Below, find the latest diary entry, then all other May content. Click here for the April entries. Click here for all March entries . My CoviDiary is reprinted, with the author’s permission, from its original publication via maxburbank.wordpress.com.
My CoviDiary, 5/30/2020: A Tale of Two Tweets
BY MAX BURBANK | In the course of my writing, I have thought a great deal about Donald Trump over the last four years. I have puzzled over him and written about him and drawn him. He has occupied an enormous amount of my mental real estate when I was paid to take on that task and when I was not. For good or ill, I am not done thinking about him and depending on how many days both of us have left. I may never be. I have, however, reached a conclusion about him, which I will share with you now.
I will never fathom him. Never.
You will never fathom him. No one will ever fathom him. There will be no definitive biography, no actor will successfully portray him, because to do either of those things you must understand him and connect with him, two things that cannot happen. People, myself included, ask themselves “What is he doing? What is he thinking? What is his plan? What does he want?”
All these questions are inoperative. You might as well ask them about a raccoon.
I do not mean that Donald Trump is like a Raccoon. I mean that like a raccoon, his mind is so radically different from yours or mine or anyone’s you’ve ever met, it cannot be understood in any conventional sense. You and your dog share more common emotional ground than you and the president.
This doesn’t mean you can’t understand anything about Trump. Look at a Raccoon. You know it wants to eat. You know it is fond of garbage and chaos. You know it likes to get food wet, but you don’t know why. You may have heard that Raccoons wash their food because they have no salivary glands, but that is the same sort of uniformed lunacy that leads people to say fish have no nerves in their mouths. Racoons wash their food for unfathomable raccoon reasons, and I don’t know this for a fact (how could I?) But I don’t imagine they know why they wash their food any better than you do. They do it because they are compelled to. They do it because they must. I doubt they lose any sleep over not knowing the reason. Later in this entry you’re going to ask yourself “Why does he say things like that? Does he believe his own lies? Does he think any of us believe them?” Listen. You’re going to make yourself sick. I know, I have, I am. He’s washing his food with his little Raccoon hands.
So. As the riots in Minneapolis unfolded, Donald Trump tweeted:
“….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Twitter hid the tweet for violating their rules against glorifying violence. I could be wrong, but I think it was on account of the whole threatening to shoot American citizens without arrest or trial or jury or verdict.
People were understandably horrified that a sitting president would direct the National Guard to kill American citizens, and by his use of a nasty little rhyme originally employed by the late George Wallace, one time governor of Alabama and unabashed lifelong racist. Both these distinguished politicians made it clear the people who were going to be on the receiving end of “The shooting” would be black, which I guess is Trump’s Idea of honoring “The memory of George Floyd.” There was a great deal of push back, so much so that less than 24 hours later, he tweeted:
“Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night – or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means…. ….It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honor the memory of George Floyd!”
That was two Tweets, which Trump separated with eight dots, presumably because he does not know what an ellipses is or that it is generally used to indicate that words have been omitted, or more colloquially to create the effect of a pause.
Not to put too much of a point on it, but this is an absurd lie. The original Tweet is right there on his feed. The context is entirely clear. He says that he won’t let “THUGS” (super-secret code for black people) dishonor the memory of the black person who got murdered by a white policeman; he invokes the military, and then he says “Any difficulty and we (Trump and the military) will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The meaning here is quite clear. He is saying that if the “Thugs” loot, the military will kill them.
That’s the statement. It’s pretty hard to read it any other way. But Trump then insists everybody got it wrong, and like in most cases where a specific individual says something and every single person on earth thinks it meant something but he says it didn’t, it’s everyone on earth’s fault, because that’s how math and probability work.
He didn’t mean the military would shoot looters. He meant that in a riot, many of the rioters would have guns, and they would accidentally shoot each other. He was referring to the collateral damage of chaos.
And this is where you say “He JUST SAID he would have the military KILL PEOPLE, and now he says that obviously wasn’t what he meant and the only people who could possibly have misunderstood him are “The Haters” as opposed to “Everyone who can read.” Could he possibly think anyone would believe such an absurd lie? “
As recently as a few months ago I’d have said no, he doesn’t think anyone is going to believe his lie. That’s the point. He wants you to know he is lying and demanding you accept that lie as truth, even though he knows you know it’s a lie. It’s what torturers do to break you. It’s why Winston Smith is forced to ask himself if the state declared that 2+2=5 and everybody believed it, would that make it true? It’s why when Gul Madred tortures Jean Luc Picard he demands the captain agree there are five lights when there are clearly only four.
I no longer believe that explanation. Because as awful as it is, it makes sense. It has a logic, strategy, a technique, a goal. It’s reprehensible, but it features all the structural requirements of human thought. As a behavior it can be understood.
I no longer believe anything even remotely that coherent, that parsable, ever goes on inside the terrible darkness of Donald Trump’s skull.
All that’s in there is a raccoon. It’s washing its food, because it has to, so it does. It does it fiercely, with gusto and conviction, but it doesn’t ask why because that kind of inquiry is an intrinsic aspect of human nature, and it’s not a human. It’s a raccoon. Assigning human motivations to a raccoon is an act of absurd anthropomorphization.
No one will ever write the definitive biography of a raccoon, no actor will successfully portray one, because to do either of those things you must understand it and connect with it, two things that cannot happen.
And okay. I don’t think Donald Trump is a raccoon.
But it’s not like anybody knows what the fuck he is.
And I don’t think we ever will.
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, 5/29/2020: The Arc of the Universe is F**ked
BY MAX BURBANK | The enormity of what has happened, is happening, in Minneapolis and now across the country, is too large for me to adequately address. The fresh raw wound of the murder of George Floyd laid atop all the previous wounds, the cold reality that for some percentage of police officers in America, the fact that if should you want to kill a black person, you can do it without much fear of consequence, is just one of the perks of the job… It’s larger than I could encompass in a lifetime, if that was the only thing I was trying to do.
And I’m not the man for it, any more than I’m the man to hold forth on the “Me Too” movement. No one needs a white man to whitesplain the history of racism in America to them, or God forbid, tell African Americans how they ought to feel or behave or let them know, as white people often do, what Dr. King would think of how their behavior and choices. That’s why the Trump family’s insistence on telling people the riots disrespect the memory of George Floyd is so utterly repellent. The gall of co-opting a murder victim to browbeat the African American community is beyond reprehensible, a new low for an administration whose only goal seems to be to burrow straight through the planet.
All there is for me to say is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my whiteness, and it doesn’t shame or degrade me to express that sorrow. I am truly sorry that every day of my life no matter what choices I personally make, I benefit from being white. I do not need to fear the police. I’ll never be physically endangered by someone on a cell phone saying I’m walking in the wrong neighborhood, I’m napping on a common room couch at the wrong college, I threatened their life while I was birding.
I don’t understand why it’s so hard, so hurtful to so many of my fellow Cauasians to admit we were born into a system of oppression that rewards us daily for having less Melanin than other people. Look, if I want, I can truck my ass to any open-carry state, gussy up in my best soldier of fortune cosplay, shoulder a loaded deadly weapon designed specifically to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, and I can waltz into the State House and wave my gun around and scream. No one will try to make me leave. I won’t be tear-gassed. I sure as hell won’t be arrested. What do you think the life span of any non-white who did that would be? We all know the answer. Knowing that and still saying there is no such thing as White Privilege requires a level of cognitive dissonance so severe it ought to give you a disabling stroke just contemplating it.
That’s all I can say tonight. Anything else feels like trespassing. Tomorrow I’ll write about two sets of Presidential Tweets that illustrate the character, or lack thereof, of their author. It’s a tiny little sideshow on a distant stage near the far back of this festival, just before the phalanx of reeking porta-johns, so tailor made for the likes of me. Something small enough for me to write about.
And I will, assuming no larger calamity comes along tomorrow, demanding my white perspective.
Oh, I almost forgot, at a press conference today (where he took no questions, so was it a press conference?), ostensibly scheduled to talk about the murder of Geoge Floyd and the ensuing riots, Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organization.
Good night, ladies and gentlemen! Don’t forget to tip your servers!
My CoviDiary, 5/27/2020: Photo Finish
BY MAX BURBANK | A real short one today, pretty informal, only lightly researched. Just something I’ve been thinking about.
Way back in the ’90s, I stumbled upon a very unflattering picture of President Bill Clinton. It must have been in the paper, a real physical paper, a thing I didn’t subscribe to but bought frequently, because it was black and white. He was on the Golf Course, which I’d say was ironic, but president’s pretty much universally golf. Now I don’t know if he’d hit a particularly bad shot, or one of his opponents had hit a particularly good one or honestly what all happened right before the picture was taken, but Bill was angry. Angry and petulant, like a kid unused to losing who would find a way to make you pay for how bad it made him feel, like a very nasty, maybe dangerous kid who hid it well almost all the time.
I cut it out and glued it in my journal (oh yes, I kept them, and for a very long time, never thinking just how agonizing they’d be to read in not so many years) which I did because I felt there was something important about the photo. It was, in some way, truthful, and more than that, it was rare. I’d never seen him looking anything like this. I don’t mean every picture of him was flattering, but none were this raw and ugly and revealing. It was a singular photograph.
There’s a pretty famous photo of Lyndon Johnson hauling up his shirt and showing the press his gallbladder surgery scar. It’s weird, crass and disturbing, but it has a certain authenticity in that he should have known better and didn’t. It’s unpleasant, but it doesn’t pull the curtain back and show us what a monster he was almost certainly capable of being.
Nixon took a lot of bad photos, but mostly because in addition to being almost constantly bitter and angry, he was a funny looking dude and he had unfortunate translucent skin that showed his stubble immediately after even the closest shave. Full disclosure, I’ve got the same kind of skin going on. It’s a cross.
Carter sometimes looked goofy, but never evil. Bush the elder often appeared prissy and disdainful, but you never found yourself saying “I bet he murdered the photographer with his bare hands right after the flash went off.” His son looked stupid and puzzled a lot, but his worst picture isn’t of someone you’d look at and think it would make a great side show banner. And Reagan and Obama just pretty much didn’t take a bad photo.
You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this.
The vast majority of photos of Donald John Trump are very, very bad. On his best day he photographs like a bad courtroom sketch of Mussolini. There are literally thousands and thousands of photos of him looking mean, childish, vindictive, ridiculous, vain, pouty, sweaty, as bizarrely made up as Gustav von Aschenbach on the very last page of Death in Venice, freakish, violent, insane, and not to face shame here, but just extremely unpleasant to look at.
And in case you think my point is that other presidents hid their flaws better, let me disabuse you. I mean, sure, yes, obviously. But the logical corollary doesn’t apply. Trump doesn’t look awful because he’s keeping it real. He simply never developed any tools for hiding how awful he is because that’s a big part of how awful he is. He’s utterly unashamed that he’s a bottomless, sucking vortex of base impulses, bile and some sort of overpoweringly cloying cologne specifically designed for the wealthy businessman who would happily grope your ass before having his sub human underlings grind you up for dog food, except in Trump’s case he lacks the baseline humanity to know he should at least FAKE LIKING DOGS!
In my lifetime, I have disliked many presidents. most of them honestly. At least half, I’d go so far as to admit that, yes, I hated them. And I don’t hate a lot, so that’s something. But I always felt prior to Trump that they were human. Wildly flawed, self-centered, classist, racist, sure; But I always thought that they wanted what was best for the country. Even when I violently disagreed with them about what that would be, even when they thought the ends justified the means and that conservative Republican dominance was what was best for the county.
Not Trump. Trump is different. Trump doesn’t want what’s best for anybody but Trump. For almost everyone, I’d go so far as to say he wants what’s worst. He’s a human vulture, he doesn’t care in any genuine way for any other human being, and his tiny supply of admiration is reserved for the handful of people on earth who by dint of circumstance are in a position to do all the terrible things he fantasizes about doing. Like Putin. And Kim Jong-il. And Hitler, for whom he is unable to hide his admiration because that is how utterly irredeemable he is.
That is my opinion. It is subjective, and like all such judgments, while perhaps you are persuaded, it lacks the gravity of objective, scientific fact.
But I would say… the photographic record bears me out.
My CoviDiary, 5/26/2020: Funny/Funny
BY MAX BURBANK | So, here’s a thing that’s happening. Trump has been tweeting quite a bit lately, about how maybe Former Florida Congressman and current TV host Joe Scarborough, he of Morning Joe, murdered someone 20 years ago.
“A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough,” President Classy McPumkinhead tweeted a few days ago, “So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator?” In repetitive, rambly old man-type tweets that are all pretty much the same, Trump calls the matter a “Cold Case” and suggests Scarborough got away with murdering an intern.
There’s a few problems. One is that this is not a “Cold Case.” Cold cases are unsolved. This is a “Closed Case.” Lori Kaye Klausutis, Who was a staffer, not an intern, was alone in the office. An undiagnosed heart condition caused her to faint, she fell, struck her head and died. She was not a marathon runner, she ran 2-4 miles two or three times a week, and literally no one who knew either one of them thought Scarborough and Klausutis were having an affair. She was a low level staffer whom Scarborough had met on three occasions.
She was 28. She left behind grieving parents and a husband whose life was tragically and permanently scarred. No one in any law enforcement or legitimate investigative capacity has any doubt whatsoever. Foul play was almost immediately ruled out. Joe Scarborough barely knew her, and wasn’t in town when she died. All of this is a matter of public record and has been for 20 years. Various conspiracy theorists from various camps have tested their tin foil hats on the idea she was murdered, and mixed the whole thing up with an entirely different, actually murdered intern, Shandra Levy. I’m not even going to go into that one, you can Google her name if you have time and are morbid.
Widower Timothy Klausutis wrote Twitter a letter begging them to take down President Pennywise’s horrific Tweets, saying “I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain,”
Trump said today he’s read the letter, adding “I’m sure that, ultimately, they want to get to the bottom of it, and it’s a very serious situation.” The President, a known serial liar, probably has not read the letter, which we know because he says he did and he’s very nearly incapable of being truthful, On the other hand, Trump is also a well known functional illiterate, and while he can sound out words and follow simple, short sentences, he has almost no reading comprehension, so maybe he did read it, didn’t understand it at all, and wouldn’t care if he had.
Here’s where things get funny (funny strange, not funny ha-ha). Twitter won’t remove the Tweets. They did offer an apology, stating “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,” “We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.”
This statement is beyond impotent. Twitter is a free service, and they can remove any Tweet they want to. In addition, they have policies in place regarding targeted harassment, and would be completely justified in removing the Tweets. One presumes they do not because Trump drives an enormous amount of traffic on their platform and they are justifiably afraid of him, as he is an unhinged and unpredictable lunatic who has proven himself capable of anything. While unlikely, it is not entirely outside of the realm of possibility that he could order a nuclear strike on Twitter headquarters.
Twitter is under a reasonable amount of pressure as a rapidly growing majority made up of human beings with any sort of even slightly functional moral compass are appalled that the sitting president of the United States, during a global pandemic that as of today has claimed the lives of 100,000 of his fellow American, chose to spend the weekend playing golf and literally torturing that family of a woman who died accidentally in the prime of her life twenty years ago. They are too cowed by Generalissimo Alligator-purse-face to delete his offensive Tweets, but they can’t just do nothing, and even they know their apology is a tepid cup of unacceptably weak tea.
So what Twitter did, see, was take two of Trump’s Tweets about something entirely unrelated, the supposed vulnerability to fraud of vote-by-mail, and flag them with a link to a fact check that basically says, “These tweets are bullshit.”
It’s strategically bizarre, but not entirely without merit. Trump’s entire presidency revolves around Twitter. He Tweets and Retweets all day every day, he fires people over Twitter, he sends orders to key staff by publicly Tweeting it, he seems to be unaware that a Tweet does not carry the authority of an executive order. The vast majority of his official communications with the world originate on Twitter. And now, Twitter is basically saying, you can Tweet whatever you want, but we reserve the right to tag it with a fact check link that says it’s a lie. They only did it on two tweets, but it’s a warning shot. Trump lies in almost every Tweet. He doesn’t know how not to. Twitter is telling Trump if he doesn’t dial back his unspeakably insane cruelty to a point it can be ignored, they can tag all of his Tweets as lies. Right now it’s a subtle, polite link no one has to click on if they don’t want to. It doesn’t have to stay that way. It could be a bold, red banner preceding the text of any Tweet, “AND NOW, YET ANOTHER PREPOSTEROUS LIE, FROM DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT AND KNOWN PATHOLOGICAL LIAR.”
And this is where it goes from funny strange to funny ha-ha. This is where, if your sense of humor is on the darker side, it gets hilarious.
The instant I heard what Twitter had done, I posted on Facebook “Within the next hour, I predict an enormous Twitter Hissy Fit in which he will threaten a DOJ investigation and insist he’s going to sue Twitter. He’ll never do either thing, because he’s really more a shrieking tea kettle than he is a man.” I felt almost physically compelled to do this, because if I aspire to anything in this crazy world, it is to be the the Nostradamus of fucking transparently obvious predictions.
Our tiny-handed, effete, and oddly prissy man/child rodeo clown President did not disappoint me.
“.@Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post,” President Venomous Persimmon Tweeted, “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”, Italics and boldface type added by me to indicate the howling absurdity of thinking this shrieking, ludicrous chief executive gasbag is going to actually do anything at all. The thunderous declaration of his will is the doing, a demented, ancient, moribund bull pachyderm trumpeting to a herd he is too senile to realize is backing away and leaving him alone in the elephant graveyard.
He “will not allow it.” what’s he going to do, issue a decree? Show them all by deleting his account? As if. Maybe he’ll force his personal bullfrog Richelieu, Attorney General William Barr, to prosecute them for the heinous libel of calling a couple of his lies lies. That should go well.
I suddenly realized just how tired I am. It’s very late. The Amazing Trumpo is still up slapping madly at his Twitter Machine keyboard, but that doesn’t mean I have to.
My CoviDiary, 5/25/2020: Someone’s Gotta Walk the Dog
BY MAX BURBANK | I was walking my two odd little dogs when I noticed a painting leaning against a tree on the other side of the street. It was left there, the way things will be left in front of houses if they are for free. A few chairs, some kitchen supplies, a rolled up rug (although I would advise you never to take the rug, there’s generally a reason it’s out on the street and often that reason is cats). In the before time these were the tail end of yard sales, the things people would not even pay a dollar for, and often there would be a handwritten sign that says “free” taped to a tree, but sometimes not. And now all the time not, because yard sales, at least now, belong to the before time.
So there’s this painting on the other side of the street, and while the dogs sniffed stuff I looked at it. I’m 58 now, I may have mentioned, and my vision isn’t great except for middle distances, which this painting was beyond. I haven’t bought prescription glasses just as I have never seen if a hearing aid would help with the kind of hearing loss I have in my right ear that comes with constant ringing, whining and buzzing, like a first generation synthesizer being played by a dull witted three year old. I have my reasons for neglecting these self-care measures, and they are that I am cheap and also lazy. All of which is to say that I could not immediately say what the painting was of, if indeed it was of anything at all, and not an abstract, or as I used to say when defending my own work as a kindergartner, a design.
The subject seemed to be a helmeted figure, against a backdrop of some sort of interior architecture, but I couldn’t put it together, and intrigued I took the dogs across the street to get a better look. And I get closer and I still can’t figure it out. It’s an actual painting not a print, it’s amateur, a painting by a hobbyist and not a great one, and I’m looking at it, I see it, but my brain… still… can’t… quite put it together. I can’t quite read the image. Is it unfinished? It doesn’t look… done, somehow. And I’m still seeing some sort of fantasy figure, there’s a round sort of… face plate? On the helmet? Like an astronaut’s helmet? And the arm is in some sort of elaborate armor partially draped in an ornate cape, there’s some sort of staff, I think, but the whole thing is very awkward, it doesn’t hang together, and I look and I look while the dogs start to get restless and suddenly it resolves. it clicks into place.
The painting is lying on it’s side. I’m looking at it like it’s a vertical image, but it’s not. It’s on its side.
It’s a still life. The face plate is a ceramic tea kettle. The armored arm is a wicker basket, the ornate cape is fruit in that basket, the staff is just the far edge of the table everything is on.
To be fair to myself, it was a bad painting. But let’s be real, that wasn’t the problem. And it’s not like I don’t do this kind of thing. I even play a game with it, when I’m walking the dogs or walking to work, a thing I did in the before time.
I’ll see something lying on the sidewalk way ahead of me and I can’t really make it out and I’ll say to myself “OK, what is that? Is it a squirrel? No, no I can see it isn’t a squirrel now I’m closer, is it black plastic bag? Is it a fallen branch with some leaves on it?” and sometimes my brain can’t interpret the image until I’m quite close. Or sometimes it does interpret it, but then I get closer and my brain has to let go of the image I was seeing, rearrange it into what I can now see it actually is, a beer bottle lying in some grass. And I’m really hoping it works like this with other people and I’m not basically revealing that my brain doesn’t work right.
So it’s not like there was nothing familiar about the experience. But there’s just no way I can stress enough how long I was looking at that painting. Knowing something was wrong but unable to interpret the image. So it was like a thing that happens to me frequently… but way, way more so.
And there’s this other thing that’s happening at the same time, which is that due to my ever fluctuating weight, I’m between belt holes again. By which I mean, if I’m on the second hole in my belt, my pants are slipping down over my hips a tiny little bit with each step I take until I have to grab them and haul them up. But if I go to the third hole, it’s uncomfortably tight. The buckle is biting into my stomach and irritating the skin. Too loose or too tight, no Goldilocks zone on my belt. And I’ve learned from experience, I can’t just punch a hole between the two holes, because I buy my belts at the Army/Navy next to my work and they’re pretty fragile. I told you. Lazy and cheap.
So that’s what life is like right now. The lag time for my brain to decode information is just unacceptably long. I’m standing there, with the dogs or without them, trying to make any kind of sense of what’s going on, trying to sort signal from noise in a meaningful way, and it’s just taking way too long. I have to sit with the chaos and wait and I don’t like it. I feel slow and stupid and uneasy. And while I’m waiting, everything is too loose and slipping off of me or too tight, too binding, too constricting. I’m trying to do things that need to get done; walk the dogs, wash the dishes, have a civil conversation with people I love, and I do. I do. But there are these chunks of time where I’m just looking at static, listening to white noise and pretending I know what’s going on, waiting for the moment to coalesce into something I can understand, and the whole goddamn time my pants don’t fit.
Not my actual pants. My metaphorical pants. The pants of my life.
We’re between things. We’ve left a place we knew, maybe not super well, but well enough to get along. And we’re on our way to someplace else and we hope there will be enough that’s familiar that we can fake our way through things ‘til we get the hang of it. But we don’t know how far away that is. And we’re playing a game where we try to guess what the things we see in the distance are.
I hope it’s “We.” I really hope it’s “We.” Which is awful, because that means I’m wishing you’re as lost and confused as I am, which is not a very nice thing to wish on other people just so I won’t feel alone.
So I’m not going to ask, and I don’t want you to tell me. This is not me asking.
This is me trying to get comfortable with however long it takes for me to realize what I’m looking at is on its side and not upright. This is me trying to figure out if I need to lose a pound or gain one in order to feel like the pants I’m wearing are my own.
This is my dogs, pulling on their leashes because they’ve been pretty accommodating but they’re done with this walk and they really, really want to go home.
My CoviDiary, 5/24/2020: 100,000 and the Sledgehammer of History
BY MAX BURBANK | I want to come clean and say at the start that I have no idea how to write about this. So that’s essentially what I’m writing about, and not what’s actually happened. That’s as close as I’m able to get, so this is a failure and I wanted to let you know, so you don’t get your hopes up. If you want to stop reading now, I get it. I do. This is going to be tone-deaf. I am not going to get this right. There will be people who can, and I’m sure those who do will have their work widely circulated, and you should read their stuff. I will. I’ll applaud them, but I won’t say, “See, now, that’s what I should have done. That was the approach,” because there’s no set of circumstances under which I ever would have been up to this task. I don’t even want to be the person who was up to this task.
I was all set to write about Antisemitism, and what’s up with Trump and his whole Hitler deal. This was a couple of days ago, a billion or so years in Trump Time. President Shit-Pinata had just toured the Ford factory in Ypsilanti, (Name of an actual town, not an Elder God), Michigan. “The company [was] founded by a man named Henry Ford,” Trump told the assembled executives, factory workers and media. “Good bloodlines, good bloodlines. If you believe in that stuff, you got good blood.”
See, now, I’m not going to go deep on this, that ship sailed, but real quick: Henry Ford invented affordable cars and paid his workers a living wage, but he was also, and they didn’t teach us this in school, a vicious Jew-hater who was an inspiration to Hitler. Not figuratively. Only one American gets a mention in Hitler’s best-seller, Mein Kampf, and it’s Henry Ford. In 1938, Ford was given Nazi Germany’s highest honor awarded to foreigners, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, for service to the Third Reich. Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that Trump, a world-renowned moron, doesn’t know this cool trivia about Mr. Model-T. I mean, I didn’t know it until college, and Trump went to Wharton, for god’s sake, plus he has the intellectual curiosity of three pounds of hamburger meat you accidentally left in the car over a very hot holiday weekend. But then he says the “Bloodlines” thing, which is a Nazi-era eugenics buzzword, and it’s right out in the open. He’s basically saying, “Hey, I’m in a Ford Plant, and he was a huge Nazi and I think that’s awesome, right? Because it’s totally normal to think that Nazis are awesome. Ol’ Henry Ford was some very fine people.”
“Bloodlines.” That’s Nazi talk. That strikes to the heart of Mein Kampf. That’s author’s message shit right there.
But I didn’t write about that. I got bogged down and didn’t write for a few days. It’s weird that I can find ways to get too busy to write when I’m unemployed and apart from the occasional terrified trip to the grocery store, there’s nothing at all that I really have to do. The dishes pile up with four of us home,three meals a day. The dogs have to be walked. I’ve been working on the yard. And I’m collecting chunks of missing time like I’m a f**king alien abductee.
And now it’s really too late to write about why Hitler stuff is so frequently Trump’s go-to when he’s off script, which is mostly. Because as I’m writing the first draft of this, we’re at 98,024. By the time I take it through a second draft and post it, but the time you get to it, we’ll very likely have passed 100,000.
100,000 of our fellow citizens, dead.
That’s a really big number. That’s a very large amount of anything. 100,000 tricycles. 100,000 ice cream cakes. 100,000 things you’ve said you wish you could take back, but you can’t because said is said.
100,000 dead human beings is bigger. It’s all the things they’ll never get to do, their families and their friends and how they died mostly alone and how their funerals are on Zoom.
I’ve been to a Zoom funeral. If you haven’t yet, you will. We’re all going to go to a lot of them
I’m living through history. We’re all living through history right now. And yes, I know, we always are, but you know what I mean, this is a moment, a huge historical moment, and we are hip-deep in it and that’s not as deep as it’s going to get.
And I know that, I know it, I do. But I don’t feel it.
It’s not as if I don’t know what living through history is. I watched the moon landing on TV. I was seven years old, but knew I was living through history. OK, I was coached, I kept hearing adults say, “This is history, you’re living through history, you’ll always remember this,” but the message took, alright.
I watched the Watergate hearings with my family, and when Nixon resigned, when he flashed that idiot grin and put the two peace signs up and climbed into that copter, I understood I was living through history.
The Berlin Wall coming down, Tiananmen Square, The neon green, night vision missiles of Operation Desert Storm, hanging chads, 9/11, Barack Obama’s election, hell Trump’s election, I knew it, I could feel it, and then, Trump’s inauguration, I was absolutely living through history, but somehow after that… after the bizarre lies about the size of the crowd, Sean Spicer, red in the face, spitting mad, lying, when anyone could look at the pictures and just see with their eyes…
The feeling of living through history…
Sometime over the next few days, where Trump kept handing out colored electoral maps everywhere he went, you could feel history dying.
Because every day, we are living through history. Because it’s relentless and brutal, because the total tonnage of petty, pointless lies, the contempt for the law, cruelty as the point of policy and the Tweeting, my God, the Tweeting!
Donald John Trump has taken a sledgehammer to history.
Do you know what I’m saying? I don’t feel numb, mostly. I don’t feel like I’m in shock. I feel normal. I mean, anxious, yes, afraid sometimes, I sleep like shit, but honestly? Mostly? Normal. Normal-ish, right? Like when you’re waiting for someone you love to die. It’s awful, but you can’t feel straight-up awful continuously. You talk about old times with other people at the bedside. Maybe shoot the shit with the nurses, go grab a cup of coffee. Hey, do any of you want coffee? I’m going. How do you take it? How many sugars? How many creams? You cry, but you laugh, too. Tell me you don’t laugh.
But 100,000? It should be different. We are undeniably living through history. But I can’t feel it. I’m asking people how many sugars they want, because, you know, I’m going anyway, right? Might as well bring you back something. Chips? A bag of chips?
“I will be lowering the flags on all Federal Buildings and National Monuments to half-staff over the next three days in memory of the Americans we have lost to the Coronavirus,” Trump tweeted, on Thursday. That’s two whole days longer than flags would have been lowered this three-day weekend, since they’re always lowered on Memorial Day. It’s seven days less than after 9/11, when 3,202 people died. Shouldn’t we have lowered the flag when we hit that number?
Shouldn’t it just stay at half-mast until we stop dying? Or is it insane to be arguing about the length of time a rectangular piece of cloth should remain less far above the ground than it usually is? Is that honestly a meaningful conversation? I’m really asking that question, because I don’t know. I told you I couldn’t do this.
All I know is that if I can’t feel the history now, at least as much as I did all those other times, and it OUGHT TO BE MORE…
But I don’t…
If the capacity to feel history happening has been beaten out of me.
Then I am numb. I am in shock. Do people in shock know they’re in shock?
Once my family was in a car accident that really should have killed us all. My Bride was driving, thank Christ, because I am a shit driver and we wouldn’t have stood a chance. We got clipped by a truck on the highway. The car spun around and around. We got hit by other cars several times until we ran off the road and came to stop on the grass. By some miracle, none of us were hurt. Not a scratch. I got out and walked around the car, which was now a completely destroyed hunk of bent metal and broken glass and wondered if it was driveable. “I think maybe she’ll drive,” I said. Someone gave our two-year-old a blanket and an orange. “Thank you for that orange,” I said. Because the blanket, sure, but the orange felt like they’d gone the extra mile.
If you’d asked me to write an essay about the crash right then, I wouldn’t really have been able to do it justice. Because I was in shock. It would have been a dumb ask.
I couldn’t have done it.
This is a dumb ask. And I can’t do it justice.
I can’t really do it at all.
My CoviDiary, 5/20/2020: You Say It’s Your Birthday
BY MAX BURBANK | By the time this posts, almost certainly by the time you read this, it will be Thursday, May 21. My 58th birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about it, so I suppose I’d say I feel vague. When you’ve had 57 birthdays (58 by the time you read this), it’s hard to get that worked up. I never really understood the idea of anniversaries of any kind anyway. Not that every person doesn’t deserve some celebration just for being a human person, but assigning celebrations to a particular day just because the planet is in the same position relative to the sun it was last time you celebrated it, seems arbitrary.
With the exception of my 30th and 50th birthdays, which were enormous and spectacular blowouts, mostly it’s been fairly low-key. May 21st isn’t a great time of year to have a birthday. There’s always things going on. Graduations, weddings, biggish events of various types. My own mother rarely remembered my birthday once I was out of the house. She had an idea of when it was, about a two week-window. If she remembered at all, she might call a few days early, but more usually about a week later. She’d say, “Happy Birthday” and I’d say, “Thanks” and at some point in the conversation I’d tell her what day my birthday actually was and she’d say “really?”, like I might be the one who was mistaken.
It’s a hard date to schedule around, and then there’s me. It’s my nature that any occasion I put expectations on ends up feeling hollow, and so I try not to have expectations in general, but of course I do, which is my problem and not anyone else’s to solve. I was born under an ambivalent star. I think perfect enlightenment would be to never have an expectation of anything. The sun rising, one’s next meal or breath. Imagine every instant a pleasant surprise.
Whatever I may have expected, I certainly never imagined turning 58 during a pandemic. It does put a crimp in things. I might have imagined it. It was always a possibility, statistically more likely with each passing year. I didn’t. But to be fair, I don’t imagine ahead very much in any case.
My memory has never been particularly good no matter how you measure it. I’m a terrible birthday forgetter outside my most immediate family members. I don’t recall much of my early childhood. I can’t tell you the names of any of my teachers prior to fourth grade. So it’s odd my earliest memory, a little island of memory since the next one I can think of is two years later and sketchy at best, is my third birthday. It may not have been the exact day, but there was a little party at my grandparent’s apartment in Brooklyn. I got a blue wool sailor suit with white piping, jacket and shorts, very smart. It had a ceramic whistle on a leather strap, and I blew that whistle and blew it and blew it until some adult took it away. And I wasn’t sad or angry per se, but puzzled. I had what may have been the very first concrete thought of my little life: Why does this outfit have a whistle if you are not allowed to blow the whistle? I’m absolutely certain this is a metaphor central to life, but I haven’t any idea of how. I just feel that it is, all the way down to my core.
On my 13th birthday, I almost broke my brother’s leg. It was early in the day, prior to any festivities. The family was together, my grandparents were visiting, the same ones in whose apartment I learned a life lesson I clearly still do not understand. My brother, three years older than I, wanted to demonstrate his tree-climbing prowess and demanded I give him a boost so he could get to the lowest branch. I expressed the ambivalence I believe I have noted I am known for, but he was insistent. So I laced my fingers together and he put a foot in the stirrup I made of my hands, straightened his knee and reached for the branch, at which point my fingers came apart of their own accord, he fell and sprained his ankle quite badly. It was visibly swollen and discolored. He limped the rest of the day and was quite angry with me.
Attentive readers (as I’m sure some of you are) will recall I am a Jew, but my parents were secular, and there was no religion in my household, so turning 13 came with zero cultural baggage. My grandfather, a virulent, lifelong atheist, underlined the day’s lack of significance by taking me aside and informing me that whatever any cultural practice might say about it, anyone who left their pajamas lying on the floor when they got dressed in the morning was a child, not a man. Readers, he was referring to me.
And that’s it for specific childhood birthday memories for me. I know I went to Plumb Island more than once. That’s a beach in Massachusetts. It’s nice.
I’ve seen it snow twice on my birthday. Once as a child and once as an adult. Because New England wants you to know that whatever any cultural practice might say about it, you will never, ever be a man under any circumstances, and any birthday might be your last. It’s not personal. Being a yankee is not for the faint hearted.
As a child, I never expected to be a grown-up. I don’t mean I thought I’d die young, I just found the idea of me grown up seemed unlikely. At 58, (almost), similarly, I just don’t see me as an old man. My entire life, when people have been disappointed with or by me, they have told me either that I was “like an old man” or that I would “never grow up.” Often the same people would tell me both those things, sometimes on the same occasion. I am the wizened Peter Pan of annoyance. One of my very best friends once described me as a “Bitter Pixie.” I so wanted to be angry, but how do you express anger at an entirely ept summation?
I suppose I’m lucky that I’ve always been ambivalent about celebration. These are hard times to celebrate, logistically and emotionally. How do you mark a milestone in a time of suspended animation? We are all occupied with waiting to see what happens next.
What I would like most tomorrow is to take a nap.
I like naps, and I don’t take them very often. A nap would be a perfect white ceramic whistle on a blue wool sailor suit of a day.
I’m taking a deep breath. I am holding it.
And then …
My CoviDiary, 5/18/2020: Today
BY MAX BURBANK | Today is Monday, May 18.
Today I woke at 5:45am to be ready to be at Market Basket at 7am.
Today I wore a mask and gloves to do the big shop.
Today we bought groceries for us and for my mother-in-law.
Today I spent more money on groceries at a single crack than I have ever in my entire life. I was only paying for us. We shop for my mother-in-law, but she’d never let us pay for her.
Today the national death toll for the Coronavirus passed 90,000.
Today, Donald Trump has tweeted or retweeted 23 times, most recently three minutes ago. He Tweeted, not for the first time, “TRANSITION TO GREATNESS!” I responded “OMG, you’re RESIGNING?!” I got 9 likes and 1 response, “Be still, my heart!” followed by the laughing ‘til crying emoticon.
Today we unloaded my Mother-in-law’s groceries, sanitized the packaging, poured the produce into clean bags, making sure the bag from the store did not touch the clean bag, and brought them inside for her.
Today Donald Trump said he would prefer for government employees to wash Secratary of State Mike Pompeo’s dishes if his wife or son was not there to do so.
Today Eddie Haskell died after a long illness. So not from the Coronavirus. When you hear someone has died now, this is the question that pops unbidden into your head.
Today we unloaded all the perishables from our car. We sanitized the packaging, poured the produce into clean bags, making sure the bag from the store did not touch the clean bag, and brought them inside. We left all the non-perishables in the car because we were very tired at this point. They can sit in the way back, untouched, any virus that is on them dying like Eddie Haskell, except that we know for certain Eddie Haskell has died and while there are various theories, no one knows for sure how long the virus survives on various surfaces. The back of my car is full of Schroedinger’s virus unless we were lucky enough that no virus ever got on any of our groceries in the first place, a thing we cannot know. The way back of our car is a double Schroedinger.
Today Donald Trump claimed he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug he’s long touted as a potential coronavirus cure even as medical experts and the US Food and Drug Administration question its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects. Statistically speaking, there is a very high probability he is lying. You might ask why he would lie. My assumption is that he profits off increased sales of hydroxychloroquine, either directly or indirectly. Since now there is actual evidence hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work as a treatment for the Coronavirus, Trump must do something to flog sales. A snake oil salesman doesn’t use snake oil. He sells it.
Today I did not think about how every aspect of life is different now.
Today I did not wonder if things will ever be like they were.
Today I did not ask myself “when will I do this again” and “When will I do that again.” because all of that is painful and only makes today harder.
Today Georgia was open for business.
Today Texas was open for business.
Today people thought “I’ll get a latte even if it kills me. But it won’t kill me. I don’t know how I know, but I know it won’t kill me. Because the sun is out. Because it’s a nice day. Because I want to have a latte without wondering if it will kill me so I get a latte without wondering if it will kill me because I’m certain it won’t kill me.”
Today as I took my dogs on their late night walk I could smell the sea on the air, and I was reminded that Salem is a seaside town. I am only three blocks away from the ocean. But the smell of the sea on the night air is always a pleasant surprise, because that’s the smell of vacations and this is where I live. This isn’t The Cape or the Jersey Shore or Key West for me. It’s where it is today, where I get through today, and tomorrow I will get through today again, because it won’t be tomorrow tomorrow it will be today.
Today there are no vacationers in Salem.
Today everyone smelling the sea on the night air is pleasantly surprised.
So today there can still be pleasant surprises. And I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow and tomorrow never comes.
My CoviDiary, 5/17/2020: Chickarina
BY MAX BURBANK
I cannot write an entry tonight because tomorrow
We are going to the grocery store.
Not the little one, the local one
Which is bad enough (worse
In some ways) but
The big one,
the big one
For the big shop
And I will be afraid;
Not of dying, not of becoming
A vector of death,
Those are complicated thoughts and I’ll
Be too afraid for complication,
I will just be afraid,
Not of anything, not about anything,
“About” is complicated, I will simply
Be in fear as I
Try to keep six feet between me and anyone
Which can’t be done because
You have to reach the beans,
Or someone has to reach around you for the beans,
And someone is ignoring the blue tape arrow on the floor, they’re
Coming toward you and you can’t back up, as
Someone is behind you so
You stop. You
In the aisle with the beans and
Grow old there, miss
Your daughter’s wedding there,
Never see your grandchildren there,
Dissolve into senescence there,
And the meat cutter comes out
From his secret meat-cutting room
Behind the window
And speaks with the counter girl
With his mask below his nose.
I’m off meat anyway
Because that motherf**ker
One in five people here have their masks
Below their nose. That’s
Way too many noses.
I am forgetting things I need
And grabbing things I don’t
Because I haven’t
The wherewithal to live
In a world where I
Am afraid of the
I should have put
The list, a whole shit-ton of
Only 2 (two) per
Customer and they only come
With one “L” each, which
And when I realize at the checkout
As I always realize at the checkout
Even in the best of times, which
These are not, that
I have forgotten some critical item, some
Necessary item without which a
Recipe cannot be made, it’s
There is no
Running back to get it.
Those days are as over as the
I will shed my gloves in the parking lot after
returning my cart to
The cart corral.
I will hand-sanatize
After unloading the bags from the car,
Touched the bags, which were
In the store, and if I touch the doorknob before
Hand-sanatizing, I will contaminate the DOOR KNOB which
Is a HIGH TOUCH SURFACE!
I will sit on the porch and spray each item with the disinfectant spray
Even though I am told I do not need to do that
Because although I am inclined to think
That’s arguably true, I cannot trace
A logic that would allow for it to be fine
To not do that. If I need the gloves, the mask, the
Hand sanitizer, how
Could the groceries themselves
Be safe to touch?
Are groceries magic now?
I will be very tired at this point.
I will not have a clear idea
What I touched last,
When I most recently
I am clean or
I will stare at a can of
And think ,“It’s not
As if I won’t die in the
End anyway.” I will seriously contemplate
Allowing a can of
To kill me.
“His need for tiny
Eventually, something ends
My CoviDiary, 5/16/2020: Good With Animals
BY MAX BURBANK | Theoretically, our foster rats are being adopted tomorrow. I won’t be certain until it happens, but that’s the plan. We’ve had them since… January? I think? It was definitely a while ago. Winter.
I believe I’ve mentioned them before. Mitzi and Gerty. Mitzi warmed up to us a little. Gerty, never. I imagine they were pretty traumatized by the series of events that led them to being fostered in the first place. An unlicensed breeder released a whole bunch of small mammals somewhere in upstate New York. Neighbors scrambled to rescue the ones they could, and then some small animal fostering organization stepped in and parcelled them out. I’m vague on the exact details, but that’s a basic sketch.
I thought we’d end up having them in perpetuity, considering their lifespan, and once we went into lockdown I was sure of it. Now here we are, getting ready to say goodbye.
Gerty never let me hold her, but Mitzi did, although clearly she didn’t like it much. She wanted out of the cage, so she tolerated it. It took a while, but we got to where she’d allow it. And then a few nights ago she got spooked by something and frantically tried to get away, and I had to hold on tighter than she liked as I rushed to get her back to her cage, and she bit me. Broke the skin.
It hurt quite a bit in the moment, but afterwards barely at all, and there wasn’t a lot of blood.
No big deal. Par for the course, really. I love animals, I always have. You’d think my lifelong track record of animal-related injuries would temper my enthusiasm, but I’m stupid or stubborn or patient, depending on how you look at it. I’m a real Saint Francis of Assisi, if Saint Francis had just a ton of bite scars.
The worst was Campari, a neighbor’s Golden Retriever who got me pretty good when I was six. My fault really. He liked to jump up and put his paws on my shoulders, and one time he did that and I thought, well, it would be a waste not to take this opportunity to teach him to dance. He didn’t care for it, and after a few steps he let me know. Tore my lip a little, gouged up my cheek, and took off the very top of my left ear. My dad stitched me up in our kitchen.
My Dad was a doctor. I probably should have mentioned that. He did minor repair work on me a number of times in my childhood and mostly we bypassed the emergency room. In retrospect I guess that was probably unethical, but also in retrospect I find it charming. At the time it was just what was happening, which I think is mostly what childhood is like for kids.
Once on a family vacation, we took a guided tour of Monomoy Island, off Cape Cod. There’s a National Wildlife Refuge there. I don’t think they do it anymore, but back in the ’60s the park rangers would take you over there and show you around. There was a Seagull rookery, and if you’ve never seen a Seagull chick, I want to tell you they are just about as cute as hell. Anyway, four-year-old me certainly thought so, which is why I leaned down to give one a smooch. Turns out those sweet little fuzzy puffballs have really sharp beaks and they don’t like kissing any better than Golden Retrievers like dancing.
I don’t remember how old I was when I met Uncle Murray’s chimpanzee, but I was little for sure. My grandparents lived in Brooklyn, and when I went to visit them I’d watch a regional TV show broadcast from a Coney Island attraction, “Murray Zarret’s Animal Nursery.” Uncle Murray was swell, but the real star was his chimpanzee, whose name I sadly do not recall. When I found out Coney Island was just a subway’s ride away from Brooklyn, and that my grandparents were going to take me, well, I couldn’t have been more excited. The actual place was a little different from the show. For one, the chimp was running around wearing clothes and getting up to hilarious shenanigans with Uncle Murray, who was nowhere in sight. All he had on was a diaper, and he was in a cage that looked like the drunk tank of Mayberry R.F.D. Still, he seemed excited to see me. He bounced up and down and grinned and hooted and stuck his arms out through the bars like he was gesturing me over, and as soon as I got close enough he grabbed me by both ears and slammed my head against the bars real hard.
I spent most of my life thinking that was a false memory. I mean, you have to admit, it seems unlikely. As an adult I mentioned it at a party in the context of weird stuff you swear to God happened to you as a kid that just couldn’t have. My brother, three years my senior, happily informed me that indeed it had. When the Internet came along, with a few select facts I was able to determine the place existed, had been open for business when I was a tyke, and the main draw was Uncle Murray’s chimp. I’m sure I’m not the only little kid who got his noggin bashed. I hope I’m not.
There’s at least a dozen more stories like that, but those are the best, and you get the main point, which is that I’ve never learned my lesson and I’m certain I never will. I’ve had far more pleasant experiences with animals than injuries and the only other monkey I ever palled around with didn’t hurt me at all. That’s a different story and it’s hardly worth telling, as it doesn’t feature any hilarious injuries.
I haven’t picked Mitzi up since she bit me, but if she wasn’t going away tomorrow (presumably), I’m sure I would have before the week was out. If I haven’t caught on yet, why would I now?
We made the rats a little art museum. I made rat versions of Magritte’s The Son of Man, the famous image of a French businessman whose face is obscured by a floating green apple–except in my version, it’s a businessrat, and Thomas Giansborough’s The Blue Boy, except it’s a blue rat boy. My youngest made The Scream by Edvard Munch, but it’s a rat screaming, and that Rapheal painting with the two fat little angel kids leaning on a wall, except it’s, you know, rat angel kids. My Bride lined a box with craft paper, put a dollhouse bench in it, and then we stuck Mitzi in. Gerty did not attend. She was having absolutely none of that shit.
I’d love to say it was our idea, but we saw it online, only with gerbils. I think it’s perfectly lovely all the bizarre and pointless crap people are getting up to during the most devastating public health crisis in a hundred years. Rat art museums, posing as famous paintings, sharing lists of one’s Top 10 record albums. It doesn’t hurt anyone and it takes the edge off the horror, boredom, and the knowledge that while I’m sitting at home making tiny paintings for rats, other people have to go to work and risk contagion a hell of a lot more than I do on my once-a-month trip to the grocery store.
We took pictures. They’re cute as hell. I’d share them, but I only have the free version of WordPress, and images have to be hosted. I can’t just upload them. I’d have to upgrade for that feature–and while I’ll spend hours making an art museum for a rat that bit me, there is no damn way I’m paying for anything online ever. That’s for chumps. And yes, thanks, I know that attitude is precisely why I rarely make any money off my writing. It’s just about as ironic as f**k and I’m sure there’s a lesson in it which maybe I’ll learn if I don’t die first, but considering my track record wth animals, it seems unlikely, right?
But honestly, I’m OK with Mitzi and Gerty heading off to a forever home. We never really hit it off. Gerty hates museums and Mitzi only pretends to like them because she gets her picture taken. They’re really very shallow, and I won’t miss them, and if I cry in front of my kids and a couple of complete strangers tomorrow, it’s only because I cry very easily lately.
Anyway, I’m used to being hurt by animals. On balance, it’s worth it.
My CoviDiary, 5/15/2020: OBAMAGATE!
BY MAX BURBANK | “OBAMAGATE!”
What… is… Obamagate? We know it’s a word the president Twittershouts in all caps, but what does it mean? It seems to be a talismanic magical word/battle cry like “Shazam!” or “Expecto Patronum!”–but not exactly. I offer those words because they are likely examples you know; The lighting-summoning word that transforms Billy Batson into “Captain Marvel” (or “Shazam” as he’s known these days for bullshit legal reasons, since Marvel lifted the name “Captain Marvel” from Fawcett Publications after their rival, D.C., sued it out of existence.
“Shazam” was an acronym for various Greek gods (and also the name of the wizard who granted Batson his powers!), and the Patronus spell from Harry Potter that when yelled conjures a real cool, see-through, glowy magic animal that runs at your opponent and scares the shit out of them. But neither of these examples is a true parallel to “OBAMAGATE!”–a non-specific charm that doesn’t exactly do anything at all.
I’m afraid to give an example that really works. I’m going to have to go deep-cut nerdy on you, so brace yourselves.
Who here has read Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series of high fantasy novels? To understand the value of my bringing this up at all, you need only to have read the first trilogy that begins with Lord Foul’s Bane (a very bad trilogy I thoroughly enjoyed as a teenager). It’s got some pretty dodgy stuff that hasn’t aged well, and the author’s ear for dialogue is shockingly bad, but it’s not hard to read. You can dispense with the second trilogy, (a trio of books that makes the first trilogy look pretty damn good and has the distinct feeling of being written strictly for the paycheck), and if you feel compelled to attempt the very nearly unreadable, and final, four-book trilogy, take it out from the library as it is. (An execrable and lengthy waste of paper which should be avoided at all costs) as these are not books someone should pay cash money to read.)
I have read all 10 books, presumably because I hate myself.
Short summary? A fantasy writer’s world is turned upside down after he inexplicably contracts leprosy in 1977, whereafter he gets periodically whisked off to a magical land where he spends literal eons being dyspeptic, irritable, and unpleasant while engaging in all sorts of poorly written, Tolkienesque shenanigans until the reader is pleading for the books to end like a torture victim pleads for the sweet release of death.
How much of that did I need to tell you to make my point? Almost none. But here I am, just as God made me, and this is what I do with my time. Honestly, you need only to have read the very first book (which to give you an idea of the glorious writing style, includes a character named Drool Rockworm) in order for me to make my point, and if you haven’t, I shall explain now. Attend.
In the world of these books, there are seven “words of power,” to wit:
I made a couple of those up. Giving you all seven would be too dangerous.
All the words have specific meanings that are eventually revealed to the reader with patience or self-loathing, enough to continue wading through this literary mire, but as magic words go they are pretty lame. They don’t do anything in particular, like “Shazam” or “Expecto Patronum” when you shout them. They just sort of amp you up. Get you psyched, maybe make you a little stronger, or braver, or grant a little more endurance. It’s not at all clear that the effect is anything other than a placebo.
That’s what “OBAMAGATE!” is. It’s a word of power that you hope does something for you, but you don’t really know. It’s mysterious and hermetic and users find comfort in shouting it, and have high hopes for what it might do.
No one knows what it means, least of all it’s chief proponent, Donald Trump. When asked by a reporter from the Washington Post, he responded “It’s been going on for a long time. It’s been going on from before I even got elected. And it’s a disgrace that it happened… You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the papers, except yours.” Do you remember the kid in junior high, who when asked what he thought of the reading assignment said “I read that reading assignment and I know that reading it very well, and it’s important because of how significant it is to the things that it covers.” and then brags at lunch about how he fooled the teacher? That’s Trump. Clueless, infantile, bizarrely certain and very proud of how easily he’s pulled the wool over your eyes.
“OBAMAGATE!”–which the president has tweeted as a solo word with no context or explanation several times over the past few days–is a mysterious magic word that Trump hopes like hell has the power to dispel the blame being assigned to him for a far more powerful, far darker magic word, “Coronavirus” and the ever escalating magic number associated with it that as I write this stands at 88,199 and will almost certainly have reached and then surpassed 90,000 by the time you read this.
While Trump fumbles with his ever dwindling vocabulary to hide from the world that he has no clear idea what “OBAMAGATE” actually refers to, (as opposed to what he hopes the word will achieve), a squadron of Republican elected officials and talking heads desperately spin their wheels to create meaning for him, since without it, it’s painfully clear what he wants the word to do for him, (make the world stop thinking about the pandemic), simply isn’t going to happen.
Roughly sketched, “OBAMAGATE” is coalescing around the idea of a vast conspiracy orchestrated by the former president to convince all 17 of our intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump become president. The contention of “OBAMAGATE” is to rewrite history, Soviet-style, so that it agrees with Trump’s frequent assertions that the very idea Russia interfered was never true and has always been a hoax, that everyone has been wrong all along and that the only two people on earth who ever got it right were Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. To this end, the administration has been purging all our intelligence gathering institutions of anyone in leadership with even a shred of integrity and replacing them with die hard Trump loyalists free of experience or qualifications that might give them reason to at least look embarrassed when telling outrageous, easily disproven lies.
Need a recent example? On May 13, the FBI raided Republican Senator Richard Burr’s home and seized his cell phone. Burr is almost certainly guilty of insider trading based on secret briefings he attended regarding the potential severity of the Coronavirus. Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler did exactly what Burr did, but she has not been raided by the FBI. What’s the difference between them? Well, Burr chaired the Senate intelligence committee whose bi-partisan report on Russian election interference concluded that Russia absolutely ‘meddled’ in favor of Donald Trump, and that this “meddling” was ordered by Valdimir Putin. Yesterday Burr stepped down as chair because he’s now under criminal investigation, meaning a new chair will need to be appointed by Mitch McConnell, who is going t o pick a Trump stooge like the alarmingly thin headed Tom Cotton. The new chair will undoubtedly revisit the bipartisan report and retool it to agree with Attorney General William Barr’s recent decision to recommend dropping the Department of Justice’s case against Michael Flynn, because since Russia never meddled, the entire investigation was a hoax and so the FBI had no right to ask the questions that Flynn lied to them about in his answers.
Forget it, Jake. It’s OBAMAGATE!
But see, here’s the thing, the sad, pathetic, terrifying thing about Obamagate: It doesn’t matter. Say for the sake of argument Trump and Barr and McConnell and the whole fetid, corrupt clown car of the GOP is right. Say for the sake of argument, Russia didn’t interfere in our elections (THOUGH IT IS AN ABSOLUTE, WELL DOCUMENTED FACT THEY DID) and that all the Russia, Russia, Russia, was indeed a hoax, hoax, hoax…
Who the the flying, electric, ormolu f**k CARES?!
I mean yes, yes, I care, of course I care, but in light of everything that’s going on right now, in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed 90,000 American citizens on Donald Trump’s watch, who knows how many through appalling incompetence, after three years of systematically destroying the nations capacity to confront such a calamity, who in their right mind at this moment is thinking about whether or not Russia interfered in the 2016 ELECTION, WHICH THEY TOTALLY DID? We all have much larger fish frying right now and those frying fish are us!
“OBAMAGATE!” is a magic word that can’t work. Because even if it’s powerful enough to pull a significant number of hateful, deluded morons under its spell, it’s not going to make the Coronavirus go away. It’s a virus. It doesn’t care who Obama or Trump or Putin are. It doesn’t know from Democrats and Republicans.
Obamagate is just President Nero’s latest fiddle. Nobody looked at the smoldering ruins of Rome and said “Well sure, but look at that fiddle President Nero is playing! THAT is a fucking awesome fiddle, so awesome I can’t even think about how many people I knew and loved are now carbonized barbecue or even notice that at this very moment my own legs are on fire, because holy CRAP, look at that FIDDLE!”
It’s just a word. And even magic words powerful enough to rewrite history are powerless against what’s happening right now.
My CoviDiary, 5/12/2020: Curb Appeal
BY MAX BURBANK | There are two things about this Pandemic that puzzle me. Okay, a billion and two, but it’s late and I’m tired, so two.
When I wash my hands, as I do about 80 times a day, I generally get a very nice lather. Multiple bubbles of varying size, white froth, the works. And I have read the science as to why a decent lather is important and forgotten it, but I’m happy to take on faith, a good lather is what one wants to ensure any virus upon your hands is killed. But sometimes, see, I get a shitty lather. All that happens is the soap coating my hands whitens a little and becomes a tad more opaque. I have my damn song, Mozart’s variations on Twinkle Twinkle. It’s covered early on in this diary. I whistle it generally, slow and majestic is my whistling. It’s the same damn hand soap, the same general temperature of water, and YET… sometimes a fine lather… and sometimes… crap. If you have an explanation, put it in the comments of this blog or on the Facebook posting you clicked to get here, because I am most entirely and thoroughly fucked if I know. That’s the first puzzler.
The second is, why the hell has this period of quarantine brought out the home improvement fetishist in so many of my neighbors? I don’t mean anything one does on their own. I myself have spent more than a few hours cleaning and tidying and doing yard work in my tiny-ass, postage-stamp sized yard. We all need ways to keep from thinking about death and such. No, what mystifies me is that every fifth house on my street is having work done on it. Roofing and scraping and painting and porch refurbishment and all manner of landscaping. What the hell? I’m inclined to cling to my pennies, seeing as how I’ve no idea if I will ever hold a job again. I promise you, there’s only two possible futures coming down the pike: In one of them you’ll need every bit of cash you can get your paws on, and in the other a mountain of money won’t mean shit because have you ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I haven’t, but I’m told it’s very depressing.
For those of you who do not know me personally (and I am very much afraid you are the minority of my readership, though I think it’s pretty well -stablished that you are not a successful writer until readers who do NOT know you personally are a largeish majority), I live in Salem, Massachusetts, a town so nice we’ve based much of our local economy on an atrocity that happened a few hundred years ago. We are a smallish city, but a city nonetheless. There’s little open space, it’s mostly house by house, or house driveway house. That’s the part of town I live in. I have neighbors on either side a driveways-width away. The driveway on the right is ours. Is our car in it? It is not. It is parked in the street. What is in my driveway is an assortment of tarps. They are there because the landlord of the house next to mine is having quite a bit of work done on it, just as if the world is not ending and increasing the curb appeal of his property isn’t a sign of madness.
Today they were tearing apart and rebuilding the front steps, running a gas-powered blower for no reason I could ascertain and scraping the paint off the old clapboards.
Do you have a sound you cannot tolerate? For many it’s fingernails on a blackboard, a sound you have to be at least in your forties to have ever heard. I don’t like it, but I’ve been told by a few people that just thinking about it makes them distressed. I know people who feel that way about fingers rubbing across the surface of a balloon. For me, it’s paint being scraped. That high-pitched shriek: It’s physically painful and it makes me want to crawl right the hell out of my skin. It’s also what I could not escape for twelve hours straight today because HELLO, QUARANTINE?! And I suppose I should have some perspective and be grateful I was in quarantine and not working like the poor crew of bastard in the somehow-essential professional paint-scraping business next door, but PAINT-SCRAPING reduces me to a miserable rat trapped in a corner by an enormous, chop-licking cat and as God is my witness, I am literally getting a headache right now just writing about it.
And whereas I am unemployed, my Bride is not. She is trying to teach children birth to three years old who have developmental difficulties due to identified disabilities or whose development is at risk due to certain birth or environmental circumstances over FRIKKIN’ FACETIME or ZOOM or whatever the hell platform she’s forced to use since she can’t be with them, which is really how this sort of thing is supposed to work!
Could you tell I cribbed the description of what she does directly from the website of her job? I did that because though she has been an early intervention educator most of our married lives, and I do understand what she does, I could in no way manage to tell you without clumsy verbal stumbling during which I would manage to be unintentionally but nevertheless wildly offensive. It’s probably because I am a moron and my thinker doesn’t always work so good.
So at some point during the day she texts me that I need to go explain to the work crew that they HAVE to stop using the gas-powered blower because it’s making her already difficult job impossible and although all I’m doing is cleaning the kitchen, which during this pandemic with four of us at home all the time is what I seem to do all day every day, and I do understand that her situation is much more difficult than mine, I have to say I feel very put-upon, not because I have any right to that feeling, but because listening to paint being scraped all day long has made me so ULTRA VIOLET BUGSHIT BONKERS that even six and a half hours later I am writing run-on sentences longer than the GREAT WALL OF CHINA!
And also I can’t. Tell them to stop. And not just because they are risking their health working and I am collecting unemployment while washing dishes, not just because I have no legal standing at all to demand they cease their use of power tools, not just because I am worse at confrontation than I am at writing short, clear, manageable sentences, but because we do not share a common language.
And if you think I was bad at navigating difficult descriptive language as it applies to my Bride’s work, imagine my frustration trying to relate my failure to convey to these people that they must obey my will by gesticulating wildly, speaking painfully slowly and using a volume usually reserved for the very hard of hearing. I can blame it on my sensory issues vis-a-vis the sound of paint being scraped, but we both know the real reason for my failure is that I am a human-shaped, white leather sack of mayonnaise and privilege. And did you see how I called them “These people?” On account of I’m garbage?
I’ll just conclude by saying this is the closing paragraph wherein a better writer would tie together the vagaries of handwashing, the human desire to improve ones possessions even, or maybe because of, the evident futility of such actions, and the sad fact that an awareness one benefits from institutional racism does not absolve one of benefiting from institutional racism while also acknowledging we are all mired in a frustrating and terrifying situation no matter our station and regardless of whether we have a common language with which to communicate that frustration and terror. And P.S., I wrote this last sentence purely because one-sentence paragraphs must be very short to pass muster, and honestly, just look at it.
My CoviDiary, 5/11/2020: Elon or Hypnagogia
BY MAX BURBANK | In the real world: Elon Musk has decided he is very jealous of Donald Trump’s status as the nation’s leading rich, white, asshole and is giving him a run for his money. I theorize that Musk feels there is a finite amount of privilege in the world and that Trump’s share of it threatens his own. I won’t say more than that specifically. If you have become bored with the antics of the morbidly obese, immensely powerful, illiterate man-toddler in the White House and long to see how having a healthier weight, the ability to read, and a different address might (or might not) alter their behavior, you can just Google Elon Musk and today’s date and see his argument for the personal feelings of individual wealthy, narcissistic Caucasians being the very cornerstone of the law.
Meanwhile, at stately Wayne Manor (my new nickname for my skull)
I have been indulging my passion for hypnagogia. Or trying to. It isn’t a difficult state to attain, but it is a very difficult place to stay.
Hypnagogia is the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep. It’s a threshold through which we are designed to pass and not a place to inhabit, but I am nothing if not an inveterate threshold lingerer. I was born to stand in the doorway, or hang part way out the window. I like swimming well enough, but I mean to wade for a good long time first, because wading is the shit.
It begins like this for me: I don’t know if this is perfectly normal or if I have some sort of defect, but if I close my eyes and look for it… In the pink/green non-color behind my eyelids, seemingly drifting in the distance, is a boiling point. A tiny scotoma of nothingness around which the texture of space seems to ripple and bubble. And if I concentrate on it, my brain relaxes, images start to form, there is often a sense of motion, of things whizzing past as if I am in a car or on a ride moving at great speed, I pass through landscapes or soar like a ghost through impossible architecture.
I’d tell you more (and you’ve probably been there yourself, if briefly) but I can’t, apart from vague bits and pieces. I think hypnagogia only exists when the part of your brain that remembers goes to sleep before the rest of you. It’s a place of complex thought and intricate scenarios, important whispered messages and wildy detailed images, but none of it is recorded. Things blossom and fade almost instantly, entire gorgeous trains of thought vanish into fog banks. If you try to hold on too much, the state is broken, the sensations vanish, but relax your mental grip too much and you pass through into sleep. Maintaining hypnagogia requires a very specific concentration. You must attend, but not consider. And eventually sleep wins, except for the rare occasions you frustrate yourself into insomnia.
I prefer it to dreaming. Especially just now. Not that I don’t like dreaming. I’d better. I’m doing it a lot. At least I think I am.
I have found that during times in my life marked by increased stress and sadness, I dream more. Or maybe that’s not right. I feel as if I dream more, but I remember the dreams less. I wake with the sensation that I have been dreaming for ages, through ages, and for an instant as I wake I have some grasp on where I’ve been, but then it’s gone and I’m up, lying on the shores of a place that in many ways I do not want to be. And I think, “Don’t have the bad thought. Don’t think about the bad thing.” But then I do. And here I am. I was one place and now I am another.
That’s what the dreams I can’t remember feel like, all I have left on waking is the feeling I have been some other place, another country with different rules and geography. It’s not one dream, or a series of dreams, it’s not dreams at all, it’s not something, it’s somewhere.
And waking feels like a loss. A whole other life I’ve lived, I was living moments ago, fading to nothing like mist burning off a lake. And I don’t like that loss. If all I remember is the feeling I’ve lost something, I’d rather not remember at all. I went somewhere and all I got was this T-shirt that says I don’t remember where I went. I don’t want that T-shirt.
Don’t tell me to keep a dream journal, don’t tell me about writing it down the instant I wake up, I’ve tried all that and mostly all it does is stop me dreaming at all. Or the notes I take bring back back memories with no feeling attached, like favorite photographs you’ve looked at far too many times until they’ve become contentless, faded images.
In dreams all I remember is the feeling that I’ve walked away from a place as real as this one that I can’t remember. That feeling of having left is the only memento I bring with me, but that feeling doesn’t even belong to dream. That’s the feeling of wakefulness, a memory of a lack of memory.
Hypnagogia offers only one memory, but it’s the memory of the feeling I was there.
I don’t mean I don’t like it here. I mean, honestly, I don’t just lately. But there are still people I love here, people like to see, things I like to do, places I like to go, and though I can’t go very many places now, I like my things, and this is where I keep them.
And clearly just now I don’t like being away either because I can’t seem to hang onto any of it, dreams aren’t built to hang on to, and letting go of a thing you can’t hold onto is certainly an apt metaphor for everything, but it’s also sad.
So what I like most is standing right here and looking at there.
It’s like in school, where you’d tip, tip, tip your chair back, reaching for that perfect point of weightless balance, and when you hit that sublimely sweet spot, how long could you hold it before the teacher yelled at you and you fell over backwards to uproarious laughter and humiliation, or forwards, your teeth snapping shut painfully on the tip of your tongue when the chair’s front legs slammed the floor. Either scenario should have deterred you from doing it again, but let’s be honest.
My CoviDiary, 5/8/2020: Too Pure to Get Sick
BY MAX BURBANK | So I’m a little bit irritated, because apparently I am not in sync with the larger media zeitgeist.
My last My CoviDiary entry was, you might have noticed, a little high-strung in it’s tone. I stand by it. I felt yesterday, and I still feel today, that the Justice Department’s decision to “drop” the case against former National Security adviser and hatchet-faced creep Michael Flynn seemed like a watershed moment in the collapse of the American experiment. I felt it wasn’t just a dark day in a dark time, but a deeply unsettling and significant moment in the history of the United States. I had an expectation that when I woke, it would be a major headline and that there would be some quality analysis in the leading platforms of record that would fill in the blanks on elements of the story that were still unclear to me. This was not the case.
I don’t mean to say there wasn’t any coverage. There was some, but it mostly felt like, “Well, we wrote a story about it last night when it broke, what more do you want? It’s just another signpost on the ever steeper flume ride to hell were all strapped in to, and I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty numb to it at this point, and if that numbness seems indistinguishable from a continuation of the normalization of completely abnormal political behavior, well, I’m sure I’m sorry.”
I am not a student of political science. My major was theater, in which I hold a Bachelor of Science, a degree held only by me, owing to the oddness of my transcript when I transferred to Emerson College from Reed College, something no one had ever done before and probably hasn’t done since. I am just barely a pundit, having published comedic political analysis in only one paper. I am certainly not a journalist, a job that seems like way more work and way less fun than I’m up for. And I want to be very clear that I was totally blind ided by Donald Trump’s victory, something I was still calling “a demographic impossibility” 12 hours before he won. So it is quite possible that I am simply wrong and it’s all just, to paraphrase Monty Python, “The greatest miscarriage of American justice since last Tuesday.” See, they said British Justice. Because they’re British, and it was a long time ago, not now. Anyway, I thought that was a howlingly funny line when I was 12, and I still do.
But I just have this feeling, he said, totally refusing to let what seems somehow like a personal attack go, even while making it sound like he’d intended to indeed LET IT GO, I just have this feeling that as has happened many times in my adult life, the general thrust of the professional writing class is to treat all political behavior, no matter how transgressive, as within the envelope, which at times like these requires an expansion of the envelope until it is the size of a damn aircraft carrier, which makes for a pretty f**king unusable envelope, doesn’t it? I mean, when it’s that Goddamn big, it seems pretty obvious it’s not really anything you could reasonably call envelope at all anymore–unless you’re attempting to mail an aircraft carrier, in which case I beg your pardon. I wouldn’t want to castigate you in the middle of shipping a ship. Get it? Shipping a ship? It’s funny.
And now I won’t let it go, but I will move on.
It was announced yesterday that one of the President’s personal valets had tested positive for the Coronavirus. It’s shocking. I was unaware the president had even one personal valet, let alone multiple valets. It seems like the sort of thing rich British people in PBS costume dramas have, not American presidents, especially not crass, loudmouthed, uncouth, slovenly, fat, old, idiot, orange presidents, lolling about in their off the rack, mumu-style suits, their ridiculous novelty-length ties dangling between spindly spider legs that seem to have been commandeered from a much thinner body, as they stuff their repulsive, jowly, toad faces with stacks of cold hamberders and slap the keyboards of their phones with stunted, greasy fingers. I mean, it’s hard to photoshop a personal valet into that image, isn’t it?
I’m kidding (I’m not), the shocking thing is that Trump, a man who refuses to wear a mask on principle, the principle being that he is a moron, has been directly exposed to the Coronavirus!
Then, this morning, it was revealed that a spokesperson for Vice President Pence had tested positive, and while the press did not reveal her name in deference to her privacy, Trump casually outed her as Katie Miller, a woman married to none other than presidential advisor and dimestore nosferatu Stephen Miller! Again, shocking! It staggers the imagination that an arguably human woman would consent to a proposal of any kind from Stephen Miller, let alone a proposal of marriage!
I’m kidding (I’m really, really not), the shocking thing is that in the space of less than 24 four hours, the President and Vice President had both been exposed to a deadly virus!
Both gentlemen assure us they have been tested and are negative, but A.) The administration, if it didn’t want people to doubt statements like this, might now regret their conscious choice to jettison every single shred of credibility they might even have had, and B.) Have you seen how the test works? There is no way the President allows someone to stick a giant fucking Q-tip up all the way up his nose when he can simply insist that every single person who has contact with him gets a giant f**king Q-tip shoved up their noses on the hot regular. AND he is too stupid to notice that despite this proactive protocol, somehow his hoity-toity personal valet tested positive.
So that makes it a bit more alarming that after their exposures, the President and Vice President toddled out into the world to have close, unmasked contact with multiple other people instead of going into quarantine as the CDC recommends.
Eight World War II veterans – the youngest of them aged 96 – joined President Trump at a wreath-laying ceremony Friday commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. White House officials described these extremely high-risk veteran’s decision to journey to Washington, potentially exposing themselves multiple times to a virus almost always lethal to men of their advanced age, as “Choosing nation over self.” That seems to me an awfully flowery way of saying they offered themselves as human sacrifices or allowed themselves to be used as props without regard to their health, depending on how cynical you are currently feeling.
Asked by the press about whether it was safe to drag them out, let alone parade before them maskless, Trump responded (and I want to be absolutely clear that while I am an alleged humorist, I DID NOT make this up) “They’re so pure, it will never happen, alright? They’ve lived a great life.” Because, you know, that’s how viruses work. A high level of purity is better than antibodies. It’s science.
You’ll be happy to know that just in case this comment was taken as flippant, he added some twaddle about how on the off chance he was infected, the wind wasn’t blowing in the right direction to get Coronavirus on them, and it was real windy.
Whether we hear about them or not, it’s a solid lock there’s more than the two cases we know about in the West Wing. If Stephen Miller doesn’t already have it, that’s only an argument that the undead can’t catch it, but we don’t know if they’re carriers or not. Two confirmed cases were wandering around the West Wing touching stuff and breathing on people and you know they didn’t wear masks because if you look at every recent White House photo, no one in a picture with Trump or Pence is ever wearing a mask. They’ve made it into some kind of imbecilic symbolic gesture of loyalty and it is clearly required.
Two cases doesn’t stay two cases in an enclosed environment. That’s not how contagious diseases work. And this gang of proudly idiotic rodeo clowns with their absolute refusal to treat this seriously are certainly shoveling coal on the fire. They’ll keep it under wraps the next few days, but the White House is going to be a hot spot. And this is just my opinion, but I don’t think anyone working there has the required level of purity to fend of COVID-19.
My CoviDiary, 5/7/2020: F**cking Republicans, Man
BY MAX BURBANK | I had shit I was writing today. A whole entry sketched out in my head about dreams and hypnagogic sleep and liminal space. Stuff I wanted to write! But no. The Justice Department has moved to drop its case against Michael Flynn.
Back when I was writing a semi-regular column for Chelsea Now, this happened more and more frequently after Trump assumed the presidency. I remember when I still would have used the word “elected.” I recall those ancient days now with equal parts bittersweet nostalgia and shame. I’d have something ready to go, outlined, often first draft already done, and then some brand new boulder of bullshit would be released from the top of Trump hill and crush anything else I might have written about to bloody, bullshit smeared pulp, leaving me no choice but to describe what being run over by a bullshit boulder was like. The whole idea of the CoviDiary was that if I wrote stuff daily, I might escape the Trump effect, but no, that was a wispy-ass gossamer pipe dream, wasn’t it? Nostalgia and shame over the audacity to hope I might write things I wanted to write about, AGAIN! “Nostalgia and shame” is the signature scent of the Trump era.
I can’t in good conscience write about anything else today, can I? I mean, if on 9/11 I had planned a lovely little essay on the metaphorical implications of the life cycle of the June Bug, I couldn’t very well write it, could I? That kind of freedom is a privileged state!
No. And I cannot write about anything else today other than the absolute end of the Justice Department as an independent institution. It is now, undeniably, officially and totally an arm of the Republican party, and a very dangerous one. Because once you have established that loyalists are innocent of any charge by definition, there is only one thing anyone not loyal, or simply not loyal enough, can be.
“Dropping the case” against Michael Flynn, a man who pleaded guilty, announces as federal policy that any attempt to question the president can, and almost certainly will, be criminalized and punished. And who will determine the legality of these punishments? Eventually, and almost certainly on a dramatically hastened time table, the Supreme Court, who are now an entirely reliable 5-4 lock. Once upon a time one might have dreamed that there was some chance that at least one of the Republican Justices might value justice and the rule of law over a permanent Republican stranglehold on power, but those days are gone.
Trump has already laid out the inevitable next steps on Twitter. If you accept the idea that Flynn was always innocent and was falsely and deliberately railroaded into pleading guilty, you HAVE to investigate the investigators who HAVE to already be guilty, because if they aren’t guilty, then your decision to drop the case against Flynn has no basis or merit. Dropping the case against Flynn is the precursor to locking up his investigators.
Flynn’s assumed innocence is based on an absurd premise, that he was “trapped” into lying. That is not how lies work. Under questioning, you have the right to remain silent, and anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Does William Barr think no one in America is old enough to remember Dragnet?! Lying is a CHOICE and lying to the FBI is a CRIME! The Justice Department now argues, as Trump currently does, that there was nothing wrong in Flynn’s telephone call to Kislyak, which even if true (IT ISN’T) there was no reason to lie about it and the lie was a crime! Jesus wept, does Trump expect us to forget he publicly stated he fired Flynn for lying to the Vice President about the nature of the call?
William Barr knows all of this, just as he knows every American who isn’t an idiot knows it. He is choosing to ‘drop’ the case, (and SIDEBAR, how the F**K do you “drop” a case that’s ALREADY ENDED?! FLYNN PLEADED GUILTY!) This isn’t an enforcement decision, this is a message to America and a statement of intent. It’s an announcement that the Justice Department is no longer an independent institution within the executive branch. Like the Republican Senate and the Supreme Court which have abandoned any pretense of being coequal branches of government, The Justice Department is officially announcing they no longer serve or represent the American people or the concept of justice, they are Trump’s personal lawyers.
This action is purposeful. They had other avenues available. Trump has the power to pardon Flynn. Could that action have alienated a single one of the minority that still lavishly supports Trump? Of course not. This is a statement and a threat issued to those able to understand it that the law now belongs to Trump.
The Supreme Court belongs to Trump. The House is powerless against the Senate, which belongs to Trump. No investigation they can mount will go anywhere because the Justice Department will not support it. Subpoenas were treated as optional before today, now simply issuing one could spark an investigation, a charge, a guilty verdict and imprisonment.
I’d say there’s an even chance the Justice Department will soon begin an investigation of Biden for something. I virtually guarantee you they will threaten to jail Hunter Biden as leverage.
We all hope and pray for November, but Trump just installed a crony as postmaster general, so I’m fairly sure vote by mail is off the table if there even still is a post office by then. What is to stop Trump from cancelling the election because of the virus? Do you imagine the cognitive dissonance of him saying we have to open the country up for business no matter the cost would keep him from saying it isn’t safe to congregate to vote? Or he could simply say he’d uncovered a plot within the Democratic party to enlist the aid of foreign nations, that it was too late to keep the election from being totally compromised so we’d have to “delay” it until we figured out “what the hell is going on.” Wouldn’t it be completely on brand for him to find the Democrats guilty of something he’s done himself at very least twice?
Who would stop him? What mechanism would they use, what institutions could they rely on? The people could pour into the streets, but Trump knows the only people stupid enough to congregate in protest during a lethal pandemic are his supporters!
The Republicans are swinging for the bleachers. Letting Flynn walk is just the opening salvo. They will investigate and prosecute the people, their own people, who prosecuted him. Stone will never go to jail, Manafort will be set free, and they will keep flexing their muscles until the dream of an America that was a nation of laws, not men, a dream they apparently never shared, is over.
I have one hope left. The GOP may be bold. They are without shame and they tower over us in gall and nerve. But they are not, and this is key, competent.
Do not let their astounding track record of falling upward fool you. These are people who honestly believe Jared Kushner is a go-to guy. These are people who honestly believe that the Corona Virus is only going to kill Democrats, and will ignore the fact that virtually every one of their power players is not only in a high risk group, but are too afraid of Trump to wear a fucking mask. These are people who routinely tie their shoes together every morning and still have not figured out why they start each day off by breaking their collective nose. These are people who with very few exceptions have been willing to throw away any pretense of having a semi-coherent, or even definable set of principles in order to follow someone most of them know is stark raving mad and the rest are so bone stupid it’s a wonder they have enough brain function to keep their autonomic nervous systems pumping blood and oxygen through their useless, futile bodies.
This is not a cohort designed to succeed in taking over the country. This is a gaggle of eldery white men in ugly suits with only one thing besides racism in common, and that is a death wish big enough to be seen from space.
And I truly, truly believe that they are so staggeringly inept there is a halfway decent chance they won’t take all of us with them.
My CoviDiary, 5/5/2020: My Anxiety
BY MAX BURBANK | I had a rather stressful day.
I’m a fairly anxious individual under normal circumstances, and these are not normal times. Depending on how well you know me, it might come as a surprise that I have… difficulty with anxiety. Or maybe it’s no surprise at all. I like to think I hide it reasonably well, but who knows. That kind of thing is hard to judge accurately from the inside. What I do know is that at almost 58, anxiety and I are old friends, so mostly we just roll together and generally I don’t let it keep me from doing stuff. It just tends to make doing that stuff somewhat less enjoyable.
I’ve been trying not to leave the house unnecessarily, but today it became necessary twice. In the morning we had to take a sick cat to the vet. That wasn’t too bad, they have it set up so you only have to get out of the car very briefly and you don’t go inside, just pass off the cat carrier. My bride handed him over and I got him back when they were done, and that was when a hand touched mine. We’d been in such a hurry getting out the door I’d forgotten to glove up. I still don’t have all this down. It was just a touch and we had sanitizer in the car, so no big deal, right? Still, between finding a vet who’d see him and racing over there and worrying about if we’d be done in time for my wife to make a computer meeting she absolutely had to be at or if she’d have to go and I’d wait for my mother-in-law, Rayleen, to come and get me, who isn’t quarantining with us, so we were trying to have as little face to face contact with her as possible and then the TOUCH, the PHYSICAL CONTACT with another human being, which probably wasn’t going to accidentally kill me or lead to me accidentally killing someone else but you DON’T KNOW, IT COULD!… It was a lot. I should say the Vet thinks the cat is probably fine, just so you know that’s not where this story is going. Sorry I didn’t say it sooner. Like I said, I don’t have all this down yet. I don’t think any of us do.
As it turns out, we got our cat in and out fast enough my mother-in-law did not have to come out and get me, so that was good, but as it turns out I’d be seeing her quite soon anyway. She’s fine. See, I told you that right away. I’m getting better at this.
I had to see her because of a mouse, and to understand that you have to know my mother-in-law, about whom at very least one book should be written if not more. So I’ll try to make this brief, just give you stuff for context. She’s basically Snow White where animals are concerned. Once when she lived in the high desert in California, she was out tending to her various animals and an African Grey Parrot flew down and landed on her shoulder. One assumes an escaped pet, I mean, what else, but it found Rayleen and that was that. When she first moved out here she stayed with us while she was looking for a house. The first day she was there, a barn owl roosted on our porch. I’d never seen one before and I have’t since. She has rescued numerous animals and nursed them back to health under conditions that seemed absurdly hopeless. In the desert people would bring her injured animals they’d found so it’s no surprise it is still going on now that she’s here.
And that morning a work friend of my bride’s had found an abandoned baby mouse. Old enough to have fur, but still no bigger than the tip of your finger, and she drove it down from New Hampshire to give it to Rayleen. I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t know what happens to the mouse. This all happened today. So far so good. But if she was going to try to work her magic, she needed stuff she didn’t have. Specifically, baby formula and cotton balls to make bedding out of.
The formula I could have picked up at the nearby supermarket. I’ve been there a few times, their set up is familiar enough I don’t panic. It’s a small market and pretty tight for staying six feet from other shoppers, and it’s got little cul de sacs in it that won’t fit more than one person. A few days ago I waited for this one A-hole to get out of the bread area for what felt like fifteen years while he hemmed and hawed about which of the available loaves was acceptable to him.
The cotton balls were another matter, and we were all out. So, I was going to have to walk into town to Walgreens and get the cotton balls and I didn’t want to go to any more potential vectors of contagion than I had to, so just Walgreen it is.
Everything went fine. I’m telling you that now so you won’t worry. To get to the point of this entry I don’t even need to tell you about the Walgreens part, but I will say, simply for flavor, that when I asked where baby formula was, an employee told me it was with baby stuff and walked away. I didn’t make a thing of it. I’m well aware her day is a thousand times more stressful than mine.
My point is, walking into town, my anxiety level was high enough that there was no way I could enjoy any aspect of being outside in the fresh air on a beautiful spring day.
Or so I thought.
I am a life-long connoisseur of overheard dialogue. Before I went deaf in one ear I was an inveterate eaves-dropper, and I would be still if not for the fact that I can’t trust what I hear. My brain fills in the blanks. This can be downright hilarious in it’s own right, but if I don’t know for certain what I heard, it doesn’t count as overheard dialogue. My game, my rules. So I have to be pretty close to people now, or they have to be pretty loud.
And the two young men crossing toward me as I made my way to Walgreens were satisfactorily loud.
And angry. They were very angry. With each other. And not in that “we’re the kind of friends who say terrible things to each other” way. I’m sure they knew each other, and they may have been friends, but certainly not at that moment. The angrier one was really lighting into the other one, just giving it to him. Once in a while the less angry one would interject something sullen. I couldn’t hear them well yet, and I was desperately curious, but under the circumstances, I didn’t want to get close. One of them was not wearing a mask and they were both quite agitated, the kind of rage that can get redirected at a bystander easily enough, especially if they think you looked at them ‘the wrong way’. And I’ve got a resting looking-at-you-the-wrong-way face. It’s been remarked upon more than once.
So I stopped about twelve paces from where they were going to cross my path, even though I was keenly aware that refusing to come near them was exactly the sort of thing that could be taken as ‘looking the wrong way’ by an already angry person, but what else could I do?
Standing there my anxiety felt like what standing very close to a fire truck, all sirens blaring, sounds like. I managed to not totally freak out and thank goodness I didn’t or i’d have missed this:
The angrier one shouts at his companion, very loudly so there is zero doubt in my mind what the exact words I heard were-
“Yo, you a straight up, hundred percent hermaphrodite, cheap-ass bastard!”
Because no matter how bad things get, the universe has little gifts for us, if we do not let our fears keep us from practicing mindfulness.
My CoviDiary, 5/3/2020: Aside From That, Mrs. Lincoln…
BY MAX BURBANK | So… Donald Trump… the President of the United States … at a time when more than 66,000 Americans have died of the Coronavirus, a pandemic ravaging the nation and the world… a death toll that some feel might be… just a little bit lower… if the president had… let’s say… “managed” things a bit better… decided it would be a good idea… A good idea to have a virtual town hall, hosted by Fox News, where he would take questions from average Americans… and that this virtual town hall should be broadcast from… the Lincoln Memorial.
Because he thought that would be… a good idea.
I’m trying to do the impossible here. I’m trying to imagine what went on inside his head. Was there a moment where he said to himself, “Hey! I’ve got a good idea. Things have been kind of rocky lately. But I think a really good way to get back on track… remind the American people that I have everything totally under control and we are doing terrific… would be to hold a virtual town hall at the Lincoln Memorial. Just me, some Fox interviewer, a camera crew… and a giant, stone Abe Lincoln. Just me and a much, much, much larger gigantic memorial statue of the man generally accepted to be not just the greatest Republican who ever lived, but maybe the best president ever. A huge, God-like statue that dwarfs me metaphorically and yes, literally! Because that sounds like a really, really good idea. And hey! If I’m super lucky, maybe FOX News will put me in a weird-ass chair that, inexplicably, is so tall my feet just… dangle. Like I was a tiny child. Like I was a baby in a high chair, sitting at Abraham Lincoln’s feet. Why, a chair like that would take my very good idea and make it… well, just about perfect.”
Ladies and gentleman, in all seriousness, what the hell? What the blue-eyed, slap me hard and call me Matilda CHRIST is going on? One of these days, my friends, one of these days I will lay every single proof I have upon the table that none of this is real, but rather an unimaginably cruel, technically dazzling and astoundingly poorly scripted simulation, and this moment of near agonizing Dadaism will almost certainly be in my Top Ten.
And lest you think this moment in history was anything less than completely glorius, all that icing came with a glistening cherry on top. Trump trotted out that poor bastard Mike Pence. And he is a poor bastard. I hate him, and he’s a terrible, terrible human being, but he is also undeniably a poor suffering bastard whose life is an unimaginable festival of public humiliation, mitigated only by the fact that being a poor suffering bastard whose life is an unimaginable festival of public humiliation is the only thing that provides him with as close an approximation of human erotic pleasure as he will ever experience.
So special guest star Mike Pence, in the presence of a giant marble Honest Abe, told the nation that he should have worn a mask when he visited the Mayo Clinic, and event which led to widely circulated photographs of Pence being the only person in a COVID-19 ward NOT WEARING A MASK. If you’d guessed that there would never be a worse photo of Pence than the time he touched the sciencey space thing with the big sign on it that said, “DON’T TOUCH THE SCIENCEY SPACE THING!,” you’d have been wrong. So pro tip, don’t waste your time thinking “Mike Pence Unmasked” is the stupidest photo you’ll ever see of him.
But Pence said he was wrong. He was wrong no to wear a mask at the big hospital where every single other person was wearing a mask. It’s pretty surprising. It sure wasn’t Pence’s idea to apologize. Know how I know that? ‘Cause generally speaking, ventriloquist dummies don’t get to WRITE THEIR OWN DIALOGUE!
So whose idea was it? Whose idea was it to get Mike Pence to stand there with a gargantuan-ass statue of the ol’ Rail-Splitter scowling down on him in disapproval and say he was wrong?
Well, I’m gonna guess it was the one person with the authority to tell Mike Pence what to do who has never, ever, in their entire life said they were wrong about anything.
And it’s delicious, because you know why Mikey didn’t mask in the first place! He didn’t mask because Donald Trump doesn’t mask! And if he had appeared in public looking like he knew better than Donald Trump? Nikki Hailey would have been VP before the sun set.
So when Pence positioned himself right in front of a raw sewage firehose for Trump, he must have known that hose was going to get turned on. He must have known from the instant that first flash went off, if not before, he was posing for a picture that would make the touching that thing with the big don’t touch sign on it look like a photo of him judging the sack race at a church picnic.
But he did it anyway, because he is a world class humiliation junkie and he has found a boss who loves humiliating him almost as much as he enjoys being humiliated.
And then, and THEN, to be made to apologize for it?! In public?! At the Lincoln FU**ING Memorial?! Well, now that is a thing that could only happen to a very, very naughty boy. A boy that naughty might have to wear a very special mask the next time he visits a hospital. The kind with a zipper over the mouth.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, Trump said he’s treated worse than Lincoln. Which even I would find unfair.
It would be enough to see him treated just the same.
My CoviDiary, 5/1/2020: Very Good People
BY MAX BURBANK | A shortish entry tonight, folks. I’ve been working on part seven of The Cusp of History, the George Herbert Walker Bush section, and these entries take a bit of time, as I am working with actual historical record and not just spuming out my blowhole as I usually do.
I am still dwelling on yesterday’s events, spurred on perhaps by a presidential tweet regarding matters in Michigan. I’d like to quote it for you in full, if I may.
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”–A Tweet by Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, 5/1/2020
“These are very good people.”
I would argue that they are not.
“Very good people” do not force their way into a State House, armed with automatic weapons. I am reminded of when the president called Nazis chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” “Very fine people.” He is, on his best day, a very poor judge of character.
People who try to affect the law by intimidation, fear and the threat of violence are not “protesters.” They are “terrorists.” By definition. Their goal is to effect change by making people afraid. That is the job description of a terrorist.
Think on that for a moment. The president of the United States is urging the duly elected governor of one of the 50 states that comprise the United States… to negotiate… with terrorists. He is suggesting that in America, important decisions regarding public health and safety should be influenced by the threat of violence as opposed to the measured, legal process of representative democracy.
I could be wrong, but I feel like if, at his next signing ceremony, a group of heavily armed men force their way into the room and demand he rewrite his executive order in a way that they found more pleasing, he would not set down his pen and say, “I see that you are angry, but you seem like good people. You want your lives back, safely, as is almost always the case when people point guns at you. I’m inclined to give a little and put out this fire. Let’s talk. Let’s make a deal.”
I feel it is far more likely he would have them arrested,and if in the process they were “roughed up” or “carried out in stretchers,” he would not object. And if, God forbid, if it’s even something you can imagine, if these armed “protesters” happened to be anything but white? He would call for their execution, as is his right, since armed insurrection against a duly elected executive official is treason, which carries the death penalty, a charge he has leveled frequently and with much less provocation.
I’d also add that polls indicate these armed, exclusively white men who so desperately need haircuts that they are willing to threaten murder to attain them, represent a minority of the people of Michigan: 62% of those polled approve of Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order. So our president is endorsing the idea that a minority group should be yielded to to “put out the fire.”
The only people in America who’d agree that you can put out a fire by giving arsonists what they want are OTHER ARSONISTS!
This is the Tweet of a man who does not respect the rule of law. A man who feels the threat of violence is a legitimate, domestic political tool. A man who endorses dealing with terrorists, as long as they are his terrorists. It’s not plausible to argue that such a man would hesitate to use actual violence if the implicit threat does not achieve his goals.
He is actively encouraging that violence. He is going to get someone, quite possibly the Governor, killed.
And when he gets it, we already know what he will say.
“I don’t take any responsibility at all.”
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