Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Earlier in the year, Chuck read a communication from a listener who seemed to wonder, since any action one takes, with whatever intention, gets coopted by the capitalist machine that contributes to destroying people’s lives, and no one, without exception, has yet been able to escape from the snare, wouldn’t it be better just to remove oneself from the Earth, in order to at least minimize one’s bad impacts on the planet, and cease the process of feeding the system with well-intentioned efforts, all of which eventually arrive at negative outcomes?
I mean, if this really is Hell, why should we continue to stay here?
I hope that listener has resolved this issue to their satisfaction. Nevertheless, should anyone else be positing similar questions about the value of carrying on, here are a few things to consider. And believe me, I need to take this mental journey as much as anyone.
In the simplest terms, if this really is Hell, then the option to leave is a red herring, and you’d probably end up somewhere even worse, or at best back where you started. And if you survive a suicide attempt (I’m assuming I’ve been coyly discussing suicide here, though I don’t really know myself that well) you will be stigmatized and possibly lose what little freedom you have. And being trapped in a mental hospital, at the mercy of a system that’s currently discussing bringing back electroshock and lobotomies, is worse than what you might be wishing to escape from.
I assume everyone agrees that it’s possible to do a modest amount of good to improve the lives of others in a small way, every day. Someone is in pain right now, and you can relieve that pain. That alone, whatever the unintended consequences down the line, is worth the price of admission.
Don’t beat yourself up for your inability to escape the moral convolutions of human existence. I mean, if you think about it, it’s an egotistical point of view. Who do you think you are, Supergirl? Jesus? Buddha? Jimmy Carter? Florence Nightingale? Leonora Carrington? Esther Freud? Esther, daughter of Mordechai? Joan of Arc? Edith Piaf? Zora Neale Hurston? All of them with human flaws, some with pretty lousy ones. Ask James Baldwin about Zora Neale Hurston some time, if you ever get reincarnated into the past, which is likely.
What I’m trying to say is, it is not humble to think of oneself too far beyond one’s immediate effects on the universe. That’s how you end up with folks with overweening ambition, like the people I could name who’ve visited actual horrible sweeping direct effects upon the innocent, like Henry Kissinger, Pol Pot... I assume you get the idea.
Even thinking in terms of achievements and direct effects at all, talking about who’s a tyrant, who’s an altruist – it’s just a bunch of dick-measuring. Weighing your results to see if you’ve got a net positive is succumbing to the commodification mindset many of us agree is threatening our species and others as well, not to mention the ones it’s already destroyed.
I’d like to give a shoutout to just existing.
Existence gives you something to think about. Stuff to experiment with. An arena in which to rehearse and perform. A piece of ground on which to stand and from which to journey hither and yon.
Look, existence is full of bastards and idiots, but it’s the only place to get a decent taco. The best books we know of are all here. The cutest cat videos. The tallest trees! The coldest planet! The bluest whale. The stinkiest cheese. The most massive black hole.
Still discouraged about how little you can accomplish and how badly it can be twisted by the overweening class? You know what the dry drunks say: Give me the strength to change what I can, the patience to endure what I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.
As it is recorded in the Mishna, Rabbi Tarfon used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.
And as good and sensible as that may sound, I say, “up yours, Rabbi. You’re not the boss of me.” Here’s my spin on Rabbi Harpoon: your duty is to realize you don’t have a duty.
You may take a duty upon yourself; good for you. You may have a duty forced upon you; whether you rise to it or fail is up to no one’s judgment but your own. No one is able to dictate the ultimate meaning, or lack of it, of a single thought, action, or breath you take.
Think about it. It’s called enlightenment. Everybody’s got at least a little.
Lest you think I’m getting too big for my britches, here’s something even worse: if you see the Buddha on the road, don’t kill him. Just go up to him, pat him on the shoulder, and say, “Dude, enlightenment, yeah, y’know, everyone feels that way sometimes. You don’t gotta make such a big deal about it, like it’s a jewel in a lotus or something. Man, chill.”
Consider the Dahlonega gold mine. Around 1880, a man with the name of Knight, like the medieval knight, discovered a vein of gold-bearing quartz twenty-two feet thick, running downhill underground at a 45-degree angle, deep, plunging below the level of the water table.
And you know what the shaft is called? The Dahlonega “Glory Hole.”
Even from as base an activity as the mad search for gold, you can end up with a shaft with a thick vein in it, plunging deep, and you are cordially invited to enter the Glory Hole. Do you know how much gold can be recovered from that ore? Why, a veritable golden shower.
This set of double-entendres was brought to you by Pride Month.
Where else can a few greedy people, 141 years ago, in Georgia, clawing for their fortune under the Earth, end up with a legacy that might make old queens of today, some of whom have had very difficult lives, giggle. Old queens and puerile essayists. Where else, but right here in good old existence?
Don’t be measuring outcomes. No need to weigh your soul against a feather, that’s someone else’s tune, Jake. This is where it’s all happenin’. This is where it’s at.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink. It’s quite a paradox.
We’ve all either come into conflict with those with whom we have an inexplicable bond, over things we care about deeply, or avoided conflict with these others over them, but the conflict is always there, always lurking amid potential interactions. And we’ve each had to navigate these minefields in our own way. This is the shameful story of one of my navigations.
Early one day, I opened my email to find some very strange messages: three friends had written to console me. Apparently, a mutual friend of ours had sent an email to me, cc’d to the three of them, that lambasted me so harshly they were concerned for my welfare. One was apologetic, as the author of the email was her husband. Another, the mother-in-law of this fellow, averred that she’d “always liked me,” as if I were already swinging from a structural beam, or had taken a header off the roof of a skyscraper or a picturesque cliff. The third person copied in – just a good friend who had himself witnessed the writer’s and my brewing antagonism over the years – I think, urged me not to take anything in the offending email to heart.
I hadn’t read the email in question, because I had long ago had my email-handling software funnel all correspondence from this fellow into a folder labeled with his name, a colon, and the value-free word “crap.” After reading these other, sympathetic, emails, I went and found the offending missive in that folder and, rather than read it, shoveled it into the email furnace. For that reason, I got all the delight of getting my wounds salved without receiving any of the wounds. It was all salve.
Had I read the email, I’m sure I would have needed the soothing voices of the concerned folk. I even got a few more apologetic texts from the wife, so I told her, and I paraphrase, “I didn’t read it. I have too much respect for him to want to think of him saying nasty things about me.”
And the fact is, it’s true. I think he’s an amazing person. He’s a unique combination of traditional and unorthodox, has a rigorous yoga practice, and goes above and beyond the dharma he considers it his duty to follow.
He lived in Seattle for a while, where he worked for Microsoft, started a pop-up restaurant, and did a few other things to accumulate enough money to build his parents a house in Kerala, pitch in with his wife to pay for the raising and schooling of their two daughters, and help with the raising of yet someone else’s daughter in India. He’s an auto-didactic scholar of Western philosophy and literature, a lifelong devotee of the Vedas, and a pupil at the feet of an ecumenical guru in the far north, toward the Himalayas.
Some time after this incident, back in October of what I guess we’re still calling 2020, but should really just call Lost Covid Year, his wife informed me of the death of her father-in-law, and told me that her husband, whom I’ll refer to henceforth as “Voltaire,” one of his favorite writers, would surely appreciate a timely message. I wrote to him:
“Sincere condolences on the death of your father. I often pause from my daily mental and emotional nonsense to recall with gratitude the hospitality you and your parents extended to me during my visit. With respect, I wish that you might be visited with blessed memories, or, as my people say, with their idiosyncratic grammar, “may his memory be for a blessing.’”
And that was all true. I don’t say things about people’s departed friends or relatives that I don’t feel. He and his parents were very good to me when I visited them in Palakkad, Kerala, and I’ve often thought of that time with deep gratitude.
I didn’t think about it any further. I didn’t know if he’d appreciated the email or not. But this week, during Memorial Day weekend, Voltaire came into my mind when I was reading a paper by the author of The Heathen in His Blindness, a fascinating book, which Voltaire had introduced me to. The book was partially inspired by the work of Edward Said, who most definitely paved the way for academic critiques of Western intellectual hegemony, of which critiques this book might be the most influential since Said’s own Orientalism.
In addition, Voltaire’s wife, my friend, posted a fetching video he’d made of some of the goings- on near the Ganges, where he, his wife, and his mother are currently having to quarantine while a surge of covid-19 ravages India.
Well, shame on me. I got curious, for some reason, to know exactly when Voltaire had sent that nasty message I hadn’t read, so I went back looking for the sympathetic missives from his wife, her mother, and our mutual friend. I couldn’t find them, for the life of me. Perhaps I’d deleted all traces of the event.
But while I was searching for those, I stumbled onto an email I’d missed last October. It was from Voltaire. It was in response to my condolence email. He had responded after all. He had appreciated it, and ended with the statement, “I want you to also know that of all the many condolences that I have got, yours is the first mail I responded to. And I never ever lie.”
Yes, shame on me, because I wrote back to him:
“I appreciated this very much. I haven't responded till now because of my own interpretations of Jewish ideas of tzedakah, which have led me to contain interpersonal streams of gratitude, going out and coming in, within a discrete mental/emotional compartment.”
That, of course, was a lie. I hadn’t responded, because I hadn’t known that message existed. See, unlike Voltaire, I frequently lie. I never lie during the Moment of Truth, though. I just make shit up.
It wasn’t entirely a lie, the thing about my midrash on tzedakah. And it’s not a midrash. It’s an opinion by me on an opinion of Maimonides on charitable giving. I mean, stretching the definition, it might be considered a midrash, with a small em, given that I am a Jew, and a free- wheeling freelance type, like Bob Dylan only not as crazy or talented.
I was referring to Maimonides’ eight rungs on the ladder of tzedakah, have you heard of this? The lowest kind of charity is to give grudgingly. I mean, it’s giving, but you shouldn’t be a jerk about it. The highest level of tzedakah is to help set someone up to be self-sustaining. As Voltaire and his wife did with the girl in India. You know, teach the man to fish, and provide maybe a rod and reel, maybe a tackle box, a six pack in a cooler, and a couple recipes.
I was referring to the second highest level, though, where the giver doesn’t know to whom they’re giving, and the receiver doesn’t know where the gift came from. It’s anonymous all around. It’s like double-blind charity. The second best.
Interestingly, Maimonides never said what level it is when it’s double-blind and the receiver is set up to be self-sufficient. Would that be somewhere in between the highest and the second highest? Of course not! Anonymity makes the best even better! And, come on, it’s hard to pull off anonymity when you’re providing someone with what they need to lift themselves out of economic precariousness.
Maimonides didn’t think of that, and he was basically the top Rabbinic thinker of the 12th Century. Maybe he thought it would never happen. He never read Great Expectations. He figured it would be impossible for someone to conceal their identity while also contriving to give someone a good life start. Like a kickstart. But now we have Kickstarter and all the other giving sites, most if not all of which offer anonymity.
Was Maimonides unimaginative? Certainly less imaginative than Dickens. Or did he just figure that, anonymously or otherwise, setting someone on the road to independence topped them all? Yeah, it was probably that. He’s wrong, though.
Anyway, the ostensible idea behind this lie is that I didn’t feel my thanking him for his thanking me would be seemly. Just accept the thanks. It’s convoluted logic, especially if explained by a ridiculous man. And obviously, what really happened was I’d been averse to receiving any communication from him at all. And now I was mildly shamed, if not exactly ashamed.
Lest you think I’ve learned my lesson to give at least a cursory glance to any email from someone I respect conditionally, I have not. Embedded in Voltaire’s thank you email was the following statement: “I love the Jewish people, but I reject the western liberal identification of problems and I think its solutions whether in relation to race or gender are going to be worse than what it is.” I do not want to unpack that. I don’t want to address it. I don’t want to discuss it. I don’t know what he means by liberal, and I don’t care. I have no desire to trap myself again in the endless cycle of semantics, misunderstandings, insults, and convoluted explanations involving thousands of years of what may or may not be knowledge.
Voltaire adds, after asserting his philo-Semitism (a form of Orientalism, I might note, but don’t get me started, don’t get me started) and his rejection of western liberal solutions, "Our disagreements are about that,” as if that had been the whole of our epic struggle during the past decades. As a contrarian, he sometimes moves in radical Hindu nationalist circles, so our disagreements bleed out all over the map, they hemorrhage over the entire collection of disagreement atlases. But of course, it’s always more complex than that.
If there ever was a case of the agony of influence, his influence on me is one. And shame on me for not diving into that nutritious cesspool of contradictions with my mouth wide open.
I cannot but accept that shame. Shame, shame on me. This has been the Moment of Truth. G’day, myte!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
I can’t save numbers of people in Jerusalem or Gaza, or even Tel Aviv, for that matter, with the skills I’ve, maybe foolishly, chosen to cultivate. I’m a writer. Sometimes even an artist. All I can do is process things, such as the current iteration of brutality by the Israeli Occupation against its unwilling Palestinian wards, its painted birds, and I’ve been doing so with the help, these days, of the words and overall attitude of Palestinian American poet and novelist, Naomi Shihab Nye. That processing will take some time. It’s going to be a collective effort. I hadn’t considered the collaborative nature of a poet. My thought has always been that some writing is solitary. But nothing human is ever truly solitary.
Longtime Chicago theater and music creator Beau O’Reilly was close friends with the recently- departed Michael Martin, who I talked about two weeks ago. Today, I’m talking about Beau. And by way of talking about Beau, I’m talking about collective endeavors.
Beau has a new record out. What can you say about a record by a man who is twelve centuries old in thunderstorm years but has a new girl baby, and includes a song, not about that girl baby, though her vocals are featured on it, but about the boy baby that was posited earlier on and received so many gifts in the mail he opened an imaginary emporium?
Maybe I just said it.
But probably not. The new record, Thrifty, by Beau O’Reilly, available from Uvulittle, is an expression of intentional community. It’s one of the things lately which, like hearing about the courtyard at Cary’s Lounge, or anything at all going on at Cary’s, makes me want to come back to Chicago. Beau wrote all the lyrics, except a few, and sent them out for different musician friends to write the music and turn them lyrics into songs. Then those and other friends came together/apart, in that covid way we’ve all resorted to and begun to polish, to record them. All during the 2020 plague year, that’s what happened.
Soil, earth, plant, and tree metaphors will be relied on heavily in this discussion. A few words about Beau’s words: his diction and expression arise organically from strata of influences layered over a bedrock of the imperative to create. There has never been any question to Beau – or at least I’ve never detected any – that the writing, creating, rehearsing, and playing with others would go on. I feel this is probably true of all of those involved in this record. But that’s the foundation of lyrical discovery I’ve always seen and felt in Beau’s writing.
The lyrics always involve the ongoing world and its inhabitants outside the writer/singer. Rarely do I hear the word “I” in the lyrics. “We” seems the preferred first-person pronoun, “you” and “they” and their myriad antecedents fleshing out most of the crowd populating the singer’s world. Or that’s how I hear it. And if I’m wrong, well, then maybe it’s because there’s always something mediating between identities in the songs: a scarf, a bat, a sky, a mutually-known other, a memory, a name one wants another to say, a button, a table leg, a toad. The songs aim outward, into the world.
The collection of musicians involved make this a tree with roots deep and wide, reaching into various communities of Chicago independent music and storefront theater. I first met Beau in 1988, when he and collaborating stage presence Jenny Magnus were the hub, at least as I saw it, of ongoing musical, literary, and theatrical extended families. And the music that grew within and around their co-evolving stagecraft became a singular organism, grown out of folk elements, cabaret elements, rock elements, and lyric influences diverse as Bertolt Brecht, Edith Piaf, Irving Berlin, Allen Ginsburg, Jagger and Richards, Basho, torch songs, blues songs, romance language political laments – I still hear those elements, as particles of the music that is its own undefinable being.
I was going use the label, “art song,” but apparently that is something with a rigid definition, and I don’t want to argue definitions. The instruments are firstly the voice – Beau’s primarily – and include plucked and strummed strings by, among others, Theater Oobleck’s Baudelaire in a Box’s Chris Schoen and T-Roy Martin, who’s also on tuba and trombone at times, and both of whom have played in Beau’s Crooked Mouth String Band; a satisfying bass clarinet by Dez Desormeaux of Mambo Zombies with longtime Neo-Futurist Heather Riordon’s accordion on several tangos; the singing saw of Experimental Sound Studio’s Ralph Loza; worldwide master jazz trombonist Jeb Bishop; and many guitars, pianos, drums, fiddle, and voices provided by the thickening forest of brilliant members of the community Beau has formed of his friends and family.
The music composers range widely, too. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Vernon Tonges’ setting of “Bring It Over Here” allows Beau’s dynamic range a big space fly in. Singer- songwriter and author of the excellent book, “This Land That I Love,” contrasting Irving Berlin and Woody Guthrie as anthemists, John Shaw, set the somehow-familiar-on-first-hearing “Honeyed Mouth.” Stephanie Rearick’s piano on “The Hook,” to which she wrote the music, incorporates so much of what I’ve imagined above are the influences on Beau’s musicality. On “Falling” there’s majestic piano by DePaul music professor and avant-garde composer Jeff Kowalkowski, who also wrote the music for the song and provides additional vocals. Julie Williams’s featured vocals on the song for which she did the setting and co-wrote the lyrics, “Love is the Province,” have an almost Mo Tucker clarity of timbre, although Julie’s pitch is far more stable. Longtime O’Reilly creative partner, Miki Greenberg, set the words to “Head Up the Freeway,” and his vibrant piano on that song is a blood-tonic to hear again. Chris Schoen set “Bat and Fist,” featuring beautiful fiddle by Old Town School of Folk Music’s Colby Maddox, and fattened up with rich background harmony vocals that are uncredited, but I believe I detect the Roches-esque tonal purity of Jenny Magnus. Jenny and Beau wrote it together. Jenny wrote the words and music to “Anglesmith,” on which her exceptional supporting vocals are a unique instrument unto themselves.
Court Dorsey, one of Beau’s “oldest and closest friends,” has the only other words-and-music credit, with “Love Around the Corner,” a song the optimism of which would sound foolish if not informed by well-earned awareness.
Life is hard, things break, bats shriek, gods have it in for you, people die. Making one’s life about art is a struggle, unless one hits the fame lottery, or has a supernaturally sunny disposition, and even then. All these artists are survivors of a capitalism that lives to penalize those who dare to wring their own personal treasure out of life, and to offer that treasure to those who accept such rare, handmade, idiosyncratic currency.
I don’t mean to reduce this record to a small victory in the war between good and evil, life and death, freedom and slavery, but that it is a monument to the struggle for a rich community life against an increasingly atomizing and punitive social ethos pressing down on us all is undeniable. These are talented artists making art at my eye level, making music at my ear level, and I’m not a tall man, but they take me to the tops of trees. This music is also the thirst that is the drink, and the soul soil to grow more music in.
Again, the record is Thrifty, by Beau O’Reilly, available from Uvulittle.com.
Beau will be performing on Saturday, online and in person at 8pm Central Time at Constellation 3111 N. Western Avenue, livestreaming on https://youtu.be/1pphP8ddTKo
Please remember to make a donation to the artists if you livestream it. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
I’m a baby. I’m very immature. I lie around like a baby in a basinet. What is a basinet? It’s a small basin, I guess. If I had a large basin, I’d fill it with hot water and lie around in that. Maybe even mix in some lavender bubbling bath salts. I’m a housewife! A baby housewife! Calgon, take me away.
A baby housewife. Gross. That’s like being a Minotaur or Caliban or Alia Atreides. An abomination!
A baby housewife. A baby desperate housewife? Nope, that would take too much energy. A baby tranquil housewife. In the 1970s. With one of Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies on the stereo in the early afternoon, All My Children on the TV with the sound off. A glass of white zinfandel in my tranquil hand, even though that’s really an 80s wine. An 80s suburban housewife wine, to be more specific. So much so identified that it was also known as Cougar Juice.
What am I doing in a lavender-smelling bath at 1 in the afternoon in the 1970s, drinking anachronistic pink Cougar Juice out of stemware crystal? Whose ranch-style house is this, with all the shag carpeting and the sliding glass doorwall looking out on the backyard lawn? How am I middleclass? Must be some kind of Strange Magic. Or maybe I’m a murderer. Got the homeowners’ bodies wrapped in black garbage bags wound up tight with duct tape. In the kids’ room. Maybe I was desperate.
Now I’m tranquil.
Except for this Tweet I’m reading:
‘"Do you speak Chinese?" (un)intentionally erases the various forms of Chinese that Chinese people speak. It'd be cool if, "Do you speak Cantonese or Mandarin?" or "Do you speak any form of Chinese" were said instead.
‘Mandarin isn't *The* Chinese language, It's one of them. Thx ❤’
“(un)intentionally?” Do you really think that anyone who knows Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken among different populations in (and outside of) China would conceal that fact just for the purpose of micro-aggressing against you? That in fact they would refrain from pretentiously mentioning that fact in know-it-all fashion? How little you understand people. My suggestion is that you stay as far away from them as possible.
Why don’t we just refuse to talk to anyone who is in any way different from us until we can read their minds and avoid making any error that might offend them to the extent that they (un)accuse us of wanting to erase an aspect of them? That’s what I’m going to do. If people don’t know what the differences are between Yiddish, Hebrew, and Ladino, I’m going to accuse them of (un)being Nazis.
Isn’t racism already enough of a problem without trying to turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy? But I guess that’s what people thrive on, making obnoxious sounds.
You know who started all this, don’t you? No, not the critical race theory academics. No, not the slave-dealers of old, though of course they had a hand in it. No, not the patriarchy. No, not the merchants. Not the kings, not the scoundrels, not even the babies, although the babies do bear a terrible responsibility for the state of things today, I can tell you.
But it’s never just one thing, is it? I mean, economic inequality is about as close to the one thing as things ever get, but even that’s not the only cause of human folly. Sometimes it’s just an engine of human folly, a punishment for human folly, or a reward for human folly.
No, the real culprits are the observational comedians. The Seinfelds of old. The guys who did the equivalent of, “isn’t it amazing that Chinese people still use chopsticks?” back in the old days.
“Doth it not bring thy teeth to the gnashing point when the village idiot droolest upon the hasp of thy flarkin?” Or whatever. Shakespeare had a few takes he had the good sense to edit out: “To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come? I hope it’s not one of those dreams where your fingers are too slippery to get a good grip on the hilt of your sword while a herd of fretful porpentine are almost upon you. You know that dream? And your boots cannot find purchase upon the slopperdy Earth beneath your feet? I mean, what’s with that?”
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Why do they make these crowns so heavy and pointy? What’s with that? Who are these crown-makers?”
Everyone thinks they’re a comic genius these days. Social media was made for the wisecrack. Oh, I’m guilty. No question. Smartass remarks and crotchety complaints were my stock-in-trade long before the advent of Facebook and Twitter. Now they’re everybody’s thing.
I’m not trying to say racism and xenophobia aren’t built into our communication habits in insidious ways. I’m saying, don’t increase the burden of such insidiousness while pretending to employ a corrective to it. You do nothing but add to the general a-hole quotient of the intraspecies conversation. Normally I just don’t listen to that crap, but every once in a while it’s just too god damn stupid.
I’m glad TikTok and Instagram came along, encouraging people to think of themselves as master photographers and filmmakers, so the people who really excel in those areas can shoulder their share the load of pretending everything’s fine in the midst of this Dunning- Kruger avalanche of human output.
Back to babies, who in so many ways are the real culprits. Let’s examine that word culprit, shall we? Culp, to blame, as in “culpable.” And prit, from the French prêt, ready, as in prêt-à-porter, ready to wear, ready to be blamed, ripe for the blame. Babies come into the world blame- ready.
People think they’re innocent, babies. Oh, nothing could be further from the truth, I assure you. That’s exactly what they want you to think. Babies are born liars. I know, it’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Well, that should tell you something. That should tell you that someone is a master deceiver.
If a baby makes a stinky release of odor, do you think that baby is going to admit it? Or are they going to play innocent, as if they’ve done nothing at all. What is this innocent act if not a denial? When we know: they that deny it supply it. It’s a denial of reality. It’s a denial of cause and effect. What is more destructive to rational discourse? What, I ask you? And I ask the baby.
And the baby doesn’t answer. Typical. Typical baby. Like a mobster exercising fifth amendment rights, the baby, if they answer at all, answers with a non-response. It’s disgusting. Have you no shame, baby? No, the baby has no shame. You know it’s true. The baby has no shame.
Stop having these shameless babies!
Humans are repulsive enough without being babies. A human is an oily, flakey, viscous, reeking, hairy, excreting thing. A baby is no exception. But they started it. Who was the first person to pollute the Earth with their waste? A baby.
Which came first, the mother human or the baby human? Obviously, the first baby human was birthed by a pre-human mother. The baby wasn’t even created by a human. That’s so much worse, isn’t it? And then after that scandalous beginning, the humans picked up where the pre- humans left off.
And the baby doesn’t care. This horrific history in its background, and the baby’s just la-dee-da about it, couldn’t care less. Shameless.
Would it kill you people to do a simple background check on the thing before you bring it into our collective home? I can’t really blame you though, you all used to be babies, after all, and you know what they’re like. Consider the source. Garbage in, garbage out.
Yes, the current humans populating, copulating, polluting and befouling the Earth were all recruited from a teeming mass of babies. I mean, what do I expect, huh?
I know some of you love babies, but even you must admit, there’s a lot of room for improvement. But that room usually gets filled with anything but improvement.
Now, I admit I’m a baby. But, unlike most babies, I admit it. I’ve got self-awareness. I live the examined life, not the unexamined life most babies are allowed to get away with. Who’s allowing them to get away unexamined? Other babies. Babies havin’ babies.
Babies havin’ babies.
Let’s have a little humility, here, people. Professor Magnificent with your Super-conducting Super-collider, your masterwork of civilization, your prize-winning piece of poo you’re so proud of.
We’re all frightened, wounded, posturing, insecure, defensive, crying, ignorant babies. And that’s who’s running the world right now, changing and manipulating according to our infantile whims. Oh, we pretend they’re well-considered, those whims. I’m sure there are those who even believe they’ve thought deeply and carefully about what’s best for all the other babies they’re imposing their wills upon. And, so far, we’ve let those babies have their bottle. Let the baby have his bottle. Let the baby have his way. We must stop that.
What could be more reckless than to let all these babies loose on our fragile planet? How could anything not go wrong?
And on that note:
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Another friend died. Another important one, too. I hate to rank friends according to importance, but, when they die, they kind of arrange themselves that way, I guess.
One year before the lockdown, Danny Thompson, multi-talented genius, comic and otherwise, co-founder of Theater Oobleck and co-author of The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett As Found In An Envelope (Partially Burned) In A Dustbin In Paris Labelled "Never to be Performed. Never. Ever. EVER! Or I'll Sue! I'LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!!!" died a rare, shocking, and untimely death. It was a transformative end to a transformative life. It changed everything.
Everything he ever dragged me into was successful. Everything he ever dragged anyone into. Everything he ever let himself get dragged into. I know success is a relative term. So’s important. All the words I’m using today have fluid, irrational meanings. Every. Word.
I’m writing about Michael Martin, whose theater career overlapped with Danny’s during some decades in Chicago.
Two days ago it was Michael Martin. We all used to call him Michael Martin. His friends called him Michael Martin. People had all kinds of doings with the fellow. They were in plays with him. They were in parades with him. They saw the plays he wrote, saw him perform the monologues he wrote, saw him perform plays others wrote, watched him act in movies. One of the plays he wrote introduced me to S&M and bondage jargon only a few months before I got into a relationship where such knowledge was required. Whew! That was almost too close for comfort!
He lived with his husband and two others in New Orleans, in a house called The House of Aging Homosexuals. The house had a Facebook account from which announcements would emerge of various drag queen events and activities and declarations of mood and condition and efforts at repair and restoration.
He had his own personal social media accounts, too. His Twitter account was the main way I was in touch with him, although he was more often in touch with me. He mailed me a couple of postcards and, once, a Moon Pie and an enchanting photo of him as one of characters, Madame de Cameltaux. He was constantly mailing stuff, writing stuff, acting in stuff, auditioning for films and TV, on top of taking care that the House of Aging Homosexuals continued to house its eponymous inhabitants, that bills were paid and paperwork done. He had clients and neighbors for whom he did home care, and clients for whom he did cross-dressing housework. I often pictured him flying around someone’s decaying New Orleans Victorian in a negligée, wielding a feather duster.
A few days ago, in his early-to-mid sixties, he’d got a new job as the night desk clerk in a hotel. His life was then almost the perfect Tom Waits song about a John Waters movie beloved by a character in A Confederacy of Dunces. He had a lean frame without an ounce of body fat on him, you could see his skeleton in the proper light. His every expression was a black-and-white Van Gogh sumi spray of wrinkles accentuating the topography of his face. He had a face made to be photographed. There is no way to describe it, although I’ve gone and made the foolish attempt. He had the face of a 250-year-old Civil War veteran.
During the past year he’d been getting glowing reviews for his standout performance in the feature film, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, and I half-expected him to win an Oscar. Everyone I know who knew him hoped it would give him the fame he needed to be a fulltime actor, or part- time actor, part-time writer, so he wouldn’t need to do the chores he needed to do to make money to live. We all know it was capitalism that took him untimely from us as he walked to work at his night clerk job, because even in the life he’d crafted for himself out of his joy, knowledge, talent, and love, he was still on his own, fighting for survival like this was The Hunger Games we all know it to be. We all imagine and hope he died painlessly, swiftly, in the cosmic whirlpool of his life’s memories flooding out from his mighty brain.
The death of one’s friends is a major flaw in the system. I don’t know to whom to complain. But complain I must, because that’s how I was brought up. I know there’s no solution. Life is a ridiculous finger trap.
There used to be a store in Chicago where you could buy ridiculous finger traps. You could buy all types of such things there. My favorites were the erasers shaped like pigs. You could stick them on the end of your pencil. That store was called Uncle Fun.
Uncle Fun, alias Ted Frankel, closed his Chicago store and opened one in Baltimore, inside the American Visionary Art Museum. It’s called The Side Show in the American Visionary Art Museum. Baltimore is where Ted met his husband.
A while ago, a small contingent of Oobleck people, under the team name, The No-Goodniks, won the Hideout Bar’s trivia contest. The special guest was Uncle Fun himself. And he let us in on a little trivia of his own. No two fake vomits are exactly alike. They are made by hand in an improvisational manner, according to the craftsperson’s fiat, within the wiggle room of the decreed fake vomit specifications.
And that seems to me the perfect metaphor for a human life in our world today. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
In the old days, around 1966, in the decade of rebellions and police riots around the world, a boy and I were talking to each other in nursery school. Conversations are quite primitive among four- year-olds. And yet, complex ideas and emotions are communicated, as multivalent as any thoughts and feelings shared by drunk college students or bitter philosophers with mortgages, marriages, and secret shames weighing on them. Humans are timebombs of distress and joy at any age. No passions or fears shared over glasses of whiskey or in smokey dens are any more momentous than those hashed over across Dixie cups of grape juice while wooden building blocks are being stacked.
And this boy, Mark was his name, said to me, “I can dream whatever I want. I decide what I want to dream before I fall asleep, and then I dream it.”
I didn’t disbelieve him. I didn’t believe him unreservedly, either. I withheld judgment. His sleep process could easily be unlike mine. It wasn’t beyond imagining. It wasn’t like he told me he could levitate objects with his mind.
I had no control over my dreams. I tried different tricks to escape from nightmares. One trick was to close my eyes in the dream, and then open them, whereupon I would be awake. But that trick only worked a few times. Jumping from a great height could work, but getting into position to do so in a dream wasn’t always possible, and in any case, it wasn’t a pleasant option. Often in my dreams I would see friends of mine accompanied by smaller doppelgangers of themselves, mini-thems, which was disturbing, though not insignificant, as you’ll see. If my dream life and my attempts to guide it taught me anything back then, it’s that I was helpless.
Neuroscience has come to the general conclusion that conscious awareness plays little to no part in human activity. Our unconscious, or “subconscious” as people who adhere to misquotes of Freud like to call it, decides things before our conscious mind initiates an action. They’ve tested this. It’s not controversial. The same you that breathes without thinking too much about it also decides to put your finger in your nose before you are even aware there’s a dry, prickly booger up in there. And don’t try pulling any surprises, like wiggling your fingers for no reason; the you beneath is way ahead of the you on top.
It’s almost as if you have a shadow puppeteer pulling the strings. And that shadow puppeteer’s thought processes are not available to you. Surely you’re familiar with the fact that people often say things they don’t mean, or have entirely divergent motives behind their actions from those they are willing, if they are even able, to express.
So we’re all just façades, paper masks, wandering through the motions of our lives, operated by invisible puppeteers whose motives and plans are an elaborate secret, gears, servos, and processes winding and unwinding like secret clocks keeping a secret time. A whole other invisible world is operating behind the scenes. Whether or how much the individual worlds are conspiring together is a question too far beyond our investigative abilities to even approach answering. If we fall in love, who in fact is falling in love, and why? If we react to another with fear or hatred, whose prejudice is it? Where do our feelings come from? Are they made by a shadow committee of our ancestors’ ghosts in our unremembered past? Can we ever overcome the training our unconscious puppet masters have undergone without our knowledge so we can abort the cycle of failure our species seems fated to ride forever and ever?
Certainly, some triggers to trauma can be overcome, but it seems to require knowing what initiated the trauma in the first place, the “ur-trigger.” We are prevented from seeing the original engines of our fates, and only the luckiest among us finds a guide of some kind to bring them into at most partial confrontation and reconciliation with the hidden demons of our past.
Armed with this knowledge—or maybe “disarmed” or even “defenseless” is more like it—I aspire to design my own dementia. My paternal grandmother suffered for over a decade with dementia. My mother’s father also dissolved in the few weeks near the end of his life. Both became trapped in hermetic, opaque worlds in which they seemed always plagued by petty annoyances. My grandmother complained about people not paying attention to her complaints.
My grandfather railed in frustration about his independence being taken from him. Two sides of my family, both ending up trapped in private worlds of unpleasant, faulty comprehension.
I don’t want to end up that way. And I’m an annoyed, unhappy guy by nature. It’s not out of the realm of eventuality that I could end up trapped in an unhappy, annoyed self. But how can I prevent it? I couldn’t even influence my own dreams, back when I could experience and remember them. How can I hope to get the ear of the shadow puppet master?
Apparently, “puppet master” is a gross mischaracterization. In a December 2018 article in Scientific American, Peter Carruthers, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, said, “We are not simply puppets manipulated by our unconscious thoughts, because obviously, conscious reflection does have effects on our behavior. It interacts with and is fueled by implicit processes.”
He was being interviewed about a paper he’d published the year before called, “The Illusion of Conscious Thought.” But his point wasn’t so much that unconscious forces have control over us, as that consciousness simply comprises a lot more than we normally understand it to.
I have a friend in his eighties who is heading into awareness decline. It’s tragic. He’s an old Hollywood writer who would love to share stories about the good old days. He used to show up at coffee—he still does but not for much longer; his distressed wife, having become unable to care for him, has found a facility it seems he will be happy in. In the good old days of three years ago, he’d go to the counter with his giant golden doodle, Levi, get a coffee and an apple Danish, sit with us, and kibbitz. I only really got to know him for about a year and a half before I realized he no longer knew who I was, although he still felt comfortable ribbing me.
“Look at this guy, what a cheapskate, eating a banana instead of a pastry,” he might say in his jolly manner, even though he hadn’t a clue who “this guy” was. “Have a pastry! You still have a couple holes left there to loosen your belt! Take advantage!”
He has maintained his cheerful demeanor throughout his decline, even when totally confused. He’s unaware he’s confused, or why he’s confused, but he just plows ahead, and no one corrects him anymore if he calls someone named Abner “Stewart.” Correcting him just makes him more confused.
Last time I saw him, last Friday, I believe, he’d just sat down with his paper, coffee, and apple Danish. I said, “Hi, Jay!” He said hello back to me, happy as ever, and when I started petting Levi, whom I love, he seemed delighted.
That’s the kind of senility I would like to inhabit, if I have to suffer mental degradation.
More than that, I would like to start a “design your own dementia” service. Kind of a “Build a Bear” for senescence. You’d come into the store, and I’d have a chart with aspects you’d like your dementia to have. Jolliness, wit, love of animals, patience, you’d check them off like items on a sushi scorecard. And then I’d perform my protocols for convincing your unconscious mind to give you these qualities when your conscious mind was finally unmoored.
Or, I wouldn’t do my protocols. Maybe I’d just wave my hands over you, mystical style. What, some demented old fart who can’t even remember his grandchild’s name, or even that he has a grandchild, is going to take me to court because he’s dissatisfied with is dementia? There’ll be no paper trail, no reverse mortgage document with Tom Selleck’s signature on it—he does sign them all personally, right? Otherwise, what would be the appeal to the swindled mark? Anyway, I won’t have any reverse mortgage documents with Tom Selleck’s signature, so don’t ask. This is a cash business. Forget it, gramps, you’re not getting a dime back. Anyway, I already spent it all on hookers and charcuterie.
And the same goes for all the rest of humanity. I hereby impress upon your unconscious minds that you want peace and justice, and your lust for profit, gullible belief in the fairness of free markets, rugged individualism, xenophobia, and bad taste are all illusions that are dissolving like a wad of hair under the influence of Drano. Soon, so very soon, you will find yourselves performing actions of real communal value, actions to preserve and nurture the resources of our world, and relinquishing all claims to things that are private which would certainly be far more useful if made available to each according to their needs.
That’ll be 24 million bucks. Take the deal! You’re getting off cheap! And you get a trucker cap and a tote bag! Signed by Tom Selleck!
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
I’m always looking for the magic bullet, people. I’m always looking for the easy answer, the panacea, the talismanic formula, the miracle cure. For you, my people. For you. To ease the burdens with which the Pharaohs of capital have saddled you. To end their herding of poor people into prisons and their control of the powerless and dissident with violence. To end their destruction of community institutions which they replace with franchises to channel what community resources might remain into the transnational pockets of the ruling class. To rescue the planet from being sucked dry of what it needs to sustain life by the vampires of endless economic growth.
All of the societal remedies being floated these days miss the mark. Getting rid of the filibuster is a band aid, as are term limits, and any of the other tweaks to so-called democracy. Getting rid of the Electoral College would be great, and not just because they don’t have a football team, but it would still not be nearly enough to stop those who weaponize capitalism from bending elections to their desires. An intelligence test for public service might prevent a Donald Trump from rising to control, but there are plenty of people who could pass such a test and still be terrible leaders.
Getting rid of capitalism sounds great, but the power vacuum risks being filled by some other type of cruel opportunist, and where it isn’t so filled, the general global environment of cruel opportunism often forces otherwise beneficent leadership to adopt malignant policies in reaction to malignant pressures. Replacing all leadership with women is no answer, because Margaret Thatcher. Replacing all leadership with the gender, ethnicity, or physically-shaped people of your choice will not work because Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher ruined it for everyone, basically.
We need a dictatorship of the fair, honest, wise, and kind. They are the only demographic guaranteed to rule with fairness, honesty, wisdom, and kindness. And dictatorship is the only way they’d have the power they’d need to enforce their fair, honest, wise, kind policies. I can already envision them abolishing the police and the prison system and replacing them with trained cadres of peacemakers, conflict resolvers, and restorative justice practitioners. They could curtail private property rights that allow land to be misused to satisfy reckless greed and shallow ambition. They could empower those slaving under the yoke of BS jobs and the BS owners and functionaries, private and public, they sustain. They could dictate policies that nurture the land, seas, rivers, and air rather than exhaust and poison them. They could end the vicious cycle of weapons manufacture, the arms trade, and war. And they would have the power to force people to comply with their fair, honest, wise, and kind edicts under threat of re- education, sequestration from the decent citizenry, or extermination.
The problem seems to be, as I’ve explored this possibility so far, that fair, honest, wise, and kind people refuse to rule as a dictatorship. And I understand that dictatorship has gotten a bad reputation over the last five millennia. But let’s not throw the baby of revolutionary change out with five thousand years of dirty bathwater! Is that wise? I ask you, wise people, is it wise to throw out the baby of revolutionary change with five thousand years of dirty bathwater?
And is it kind to shave the human condition with anything other than Occam’s Razor? Is it kind to use the Rube Goldbergian, jury-rigged, chimeric jalopy of even a democratic socialist republic to shave the grotesque accumulation of hirsute growth upon the tender visage of a humanity crying out for rescue from certain doom? Is that kind? Is that a kindness?
And is it fair to allow the rapists of the planet to continue their violations while those who would behave with responsible humility are shafted?
And is it honest to say there’s any other way to save humanity from itself?
No, fair, honest, wise, and kind people. In refusing to rule fairly, honestly, wisely, and kindly in an absolute fashion—in refusing to think outside the boxes of your own prejudice, indoctrinated by five thousand years of propaganda— you are not being fair, honest, wise, or kind. Which, of course, disqualifies you from ruling absolutely as fair, honest, wise, and kind absolute rulers.
So, I guess you got lucky this time.
I don’t begrudge you your luck, but I will say this: the oppression and persecution of the unlucky by the lucky has to stop. We must stop the fair, honest, wise, and kind people from tyrannizing us with their luck. For the good of the planet, we must stop the fair, honest, wise, and kind people from tyrannizing us. For the good of the future, we must stop the fair, honest, wise, and kind people from ruthlessly exercising their will. For the children, for the kittens, for those making cool needlepoint, collages, puppets, and decorative pottery, we must stop the fair, honest, wise, and kind people from kicking and punching us with their iron boots and boxing gloves.
Down with the tyranny of the fair, honest, wise, and kind! They’re acting with the caprice and selfishness of dictators! We shall not let this bullying continue. By refusing their solemn duty to rule as a dictatorial junta, those among humanity who are fair, honest, wise, and kind are cruelly wielding a unilateral, monolithic fiat. This dictatorship of the fair, honest, wise, and kind will not stand!
Hoist with their own petard, as the bard of Stratford-Upon-Avon used to say whenever someone’s machinations backfired. Hoist with their own petard, he used to say, swilling his ale in the public house with Ben Jonson and the other bards at their bard-meetings. He was chairman of the bards.
Any way you look at it, despite our failure to enlist the help of the fair, honest, wise, and kind, we’ve at least managed to avoid being dictated to by them. A good, solid day’s work, my people. You have stood your ground. What you lost in a solution you’ve gained by refusing to submit to it.
All power to the people, someday.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
You probably heard that Texas’s power grid seceded from the union in order to let the necessity- of-life-utility sector legally enslave the people to their price gouging and negligence, and that there were consequences.
The following is meant to tar our entire dumb austerity culture, though it will smell like it’s just for Tim Boyd, the recently-resigned mayor of Colorado City, Texas, in the zone of desolation where the electricity mongers pulled an Enron with an extra twist of the knife in the back.
Tim Boyd wrote his constituents a polite letter explaining the nature of the neoliberal social contract between the state and its subjects in the new millennium. Well, okay, he wasn’t actually polite. He was quite rude, to tell the truth. But his Facebook screed was explanatory. It laid out in simple, straightforward prose the ideal relationship between the general public and the for-profit authorities. It was as clear an explanation as the one Senator Ted Cruz acted out in his interpretive dance to Cancun, away from the state in question, abandoning his post. A fitting performance to illustrate his uselessness, and, although he returned to the failed state he fails to represent, once so ensconced he persevered on his useless course.
Tim Boyd’s missive begins with his thesis: “No one owes you or your family anything,” followed by a semi-colon where a comma would have sufficed. Proper punctuation is the least we are owed by our elected officials, but Boyd makes clear that even such a modest gesture is too much to expect. Clearly, neither the people of Texas nor their families are worthy of a thoroughly proofread document.
He then specifies from whom the abandoned and shafted people of Texas ought not be so whiny as to expect any type of aid or support: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!” I could here mention the subject/verb agreement error – I could easily proofread the whole damn thing and fix the numerous mistakes – but I don’t owe Tim Boyd anything. He’s never given me anything but a mild headache.
The City and County, to whom the people presumably pay taxes, to the best of their ability, or avoid paying taxes to the best of their ability, apparently owe nothing in return for those monies. It’s enough for them to collect taxes and keep them in their pockets. Anything they do beyond that will, I guess, cost extra. As for the power providers or any other services, they not only don’t seem to owe the costumers whom they hold hostage anything, they’re even billing them thousands of dollars for power that was recently priced relatively reasonably, though at above market even then. I don’t know how Texans will respond to electricity bills for thousands of dollars a month, but it is part of a raw deal Governor W. Bush signed into law in 1999, according to past This Is Hell guest Greg Pallast:
“...forcing the state’s hapless customers to accept any price the ‘free’ market dictated. Enron’s CEO Ken Lay showed his appreciation by becoming [the] number one donor for Dubya’s presidential ambitions.”
“Sink or swim, it’s your choice!” Boyd continues, here bafflingly utilizing the comma splice, at just the point where a semi-colon would have been an appropriate fit. Clearly, though, Boyd isn’t about appropriate fits. His fit is entirely inappropriate, albeit educational in content. “Sink or swim?” But it isn’t one or two or even a dozen people sinking. It’s the entire ship. Boyd is telling an inanimate object made of riveted steel that it has a choice. This is pure animism, which goes against Boyd’s later statement that, “God has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this.” So suddenly he believes in God? A God who gives tools, no less? Sounds like a hardware Father Christmas to me, and Boyd comes across as quite a pagan.
A pagan animist shouldn’t be slandering the upbringing of anyone else, yet that’s exactly what he does. He blames Texans’ upbringing and their laziness, then goes on to blame, and I quote: “a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW work and others will become dependent for handouts.” So awkwardly phrased. “Feed the people to believe...” You couldn’t feed me enough barbecued brisket to believe that. From where I sit, the many actually work, and the few collect money from them and give them nothing in return.
Boyd says, “this is sadly a product of a socialist government,” but it’s not. It’s a predictably disastrous product of an insanely capitalistic, privatized, and unregulated utility system that is holding his constituents hostage to the whims of its executives. He’s confusing the symptom – people left by their resource gatekeepers without water to drink or power to heat their homes – with the disease: out-of-control capitalism. He also fails to acknowledge the human-caused climate changes linked to extreme weather, but he is a pagan, and they tend not to believe in anything burying a toad at midnight under a full moon can’t fix. And, even so, he doesn’t owe it to anybody to bury a toad at midnight under a full moon! As a mayor, his job was to take bribes, make deals for his friends, and embezzle tax cash, and that was the sum total of his duties, besides dispensing tantrums.
He concludes with not one but TWO bottom lines: “Bottom line, quit crying and looking for a handout!” and, after a brief sentence, again: “Bottom line - DON’T BE A PART OF A PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!”
Man, two bottom lines. Dude is really serious. Still not serious enough to proofread, though.
He wrote a second message explaining the first, and complaining about people’s reactions to his attacking their character, their strength, their upbringing, their abilities to provide for their families, and the position of their asses in relation to an implicit armchair. He complains that his wife lost her job due to cancel culture. “I would never harass you or your family to the point that they would lose there (sic) livelihood such as a form of income.” He has to specify “form of income,” because the human needs for warmth and drinking water are weaknesses he thinks it is perfectly fine to attack.
Apparently, some citizens sent him death threats, to which he objected, as do I. I say, skip the threats and get right down to business, you lazy Texans! Or are you all talk? Don’t you each own a half-dozen firearms apiece, as is your right by Constitutional invitation? Well, come on! That Second Amendment isn’t going to exercise itself. Does Tim Boyd have to do everything around here?
As I said, this is all meant to tar the entire culture of austerity the people are trapped in, and the for-profit authorities have adopted. Extreme abundance, wastefulness, and lawlessness for the privileged few; less-extreme abundance, waste, and lawlessness for their wheel-greasers in government; an abrupt drop-off after that; and then an even more precipitous drop-off to the slaving poor and the lumpen, who make up the base of the neo-liberal pyramid scheme. The culture of “as little as we can spare for the many; as much as we can grab for ourselves,” is the opposite of progress. We are going downhill. The system is a mistake. Tim Boyd is only its most buffoonish example. Tim Boyd and Ted Cruz. It’s neck-and-neck.
There are counter examples, too, but they are short bursts of Michael Phelpsian effort against the raging current. In the “sink-or-swim” ethos, guess what most of us are expected to do?
I will say this, though: the Texans affected by the fallout from the Texas power-grid secession are indeed rising to the challenge, helping each other – even if they don’t “owe it.” When the philosophy of government is that the response to Hurricane Katrina was a public relations nightmare rather than a failure of the “government by public consent” to act in the public interest, I start to think the monkeyshines on January 6th weren’t enough for these chumps. By withholding power from the people, they make clear they need to see more of the power of the people.
I guess we owe them that.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
My mom always said that one day I’d wake up fat. I don’t know why she said that, but she was right. What she didn’t say was that the forces of history would be responsible for my enfattening. I’m writing this on Fat Tuesday, known in Acadian French as “Mardi Gras.” This year my birthday came one day before Mardi Gras. I’ve been told I can celebrate my birthday all month, which would make this month, unofficially, Fat History Month.
At the dawn of Fat History stands the Venus of Willendorf. At the end lies Rush Limbaugh, dead of lung cancer. If we saw Fat History as a straight-line journey from Venus to Rush, things would look pretty bleak. Luckily we have many branchings of the paths, tangents and co- tangents, wendings and wigglings, complexities and convolutions, as we’ve come to the fractal array of fatnesses today.
In the past we had the proud obesity of prosperity. Today we have the shameful obesity of poverty. Such a contrast of fatness and what it signifies belies the rich buttery goodness of the truth. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Lizzo is a hot, shiny, body-positive rapping flutist, not flautist, while the comparatively slim, clownish Tracy Morgan suffers from diabetes. Fat and slim evoke reactions based on the mores of the moment. It’s amazing how short-term such judgments are, and how little time it takes for the advertising wing of the food establishment to steer collective values toward what they need us to desire.
We are a fickle hivemind, a hivemind easily led by the nose.
The slender young woman has been a sexy, lighthearted flapper or a waifish hippie chick, both of them out for good time; an anorexic or bulimic victim of her own neuroses; a drug addict, a slave with no will to resist; a poised, dangerously seductive model who’s also a spy, or a gullible, soft- hearted film star sucked in by seditious rhetoric and finally caught in a secret policeman’s trap.
But buried deep under layers of adipose tissue is where the golden woman resides – the matriarch. Mama Cass was everyone’s mother, nobody’s lover. Rotundity stabilizes a woman. It gives her a center of gravity. It makes her practical. While the wind might blow away the willowy waif, the large woman will anchor her house firmly to the ground during the hundred- mile-an-hour winds of a hurricane.
But her obesity is also a sign of weakness, as it is with men. The fat man, though, has no stabilizing virtue. His lot is the pratfall, gullibility, the career ruined by orgies indulging the desires he ought not dared acknowledge. Fat men transgress if they aim too high. The fat woman never finds herself ruined because she never achieves success in the first place. She’s too practical to nurture ambition, and too unseductive to sleep her way to the top.
Fat men can be sultans, but never emperors. Was Nero fat? Seems like he was. But, generally, emperors rule with strength; sultans enjoy women, silks, figs, jewelry, and rule by merely displaying their wealth. Fat rulers are ostentatious and foolish, slender rulers are conquerors.
Queen Victoria was fat. If it weren’t for her reputation for priggishness and eschewing of pleasure, she might’ve been a figure of ridicule. Maybe she was anyway. Maybe she looked down on frivolity because she was never invited to partake in it.
Meanwhile, First Peoples of the Tundra are always happy, delighted by their children, in harmony with their inner worlds as with the outer.
In Hawaii, I’m told, big fat people let it all hang out. They’re all over the beaches, looking cheerful and unashamed.
How would history have been different if a chaste, dour, elephantine queen of England and a generously proportioned queen of the Islands had been lovers? Western women with wealth who are fat are pitiable, if proud. Island women who are fat are giving, smiling, bearers of mangoes.
Tarzan is lord of the jungle. He’s what they call a well-proportioned man. But who is his lady? Not Jane, she’s married to the lord of Greystoke Manor. The lady of the jungle must be the fat lady, laden with flowers, gathering fruits, friend to the exotic birds: the hornbill, the toucan, the lorikeet, the lyrebird. She grinds the flour, prepares the psychedelic roots for the shamanic ceremony. Where her physical body is burdened with too much girth to pass, she can travel with ease as formless energy.
The guru cannot be fat, though many are. Sai Baba was a bony, austere man in a drab dhoti, a white scarf wrapped around his head, living in a stone cell, eating nothing but air. He opened his mouth once and produced a glowing green, jeweled egg bigger than his head. He was a real man of the higher realm.
By contrast, the fat, grinning, afro-headed, colorfully-robed-and-beaded Satya Sai Baba, – ironically named, as Satya means “true,” and he was clearly the false one of the two – lived richly on the gross plane of existence. Eggs went into his mouth but never came out.
One gives alms to the emaciated beggar. A fat beggar will have to wait till he drops the poundage.
One of Donald Dump’s signature features is his obesity. The fatter he looked, the more disgusted we were, even though what was truly disgusting were his mind and soul, his words and commands, his lawsuits, excuses, denials, accusations, bullying, grifting, embezzling, bragging, insecurity, empty bluster. He was the opposite of a fat woman. A fat woman would never have been elected president. Nor a thin woman or a middlin’ woman, apparently. Fat presidents get stuck in their bathtubs. Or they clearly wear diapers while golfing.
Trump didn’t need to be fat. We could’ve hated him just as much if he hadn’t been. It’s just another line he crossed, just for the hell of it. Bill Clinton was fat for a while, I’ll remind you. But we chalked that up to his appetite for everything: sex, liquor, food, power. Somehow this joie de vivre never applied to Trump. He never seemed to enjoy anything. So it was really our disgust for him that made his obesity objectionable, not the other way around. He couldn’t pull off fatness, he made it look moribund, the way he couldn’t wear a suit to save his life, nor any other clothes, nor none. He was in no wise materially centered, and we never allowed him to be. And, yet, still, he lives. Maybe he isn’t done disgusting us yet, but neither are we finished tormenting his flesh.
Hugo Chavez was no slim-jim. But he was raised on manioc and other starches. He earned his fat during in his oppressed upbringing. Maybe Idi Amin did, too, but his girth was intimidating. His joie de vivre had driven him syphilitically mad.
Fat bikers are the most serious of fat men. They ride hogs.
There’s mad fat, and there’s sane fat; there’s earned fat, and there’s lazily-accumulated fat. There’s happy fat, there’s sad fat; there’s practical fat, there’s frivolous fat. There’s responsible fat and irresponsible fat. There’s tough, bitter fat, and sweet, ticklish fat.
Try to remember, during Fat History Month, that we each contain the entire spectrum of fat. If you are human, you are part fat, even if you think you’re 100% muscle. Remember that a woman must be fat before she’s a mother. We all descend from the Venus of Willendorf, that globe of origin. You can fear fat. You can shun fat. But I’d advise you to embrace fat. Fat is in you. When will Fat History Month be over? Maybe never. It bursts its limits. It ain’t over till the Venus sings.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!