Thursday, January 25, 2018

My BIg Fat Hospital Room

My roommate's family is large, loud, and emotive. At any given point, six relatives are working the room, brandishing plastic bags of onions and fruit, or gathering around her bed. When her adoring adult children are not surrounding her--sometimes even when they are--she asks me where my leg hurts. Every time she asks, I answer, pointing to the area from which pain radiates. She knows how much my leg hurts because she, in fact, has almost exactly the same condition and is taking the same amount of morphine; she's in a room with me because it's convenient for the hospital to dump patients with cancer metastasized to the bone in the same room. But now she's in bed, surrounded by relatives with melodramatic faces:
Roommate, waving arms around, eyes wild: "I'm in paaaaiinnnn! Ohhhh, I'm in sooo much painnn!"
Chorus of grown children, ripping hair: "Ohhh, Mama's in paiiinnnn! Mammaaa's in paiiinnnn! Ohhhhh!"
Roommate: "Ahhhh! It's terrible!! Ahhhhh!"
Chorus: "It's terrible! Mammaaa! Terrible!"
Then they all sit down, divvy up huge hunks of cake and some concoction resembling ice cream, loudly consume both, scattering crumbs, guzzle fruit juice, offer me tangerines, smile indulgently when I say I like quiet and need to work. 
Refreshed, they're off to the races again.
"Do youuuu have paiinnnn too?" asks the roommate again, with her deep, burning eyes trained on my thigh, where, as well she knows, the pain has been morphined into quiescence. 
"Yes," I say. "You can get more pain pills, too." The nurse has been in and out, handing out pain pills like candy. My roommate's eyes are glassy with pain pills. 
"Ohhhhh!" she adds. "Are you in painnnnn?" She wants me to show her. Again. I do. Again.
When she and all her brethren are not relishing her pain, they're asking me if the doctors are crazy, and inquiring of the man who came in to hang window curtains whether nuclear medicine is any good. He shrugs. They'd already asked me, and I'd naïvely suggested that the doctors probably knew more than I did. The husband spent the night, sleeping head to toe with his wife; both groan a great deal and their groans are punctuated by their loudly ringing phones, which announce themselves at four in the morning and are answered--passionate diatribes about stress, catastrophe, doctors, and cancer tend to, so to speak, metastasize in this room. I've requested a move. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Donald Trump Is Not a Racist

Trump's no racist, I muttered to myself while watching a spirited CNN panel enumerate his "racist" comments about Mexicans and "shithole," i.e. poor, countries populated mainly by people of color. 

It's missing the point to call the man a racist. A racist at least has a point of view--a narrow one, a despicable one, a misguided one, an idiotic one, a destructive one, and oh, such a passé one. But a point of view. A belief system.

Don't dignify Trump's tantrums with the idea that any point of view whatsoever is meant to emerge from them. Trump is much worse than a racist: he's a reckless, thoughtless opportunist. To suggest he espouses any point of view, apart from a lust for money and power--and you can't call these points of view, but rather appetites--is to misdiagnose. We were on the mark when we called him a toddler--there is incidentally, a blog, The Ticus Files, you should all check out by a sadly deceased wonderful writer, Andrew Balée, dedicated to Trump as "toddler-in-chief," enumerating his bouts of negativistic, childish behavior. The Republican senator Jeff Flake has just pointed out that Trump's latest rants are borrowed from Joseph Stalin, who was more paranoid and destructive than Joseph McCarthy. Christiane Amanpour, interviewing the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, remarked that Putin's style is "very aligned" with that of Stalin. Putin's style, Gessen retorted, is also aligned with that of Ivan the Terrible (killed serfs, slaughtered his firstborn son, threw live squirrels out turret windows, raved in a style remarkably similar to Trump). Here the sixteenth-century ruler is in Sergey Eisenstein's 1944 interpretation: 
This captures the evil pout of the preschooler whose most recent urge hasn't been gratified, and who's going to throw a massive tantrum or bite mom. But a toddler is small, and we expect toddlers to grow. Trump has the urges, the amorality, of a toddler, but he's far more dangerous because he's got the know-how, the cunning, and the money of an adult. If Trump were just a racist, things might actually be easier.

Gessen went on to point out that like Ivan, Putin thinks of Russia as an empire, that in order to make Russia "great again" (a familiar phrase) he's got to position Russia in opposition to an important enemy. Who else but the United States? Putin doesn't get to "be important," Gessen wryly observed, unless he's got a big enough enemy.

 Just imagine Putin positioning Russia against, instead of Trump's America, one of those "shithole" countries! Yes, imagine an alternate universe in which Russian TV, instead of coughing up the usual reports of encountering "American forces" in Syria, announced: "Russian forces fighting in Syria conquered, after a brave struggle, soldiers from Haiti, Nigeria and Chad."

Nope. No wonder Putin enjoys the term "dickhead"--of course he does, because politics has become a peeing contest between two or three empire-builders, each of whom says he has the bigger . . .button.

The line between reckless opportunism and nihilism is a thin one indeed. The man who doesn't give a damn about anything but money, power, admiration and the limelight is the one who doesn't notice, or give a damn about racism or anything else, and so he indulges in one last impulse that brings on the apocalypse. About twenty-five million people died in the wake of Stalin's megalomania.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Norwegians At the Gates: American Immigration and Donald Trump

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fact sheet, in the fiscal year 2016, "the top countries of origin for naturalization were in the following order:  Mexico, India, Philippines, People’s Republic of China, and Cuba." 

If you read the whole page, you can find one mention of Norway--seems to have been a military spouse or two from Norway who married an American and got naturalized. Not necessarily in order to leave Norway. Why, in fact, would any person lucky enough to hold Norwegian citizenship leave the land of fjords and midnight sun, fabulous fish, gorgeous wooden stave churches, rich oil reserves, great health care services, the astonishingly talented Karl Ove Knausgaard, who, the Boston Globe's reviewer comments, "suffers from the kind of honesty that could peel paint," and a single neo-Nazi killer Anders Beivik, who slaughtered 77 people? It does say something about a country when there's just one really known bad guy. Known for killing the folks Trump wants excluded from America.

When Trump asked why America should let in immigrants from "shithole" countries like Haiti, I thought it worthwhile to point out why Norwegians aren't banging down the door. Maybe Knausgaard could afford to live in any American city, but why would he? Why would anyone leave Norway? I wonder how many Americans are trying, as I write, to become naturalized Norwegian citizens?

And Breivik--if he had the freedom to enter an American prison instead of a Norwegian one, would he? In Norway, people send him boxes in which he can place his neatly folded Lacoste sweaters. But If you believe in punishment, an American prison is definitely the place to get one. 

I can't help but remember Richard Nixon's foul racist remarks about numerous ethnic and sexual minorities: but his policies differed. He really didn't put his money where his mouth was. Although he appears to have enjoyed yelping racist remarks in private, in public he opened relations with China, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, put large sums of money into cancer research, peacefully desegregated Sourthen schools, and signed Title IX in 1972, a civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving Federal aid.

And Trump? With his bigger button? But now he says he's good friends with the North Korean dictator? What about those talks with South Korea? Can a ray of hope gleam somewhere, soon?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Preying Man?

Yesterday, as I was returning to my university office after my last class, in the evening, I saw two men standing in the hallway who didn't look like students. They seemed too old, thirtyish or older; they had a casual, dislocated air. A secretary was just poking her head out her door to ask what they wanted and they answered, "We're looking for something." She withdrew her head. I walked past one of the men, who was standing in the middle of the hall chatting on a cell phone--also not typical for students, who, if they must make phone calls while waiting to see professors, sit down or withdraw to a corner. The other man had gone ahead of me, rounded the bend to the right of my office, where another small office was recently burglarized.
What was he doing there? Should I ignore him? If he was there to vandalize, I knew I was within screaming distance of the secretary.
I rounded the same bend, ten paces behind him, asking, "Are you looking for someone?"
I discovered the man on his knees, eyes closed, lips pressing the floor. He appears to have been praying. I left immediately, walked back to the secretary's office, knocked, explained. I wondered if the man was just a wandering, devout person looking for a quiet place to pray? Was this scene for real?
"Oh, yes," said the secretary. "People often go back there to pray."
My husband said another small hallway near the men's room was also used for that purpose.
Nevertheless: it is, for a woman, unnerving to find a man crouching in the hallway around the corner from one's office when the skies are dark and all other colleagues have gone home. 
Also, I don't think these guys had anything to do with the university. They were looking for an indoor place to pray. 
Praying people should have a place to pray that is just for prayer. A university hallway is there to get students and teachers from one end of the building to the other. Someone who is not there to take classes can easily be mistaken for a predator.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Critical Mom Thanks Michael Wolff

With a little help from Gilbert and Sullivan.
I am the very model of a presidential genius:
I have a fully functioning and very stable penis,
For weaponizing nuclear I have a bigger bu-uh-ton,
Than Kim Jong-un’s--mine works!--and let me tell you that his do-oes-n’t!
I know my bombs--his are so dumb--I will inflict a painful death,
While Rocket-man and company can barely even catch their breath,
I Harvey-Weinstein girls, I kiss and grab them when I'm in the mood,
And you will see how great I am: just let me hop into the nude . . . 

Gentle reader, check out the "Modern Major General" parodies of our president online--from Politico, from opera singers, from the talented thousands: Oh, thank you. I would rather laugh than cry, but it's getting harder not to do the latter.

I've just ordered your book, Mr. Wolff.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Irresolute? Happy New Year

I made no New Year's Resolutions. We enjoyed a family evening, just the five of us, as we always do, and my husband made hors d'oeuvres, open-faced lox sandwiches with capers, snails awash in butter and herbs, and then everyone's favorite: nachos baked with chopped scallions, grated Gouda, and salsa. All washed down with Aperol, Prosecco, tonic, and lemon. Then dessert. We watched Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and around eleven, the kids started shooting off firecrackers and Roman candles with my husband. The guinea pigs trembled in their cage, but every year they survive the noise and seem okay the next morning.
And why no resolutions? I don't like them. I don't make them. I make plans and try to stick to those. I'm not going to step on a scale until sometime next week, and I'm planning on resting, grading papers, and writing. 
But instead of resolutions I have hopes, big hopes. I'd rather not spray them across the page, having some notion that if I do, they won't come true. I'm happy to be done with the festivities and to be almost on my way back to work.