Tuesday, November 22, 2016

News from America

Two weeks later, it still feels unreal. My stomach has not settled down, and every time I tell myself not to panic, a headline punches my fear buttons.

The photos of Trump proliferate, always the same strange orange grin, the look that says, Gotcha, sucker, we’re gonna have some fun now! with an undertone of, You don't like me? You're screwed. I refuse to watch the news and the best I can do is read the first few paragraphs of various Post stories and then skip to the next report. Today, there were thirty articles in the paper that either headlined Trump or mentioned him, his cabinet-to-be, the abuses committed by the people he has chosen to be his confidants, and the conflicts of interest surrounding the man who will soon be occupyimg the highest office in the land.

The three Francophone newspapers—one in France, one in Switzerland, and one in Canada—that contact me every year or so for stories on what's happening in the United States want thirty inches of prose on the Trump phenomenon. One apparently already has a headline: Trump va-t-il Tromper L’Amérique? Will Trump Cheat on America? It’s a nice alliteration making the rounds of French-speaking countries. Another one told me to make sure I mention the pussy incident. In France, where the sexual adventures of premiers and presidents barely raise an eyebrow, readers are fascinated by Trump’s pussy comments. It bears out what many think, that a majority of Americans are crude and unsophisticated and will now be led by a man who relishes these unhappy traits.

What I will write about is the fear mongering. The media—print and visual—promises the end of the world, and these assertions play right into the reactionaries’ hands. Even as this happens, I think the country is largely catatonic, stunned by how one candidate could win by more than a million-and-a-half popular votes and still be defeated. This is not supposed to happen but does so regularly.

I’ll write that the street demonstrations in some major cities are unfocused and unorganized. They remind me of the Occupy Wall Street fiasco, when so many good and positive things could have occurred, but none did. Europeans, on the other hand, are masters at demonstrating. They shut down their countries over human rights, farmers’ incomes, women and LGBT issues, and suggestions that the retirement age be raised. They don’t really understand why in the U.S. there was not a massive mobilization before the election. They think the present protests are much like closing the barn door after the cows are gone (or some European version on this.) It’s hard to disagree.

And I will write about the fact that almost four out of ten Americans qualified to vote simply did not. This is beyond the understanding of most people across the Atlantic. Voting rates in Belgium are almost ninety percent. They are eighty percent in Denmark, seventy-one percent in France, eighty-two percent in Sweden. How, the readers will ask, can such a low voter turnout occur in the country that bills itself as the land of the free?

Apathy, I will say, appalling apathy.


Friday, November 11, 2016


Here are the choices for today. I can play a recently discovered version of online Mahjong until this evening when I meet with friends and maybe play some music. I wrote a couple of new songs and want to try them out. I can go back to bed, huddle under the covers with a flashlight and read comic books. I can launder a heaping hamper full of dirty clothes. I can watch the frolics of my two hamsters, Milou and Archie, except this morning they’re strangely quiet and depressed too.

     It’s not that there’s a lack of things to do. I have two articles due for Canadian magazines, and a book to finish. I have a short story to write for Montparnasse Magazine. I am working on a few one-act plays (writing plays is a new avocation and I’ve been told I should keep trying.) There are bills to pay, and lentils to cook, and stuff to sell on eBay. I have to organize a yard sale, and paint the ceiling in my dining room. I have to call a friend whose health is failing, and I really, really, should go to the gym.

     It’s odd to waken to a world that is physically the same as it was seventy-hours ago and yet where everything has changed. A Parisian friend emailed me very early this morning and asked, “Tu reviens?” No, I told her, I’m not returning to France. This country is and has been my home for decades and I love it here. The US remains the land of opportunities, but I have to tell you, honestly, that for the very first time, I am frightened by the future.

I am not a marginalized person, but I am an immigrant, and I recently came to realize that I am Jewish by birth (a long story there). I am a naturalized citizen, but I am not at all sure that if worse comes to worse this will matter.  There is a long history, worldwide, of non-native citizens being dispossessed by ultra-right demagogue leaders.

The President-elect prides himself on never having finished reading a book. I happen to think the written word is humankind’s greatest invention. The Vice-President-elect has openly stated that he is anti-LBGT, anti-women’s right, anti-abortion, and that he will work to overturn marriage equality. I fail to even comprehend how such reactionary thoughts and actions can benefit anyone.

I’ve read that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is going to take a serious hit, and that censorship in museums is likely to rule once again as it did in the 1950s. As a side note, it’s interesting to me that when Trump took over the lease of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House, he threw out two occupants, the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities.       

I don’t want to think about the environment. I shudder at what will happen to scientific research I am terrified by the thought that know-nothings have taken over.

I recently discovered a term, kakistocracy, which means government by the least qualified or most unprincipled. Is this where we are going?

 I am hoping is that this country has enough momentum to keep going in the right direction in spite of a new leadership that looks down upon everything I hold dear. I am hoping, but I am not sure it will.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


This is not about Trump. I’m still reeling and my stomach hurts. I have to write about something else. This is about friendships.


When I was 17, my best friend was Bruno, the first guy I ever met who regularly went to a gym. Bruno was a big French kid who worked out religiously and it showed. Where I was spindly, he was massive with huge pecs and biceps that impressed the girls but not his Swedish mother, who regularly beat him with a belt for real and imagined offenses. Bruno tried to run away on more than one occasion but it never worked, except for the time he ended up spending the night at the house of the girl I was dating. Her parents were out of town and he stayed there three days. That severely strained the friendship.  


Bruno was one of the first persons I played music with, the best third of my very first band. He and I got together because we both played guitar and knew we could be rock stars. We formed a trio with Patrick, a 16-year-old whose only asset was a snare drum and a single cymbal. Patrick was incapable of holding any beat outside of those found in military marching bands, and this gave our renditions of Peter Gunn, Wipe Out, Telstar and anything by Link Wray, a weird syncopation people found challenging to dance to. No matter; we played parties for free with a repertoire of about twelve songs that we banged out three or four times a night, avoiding the more intricate parts. We were the champions of the three-chord compositions. Our best tune was a heavily accented and incomprehensible version of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say. We made up the words since we couldn’t figure them out, occasionally throwing in a “Yahoo!”, an expression I’d heard on a country station and immediately made my own.


His family returned to France and Bruno became one of those friends who vanishes but is never really gone. I didn’t hear from him for decades. We reconnected very briefly in 2013. I would learn he’d married, had children, and bought a home in the south of France as far away from his mother as he could get while staying in the same country. Then he divorced and married a British woman, and they moved to a house in Granada. He wrote me he didn’t play guitar anymore, and a photo of him showed a thin, old man with tired eyes. He was living in Spain, but it turned out he was actually dying in Spain. His second wife wrote me to say he’d passed away of cancer some three months after we exchanged our initial emails recounting the ups and downs of life since we’d last seen each other in the 60s. His death was a blow.


There have been others like Bruno over the years, friendships that flourish and wilt. They're occasionally based on mutual interests--motorcycles, sports, shared nationality, music, and writing. I discovered that too often, when people move away, or get married, or the mutual interest wanes, so do the friendships.


I have friends who date from more than 40 years, 30 years, and 10 years ago. And then there are the very rare friends who become so almost overnight. You discover what the French call les atômes crochus, the hooked atoms. In a matter of days, weeks at most, something deep and vital develops and life isn't the same as before. A gap is filled, a necessary element that was missing is suddenly realized, completely apparent, and you wonder how you existed without this person. You fall in love, and you fall in like. Things happen within the psyche, tectonic shifts, an instant sense of trust and well-being. Emerson said such people are the ones "before whom I may think aloud." Yet there is a danger to such friendships. They endow the other with powers; they make one vulnerable, they play upon emotions and take strength to maintain. They hurt deeply, sometimes. They are miracles with a price, yet worth every penny.


The British novelist Jeannette Winterson described it best: "We are friends and I do like to pass the day with you in serious and inconsequential chatter. I wouldn't mind washing up beside you, dusting beside you, reading the back half of the paper while you read the front. We are friends and I would miss you, do miss you and think of you very often.”


I am fortunate. I am, to quote Shakespeare, wealthy in my friends.