Sep 17, 2009

We are sitting on an island in their kitchen, the classic California kitchen, which bleeds into all other rooms. The husband is in his late 60s, tall, hair dyed shoe-polish black; his wife just turning 50, her hair cut short. In the last 10 months she has begun to feel cute again. She was born in Beirut, and would have you believe she was a starlet. She appeared in a Fellini movie as a child, but you have to stop the movie to see her.

He was born down the peninsula, went to Harvard and Stanford and has underachieved ever since. He was once a well known architect, but then something happened, no one knows, but he left the profession. Then he began dabbling at being an "artist". He and his wife own rental properties, which is their real income. He had a stroke some time ago and has limited mobility, and limited stamina. And now he's in a downward spiral. He says he wants to get back to riding a motorcycle and a horse and playing tennis. It will never happen, but conceivably it could if he had the will to pull himself up and out of his chair and to start walking. He can walk but it's difficult. He could even walk to a nearby store but he says the grade is too steep. What about a cane? "No, it wouldn't be strong enough." You could take a walker. "No, that would never work, I couldn't lift it. What if it fell over?"

"You could try... "

No, you don't understand. I couldn't."

No, he would rather dream, he would rather jail himself. Frankly, the man is spoiled and his pessimism is contagious. I would never have agreed to go have dinner at all but my wife insisted. She is always trying to save people. And what about his wife? lately strange things have been happening. Three times in the last months he's called 911 to have police come over and "save" him.

The couple has three daughters; two are in college in New England. A third is 15 and lives at home. She's unusually bright and stars in Physics. She's also very direct. I have never seen her be devious. She is usually shy but lately she seems much more outspoken. She has a very pretty smile, and permanent. But as you look at her you realize the smile has different meanings.

So here's what's happening to this man and his family. One afternoon the police arrive and this father says that his 15-year-old daughter refuses to open a bottle of wine for him, which he can't do himself because his left hand is so gnarled. The police are puzzled: the man is not drunk. He seems absolutely sincere. They call social services. A week later he calls again and says his daughter won't help him get downstairs, which everyone knows he can do himself, although with effort. He tells the police it's a case of elder abuse. Two weeks later he calls still again, this time because his daughter has left him alone for several hours. Why didn't he make the charge about his wife, you wonder. Eventually, a representative of social services arrives. A week after that his daughter overhears him making plans to hire a prostitute.

So here we are on an island in their kitchen. Here is the father sitting in his customary chair, his wife is slicing onions with a 14-inch cutting knife. She cuts slowly and carefully, even sensuously. Her husband is talking about his therapy.

"You like that one, don't you," his wife says, referring to one of the women who gives him a massage.

"Actually, there are two of them," he says.

His wife smiles. She never takes her eyes off the onions. "Two, even better."

Her husband is encouraged. "Yes," he says, "she reminds me of my first girl friend. Very beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful woman I've ever known. She was Brazilian." He went on to talk about how he met this woman, how she was a twin, how he used to go bike riding with her in Rio.

This marriage is over, but he doesn't see it. In that sense he is pitiful.

"I'll never have that again," he says and orders his daughter to get him the wine bottle at the other end of the counter. She does it.

"So what you are going to do," asks his wife.

"You'd like it if I killed myself, wouldn't you?"

"There's a gun upstairs," says the daughter, with her permanent smile.

His wife stops cutting and looks at her guests. Everyone is smiling, even the father.

Sep 16, 2009

What is one to make of all these suicides at France Telecom, a company of 100,000. 23 suicides in the last 18 months, 29 in 2001, 30 in 2000. The average per 100,000 in France, is 15. A woman, a manager, threw herself out of a fourth floor window. A man killed himself in his home. Another man stabbed himself in a meeting; whether he survived is not clear from the news report.

Sep 15, 2009

And you are telling me there is no God, no divine intelligence. You are insisting on that?

Sep 10, 2009

What has been a sideshow until now — boviators on parade and now the Host Wars — is serious business. Glenn Beck has two kills on his holster in the last three days. More scalps to come. And now this terrible scandal in the ACORN office in Baltimore, at which two conservatives, posing as pimp and prostitute showed up and got tax advice on how to start a prostitution ring, with under-aged girls. Can you imagine how Rush will play this?

Keith Obermann licked his lips at the thought of revenge then decided otherwise. Still, you can see how this is going to turn into American Sunni and Shia, and how this will transform old time McCarthyism to a new art form.

There are extremists on all sides but it's the Reaganissimos, above all. There's no getting around it. It's those folks still listening to the aw-shucks patter of a 20-mule team Borax commercial, to the ghost in the attic of Ronnie MacBeth watching 12 O'Clock High, imagining he and Robert Stack had flown their B-17s right off the back lot and were suddenly over Germany, and later they would be among the first to break open the concentration camps.

And now Ronnie's kids, hanging on for dear life, are having an identity crisis. 'Where's Pappi?' They want to know because they're feeling powerlessness and the scoreboard says, political defeat. Plus all the economic uncertainty and paranoia, and above all, there's a nigger who got uppity and smart and who the fuck is he to tell us what to do. Boy! And now Ronnie's runnions have tripped the wire. Now they've done it.

It's been happening for months. There's breadcrumbs going back for years, actually. "Obama is a racist." "Poison Nancy Pelosi." Just that stuff in the last 45 days. And now all these little acts of defiance — it's no longer a matter of being civil — and just now this new form of personal destruction. Not to mention, murder. John Von Unn's shooting the Holocaust museum guard is one of several incidents in which deranged minds found refuge in right wing monologues. It's all coming to a head.

And there will be more killings. And the killer, or killers, whether from the Right of the Left, will imagine themselves as martyrs. One act will lead to another. And it will spread. Less the violence than the recrimination. What seemed like small polarities will become large. Barack will be in ever greater danger, just as that woman in the Bay View told me nearly a year ago.

And how did this happen? We all know. People said, "You're A Great American". And they meant it. Otherwise, technology, mostly. The death of Walter Chonkites, the end of newspapers, the extreme nature of meritocracy in private schools, just the end of things, the lack of personal filters, the free-for-all quality of public discourse. The comfort of political camps. The delirious quality of carelessness, itself.

What's needed is a clunker program for egos.

And all the while we indulge ourselves in expression without intellectual representation.... Expression without imagining an effect. I have done it myself.

What's needed is a great sleep, laughing gas from the Le Petit Prince's asteroid, which puts everybody to sleep for 30 days. After that, lost ability to utter a sound for six months. Quiet things down. Communicate by other means.