Wednesday, July 6, 2022

My Facebook Jail Novel of Eternal Torment

I used to post at least one blog entry every day. From mid-2004 until 2014, I'd grab my coffee, go sit in my office, take a quick look at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and a few other places, and my brain would go into writing mode. My focus and concentration went kerblooey after Mr. Brilliant became ill, got worse after he died, and never came back. If in those last days he was off in a Jamaica of the mind with his spirit guides, when he left 20 minutes after they stopped pumping oxygen down his throat, he took my ability to concentrate with him. I don't know what he planned to do with it, but I wish he'd left me at least a little.

Most of my rantings have been on Facebook lo these last few years. Why that's easier than blogging, I have no idea, except that posting links that contain nice photos along with a few paragraphs just seems easier. But that has to change.

I have spent the last 48 hours in Facebook Jail. This is what happens to you when you run afoul of the algorithms developed by the techboy douchebags who decide who needs to be punished for saying things that run against the techboy douchebag ethos, whatever that may be. So what were my crimes, specifically? 

I posted a comment on a predatory real estate company ad that I would burn my house to the ground before I would sell it to a company like theirs. By predatory real estate company I mean deep-pocketed investment companies that swoop into residential neighborhoods, outbid everyone else by huge numbers, waive all inspections and contingencies, and then turn formerly owned houses into rentals. The aggregate result of this is that it locks individuals out of homeownership, which historically is the main source of wealth for an increasingly strapped middle class. Here in the Triangle area of North Carolina, up to 20-30% of homes sold in the last year have been to real estate investors.

Now did I threaten to burn down a house? Absolutely not! I love my house. And when I'm ready to sell it, I hope to sell it to someone who will love it as much as I do. Not only am I NOT a destructive person, but I was referencing this scene in Gone With The Wind


The line I was referencing didn't make it into the movie, but in the book, when Tara's former overseer, Jonas Wilkerson, now essentially a predatory real estate investor, comes by to tell Scarlett O'Hara that she has no choice but to sell to him, Scarlett says "I'll tear this house down, stone by stone, and burn it and sow every acre with salt before I see either of you put foot over this threshold,"

I guess not everyone has a brain littered with bits and snippets of obscure popular culture references. But that's what I was paraphrasing, and you have to admit that it IS an appropriate metaphor.

But the thing that put them over the edge was when I commented on a post about Facebook guilt-tripping. You all know what that is -- it's when someone copies/pastes canned text about suicide, or cancer, or whatever the cause is, and at the end the text is "I'll bet none of my friends share this" or "I'll know who of my friends cares about [cancer/autism/suicide/heart disease/fill in cause of choice here] by who shares this."  

I hate that second one most, because it implies that pasting canned text into a box and hitting "Post" is somehow "proof" that you care about the particular cause in question. I started posting nasty comments about these back when I was driving Mr. Brilliant 46 miles each way to chemo while holding down a demanding and stressful job, and was somehow supposed to believe that because I didn't share canned text, I somehow didn't care about cancer. That I had already convinced Mr. B. that he'd never pass a psych test for assisted suicide because of his depression, that he wasn't terminal, and that foregoing treatment would be agonizing pain until he got to terminal status, was immaterial.  On Facebook, it's "Show you care by copy/pasting canned text." 

I can still get angry about it just typing that, and it may be why I refuse to participate in what I call "performative activism" -- protests and marches that make us feel all solidarity-ish and activisty but ultimately don't really change anything because the Powers That Be don't care about protests and marches. Facebook guilt-tripping is just another form of performative activism. And I'll bet many of the people who insist we show how caring we are by copying/pasting text are the first ones to ghost friends whose spouse or child is diagnosed with cancer. But hey, they care! They pasted some text and hit "Post"!!

So I posted a comment that people who do Facebook guilt-tripping should be beaten with sticks. This too is an obscure reference that I should have known NO ONE would get. It's a phrase that at least USED TO be used by the great Charles P. Pierce, whose politics commentary at Esquire is the ONLY reason to subscribe. The concept of "beaten with sticks" is basically one of mild corporal punishment, much as someone would punch someone in the arm who says something tactless. It is by no means a "threat of violence." But such are the times we live in, and I had the bad timing of saying this the day after yet another angry white boy who left a social media trail o'clues a mile long decided to kill a bunch of people attending a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois. Because the sarcasm of a 67-year-old grey-haired Jewish woman is EXACTLY THE SAME THING. But I'll give Facebook this one. After all, the few days after a mass shooting are always a sensitive time, until the next mass shooting happens and the miserable cycle starts all over again.

Back during the post-9/11 year, George W. Bush administration officials told us we needed to "watch what we say, what we do." It was a time of "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists," and it was a direct threat from the then-government that questioning its policies could get you in a heap of trouble. Today we really ARE all under surveillance, not by the government this time, but by a bunch of techboy douchebags who probably identify as Libertarian. These guys write the algorithms that allow medical disinformation, Trumpian lies, the violent fantasies of mass shooters, and threats against anti-Trump politicians to be shared freely, while sarcasm and metaphor must be stamped out at all costs. For six-and-seven figure techboys, who even as I type this are marching like zombies towards my true blue home city, threatening to turn it purple over taxes, only speech that benefits them is allowed.

So seriously, folks. Be careful what you post on Facebook. Twitter at least tactfully lets you know that what you want to post is perhaps not cool:  "Most people don't tweet posts like this," they say. And then  you can go back and edit out whatever curse word is causing the Twitbots to clutch their pearls today. There's no rhyme or reason to that either; a few days ago I responded to Ted Cruz' "thoughts and prayers" about Highland Park by calling him a "craven, cynical monster." I guess on Twitter, you can still tell the truth.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

For 25 years people have thought I was a drama queen about this

 I remember a news report from about 25 years ago. It was about another anti-abortion case that was brought before the Supreme Court. The reporter was talking to young women about it, and every last one of them was blithely dismissing the danger, insisting that "they can't make it illegal now" and "they'll never put that genie back in the bottle."

It's been about 15 years since the right to abortion became irrelevant to my particular body. And believe me, it's been tempting to just say "the hell with it; you don't care about your rights; why should I?" But then I remember that every generation rolls its eyes at being lectured by the previous one about "the way it used to be." After all, isn't "You kids don't realize what it was like when an unwanted pregnancy meant shame and guilt and either putting your health in danger by having an illegal abortion or putting it in danger by having a baby before you're even mature" just a variation of "You kids don't appreciate what we did in World War II," as my late father-in-law used to lecture us? Isn't it just another rendition of "both ways, uphill, in the snow"? 

And yet here we are, on the precipice of a country where college women will go back to bargaining with God to bring on their periods, where women with ectopic pregnancy will die because too few people understand that there can be no baby, where women were utter slaves to our own anatomy. Except that this time, it's going to be worse.

My mother had an illegal abortion in 1949. Why she became pregnant, got married, and THEN had the abortion is anyone's guess, but with my father in grad school and her being a newlywed and already suffering from the depression that plagued her for her entire adult life, a baby was more than she could bear at that point. She was lucky. Somehow she managed to find an actual doctor to perform the procedure and went on to have my sister and me. So I grew up in a household that supported women's bodily autonomy long before it was even mentioned.

It's a fallacy that everything was just fine until Donald Trump was able to put Anne Gorsuch Burford's son, a man who is a credibly-accused rapist with obvious anger management issues, and a woman whose faith group has been accused of being a hotbed of emotional and sexual abuse on the Supreme Court. The roots of the Dominion Theology theocracy we are now staring in the face date back to the 1980 campaign of Ronald Reagan, when the Christian Right used abortion as a shield to hide their real agenda, which was perpetuatins segregated schools. A candidate who started his campaign in the very town where three civil rights workers were murdered told them loud and clear that the actor-turned-California governor would be the savior of segregation.

The Christian Right may have lost (at the time) their battle for segregation, but being anti-abortion warriors gave them a weapon that served their agenda almost as well -- putting women back into their place.

I didn't always know that what I was jumping up and down and screaming about for a quarter century was at its core, a theocratic movement, though that's been pretty clear all along to anyone who paid attention. I am not a religious person, at least not in the established religion sense, and especially not an adherent of any of "the big three" religions that came out of the Fertile Crescent. I have never hidden that I have a strong cultural Jewish identity, but as I tell people, I have all the food and all the neurosis and none of the religion. My spiritual system involves "Make people's lives better as best I can while I'm here and not leave too much of a mess when I'm gone."  I don't fault people for being religious. Whatever gets you through what Mr. Brilliant called "this God-forsaken level of reality" is A-OK by me. Just leave me, and leave government, and leave others who do not believe the same way, out of it. And I have never understood why people who profess strong faith need everyone else to march in lockstep with them. And yet, here we are in the 21st century, with robots that have faces and CGI people and phones that play movies and electric cars -- and we're fighting off having a country run by Iron Age mythology.

I needn't go into gory details about what the implications of overturning Roe and sending the abortion issue back to the states are, because much ink and video has gone into it from even the corporate media that have been complicit in the tiptoeing around theocracy that has affected both political parties as well. Of course there are some things that HAVEN'T been covered in detail, such as the implications that affirming "states rights" could have in, yes, the re-legalization of segregation, and perhaps even slavery. (Do you think THAT couldn't happen? Are you still asleep at the wheel even now?) The women who are screaming about child support haven't thought through the nightmare of being tied for the next 18 years and perhaps beyond to the man who raped you, to the ex-husband who beat you, to the father who impregnated you when you were 12. Men who spew sperm into a woman get visitation and custody every single day no matter what their status is in that woman's life. Ask anyone who practices family law in Florida, where "fathers' rights" seem to supersede everything else.

You know what? I'm tired. For 25 years I've voted, I've sent money to candidates, I've argued with people about the bigger implications of essentially deciding that a pregnant woman ceases to be a human being and is nothing but a uterus with legs. I've marched and sent letters to the editor and blogged and stuffed envelopes and canvassed and done all the things you're supposed to do. And here we are. And I'm tired. And I don't know where we go from here.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

"To those who left us....and who brought us together"

I think the worst part of getting older is the parade of departures from this mortal coil moves ever faster. And now I have to write about yet another one.

I'm writing today to talk about Karl. I'm not going to mention his last name out of respect for his family's privacy. 

Two weeks after Mr. Brilliant died in 2013, I joined a social group for widows and widowers. I didn't want to join a grief group. I felt they were all too churchy and I truly did not want to sit in a room full of crying people. Some would say I should have, that I pushed grief away and that is why it's been squeezing out in manageable doses over eight years. 

I also didn't want to join "singles" groups. I already knew that dating wasn't in the cards for me. It had been horrible in my 20s, and I knew that it was going to be even worse for an overweight woman pushing 60  So when I found a group on Meetup whose mission was to build friendships with people who "get it" in a safe space, but by sharing enjoyable times, it was exactly what I needed. 

We've all known people who are like the mayor of whatever the group is. "The mayor" is always someone whose very presence signals that you are welcome. He's the first one with the smile, the extended hand, the "tell me your story" when someone new comes into the room. Karl was that person.  He wasn't hitting on people, he was all about welcoming. I've realized how important this is, after joining a group here after I moved where the men don't talk with any women they're not interested in fucking, and the women seem to see all new women as interlopers. The group in NJ was nothing like that.

Every Wednesday for two years I had dinner with these people, and Karl was always right there, showing genuine delight at being with everyone, and extending that smile, that hug, that warmth, to the new and the tentative. He had an unfailing instinct for where people's boundaries were and respecting them, while providing just the right amount of comfort. And last year during that long, cold winter, I was able to host Zoom calls for the group and see them all virtually. I am now particularly glad that I had that opportunity. I had no idea that the last Zoom I hosted would be the last time I'd see Karl.

I was at one of these dinners when I got the call that my father had passed away. I'm glad I was.

Karl and I shared an enjoyment of jam bands, especially the New Jersey-based Railroad Earth. I went with him and our friend Stacey to see Hot Tuna in Stroudsburg, PA in 2014, retracing the steps and the restaurant Mr. Brilliant and I had traced  a few years earlier for a different show. Karl and I weren't on the same page politically, and to be honest, I'm glad I never had to have political discussions with him during the Trump years. But upon reflection, he really did test my "You can't support Trump and still be a good person" doctrine.

Karl always closed every "widder dinner" with this toast:  "To those who left us...and who brought us together." Our friend Stacey, who has endured far more than her own share of tragedy already, noted today that he has now joined them. Perhaps he will now bring THEM together in an alternate universe version of the camaraderie those they had left behind shared.

My heart hurts today for Karl's loved ones, for Stacey who was such a close friend, for Carolyn and Carol and Bette and Kurt and Susan and Dan and Lynne and Gordon and Elsa and all the others I haven't met in person and who are new, and who I just can't remember right now, for they are the ones who have to face the empty space at the table every Wednesday. His loss makes grieving just that much more difficult for those who will no longer have his smile to welcome them and show that even in the face of indescribable grief, there is warmth and friendship and hope.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Right Wing Anti Vaccine Death Scorecard Episode 4, or COVID Is Nowhere Near Done With These People Yet

 Today's entry into the death pool is Bob Enyart, Colorado wingnut talk show host and pastor of the Denver Bible Church, who died this week from COVID-19. 

According to the Denver Post, Enyart had refused to be vaccinated because of his concern about abortion, believing the lie that COVID vaccines are made of aborted babies.

The term "Good riddance" certainly applies to Bob Enyart, a man who once read the names of people who died of AIDS while playing Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."

So let's give this paragon of right-wing hate the proper send-off, shall we?

Honorable mention: Victoria Wolski, known for posting QAnon banners from bridges and demanding that she be treated with Ivermectin while in the hospital.

Honorable mention 2:  Josh.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Phil Schaap (1951-2021)

 When I lived in New Jersey, especially after Mr. Brilliant died, there were two evening radio shows I listened to frequently. One of them was Rich Conaty's Big Broadcast on WFUV on Sunday evenings, and the other was Phil Schaap's Traditions in Swing on Saturdays on WKCR, the Columbia University station. Conaty's show was about ALL popular music from the 1920s and 30s, while Schaap was all about jazz. And on Saturday nights, he'd go into the roots of the music that characterized the Big Band era. It used to make Mr. Brilliant crazy when I'd listen to either one of them, because he had that particular disease that so many in my generation had of hating the music our parents listened to, and his father was one of those WWII vets who thought Glenn Miller was the ne plus ultra of musicians for all time.  (Fun anecdote:  Years later, when Mr. B. would talk about the Grateful Dead in similar terms, I would occasionally remind him of this.)

I've loved 1920s jazz for a long time. I could go into my whole thing about how I believe that the feeling of "coming home" that I have when I listen to the Hot Fives, the Hot Sevens, Bix Beiderbecke, and others, is a past-life memory, but I'll spare you all that. Suffice it to say that everything I know about early jazz and swing, I learned from listening to Phil Schaap on Saturday evenings. I learned about Bix and Tram (Frankie Trumbauer) and everything about Louis Armstrong's early music, and people I wouldn't have heard otherwise, like Ben Webster and Sidney Bechet and Stuff Smith and Bunny Berrigan. The man was a walking, living encyclopedia of jazz music and jazz musicians and had more anecdotes about them than could be stored in a million books or tapes.

Rich Conaty died in 2016.  Phil Schaap died yesterday after a four-year battle with cancer.

When it comes to the complete, comprehensive history of jazz, it was all stored in Phil Schaap's brain. His death is the 20th century music equivalent of the Library of Alexandria burning to the ground.


And yet another one: Remembering Peter Hochstein (The New York Crank)

 This blog reboot doesn't get much traffic, but when I look at my stats, I always see referrals from The New York Crank. It occurred to me this morning that I hadn't checked out the Crank in a while, so when I clicked over there and found that nothing had been posted since March, I kind of already knew why.

The New York Crank was the nom-de-blog of one Peter Hochstein, a prolific and peripatetic author of books and (his words) "corporate histories, personal and corporate biographies, book-length premiums, brochures of substance, and other long copy projects that others find too daunting." He was also a book author with a penchant for catchy titles, such as Up From Seltzer: A Handy Guide to 4 Jewish Generations, Heiress Strangled in Molten Chocolate At Nazi Sex Orgy: A Memoir and No Biz Like It: from gofer to producer in just 57 years.

Peter first contacted me in 2010 to thank me for linking to a post on his blog. Every time I linked to his blog, he emailed me to thank me. In November 2013, after Mr. Brilliant's death, we began an intermittent correspondence, because it seemed we had something in common other than political leanings: Both of us had lost our partners in the same neuro ICU in the same hospital.  I was far more confident about Mr. B's care than he was of the care his love, Roberta, had received three years earlier, but we shared the same doubts, wondering, and having had to make The Decision No One Should Have To Make.

Peter would check in about once a year and occasionally he'd comment on something I posted on Facebook, under his Facebook-specific nom-de-Facebook, Etoain Shrdlu. In 2018, he checked in after I started this new blog, revealing that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma  (yet something else we had in common, since a) my father had died from NHL just three years earlier; and b) I had been working on NHL studies before retiring earlier that year). He said then that he didn't expect, nor did he want to be, around for much longer, though at that time he didn't yet know if his was an aggressive or indolent form.  About the latter, he said "I love that word," indolent," as if the medical community is chiding it for not taking its victims out a bit more industriously." 

How I wish he'd done a chronicle of his journey through his illness. There is something about Jewish fatalism that makes us get funny at times of crisis, and in his last months, the Crank went pretty gonzo. 

Last Thanksgiving I held a "family and friends" Zoom to which I invited him. He emailed me the next day that he'd been unable to connect to the link. I wish I knew why, and I wish he'd been able to attend.

Peter is one of the few bloggers who have left us whom I actually knew as a person, however peripherally. I feel badly that I didn't know about his death until now, but given that his last blog entry was March 17 of this year and he died on April 9, I take some comfort in knowing that however bad his last days may have been, there weren't many of them. And I hope that as he wished, he exited the way his father did -- by simply going to sleep and never waking up.

Peter was a terrific writer, an entertaining blogger, and for me, a good online friend at a time when I needed people who truly understood what I was going through was like. I'm saddened by his death out of all proportion to his role in my life, and I feel badly that it took me this long to check in and find this news. We may not have been close, but it was nice to know he was there.

I'll leave you with Peter's own words, from his Amazon page:

I became a writer because that was the only thing I ever learned how to do. In retrospect, it's amazing I could even do that, given the focused-on-failure mindset of my immediate family. They were nuts. On the outside they seemed, well, merely a bit uptight. But trust me, my parents, and especially my mother, were batshit crazy.

Evidently it ran in the family. I learned only recently, years after my mother's death, that my mother had a sister who had been sent away to a state insane asylum before my birth. The poor woman was never mentioned in front of me. After a lot of prying I learned recently that her name was Gussie, short for Augusta. She was the real life equivalent of the fictional crazy aunt locked up in the attic.

You want an example of crazy? My mother was terrified that I would do something, or say something, or live someplace that would reflect badly on her. And her standards of what reflects badly were indecipherable. That may explain why, wherever I lived, she wept bitterly. She wept bitterly at my first apartment, a small townhouse studio in Greenwich Village, looking out on a charming flagstone courtyard. Later, she wept about an apartment on a high floor with sweeping city views. Still later, she wept when I bought and moved with my now ex-wife and child into a large two-bedroom apartment with a chichi Park Avenue address.

Nor was the problem that she hated city living. I spent nine years as a suburbanite, in a big house with a large back yard and beach rights - and that, too, brought her to paroxysms of tear-gushing grief.

But I was talking about writing. I became a newspaper reporter when I was 18. I sold my first book - thank God under a pseudonym! - when I was 22. I got out of the journalism business for a very long stretch and went into advertising, at the age of 23, because it paid better than journalism.

These days I do almost anything that involves putting my fingers on a keyboard and wiggling them. I still write TV spots, and brochures, and junk mail. I report and write occasionally for business publications. And I turn out books. I ghostwrite autobiographies. I write biographies on commission. Of course, I also write my own stuff. Why?

Because it's fun. And I've always figured that if I'm having fun writing, people will have fun reading my stuff. So please do order my books and have a few laughs before it's too late. Remember, nobody's getting out of here alive.

Monday, September 6, 2021

And now it's 20 years. Same shit, different angry men

It seems that every year, the annual ratings grab of 9/11 coverage starts earlier. Before we can turn around, it'll be a whole season. Maybe it'll start at the Summer Solstice, but more likely, as with this year, it'll start around Labor Day, which is the unofficial start of fall. Maybe eventually it'll be a shopping season. Who knows? 

A year is really just an arbitrary designation of time passing, though it seems that the "fives" and "zeroes" have special meaning. As I sit here on the sixth of September, 2021, which this year doubles as Labor Day, I've already noted that CNN has rebroadcast the excellent Naudet brothers documentary that was supposed to be about a probationary fireman in New York, but turned out to be a gripping and horrifying documentation of that terrible day. It's also run a discussion with the now-adult school children to whom George W. Bush was reading "My Pet Goat."  One of the premium channels is running Paul Greenglass' film United 93, a movie I could never bring myself to watch. Spike Lee's HBO docuseries NYC Epicenters 9/11 —> 2021½ is in heavy rotation.

Lee is no stranger to controversy, and much has been made of his excision of most, but not all, of the "9/11 Truther" content n the series. My own relationship with 9/11 Trutherism is complicated, especially in the context of the direct line from that particular movement down into the QAnon/deep state/2020 election was rigged/etc. lunacy that has received far too much oxygen and still thrives. 

Let me explain:  I have freely admitted to my belief in what was then known as LIHOP ("let it happen on purpose"). My belief was constructed from the following facts:  1) that a Newsweek article had just hit newsstands and mailboxes detailing the events leading up to the Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush president; 2) Bush's already-dropping poll numbers; and 3) his aides' clearly known desire for a war with Iraq.