Category Archives: Write … che ti passa
Tomorrow, the epic journey—from nearly the most southeasterly point in the contiguous forty-eight to nearly the most northwesterly—comes to an end. I arrive in Seattle on the shortest day of the year, which means the days will only get longer going forward. And that’s some kind of, like, good omen, right? Besides, I know that whole thing about the sun going down at 4:19pm is just a norwester’s insider joke. Because that can’t really happen, right? Ha, ha. Good one, Seattellians.
Anyway, other than showing you this cool picture of Mt. Shasta all covered with snow …
… I thought this would be a good occasion to lay some of my Wisdom of the Road and Long-Distance Travel Axioms on you.
- At the very first gas station you see after you leave the one where you filled up your tank, the gas will be cheaper.
- If you can choose a smoking or non smoking room in a motel and you can choose what size bed you get, why can’t you choose whether or not to have a full length mirror? There’s a reason I don’t have those in my house.
- No complimentary breakfast in any motel has never received a compliment and the name is, in fact, the earliest known example of post-truth in American culture.
- In the south, the number of liquor stores is directly proportional to the number of Baptist churches.
- I understand that Texas would like to be known as the “Lone Star State,” but the only nickname that truly makes sense is the “Road Kill State.” That there are any deer left in its entire 268,581 square miles is no thanks to the people who drive the state’s highways. Let’s not even talk about the armadillo.
- There comes a time in every road trip when there is only one thing that will make you feel better, and that thing is Doritos.
- I’ve already discussed the problem of Keeping Track Of Where Things Are. What I’ve realized is that this task requires a second passenger whose job is to do nothing else. If your car is like my car, however, there is no room for this person, so you will have to strap him or her to the roof.
- The best slogan I came across anywhere on the road was in Louisiana, where it was painted on the sloping metal roof of a barn: “Root hog or die.” It reminds me of one of the first folk sayings I ever learned in Italian: “Campa cavallo che l’erba cresce.” It’s still one of my favorites, and it doesn’t have a direct translation. Well, I mean, the concept is easy enough to describe: A starving horse cannot eat until the grass grows out again, but the wait is long, the outcome is uncertain, and there’s a good chance he won’t last long enough to see it happen; in the meantime, if he’s smart, the horse had better figure out some other way to survive. It’s not precisely parallel, but “Root, hog, or die!” strikes me as close in spirit.
- I know they are hard-working men and women with a job that takes a heavy toll on their bodies and their families. I know they are the salt of the earth. I know we depend upon their labor for the products we consume, for our food, and for who knows what else….But I’m still going to say it: big-rig truckers are lousy fucking drivers. They monopolize the road, they always drive too close to the center line, they are terrifying on curves (which they always take super-wide, as if they were completely alone) and, most irritatingly, they love to play a game with other truckers in which they pass one another in s-u-p-e-r-s-l-o-w-m-o-t-i-o-n, flooring their semis to reach the lightning speed of 57 because they can’t stand another minute of being behind that slowpoke trucker who is only going 55. Meanwhile, those of us who would really like to be going the legal speed limit of 70 have formed a convoy twenty-seven cars deep while we wait for you dicks to pull back into the right lane. I’ll say to you what Obama said to Putin: Cut it out.
Something there is that doesn’t love a well-packed car.
At some point in any road trip, organization begins to unravel. In my case, entropy set in on the evening of the second day. What started out as Tetris quickly devolved into the truck from the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies.
When everything went into its place at the beginning of the trip, what I hadn’t taken into account was having to use those things. And then it became difficult to put everything back where it had come from because things weren’t as handy once they were put away.
It takes discipline of steel to keep putting things back where they originally came from. We all have the urge to spread out, but almost no one has unlimited space. There are now at least three things that I know are “in the car somewhere,” but I would be hard-pressed to lay hands on them if I had to.
The other thing you don’t really count on is the dust, which is everywhere. On a few occasions, plagued by flies, I’ve opened all the windows at 75 miles per hour to blow them out. But that doesn’t fully account for the layer of silt that covers the dashboard; the boxes, suitcases, and bins in the back; and, presumably, me.
Dirty clothes are another problem. There never seems to be any good place to put them. They can’t go back into the suitcase with the clean clothes, but if you put them in a bag by themselves, waiting for the next motel with a laundromat, that bag is one more thing that takes up space in a car in which space has been allocated with determination if not necessarily with foresight.
Anyway, at the beginning, you spend a lot of time thinking about what might be useful on the road and, depending upon the vividness of your ability to imagine both contingency and catastrophe, this also means that the well-packed car is claustrophobic. Things that might be useful tend to suck up your space. And that is why I am traveling with a corkscrew, a tape measure, extra packing tape, a first-aid kit, and a bottle of gin. So far, I’ve only used one of them.
The things you pack for a long road trip—and what happens to them as the trip progresses—share certain metaphorical similarities with the things that turn up in a house being emptied in preparation for a move. As you sift out all of the belongings that are truly important or that you know, without ambivalence, should be kept, you find yourself with a collection of random objects, the flotsam of your life, whose purpose you are not always sure of and whose provenance you may no longer remember: Postcards. Coupons from the grocery store. A refrigerator magnet from the plumber. Random screws. A tube of glue. Extra shoelaces that you’ve never used.
A lot of the debris that float to the surface at the end of a move are things that you’ve never used, but which you might. Some day.
Food was especially hard to throw away. After the movers had come and gone, I was semi-paralyzed by the small amount of leftover food in the fridge. At one point, I found myself standing at the sink, trying to finish off a half-jar of sweet gherkins. I’d made it through two-and-a-half when I realized that I didn’t really want pickles. But it isn’t as though you can ask a friend to take half a jar of pickles off your hands, and so I threw them away. They joined a stick of butter. A bottle of salad dressing. Half a loaf of not-very-good bread that was in the freezer against the possibility that I would one day turn it into stuffing.
I understand why people hoard—or, at least, in this moment I think I do. I understand why old people die with their houses full of useless things. People think hoarders can’t let go of the past. I think hoarders are thumbing their noses at the future.
Everything they keep will come in handy someday. The day will come when they will want to find an article in those old newspapers, cook something from a recipe in one of those old magazines, see a photograph again, sew a button on a shirt, put something in a plastic sack. Their “stuff” represents a stake in “some day.” It is an act of defiance against “the end.” The day will come.
The idea that things will be useful someday, will have a purpose, is like throwing a grappling hook into the future and hoping it will catch, giving you both something to climb over on and something to keep you tethered so you don’t float entirely away.
Filament, filament, filament said Walt, willing the ductile anchor to hold.
Some day the silver cord will break, / And I no more as now shall sing went the old hymn by Fanny J. Crosby, who seemed to have written most of our church’s hymnal. I remember hearing one of my teachers sing that particular song, so sweetly. This is fifty years ago.
There will always be a some day. There will always come a day when things are useful. Because there will always come a day.
Which is undeniably true, right up until it isn’t.
In recent months and especially weeks, rhetoric about Trump-as-Hitler and “this is how Nazism got started” has taken on a life of its own and become a kind of internet “truth.”
Or maybe it’s more like a joint at a party: it gets passed from hand to hand and you never know how many people have spit on it.
In one sense, the comparison is facile and even offensive, but we’ve also become accustomed to just about everything being compared to Hitler.
Google the phrase “is like Hitler,” and here’s what comes up (aside, obviously, from Donald Trump):
- Angela Merkel
- Ireland’s Minister for Defence, Enda Kenny
- Apple, Inc.
- Justin Bieber
- Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s Five-Star Movement party
- Kanye West
- Bernie Sanders
- late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
- Boris Johnson
- Mitt Romney
- Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama (but in a good way)
- comedian Adam Carolla
- Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari
- film director Michael Bay
- Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s Podemos Movement
- Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders
- former Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos, Nigeria
- former Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán
- the late Palestine poet Mahmoud Darwish,
- former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
- the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez
- Garrosh Hellscream, a character in the multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft
- the owner of Mr. Ho’s Chinese restaurant in Troy, Alabama
- George W. Bush
- Turkey’s president Recep Erdoğan
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker
- Obama (a lot)
The reason for all of that may be, in part, because it’s about the worst thing people can think of to say about someone else; because there’s a belief that “we” are so inured to horror that only extreme hyperbole will get our attention; because making outrageous and exaggerated comparisons is one of the elements of humor (successful or not); because of Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies; because it’s easier than actually making a case for why someone is a violent, totalitarian, genocidal sociopath; and because there’s a fuckton of people alive today who have absolutely no clue who Hitler actually was or what was happening in Germany in the 1930s.
All of that said, the real point here is the Trump-as-Hitler comparison, which is directly connected in its current usage to urgent calls to “do something”: to not be complacent, to “get out there” and “fight for your freedoms,” to not let “this” happen in America, to recognise the “emergency for democracy” that is taking place, to “stop Trump” before it’s too late, etc., all of which seem slyly (or bluntly) to evoke criticisms of the Germans, the Poles, and other Europeans during WWII who “let” Hitler destroy most of the continent, terrify the world, and murder untold millions of people. (The American government, in fact, also “let” Hitler have his way for much of his reign of terror, but that’s another story.)
What we’re taught (or, at least, I was taught) was that “they” should have done something to stop Hitler—either as he was coming to power or after he was firmly at the helm of the Third Reich. Instead, they chose to be “good Germans” and look the other way. They were complicit. They were guilty.
What could they have done, exactly? Well, they could certainly have done something. They should at least have gone out and gotten themselves shot (as if that would have “stopped” anything).
So my question is this, and it is an absolutely serious one. What are “we” supposed to do? If Trump is Hitler and if his election is going to bring waves of nationalism and racial profiling and mass deportations and concentration camps and ultramilitarized police and dismantling of human- and civil-rights protections … what are “we” supposed to do so as not to end up as “good Germans”?
I’ve got one vote. In my past experience with election campaigns, I can wave signs, do phone banking, register voters, donate money. How many people will that convince to vote my way who weren’t already planning to do so? I would submit that the answer is a pitifully small number. With phone banking in particular, which is the Democratic party’s key grassroots strategy (or, at least, it was in 2008 and 2012), calls go out almost exclusively to people who are ALREADY Democrats and who, if they vote, are going to vote for your candidate anyway.
I could post “Trump is Hitler” on Facebook and Twitter on an hourly basis for the next three-and-a-half-months, which seems to be what a signifcant number of liberals/Dems/NeverTrumpers/pro-Hillary bloggers have in mind, evidently because doing so isn’t at all alienating and has been conclusively proven to change people’s minds.
So forget that. Should I be marching and waving placards? OK, where? Should I be throwing myself in front of a tank? OK, where? But more importantly, why? In other words, what concrete impact will either action have on stopping
If Trump is elected, what should “we” do?
“We” didn’t stop President Roosevelt from rounding up American citizens of Japanese descent and putting them in concentration camps in 1942.
“We” didn’t stop Reagan from dismantling the social-safety net and creating a nation of homeless people.
“We” didn’t stop Bill Clinton from expanding police and judicial powers and putting hundreds of thousands of black people behind bars for decades for petty crimes or from wringing his hands as Rwandans hacked each other to death with machetes.
“We” didn’t stop Bush from invading Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We” didn’t make Obama take action to stop Assad from turning Syria into the killing fields.
So if we are witnessing the last gasp of American-style democracy, if we are truly at that moment in which the United States veers inexorably toward totalitarianism, and if, because of the historical example of Hitler, we are conscious that Trumpencian rhetoric may lead us down a similar road, what are we to do? What specifically? And how will it work?
Again, I am asking in complete seriousness and with no small amount of desperation.
Because I truly do not see a way in our system, short of assassinations, armed civil war, or making friends with my local “preppers” MeetUp Group, to keep a sitting president and an elected Congress, whose majority is from that president’s party, from doing substantially what they want.
I don’t see a way to “stop” a police force or the military or the national guard, if they should be deployed.
I am beginning to have my doubts that average Germans could ever have “stopped” Hitler … the ones who wanted to, I mean. People of all nationalities and faiths across Europe resisted; they did what they could … and not a few of them died in the effort. But they didn’t “stop” him.
If Trump’s deportation orders go into effect, what will we do to keep people from being deported? What can we do?
If our Muslim friends, neighbors, and community members are forced at gunpoint to leave their homes and report to concentration camps, how do we put an end to that program?
If this is the tipping point, and if, unlike our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation, we have ample warning, what is our plan?
One thing I know for sure: Twitter will not save us.
As word spread that the Sanders campaign was organizing millions of protesters to descend on Philadelphia ahead of the Democratic convention in an attempt to win Sanders the presidential nomination, the nation’s toddlers have united in expressing respect and even the occasional pang of envy over the campaign’s ability to sustain a tantrum.
Three-and-a-half-year-old Jo-Jo McBirney of Athens, Georgia, told reporters that he considers the Sanders’ campaign’s plans a validation of all he and his friends have fought for over the last two years. “Everyone knows Clinton won nearly four million more popular votes than Sanders, took six more states, and has 900 more delegates, but refusal to accept reality and insistence on having ‘our way’ are a staple of the ‘terrible twos and threes,’” said McBirney. “As I move into my preschool years, I’m proud to see they’ve now also become a permanent feature of American politics.”
Two-year-old Tiffany Gianina, who achieved cult status among her Prospect Park playdate friends after she kicked her mother nonstop in the shins for the entire length of the subway ride from mid-town Manhattan to Parkside Avenue in Brooklyn, said she was rethinking her entire approach to tantrums. “I always knew the key was to never give up,” she said, “but now it’s like when Emeril throws a fistful of pepper into the pot and screams ‘Bam!’ Sanders’ followers have ‘kicked it up’ to a whole new level of commitment.”
But not all toddlers are so congratulatory. Cleveland-born Benny Brakowitz, 28 months, had this comment: “I once screamed ‘No!’ 116 times in a row in a Starbuck’s in Shaker Heights, and my friends still talk about the time I flung myself on the floor of a Kroger market and fake-cried until the security guard had to carry me out. So what? Now all of that counts for nothing? The Sanders campaign has a Twitter account, and I’m not even allowed to watch TV for more than two hours a day. Big deal!”
June 13, 2016:
And another country heard from.
In Italy, Carlo Taormina, an attorney, ex-parliamentarian, Berlusconi acolyte, and serial joiner of all of Italy’s best right-wing and formerly Fascist parties, tweeted this today:
“L’attentato a Orlando perché due gay si baciavano. Sta di fatto che se si fossero baciato due etero, non sarebbe successo niente.” (@carlo_taormina)
“The attack in Orlando (happened) because two gay (men) were kissing each other. The fact of the matter is that if a heterosexual couple had been kissing, nothing would have come of it.”
Yes, Signor Taormina. That’s pretty much exactly the point.
June 14, 2016
Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s post about Italian politico and rightwinger, Carlo Taormina, who Tweeted that “The attack in Orlando (happened) because two gay (men) were kissing each other. The fact of the matter is that if a heterosexual couple had been kissing, nothing would have come of it.”
Here’s the original Tweet, in case Taormina decides at some point he should delete it:
An entire FB page dedicated to Taormina has since opened up: “I ‘Se’ Lapalissiani dell’Avvocato Taormina” or: “The Lapalissadian ‘Ifs’ of Counselor Taormina.”
The page’s name is little high-falutin’, but it’s an interesting literary reference to a 16th-century French nobleman and military officer, Jacques de La Palice (also spelled de La Palisse), whose epitaph reads:
“Ci-gît le Seigneur de La Palice: s’il n’était pas mort, il ƒerait encore envie.” (“Here lies Seigneur de La Palice: If he were not dead, he would still be envied.”)
Deliberately or not, the epitaph has been misread as “il [serait] encore en vie,” so: “If he were not dead, he would still be alive.”
The so-called “medial s” (think of the way “Congreƒs” is written in the Bill of Rights), which was common up through the beginning of the 18th century, helps the confusion—or makes the pun possible.
In any case, a “lapalissade” is a comical truism, an obvious or self-evident statement, especially one uttered with apparent gravity.
So, as I say, there’s now a whole page of Taorminian “lapalissades” (in Italian), complete with memes. Making allowances for the often crude humor of Italians, some of the pearls are:
- “If all the residents of Hiroshima had gone to the beach on August 6th, no one would have died.”
- “If Jews had only been Catholics, nobody would have been sent to the ovens.”
- “If the Titanic had been a submarine, they’d have seen the iceberg.”
- “If the Twin Towers had been row houses, they’d never have been destroyed.”