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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

Problems: Now and Then

Long phone conversation with Eleanor last night. Who is back at work as a third-grade teacher in the Outlying-City-Where-All-the-Unskilled-Workers-Who-Serve-the-Affluent-San-Francisco-Bay-Area-Live School District.

Where the school district is too broke to afford heating in the classrooms. (Temps have been in the 30s the last few days.)

And the Chromebooks bought a couple of years ago at a cut rate from Google – eager to get some positive PR and boost product sales – are all broken.

And there are no longer textbooks.

And the teacher’s union wonders why anyone who can afford to do so yanks their children out of the public school system.


This photo was taken a million or so years ago back in happier times. When all we had to worry about was how we were going to juggle all our boyfriends (and in my case girlfriends) without said boyfriends (and in my case girlfriends) finding out about each other.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.


I broke my resolution last night never to tune into any kind of television news. Watched Sixty Minutes. I was interested in seeing Oprah’s follow-up interview to the pre-2016 election she did with seven Trump supporters and seven Trump detractors in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The big question, of course: Is Trump losing supporters?

If you use this group of people as a bellwether, the answer is no.

The results were exactly what I suspected they'd be: So long as the economy remains strong, Trump remains popular.

Would you vote for Trump again? asked Oprah.

Yeah, my 401(k)'s up 35%, said one of the Trumpistas. My house is up another $31,000, yes.

Of course, this is not a representative group of voters at this point. (It may have been once.)


It underscores what I’ve been thinking all along. My liberal-progressive friends are deluding themselves if they think Trump’s popularity is waning. And people who like Trump are not all Nazis and racists.

If they want to get Trump out, they’ll need to target people who didn’t vote in the last election.


“She’s back!” crowed Ed, my Trump-voting, Tax Bwana colleague. “My favorite liberal firebrand! I wanna hear more stories about all those demonstrations you went to at UC Berkeley!”

“Good times!” I said.

“But tell me the truth,” Ed coaxed. “Trump’s not that bad, right? I mean, sure, he’s a loose cannon! He should learn to shut his mouth. Lay off the Twitter. But his policies…”

“Good to see you, too, Ed,” I said.


In other news, Annie has a birthday coming up so I bought her a present: Mary S. Lovell’s biography of the Mitford sisters, entitled… The Sisters!

This was partly self-serving: It gave me the opportunity to reread the book when I (finally) got bored with Monk episodes in bed last night.

But also, I’m sure Jane’s death was a tremendous emotional blow to Annie. Her sister… Even though Annie had not actually seen Jane since the three of us rendezvoused in New York City back in 2001 to deal with my mother’s ashes.

I believe they did regular phone marathons until Jane became too incapacitated.

Plus Jane was the last link to all those memories, which have now become ephemeral floaters inside Annie’s head, unshared and therefore unanchored by any type of corroborative reality.

Between the loss of her house and Jane's death, this has been a shit time for Annie.

Annie left me a couple of phone messages after I saw her in November. “I’m glad you and Alicia seem to be bonding,” she said in one of them.

But, of course, she was not glad.

"Triangulation” is the name of the game in my mother’s family.


Of the many composite biographies that comprise Mitford industry widgetry, Lovell’s is the one that serves Decca best.

Decca is my favorite Mitford.

I had a slight acquaintance with Benjie Truehaft’s first wife, so I actually met Decca once in the early 70s. Was it a book club? A meeting of the Berkeley Women’s Feminist Health Collective? Some artist get-together? I can’t recall now, and of course, very few of my own memories have any kind of corroborative reality.

The Treuhaft houses was in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, a district of homes built to house the overflow of refugees from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Variants of the basic craftman’s model; a little grander in scale, perhaps, and in those days, comfortable and shabby (though the Bay Area’s rocketing real estate prices have since glammed them up considerably.)

Decca wandered down, teacup in hand, in the midst of our earnest palaver. She was wearing a bathrobe over a long nightgown with lace trimming; a strong waft of alcohol drifted from the teacup. She spoke to us in this booming stentorian voice with the most absolutely amazingly plummy Brit accent! And she was very funny. I remember being absolutely delighted with her! I was not a Mitford fan-girl at the time, so I had absolutely no idea who she was.

Some years later, Decca wrote me a very lovely fan note after I published Birth Tales. Did she stumble across it somehow while she was researching The American Way of Birth? Who knows? At this point, I knew who she was – she was a SF Bay Area celebrity! – but knew nothing about the family.


In a letter to I-forget-who, Decca wrote, 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 own feelings is ONE.

Strip away the props, and Decca had the most heartbreaking life. Filled with tragedy.

Esmond Romilly – Winston Churchill’s nephew and Decca’s One True Love – died at the age of 23 when his plane was shot down after a bombing raid over Germany.

Decca had run away with him when they were both 18 to join the Spanish Civil War. A huge to-do in Britain! Peer’s Daughter Elopes With Socialist! read the headlines.

For a year after Romilly was shot down, Decca would awaken in the middle of the night, crying and moaning, But he’ll be so cold! He’ll be so cold…

Romilly and Decca’s first-born daughter had died of measles three years earlier.

Decca went on to meet Bob Treuhaft, a lawyer with a sharp sense of humor. She grew to love him. But I imagine that love was a kind of compromise. Not the unguarded, unquestioning adoration she’d had for Romilly. Of course, yes, yes, yes – that kind of love never lasts. One envisions Romilly in middle age morphing into a kind of leftwing Oswald Mosley, the leader of Britain’s fascist party whom Decca’s sister Diana married.

Decca's sisters were Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, and Deborah. (There was also a brother called Tom.)

Wrote John Betjeman (a self-described "hack" poet, later to become the UK’s Poet Laureate):

The Mitford Girls! The Mitford Girls!
I love them for their sins
The young ones all like ‘Cavalcade,’
The old like ‘Maskelyns’
SOPHISTICATION, blessed dame
Sure they have heard her call
Yes, even gentle Pamela
Most rural of them all.

Ooops! I see I’ve run out of writing time, so I’ll just note briefly that Decca lost another one of her children when her oldest son with Truehaft was hit by a bus at age 12, and that her relationship with Unity – infamous as “Hitler’s girlfriend” – was very close and very complex. So Decca had four cataclysmic losses in her lifetime.

In contrast, I don’t think I’ve had even one.

Decca's drinking, Decca's humor, Decca's resolute avoidance of the emotional, even Decca's staunchly leftwing politics, can all be seen as coping mechanisms.

I never read about Decca without crying for her a little. Such pathos. Although she herself had little use for pathos.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.

Here's What Happened

More hideous white stuff from the sky.

Should all melt by noon. This was a snowstorm in the middle of a heat wave! Some complex meteorology there, but I don’t feel like explaining it.

Turns out it would cost $100 to UPS the Art Installation. It’s fragile, would require acres of foam peanuts etc etc.

No way I am going to spend $100 shipping the thing. I mean, yes, yes, yes, it is adorable, but I know Max would prefer the $$$$.

I had a long conversation with the Shipping Place clerk about the economics of shipping. Turns out that this is UPS and Fed Ex’s response to Amazon’s virtual monopoly on b2b shipping. Courier delivery services can’t complete, so instead they shift the costs on to hapless personal shippers so that they can still maintain a profit margin.

Anyway, now I’m thinking the Art Installation becomes a graduation present that I hand-carry to CA in May.

Haven’t yet made plane reservations for the May trip. What I would really like to do is make a road trip to CA, which would necessitate acquiring a new-to-me vehicle – which I am 60% convinced I’m gonna do anyway – and finding someone else for whom the idea of a Rilly Good Time involves stopping in every roadside attraction on Route 80. That last one seems impossible. Really, no one but me likes road trips.


In other news, the Saturday Tax Bwana clusterfuckery factor is under control so that it’s now entertaining. The other three preparers have good senses of humor, the wisecracks roll. All we need is a laugh track, and we’re a sit com!

And I’m trying to figure out whether there’s any compelling reason why I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life in bed streaming Monk episodes.

So far the only reason I’ve come up with is that there are only 125 hours of Monk episodes.

So, I’d be cutting my life span to six days. Or I’d have to watch a lot of reruns.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.

Of Art Installations and Umbrage

And here is the completed Art Installation.

(The weird-looking thing hovering to the right of the Carmel Valley landscape is an origami butterfly made out of money. To commemorate our $10 bet.)

Did not come out anywhere close to perfect. I’m dissatisfied with the portraiture: The colors should be brighter. But that’s a limitation of my printer.

On the whole, though, for my first time doing this kind of – what would you call it? A shadow box? A diorama? – I was modestly pleased with the results.

I have no idea whether Max will like it.

He will like the check I send with it!

And I like it well enough so that I’ve begun planning my next Art Installation. For Eleanor’s birthday.


Max has gotten into several policy schools already, though he has yet to hear from GSPP. (My alma mater! And apparently the top policy school in the U.S. Who knew? ) If he does get into GSPP, he’ll no doubt end up going there. So, I’m kinda hoping he doesn’t get in. It would be good for him to live outside the SF Bay Area if only for a little while.

The University of Chicago is one of the places he got accepted. I’m hoping he goes there. I love Chicago!


In other news, FB friends are friends with one of the few Xs I really dislike. I tend to remain on good terms with my Xs. But not only do I dislike this X, even after 25 years or so, I actively dislike him. Like if I could find a reliable Santaria supply store, I’d buy a voodoo doll, bribe someone to get a sample of the X’s hair or fingernails and do extreme acupuncture on it.

Anyway, I stumbled across a posting from this X and immediately fell into an agitated state. This was mostly The Mood, of course.

While he was dating me, the X was having dreams about the woman he eventually went on to marry.

I was me – which is to say an overly aggressive, overly intense, overly self-dramatizing mess.

The wife-to-be was sweet, reserved, and quietly mindful.


I fuckin’ hate her, too.

Anyway, I tossed and turned as I tried to fall asleep. The X and the sweet, reserved nonentity have a perfect life! Lots of money! The X is always traveling to little towns in the middle of nowhere to bleat out his ridiculous Grateful Dead-inspired guitar tunes! And posting on FB about his perfect life and how much he loves his wife! (Yes, yes. I peeked.)

Is it possible, my better self asked the churningly resentful and envious specter that is my worst self, that the X and his wife may be perfectly nice people and that their happiness does not diminish your happiness or chances for happiness in the slightest?

We’ll have to continue this conversation at another time! my worst self told my best self. And I thought you were my friend!

But I did fall asleep.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.


A Heretical Opinion on School Shootings

I did not give a shit about the most recent school shooting in Florida – a fact I struggled to keep secret from collaborators in (ha, ha, ha) real life and imaginary playmates on social media.

Seems to me there are effective measures that can be taken to prevent these types of incidents. And if they’re not being taken, it’s because these types of incidents serve some sort of agenda. No, not an organized agenda – even my conspiracy theory tendencies don’t take it that far – but some collective unconscious psychological agenda. How many people die in these types of shootings every year? Perhaps they’re all sacrificial victims in some cosmological sense. Plus there’s all the ad revenue the media gets to generate playing, Ain’t It AWFUL?


The very best movie ever made about school shootings is Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. Elephant is a very, very strange movie that offers up no psychological insights into the tortured souls of the killers and no theories about American culture or guns. The film moves excruciatingly slowly. Practically nothing happens except at the end of the movie, a lot of people are dead.

Here’s the thing about violence: It’s exciting. Even when you don’t approve of it.

You know the old phrase: The glory of war!

If you really want to stop violence, you take the glory out of it.

That means that the media would have to stop making the killers in these types of shooting famous.

Because I suspect more than anything else, since Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris fast-tracked their way into headlines and history, the perps in these kinds of incidents see shooting up a school as their ticket to fame. Everyone will know my name! they think.

And everyone does!

For a couple of days, at least.

Florida’s gun laws may be wonkier than those in other states, I don’t know. The accounts I’ve read seem to indicate this kid’s weapon acquisitions were by the book.

The kid was also banned from carrying knapsacks on to school property. Although I have no idea how that particular embargo could be enforced. Presumably, there are many points of entry on to high school campuses, and beleaguered school budgets can’t pay for guards at every one.

But here’s a heretical opinion for you:

I have no doubt whatsoever that events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland are influenced far less by lax gun laws than they are by CNN, MSNBC, and the nightly news drivel on the three dying non-cable networks that glorify these killers under the pretense of explaining them.

If the powers that be really wanted to control school shooting sprees, they’d work something out with the media. Stop the blitzkrieg beams of focused attention during which the world is supposed to stand still.

If the little shits didn’t think shooting up a school was a way to get famous, I guarantee the incidence of such incidents would plummet.


In other news, I continue in a Mood.

I had two Tax Bwana clients yesterday whose 2017 earnings were in excess of $130,000.

Frankly, people who make that much money should be going to HR Block, not availing themselves of fr-ee-ee-ee services designed for the working poor.

It was 60 degrees out yesterday. Springlike! The limpid sun hanging in the winter sky!

I went for a s-l-o-w trot part way across the Walkway. (It closed before I could complete the circuit.) I am so out of shape!

When I got home, I discovered I’ve been pre-qualified for yet another car loan. Now that I’m a real human girl again, my credit score just keeps going up and up and up.

So I spent the evening cruising cars, working desultorily on the Art Installation, reading Edith Wharton ghost stories, and streaming Monk episodes. Monk seems to be the only filmed entertainment I can watch these days without wanting to throw up. I think it’s the Randy Newman theme song.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.

The Death of Rimbaud

Got a letter from an Old Friend.

I wouldn’t say I have a crush on him exactly. I don’t think I’m capable of having crushes on people.

What I would say is that the romance of his life moves me in some profound sense. He’s Rimbaud. Not the youthful, beautiful, dangerous Rimbaud, but the middle-aged, resigned Rimbaud, working as a coffee and firearms dealer in Harar, all pretense of poetry abandoned.

In the back of my mind, I always maintain a list of People I Want to Travel With to the Far-Off Places of the World, and Old Friend ranks high on that list.

Rimbaud went on to die in a particularly horrible fashion, and I suppose that’s what happens to all people who were once beautiful and dangerous. If you want to die in your own bed, you have to take your boots off. And be happy about it.


In other news, the sun came out yesterday, so I forced myself to go on a longish tromp. It was freezing cold, and the wind was high, so I can’t say I enjoyed myself very much. But, hey! Ambient sunlight.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.


I had plans yesterday, but I canceled them. It was too rainy, too gloomy, too cold.

Instead I spent the day making… what would you call those things in the photo? Milagros? They’re a fairly minor feature of the Art Installation: I’m going to glue then to the vast, blue, starry firmament overarching Carmel Valley Road. But they took a helluva long time to make! I had to (A) hunt down a grocery store that sold Jarritos; (B) paint the damn things; (C) glitter the damn things; (D) hunt about my immense photo archives for precisely the right shots of Max’s face; (E) Photoshop out the right shots and size them so they’d fit in the bottle caps.

May I just say here that Photoshop has become a complete pain in the ass?

I used to be quite the Photoshop whiz back in the day when I ran People Magazine online since my duties included not only creating written content but also photo editing.

Since then Photoshop has become bloated and well-nigh unusable.

I dedicate one of my more ancient laptops to art programs like Photoshop 6 – a program that became obsolete six years ago – simply because I refuse to “upgrade” to more recent software. Why should I? I know how to make Photoshop 6 do what I want.

Apparently, most people aren’t interested in figuring out artful workarounds and need the whole process to be automated.

I only wish I’d saved the even more ancient laptop on which I’d installed Photoshop 4.0. That was the best Photoshop ever!


Hunting down Jarritos took me to the shithole that is downtown Poughkeepsie.

There’s a great Jamaican supermarket there filled with all sorts of weird things:

Who knew tumeric was some kind of weird pinecone-y thing?

When I was doing my AmericaCorps Vista stint and living on $8501 a month, I bought my groceries at the dollar store next door to the Jamaican supermarket.

So I decided to take a peak into the dollar store. For old times sake:

Not every dollar store is bleak and depressing. Some dollar stores are quite pleasant.

But Poughkeepsie’s dollar store, as you can see, was expressly designed to humiliate everyone who walks through the door. It is ugly. It is only utilitarian in that it sells those items without which everyday life is impossible, but those things are all jumbled up on shelves with very little of that organizational mania that’s the hallmark of up-end stores. You’ve gotta hunt down what you want at the Poughkeepsie dollar store.

It’s a big Fuck You to the poor.


Visiting the Poughkeepsie dollar store did little to improve my mood, which proceeded to grow more and more detached throughout the day. An unemotional variant of depression, I suppose. A mood John Barth once characterized as “without weather.”

I vacillate on the question of whether this is the most awful time to be alive.

On the one hand, we have all these terrific improvements in public heath and healthcare in general. I’m one of those women who would have died in childbirth had I given birth prior to circa 1950 or so.

Plus, you know, access to an endless stream of movies and books. And vibrators!

On the other hand…

Well. I think we may have reached what you’d have to call an information apocalypse. Absolutely nothing you absorb over any kind of digital medium – the Internet, your smartphone – is verifiably true anymore, and that includes these very words you’re reading here since while I claim to be an old lady living in the Hudson Valley, I could just as easily be a Pakistani operative subtly inciting you to go to Walmart, buy a gun, and shoot up your local high school. (Those creepy kids! They deserve to die!! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!)

Increasingly few people relate to their physical environments.

I mean, maybe, they take their eyes off the phone while they’re on one of the DisneyWorld rides.

But their eyes are locked to the phone while they’re standing on line, and they spend ten times longer standing on line than they do enjoying the ride.

I just don’t see how humanity gets out of this one without dismantling the Internet.

And there’s no way the Internet gets dismantled at this point.


While I was rooting around for Max pix yesterday, I stumbled across this:

Remember how I mentioned those Books of Knowledge lying around in the hideous, mildewy basement of the House of Usher a couple of days ago?

This was something I apparently scribbled on the flyleaf of one of the volumes of the Book of Knowledge. Jane gave me the book while I was living in Ithaca some years back; I have no idea why she saved it because, as I say, she had little or no use for me.

I don’t think I still have the book, but that’s okay: I took a photograph.

An incredibly weird thing, this, for an eight-year-old to write, but then, I was a pretty weird little kid.

Note than many of my adult preoccupations are neatly foreshadowed here!

I take my own inconsequence for granted! All the glory is going to go to my cousin David – Was David a man with a lot of fame… Apparently, I hadn’t learned about question marks yet.

I am talking to posterity! Much as I do in this journal.

And I’m really, really curious about posterity! I want to open up a dialogue with posterity! Time and space? Unimportant barriers to entry for the eight-year-old moi!

RTT, acting as posterity’s proxy, very sweetly obliged his T-35-years mother by signing his name.

1This was some kind of weird thought on the part of program administrators that we would serve the needs of the urban poor more effectively if we could enjoy the experience of urban poverty firsthand for ourselves! Ha, ha, ha!

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l'ho visto in un film una volta

I’ve been in a Mood.

And remain in a Mood.

And though I’m pretty sure the Mood has very little to do my day-to-day life – my day-to-day life could be more pleasant, sure: I could win Lotto; I could go into a fugue state and magically complete all those manuscripts lying around on my desk; I could find a source for those metal Mexican soda bottle caps, which I need for the Art Installation; but let’s face it: my day-to-day life is profoundly okay – still: I process the Mood as though it springs from events in my day-to-day life.

Really, the Mood has to do with the absence of ambient sunlight.

Vitamin D, the lightbox, and the elliptical bike got me through a good chunk of the winter, but now I’m flagging.


Tax Bwana remains kind of a clusterfuck.

I repositioned myself in the trenches as Free Tax Preparer to the poor, the halt, and the lame. Lots of those in Poughkeepsie! Poughkeepsie is a little piece of the South Bronx in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley.

But I find myself missing the old folk whose taxes I used to do when I worked in Hyde Park.

Even though the old folk has lots of capital gains, and I don’t like doing the paperwork associated with toting up capital gains taxes.


Anyway, I ended up watching Nights of Cabiria last night.

Fellini is my very favorite filmmaker. (Big surprise, right?)

I hadn’t seen Nights of Cabiria for years and years. Maybe not since I was 15.

When I was a teenager, I lied my way into a number of jobs, one of which was as a candy girl at a little indie/revival movie palace called the Thalia on 95th and Broadway. As a result, I have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of just about every art house movie produced in the U.S., the U.K., Italy, and France throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and I developed a lifelong fascination with independent movies.

(That fascination does not extend to movies in general. I don’t see Hollywood as a vector for serious art; I see it as an assembly line industry that’s subordinate to the dictates of capital. I’m never gonna watch a Marvel Hero movie or a Star Wars franchise unless someone pays me or holds a gun to my head.)

I remember thinking Cabiria was not one of Fellini’s best when I saw it at age 15. In fact, it kinda bored me.

Giulietta Massina, whom I love/love/loved beyond human measure in La Strada, reminded me of Lucille Ball. At that time – little snob that I was – I did not like Lucille Ball.

When I watched the film again, I realized the impersonation was deliberate. Which, of course, makes perfect sense: Amo Lucy would have had to have been a staple of Italian TV circa 1957.

Anyway, about Cabiria as about so much else, my 15-year-old self was wrong/wrong/wrong.

Cabiria is brilliant. Its ending is amazing. Note please how Massina’s smeared mascara incidentally recreates the Sad Tramp clown face. There’s a lot of Chaplin in her Cabiria performance, too.

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Samir told me this morning that he’s decided not to pursue a PhD.

I was floored.

“Well, then, I guess this is the last time we’ll see one another,” I said.

I’m not under the slightest delusion that our peculiar intimacy translates into “friendship.”

There are personal relationships, and there are interpersonal relationships. The odd thing is that you can feel just as much affection for someone with whom you have an essentially impersonal relationship. The difference between personal and impersonal relationships? With the latter, there’s no expectation of continuity once the business at hand is over.

We talked about his decision for an hour and a half.

There seemed to be two decisive factors.

The first is a conversation he’d had recently with a cousin who’d spent a long time living in France. The cousin had two daughters. When the cousin decided he’d had enough of France, the daughters did not want to go back to Algeria.

I mean, who can blame them? Apart from the men who participate in the patriarchy that oppresses and enslaves them, I mean. Why would they want to go back to Algeria? In Algeria, women are essentially house prisoners1. They have no freedom .

I’m a woman, of course, and I think Samir likes and respects me.

But I also think Samir views me as a phantasmagoria. Like a talking ape or a talking horse. Almost an abomination. But not quite. Because I live far, far away from Algeria.


The second turning point came in a conversation Samir apparently had with his father.

His father announced point blank that there was no way that he was going to live in the U.S. So that traditional immigrant standby – carve out a toehold; then bring your spouse, your parents, your brothers and sisters – is not an option for Samir. He’s doomed to be a stranger in a strange land.

Samir has nothing that even remotely corresponds to “community.” I used to urge him to go to mosque, purely for the congregational aspects of it: You can’t feel at home in a place where you have no ties.

But I guess what I wasn’t seeing is that Samir doesn’t want to feel at home here.

He wants to make money here. And then go home.

In this, he’s not that different from scads of immigrants to these shores.

My very first ESL student, Reuben, was a medical student in El Salvador when he did the math and realized he could make far more money working as an unskilled laborer in the United States than he could being a doctor in El Salvador. He could live in squalor, save up his money for 10 years, go back home, buy land. And live like a king.

But I think the math doesn’t work in Samir’s favor.

He can make more money here, true, but he can’t make hugely more money here. His masters degree from Batna is essentially useless for snagging an entry-level engineering job, and his particular brand of foreignness makes him suspect. Even if he was qualified, he’d probably be passed over because prospective employers would fear he was a terrorist in training.

That particular prejudice disappears when you have a degree from a respected American university.


“You know, Poughkeepsie is not the United States,” I told him. “Maybe the thing for you to do is to go to a place where you’d have more of a sense that there are people like you –“

“Where would that place be?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Michigan has a very big Islamic population. I mean, Samir, the thing you need to ask yourself is why do you want to be here at all? In this country, I mean. If you don’t intend to make a life here for yourself? Why not go back to Algeria and channel your ambition into doing something there?”


I think he’s making a bad decision. I have no doubt whatsoever that he could get into Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

But hey! It’s his decision to make.

1 The exception to this is the medical profession: Approximately 60% of Algeria’s physicians are female. But in Algeria, the medical profession is not particularly prestigious.

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