Monday, November 26, 2018

The Handmaid's Christmas

When I saw Melania's Christmas display at the White House, I once again had the sense that this woman is way smarter than most people give her credit for. 

Those red trees are pretty scary. What do they represent? Primal fear? Pain? Menstruation? Afterbirth....or abortion? 

Before I could even begin doctoring that picture, lots of people did it for me. This construction was so clearly homage to The Handmaid's Tale that you have to be living in an alternative universe not to see it. The color, the line-up, the slightly bowed trunks....none of this is random. And the intent was for everyone to see the obvious.

Melania, a model and media savvy woman, did not miss the cultural implication of this scene. The rest of the White House could be decorated like the Nutcracker Suite, but this corridor is a veritable birth canal. She wants everyone to get the picture. But it's the picture she wants us to get, not the one her husband thinks she broadcasting. 

Face it, folks, Melania is admitting she is married to a monster. She recognizes the self-inflicted aspect as fully as she understands that her husband is a hate-mongering neo-fascist. The selection of red is not lost on her audience. Most will get it. The others will be repulsed, but I'm thinking that's okay, too. Those are the Wives and Aunts of Gilead who do not want to see what is in front of them. I would be you a buck Melania has watched the series and totally gets it. 

The messages aren't particularly subtle. She sent one with the "I don't care" coat. She did it in a Valentino dress by designer Pierpaolo Piccioli, a well-known critic of her husband. She did it with a spanking white pith helmet in Africa, a fashion symbol of colonialism and oppression. She did it with the white outfit at the State of the Union, the color worn by Suffragettes. The woman is a fashion model. She knows how to use clothes to get the message out there. She doesn't have to talk; she just has to pose.

At the same time, Melania has no Beauty and the Beast scenario going down. Her monster is not going to transform into a kind, handsome prince at the end of the story. Nor is she is Andromeda chained to a rock awaiting her fate in the jaws of Cetus; there is no Perseus racing to her rescue. She has scripted this horror story herself and she knows it. She's too far in to escape now. All she can do is telegraph to the world that she has no hope.

Christmas is such a visible time for a stunt like this. White House decorations are usually a national love-fest for the first family, when politics are set aside in favor of holiday spirit. The president does not know how to do this. His thankfulness statement from his Thanksgiving dinner makes you wonder what the guy really thinks:
...For having a great family, and for having made a tremendous difference in this country. I’ve made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn’t believe it
He shoulda stopped at "great family" and left it at that. 

Meanwhile, back at the border,  U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan, the guy heading up troop placement down there says his guys are just about done with their mission, scheduled to end December 15th anyway. Gen. Buchanan confirmed the military rejected a request from the Department of Homeland Security for an armed force to back up Border Patrol agents. 
That's a law enforcement task and the Secretary of Defense does not have that the authority to approve that inside the homeland.
Can it be any clearer? He expects the troops to be home by Christmas. Of course, that could change if the Mexican government attacks the US. ...

Or Feckless Leader attacks them first.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
It appears to be open season on Jews.
Be careful out there.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Greetings from Lollipop Farm

My dad left the building here in St. Paul 3 years ago. I still have trouble reconciling the fact that my folks are gone, and I guess this is pretty normal stuff. But he died on Thanksgiving night, and this year, his yahrzeit begins on Wednesday at sundown and runs until Thursday at sundown. Almost a lunar and solar match. Almost. Not quite. 

I've been thinking about Thanksgiving with my dad. When we were little and still living in Bayside, he would hustle us into the car to get away from the Wrath of Mom who usually had at least three, maybe four knuckles jammed into her mouth as she panicked over having a houseful of people. His job was to get us outta the house, out from underfoot, and outta sight. My best memories of those escapes from Mom's kitchen perennially include Lollipop Farm out in the hinterlands of Long Island...although nowadays, Syosset is just another bedroom of the city. The had a miniature railroad and big, white, Long Island ducks that would grab your fingers along with the popcorn you held out. (Duck bites are not duck kisses no matter what Grandma Sarah told us.) But I digress. 

Those were great adventures. We laughed at escaping, we laughed at the ducks, we laughed at the cold. We rode the Lollipop Train. No kid knows it at the time, but when we get old, those parental moments... good or bad...are the moments that stick with us. Only you know which are which. They belong only to you.

Missing my folks these days is more about dealing with my own status change. When my Grandma Bessie died suddenly on the Sukkot right after my wedding, Mom (who lost her own dad at 14) turned to me at the graveside and said, "I'm an orphan now." I held her hand and mumbled something quasi-meaningful, but I didn't understand, not even when I said pretty much the same thing to my brother at Mom's funeral. This concept takes time to fully grok.

So it's three years without my dad and his pocketful of commas. I try not to think about the fragile old guy who faded way. I'd rather remember the guy arguing grammar with me on the phone, reviewing the daily word game from the NY Post on the 7 a.m. wake-up call, plotting ways to slip him the Final Jeopardy answer without Mom knowing, and laughing at Black Adder and Are You Being Served. 

But remembering is a lousy substitute for being part of a live group. The truth is that me and my gang are all the same age as the old people at the Survivor's Table at weddings and b'nei mitzvah. We are the Survivor's Table.. Yeah, we're in better shape, but we're still old people by comparison. We know we get humored more than we'd like to admit. And we remember the dead. That is part of living. 

As Thanksgiving swoops in this week, I am keenly aware that my dad died on Thanksgiving night. I am thankful I spent the afternoon reading his favorite English poets to him. I am eternally grateful that I had just escorted Mom to have a bite to eat but returned to be with him when he took his last breath. And when I went to tell Mom that Dad had gone on to Aunt Ruthie's (our euphemism for the world-to-come) without her, I think we were, in a strange way, relieved it was over. 

Mom followed a few months later, the week before Passover. Suddenly, there was no one to talk to about covering the counters. There was no one to talk to about lots of things. Nor would there be, ever again. There is no one who can answer that age old question, "What happened to Vanilla the rabbit?" Only my mother knew the real answer and she refused me. Even when I was 50. Parents are collective memory. When one goes, sometimes we get lucky and the remaining parent becomes the receptacle. You try to ask all the questions, but you won't remember all the answers. There is always something you forgot to ask. Holes are created that are never really filled. 

Not having Ziggy is an overwhelmingly huge hole. Even not having my gruff'n'grum FIL leaves an empty space. Holidays, Jewish or secular, tend to be long on memories; we miss the missing because we can no longer ask the question. 

This is not a unique experience. Everyone who lives goes through it in some fashion, and somehow we come out the other end. No two experiences are alike. No one can tell us how to process. No one does it better or worse. We just muddle through. It's part of living. No, actually, that's wrong;  it's part of surviving. 

Three years later, I get it.

I am an orphan, I am a widow, and in many, many small, fragile ways. I am alone. Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining about being on my own, I rather like it, but there are moments when something funny happens and I'm the only one laughing. It doesn't mean I'm lonely, because I am not. It doesn't mean I don't have people in my life, because I do. I have kids and grandkids, and thank G-d, they have their own lives and mishugas. They don't need mine. If Ziggy and I raised them even remotely right, they are kind, respectable people. More importantly, they are independent. This is important. 

Still, every so often I wonder if I don't wake up in the morning, how long until someone notices I didn't show up for something? 

I don't know of a single widow who hasn't wondered the same thing. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Of The People, By The People, For The People

Well, by now, everyone knows the outcome. Angie Craig is our new representative in Congress. Jason Lewis blamed John McCain for the significant losses handed to the GOP...on Veterans' Day, no less. Don't get me started. 

And now, as of a few minutes ago, it looks like Krysten Sinema is the new senator from Arizona. There are still serious counting events taking place in Georgia and Florida. What most people manage to forget is that the tally on election night is only a projection; actual counting takes several days, even more if there are lots of absentee/mail-type ballots to be counted. I don't think any elections are certified on Election Day or the morning after. Hell, Al Franken's election wasn't certified until June 30th, 2009.
I can't die yet. Al hasn't been certified. I'm gonna hang on 'til then. I can't die not knowing."                                            Ziggy, June 1, 2009 (he didn't make it)

I was at Angie's gathering on Tuesday night after the polls closed. We were hoping for a victory party, but there were no guarantees. There were moments when Lewis was ahead, albeit never by very much. At the end, Angie won by a statistically significant margin. Not an overwhelming mandate, but enough to solidly trounce the Invisible Congressclown. I was relieved more than anything else. 

The one thing Angie and her campaign did that was significant to me was that they kept it simple and kept it clean. The negative ads you saw about her opponent were not coming from Angie's team....and I don't want to talk about those. I want to talk just a little about why I think Angie won. It was because she was present. The focus of this campaign, at least from my perspective, was outreach to the district. After 2 years of not one public town hall meeting, Angie and her team were in every city, every town, every village LISTENING to the constituency. In a time of tariffs and turmoil, she and her team weren't talking; they were listening. And people responded to that. BIG TIME. Over and over that night, as I talked to people from all over CD2, I heard the same thing: 
She was in our face asking us to talk. No one ever did that before.
I did not realize until days later what I had actually heard. I don't know how I missed it or how anyone else was missing it until I started to think about this week's blog and what I really wanted to write about. I was thinking about how we can take our democracy back. How we can bring to fruition the understanding that our Constitution is in jeopardy. How can we go back to being We, The People instead of this fractured, fractious mob scene calling for blood. Someone said it, I was sure, much better than I ever could. And he did. At Gettysburg:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.                                                                                  Abraham Lincoln ~ November 19, 1863
That was not quite 155 years ago. Right now, we don't have just war dead, we have children dead, civilian dead, police dead, minority dead, immigrant dead...but they are just as dead as the Civil War dead. Nothing is going to  bring them back.

Just like nothing is going to least for the foreseeable future...what is coming out of the White House. We can continue to give it column inches and let the current administration yank our chains and sow seeds of division, derision, and discontent, or we can refuse to give them the platform they desperately want. If our newly elected House of Representatives would turn inward into the chamber, toward the tasks at hand that require a unified, united front; then perhaps we have a chance of staving off a complete fall off the world stage. 

Maybe the Democrats have given the sane Republicans a golden opportunity to salvage themselves. They can concentrate on having a joint congress instead of a divided one. Use the new Democratic majority to gently move back to the center where the rhetoric is not so irate. Figure out what everyone can agree on, and learn from the shift that took place on Election Day. Let the change of House colors foster a new sense of cooperation.

End of kumbaya moment. 

And now, back to our regularly scheduled real life. 

  1. Israel and Gaza are at it again. Casualties on both sides.
  2. Forests and towns are burning in California. 
  3. Migrant children are still warehoused in "facilities."
  4. The president is calling on the state of Florida to stop counting the votes and ignore incoming military/absentee overseas ballots. 

Which one of above constitutes a Constitutional crisis?

If we really want to see change, we need to let our newly elected/re-elected congressclowns know we weren't kidding in the last go 'round. It cannot be business as usual. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Remember, kiddies, the 2020 election begins now.

Monday, November 5, 2018

There Are Plenty of Words

Photo courtesy of
Sally Lorberbaum
First it was "thoughts and prayers." Now, it's "there are no words....."  

Actually, there are lots of words to describe what happened in Pittsburgh last Shabbat. So many words, that surely a million miles of shelf space is occupied with all those words. Some are ancient, some medieval, some modern, But there are a gazllions words wasted on explaining Pittsurgh and similar events when a single word works quite well: antisemitism. That's the only word you need for this heinous act. When someone shouts "All Jews must die!" while shooting up a sanctuary during Shabbat service, antisemitism is the only world that fits. And the act the word denotes has been around a long, long time. 

May 17, 1934 ~ New York City
Madison Square Garden
from the Bettman Archive
The Amalekites practiced it in the desert. The Babylonians practiced it. The Romans practiced it. The British, the Spanish, the French, the Italians, and the Germans all practiced it. And the Americans have practiced it for years in this republic. Don't think for a New York moment that it was not practiced here. Antisemites and the New Germany true believers rallied at Madison Square Garden. And they even rose for the Nazi salute in little North Bellmore, New York, where our synagogue was built over the site of a tavern that hid in its basement a treasure trove of Nazi regalia. 

Antisemitism ain't new. The difference right now is that there is a documented upsurge in the number of antisemitic  acts over the course of the last six months. And lots of words are being written about that. And now our countrymen are rising to the silent call to take up arms once more.

Did you know private militias are heading to the Mexican border to "help" the troops sent by Feckless Leader? What surprises you more....that there are private militias in this country, or that they are on their way to the border?

Our very own Feckless Leader, so well known for his masterful way with words, used these in Montana over the weekend: 
                     Barbed wire used properly can be a beautiful sight.

Like this?
Child survivors of Auschwitz in 1945 

Or this?
Otero County Prison in Chaparral, New Mexico,where immigrant 
mothers have been detained by the United States government.
Photograph by Philip Montgomery for The New Yorker

So when you go to the polls tomorrow, 
  • vote as if it's your child or your spouse behind those wires
  • vote as if you are a new immigrant
  • vote as if you are from Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh
  • vote as if you are gay
  • vote as if you are trangender
  • vote as if you are Black
  • vote as if you are Latino
  • vote as if you are a member of the free press
  • vote as if you are not afraid of huddled masses yearning to breathe free
Most importantly, vote as if the heart and the very soul of this nation depends on your vote.


The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Hang it. It's almost over.