Archive for August, 2017

Your Interest in Donald Trump

About a month ago, I was complaining to my writing soulmate about the difficulty to get short pieces published. I moaned for a great while and she listened calmly, as she has heard these sorts of plaints before from me. When I finished she said this:

‘Selling any writing is difficult these days. People aren’t reading anymore because of Donald Trump.’

I paused, took a sip (big big gulp) of beer, and processed. After a moment’s reflection, I had a hunch on the effect Donald Trump (a non-reader if ever one existed) could have on the publishing market. I encouraged her to continue.

She explained, ‘the thing is this guy and his administration is such a crazy shit show that people just want to see what happens next.’

‘Nah…he can’t….well that’s just no….terrible….’ I lost my train of thought in the realization that this point was and is hugely accurate in my case. And, according to (as Trump would no doubt nickname ‘the fake and failing’) New Republic Magazine, I am not the only one for whom this is a current state of affairs. Book sales of adult fiction and nonfiction are down, because ‘in a world where reality is stranger than fiction, real books don’t sell.’ The article goes on to point out that when any day can produce three or four major news stories on how Donald Trump is (my words, obviously) gang-fucking democracy and critical thinking, while ruining the USA, who can pay attention to fiction? It’s as if the whole country’s going up in flames, and we can’t stop watching.

At least, I can’t. But neither can others. This is evident is the books that are selling well these days. Books on political science, world history, and dystopian themes. Books on the effects of racism and sexism are way up in sales. James Baldwin. Margaret Atwood. Timothy Snyder. Book clubs have altered their focus from fiction and mystery to themes of tolerance, race, and justice.

This ‘woke’ perspective is no doubt positive in some ways. We live in a day and age when an American president aggressively undermines the press and news sources who hold him accountable. He attacks individual journalists because they disagree with him. He does the same to one of the pillars of the American political system, the justice department, and for the same reason – they don’t agree with him. This man is actively trying to murder the National Endowment for the Arts. So I am not trying to suggest that being informed is a bad thing, of course it’s not. It’s ignoring the Donald Trump shit show that would allow him to do things with no accountability. The negative is that, if you’re like me, he’s ruining your enjoyment of other things.

That day I received a notification on my phone about a Donnie-related news story. It was labelled: ‘Your Interest in Donald Trump.’

And I was guilty as charged.

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That Guy

Airport bars are filled with people who are either unhappy or elated. It’s like being in a pub where half of the people’s team just beat the other half’s.

I’m on the losing side. I don’t like flying to begin with and my flight has been delayed for two hours. The ride down here was through heavy traffic. If flying is my least favorite thing to do, sitting in traffic is a close second. So to suffer 2 in order to do 1 is life’s little reminder that insult to injury are my bosom buddies.

Additionally, my summer holiday is at an end and I am leaving my parents’ house after a month of relaxation. I am a bit glum. So I am drinking. I have a budget for two airport beers (about $20) and I am going to drag those out for as long as I can. The Eagles’ preseason game that created the traffic is on TV.

I notice the bartenders give each other the bartender eye signal. Having given this eye signal two or three thousand times to a fellow bartender, I know that these signals have a variety of meanings: attractive customer, annoying customer, this guy’s hammered, that guy doesn’t tip, that lady just showed that guy her underwear, I think those two are doing drugs in the bathroom, why won’t those people share their drugs?

Tonight I find the source of their look in a three second scan. He’s a bearded guy, wearing a leather fedora, corduroy jacket, and his eyes are glazed over with drunken cataracts. He orders a Maker’s Mark on the rocks. The bartender, despite the look, serves him.

As That Guy starts a conversation with his reflection in the beer taps, I become certain of one things: he is on my flight and he’s sitting near me. I order another IPA.

I used to hate flying. Like the way I hate Donald Trump kind of hate. In the past my hate for flying was mostly based on the terrified notion that I was about to die. The worry and anxiety consumed me for days before a flight.

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American not so Horror Blog Post

When visiting my parents’ home I work out in the attic, which, at the moment, acts as my sister’s bedroom. I exercise there because it’s private and spacious; it’s all the way on the third floor (as attics typically are), up a narrow flight of steps that have steps at the top and at the bottom. So I can swear, cry, and implore deities I don’t believe in at a loud volume without being heard. Additionally, I can jump and fling my legs around without fear of knocking something other. Plus, even if I do, I can just blame her son.

Last week, in the middle of one particularly horrendous exercise I heard something out in the hallway of the attic, which sounded like a robotic voice. I paused for a second and attributed it to a lack of blood in my brain.

When I heard it again a few minutes later, I peered into the hallway. In my line of vision was the loft area to the right of the stairs connecting the second and third floors (the ones I came up). This area was a battlefield of strewn about toys.

To the right of my sister’s room is a small maze of rooms that look like your traditional attic: cluttered, sheet-covered exercise machines and furniture, closets of solitary sad dresses that were once worn at gala events, boxes of books and trophies. Nobody goes to that area of the attic for three reasons: there’s no point, there are bats, and it’s fucken scary.

I called out once, in horror movie perfectness, “Hello?”

Nothing.

I finished my workout, toweled off and stood in the hall for a (too) quiet moment before heading down the stairs. I wasn’t scared. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong, and I was in the safety of day, when the big old house is filled with the reddish light of a late summer afternoon.

It’s after coming home from dinner the next night that something else caught my attention. I was passing the doorway at the bottom of the steps that lead up into the attic when I heard something. I stopped, looked up the steps into the darkness. It came again, undoubtedly a robotic, toy voice. Like something that would say, the cow says moo. I did not go up the steps to see if the cow went moo.

It’s at this time that I should relate my family’s relationship with the supernatural. My sister Julia is rational, a supply chain head honcho who believes in numbers and evidence. My brother believes that all people who believe in ghosts are idiots and he actively voices this opinion. More so when he drinks. My sister Amanda has long had a fringe interest in supernatural, which is to say enough to know a bit about it, but not enough to know anything about it. My mother isn’t afraid of anything except an empty fridge. I don’t know where my dad’s beliefs lie, but I do know that if the girl from The Ring came out of the TV, he’d ask her what’s for dinner.

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The Home Sick Eclipse Club

Photo by James Niland

Hot Dog Hot Dog Hot Diggity Dog!

I open my eyes.

Hot Dog Hot Dog Hot Diggity Dog!

I close them again.

Hot Dog Hot Dog Hot Diggity Dog!

I open my eyes. My hopes are dashed that I have been dreaming the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme song due to overexposure and ear worms, who, as we all know, can be real jerks.

Bling. Facebook Messenger. Bling. Facebook Messenger again.

Too many things are happening before caffeine. I open my tablet. There’s a message from my mom: Q is home sick today, so just keep an eye on her, OK?

Whether it’s an occupational hazard or not, I do read subtext into this that states: so for Pete’s sake, no day drinking and make sure you wear pants around the house!  

I stretch and get out of bed, making those sounds that began playing in the guttural section of my daily orchestra after I hit forty. Down the hall, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse wails it musical mantra and I poke my head in the bedroom. No Q. I am not worried. Were this my sister’s other parasitic offspring, I might say “hmm” and instantly begin looking at the back of milk cartons.

Despite the fact that Q is my 8 year old niece, she is more like a very short adult who woke up one day in a child’s body and is getting through childhood again until she can get back to the office and finish some reports. This is not to say she is boring, because she isn’t. She is a charming, lovely, curious, funny, and playful little girl, who happens to possess a temperament and wisdom I didn’t attain until I was in my twen…my thirt…my fort…. that I hope to attain sometime soon.

I round the corner into the kitchen and hear some zany action undertaken by the gang in Mickey’s Clubhouse.  Q is sitting at the table, working a saltine out of its boxy home and watching Donald Duck fly around in a hotdog.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hi.”

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Yu. Yuuu!

Sanmachi Suji District

We are in Takayama; it’s evening. We are at a bar called Torio’s, enjoying air conditioning and cold beers after a day of walking around in the intense heat. Elevator versions of popular oldies, as are now disconcertingly labeled songs I grew up with, are quietly emanating from a portal somewhere. The bar is half full of paunchy Japanese men, whose tone suggests that they are telling dirty stories and jokes. They smoke a lot and sip on mixed drinks. The room is otherwise quiet, spread out, mute, antiseptic, in the way a restaurant at a Holiday Inn might be. The combination screams late 1980s Bar Mitzvah rather than a pub you would find in a Japanese mountain town. Instead of sipping a 600 Yen beer, I feel as though I should be working up the nerve to ask Wendy Abrahms to dance and trying to sneak a screwdriver from my friend’s geri-rebellious grandfather.

It’s been a great day. Though it’s only a few streets, you can lose yourself in Takayama’s Sanmachi Suji District for a good hour or two amongst its sake breweries, restaurants, and shops. Takayama was largely isolated up here in the mountains, so a great deal of it does resemble turn of 20th century Japan. We did a tour of a museum with a wonderful guide who spoke like Mr. Bean, and we hiked up to Takayama Castle, which is now just a stone base up in the woods.

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The Good Guys vs the Bad Guys

I grew up with a very clear picture of what a Nazi was. They were bad guys with German accents who wore small hats and army uniforms and were often being punched in the face by Indiana Jones. They were scary and aggressive but got repaid for their Nazism by getting killed by and sucked into the Ark of the Covenant. When Nazis did make the mistake of being on American soil, they were being run off a bridge by Elwood and Jake Blues. I knew just who they were and one thing was absolutely clear: they were the bad guys, and we were the good guys.

What happened in Charlottesville was a horrible situation rife with eerie aspects. To see Nazism this open in the U.S. is disgusting. To see an open white supremacist praise Donald Trump was right up there in its current day dystopian aspect as well. To watch someone drive a car into people was indescribably horrifying. Then, the president, the guy who is supposed to be our leader and the guy who can’t seem to stop himself from calling out actors, musicians, reality TV stars, and models, to see him actively not call out Nazis and then literally run away from questions on the events of the day, was like a scene in a Philip K. Dick book.

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Summer with the Borgias

You are Assimilated

The following is a recreation of a conversation between my aunt and an employee at the local supermarket moments after an unfortunate accident took out our chicken. It is important to note that since my aunt is on the phone, all I can do is make educated guesses as to the chicken guy’s responses. Plus, I was pretty well lit.

Aunt: Do you have whole cooked chickens?

Chicken Guy: Yes we do, ma’am.

Aunt: Oh, great. They’re cooked?

Chicken Guy: Uh….yes ma’am.

Aunt: Do we need to reserve one?

Chicken Guy: You want to…reserve a chicken?

Aunt: Yes. This is an emergency. (She says in a serious tone of voice, which conveys that she is not joking and that my family does not fuck around when it claims to be undergoing a gastronomical emergency).

At this point my other aunt and I, who are also in the kitchen, emit a series of otter-sounding guffaws. We laugh so hard that we had to stop what we were doing, which was deciding who to blame for the chicken emergency (it’s the aunt on the phone, by the way, and then by proxy, her son).

Though this might sound like a scene out of the Borgias do Christmas, I have been back visiting my family for two weeks, thus I have had time to reacclimate and then reassimilate to the craziness.

In the first week of being home, some things were hard to get back into. There’s the morning argument between my sister, mother, and I for the “squatty potty” the footrest which assists in the ease of bowel movements. I’m not used to sharing my jerryrigged one, as my cat hasn’t figured out how to use it yet. Additionally, the fact that my sister and mother have gotten married to each other took a little getting used to. They work together to raise my sister’s wonderful little rugrats, and as a result have fallen into a domestic partnership. They speak like a couple, argue like a couple, negotiate and compromise like a couple. In a week I expect to be giving them couple’s therapy (now, Mom, what I hear Amanda saying is that while she appreciates you, maybe some space is needed before requesting the squatty potty…)

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What the…?

Who the hell are you calling drunk!?

The ATM emits a warm harp welcome as I enter my card. Not for the first time (by a long shot) since I have arrived in Japan, I say: “what the…?” I don’t have time to dawdle, there is a task afoot, and the ATM’s music lets me know that. It plays during the entire process, so that each button I hit is met with a song that makes me feel like a sword-wielding character named Zelda on an adventure.

After the harp welcome, I am awarded little tunes at each touch of a button (English – wawawaaaaa, withdrawal – wooowhoowhoooo, 40,000 Yen – habadabadabaaaaa, checking – frimfrimfreeeeeeeee). And then the gravity conveyed by string chords in D as ATM deliberates over whether I am worthy of cash. I wait with baited breath, as does the woman waiting behind me, who has unwittingly become invested in my monetary adventure. When the happy, excited tune of success plays (bleebleebleeeebleeeeeee) I release my breath and wipe my brow of sweat. The woman resists the urge to hug me. I take my cash and walk away, emotionally spent. Later, when I realize that I abandoned the woman on her financial trek, I feel genuinely bad.

Like many of you, I have found that every trip to a foreign land has its “What the…?” moments. What the…? Is the most genuine query of confusion. There is no humor, no wit, there is only confusion at seeing or dealing with something completely baffling.  I said it when I got caught up in a surprise lamb stampede in Petra, and being offered the head of goat to prove the freshness of lunch in Ethiopia.

Japan, I say with confidence, is a What the…? country. There are toilets with so many buttons that it’s like pooping in a mercury capsule. These buttons cause water to be sprayed at your butt, music to cover up the sounds, and heat to toast your buns. The bathrooms may be chock full of “what the…?” things, but they are ingenious. The sink on the back of the toilet serves the dual purpose of cleaning your hands and filling the tank at once.

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Golden Gais (gais is pronounced guys, not gays. I think)

Do you see Godzilla? (photo by Mark Kaufman)

Shinjuku is intensely Japanese. sounds like an idiotic statement from an idiotic idiot, but I had trouble coming up with a comprehensive adjective list. At night it’s not only a brightly lit neon assault on the senses, but it further overwhelms with sound. Loud music plays from seemingly nowhere, ditties come from open shop doors, and buskers play outside pedestrian tunnels as thousands of people storm past. The soon-to-be-deaf sit idly in arcades that blare an impossible cacophony of electric rings.

Godzilla peeks over a building at us from above a movie poster advertising a Michael Bay film. His film posters translate perfectly into Japanese, just a glimpse tells me it’s going to be a stupid vapid piece of shit. Michael Bay sucks in every language, perhaps he should put that on his resume.

In the midst of the intensity, I look at Mark and he nods; we both understand. One of the best aspects of traveling with Mark, is that he and I are very similar travelers. We like to walk as much as possible, both finding it the best means by which to see and digest a city or a place. We are early risers and low maintenance in terms of time needed in the morning. We know when it’s time to take a break, and if you have ever been on a trip with one person who wanted to go go go and another who wanted to chill chill chill, then you fully understand the importance of this mutual understanding. We are at the same level of adventurous and know when to give the other space. Byproducts of this travel connection meant that by day two of our trip we were reading each other’s minds, when it was time to go, leave a museum, tell a salesperson “no,” and, in this case, time to get the fuck to a quieter place and have a drink.

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