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Monday
Aug142017

Insomniacs for Trump

Driving long distances used to be such fun but now I drive hoping the time passes as quickly as possible; in this case, driving from San Francisco to Cody, Wyoming with a sweet 4-day layover in Salt Lake City for the birth of my new gradndaughter, Marley Ann Roddan. Too much of my time on the road now is spent pondering Donald Trump and his perverted grip on the American body politic. No matter how hard I whip the Volvo I can't quite get away from images of the Presidential tanning booth, the American flag lapel pin, the blond quasi-ducktail, the scowl, the little white shark teeth, no matter how hard I hammer the accleerator.

The Volvo finally hits its stride right around Lovelock, Nevada, resting place of the potty-trained OJ Simpson, out of the slammer in October, unless he screws up again and robs a 7-11. And then, before we know it, we're spending the night in Elko at The Stockman's Casino and Lodge downtown, favored casino of the sleepless--mostly young extraction-industry slaves and old people with wizened tattoos and Marlboro Lights hanging tiredly out of the corners of their mouths just like the old days. It's here, sleepless myself, wakened by the paroxsym of neon seeping up through the bottom hem of the curtains in my room, having come down to the casino at 2 am with the book I'm reading ("Rising Tide" by John Barry, a history of the great 1927 flood of the Mississippi) and the little notebook that I scribble in should I hear or see anything interesting, that I first get a whiff of Donald Trump's America.

The Trump gang is down here all right, seranded by bad music and stupid laughter, jumping up and down to the sound of slot machines and video poker.

I find the bar and order a bottle of Sierra Nevada, then retire to a chair in the lobby so that I may read and observe the behavior of my fellow insomniacs, being thoughtfully unobstrusive so that my observations not alter their natural thoughtlessness. But first I must turn on the light, a floor lamp stationed beside the chair I have chosen. 

I flip the switch; no light. I check to make sure the lamp has a bulb; it does but perhaps it's burnt out. The lamp's a perfect metaphor for Donald Trump's America: slowly, slowly enough not to notice, things don't seem to work or don't work as well as they once worked. I ask the girl at the front desk. "I don't know," she says, shrugging her shoulders. "Housekeeping doesn't come on until 6. There's plenty of light in the casino. Why don't you just read in there?"Great idea, I think, and why don't you get a real job instead of working the graveyard shift at this seedy palace of losers, but then again it's hard to get a good job with an 8th grade education.

And so I re-visit the lamp, being a sovereign American, a man of true entrepreneurial instincts, and see that it's not plugged in, plug it in, turn the light on, plump myself down in the chair, read my book for fifteen minutes or so, drinking the beer slowly so as to have time to consider and re-consider Donald Trump in the midst of his  milieu.

Of course people like these people like Trump! What's not to admire? They're just like him, only he's their master, the one who made a fortune building unhealthy environments like this one, toxic from the ground up, where they can smoke and drink to their heart's content and drive home drunk and happy, before passing out completly in front of a tv tuned to one of the 24-hour news channels. 

I take another sip of the Sierra Nevada. Tony Orlando and Dawn are playing on the casino loudspeakers, music of the 1980's. A group of silver miners trundle through the front door, looking at me like I'm crazy for reading a book. And I am crazy, having survived Nixon, Reagan, Bush; and now surviving Trump! I'm so crazy I think it's quite possible that in two or three hundred years democracy will be seen as great a scourge as Christianity is seen now.

And I'm having unhealthy thoughts in this unhealthy environment! Like this one: yes we were 'given' Donald Trump, but Donald Trump was 'given' us as well. I'm not sure who got the most out of the bargain.

Sunday
Aug062017

Hunter S. Thompson

The journalist invented the politician so he'd have someone to look down on. I think Mencken said something like this, though it might have been Hunter S.Thompson.

You can read Thompson's book, Generation of Swine, as I am, for the title alone as it's oddly comforting. The short dispatches that compose the book, most of them written for the then very progressive SF Examiner in the mid-to-late 1980's, are little vignettes of how-to-survive in Hunter S. Thompson's self-styled apocalypse.

The 1980's were time of big time gang warfare led by right-wing lunatics; the era of Christian hypocrites, lousy Presidents, prolonged foreign excursions, bi-furcated cultural stand-offs between the half-educated and those with no education at all, media opportunists, 24-hour news cable television...Thompson's dispatches pretty much cover the waterfront.

I get the feeling from reading Generation of Swine that Hunter S. Thompson's still around, and that his voice is still vital. It's sort of sad feeling I suppose, though it's also a kind of tribute to feel this way, for what more can be asked of a writer?

Tuesday
Aug012017

On seeing a picture of Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry

We ought to be consoled by the thought that this part of history too will disappear and what will come of it will be an account of history, many accounts, written by intelligent people about the intelligent and unintelligent people who became our leaders. From this perspective, the words hope and change now actually mean something.

Why must we always be the ones thinking, what's the right thing to do? And why can't we get this question out of our minds. Why is it that so many of us at the time we're doing this thinking are also thinking that there must be something wrong with us.

How much of our lives are spent not wanting too know, and how much demanding the truth? This must be one of those questions that's worth asking because there's no real answer, though by asking it we give ourselves a chance to become better people.

Sunday
Jul302017

Reading through a pile of The New Yorker(s)

I must acknowledge The New Yorker for taking on this new President with such syncopated vehemence, a drum-beat from the editor on down, but after reading through a stack of magazines the other night it began to sound like listening to two people of like minds talking to themselves over coffee: you know what they're going to say before they say it. I'm not sure though how much new information can ever be gleaned from the constant examination of pre-existing conditions. To the liberal mind Trump is a nightmare, having pretty much scrambled all the usual, once reliable signals, but to be dismissive is to miss the point.

What's missing is the other side. And it's not just The New Yorker, it's the whole tribe (The New York Review of Books et.al) telling the same story, aghast but in the dulcet tones of the English language taught at proper university's and then refined in the rarefied atmosphere of high-paying journalism. I can almost see the writers writing, shaking their heads as they write, getting up to stretch their legs, meeting colleagues in the hallway also shaking their heads. Trump is a liar, and he's vulgar, and worse he has no respect for the office, the institution of the presidency. It's a disaster. They've never seen anything like it. And so on.

I yearn to know what it's like to be a Trump man or a Trump woman. To get inside the mind of at least one person who voted for Trump, like one of the ones I see on tv, wildly cheering at a Trump rally in Ohio. Fox News really doesn't give it to me, partly because I don't trust Fox News, it's over-managed propaganda with reporters wound-up by management to spew the party line and with anchor people who dine with the POTUS. Nor does C-SPAN deliver, as much as I appreciate C-SPAN. C-SPAN relies almost exclusively on visuals, cinema verite-esque, witholding the actual language of those it films. And CNN and the others are making record-profits on Trump, which no doubt tints the color of their coverage.

So what would this Trump voter say if he or she were to speak to me and I were to listen? 

Brooks, what if you knew you were going to lose no matter what you did. That no matter what you did it would never be enough to make you happy or equal to others above you or free from worry about money?

I suspect he or she would say things like, I'm in a great deal of pain, the pretty picture I was drawn of America does not match up with the reality. I'm getting nowhere no matter how hard I try. 

I don't know this for sure, but the moment I try to construct a narrative for this thing I can't understand--that Trump won the presidency in this case--I feel  a little clearer about the situation, having at least tried to see how things look from a perspective so different from mine (thinking this way also permits me to understand wealthy Republicans who voted for Trump because they just plain don't like government, or paying more than the tiniest, tiniest bit for it).

In Mississippi recently, a red state, I drove through town after town that had lost their downtowns. The charming old buildings--drugstore, furniture store, dress shop--were boarded up, vacant. "They're never coming back," said my friends who live in Mississippi. In the little town of Ruleville there was a statue of the civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977). A black woman, at one time a sharecropper, victim of more than one police beating, recipient of a hysterectomy without her consent by a white doctor as part of the state of Mississippi's plan to reduce the number of poor blacks, Hamer once said, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." Most likely the people who voted for Trump feel something like Fannie Lou Hamer felt, perhaps with less reason or logic for feeling it, though I wouldn't know from reading The New Yorker.

Saturday
Jul292017

An old notebook of the present

I think it was Henry Miller who said that we don't have to make earth a paradise, it already is one, we just have to make ourselves fit to live in it.

Somewhere Nietzsche wrote, "our descriptions are better, but we do not explain any more than our predecessors." I'd written this in one of my old notebooks, failing to note which Nietzche text I was reading at the time, and so not able now to attest to its attribution, but am pretty sure that he was referring to previous stages of mankind's history. 

I'm very glad I've kept almost all of my old notebooks, beginning from the late 1970's. They're oddly consoling now.

The thought came to me last night that democracy is best considered not so much as a form of government but as a concept that gives us just enough to believe in, teasing us toward our better natures. The moment I wrote this in my notebook I became calmer, less worried about present political circumstances.