EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, find the latest diary entry, then other June content. Click here for the May entries. 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. Oh, and by the by, we’ve stopped deleting the “uc” part of Mr. Burbank’s liberal use of the “F” word because, well, when he invokes it, it’s in the service of a righteously angry response to the times we’re living in. So, you know, Trigger Alert: Spicy language abounds, should you choose to proceed ahead.
My CoviDiary 6/29/2020: The Misuse of Superlatives
BY MAX BURBANK | Here’s something Kayleigh McNinny [author’s spelling; he knows it’s McEnany], White House Press Secretary for the last couple of months, actually said today. I have not altered, edited or enhanced this statement in any way.
“The president does read and he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.”
So much, as the kids say, to unpack. She’s responding to questions about recent revelations that the Russians have been paying the Taliban a bounty for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. The president has denied knowing anything about this, although it’s highly unlikely he would not have been informed of this by various intelligence agencies which concluded this months ago. The idea was floated that maybe this information was included in one of Trump’s (supposedly daily) intelligence briefings, but he just never read it. See, it’s been widely reported that Trump does not always read his briefings and in fact doesn’t want to even hear them read aloud if he’s not mentioned in them. So that’s what the Press Secretary is responding to here.
Trump does read, specifically intelligence, is McNinny’s contention, although I think it’s clear that she’s also defending the idea that Trump is able to read, period. It’s telling she feels a need to reinforce the idea Trump has that capability, as it acknowledges that many people believe (by which I mean I have concluded and will tell anyone who’ll listen) that Trump is functionally illiterate. He can clearly sound out words and have some limited understanding of the noises coming out of his mouth as a sequence of “words” that convey a “meaning,” but his reading comprehension is obviously very poor. The same problem exists when Trump “consumes intelligence verbally,” whatever the hell that means beyond the obvious, ie. that Kayleigh is something of a dope who does not word real good when the public saying portion of her job parts is in play.
The remainder of her statement, that “This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.” is just laughable, obviously untrue, bizarre and absurd. “Most” is a superlative; The “Most informed person,” Trump in this case, according to McNinny, would know more about “threats we face” than any other person, not just in the united states, but on the entirety of planet Earth!
There are roughly 7.5 BILLION people on earth! It is staggeringly unlikely that Donald Trump is the “Most informed” person on the planet about anything! Why does this ridiculous claim need to be made? It would be in no way insulting to suggest that Trump, or anybody, that while perhaps informed on a subject, maybe even well informed, is not THE MOST INFORMED person on ANY SUBJECT of the 7.5 BILLION people that frikkin’ exist!
What IS it that makes it seem to be a literal job requirement that Trump’s underlings attribute to him near Godlike prowess? Trump has already mastered the misuse of superlatives himself; He once declared he was not simply not racist, but “The least racist person anywhere in the world,” which is a weird way to describe a man who was the chief proponent of the birther conspiracy and who recently said George Floyd was looking down from heaven and appreciating the “great day in terms of equality” after an unexpectedly strong jobs report was announced! AND he was knowingly using numbers he knew had been falsely inflated! This is a guy who was successfully sued in the 1970s by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent apartments to African Americans! If he’s the “Least racist person anywhere in the world,” does that mean every single other person alive is more racist than that!? I gotta say, that’s kind of UNLIKELY! What’s wrong with someone who can say shit like that with a straight face, but STILL needs everyone around him to spout the same preposterous crap? And we’re all so used to it at this point that while irritating, it no longer strikes us as insanely aberrant!
So. While it took me a goodly while to get here, that is what I mean to be writing about today. The following is a list of statements the Press Secretary could have made regarding Donald Trump’s abilities that would be equally outlandish as her claim that “This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.”
“This president, I’ll tell you, can bench press 17.5 tons, which is way more weight than any person in history has ever pressed when it comes to pressing heavy stuff.”
“This president, I’ll tell you, can not only spin a web any size, but has already caught all the thieves in the world, just like flies, leaving Spiderman unemployed and looking like a real pussy in comparison when it comes to arachnid themed super heroic thief catching.”
“This President, I’ll tell you, is 75 feet tall. His shins alone are 35 feet tall. He has the most towering shins of any man on the planet earth, and in fact all planets in the solar system, which is a pretty sweet deal, in that all chicks who are nines and tens are helplessly attracted to men with superhumanly long shins.”
“This president, this one right here about whom I will tell you right now, beat the stuffing out of former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, who wept openly like a little girl and repeatedly called Trump “sir,” and then this president we are speaking of travelled back in time, a power only he among all men has, and kicked the ass of every heavyweight champion there ever was and Muhammad Ali himself admitted to being more racist than Trump right before he passed out from the masterful brilliance of Trump’s TKO.”
“This president, the one you cannot look directly at any more than you could look at a total solar eclipse, A THING HE HIMSELF CAN DO FOR AS LONG AS HE LIKES WITHOUT INCURRING ANY RETINAL DAMAGE AT ALL, is able to, at will, poop a magical Unicorn named Bo-Cephalus, who will carry him willingly anywhere in the Universe he desires to go at 17 TIMES THE SPEED OF LIGHT!”
“Do not dare to look at this president who is THE MOST PERFECT MAN and who just yesterday beat Jesus at arm wrestling three out of three times and then gave His dad a COSMIC SWIRLY, a thing he he did without breaking a sweat, as he is the most omnipotent being in all creation whom NONE MAY QUESTION lest his very gaze ANNIHILATE THEM!!”
“This president, a world renowned baker who makes by far the flakiest croissants ever baked by any pastry chef living or dead, to the point where not a single one of them will ever bake again due to the crushing weight of their shame, so that now if you want a croissant you have no choice but to get it directly from him, but forget it, because why would he give a worm like you a can of dog food, let alone a croissant so mind-bendingly awesome, it makes the next best croissant taste LITERALLY like a croissant-shaped lump of WEASEL EXCREMENT?!?”
“This president, the source of all life, is so far superior to every so-called being which has ever laid false claim to life, that all must be consumed by the Trump like the worthless, inanimate hamberders they are, existing only for the purpose of acknowledging that all they were ever meant to be is the food of the Trump, before parading one by one into the Trump belly until none remain as they are subsumed into the flesh of the Trump and there is only Trump, no land, no sea, no sky, no space, only Trump.”
And I promise you, when we get to the point where his people are actually saying shit like that, and they are well on their way… he still won’t be satisfied. It won’t be enough. If every voice that refused to sing his superlative praises was violently extinguished, he’d still want more, he’d require those who remained to create new words that meant stronger than the strongest, more magnificent tan the most magnificent, not the best but the bestest, and soon after that, the bestestest, the bestestestest, until the weight of his neediness collapses upon itself, an massive black hole of pure insatiability.
Because that’s the only superlative that truly, actually describes him. This president, I’ll tell you, is the most bottomless void on planet Earth when it comes to human emptiness.
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 6/29/2020: Breaking Broken News
BY MAX BURBANK | So there’s an article on the CNN website just now headlined “Trump’s National Security Abominations.” It’s a multiply sourced bombshell expose about the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders. It’s less than complimentary. You can read it here:
And you should. It’s explosive and bold. A real shocker and it should be mind boggling, except it really, really isn’t. The basic gist is that in calls with foreign leaders, Trump is wildly unprepared, amazingly ignorant, sees everything as a transaction between the world and him personally, is actively abusive to our allies, especially female leaders, is obsequious and fawning to our foes as long as he perceives them to be “strong,” is routinely and easily played most particularly by Putin and Erdrogan and is in every way exactly what you’d expect him to be like if you’ve been paying any attention at all for the last three and a half years. It turns out he isn’t secretly any different in private. He’s just as he appears to be all the time.
The big story here isn’t about Trump, but spoiler, it still isn’t news either. It turns out much of his ever rotating administration thinks he is an idiot, probably delusional and absolutely an ongoing danger to national security. And all they will ever do about it is anonymously source stories like the one at CNN. Or, if you’re John Bolton, sit on what inside knowledge you have until you can profit from it financially.
Imagine if all of these people had banded together, come out publicly, on the record, offered themselves to testify under oath, former cabinet secretaries, chiefs of staff, highly placed intelligence personnel, and said what they said secretly from the shadows to the authors of this article.The only one who comes out of this demonstrating courage and patriotism is Fiona Hill, and after reading this I respect her more than ever, because I have a clearer idea of just how alone she was. When I think all the powerful people who could have had her back but chose not to, even though they believe Trump is not simply unfit for office, but actively a danger to the United States, doing us permanent damage every day… it’s honestly nauseating.
Trump is a monster. He can’t choose to be anything else, he’s unable to behave in any other way. But he is surrounded by people who, while clearly spineless and despicable, are in most ways functional human beings. They allowed all of this to happen and beyond anonymous whispering they did nothing. It’s as if during Watergate, Deep Throat looked around and realized there were hundreds of people with information just as damaging to the president as he had, all of whom agreed with each other about just how bad things were, and that somehow they collectively decide to all meet secretly with Woodward and Bernstein off the record in a parking garage.. Imagine hwo fucking crowded that place would have been!
This is cowardice and betrayal on a truly grand scale. Do they honestly think contributing to a “Blockbuster” CNN exclusive that basically just confirms what anyone with half a brain who follows the news could have told you constitutes doing something? Do they think their profiles in courage are even now being polished?
If you don’t feel like reading the CNN piece, I honestly can’t say I blame you. Let me paraphrase: The Donald Trump you’ve seen on the rally stage, at Coronavirus task force briefings and on Twitter? That complete asshole? That’s how he is ALL THE TIME. He’s a blowhard, a liar, a lout, a self absorbed moron barely able to credit anyone else with even existing unless they are able to force more people to obey their will than he is. There is no other side to him. No nuance. No hidden depths. He is a complete system unto himself, both the dung beetle and the ball of shit he rolls.
I feel like CNN and all their sources might as well now say: “Brace yourselves, as we reveal to you a totally unprecedented and staggering prediction based on our critical inside knowledge that will shock you to your core: Get your smelling salts out, stand as near as possible to your fainting couch; When Donald Trump reacts to this story… he will call it… Fake News.”
My CoviDiary 6/27/2020: Are You Cursing More?
BY MAX BURBANK | I saw a Tweet the other day that asked if folks found themselves cursing more than they had before the Trump presidency. In real life, me personally, no. I don’t curse a lot in general, not because I don’t love it, I truly do, but because I feel it’s become devalued. The “F” bomb hasn’t been a bomb in more than a decade. We use it now the way some people say “uh” every few words, and I’m saying this as a man who once witnessed a guy at the commuter rail station utter the immortal words “The fuckin’ fucker fuckin’ fucked me.”
But in my writing? That’s a different story. Four years ago, I had very nearly eliminated the “F” word from my writing, partially because I was writing professionally and when I cursed my editors just found some other way to render it or cut it entirely. Now? I curse in writing a whole fuck of a lot. I hope you didn’t miss what I just did there. I draw your attention to it because I am a very complicated and subtle writer, and I feel much of my work resonates over time at a subconscious level. I’ve always striven to treat my readers with respect, not belabor jokes, references, metaphors or themes. I hope that you’ll notice and appreciate them without my shoving them down your throat, and I’m willing to take the risk of being misunderstood. I do not like to gild the lily. That’s why I made sure I wrote the word “Fuck” when talking about cursing in writing. Get it? I’m pretty sure my Macarthur genius grant is already in the mail.
So why the fucking change of heart regarding written cursing?
Oh, let’s see. In no particular order;
Today, for the fifth day in a row, the United States of America set a single-day record for the most new cases of the Coronavirus. Our national death toll as I write this stands at approximately 127,599. Mike Pence, leader of the Coronavirus task force gave a briefing this weekend where on three separate occasions, he urged Americans to pray, while not suggesting they wear masks even once. He gave the briefing maskless.
On Friday, the New York Times broke the story that our intelligence services have known since at very least March that the Russians have been paying the Taliban a bounty for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump never bothered to mention it to the public, and no retaliatory action has been taken. He’s yet to say anything about the matter, though the story broke over 48 hours ago. Official White House spokesrando Kelly McNinny said in a statement Saturday that neither Trump nor Vice President Pence had been briefed on the “alleged Russian bounty intelligence.” This is almost certainly an absurd, bizarre and insulting lie, but if it isn’t, it means that at the most senior levels our intelligence agencies see simply no point in talking to the President or Vice President and have decided to go about their business as if those offices are vacant. I’m not sure which possibility offers more comfort.
While Trump remained silent today on Russia paying Taliban radicals to kill United states soldiers, he did manage to post 15 Tweets in the form of wanted posters featuring images of protesters who had allegedly vandalized statues or monuments of confederate “heroes.” Maybe it’s me, but I find it a bit shocking that a sitting president would make multiple public statements that he values the preservation of statues of dead people more than the actual lives of American enlisted men and women.
Today we learned that shortly before Trump’s shockingly poorly attended Tulsa rally, the campaign removed thousands of social distancing stickers from seats, in direct contradiction of the wishes of the management of the BOK center where the rally was held.
On Tuesday, Trump held a packed youth Rally in Phoenix Arizona, where coronavirus cases are skyrocketing, at the Dream City megachurch. Three thousand seats were filled, there was no social distancing and almost none of the attendees wore masks. There is a high statistical likelihood that multiple rally goers contracted the virus at the event, and that each infected person will pass the disease to multiple others, many of whom are not enamored of Donald Trump. It is almost certain that over the course of the next month, people will die as a direct result of this rally. A bizarre side-note, Arizona officials have warned the Phoenix church and a Glendale company about making deceptive claims regarding air filtration systems and COVID-19. The state Attorney General’s Office sent Dream City Pastor Luke Barnett a letter Thursday demanding that the church remove statements regarding the CleanAir EXP system’s effectiveness against COVID-19 under the threat of consumer fraud litigation and demanded the company stop suggesting their air filtration system can neutralize COVID-19.
On Friday, Trump Twitter brag/bitched “I was going to go to Bedminster, New Jersey, this weekend, (where he has a golf course, so he’s saying he was planning on playing golf) but wanted to stay in Washington, D.C. to make sure LAW & ORDER is enforced.”
I want to stress that I have now gone seven straight paragraphs without cursing (unless you consider “bitched” a curse. I don’t). before I note that today, Saturday, which is well known to be PART OF THE WEEKEND, less than one full day after bitching about his nearly Christ-like sacrifice of forgoing golf THIS WEEKEND, that fucking morbidly obese, orange, vaguely person shaped leather sack of fermented monkey shit and bile fucking went to the Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia and played a FUCKING round of FUCKING golf, probably because he’s FUCKING FUCKER and he can’t go a full FUCKING weekend without FUCKING FUCKING us, and did I mention, FUCK that FUCKING FUCK! (UPDATE! It’s now Sunday, THE SECOND DAY OF THE WEEKEND, and guess the fuck what?! Trump is playing fucking golf! With Lindsey fucking Graham! So basically his huge FUCKING sacrifice was to forgo golfing in Bedminster this weekend so he could stay in Washington DC maintaining LAW AND ORDER, except for the parts of both weekend days he would spend going to, playing golf at, and returning from his club in Virginia BOTH DAYS OF THE FUCKING WEEKEND!)
So yes. In my writing, I curse more than I used to. Quite a lot more. Because there is ever so much more to curse about. There are so many more people and things out there just lately for which the only sane and appropriate response is cursing at them. Loudly, repeatedly, until you are blue in the face. It doesn’t change anything, except that in my case, I feel a little better. A very little.
But even a very little is fucking something, isn’t it?
My CoviDiary 6/25/2020: The Perils of Symbiosis
BY MAX BURBANK | So Sean Hannity interviewed Donald Trump the other day, and no I did not tune in. I guess I just don’t have the stomach to watch a bloated, Irish, canned-boiled-ham-for-a-head, remora adhere it’s flat, oval sucking disk to the belly of the most moronic Great White Supremacist Shark any ocean has ever seen, drain off a stream of jellied ichor, and call it television, let alone journalism.
But I do read. And I couldn’t help but pick up this floating tidbit of presidential chum.
Referring to the fact he didn’t get fried for openly colluding with Russia to secure the presidency, Trump offered this:
“A friend of mine said, ‘you have to be the most perfect person.’ Isn’t that true?”
We know this is a lie for a number of reasons, first among them being Trump has no friends. He lacks the emotional capacity to even conceive of friendship. In its place there is only transaction, what can you do to benefit Trump right now?
Certainly no one likes him. I guarantee you, even among those closest to him, even among his family, no one likes him. There’s nothing to like. People enjoy proximity to power, but that’s not the same as liking someone. People are pleased that some other person hates all the same people they hate, but that doesn’t make you friends. Friendship is a relationship between two people, and one of the only things I’m absolutely certain of about Trump is that he has no relationships of any kind. There’s no indication that Trump believes other people exist in the same sense he does. Look, you might have a chair you really like. Maybe it’s your favorite chair. But are you friends with that chair? Of course not! How could you be?
Other people are useful objects to Trump until they’re not and then under the bus they go, and when enough people have gone under the bus, the wheels no longer touch the ground and the bus can’t go anywhere, which is where Trump’s bus is now. That would be hopeful, except Trump’s bus is of the Mad Max variety and although it’s no longer mobile, it still has a great deal or ordinance to release before all is said and done.
“A friend of mine said, ‘you have to be the most perfect person.’ “
Is that more laughable or repulsive?
The most. Perfect. Person.
People, humans, aren’t perfect. Ever. Everybody knows that. There’s a popular saying, “Nobody’s perfect” because NOBODY IS. All remotely functional people know this instinctively. Any psychiatrist will tell you that a person who honestly believes themselves to be perfect IS CLINICALLY INSANE.
So maybe he’s kidding, right, like he kidded about saying he wanted to slow down testing for the Coronavirus because somehow it’s testing that makes more people have it, you know, like how before there were pregnancy tests nobody ever had a baby.
He starts by pretending a ‘friend’, who he doesn’t name because he understands we all know this friend is imaginary, and he knows we know that, but somewhere in his prehistoric shark brain he also knows that if he simply announces he is perfect people will think he’s BUGSHIT, so a ‘friend’ said it to him. He’s not saying it’s true, right? He’s just saying his ‘friend’ thinks so, and what can he do about what a friend thinks, right?
But then that isn’t enough.
A ‘friend’ telling him he’s perfect, even a transparently imaginary friend declaring his perfection just isn’t gratifying enough. It doesn’t fill the black hole he has where actual human beings keep their soul.
And so he pauses. In that weird position he always sits in. You know the one I mean, like any time he sits, in any room, no matter how grand the setting, no matter who’s watching, he’s taking a damn dump. And he rotates his bloated upper body, like a centaur with no back end, and he looks at the audience and says:
“Isn’t… that.. true?”
Agree with me. Agree with my imaginary friend. Confirm my perfection. Declare that I am without flaw, that next to me Jesus, the perfect man, pales in comparison.
It’s staggering. Even Hannity seems momentarily taken aback. Go on YouTube, watch the clip, look at Hannity’s meat-slab of a face. See the moment of undisguised discomfort as it crosses his lumbering idiot mind that maybe it’s not a magnificent, gargantuan shark he’s latched his toothy sucker hole to. Maybe it’s the world’s biggest anchor. Maybe he’s not cruising the depths affixed to a supreme predator. Maybe he’s being relentlessly dragged down to depths the sun will never pierce and from which there is no return.
“Okay,” he says, his voice uncustomarily weak. “We’ll take a short break.”
My CoviDiary 6/21/2020: Remembering My Father
BY MAX BURBANK | A lot of folks don’t care for it, but I like the phrase “passed away,” which is what my Father did about 12 years ago. He’s not gone exactly, just far enough ahead of me on the path I can’t see him. But maybe over this next rise, or around that bend I’ll catch a glimpse of him for a moment, and the ghost of his memory is walking right beside me anyway. I wrote the first draft of this shortly before he died, having no idea that’s what I was doing. I’ve tinkered with it every few years since then. Sometimes I put it up, but mostly not. This year I feel like I ought to. Not for Father’s Day. He didn’t give a shit about anything like that, and honestly, after he stopped smoking I had no idea what to give him. A handcrafted ashtray was pretty much the beginning and end of my gift giving skills for a very long time.
My father was a large presence with vast expanses of knowledge which he allowed was much wider than it was deep. I feel often like a pale imitation in that what he called shallow is as deep as I ever get, and the width of his knowledge… well, you can see the opposite shore of mine if the weather’s good. Let’s leave it at that. There are a few things I am better at than he was, but one of them is comic books, so let’s not brag. I suppose people make more sense to me than they ever did to him, but I’m frequently mystified whereas he just didn’t care unless he loved you, and then he was puzzled and often annoyed. He was funny as hell though, and he taught me that what’s funny is a tolerable way of looking at the universe.
Loss changes, but it never goes away. I miss him all the time, but like tinnitus, you get way more used to it than you ever could have imagined. And it’s never gone. It’s right there if you only stop and listen.
THINGS THE OLD MAN TAUGHT ME
My Old Man was a doctor, a fact that kept me out of the local emergency room on a number of occasions, as minor repairs could be affected in our kitchen with tools he kept handy. A hypodermic full of tetanus booster was never far from hand for the occasions when I, involved in metamorphosing a pile of pilfered construction site detritus up a tree, might put one or more rusty nails through one or more of my toes. Once I tried to teach a neighbors’ Golden Retriever to waltz. He returned the favor by trying to teach me how to take a quality mauling. Neither of us did very well in our lessons, and the Old Man was required to sew portions of my ear and face back together in much the same way other people’s mothers repaired stuffed bears. He was a dab hand, and the scars can only be seen today in the right light. On another occasion the boiler that powered our forced steam heat went and we formed a hasty bucket brigade in the basement to drain it before it exploded. The water came hissing and boiling out of the spigot, but it was all hands on deck to avert disaster and I was right there with my older Brother and Mother hauling buckets and passing them hand over hand toward the door where they were hurled out into mid winter New England, turning instantly to dense white fog. Inevitably I stumbled and the boiling grey water splashed up and over my entire face. Before I even felt the shock of it, The Old Man was hauling me up by the scruff of my shirt and the ass of my pants, trundling me up and out and face first into a snowbank. In the moment it seemed insult on injury, first to have been scalded, then hurled bodily into the snow by the Old Man, probably a punishment for screwing up, but he knew what he was about. The snow and ice took the heat immediately. A few hours later the top layer of skin sloughed off my face like a bad sunburn or athlete’s foot and that was it. The damage was contained.
The Old man cursed fluently, like a well-educated sailor, often, with great fervor and very specifically. It meant something to him that the word ‘fucking’ is a gerund, as in “The fucking decline of western civilization!” To not fully pronounce the I-N-G was a disservice to the language and impolite. No one under his roof said, “fuckin” and “friggin” was for hillbillies, reprobates and white trash, though I say it now and again because I am from New England and I delight in being uncouth. We all rebel in our own ways.
Language in general around my house could be caustic. I was in second grade before it even began to sink in that most people, particularly teachers, find the phrase “Shut up”’ rude. I’d always taken it to mean, ‘It’s my turn to speak now’. I casually tossed around the phrase ‘blow me’ assuming it was short for Popeye’s “Well, Blow me Down.” At age thirteen I was informed by a horrified creative writing teacher that it in fact referenced oral sex. I was briefly mortified.
He could employ at any moment The Voice That Must be Obeyed. I long ago caught up with and surpassed him in volume, but never hit on the exact tone and tenor he had such easy access to so that words spoken to children upon entering the ear attached themselves directly to the autonomic nervous system.
The Old Man procured for my brother Nick and me several large, wooden cable spools of the kind used by hippies in lieu of tables. He taught us to walk them by standing up on the spool section and steadily rolling them along with our feet. This we did in our long horseshoe driveway, and soon we advanced this capability to its logical conclusion, Chicken fights, and their natural evolutionary successor, jousting. Initially we used windfall branches but soon graduated to rusty lengths of pipe we found in our barn. I cannot recall if our Father encouraged or perhaps even devised these developments of the original spool walking skills he passed on to us, but he was certainly on hand for the inevitable field side doctoring. At the time I never wondered where he got the six or seven giant spools he gave us. In retrospect, I imagine he liberated them from construction sites, just as we stole our treehouse supplies.
When I would tire of jousting and beg off, my brother would recite epic poetry by wrote while spool walking. This was something the Old Man had been required to do by the Brooklyn Public School System of his youth, (the recitation, not the spool walking part) and I’m told this was not an entirely uncommon practice. By the time we were in school they contented themselves with multiplication tables and survivable levels of playground violence. Nick favored length over quality and so leaned heavily on The Charge of the Light Brigade and Horatius at the Bridge, a work in which three Roman Soldiers hold off an army of 5000 that for sheer sweaty masculinity makes 300 look like a particularly violent episode of TheView. Having not heard anyone recite Horatius since I was eight, I don’t know if my recollection that it takes in the neighborhood of nine hours is exact, but that was certainly the experience. The first demonstration of an eleven year old boy rhythmically chanting all six hundred lines of nineteenth-century English poet, historian and noteworthy Whig Thomas Babington Macauly from memory while spool walking is impressive in a circus sideshow sort of way. When it is immediately followed by a second performance it becomes first alarming, then tedious and finally annoying. I have often wondered whether the Old Man made similar demonstrations of near savant level talent in his youth or if this was an example of genetic funneling, where ability passes through a generation like sunlight through a magnifying glass, becoming far more focused and dangerous. However it functioned this particular inheritance passed me by.
I was less fortunate with the crippling headaches The Old Man sometimes retired with to dark rooms when not off doctoring. Coupled with a certain specific melancholy notably characterized by sudden violent haranguing of nearby family members, the Old Man’s paternity shines in me like a beacon, the Burbankian equivalent of a cleft chin or Hawk-like profile. While less flowery than the poetry with which my brother was afflicted, my legacy is not without romance. The Old Man and I have suffered a level of pain the merest whiff of which would reduce most men to motes of dust that wept as they scattered, and we have borne it with grace, dignity, shrieking and pissyness, as the occasion demanded. We shared this, the knowledge that we have carried the one ring and you have not. Graciously, we kept the knowledge that this made us better than you to ourselves. Well. He did. I lack his self control, as I think I just proved.
The Old man taught me by example that reading was a high focus activity, no more to be interrupted than ping pong, oil painting or open-heart surgery. Attempts at communication when he was submerged in a book were met with a silence that was not stony so much as it forced you to question your own existence. He accumulated books the way the side of a house accumulates autumn leaves, by ones and twos and then suddenly in great drifts. He took to building bookcases of increasing intricacy and so began accumulating power tools and lumber. He took up at one time or another guitar, golf, fencing, the shooting of skeet, cold water wet suiting, ice climbing and the manufacture of harpsichords. A like-minded colleague went so far as to raise owls, but to my great disappointment the Old was never that interested in living things, apart from doctoring on them.
I could say ever so much more but won’t. The Old Man is no longer with us, but that’s beside the point. I’m certain he’d have digested whatever I put down with the appropriate number of grains of salt, sorting truth and the kind of crap he taught me to delight in foisting off on any old person once he had them listening just to see how it went down with all the rest. As a for instance, he once informed me the book Moby Dick was inspired by an actual legendary coffee colored whale called “Mocha Dick.” Is this true, or bullshit? I didn’t have the internet back then, but you do now, so look it up and find out.
Memory is funny stuff. Any shiny broken bit a person digs up out of the earth can be easily turned on its side the better to cut oneself with. Self inflicted wounds are real and common, and if one has a doctor on hand to patch one up, all the better. Answers are far rarer, and also overrated. There is a mystery between fathers and Sons best not spoken of too much, particularly by the participants.
My CoviDiary 6/18/2020: Secrets, Sons, and Symbols
BY MAX BURBANK | Guys. I’m so tired. I really am. My sleep patterns are shit. I’m averaging three hours a night. I’m finally falling asleep around 2:00 and waking up at 5:00 in a panic, my heart racing. I have weird pains that come and go. My back and neck, always trouble for me, are just a steady background noise of discomfort, mostly low level but sometimes not. I’ll be fine for hours and then suddenly some spot on my upper arm or my thigh or a knee hurts like a horse kicked me there.
I’ve been worried so long now that the worried is just normal, it doesn’t feel like worry anymore, it just feels like I feel, like ten years on after Meniere’s disease I don’t hear the ringing in my deaf right ear unless I listen for it. I know it’s there, three distinct modulating tones, my constant companions that I now ignore almost all the time, like family. The pandemic, the economic collapse, the constant threat that our entire system of government might collapse at any moment under the sheer tonnage of incompetence and malice into god knows what… It’s just a backdrop against which all my normal neuroses are matted and, God forgive me, it’s become boring.
It doesn’t hold my interest.
And yet at five AM most mornings I wake up sweating and agitated and I can’t get a hold of myself. It makes no sense, it contradicts itself, this screaming ennui, this terror of the tepid abyss.
And yet, the universe offers entertaining distractions.
Mugshot Matty Gaetz has a secret 19 year old adopted Cuban son. And here’s the thing, maybe there’s nothing odd about that at all. Maybe it’s all fine, and nobody’s business and Nestor (that’s his name, Nestor) is just his son, the son that Matt only wanted to protect from the hellish limelight of being the child of a hard drinking, mean spirited, smearing, superior, frat-rat, Republican bully-boy goon.
There the two of them are in a pinned Tweet, father and son in real cool sunglasses, Miami Vice, the Crockett and Tubbs of Nothing-Weird-About-This Ville.
“For all those wondering, this is my son Nestor. We share no blood but he is my life. He came from Cuba (legally, of course) six years ago and lives with me in Florida. I am so proud of him and raising him has been the best, most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life.”
Normal, right? Nothing to see here. Normal, normal, normal.
And I’ll probably write more about it tomorrow, when the dust from all the falling shoes has settled. Gaetz has retweeted multiple defenses of how wholesome and not weird the whole thing is, some of them by notable Democrats who don’t share any of Matt’s horrid, Trumpian, neo-fascist positions. If I want to say anything of merit about this soap opera, it just wouldn’t be fair or right to do that until I know something of what I’m talking about.
But… and I think I’m allowed to say “but” about this, even knowing next to shit all nothing of the particulars… Imagine where we’d be right now If Mughsot Matt Gaetz was a Democrat. The collective Republican head explosions would be visible from Mars, and you know I’m right. Tucker Carlson would have literally (Literally literall, not figuratively), shit a brick of pure apoplexy. Laura Ingraham would have had an icy, pleasureless orgasm of righteous, homophobic, Republican fury. A cadre of those Bugaloo Twists would have wormed their way out of the woodwork and pizzagated our imaginary Democratic Matt Gaetz full of semi-automatic holes.
So whatever this… “story” turns out to be… however pure and lovely and family friendly this all i is spun into being… I think I should be forgiven for poking a little fun over something anyone would have to admit has, at very least, some kinda seriously hinky optics.
Because say, for the sake of argument, that when the tale is told, it humanizes Matt Gaetz, (a verb and a proper noun construction no one sane could have ever imagined coupling on the page)… He’s still Matt Gaetz. He’s still the man who just three months ago wore a gas mask on the House floor to mock concerns over the Coronavirus. And it’s not as if when we hit and passed 100,000 dead fellow Americans, Mughsot Matty got up and said “Y’know, in light of the Coronavirus kicking the shit out of Vietnam’s body count, I gotta say that whole gasmask prank was a serious dick move, and I regret that pain my being a gigantic, sociopathically callous asshole caused anyone.”
Maybe the whole Nestor dealio turns out to be way less prurient and weird and hypocritical than it looks on the surface, which is, let’s be honest, exactly what it looks like on the surface. Maybe Matt has totally honest, admirable feelings of love for Nestor like any father has for his son… it would certainly add a third dimension to someone who has worked so hard to be a despicable, willfully ignorant punk-ass little bitch moron. But it wouldn’t cure him. There’s no treatment, no vaccine for vapid, banal monstrosity.
Oh, and it almost slipped my mind, Facebook finally took action against Trump, removing 88 (A number White Supremacists use as code for Adolf Hitler) posts by his campaign that prominently featured an inverted red triangle, a symbol that was, purely coincidentally I’m sure, used by the Nazis to designate political prisoners. Because with Trump and company, somehow it’s always the Nazi stuff. They love the Nazi stuff.
Goodnight. I’m gonna catch a crisp three hours and see you in the morning.
My CoviDiary 6/17/2020: Verbatim Highlights of President Trump’s Signing of an Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Neighborhoods, Totally Unaltered by Me, Scout’s Honor, OK, Maybe a Little Altered.
BY MAX BURBANK |Rose Garden, 12:16 P.M. EDT:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please. Thank you. And thank you. Not you. Sit down. Behind you. Thank you, pretty OANN lady. So pretty. Thank you. And thank you all for being here as we take… historic… action to deliver a future of safety and security and safety for Americans of every race, religion, color, and creed. Not just whites. Every… all the other… lives that matter. But also the whites too. We include you. The whites include you. Everyone.
We’re joined today by law enforcement professionals and community leaders. Though we may all come from different places and different… backgrounds, we’re united by our desire to ensure peace and dignity and equality for all Americans. Not just whites. But also whites too. It’s not just about you… people. It’s everyone… equally.
I’ve just concluded a meeting with incredible families — just incredible families that have been incredible through so much… incredibly. The families of Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Antwon Rose, Jemel Roberson, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Dean, Darius Tarver, Cameron Lamb, and Everett Palmer. I say their names. Everybody said I never would, but Trump proved them wrong. He always proves them wrong. These are incredible people. Incredible people. Incredible. In… credible. Incre… dible. And it’s so sad. They were incredible.
I spoke to those families before this and who are not here now. Not because they don’t support me and what I’m saying, not because they don’t love me for all I have done for them, they do. They do. They love Trump. They come to me, incredible black families with tears in their eyes, they say “Sir, we blacks love you because of the employment numbers. So good for us. So incredible. Fuck Lincoln. We loved him once, but now? Fuck him. Fuck him. What’s with the beard, Lanky Lincoln? Right sir? Lincoln. Such a pussy. You crushed that pussy, sir.” And they would be here now, for the signing, but they all had… a thing they had to… be at… All the blacks. Like a… scheduled thing. So they’re not here now, but they loved how I talked to them even if later in interviews they say they didn’t. We told those incredible families we would do things. And we are going to pursue what we said. We will be pursuing it, and we will be pursuing it strongly, Tim. Right? Okay? Tim? Is that your name? Tom? Tome? Is that even a name, Tome? Is Tome a name? OK. OK. Thank you Tome. Incredible.
Today is about pursuing common sense and fighting — dirty fighting like you’ve never seen before for a cause like we seldom get the chance to fight for. We have to find common ground. But I strongly oppose the radical and dangerous efforts to defer, dismantle, disentangle and dissolve our… DEFUND! I REMEMBERED!… Defund police departments, especially now when we’ve achieved the lowest recorded crime rates in recorded history. So I don’t even know what you’re complaining about. Common ground. We have to find it. You’re ruining that. With your kneeling. And complaining. Do you see the whites complaining? If you’re complaining and the whites are not complaining, that’s not common ground, right? Simple, right? Balls in your court, blacks. You people love games with balls. Play the damn game. Play along.
Now, as hard as it’s going to be to believe, I have about six paragraphs here on the teleprompter and they are all about how incredible the police are. How brave and strong and fearless and attractive and tall and white and so very heavily armed, such beautiful, big, guns and sticks and shields and boom booms. So white. Some blacks, some Mexicans or from China, but mostly the white ones who we all love. We love them. I’m going to talk about how every officer is a hero who would rush straight into a burning building, like on 9/11. 9/11. 9/11, right? Heroes of 9… 11. And you’ll listen to me talk about how great the police are and how we need them, we’d be helpless without them, we’d be raped and taped with duct tape and in the trunk of a car, only the police between us and… incredible… carnage. So incredible. And you’ll think, well, eventually he’ll get to the end of praising the police and say some of them do bad stuff sometimes, a few, very rare, so rare bad apples, but you’ll be disappointed. I don’t say that. That doesn’t happen on my teleprompter, even though you’d think it would, you’d think no one on my staff could be so awful that I’d just talk for ten minutes about how great the police are at a time when the country is rioting over police brutality and excessive force and systematic racism, but you’ve never met Stephen Miller. You think I’m bad. Oh, Trump’s so bad. You have no idea. He’s like a bag of… ticks. A bag shaped like a person, but inside? Just… ticks. So many ticks.
So, spray painters, looters, window breakers, car setter on firerers, statue tearer downerers, that’s over. You think the police use undue force? If they can’t settle you people down, I got the national guard and the… those… prison guys? The guys from the prisons? Like… guards? Sort of? The fat ones with no badges or insignia or real uniforms, just their own T-shirts on under bullet proof vests? Those guys do not give a shit. They don’t. Totally unaccountable. No one knows who they are. I don’t. Those are Barr’s guys. Don’t let his looks fool you. Looks like a bullfrog, but he is… an ice man. Not ICE. Like… made of… Ice. I saw him crush eggs that were about to hatch. Little… chicks inside… the feathers are all… they’re wet And he crushed ‘em. He just crushed ‘em. He had a bowl. Watching CNN.., and crushing about to hatch eggs, and… giggling. Just… giggling.
Because Americans want law and order. They demand law and order. They may not say it, they may not be talking about it, but that’s what they want. Some of them don’t even know that’s what they want, but that’s what they want. Like… beauty pageant contestants. They say “No, no, you can’t barge in here, we’re changing, we’re teenagers!” But they want me to barge in. They say no to barging. They think they don’t want me to barge. But they don’t know what they want. I know. They want me to barge. They want my law and order. So bad. That I can say.
As part of the new credentialing process, chokeholds will be banned. Except if an officer’s life is at risk. Which it turns out is a very hard thing to assess. Assessment of threat to life status requires a trained eye… so beautifully trained. And the threateners eye is not trained. It’s untrained. The officer is the only one there qualified to make such an assessment, that their lives are threatened, or they think it’s possible their lives might be threatened, or if they think a choke hold is a pretty good way to make it so a situation can’t arise that would threaten their lives. Really a choke hold is… it’s so… incredible… how it… works. So we’re going to take the officers word for it, if the choke hold, which works beautifully, by the way, is called for. Because who else are you going to ask to asses? The dead guy? How would that work?
And I will say, we’ve dealt with all of the various departments, and everybody said, “It’s time. We have to do it.” (authors note: I did not make that sentence up or alter it or add to it in any way. He said that. You tell me what that means. Because I say it means the language center in his brain is so shot through with blood clots it looks like one of those white, old lady candies with the nougat chunks that nobody wants to eat so it sits in a bowl on her side table untouched, gathering dust until she dies.)
We have done so much for the coloreds. So much. Colleges? Historically black colleges? We let them keep going. Best unemployment numbers ever. School choice. School choice. So strong on school choice. Incredible. Incredible. Better time to be a black now than ever before in history, MAGAS love the blacks, we love the blacks, they say to me all the time, we. Love. The blacks. And maybe a little gratitude would be appropriate, a ‘thank you, Mr. Trump, sir’ every once in a while, but OK, fine. It’s fine. And if the governors can’t make it fine with the National Guard we will send in the Army to make it fine, and they will make it fine very quickly. Send in the fucking Marines… I can… I can say :”fucking”. I have total authority to say “Fucking.” People will be amazed by how quickly the fucking Marines will make it fine.
And I just want to say we’ve done incredibly well. We’re doing well. Things are happening that nobody can even believe. Our country is opening up. And it’s opening up rapidly. We had the best unemployment and employment. We had the best unemployment and employment numbers — think of that — in the history of our country. We’re up to almost 160 million people working. There was never anything even close. More people working now than have ever worked before. No president has done that. And that’s for almost every group including black, Hispanic, Asian, women, young people, old people, young people without a high school diploma,… Every…. group. Everybody was thrilled. Everybody had — just about –high-paying jobs. (Author’s note: That paragraph? Again, totally real. 100%, I shit you not, real. Google it.)
Oh! Hey! We cured AIDS. We made a vaccine for that. They came up with… and the AIDS… we… as you know, various things. And now various companies, so many, many companies involved… but the therapeutic for AIDS… so much medical. Incredible. It was a death sentence and now you eat a pill. You eat an incredible pill. So I made AIDS gone and that’s good. But they don’t write about that. OK. OK… Ebola, right? That was something. They screwed that up. So much Ebola. Barack Ebola. The Ebola Gay. That was… the plane was named… the plane that dropped… we have a super duper missile now. So fast. So… so… fast. So fast. Incredible.
I POOPED A UNICORN! I did, I pooped it right out on a rainbow all myself, and it magiced? It magiced so good and everyone said “Oh, sir! OH, SIR! No one ever pooped a so great unicorn for us before in the history” and there were tears in their eyes. Tears for Trump. Thank you Trump. Thank you. 96 % approval among Republicans. Ten million tickets. Ten… twenty, maybe fifty… million… tickets…
Thank you all very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
(The executive order is signed.)
PARTICIPANT: Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, fellas. Take one of these for yourselves. It’s a pen. It’s like a stick, but it writes. Incredible. You can have it for free. Just make sure everybody knows I gave you a pen. I see that on eBay, you’re going in a camp. OK, I’m going. I’m taking careful, tiny little steps. No questions. I’m not taking questions. Trump is going now.
My CoviDiary 6/15/2020: A Tail of Two Dogs
BY MAX BURBANK | I have two little dogs. Asta, the elder, named for the Thin Man’s dog, is a white terrier mix with brown spots and a sweet, placid demeanour unless there is thunder or fireworks. In mIddle age she has gotten somewhat more neurotic on both subjects so that she now begins trembling when it rains, because there might be thunder, or when it gets dark, because there might be fireworks.
Eloise, the younger, named for the children’s book about the eccentric little girl who lives with her Nanny at the plaza hotel in 1950s Manhattan, is a black terrier/chihuahua/fruit bat/that spindly little Kowakian monkey-lizard animatronic puppet Jabba the Hut had in The Empire Strikes Back, (Salacious Crumb by name if you are deep dive nerdy or have access to the Internet) mix. Her muzzle and eyebrows are extravagant salt and pepper tufts, making her look ancient though she’s only two. She’s a super freak, super freak, She’s super freaky, super freak, super freak, or so Rick James would say had he ever had the pleasure of meeting her, which he did not, as he had been dead for fourteen years on the day she was whelped.
I literally do not know how I would be making it through the implosion of the United States of America during this global pandemic without them. Dogs are a magical blessing whose unconditional love, so undeserved by any human being, sustains us and magnifies all that is good within the human heart. They are also absolutely disgusting.
I had a little quarantine dream for them, for us, a little fantasy scenario, and it went something like this. Around sunset on nice days, as a break from the enormous, wracking tragedy we are all going through right now, I would retire to our backyard with my family and my dogs. There I would clip them into twenty foot leads that were attached to a special anchor driven into the ground.
To make my dream real, we ordered the two leads and the anchor, and when they arrived (both the shiny, metallic flake red of a 1970’s Schwinn five-speed), I sledge hammered that anchor into the ground myself.
It was a simple fantasy. I am, at heart, a simple man, with simple needs. I pictured myself relaxing with a cool, iced adult beverage, staring up into the variegated multiple shades of shifting green created by the sun shining through the leaves of my backyard oak, and Asta and Eloise would gamble about, enjoying a freedom of outdoor motion not provide by their usual 6 foot walking leads.
What they actually did, unfailingly, every single time I went to the backyard with them, was wind themselves around the outdoor chair and table legs till they had zero mobility and were in fact in danger of choking and then they would sit there and cry. In the short amount of time provided between my physically untangling them and their becoming would to the point of choking again, they would make themselves unspeakably filthy digging divots three feet deep, churn dusty sprays of soil, small stones and grass clods with their hind legs with uncanny accuracy onto my my sandals feet, and eat grass, bugs, worms, twigs and dirt which they would throw up later that evening, often on the couch.
Disgusting. I did not lie. My dogs are disgusting, and so are yours no matter what you say. Dogs are some sketchy-ass little heaven sent angels because they are entirely made of fur and love but most of they also eat cat poop any time the opportunity arises. You might think yours does not, but all that tells me is that our dog is sneaky.
However, their disgustingness is not why my fantasy was doomed to predestined failure before it even began. This is the key nature of this brutal pandemic slamming up against the sudden, rapid decline of our country from a functional nation to failed state on the brink of civil war under the leadership of an insane and utterly monstrous, morbidly obese man child. The result of this almost statistically impossible confluence of regrettable events is that no matter how sincere the effort you put into even the simplest attempt to fractionally lighten the load, everything you touch will turn to shit.
And the only operative question is will it turn to shit instantly… or will you get a few minutes respite before that transformation inevitably occurs?
When it does, and it will, it is good to have a dog or dogs, because they will love you despite your demonstrated ability to turn all things to shit via your touch. It will never cross their minds to stop loving you or even love you any less, perhaps because that is their nature or perhaps because they are just not bothered by shit in the way you are.
So dogs. And if you are the sort of person whose spirits are buoyed by repeatedly Febreezing your couch, so much the better for you.
My CoviDiary 6/14/2020: Two Statements
BY MAX BURBANK | “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”–West Point cadet’s honor code, italics added by me in case the irony wasn’t evident.
It is neither secret nor arguable that Donald Trump lies. You can argue about the frequency of his lies. You can debate intention and conclude that many of his falsehoods are not lies, he’s just ignorant, incurious and frequently wrong about what he’s saying. You can quibble about whether his lying is pathological or not, but no one says he doesn’t lie, with the exception of every single one of his press secretaries–and seriously, I went crabbing once in an inlet off the Chesapeake Bay with a cold Kentucky Fried Chicken drumstick on a rope thrown out behind the outboard motor on a shitty little rowboat? What I dragged up off the muddy bottom was a more respectable crew.
Trump was not asked to deliver the Commencement keynote. Like every other school in the country, West Point’s graduation would have been virtual, because though the president seems to have forgotten, we are in the midst of a pandemic that has at the time of this writing killed 117,000 Americans. But Trump announced he would address the class, as is his prerogative as commander-in-chief, and the cadets were summoned back to school. He endangered their lives so he could have a captive audience. One hopes his bone spurs didn’t pain him over much as he stood at the podium, delivering a slurred, lackluster speech in a sing-song rhythm that had to have been hard to stay awake through. He made them watch him, despite the fact they take an oath which precludes them even tolerating him. I want to make that clear. The graduating class before him was required by oath to find him intolerable. Trump knows this, and still, at the risk of their health, at the potential risk of their lives, he made them sit and listen to him. If you had any question about the nature of his character, let this settle it for you.
“The ramp that I descended after my West Point Commencement speech was very long & steep, had no handrail and, most importantly, was very slippery. The last thing I was going to do is ‘fall’ for the Fake News to have fun with. Final ten feet I ran down to level ground. Momentum!”–A very sad Tweet authored by Donald Trump the day after addressing the graduating class of cadets at West Point, italics added by me because that’s the most hilarious part, although “Momentum!” is a close second.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the president had a little bit of difficulty descending the ramp from the stage at the end of the graduation. His steps were slow, halting, delicate to the point of mincing. He was visibly afraid.
It’s not shameful. He turned 74 years old today. A lot of men his age, particulary the morbidly obese ones, might well have difficulty with a ramp, and it’s no secret for anyone with eyes that he’s not doing well lately. But if he didn’t want his health remarked upon, he should have stayed home, and he could have. If he wasn’t hell-bent on ignoring the advice of the CDC, he’d have had a built in excuse to not go out in public at all, and then nobody would even know he’s hard-pressed to get a damn glass of water to to his weird little permanently pursed lips without using both tiny paws.
But having decided to go, having gone, knowing full well how much difficulty he had descending the ramp since he was right there doing it when it happened, nothing, nothing on earth compelled him to Tweet in defense of his inability to rise to the task of walking down a ramp!
The Ramp was not “very long.” We could all see it on TV, and if that’s what’s passing for “very Long” for Trump these days, he is indeed a feeble old man. It was not “steep” as indicated by the fact that no one else who used it had any trouble at all. And pardon my French, but it sure as fuck wasn’t slippery! Come on! Are we honestly supposed to believe that whatever grounds crew West Point employs, knowing full well the president of the United States would be on the stage, said, “Say fellas, know what would be a real hoot and totally not a thing we would get in trouble for? Let’s use the slippery ramp! In fact, I say we grease that son of a bitch!”
It’s just so small. So pathetic to feel he had to justify to the world his performance descending a ramp! He had to make excuses, lie AGAIN about the aftermath of a speech he did not need to give to an audience who did not need to be there and who, I’m going to remind you again, are UNDER OATH to find liars INTOLERABLE.
And it would just be very, very sad, if not for one fact. We are in the grip of a worldwide pandemic. There is no vaccine for COVID-19, no cure, no swift, sure, always-effective treatment. It is potentially fatal and highly contagious. He required every graduating cadet to expose themselves to the virus. He knowingly endangered their lives, and the lives of their loved ones and countless civilians that they will now come in contact with and he did all this not to honor them, who after all find him INTOLERABLE. He did it to honor himself. He did it to satis his endless, bottomless vanity. That makes this sorry bit of unrequested theatrics more than sad.
It makes it evil.
My CoviDiary 6/13/2020: Questionable Search Terms
BY MAX BURBANK | One of the great things about a global pandemic and the collapse of the American experiment is, I’m writing a lot.
I really like writing. A lot of my process doesn’t look like writing at all, it looks like me staring slack-jawed into the middle distance. In my head I’m trying out sentences and phrases and telling myself stories. If you know me, you’ve probably seen me “writing” and not even known it! The best thing about this is, if someone has to say my name like eight times and really yell by the end to get my attention, I can always say, “Sorry. I was writing.” It’s way more likely I was just spacing out or maybe even being rude, but it’s a great excuse that makes me look mysterious and brilliant when I would otherwise look like a weirdo with problems.
It’s been a long time since I’ve added so much material to my “blog.” I started it in 2014, and the first two years, I added a lot. It was easy, because for the most part, I was just putting up stuff I’d already written and published on various websites. Some of it was even stuff I got paid cash money to write! I wanted someplace to collect it all, and that’s what my blog became.
By 2016, new entries were few and far between, because at that point I’d added everything I’d written that I wanted to put on the site. Every once in a while I’d come up with something, but not as often as I’d like, and I was writing a regular column for a small paper in New York City that I probably had the rights to even after getting paid, but I wasn’t 100% clear on that and figured it was better not to have stuff in two places. Also, while as I said, I love to write, that doesn’t mean I’m always good at making it happen. But the end of the world as we know it provides me with time and plenty of material.
It also has me spending a lot of time on my WordPress site, and now we are finally getting to what this entry is about. My goodness, I’m long=winded! Probably because the first stuff I ever sold, I got paid by the word! Old habits die hard.
Anyway, WordPress comes with all sorts of fun bells and whistles. I can see how many people have visited any given page on my “blog.” I can compare stats by days, weeks, months, years. I can see when the most popular time for people to visit my site is, Saturdays at 4pm. I love that statistic, because it’s essentially meaningless to me but it’s true. Pure data!
I can also see how people got there. Mostly it’s from links on my Facebook page, but some folks come from Twitter, and there are people who follow my blog and get email notifications. People also come from the World Wide Web using search engines. And one of the coolest features on my site is seeing what search terms led people to me.
I have an essay called The Duck Joke Variations. It’s my own comedy Little Engine That Could. Even when I haven’t added to the site in months, every week a few people come to that page. Over the years, the numbers have really added up, making it one of the most popular things I’ve ever written. It’s one of my better pieces, but that’s not what accounts for most of the traffic. It took me a while to figure it out, because I didn’t know how to interpret a lot of the data my website collects. Apparently if you search “Duck Jokes,” somewhere in the list of possibilities is my piece, The Duck Joke Variations. Sometimes people are looking for the actual piece because they’ve read it before and want to find it again, but mostly they find it looking for duck jokes, and instead end up with a lengthy deconstruction of the very idea of a duck joke.
Do they like it? I have no idea. The website does not collect or track their reaction. I don’t even know how much of the piece they read, if any. I don’t care. I find the entire process lovely.
While I can’t see who the searchers are, I can see the search terms, and sometimes they are priceless gifts. Today was one such day. One person found my site using a search engine, and here is the search term they used:
assless ass access leather gay lederhosen.
It’s as if God, who or whatever that is, wanted to cheer me up. I entered it myself, and it turns out I have used the phrase “Assless leather chaps” in not one, but two different essays. I have mentioned Lederhosen multiple times, sometimes leather, and at least, once gay.
I do not know if the person who entered that search was satisfied by what they found on my site. Honestly, I’m inclined to doubt it. But whoever you are, if by any chance you are reading this, get in touch. I want to thank you personally for making this a wonderful day.
My CoviDiary 6/12/2020: Goodbye, Denny O’Neil
BY MAX BURBANK | So this entry is going to be a little different. It includes an essay I wrote quite some time ago, and it’s actually on my wordpress site already, but I wanted to give it a sort intro, to put it in context, and I wanted it to be a part of My CoviDiary.
If you’re one of the folks reading this who knows me personally (and that’s most of you, a mark that I have not succeeded as a writer yet, don’t take that the wrong way, I love you) you probably already know I’ve loved comics my whole life. If you don’t know me and you are reading this, god bless you for liking my stuff even though you have no personal investment in me, and you should know that not only do I love comics, I am passionately interested in their history as an American art form, arguably the only art form truly invented in America. Some people will say Jazz, but I don’t know shit about Jazz.
Denny O’Neil died yesterday afternoon. He was undeniably one of the best writers in the history of comics. He was daring, he was prolific and his work didn’t just enhance the form, it advanced it. I can’t think of another comic book writer, particularly in the Superhero genre who addressed real world social and political ideas before him.
Comics are much more mainstream today than when I was reading them as a kid in the 60s and 70s. People outside the field know the names Neil Gaimin, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, but Denny O’Neil came first and built a lot of the roads they drove along to find their individual turnings.
In the essay that follows, Denny O’Neil won’t be all I cover, but it’ll be about half, a good representation of what percentage of my love of comics was born reading his work.
So here it is. Goodbye, Denny. You were one of the giants.
You know what they did in comics before this to give you something to latch on to? They gave the heroes kid sidekicks. First the dark, brooding Batman got some snot nosed circus tumbler, and then Cap got Bucky who somehow kept up with him through most of World War Two before getting blown to bits, and then almost everybody had a kid tagging along. The idea was, the reader could pretend they were the teen sidekick. Ask your Grampaw if it worked. First of all, nobody wants to be Robin. Second, nobody believes Robin can keep up. Robin is a liability in tights and everybody knows it. Third, You only played Robin if your brother was playing Batman and he was threatening to make you play Batgirl. Fourth, there is something deeply unsavory about the relationship of the Hero and the sidekick. Reed Richards’ unshaven mug was a quantum leap forward. It made comics seem real without making you worry about protecting your Bat Cave.
MEANWHILE, IN ANOTHER BAG, DENNY O’NEIL REINVENTS PERSONALITY FOR DC
DC briefly had personality for about a year in the so-called “Golden Age.” Bob Kane invented it for them in the form of a Gun totin’, film noir Batman with funky-ass purple gloves. (Contemporary author’s not from the future, 2012: Since I first wrote this, some arguments have been made that Bob Kane did not so much invent or create anything about Batman, so much as he stole shit from underpaid subcontractors, most particularly Bill Finger and no, I did not make up his name.) Then DC de-invented it by commanding Kane to create Robin, the Boy Wonder. Now don’t get me wrong, I like tumbling, eleven-year-old, crime fighters in green spangly bathing suits and bare legs just as much as the next guy. Hell, if they’d gone with pederasty as an actual personality element for the Batman, that would have had lots of personality. No such luck, all the undertones were unintentional, the only point of Robin was to lighten Batman up and no costumed DC hero showed any signs of having an individual personality again until…
Justice League of America #66. At a League meeting Green Arrow… disagreed! With SUPERMAN! And it BLEW MY MIND! I know, I know, you don’t get it, because for you Green arrow is just “Arrow”; that buff, tormented dude on the WB who is basically just Batman with arrows, which is ironic.
See, here’s how Green Arrow started out in 1941. He was this really rich guy and he wanted to fight crime. So, since he was good at archery, he got himself an Arrow car, an Arrow Plane, an Arrow cave, and an eleven year old side kick. Hmmm, that sounds so familiar, where have I heard all that before? Wait, I know, it’s Bruce Wayne minus his parents getting killed in front of him, which makes Green Arrow sort of Batman only with NO MOTIVATION AT ALL!
I think we can all agree, Green Arrow was very, very sad. And here’s the amazing thing, he stayed that way for twenty years and people were okay with it. Why? Shamefully low readership standards. But then Marvel, the new kid on the block, upped the stakes with Reed Richards and his huge, stretchy, unshaved Kisser.
My Mind is Blown By Four Brown Paper Grocery Bags of Comic Books | October 30, 2014
I started buying comics in 1969 at a little place called Enright’s General Store in North Andover, Massachusetts. They were 15 cents each. I bought Marvel and DC, strictly the superhero books. My best friend Mike bought the war books, the westerns and anything with a car, but not me. I wouldn’t even buy “Challenger’s of the Unknown” on account of their uniforms weren’t superhero-y enough.
Earlier that year I’d been introduced to the medium by Reg Aubrey, quite possibly the greatest babysitter in the history of babysitting. He was a teenager. He was the only son of the only African American family in my lily white hometown. He had a room full of scientific junk including that thing you see in every sci-fi movie of the period with the round green screen and the glowing green dot that moves across it in a jagged line and goes ‘beep’. And Reg read comics. We were pretty much the only Jews in town, which was different enough, but not black different. The only electronic junk I had was our discarded black and white TV that took five minutes to get a picture after you turned it on, and received three stations which you needed a pair of pliers to switch between. Comics was the only thing he did I was capable of doing.
He gave me four brown paper grocery bags full of comics going back to about ’62, the year of my birth, and they BLEW MY MIND so completely it is still blown and I have continued to read superhero comics my whole life.
When I tell you what was in those bags, some of you are going to cry like the irritating little fanboys you almost certainly are since you’ve read this far. You’ll think of how much the comics I had would be worth today had I slipped them into mylar bags with acid free backing boards without ever having read them (which damages the spine, dontchaknow) and stored them in a temperature controlled locker. That is not what comics are for. They are to be read, over and over, until the staples are coming out and the corners are stained with the sweat of your little boy fingers. They are for getting chocolate on and leaving in your treehouse and piling up in the bottom of your closet until your mom throws them out when you’re overnight at your best friend’s house. They were never meant to be fetishized like the finger bones of Catholic saints. That shit is for stamp collectors, who are called philatelists, which sounds dirty, as well it should. If I still had them, I could go read them, and the mythic status they hold for me now would whistle out making a vaguely farty sound like the air hisses out of the balloons at my kid’s birthday parties because I suck at tying knots in balloons.
BAG ONE: THE GALACTUS TRILOGY
Fantastic Four 49-51 came out in 1966. It may be the first instance of a comic book story lasting more than a single issue. It was certainly the first such instance I’m aware of.
Right now, some anonymous, overweight, lonely, son of a bitch with coke bottle glasses reflecting the monitor he’s slouched in front of like a big bag of Fritos. A really big bag. The kind of bag you can only get at one of those food warehouses where you have to buy a membership. A thought bubble next to his head reads: “Oh ho! Obviously Mister Burbank is not aware that the ongoing storyline was first pioneered in 1948 by Si Grumpus during his short lived but noteworthy run on The Crimson Chigger for Tip Top Publications.” That may well be true, (it isn’t, I made it up for humorous purposes) but shut up, fictional nerd stickler. I’m married. Try that on for size. Also, thought bubbles are no longer used in comics. Why? Because, unlike the idea that the bite of a radioactive spider gives you anything besides cancer, thought bubbles are unrealistic.
Marvel comics were already using a sort of Soap Opera approach in that each issue led into the next, and hell, I don’t know, maybe the Galactus Trilogy isn’t the first multi part story. It was for me, and the sensation of finishing that first issue and thinking “OH MY GOD, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” was something I’d felt at the end of chapters in books, but never with a comic. But that was not what BLEW MY MIND!
It was a very cosmic Trilogy. It introduces Uatu, The Watcher, a giant, silent, baby-looking bald dude who lived on the moon and who was just about as enigmatic as hell. It introduced The Silver Surfer, who was all silver and surfed around on a flying, silver surfboard, creating dramatic tension by juxtaposing incredible, soul-searching, angst and goofy-ass, silvery,flying surfboard riding. And most of all, it introduced Galactus, Devourer of Worlds,
a purple suited, helmet wearing, giant even gianter than Uatu the Watcher! Galactus was beyond good and evil! Galactus took no more notice of the Fantastic four than you or I would pesky gnats! And Galactus was going to EAT OUR WORLD! By devouring its energy, not, you know, carving up chunks and eating them. That would be as stupid as a silver guy in a silver speedo flying around on a silver flying surfboard. But none of that was what BLEW MY MIND!
There’s this scene about two thirds of the way in. The FF have not been able to do squat to even get Galactus to pay attention to them, let alone stop making his earth eating machine. Reed Richards, Mister fantastic, has been up for two days straight trying to invent some shit because apart from being able to stretch like a rubber band (which it took us kids no time to realize was a sex thing, and why he was called Mr. Fantastic), he was also this big science braniac. So he’s up all night inventing. And there’s this splash panel, and there’s Reed and HE LOOKS LIKE CRAP! He looks like your dad the morning after a bender before he’s had a shower! REED RICHARDS WAS ALL SCUZZED OUT AND HE NEEDED A SHAVE!! Did Superman ever need a shave? He did not. Did Batman ever say “Excuse me old chum, but I need a Batshower.”? No. But when Reed Richards was up all night he looked like it! If he needed to shave, what else did he need to do? Did he brush his teeth, After a big bout of stretching did he STINK of FANTASTIC SWEAT, did he GO TO THE FANTASTIC BATHROOM?! SWEET JESUS, REED RICHARDS WAS REAL and that BLEW MY MIND!!
Which of course was just what Marvel had been trying to do. They were trying to make their Heroes real people with lives that you could, to some small degree, relate to. Spiderman got his ass handed to him by the Lizard because he had the FLU and that BLEW MY MIND! Captain America couldn’t make friends because he was too emotionally scarred by the death of his Teen partner, Bucky and that BLEW MY MIND! Cyclops could never admit he had the burnin’ teen hotties for Marvel Girl because he COULDN’T CONTROL the force beams that SHOT OUT OF HIS EYES and he was ashamed and afraid he might hurt her and it BLEW MY MIND! But none of it freaked out my seven year old head more than Mister Fantastic looking like a friggin’ bum. I stared at that picture for hours, I tried to explain it to my parents “Dad, look at this, Mr. Fantastic needs to SHAVE! Do you have any idea what that MEANS?!’ You kids today with your piercings, your’apps’, your bathtub methamphetamine labs, you have no damn clue what I’m talking about. For you Wolverine and Nick Fury always need Grooming tips. Gambit sometimes goes weeks without washing his filthy Cajun hair. But Reed Richards was the first superhero on whom superheroing took a toll. Did Stan Lee write “Reed stretches forward holding bizarre tech. He looks like a pile of roasted crap.” Did Jack Kirby think ,“Well, when I stay up all night long drawing comics, the wife says my face looks like a used up welcome mat. Maybe Reed oughta look that way.” Who knows?
Prior to Justice League #66, the magazine was a personality free zone. If you were blind and someone was reading the comic to you (shut up, I’m moving towards a point here) the only way to tell who was who would be what the Heroes said when they were surprised. Wonder Woman said “Great Hera” cause she was Greek and Hera was a Greek Godess. Aquaman said (I’m not making this up) “Sufferin’ starfish!” on account of he lived underwater and hated to see starfish suffer. Martian Manhunter said “By the Red sands of Mars!” because he was from mars. Superman said “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” Why? Nobody has a single solitary clue. But if you took an X-Acto knife, sliced out a “sufferin starfish!’”and glued it over a “great Caesar’s Ghost!” it would not make an iota of difference. Any word bubble could be coming out of any hero’s mouth because there was no more difference in personality between Batman and the Flash than there was between one Stepford Wife and another.
And so when writer Denny O’neil has Green Arrow stand up and vocally DISAGREE with Superman, it BLEW MY MIND! Less than a year later, artist Neal Adams gave GA a Goatee and some cool new duds to go along with his developing personality. And then O’Neil finished erasing the clone like Batman/Green Arrow similarities by getting rid of GA’s cortune, cave, car plane, and sidekick (more on him later).
Green arrow continued to keep it real by teaming up with Green Lantern, ‘cause, you know, he was Green too, and Kermit the Frog had yet to be invented. Little was made of the fact that Green Arrow broke up the Green lantern and Flash, his prior Super buddy, who had a whole Green/Red Christmassy thing going on. It’s possible Flash actually dumped Green Lantern first, for the Elongated Man, because he could… you know… elongate.
O’Neil and Adams brought the relevance for thirteen issues. Check what an elderly black man asks Green Lantern in issue #76, 1970: “I been readin’ about you…How you work for the blue skins.. And how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins…And you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there’s skins you never bothered with–! The black skins! I want to know… How come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!” Now okay, there’s a little embarrassing dialect going on there, but it was 1970! Green Lantern/Green Arrow dealt with racism, poverty, whacked out Manson Style religious cults and my personal favorite, a slum lord Villain who was a dead ringer for Spiro Agnew! (If you don’t know who Spiro Agnew was, that’s an education in itself. The bare facts are, he was Vice President under Richard Nixon, and he resigned even before Nixon did, because he was such a huge a-hole. Nowadays Presidents and vice Presidents don’t have to resign when it’s discovered they are huge a-holes. They get re-elected instead. On a side note, I use the ‘a-hole’ not because I am squeamish, but because it’s a funnier word than ‘asshole’. See?)
(P.S., having to tell you who Spiro Agnew was makes me want to cry, but you’re a comic book fan so the chances of you knowing shit from Shinola are just about squat.)
(P.P.S. “Shinola” was a shoe polish. See, folks used to wear leather shoes, and they’d get scuffed up and… ah, screw it. Goddamn whippersnappers.)
O’Neil and Adams put the Cherry on the personality cake in their final two issues by taking Green Arrows forgotten Robin Substitute Speedy, and making him a Smack addict.
The title of the story arc, and I wish to god I was making this up, was “Snowbirds Don’t Fly.” The idea of a teen sidekick riding the white horse went over so well that DC abandoned the idea of Superheroes having personalities for another decade.
But it wasn’t Speedy’s heroin addiction that blew My Mind. It wasn’t GA’s hipster beard or the time he convinced Green Lantern to take off his power ring so they could punch the living crap out of each other. It wasn’t even the way Neal Adams drew GA’s girlfriend Black Canary in leather and fishnets. Okay, that did blow my mind, but in a whole different way that belongs in another article that discusses things like Zatanna and whatever material they made the Catwoman and Batgirl costumes out of on the Batman TV show, and is frankly none of your damn business. It was Green Arrow standing up to Superman that BLEW MY MIND almost as much as Mr. Fantastic’s five o’clock shadow. It was those four grocery bags full of comics that if my mother hadn’t thrown away and if I’d kept in pristine, near mint, completely anal condition, I could now sell to pay my daughters tuition. Except I’d never sell them and my daughters would tell their boyfriends and therapists about how their crazy ass dad was sitting on a friggin’ gold mine they’d never get their hands on ‘till he died! Yes, died! Alone and broken in a YMCA with nothing but a stack of well protected comic books to love him! Comic books that had once and forever BLOWN HIS MIND!
Now get the hell away from me. I have something in my eye.
My CoviDiary, 6/11/2020: The Fading Pinballs of Misery
BY MAX BURBANK | In the days immediately following 9/11, there was a great deal of uncertainty. In the national memory, it’s solidified into, “Where were you when you heard?” and images of the event, the fall of the towers. And of course the outlier events, the Pentagon and the field where the flight went down, which I could look up the flight number of, but I didn’t, because I want you to know that’s how it works, awful events are subsumed and incorporated into larger, more awful events. That’s memory. That’s hindsight, it was one thing, but in the moment that wasn’t what it was like at all.
We didn’t know the whole thing was a gigantic, horrific one-off, a superbad day where we got a taste of things that happen every day in other places. It was a big taste, for sure, and it changed us forever–and then we got to changing the world back real hard, but that’s a whole lot of other stories, and not what I mean to be writing about. The point is, we thought the Towers might just be the tip of the spear, part of a campaign of terror. Remember when the government advised us to duct tape plastic sheeting over all our windows because, you know, biological weapons? That was fun, right?
I was commuting from Salem to Boston for work, and Salem had to be super-low on anybody’s target list. But Boston? Not New York, but still. Terrorists liked knocking down symbols, right? Cradle of the revolution? Drop a little dirty bomb on the Freedom Trail? That’d send a message, wouldn’t it?
I’m a big believer in statistics. Statistically you’re not going to die in a terrorist event. You’re just not. But, you know… what if you did? You think about it. That’s how terrorism works. It works… because you can’t help but think about it.
I figured if my ticket got punched, it would be on the commuter rail, just coming into North Station. Unlikely, but… there was a non-zero chance of… you know… BOOM.
And I thought, maybe I should write a letter to my daughters, who at the time were 7 and 2. One of those “Only open in the event of my death” things. Movie stuff. So they’d know I loved them and shit. That they were the best thing on earth, and I knew they’d grow up to be phenomenal human beings and not random bags of neuroses like their dad, careening from one bumper of disaster to another, like pinballs of misery, which they certainly would never be, because even then pinball was a part of a world fading into oblivion, my past, not theirs. They would make their own metaphors for mental health issues.
I think that last sentence makes pretty clear why my Bride was against my super-good letter-writing idea, especially when you consider I’m a much better writer now than I was then, which I just proved with that sentence, and you are so very welcome. I’m magnificent, and it’s a wonder that I am not swimming in bestseller coin like Scrooge fucking McDuck, and realizing my life goal of being everybody’s favorite guest on late night talk shows. “Hey, I heard Max Burbank’s gonna be on Fallon tonight. It’s always a riot when that dude is on, funny, sure, but insightful? I don’t even have to watch it when it’s on because streaming services and YouTube make culture more immediate in this bold new science fiction present. Hey, what’s pinball?”
See what I’m saying? We didn’t know the terrorism part was already over. So we were still terrified.
But this? This pandemic bullshit we’re in right now? It isn’t like that. Or it shouldn’t be. Because of what we know. Or what we should know. What we’d know we know if we’d just think about it. What anyone who has even a high school level of science knows about infectious diseases. But clearly we don’t know shit, do we? Because right now we are mostly acting like the pandemic is on its way out.
It isn’t. We know it isn’t.
Not all of us, a lot of us are complete Bozos. The Boogaloo race-war dudes? The “I have a right to a haircut” folks? But everybody else knows! We know this is nowhere near over, but we feel like it should be. And to a terrifying degree, we are all telling ourselves that if we feel like it’s on the way out… it is.
But whatever. We were doing better for a little while, but that window is shut.
We had the dumbass, armed to the teeth crowd all jammed together protecting the Second Amendment and their right to get a fucking piercing pass the virus around like a hackysack, didn’t we? And then the moronic, “Let’s go to the southern fried water park” assholes and the “It’s not memorial day if I can’t have a drunken BBQ with a hundred of my closest unmasked friends” idiots, we got a nice spike out of those folks, didn’t we?
And the open early even though we are in not even slightly ready states, Georgia and Florida and Texas, they’re spiking now too, because science, folks! You don’t believe in it, but it believes in you! And all the people with half a brain are still trying to hunker down and pray to god they don’t end up at the grocery store with any of these oblivious assholes who can’t Google the damn death toll, and along comes Derek God Damn Chauvin.
And we’re all out in the street.
And we should be. It’s right that we are. I mean, not me. I’m way too scared to do what I know is right. Maybe I’ll put that in a “To be read in the event of my death” letter to my girls, who are full-grown adults now. A little postmortem honesty.
But yeah. Getting out in the streets over this is worth the risk. It’s to our lasting shame that we didn’t do it years and victims ago, and by “we” I mean white people, because now that it’s the end of the world, let’s at least be real. It’s a hell of a lot more worth the risk than a hankering to get a damn facial. A hell of a lot more worth the risk than refusing to wear a mask because it owns the libs. It’s the right thing to do. But you also have to know the Coronavirus doesn’t give a crap about your motivations.
And you have to know that the police getting people smashed together, stampeding away from the shields and the batons isn’t going to help. The pepper spray isn’t going to help. There’s going to be a spike, and the GOP is gonna go, “Look, we were doing great, just 115,000 dead, what a victory, and then ANTIFA had to riot and loot and THEY GAVE THE VIRUS TO EVERYBODY! THE CHINESE AND ANTIFA WITH THEIR ARMY OF LITTLE OLD GUYS WHO FALL DOWN MADE US DO A MARTIAL LAW!!!
So between idiot asshole reasons and honest to god moral imperative reasons, we’ve pretty much screwed the social distancing pooch at this point. And those of us who have had the luxury of quarantining up to now… we’re going back to work, even though we know it’s not safe.
We’re moving into a new stage. Where we’re going to wash our hands and wear our masks and try to keep a decent distance out in the world when we remember to. If we don’t get too tired of it. If it doesn’t start to feel like we’ve done so much, it really ought to be done by now, so it must be done by now, right?
We’re gonna let the chips fall, am I right? That seems to be the plan, now. Letting the chips fall where they may.
And on that note, I am going to open the YouTube and see what wisdom our Great Orange Emperor dispensed on the subject of race relations today. Not because I am a glutton for punishment, but because one of the only things that reliably makes me forget my fear for a little while is anger.
My CoviDiary, 6/09/2020: Jelly Swarm
BY MAX BURBANK | I have a little something I need to get out of my system. Humor me.
Many years ago when I was just a lad, I vacationed with my family at Rehoboth beach. The ocean was as warm as a bathtub and I frollicked unsupervised in the waves despite my youth, as the style of parenting back then was charmingly lax, a sort of distracted, latch-key chic. It’s quite possible my parents were well above the high tide line slouched in the peculiar aluminum tube and polyester plaid strapped beach chairs of their era, day drinking. It was, after all their vacation, and not mine. I was a child, and had nothing to vacation from.
I bobbed blissfully in the waves for who knows how long, until my perfect happiness was jiggled just a touch by a slight pinch, as if someone had pushed a thumbtack against my upper arm, hard, but not hard enough to break the skin. It stung, but only a little, just enough to focus my thoughts in time to feel another little pinch and sting, and another, and another. A wave broke over my head, and I opened my eyes underwater to discover I was absolutely surrounded by hundreds of thousands of tiny little jellyfish. Everywhere. Like dust motes. Dust motes that stung. You can imagine my panic as I flung myself toward the shoreline, absurdly high stepping as one must to get out of the waves, tiny little welts appearing everywhere on my body. You can imagine my horror and disgust.
They sell a meat tenderizer with the name of one of history’s greatest monsters at the beach stands there, because apparently meat tenderizer is efficacious for treating jellyfish stings. Since jelly swarms are a frequent enough occurrence to create a market for meat tenderizer, you’d have thought they might have warned small beach-going children, but of course that would have cut into the local meat tenderizer profits.
I revisit this memory and share it with you because it puts me in mind of the reality we are currently living through. The ocean we swim in is only one-half sea water. The other half is a particulate horde of horrible, mindless, stinging little jelly bastards, insignificant and only slightly irritating individually, but unbearable and utterly horrifying en masse.
One such execrable little nugget of floating goop is Ben Shapiro, or as I prefer to call him Ben Fucking Shapiro, an obnoxious, stinging invertebrate that has at last found it’s perfect environment, its happy place in the ocean of time in which to do the only thing it can, to perform it’s sole function, which is torment. Torment with no aim beyond torment itself. And yet, credit where credit is due, Ben does manage one thing that makes it stand out among the myriad horrible, stinging, pointless, evil little fat bags: It thinks itself quite special. It thinks itself the pinnacle of jellyfish evolution, the pride of pointless irritation, when in fact it is very nearly indistinguishable from it’s zillion horrid little peers and can only inflict any real pain when in conjunction with its entire wretched cohort.
It’s possible you don’t know who he is, and I hope so, because that would bother him. If he had any idea at all the size of the massive majority for whom his name means absolutely nothing, it would stick in his nasty little jellyfish craw to the point where swallowing became unpleasant in as much as jellyfish swallow, which they do not, being at heart appallingly simple organisms for whom the act of swallowing is far too complex.
Leaving the metaphor behind at least briefly, it becomes hard to say just what mister Shapiro actually is. A pundit? I suppose? A crass bit of human infotainment masquerading as a… commentator on all things socio-political? Not so much a person as a posture?
Let me ask you this, in high school, were you at all aware of the debate team? Almost certainly not, but if you were, do you recall the kid who was not so much just lonely and friendless, not merely too unlikable for the tender safety of the drama club, but just… nasty? Short and oily and venomous, real little shit who’d could have grown up to be a serial killer if he was only a bit more athletic and a whole lot braver. That was Ben Shapiro. Ben “Debate me, you won’t” Shapiro, who always read someone walking away from him because he wasn’t worth the time as capitulation, who always saw disdain as an admission of defeat. When you finally bothered to hate him, and eventually you would, that… that was victory for him. And it tasted sweet. And it was the only thing that did.
If you know who he is, great. If not, and you are so inclined, Google him. Read his Wikipedia page, which I’m quite certain he curates personally. It’s meant to cast him in the best possible light, but I guarantee it will make your lips curl away from your teeth. Reading between the lines is like looking through venetian blinds at a badly mangled but still living run over possum that thinks it’s hot.
Now we are up to speed, Ben Shapiro-wise. Ben Fucking Shapiro, the enfant terrible of being a terrible infant. Now we are on the same page, and we both need to shower, but there’s no water hot enough, that’s a solid guarantee.
Here’s what it Tweeted the other day, one assumes in reaction to nationwide protests over the brutally casual public murder of George Floyd in broad daylight by racist police.
“I hope everybody really enjoyed that 1968-1980 period, because we’re about to repeat it.”
I suppose he is referring to the civil rights movement, the voting rights act, perhaps the very idea that non-whites have rights at all. I suppose he is inviting us to agree with him that it was just a real pain in the ass to be forced to pretend that the more darkly complected deserved to enjoy our American life unimpeded. I suppose it assumes we are also irritated that we might have to go through that long song and dance all over again just because some moronic cracker cop had to kill the one black man too many, the one who for some unfathomable reason turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s spine and turned us back into a nation of pussies. I suppose it assumes we are in solidarity with its desire to stuff the genie back in the bottle so we can all get back to for God’s sake ENJOYING being white! I mean, Christ, didn’t we just get here? Apart from that pesky, raging, lethal pandemic, wasn’t America just starting to be great again?
And not for nothing, Ben Fucking Shapiro, in 1980? There were still four years to go BEFORE YOU WERE BORN, you pretentious, self impressed little wank. In 1980, you were less than a jellyfish, you were random strands of DNA in two different people who quite possibly hadn’t even met, you were yet to be even an aspiring zygote, so maybe spare us all your snarky-ass assessment of what that years between 1968 and 1980 were like, because while you may be too self absorbed to conceive of a world you didn’t exist in, I fantasize about it.
Resolved, you tiny, inadequate, horrid little coelenterate schwanz. Debate that.
My CoviDiary, 6/08/2020: That’s Some Bad Hat, Harry
BY MAX BURBANK | So my daughters do a podcast, Freaky Franchise, which if you are a fan of podcasts in general or podcasts about horror movie franchises in particular, you should totally listen to. If you wanted to stop reading this right now and go to http://www.freakyfranchise.com I would be fine with that, because they are my daughters. They’ve been doing their show for more than two years and have, as I write this, 68 episodes under their collective belt. I do not mean they wear a single belt together, that would be weird and physically restrictive. I do mean they have demonstrated a degree of sticktoitiveness that I did not have at their age, and I had a decent amount of sticktoitiveness as far as creative endeavors that offered very little financial reward go. So I am very proud of them. In fact, I am their number one fan, and I have proof, a mug with their graphic logo and the words “#1 Fan” written on it, the only one of its kind. It’s a very good podcast, although I’d think that even if it weren’t, but it is, and if you don’t believe me, listen to it. For that matter, If you do believe me listen to it, because if you believe my statement that it is very good, why wouldn’t you listen to it? So now that I have effectively stated that all people should listen to the Freaky Franchise Podcast, I can tell you why it is coming up in the context of My CoviDiary.
As is indicated in their name, the watch and make podcasts about horror movie franchises. They just wrapped up The Purge series, and tonight as a family we watched the first movie in the franchise they are about to start covering, Jaws. Unlike a lot of movies they have subjected to analysis, the first of the Jaws movies is almost universally regarded to be pretty darn good. It’s the very first summer blockbuster, it held the box office record until Star Wars knocked it off its perch, and it won three Oscars. While I’ve seen bits and pieces of it on TV over the years, I had not sat down and watched this movie start to finish since 1975, when it came out–the year I turned 13, and because I am of the Jewish persuasion, became a very short, amazingly immature man. I am not saying Jaws was the thing that made me a man, but neither am I saying it didn’t. All of that is NEITHER HERE NOR THERE!
Which is where everything is these days and brings me to my point; oh yes, I do have one, thank you VERY much for your patience and your faith in me, I am being sarcastic. Unless you honestly have both (or either) of those things, in which case I beg your pardon and I also thank you.
So here it is, my point:
I’m quite sure I would not be the first to point out how similar the fictional character of Mayor Larry Vaughn of Amity Island is to the actual character of President Donald Trump. Faced with the remains of a young girl who has clearly been mostly eaten by a shark, the mayor chooses to convince and/or lie to himself that she died in a boating accident, as closing the beaches and publicly issuing a shark warning would be VERY bad for business. Amity Island is a tourist town and it’s the first week of July. A dog and a little boy will die as a direct result of the Mayor’s unethical, self serving decisions.
Trump, right? SO Trumpian.
Except not. Or really just barely. Mayor Vaughn is like Trump in the same way that getting a cramp while swimming which hurts and is scary but does not prevent you from making it safely to shore is like getting bitten in half by an animatronic robot Great White Shark.
If Mayor Vaughn was Trumpian, he would not have allowed Police Chief Brody to close the beaches after the Dog (and sidebar, it really seems like nobody gives a shit about that dog. Apart from one shot of a dogless floating stick, no one seems to care, which for the record DOES NOT SIT WELL WITH ME) and little boy get devoured. If asked by the press if his decision to go with the whole “boat accident” explanation for the death of Chrissy contributed to further deaths, he would studiously avoid ever saying her name and make sure to mention he took no responsibility at all. He would never close the beaches even if the shark ate multiple people a day. He would defy his own guidelines or beach reopenings, and tweet that tourists and locals alike needed to “LIBERATE” themselves from the bonds of not swimming in shark infested waters, even though it was really nice out, by swimming in shark infested waters, an act which not only is all about freedom, but also protects your 2nd amendment rights. He would refuse to close the beaches even at a point when a Great White Shark was eating 3000 people a day and insist that the death by shark devourage of 110,000 people was a terrific victory over the invisible enemy of Chinese Animatronic Robot Great White Sharks.
Mayor Vaughn is a bad mayor and a bad man, but it only takes one canine and one human death for him to understand his greed and self interest led him to make an immoral, unsupportable decision. Mayor Vaughn may be a flawed human, but he is a human. He can feel shame. He can adjust. He can make better choices before things get worse. At no point in the movie does Mayor Vaughn talk about how he is the person who has suffered the most from shark attacks, or accuse the shark of being a fake apex predato, or insist that he is the best mayor in the history of the United States while right behind him Jaws is actively chowing down on Robert Duvall.
So no. Mayor Vuaghn is no Trump. If you insist on finding a stand-in for Trump in a Steven Speilberg film, I’d suggest Schindler’s List.
Spoiler alert. It ain’t Schindler.
My CoviDiary, 6/05/2020: Snapshots
BY MAX BURBANK | So, a few quick snapshots of where we are right now.
The Message on the Masks | The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) spent a lot of money on the masks they made to send all over the country, with the intention of distributing them to protestors who were knowingly risking their lives to demonstrate. The masks were black cloth emblazoned in yellow with one of two texts; “Stop Killing Black People” and “Defund the Police.” The first four boxes, each containing 500 masks, were mailed from Oakland, California, and were destined for Washington, St. Louis, New York City and Minneapolis,
The masks never made it out of Oakland. USPS tracking numbers led to the information that the masks had been “Seized by law enforcement” and that the shipper should “Contact the USPS for further information.” However, no information was made available to the shipper as to why the shipment was seized at the point of origin, what agency seized it, or how they knew to seize it in the first place. The boxes were sealed, unsuspicious, and the shipper uses USPS to mail apparel on a regular basis.
One has to assume that some agency of the government had information about the shipment, which would indicate either a mole, or that the group has been under surveillance. Did the unknown government agency object to the slogans printed on the masks, or the very idea of protesters protecting themselves from COVID-19? Good questions, but moot, as hours after a story on the matter appeared on Huffpost, the shipment of masks was released.
As far as I’ve been able to tell, no information has been made available as to why and under whose authority the masks were seized.
Bleeding From the Ear | By now you have quite possibly seen the video of a member of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team, clad in black tactical gear, violently shoving an old man, who falls backwards, strikes his head on the pavement, and lies there apparently unconscious, blood beginning to seep from his ear. The shover steps over the unconscious man. The officer behind him begins to bend down, one assumes to see if the old man is OK, but the shover grabs his fellow officer by the arm and drags him back into formation. Multiple officers continue marching, stepping over the old man with no more care or interest than if he’d been a fallen tree branch.
The shover and another officer, perhaps the one who briefly considered helping, were both suspended with pay after the video went viral. Following their suspension, all 57 members of the Emergency Response Team resigned, a small army of Cartman’s whose “authoritah” had been disrespected. “Screw you guys, I’m going home.”
Tin-Eared Sociopath Says Stupid Amazingly Offensive Stuff | The jobs report came out today, and it was far better than expected, 2.5 million new jobs created in May, 13% unemployment. No one has any idea how that’s even remotely possible or what it means, but the stock market skyrocketed and President Bunker Baby just about wet himself in delight, thoroughly convinced that all his troubles are over now. After all, a surprisingly good jobs report couldn’t fail to make everyone instantly forget about 110,000 dead people, a country in flames, the nation’s capital basically under siege by a hodgepodge of heavily armed quasi-military forces, the National Guard and the actual Army, all stitched together with little to no interagency cooperation or any clear chain of command, and a president who intermittently arises from his bunker like a Groundhog, but instead of looking for his shadow orders a violent assault on a peaceful protest so no one will be under foot when he gets photographed defiling a bible.
So as soon as the jobs numbers came out, the fat boob summoned the press and came careening like a crack addict hippopotamus into the rose garden to celebrate his assumption to heaven and gloat about how, against impossible odds, he’d f**ked them all again. And in his giddy jubilation, ad libbing, a thing no sane adviser would ever let him do, he said:
“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.’ It’s a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day.”
Great, Just… great. It’s great.
That’s George Floyd President Fat Donny Two-Scoops is talking about. You remember him. An African American gentleman ,whose brutal yet casual murder in broad daylight by officer Derek Chauvin, assisted by three other Minneapolis police officers, took us from the global pandemic period of the nightmare we are all living through to this new chapter. You know, the one where the majority of the country has reached a tipping point on the whole killing black people if you feel like it is just one of the many perks of being a cop thing, and meanwhile, the president seems to be gearing up to bringing the army in and having them go all Tiananmen Square on us.
And somehow, maybe it’s me, but I just can’t imagine George Floyd smiling down from heaven, going “Well, I can’t say as I liked being murdered, but if that somehow led to a great jobs report in some inexplicable way no non-lunatic could ever follow, I guess it all worked out pretty good. That weird, fat old orange dude in the shitty suit and the bad comb-over sure looks happy. Who am I to rain on his parade?”
Lackluster Divine Intervention | Just after midnight on Thursday, two National Guardsmen were struck by lightning. Their injuries are not life threatening. It is unknown whether the two guardsmen personally shot pepper balls, tear gas, rubber bullets or flashbang grenades at peaceful citizens exercising their constitutionally protected rights, or if God was just like, “Screw it, these two guys will do. Whatever.”
Selfie | It feels like a game, doesn’t it? It feels like at some point we woke up and it wasn’t real life anymore, and slowly it dawned on us that we were in a game. A highly sophisticated but very poorly written game the main selling points of which seem to be senseless, absurd cruelty, and a sophomoric, failed attempt at black comedy. The narrative is sloppy, there doesn’t seem to be any way to win and I don’t know about you, but this escape room sucks and I don’t want to play anymore. I’m slumped against the door and my throat is raw from yelling at them to unlock the damn thing and give me my fucking money back. I’m tired and I’m hungry, I have no clear idea how long I’ve been in here, and I think at some point I may have wet myself, not in joy, like Trump getting the jobs report, but in the normal way of being trapped somewhere there’s no bathroom.
What wouldn’t any of us give to just say “Screw you guys, I’m going home”? Maybe our mistake was not growing up to be policemen. Apparently, those guys can do whatever they want.
My CoviDiary, 6/04/2020: Agnostic
BY MAX BURBANK | Yesterday, it seemed like there was momentum. The Episcopal Church denounced Trump, significant ex and active duty top-brass military denounced Trump. For the love of God, Pat Robertson told Trump his behavior was, “Not cool.” NOT COOL! It felt like we were finally getting somewhere.
Today, no additional shoes have dropped. Or maybe some have, I haven’t looked at the news since 6:00, but I don’t dare to now, for fear of disappointment.
So we’ll back away from current events in consensus reality and take, and fall back on, the personal. Mine.
Sorry. It’s the one I’ve got.
Way back near the beginning of this thing, when we thought we’d all stay home for a few weeks, back when I was only a few entries into My CoviDiary, I told you I hallucinate. Not wildly, not frequently, but I am told I hallucinate. By people who believe I hallucinate.
I’m not entirely sure I do. Mind you, I’m not entirely sure I don’t, either. I’m agnostic on the subject. I’m agnostic on most subjects. It’s my quintessential nature. I don’t really believe in anything, because how could I possibly know, right? For sure? But I don’t one hundred percent disbelieve in anything either, because again, who thinks they know what’s real and what isn’t, for certain? How arrogant would that be?
So God? I’m agnostic. UFO’s? Agnostic. Multiple universe theory, the moon landing, the theory (not mine) that there is only one Olsen Twin, she just moves very fast? Agnostic, agnostic, agnostic. I don’t know who I stole that Olsen twin joke from, but I know it isn’t mine. If the person out there whose joke it is ever reads this, I’m sorry. Get in touch so I can make things right. I love your joke.
When I was a little kid, about five or six, still sharing a room with my brother, we had art prints on the wall. There was a Chagall poster facing my bed. Not a Fiddler on the Roof, but pretty Jewy. It had a gangly Jewish shtetl guy and a rooster. Blue boy was on the other wall. Also, The Peaceable Kingdom and a small sketch of a rabbit by Albrecht Durer. Why? Because our parents were both rarified and disconnected enough to think this would be the sort of shit a couple of little kids would like. Maybe they thought we’d absorb some culture by osmosis. Maybe we did. I mean, I still know all those paintings, right? But most likely it was stuff they liked and we were kids and we didn’t know shit about what we liked or anything else, why consult with a five-year-old and an eight-year-old about fucking interior decorating, am I right?
So when I woke up very early, and my brother was still asleep, I discovered that if I stared quite fixedly at one of the paintings, mostly the Rooster Jew or Blue boy, and let my mind drift, the pictures would begin… to move.
And if I paid attention, if I became aware of being aware they were moving, they would stop. I had to master the art of observing without noticing. So I worked on that. There’s a very specific feeling to it. It’s a hard state to reach, and harder still to hold onto. But when I did… as a little kid… the pictures moved.
We had a tiny little half-bathroom on the first floor, and the door had two oblong panels of heavily smoked glass in it, and I’d sit there on the toilet and stare at the smoked glass and reach for that feeling and the cloudy whirls in the smoked glass would resolve into pictures. People and animals and creatures. And the more I observed them (but did not notice them!), the greater the detail would become, and the figures in the glass would slide and merge and morph and my legs would fall so soundly asleep it would be very hard to stand, first because of numbness and then because of excrutiating pins and needles.
I told my Dad about it. Since he was a doctor, I thought he might have an angle on if I was crazy. I told him I saw pictures in the smoked glass. And he said, without looking up from his paper (and that is how I always picture him, talking to me without looking up from his paper. Do not misunderstand me. This is a memory of fondness.), he said, “Oh, that. That happens to everybody.”
I didn’t know what he meant. I didn’t know it then, and since I spent my whole life not asking him, I don’t know it now. It’s a question consigned to the very large pile marked “things you will never know.” It’s my largest pile. Agnostic.
Because he may have just been blowing me off. OR, he may have been saying the phenomenon was common. OR he might have thought that, but only because he too hallucinated and was such a self-absorbed person he figured everyone experienced life as he did and never bothered to ask around and see if that was true. OR he might have been any of those things and just wrong. OR we were both wrong and I wasn’t hallucinating, they weren’t hallucinations at all. OR maybe what we all call hallucinations are actually an entirely different phenomenon altogether.
It’s complicated. It was then, it is now. I’ll give you a for instance, that back when I started this I practically promised you. I’ll tell you the story of The Ancient Twins.
I don’t recall the very first time I ever saw them, but it wasn’t long after I moved to Salem, and it could have been before either of the kids were born. I was walking to the grocery store, and there they were, about a half a block ahead of me.
Two tiny little old ladies, dressed not identically, but low-key alike. Very similarly colored long skirts. Very similarly colored sweaters. Very similar (but not identical!) polka-dot, vinyl rain bonnets.
And when I saw them the next time, in the grocery store, shopping, I turned my cart around and looped the aisle so I could come toward them and see their faces. Ancient! Skin burnished by decades of sun to the leather gold of a favorite wallet you would never, ever let go of, or a baseball mitt you had as a child that you thought was gone forever but you found again in middle age, in the bottom of a box, laced up around a ball. That never happened to me. I had a glove, but I never found it. I loved that glove, but what I loved was the science of breaking it in. The kneading and bending. The linseed oil, massaged in. The tying it with hemp twine around a baseball. I never liked the game at all. It provoked far too much anxiety. But I truly loved breaking that glove in. It’s lost in the past. We don’t find things like that in the bottom of long forgotten boxes.
My point is, the ancient twins were quite identical.
Of course, I told my Bride about them. I don’t think she doubted me initially, although she knows I see things now and then, or so I’m told. So she told me, but not right off. That came later. Because as the years went by, I saw the Ancient Twins quite frequently, but nobody else did. I mostly saw them in the vicinity of the grocery store, but I also saw them all over town, just less frequently. And I never once saw them when anyone was with me. Not my Bride, not my children (who came along during this story and got older as it progressed), not friends. I never ever saw them unless I was alone. And when I described them, you would think someone would say, “Oh yes, those funny little old twins, I see them around, I know who you mean.” Because Salem is a very small city, and if two Ancient Twins always dressed low-key alike were shuffling around town, they’d be known, wouldn’t they? But nobody said they’d seen them. What they said was, “Huh.” And so my Bride gradually came to believe that I had hallucinated them, and you can hardly blame her.
It occurs to me that you probably think I am telling a ghost story. One in which I am Agnostic about whether the Ancient Twins exist, whether ghosts exist at all, because I’m inclined to think they don’t, but do I know everything? And if I’ve seen them, shouldn’t I believe in them? But who’s to say what I’m seeing is real, right? While I have seen ghosts I don’t believe in, That’s another story, and that’s not what the Twins were. Or it’s not what they are now. I told you, it’s complicated.
Because one day, my youngest saw them. From behind, just the way I saw them the first time. And she thought, “Holy shit! Are those Dad’s Ancient Twins?” And then, because my daughter exists in the here and now and is not a Luddite like her father, she did what I could not.
She took a picture of them. On her phone. With the camera that is on her phone. They have those now. They are quite common. Cameras on phones. You’d be hard pressed at this point to get a phone that didn’t have a camera on it. Brave New World.
And she took that picture home and she showed it to her mother and her sister, and yes, it was from behind, but it certainly argued for the existence of something. And then about six months later (a time during which I saw them three or four times), my bride saw them. From the front. And she was with my other daughter. And after that, people would say to me, “Oh my God, do you remember that time you told me about those ancient twins you say and I said ‘huh.’ Well! I finally saw them. I’ve seen them a few times. They are something!”
And they are. They are something. They are something now.
But the period of time during which as far as I knew only I saw them lasted almost two decades. How likely does that seem? How statistically likely is it that for almost 20 years, I regularly saw two Ancient Twins toodling around Salem, Massachusetts in their charmingly low-key, almost matching, outfits, their two identical little apple doll faces, their ubiquitous vinyl rain bonnets, with or without polka dots, their generally foul and volatile tempers (I never told you that part, did I? Oh, how they’d fight in the sorcery store over what beans to buy and such), and no one in my family ever saw them, and it rang no bells when I told people about them, and then one day my daughter sees them from behind, captures them digitally from behind, and shortly after that they are here, undeniably, in a consensus reality where everyone agrees there are ancient twins in Salem.
It feels like I brought them here.
It feels like they were somewhere I could see them and no one else could, and I then I spent so many years observing them without noticing them that I brought them here, all the way here, where everyone can see them and where now they have always been.
Do I believe that? Are you asking the question? Have you not been paying any attention? I don’t believe it or disbelieve it. What could be more arrogant than thinking I know?
I bet you think I gave them names. I did not. I would not presume. They have names. It’s not for me to name them. I could ask them now, but I’d never, for fear of making them vanish, or worse yet, never have been. I don’t dare speak to them.
There was a time a number of years ago where for several months I only saw one of them. The same one? Both, but not together? How would I know? They’re identical.
I was very worried. What if they were fighting? What if they were estranged? What if one was sick? How lonely for the other to wander Salem on her own, to buy groceries for them both, but by herself? To have no one to argue over what kind of beans to buy and such? And what if the other one wasn’t sick. What if she was dead? It was too horrible. But then I started seeing them together again so it was OK.
Now, though. I haven’t seen them at all since this Lockdown began, which makes sense, but is troubling. I don’t know their names. I don’t know where they live. I know a lot of people who’ve seen them, but nobody who knows who they are or where they go.
They are very old. They are ancient. Frail. High-risk.
And if I did know how to contact them, could I? They’re endangered as it is, how could I risk eracing their existence by noticing them? The possibility I might cause them to never have been is just too much responsibility for me. They were real to me, and then maybe they weren’t, and then they totally were, and now? I may well never see them again.
I can live with that. It’s quintessential to my nature.
But I worry about them. And I miss them. And if they are gone, I wonder what all else is going to get taken away before all of this is past. And I will see them again one day or I won’t, which makes them as real as everybody else, or as ephemeral.
But if I brought them here, I’m responsible for them, right? If I brought them here, I am a lax and undeserving creator with little to no control over my creations.
I wonder if that’s how it is with God and us? It would explain a lot.
My CoviDiary, 6/03/2020: That Thing Beggars Aren’t Allowed to Do
BY MAX BURBANK | So the big news today is, as horrendous as Monday was, today we saw the first glimmer of hope we have seen in a very, very long time. The Coronavirus doesn’t care, because it is not functioning on the human plane and does not give a tin shit about, or even recognize, our national ups and downs. But if we are to have any hope at all of weathering that storm, Trump has to fall. And while on Monday that seemed impossible, today it seems… a little possible. And I am starved for hope, so I’ll take it.
Today, a few members of the military publicly turned against Trump. And perhaps even more importantly, the secretary of Defense, who on Monday said some seriously egregious shit, seems to have been shamed by his peers into repudiating Donald Trump, or at least his position on using the military as his personal police force. And that means some of these people still have the capacity to feel shame. And people who can feel shame are not beyond hope, and they can be turned.
But we’ll get much deeper into all that tomorrow, when a little dust has settled, and by which time Esper’s resignation will have been announced on Twitter by Trump, his favorite way of firing people. And I’ll see how that plays out before I write about it.
So tonight, instead of that larger picture which I’ll leave to simmer for a bit, I’m turning my focus to a much, much smaller slice of our current reality, if you can even call what we are living through right now reality (and if you’ve been paying attention to My CoviDiary, you know I don’t.)
To briefly summarize: Monday, The Grand Trumpolini summoned the Army to his front lawn and repaired to the Rose Garden where he crowned himself “Our Lord of Law and Order.” Shortly before it began its very brief speech, Attorney General William (#BullFrogRichelieu) Barr (and let me know if you get that joke, because while I intend to keep making it for maybe the rest of my life, it would bring me some small happiness if I felt anybody liked it even a fifth as much as I do) descended to Lafayette Square, where he gave whispered orders to the authorities. I use that vague generalism because we still have little idea who was in charge of that clown car assemblage of police, national guard, secret service, park police, Blackwater bully boys, prison riot containment units, Orcs, and goblins.
As Trumpumpalissimo was holding forth on his long history of near-religious respect for the concept of the right to peaceful protest, his combined hordes set upon the actual peaceful protesters, firing teargas, rubber bullets, and flash bang grenades, and beating them with batons and riot shields.
Lest you think this action rash, let me assure you, a very good reason was soon made clear for why the crowd had to be so rapidly and violently dispersed in illegal violation of their constitutional rights: It seems the Glorious Sun God, His Emperorship The Trump King, desired to progress unimpeded from the Rose Garden through Lafayette Square to the steps of Saint John’s Episcopal Church, so that he might hold aloft a book (he has not read) before the doors of a house of worship he does not attend, and have his picture taken.
Caught up? Excellent.
Tuesday was mostly taken up by the entire country and a good part of the world trying to pull themselves together after yelling,“What the Fuck” so loudly and so many consecutive times that mass mandibular dislocation and loss of facial muscle tone led to a nationwide jaws on the floor-type situation.
And on Wednesday, today, Kayleigh McNinny, America’s Director of White House Communications–who appears to be a life-sized Little Kelly doll made out of a waxy composite of plastic, vinyl and idiocy–compared President Trump’s photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s examination of World War II bombing damage.
Because as I think any of us who took AP European History or watched The History Channel “back” in the “day” when it was just 24-hour Hitler-related programming will recall, Churchill was famous for violently clearing the populace from entire city blocks with riot police firing tear gas and beating citizens with truncheons, so that he would not be troubled by their incessant peasant whining about their human rights and whatnot, while he inspected the rubble left by the German blitz, and maybe got a nice photo taken.
“Through all of time, we have seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination,” quoth McNinny, (and that is an actual quote), pausing briefly to wonder if she might somehow erase the embarrassment of her fifth-grade, teacher’s pet, oral report speech patterns with a burst of shocking stupidity, and then swinging for the bleachers.
“George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after 9/11 and Jimmy Carter putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings and George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act flanked by two disabled Americans!” (Again, I did not make that up.)
Golly, what a star! And if you squint real hard and slam your head against something solid, she looks almost enough like Ivanka to explain why she was hired! So CLOSE! You have to give her an “A” for effort, and it would have been a “A+” if even one of those incidents had been preceded by a bizarre, unnecessary, and illegal explosion of violence. Say if W. had gassed and and chased every single fan out of Yankee Stadium before throwing out that legendary pitch, or if Jimmy Carter had said “Now y’all jes relax an’ enjoy, while I beat the livin’ shit out of my camera crew with a nightstick ‘afore I put mah sweater on.” If only Bush Senior had pretended those two disabled Americans were Larry and Curly and gone all Moe on them with the fingers in their eyes and shit, Kayleigh’s weird-ass, nonsensical, panicked babbling might have been something besides surreal, freakish, and unsettling.
But I’ll give her this: It was also funny. Maybe just in that way the best horror movies mix a little comedy in, and it only makes things scarier, but I’ll take it.
‘Cause I’m just about as starved for laughs these days as I am for hope.
And beggars can’t be choosers, right?
My CoviDiary, 6/01/2020: A Nation on Fifth Avenue
BY MAX BURBANK | At about 6:30pm this evening, a number of military vehicles full of heavily armed soldiers pulled into the driveway of the White House. Sometime around 7pm this evening, the United States of America as we have known it may have come to an end.
I say may have become and not became because between the first draft in my head and the second one I’m writing now, I did a little reading. It is not entirely clear whether it was the police, the military, or some combination of both who opened fire with tear gas, rubber bullets, and flashbang grenades on an entirely peaceful crowd of protesters at Trump’s request, simply to clear a path for him to walk to St. John’s Church, where he held a bible for a horribly awkward photo-op. One assumes he meant to draw a direct correlation between state-sponsored violence against its own citizens and… well, God, I suppose. One assumes he felt that his desire to have that photo taken justified violently assaulting a peaceful crowd that had broken no laws.
Eyewitness, in the moment reports suggested the military was… shall we say… dispersing the crowd. No major media platform has yet definitively state this to be the case. In coverage where a distinction is made at all, we are told “the police” took action. Either scenario is horrific, but if the police were the only violent actors, their actions, while certainly immoral and a violation of the civil rights of the protesters, were arguably quasi-legal. If the military was involved in any way beyond being a purely visual prop, then that action was an act of criminal violence. I will not go into a lengthy legal discussion of Posse Comitatus vs. The Insurrection Act here. There will be plenty of that in tomorrow’s papers by writers with a better grasp on legal matters than mine. Trump implied/threatened the Insurrection Act, but never even mentioned it by name, let alone invoked it, choosing instead to act as if it would be perfectly legal for him to deploy the military wherever he liked inside the United States.
Regardless of the legal niceties, tonight Trump previewed his plans to make war on the United States.
REALTIME UPDATE: CNN has just reported:
“It’s past 11 p.m. in Washington, DC, but protesters are still out in large numbers in the national capital.
At least one military helicopter is flying overhead and hovering in an attempt to disperse the crowds.
The helicopter can be seen making slow low-level passes, using its propellers to kick up strong wind and debris. The tactic, known as a show of force, is commonly used by the US military in combat zones overseas to drive targets away from a specific area.”
So, if CNN is correct, the military is now involved on U.S. soil. The Posse Comitatus Act outlaws the willful use of any part of the Army or Air Force to execute the law unless expressly authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress. The curfew began at 7:00. Clearly the “show of force” is an attempt to assist police in dispersing the crowd. The District of Columbia did not (as far as has been reported) invite the military in. The Insurrection Act has not been invoked, unless secretly, which as far as I know is not a thing.
So we are back to my darker take on things.
In his Rose Garden speech, in a moment when any other president with the possible exception of Nixon (but only possible) would have at least made a show of trying to uplift and draw together the nation, he instead called violent protests “domestic acts of terror” which law enforcement would “dominate the streets” to quell. Furthermore:
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said. How would the military do that exactly? Well, he tweeted it yesterday. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Without arrests. Without trials. Without verdicts. He intends to have the U.S. Army to open fire on their fellow Americans.
Tonight was a dry run. Against a backdrop of a pandemic that has killed 107,000 Americans, he declared his intention to throw more corpses on the Nero-esque bonfire he has presided over. If he was willing to deploy tear gas and rubber bullets against his own people just to get a picture of him holding a bible aloft in front of a church he does not attend, do you think for a moment he would hesitate to use live rounds on a crowd if he felt it would keep him in power?
In his Rose Garden speech, Trump did not just threaten to unleash the military on the American people. Trump called the lunatic fringe he has been weaponizing these last few years to arms with the bizarre inclusion of a promise to “Mobilize all available federal resources, both civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your second… amendment… rights.”
There is absolutely nothing about the protests, or any rioting or looting that threatens anyone’s second amendment rights. Protesters don’t legislate. This is clearly a purposeful statement. He is encouraging his heavily armed base of “very fine people” to use their guns.
Did American democracy come to an end tonight? Are we now a fully fledged dictatorship? We have about 24 hours until we know. Maybe, maybe a day or two more, if we are very generous and patient with each other.
What will the push back be tomorrow? Who will it come from? Will the clergy (those who have not already) turn on a president who threatens to make war on the populace in order to protect it? Will the streets fill even more than they have with civilians willing to risk the Coronavirus to cry out against a president who would be king?
Earlier today, Massachusetts Republican governor Charlie Baker, his camel’s back having finally been broken by the president’s horrendous conference call to governors and mayors, at last called Trump to task, citing his “bitterness, combativeness and self interest.” Apparently, the call. in which he called governors “weak”, in which his Secretary of Defense referred to American cities as a “battlespace” which they must “dominate” in order to restore “the right normal,” was just a bridge too far for Baker.
Will any other Republicans join him? Will a single GOP Senator stand up and say “Enough!” to a president willing to turn all of America into Tiananmen Square?
Because if not, Donald Trump is going to start killing us. This is not hyperbole, not a hypothetical, not a paranoid fantasy. He told us he intends to this evening. Just the other day he retweeted a video that began with a man saying “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” Before he was even elected, he told us he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody
We are all on Fifth Avenue now. The only question now is which of us will try to stop him, which of us will stand and watch… and which of us will help him pull the trigger.
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