Below, find the latest diary entry, then all other April content. Click here for all March entries. My CoviDiary is reprinted, with the author’s permission, from its original publication via maxburbank.wordpress.com.
My Covi Diary, 4/30/2020: Funny, But Not Plausible
BY MAX BURBANK | Two stories took place in the world outside my head today that stood out enough from the background chaos of the wildly unlikely funhouse of dread we collectively inhabit (now that ALL THIS THING THAT’S HAPPENING is going on), that I felt I must address them. Both are ‘”breaking,” so key questions have yet to be answered and the reliability of reporting, while fairly solid, is still subject to the Fog of Pandemic. They share a level of outlandishness that would appeal to me if they were fictional. Honestly, Every aspect of ALL THE THIS OF THIS would appeal to me if it was fictional, which is how I’m currently managing. I don’t mean I pretend it’s not real, I know it is (if it is, and there are hints it isn’t, undeniably obvious hints that seem AWFULLY DELIBERATE!), I just say to myself, “Well that awful current event would be DARKLY HILARIOUS if things were more normal in reality and I’d made it up in order to illustrate some sort of point.”
So when things seem particularly made-up, I feel compelled to pick at them until they bleed and scab over, which is nature’s way of saying, “Well that’s sorted and you don’t need to think about it any more.” I was quite the picture of mental health before THE THIS OF ALL THIS THIS, and now that we’re fully in the thick of it, I’m magnificent.
SO THING ONE took place earlier today at the State House in Michigan. Hundreds of exclusively white protesters, many in military cosplay, but carrying very real automatic weapons, came out to protest the tyranny of not being able to get haircuts and other sundry constitutionally guaranteed rights. And it was cold and rainy so the police let them in. Now Michigan is an open-carry state and you can legally take your loaded machine gun right into the State House, though there are very strict rules regarding signage. Signs are often attached to large pieces of wood, and you could hurt someone with one of those, and no, I did not make any of that up.
It was pretty tight quarters, and a lot of these guys were weighed down with all kinds of criss-crossy straps with pouches on them and belts to hang carabiners from and large tactical backpacks that are, of necessity, quite cumbersome, so that they can accommodate many pounds of tacticals. It only made sense to cut down on excess weight by not wearing masks. That probably seems silly and dangerous to a civilian like you, but I assure you, it is a pro-tip your more militarily inclined Michigan-based incels are heeding these days. It helps them be more tactical while hollering, “Lock her up” in surprisingly high, shrieky voices that crack in a way totally not indicating late onset puberty combined with an excess of Red Bull, but rather, the result of very masculine Caucasian patriotic fervor.
And I say “Caucasian” because while I was not there myself, I’d bet a kidney it was nothing but mayonnaise as far as the eye could see.
Know how I know? No arrests. No beatings. No one got shot and killed.
Because if a single one of those “protesters” had even a suspiciously dark tan? That person would be seriously roughed up and lying unconscious in a cell right now, and that’s if they were very, very lucky.
Suppose for a moment that the Michigan State House, or any state house in the entire country for that matter, had been surrounded by a large group of heavily armed, angry black men. Do you think all the press coverage provided by the enemy-of-the-people-fake-news would have used the term “protesters” to describe them? Do you think they’d all be alive right now? What percentage of them do you guess would be dead?
What if they’d been Mexican Americans? Do you think the police would have let them and their military grade weapons inside? Do you think they’d have said, “Hey, fellas, we totally respect your right to both peacefully protest and open carry, but could we see some ID? Just to be sure that you’re all legal residents? And that you legally own these deadly weapons with large capacity magazines? It’s just a formality, and if everything checks out, why, we’ll hold the door for you ourselves, you can go right on in, and we’ll assume that as law-abiding citizens, you’re aware you’re not allowed to murder anyone unless you feel threatened. I’m gonna have to ask you to leave that sign outside, though. Rules are rules.”
And if they’d all been of Arab descent? Donald Trump himself would have called in a fu**ing nuclear strike, collateral damage be damned.
If anyone is still confused and needs a good definition of what white privilege is, tell them it means getting to do things that would get you blown to chunks your own mother wouldn’t recognize if your skin wasn’t white.
THING TWO is that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan felt he had to hide a shipment of Coronavirus test kits he’d bought from South Korea and have it guarded in an undisclosed location by the Maryland National Guard and State Police, because he was concerned the Federal Government of the United states might steal it. Or “commandeer,” the term the administration prefers to use when stealing shipments of PPEs, respirators, and ventilators, a thing that they are doing now. I’d like to give you more information about this, but I can’t, as the administration won’t comment about the medical shipments they’ve been seizing, or what happens to the supplies they seize. Because apparently, while the federal government is not “a shipping clerk,” they are “a pirate.”
As a Republican, Governor Hogan has a pretty good idea of exactly what he’s dealing with.
Put these two stories together and what do you come away with? It’s a fu**ing free-for-all out there. Trump says he’s got complete authority, but it’s pretty clear there’s no one in charge, no plan, no cooperation, no vision. It’s 50 state governments in competition with shifting, loose alliances, and a handful of governors who see themselves as feudal Barons in Trump’s service, with no particular duty to their constituents.
It would be funny if it were fictional, but it wouldn’t be plausible. It would need a rewrite or three before anyone would think of publishing it, because whatever point the author is trying to make isn’t clear and the entire premise might not be salvageable.
A good editor might just say scrap it. Get some sleep. Try again tomorrow.
BEFORE YOUR CONTINUE, LEARN A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MAX BURBANK | Burbank is a freelance writer living in Salem, Massachusetts. His work has been published by Cracked.com, NationalLampoon.com, i-mockery.com, and the literary magazine websites (because he is both hoity and toity, but neither enough to get in the print versions) Monkeybicycle.net and Frictionmagazine.com. Once upon a time, before the Internet, he sold science fiction stories to the legendary Algis Budrys for Tomorrow: The Magazine of Speculative Fiction. Until recently, he was the political satirist for Chelsea Now, where he won a PRESTIGIOUS first place award for editorial cartooning from the New York Press Association, because gosh darn it, he draws real good, too. A huge, steaming pile of Max’s comedy writing can be found archived at maxburbank.wordpress.com. Max is available for freelance work, both writing and illustration, because he likes to eat on occasion.
My CoviDiary, 4/29/2020: A Man Can Get Used to Anything
BY MAX BURBANK | So, this is not The Cusp of History: Part Seven. What I originally conceived of as an only slightly larger than average thought… well, let’s just say I’m not thinking as clearly lately as I might. I don’t know why I figured I was going to write about how the last 40 some odd years of Republican right wing history left us uniquely vulnerable and utterly unable to face the crisis of ALL THIS THING THAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW; that as shocking and bizarre as it might all seem, it was really a very straight, highly predictable line, the end product of a snowballing, cancerous American death wish that’s been gaining speed my entire life, and that somehow I’d be able to tackle the subject in TWO DAYS.
That was never going to happen. Lucky for me this is a diary and not a book of essays. I’ve given myself room to fail and get up again.
So I’m going to keep working on it. After all, I’m only up to the end of the Reagan presidency. We’ve got years more to go. But it’s slower writing than a lot of stuff. I have to look shit up. Check my recollections. Remember how I felt and who I was. It takes time, and I can’t carve a coherent thought out of it on a daily basis. With four people in the house for all three meals every day, I have a lot of dishes to do, especially with the dishwasher broken at a time when if anyone was devil-may-care enough to come into the house to look at it, I wouldn’t let them in anyway. It’s great weather for run-on sentences, but it’s hell on concrete, chronological narrative.
SO TODAY, IN WHAT PASSES FOR OUR CURRENT REALITY
My Bride and I stood in our neighbors yard, wearing masks. Six feet and then some away from us were our neighbors, also wearing masks. Six feet and then some away from all of us was their masked lawyer. There were two little folding tables set up on the front lawn, a good six feet and then some apart, and each table had a set of documents on them.
It was a beautiful spring day. Their dogwood was blooming, as were a few different kinds of daffodils. It’s funny how many things have to be going on in your brain to look at three quite different groups of flowers and yet somehow know that despite their differences, they are all daffodils. Taxonomy is a very complicated concept, and yet it’s also intrinsic, the human capacity, the human need to group and categorize is so basic we do it almost as naturally as breathing. We do it constantly, all the while getting on with the business of our lives.
The business at the moment was, in this case, our neighbors signing their last will and testament. They aren’t sick, but just now you never know, and it makes sense to get your affairs in order. And to do that, you need documents, and for those documents to be legal, they must be witnessed. And this is where we came in, this is why we were standing on their front lawn, a respectful distance between us, signing pieces of paper while a lawyer asked our neighbors if they were doing this of their own free will, and then asking us if we agreed that seemed to be what was going on. Our neighbors signed their paperwork, my bride and I signed our respective paperwork, just as if this was a perfectly normal thing to be doing.
And it was. Normal. Not wistful, not bittersweet or nostalgic, not replete with longing for a world that for all we know has already vanished, just… normal. Just stuff that needed doing so it was getting done in a way that was as safe as possible under the circumstances.
And it’s the normality, how fast that got here, that scares me the most. The human capacity to normalize the abnormal is frightening. We re-categorize and sort and adapt at a subconscious level, as naturally as breathing, we can’t help it.
Years ago, around the time Reagan was finishing up his second term, I was writing plays. I wrote about 10, mostly onc-acts (the Novellas of play writing), a couple of full length three acts. Most of them got produced at least once, some more than that. It was small time, independent stuff, not exactly self -roduced, but I put up some of the money for most of them. People paid to see them and I garnered a slew of astoundingly negative reviews.
I honestly imagined playwriting was the vehicle by which I would realize my life’s goal, to be a fabulous guest on late night talk shows, the kind of person about whom people would say, “Oh, Max Burbank is going to be on Letterman, it’s always fun when he’s on.” And then I read an article by Christopher Durang, who at that time was the third most produced playwright in America, as far as new material went. He allowed as to how the only reason he could afford the rent on his tiny Manhattan apartment was that on occasion people in Hollywood would mysteriously pay him money to write screenplays which they would then not make movies out of.
And I thought, “Oh.” Because I was young and idealistic and I did not want to make a living writing things no one ever saw, a job I would happily trade both my pinkies for now.
But that’s not why I brought any of that up. I wanted to tell you about a specific moment in the first three-act I wrote, the one that never got produced. It was called Bird(s) of Paradise, and it was an absolutely shameful Sam Shepard imitation. I adored his work, and when I really liked a writer back then, it was like I came under a spell, and I couldn’t help but write in their voice, just not as well.
I’ll tell you a secret: I still do that. The only change is I’ve become more adept at hiding it.
It was a pretty bad play with a wildly out of control ending that I resolutely refused to change, but it had some nice stuff in it that even when I reread it now I think, “Well, that’s nice stuff.”
At the end of Act One, everyone in the family the play is about is screaming at each other, a huge family blow-out, and then a very clumsy fake bird is flown past the upstage center window and one of them yells, “Oh my GOD, a Bird of Paradise!” and they all rush to the window and stand there silently staring out into the back yard as the lights fade to black.
Lights up on Act Two: Dad is sitting at the table, reading the paper. He looks like shit. Out the upstage window a clumsy fake Bird of Paradise flies by. After a moment, another Bird of Paradise, or maybe the same one, flies by in the opposite direction. Silence as Dad reads his paper. Another Bird of Paradise. Now two at a time. Another. One smashes into the window and drops. Throughout the course of the act, Bird of Paradise fly past constantly, more and more of them smashing into the window and dropping. They begin to pile up, a blizzard of dead Birds of Paradise. By the end of the act, only the very top of the window lets in any light, the stage is darkened by this drift of dead birds.
I can’t remember the exact opening lines of Act Two, but after about five minutes of silence broken only by Dad turning the pages of his paper and a dozen or so birds flying past and/or banging into the window, the eldest daughter wanders on, and says something to the effect of, “What the hell with all these Birds of Paradise? Weird, right?” and the Dad says (and this line I do remember exactly)-
“Oh, I don’t know. A man can get used to anything, so long as it happens regular.”
I remember writing that line. And secretly, I knew even then Bird(s) was a pretty bad play, and I was never going to figure out how to fix it. I’d bitten off way more than I could chew and sooner or later I’d have to accept this one wasn’t going anywhere and let it go.
But I really liked that one line. It felt true to me. I hoped I’d find a use for it in something else some day.
My CoviDiary, 4/28/2020: The Cusp of History, Part Six
BY MAX BURBANK | Today I went to our small, local grocery store. It’s the second time I’ve been, and I was more used to the drill, so it was less scary, but still pretty stressful. I can’t decide whether I hate it less than the giant-ass grocery store we’ve also been to. There’s a ton more people at the big store, so a ton more possible vectors of contagion, but the small grocery is… small. As in less room. As in pretty much impossible to keep six feet away from people unless you are willing to stand stock still for huge chunks of time and everybody plays by the same set of rules. Spoiler, most people aren’t willing to stand stock still for very long at all, even if at some place in their heads they know it could cost them their lives. People seem to think if they whip by you real quick, it’s like the five-second rule, when you drop food on the floor. More spoiler, no one is playing by the same set of rules, even though the rules are as clear as the blue tape one-way arrows on the floor. Also, the store is small enough that there’s just no logical way to route traffic. If you forget something in the produce section, once you’ve left, the only way to get back in and obey all the arrows is to check out, leave the store, and come back in. And nobody is going to do that, because half of the people there are already ignoring the arrows anyway. It’s anxiety-inducing, and you end up buying stuff you don’t even want and forgetting stuff you really needed. No one warned me that the future might include thoughts like, “Did I really just risk unknowingly killing my family for a box of Tic Tacs?”
I didn’t really get Tic-Tacs. That would have been foolish and cavalier. I bought a box of little bites mini-muffins. Chocolate chip. I mean, I was already there, and it’s not like you can assign mortality to a specific grocery. It could just as easily be the lemons that destroy my life.
Lemons. IT’S SO FUNNY BECAUSE IT’S SO TRUE.
AND MEANWHILE, IN THE SIXTH PART OF THE TWO-PART SERIES I’VE BEEN WRITING:
There is one thing I gotta give it up to Reagan for. He could give a good speech.
Remember when I talked about the Venn Diagram overlap between actors and politicians? Hard as it may be to believe under the current circumstances, once upon a time, Americans valued a president’s ability to speak well. Actors, even so-so B-movie actors, if given a script in advance and enough pride to prepare themselves at all, can give a decent speech. Reagan was capable of that, but his real specialty was the folksy yarn. That was his sweet spot.
He had a favorite story It was about a B-17 bomber pilot in World War II whose plane was hit over France. The belly gunner was wounded and trapped in his gun turret. And, when the pilot told everyone to bail out, the gunner knew he was doomed.
“The kid in the turret cried out,” Reagan would say, “and so the pilot sat down on the floor of the plane and said, ‘We’ll ride it down together, son.’ And that pilot… was given the Congressional Medal of Honor. Posthumously!”
I say this story was a favorite of the Gipper’s because he told it frequently. He told it on multiple campaign stops, and he even told it to a group of Congressional Medal of Honor winners. He claimed he knew about it because during World War II, when he was assigned to a unit making training films in Hollywood, which was as close to combat as he ever got, he read the medal citation as part of his research.
It’s a very moving story, and it probably sounds familiar. That’s because it’s been retold in varying forms in a number of movies, originally in the 1944 film A Wing And a Prayer, and it’s based on a real story, except that I made up that last part. It’s entirely fictional.
As reported in 1984 by the Washington Post: “In fact, no Medal of Honor was awarded for an incident like the one Reagan described. Each of the 434 awards made during World War II is accompanied by a citation that describes the precise circumstances and reasons for the award. Reagan’s anecdote is not among them. The White House has vowed to substantiate the president’s story, even if it takes months, and has ordered the Air Force Historical Office to make a search, thus far fruitless, to document the yarn.”
The White House never did acquire any evidence that the story of the Ball Turret Gunner and his noble pilot were true, but that didn’t stop Reagan from telling the story repeatedly without mentioning it was from a movie, not something that happened.
Sound like anyone you know? If only Reagan had known what Trump knows now, he’d have said, “See? The fake news media tried to coup me, but here’s the actual citation, WRITTEN IN SHARPIE!”
Let’s be charitable and say that Ronnie didn’t even know he was lying. Memory is a tricky thing, and he was old. Maybe after it became public knowledge the story wasn’t true he forgot repeatedly that it wasn’t a real event, came to believe over and over again that he’d read the citation himself. And here’s the thing: People refused to believe it wasn’t true. They’ll still fight you over it today, despite the fact that there is no Congressional Medal of Honor citation for any such incident during the war.
Whatever his intentions may have been, Reagan took a big-ass chunk out of the idea that a president knowing the difference between fact and fantasy matters. He set the precedent that the leader of the free world repeating the same, totally untrue story over and over like your weird Great Uncle at Thanksgiving… well, it’s just not that big a deal. Maybe it would be best if we all just went along with it.
And once you’ve accepted that, how far a trip is it to say maybe it would be best if we all believed it, even if it’s been proven false? Maybe the people who say it isn’t true are just fake news. Maybe if you say it isn’t true, you don’t love America. Maybe you’re human scum, maybe it would be best if you were locked up.
Reagan was cute about it, but once you’ve accepted the cute version and normalized the behavior, the next time it doesn’t need to be that cute. In a decade or so, it could get downright ugly.
My CoviDiary, 4/27/2020: The Cusp of History, Part Five
BY MAX BURBANK | So as it’s been a few days since my last entry, the fourth part of my two part series on how we arrived at the crisis we are now mired in, let me give you a brief update on how things are going in the parts of my life I live outside my head.
I know the main thing you’re most curious about in my life is the state of my hands. Except for the five or some minutes after I slather them in petroleum jelly based products, they are pretty much like sculptures of hands made out of stale cornflakes, holding their shape only because they are unable to let go of the memory of hands.
Inspired by something we saw online where some folks had made a mini-art museum for their gerbils, my youngest and I have begun making rat art for our two foster rats. If I haven’t already told the story of how we ended up fostering rats shortly before a mass pandemic swept the planet, let me know and I’ll try to cover it. Cordie did a rat “The Scream,” I did a Magritte’s “son of man,” that’s the one with the businessman with a big green apple obscuring his face, except this is “Son of rat” and it’s a businessrat. I’m working on “Blue Boy” by Gainsborough, except it’s “Blue Rat Boy”. You get the idea.
Oh, and I’ve worried a lot, except I’m too scared I’ll worry about specific things, so I’ve just got this really good, all pervasive, free floating anxiety on simmer. I can crank it up to a rolling boil pretty much on command. It’s nice, it’s mine, and it works for me. Other people say they’re putting on weight in quarantine. Not me. I’m on the anxiety diet. My appetite’s fine. I just burn it off real fast.
So great! We’re all caught up.
PREVIOUSLY, ON “THE CUSP OF HISTORY”…
On our personal tour of Republican politics during my lifetime, we’d reached Ronald Wilson Reagan. The next time some tin foil ass-hat on Facebook or Twitter goes all numerology stupid, point out to them that each of the Gipper’s three names has six letters in it, making him 666. To me, that’s proof your basic Dunning Kruger mystic math games don’t work, since as bad as Reagan was, things since then have gotten a lot worse. If Ronny was the Beast, he was a frikkin’ underachiever, is all I’m saying.
Reagan was our first celebrity president. Sure, he’d been governor of California, but I think it’s more important as a cultural touchstone that he once shared top billing in a movie with a Chimpanzee.
Listen; I’m a graduate of Emerson college. My degree is in theater. I spent eight years supporting myself as an actor. Not well, as I think we’ve discussed, but I was in that life long enough to tell you: Acting and governing aren’t just two different jobs, they are antithetical. Sure, there’s a lot of Venn diagram overlap as far as skill sets go, but, let’s be honest, most of those overlaps don’t say anything good about either profession. Acting, by definition, is not real life. And with all due respect to a profession I loved and all the wonderful people I’ve worked with, acting is pretty much consequence free. If I do a shit Hamlet (and for those of you who didn’t know me then, there’s zero chance anyone would have ever hired me to do any kind of Hamlet) the worst thing that happens is people feel robbed of however much their ticket cost, which to see me topped out at about fifteen bucks. In politics, especially presidential politics, if you turn in a really awful performance, LOTS AND LOTS OF PEOPLE DIE, and the effects of your terrible showing can last for generations. So when the GOP went all in with Reagan, when the hagiography began before he even retired, let alone died; When they started to agitate to get his wrinkled, pomaded head on the dime and Mount frikkin’ Rushmore, they were opening up the door for a man whose major notable life achievement was being on a garbage reality show.
But that is HARDLY the only door Reagan built and then held open for Trump.
Reagan is the modern progenitor of a bizarre but highly successful Republican strategy: “Government is the main source of all your problems, so you should elect me to govern, and I promise to do it as little as possible, except in that I will work diligently to make it harder for future leaders to get anything done.” Trump’s election promise “Only I can fix this” is absolutely dependent on having fully swallowed the very idea of government is not only broken, but fatally flawed. It cannot be repaired by reform or revolution, it is corrupt in it’s very nature. It must rather be rescued. You need a hero. A strongman. A king. A god.
Sound like anyone’s description of themselves?
Reagan also gave us ‘“trickle down-economics,” or as it is more accurately described, “The near constant upward transfer of American wealth,” or, “Kleptocracy.”
You know the metaphor, “Flogging a dead horse?” Take a moment and imagine that literally. Imagine someone FLOGGING a horse corpse. That’s a reasonably upsetting image, right? Now imagine them standing there, tirelessly thrashing the same equine carcass without stopping… for 40 YEARS! Standing there as the as it decays, swinging that crop as it liquefies, as all sorts of horrid little squirmies devour it, as the bones are exposed and come apart and scatter, and because bones are tough, for YEARS, flailing away pointlessly at a heap of of BLEACHED BONES!
Now, take that image and add to it that the flogger of the dead horse spends those 40 years getting fatter, swelling, huge rolls of flesh billowing out, Baron Harkonnen fat giving way to Fat Bastard fat, Mister Creosote fat, the whip looking like a dainty little twig pinched by giant sausagey fingers;
Now one more layer, imagine the swelling, corpulent, gyrating flogger’s pockets begin to bulge, then burst, coins dropping, blowing about in the windstorm this gargantuan obscenity is generating with his whipping arm, filthy lucre spraying everywhere until the monstrosity is hip deep in money and horse bones, Like Scrooge McDuck if he’d murdered and eaten Horace Horsecollar, and it still WON’T STOP BEATING!
That’s trickle down economics. That’s how petty and violent and pointless and barbaric it is, and they keep telling us year after year that somehow, eventually, magically, it’s gonna bring that poor fucking horse back to life. And they don’t even try to pretty it up anymore, they just do it as a matter of course. How else, how ELSE could the Small Business Relief fund already be bled dry by hotel chains and steak houses? How else do you explain Jared Kushner’s company getting an 800 MILLION DOLLAR, FEDERALLY BACKED LOAN?! Reagan sold it to us trickle down, but if you put a prom dress on a turd it still won’t dance. It’s become entrenched, institutional kleptocracy as a matter of course. It’s so sewn into the basic fabric of American life at this point that when Trump put his business interests into a “Blind Trust” that was operated BY HIS CHILDREN, he WAS NOT STOPPED.
The past is a prologue full of test balloons. Yesterday’s absurdities that, though horrified, we tolerated, become the mundane backdrop for the launch of a fleet of newer, more horrifying test balloons.
I’m not done with Reagan yet. Tune in tomorrow for one of ol’ Dutch’s most favoritest war stories, “The Tale of the Ball Turret Gunner.”
My CoviDiary, 4/24/2020: The Cusp of History, Part Four
BY MAX BURBANK | We now return you to The Cusp of History, already in progress.
So Richard Milhous Nixon, the only American president to ever resign, hefted his remarkably normal sized but very red hands to the sky, hiking his ill fitting suit jacket up uncomfortably around his ears, lifted his shadowy jowls into a hideously inappropriate grin, flashed his ridiculous trademark double “V” for “Victory,” or hippy for “Peace,” or British for “F**k off, mate” one last time and helicoptered off into the history books in disgrace.
And the hapless Gerald Ford, the first man to ever be Vice President and then President without a single person voting for him, was left standing there like dope. He gave a very nice speech about “our long national nightmare being over” which was nicely crafted, but boiled down to “I am so f**ked. I hate this shit.”
He is mostly remembered for being a pretty nice guy, which compared to Nixon, he probably was, but it’s instructive to recall that Nixon was a venomous, paranoid, drug addled bastard and that was how his closest friends thought of him. Ford was Commander in Chief for just over three years, and the office of the presidency was drastically weakened in reaction to Nixon’s criminal shenanigans, so he didn’t really have time or power to effectively debase, demoralize and traumatize the nation in order to help render it a country that would one day accept Donald Trump as its leader, But he did take a single, very respectable swing of the sledgehammer to our nation’s support beams.
He pardoned Nixon.
More than pardoned him. Nixon was pardoned not just for crimes it was agreed he had committed, but any as yet undiscovered crimes it might later be found he had committed while president. Apart from what a slap in the face this is to the very concept of law, a thing we are supposed to be a nation of, Ford’s monumental naivete beggars the imagination! Bear with me as I appear to digress, but I promise, it’s all part of the point I just made.
Did you know there have been not one, but two bowling alleys in the White House? Truman received one as a birthday gift which is pretty funny, because in addition to dropping the only two nuclear weapons ever deployed against human beings in the history of the world, He didn’t care very much for bowling! Nixon, on the other hand, was a Fred Flinstone-level bowling enthusiast, and since Truman’s lane had been moved to the executive office building across the street. Did you know you could move a bowling alley? I did not until I researched (Yes, YES, researched) this article. You’re welcome. He built his one lane bowling alley in an underground workspace area below the White House driveway leading to the North Portico. Now suppose for a moment that in the weeks after Nixon resigned, people began to notice a terrible smell and traced the sickly, cloying odor to the now dark presidential bowling alley! Suppose frantic Secret Service agents tore up the polished boards of the lane, revealing a mass grave containing dozens of hideously mutilated corpses! And suppose atop this unholy sepulcher, a handwritten note in familiar handwriting was found that read “The dead bodies beneath this note were all murdered and posthumously desecrated by me, but I shall never face justice owing to the highly specific conditions of my pardon, as these befouled remains are all that’s left of people I butchered WHILE… I… WAS… PRESIDENT!!! Warm regards, Richard M. Nixon.”
IMAGINE! And I ask you to make the effort to viscerally imagine that not simply because I am bent enough to find it amusing (I am, I do.) but because Ford’s pardon of Nixon is his legacy contribution to the creation of a sociopolitical environment allowing for a Trump presidency to exist. The enduring belief, held by many, that the president is above the law.
“Now hold your horses there, Mr. Burbank! The fall of Nixon is accepted by all as proof that the President is not above the law!” First of all, don’t take that tone with me. Second, I prefer to be called Doctor, although I hold neither a medical degree nor a PhD, it’s just my preference. Third, it is not accepted by all, I am a person and as such an inarguable part of all, and I do not accept it! I would suggest, in fact, it proves quite the opposite! Sure, Nixon resigned in disgrace, but the law views that as a choice, not a punishment. Nixon faced no legal consequences, not jail time, not a fine, not even arrest. To paraphrase the current occupier of the Oval Office, “When you’re a president, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
There will be no reckoning. No comeuppance in legal terms. Presidents need never fear the jail cell or the gallows, only history’s judgement, and if you are the sort of person who ought to fear that, you are also almost certainly the kind of person who couldn’t give a rat’s ass what it will say about you in books written after you are dead.
Gerald Ford managed to win the Republican nomination, defeating Ronald Reagan, Because please. A B-movie star on his second wife because he was DIVORCED? It is to laugh.
Put a pin in that, because you’ll find it’s a recurring theme on America’s long road trip to utter degradation. All it takes to make a man whose run for president was a laughable act of hubris and idiocy into an actual president is a few years. The things we howl in derision at? Give us a little time and we’ll embrace it. It’s sewn into the national fabric.
Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, a modern southern Democrat, whom I’m skipping.
Not because I think he’s perfect, I don’t, though he is perfect as an ex-president, and all the others look like shit next to him. And I’m not skipping him or Clinton or Obama, because they didn’t all make their own contributions to a future that has room for a President Trump, some more than others. But this essay isn’t about what became of the Democratic party, it’s about how the Republican party worked very hard to arrive at its current destination, and while some small number of them have buyers remorse, any who claim this process was not intentional are either lying or willfully ignorant.
And I can’t believe I had that much to say about Gerald Fucking Foot-note Ford. Good Christ, I will never finish this essay.
So. Ronald Wilson Reagan. America’s beloved President Grampaw.
My deathly pale, hairy, pair-of-lima-beans-shaped ass. I was there. Anyone who wants to forget what an evil sack of shit he was can be my guest, but I was there and as you’ll see in part five of my two part series, he owns a big meaty chunk of where we are at right now. And I say that because at this point of have entirely given up on the ludicrous notion that you could cover large swaths of almost 40 years of presidential history in two parts unless they were some enormous fucking parts, and I am trying to do this as a DIARY which means an installment almost every day.
And THAT is all I have to say for now.
My CoviDiary, 4/23/2020: We Interrupt This Series
BY MAX BURBANK | OK, OK, listen, I’m sorry, I really, truly am. I had written, say ¾ of “The Cusp of History Part Four,” and I was going to finish it after dinner, post it about midnight, apologize for not being done with my two part series even after having written part four, speculated that this might run to 30 or 40 parts, ha-ha, no I’d probably have it done in five, but seriously, WHO KNOWS?!
So I was taking a quick break from researching Nixon’s underground White House bowling lane and I see something on Twitter, and even in THIS WHOLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING TO ALL OF US, even considering that I’m am 97% certain that none if this is real, it’s just a crazy coo-coo bananas simulation, I look at what I’m reading and say “Oh, surely not.”
And I bet you think I’m talking about the Labradoodle guy, but I’M NOT (#NotAllLabradoodles), I’m talking about something El Loco Donaldo allegedly said during today’s Rally Replacement, Funkalicious-Propaganda-Disbursement Variety Special and Pandemic Briefing.
So I do the responsible thing. I take the quote, enter it into Google and see if I can find those exact words published in a trustworthy media platform of record. Because that’s what a responsible person does even if they’re just writing an opinion/comedy piece or whatever the hell it is I do.
And it is true. It is real. It did happen. But it’s so much more. All I’m looking for is did he really say something about injecting disinfectant into your lungs.
And he did. He did say that. But he said… so… much… more… than just… that… which would have been more than enough.
The President of the United States of America said the following words:
“A question that probably some of you are thinking of if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or very powerful light. And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going test it. Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.
And I think you said you’re going test that too. Sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number in the lungs. It would be interesting to check you’re going have to use medical doctors with that, but it sounds interesting to me. And so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.”
So… OK. Okay. I just… I just want to… respectfully say… in response to… all that…
What the fuck?
What the literal, blue, electric F**K with that shit? I mean, COME ON! COME ON, MAN!
Sweet baby Jesus bouncing up and down a diesel powered f**king POGO STICK with ZERO HELMET going! Sweet little beatific baby Jesus playing in a bucket pretending a lit stick of dynamite is a fucking CIGAR, sweet reptillian Infant of Prague with a switchblade F**K?! Best beloved crispity Christ rapping the sermon on the mount in PIG LATIN at a BEST BUY, MOTHER RIPPIN’ SHIT BITCH ON A ROSEMARY AND OLIVE OIL COMMUNION TRISCUIT, NO! JUST… NO!
NONE OF THAT! NONE… of… THAT!
Because listen, listen, just bear with me, how is it possible that the… whatever the hell Trump is, how can a man, any man be not just that full on APESHIT crazy but also so staggeringly, astoudingly, BLINDINGLY STUPID?! If a kid in your freshman high school bio class said anything halfway as moronic as that whole screed, no one, NO ONE would ever be able to stop making fun of him for it, not for an instant, people would literally STARVE to DEATH because they were UNABLE to stop making fun of him for long enough to take nourishment or sleep or use the bathroom and they would have no choice but to DIE with unkind yet witty observations unfinished on their dry, cracked lips!
How can that clinical IMBECILE have the same job as Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Teddy fucking ROOSEVELT, RIGHT?! FDR, JFK, BARACK… frikkin’ OBAMA, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN and SHUT UP, I KNOW he wasn’t a president, just because you’re on money doesn’t mean you were a f**king PRESIDENT, it’s a JOKE!!! I gotta make a joke right now because if I don’t, I swear to inside out JESUS, I will birth a BABY FLYING MONKEY right out my LEFT EYE and I will NOT be held ACCOUNTABLE for what it DOES AFTER THAT!!!
Ok. Ok. I am taking a breath. I’m O… K.
And it’s not even news is it? I mean sure, it’s all over social media, can you believe what the numb, orange tit with the truss under his cheap baggy-ass suit said THIS TIME. But there’s no half page, screaming headline, is there? There no Chyron on CNN saying “PRESIDENT DEMONSTRATES BEYOND SHADOW OF DOUBT THAT HE IS WAY CRAZIER THAN THE MOST DEMENTED SHIT HOUSE RAT EVEN IF THAT RAT WAS HUFFING MODEL AIRPLANE GLUE AND SHOOTING BATH SALTS UP IT’S HIARY LITTLE RAT BUTT! A BRACE OF STURDY YOUNG MEN IN WHITE COATS WITH GIANT BUTTERFLY NETS WERE COMPELLED TO PUT A BURLAP SACK OVER HIS DROOLING MELON, STUFF HIS CORPULENT, INVOLUNTARILY UNDULATING CARCASS INTO A STRAIGHT JACKET AND TRUNDLE HIM OFF TO THE FUNNY FARM! ABOUT TIME, SAYS A RELIEVED WORLD!”
No. No. By tomorrow it won’t be forgotten, exactly, but it will be just one more Trump moment and on to the next one! And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s just getting EXPONENTIALLY worse, and it’s not going to stop because I am pretty sure that none of this is real. It can’t be, it can’t get this much more surreal and bizarre and improbable every single day, because based on this progression? the math clearly state that in just under two months, that fat bastard is gonna come out from behind the podium, climb up on a mountain of corpses, rip off his tear-away stripper pants, bend over, and pull a three foot tall f**king rabbit in a top hat, monocle and waistcoat right out his god damn creamsicle colored ASS! And that Rabbit is going to tell us in the worst ersatz British accent since Dick Van Dyke sang a song about the delights to be found up chimneys that we have all been tested and as long as we’re white we don’t have the Coronavirus and we can all go get a haircut and a pedicure and have our privates waxed!
And we’ll all say, well, admittedly that whole talking rabbit thing was a little weird, but you know… Trump, right? It’s just a distraction so you won’t think about how he nuked that tent city child concentration camp right after he cancelled the election and ate a bucket of puppies.
Because, you know… Supposing… just supposing… you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin… or in some other way. I think you said you’re going to test that too, right? You know, either through the skin… or in some other way?
And listen, don’t think too much about what other ways there might be that you could bring light… you know, inside the body… like… besides through the skin, which I guess is a thing you could do. These are just some great ideas he’s had that the so called scientists didn’t even think of. I’d say he’s pretty close to inventing a cure all on his own. I mean, it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to stop him.
What does he have to lose? What do any of us have to lose?
My CoviDiary, 4/22/2020: The Cusp of History, Part Three
BY MAX BURBANK | First, a bit of housekeeping; I had initially indicated this essay would be a two-parter. Clearly I was wrong, which is different than lying, as it is more about lack of attention to detail than odious intent. The results are often the same, so MY BAD.
I thought I’d be able to do it in two parts. Clearly, I am not. I’d hoped I’d do it in three, but two paragraphs in, I have to say I doubt it. So MY WORSE. I’m thinking four? I hope?
I want to be honest. I have no idea how many parts at this point. I’m trying to forge a thought here, and you’re along for the ride. What you’re reading isn’t first drafts, but I gotta say, it ain’t the finished product either. Rough cut, right? Sorry.
Also, an inconsistency was pointed out to me by an astute reader. (I DO HAVE THEM, a fact indicating I have achieved all of my life goals that do not include money or a suite of superpowers which I would certainly abuse within days of acquiring them anyway.)
In Part One of this effort, I allowed that I entertained the probability of the existence of objective reality, a physical plane that exists independent of human interpretation. But in Part Two I argued that we were in a poorly written Matrix-like simulation! If this seems like a contradiction I’m sure it’s mostly due to muddy writing. What I’m saying is, up until, for sake of argument, November 9, 2016, we were muddling along in some sort of consensus reality. This (in my personal cosmology) exists alongside of objective reality and is composed of what our limited human sensory apparatus is able to interpret about… everything, and then we mush it all around as a species and get by as best we can with what we agree on. The direction of up, the relative wetness of liquids, the general difference between things that are alive and things that aren’t, the best of the silent comedians was Buster Keaton; that sort of thing.
And then sometime at about 4:47 on the morning of November 10, 2016 we were, as a species, collectively sedated and our consciousness or a facsimile so precise as to be almost indistinguishable was downloaded into a vast, cruel, computer simulation. Or just my consciousness, that’s all I can be entirely certain of. It is my fondest hope that what I currently perceive as all of you, are in fact just complicated code, and that the actual you are living your lives in a world where Hillary Clinton is president and people bitch about it constantly and likely she’s under investigation 24/7 for emails and shit, and you are blissfully unaware of how good you have it. No president Trump, no Coronavirus landing in the lap of a man singularly unable to do anything but make it worse, no edge, no cusp. May it be so, may it be so, may it be so.
I have good reason to believe my simulation theory, and I’ll surely go into it at some point, but not now, because this is PART THREE of a two-part series, and look at how much I’ve worded already without even discussing THE SOUTHERN STRATEGY, which was where I left you last.
It was Goldwater’s idea, initially. His team called it “Operation Dixie” and he failed to become president spectacularly, and everybody thought, “Well, hah-ha, that bit of foolishness is all over.” Like lots of bad ideas that fail, it wasn’t “all over” so much as it was “just beginning.” In a lot of ways it is just reaching full fruition now–and for the moment no more simulation talk, we’ll just assume for the sake of argument ALL THE THIS is happening even though I don’t think it is, because how many plot threads am I supposed to handle?
So Nixon picked up the Southern Strategy ball and ran with it quite effectively. To understand it, you must begin with a premise most people hate: THINGS CHANGE. The Republican party has been around since 1854 and let me lay some reality on you, it is a VERY DIFFERENT THING TODAY than it once was. Abra-friggin-ham Lincoln was a Republican! Do you imagine in his place, Nixon, Reagan, either Bush, or god forbid ,Trump, would have FREED THE SLAVES? They would not. Ford would have at least known he should have, but he wouldn’t have done it either unless every Republican holding elected office told him it was alright to do it.
Democrats have been around even longer than Republicans, and a significant chunk of the party prior to 1969 was made up of states that had been on the losing side of the Civil War. They were Democrats who were pretty heavily invested in making life just about as miserable as possible for Black folks, considering slavery was illegal. So Goldwater thought he could strip away the southern white Democratic vote by loudly reminding folks he voted against the civil rights act of 1964. And it worked! Sort of. He won all the southern states! And just about nothing else because as it turns out, say-it-out-loud-in-public racism, which played so well with southern Democrats, was a bit too much for the bulk of the Republican party. I know, right? And Nixon shrewdly realized that the main things a lot of regular Republicans in 1969 didn’t like about racism wasn’t disliking Black folks because they were black, it was saying you didn’t like Black folks because they were black.
The Southern Strategy was all about dog whistles and code words. Nixon wasn’t arguing for White Supremacy, he was fighting for the rights of the Silent Majority. And while he was bravely standing up for the forgotten folks too stoic and polite to ask that their needs be considered, Strom Thurmond, (The former Democratic Senator from South Carolina and newly minted Republican Senator from South Carolina, because he had a keen sense of which party was buttering his racist bread) was oiling his reptilian way around the deep south, assuring white voters that what Nixon meant, see, was the he wasn’t going to try to overturn the Civil Rights Act, but if elected president he’d make damn certain it was never enforced.
And so, the Grand Old Party decided that while being a racist was certainly distasteful, not using racism as a political tool when there was so much of it just lying around was downright wasteful!
SO: The first of the conditions necessary for an eventual Donald Trump presidency, the eager willingness to employ race hatred as a political tool, was met.
But poor old Tricky Dick, brilliant as he was, was still a man of his time. He didn’t know that when Congress subpoenaed his secret tapes, he could have just refused, because presidents have the absolute authority to do whatever they want. He resigned when it became clear he’d be impeached, because Republicans in the Senate didn’t know yet that you can catch a guy red-handed, look right at his red hands and say, “These are normal, flesh-colored hands, and saying they are red is a hoax and a coup!” He didn’t have an Attorney General willing to argue that it says in the Constitution you can never, ever ask a sitting president what color his hands are!
But we’ll get there. Join me tomorrow, won’t you, and maybe I’ll finish explaining how we got from there to the cusp of history we are knee deep in right now. Or maybe I’ll go off on some tangential rabbit hole expedition that likely as not gets very dark, very narrow, and ends in a rhetorical garbage disposal.
My CoviDiary, 4/21/2020: The Cusp of History, Part Two
BY MAX BURBANK | (If you haven’t read Part One (4/20/2020), I’d go back and do that. Part Two will make more sense. Not much more, but… you know… more-ish?)
Months ago, a reasonably large number of pundits said things to the effect that “Trump is really, really bad, but so far we’ve been kind of coasting. All president’s face some sort of crisis and when this lumpy bag of sewage and Fritos bumps into his, well, friends and neighbors, at that point a nearly incalculable amount of excrement is going to collide with the wind machine they used in Twister to make the cow fly.”
A.) Odds are if you remember the movie Twister at all, the only thing you remember about it is the cow.
B.) I am reasonably certain that they did not use an analog wind machine to propel a cow. I’D wager it was CGI, if for no other reason than nobody wants a movie where in the credits they have to write “No animals were harmed in the making of this film except for the cow and sorry to say, that poor bastard got seriously F**ed up.”
C.) A lot of great people were in that movie, among them Helen Hunt. She’d played opposite Paul Reiser in the sitcom Mad About You, and the year following Twister she would win an Oscar for her performance in As Good as It Gets, after which she would get nothing but hot garbage and for the most part disappeared. I thought Helen Hunt was a terrific actor and she should have gotten lots more quality work. This is some serious bullshit that defies explanation and I’m sure if I knew the details they would make me mad.
D.) People did say things along the lines of my entirely fabricated quote and you immediately understood the sense of it and how it applies to the absolute disaster that is ALL THIS THING THAT’S HAPPENING, despite the whole shit/fan/CGI cow mess I made. The fact that my quote wasn’t real doesn’t change any of that and that is just how easy it is to assault the truth. It’s a slippery slope, even if you are jes’ funnin’ like I was as opposed to being a malicious, Orwellian son of a bitch.
NEAR POINTLESS DIGRESSION, CONCRETE EXAMPLE, METAPHOR or simply LAZY WRITING?! YOU, THE READER, MUST JUDGE!!!
So, after teasing a first strike on North Korea, and flirting with the idea of war with Iran, since the war with Iraq had gone SO VERY WELL, we have arrived at Trump’s actual crisis, a way bigger one than anyone had in mind. And I’m guessing some would say Trump is uniquely unprepared. I would argue that is, if not incorrect, not a very useful analysis good. Trump is way more than not prepared. He is designed to make this very bad situation the worst it could possibly be. It’s as if some malicious God or inscrutable Alien intelligence intentionally crafted him to burrow relentlessly downward like a 1950s sci-fi earth submarine with a giant drill on the front end, until he reaches some unknown depth wherein an undefined thing will happen causing an explosion that ends with everyone getting killed real bad! That’s an intentionally ridiculous sentence by which I mean Trump will make this worse until he is stopped. If people or disease or old age or an act of God do not stop him, we will all die. Sounds extreme, right? But I truly believe this is Trump’s purpose. He exists only to find the point at which something stops him. His parents didn’t. Multiple business failures didn’t. The media, The electoral college, staunch military gentlemen within his cabinet, the Republican Senate, the Chief Justice… He’s didn’t specifically set out to snuff humanity, but he is a doomsday device, he was activated at birth, and if he is not stopped, the camera is going to have to pan up after the big explosion to reveal a malicious God or inscrutable Alien (probably played by Morgan Freeman) who will go “Wow. I really, really thought someone or something would have stopped him before… you know… this.” and then sad trombones. Lots and lots of sad Trombones, like billions, in unison, just three notes: Wah… Wah… Waaaaaaaaaa. No credits. Because the dead do not read credits.
How did we get here? How did America, land of the free, home of the brave, the shining city on a hill, the only civilization in HUMAN HISTORY to not at some point, even once, give annihilating the Jews the old college try, become so mortally debased and utterly vulnerable? AND SO SUDDENLY! And just in time to face a catastrophe of unprecedented scope?
So, at the risk of betraying a bias? Because you know, I’m not a journalist. I’m a columnist. It says so at muckrack.com. I’m gonna spoil this for you. It was the GOP.
They have been carefully, meticulously, purposefully crafting the political environment that allows for the existence of a Trump presidency. They have been constructing a universe so unlikely you have to at least allow for the possibility that it is not real at all, it is a Matrix-like simulation written by COMPLETE ASSHOLES, and they have been preparing to stick us in it for MY ENTIRE LIFE!
Sounds paranoid, right? But for everyone my age, their first political memory is who now?
Nixon. Richard… Milhous… Nixon. The man tattooed on Roger Stone’s back. So maybe not so paranoid.
I would argue there is a direct line from Nixon’s Southern Strategy to Trump piloting his digger mobile to the mysterious subterranean point that blows to smithereens everything any of us have ever cared about!
And I will draw that line TOMORROW! Malicious God or inscrutable alien willing.
My CoviDiary, 4/20/2020: The Cusp of History, Part One
BY MAX BURBANK | I feel we are on the cusp of something. A point of transition between two different states. The borderline between two things, two moments. Americans have been one thing (mostly; sort of), and we may be about to become something else (sort of; mostly). Like a watercolor, the demarcation point is muddy, blurred. You can’t draw a line where on one side it’s one thing, on the other, another. If you could step back from it, it would be quite clear, but you can’t step back from a thing you’re in. We aren’t looking at a painting, we are microscopic bits of pigment in the act of being pulled apart and redistributed by droplets of water.
Ecology teaches us that life thrives at the edges where separate environments meet. Where the meadow meets the forest, where the ocean meets the shore. All life on earth exists in a tiny sliver of atmosphere between the utterly inhospitable interior of the planet and the sterile vacuum of space. Edges are busy.
In another sense we are in the midst of a collision. Two trains about to crash together at a 45 degree angel, and something, maybe many somethings, will be hurled across the cusp to the other side where… who knows? One train is the history of America. The other is the history of a virus.
I know a very little about history. All through my schooling I took history classes and I remember some of it. I’ve read books of history that I was not assigned, since leaving school, of my own volition, for… pleasure? And of course, I have been alive for almost 58 years, and have paid attention here and there to things that were going on. In contrast, I know next to nothing about virology. But regardless of my ignorance, what the United States has become by way of its history, is colliding with what the Coronavirus has become by way of its own.
I grew up thinking there was such a thing as truth. I think mostly that’s what people do. The sun rises, the sun sets. It’s cold in the winter, warm in the summer. Columbus discovered America, we won a revolution and became the United States. There was a civil war, which the North, the true United States, won. We turned the tide for the good guys in WWI, we won WWII and became the leader of the Free world, the Soviet Union collapsed, and we became the world’s only superpower. But of course none of that is true exactly. Some of it isn’t true at all, not even arguably. And yet, you know what I mean.
I believe there is such a thing as objective truth, truth outside of human perception. I believe that if for some reason, all human life were to vanish, the world would go on without us, as I believe it did before us. I find comfort in that belief. I believe the world and the solar system and the galaxy and the universe exist, whether we are there to take note of it or not. But I take the idea of objective truth entirely on faith.
Everything I know about everything is based on multiple humans having thought things and passing those thoughts along. Everything I know about everything is what my poor little brain has synthesized from a nearly random sampling of the tiniest bit of that collective knowledge. I believe in science, but I understand science even less well than history. If I’m honest, I take science on faith. So in the best of circumstances, truth, both objective and subjective, seems flimsy at best, though most of my life we have all agreed to participate in the collective fiction that it’s pretty solid and reliable. Until recently.
The Coronavirus is colliding with American history at a moment in time where the idea of the truth is particularly vulnerable.
The truth is always under assault, as well it should be. We think, generally, that the future is fluid and the past is fixed. Maybe. But what we know of the past, history, is not fixed, not at all. I know now the sun neither rises nor sets and it never has, I know now that Columbus didn’t “discover” America, and he never did, but that’s what I know now! If I live long enough I may yet know that the Sun isn’t the center of the solar system, the earth doesn’t revolve around it, and as much as I thought Europeans invaded an already inhabited continent, the truth, THE TRUTH is this has all, every bit of it including me, been the dream of a colossal one-eyed turtle which has awoken and remembered itself, and everything, the universe, the solar system, earth, the United States, me, is dissipating like morning mist burning off the surface of a lake.
Probably not. But it’s just pointless to say that couldn’t be the case.
But none of that is what I mean, as I’m sure you know.
For most of my life, we have had a vague, blurry at the edges, bell curve agreement of what the United States is, or we thought we did. But it turns out some super-hungry insects, who for the sake of this argument I will call The Grand Old Party of Termites, have been devouring the foundations in such a way that the United States arrives at this moment in time, the advent of the COVID-19, in a thoroughly debased and drastically weakened condition.
“The truth,” as that well-known, particularly loathsome and corrupt Termite, Rudy Giuliani, quite recently noted, “Isn’t the truth.”
“America” collides with the Coronavirus at the exact point at which it is “great again.”
TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW, it is sincerely hoped.
My CoviDiary, 4/19/2020: I Need a Haircut
BY MAX BURBANK | I’m going to start with a question: Since ALL THIS HAPPENED, have you needed to Google “What day is today? I have. A bunch of times. And my guess is the numbers for that particular search have skyrocketed. I’ll leave what that means to shaper minds than mine. I’m just making an observation.
MEANWHILE, IN THE WORLD OUTSIDE MY HEAD
The beaches are open in Florida, and there’s protests in Michigan. Both speak to the same thing, and I’m gonna cut straight past all the surface shit and say what it points to is stupidity. Because as of right now, more than 40,000 people have died of COVID-19. There’s no debate if it’s real, there’s no debate if it’s serious, you can’t compare it to car accidents or cigarettes, because those things, and I can’t believe I even need to say this, aren’t contagious. So if you live in Florida, and you thought today was a good beach day, you can dress it up however you want: You thought that because you’re stupid.
What are the protests about? That the White House still has nothing resembling a comprehensive national testing program to propose, let alone initiate? That the government is commandeering shipments of PPE’s states have already paid for and won’t say what they’ve done with them? That corporate chain restaurants got huge chunks of the small business bailout bill and it’s already out of money? No? So what then? Well, one handmade sign said, “I need a haircut.” So the protests are about the stupid demographic demanding their right to be freely stupid, even though it endangers the stupid and the not stupid alike.
Oh, and half these stupids are carrying automatic weapons, a big-ass bunch of them have confederate flags, and a handful of them have straight up f**king Nazi flags.
So here’s a hypothetical: Say you’re a stupid. Say you don’t believe the Coronavirus is really that big a deal, it’s not as bad as people say, it’s only gonna kill old people and you have a pretty good gut feeling none of those old people will be old people you love or even know. Maybe there isn’t even a virus at all, maybe it’s G5, whatever the hell that is… Because, remember, in this scenario you’re a stupid… and I’m gonna say a fairly big one.
But for the sake of argument, lets say that while you’re undeniably a stupid, you’re not a Nazi stupid. And you look to your left, and there in this crowd of stupids you’ve come downtown to be stupid with… Some dude is waving a big ass swastika flag.
Does that not give you pause?
Is there no part of you that thinks… “Hey. Now, wait a minute here. There’s a guy at the same protest I’m at, protesting the same things I am…and that guy… is a Nazi.” Shouldn’t something kick in and make you, at least for a moment, question if maybe, maybe you should re-evaluate your protest?
I mean, honestly. Like, say, I was at a protest, against, oh, how about Nuclear power. I don’t think it’s safe, I don’t think it’s sustainable, and think there are lots of other, better, ways we could make electricity. And I’ve got a handmade sign that says, I don’t know, “Nuclear power is bad.” And we’re all marching and chanting and I look over and there’s guy wearing a Nazi flag like a Superman cape, and his hand-lettered sign says, “I hate nukes and Jews.” Now, I know I’d think, “What’s that guy doing here?” But I gotta tell you, even though I really, truly believe nuclear power is bad? At least some part of me is also gonna say, “If that guy thinks I’m right about Nuclear power… I have to at least consider that maybe nuclear power isn’t as bad as I thought it was.” Now I’m not going so far as to say I’d end up changing my mind, but it would at least GIVE ME PAUSE to see that a Nazi and I WERE ON THE SAME PAGE ABOUT SOMETHING!
So I’m just gonna leave it there tonight. That if at any point in your life you find you are on the same side of an issue, any issue, as actual flag-waving Nazis, you need to stop, take a deep breath, center yourself… and carefully re-examine that issue.
And also? That old cartoon where Bugs Bunny saws Florida off the United States and it just sails off into the ocean? Unless some Nazis are actively supporting that plan, I think it’s worth considering.
My CoviDiary, 4/18/2020: The Bread of Affliction: A Novella
BY MAX BURBANK | As I write the first draft of this entry, the President of the United States of America is on Twitter actively fomenting civil war. The man who retweeted an image of himself as Nero because he thought it made him look badass. Because the thousands dead due to his inaction and sociopathic negligence are just not enough for him. I am convinced that he viscerally craves violence and death, and I say that without any intentional hyperbole. I do not know that he will get it, I pray we prove better than that, but I absolutely believe that’s what he wants. And I’m not going to write any more about it today, because it’s just too awful and I had a whole different topic in mind and I’m sick to death of letting that repulsive bag of f**k derail me, so I’m not going to.
Imagine an icy bowl of sherbert has been brought to your seat. Cleanse your pallet. Close your eyes, deep breaths. New topic.
I just remembered I almost sold a pandemic post-apocalyptic story. It’s hard to believe under the current circumstances I’d have forgotten about that, but it was quite a while ago and I’ve got a lot on my mind right now. I intend to tell you what it was about, but you’ll have to bear with me.
In an earlier entry (March 30th if you haven’t read it and want to come up to speed, which isn’t really necessary), I spoke of my lifelong mission to board sinking ships, creatively speaking. One of those ships was science fiction. And of course science fiction certainly hasn’t sunk, but I’m talking specifically about science fiction writing, which is certainly taking on water. More specifically, science fiction short stories, which are lying on the ocean floor, and worse still, that least publishable facet of the genre, the science fiction novella. Because of course I chose that as my format of choice, as I think we have established, I am an idiot. That being said, about 25 years ago, I sold three. I got paid for two. One was physically published. Be patient. I’m getting there.
A novella is a very long short story or a very short novel, ranging between 7,500 and 40,000 words. Publishers hate them, because they are wildly uncommercial almost by design, too short to publish on their own and too long to go in a short story anthology. I haven’t researched the matter, but to my knowledge in the time since I sold mine, Stephen King has published a handful, but only as the anchor piece of short story collections or in one or two cases, collections of a few novellas. Neil Gaimin’s excellent Ocean at the End of the Lane is arguably a novella, and Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains definitely is, and by my accounting, that’s it. I love the form. Of course I do. I’m the guy who wrote slideshow planetarium scripts. Unloved forms are my métier. I’d love to tell you that’s why I chose to write them, and it is certainly why I shouldn’t have chosen to write them, but truthfully, I wrote them because I couldn’t help it. By nature I’m very long-winded, but I’m far better at atmosphere and character than I am at plot, a thing a full-fledged novel is really helped by.
The Dink Transcendent (A NOVELLA) was the first thing I wrote I felt was good enough to send out and it was purchased by the very first magazine I sent it to: $900, which at the times seemed like a small fortune, especially for a first sale. Of course I thought my brilliant career had taken, and I was certain it was now only a matter of time before I realized my true life’s calling, be an excellent guest on talk shows. It’s generally much harder to sell writing and I didn’t realize it was a fluke, because I was both ignorant about publishing and arrogant regarding my skills. Which is not to say it wasn’t good, I mean, it was good enough for someone to buy. It just wasn’t a sign of things to come.
Dink was about a young boy who begins developing powers and abilities that eventually become godlike, and how this transition impacts his older brother’s life. It was super derivative, and if your library is like mine, you’d even be able to guess which ideas I lifted from other writers. But it was good enough for Algis Budrys to buy for Tomorrow: The Magazine of Speculative Fiction.
My Old Man had a whole bookcase of science fiction that I worked my way through as a teenager, and Budrys’ Rogue Moon and The Falling Torch were on it. On the timeline he’s somewhere between Azimov and Sturgeon, and he wasn’t a superstar, but he was well thought of. I’m sure I read them both, but I want to be honest, I don’t really remember them.
“Tomorrow” was a second tier sci-fi mag, the biggies being Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, both of which still publish. Asimov’s still even comes out as a physical magazine, which is both quaint and delightful. All through my teens I never missed an issue of either. I sent Dink to Tomorrow because they paid, and they were far more likely to buy something from a new author. And they did!
I want to tell you it was well-received, but who knows? The Internet was a baby back then, and I got no fan or hate mail. I know Budrys liked it. I ran into a Canadian short story writer at a convention who’d published in the same magazine, and he said nice things about my story, but only after I said nice things about his.
And Gardner Doizois liked it. If you know why that’s a big deal, shame on you. You are as sad and niche-bound as I am. He was an author in his own right, but more importantly the editor at Asimov’s for decades. I know he liked it because he told me so in the nicest rejection letter I have ever received, which I got because having sold the very first thing I ever sent out, A NOVELLA no less, I thought I was pretty hot shit so I sent my next piece to the top-selling science fiction magazine. He said my NOVELLA Mr. Tigg’s Last Charge was good, with strong characters and loads of atmosphere, but not quite what they were looking for, and that he’d really liked Dink and that I should send him more stuff. I did. He wrote lovely, chatty rejection letters, but he never bought anything. So I sent Mr. Tigg’s to “Tomorrow” and they bought it.
Mister Tigg’s Last Charge was about a junk dealer who on his scavenging rounds stumbled upon a buried foundation with an intact basement room. In it, he finds an antique but still-functioning Nanny robot. And he drags it home through the desert, almost killing himself in the process and puts it in his shop even though it’s cumbersome and large, the kind of piece that takes up way too much floor space and maybe it’s still there when you go bankrupt or die of a heart attack behind the register, but he can’t help himself because who knows, someday the “right buyer” will come along. And no one buys it it says a whole bunch of poignant and sad stuff and then one day it won’t take a charge at all and it runs down and nobody buys it. Why? Because the guy who wrote the story is a downer.
About two months after Budrys sent me the contract he wrote to tell me “Tomorrow” was going online, it would be an “e-zine,” no print version, and was that alright with me. And I said of course, and didn’t tell him I had almost no idea what he was talking about. I told you, this was a long time ago. I only had Internet access at work, and that was text only, which was YES, AN ACTUAL THING IN THE OLDEN DAYS!
So I wrote a third story, The Bread of Affliction, a post-pandemic apocalyptic NOVELLA and I sent it to Asimov’s and The Magazine of F and SF and they both rejected it and I sent it to “Tomorrow” and Algis sent me a letter that said “I don’t know what the hell this story is, but I like it and I’m buying it.” And about a month later, I got a very kind letter telling me he was sorry but the website was going under and he was returning the rights to me. And though I tried for several more years, I never sold Bread of Affliction or any other science fiction story again. I did start doing fairly well selling comedy essays and articles, but that’s another rollercoaster.
Years ago I read a Stephen King essay about losing manuscripts, and I thought, how the hell does that happen? Easily, it turns out. The years go by, you forget about stuff, old hard drives die, stuff on disks (DISKS!) can only be read by software that hasn’t existed in years… life, right?
So I have copies of the issue of “Tomorrow” The Dink Transcendent appeared in. My bride had the first two pages framed, and I still have that. For years Mister Tigg’s Last Charge was still up on the “Tomorrow” website. Internet’s forever, right? Well, not in this case. Wikipedia’s entry for Budrys mentions the website’s existence, but doesn’t even give the URL. Google yields nothing. It’s gone as if it never was. And I don’t have a copy of the story.
I can’t find a copy of The Bread of Affliction either, which is too bad, as I thought it was the best of the three. And it was about the aftermath of a Pandemic, and I only thought of it in the context of THIS THING WE’RE IN a couple of days ago. I hadn’t thought about it in years, and since the entire story takes place after the Pandemic is over… well, it just hadn’t clicked.
I don’t remember any of the characters’ names, so bear with me: It’s ten years after a plague killed 90% of the population, and it would have killed everyone, but at the tail end of it, aliens show up with medicine. It’s a fungus people end up calling “bread,” and it keeps you alive and asymptomatic, but it doesn’t cure you, and if you don’t take it regularly you get sick. The Aliens look kind of like Greedo from Star Wars, green wedged -haped lizardy head, big eyes, but they don’t talk and they don’t seem to understand people in anything more than a very basic way. People call them “The Tourists,” because they wander around and have devices that might be cameras or video recorders. It’s like they’re sightseeing the end of our world. And they like… things. Chachkies. Souvenirs. And they’ll trade Bread for them, and that’s become the whole basis of the surviving human economy. So there’s these two guys, they were both high school teachers, a skinny English teacher and a fat Art teacher, and they were barely even friends before the plague, but now they live together, cause they’re alive, right? The Art teacher makes wooden carvings that the Tourist seems to like, and every day the English teacher pushes a cart of them up the hill to the cemetery, because the Tourists really, really like the cemetery. And he trades carvings for Bread. There’s all sorts of carvings based on the statues and headstones in the cemetery, but the three most popular items are all Jesus. Large Jesus, Medium Jesus, and Mmall Jesus.
There’s no electricity, so no phones, no cable, no heat. The town is totally isolated, and there’s no travel, because you can’t get too far away from your source of Bread, and the Bread has to be fresh. And there’s rumors that there’s people out there who can grow their own Bread, rumors that maybe you don’t totally need the Bread, maybe you’d live if you stopped taking it, you’d just be really sick for a while, but everybody is pretty traumatized, nobody’s risking anything. And the Tourists seem perfectly nice, they just don’t understand anything. They won’t give away Bread, but they’re not withholding it, it’s like trading is just… what you do.
And there’s this girl who used to go to the high school, maybe the only kid left in town. And she breaks into houses and learns everything she can about the people who lived there, and then she takes some of their stuff. She goes to the cemetery, the hillside that had been for future graves, and she makes little assemblages out of people’s stuff. Memorials. House by house, like she’s going to do it until she’s done the whole ton or she dies. And she takes as little Bread as she can stand, maybe to see how long she can go, maybe to punish herself for still being alive, maybe to see if she can stop taking it, maybe to die. She’s not talking to anyone. And one day she passes out by the cemetery gate, and the English teacher takes her home and gives her bread. And when she wakes up he asks her if she knew his daughter. She knew who she was, but that’s it. And she knows she should lie about it, but she doesn’t know how. And he asks if she’ll do a memorial for his daughter.
She says yes, but it’s the last one. She can’t do it anymore, because everyone needs to be remembered but it’s never going to get done. She’s going to leave town. She’s gotten to the point where she thinks she can go without Bread for long enough to get to the next town and see what’s there. Or who knows, maybe you don’t even have to have it. Maybe she’ll live. So she builds the English teacher’s daughter a memorial and then they leave together, and maybe they make it, maybe they die, maybe they learn to live without the Bread.
None of the questions get answered, it ends with them setting out. I like stories where none of the questions get answered. I feel like life is a story where most of the questions don’t get answered, and if you can’t learn to be okay with that, it’s hard. And it’s hard enough anyway.
I wish I had a copy of that story. I don’t know why I don’t. It seems like the sort of thing I should have taken better care of.
I’ve thought off and one about just writing it again from scratch. I don’t know how other writers feel about that kind of thing, but I can’t. It wouldn’t be the same, and that being the case, time’s better spent writing other stuff.
And the entire reason I wanted to tell you this story was thinking about how wild it was that 25 years ago I wrote a NOVELLA about a pandemic! But in telling through the story I realized I never cared about that part of it. I never described it… I never even imagined it when I was working on the story. It was only about… what happened after. And that’s interesting stuff to write about, it’s fine but I never even tried to imagine… this. The no aliens, No miracle medicine/addictive drug, no bittersweet melancholia… grind of it all. The gloves and the masks and the supermarket trips and the fear. And the grinning orange imbecile looming over it all like an unbearably moronic harvest moon.
So maybe I don’t need to write it again. Maybe someday, when all of this is as in the rear view mirror as it’s going to get… I’ll write the prequel.
My CoviDiary, 4/16/2020: Orange Crush
BY MAX BURBANK | I know this is going to show a shocking lack of self control, but I find myself a bit short tempered lately. I wish I wasn’t and it doesn’t feel great, but it does feel a little like I’m coming into a birthright.
Do you like comics? You know who The Hulk is, right? Hulk Smash? Puny humans? everyone knows the Hulk, but do you know his whole thing?
There were a bunch of cartoons in the late sixties for Marvel books, very cheap, a lot of still shots and utterly still, motionless heads with animated mouths. They’re best remembered for their theme songs, particularly “When Captain America throws his mighty shield.” You can watch it here, and I urge you to:
It’s an earworm that if it wasn’t buried deep in subconscious, it is now. You’re welcome. Far less memorable but flat out brilliant is the theme for The Incredible Hulk cartoon:
Right? “Dr. Banner, Pelted by Gamma rays, turns into the hulk, ain’t he unglamorous? “ Rhyming “Gamma rays” and “Unglamorous” is perhaps the pinnacle of human artistic achievement, and if you don’t think I’m serious, then you might think you know me, but you don’t.
But my point, and I always have one eventually, is that’s how the Hulk got his powers. Dr. Banner was pelted by gamma rays, and it turned him into the Hulk. Sometimes. He’d go back and forth, Jekyll and Hyde-style. BUT, when gamma rays pelted someone else? It was different every time. Samuel Sterns was janitor in a chemical plant, but when gamma rays pelted him, it turned him green (like the Hulk), but instead of being a super-strong brute, it made his head real long and turned him into an evil genius. Betty Ross, Banner’s girlfriend and later wife, turned into The Harpy, a giant, green bird/woman hybrid who is just flat out bonkers and a total manhater in a way that only a guy who wrote comics in 1973 could have written. Emil Blonsky was a KGB spy turned sort of olive drab and all giant lizard guy when he got pelted, sort of like if the Creature from Black Lagoon was crazy juicing and not amphibian. Walter Langowski, a Canadian physicist became the superhero Sasquatch who wasn’t green at all and in fact looked like the result of marital relations between a Bigfoot and a Golden Retriever. General Thadeus “Thunderbolt” Ross when pelted hulked out, but was red, and upon transforming, his trademark mustache retracted into his head, the single most awesome thing in any comic book ever!
You see? Gamma rays express themselves generally as at least rage adjacent, but always uniquely!
That’s the anger gene in the Y chromosome branches of the Burbank family tree. That’s our gamma ray induced transformative power. We all have it, but for each person… it’s expressed a little… differently.
My Paternal grandfather, a beloved physician, was in private a ball of tightly repressed rage who held grudges lasting generations. Favorite moment? He took the whole family on a month-long trip to the four corners region of the American southwest. We of course visited the Grand Canyon, North Rim first. It’s far less developed than the South Rim, way less tourist amenities and trails. When we visited the South Rim, my grandfather asked me what I thought. I said it was amazing, but I actually liked the North Rim better. The views aren’t as impressive, but if it was less awe inspiring, it was more… manageable. You could take in the scope of it. And there were way less people on the trails. You could be alone with the Canyon. My grandfather looked at me and growled, “If I’d known you weren’t gonna like it… I’d have slit my wrists.”
When I tell that story, people are always, like “Wow! Your grandad was awful!” And he was. But he was also magnificent! His anger was so totally unwarranted, so focused and channeled, like the entire weight of the misery, confusion, and downright confoundedness of his life as the first Jew in Brooklyn to bull his way into a world that wanted nothing to do with Jews; A Doctor in World War II who’d seen the camps, a devout and fanatical atheist working his way up from and out of a community that spoke only Yiddish, all of that funneled into a bright black laser beam of rage… at me! A millionth of his power, but you could tell if he ever truly let it loose, it would VAPORIZE you!I It was impressive. And he could release that tiny nugget that spoke so elequently of all the supernova boiling away behind it whenever he wanted, which was often!
My Dad, another doctor, could be explosive, but surgical, elegant, precise. And often his towering rage was directed not at me, but at inanimate objects and the inescapable fact that the universe itself had been purposely designed to just piss the shit out of him. He swore like a longshoreman, but always, always pronounced the “g” in “Fucking” as in “It’s the fucking decline of western civilization.” He also had an artist’s fondness for sarcasm. One time we were getting ready to go to Vermont over winter break? It was a Sunday morning and we were all packing and loading the car, and I asked my mom, I specifically asked, if I could take a break and read the funnies. ‘Cause it was Sunday, see, and this was in the magical before Internet times, and the Sunday paper was HUGE, like SEA TURTLE huge, and it had a whole section of full color comics! I know, but it’s TRUE!! And oh, but I loved the funnies. So I’m sitting in our kitchen reading the Katzenjammer Kids, the ongoing adventures of Hans and Fritz, two unruly first generation german immigrant kids and Der Captain, their… stepfather? Maybe? A befuddled alcoholic fisherman/spanking enthusiast and here comes my old man into the kitchen, arms laden with cross country skis and poles, and he looks at me sitting there grinning at the antics of these heavily accented cartoon Germans and says…
“Oh, GOOD. Thank GOD, really. I mean, here I am, frantically packing for our family vacation, and the whole time, my main concern, the principal worry absolutely dominating my consciousness was, in all the hurrying around necessary to get this family off their asses and into the car with all their assorted CRAP accounted for, what if Max never found a peaceful moment to sit and indulge his singular passion, the SUNDAY FUCKING FUNNIES?!”
And yes he most certainly did use the phrase “indulge his singular passion”, and yes he most certainly did pronounce the “G” at the end of the word “Fucking”, crisply, pointedly and stingingly, because no matter how seriously the world is going to hell at any given moment, the Gerund MUST BE RESPECTED!
My brother is a great sigher, long, blustery, eyes closed ,sighs indicating the exasperating patience needed to constantly carry the enormous weight of the infinite irritations of existence. He once described life itself to me as “A series of hassles occasionally punctuated by tragedy” and honestly, I defy anyone to argue with that definition. Design was his particular nemesis, the way any inanimate object, say a can opener or the crank that opens the windows in our Mother’s house, is such a perfect illustration of man’s hatred of his fellow man, the effort it took to create a device so frustratingly bad at what it’s meant to do, that surely it must be deliberate, surely that was it’s entire point.
I have spent most of my adult life being fairly even tempered. It took me a very long time to gain control of a near constant angry anxiety that people who had not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be benign were almost certainly thinking poorly of me. As a child, I often indulged a paranoid fantasy that everyone in the world was telepathic except me, that life was a massive conspiracy to keep me from catching on, so that I wouldn’t feel inferior, which obviously I was in that I was the only one who was NOT TELEPATHIC. Another flight of paranoia was that I would run into a total stranger who had spent his life constructing an elaborate set of highly specific rules so astronomically unlikely to occur that it would forever keep his addiction to MURDER at bay; Something along the lines of “I will never, EVER kill a child UNLESS… It is a Saturday evening in November and an early snow is falling and I am dining out alone at the China Blossom in North Andover Massachusetts, and I go to the restroom and the musac is playing a watered down version of “Funky Town” and the door opens and a young teenage Jewish boy walks in with one of his shoes untied, and that was EXACTLY WHAT HAD JUST HAPPENED and that JEWISH BOY WITH THE ONE UNTIED SHOE WAS ME!
Over time I learned that being anxious and angry all the time was a terrible way to live, that most people you met far from thinking poorly of you or wanting to kill you barely registered your presence at all and that some people who seemed to be nice seemed that way because they were. Nice. And I figured out I really hated being angry and I stopped. Mostly. OK, in a lot of cases I substituted outrage for anger, but it’s a step.
And I only feel in touch with my birthright when I’m stressed. And I got stressed more than I wanted to before ALL THE THIS THING RIGHT NOW.
So just lately I feel like a Burbank Man more than I’d like to. Very easily. With very little real provocation, and sometimes only incorrectly imagined provocation and sometimes with no provocation at all.
For instance. This afternoon.
My youngest daughter who at 20 is not so young, I realize has been standing in front of me for a while trying to get my attention. And I didn’t hear her or notice, because I have earphones in. I am indulging my singular passion for John Oliver, watching him intently as he does what I do, but much, much better for a much, much larger audience and for a great deal more money. And she can see this is what I’m doing, but she’s standing there, talking to me. I can see her mouth moving. And I feel that conduit opening up on a black hole of anger like my grandfathers. And I pause my computer. And I take out my earphones. And I heave a sigh that shifts the weight of the world on my shoulders but doesn’t lift it, like my brother.
And she asks me what we have to eat.
And I say:
“I’m curious. Can you tell me what’s changed? Can you tell me what about our circumstances has changed that allows you to, in some corner of your mind, believe that considering the world we are currently inhabiting, we have any food today that we did not have yesterday, seeing as how we have not left this house for two weeks?” Or words to that effect. I did not say “F**king,” as I have some self-control, but if I had, I would certainly have respected the Gerund.
I spoke as I did because it is my birthright. I said what I said because whatever else I am, I am also a Burbank Man. I have been pelted by gamma rays.
And she cried, because she is also stressed out, as is everyone on earth right now. And because even at 20 she has not yet become a connoisseur of the awful moment as I already was that day in the parking lot on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. And because whatever else she is, she is not a Burbank Man.
So I got up and got her an Orange Crush from the downstairs refrigerator, left over from a party in the before-time when things like soda were taken for granted and which she did not know we had. And her sister asked her if she even liked orange soda.
And she said, “Doesn’t everyone?”
My CoviDiary, 4/15/2020: Body and Soul
BY MAX BURBANK | My maternal grandfather trained as a pilot in WWI. He got his wings and a couple of days later, the war ended. Lucky for him, as the average life expectancy for pilots in the War to End All Wars was about one and a half missions.
Commercial jet travel started ten years before I was born, but the earliest flight I remember being on was a very large (or so it seemed to me at the time) twin propeller plane. We all dressed up. I believe I wore a suit with shorts like a British school boy, although that may only be because there is a horrible set of photos showing my brother, my two cousins and I each wearing that horrid little suit as it got handed down from one to the other.
I was telling my kids today (a train of thought set rolling by my youngest receiving a pair of wireless headphones for her quarantined birthday yesterday,) that when I was a lad and went on long airplane trips, the airline supplied (and later sold) “headphones,” sort of. It was basically a long, flexible, hollow plastic tube that you jammed into two holes in your arm rest, and the music traveled up the tubes and into your ear holes. Wireless!
My paternal grandmother grew up during the Great Depression. I recall visiting her in her Brooklyn apartment, where I discovered tea bags drying on a tiny line in her kitchen. I said, “Grandma, you’re rich. You don’t need to dry used tea bags.” She gave me a sly look and said, “How do you think we got rich?” I’d always assumed it was because my grandfather was a doctor in private practice and he had only two employees one of whom was my grandmother. Apparently it was the tea bags. That and taking everything that wasn’t nailed down to the table whenever we dined out. Bread, pats of butter, every single packet of sugar? Into her purse, every time. “That’s what it’s there for!” Her purse was always full of food. “You might get hungry later.” “A little something to keep body and soul together.” I’d have suggested she bring zip locks to pour the salt and pepper into, but she might have done it. Did they have zip lock baggies back then? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. She could have brought wax paper sandwich bags, and a stapler.
Time surely does have a habit of slippin’ slippin’ slippin’ into the future. And the events of those times mark you. I’m certain my grandfather’s life was affected by his flight training. Imagine working toward something and knowing the whole time, “Oh boy, when I graduate, I’ll almost certainly be dead by the end of the week!” It’s not the sort of thing you can just shake off. Every major moment, every right of passage has to be approached with trepidation after that. How could you not feel you’d used up all your luck?
The Great Depression never let go of my grandmother. They travelled the world, and retired to live on a golf course in Tucson. I think by that point she’d given up on drying tea bags, but after she died when we cleaned out the house we found drawer after drawer of “complimentary items” from every restaurant and hotel she’d ever visited. Paper napkins, miniature soaps, towels, matchbooks in the thousands!
I’ll admit, I’m not sure where I was going with the whole analog hollow tube headphones thing, but I do remember the first thing I’d do when I got on a plane was look in the back of the in flight magazine to see what horrific lowest common denominator pap they’d be playing, hoping against hope there’d be one song I could tolerate, and you know what I was grateful for? Steve Frikkin’ Miller Band piped through a hollow tube! To every generation their trauma!
THIS THING WERE IN won’t be a childhood memory or my daughters. My youngest just turned 20. It won’t be vague remembrances of summers my father wasn’t allowed in public pools for fear of Polio. But it’s sure as hell formative. It’s marking them right now, marks they’ll feel from now on, and we won’t know how deep they go until we’re well past the other side of this. This will be the explanation they give their grandchildren for why they’re doing their own equivalent of drying tea bags on a line in their kitchens.
What will they shove in their oversized purses to keep body and soul together?
My CoviDiary, 4/13/2020: A List of Things I Intend To Do When All of This is Over
BY MAX BURBANK | As a man who has been middle-aged for a long enough time there is no point in denying it any longer, I think I consider my mortality a reasonable amount. I don’t dwell on it, after all, we are all mortal and none may count their days, or as Neil Gaimin had his Death-as-saucy-goth-girl put it, “You get what everybody gets. You get a lifetime.” So I’m well-practiced for what we’re all doing now, as there’s just no way now not to, no matter how hard you try, to wit, neurotically list all the shit you meant to do in your life that you never got around to.
I don’t know who coined the phrase ‘bucket list,’ but I hate them. I’ve never cared for the phrase “kick the bucket” as a euphemism for death. It’s not that it’s disrespectful and undignified (it is), it’s that it’s too inconsequential even for me. Your life was an upright bucket that one assumes got filled with whatever and then it got kicked over (By whom, God? That’s a hell of a cosmology, a divine being with nothing better to do than swan about kicking over people’s life buckets!), and the contents spill out and you’re dead. That’s beyond pointless, it’s pedestrian, and I won’t have it.
I much prefer “croaked,” because it implies no value judgement. It’s (I assume) just the sound you make.
Sidebar: Years ago we took my then very young first child to see The Lion King, and of course you come quite soon to the point where Simba’s father is trampled to death in a wildebeest stampede (it is wildebeest specifically, I looked it up. And the plural of “wildebeest” can be “wildebeests” but it can also be “wildebeest.” I looked that up too, which just goes to show you it is possible to use the Internet to do something besides look at cats, do “gaming” and masturbate. And it’s a very terrible moment in the history of cinema. The theater was silent but for the sound of many tiny children sobbing inconsolably, and as the crying at least began to ebb, an anonymous child spoke out quite clearly in the darkness, saying “Musafa got croaked.” It’s one of my most favorite moments in my entire life. End of sidebar.
A beloved high school English teacher once told our class his favorite euphemism for death was “climbed up on the shovel shelf.” I do not know if he made it up, but I will say he cited no source and I myself have never encountered it in literature. I Googled it, in quotes. It turned up no results. This does not prevent me from loving it.
IN ANY CASE
I now present to you A LIST OF THINGS I INTEND TO DO WHEN ALL OF THIS IS OVER. It is most decidedly not a “bucket list” because having a “bucket list” is not on my LIST OF THINGS I INTEND TO DO WHEN ALL OF THIS IS OVER.
Climb to the top of Mt. Washington.
Travel to New Zeland.
Build a gigantic sand castle so F**KING awesome little kids will not stand there weighing the pros and cons of kicking down an adult’s sand castle while simultaneously wondering why a grown-ass old man is crouching in the sand, most probably with his ass crack on display, slowly turning the color of a nice macintosh apple, because their minds will boggle at the magnifice of my sand edifice until they are literally blown, the tops of their skulls sailing skyard as a small, perfect, cartoon mushroom cloud blossoms from their now-topless heads and they tumbled onto the beach with perfect cartoon “X” marks where their eyes were. I know this is unforgivably dark, but I love making sand castles and I want to make a real good one some day.
Dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.
Travel to New Zeland and repeatedly corner complete strangers and shriek “WHERE’S THE F**KIN’ HOBBITS?! WHERE’S F**KIN’ FRODO?! THIS PLACE IS SUCH A FU**IN’ RIP!” while shaking them vigorously by the shoulders.
Hold forth on the absolute brilliance of the early Fleischer brothers cartoons without at least some of the people to whom I am holding forth being unable to keep their facial features from settling into a mask that perfectly communicates the phrase, “Oh, Christ, this guy.”
Get in a bear fight.
Die in a bear fight, because despite Leonardo Dicaprio surviving the bear fight in The Revenant, as I think the scene itself makes abundantly clear, fights between men and bears do not end with the man alive.
Die in a bear fight atop a ski gondola.
Get a Tattoo of the popular bumper sticker “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington,” privately find it hilarious, never explain it to anyone.
Track down that bastard Whitney from grade school and give him a swell pounding and then shout, “REMEMBER ME?” in his stupid face.
Finally get the God damned MacArthur Genius Grant I so clearly deserve that has somehow eluded me my entire life.
Bare-knuckle box with the pope, bare-chested, Queensbury rules.
Bare-knuckle box with the pope, bare-chested, Queensbury rules, atop a ski gondola.
Do a shot-for-shot remake of the bear fight scene from The Revenant with me as Leonardo DiCaprio and the pope in a bear costume atop a ski gondola.
Do a shot-for-shot remake of the bear fight scene from The Revenant with me as Leonardo DiCaprio and the pope in a bear costume, except is seamlessly segues into the weird-ass scene from Midsommar, with the pope as the drugged-up dude who gets stuffed into a gutted bear carcass YES, YES, ATOP A SKI GONDOLA, this is MY list, so SHUT UP!!
See The Revenant.
Track down total randos and give them a swell pounding and shout, “REMEMBER ME?!” at their faces, because by now I will have developed a taste for it.
Know how to spell “New Zealand” without having to look it up on the Internet.
My CoviDiary, 4/11/2020: Solid Chocolate
BY MAX BURBANK | We are in the midst of Quarantine Passover, and tomorrow is Quarantine Easter. It’s a safe bet that the Coronavirus has drastically altered how people are observing both. At the risk of being offensive, I’m going to say these holidays are both essentially Jewish stories, in that the main characters are all Jews, both involve a lot of suffering and complaining, and even, in the more modern story, Christianity was at least a hundred years away.
Years ago I wrote a little Easter story that was seen by many to be the most offensive thing I ever wrote, which is surprising, because that really wasn’t my intent. I’ve written far more offensive material and often entirely about the concept of offensiveness, but this one seemed to strike a particular nerve. I don’t intend to quiet it in full here, although I’ll pad this entry out with chunks of it, but if after having been forewarned you still feel like you want to read it, it can be found by clicking here, which will let you access the fabulous I-Mockery website, a platform that was kind enough to publish an enormous amount of my writing “back” in the “day,” when the Internet had just begun the wholesale slaughter of print media. I never put it in my “blog” on WordPress, because so many people judged it to be “a bit much,”, but I just re-read it and I’ve done far worse so I’m not sure anymore why I scrupled.
But the story itself isn’t the story I’m telling right now, which is about the perils of plagiarism. It was also online, in a blog, but sadly I can no longer find it. If by the context clues offered in this entry, you are able to, please let me know. I found it Googling my name, which is something I’m sure everyone does as often as I, because it is a perfectly normal thing to do and not sad or pathetic at all.
In this blog, a young person related ,how in high school, they had been assigned to write an essay about Easter traditions and their meanings. Now perhaps they didn’t like the class, or perhaps they were lazy, or perhaps they were inveterate cheaters, but whatever the case, rather than write something, the Googled a few key words, which led them to my essay, “The story of the Easter Bunny: A Holiday Fable for my Daughters.”
The blogger rightly presents their unauthorized use of my work as a cautionary tale, and well they might. The lesson they offer is a good one, if you are going to plagiarize something, select a fairly unknown author (which they did) and read the piece BEFORE you submit it as your own (which they did not, with hilarious results). In point of fact, they could not have read more then the first few sentences. I’ll give you the first paragraph so you can see what I mean.
“On a fine Sunday Morning in Spring, you’ll wake up and find brightly colored baskets full of treats in the living room. Later you’ll hunt for plastic eggs filled with chocolates and hair ribbons and toys. Later still your father will hide in the garage and furtively gnaw the giant solid chocolate rabbit that came last week via UPS addressed to you, sucking pilfered nip bottles of Jaegermeister and counting his grievances. But who’s responsible for these fanciful delights? Why, he Easter Bunny of course! But who is this Marvelous Hare and where did he come from? And what in the world does he have to do with the holiday for which he is named, apart from shielding you kids from the bloodthirsty horror of the real story, much the way Santa masks the tragedy of a child of God born to be sacrificed and the tooth fairy keeps you from dwelling overmuch on the sore bleeding hole in your jaw.”
It gets quite a bit harsher after that. Basically, my Easter Bunny (referred to in the story as the “Loud Mouth Jew Bunny ”) is a stand-in for Jesus, put to death for being far too vocal with his opinions. After resurrection he becomes the Easter bunny we know today, because handing out free candy is far less likely to get you killed than telling people what you think, particularly if you happen to be of the Hebrew persuasion.
Not only did I unintentionally provide a young student a lesson on the true meaning of plagiarism, I also inspired some hate mail. For a lengthy career mostly under the radar, I’ve generated quite a bit of hate mail over the years, though less as I’ve mellowed over the years, or lost my edge depending on how you look at it, but this one was a standout. I’ll reprint it here in full:
“this is a comment about the easter bunny story. What kind of fucked up anti-semitic bastard wrote that? “Kill the jew bunny?” What in the hell is wrong with him? I am a jew, and I feel that that story is racist, not only that, it is written poorly. If one is going to submit a story for thousands of people to see, it should at least have fewer than five typos and spelling errors. What was the moral of the story, its hidden message? was it, “kill all of the jewish people out there?” if so, maybe I should write a story about the thousands of shtucked up smucks who write complete shit like that. Thank you for time and have a nice day….”
I adored this comment. I imagine (and know for a fact in some specific cases) that people who a reasonable amount of hate mail (or hate comments or hate reviews or hate comments) become connoisseurs. Most negative feedback is pretty boring, but this one is a delightful gem for a number of reasons.
It’s been years since I read this, and I have to say it never occurrd to me at the time, but it’s possible it’s not… you know… real? Not so much a hoax as a parody of hate mail. Complaining about anti-semitism and then inventing a fake Yiddish word followed by a misspelled Yiddish word? Complaining about typos and then spelling “Story” as “Stroy”? That’s something I’d do! Ending with “have a nice day” is awesome, but “Thank you for time” is absolutely transcendent! It’s like a prayer!
So this Passover (and I’ll probably write about that before it’s over for the season, unless I’m feeling too anti-Semitic), and this Easter is pretty much gonna suck if you are unable to keep from comparing them to previous holidays, and honestly, how could you not? But if you are lucky enough to be well and quarantining with people you love… even if they are a little sick of the sight of your face by now… well, that’s good, isn’t it?
It’s no solid chocolate bunny…
But it will have to do, won’t it?
My CoviDiary, 4/10/2020: Toward a Critical Taxonomy
BY MAX BURBANK | For about 10 minutes after I moisturize, my hands don’t look like they belong attached to the wrists of the Crocodile Man in some fly-by-night 1890’s travelling sideshow. For most of my life I pictured Crocodile Men as solitary, mysterious beings, but now I know they are just sad, middle-aged men dropped in from a future timeline where there is a pandemic and they are constrained to wash their hands with the frequency of someone Stanislavksi Method prepping for the role of Lady Macbeth in a road show production of The Scottish Play, to be performed exclusively at nursing homes and Middle School assemblies, AN ACTOR’S NIGHTMARE I AM QUITE CERTAIN IS UNIVERSAL! Or maybe mostly they weren’t time travelers from dark timelines, just unfortunates with severe and unsightly skin conditions trying to make a living with the hands (you see what I did there?) they’d been dealt. What they were definitely not, was the offspring of the union between a human being and a crocodile, and that is a sad and bitter pill of knowledge to digest, but acceptance of the facts is also an essential part of growing up.
If you cannot tell that I have no idea where I’m going with this, then you are not paying attention, or skimming, which is far, far worse. The point is, my hands are disgusting, I’m worried about them, and I took it from there.
I’m also worried about money, dying, making other people die because I could be potentially “Shedding virus,” a terrible, horror movie phrase; The collapse of American democracy, how many levels the bunk beds will have in the re-education camp for sassy comedians I will certainly be dragged off to in the post-apocalyptic dystopia that is sure to follow The Coronavirusing, ASSUMING I HAVE SURVIVED and most worried of all about shopping for food which I am unavoidably going to need to do tomorrow but the main thing is LOOK AT MY OLD PERSON CROCODILE MAN HANDS!
Years ago on a visit to New Orleans and purchased a keychain made from a dried alligator hand and as punishment, now I have two. It would be three, but I lost the keychain years ago. So maybe I am an Alligator Man. When in the future we are allowed to meet again, tell me whether you are seeing me “later” or after “a while,” as this is the only scientific method by which an accurate taxonomy can be achieved.
It hailed briefly in the real world while I was typing that last paragraph. HAIL THE SIZE OF SOFTBALLS would have made a dramatic and evocative parallel side story, but the hail stones refused to cooperate and where about ⅓ the size of the styrofoam pellets you find if if you travel back in time to the late 70s and murder a bean bag chair. My college roommate had a bean bag chair, even though it was the early 80s by then, probably the reason his parents were willing to part with it. Style in a cruel mistress, as is the Bearded Lady, traditional mistresses of Alligator Men in travelling in 1890s sideshows. Crocodile Men prefer contortionists, but their advances are almost universally spurned, a sad state of affairs which gave birth only to the term Crocodile tears, but never progeny, who would be only ¼ crocodile, but 1/2 all twisty and flexible, if they were brought into existence, which they never are, because the love between Crocodile Men and Contortionist is not forbidden, it is unrequited. Always.
I’d say I was becoming unhinged from prolonged exposure to OUR CURRENT CONDITIONS, but If I’m honest I’d have to allow it’s pretty much always like this inside my head any time I am left to my own devices for more than ten minutes. And if I am continuing my honesty I must also allow a lifelong preference for my own devices and being left to them. It’s an inconvenient preference, for those around me and for myself. It is a preference at cross purposes with existing functionally in the REAL WORLD, which, need I remind you, features hail storms, pandemics and the threat of American Democracy coming to a loud and clanky end. Hail, it is widely understood, is the least favorite weather of Crocodile Men. Alligator Men can take it or leave it, as long as it stays moth-ball sized or smaller.
It is an effort for me to come out of my head and participate in consensus reality. Not a big one, I don’t want to be dramatic here. I mean, say you (you you, not me you in some sort of passive, second person, self referential construction) want to get a can of soup off the shelf. It doesn’t just happen, you need to do it, you need to make the effort to walk over to the shelf and get the can of soup, you need to reach out and take it with your hand. For the sake of this thought experiment, lets say it’s Campbell’s Chunky Sirloin Burger Soup BECAUSE TINY GRILL LINES, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that getting the soup requires an act of volition.
When I was small that act of volition was a good deal harder, mostly because I often didn’t see why I should. Now it is very easy, a small act, second nature, rarely thought about. When you got your soup, Did you need to say in your head “I will now instruct the meat machine in which I dwell to move it’s legs in sequence, extend it’s arm, open the fingers, grasp the can of Chunky Sirloin Burger Soup, which I believe I said IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE, so would you please stop DWELLING on it? No. You do not need to consciously operate the meat machine like it was some sort of soup-retrieving Zamboni. You just get your fucking can of soup, don’t you? Simple.
And it’s simple for me to bring my focus to bear on the world we all inhabit together.
But it requires effort. No effort? Left to my own devices? I am not present. And if you’ve known me long enough, you’ve seen it. Presence did not come naturally to me. I learned it.
There’s a theory that mastery is acquired by putting in 10,000 hours of practice. Not in my experience, because at 57, I know damn well I’ve practiced being in the real world for way more than 10,000 hours, and I am certainly not a master, as anyone who has attended a dinner party with me lasting more than two hours will attest. I think the theory is good, but incomplete. 10,000 hours of practice without your heart in it makes you a dilettante, not a master. I do not say this to be self-deprecating. Mastery is rare, and frequently irritating to be around once the performance has ended. Dilettantes are the best company, and way more fun at parties, as masters often feel disrespected if they do not receive the level of attention that party goers are often not disposed to dispense, especially after the third drink.
I’ve become a practiced freediver in the shared world. I spend most of my waking time there. That’s where my family is, my friends, my job, my beloved dogs. It’s also where there might be a hail storm or a pandemic. Hail storms are short. A Crocodile Man can pretend he is an Alligator Man for the duration of a hail storm, or he might be an Alligator man to begin with, it’s hard to say, is it later yet, or has it just been a while?
Pandemics are longer than hail storms by several factors, although it occurs to me that if a hailstorm lasted as long as a pandemic it would be some serious shit. Would you be buried? How fast does hail melt? And we haven’t even discussed the size of the hail in terms of common round objects we are familiar with. Is it golfball sized? Grapefruit sized? Imagine if it were the size of the globe atop The Daily Planet Building in Superman comics? We would be well and truly fucked, my friends. Hail of that size, falling for that duration, would make any pandemic seem like a bunch of hinky-dink bullshit, wouldn’t it, and I have clearly stopped making the effort we’ve been talking about, haven’t I?
Because it’s all somewhat harder than it usually is out here. It’s all quite a bit harder if I’m going to be honest. For all of us, whether we are free divers, like crocodiles and alligators, or born with gills. We all need a strategic retreat, and I imagine each person’s way out is as individual as their finger print, no matter how dry, withered and claw-like the finger it resides upon might have become.
You see how cleverly I return to hands, where we began? I don’t know if I’ve put in 10,000 hours yet. It has not been my practice to set a timer. But I must be getting there at this point, and that’s something.
My CoviDiary, 4/9/2020: IN THIS
BY MAX BURBANK | Let me ask you a question: Is there any point to what I am doing? I mean this in the small and presumably finite sense of; is this writing project I am engaged in, My CoviDiary (a name I came up with entirely on my own as did thousands of others at exactly the same time, because it is a public domain sort of idea) worth doing? Also, though, I mean in the much larger sense of, is there a point in my being alive, and not just right now. Not just IN THIS, (as good a way to refer to the Coronavirus pandemic as any), but at all. Please, this is neither a “cry for help” nor a wail of despair, and I mean it to seep organically from the irritatingly self-centered “me” to the universal, “you,” plural and all-encompassing, “you,” as in, “us.” All of us. Everyone. Is there a point to our existence? At all?
Of course that is unanswerable, but I’m going to answer anyway. Just for me, and just for where I’m “at” now. This is not a wisdom, not a lesson, which I am entirely unqualified to teach in any case, just my answer. No.
No, there is no point and it is the essential core of our human nature that that we cannot even toy with that possibility. We are compelled (probably biologically) to seek and question and ponder, to pry and take to pieces we can rarely reassemble, to prognosticate, pontificate, dominate, proclimate, and an entire slew of other words ending in”ate,” add your own, I do not mind. And I think this unavoidable drive to discover meaning, our meaning… is why we are so often sad.
I have two dogs. While I cannot “get inside” their heads, it is very hard for me to imagine they spend any time whatsoever wondering if there is a “point” to their existence, and the vast majority of the time they seem pretty pleased.
The more tragic a situation is, and IN THIS, tragedy is heaped upon tragedy, an exponential growth of tragedy, the worse things are the more we tend to ask, “Why?”… And I think that might be the wrong question.
Oh, there’s plenty of answerable whys IN THIS, all worth asking, and the answer to almost all of them is Trump, and those not answered by Trump can be answered with McConnell, or Barr, or Miller,or Kushner; Gasmask Mugshot Matty Gaetz, that lurching shit golem Nunez, the shambling remains of the GOP, evangelicals, “Hillbilly Elegy,” the f**king base… But all of those answers, worthy of examination as they well may be, are answers to the question, “Why did bad get this bad?” And to be clear, it never had to get this bad. As a nation, we’ve been building the social environment that allows for this level of bad for my entire adult life. I suspect a good deal of American history may have been spent creating the social environment that allows for the massiveness of this debacle.
And I don’t know the right question. I don’t even have any ideas what the right question might be. What I have is a nagging, undefined suspicion that the human compulsion to why, why, why, why, WHY all the time, this brutal, ever-disappointing quest for the point of sentience and suffering, might be part of the problem.
Or maybe I’m just tired. Maybe I kept reading the news 15 minutes past the point I should have stopped and some of the horrible shit I digested will end up being less bad than I feel like it’s going to be today.
I’ll tell you what all I am sure of: No amount of nihilistic navel-gazing into the abyss of pointlessness is gonna solve anything either. But you probably knew that.
So tomorrow I’ll get up again and see how I feel. And then I’ll do it again, and then again, etc. And don’t tell me that’s not a kind of hopeful, because it is. It’s dogged and stupid, but it’s the very essence of hopefulness.
Goodnight, bowl full of mush. We’ll try this again in the morning.
My CoviDiary, 4/8/2020: Florida Man
BY MAX BURBANK | I have now been quarantining with my family for about three weeks. Yesterday was the original date set to re-open my home state of Massachusetts, but that was back in the before time when it was widely known exactly how dire things were but most folks were pretending there was still gonna be an Olympics and shit.
Amazingly, a lot of folks are still pretending. Rush Limbaugh, who got himself a presidential medal of freedom by pretending he was going to die, still hasn’t. He’s too busy telling anyone who’ll tune in that Dr. Fauci is a Hillary Clinton sympathizer primarily driven by a desire to get rid of Donald Trump. Now I don’t mean to be cynical, but is the only evidence that Rush Limbaugh is actually dying his own statement that he is dying? Because I’m just a little concerned he might be a crisis actor. And if he is dying, shouldn’t a man his age be honored to die so that younger people could enjoy a healthier stock market?
If he really is dying, shouldn’t he live a little first? C’mon, Rush, drop the mic, get out into the light, take a vaca, before you can’t! I hear Florida is nice this time of year. Sure, Disney is closed, but who needs that liberal bastion of homosexuality and pantsless ducks? Florida has the best beaches in the world! Less crowded too, since only crazy-ass, selfish f**s are getting their tan on these days!
Because Ron Desantos… a strong contender for favorite in the very large pack competing for stupidest elected GOP official… Governor of the state of Florida… a state that is, as I write this, converting it’s Miami Beach Convention Center into an emergency field hospital… Still has not closed the beaches. He attended a press conference today on the opening of the new emergency hospital… a press conference where he surely knew there would be… photographers… and he was… inexplicably wearing a single blue Latex glove… He was, almost immediately… photographed by the… photographers, who there is simply no way at all he did not know would be there… taking photographs… so he was captured photographically in the act of repeatedly… touching his face with the UNGLOVED HAND!
Now, I don’t mean to imply that it would have been any better to touch his face with the gloved hand, as (and someone should tell him this, since I assume he doesn’t know), gloves are not magic. The coronavirus can be on gloved hands just as easily as it can be on ungloved hands, the point of gloves is to and you know what though? No. No, I’m not going to go into why exactly it’s advisable to wear gloves despite the fact that THEY ARE NOT MAGIC, because we are talking about Ron Desantos, a man so INHUMANLY moronic he went to a PRESS CONFERENCE about opening an emergency FUCKING FIELD HOSPITAL, needed because the raging Coronavirus PANDEMIC had already overwhelmed the capacity of Miami’s existing NON EMERGENCY hospitals, wearing JUST ONE GLOVE, in the belief, one has to assume, that gloves are SO magical, ONE GLOVE OUGHT TO DO THE TRICK and NO NEED TO CLOSE THEM BEACHES, it’s ALL GOOD, RON DESANTIS HAS GOT HISELF A MAGIC GLOVE!!!
Or, who knows, he’s such a Goddamn sub-cretin, maybe he thought the presser was a costume affair and this was his low key Michael Jackson costume. I would love to rule that out, I’d love to say “No, that’s too stupid”, but… Ron, you know? It’s Ron. So, maybe the Michael Jackson thing. Because Occam’s Razor is not sharp enough to shave the degree of dumb.
I’m going to bed now. I have a full night of terrifying nightmares of going to the grocery store to get through, because sometime in the next few days I’ll have no choice but to do that. Unless I want to have groceries delivered, in which case I can have a full night of horrifying nightmares about the corner of hell awaiting me because I felt it was better to get some poor anonymous bastard to risk their life for me instead of going myself. Do I go with terrifying or horrifying? Who knew sheltering at home was going to come with so many options? If I put off choosing, can I have both?
My CoviDiary, 4/7/2020: Gimmes and Sure Bets
BY MAX BURBANK | So I didn’t do an entry yesterday. Sorry. I wasn’t overwhelmed, just tired and I had nothing in my brain that felt worth committing to paper, as they used to say back when paper was a thing.
I did put something on Facebook though, just a few sentences, at about 9:30am; “I 100% guarantee you, Trump has found some way to profit off the sale and manufacture of hydroxycholoroquine” When A bit later in the day a friend posted that it was already starting to look that way, I replied “I’m the f**king Nostrodamus of predicting painfully obvious shit.”
I mean, I like being right as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy is highly insecure and extremely emotionally needy, but this “prediction” is what’s called ,in the president’s favorite sport, a “gimme.”
For those even less familiar with Golf than I, a “gimme” is a shot that the other players agree can count automatically without being played, like if your ball is hanging at the edge of the cup, you don’t need to bother hitting it in on your next shot, it’s just assumed you won’t blow it, it’s a gimme. I don’t know this for a fact, but my guess is Trump takes a lot of “gimmes,” particularly when he’s behind. Kim Jong-il famously shot 11 holes-in-one the very first time he ever played golf, and I’d say all 11 were probably “gimmes.” That’s the kind of “gimme” Trump aspires to. You know, a terror-induced, this-guy-might-have-me-killed “gimme.”
What I mean is, my prediction was just short of being a given. Trump is a purely transactional creature and he’s just not wired to flog something the way he was flogging hydroxycholoroquine without getting a sizable piece of the action. Your neighborhood crack dealer does not say, “The first taste is free. So is the second, and the third, all my crack is free. I just really think crack might be a game-changer for you, so take as much as you want, whenever you want. What have you got to lose?”
Prognostication is an odd and heady thing. Many years ago, I accurately predicted Sadaam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait about six months before it happened. I totally recall the blazing joy being right, but my exact chain of reasoning is lost in the mist of time. I think my theory mostly had to do with access to ports, coupled with a need to establish himself as the dominant leader in the Middle East and no other weak enough standing between Iraq and the gulf. While I may have been correct about the invasion, I can virtually guarantee you my argument was muddy at best. I can also say with certainty, the accuracy of my prediction made me feel very, very smart. In fact, I thought it was empirical evidence that I was very, very smart, and though largely unjustified, I felt that way pretty much non-stop until November 9, 2016.
See, I’d wanted a paid gig writing comedy about politics ever since my sheer brilliance had revealed itself to me in my Kuwait invasion prediction. And I finally got it shortly before the Iowa Caucuses of that fateful year. The late, lamented Chelsea Now ran my column “Stump Speech” on a semi-regular basis for the entire election (and well beyond, but only that first election year set of columns matters in context.)
Four years ago, as Trump was closing in on the Republican nomination, I wrote, “If human last-Clementine-left-in-the-box-three-weeks-after-you-thought-they-were-all-gone Trump is the nominee, they’ll have to pray like hell for a terrorist attack. Barring a major fear-generating event to push your run-of-the-mill, mildly racist voters over the edge, there simply aren’t enough White Supremacist, neo-Nazi and fascist votes to win the general election.”
Even as we ran down to November I was still telling anyone who’d listen that Trump’s election was a demographic impossibility. My biggest fear was that Clinton wouldn’t win by enough. The American public that had twice elected Barak Obama twice had to not just beat Trump, but crush him. Trumpism had to be utterly repudiated, every Republican left standing needed to see that bald-faced, buffoonish racism and proud ignorance was not just an unworkable strategy, it was the kiss of death. It had to be ground into the dust by a heavy boot, and then that dust had to be burned and salted.
So here’s what I learned. I don’t know shit. Whatever level of smart I might be (and my Father would have said I was right about at the “ass” level), I am clearly not smart enough to be making self-assured predictions about how anything will go, anywhere, any time on any subject.
Unless we are talking about whether Trump is almost certainly lying every time he speaks or if he’s got some half-baked, poorly constructed, money-grubbing angle involving race baiting, unearned egotism, and monumental stupidity on any situation he finds himself in. ‘Cause those right there? Those are sure bets.
My CoviDiary, 4/5/2020: What Happens When You Assume
BY MAX BURBANK | There’s a ring around the moon again tonight, a big one. I’d never seen this phenomenon before this winter. Tonight is the third one I’ve seen. I’m 57. I’ve spent my whole life looking up at the night sky, no rings. And now three in the last six months. I’d assumed it had to be real cold for it to happen, because the first two times I saw one it was cold. You know what they say happens when you assume. You draw a conclusion regarding a future event based on past experience. That’s not my favorite joke, but it’s sure in my top 10. I can tell you honestly, my family hates it. But I will make it again. Every time the opportunity arises.
Trumpo the Magnificent wasn’t planning to do a Rally-Replacement Coronavirus Briefing n’ Ol’ Time Medicine Show Reenactment today. They’d put a “lid” on the president, which in Washingtonese means that there will be no more news from the president on a given day. There are no public events on his schedule and he will not be seen by the press. If there was an iota of human decency anywhere within Trump’s inner circle, they would seize the opportunity to weld the lid shut and dump the entire pot, president and all, into the Marianas Trench.
My guess is he snuck off to play golf. I mean, he’s rented a whole fleet of golf carts through September and skipping this weekend would have just been a waste of money. Not his, ours, but still, it’s the principle of the thing, and ol’ Double-wide surely does love his golf. I mean, what’s gonna stand in his way, morality? Did you think that would magically kick in when we passed 3,000 dead?
Anyway, I certainly think golf was the plan, but then it was suddenly announced there would be a presser at 6:30. Then it was 7:00 and Trump always does at least a half-hour late power move. So here’s what I think happened: By about mid-afternoon, folks were speculating on Twitter that Trump was gonna play hooky from this whole pretending to give a shit about the pandemic vaudeville routine he’d been doing, and hit the links. I bet his people told him not that him saying people should stay home while he was high-tailing it to one of his golf courses looked bad, but that it was the kind of looking bad that could hurt his poll numbers. That’s when you got the 6:30 announcement. And then Trumpamungous got that blotchy red jowls n’ throat thing going, got all huffy and sweaty the way he does, and was like, “PUNY HUMANS, TRUMP WANT GOLF!! Push it back to 7:00 and if I’m late, they’ll wait. It’s not like reporters exist when I’m not there.”
And then he played a round. That’s what I’m thinking. It’ll come out. Some reporter’s gonna ask him about it and Trump will say it’s a nasty question, but he won’t deny it, and then we’ll know. Or maybe he will deny it and there’ll be pictures and he’ll say he never denied it.
The main takeaway from the rescheduled presser is, it’s gonna be a bad week. Newsflash, right? Our plucky lil’ Surgeon General said it was gonna be this generation’s Pearl Harbor, and sure, I guess, if we’d known for months that the Japanese were going to bomb our fleet and we didn’t move them or defend them at all or anything. And if Japan, Germany, and Italy were a non-sentient novel virus instead of a political alliance during a world war. Really it’s a remarkably stupid comparison, but then, the Surgeon General is a remarkably stupid man. He used to work for Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana, during that awesome job he did reacting to an AIDS outbreak by saying he wouldn’t allow a needle exchange, but he would pray on it.
Oh, also, Trumply Wumply pushed a drug cocktail for which there is no evidence it in any way combats the Coronavirus, using the same elegant argument he employed to woo African American voters during the election: “What have you got to lose?”
I could break it all down, make a few wisecracks, but I’m very tired and it’s all too depressingly stupid. “What have you got to lose?” is not an argument a president should ever use about anything, because in the most basic sense it’s not an argument at all, it’s a dare. And I just can’t think about any more pithy ways of saying, “What the f**k with this guy?”
Oh, and the Bronx Zoo says one of their tigers tested positive for COVID-19. Which is so sad and weird but all I can think about is how on earth the staff veterinarians thought to test for it in the first place. And how did they get a test? Did the tiger meet the criterion? Had it been travelling? Does it play for the NBA? Is it a sign that when combined with three rings around the moon in half-a-year means the walls of reality are thinning out to the point I can push my hands into them and feel my fingers come out the other side? Should I try?
Why not? What have I got to lose?
Why not? What have I got to lose?
My CoviDiary, 4/4/2020: A Convenient Sociopathy Diagnosis
BY MAX BURBANK | I guess ol’ Trumpty-Dumpty must have thought his daily Hate-Rally-Replacement, Coronavirus Disinfofest Briefing and Country-Bear-Jamboree-if-the-Animatronic-Bears-Were-More-Racist was getting a little stale. Yesterday he tried to shake things up by throwing in a risque joke! It might not have gone over as well as he intended, a point I’ll make here by quoting the Fox News website, an outlet usually a tad friendlier to His Orangeness than this:
“Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, was explaining that by taking precautions like social distancing and a proper medical response, the country could lower the potential COVID-19 death toll, according to scientific models.
The president interjected, telling reporters he wanted to see far fewer deaths than the current projections – which predict a surge of fatal cases going into the summer.
“The models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die,” he said. “I want to come way under the models. The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model. But – at least this kind of a model.”
First lady Melania Trump is a former fashion model.
The U.S. had seen at least 270,473 confirmed coronavirus cases and 6,889 deaths as of Friday evening.”
Y’know, I’m never going to be a fan of Fox News, but I gotta say, I love this reporting. And I didn’t even include the lede where it describes Trump’s comments as “raising eyebrows.”
I particularity love “First Lady Melania Trump is a former fashion model.”, because it’s basically saying “For those of you who might not have gotten it, the president’s humor here relies on you knowing that he’s had sex with a least one fashion model. So, while Dr. Birx is talking about ‘modelling’ contagion and death, Trump is making a funny by using a different meaning of the word ‘model’, in this case to describe someone he’s had sex with.”
And THEN Fox underlines the stark horror of that moment by immediately saying “The U.S. had seen at least 270,473 confirmed coronavirus cases and 6,889 deaths as of Friday evening.” It’s like they showed Trump doing his little Henny Youngman bit, played a rim-shot sound effect and quick cut to a hospital hallway full of body bags. That is some extremely dark shade for Fox to be throwing. It’s like if the best man at your wedding told a cute anecdote about you and then deadpanned “The Groom is a horrible person and I feel nothing but sorrow and dread for his Bride. I am 100% serious.”
Honestly, what the hell? A few years back Double-wide Donny regaled the Boyscouts of America Jamboree (I don’t often get the chance to use the word ‘Jamboree’ twice in the same piece, but this time it was almost unavoidable) and he told an awesome story involving a super rich, yacht owning guy and a swanky party with the hottest folks in New York in attendance.
“He had a very interesting life. I won’t go any more than that, because you’re Boy Scouts so I’m not going to tell you what he did.” said Trump, apparently realizing at the last moment he was talking to children and not Howard Stern. A fairly inappropriate moment, but this ‘model’ joke makes it seem quaint, considering his use of the phrase “I was never involved in a model” (Italics added by me on account of you’d say “with a model” unless the humor of your remark relied on making absolutely crystal clear to your audience that you are TALKING ABOUT SEXUAL INTERCOURSE, and not just talking about it, BRAGGING, because you are not just a guy who has sex, you are a guy who has sex WITH FASHION MODELS!
So… maybe I’m… old fashioned, but I gotta say, I think there’s really no public scenario wherein it is appropriate for a sitting president of the United States to make a joke about having sex with fashion models. But to make this joke during a briefing that features a discussion about how many hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are watching, will DIE? Call me a fuddy-duddy if you must, I don’t think that’s a great time for any joke, let alone one that is VERY POORLY CONSTRUCTED and is less a joke than an excuse to BACK DOOR BRAG about SEX WITH FASHION MODELS, something only the MOST alpha makes get to do! You don’t absolutely have to be a sociopath to make a joke” like that in a deadly serious situation, but, no, you know what, you TOTALLY have to be a sociopath to do that!
You really, really do.
WHILE AT THAT EXACT MOMENT, HERE’S WHAT I WAS DOING INSTEAD OF MAKING SURE YOU KNEW I HAD SEX WITH FASHION MODELS
You might recall that yesterday I invented a little contest for Twitter (follow me @max_burbank) called “What’s Jared?” (#WhatsJared) (#BlatantCrossPromotion), wherein I challenged followers to look at a picture of Jared and make a guess as to what he is. I broke the ice with “Jared is a tallow candle in the shape of Jared”
Here are some of my favorite answers!
@RRjeff Posted a picture of the Annabelle Doll from “The Conjuring”!
“Pinochio as a Real Boy Gone Wrong in a Pair of Jackboot” suggested @RebeccaResistor
@blndvmpyr labeled Jared “A Stepford Wife in a suit.”
@pattykanan identified Jared as “A girly man slumlord with child bearing hips.”
@BonnieCarlson gets the Silver for coining the phrase “Humanoid Veal” to describe Jared,
But @blackoutpete totally won me over by simply posting a photograph of a parsnip, because not only does Jared look like a parsnip, a parsnip is just a root vegetable sitting there with no hint of sentience or soul or living presence of any kind! And the idea of putting a parsnip in charge of supply chain issues regarding our nation’s pandemic response is hilarious, absurd and absolutely terrifying! Plus, there is no circumstance under which a parsnip could get a top secret level security clearance with the direct intervention of it’s father-in-law!
So @blackoutpete wins the grand prize, me hoping real, real hard that he doesn’t die as a direct result of something Jared does, or fails to do!
Good luck, @blackoutpete! Here’s hoping!
My CoviDiary, 4/3/2020: We Can All Sleep Easy
BY MAX BURBANK | These are unquestionably dark times. As a nation, we are fearful and anxious together. We worry about our health, our finances, our loved ones. We distract ourselves as best we can, and for an hour here or there we succeed, take what joy we can in the people and pets we are sheltering with. It is… undeniably hard. But today, I can cross one small worry off your list.
Perhaps like me, you have been consumed by the thought that in this time requiring so many terrible sacrifices, Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, might be forced to temporarily give up golf. Well, sleep easy, friends.
This week, the Secret Service signed a $45,000 contract to rent a fleet of golf carts in Northern Virginia until the end of September. Now they haven’t said it’s so Trump and any uninfected pals can golf all spring and summer, but they will say that this “emergency order” is because they needed the carts quickly, to protect a “dignitary” in the town of Sterling. Sterling Virginia, where the 800 acre Trump National Golf Club is located.
So for all the pundits, experts and collective wise folk out there who were so impressed by the president’s recent change in tone, the seriousness with which he now took the Coronavirus, for the great gang of boobs that bought this schtick AGAIN, President Lucy Trump, though he has never even once held the football still EVER, this time, THIS TIME FOR SURE he has turned the corner, grown into the presidency and will let the the nation at last, at LONG LAST, KICK THE FOOTBALL…
What are you? Stupid? He yanked the ball. Because of course he did. It’s the only thing he knows how to do. Let it never be said that Trump is not a born ball yanker, he is the High Priest of ball yanking, and this time he is yanking his ball straight to the golf course. Because he hasn’t golfed since March 8 and that is one f**k of a long time for a complete sociopath to deny himself something he likes to do just to keep up the appearance that he take serious the plight of whiny little babies who might not get a ventilator when they stop being able to breath on their own.
These last few days when he’s been getting all serious and attaining gravitas and shit? He’s also making damn good and sure that everything is in place for him to play golf whenever he wants through FRIKKIN’ SEPTEMBER! Because while the entire jobless nation is either still acting on his old advice and spreading contagion by pretending nothing is happening or acting on his new advice and hunkering down with their families terrified to risk running out for beans, masks and toilet paper, heaven for fucking FEND Double-wide Donny should have to give up golfing on the taxpayer dime! A FLEET of golf carts! A FLEET! THROUGH SEPTEMBER!
And we can’t even form a mob, grab our pitchforks and torches, storm the golf course, grab him by the seat of his way-too-tight, alarmingly slightly-see-through white golf pants, drag him out of the cart WE RENTED FOR HIM and Louis the XVI’th his fat ass, because you can’t SOCIAL DISTANCE in a FUCKING MOB!!
MEANWHILE ON TWITTER
Where you can follow me @max_burbank, (IF YOU ARE NOT ALREADY!), I am running a contest called “What’s Jared?” (#WhatsJared.) It’s simple and fun to play. You just enter your guess as to what the hell Jared is, and I’ll pick the answer I like best and as a prize I’ll hope real, real hard that they don’t die because of Jared. I gave an example answer, “Jared is a tallow candle in the shape of Jared.” C’mon, play along! How many puzzles can you and the kids you stopped pretending to homeschool last week possibly do?
My CoviDiary, 4/2/2020: Excuses, Excuses
BY MAX BURBANK | So Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp finally caved to pressure and ordered a statewide stay-at-home order today, reversing course because of a pretty alarming new discovery. Apparently… brace yourself for this… you might want to be sitting down… the Coronavirus can be passed asymptomatically, or, as he put it, “before people see signs.”
“Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad, but we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours,” Kemp said, adding that the state’s top doctor told him “this is a game-changer.”
OK, a few quick things about that; when you say “we”… in the phrase, “but we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours”… That’s just the wrong pronoun. You mean YOU didn’t know, because everyone else who’s paid the least bit of attention has known that for TWO MONTHS.
Also, the Center for DiseaseControl’s is headquartered where now? Atlanta, Georgia. You know, the city YOU WORK IN, the CAPITAL OF GEORGIA, the state you’re GOVERNOR OF?!? whoever told you “This is a game-changer” was not the state’s top doctor or middle doctor or even really-way-down-near-the-bottom doctor. ANY doctor who has not known for TWO MONTHS that if someone has the virus, they “could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad” is not a doctor who should be advising ANYONE about what they just found out “In the last 24 hours!” Don’t go see that doctor! Don’t let him diagnose you or stitch you up, for the love of God don’t let him cut you open, and if he invites you to turn your head and cough? Tell him NO!
So what is it, Brian? Are you straight-up lying to us, or do you stick your fingers in your ears and sing and only take them out when the stupidest, most uninformed doctor in the entire state of fu**ing GEORGIA is ready to UPDATE YOU?! Newsflash, Brian: If your doctor is barefoot and wearing overalls with no shirt and one strap dangling? THAT’S NOT A DOCTOR! It’s just some random-ass dude! Why are you listening to a random-ass dude?
You can’t really blame Kemp, though. He’s staggeringly moronic and he’s made a series of very poor decisions that endangered his entire constituency, and a larger percentage of those people are going to die before he needs to run for reelection than would have been strictly necessary if he wasn’t criminally negligent. At this point there’s no denying he’s done a lethally terrible job, so he needs to explain himself, and he’s chosen to go with “I didn’t know.” I think it’s a mistake to have added, “No one knew about this whole ‘you can feel fine but be sick and contagious’ thing before yesterday,” since anyone with an Internet connection can see proof that’s wrong just by Goggling the question, “What’s the single most stupid thing anyone alive on earth said today?” Still, “I didn’t know” is a time-honored strategy when trying to dodge blame even you know you deserve.
For a glimpse at a different blame-dodging strategy, one need look no further back in time than the day before yesterday, wherein the thing we have in lieu of a President tried a totally different tack. At his daily rally-replacement-therapy and Chinese Virus press conference-slash-all-you-can-eat-bullshit-buffet, Trump was asked if he thought he’d maybe tried to lull the country into a false sense of security by telling them that the virus would go away quickly, even as it was clear the number of cases and death toll were on the rise.
“I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, I knew it could be maybe good,” Trump said. “I don’t want to be a negative person… This is really easy to be negative about. But I want to give people hope too. You know I’m a cheerleader for the country—we are going through the worst thing that the country has probably ever seen.”
This is difficult to convey using a literary technique, so I’m just going to straight-up ask you to imagine me with my mouth open and a slack, vacant expression on my face for, like, what? Five minutes? Seven? ‘Cause that’s what I did when I first read this story. It brought on a sort of fugue state where my brain was just unable to process the information.
Because it’s more complicated than it might at first seem. Whenever a moment presents itself that opens a window on the inner workings of Trump’s… mind? For lack of a word that adequately expresses whatever the crispy turquoise f** Trump has crackling away in the space functional humans keep their minds? I feel existential horror. As if I’m standing on the edge of an infinite precipice overlooking… nothing. Not darkness. Not emptiness. Even the lack of other things is a tangible concept. Just… the void. I imagine this feeling is what H.P. Lovecraft is trying to convey when his protagonists gaze upon the place the Elder Gods originate, in the instant before they are overwhelmed by madness. I say imagine because I’ve never read anything of Lovecraft’s for even more than a few paragraphs without putting it down. It’s a bit goth twee for my tastes, honestly. And that’s before you get to the anti-Semitism.
At first blush, Trump’s dodge seems disarmingly simple, a sort of “Gorsh, folks, I done knowed it all along.” But that’s just appearance, a doily draped like an entirely inadequate shower curtain across a howling maelstrom of insanity and nothingness. Let’s take it sentence by sentence:
“I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, I knew it could be maybe good,” This means, and I’m being nice here, absolutely nothing. It’s a non-statement, a group of words that takes you absolutely nowhere, and it’s typical Trump filler. “Well, a thing is happening, and I know a lot about it. It might be very bad, there may be a chance it probably could be, but I will say, it might not. It might very well not be as bad as we think. It could be good.” You can’t correct or deny a statement like this, because all it says is, “There is a thing.” well… sure… I guess… thanks?
But if he knew “everything,” i.e. the whole pandemic thing could be real bad or maybe possibly good, why did he choose to tell us only good things, especially when the bad end was 100,000 to 200,000 DEATHS?! Well, because–
“I don’t want to be a negative person… This is really easy to be negative about. But I want to give people hope too. You know I’m a cheerleader for the country.” And he’s absolutely right! When a situation is as negative as a raging, lethal global contageon and as President the only thing you did was enact minor travel bans that proved entirely ineffective, when in fact you spent three years actively working to make the country LESS ABLE to deal with the catastrophe we are now facing, yes, it’s REALLY easy to be negative! It’s SUPER, nearly UNAVOIDABLY easy because it’s an EXTREMELY negative situation! You know how if you’re standing in front of a frikkin’ huge bear, it’s remarkably easy to identify that it is a frikkin’ huge bear? Because it, is in fact, a frikkin’ huge bear? LIKE THAT, you Baby Huey-shaped bag of idiot!
“You know, I’m a cheerleader for this country.” Well that’s kind of sweet, except for the visual. But here’s the thing, someone needs to tell Trump that cheerleader, see… and President… are really, really, really different jobs! A cheerleader doesn’t make decisions for the football team! They didn’t hire the team, they don’t assign them tasks or pick which other teams they’re going to play or negotiate their contracts or get them fucking respirators if they get Coronavirus and stop being able to breath on their own! Cheerleaders stand on the sidelines and cheer while engaging in quasi-sexual acrobatics! Even if their team is losing, especially if their team is losing! And he doesn’t even do that! Can you imagine a Trump cheer? “Hey, Hey, losers! You’re overrated! You are failing! WE! TAKE! NO RESPONSE-IBIL-I-TEEEEE! LooooooOOOOOW ENERGY! LooooooOOOOOW ENERGY! WE… DON’T… KNOW YOU!!!”
“we are going through the worst thing that the country has probably ever seen.” Well… Okay? I guess? And Trump’s argument is that… he’s known this all along? And he told us it was nothing? Because, what, he didn’t want to bum us out? Just in case it turned out not to be that bad? Which, who knows, it might not?
Like how if you were walking down the sidewalk, and you had headphones on and you were texting? And I saw a TRUCK go out of control and go up on the sidewalk and it’s speeding right toward you, I’d yell, “Hey! Buddy! You don’t need to do anything! Just go on with your life, probably that truck isn’t going to even come near you, it’s like a miracle, it’s just going to go disappear!”
Because… why? Because I don’t want to upset you or scare you? Because if the truck doesn’t end up hitting you, you’d have been all out of sorts for nothing? Even though I’ve known all the time that truck is almost certainly going to totally kill the carp out of you? And I had plenty of time to shove you out of the way, but I was golfing and shit? That makes no sense, none of that makes any sense, everything about it is “The Color Out of Space” or it could be, maybe it’s not even Lovecraft, I don’t know, I’ve never read that story, I’m a CHEERLEADER, not a book recommender!
So if you overlook the yawning vortex of meaningless that everything Trump ever says opens a terrifying, hellish door on, these are the two arguments the GOP is offering. You can choose between “I didn’t know” and try not to dwell on the fact that a governor is one of the few people on earth who didn’t know, or you can go with ,“I always knew, but I didn’t want to say or do anything until it was too late, because why upset you when maybe things might not go as bad as I always knew they would?” That’s what’s behind excuse doors #1 and #2, and you might as well like them, because door #3? Door #3 is “F**k you. For no reason whatsoever I’m certain me and my friends are going to live through this and you guys are the ones who are going to die. Because I’m that dumb. I’m that unimaginably dumb and for some reason I’m in charge of every aspect of all our lives.”
In other news, my two forsythia bushes are in full bloom. They look nice. That statement has the benefit of not being a lie, and is as close to cheerleading as I am going to get tonight.
My CoviDiary, 4/1/2020: Brevity
BY MAX BURBANK | This is going to have to be a very short entry. It’s late, and I worked all day. Not “WFH,” but “WFMPW.” Work from my place of work. A mile from my house, from which I have rarely been more than a block for it feels like a very long time now, a mile away in downtown Salem, Massachusetts, the town so nice they developed an entire tourist industry revolving around a local atrocity. I will say that in the many thousands of years since the world shut down, I’ve gotten a very nice start on what will one day be a very attractive agoraphobia.
Our store is closed, there were no customers, but in a comic book shop with over 10,000 back issues, there is always work to be done. While we are sometimes forced to tell our clientele. “This is not a library.” many of the skills and duties of a librarian are required. Books (we call them “books” because we are grand) must be alphabetized and numerized. The contents of the bins must be shifted to make room for new titles. It’s endless, and it isn’t tended to as much as would be proper, as the customers get in the way. We love them, we are for them, but they do tend to be the enemy of order. So I was there all day shifting a filing and had no time to write until now, and I want to go to bed. So I will tell you one thing without complication, and tomorrow will be something more involved.
My Bride and eldest child have been speaking in very bad British accents for the entirety of this quarantine. Not exclusively. Not even most of the time. But quite often.
Quite… Quite… often.
And my youngest and I are about done. I think if I hear another, “Ow about a lovely spot of tea, then?” or “My, but oim knackered, muvah wha’ bou’ you, then?” “Woi, yes I am, dahlin’, oi certainly am, an’ ‘ow very noice a’ you to ask!” or “Oi fink oi will have anuvah, if it’s no bother,” I shall go… straight… the f**k…. Out. Of… my mind.
As I prepared our dogs for their last walk of the day, (they hate the last walk, and I hate the last walk, but the last walk must happen nonetheless if one wants to avoid nocturnal consequences), I told my eldest, (and I think at this point I should mention she is 24, to paint the picture as precisely as possible), I told her:
“If you do not stop, when I am through walking these dogs I shall let them in, close the door behind them, turn and walk the three blocks from our door to the ocean and continue straight in.”
There was a longish pause, and then she said, “Oy, there, now guvnah, woid you want to go an’ do a fing loik that?”
The fact that you are reading this should make it clear that my threat was empty. My father would have said it was because I “Lacked” the “Gumption.”
I would say that a gumption deficiency has been my principle problem throughout my life. If there was a supplement that would remedy the issue, I assure you I would take it.
For the March entries of My CoviDiary, click here.
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