Saturday, November 18, 2017

E.L. Doctorow

I began this somewhat lengthy essay several Octobers ago, soon after E.L. Doctorow’s death. It has since lain dormant on my hard drive with nowhere to go. So here it is.


Edgar Lawrence Doctorow died last summer. I didn’t hear about it until nearly three months later, when I happened to read his entry in Wikipedia.

E.L. Doctorow has been one of the writers I most admire for a long time. My favorite Doctorow novel is Ragtime; it’s probably everyone’s favorite. The book’s captivating prose style seduced me years ago. Considering how steadily my regard for his fourth published novel has risen over the years, it surprises me to remember it didn’t hook me until my second reading. The first time I set it down after a few dozen pages, and didn’t pick it up again for a year.

Doctorow has been lauded as “a serious writer who is also popular; a political writer who is also a stylist; an original writer who is highly eclectic; a historical writer who invents the past.” He was all of those things, but in this essay I look at Doctorow not as a literary critic, but as a writer upon whom his influence has been enormous.

Other favorite Doctorow novels are The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate, World’s Fair, and to a lesser extent Loon Lake. I can’t help but wonder about the genesis of any creative work I admire. Where does this stuff come from? Where does reality end and invention begin? Doctorow’s blend of historical fact and fiction, a technique he used many times to great effect, adds a layer to the question.

A clue to his process came in a 1971 conversation with another favorite writer, William Kennedy, when the latter still labored as a journalist and book critic. “The novelist,” Doctorow said, “has to break through the facts to get at the truth. And if he feels constrained by the facts, to that extent he’ll fail.”

As Doctorow told it, he might never have written Ragtime if he hadn’t been creatively drained after The Book of Daniel.

One day I was sitting in my study, on the top floor of my house in New Rochelle, and I found myself staring at the wall. Perhaps I felt it was representative of my mind. I decided to write about the wall. And then about all the walls together. “My house was built in 1906,” I wrote. “It is a great, ugly three-story manse, with dormers, bay windows, and a screened porch. When it was new the shingles were brown and striped awnings shaded its windows...” I then imagined what New Rochelle looked like when the house was new. In those days trolley cars ran along the avenue at the bottom of the hill. People wore white in the summer. Women carried parasols. I thought of Teddy Roosevelt, who was president at the time. And the blank page of my mind began to fill with the words of a book.

Something in Ragtimes narrative voice suggested to me it knew everything. An author must, after all, have authority; Jane Smiley says writers should strive for this. I’ve had similar reactions to the prose of Philip Roth and Donald Barthelme: something in their tone giving evidence, at least to me, of an encyclopedic grasp of the world.

The narrative voice of Ragtime became at least as important to me as the story, probably more so. I imagined Doctorow in front of his typewriter on the top floor of his New Rochelle home, improvising on the theme of blank walls. “My house was built in 1906. It is a great, ugly three-story manse...” These exploratory lines, so similar to the eventual opening of Ragtime, are pungent with inspiration.

Perhaps, at the time I discovered E.L. Doctorow, I needed a new literary hero. I had outgrown Jack Kerouac. I’d left behind the Teachings of Don B; Donald Barthelme’s fragmented style was, in the end, too fragmented. (Don B loved fragments, he once declared to a crowded press conference held in a laundromat – but that’s another story.)

As he wrote Ragtime, Doctorow seems to have enjoyed a state of grace. An anecdote that goes to the novel’s creation is almost spiritual. As Marie Arana explained in The Writing Life, Doctorow

puzzled over one tiny point of American history. He wanted to move his character from Depression-weary New York City to Lowell, Mass., via trolley, “from one town to the next, tossing a buffalo nickel in at the end of every stop on the interurban trolley line.” The trouble was that he didn’t know whether such a trip would be possible. [*]

He was roaming the inner recesses of the library one evening, pondering the difficulties of that question, when suddenly he caught sight of a brazenly orange book leaning toward him from the business shelf. “It was the color that drew me,” he says, still marveling at the mystical nature of the moment. “When I picked it up, I saw that it was a corporate history of the trolley car business. Exactly the stuff I needed.”

Another clue to the Doctorow process came in an interview with the National Book Foundation. “I was not the kind of writer who could walk into a party and listen to the talk and see how the people were dressed and what they were up to and who was sleeping with whom and then go home and write a story about it,” he said. “I was not given to literary realism; I was not a reporter, I needed distance, I needed a dramatized voice to work in. Whatever light came to me would have to shine through a prism of invention.”

But not invention from whole cloth – and for me this is the crux of the matter. Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, and Billy Bathgate, among others, are all rooted in historical fact. Doctorow once called World’s Fair “the most autobiographical of the books,” and said he “used myself as material for the composition, as I would use anything else from any other source.”

How much of E.L. Doctorow, the author, is in Edgar, the child narrator of World’s Fair? And how much is in Daniel, the protagonist and sometimes-narrator in The Book of Daniel? Doctorow gave each of these characters an identical experience: witnessing a horrific accident by a neighborhood school, where a playground had been carved into the side of a hill.

On a school day a Chevrolet coupe ran up the sidewalk on Weeks Avenue and knocked a woman through the chain link fence atop the high wall. With her bag of groceries she fell the two stories to the schoolyard below. She had been carrying bottles of milk. They had broken and the milk spread in pools about her body. Then her blood seeped into the milk. The front half of the car stood pushed through the fence, its wheels hanging over space and spinning ... [ambulance attendants] put her body on a stretcher and put a blanket over it. It lay there while police and doctors consulted. Then the attendants carried the body to the ambulance. I watched the woman’s arm, which had slipped off the edge of the stretcher: it bobbed in rhythm with the unhurried pace of her stretcher bearers.

That’s the World’s Fair version. The same episode is in The Book of Daniel.

Once, playing on the porch, he had seen a woman walking along the fence right here, coming home past the school. In her arms she had two bags with groceries. As he looked up and saw her, a car skidded up on the sidewalk and smashed her right through the schoolyard fence, and she disappeared. The front end of the car was stuck through the fence, and the wheels turned in the air. The police came, and there were a lot of people, and when he went across the street to look, the woman was lying down in the schoolyard; she had been carrying bottles of milk in her grocery bags, and the bottles had broken and the milk was mixed with her blood, and glass was in it. She was dead and they carried her to the Eastburn Avenue end in a stretcher, with a blanket over her, and her arm hung over the edge of the stretcher, bobbing up and down as if she was still alive.

Surely this incident is drawn from the author’s personal experience. It intrigues me that Doctorow felt free enough to use it twice (at least) in his novels. I’d love to know more; my tiny bit of preliminary research has thus far come up empty.

Parallel wordings and observations appear elsewhere in Doctorow’s work, like one in World’s Fair and Ragtime, which must come from the author’s private musings. Consider this phrasing from World’s Fair, when Edgar is in his grandma’s bedroom.

On the top of the chest was my grandma’s prayer book, her Siddur, and the cover had those Jewish letters on it that looked to me like arrangements of bones.

In Ragtime, the femme fatale Evelyn Nesbit passed through New York’s Lower East Side, and

saw stores with Hebrew signs in the windows, the Hebrew letters looking to her eyes like the arrangements of bones.

The grandma character also shows up in The Book of Daniel. Like her World’s Fair counterpart she fights a losing battle with dementia, wrongly suspects her daughter of poisoning her food, and smokes legally obtained marijuana for medicinal purposes.

And what of the handyman? He’s a big and muscular man living beneath the home of Edgar in World’s Fair (where he’s known as Smith) and Daniel in The Book of Daniel (known as Williams)? In each book he performs similar tasks, like shoveling coal, and is intimidating, in equal measure, to both young protagonists.

These are among the details I cannot help but notice and cannot help but wonder about, as I ponder the mystery of the creative process. How was Doctorow’s life, and how is any writer’s life, folded and molded, formed and reformed and reinvented into fiction? I have similar questions about Philip Roth, whose Zuckerman novels are so obviously patterned on his experiences. Yet Roth cautions against taking anything for granted. “By the time you feed this material through the meat grinder,” he told an interviewer on BBC 4, “it comes out a strange kind of hamburger, you know, which isn’t you.” Or as E.L. Doctorow put it, “There is no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction. There’s only narrative.” And no absolute answers. The examples cited here instruct and influence me; they allow me to conduct my own experiments in fiction.

In the end, what is it about the novels of E.L. Doctorow that so attracts me? One of the things I most love are those isolated sentences and paragraphs scattered throughout his work; spectacular rushes of words that astonish me. Consider this early passage in Billy Bathgate: the teenaged street urchin-narrator, a fledgling criminal, is about to be attacked and beaten by his envious street urchin friends. His sin? Catching the eye of Dutch Schultz, the notorious gangster, who sees promise in him and has given him a ten-dollar bill.

“Watch this,” I said, holding forth the bill but really extending my arms to hold the circle, because before the attack comes there is a kind of crowding movement, an encroachment on the natural territorial rights of the body; and taking the crisp bill in my fingers I folded it once lengthwise, and once again, and then tightly twice more to the size of a postage stamp and then I did a hocus-pocus pass of the hands over each other, snapped my fingers, and the ten-dollar bill was gone. Oh you miserable fucking louts, that I ever needed to attach myself to your wretched company, you thieves of the five-and-ten, you poking predators of your own little brothers and sisters, you dumbbells, that you could aspire to a genius life of crime, with your dead witless eyes, your slack chins, and the simian slouch of your spines – fuck you forever, I consign you to tenement rooms and bawling infants, and sluggish wives and a slow death of incredible subjugation, I condemn you to petty crimes and mean rewards and vistas of cell block to the end of your days. “Look!” I cried, pointing up, and they tracked my hand, expecting to see me pluck the bill out of the air, as I had so often their coins and steelies and rabbits’ feet, and in the instant of their credulity, as they stared upward at nothing, I ducked under the circle and ran like hell.

By the early 1950s the unpublished Doctorow had graduated from Kenyon College and was an Army veteran. An abandoned novel sat in his desk drawer. He was near a turning point. From 1955 to 1959 he worked as a reader for CBS TV and Columbia Pictures. He read a novel per day, many of them Westerns, and wrote a summary of each. “I knew how many bad books were being published,” he said. “I thought I could lie about the west better than the people I was reading.” His 1960 debut novel Welcome to Hard Times resulted from this insight – but it was not a typical Western, and deliberately so. “What intrigued me finally was the idea of taking a disreputable genre and making something out of it, writing quite seriously in counterpoint to the reader’s expectations.”

Doctorow biographers will probably make much of an episode from his high school days, when the future novelist wrote in counterpoint to the expectations of an English assignment to find and describe a colorful person.

Doctorow soon delivered a brief biography of Carl, a doorman at Carnegie Hall who had escaped the Holocaust and came to work every day with a thermos full of tea, which he drank Old-Europe style, through a cube of sugar held between the teeth. The great classical musicians of the day, like Vladimir Horowitz, adored the guy.

Edgar’s teacher was so enamored of the piece that she told him she wanted to photograph Carl and run the picture, along with the story, in the school newspaper.

“You can’t do that to Carl,” Doctorow replied.

“Why not?” asked the teacher.

“Well, he’s very shy,” he said.

“What do you mean, he’s shy? He talked to you, didn’t he?”

“Not really,” Doctorow confessed. “There is no Carl. I made him up.”

She slashed an F across the story.

Recalling this years later, Doctorow said, “It seemed to me so much more sensible to make something up than go through the tedious business of interviewing someone. I was just a kid and so maybe I was scared that no one would want to talk to me. And I figured that if there wasn’t a Carl the doorman, there should have been.”

As an editor at Dial Press Doctorow acquired William Kennedy’s first novel, The Ink Truck, and the two became lifelong friends. “Ed was at the very top level of American writing and I think of him as one of the successors to Faulkner,” Kennedy said, not long after Doctorow’s death. “I feel something has gone out of American life with Ed gone and the other great writers we’ve lost.” He meant Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen, and several others. “In a certain sense, those were the guys I was talking to when I was writing. We were having long conversations with each other and the world in our novels.”

Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate and World’s Fair are among those rare books I can, and do, re-read every few years. Their influence continues. By reading and re-reading his work, and trying to get inside of it, E.L. Doctorow became one of my great writing instructors. Confession: I have yet to read most of his later novels. One of them, The March (2005), is on my bookshelf. I’ve picked it up and put it down before. It’s about time to pick it up again.


Is this essay an Appreciation, or Homage? It was written, in fits and starts, between October 2015 and May 2016.

[*] I could probably have described this more succinctly, but I wanted to include this less-succinct excerpt from The Writing Life to correct an irritating error: Ragtime is set not in the Depression, but 1906. Sorry to be such a bitch, but I couldn’t resist pointing that out. The Ragtime character in question, known only as “Tateh,” was in fact fleeing himself, and what he perceived as personal failure.





Thursday, November 9, 2017

Punch the Clock

Keep shaking the tree and something is bound to fall. Eventually.

My tree-shaking job search has landed me in a call center – where I am a tech support “agent” at a huge multinational concern. (That may or may not be me at right, on my first day on the job. I think it is, but cant remember for sure.) I’ve gone from a tiny company in a modern office to a sprawling behemoth of a corporation – in reality, a dingy pressure cooker that, if nothing else, is at least much closer to home than my last gig.

The job is actually quite grueling, with a far greater learning curve than I anticipated. Each day for the last few weeks (as this is written) I have come home drained and shellshocked.

Admittedly, there have been moments where I’ve had the gratification of actually helping someone with some minor technical issue (all I’m trained for at this stage).

But there have been many more that, confounded by a question, I was unable to help a caller. Certain queries have left me totally perplexed. The stress rises, and afterward I am left with the sensation of having been pistol-whipped.

It’s better than no job at all.

I had about three days of training, followed by a few days of “shadowing” experienced techs. After that I was thrown to the wolves. At this stage only the simplest calls are supposed to be routed to me. But harder ones slip through. I think we’ve all button-pressed our way through a maze of phone prompts, finally selecting whatever option will get us to a human. On occasion, the human doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Will Write For Food

Over the last month or so I’ve been job-hunting, and finding it an endlessly discouraging process.

It’s an odd paradox: I have never been more confident in my writing-editing skills, yet am beginning to feel almost unemployable, in part because my virtual self is so unimpressive.

This post, though, is not meant as self-pitying drivel. Something will pan out sooner or later, all for the better.

No, I really just wanted to comment on the zany world of job sites – chiefly Indeed.com and ZipRecruiter.

I used Indeed.com about four years ago during the search that led to the position from which I got laid off about a month ago (though I came to that job via another site). I’d never heard of Indeed before. Now I’m seeing a lot of their ads on the tube, as I watch the MLB playoffs and other major (i.e. costly advertising time) sporting events.

Indeed and Zip have both matched me to some promising stuff, though nothing has yet clicked.

But they – Indeed, in particular – have also made some utterly incomprehensible matches. My track record is just about 100% writing and editing. In addition to feasible postings, Indeed has matched me to possible jobs for which I’m not qualified and have no interest in: real estate inspector, an executive position, editor for a quilting publication (quilting knowledge required), and an internship at an investment firm. There have been a few entry-level writing jobs, too.

Oh – I might also be a bagel maker, or a baker in a grocery store chain.

Go fig-ya.

I am primarily self-educated. To put it another way: a college dropout, and proud of it. The only downside is when I have to fill out employment applications. Let’s just say it doesn’t look good when, for “highest level of education completed,” I have to select “high school diploma/GED” from a dropdown list.

I also spent a bunch of years as a stay-at-home dad, so there’s a big gap in my employment record. Between diaper changes I managed to write a book, and even get it published. Most employers don’t give a shit, even when they say they want to hire a writer.

I suspect that all they see is no degree, and a yawning hole in formal employment.

Like I said, my virtual presence is not particularly impressive. Boo-hoo-hoo!




Saturday, September 30, 2017

Trump, Yet Again

Every time I think Trump, the president in name only, cannot outdo himself in unadulterated asshole-ism, I am proven wrong by the Dumpster himself.

It is Saturday morning, Sept. 30, as I write this, and word of Trump’s Twitter tantrum against San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is just coming in. This is a woman who has been seen on national and international television over the last day or two, pleading for help, in the aftermath of the catastrophe of Hurricane Maria.

“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” she said. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”

Can it get any more direct than that?

The “you” she referred to is, presumably, Trump. And surprise surprise, that cretin couldn’t take this justifiable criticism. “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” he tweeted this morning.

So she’s a nasty woman. Nasty.

I should not be surprised. I’m not surprised. This man has repeatedly demonstrated, with his own words and deeds, his complete lack of humanity. There is no point recounting any of it.

As I understand it, the main issue in Puerto Rico right now is one of distribution. Nevertheless - assuming you don’t have a truck you can spare, and get to Puerto Rico - I encourage you to make a monetary donation. I don’t know the best place to donate; I don’t trust most of them. The Red Cross reportedly helped Josef Mengele and other Nazi war criminals escape Germany.

But of course, this is not the time for such concerns. The Sierra Club claims 100% of donations made to their site will go to hurricane recovery. I made a small donation. I’ll trust them and hope for the best.

You can Google “Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico donations” or something similar. Or, you can check out the Sierra Club site:

Sierra Club donation site

Trump’s idiocy:



Sunday, September 24, 2017

Unmarked Grave

There is no headstone on my father’s grave, only a simple marker thrust in the ground. No name, no dates of birth or death, this generic marker merely implies his service in the Navy. It looks plastic, although I did not touch it.

He’s been dead for a year. The lack of a headstone, I am told, is only temporary, the predictable consequence of red tape. It is the inaction of officialdom, which is footing the bill.

It’s a quaint little boneyard, tranquil even; a setting the words “final resting place” might conjure. I paid my first visit there recently. Or, my first since last year’s funeral. My father (or his earthly remains) is spending eternity at the foot of a gentle slope alongside headstones marked Kennedy, Manz, and Anger. This last is surrounded by plants with long spiny leaves resembling a strain of yucca. They seemed out of place, more appropriate to an arid, western climate. (Perhaps you can tell I don’t know much about plant life.)

I remembered approximately where the gravesite was, but still wandered around for five or ten minutes, searching. Finally some guy approached me. “Can I help you?”

He’d pulled up in a car a few minutes earlier, as I ambled among rows of headstones. The cemetery was otherwise deserted. As I strolled, I reminded myself to respect the dead and not step directly on anyone’s grave.

The guy turned out to be a member of the cemetery’s Board of Directors. He guided me to the grave I sought.

There are a couple of large stones a few feet from my father’s grave. The site did not need weeding or watering, so I took a seat on one. I did not speak to or commune with my dad’s spirit. I just soaked in the atmosphere, reflecting on a long and full life that had been lived, and enjoyed, and now was over.










Saturday, September 9, 2017

Grocery List

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my father’s death.

I’m heading back to the Detroit area for a few days soon. That’s where he lived much of his life, and that’s where he died. Aside from the funeral, it will be the first time Ive been to his grave.

My father was creeping up on 89 years old when he breathed his last. His health and mobility had declined dramatically over a period of less than two years. I can’t be sure, but I think he was ready to go.


I don’t have much in the way of fatherly memorabilia. But most of his stuff remains in the house his widow still occupies; maybe I’ll be able to pick something up.

On several occasions I’ve had to rummage through the personal effects of someone who recently died, and been encouraged to choose something as a keepsake. Sifting through a lifetime’s worth of someone’s stuff: what a strange experience. Once was for my paternal grandmother, and the other my maternal grandfather - oddly symmetrical, it seems.

In the case of my grandmother, I chose a small cut glass clock that didn’t work. Honestly, I did not want that artifact, but was pressed to choose something. It has resided on my daughter’s dresser ever since.

From my grandfather’s stuff, I chose an old union booklet. This struck some as a little peculiar, but it had, and still has, an odd value to me. He belonged to the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. His dues were all paid up.

A few years later I came into possession of one of his awls. I’m not a carpenter, but it’s perfect for rounding out the inside of brake and shifter cable housing on bikes. They compress when cut.

What about my dad?

There was no great purge of worldly possessions (at least, not when I was around). There isn’t much I want, frankly.

I already value a slip of paper I found tucked into one of my books (Ironweed). I must have shoved it in there as a bookmark once, during a visit. It is a most trivial thing: my dad’s grocery list from four or five years ago. But it means something to me, perhaps because it is so commonplace.

The physical objects our forebears leave behind may serve as memory triggers, but far more important is how they’re imprinted on our psyches. For most of us, our parents are encoded into our brains. We carry them in our heads, cradle to grave – and that is what matters most.








Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Real Donald Trump

His Twitter handle is, “real Donald Trump.”

Well, we got to see the real Donald Trump on August 15, in a press conference from Trump Tower. There isn’t much I can add to the megatons of criticism that is, quite properly, raining down on this morally bankrupt pig.

I’m going to add to it anyway. Heather Heyer could have been my daughter.

A recurring phrase among his supporters has been, “Let Trump be Trump.” They’ve done just that, and the results are as repulsive and horrifying as they are predictable.

The Internet was down at work on the day of Trump’s presser, so we all got to leave early. Was home in time to see the disgusting spectacle, live on MSNBC. This repugnant filth, this so-called president, all but formally repudiated his condemnation of the racist thugs who rallied in Virginia a few days earlier.

I won’t re-hash it. But make no mistake – as if you could – those neo-Nazis in Charlottesville brought all the trimmings, from swastikas to sieg heil salutes.

They rallied with torches on Friday night. On Saturday, Heather Heyer was struck and killed by a car that deliberately plowed into protestors. Yet Trump said: “I think there is blame on both sides.”

A CNN analysis, published without a byline, cast Tuesdays press conference as “a moment ripped from the darkest pages of history and transposed into the 21st Century.” No argument with that. It concluded: “[Trump] appears to have abdicated any claim to the traditional presidential role as a moral voice for the nation and the world.”

Uh, no. Donald Trump has never had, and never will have, even the tiniest claim as a moral voice for the nation or the world.

My daughter has already been to an anti-Trump demonstration, at which I photographed a Trump thug-in-waiting (see below). She turns twenty in a few days. My heart breaks for Heather Heyer, for Susan Bro, for Mark Heyer, for Elwood Shrader.

We have seen the real Donald Trump. He is a moral degenerate.




Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blood On His Hands

Trump’s utter failure to call the appalling violence in Charlottesville, Virginia what is was is not the least surprising.

The death of a thirty-two year old woman was directly related, and the deaths of two state troopers in a helicopter crash was ancillary, to clashes between neo-Nazis and counter-protestors. The neo-Nazi terrorists came to Charlottesville for a “unite the right” rally, called because city officials planned to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public park.

They also came to provoke.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump at a news conference a few hours after the deaths. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”

On many sides? David Duke and other known racists spoke to the neo-Nazis. Trump failed to condemn them. He made zero reference to the neo-Nazi terrorists, and their clearly racist and hate-filled agenda. His reference to Barack Obama was apropos of nothing. His remarks expose his complete lack of leadership, as well as his indifference to, and ignorance of, social realities in the United States.

As if we needed further proof.

From what I saw, the white nationalists came to Charlottesville with helmets and other protective gear, like bulletproof vests. Many of them were probably also armed. I don’t know that for sure, though one who was arrested had a concealed weapon. Clearly the intention was at very least to incite violence.

It’s reprehensible, though not surprising, that Trump went straight to “don’t blame me!” rhetoric. At that time no one had blamed him. But blame him we should. He knows perfectly well that he furthered the toxic and divisive environment that led to the Charlottesville deaths.

He only condemned the violence because politically, he had no choice. This racist, divisive fraud could not care less about what happened, and the root causes he almost single-handedly provoked.

At left is thirty-two year old Heather Heyer, the woman killed when a neo-Nazi thug deliberately plowed his car into protestors. Less than twenty-four hours ago, as this is written, she was alive. Her name belongs now with Goodman Chaney Schwerner, Emmett Till, and countless others, who died needless deaths because of white racists. Her blood, and the blood of the two state troopers, is on Trumps hands.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Systemic Evil

“The truth is out,” wrote Julian Zelizer, after the Senate failed to pass even the so-called skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act. “Nobody is in control of this show.”

Nobody.

On the day of the Trump inauguration, I posted the following to my Facebook page:
Today is a watershed moment in American history. I have nothing but a sense of foreboding for the next four to eight years.

Yesterday I came across a 1999 article by James W. Douglass called A Letter to the American People,” which states in part:

“Two prophets, a president, and a president-to-be were martyred between November 1963 and June 1968, four and a half years that raised some of the greatest hopes in American history. Has our downward spiral ever since as a people, from hope to despair, from faith in change to an acceptance of systemic evil, been because we haven’t recognized the truth of those martyrdoms, bound up as they were with unspeakable forces that continue to threaten us all?”

Douglass refers, of course, to JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X.

It is tempting to view today’s events in Washington as a logical product of those four martyrdoms, and of that subsequent downward spiral. Certainly it is an ascension of systemic evil.

But I also sense resistance: a very real pushback against this systemic evil. I won’t be in DC tomorrow, but I’ll be in Denver, in solidarity with what I expect to be a very large crowd of resisters.

I recall the words of Faruq Z. Bey:

Is it midnight yet?
Are our fears to go ungrounded?
When are the demons to present themselves?

The next day I was, indeed, in Denver, where at least 100,000 people demonstrated against the new “president.” An exhilarating experience: part of a global protest against the most unfit office-holder in U.S. history. Millions took part, worldwide.

Trump has, in the months since, repeatedly demonstrated his incompetence. Now, in late July, it seems like the administration is coming apart at the seams. A word like “dysfunctional” is not strong enough to characterize it.

I get the sense that there is growing opposition to Trump within the Republican establishment. There appears to have been a successful effort to prevent ACA repeal. They’ll try again. Certainly, it is difficult not to sense, however distant it may still be, victory over this vulgar, manifestly unqualified, grotesquely substandard, transparently corrupt caricature of a president.




Friday, July 21, 2017

The Stuff of Dictators

Six months into what, with luck, will be a single, truncated term for an illegitimate president, I still find it difficult to write that illegitimate president’s name. This seems fairly common. I often see references to “45,” or “Drumpf.”

Trump, the imposter, campaigned on a handful of vague ideas, like building that idiotic wall and barring people he doesn’t like from entering the country. The last remaining hope for his travel ban is the Supreme Court – weighted in his favor, thanks to GOP duplicity.

He also pledged to “drain the swamp.” The DC ecosystem hasn’t changed much; certainly not for the better. The White House is itself a biohazard, oozing toxic sewage.

As this is written, the GOP plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act has apparently crashed and burned, perhaps for the last time. Let’s hope so. Yet what can you say about a party and a president who are, to date, unable to pass a single significant bill – in spite of controlling the White House, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court?

The indefatigable Trump requires someone to blame. He tweeted that “we” were “let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans.”

Later, in a rare non-tweeted remark, he said, “We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they’re going to say how do we fix it?”

This is his idea of leadership?

For nearly a year, I’ve been using this minuscule LUNG forum to vent my frustrations, resentment, and even rage at this fraud, beginning with a post in August 2016. I titled that one “President Trump,” at a time when joining those two words seemed obscene, even menacing. They are still obscene and menacing.

Since it has become a reality, I have continued. Almost no one reads these posts – certainly not Trump supporters. It’s fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun. But I must continue, for all the good it doesn’t do.

Along the way I’ve become a fan of Charles M. Blow, the New York Times columnist, who has been using his vastly influential position to really go after Trump. “I don’t trust anything — anything! — coming out of this White House,” he wrote last May, in a column titled “Trump is Insulting Our Intelligence.”

I anticipate each new Charles Blow column, even though he’s mostly preaching to the choir. I see him from time to time as a talking head on MSNBC or CNN. He was interviewed recently on Charlie Rose, that PBS interview program. Blow said he isn’t trying to change anyone’s mind, so much as bear witness. I guess that's what I am doing, too.

I love Charles M. Blow's stuff, but it doesn’t square with my conception of the mainstream media, which ordinarily is part of the problem. Maybe his and similar columns suggest the Establishment is trying to undo what Blow called the most significant mistake the country has ever made.


If I was a newspaper reporter, working in the context of a 1940s movie, and I was writing what I’m writing right now, I’d have to tear the paper from my Smith Corona, crumple it up, and toss it, exasperated, into the wastebasket.

There would be a cigarette dangling from my lips, and atop my head, a stylish fedora pushed back at a rakish angle. Thered be coffee, black coffee – lots of it – and a bottle of not-very-good scotch concealed in my desk drawer.

But I’m not a reporter in a 1940s movie, I’m writing this silly blog post – so I don’t have to trash what I’ve got so far and start over. Yet that is the temptation, as I hear (via Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell) that Trump is toying with the idea of pardons – for aides, for family members, and himself.

It may only be a trial balloon – but that’s the stuff of dictators.

Anyway it’s nearly three o’clock, as you can see, and I’m on deadline. What do I make of this latest development? How do I handle it? What will Perry White say?

We live in interesting times.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Say No More


“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”


“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.”


Hubris is extreme pride and arrogance shown by a character that ultimately brings about his downfall.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Olo Boiler Welding

That thing that looks like a big green cube in the photo below is really a historic old building in downtown Denver.

It’s located near the city’s Union Station transit terminal. I pass it almost every day on my way to work. The photo was taken from a moving bus in early July 2017, using my cell phone.

The building began to intrigue me a year or so ago. I really love these old brick buildings. For me, they evoke great nostalgia, like a Scott Joplin rag.

I became so fascinated with this building that one Saturday morning on my day off, I took the bus to Union Station, my bike on the cowcatcher in front, and rode the four or five blocks to this building to check it out. I took more than seventy pictures, a few of them shown here.

Later I tried to find out something about the building. Even though it’s a registered historic landmark, and has been since 1986, I couldn’t find a scrap of information. (And I thought Google was infinitely powerful!)

It is, or once was, called the Olo Boiler Building - whatever that means. That’s about all I know.

After taking all those pictures, I rode my bike home. It took about two hours.

Now, a year later, that old redbrick building is draped in green, and its immediate surroundings are deeply excavated. I don’t know what the work is all about, but I’m glad to see the building is being preserved.