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Friday, February 26, 2010


As with the terrible verbal crime committed recently by Rahm Emanuel against Mrs. Palin and her son (Google “retarded”), breaking news requires that DBD set aside its regularly scheduled post. Tiger Woods has at last emerged from his long night of the soul. Finally he has shared with a rapt world his guilt, his acceptance of his guilt, and more of his guilt. It would be wrong just to continue on our frivolous way, as though nothing had happened. We trust you understand.

Anyone on the planet who has not watched Tiger in this important moment in his life and in the life of golf and in the lives of twelve or fifteen of his sex partners, and his wife and mom, and his endorsement sponsors is either conducting research deep below the earth’s crust, or is suffering from a terminal illness, and has elected in favor of cryogenic suspension.

Commentators are divided in their reactions. One school of thought points to Tiger’s lack of emotion while delivering his remarks, presenting himself in the stoic pose of someone unaccustomed to waiting in lines, but resigned to the indignity. These analysts see Tiger as a narcissist displaying the self-absorption typical of such people. So viewed, he is devoid of any actual concern for his wife, children, or the team of sexual athletes whose studio glossies (we must assume his choices are confined to women in show business) figured relentlessly during the color commentary.

The other school or view (I was going to say position, but that would almost certainly be seized on by cynics and the prurient in unintended ways) sees Tiger as having made the first, painful step on a long journey--on foot, not in a Buick--down the cart path leading eventually to redemption.

These folks see in Tiger’s performance a young man whose jacket was suitably dark, the somber effect offset by a tasteful dress shirt open at the collar. They are satisfied he thus established an image both serious and informal, as befits the world’s most successful—for now—philanderer. They believe what they heard, and were moved by the embrace he gave his mother after proving to her he wasn’t just about golf, but could also read. Presumably, they also thought it made perfect sense for him to work from a script, never deviate from it, and refuse to take questions.

These people almost certainly enjoyed President Bush’s press conferences, conducted in the same manner, and occurring with about the same frequency as Woods’ apologies.

My own view favors the narcissism theory, but with modifications. First, narcissism is a great word. Seeing a public figure described as a narcissist appeals to me, because I am a narcissist. Especially when I am on the treadmill, looking at myself in the mirror in front of me. But I am not a narcissist when I glance to my right and see myself mirrored in profile.

But aside from being a great word, using “narcissism” to describe Tiger Woods lends to this whole issue a medical or diagnostic aspect. Like “sex addiction,” it contributes to the story what might be called “gravitas.” That is, high seriousness. I want the news to communicate matters of importance, so I think it’s better if coverage of Tiger Woods is treated this way.

But I must add that I think the really gravitas issue is being neglected: if Tiger Woods hadn’t been caught, either by his wife or by all the people making a living off the story, what would any of it matter?

I happen to believe Tiger thinks this as well. At last alone in his massive walk-in closet—his favorite place--hanging up his dark sport coat and then changing into a polo shirt bearing the logo of whatever company he still has a contract with, I see him looking narcissistically into his mirror and asking, “What’s the problem? How am I supposed to feel anything? I know golf really well, that’s all. I’m the best, but anyone watching knows I hate the game. The crowds--disgusting. Ever see me smile on the course? How about the fist jabs at the sky when I sink a put, or win—do I look like a happy camper to you? As far as the rest of it goes, I don’t know shit from Shinola about all this moral crap, all this role-model BS. From the age of six, dad was on my case about one thing. Golf. And that’s what I know now, so give me a break.”

Afterthought: You have to wonder how much story this would be, were we talking about Eldrick instead of Tiger. That’s Woods’ given name. “Today, Eldrick Woods broke his silence” just doesn’t have the same newsworthiness, does it? It’s a little like what happens when you drop the catchy nickname used by the former governor of Massachusetts in favor of his real name, Willard.

Eldrick Tont Woods and Willard Mitt Romney—now there’s a dream ticket for you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Barbara’s temp job as a movie extra led to good times for DBD. Among them were stories related to a crime film being made at one of the many defunked plants in the Detroit area.

--The set was fantastic, just amazing. Urban sinister at its best.
--We do that well here.
--Across from where we parked, there was this long, sort of outdoor corridor between huge warehouses. Like an alley, but wide. Looming. Then, inside, these wide, dingy halls. But it was a hard day.
--How so?
--I’m just glad I went to the bathroom before I joined the others. Five hours, and not one break.
--Why not?
--I don’t know. Maybe because it’s an indie film and they don’t have any money.
--You need to budget for pee breaks? Porta-potties can’t cost much to rent.
--You asked, I don’t know. But the crew worked very hard, I can tell you that. They were all very focused.
--And no catering? Nothing to eat? In the credits, they always mention the caterer.
--Nothing. But I went to the bathroom first, so that was good. The ladies room in one of the warehouses fit perfectly. It had an ancient granite floor, old-style wooden stalls. The kind people put graffiti on so they have to be painted over and over.
--Then what?
--Then I went in to register. You have to show them ID to prove you’re a Michigan resident. I think for income tax purposes. Then we went to “holding.”
--That’s what they called it?
--Holding, yes. A room with folding chairs, very sparse. Dirty, grungy. I added my suitcase to the others. In the end, what I had on was fine, I never put on anything else. And it was so cold.
--Inside it was cold.
--No no, the shoot was outside. In that long, looming space between the warehouses. It wasn’t a real windy day, but this space worked just like a wind tunnel.
--What took so long?
--I don’t know. It’s very complicated, setting up for a scene. But I think I’ll end up being in the final version of this one. I was part of a group of four.
--You mean a group of coordinated gawkers.
--That’s right. Plus lots of police, detectives, CSI people. I think some of them might have been real police.
--How so?
--They had three actual squad cars with lights flashing. And some of the guys really looked like cops. I bet they do that, don’t you think? Lease cop cars from the local police, and hire some of the cops for the movie?
--In all, how many gawkers were there?
--I’d say about sixty. But our four were used to represent the gawkers as a whole.
--You said Ron Perlman’s the star.
--Right. You know who he is?
--I remember him from the last of the Alien movies. Alien Resurrection. He was in it with your hero, Sigourney Weaver. And Wynona Rider.
--I remember, she played an ingĂ©nue robot. She’s that actress who was caught shoplifting, isn’t she? I wonder what happened to her. I bet she’s one of those people in show business who came from a dysfunctional hippie family. A family that lived in a van or bus.
--You mean a hippy shoplifting family.
--You know what I mean. She’s not ambitious. I bet she just dropped out.
--Hippies are ambitious, just not in the usual way.
--How are they ambitious?
--Well, you know. To get high and own land in the remoter sections of New Mexico or Oregon. But tell me about Ron Perlman. I think he’s in some cable show about bikers.
--That fits, he really does look tough. I would be terrified of him in life.
--As opposed to art.
--As opposed to freezing next to him for hours. Watching him doing nothing but being Ron Perlman freezing. He seemed nice enough. Just like Sigourney Weaver.
--You mean the way someone asked her for an autograph and she was nice about it.
--You could just tell he was nice in a similar way. That young girl who asked Sigourney for an autograph, she was just star-struck. “Not now, dear, maybe later. I’m working.” That was just so appealing of her, so classy, don’t you think?
--It was a good way to handle it.
--Except I don’t see a star-struck person asking Ron for an autograph. I see someone with serious problems. “Hi, Mister Perlman, I was wondering if you could beat me up.”
--“Not now, miss, maybe later.” So, your gang of four had the key gawker assignment.
--I was the oldest, I had the grandmother part.
--OK, that’s, good, that’s fine. This could be big for you. Your breakthrough. Crave could be the featured indie movie at the Sundance Film Festival.
--It could be, that’s true. Robert Redford sees the movie. He starts pointing…. “I want… No, not that one… No… There, freeze frame it right there, the grandmother who dropped the bag of groceries. I want her for my next film.”
--In no time, you’ll start calling him Bob.
--Right, and he’ll call me… GiGi. Instead of Grandma Geezer. Oh, Chelsea, I forgot about you, sweetie—
--Forgive her, Chelsea. It’s an old story in show business, the total self-absorption. They lose track of friends, family, even their dogs. It’s just the price of art, it goes with the territory.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Because of cheap coolie labor now available all over the world, added to which are the huge tax breaks offered to foreign car makers by southern states conveniently hostile to unions, the former car capital of the world—Michigan--has had to take drastic steps. Among them are tax breaks, offered not to foreign companies, but to our domestic film industry. The result has been a blizzard of movies being made in the state. Before we left for Florida, Barbara worked in several.

--Are you excited about tomorrow?
--I guess I am. Yes, I am. I’m looking forward to it.
--And the title again?
--Crave. It’s a crime story. I appear in a murder scene.
--One of several, or just the one?
--One what?
--Murder scenes. I see you have your little costume bag all packed.
--I don’t know how many murders take place. They said to bring four or five different outfits. So they can choose.
--Maybe one for each homicide. And you’re cast in the role of a gawker.
--Watch the mockery, please. Extras aren’t “cast” and you know it.
--What else is it, then? You’re a member of the cast of Crave. You’re supposed to be a gawker at a crime scene. Your director has cast you and your fellow extras as gawkers. But that raises a question.
--No doubt.
--Think of this in terms of practicing for the interviews you’ll have to grant following the release of Crave. “When you were choosing your costumes, how did you go about deciding what gawker clothes would be? What a gawker would wear at a crime scene? Did you interview known gawkers? Is there a gawker hotline or support network?”
--Well, Oprah, as I believe you know, a gawker can’t dress for the occasion. Gawking just happens.
--You mean events suddenly intervene. So gawking occurs in medias res.
--Whatever, professor. You’re just on your way somewhere. I chose outfits in terms of what I’d wear to go to the market. I see myself as trapped in the moment while on my way to go grocery shopping.
--OK, that makes sense. But probably it’s best to be on your way there. Otherwise, you have to buy groceries before you reach the set. Or would the prop people give you those? No, you don’t want groceries. Sometimes they make you wait around for hours. Groceries could be a hassle.
--I can’t have groceries because you can’t emote as a gawker if you’re holding a sack of food. You need your arms free to gesture. To express horror and outrage.
--True enough, my mistake. I see your hands flying to your face, eyes wide. But a carton falling out of the shopping bag, followed by a tight shot of broken eggs, that could be good. Is there crime-scene tape?
--Yellow crime scene tape, that’s it. When I see the tape and what’s happening, I gawk.
--And next Monday?
--Monday’s shoot is for something called Vanished on Seventh. It’s a horror film.
--I love just thinking about you honing your skills. Your craft. Last year, that two seconds of you in Prayers for Bobby, I can’t get them out of my mind.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Before leaving Michigan, we learned something new about our community

--Did you know we had a sweat lodge right here in our own backyard?
--Not before I saw the article.
--Do you know what they are?
--The name pretty much says it, don’t you think?
--You do what? Just get under some tarps and sweat?
--Well, there has to be a little more to it, I suppose. Etiquette to be observed. Special clothes, hand signals, bowing. You have to have people trained to prepare the rocks. Sometimes, everything’s done in silence.
--Silent sweating. That shouldn’t be too challenging.
--You know what I mean. The spiritual experience. In some places, it’s supposed to be silent, in others they chant or drum.
--What are the rocks for?
--I thought you read the article.
--It said nothing about rocks.
--The lodge is like a sauna. Rocks are heated in advance until they’re red hot. Then they bring them inside to promote the sweat-lodge experience.
--I loved the names of the leaders. Please hand me the paper.
--I assume they’re translations from a Native American language.
--Here it is. Outside the lodge, they’re Debbie and Donald.
--“Hi, we’re Deb and Don. Welcome to our sweat lodge. Did you bring a towel?”
--But inside the lodge, their names are Tim Fools Bear and Crystal Dream Woman. It says the ceremonies are for “earth-based spirituality and personal transformation.”
--Hm. Earth-based spirituality, that’s ambiguous. Does it mean spirituality with no god connection, just the earth? Or does it mean this particular lodge has no extra-terrestrial affiliations in other galaxies?
--They weren’t hurting anyone. Sweating isn’t a crime. What about all the nutty joggers sweating up and down the street at six in the morning when I walk Chelsea?
--It wasn’t the sweating, it was too many parked cars in the street. People complained.
--I’m not convinced. Between the families on either side of us, our neighbors have a total of nine cars. It’s like running the gauntlet to get in the driveway.
--I’m sure they shut it down because of what happened in Arizona. People died early this month out there in a sweat lodge.
--Of course you’re right. It says Tim Fools Bear and Crystal Dream Woman have been running their lodge for twelve years. Nobody made waves until the Arizona business.
--Yeah, the city manager reads about it. The mayor. They begin wondering what kind of litigation might follow if someone’s brother or father sweats himself to death.
--No doubt.
--It’s a very litigious society.
--Well, yes. And it’s easy to imagine someone who thought he approved of earth-based spirituality and transformation deciding that the transformation that just took place in the person next to him far exceeded anyone’s expectations. One minute he’s sweating, the next he’s as earth-based as they come.
--I still think it’s too bad. It was harmless. Innocent.
--I suppose. Bernie Madoff might have been a better man if he’d done that sort of thing.
--Maybe. I certainly hope he’s sweating now.
--Here’s to Bernie in his modestly appointed, state-run sweat lodge.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010



Last fall, it became all too clear that we would need to sell our Michigan house. But before we listed it, a realtor "made contact," wondering if we were interested in showing the place to an out-of-town client. We agree to let her see it

--Are you pleased with your efforts?
--Pleased isn’t the word. I did my job, that’s all. I was cordial and chatty.
--Did this Jane person fall in love with the old place?
--You coward. Leaving me here alone like that. Taking off with the dog.
--I told you over and over I was going to. Didn’t you believe me?
--I thought you said it for emphasis. To express how little you liked the idea of selling the house.
--That’s exactly true. I hate the idea. It’s why I left.
--Where’d you go?
--To the park on Martin Road. Chelsea wasn’t much interested. So, give me some details. You say she was theatrical.
--Dramatic, but not over-the-top. She said she played the woman teacher in The History Boys. She did a very commendable British accent. She said she loved the part because it allowed her to use the word twat on stage.
--She said that to you? A stranger she meets for the first time?
--Maybe it was all the books. I think it established a bond. When she came in and saw the books, she went right into character. “I love seeing so many books!” she said. “Why is it I go in so many houses and see no books?”
--What’d you say?
--I said I thought realtors probably tell sellers to get rid of bookcases so the house will look bigger. “How I love them,” she said. “If I buy your house, you can just leave the books, although I already have many of them.” Then she swept her eyes around and said, “I love your house.”
--Yes, definitely an actress. Did she have a feather boa?
--Now now.
--Did she have that show-stopper Ethel Merman quality?
--She won’t buy.
--How long were they here?
--Twenty, twenty-five minutes. I told them to just nose around, I’d leave them to it. It was funny. She didn’t give a rap about the new roof, or all the painting we had done. I told her today was an anniversary of sorts, that the new high-tech furnace had been installed a week ago. None of it seemed to register. But she won’t buy. She was too tall.
--What? How’s that work? The actress won’t buy the house because she’s too tall?
--Tall people are sure to feel confined in the upstairs hall.
--It’s true, that hall is very narrow. We’re not big so we don’t notice.
--Barry, what are you saying? We can only sell to the Little People?
--That would limit things, true.
--How do we advertise? “Attenion Little People! Attention all circus and carnival alumni!”
--I followed them when they went upstairs. When she started up again about books in every room, I told her I’d gotten rid of eight hundred in the last year. She crushed her hands to her bosom. “How could you?” When she opened the door to the attic, I told her she could go up, but only if she signed a safety waiver. She laughed.
--Was it a hearty laugh? Girlish? Raucous? Do you remember—
--I know what you’re going to say. You’re thinking of The Church restaurant in Stratford.
--It was wonderful. A whole table of actors, six I think. I never heard such canned laughter on any sitcom. “Mwuhuhuhhhh!” It was my second most favorite meal in Stratford. You know my first.
--Yes. He dies with Cordelia in his arms to huge applause. We leave and hustle to the restaurant, we have to be back at eight for the next play. We sit down, and there on your left, already well into the first of his double martinis is King Lear.
--I thought we were very good about not looking at him during dinner.
--The actress woman is also a dog person. I told her I’d taken away Chelsea’s bed, not knowing what her take on dogs would be. I gave her a copy of Just Bill.
--Oh, well, that should seal the deal.
--She said everyone in her family has two dogs. She said family dinners always involve four to six dogs under the dining table. I pointed out our dining table doesn’t have pedestal legs, which means lots of room for dogs.
--You wag, you.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Is learning what lies beneath the surface always advisable?

--I had to shake you. “Honey? Honey?”
--Well, I was having a nightmare.
--I was up early, reading my mail in the study. I went in the bedroom, I thought you were having a stroke. You made this gargling sound, then you were denouncing someone. You used to do that just after we got married. I’d wake up to this muttering, guttural rage. I thought you were dreaming what you really wanted to say to me. You don’t do it now.
--No, it was just a nightmare.
--Tell me.
--A dog and a bobcat were fighting. I was trying to protect the dog.
--Our dog?
--No, a different one. Dark reddish brown, like an Irish setter.
--But it wasn’t an Irish setter, it was bigger. Heavier. Like a lab, but taller.
--One of the new hybrids. And you were protecting the dog.
--Trying to.
--I’m curious. How did you know the other animal was a bobcat? Have you ever seen a bobcat? I haven’t.
--No, I just knew that’s what it was.
--Maybe someone named Bob is on your mind these days.
--Robert Bobb is in the news a lot.
--The guy they hired to fix the Detroit school mess. That’s a possibility. He has a beard like me, but he’s younger. And better looking. Probably smarter.
--Or, maybe I have a guilty conscience about money. The paper says Bobb is finding all kinds of graft and cronyism in the system.
--You hit me up for twenty bucks on Monday. There’s your graft and your cronyism. Was the dream’s setting here? Locally?
--No, it was in the desert. Somewhere outside Las Vegas. In the distance I could see all the lights from the casinos. It was night, very chilly. I was wearing one of those jumpsuits you see on prisoners. The bobcat had a diamond stud earring, and the dog had Nikes on his paws. That’s why he couldn’t defend himself. Where are you going?
--For obvious reasons, I need a refill.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Yes, it does look like that, but don’t say it.

--Is there anything I can do?
--No, sweetheart, thanks anyway. Dinner in about twenty minutes.
--What’s this?
--That’s the pesto. Right out of our garden.
--I see.
--What’s it look like to you?
--It looks like a little token from a Canadian goose.
--Jesus, Barbara. You have a way of setting the table.
--Be honest, that’s what you were thinking. I could tell from your expression.
--I was going to say it looks like finely chopped spinach.
--Don’t worry. I promise it will look better when it comes out on the plate.
--When the token from the Canadian goose comes out on the plate. Please go to commercial.
--Let’s see… OK. “I just finished a magical, luminous, hauntingly beautiful work of fiction by Barry Knister.” How am I doing?
--Very well, almost perfect. Clearly, you’re paying attention to your dust jackets. Magical, luminous and hauntingly beautiful provide just the right breathless tone, both lilting and meaningless. Please continue.
--“It’s called Just Bill, and it’s about a wonderful dog, a little girl who will break your heart, and a young widow unfairly shunned by her neighbors.”
--Hm. “Wonderful dog” works, a shunned young widow works. I’m less sure about the little girl who will break hearts. That can be a turn-off for people on certain meds.
--“And the shocking injustice done to Bill, but not so bad that he dies.” That’s what you have to have in a dog book, right? The dog has to still be alive at the end?
--So I’ve been told. Over and over. But it needs work. I’m not good with the segue from goose turds to my hauntingly beautiful book.
--Make yourself a rob roy. And make it last twenty minutes.
--Is there anything to snack on?
--Bottom shelf, left-hand side. See it?
--This? Aren’t there any crackers or Sesame Snacks?
--Sorry, just rabbit turd trail mix.
--I see the evening has a theme. OK, trail mix it is. I’ll just garnish with a rabbit turd instead of a cherry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Ah, summers, and drinks before dinner on the patio. Except if it isn’t someone using a leaf blower, or a weed whacker, or a lawn mower, or roofers with staple guns, or someone riding up and down the block on his male-menopause straight-pipe Harley, or using the time before dinner to cut some pavers with a diamond-blade saw, it’s dribbling.

--Hear that?
--Do I look deaf?
--Honey, deaf people don’t look deaf.
--Of course I hear it. Dribbling, shouting. He’s out there alone, but still practicing his court shout. Having just girls was not all bad.
--Which is it, do you think? When an adolescent boy’s voice changes, is that when he gets his first basketball, or is he given the basketball with the onset of puberty? To bring about the change of voice? You know, like forcing blooms in a hothouse.
--They’re loud, no question. I remember practicing my backhand against the garage door. I’m sure that had something to do with dad’s first coronary. And our neighbor ending up in detox.
--It’s been so nice out here this summer. I guess we shouldn’t complain.
--I remember going to visit him—my dad. They had him in what was called an oxygen tent. A clear plastic pup tent over his upper body. He wasn’t allowed to do anything, and I shaved him. In retrospect, I think it was a kind of coming-of-age experience.
--That’s very touching. I wish I could have watched you shave your father.
--This must be payback for Harvey, the neighbor. I heard him making jokes last weekend about Michigan losing the game. The kid’s parents are both U of M grads.
--So, now, the parents will pay their son to practice basketball after dark and before sunrise. Any time Harvey’s on his patio, the parents will bribe the kid to stop playing video games and go outside with the basketball
--It could get ugly.

Monday, February 8, 2010


To take advantage of the tax credit last fall, we had a new furnace installed.

--Thank God that’s over. I thought the plaster would fall off the walls.
--It took all day. Yes, the drilling was loud. Poor Chelsea had her resigned look.
--She has many resigned looks.
--I mean the one of reproachful resignation. The one that says, “I’m a helpless beast obliged to live with people who have lost their minds.”
--It was just the one guy, essentially. Tom. Working all day. He had help this morning for about forty-five minutes, that’s all.
--You have to admire him.
--I do. Of course I admire him. Anyone who has trouble operating a hose caddy is bound to admire such people.
--What do you think he was, Rumanian? Greek?
--Albanian. He had Albanian eyebrows.
--All that work. He couldn’t have been over five-five.
--If that. I went down after lunch. You should’ve seen all the tools. He must have had twenty different things spread out on the floor.
--Anyway, here’s to our new furnace.
--To our new high efficiency, top-of-the-line Lennox furnace.
--And to the tax credit.
--And the rebates from the utilities.
--Is it on? It’s so quiet it’s spooky.
--A stealth furnace. Maybe that’s where the energy savings come in, from noise abatement.
--Or it just seems that way, from the drill stopping all at once.
--No, I think it really is much quieter.
--Do you feel anything for the old furnace? It did well by us all those years.
--We’ll see. I may feel a great deal for it when we’re freezing this winter. When we’re learning the after-market reality behind the meaning of “energy efficient.”
--We should have had a little ceremony. A proper goodbye.
--I see what you mean.
--I’m serious. The thing chugged away down there for twenty-five years.
--That’s just us. Who knows how long it was there before we came?
--It never asked for anything. Never complained or broke down.
--Never flooded the lavatory.
--That’s exactly what I mean. A loyal family retainer, a loyal servant.
--It’s true. Aside from changing the filter and having it cleaned, we did nothing. Our old furnace never caused us one bit of trouble.
--What have we done?
--Try not to think about it.
--We threw it out as though it were nothing. Like garbage. We just threw that nice old furnace on the ash heap of technology, and for what?
--A tax credit.
--So shabby.
--Drink your wine. Try to imagine all the old furnaces being melted down and turned into new furnaces.
--Like the Phoenix.
--Like Ripley in the Alien franchise. Here’s to furnace resurrection.

Friday, February 5, 2010


DBD generally presents dialogues based on earlier conversations. Today, though, the issue before us is so urgent that other business must wait. The matter is fraught with such highly charged emotion that my wife Barbara had to lie down with a cold compress over her eyes. She asked me to assume responsibility for our response to the crisis.

If it needs to be said—and it’s hard to imagine anyone not caught up in the furor—the ugly story has to do with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel attacking the mentally challenged.

(You can be confident I’m up to taking on this grave subject because I just used “challenged,” not “handicapped.” Use of the latter is always a dead giveaway you are dealing with a really bad person. Someone like Rahm Emanual.)

Here’s the story. In a closed meeting, Emanuel let loose with a tart comment on liberal Democrats who have been complaining that Obama has thrown health-care reform under the bus. Which now that I think of it is a pretty darned insensitive figure of speech. Who knows how many actual people have lost loved ones, or themselves been seriously injured, maybe even suffered brain damage as a consequence of bus-related activity? I apologize.

Word got out that in this closed meeting, Emanuel said the liberal Democrats criticizing the president were “f---ing retarded.”

It’s hard to continue, but I have an obligation (you need to look this sort of thing straight in the eye). That’s what he said. He must have, because later he apologized. But not in time, because Sarah Palin learned of what he’d said. Immediately she appeared before cameras with the latest issue from her sacred womb (all wombs are sacred), baby Trig on her hip. The two were perfectly posed in accordance with medieval sculptures and paintings of Mary with her own newborn, Jesus. If you’re familiar with art of the period, you know mother and child form a classic S configuration. Mrs. Palin even underscored this allusion to the Middle Ages by wearing a hoody sweatshirt.

Understandably, both as a mom and as a soon-to-be-Fox News analyst, she voiced strong objection to Emanuel’s casual use of “retarded.” Mostly, she was defending her future colleagues at Fox, but as everyone besides Rahm Emanuel knows, Mrs. Palin’s baby was born with “cognitive and developmental disabilities.” Bouncing Trig and fighting back tears, she said hearing the word retarded was personally “heartbreaking.”

Mrs. Palin also noted that the heartbreak she felt was not just for challenged children, but for “those who love them.” In doing so, she subtly and meaningfully included herself. True, it’s her baby who suffers most obviously from cognitive and developmental disabilities. Even so, those trying to keep track of Trig’s mom’s career will also hear in her comments an inescapable reference by Mrs. Palin to herself.

Many other knotty problems are likely to be raised by this incident.

Like for instance the land mines waiting to be stepped on by people much more sensitive than Rahm Emanual. For starters, what about the names of Palin family members? Once Mrs. Palin joins Fox, will anyone ever again be safe referring to Bristol, England? Or to “staying on track,” or even to track lighting? The name Todd is so evocative of the German “tod,” or dead. What about Piper? Imagine the firestorm sure to follow any all-at-once smutty double entendre like “paying the piper,” or a drug-related slur like “It’s a pipe dream.” Not to mention smirking references to the racier parts Piper Laurie played in her day.

How about Willow Palin? Once her mother is sworn in at Fox, describe anyone as “willowy,” and see what happens. Any fool trying that will get his foot blown off, and face a few well-deserved “challenges” of his own. Excuse me—of his or her own.
Now I have to go check on Barbara’s compress.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Once we got to Florida, I thought I was supposed to talk to a book club about my latest novel, but I was cancelled.

--What did he say?
--That the woman who chairs the club’s selection committee chose a bodice ripper instead.
--I’m sorry, honey. I thought Just Bill was a sure thing.
--So did I, and I’m sure ____ is embarrassed. He thought it was just a formality, the selection process. He was very apologetic. I told him the woman’s bad taste wasn’t his fault.
--There really is no accounting for it, is there? Taste. How anyone could choose another romance story over your novel—I just don’t get it.
--No, you can account for it very easily. Like stupid political opinions, bad taste in literature can almost always be explained.
--Oh I know there are reasons. But they so often don’t make sense to me.
--Dumb opinions are embraced by people unwilling or unable—which is really the same thing—to even hear an idea or point of information at odds with inherited opinions. With conventional wisdom. If you know a good bodice ripper when you see one, that’s what you look for. The same thing’s true of nutter liberals as well as nutter conservatives. But the word “conservative” points the way to explaining the problem with right wingers.
--I take it we’re no longer talking about your novel.
--We’re talking about people who can’t expand their horizons. Can’t move outside their comfort zone in terms of books or anything else. In politics, conservatives stay alert in order to conserve the opinions they hold. To keep themselves safe from views that might hint at their own opinions being flawed in some way. If someone else’s views aren’t legacy opinions inherited from the same font of wisdom, they can be dismissed automatically as wrong. Back in my Wayne State salad days, I often ate lunch in the Kresge Court [at the Detroit Institute of Arts]. Sometimes I sat with the campus Marxists. The old-timers knew chapter and verse the key works of Marxist theology. They could range freely among the texts, explain away any flaw or obvious evidence that something was out of whack with their system. Their young disciples at the table knew little or nothing, except the thin veneer of opinion at the top of the Marxist mountain.
--I’m sorry, honey. About your book. But you lost me way back there, with “legacy opinions.” I thought we were talking about some dunce of a woman not choosing Just Bill for her club’s reading list.
--That’s OK.
--College admissions departments refer to children of the school’s graduates as legacy students. Students inherited from a previous generation. Often, these applicants are given a break.
--How so?
--Oh, lots of reasons. The most important goes like this. Say, the applicant drags his knuckles when he walks, but has no talent for football. Say, he or she has made an X where the signature goes on the application, but the enclosed essay reads like Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Or, the daughter has a poor discipline record, owing to a habit of servicing both the first and second string members of her high school’s football team before and after games.
--I’m waiting for that second shoe.
--Here it is. Say the son or daughter’s father owns The Bible Is the Word of God U.S. Plastics Unlimited Company. This dad knows from long experience in business what it takes “to get the job done.” In this case, the job is getting Miss Hotpants or Dimwit Junior into college.
--Let me guess. The job involves construction.
--Very good. The university has long sought a benefactor to bankroll a roller-derby arena. It will be the only one on an American college campus, and a great recruiting tool.
--Groundbreaking to start in the fall of the student’s freshman year.
--Or a new daycare and sex-counseling center for unwed coed moms.
--No, I was wrong. Construction doesn’t begin in the student’s freshman year. This dad is no fool. Groundbreaking will have to wait until after graduation.
--Go to the head of the class.
--Well, Just Bill is a beautiful story, and it’s full of good things. That’s my legacy opinion, and it’s right on.
--You would make an excellent Republican. You have the two crucial attributes: unwavering loyalty, and a willingness to maintain the party line at all costs.

Monday, February 1, 2010


--There it is.
--It’s a key road marker for us, isn’t it? When I see it I always feel I can smell the barn just below the state line.
--“CATFISH DINNERS ALL YOU CAN EAT JESUS IS LORD.” I love the absence of punctuation. I would stop sometime, but I don’t feel comfortable in southern Georgia. I’m talking about anywhere fifteen or twenty miles south of Atlanta.
--Do you really mean that?
--I don’t know. Sort of. I know it’s not fair to the New South and all that, but something happens, I also know that. All at once, the gas station toilets are really grungy. People look sullen to me.
--You can’t be right, but it seems like that to me, too. At least along the Interstate. I’ve been in restrooms that didn’t look to have been cleaned in a month.
--I think of the Jesus-is-Lord-catfish sign as a bookend match-up with the one in Ohio. You know, that long shed of a factory building. On one half it says something about The Bible is the Word of God, which flows directly into U.S. Plastics Unlimited. I have a strong wish to know if it’s all one company name.
--The place where I don’t feel comfortable is South Carolina.
--Yes, once you’re outside Charleston. I remember we went into a Waffle House. Every head in the place turned. I am not always a reliable judge, but the mood seemed to change, and it was not jolly.
--The War of Northern Aggression. That’s what our guide in Savannah called the Civil War.
--How they still hate Sherman.
--A beautiful town, though. All those squares. The Cotton Exchange, the waterfront.
--He could have leveled the place, but didn’t. Still, they hate him. The war goes on.
--And Charleston, so beautiful. The houses, the gardens. I walked into this antique consignment store. You weren’t with me. Immediately, I knew I didn’t belong. I’ll never forget these two men. One was talking about furniture brought in on consignment. “Those chayuhs wuh filthy--” then he turned to me in the doorway. The look said, “Oh no, a Nawthunuh. Worse than those chayuhs evuh were.”
--“Oh no, moah Godless liberal Yankee white trash.”
--That was before Chelsea.
--Yes. Because of Chelsea, we no longer take side trips. We can’t leave her alone in the van. She might become depressed.
--You’re making fun of me, but you’re no better about her.
--I’m making fun of us both. We’re both overdue for a pet-rescue intervention.
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