Mar. 2nd, 2034




Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Ebola

So-o, at 1:45 am last night, RTT starts texting me – Can’t sleep. Feels sad. Doesn’t want to do anything. Life is not worth living, etc.

Woke me up. I didn’t get back to sleep till 5 or so, and now I’m a zombie.

Clearly, he’s suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder related to the robbery. It triggers the memories of Justin’s suicide.

He needs therapy but short of driving back up there, throwing him in a car, and taking him to a clinic myself, I’m not sure how to get him into therapy.

I mean, I’d drive up there in a heartbeat, but he never does anything I tell advise him to do, so really, it would be a wasted trip.

But somehow his father and I need to convince him this must be done.

I invited him down to spend some time with me in the boring, bucolic Hudson River Valley – hangin’ with the pusskers, being fussed over by Mommy etc. But he didn’t want to do that either.

I must say, I’m really rather exhausted by the continual crises. I get that it’s not his fault – well, I mean the large sum of money sitting in his sock drawer was his fault, but not the robbery. Still.

I feel as though somehow I managed to survive the last six years – shit, the last 15 years if you want to factor in all the work and nail-biting that went into starting a business – shit, the last 20 years if you count all the ICM madness – and now all I want to do is curl up in a little ball, write my little fantasy stories and read biographies of the Mitford Sisters. Maybe travel a little. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently.

In other news, Ebola has hit the Big Apple. A hipster doc came home from his stint with Médecins Sans Frontières in Guinea and didn’t take the isolation protocol very seriously. One assumes this is because he knew for a fact that his HazMat suit had never been never breached while he was treating patients. That’s actually the most alarming thing about his infection: How did he get it?

I can tell that the Ebola crisis is no longer a crisis, though, because The Daily Mail has begun running Kardashian stories again.

Law and Order aficionados already knew that Metro cards can be used as tracking devices.

And I'm betting it won’t be a problem to find seats on the A Train for the next few days, even at the height of rush-hour.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

Blue dawn; blustery day. There’s a partial eclipse of the sun today in Scorpio, the sign of sex, death, and probate! Venus is also conjunct the sun – sistuhs! A good time to practice multiple orgasm.

I continue in my meh mood. Probably just lack of exercise, but it translates psychically into low self-esteem and the general conviction that life is not worth living. I suppose I should drag my sorry ass to the gym.

Last night, I went to watch long-time Ken Burns collaborator Geoffrey Ward speak at the Roosevelt Library. Pretty interesting. Burns as much as anyone has managed to kindle a renaissance in American history by positioning what happened to all those dead people as narrative rather than as a musty collection of dates and facts. Pert-y revolutionary stuff. Imagine if the past was actually interesting enough so that you could learn from it! Burns has.

Ward had polio as a kid and therefore identifies with FDR in a big way. I hadn’t realized the full extent of FDR’s disability before I watched that documentary, but FDR was so disabled that when you propped him in the back of a car and he fell over, he would remain there on his back like an insect, ineffectually flapping his arms. Reportedly, he remained cheerful throughout, even cracking jokes. Keep calm and carry on. That is pretty admirable, in my eyes.

Ironically, even though American culture is far more receptive to disability and handicaps on a whole, there is no way that someone as severely disabled as FDR was could get elected today. The 24/7 media circus would hound him mercilessly in order to get those cockroach-on-its-back-type photos. The Daily Mail would publish them, and people would just not vote for him.

Never Enuff Bad Internet Dates

Got home and immediately went out on a Bad Date.

Yes, another go-round on the Internet Dating Site.

Really, you’d think I’d learn my lesson at this point: It may work for others; it does not work for thee-ee-ee.

I didn’t dislike this guy until about three quarters of the way through the interaction. And even then, I didn’t dislike him so much as I felt puzzled by him.

He’s a community organizer. My age. Not bad looking. Overweight.

We had an entertaining conversation about Poughkeepsie politics. And then he starts talking about how poor he is, how he never expected to end up in the situation that he’s in now. How the Great Recession of 2008 brought him to his knees.

“Well, the same thing happened to me,” I said. “But I try not to personalize it. Economic forces at work. Twenty percent shaved off the economy, and now the culture wants to pretend that we don’t exist because it’s the only way they can pretend that there’s an economic recovery.”

“How can you not personalize it?” he said.

And began talking about how he couldn’t afford to go out to good restaurants, how he could only do Dutch treat at holes in the wall –

“But I bet they’re holes in the wall that serve excellent food,” I said.

“Well, that’s true,” he said. “I know every great Dominican and Honduran restaurant in Dutchess County.”

“Well, there you go,” I said. “Position yourself as an adventure. Look. You should have no trouble on the Internet Dating Site. There are far more eligible women our age than there are men. And many of those women are kinda desperate. Women rely far more on male companionship than men rely on female companionship. Basically, women just want a guy who will flatter them a little. You strike me as a fairly perceptive guy. Do the Dale Carnegie thing. Figure out what your date likes most about herself but would never tell someone, and start complementing her on that.”

“You’re giving me marketing advice!” he said.

“Well, I am a marketer by trade,” I said.

I walked him to his car, and we said goodbye.

“Well, there wasn’t any heat,” he said. “But, um, you know. I might be able to help you out with that festival you’re planning. So let’s keep in touch.”

Now. As it turns out, he was perfectly correct about the tepid temperature.
But I figure that’s a function of being in our sixties.

I actually did feel heat the other day. It was for this great looking guy who was hitting on this woman at an adjacent table at Barnes & Noble the other day. He was maybe 25. Perfect body. Perfect face.

And I thought: Nobody feels lust straight off the bat for people in their sixties. Not even other people in their sixties. Because we’re conditioned to respond sexually to younger models.

At this age, lust is a function of liking someone.

And you cannot figure out whether you like someone in an hour and a half conversation at a coffee house.


Still. My vanity was ruffled.

As recently as a year ago, the guy in front of me on the supermarket line turned around and said, “You know, I’m not trying to be obnoxious here. But I wanted to tell you. For an older woman, you’re really hot.”

I’m not sure he would say that now.

Some indefinable erosion has begun to take place. My face is slipping. My high cheekbones are gravity’s victim. Eye makeup no longer makes my eyes stand out; it just makes me look like a raccoon.

Good thing I prefer being invisible in crowds because I pretty much am these days.

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LJ Idol Entry: Week 25: Rapture of the Deep

Good thing I checked the instructions. Aren't these LJ pieces usually due on Tuesdays? Anyway, I'd intended to write this week's piece when I got home Tuesday. This is the best I can do on the road.

---

They got into a town on a Thursday. Immediately headed to a bar. There were lots of bars lining the wharf of this town. The bars were all more-or-less identical with the same neon anchors, shamrocks and half-naked mermaids. The only real difference was the color of the mermaids’ nipples. Some nipples flashed purple and red; others flashed orange and green.

By Sunday, Max was the only one still drinking. He didn’t know what had happened to his shipmates. Or his clothes. He was fairly sure he’d been wearing his old fleece pullover, Doc Martens, and a pair of khaki chinos when they’d gotten into town; now he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, madras shorts and flip-flops. The Hawaiian shirt was decorated with day-glow parrots who, when you looked closely, were attempting all sorts of congress with one another that had been illegal in many Southern states until just recently.

“Hair of the dog?” the bartender boomed. His leer suggested he knew Max. Or saw some strategic advantage in pretending to know Max. He was also wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Max was the only customer in the place. “Sure,” he said said. “Old Turkey. Beer back. Say, can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot.”

“Have I been here before?”

“Define ‘here.’ Define ‘before,’” the bartender said, and he began to laugh.

“See, I ask because none of this looks familiar,” said Max. “Plus I fuckin’ hate Hawaiian shirts.”

“Who doesn’t?” the bartender asked.

“Plus, you know, it’s Sunday. I should be back on the boat.”

“What makes you think it’s Sunday?”

“It isn’t Sunday?”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t Sunday. I asked what makes you think it’s Sunday?”
This conversation was getting way too complicated, Max decided. “I’ll have another one of these,” he said, pushing the empty shot glass forward. “You got any eggs? Crack one into the whiskey.”

“Hot date,” the bartender said. “Gotta keep up your strength.” He winked slowly and horribly.

The door swung open, and the most beautiful girl that Max had ever seen in his life glided into the bar. She had long golden hair, enormous blue eyes and cleavage to die for. She bore more than a superficial resemblance to the neon mermaid over the back mirror.

She grabbed the stool next to Max’s, placed a placating hand upon his arm. Her nails glittered faintly like the inner shell of a Nautilus snail.

“Darling. I thought you’d gone. I thought I’d never see you again. I’m sorry, so, so sorry –“

“Afternoon, Bronwen,” the bartender nodded.

“I’ll have a Siren’s Song,” the girl said haughtily. “Don’t use any of that fuckin’ rail shit. I want the Herradura Blanco.” She leaned over and licked the inside of Max’s ear. “You’re payin’, right, lover?”

“If you say so,” Max said. He was having the expected physiological reaction when a beautiful woman licks the inside of your ear, but at the same time, her breath smelled distinctly fishy, which was off-putting.

The bartender rolled his eyes.

“And you know, we can have another little party ‘cause I’ve found the solution to our little problem –“

“Wait! We had a little party? We had a little problem at our little party?”

“I’ve solved it,” she said.

Max felt a something wet on his shin, and glanced down to find his calf being caressed by what looked like an enormous scaly green fin. Attached to the most beautiful girl that Max had ever seen. “What the fuck?”

“Darling! It’s not an issue! Trust me!”

“But you’ve got a tail. You’re a fish!”

“I’m not a fish. I’m a mermaid –“

“The point is you’re not real –“ said Max.

The bartender snorted. “How many women you’ve slept with have been real?” he asked.

“Darling, I have a sister!” the golden-haired girl said. “And she –“ The golden-haired girl swallowed. “Well. She can do things that – that I can’t.” The girl blushed prettily. “We’re twin sisters actually. Not identical twins, but we – well. We complete each other.”

What?”

“You’ll see, darling. You’ll see.”

Max heard clicks on the sidewalk through the bar’s half-open Dutch door. High heels hitting the sidewalk. The door opened and in walked an enormous fish. Except the fish parts ended at the creature’s waist. The creature was wearing a short ballerina skirt beneath which stretched the longest, lithest pair of beautiful female human legs that Max had ever seen.

With a scream, Max leaped from his chair, ran out of the bar. Somehow found his way back to his buddies and his boat. He made a vow that night, and kept it to the end of his life.

He never wore a Hawaiian shirt again.

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Upset Tummy

I got kind of sick last night with a vague digestive/intestinal complaint that threw me into a panic. I mean, what if you can get Ebola from reading about it on the Internet?

Should I call the CDC?

“Hello! I was once a nurse, and I read Out of Africa. I’m vomiting. Should I be concerned?”
The Cupertino effect, says Wikipedia, is a spellchecker's tendency to replace misspelled words in your text with words you did not intend.

Obviously, I am interpreting this very liberally since this story takes place before spellcheckers were invented.

When exactly? Gee, I was hoping you wouldn't ask. The language seems to flit between Regency and the 1920s.



###

Although the young man in question had never shown the slightest inclination toward the state of connubial bliss, Mrs. Wycombe was determined her only son should be married. Therefore, Mrs. Wycombe had arranged for Charles to be invited to a house party at Breckridge, the Meddleshire country house of her close acquaintance, Mrs. Delavarn. Charles had been the recipient of a considerable fortune left to him by relatives on his father’s side who had done well in trade in some remote quadrant of the globe, perhaps Central America. It would seem a pity to Mrs. Wycombe if none of the interest from this fortune were to be disbursed among London’s many dressmakers, florists, and jewelers.

An autumn shooting party, the last of the season, had been arranged at Breckridge as well a masked ball to which all the county’s leading families had been invited. There were many unmarried daughters among the county’s leading families. Mrs. Delavarn herself possessed one: her 21-year-old daughter Catherine.

Though a dutiful parent, Mrs. Wycombe had a difficult time keeping her son’s shortcomings to herself for they were numerous, too numerous to be contained in the cramped receptacle that was her heart.

“He is perfectly amiable, but dull, very dull,” she complained to Mrs. Delavarn. “Why, I believe he cares more for those Greek vases he brings back from his trips to Naples than he cares for me.

In this surmise, Mrs. Wycombe was perfectly correct.

###


Breckridge was an ancient estate, built from stones that were even older, appropriated from a monastery that had come to a bad end during the short-lived reign of Edward VI. The road to Breckridge winded through a kind of primeval forest whose oaks, poplars, and elms grew so thickly together that even though their branches were yellowing and a thick carpet of leaves lay on the ground, they cast a shade that was a kind of night.

How arresting it was, therefore, when the chauffeured automobile bearing Charles estatewards emerged from the woods into blinding sunlight and came suddenly upon the house, a great gleaming marvel with two symmetrical wings, seemingly anchored by Corinthian pilasters to keep it from floating heavenward off the surrounding greensward.

Even more arresting were the two figures standing in front of the imposing marble doorway. A young man and a young woman, both blonde, both dressed in white, both bathed in the long golden light of the rapidly diminishing afternoon.

Mrs. Delavarn was standing there to greet him as well. “Ah, Charles,” she said, coolly receiving the kiss he offered her powdered cheek. “How delightful to have you here at last. I trust your journey was not too exhausting?”

“Not terribly exhausting, no,” Charles said. “That is a very fine woodland you have here. Why, some of those oaks looked to have trunks ten feet around –“

“I trust you left your dear mother in good health?” Mrs. Delavarn did not interrupt Charles so much as surmount him in a melodious onslaught of murmur. “I don’t believe you’ve had the pleasure of meeting my daughter, Catherine –“

“Kate, please, Mummy,” said the blonde girl proffering Charles a slender white hand. She had bobbed her hair in the boyish fashion favored by American film stars. She was very thin.

“Catherine, must you use that vulgar diminutive? It makes you sound like an Irish laundress.”

“Mummy is so old-fashioned, ha, ha, ha,” said Kate. “Did you happen to bring any of the London papers up with you? I heard the Mulie Lanton was photographed by the Evening Standard. The wedding of the year, you know, and I was invited! I was quite vexed when Mummy made me come up here instead.”

“It may well be the last time our family assembles as such under one roof,” Mrs. Delavarn said with a significant glance toward Charles.

“Guns and country folk and Mummy and Daddy’s friends! So boring,” said Kate with a pout.

“And who are you?” Charles asked the blond youth.

“I’m Nathaniel. Catherine’s twin,” the young man said. “Nate if you’d like to annoy Mummy.” The long golden light reflected off the house’s marble façade illuminated Nate’s head in a kind of makeshift halo.

###

Although he was a more than competent shot, shooting pheasants made Charles uneasy. There was something not quite right about the enterprise. The pheasants were raised by the Delavarns’ gamekeeper for the sole purpose of providing sport, but the cheeky birds did not know they were being raised for sport; they thought that Breckridge’s copses were their home. The shoot reminded Charles of one of his favorite poets, Bion of Borysthenes:

The boys throw rocks at the frogs for sport
But the frogs die in earnest


Nate accompanied the men on the shooting expedition, but he spent his time throwing sticks for the spaniels to chase in between their forays to muster dead birds.

“A waste,” his father complained. “Boy’s a good shot. I taught him myself. But he’s a conscientious objector –“

“I am not a conscientious objector,” Nate drawled with lazy good humor. “I think that life is precious, however. I don’t see the point of depriving the lives of any of God’s creatures unless my own life is in the balance.”

“And what if England goes to war?” his father asked.

“And what if the moon is made of green cheese?” Nate asked.

Mr. Delavarn turned around suddenly and struck Nate a blow across his face. “I’ll thank you to speak of your country with respect,” he said.

The other men in the party ignored the exchange. Nate smiled at his father in a way that made Charles wonder just how often exchanges of this nature occurred. Mr. Delavarn dropped his eyes first.

Later, as the shooters collected their reloaded rifles from the gamekeeper, Charles drew close to Nate and noticed that the young man’s lip was bleeding.

“May I offer you my handkerchief?” he asked.

“You may offer me anything,” Nate said.

“We drove through some very beautiful woods on my way to your home,” said Charles with studied formality. “There were some trees that particularly caught my attention. Some ancient oaks.”

“I know those oaks,” Nate said.

“Perhaps you would care to accompany me so that I may examine those oaks more closely.”

“It would give me great pleasure to accompany you so that you can examine those oaks more closely,” Nate said.

###

Five days. That’s what they shared together. The bliss was indescribable.

There had been fellows in public school with whom Charles had once shared the same secret, but that sharing had been tempered with brutality, with a hard cold bullying that gloried in bending wills toward a savage unreciprocated pleasure. When he met those fellows now, they invited Charles to their clubs for dinner where they spoke to him about inconsequential things – the quality of the port, whether or not the Prime Minister would really come down hard on the coal miners – by God, those ungrateful buggers deserved that! Had they forgotten what Charles once was to them and they to him? Nowhere in their fruity voices was the least trace of the ragged moans that Charles remembered. Charles had become the sole guardian of those memories.

There had been a young man in Naples, but that had been doomed by differences in class and language.

There had been a young American, too, but that had been impossible for other reasons.

On the fifth night, Charles poured his heart into a letter, things that might have sounded foolish and sentimental if spoken. He sealed the letter in an envelope which he inscribed with his beloved’s name. He thought of sliding the missive under Nate’s door, but questions might be asked if he was caught in that act.

He would leave it in the morning room, Charles decided, where Nate was certain to find it. Nate was often the only occupant of the morning room. He rose hours earlier than Charles. He liked to sit and read novels by the fire. He’d tried his own hand at writing a novel, he confided in Charles. No, he wouldn’t show Charles what he’d written. Silly scribblings.

###

Morning came. Charles dressed hastily, could hardly oversee the packing of his luggage, his heart was beating so fast.

He forced himself to walk slowly down the stairs, into the breakfast room where the Delvarns’ guests were gathering, beginning their goodbyes.

Mrs. Delavarn caught his eye as he tried to stop his teacup from shaking. “Morning room,” she mouthed silently. “Waiting.”

This was unexpected.

A slim yellow-haired figure stood in the morning room as Charles walked into the room with its back toward Charles. For a moment, as Charles looked at the boyish haircut, at the nape of the neck, he thought, he hoped

But when the figure turned around, it was Kate.

“Darling, I rather thought I had made a major impression on you,” said Kate. “But I had no idea how major! Of course, I love you, too, just oodles and oodles, and we must be married right away although I don’t think I want a consummation under the oak trees – ha, ha, ha! I would like an enormous ring, though, bigger than Mulie Lanton’s and where shall we go on our honeymoon? I adore Monte but it’s the wrong time of year –“

Charles joined the British Army the day after war was declared. He survived the war unscathed.

Nate joined the Royal Airforce just before the war ended. His plane was shot down over Burma, and he was presumed dead.

Shortly after the war ended, Kate divorced Charles, citing “cruelty” in the petition. She was appropriately apologetic when he ran into her on the street some months afterwards, outside earshot of their solicitors. “Well, darling, I could hardly have cited sodomy, could I? Since you weren’t doing that with me? Although it might have been more appropriate. Ha, ha, ha! No hard feelings –“

Charles never saw Kate again and thought as little about her as possible. It was with some puzzlement, therefore, and more than a little trepidation that he received a letter whose return address bore the name “Delavarn” a decade or so after the chance encounter with Kate on a forgotten street corner.

The letter proved to be from the twins’ mother. The formidable Mrs. Delavarn. She was dying, she wrote Charles. And she was exercising the prerogative of all individuals soon to be decedents to summon him to her bedside.

“I’ve done you a disservice,” said Mrs. Delavarn as he entered the room.

“I know,” Charles said.

She didn’t know,” said Mrs. Delavarn. “Such a twit that girl was. Still is. She’s on her third marriage now, you know.

Charles did not know.

“There’s a child. No intelligent person would have mistaken that “N” for a “K,” but she is not exactly what one might call intelligent, is she? I told her the letter was for her, and she opened it. I did it for your mother! And whatever you may think, I did it for my son. His father would have killed him, you know. Of course, he died anyway.”

Mrs. Delavarn stared at Charles with her yellowing, bloodshot eyes. “I suppose you think I took away your only chance for happiness,” she accused.

“No,” Charles said.

And that was true. He didn’t think that at all. Happiness might still have eluded him. It would have eluded him for a different reason, that is all.

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn worked at Entertainment Weekly when I was doing a lot of freelancing there, so, of course, I had to see Gone Girl.

Gone Girl is a baaaaaaaaad movie.

Although take away the pretentious hipster music, and you might have had a first-rate farce.

I enjoyed the novel. It wasn’t Great Literature, but then my tastes run to the banal. It had some really witty riffs. The stupidly complicated plot was actually its weak point.

Alas! Few of the witty riffs and all of the stupid plot made it on to the screen.

I don’t really get why David Fincher is considered a Great Director since the only movie of his I’ve ever liked was Fight Club, which is based on such a brilliant novel that it would have been impossible to fuck up. Unless they turned it into a musical comedy:

(Tyler Durdin to the tune of What Kind of Fool Am I?: You’re not your job! You’re not how much money you have in the bank…)

And that’s why David Fincher right this very moment is sipping champagne and getting a blowjob from an expensive hooker while I’m sitting here in my unspeakably filthy flannel nightie, drinking weak coffee and typing this.

But I digress.

Anyway, what might have saved the movie – what could have been teased out of the book although it was no where implicit in the novel – is some sort of exploration of the great disconnect between Williamsburg and flyoverland, the contrast between NYC and North Carthage, in other words. I thought maybe the movie was flipping in that direction for the first 10 minutes or so -- shots of shuttered storefronts along Main Street, the dilapidated casino, the murky river. The image of the abandoned mall -- I came across quite a few of those in my Traveling-America-with-the-Circus days. But Fincher is really too much of a California boy to go there. He doesn't get Middle America so he can't really play it for pathos. And pathos is the only thing that could have redeemed the singularly unlikeable Affleck character.

If you can’t root for the Affleck character, the whole movie collapses.

Went out for sushi before the movie. For 20 bucks, I got this:



One of the nicest things about living in the Hudson River Valley is that since the Culinary Institute is (literally!) right up the street, you have all these CIA graduates opening restaurants here. The fare is fabulous, and so-o reasonably priced!

Life is good.
Too many people got sick, so they shut the Projects down. No more talk about how if you’re coughing or vomiting or got diarrhea, or you’re choking on your own snot, report to the ER immediately.

Cops stand outside with semi-automatics. We watch them from our windows and on the TV. Just outside the ring of cops are all the news trucks and the cameras. Hundreds of them, looks like.

“I’m Kim Kardashian,” La’Ema says. “Look! I got paparazzi!”

Couple of times a day, the guys in the bubble suits come with food. That shit they feed to soldiers. MREs.

“My husband got high blood pressure,” I tell the bubble suit. “You make him eat this salty shit, he’ll stroke out.”

Bubble suit said something, but I can’t hear him through the suit.

Wasn’t supposed to leave the apartment, but we did anyway. Not like any of them gonna come inside and check on what we do. They’re too afraid. I check on neighbors. Mrs. Goodwill in 4E is 94 years old. She's very smart. She was a teacher. But now all she got is her Social Security. No family to look after her. She live all alone. She can’t eat no MRE shit. Her teeth are all gone. I tried to boil it down for her, make it soft. But the shit’s too gummy and thick.

Mrs. Goodwill wanted to pray.

“Sorry, Mrs. G,” I says. “If there was a God, this wouldn’t be happening.”

At the beginning, TV used to load us up with numbers. Two hundred and twenty-three cases in Manhattan. One thousand, four hundred and seventy-two cases in the Bronx.

Then one day, the TV stop adding up the numbers. Like numbers don’t matter anymore.

TV said the hospitals were running out of room. “This keeps up, pretty soon rich white people gonna start dying,” I say to Henry.

He just shrugs. He got a bad headache. Like a worm eating his brain, he says.

###

La’Ema and her crew party in the hallways. Rashad Jackson – the one they called Angel Eyes – got hold of reefer and blow by breaking into Malik’s crib after Malik stopped answering the door. Malik’s a dealer. Malik figured he was gonna get rich when the quarantine came down.

“Angel Eyes say he was a mess,” La’Ema told me. “Just lyin’ on the floor in his own shit, his mouth all bloody –“

“That Rashad does not have the sense that God gave to a cockroach,” I tell La’Ema. “I hope he had enough sense not to go near that poor boy on the ground.”

“He had to, Mama. Had to see if he was dead.”

I take a deep breath. “Then he’s probably got it, too. La’Ema – did you touch Rashad? Were you near enough to him to feel his breath? La’Ema, you keep away from your Daddy. Do not go near him. I’ll do what I can for you, but you got to keep away from me, too, do you hear?”

La’Ema laughs. “Oh, Mama, what does it matter? I’m on TV! There was this guy in a bubble suit asking me and Angel Eyes what did it feel like to be in quarantine. He said he was a reporter –“

“How did he get in?” I ask.

“I don’t know. Does it matter? He ask for my name and then he ask how did it feel to be stuck inside here, and then he say, ‘Signing off now from the mask of the red death,’ like he wired to some Entertainment Tonight camera –“

“The Masque of the Red Death,” I say. “That’s a story. I read it in school –“

“Oh, Mama,” says La’Ema. “Who gives a fuck about school? I never liked to go and now I don’t have to.”

She’s high.

###

I go across the hall to Mrs. G’s apartment. She’s sitting in her rocking chair, reading her Bible.

“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was death,” she read out loud. “And Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”

“Maybe you right, Mrs. G,” I say. "Maybe it is the end times, after all. But you still gotta try and eat –“

“I don’t want to eat,” says Mrs. G “I’m old, Marguerite. Very old. And I chose to live in these end times. But you most assuredly did not.”

“No,” I say. “I didn't. But that don't matter 'cause here I am.”

“There’s a way to get out.”

“Right,” I say. “I can open the front door, just walk outside the building. Maybe one of those cops can shoot me with his AK. Might be quicker than what’s gonna happen. And I’d get to be on TV!”

Mrs. G continued to rock. “I grew up in Tiadoro,” she said. “What they used to call Italian Guiana. Such a beautiful place. The ocean the same color as the sky! The flamingos!” She shook her head.

“People knew things in Tiadoro, Marguerite. Things they don’t know other places.”

“Mrs. G, I don’t mean to be disrespectful but crazy shit is coming down on my head and I don’t got time – “ I took a deep breath. “I mean, I want to do right by you, but I can’t –“

“They say you can’t go back in time,” said Mrs. G “But I did. All the time. Till I got tired of it. Too many futures. But you can push your soul anywhere your body has been. The scientists say your consciousness is just an electromagnetic spark. And you can move it. Anywhere where your body has been. Can’t go to places where your body’s never been. But you can travel up and down the axis of your own life. Where would you like to go back to, Marguerite? When you were a little girl? When you first met Henry?“

“I was happiest at the library,” I said. “Brooklyn Public Library. Big old place in Grand Army Plaza. I used to go every Saturday, till I had to drop outa school, get a job –“

“You can go back there, Marguerite,” Mrs. G whispered.

Mrs. G was old. I knew I had to be patient with her. Trouble was I didn’t feel like being patient with her.

“You not gonna eat then I’m gonna go, Mrs. G,” I says. “Good chance that I be too sick to come back.”

“You have to sit somewhere where it’s dark,” Mrs. G said in a dreamy voice. “But there has to be sunlight on the other side of the shadow. You have to listen to faraway voices, voices you can’t quite make out. The words are meaningless, but you have to open your mind to let the meaninglessness seep in. And then it happens.”

What happens, Mrs. G?”

“You’ve jumped,” said Mrs. G. And then she began to cough. Blood.

###


When I get back to the apartment. La’Ema out partying again and Henry asleep. Leastways, I think he asleep. I don’t want to check.

I go into the bedroom. It sunny outside, but I got the drapes drawn tight because I don’t want to think about no sunlight.

Even though we so far up, I still hear the voices from the street. Cops talking to each other on walkie talkies. Putting on their bubble suits so they can come into the building and hand out food no one wants to eat. Voices fade in and fade out the way a train whistle fades in and out when it moving fast in the opposite direction from where you are. Loneliest sound there is. And the voices dissolve till they’re just points of sounds and I’m just floating on them –

What did Mrs. G say? Up and down the axis of your own life.

I never closed my eyes.

But one moment I was lying on that old saggy mattress in the bedroom I’d shared with Henry for 14 years – “Just for now, Baby,” he’d told me when we first moved in – and the next, I was sitting someplace else. At a table. In a high-ceilinged room surrounded by books.

The Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. My favorite place in the world.

And I was young.

How young?

I don’t know. When I looked at my hands, they were a girl’s hands, no knots or veins. When I touched my hair, it was braided tightly with clunky beads.

Would the epidemic still happen?

I didn’t know.

Was there something I could do to make it not happen?

I didn’t know.

I got up from my chair and walked toward the reference librarian’s desk.

“Gimme everything you got about Tiadoro,” I said. “I want to read it all.”

“Tiadoro?” she said blankly.

“Tiadoro,” I repeated impatiently. “Italian Guiana.”

“You mean French Guiana. Or maybe English Guiana.”

“Italian Guiana!”

The librarian smiled at me gently. “I’m sorry, but there’s no such thing as Italian Guiana. Italy never had any colonies in South America.”

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LJ Idol Entry: Week 22: Sweep the Leg

"Sweep the leg" is a line of dialogue from the movie Karate Kid. Even though I came close to earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do at one point, Karate Kid has no particular resonance for me.

So I wrote about something that does -- the Mitford Sisters.

i



On Wednesday, Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire died, the youngest and last-surviving of the Mitford girls. Six beautiful sisters who led such improbable lives that one could scarcely have imagined them. The duchess, the novelist, the communist, the fascist, the farmer and the Hitler fan girl. Deborah, Nancy, Jessica, Diana, Pamela and Unity. The daughters of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale and his wife Sydney (née Bowles).

Jessica a/k/a Decca the Communist stopped talking to Diana the Fascist some time in the late 1930s, but went right on talking to Unity the Hitler Fan Girl until Unity’s death in 1948. Both sisters were far afield of Decca’s own political beliefs, both in theory at least would have approved of sending Decca’s youngest child to the death camps. (His father was a Jew.)

Why did she forgive the one and refuse to forgive the other?

ii

Debo was the youngest, second-most-beautiful, and least intellectual of the sisters. This automatically relegated her to the role of peacemaker. The sisters loved one another, but they resented one another, too. Anyone who was brought up in a large brood of children can relate.

Debo married at 18 for love, a younger son of the noble Cavendish family that traced its lineage back to the 14th century. Lord Andrew was not supposed to inherit the Devonshire Dukedom but he became the heir when his older brother William was killed in the closing days of World War II. (William, incidentally, was married to JFK’s sister, Kathleen.)

When Lord Andrew’s father died in 1950, he and Debo inherited millions of dollars in death duties along with Chatsworth, one of England’s stateliest homes. In order to pay off the death duties, Debo developed economic initiative, turning “Chatsworth” into a brand, sitting in the ticket office and peddling tours of the estate to the public herself.




iii

Nancy Mitford, the oldest daughter, was 16 years older than Debo. She’s best remembered today for her semi-autobiographical novels The Pursuit of Love and Love In a Cold Climate. And for being a Mitford, of course.

Nancy was a satirist. Think Dorothy Parker with a British accent. You've no idea how long life goes on and how many, many changes it brings, she wrote. Young people seem to imagine that it's over in a flash, that they do this thing, or that thing, and then die, but I can assure you they are quite wrong.

Like Parker, she was unhappy in love; unlike Parker, she was not an alcoholic. At the end of World War II, she put as much distance as she could between herself and her famously eccentric upbringing by expatriating to Paris and writing a series of critically acclaimed biographies of 18th century notables like Frederic the Great and Louis XIV.

iv



Jessica, nicknamed Decca, hated the privileged eccentricity of her upbringing and began saving up money at age seven so that she could run away from home. At the age of 18, she achieved her ambition by running off to join the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War, accompanied by the fabulously named Esmond Romily, Winston Churchill’s nephew-by-marriage (thought by many to be Churchill’s illegitimate son.)

Even though they were both staunch communists, the two eventually emigrated to the United States where they married. However, Romily went back to Britain to fight against the fascists when Britain joined the Second World War and shortly thereafter was shot down by the Germans over the North Sea. His body was never recovered.

Decca went on to marry the leftist SF Bay Area lawyer Robert Treuhaft. Fun fact: Hillary Clinton clerked for Treuhaft! She also became a famously witty, oft-quoted non-fiction writer and is best known for her expose of the American funeral industry, The American Way of Death, a muckraking classic.

My favorite Decca quote: What it boils down to is putting one’s feelings on a special plane; most unwise, if you come to think of it. Because the bitter but true fact is that the only person who cares about one’s feelings is ONE.

v.



Diana Mitford was so beautiful that she rendered the most famous wits and intellects of her day speechless when she floated into a room. She was the nearest thing to Botticelli's Venus that I have ever seen, wrote one family friend.

Great beauty relieves its possessor of the necessity of developing a personality. Diana was singularly affectless by all accounts. Her beauty was her entitlement. At the age of 18, she married the heir of the Guinness Brewery fortune for money. She divorced him three years later after meeting Sir Osmond Mosley, the leader of Britain’s own homegrown fascist party in 1932.

Diana was only 22 when she meet Mosley, and one suspects he held her in a kind of sexual thrall. He survives as a kind of buffoonish character, the inspiration for Sir Roderick Spode in P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels and for General Jack in sister Nancy own Wigs on the Green, but those portraits leave out the central fact of Mosely’s charisma and brilliance. Before he founded Britain’s Black Shirt party, Mosley had been an up and coming Labor Party politician, but he soon realized capitalism was not going to solve Britain’s staggering unemployment problem. A 1932 visit to Italy and an introduction to Mussolini converted Mosley to fascism. One wonders what might have happened had he traveled to Russia instead.

Diana and Mosley eventually married in Germany, in Joseph Goebbels’ house. Adolph Hitler was the guest of honor.

vi.



One might say that Unity Mitford never had a chance to be anything than what she was. Her name expressed Baron Redesdale’s fervent hopes for an Anglican-German alliance following the end of World War I. Her middle name was “Valkyrie;” she was conceived in the town of Swastika, Ontario where Baron Redesdale had gone to prospect – unsuccessfully – for gold.

Baron Redesdale’s grandfather had been a close personal friend of both the anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner and Wagner’s son-in-law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain. (Some years later, Hitler read Chamberlain’s work in translation and used it for the basis of the Third Reich.)

Unity met Hitler through Diana. She was big – almost six feet tall; she was very blonde, practically a living embodiment of all his racial theories. Unity quickly became a member of Hitler’s intimate circle and spurred at least one of Eva Braun’s (admittedly multiple) suicide attempts.

On September 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany, Unity took the pear-handled revolver that Hitler had presented her with as a mark of favor and shot herself through the head.

Oddly enough, she didn’t die but persisted as a brain-damaged ghost for eight more years.

vii.



Pamela Mitford was the Mitford nobody noticed. Her childhood ambition, notes Decca in Daughters and Rebels, was to be a horse and after her husband died, she took an Italian horsewoman as a “companion.” Yes, that probably means exactly what you think it means, and explains Pamela’s aversion to the spotlight.

viii.

Decca is my favorite Mitford, possibly because I met her once. Thirty-five years or so ago, I had some slight acquaintance with Decca’s son’s then-wife and so, one morning, found myself the object of Jessica Mitford’s hospitality, drinking tea in her sunny North Oakland parlor. Decca doctored her own tea liberally with bourbon which she did not offer to share, but in all other ways she was very gracious, and of course, she had that amazing voice.

Decca’s life was not an easy one. She’d never shared the entitlements of her sisters. Her great young love died – very young; she’d lost two children. She’d refused to exploit her connections after coming to America and struggled near the poverty line for a couple of years as a single mother with no particularly marketable skills until she married Treuhaft. Her Hillegass Avenue house though very pleasant was no Chatham.

Growing up, Diana had been Decca’s favorite sister. None of the Mitfords had any type of formal education; such finishing as Decca had – horseback riding lessons, French lessons – were all at Diana’s behest. Unity – Boud as Decca nicknamed her – was too close in age for Decca to consider her anything but a rival for the causal crumbs of parental attention that were occasionally scattered the younger daughters’ way.

But gradually, despite the oceans – both literal and figurative – between them, Unity slowly metamorphosed into Decca’s favorite sister. It had something to do with Unity’s strange ability to fixate, her implacable nature. Thirty years after Unity finally died of meningitis, Decca wrote to Unity’s biographer, Well there’s no forgiveness possible (nor would it have been sought by that feckless, unregenerate soul.)

Possibly Jessica forgave Unity and despised Diana till the day she died because Diana felt entitled to live while Unity knew she deserved to die. Every breath Diana drew was a betrayal of the younger sister who'd followed her into fascism.

Dunno.

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