Jack Garvey (1951 - ) was born and raised in Lawrence, Mass., before attending Salem State College (now University} where his BA was delayed three semesters by The Log (the student newspaper), the anti-war movement, and other counter-culture activities. Unwilling to serve the Fort Kent, Maine, Chamber of Commerce as a reporter for the St. John Valley Times, he disappeared west of the Mississippi River, turning up as a graduate student and teacher of freshman composition at South Dakota State University, as a grant-writer for the United Tribes of North Dakota, as a vagabond on the West Coast who paused a few weeks to pick cherries and train hops in Oregon's Willamette Valley, and as a busker in Denver's historic Larimer Square.
Returning to Massachusetts after about eight years--the same time that the Prodigal Son returned to a fatted calf--Garvey landed north of Boston to resume busking in the coastal tourist towns of Newburyport and Salem while teaching as an adjunct instructor in every college within a 90-minute drive. A year later, in 1983, he began writing guest columns for the Newburyport Daily News and the weekly Newburyport Current. In 1999 he joined King Richard's Renaissance Faire in Carver, Mass., where he continues to perform every fall as a strolling minstrel. He still writes for the Daily News and he has since included Lexington, Mass., to his busking circuit.
Staying home for the holidays got me to thinking, and then talking to those close to me:
What’s another toy, another t-shirt compared to the difference those two races for Georgia’s US Senate seats will make? We can exchange gifts when we next see each other months from now or next holiday season. Right now no one needs gifts.
Right now my two grandchildren and their generation need investment. That’s why, rather than any presents for me, I ask that any expense be sent to Georgia–and why I am calculating a holiday budget, including travel, to split 50/50 for contributions to the campaigns of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
At least one young mom approves.
Just how long will that toy last? How long will that t-shirt fit? In seven weeks, after all holidays are over, the voters of one state will determine whether the grip of a political party bent on obstruction–of affordable health care, environmental protection, occupational safety, economic justice–lasts another decade.
We worry about fringe groups starting Civil War II, but the war is already long-running. The first shots were fired by Newt Gingrich with his “Contract with America” in 1994; secession was declared by Mitch McConnell and ranking congressional Republicans on the night of Obama’s inauguration in 2009; troops were mobilized by the Tea Party in Town Halls of 2010; and terrorists from Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City to Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisc., have been striking from 1995 to the present.
If you think that’s far-fetched, please explain to me why else Rittenhouse–a teenager illegally in possession of an AR-15 who shot three protesters, killing two, in Kenosha–was praised by the Republican president and later bailed out by one of the president’s major donors.
All to the accommodating silence of congressional Republicans.
The context of a Second Civil War makes clear why John McCain and Mitt Romney went from leaders to pariahs in their own party: Both conceded a presidential election, an act no more tolerable to the Neo-Confederacy than a concession to Lincoln in 1860.
Georgia’s Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, represent the opportunity to free the US Senate from the grip of obstruction and, in the long run, end this war. They represent the future.
Anyone who has worried about America’s future these past four–or twelve, or 26, or 160 years–may want to weigh the temporary delight of a toy against the condition of a world today’s children will inherit when it comes time for them to put away childish things.
They don’t need mere tokens of affection. They need investment in their future.
Ads for the two Republicans in the Georgia runoffs stress the national implications of a Democrat-controlled Senate. As expected, the scare-word, socialism, and the Democrats’ own Kamakazi-phrase, defund the police, are prominent in menacing tone and large font.*
New is the addition of Statehood for the District of Columbia.
New, but no surprise. Republican lawyers–with the nervous accommodation of many Republican state legislators and the spineless silence of Republicans in the US Senate and House–are still trying to nullify urban votes in four states in the election just passed. Republicans spent much of this year trying to prevent those votes from being cast in the first place.
Many call this racist, and for good reason. Of the four cities they are now targeting, Detroit is just under 80% African- American, Atlanta just over 50%, Philadelphia and Milwaukee about 33% each.
Still, the charge of racism misses the point. The white populations of those cities use the same public transportation and infrastructure as do black. So do most suburbanites who owe their livelihoods to the economy provided by cities, but who would rather not pay the tax required by them.
This is why the status of Washington DC is suddenly featured in the constant bombardment of ads in Georgia. Not to prevent it from having Electoral College votes every four years. DC already has them. But to prevent representation in the US Senate and House. That’s why DC has the only license plate in the country to sport a slogan of bitter protest:
Taxation Without Representation.
The prospect of DC statehood is especially worrisome for Republicans this year. Should Democrats win both of Georgia’s seats on January 5, a Democratic majority leader could bring DC statehood to a vote. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who will likely fill that role, has already said it is on the agenda. Should the Democrats win Georgia and hold firm on DC against inevitable Republican obstruction, Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the deciding vote.
By 2024, Columbia’s two new senators and one new representative would surely be Democratic, as its three electoral votes have always been since passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961.
Republicans will argue that no single city should have equal standing with a state, and they will ignore the mathematics–as they are doing right now in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Pennsylvania–of DC’s population being larger than that of Wyoming and Vermont.
Democrats will unwittingly oblige Republicans by calling their resistance racist. Yes, DC is 46% black with another 11% Hispanic, but enough of them are Republicans to allow the party to deny the claim. This is why they often say, with a grain of just enough truth, that the charge of racist is itself racist.
What Republicans cannot deny is their attack on cities–on people of all colors and creeds who ride those subways and buses, who cross those bridges, who picnic in those parks, and who pay taxes on all those amenities that serve commuters from suburbs who are not in the urban tax base.
The attack we are witnessing right now on Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee–much like the attacks earlier this year on Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, and New York City, not to mention the attacks last year on El Paso, Boston, Newark, and Chicago–will fail in their immediate purpose.
However, when we are done laughing at this nationwide “clownshow,” and when we recompose ourselves after the sight of Rudy “Ghouliani” holding court between a crematorium and a dildo shop, we need to pay attention to the long game:
Republicans, no matter how laughably futile their lawsuits, may well be succeeding in a purpose that will serve them well in 2022 and 2024:
To poison public opinion on the issue of statehood for Washington, DC.
*My mention of “Defund the Police” is to the slogan, not the concept. In fact, it’s to the choice of a single word. Had the American public an attention span for “reallocating resources in the community” as a way to decrease crime, “defund” might have been understood as intended and would not have galvanized opposition. As anyone who has spent any time on social media knows, most likes & comments are for a link’s headline & photo with no regard for anything in the article. To many, defund = anarchy, and that was all they heard or cared to hear.
While there are numerous causes of an effect so large as the results of national elections, I’m convinced that the ill-advised adoption of that slogan cost Democrats the US Senate, a few House seats, and denied them any gains in state legislatures. But more: Had Biden not renounced that slogan immediately, or had he tried to mince words, panicking whites would have swallowed their disdain and fatigue and re-elected Donald Trump.
For clarity’s sake, whenever I’m asked to spell my last name I follow the letter V with “as in Vermont.”
Once upon a literate time, in keeping with my lifestyle during the Ford and Carter years, I offered “as in Vagabond.” By the time Clinton took over, too many whats and hunhs made that difficult. By the time Clinton left, some thought I was joking about Viagra, perhaps casting myself as Bond, James Bond.
So, I adopted Vermont, not knowing and not wanting to know if anyone listening knows the American map–or gets it thanks to an association with Ben & Jerry’s or with Bernie Sanders.
Never did I stop for any of the other five letters of my name, although a New England R is cause for both humor and confusion, often both, anywhere west of the Hudson. West of the Mississippi where I lived eight years, it is R with a vengeance to the New England ear.
Wish I thought to save the envelopes and packages addressed to Gahvey, Gaffy, Gauvey, Govey, and a few others. In retrospect, I should have been adding “as in Rhode Island,” but I can almost hear my South Dakota State students asking, “Where’s that?”
When you reach the age of Medicare, or in any other way increase your use of health services, your last name and date of birth become as common in your speech as “that said” and “under the bus” on cable news.
The pandemic has increased the need for this by putting many appointments over the phone. Last time I arrived at my dentist’s, her receptionist greeted me by name and quickly added, “as in Vermont!”
That was six days after the election–or the specific day called Election Day–two days after the presidential race had been decided, but control of the US Senate was narrowed down to a single state. Also followed a week when TV promos for the PGA’s Masters Tournament played to the tune of “Georgia on My Mind,” and a warm weekend when “Midnight Train” and “Rainy Night” wafted out the open windows of more than a few of the cars lined up before my home awaiting entry to the Plum Island Reserve.
Don’t know what radio station my dentist likes to play. The songs and voices are all well familiar to me, but their titles and names are not old enough for someone living so far in the cultural past. Still, there will always be one I can turn into a joke, as the time The Kinks were finishing “Tired of Waiting” just as she walked into the room where I had just been prepped for some torture I gladly cannot recall.
Last week, I barely waited at all before she sat down to fill a cavity. Halfway in, when the drill was paused for a rinse, I heard a few unmistakable bars behind me:
Georgia, oh Georgia No, no, no, no, no peace I find…
Not a good idea to talk under the influence of Novacane with a suction tube hung over you lower incisors, but I couldn’t help myself: “Heee thaaa sonnn, dohkah?”
I know she’s a Democrat, and I suspect she was waiting for wisecrack: “Yeahhhhhhs?”
“Joja o my my! Ih Joja o yo my, dohkah?”
“Oh, yes! For sure! Now open wide and turn toward me.”
From the dentist, I crossed two parking lots to the supermarket. Before I picked up one picture of the man who appeared on TV to endorse Hubert Humphrey while he was on big screens everywhere as Cool Hand Luke, another filling drilled my ear:
Hoverin’ by my suitcase Tryin’ to find a warm place to spend the night Heavy rain’s fallin’ Seems I hear your voice callin’ “it’s all right”
A rainy night in Georgia...
Coincidentally, I was in the aisle with spices and “baking needs” and impulsively grabbed a bag of pecans, a hot weather staple to include in a blue cheese salad which I never make this time of year. Guess I thought I’d throw it in my standard bowls of romaine, cucumber, yellow pepper, and grape tomatoes for good luck.
Two girls wearing Market Basket jackets appeared next to me to stock the spices, and I started to ask if they had anything from Georgia, but caught myself. One noticed, and cheerfully asked, “Looking for something?”
Taking a guess at what might thrive in Savannah’s gardens and never go stale in my kitchen: “Yes, rosemary. I couldn’t find it.”
The other answered with no hesitation: “No rosemary and no thyme due to COVID.”
“Ah! Glad you told me, thanks.”
“Anything else here you need?”
“Well, not time! COVID has given me all the time in the world.”
They looked at each other, rolled their eyes, shared a groan, and politely laughed before turning back to the shelves. I resumed shopping, buying three staples with pictures of the guy who played Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler, and, for the first time ever, peaches.
A week later, I walked in again, this time to hear:
Oh, oh, he’s leavin’ (leavin’) On that midnight train to Georgia (Leavin’ on the midnight train) Yeah, said he’s goin’ back to find (Goin’ back to find) Ooh, a simpler place in time
Reminded me to pick up a of the guy who played Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Also made me laugh out loud, and I was thankful that those two girls weren’t around to hear it as yet more evidence to have me committed. Occurred to me that, if this were busking season, I might learn to play the fave fiddle tune, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” After a second loud laugh, I straightened up, got what I needed, and hustled out of there.
When I arrived home, I noticed on my calendar a reminder to make a doctor’s appointment and made the call. The woman on the other end asked me to spell my last name, and without any thought or calculation, I began:
Never thought I’d watch a movie on a laptop, but I’m still in island exile, the pandemic is worsening, baseball is in hibernation, the election is over, and adaptations of notable writers are beyond my ability to resist.
None of the above tells you the main reason: I’m a projectionist–or, as of the Ides of March, a retired projectionist–who has a very hard time trying to reconcile myself to paying for admission.
But pay I did for Martin Eden, an Italian update of Jack London’s autobiographical 1909 novel–even though I worried over the legibility of subtitles on a small screen.
Those weren’t bad once it passed too many white-on-white frames in the opening scenes. And those brought back a fond memory of a customer who came out of the theater, looked up into the booth, and asked me to fix it. Not sure if she thought I could darken the letters or turn the tablecloth Nordic green, but I apologized for having no such option.
She has my sympathy, reminding me of unanswered messages I sent Hollywood after we played Good Bye Lenin!, Wolfgang Becker’s hilarious 2003 film auf Deutsch. Each letter in the subtitles had a thin black outline. So simple! And so subtle that you could read it effortlessly–which was the point.
That was the first time I ever saw it. Regrettably, it was also the last.
Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden was not the first film I watched on laptop. At a friend’s suggestion, I first tested what I’d think of film-on-laptop by going to the distributor’s website and taking advantage of a free, introductory offer that let me choose one of eight films the night before.
Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker, is a treat to watch, riveting and fast-paced, but the soundtrack had me reaching for a bottle of Excedrin III. That was not the fault of my Lenovo, but the heightened melodramatic taste of 1953.
Must admit I chose it not because it was the first classic film noir directed by a woman and is in the National Film Registry, high an honor as that is, but because hitch-hiking is another former long-playing and long-distance role of mine.
Didn’t realize it at the time, but like Martin Eden, it was an adaptation of another notable writer, Daniel Mainwaring, better known for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but unknown to most because he was “uncredited” due to his name’s presence on Hollywood’s BlackList.
Had he lived into his seventies, Jack London would have been targeted by Joe McCarthy for reasons that are now playing on small screens near you. Martin rasps one of those reasons into a dictaphone during the film’s prologue: “Those who build prisons do not express themselves as well as those who build freedom.”
A two-hour epic, Martin Eden puts more emphasis on politics and on romance than I recall in the book I read forty years ago, possibly due to my own inclinations, or due to knowing it was autobiographical. Yes, London was a boisterous, loquacious, roustabout mariner on Oakland’s docks who fell for a daughter of San Francisco’s upper crust, sending him on the obsessive path to literature, but it was the piling up of rejected manuscripts and the pressure to write happy talk that eventually nailed him.
Sounds like a description of Melville’s depression and fall from grace, crushed by the critics’ indifference to Moby-Dick fifty years earlier. But for Eden (London), it was, ironically, his breakthrough (Call of the Wild) that put him over the edge. Publishers began filling his mailbox, asking for work they had already returned to sender. The upper crust mother delivered her daughter to beg for his return. As he explodes in the film’s climax, the world now wanted “what was already there.”
The character reminded me of Rudolf Nureyev as portrayed in Ralph Fiennes’ The White Crow (2018). Though Eden‘s sometimes disjointedness falls short of Crow‘s seamlessness, the films are two of a kind: Unusual sequencing, often with the use music, flashbacks, cinematography ranging from gritty to lush (making me regret the small screen), and true to both life stories–except for Eden trading San Francisco for Naples and updating it to… When? What war was that?
Eden reminded Helen Highwater, Arts Editor for the West Coast Contradiction, of Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin (2017). But, “not in a good way. Stalin was clearly a parody. With Eden I was never quite sure if it was funny or not, though accusing the ‘Liberals’ of thriving on socialism for the rich is certainly no joke.”
More favorably, she compared it to Bernardo Bertolini’s The Conformist (1970): “Clashes of genders and classes swirling around a protagonist who devolves through transformations, shifting his allegiances and the focus of his misogyny and misanthropy, depending on whom he is sleeping with or butting heads with at any moment.”
In a Zoom meeting, I wanted to object to her tag of misogyny, but it occurred to me that misanthropy must include it, and yes, Martin Eden, for all his literary attempts to champion the working class, is left with a very low opinion for humankind by the end of both book and film. Suffice to say that, if he’s a misogynist, he’s an equal-opportunity misogynist.
Instead, I chided Highwater for citing Italian directors.
She ignored my pulling ethnic rank, and offered agreement: “At times it all came together, and then, oh how I wished I was seeing it on a bigger screen. If my ticket is good for another viewing this weekend, maybe it will make more sense the second time–which is practically a truism with any decent film.”
I stared at her, deadpan.
“As the projectionist knows,” she obligingly added.
“Yes, that archival footage was nostalgic, brought tears to my eyes.”
“Stop! You were not in Naples when your grandparents left the Boot by boat!”
“I was a gleam in their eyes! No, I mean the film itself, so old and flawed that you saw the holes for the sprockets on the side.”
Kidding aside, it was a painful reminder. I was able to watch Good Bye Lenin!, The White Crow, and many other films five or six times from start to finish, particular scenes up to a dozen times. And I did it precisely because they did get better with each viewing.
I, too, will give Martin Eden a second view. Just as the novel is in the best tradition of American realism, the film is in the best tradition of Italian epics, both of which are rich in narratives that build freedom.
That, and because my rental is good for another four days.
Why care that The Loser is refusing to cooperate with the duly-elected incoming president?
He’s no more competent than a shovel in an ocean, no more honest than canned laughter, no more fit to convey information than an unflushed toilet.
Will he skip the inauguration? If so, it’ll be his first act of service to this country. Modest service, yes, but much desired, like putting out the trash.
Naturally we consider co-operation in transitions necessary, like the short distances run by two members of a relay team side by side so the baton never slows down. But this is someone with no concept of team, more prone to withhold the baton and sell it to the highest bidder.
Joe Biden and all of us are better off without The Loser’s participation. Incapable of cooperation, he would be only an obstruction. Ditto his entire cabinet. What educator in his or her right mind would want advice from Betsy DeVos? Rather than regret the lack of a “smooth” transition, we can be grateful that it will not be rough if there is no transition at all.
You can’t hit the ground running when you are well over a cliff, and you can’t be brought up to speed in quicksand. Quite the opposite. As Kurt Vonnegut reasoned, “a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”
For those who might regret The Loser’s violation of yet another hallmark of American government–the one that has distinguished us from other countries for longer than any other–I suggest we treat this as the exception that proves the rule.
Might even prove therapeutic, if not useful, to indulge in some patriotic nostalgia by reviewing what so proudly we hail as “the peaceful transfer of power.” To be sure, transitions have gone smoothly since the twilight’s first gleaming.
Unless you count John Adams skipping town before Tom Jefferson took the oath. Still, Adams and his team willingly briefed TJ and his over the four-month interim (Inauguration Day was March 4 until FDR wore out the date). Also, it was just the second transition, so there was nothing you could call custom.
No, they didn’t like each other until Jefferson retired to Virginia eight years later and the two struck up a warm correspondence. That had no chance of happening between Adam’s son, John Quincy, and Andrew Jackson whose rumored illiteracy was indirectly addressed by his campaign slogan: “Adams who can write? Or Jackson who can fight?”
Still, JQA and Old Hickory conducted an orderly transition for the good of the country–as have every other pair of incoming and outgoing presidents in history no matter how much they detested each other.
Unless you count Herbert Hoover’s petty attempts to undermine Franklin Roosevelt that were persistent and aggressive enough to fill a recent book summarily titled Winter War. But those were a lame duck’s last ditch efforts to drum up popular support for programs that would preempt the New Deal. In the White House and in every federal agency, the transition went on as planned and as expected.
Dwight David Eisenhower refused to use the word “transition”–or let anyone near him use it without correction–because he thought it implied an equality between him and his much younger, upstart successor, John Kennedy. Instead, it was a “transfer” or “turn-over.”
Lyndon Johnson was well acquainted with Richard Nixon after years together in congress, including when Nixon as VP presided over the senate where LBJ was a force. Their transition verged on neighborly. Hard to envision in these polarized days, but back then the fiercest political foes formed friendships. Ten years later, when Hubert Humphrey lay dying of cancer in a Minneapolis hospital, it was Nixon who flew in from California to spend a day with the man he defeated for that rendezvous with LBJ.
The two biggest smiles ever to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. appeared side by side when the newly-elected Ronald Reagan visited the vanquished Jimmy Carter. In the televised reports, Carter seemed content to stand aside while Reagan delighted the press with his quick wit. Privately, Carter expressed deep concern that Reagan sat through the sessions without asking a single question or taking any notes. He was stunned that a man showing “no curiosity” was about to become president of the United States.
“Gracious” is the first word that incoming presidents use to describe our last three transitions. George Bush left his legendary letter for Bill Clinton who, in turn, included George W. Bush in briefings during the protracted six-week count in Florida. Eight years later, our economy in ruins, George W. included Barack Obama and his advisors in negotiations with Wall Street, the auto-manufacturers, and other financial players–a move that drew howls from the Fox News crowd who accused Obama of “jumping the gun,” which, as anyone my age should be able to tell you, was a racist dog-whistle for “uppity” with the N-word implied and understood.
Little did they know that there was a precedent for Bush to thrust Obama into the financial crisis of 2008 ASAP. Little did anyone know because it was kept secret back when secrets could be kept. And little does anyone now know because it was a plan that was never put into action.
Woodrow Wilson was an unlikely president, a reform Democrat when that was still a contradiction in terms. He unseated the incumbent William Howard Taft in 1912 with the help of a split Republican vote when out of retirement came Teddy Roosevelt–an ex-president so popular that a toy company designed a stuffed animal to look like him, a bear bearing his name, and still a best-seller over a century later.
Two years into Wilson’s presidency, war broke out in Europe. England and France wanted our alliance at the very time that German immigrants were pouring into Ellis Island–along with waves from Italy, Russia, and other Eastern European nations with uncertain alliances. Few Americans wanted to enter the war, but when German torpedoes started sinking Cunard liners with American passengers, sentiment was shifting and started simmering by November, 2016.
Wilson was an academic by trade, a historian who ascended to the presidency of Princeton before being drafted by scandal-wracked New Jersey Democrats to run for governor. That may be why, as the election neared and the polls narrowed in 1916, he pondered the consequences that a lame duck presidency during a global war would have for the nation.
Weeks before the vote, he met with VP Thomas Marshall, then with his Republican opponent, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and finally with congressional leaders of both parties. All agreed. If Wilson lost, VP Marshall would resign the next day, after which Wilson would nominate Hughes as VP and the Senate would confirm him. That done, Wilson would resign, turning a president-elect into a president all within 24 hours of the election result.
Wilson and his administration would have made themselves available for as long as Hughes needed them. Sounds like the ultimate transition, but it was all moot when Wilson defeated Hughes 277-254 in the Electoral College, 49-46 in the popular vote.
As bipartisan as that sounds, another unrealized plan would have outdone it. In 1940, FDR won his third term by defeating a maverick Republican businessman from Indiana named Wendell Willkie who so impressed him that FDR soon sent him as his personal envoy to war-torn Europe. According to a recent biography, The Improbable Wendell Willkie, FDR asked Willkie to be his running mate in 1944.
By this time, FDR knew that he would likely not survive that term. In effect, he was picking his successor whose transition would have been as vice president.
Willkie declined, but FDR didn’t quit there. Both parties at the time were split: Democrats between southern segregationists and northern progressives, Republicans between isolationists (or “stand-patters”) and internationalists. Sick of having to appease Dixiecrats, and knowing that Republican Willkie was hounded by the isolationists in his party, FDR asked Willkie to join him in forming a third party.
Again the Indiana businessman was too cautious, and rapidly declining health curbed FDR’s effort. The choice of young moderate Harry Truman to replace the ultra-progressive Henry Wallace was made more by Democratic Party honchos than by the ailing president who died just five months after the 1944 election–a long, if morbid transition.
Today we have neither. But why object to The Loser making it short or not at all? We’ll do better to savor the result with cheerful relief from here to Georgia where it’ll play so much better that any griping about The Loser.
The contrast alone would help convince Georgian voters which two senate candidates will bring them–and the rest of us–yet more cheerful and much-needed relief.
Many joyous phone calls this weekend, including a few from the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the North Coast, as folks in northern Ohio fancy the shores of Lake Erie.
My Gulf Coast friend was quick to name America’s re-entry into the Paris Climate Accords as cause for celebration. I should have paid more attention when she mentioned penguins. When she added how cute they are, I was unable to resist telling her what Herman Melville had to say.
Fresh on my mind because I read it just months ago, one hot, humid Sunday on the beach. Suffice to say that people sitting double social-distance on both sides turned toward me, wondering at my loudest LOL since watching Tombstone.
When my West Coast friend mentioned penguins the next day, the context was already sobering. While Americans on or well-within all four coasts are understandably consumed by our Lower-48’s problems–drought, mudslides, erosion, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and, in her Northern Californian case, fires–few of us have noticed the rate at which Antarctica is breaking up and floating as much as melting away.
To the point that, just as hurricanes have names, icebergs now have numbers by which oceanographers trace them and issue warnings to Pacific islands and to towns on the shores of New Zealand, Australia, Chile. Penguins are at their mercy. Dire warnings of their extinction began appearing three years ago, coming from Audubon, the National Science Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic, PBS, and the list stretches like the very threatened coasts they hope to save.
For so long we have seen so many photos of polar bears in the Arctic, that climate-change deniers make a joke of them. After listening to West Coast, I regretted having told Gulf Coast of Melville’s 160-year-old anti-penguin rant.
Until North Coast called the next day. When I told her of my faux pas, she reminded me of what happened in her own stomping grounds fifty years ago. When Randy Newman wrote a satirical song about the Cuyahoga River catching fire, he raised awareness for the environmental push to clean Lake Erie.
She reminded me of a quote that I used in a manuscript that she edited five years ago. She couldn’t recall it verbatim, nor can I, but it was from Salman Rushdie’s defense of religious satire when England considered a ban following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in 2015. In paraphrase:
Jokes are thoughts; laughter is thinking.
Made me feel better, so much so that I no sooner thanked her than started razzing her as I often do about the name, North Coast. “Erie is a Great Lake. But not that great.”
So, in that spirit, here’s Melville’s paragraph–which a group called Secret Base Media Club turned into a blog headlined “Herman Melville Hates Penguins.” May the environmentalists among you use it to call attention to the plight of the penguin and climate change, perhaps by turning it into something like Randy Newman’s “Burn On”* with the help of a clever song-writer:
From “Sketch Third” of Herman Melville’s Las Encantadas (aka The Galapagos)
(describing the lowest level of Rodondo, “the aviary of the Ocean,” an island on which one ascends “from shelf to shelf”)
“What outlandish beings are these? Erect as men, but hardly as symmetrical, they stand all around the rock like sculpted caryatides,** supporting the next range of eaves above. Their bodies are grotesquely misshapen; their bills short; their feet seemingly legless; while the members at their sides are neither fin, wing, nor arm. And truly, neither fish, flesh, nor fowl is the penguin; as an edible, pertaining to neither Carnival nor Lent; without exception the most ambiguous and least lovely creature yet discovered by man. Though dabbling in all three elements, and indeed possessing some rudimental claim to all, the penguin is at home in none. On land it stumps; afloat it sculls; in the air it flops. As if ashamed of her failure, Nature keeps this ungainly child hidden away at the ends of the earth, in the Straits of Magellan, and on the abased sea-story of Rodondo.”
Summer returned to New England today and I sat all day out front of the Shoebox overlooking the marsh toward the mainland in shorts & sandals, watching a line of SUVs (with a compact car or pickup here & there) inch toward the gate to the Plum Island Reserve.
A woman yells out her window, “Great Day!”
“Sure is, and the forecast says another four.”
“Four more days!”
“At the start of four years!”
Another: “What a seat you have to enjoy this!”
“All week, summer’s back.”
“I know what I’ll be doing!”
“And you know what I‘ll be doing.”
Another: “We’re rid of the snow!”
“That’s not all we’re rid of!”
Another: “Are you J- G-?”
“Depends on what you have in mind.”
“Just like in your blog!”
Yes, I celebrate the victory with everyone who drives by, but I do expect all kinds of absurdity and ugliness to come from the White House these next two months. And I fear that after Jan. 20 the spirit of appeasement will suffocate all the raised hopes, as happened when Obama took office.
That’s why I hold out hope for Jan. 5 in Georgia, without which the Progressive agenda is dead. If gaining control of the Senate by winning both run-offs sounds like too-long-a-shot for Democrats, consider this:
Both will be on one ballot, and the name Trump will not be on it–which means that his fringe base won’t pay any attention. The concept of a legislature is too complex for those who crave authoritarian certainty. Yes, the life-long Republicans will show en mass, but the newly enfranchised, younger voters who voted for Biden/Harris might be enough to offset them. With a president- and VP-elect, and an ex-president and first lady making the rounds, it could happen.
As of now, minutes before Biden’s first speech as president-elect, more foreign leaders have congratulated Biden than have Republican senators. Tweet from Mayor of Paris: “Welcome back, America!”
To hell with Republicans! To hell with enablers of a hate-monger, with people who think fact-checking is a form of censorship, who are more attentive to Dow Jones than to Covid-19! God damn them all!
So, though I worry for the plight of the Green New Deal, for universal health care, for any semblance of economic equality, and though I know that, rather than content with any victory, I’ll be on the side agitating for reform after Jan. 20, today I choose to celebrate this necessary first step to Make America America Again.
As the son of a political junkie, I had always anticipated this day as much as my own birthday until I realized that there were too many of the latter.
Speaking of presidential contests, this will be my 18th, so, judging by the time it took to tire of birthdays, I should be keeping close, enthusiastic tabs on them well into the 22nd Century when my grandson’s great-granddaughter will announce her candidacy in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, our 52nd state.
Must admit I can’t recall them all. I was younger than Lachlan when Eisenhower was elected and re-elected. In 1960, it may have been the first night I was ever allowed to stay up past bedtime, though I was in bed long before it was decided for JFK–much to the delight of my Catholic elementary school and heavily Catholic neighborhood.
May be the only presidential election for which I had mixed feelings. My dad, though pro-Kennedy, thought well of Nixon–which may be why I went trick-or-treating a few nights before dressed in a black suit and wingtips, made up to look like Tricky Dick, shaking my face each time I asked for chocolates.
In 1964, I was 13 years old.
Tempted to plead the Fifth on 1968 when I was among many college students, traumatized by the assassination of RFK into disdain and indifference. In Salem, we treated the night as if it was just another Halloween. Too young to vote, I was too old not to notice how close that vote was.
My most memorable Election Day was 1972 when my father came so close to winning a Boston Herald contest by predicting that Nixon would win everything except DC, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. That last was his lone mistake, although it’s worth noting that Rhode Island was the only state that year that was not a landslide.
Dad’s choices should have told me in advance how the nation would go, but Massachusetts was so heavily in favor of George McGovern it was easy for at least four of us to think that he had a chance. At Salem State that day we listened to an encouraging pay-attention, stay-involved, keep-aware speech by Daniel Ellsberg, he of the Pentagon Papers. To give you an idea of my own involvement, I was the one who drove to Cambridge to pick him up for the ride to Salem.
His glum reticence in the back seat of my Dodge Dart should have told me how the day would really go.
That evening, two friends and I loaded the Dart with cold cuts, cheese, rolls, pickles, potato salad, beer, and another item that I can’t now recall but which always appeared from Bill’s pockets on a moment’s notice. Arriving at another friend’s Marblehead apartment, we tuned in the news as early as 7:00 pm only to find out, immediately, that the landslide had been called.
Not really sure how we then spent the evening, but the sandwiches were good and we all survived with a little help from the pockets of a friend.
That was when it became law to withhold results from eastern states until west coast polls closed, which insured that the night would not end quickly in 1976. For that, the same three friends plus five others gathered in a larger apartment in Salem all hoping that this unknown ever-smiling face from Georgia–trumpeted as the real deal by our hero, Hunter Thompson–would defeat the guy who pardoned Nixon.
So close was the electoral count that, around midnight, my friends started nodding off. A few left while others remained slumped in chairs like soldiers felled in battle. By 1:00, about when the team of Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather reported that only Wisconsin and Ohio remained up for grabs (with some kind of asterisk on Hawai’i), there were just two of us who heard it. Luckily for me, it was my friend with the pockets.
Jimmy Carter had to win both, adding a tension that helped keep us awake until just before 4:00 when he was declared the winner. My friend and I debated whether we should awaken the others. Always of the belief that no one should ever be robbed of sleep unless the house–or tent or whatever–is on fire, I said no, but he reached into a pocket and said something that included the word “celebrate.” And so we both started shaking the collapsed sacks of flesh and bone all around us.
Election nights in 1980, 84, 88, 92 and 96 I spent at home, or at least I cannot recall any gathering. I was also at home for the night in 2000 when, over the phone to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., I told my daughter that Ohio would determine the election. My guess is that she, the daughter and granddaughter of political junkies, watched through the night and was relieved when Ohio was called for Gore–only to be alarmed an hour later when the networks retracted the call, something I’d never heard of before.
Ohio’s discrepancies were overshadowed by Florida which extended the decision halfway into December, and where a foremost matter of contention was something called “hanging chads,” something no-one had ever heard of before.
Except for movie theater projectionists. Not to get lost in shop-talk here, but before the advent of digital technology, film was lined on both sides with oval holes that fit a projector’s sprockets. Every film arrived at the theater in five to seven reels that needed to be spliced together, ditto the three coming attractions we attached to the front, plus a blank leader and something on the end to prevent an abrupt start or finish. Since the splicing was done with a thin, transparent tape that had no oval holes, such holes needed to be punched out. The ovals would remain in the splicing machine. They were called chads.
This I would do most every Thursday for about two months before the chads would accumulate in the machine and prevent new ones from being spliced out. Instead, the chads would hang onto the film. If left hanging, they could upset the projector.
While most everyone laughed at the term, in ridicule or exasperation, projectionists knew exactly what had happened, an irony stamped in iron: Al Gore did not lose Dade and Broward counties because he got too few votes. He lost because he got too many.
With those working the polls made aware of the problem, I was confident that John Kerry would win in 2004–until the morning of Election Day. With the day off, I resolved to walk the three miles one-way off the island, across the marsh, over the bridge, past the airport, down the oak-lined lane, and to the firehouse I go. As soon as I stepped outside, the gunmetal sky seemed ominous, as if telling me I had been wrong all along. Another warning struck halfway back when my right knee began to bark as I reached the airport. When the pain sharpened well before the bridge, I leaned on a guardrail, turned around and put out my thumb. Hitching is so easy between an island and mainland, at least here, that I call it the Plum Island Shuttle Service–and wait for the listener to assemble the acronym.
Soon I was at my door, courtesy of a neighbor just returning from the polls, chiding me for not having simply waited for any number of people I’d have known. She provided brief doomsday relief, although I was by this time braced for the worst–and accepted it until the Conyers Report, What Went Wrong in Ohio appeared weeks later.*
In 2008 and 12, I thoroughly enjoyed Obama’s elections at home, but in 2016 I was showing a film at the Screening Room where the new technology had eliminated not only film and any need for splicing, but freed me from reel changes, leaving me to check my iPad for updates on social media.
On that night, a Newburyport friend was following it from her hospital bed in Beverly Hospital, and at about 8:00, or about halfway into the film, started posting concern for discouraging reports. As soon as I read her second post, I felt as if I was back on the Plum Island Causeway twelve years earlier to the day. Rather than an inflammation in the knee, it was a kick in the gut. When I got home, despite knowing the outcome, I tuned in and stayed tuned in as if hoping that something would be uncovered to reverse the inevitable, that a young Walter Cronkite would appear to tell us it was all a bad joke, and my friend would show up with pockets full of celebration.
Turns out it was a bad joke that has lasted four years. But as the son–and as it turns out, the father–of a political junkie, I have anticipated this day for the entire time. While I now dread my own birthdays, something like that is my hope for this day and what I believe we will learn tonight even if technicalities are litigated toward and past Thanksgiving as happened in 2000.
America stopped being America four years ago. Let today be our rebirth.
For over 40 years I’ve heard and read ridicule, dismissal, and condemnation of The Sixties–mostly accusations that it was when America went out of control, turned upside down, or lost its way.
Today I join many who say that about the last four years. While others have compared protests in the streets of both eras, and the incitements of Donald Trump to those of George Wallace, the most painful similarity has been overshadowed by the deep divisions of politics, race, gender, and other demographics that lately include suburban vs. urban:
A body count.
Night after night for the past eight months, we see graphs and numbers already quadruple those of American fatalities in Vietnam–and still rising. Anyone my age might flash back to the nightly body count reported by news anchors night after night in the late Sixties into the Seventies.
Most memorable was Walter Cronkite who ended his Vietnam reports with “There is still no end to the war in sight.”
We called it “The Generation Gap,” mostly because it pitted so many teenagers against parents, but also because America’s ill-advised military involvement in Vietnam exacted a heavy price paid mostly by the young.
As stark a similarity as they draw, the two body counts point to the most telling difference between The Sixties and this Era of Trump:
Neither American president back then—not Lyndon Johnson, not Richard Nixon—ever denied that numbers were high.**
Neither ever called a death toll “nothing.”
Though both complained about coverage of the war, neither ever accused the press, much less the military, of exaggerating a body count to increase its budget.
Neither ever claimed that the war was “no big deal,” or that it would “just go away.”
Nor would anyone on either side of the Generation Gap back then have denied science or demonized medical professionals—as an entire political party, coast to coast, does now. In fact, it was Republican Nixon who, for all his faults, insisted that America “make peace with nature” when he promoted a new Environmental Protection Agency in his 1970 State of the Union Address.***
Identify as many gaps as you can or will in 2020, the basic choice in this election isn’t between liberal and conservative any more than between young and old as it was half a century ago. Those divisions, as well as all others are entirely included in–and to some degree created by–a division that America will either begin to face or irreparably continue to deny this week:
A Reality Gap.
*This blog is adapted from the latter half of “Aside the Ides of 2020,” posted yesterday and revised for tomorrow.
**I do not include JFK with LBJ and Nixon here because, although Kennedy committed military advisors to South Vietnam, no American troops landed until 1964 after Johnson took office.
***Below is Richard Nixon’s State of the Union Address, 1970. His remarks on the environment begin at the 23-minute mark and last about seven minutes of this 38-minute speech. One highlight: He calls air, water, and land “no longer common property free to be abused by anyone without regard to consequences, but scarce resources we are no more free to contaminate than we are free to throw garbage into our neighbor’s yards.”
Now we ask how anyone could possibly vote for a candidate who praises and thanks supporters who harass an opponent’s campaign bus with their pickup trucks on a highway—while moving and in traffic.
Reminds me of a question we’ve been asking, complete with photographic evidence on social media, for four years: How could anyone vote for a man who ridicules handicapped people?
Anyone who would object to either would never vote for him anyway. His fans are those who have a need to look down on others and will do it for any superficial reason–which a handicap, like a color of skin, or article or clothing provides. Reflexively, they will ridicule, shout down, and harass anyone who contradicts them—and an opponent’s campaign bus is filled with those targets.
Giving them what they want, Trump never loses votes with ridicule, incitements, threats, or his ranting hate, juvenile or sadistic. He gains them.
Equally dumb: We keep saying that this is “like fascism.”
Like???? Look up the definition and you’ll find something like this: “forcible suppression of opposition.”
You’ll also find it on your ballot Tuesday, from the president at the top reaching down to all his Republican enablers in state and county governments, running against the very idea of America as it was conceived in 1776.