Photo by Teresa Pinho on Unsplash

Long Neck

In conversations today about our financial future, my husband used the term “black swan” twice.

The second definition of “black swan” offered by Google is thus: “an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically with extreme consequences.”

We have had such events but I never recognized them as fowl. Just bad luck. Goes to show what I know about the artful use of animal metaphors. Black swan. Such an elegant way to describe catastrophic miscalculations, misjudgements, overreaches, and thunderous regrets. Not that there were so many but what there were were significant, memorable, substantial, worthy of their own special recognition.

I am hoping we have met our quota but suspect more is in store. A group of black swans, not a flock, no, such a gathering would be called a bevy or a wedge in flight, those are the correct terms for what is to come if we aren’t very careful.

Ominous and beautiful at the same time.

Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Bugged Friday Round-Up

I asked a friend in recovery how it was to not be drinking and he responded that he never thought about it until someone asked. This gave me pause. What was I hoping to accomplish with the question? Did I want an actual answer or his affirmation that he still wasn’t drinking? Was I hoping to be educated about the recovery process or make conversation? Or pin the beetle to the display board?

My husband and I are realizing that we love our new dog, Swirl, possibly more than we love each other and certainly more than we love our children. We’re keeping this to ourselves, of course, lest the information falls into the wrong hands. It just isn’t done to place a creature above one’s own family, the optics are terrible as they say. We’re aware of this so we only talk about our outrageous disloyalty in the kitchen.

Yesterday, as my friend Karen tailgated a guy who got so irked he started braking every three seconds, she yelled, kidding/not kidding, “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE, MOTHERFUCKER? WE HAVE IMPORTANT THINGS TO PROTEST!” Just then we spied a cop car tucked on a side street and she slowed down so we looked normal, like two old friends who’d just gone thrifting at Goodwill. And I drew from this experience this: when we lose our ability to yell “motherfucker” we are done for. Thank God we’re not there yet.

My life is a steady mix of brilliance and idiot moves. Earlier this week, after leaping up in a big crowd to deliver what I thought was astute and insightful commentary on a bad public policy decision process, I scurried off to the restroom with the sole purpose of taking a picture of myself in the mirror. It was meant to be sort of a triumph picture plus I thought I looked cute in my pink shirt but I couldn’t figure out how to do it never having done it before and as I was futzing with my phone, of course, someone walked in the bathroom and looked at me a little quizzically, causing me to say, “I’m taking a picture of myself in the mirror.” Unbelievably, I got a picture of myself taking a picture of myself in the mirror as the woman walked in looking quizzical but it was so mortifying that I sent it to the Trash. Can you believe it?

My husband asked me a few hours ago if I was going to write a Friday Round-Up which immediately made me not want to not do it. I took his question as hectoring, pressure, the laying on of unreasonable expectations, which seemed to surprise him but not much. I hate questions, I really do. One wonders why I ask so many.

Eagle Scout

I just bought a copy of the Mueller Report.

When I was 16, I bought a copy of the Warren Report. And I read it which is even weirder.

And, at the time, because the Warren Commission was headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, I figured what was in the report was the absolute truth and that conspiracy theorists were crackpots. I still mostly think that but it’s harder since it has been revealed to me that truth is like jelly, deceptively solid, fluid with the merest heat.

I ordered the Mueller Report after I saw on the news that a particularly vociferous defender of the president, some Republican member of Congress whose name I don’t recall or refuse to commit to memory, admitted he’d not read the report because, well, why would he have to since the president already told him what was in it and I was reminded of people who run around quoting the Bible because of verses they’ve read on restaurant placemats. It’s hard reading the real stuff. Real hard.

So to make myself feel extra righteous about this purchase, I’m going to quote President John Kennedy’s famous statement about going to the moon.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Now we are entering the realm of the sanctimonious. I understand that. And I would apologize for this, for “making a show of being morally superior to other people” as the helpful Google dictionary puts it, except I think reading the Mueller Report is the morally superior thing to do and that’s why I’m going to do it despite the fact that it will probably take me well into the next decade to finish it, my attention span and preoccupation with social media being what it is.

I was a student once, though, a serious one. So my plan is to approach this task like homework. Now, leafing through this 448 page masterpiece, it seems that the reading might go faster than I thought.

The Trump years have worn me down. I find myself shrugging off things that would have made me careen into a light pole three years ago. Worse, the people around me are shrugging. We’re all shrugging. And many of us, tired of the discipline required for effective moral outrage, are skipping out on the hard work of resistance. It really is such a bitch to deal with national politics. Easier to be a thorn in the side of local elected officials. It’s way more fun and offers the prospect of immediate results.

I think the opposition, and yes, the Republicans are opponents, never mind the nostalgia of Joe Biden in his claim that the GOP would return to sanity once Trump is out of the picture, anyway, the opposition is assuming that we over here in the resistance are so gosh darn tuckered out with all our marching and yelling and sign-making that we’re just going to wander off and watch Seinfeld reruns and remember old times when we thought things made sense.

Nope. Not me. I’m working on getting my citizenship badge at this year’s jamboree. One page at a time.

A Talking To

Get rid of those scarves. You’re never going to wear them.

Huh? Who are you?

I’m your Fashionista! Your fashion sense.

What are you talking about? I don’t have any fashion sense.

My point exactly. You need me to tell you to ditch those stupid scarves.

What if I want to add color and excitement and verve to my look?

Yeah. I’ve seen you try. You wrap a twenty-foot scarf around your neck like it’s a python and then rip it off panting for air.

Other women wear scarves and they look great.

Maybe you need a longer neck because you always look like one of those ancient turtles on its way to lay eggs at the Galapagos.

That’s harsh.

I know, I’m so sorry. But it’s my job to protect you from being a laughingstock.

A laughingstock! You think wearing a scarf makes me a laughingstock? That’s terrible. What about all the times I’ve worn scarves in the past?

People are still laughing.

I guess I should thank you for your honesty but I don’t feel all that appreciative.

That’s okay. I totally understand. Now should we pack these up or leave them hanging here so you can remember all the good times?

The Puzzler

This afternoon we went to pick up our vacuum cleaner from Mr. Vak. We have been taking our broken vacuum cleaners of which there have been plenty because of our dogs to Mr. Vak for thirty-five years. Not the same Mr. Vak, they change periodically but they are all Russian causing my husband to write Meester Vak on our Saturday to-do list. He does this because this is what he hears when he takes our broken machinery into the store: “Meester Vak will feex.”

We pulled up behind a car being loaded on to the back of a flatbed truck. A white guy in a white t-shirt and cargo shorts was pacing up and down the sidewalk. Across the street, a black woman and a couple of kids were standing outside a car talking to police. We didn’t make the connection.

While my husband was hanging with Meester Vak, I was in the car with our dog, the window rolled down because it was a beautiful day, and the guy in the white t-shirt came over and started sharing his distress. He had just bought the car moments before, from someone just two blocks away, and he was trying to cross from a side street on to a bigger street when the woman whose car was across the street broadsided him and wrecked his car.

“It was a birthday present for my son. He’s going to be heartbroken.”

I felt bad for him. It’s awful coming up short for your kid’s birthday. I should know, I’ve done it plenty of times.

“I don’t know how to get home.” The flatbed truck had just pulled away with his new car loaded up. My husband came back with our repaired vacuum cleaner pushing it down the sidewalk like he was cleaning up for his mother-in-law.

The t-shirt guy quickly said, “I wasn’t trying to bother your wife. I was just talking to her.” And my husband nodded and put the vacuum cleaner in the back of the truck. He got in the driver’s seat and I asked him right away if we should drive the guy home. He surprised me by not saying no right away. We don’t do a lot of stranger pick-ups.

We talked about where t-shirt guy lived – it was an hour from Milwaukee – and what plans he had to get home. None. He didn’t know anyone where he lived, having just moved there, and had only one number in his phone which was someone he had only just met whom he doubted would come to rescue him. But he might because he left a message. He didn’t know. So he didn’t want to leave where he was even though he didn’t want to be there in the worst way.

“I don’t know Milwaukee or this area. Is it safe here?” We told him it was safe enough but then we travel here all the time, our vacuum cleaner issues and all, but we knew what he was seeing was a black neighborhood. We offered to drive him downtown, maybe to catch a bus, or find better transportation but he declined worried that his acquaintance might come to the address he’d left on his voicemail.

There was nothing more for us to do. He thanked us for listening to him and we pulled away.

“Wait a minute,” I said to my husband. “How did he get there?”

We talked about turning around to ask but we didn’t. How did t-shirt man get from his town an hour away to Mr. Vak’s neighborhood in the first place? Who brought him? And why couldn’t they come back? Or did the seller of the car go out to t-shirt man’s town, sell him the car, and get a ride back to the neighborhood (this alternative just occurred to me this very minute). Why couldn’t he go back the way he came?

It is today’s mystery.

More Later

Tonight, in one sitting and with the comfort of two rum and cokes, I watched When They See Us on Netflix.

I’d been dreading it but knew I had to watch it. It seemed to me to be a moral responsibility, to not just read about the exoneration of the “Central Park Five” in the newspaper but to sit there and have what I knew would be layers of injustice pile up before my eyes.

I wasn’t astonished by it. I think there are many people in prison who were wrongly convicted largely because of racial bias in the legal system. I don’t think that’s rare; this case was rare, though, for the fear it struck among women everywhere. Wilding. That was the term that was used. The “Central Park Five” – all young teenage boys – were accused of wilding. It was terrifying. They were just boys but they were black boys and so people accepted the wilding label as if it made all the sense in the world. Of course, that’s what black boys do. They go wilding. I remember at the time, we bought that. Everybody bought that. Why.

The film connects us to the five boys in deep, personal ways. We get to know them as regular teenagers, then terrified boys, and then incarcerated people and never once are the characters overdrawn and nothing seems to have been exaggerated for effect. The truth was bad enough without embellishment. And their mothers. We get to know their steadfast, flawed, heartbroken mothers. And their fathers, who sometimes had to disappear to cope with their own grief and helplessness. They were loved boys and the love lasted.

What is missing from the film and reality as well, I suppose, is retribution. Once the actual rapist confesses and all five are exonerated, there are brief scenes where the prosecutor confronts the cop who extracted their confessions and the district attorney who, essentially, constructed a scenario whereby the boys were guilty while ignoring vast evidence to the contrary. I wanted to see her ruined, humiliated, anguished, and repentant. But she wasn’t. Maybe that will come in a sequel.

The racism in the film is profound and will stun a lot of people. But I was not stunned. I was ashamed, though.

I Know My Place

On the bus last night, doing outreach to homeless people in our town, bundling up hot meals in plastic bags, forgetting sometimes to include a fork because I always make at least one error when I am doing this work, I loved my colleagues for their matter-of-factness about life and situations, ours and theirs, and their distilling compassion into tangibles like underwear and bug spray, and I follow one of them deep into the woods where a man is sitting waiting, his speakers blaring rock music that has him mesmerized, so loud it is that I stand back by the trees and wave to him, his friendly visitor who asks no questions until we are on the path back and then the answers are spare because that’s not how we do things, we wait for information to find us not the other way around and back in the bus my friends talk about how they loved New Kids on the Block when they were younger and how their bedrooms were plastered with posters and I remembered but didn’t tell them about Elvis and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and because those things felt like artifacts from a hundred years ago so I just sat and listened which was just as well.