I Feel Justified in Watching It Again

Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. (This is an FX show, all intellectual property rights being theirs. May they forgive this benign theft.)

Just got back from lunch with one of my favorite people, a man who once was my boss and still is an original Kentucky hard-ass. U.S. Army helicopter fighter pilot and Vietnam veteran Jim Taylor ran Yavapai County High School, a place in Prescott Valley for at-risk kids where I felt nurtured and loved teaching English for quite some years.

I didn’t know what I was going to blog about, but, driving home from seeing him, along with some other good friends from that happy time, I knew it had to be about one of my favorite TV shows.

It’s as Kentucky as he is.

I watch shows all over again that I’ve already seen if they’re that good. I plead guilty of doing this with Breaking Bad.

If I opt to re-screen such a show, I study it this time around.

I enjoyed Timothy Olyphant’s ramrod-spined sheriff in that genre-defying HBO western Deadwood. Now I’m watching him (again) as U.S. Federal Marshal Raylan Givens in the FX drama Justified (currently available on Hulu). He was a righteous, wrapped-tight lawman in the former show, winding that tension up so high his eventual carnal release with a languid, glamourous laudanum fiend was all the hotter.

His character is a little looser in Justified. With his lanky, ambling stride in blue jeans and cowboy hat, and that curious smile, he’s a throwback to another era of law enforcement, though his rigid adherence to the principles of traditional American masculinity and heroism — that menace lying in wait behind the drawl — recalls Seth Bullock of the South Dakota mining town.

Justified sprang from an Elmore Leonard novella I’ve been meaning to load onto my Kindle. Where else in written or visual fiction do you get the satisfaction of a protagonist whose daily job requirement is that he be quick on the draw? And, of course, he’s the loveable badass, always a little at odds with his boss Art Mullen, amiable chief deputy of the U.S. Marshals field office in Lexington, a role well played by Nick Searcy. There are lots of great roles here, including women who are easy on the eyes, some of whom wind up romantically entangled with our hero.

I’m on season two. If it’s not the show’s best season, it’s close.

If you hated Margo Martindale as Hilary Swank’s ungrateful trailer-trash mom in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby but found her talented, you were right. What a brilliant character actress! Her KGB operative Claudia on The Americans, a role devoid of the rural southern accent Martindale has elsewhere exploited, showed us her full range. Here, on Justified, she’s Mags Bennett, matriarch of a family of hillbilly pot growers, and more than a match for everyone who comes down the pike to challenge her, including a high-heeled head of a rapacious mining concern. Martindale seems outfitted for roles loaded with the macabre. Her Russian spymaster ordered many hits in a show ghoulish in its depiction of politically motivated execution. We will come to associate the drawling backwoods general-store owner Mags Bennett with her cinnamon-flavored, sometimes deadly moonshine, “Apple Pie.”

But I think the steadiest glittering jewel of the show is a character who spanned every one of the six seasons: Boyd Crowder. Here’s where you want to see Walton Goggins, who has since looked silly and ill used in a sitcom whose big conflict was him trying to get dates.

Goggins steals Justified. As with southern-bred Martindale, Alabama-born Goggins’ own roots help with the speaking style that loads so much credibility to the role. When we meet him, he’s a hillbilly criminal mastermind commandeering a group of white supremacist terrorists. After a run-in with Raylan’s unerring gun (only a wounding shot from the old friend), Boyd renounces the idiocy of that former lifestyle and resurfaces as a backwoods preacher.

The thing that’s exciting about Boyd Crowder is your inability to nail him down. His slow speaking cadence packs an almost Elizabethan tang, as when (I can’t wait for this to happen, way up ahead from where I’m at now) he confronts a rich hypocrite up the hill who fatally underestimated the outlaw down the holler. Great bad guys have sympathetic qualities. We find ourselves rooting for Boyd; we can’t help ourselves.

It’s the old buddy story, the thing between Raylan and Boyd. The last episode of the final season culminates with Raylan saying, “We dug coal together.” It’s a mantra of the show.

It explains everything.

Raylan Givens understood Boyd’s potential for evil better than anybody, and was sworn to defeat him – indeed, wielding an anger parallel to that of his nemesis — but the two men have a bond as old as the hills.

When I find myself getting all twisted up in the dreary memory of my own tepid life, and how it erupts in blogs that then embarrass me, I come to a show like this, a show this exciting, for nurturance, a way to recharge myself, even my zeal in exploring the mythology of my own hero journey.

Yeah, it’s guy stuff. Barb is bingeing on Grey’s Anatomy; I go to Harlan County.

Having entered into the soundtrack of my mind is the innovative theme song by Gangstagrass, “Long Hard Times to Come,” a divine melding of rap and bluegrass. It’s so good I still have yet to hit “skip” on my remote when it plays each time, inaugurating another episode.

It’s so good I feel justified.

Below: Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder and Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett (both photos politely borrowed from FX, which has the right to sue me)

The Night I Became a Rock Star

This photo was taken by the Washington Post. It reminds me of me.

Watching a bunch of ignorant louts storm the Capitol on January 6, I suffered a sinking, eerie feeling that gnawed me worse than my revulsion at the violence being done my country’s shrine of government. I empathized with those self-described patriots; I related to these assholes fed a daily diet of Q-Anon and Trump’s own lies. Because for three decades of my life I was a similar schemer. I, too, dreamt of storming the stage.

This is about the one time I attained that stage and how it transformed me. It’s also about how it didn’t transform me, not until the sickness, impervious even to the prescribed catharsis, had to run its course, like some wounded tank slowly drained of petrol. On that day I realized that everything, the whole melodrama, had been about mere ego, just as that army of idiots may one day realize nothing was proved but their need to be seen.

To collapse a back story: after getting kicked out of Columbia University, I returned in the mid-seventies to my native Cleveland, where I discovered that my older sister’s friend, a gentleman named Roger Kleinman, played bass in Wild Horses, a rock band, launched in Columbus, that had moved up to Cleveland and were making a name for themselves. A “recovered” pothead who never went to bars, I went with Lisa to see them play.

I fell in love. And discovered the recreational joys of drinking. It was nothing for me to see the band play and dispatch a six of Miller Genuine Draft or Rolling Rock. Wild Horses represented to me whatever was rejuvenating, rebellious, and affirmative in rock ‘n’ roll.

 I was at the Pirate’s Cove every Saturday night. A rowdy Flats saloon adopted by bikers, the place had begun to resemble an S. Clay Wilson comic. Once, a fistfight raged around me while I sat up behind the sound man’s riser with Lisa, sublimely zonked on Seven and Sevens. I met a beautiful girl at the bar once and had a great time with her and would grow to wonder why I never called her again. For the most part I just got drunk and drove home. I collected a few DUIs during this period in my life.

It should have been all fun, but a sour syndrome of recrimination and worry began to pervade my nocturnal adventurings. An undeniable envy sprouted within me as I watched the band and drank. I fought off a sense I belonged on that stage with them but was too diffident to attempt such a thing. I would sink into worse, more private states of resentment and self-abuse at seeing one guy, as abandoned as I was inhibited, make a weekly ritual of getting up on stage Saturday nights to belt out “Johnny B Goode.”

The band’s hirsute, stocky singer, a toothy, clownish character, was a point of connection yet subtle mockery. When he wasn’t banging a cowbell or trying to play saxophone, he lent vocal credibility to such numbers as “Louie Louie” and “Eighteen” and would, from the stage, cajole the likes of me with the mid-set exhortation, “Get drunk and be somebody!” Maybe he had an arrangement with the saloon owners to help boost liquor sales.

I still just drank and didn’t do anything about my secret yen.

Wild Horses were dismissed by some as just another cover band, despite a flicker of at least regional fame with their quirky, reggae-styled little number “Funky Poodle.” I liked “Carbona Mona” better. I am given to understand that both originals sprang from the pen of guitar player and singer Steve Jochum, to whom my then-girlfriend ascribed the only star potential on the Wild Horses stage, amply demonstrated on that little pop-rock number with its predictable progression of chords.

Much of the appeal of Wild Horses resided in their fealty to the classics as well as recent radio hits they made their own. They did Santana, Stones, Beatles, Bowie, Kinks, Allmans, Skynyrd. The more I drank, the more I got swept up in the sense I was with them, which was fine, but this always morphed into a nagging conviction I had to do something about it.

I was of the same psychic stuff as Mark David Chapman or any of those people who assumed, or strove to assume, celebrity status through an act of violence.

I was and am a writer. I cannot help but write. I never felt that way about music. I threw off early classical piano lessons when I discovered marijuana and the Beatles’ double white album. (My dad clouted me across the jaw when, smirkingly stoned, I headed out the door to “party” rather than wait for Mrs. Krausz to come over and try to get my tangled fingers around that Beethoven sonata.) In my adulthood, during my Wild Horses fan years, I piddled around on an electric guitar I bought for over four hundred dollars and played along to Some Girls down the basement before I sold it to some kid who riffed chords on the thing and made a cutting remark about “having to work for it.”

And yet I kept going to see Wild Horses play, kept on aching to go up on stage, kept on telling myself I could do that. Sing. And kept chickening out. I’d veer toward the stage — before cutting over to the bar for another beer.

Why even have this stupid hang-up? I wondered in sober, self-pitying reflection. Many, many people stood around at the saloon swilling beers and listening. This did not palliate my conviction that I was a coward. I guess I thought I was special, I should do more.

The band cut a few albums that got regional airplay, even did some traveling. They kept on playing around town and there was Bobby Gitlin, still at it, still a fan, if disfigured by self-loathing.

There were aborted attempts to break out of my anonymity. Once I willed myself to proceed robotically onto the stage at the Sahara Club in Willoughby Hills and stood at the mike frozen, or pretending to sing, and when for weeks later some girl at the bar, who’d liked the look of me up there, kept telling me I reminded her of Springsteen it made me wish I had it in me to do it again, whatever it was I’d done. But dragging myself up there had depleted me. My revenge mission against nobodyness and failure remained but half waged.

I was in my thirties and forties, working jobs that located me squarely in the realm of lower middle class. By Achieving Jewish Standards of the era that produced me, I was a poor schlub laboring on the outskirts of anything resembling success. I could only afford some squalid apartment on the poor-person perimeter of Shaker Heights. I was a talented freelance writer, but most of my paychecks came from salaried sub-editor gigs for industrial magazines. That my craft must find inspiration in corrugated paperboard and vending machines did not sit well with this self-styled Kerouac, this would-be Salinger.

My therapist, to whom I’ve been talking about all this, tried not to smile when, remembering my life, I told her I’d thought my big problem at the time had nothing to do with entrepreneurial failure and living just above the poverty line but that I didn’t have the balls to get up on stage with Wild Horses. This silly hangup stretched on for half my adult life.

BY MY FIFTIES I’d moved to Arizona to teach high school. One summer I went back to Cleveland to visit. I spent an evening with Barb’s parents, who were, politically and culturally, the opposite of my liberal parents. I had some affection and gratitude for my mother- and father-in-law, and not just because Joe Chiancone had built a floorcovering business whose profits were already being distributed to his daughter and me as early inheritance. I felt at peace with these two working-class people as they sat in their den watching Larry King. Maybe that serene, almost drowsy feeling explains what happened.

After I excused myself, hugged Barb’s mom and shook Barb’s dad’s hand, I drove to Legacy Village, an upscale shopping plaza in Lyndhurst, where, on this balmy summer night, aging, never-say-die Wild Horses were playing outside. I didn’t drink anymore, having established sobriety and racked up several years of this as a new lifestyle.

I stood in the crowd loving the band. Tummler and self-appointed MC Roger with his between-song wisecracks as he stood there with his bass slung over his shoulders. Another bearded eminence, keyboard-playing ex-hippie Billy Buckholtz, who’d started the band and sang like Greg Allman. Jochum gone, replaced by one in a series of new guitarists. The ladykiller Italian drummer, Tony, gone into real estate. The bearded singer was still up there.

I stood in the little crowd enthralled, happy, reminiscing not without savor . . . when it occurred to me I still had those old thoughts. I still wanted to join them. And a new, fizzy calculation hit me: how easy it would be to do just that.

I marched through the light throng of mostly drunken frat boy types, up some steps, past an amp or two, sidled up next to Dennis (“Get drunk and be somebody!”) Christopher, stood behind a mike, and sang along best I could to “Honky Tonk Woman.” I think it was Dennis who handed me a tambourine or a cowbell, which I whacked with a will. I stayed up there for the next tune too. The band seemed glad to have me there, though I was miming some words. You’d have thought, having seen these guys seven thousand four hundred and thirty-eight times, I’d have them memorized.

They took a break and I got down from the stage.

Elated, I floated to my parked car, fumbled out my phone, and called Barb long distance. I gushed to her how I had done it. I had fucking done it!

She started to congratulate me, just as a call came cutting in and I had to get off.

“Where’d you go?”

It was Roger. They were going to start another set.

But I was so drained from having done what I’d done, I wasn’t sure I had the energy.

I have no memory of there being any continuance of Wild Horses with Bob Gitlin that night. I may have driven right home.

That should have been the end of this story. I wish it was. But it’s not.

Now I had something to prove. Had to do it again.

The next summer, they played Legacy Village again, and I made it a point to be in town again.

I drove around and around the place, got out and listened to the band, and chickened out. Began driving home, then castigated myself, pulled over onto a ramp off of Route 271, turned around and went back, chickened out again, and finally let myself go home to sleep at Mom’s.

Despite this, somehow singing had become part of my life.

I had wandered into an Arizona synagogue in an attempt to be Jewish, by which I mean I strove to unearth my birthright Judaism. I loved the rabbi, who took me in, fully understood my red diaper secularism, “got” that I’d had very little formal training in sung Jewish prayer, gave me a primer to learn Hebrew letters, even “conscripted” me (his joke) into the choir. I relished the spotlight, belting out the “Chatzi Kaddish” High Holy Days in yarmulke and fringed prayer shawl. Yet I was fully conscious this wasn’t the star mode I’d spent all those drunken nights contemplating. Bellied up to the bimah I manifested stocky pedantic Tevye, not yowling sinewy Jagger.

I flew back to Cleveland again one summer. Wild Horses were playing a big outdoors engagement during my stay.

They were playing outdoors to a huge crowd on a field by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Surveying the human sprawl, I quailed. This was fucking Woodstock! so unlike that Legacy Village parking lot opportunity with its accommodating gaggle of fans. But I steeled my resources and marched into “action.” I wended my way past people and speakers. The band was far off on that big stage. A mike near me was probably turned on. I parked myself behind it and yipped and growled to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Face burning, I left the stage right after the song, wanting to erase myself.

Roger told me on the phone next day, “Nobody knew you were there!”

We had dinner. I murmured something about still liking to sing. He said, not without a little acid, “Stick to the choir.”

My eyes fell on my plate. I felt ashamed, angry at myself for alchemizing one sweet magical moment into this sour end.

But that was the end of it, and in some tired region of my soul I must have been relieved.

ROGER is the big brother I never had as well as my longtime pro bono psychiatrist. I rarely call him to lament these days. Old age has knocked much of the mishigas off me.

But I had to call him a month or two ago for lawyerly advice about my wife’s and my will.

Soon as he saw my number flash on his cell, he picked up and cried, “More cowbell!”

After a startled moment I laughed, with happy relief. This greeting washed away the taste of his consigning me to the senescent temple choir, far removed from the soaring rebellion of Wild Horses.

“You know,” I said, “I will always remember doing that.” He knew I meant the good time, that magic solidarity at Legacy Village. “That was one of the most fun things I ever did.”

There was a pregnant pause, a moment of tacit brotherhood on the line, before Roger said, “Hey, at least you didn’t storm the Capitol.”

I chuckled obligingly, knowing what he meant, knowing all too well.

After I finally got off the phone with him, I found myself smiling bleakly at his remark.

A smile that widened as the days went by.

How to Stick the Landing on the Last Chapter of Your Life

Done driving myself nuts. Thought I’d try happiness.

I’ve struggled against poverty though never been so poor I couldn’t pay rent or have a car. Now I have a nice house and an SUV, a loving wife, and a fixed income that establishes me as middle class. I can relax.

And, at 67, work less. Social Security checks have begun to come in.

Barb has gone to a yet more part time schedule at the flower store.

Trying to gear down from four days a week to three at Walmart, I ran into a problem with personnel. Wound up promising the old gal there I’d stay on four days for yet another month, until she can do the hiring necessary to replace the labor they’re losing with my cutting back.

“They hired this one guy but he’s not enough, they need another,” I told Barb.

“That’s a compliment to you, isn’t it?” It is. I’d had a dock worker job at Dillard’s which I quit after daily battering by a lady boss who found me distressingly unused to such travail after my long white-collar pose. At Walmart I acquired manual-labor chops. And it did feel good. “I can’t remember when you had a job that made you so happy,” Barb said.

She was right. I had come to regard my whole “career” as a bust. Being a writer, being a teacher, one big collective shitshow. After the final gasp of all that, it was “Walmart, here I come.” Not a proud moment. More like proof positive I was a failure, having “come to this.”

Then something funny happened. I wound up cobbling together some self-respect working at the store. After a rocky start, getting backhanded and dissed just because I was a foreign presence among these working-class grunts, I learned how to do everything. Even began to incur praise. I came to get along with fellow crew members and with the ravaged hierarchies of over-stressed bosses, themselves under the gun from their own taskmasters to increase productivity.

I clock out with a feeling of elation.

When a manager asked me to stay late last week to work a cart still on the floor in Pets, I sighed but said yes. Every muscle ached. I was so tired of taking off and putting on my reading glasses, which fog when I wear them along with the expletive-deleted mask. Wrestling 40- and 50-pound dog food sacks and kitty litter containers is a muscle job, a job for a young man. I could have asked for something else here. But I’m too proud to stand at the front of the store and say, “Welcome to Walmart.”

I worked late unloading that pet cart. And you better believe the boss was grateful. That’s a good thing. Wasn’t sure he liked me.

I’ve been lightening my karma at Walmart, showing my fealty to a team ethos, a community. I even feel – don’t laugh – I’m doing selfless service, transcending my petty ego.

I like helping customers. I know where everything is in Grocery.

I like the humble job.

But I’m nearing 70. I don’t want to hump pet food sacks and cap out the Antarctic freezer for much longer. Nor, however, do I want to retire into a life of easy-chair re-viewings of movies I’ve already memorized. Maybe it’s not a good thing I own The Godfather, available for my infinite delectation.

To prepare for a fit and productive retirement, I’m trying to cut back on TV. I read books that challenge and expand my awareness, books that got by me in college. I will take this opportunity to announce a somewhat compromised adoration of Dostoevsky, whose The Idiot represented an arduous four-month slog. But I’m glad I read it. I signed up for The Great Courses and MasterClass both online and, weirdly, have gotten more out of dorky old-fashioned Russian literature expert Prof. Irwin Weil, of Northwestern University, addressing kids in a room in folding chairs, than from Martin Scorsese talking about making movies, a program albeit slickly produced by MasterClass, much as I love Marty. I guess I’ll keep reading Russian literature. I won’t be making movies.

I figured when I retired, though I’ve foresworn being a writer, I would, well, write.

But danger lurks here. Writing could be a place I get twisted up in my past rather than heal my soul or even provide credible entertainments.

The other night I dreamt I was screaming bloody murder at an old friend who in real life has died. I was stunned upon awakening.

“I must have a lot of anger,” I murmured over to the next pillow.

Barb said I should do “morning pages.” You wake up and take paper and scribble out dream memories, anything else that comes to mind, and throw the pages away. This lubricates you, gets you in touch with yourself. “With you, you blog, you revise, but it’s all in your head. You never get out of it.”

I’m not sure that’s correct. I see it as a big battle in my heart, my whole being, that is hard to resolve.

A confession from an old hippie who acquired much of his philosophy from Castaneda occultism: Don Juan, the yakking Yaqui, says happy people are very “careful about the nature of their acts.”

I think the suffering which writing has caused me – exposing a lack of self-esteem, sharing mushy directionless prose – has forced me to mold myself into a better writer. What better exercise for an aging man willing to keep learning?

This blog allows me to target a topic, conjure a theme, and – respecting the old verities of beginning, middle, and end – let that arrow fly as fast as possible. Because people don’t have time.

Hope you had time for this.

Shards of a gift

I was listening to The White Album in my car, bathing in a double disc package whose technical name is The Beatles and that I might have paid three or four bucks for at Recordland when it came out; listening to the two CDs, cruising around, when I came to realize — yet again, and in a new way — just why the Beatles have magic. There is no way to appreciate this multifarious foray into new zones without remembering how they started, with “Yeah yeah yeah” and “I saw her standing there.” How far they ranged!

Photo courtesy of Apple Records

You can trace the dissolution of the band through the gestures and key moments of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. McCartney may be set on sweet nonsense (his “Silly Love Songs” was a dud), but “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” makes you happy! Whereas I always associated Lennon with the confusion and violence, the dissonance and horror: “Yer Blues”; “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey”; and “Helter Skelter,” even though it turns out that was a McCartney composition!

But despite the dissonance, there’s an artistic integrity in Lennon, a poignancy, that outreaches anything else in the Beatles canon. He challenges you in his obstinate divagations from the pop songbook. I guess in the Lennon/McCartney pairing, it all gets mixed together, and that’s what made those songs great.

Is there anything weirder than “Revolution Number 9”? From the English gentleman’s “They are standing still” to the doomed and sonorous cantorial warbling, from the young woman’s “You become naked” to all the scratchy crosstalk of studio sound effects used against the laws of aesthetics and harmony, it’s a dissection of the whole mess of the human psyche. The Beatles produced songs that were downright scary! This one is rather in the footsteps of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” off of Sgt. Pepper, a song whose carnival music elicits a prickle of dread. One thinks of William Burroughs’s cutup theory, how the books he crafted that way are unreadable but for discrete, congruous patches; the avant garde weirdness of “Revolution Number 9” was crafted that way yet is all of a piece! I feel the John energy on this one, just as he was with that masterpiece of psychedelia “Tomorrow Never Knows” off of Revolver, and what many call his best work, the climactic chapter of Sgt. Pepper, “A Day in the Life,” a combination of dreamy narrative and mounting orchestral riot.

There is no Lennon without McCartney. The White Album would be flat and unpalatable without Paul’s whimsy. Perhaps my favorite number on the whole record is his reproduction of a nineteen-twenties dance hall ditty. With its scratchy backdrop and way of singing, and its overall lilt, “Honey Pie” had to be a faithful rendering of an existing song, I thought, till I Googled it and found that Paul wrote it! Randy Newman identified McCartney as one of a handful of geniuses at concocting melody. Recreations of old Swing Era ballads tend to be disturbing, in fact created for that purpose, like the Gold Ballroom soundtrack of The Shining or the pop hit of Johnny Favorite in Angel Heart. But Paul’s song is different; it warms and consoles. Paul rocked hard, but he also sang us lullabies.

George Harrison’s contributions are far from negligible. I once cringed at “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” indulging in Nik Cohn rock-dreams speculations I had no right to, relating to the unplasant detail (to me) of Clapton pirating George’s wife. And here’s Eric contributing those agonizing riffs! But I dig the song now. Those men re-cemented their friendship to build another monument to Beatles magic. It has the cosmic energy of a blues classic, as affirmed by anybody’s YouTube perusal of the Rock Hall tribute pending George’s passing, with its input by all manner of rock luminaries including Prince’s jaw-dropping guitar finale. George Harrison was a genius. “Who knew?” George Martin would muse. We knew he was “a magical guy” (Clapton’s words) ever since “Here Comes the Sun” and “My Sweet Lord.”

Oh, and speaking of the Beatles longtime producer, Howard Stern is a little off the mark to badmouth George Martin as an intrusion, an afterthought, unworthy of being mythologized with the four Beatles. His contribution was immense. Martin’s traditional sensibility, manifested in those symphonic productions and arrangements, enlivened and expanded the Beatles palette. “Eleanor Rigby” is but one early example of the debt we owe George Martin. And it was Martin, the “old straight guy,” who would say, about his having heard the raw tapes of what became Revolver, “They were starting to hand me much more interesting work.” He was as hip as they were.

A schismatized magic gleams out from The Beatles. As do some pure, stand-alone nuggets that stand any test of time. “Dear Prudence” is still gorgeous. A folk singer named Colette used to play and sing it at the Barking Spider in Cleveland with such fealty to the original I would listen with something near rapture. I still jump around in my seat to the flat-out rocker “Back in the U.S.S.R.”; Russians love it too, have a whole cult and party scene around it. Nobody rocked like the lads from Liverpool. “Birthday,” same thing. Hold onto your fucking hat, and what about that galactic ending?

It’s a shame the band is no more, but you can read history in the runes. You can see, in the White Album, the pieces of a mosaic representing this astounding breadth of artistry. Just as you can see how the pieces, once separated, would never come completely back together again.

I Miss Real Republicans

Emily Proctor as conservative Republican counsel Ainsley Hayes in The West Wing (photo: Warner Bros.)

I voted for John McCain in 2008, praying he wouldn’t die and leave me with Sarah Palin.

In the gear-up to the election, I was sitting at my mom’s kitchen table talking politics with her and my sister, an ardent liberal Democrat. Lisa flew into a rage hearing I would vote for McCain.

“How could you do that?” she squealed. “What are you, crazy?” She said I’d gotten Neanderthal, I liked right-wing warmongers because of some inner rage best explained by psychoanalysis.

I let her blow off all her steam. You have to with Lisa or you’ll never talk.

“I’ll explain it to you if you want to hear,” I said.

She shut up.

“Okay. First of all, you may not know this, but he’s a very hip guy. Much loved by the media. John McCain is a truly personable man, and funny. Reporters love riding his bus.” I could have added he spent too much time on Sunday morning talk shows, but none of the bloom had come off the McCain rose for me. I still loved him for his brave proposal to fix immigration laws.

Lisa seemed taken aback by my opening salvo; she’d no doubt thought McCain stodgy.

“Now, on to his credentials. With all this terrorism and security threat after 9/11, I like the idea of a guy like him, a war hero, in charge. What’s Obama? Some little pisher who had a cup of coffee in the Senate and all of a sudden wants to be president.”

I said some other things, made some rational points. Lisa seemed mollified, at least by my ability to weather the storm of her proto-commie broadside with a sober argument.

Later, my mother got up next to me, took my arm and said, “Bob, I’m proud of you.” This from a woman who would vote for Obama. But she had raised an educated citizen, and that was more important to her than party affiliation.

I have always resisted identifying myself with either party, though I seem to have signed up as a Democrat. I get mail and ballots from the Democratic Party. But in the current horror that is American political and civic life, know what I miss most? A healthy Republican Party.

The GOP used to be the party of fiscal prudence and small government, of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. I never was offended by the bullet points of the GOP credo. In fact, I secretly liked them.

I read in a column by Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times that we may be ending a half-century cycle begun by Ronald Reagan, if signs of Joe Biden’s ardent progressivism and willingness to spend money to get results are to be read aright. We might be starting a new cycle.

That’s saying a lot. It’s saying former Democrat presidents somewhat labored under the Reagan banner. But the theory holds up.

Bill Clinton made enemies in the union movement with NAFTA (I know, I did PR for the UFCW). He lost bona fides as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal when he tightened welfare laws and sentencings for peddling narcotics. But he was far-sighted about the global economy, domestic jobs, and public fears during the crack epidemic. One reason he smells so sweet in our memory, despite his failures (particularly that 1994 crime bill), was his willingness to coopt conservative arguments. A lot of ideas he wielded – ideas that subtly revivified the Democratic Party — came from the other side of the two-party-system aisle. They were Republican ideas. Back then, despite noxious Newt Gingrich, whose influence would metastasize into the political mutation of today, a fairly intact Republican Party helped check Democrat excesses.

There remains barely a vestige of that salutory system of bipartisan checks and balances. The big stars of the GOP are slimy personalities like Texas’s Sen. Ted Cruz, a political prostitute vying for Trump acolytes even after Trump de-balled him in the 2016 primaries. Or, the real loo-loo, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Greene, an avowed QAnon addict and hater of blacks and Muslims and Jews, a woman who called the Parkland, Fla., school shooting a ruse staged by Democrats to steal your guns, and who chased and taunted a student survivor of that shooting as he pounded pavements trying to tighten gun laws.

Core conservative Republican values are not antithetical to the values of good Democrats.

Some of the best moments in the NBC series The West Wing were when the liberal Democrat administration undertook to work with conservative Republicans, from whiz-kid think-tanker Ainsley Hayes, hired to help the legal team out of some pipe-cramped basement office; to the emergency president, played by John Goodman, a right-wing hawk who shunts Martin Sheen’s traumatized Josiah Bartlet aside after Eurotrash terrorists kidnap Bartlet’s daughter, and puts thing right; to Jimmy Smits’s newly elected Democrat president, in the swan-song season, offering secretary of state to Alan Alda’s narrowly vanquished Republican opponent Arnold Vinick.

Would that Biden’s promise could come true: that he, as with Reagan and Tip O’Neill, can reach compromises over a glass of whiskey.

Whoever’s there to work with, there aren’t enough of them.

Oh, there are a few brave souls. Mitt Romney. Liz Cheney.

Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman showed his decency and embrace of honored values in a Wall Street Journal interview with sedate yet irrepressible Peggy Noonan. There’s a reason Portman and Arizona’s former Sen. Jeff Flake have cashed their chips. You can’t be a real Republican anymore; there’s no traction. A GOP strategist told Noonan it’s a good time to hang out on Fox being an asshole, but if you want to “get shit done” the Republican Party’s just not in the business anymore.

Looks like that “Gone fishin” sign is hung there permanent. God, please let me be wrong.

White out

A whiteout offers time to get in touch with oneself. All will heal, even the deck couch (you can see a corner of it lower right) will survive getting snowed on before its owner got it together to wrap it with twine and plastic. The grill is battened down though! All things considered, a snow blizzard is more blessing than curse. For damn sure I wasn’t going to slide around breaking my ass to get to work today! If I lack the PTO to make it a paid day, screw it.

January whiteout kept me from going to Walmart to work today. I still woke up predawn and did what I do in my office to gear up to the day, a day of leisure but squinting guilt ridden leisure such as I have made my own over the course of an adult life. Surrounded by conundrums and paradoxes I can never solve, ah what a relief to at least know this now. Perhaps we shall get another dog and I may pay down my karma by training it not to swallow metal or plastic objects that will rip open its stomach. Perhaps I shall find a place of rest then. But until that time I sit in my office I subscribe to three online newspapers: The New York Times, read an excellent travelogue some journalist traveled thousands of miles recording ghost town and wilderness America, Make America Great Again emblazoned from roadside ramshacklery (Kerouac rhythms on my mind, you see); The Washington Post, for its superb crisp reporting (they go a little shorter than the  sometimes windy Times) and bracing columnists; and, just to even out my nagging liberalism, and to catch the precise and potent Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, who tore Trump a new one bad as anyone after the Rape of the Capitol.

I’ve come from watching the first five installments of Long, Strange Trip, a very well done documentary about the Grateful Dead that’s on Amazon Prime and that includes, among other delights, testimonial from Deadhead nerd extraordinaire disgraced Minnesota Senator Al Franken who I wish would storm the politics stage again, he’s suffered enough.

White blanket we used to let the dog out she’d burst out there and do her business in the ghost land of no cars and a few hearty souls shoveling, come right back to shake off the snow but she loved the snow, I miss Rosa but we might be ready to get another one and this time I’ll take training seriously, even if doing that makes me miss her even more. Perhaps we’d better dismantle our little foyer shrine with its memorabilia and box of ashes commemorating what was the main source of material for this blog and whose removal constituted quite an obstacle to my writerly flow, aside from the anguished outpouring on Facebook that so many kind souls responded to. After that I sat stunned.

Come full around don’t care about much of anything. I write because I am a writer. That’s why I’m back in the chair of a morning, snow all round outside. About to go Joyce and utter the final words of “The Dead” but I’ll spare you. Snow is general all over Prescott, let’s leave it at that.

I don’t understand politics anymore, all wisdom eludes me. I hear the Q-Anon people murmuring in the break room about the insurrection that hasn’t given up yet, I stay out of it what’s the point, but those are the people who you have a problem with the stocking system or a customer, they’ll put down what they’re doing and give it their all to help you. I seem well liked, even by AA friend Patty who always chides me about the bags under my eyes and I got sensitive and cold-shouldered her a few days ago then had to hug her and admit I always was an oversensitive pussy. I love my Walmart friends. We suffer so hard, all working our underpaid asses off. I even like the pipsqueak gal who now has been given the power to run the joint. Walmart seems, customers and workers alike, rather a repository for what I regard as backward politics.  But you stay out of it and you wind up taking any of them over some snide liberal cynic any day. These haggard Walmarters’ cynicism is just ignorance, and mine is a life of spectacular ignorance in action so I should talk. You see I can’t hate as well as I used to. It just won’t work.

AA’s dropped out of the picture because I’d rather not take the chance on live meetings during the coronavirus pandemic and sometimes wonder why not pour some good whiskey over a tumbler of ice. But I’ve been living like this so long, a consummate bore, my worst drug indiscretions seem to involve caffeine and one ridiculous dalliance with dick pills I didn’t need but my doctor gave me after hearing me wonder aloud about the potential effects of blood pressure meds. Barb will figure out how we can get a vaccination sometime soon. That’s drugs I can use. I’ll die one day but hell, I’d like to stave the fucker off long as possible.

Trying to pave the way for a rich and self-educational retirement, I signed up for online Master Class and (though by mistake, thinking I was getting the other) The Great Courses. In the first I’m watching Martin Scorsese talk about every aspect of film making, I’ll never make a movie so why am I watching this? I am watching this because this man glows with the fire of art, and I’ve always idolized him. In queue behind this are Sedaris on humor writing and other stuff I picked for forgot what I picked. The Great Courses a little stodgier, teachers at lecterns pontificating to college kids on folding chairs, got a class where some Northwestern professor is talking about Russian literature, I’m watching that too, using it to better understand The Idiot, better than a third of the way through but come on. I used to think I was smart but I am crawling through this book, not the speedreading whiz kid I liked to think I was. Slow, but I’m rapt. A velociraptor within. (Word play. Refuge of the bankrupt literary tactician.) It’s snowing like a mother out there. Good thing I called out.

Chillin in the ‘hood of my mind

Woodrow Call & Augustus McCrae | Lonesome dove, Lonesome dove quotes, Hat  creek cattle company

Call and McCrae: great foils make great movies.

Trouble with retiring is the big question “And do what?”

That’s where I’m stuck. I have this blog, which some people read, and I send stories out to magazines and other publishers. I do have “hobbies,” which seems a lackluster word. My wife says I better get some before I think of retiring from Walmart.

It’s become an urgent topic of consideration, what with Social Security money, for the first time, about to cross our threshold.

Hobbies. Hobbies.

Hm. Let’s see …

I sit around on my free time and read what other people wrote. I finished Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, and was so impressed I wrote him a chummy letter.

Yeah I know. Dreaming myself into the company of great men.

One meets distinguished men in the common course of life.

Met one who majored in Russian and Slavic literature in college. We hit it off. He gave me a stack of Gogol, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, and some others, and at present I am enjoying The Idiot.

This is a source of encouragement for me.

The Idiot is about a very pure, sweet man, a sort of saint, a man without suspicion or rancor, who is regarded, perhaps because of epilepsy, as an idiot. An anecdote emerges from my private fund of Beat apocrypha. When Allen Ginsberg was committed to a mental hospital in the forties and met Carl Solomon, another patient, allusions to Dostoyevsky sounded between them. (Given a small paperback imprint by his father, Solomon would one day respond to Ginsberg’s publicizing push by printing Burroughs’s Junky.) Ginsberg said, by way of introduction, “I’m Prince Myshkin,” referring to the abovementioned saintly character; Solomon fired back he was Kirilov, from The Possessed. I remember Kirilov as a maniac up all night having drunk too much tea. That’s about all I remember from the book; I may not even have finished it. You need a table of characters at your fingertips what with so many of them, and use of first as well as last names, diminutives and formal.

Dostoyevsky’s bitter, terribly personal Notes from Underground is one of the books that shaped me, but I wavered in my respective slogs through Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (the latter I recall as Lear only with sons instead of daughters). Perhaps I have always masqueraded rather than truly been a reader, a scholar. Working chest and triceps, or back and biceps, or legs and shoulders at Fitness for 10, then biding my time on my easy chair before the big screen, may be more my speed.

But with this new book, The Idiot, I just might succeed in finding a Dostoyevsky to at least balance off the one little book of his I already love, thereby burnishing my credentials as scholarly. Hate to run around calling myself a Dostoyevsky fan having taken to my heart but one little book of his.

I’m thinking of signing up for that Master Class they’re advertising online. David Sedaris teaches humor writing; Joyce Carol Oates, the short story; Scorsese, making film. I could tell Barb I was involved in something like that and she’d stop calling me unconnected to the world. She thinks I’m a hermit. Though we all are during this Covid lay-in.

What else do I do? I watch old movies I’ve already seen before. My wife chides me for that, too, just as my mother used to do.

I myself wonder why, after the riveting beginning and early action scenes of Black Hawk Down and that throbbing soundtrack, I don’t bail out when it becomes Tom Sizemore yelling at the top of his lungs into the ears of the other soldiers on that fateful day in Somalia, unable to hear anything above the shelling. It gets dinful.

How many times can I watch Lonesome Dove? But it’s that good. Augustus McCrae may be the greatest cowboy hero of all time, and I view this performance as the apex of Robert Duvall’s career. And there never was a more perfect foil than Tommy Lee Jones’s tightlipped Woodrow Call. Speaking of westerns, one reason I loved Brokeback Mountain was the perfect pairing of complementary characters as played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. The corresponding literature of both these films – as with that template, To Kill a Mockingbird – more than does justice to the movies.

I recently watched, yet again, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which a Facebook person in my orbit called, correctly, “criminally underappreciated.” Russell Crowe’s jaunty, impeccably militaristic Captain Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany’s intellectual Irish-rebel ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin constitute another example of perfect foils.

In my retirement, indeed my dotage, I shall sit around contemplating my worth as an appreciator of the arts. How eclectic I am! The same man who loves Annie Hall loves Taxi Driver; the same man who loves “Here Comes the Sun” loves “Yer Blues.”

Come to that, did anybody but me feel Bon Jovi hit exactly the right note with his Inauguration performance of that George Harrison song? Happiness has been elusive. Watching Jon sing this sweet, magical testament to life’s way of rejuvenating itself was just what the doctor ordered.

But enough sitting on my ass in my writing chair. Better go to my reading chair and plow further into The Idiot.

Be an idiot not to.

My Searing Junior High School Memory

My friend Alan and I agreed. Greenview Junior High School had a great cafeteria. We adored the establishment’s bill of fare. These hair-netted gals made big sheets of square thick-crust pizza, more a zesty than a sweet sauce, though somehow that’s the only entrée I remember. I remember the desserts quite well. There was pecan pie, which was new to me: a mixture of crunch and gooey teeth-aching sweetness. And oh, the little egg custards in a cup! Once, with someone timing me, I slurped one down in eight seconds. I never tried to secure the recognition of The Guinness Book of World Records, but that should be in there.

Alan wasn’t my only friend. There was Mike, of course, may he rest in peace. When I moved from Cleveland to South Euclid, Mike sponsored me in suburban society.

One of the kids Mike introduced me to was Peter, an anomalous Italian among the Jewish population of the neighborhood, who joined our knockabout tackle football games at Bexley Park. He was into athletics, fitness challenges. He once approached me as I sat on the bleachers during noon rec and said he could do 75 pushups, then dropped and did them. Good ones. Didn’t even seem winded when he sprang back up. Built like a Greek god.

Somehow I recall “having lunch fourth.” That was the earliest period you could have it. There was also fifth and, I think, sixth. I was sitting in social studies or math or English dreaming about lunch. When the bell rang I banged out the classroom door and went running – not walking, running – down the hall to be ahead of everybody. I shot down the stairs, barely holding onto the rail to correct for the centrifugal swing. I hit the bottom of the stairs to make my final turn and head into the home stretch to the chow line. Only trouble was, it had been raining, the tiles were slick, and I slipped and fell on my ass.

That would be bad enough, but I saw out of the corner of my eye, coming down from the top of the stairs, none other than Peter.

I was crimson with shame, and am sure I loaded my tray with a compromised élan that day.

Peter was pretty nice, and I wonder if he felt for me, felt my embarrassment, because it wasn’t long after that, during study hall, that he sat down across from me and engaged me in a real guy conversation, about, oh, among other things, whether I’d discovered playing with myself. I guess he just wanted me to know animal urges were normal. Not to impute adult foresight and guidance to this fun, blonde-haired moppet of a kid, but I did feel the presence of a gesture intended to mollify my little social agony and shame.

He revealed something about himself.

“You know what I love?” he said. “My mom makes it for me. You take chocolate cake and pour milk over it and it gets real soft, like mush . . . and then I eat it. That’s real good.”

You look at this kid with his rock chest and arms and shoulders and washboard belly – nobody looked like that at this age – and found it odd, and touching, to hear him talk about something so . . . private and comfort producing. So Pillsbury dough boy. He seemed made of iron.

I wanted to be made of iron too, but I had many guises, all competing for primacy during this period. I was figuring out who I was. There were a lot of Bob Gitlins.

I was athletic and loved not only the tackle football games but what we called “chicken fights.” One kid got on the shoulders of another and tried to claw down the rider of another team. Peter and I were a good team.

I played tennis. A kid named Artie once beat me two sets to one in ninety-degree heat at Bexley Park and though I lost I would always remember with a glow such an epic fight.

I hated Little League because I didn’t want to be there and performed sluggishly. I fell in love with Cap’n Crunch, precipitating a chubby phase that warred with the athleticism.

That war is still on. It’s why I still work out at the gym three days a week and put up with a manual labor job that would fell lesser sorts. I’m 67 and I still care about muscle and fitness. I wonder if it was Peter’s influence. I’ve lost touch with him.

My therapist says I have to be kinder to myself. There’s a happy medium between self-punishment and self-indulgence.

I told her she reminded me of my mother, who used to say you had to be your own best friend.

“You think there was wisdom in that?”

“Yes I do,” said my therapist, and she smiled.

I am guilty of promulgating fake news, and I am sorry

Young J.D. Vance (played by Owen Asztalos) learns much from his mother (Amy Adams), though addiction grows to subvert her authority.

 

The face reminded me of Adrienne Barbeau; something about the mouth was Tuesday Weld. The voice was pure Dolly Parton, though she was not burdened with the outlandish bust.

Lisa was in many ways my first real girlfriend. She might have been called a “hillbilly chick,” living as she did on the near west side of Cleveland, a working-class white neighborhood. I still lived with my parents in a two-story colonial in the east side suburb of South Euclid.

She was nineteen and I was twenty-nine when we met in a bar. We were both there to see Wild Horses, whose bass player was a friend of mine. She was feasting her eyes on the bull-necked, shaggy-haired, indecently studly Italian drummer, who was known to cause the drool level to rise in quite a few women.

She was not so distracted as not to respond to my inane repartee as I sat there, not far from her, guzzling Rolling Rock.

She went out with me, became my steady girl. After my repressed twenties, Lisa provided an intimacy I’d long been denied.

I got away with it for a year or two before she broke up with me. There was a culture gap between us, but also I had been denied sexuality and female companionship for so long that what I had with her could only be the start of a new chapter for me. I can’t say all the explorations matched up to her freshness and affection and charm.

I never forgot Lisa, and often considered how she’d made the right move marrying some fireman with a boat he put onto Lake Erie, a man who appeared a lot more fun than I was. All I ever did was take her to Corky and Lenny’s deli at Cedar Center to show off my glamorous exotic shiksa or to Loparo’s pizza joint up the corner from my parents’ house, then down my parents’ basement to make out on the hard couches.

When I discovered she’d wandered into my Facebook orbit forty years later, I was delighted. I don’t know to what extent she read my blog, but I know she read the Facebook teasers I would create to advertise it.

It saddened me that I pissed her off because of a rant I did about Biden and Trump. I am using this space to apologize for it.

I referred to “rednecks” cruising around in big pickup trucks with American flags and Trump banners waving even after he lost the election.

I launched the thing spuriously, though, and this I now must admit. I said the Walmart sporting goods department no longer had guns because, fearing a “gun grabber” president, people bought them out. I never knew that for sure.

I found out from some blowhard in the lunchroom at least a week later that there are no guns there because Walmart decided to stop selling them. The guy he was sitting with put in that recent shootings in Walmarts, like El Paso, prompted the move.

I swooned at the thought of my laziness, my never having checked it out. Just to make sure, I Googled the thing and found that at the end of October the company made this decision.

When I had ranted online, I used the absence of the firearms to lob a nasty comment about how, day after the Sandy Hook horror, it must’ve been “these same assholes” muttering, “That nigger better not try to take my gun,” but that was a lie too. I made that quote up. Fictional license? No. This is a form of journalism. Anger untampered by facts is poison.

I didn’t know I’d fucked up right away with what I’d written, except Lisa commented, “You dated a redneck once. Boy, I had you figured wrong.”

I felt sad. Fell into abject apology mode. I love everybody, blah blah. Meant no offense.

In truth, I don’t think I harbor any animus toward people of Appalachian background. Yet I can feel some kind of unavoidable falseness going on here as I say this.

My friend Dan, former fellow teacher and Marine, once said to me, “Around here, you’re a redneck or you’re nobody.”

A month ago a guy in an AA meeting intimated he was disappointed Trump lost. “I went to work out this morning at my redneck gym,” where guys there were bitching and moaning.

My old girlfriend bristled at my use of “redneck,” the whole context. Felt it smeared her. I know she liked Trump, am sure her husband and family want him to keep being president.

But that’s not the point. I should have been more sensitive.

If I hear someone talk about “Jewish people” I cringe. First of all, why not just say Jews? You can feel them dancing around these alien people they don’t get. Or like.

THE MOVIE Hillbilly Elegy was quite good and did not deserve its negative reviews. First of all, Amy Adams filled out wasn’t bad on the eyes, and she inhabited this intellectually brilliant but crazed character with all the aplomb she brings to her other work. Secondly, Glenn Close’s pistol-packin’ mama — a brave and unflinching foray from the sexpot of Fatal Instinct — stole the screen. Thirdly, Gabriel Basso was believable as the product of Kentucky rustic culture and all that family fierceness in protecting one’s own: a young man trying to fight his way out of (what my Texas sister once called) the rural ghetto but without losing his pride in his heritage.

The book, by J.D. Vance, told the story of a people that needed to be told, people from the upper South, using Route 23 to get to Ohio and all those factory jobs. This scene has fallen into economic depression and opioid abuse, a slew of social agonies that are just now beginning to be correctly catalogued.

There’s even a scene in the film where the character playing Vance bristles at the use of the word “redneck” by one of the east coast lawyers he came there to get hired by.

I don’t think I’ll be using the word redneck anymore.

Long as you don’t talk about Jewish people.

Renewed Hope in the Rockwellian Barber Chair

I voted for Biden to pick up where Obama left off, but I wonder whether Trump has mutated America beyond repair.

 

The glass case in Walmart’s sporting goods department commonly displays a full array of rifles and other guns.

It’s empty.

Against the advent of a “gun-grabbing” Biden presidency, Prescott-area residents bought up firearms. Must be the same assholes who, day after Sandy Hook, ran around muttering, “Just let that nigger try to take my guns.”

Sometimes I wonder why I live here.

Chorus of Prescottonians: “So go back where you came from. We don’t need you.”

Ah, they’re stuck with me. Anyway, the shits are just some of them. And there are shits everywhere.

Barb and I have a nice house; we’re dug in. I always had more of a sentimental association with Cleveland than she did anyhow.

I’ve bonded with Prescott. You can’t beat the climate.

Moving back to Cleveland wouldn’t help. My friend there told me on the phone, some months back, he’d driven to Lake Erie for a yacht or boat party and the scene bristled with Trump and MAGA regalia, boats and trucks with banners broadcasting love for this political gate-crasher who bled civility from public life. Nostalgia for Ohio? Hah! Ohio just went redder than Arizona!

Unless you’re living in a gay enclave in densest Manhattan, you can’t escape Trumpism.

Shame abounds. I know at least one Jewish relative who will spew the spurious gospel of tax freedom and Trump’s enabling of Israel. I’m all for Israel, never saw Zionism as an epithet; I advocate for that beleaguered nation’s staunchest defense. But Clinton was right. A two-state solution has to happen. And whoever thinks Trump is better for Israel than Biden would be, and Obama was, is dead wrong.

Don’t get me started on religion. Because let’s not forget the evangelicals, in bed with Trump because of conservative Supreme Court judges and abortion. The whole thing is the perfect storm of nonsense and horror.

I keep my mouth shut in the Walmart break room where the loudest people are employees spouting off in favor of Trump, who lost the election but isn’t man enough to admit it. He doesn’t give a shit about them; they’re just acolytes in his cult of personality.

I got a haircut the other day and got into a political chat with the barber. He’s from Bulgaria, as is his mother, who was styling a gal behind us.

I mentioned to my barber the talented Bulgarian actress in the new Borat movie. We picked up where we’d left off last haircut, talking about Bulgaria.

I asked whether Bulgarian barbershops were any different from ours.

Mom, overhearing, chimed in that Bulgaria was a communist country, there were only a few politically sanctioned cuts. That wowed me.

Isaac, my talented young barber, said he was afraid Biden was a socialist who’d raise his taxes.

“Who told you that?” I said.

“People here say that.”

Your taxes wouldn’t go up,” I corrected him as gently as possible.

He laughed. “But that’s what I’m hearing. You would hear that in a conservative Republican town.”

I smiled and allowed, “Yeah, well, Democrats can talk a lot of bullshit too.”

Didn’t want to prolong any defense of the Biden administration I’d copped to voting for; I could feel the neck hairs on the lady customer getting cut behind me prickling as I spoke.

I AM ENGROSSED in Barack Obama’s memoir, marveling at its wit, humility, and vision. I always felt history will be kind to him and burnish his legacy. I miss his big heart and disdain for esoteric frippery. People have said he was wonkish and long winded (he admits that when he began in politics he was), but when you listen to his speeches overall, to his most recent, and to those that marked his presidency, you hear plain language, language pristine and elemental.

Trump is hateful and inarticulate. And got seventy million votes.

I just read a decent piece in The New York Times about the futility of trying to empathize with Trumpers.

My take on this thing is that Trump backers found the Trump reign to be … well, fun. There was no teacher in the room to tell them to read pages 17 through 34 and answer the questions on page 35. The mood was anti-intellectual. It doesn’t matter whether the countervailing force was Bill Clinton, the best president in my lifetime, or Barack Obama, whose political finesse lagged behind his communications genius. No accounting in words of the inevitability of a multicultural nation and need to consider a new melting pot, no adult explanation about race as a core issue and Black Lives Matter a fit reaction to entrenched bias in our policing, will work.

Thank you, internet culture and social media magnates — and Donald Trump, their cementing force — for bringing us into the era of no facts, only warring tribal myths. The more outlandish, the more successful.

And Bill Maher’s right. Democrats are culpable too, with their far-left outing of public figures in the name of political correctness. No wonder nobody likes us either.

It’s highly likely Biden will be hogtied, what with chinless whore Mitch McConnell exerting his clamp hold on the Senate. How I root for a miracle in Georgia!

Do we have political naïf Obama to thank for bringing us into this era of opposing-party intransigence?

I guess we’d better not forget it was a room of Pelosi-spearheaded Democrats that pushed through the Affordable Care Act.

The sword cuts both ways. And that sword needs to be retired in favor of compromise.

Biden has said as much, and he’s right.