such a practice? Would we protest as we did a generation ago? Would we flood the staggering cowards whom we call our elected representatives with mail? Would we rescue the children?
Daily we add our names to endless petitions to save grizzlies and wolves, block pipelines and deforestation, end fraking and mountain-topping, and make elected officials responsible for their actions. There have been a few online pleas for a return to humanity and moral behavior when it comes to immigrant kids, but these are lost among the rising tide of online outrage over the latest Trump horror.
We are losing America. Our moral compass—the values we held onto to help us decide wrong from right—is spinning out of control. Our leaders are thieves and unscrupulous morons desperate to hold on to their jobs. They care only for re-election and personal enrichment. They follow the Trumpian example of lying repeatedly until a lie appears to become a truth. They—both Democrats and Republicans—wage wars of attrition within their own ranks while the lives of millions—and not just those of legal and undocumented immigrants—unravel. They watch this happen and pat each other on the back for a job well done. Then they go on recess. Attorney General Sessions, meanwhile, believe he’s doing God’s work and that immigrants should not come here if they don’t want to lose their children. This is such a repugnant concept that it’s not worth contesting. In fact, it makes me believe that God (right here, right now) is indeed an abstraction while the devil (right here, right now) is real and wearing an expensive three-piece suit.
I do wonder how the good people patrolling the border and doing the hands-on job of tearing children from parents feel. I’d resign, wouldn’t you?
We have no one but ourselves to blame for the rapid changes hurtling the nation backwards. We were too lazy to vote, we’re too lazy to act, and too lazy to take to the streets.
But make no mistake: We are losing America. The nation that was once the envy of the rest of the world, America the Beautiful, is becoming America the Hateful.
Happy Father’s Day.

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