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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

Inappropriate Behavior With Clients

Dreamed I was in this super luxe-luxe-luxe hotel. The bathrooms were like heaven on earth! I was with Lucius, and I was a much younger version of myself.

Some of the guest rooms had terraced gardens leading out from their doorways into the hall, and these gardens were mini-jungles of bright orange bromeliads and other exotic plants. Somehow I knew that the guests in the rooms with the terraced gardens were very, very old people who were close to death. And I thought how much better off these people were to be living in a super luxe-luxe-luxe hotel than living, say, in a condo, isolated and alone. (Quick shot of those condos: similarly terraced gardens but in this big sinister-looking building with huge plate-glass windows that had been built on the site of the old Ebbetts Field stadium in Brooklyn.)

I was very sick in the dream, and wandering around the halls to find a heavenly bathroom that was unoccupied so I could cool off in a heavenly shower.

Lucius felt my forehead: “You’re so hot!” he said, feigning concern.

And then he began to kiss me, and I knew I had to let him kiss me. He was the most horrible kisser in the world: His idea of kissing was to open his mouth for a passive exchange of saliva. But in the dream, I had to put up with it. There was something I wanted out of him, and this was the only thing I had to barter with.

As is so often the case in my dreams, I was simultaneously acting in it and narrating it from a kind of third-person omniscient perspective…

###

I was busy, busy, busy, busy this week.

And I will be busy, busy, busy, busy today though in the social sphere: My kinda, sorta cousins Pearl and Sybil have invited themselves up for the day, and I will have to entertain them.

Pearl is visiting from Albuquerque. The original plan was for me to trek into NYC and hang out with them there. But Sybil decided she wanted to do a road trip. And I get it! I mean, I do: When you live in the city, you seize every opportunity to get out of the city.

And I’m excited to see them.

It’s just that I’m not feeling terribly entertaining.

###

Busy, busy, busy, busy is in some ways a pleasantly nostalgic feeling for me. It’s how I felt throughout most of my productive years as a member of the workforce.

These days, though, I seem to need a lot more time to sit around with my eyes unfocused. I’m perfectly content doing nothing. And if I don’t do nothing for at least a few hours every day, then I begin to develop almost Captain Queeg-like levels of paranoia: Everybody hates me. I can’t do anything right. Every little minor disagreement or jockeying for power in the social minute becomes a Puccini opera: Nobody’s gonna sleep. Not ever! And especially not you, Princess!

###

I did the former social worker’s taxes yesterday for the third year in a row.

The first year, I remember, she was very lucid. We had a long discussion about how awful it is to be poor and aging in the United States.

Last year, she was a bit... off. And poor financial planning had resulted in a big tax debt.

We’re not supposed to offer “financial advice”, but I choose to interpret this as meaning we’re not supposed to say, “Psst! Buy high! Sell low!”

I’ve gotten pur-ty good at looking at someone’s tax situation, figuring out what they might want to do to minimize liability and avoid penalties. The “minimize liability” stuff I generally do keep to myself. But I figure I’m performing a public service to talk about the “avoid penalties” stuff because nobody else is doing it apparently, not even the financial advisors for whose services some of these people are paying thousands of dollars a year.

I mean, c’mon! It’s not rocket science to deduce that if you take a $50 k disbursement for a 1099-R type fund, you need to allocate 15% or so for federal income tax because not only is that extra amount pouring into your coffers but some portion of your Social Security will also become taxable income.

Anyway, last year I had a long conversation with the social worker during which I outlined in specific detail (which was exactly as boring as anyone reading this might suspect) what she would have to do to avoid getting hit with a huge tax bill same time next year.

She actually had a fairly big income, so paying taxes shouldn’t have been a problem.

She was so upset at the end of my talk, she was crying. I walked her out to her car. Somewhat inappropriately hugged her.

This year when she showed up, she seemed completely demented. Like a homeless person or something. I was seriously alarmed. Something was going on with her, but whatever that something was, of course it was none of my business.

And she hadn’t taken a bit of my advice. She found herself in exactly the same situation with regards to her taxes this year that she’d been last year.

I didn’t give her any more advice. What would have been the point of that?

I did tell her, “Don’t be surprised if you get a notice from the IRS informing you that they’re imposing a penalty.”

She gave a little screech. “A penalty?”

I sighed. “The IRS has the right to impose a penalty if you owe more than a thousand dollars in taxes. In my experience, they generally don’t if it’s a one-time slip. But this is two years in a row for you, so…” I shrugged.

I tried to have a melodramatic conversation with Chas about the social worker after we were done for the day, but Chas wasn’t buying.

“It’s gonna happen to all of us eventually,” Chas said cheerfully, meaning feebleness; inattention to buttons, zippers and hygiene; general loosening of associative skills.

Ain’t gonna happen to me, I wanted to say. My long-term care insurance policy is a gun.

But since I don’t actually own a gun, nor do I know how to shoot one – although one of the Sooper Sekrit alphas has kindly offered to teach me – I just shut up.

###

My other memorable client this was a retired cop.

Very hard-boiled.

Determined to trip me up.

After hectoring me for 20 minutes, he finally seemed convinced that despite the purple hair and dangly earrings, I actually knew what I was doing, and he let up for the rest of the hour.

Towards the end of the tax preparation session, he said, “I know I’ve been giving you a hard time. I want to tell you what’s going on. When I go home today, I’m going to have to put my cat to sleep –“

And he began to cry. This hardboiled guy!

So I reached over and grabbed his hand and patted it for 20 seconds or so.

Which was my Inappropriate Behavior With Clients for the 2017 tax season.
Imaan would not listen to me when I gently, gently, gently pointed out to her that she wasn’t yet ready for prime time i.e. community college. She’s a headstrong 21 year old after all. And actually, it’s good that she doesn’t listen to me when I tell her stuff like that.

So I spent a large chunk of yesterday chauffeuring her to the local community college, interpreting and watching while she got her heart broken by half a dozen administrators. Yes, she’s made great strides in spoken English. But she can barely read or write. So, no, she’s not an appropriate candidate for college at this time.

Still, we got enough information to put together an actionable list:

1) Get official ID card verifying Dutchess County residency

2) Hire exploitively expensive academic processing agency to procure Rabat High transcripts.

“But I have transcripts!” Imaan objected. “I bring with me. I pay $40 to have them translated into English!”

“Right,” I said. “But see, you could have changed them. All those Fs on your transcripts? You change them into As!”

“But I have no Fs,” said Imaan. “I am A student.”

“Right,” I said. “But they don’t know that.”

I left who “they” were deliberately vague.

###

Imaan wanted to take me out to lunch afterwards, but I didn’t want her to waste her hard-earned money on me-e-e-eeeee and besides, I had this yearning, burning, churning feeling deep inside. Drive home right this very minute, now! it hissed.

And exactly two minutes after I drove by it, a restaurant on 9G burst into flame. The building was destroyed; the entire road was shut down for 10 hours.

That was my second woo-woo-woo Cue Twilight Zone theme experience for the day!

My first was as I was grabbing a favorite bracelet of mine from my jewelry box. It’s a trinkety little thing, tiny plaques with pictures of saints and rhodonite beads strung together on cheap black elastic.

I’d be sad if this bracelet fell apart, I thought.

So, naturally, five minutes later, it did fall apart, leading me to wonder:

A) Had I jumped a tiny, tiny, tiny distance into the future?

B) Had thinking about the bracelet falling apart caused the bracelet to fall apart?

C) Was this just a coinci-dinky?

###

I’m in a fretful mood this morning. My little plate feels overfilled. Of course, there’s very little that I have to do these days, but there’s a lot of stuff that I think I should want to do, so I tend to pile it on. And then I get resentful.

Really, it’s remarkable how little I would do – or would have done my entire life – had not my particular dissociation neurosis taken the form of a really annoying and nagging super-ego.
Do you know what this means?

The crux is round the challenge of forming a collective intelligence in a context of exponential technology - when there will be no more paradigms. Paradigms are largely the result of forming coherent collective intelligence (a) using broadcast media (including books, journals, etc.) and (b) in an adaptive landscape that requires a "paradigm change" no more than once or twice every century. The post-paradigmatic mind requires a different form of networking.

Because I sure as hell don’t.

And when I pointed out to the writer – the alpha male in the Sooper Sekrit Political Action Group – that this might as well be written in TRAPPIST-1e-ese, he proceeded to go all huffy and imperious on me.

“Well, let’s take another tactic, shall we?” I said. “What do you mean exactly by ‘collective intelligence.’ This group? A larger group? All mankind connected by technology-mediated telepathy? Because I’m telling you that language like this is exclusionary. There’s a reason why I’m practically the only woman in this group, you know.”

Right.

And that reason isn’t because middle-aged eggheads give me a woody.

###

But never mind the Sooper Sekrit Political Action Group. It’s Spring! Officially. And though the snow banks are still six feet deep on the ground, the sun is bright and the birds are singing.

Some day – possibly within the next century – I will have saved enough to get my balding tires replaced, and then I can start going on roadtrips again! I want to go here:

wharton


In fact, I want somebody to propose to me so that I can get married here.

That’s Edith Wharton’s house. She designed it.

###

Satisfying phone chat with the Numbah One son yesterday. “I’ve found something that actually juices me about law school,” he told me excitedly.

That thing?

Mock trials!

He’s really, really good at them.

Which should come as no surprise: Max is incredibly articulate, and he’s always been able to out-argue practically anyone on the planet – even me, and I’m no slouch at arguing. Also, he has an amazing voice, a deep, mellifluous baritone.

“Well, that’s a specialty,” I said. “Because I daresay at least 50% of your classmates hate and fear mock trials –“

“Oh, that percentage is a lot higher than 50%,” he said. “But the thing is that it’s difficult for me to bond with the other people who are good at mock trials. They were the debate kids in high school! They’re all so hetero-normative!”

“You say ‘hetero-normative’ with the same distain that a Trump supporter might say ‘Moslem,’” I pointed out gently, and to his credit, he was suitably abashed.
I’ve been wanting to revisit Wolf Hall ever since I read that Hollywood Reporter interview with Steve Bannon where he compares himself to Thomas Cromwell.

I figured Bannon couldn’t possibly have been comparing himself with the actual historical personage, a dogged, calculating and mercenary figure from all contemporary reports (though I suppose Bannon’s many detractors might use that very string of adjectives to describe Bannon himself) so Bannon’s Man Crush must have been sparked by one of the fictional portraits.

Anne of a Thousand Days. A Man For All Seasons. The Tudors. The Private Life of Henry VIII.

Wolf Hall is the only one in which Cromwell comes off at all sympathetically.

Plus Cromwell is not dead at the end of Wolf Hall! Because the hardest thing to fathom is why Bannon would want to compare himself to someone who’s not only beheaded on order of the tyrant he served but beheaded by a drunken executioner with a rusty sword.

###

Wolf Hall is a brilliant novel but difficult to read because… pronouns!

So, I figured Bannon must have seen the BBC’s excellent dramatization of Wolf Hall. Which I watched again yesterday. All eight hours of it. While desultorily pecking away at various writing projects and feeling alienated by the weather: Cold. Grey. Light snow falling like ugly ash from some conflagration in heaven.

###

The production is even more wonderful the second time around. It has such a sense of modernity to it, all the while remaining extremely faithful to the details of the Tudor universe. Much of that is the dialogue, which is lifted word for word from Mantel’s book. This dialogue utilizes the archaic vocabulary and stilted grammar of those times, but somehow manages to infuse those things with a contemporary sensibility. I suppose that’s because the dialogue is spoken by tremendously talented actors. They perform a similar magic with all the bowing, scraping, curtsying, and hat doffing that were embedded into the social rituals of that era.

In particular, Mark Rylance as Cromwell is just superb. In the opening episodes, he’s attractive, likeable, someone you might easily fall in love with. You root for him. By the final episode when he’s arranging Anne Boleyn’s downfall, he’s metamorphosed into something of a monster – and yet, you still root for him. The acting craft at a very high level, that.

###

I was hoping Wolf Hall would be a panacea for my (futile!) absorption in current events.

After all, the endlessly absorbing events it describes happened so very long ago.

As someday, the endlessly absorbing events of this peculiar moment in time will have happened so very long ago! And that’s what one needs to hold on to: Every era you awaken into tries to choke you, tries to derail you with its own urgency, its own frenzy, its own chaos. Meanwhile, off in a corner of your peripheral vision, the truly important things are taking place.

What are those important things?

Damned if I know.

But I never doubt that they’re taking place.

When I was very, very young, my maya detectors were far more finely tuned than they are now. I can remember understanding when I was around 12 years old or so that very little generated by the social universe of humans had any significance whatsoever.

It was all distraction.

So there was simply no reason to pay much attention to it at all.

This understanding vanished the following year when I hit sexual maturity.

But I still feel flickers of it from time to time.

And I wish I knew the answer to this question: Distraction from what?

###

Meanwhile, Wolf Hall did not purge me of my obsession with current events.

Just read this puff piece in New York on Enslaved House Elf Kellyanne Connor, and thought, Huh! The capitulation is underway! Of course, mainstream media cannot afford to remain alienated from the seat of power.

Can’t remember in what context I read yesterday that some power broker was urging the liberal left to “tone down the rhetoric.”

But that’s just common sense. Flies! Vinegar! Honey!

And anyway, I’m not a member of the liberal left. I’ve always loathed identity politics.

Mary Karr's "Lit"

Finished Mary Karr’s Lit. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it a lot.

I liked The Liars’ Club very much, so I was surprised by my reaction to this book.

Karr’s prose throughout this memoir is incredibly arch, beginning with the forced pun in its title (“lit” is both a colloquial term for shit-faced drunk and college slang for critically acclaimed works of fiction.)

The metaphors throughout this book pop like Orville Redenbacher in a microwave. The overall effect is distancing. It’s been a while since I read The Liars’ Club, but my memory is that Karr used a slightly toned down version of the same style. There, though, it worked: Horrendous childhoods require some sort of distorting rear view mirror because of the intense pain of recollection. (For another take on how to distance oneself from the pain of a Grand Guignol childhood, see Jeanette Walls’ very brilliant The Glass Castle. Walls uses a kind of deadpan Mark Twain-ish humor to achieve this end.)

Is a religious conversion a similarly painful experience?

Possibly it is, and this was Mary Karr’s unconscious acknowledgement.

But what it felt more like to me was that Karr didn’t particularly want to be owned by the experience or at least to admit to her readers that she was owned by it. See, kids? she's saying. I'm still the same pomo ironic hipster siren you know and love!

Poor little sentences struggling under the freight of all those wiggy tropes!

###

Let’s try analyzing a paragraph I’ve pulled at random from an open book flip:

The cough penetrates my dream with the sandpapered force of chain-smoking speed freak. It’s Daddy’s pneumonia-laden cough, Mother’s emphysema wheeze. Even without the monitor, I can hear the hacking gasps start. My body’s a sandbag, but my eyelids split open like clam shells (3:10). On the table, a tumbler of mahogany whiskey burns bright as any flaming oil slick. Gone a little watery on top, it’s still possessed of a golden nimbus.

(After reading this, don’t you long for the ghost of Ernest Hemingway to rise up, wrest the Lit manuscript away from a screeching Mary Karr, begin red penciling?

One night, the kid got sick. It was not fine. Even bad whiskey is like religion on a hot night.)

Let us now pretend we are sitting in Professor Vogel’s English class at Ithaca College one interminably stuffy afternoon. (Professor Vogel was my demented aunt, mad as a rabid bat, but possessed of the most singularly penetrating insights into literature that I have ever come cross.) The air conditioner isn’t working, and though the girl sitting just in back of you has washed herself down with Estee Lauder Youth Dew, her armpits have begun to ferment.

That’s your context.

But what’s the context of this paragraph?

Mary Karr’s son has been taken ill. She and her husband have spent the previous paragraph taking their son to the hospital.

She doesn’t mention bringing the kid home from the hospital – and yet, they must be home from the hospital because whiskey! They don’t let you keep tumblers of whiskey in hospitals! Trust me, I know: I was a registered nurse for 10 years.

Strike one! Because good writing always grounds the protagonist in a specific place. Even if that “specific place” is an amorphous corner of the universe, you know that he or she is there. You don’t know where the hell Mary Karr is in the paragraph above.

Strike two: Notice how every sentence in the paragraph above has almost exactly the same rhythm. I’m not sure exactly how people read when they’re reading to themselves; it’s not as though they’re reading aloud inside their own skulls. Nonetheless, rhythm does play a role, and when rhythm doesn’t vary, a reader is likely to find himself or herself drifting off, becoming bored, succumbing to transient Alzheimer’s. So it was with Lit. I found myself looking at paragraphs, thinking, Wait! Didn’t I just read this one?

Strike three – although this criticism may be peculiar to my own sense of timing: The pacing of this paragraph feels inauthentic.

It’s true that time seems to slow down when you’re facing a crisis in which you have some sort of agency, when you’re charged with solving that crisis somehow. And when time slows down, you notice a lot of details.

Every parent is a helpless, passive observer when their child falls ill, though. And when you’re a passive bystander, time seems to clump. Call it a motion blur, if you like: You’re willing time to pass quickly, and it does. Situational details are mostly unmemorable. Maybe one thing stands out from that blur: Thus, I am willing to believe in the enticing glow of Karr’s whiskey tumbler. But the rest of that paragraph has too many specific details. Really? Her anxiety leaves her the leisure to create an entire taxonomy of coughs? Uh uh, I’m thinking. That taxonomy was very obviously cobbled together after the fact.

###

It’s instructive to compare Lit with Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott’s memoir, which covers much the same turf. Karr and Lamott have lived parallel lives in many respects. Both single mothers, both alcoholics, both highly intelligent humans who struggle to reconcile themselves with the magical thinking aspects of organized religion. Lamott is too wacky to have been able to snag a job at a top creative writing program, though.

Sentence by sentence, Lamott is almost always a pleasure to read. Her prose is navigable in a way that Karr’s simply isn’t – meaning Lamott’s prose goes up and down and loops around and takes the reader somewhere. With Karr, you always have the sense that you're treading water – possibly because Karr herself feels like she's treading water.

I think this is due to the fact that Lamott is more of a risk taker than Karr and being a risk taker, she’s not afraid to look stupid. Karr never abandons that ironic hipster persona even when she’s on her knees; Lamott was never an ironic hipster; she was always the fool that goes where angels fear to tread.

There’s a sense of immediacy in Tender Mercies that’s entirely absent from Lit. A breathlessness. A pleasure in discovery.

On the other hand, Lamott loves to lecture, to drone on and on and on, as drunk on redemption as she once was on Scotch. This gets boring to those of us who are not 12-step fans. It’s been many years since I read Traveling Mercies, but I remember distinctly that I couldn’t finish the book.

I did finish Lit. Karr serves up a conversation with a Franciscan nun as the final dish on the tasting menu. It felt disjointed. But since everything in Lit felt disjointed, at least the ending was consistent from a structural point of view.
Dreamed I had a lover, a gentle, dark-haired man, an artist, 31 years old. He was utterly besotted with me, and I kept trying to explain to him how utterly inappropriate his passion for me was, but at the same time, I was very, very flattered. I’m 65 years old! I told him. I kept trying to find something wrong with the guy – he loved me, right? There had to be something wrong with him. He’s not all that articulate, I thought. Maybe he’s stupid

And then I woke up.

###

This article is frightening.

The Robert Mercer/Cambridge Analytics connection, I knew; the psyops stuff I didn’t know.

Cambridge Analytics maintains it’s only been employed to work on American elections. I suppose the key word in that sentence is “employed” since there’s ample evidence that Cambridge Analytics has been hard at work in the UK though no evidence that money changed hands for the company’s services.

The key to Cambridge Analytics’ success at targeting people’s emotions to political advantage is its Facebook profiles harvesting operations, which employ artificial intelligence. (Mercer got his start making breakthroughs in language processing that provided the foundations for the development of artificial intelligence.) The original research began when a Facebook quiz went viral. More than six million people ended up doing that quiz, and every one of those profiles was analyzed for psychometric data. Facebook “likes” are the key to that data. The end result is a psychological model with uncanny behavioral predictive abilities.

Cambridge Analytics’ parent organization is something called the SCL Group. Cambridge Analytics provides the technological tools; SCL provides the strategic intelligence. SCL is competing for contracts within the Trump Administration’s well-funded War on Terror. Social media sites are the battleground for that war. Case in point: Approximately one-third of all Twitter accounts are bots, an invisible army programmed to make topics trend. These bots are programmed to appear human, to react as if human. Before Brexit, they were all programmed to support Leave. Before the American elections, they were all programmed to support Trump.

Andy Wigmore, the main guy interviewed for this article, postulates that all Trump’s tweets and public displays are not erratic displays of behavior at all but are deliberate performances that hinge on showcasing carefully chosen keywords.

The main weapon in such cognitive warfare is “moral shock,” which has a disabling effect on empathy and critical thinking. Hence the emphasis on propaganda sites peddling “fake news” designed to deliver that moral shock.

Twitter now has literally hundreds of thousands of accounts that lie inactive as if waiting for some kind of trigger that will cause them to rise up and drown out every other source of information.

Scary stuff.

Good reason to drop out of all social media.

Snow

IMG_7001



Blizzard lived up to its hype in these parts at least: I’d estimate we got somewhere between 24 and 30 inches. Difficult to calculate exactly; it was drifting so hard. Around 6, the wind finally stopped, and we scurried out to dig out the cars before the snow got crusty and heavy. (Can’t really use a snowblower on the cars; they’re too close together.)

We dug till 9, then sat around the kitchen till midnight or so, drinking wine, nibbling cheese, discussing recipes.

Fun!

Plow guys haven’t shown up yet, but I imagine they will shortly.

Originally, I’d wanted to keep a path open to the road, but that proved impossible: At the peak of the storm, the snow must have been coming down at four inches an hour, and it was gusting wildly. Anything you shoveled immediately blew back in your face.

The roads are still mostly empty except for those enormous trucks with plows stuck to their fronts. Those trucks look like some species of robot dinosaur.

And people hereabouts should be skiing until June.

###

Snow shoveling is satisfying physical work. It’s repetitive, so you fall into a rhythm that’s almost meditative, that quiets the mind. And you can immediately see the results of your labor.

There’s also a certain amount of logistics involved in disposing of large amounts of snow: You have to figure out a place to put that snow, and that place is often many feet away from the place you’re shoveling.

Still. I'm ready to be done with snow shoveling for this year.

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They upped the snowcast to 30 inches, which is – ulp – a lot of snow.

Here’s what it looked like when I woke up this morning.

unnamed


I like the way my iPhone camera turns the obfuscated light of the early dawn into an eerie turquoise.

Shortly, I will hit my Bingo! caffeine level, go outside, and start digging.

Sigh…

###

What is it with people and toilet paper when states of emergency are declared?

I swear!

I ventured out to the supermarket yesterday afternoon. It was a complete riot! And everyone’s cart seemed to be piled sky high with 12-packs of toilet paper!

Toilet paper seems to be the one modern convenience that nobody wants to forgo when civilization collapses.

Of course, in a way, I was there to purchase toilet amenities myself. Kitty litter for the cats. I was running low. I had tried explaining to Rutger and the Meezer that the best thing would be if they just didn’t use kitty litter for the next 48 hours, if they just didn't pee or shit! That way we could conserve the little we had. But they stared at me with their little beady eyes as if uncomprehending. So, finally, I had to break down and buy them some.

Tags:

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Final forecast: 24 inches. Weather advisories are in place from tonight to Wednesday morning.

I organized a house meeting last night to set up a logistical plan for snow removal. You gotta get out there to remove it from the paths every time it hits the four-inch mark. Otherwise the snow gets too heavy to blow or shovel.

If the forecasts are correct, Benito and I may be out there at 5am tomorrow, shoveling and blowing.

L’s house has the most ridiculous driveway, circular and long. It’s like Tara or something. Why any house in the blizzard-prone northeast would have a circular driveway is beyond me. It’s not like we have to cool down the horses.

It’s beautiful out now, sunny and bright, so it’s hard to relate to the apocalyptic weather warnings. But Anticipate and Prepare! Always good advice.

###

The best entertainments function as a species of Trojan Horse: They smuggle the consideration of deeper issues into the minds of their fun-loving, popcorn-gobbling, oblivion-seeking audiences.

So it is with Get Out, a truly original take on what it means to be black in 21st century America, a scathing indictment of white liberals. This movie is a Triple Crown winner since it works convincingly as social commentary, as a comedy, and as a horror movie. Jordan Peele, its director is my New Boyfriend.

SPOILER ALERTS:

In the tradition of the very best whodunits, Get Out opens with a scene that explains every mystery in the subsequent action – except the audience isn't going to pay the slightest bit of attention to it.

A young black man is wandering, lost, through a white suburb. Very Trayvon Martin. It’s night. All the houses look alike. The streets have bucolic names that have no relation whatsoever to the landscape or to each other. A bizarrely accoutrement-ized car pulls slowly up beside him, the very strange song Run, Rabbit, Run blasting from its souped up woofers.

“Not today,” says the young man.

But it’s already Too Late.

Of course, slasher movie fans have seen this scene a thousand times before. But the difference is that then the young person wandering down the street was an attractive female in a pushup bra.

###

Then the action shifts abruptly to the apartment of Chris Washington, a handsome young man who’s an up-and-coming photographer.

He’s about to visit his (white) girlfriend’s parents for the very first time, and he’s nervous. “Do they know I’m black?” he asks.

The girlfriend is played by Allison Williams. It’s an interesting casting choice, obviously intended to leverage the cachet of Marnie, the character Williams plays on Girls. (Similarly, the role of the girlfriend’s father is played by Bradley Whitford who essayed the role of President Bartlett’s trusted advisor on every white liberal’s favorite science fiction show, The West Wing.)

Thing is without the (white) Marnie cachet, the girlfriend would not be all that attractive. She’s scrawny. Her nose is pointy. Her skin is blotchy. Her hair is a rat’s nest of split ends.

On the drive from the city to bucolic upstate (my turf!), the girlfriend hits a deer. There is a scene with a highway patrol guy, staged so the audience can get terribly indignant when the officer asks Chris for his ID even though he wasn’t driving the car.

Chris meets the parents: a neurosurgeon and his psychiatrist wife who are perfect caricatures of white liberality. “If I could have voted for Obama a third time, I would have!” the father tells Chris.

There’s also a pair of black servants who beam constantly but never shuffle. Not even once.

Things may be off-kilter but they don’t start tilting seriously until dinnertime when the girlfriend’s brother turns up. The brother is a character straight out of some bizarre post-racial Tennessee Williams play with just a touch of Deep South twang and a demented twinkle in his eye. Dinner conversation flirts with Chris’s many “genetic” advantages.

###

Alas! I see I don’t really have time to continue with a blow-by-blow description of this exceedingly brilliant – and funny as hell! – movie. But I must describe the one scene that seemed to me to be the very heart of the movie, that’s so visually striking, it felt like the image must have come to Peele in a genius flash, alone, unaccompanied, so that he felt compelled to develop a plot around it:

The black servants are exceedingly strange. They look black, but nothing else about them is “black” – not their voices, not the ways they move.

Chris confronts the maid, Georgina. Tries to reassure her that whatever’s going on here, if she confides in him, he won’t give her away. “I get it, you don’t want to be a snitch –“ (I’m misremembering the exact dialogue –)

“Snitch?” she asks, uncomprehending.

Chris tries a couple of other synonyms, ending up with the very WASPy and infantile word “tattletale” before Georgina has the slightest understanding of what he’s talking about.

Then something very strange happens: Chris confides that he always gets very nervous when he’s around a bunch of white people and asks Georgina if she feels that way too.

“No, no, no, no, no,” says Georgina, But at the same time as a smile of unearthly cherubic beatitude is ripping her face in two, tears are welling up from her eyes, and you’re caught thinking, What has gotten into her? without realizing that this is indeed the main plot point.

Anyway, totally terrific movie.

I’m going to see it again. It was so totally engrossing -- and scary -- as a horror movie that I know I missed a lot of the subtextual subtlties.