I am wandering in the pizza wilderness now. I have been cast out from the garden where my favorite pizza is made. My novelty-addled, sensation-crazed wife is tired of getting pizza every week from the same dependable, delicious pizza shop, and wants to experience the inferior varieties, the manhole-covers with red paint, the kapok-stuffed crusts with their bland gooey cheese and rabbit-turd sausage nodules. (Not her exact words.) So I am resigned to a few months of crappy pizza, as we try every local example and prove, empirically, that my pizza choice is Correct.
We got a flier for a Chicago Style Deep Dish from Pizza Hut. I worked at a Hut many years ago, and that put me off the stuff for decades, but this looked okay. In fact it looked great. So I called.
The line is busy, said Ubiquitous Robot Woman.
Suddenly I was very hungry. I called again.
The line is busy.
Now I wanted this damn pizza, and I wanted it now. I hit redial 10 times until I got through.
Can you hold thanks.
I was dumped into a loop of Pizza Hut commercials, each of which extolled the virtues of Pizza Hut. Seemed rather needless, since the fact that Id called meant I was on board with the whole Pizza Hut gestalt. I heard each commercial four times. Finally the clerk returned, asked for my address. She was uncertain I was in their delivery area, and I envisioned the map on the wall akin to those diagrams of nuclear blast damage - a big circle showing the distance from Ground Zero, which in this case was 50th and France in Edina. She consulted with the manager, and told me, in so many words, that I lived in firestorm-and-lethal-radiation territory. I needed to call another one. Time elapsed: 12 minutes.
The line is busy.
Called again. Got right through.
Can you hold thanks.
This time I got a recorded message telling me that my call was very important to them, dearer than life itself. The message repeated 17 times.
Can I get your address please.
I gave my particulars. Please hole.
Please hole? Oh: please hold. Weve eliminated the consonant - and passed the savings on to you!
Two minutes passed. The clerk returned, asked where exactly I was, exactly. I told her. Hole please.
Two minutes passed. Okay. Whawudchu like.
I have a flier here for a Chicago Deep Dish pizza with a medium one-topping for $2.99.
Three minutes passed. Perhaps she asked the manager if they had that special; perhaps she took other calls. You never know. You just dont.
Okay Whawudchu like..
Id like a large Deep Dish -
'S' only medium.
That seemed like a failure of imagination. One size? In America? And its medium? I gave her all the details, and she totaled it up.
That will be there in an hour and forty five minutes.
An hour and forty-five minutes. We only got one oven workin.
Im sorry, thats too long. Cancel the order please.
I hung up, and shouted at the dial tone: YOU MIGHT HAVE WARNED ME EARLIER ON.
I called Dominos. I hate Dominos. I hate their crust, their toppings, their cheese, their sauce. Id rather eat the box it comes in.
I tell the clerk I have a coupon for one free medium with the other of another medium, and I ask what it means by deep dish extra. He tells me it depends. So I give him a theoretical order. He totals it up: $24.50.
That doesnt seem like it include a free pizza, I say. It sounds as if Im being penalized, to be honest.
Whoa, youre right, thats too much. Can you hold?
If nothing else, the evening has proved that my holding skills were good to begin with, and have been honed by battle. Yes. Yes, I can hold.
He returns. Thats 14.50, he says. And there was great rejoicing.
Wait for forty minutes. Jasper Dog is pacing, and whining; he knows when pizza is coming. He knows the word. He knows what it means for the check to sit on the console radio. He stands on the radiator cover by the window, and watches. And when the pizza man arrives, he launches into a barking frenzy that freaks the pizza guy out.
All the guys at my favorite pizza delivery place knew all about Jasper Dog. They didnt bat an eye.
I pay the guy, bring in the deep dish pizzas. The crust tastes like salty seat cushions. The sauce has a nice salty saltiness to it, but its overwhelmed by the salty Salt-Sausages, and the saltzirella cheese.
Its a little salty, says my wife as she takes a bite.
The box has a stapled flier - call our comment line, tell us what you thought. Every 25th caller gets a free pizza! I call. Its the sister of Ubiquitous Robot Woman, and she guides me through the questions. Yes, everyone was nice. Everyone was prompt. Yes, they offered wings and Fat-Stuft Salt Bread. No, they didnt get the price right. Yes, the pizza did arrive. How long did it take to get your order? For example, if it took 23 minutes, press the two and the three key -
I press the four and the three keys.
Im sorry, but a valid entry is needed to complete the survey. Please try again. Click. Dial tone.
Tune in next week for Papa John and the Spongy Crust of Death!
Finally saw "Monsters Inc". Conclusion: Pixar is the anti-Lucas. Where George Lucas uses technology to poke your eyes out and hit your head like a big brass gong, hoping you wont notice how the actual humans exhibit the emotional depth of a photocopy, Pixar uses the technology to speak to your heart. I still enjoyed the jaw-dropping action sequences of Clones, and think its a marvelous technological achievement. But there were only a few moments in "Monsters" when I noticed the technology at all. The gee-whiz factor is so overwhelming that you just tune it out. Theres too much to marvel at - and besides, the film doesnt seem interested in the gee-whiz factor at all, for the most part. It has a story to tell.
There was one moment where I gave a low whistle of admiration, hit pause, scanned back and did a slo-mo examination. A character (Sully) is face-down in a snowbank; the wind is howling, and the snows falling. Sullys fur responds not only to the wind, not only to the snow, but the amount of snow already accumulated on his fur. Hes real.
Hes as real as Bogart, anyway. Maybe more so. Bogart walked in front of some film while it was being exposed; the light that bounced off his body hit the film, and the chemical reaction preserved the moment forever. But hes dead now. Sully isnt alive, but he can seem alive over and over again in new ways, as long as someone boots the program and calls in John Goodman to give him voice. (He doesnt even need Goodman, though - Sullys character is communicated through the face, most often the eyes, and his last wordless reaction tells you that Monsters could have been a silent movie, and it would still have the same punch.)
I dont blubber at movies, and I am spock-eyebrow suspicious of those who make a point of saying they do. But Pixar makes me choke up. Theyre just ruthless. Last time it was that When She Loved Me song, which had half the audience snuffling; this time its the last four minutes. Maybe its the whole dad-toddler thing, which means I am investing more in the picture than is actually there . . .
Nah. See it. Then see it again for the little gags: When Sully scoops up some toys from a tots bedroom, note that one is Woody from Toy Story; hes in every Pixar movie, and will be forever after their version of Alfred Hitchcock. (Sully also picks up a tropical fish, which is Pixars next movie.) Note how the employee ID of one the bad guys is 1040. Note how the characters are motivated first by the desire to get rid of this child, then by the need to protect her from harm and restore her to her safe little life - then look at the designation for Mike and Sullys work area. Its F5 - which, on every PC game Ive played in the last few years, has one important function:
(Yes, there's a Matchbook.)
||Theres a letter in the Guardian, supposedly sent by bin Laden, reminding the West that we have to convert to Islam by Friday, 5 PM or they will continue to blow up Americans. It is our duty to abandon science, art, democracy, lingerie and Eminem, and get down to the serious matters of life, which consist of abolishing usury and killing Jews. You wonder if the al-Qaeda members saw the flood of no-interest loans the car dealers offered after 9/11 and thought: progress! Its working! Soon we will see a Chevy ad in which the very SUV says Lo, there is a Jew underneath me; run him over.
Its easy to forget how anti-Semitic America has been in the past.
Minneapolis was considered one of the most anti-Semitic cities in the US in the 20s - odd, but true. Not odd when you consider that you dont need many Jews to hate all Jews, of course, and not odd when you consider the number of Germans who settled here and brought their old-world Europoison with them. (The German-American Bund was a common instigator, as was the Klan.) It still seems out of character, given the states temperament today - until you realize that the entrenched, ossified liberalism of the state today began as an urban reaction to the backward thinking of the 20s and 30s. Given the temperament of the times, it would have been the obligation of any civilized person back then to have progressive inclinations; what was the alternative? Hope the Klan moderates its views in the years to come? I know - lets join a Klavern and change it from the inside.
But Im getting away from my point. Anti-Jewish sentiment was entrenched in this state, and its not entirely gone; I still hear people of the previous generation point out that someone is a Jew, even when it has no bearing on the conversation at all. Its like discussing someone who sold you a leg of lamb and stopping to note that he had blue eyes. So? Whats your point? At a house party a year ago a guest was talking about some people shed met in New York, and she noted that they were, you know, typical, well, Jews. (Little did she know that one of the other people at the table was, well, you know, a Jew herself.) This has always mystified me. Makes no sense. Completely sensible people who are otherwise utterly reasonable have this concept of The Jew, and however they dress it up, you see the shadow of the hook-nosed, pushy Hebe. A typical Jew.
And yes, Im exaggerating. But. Whenever these people make statements about other groups, its done with breezy cheer - ah, those brat-loving Krauts. Ah, those self-serving Frogs. Oh, those brutal drunken Russians, whaddyagonna do. But theres this edge that comes into their voice when they talk about THE JEWS, partly because they wonder if this will come off badly - Im not anti-Semitic! Really! Im not! But theres an implication that were among friends here, and we know that the Jews are different, sealed off from the rest, up to something, not on anyones side but their own; theres the sense that they speaker thinks the Jews believe they are immune from criticism, and this annoys the speaker. Who else gets such a pass, or thinks they should have one?
I once made the mistake of bringing up Jacob Timmermans Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number to a Slav friend, and she just exploded. What Timmerman went through as a prisoner in Argentina was NOTHING compared to what her people went through under the Russians. (Timmermans family had fled her native country after pogroms, but I didnt want to bring that up.) I was also instructed about the number of Jews in the Bolshevik government.
(Side note: since 9/11 I have noted a big shift in my Slav friends towards Israel. Indifference has been replaced by solidarity. Evidence is anecdotal, but not insignificant.)
My point? I am a product of Jewish propaganda. Specifically, Fiddler on the Roof and Mahler. I was brainwashed by watching Leonard Nimoy as a child. I read Diary of Anne Frank at an impressionable age. Whatever. Ive just never understood why some people had a thing about THE JEWS. And it was always depressing to learn they held that ancient and simplistic prejudice. Its like discovering your brilliant neurosurgeon is a flat-earther. Huh?
Minnesota has changed - no one will deny a job or mortgage or membership to someone because theyre Jewish. Look at the Senators we elect. Wellstone, Coleman, Boschwitz. Progressives changed the culture and made anti-Semitism a badge of idiocy. The trailing edge of the population still has its preconceptions, but they have no effect on public or private policy. (The politics of the next generation, steeped in campus-born myths of the Intifada, is another matter.) But who in the 1920s could have guessed that anti-Semitism would cease to be a mainstream idea?
The newspaper writers, thats who. The shapers of opinion! A few months ago I was looking through the newspaper archives from 80 years ago, and found a big Sunday feature in the June 25 1922 Minneapolis Tribune. This piece ran at the height of Minnesota anti-Jew sentiment, and must have struck some as a big sharp poke in the eye. Headline: Tel Aviv, Garden City Blooming on Palestines Sand Dunes, Has 100 Per Cent Jewish Population. Excerpts follow in lovely Courier type.
There is only one city in the world which is 100 percent Jewish.
The landlord and tenant, the shopkeeper and his customer, the policeman and mayor, the butcher, the baker, the candelstick (sic) maker are all Jewish in this boom town in the Near East. Travelers, returning from New York from Palestine, speak in glowing praise of Tel Aviv, the garden that was planted on a desert, which in 13 years has grown, out of the labor and sacrifice of Jewish pioneers, to be one of the most unique and civilized cities of the globe.
. . . Tel Aviv set out to be a city beautiful and it became a city beautiful in a dozen years. New settlements in the United States invariably begin as a row of single story, tar-roofed dwelling shacks, a factory and a saloon. Only years of increasing population and growth bring schools, churches and stores. The first settlers in Tel Aviv were foresighted. They laid out their 60 homes in the nucleus of a city,planted gardens around them, and built a large high school Tel Aviv attracted many students and rapidly became a center of culture and progress. It was really this educational institution which made the town. It is part of a modern school system in Palestine, with Hebrew as language of instruction. This system is being maintained by the Palestine foundation fund and most of he money comes from America.
WAR ARRESTED PROGRESS
Originally the 60 families who bought about 15 acres of barren sand dunes intended to start a small garden suburb on the seashore near Jaffa. However, the attractive dwellings and the school at Tel Aviv invited additional settlers. Travelers passing through to Jaffa admired Tel Aviv, and started a movement from the larger cities and from European cities. After five years of growth to beauty and prosperity, the war came and for three years the progress of Tel Aviv was arrested.
There was not the slightest hope for building and land purchase. Not only was immigration nonexistent, but many of the actual inhabitants were driven from their homes by the Turkish military authorities, and the town was made desolate. It was not until 1917 that the British forces occupied Jaffa and opened Tel Aviv to the outside world. Petach-Tikvah, a nearby Jewish colony, where many residents of Tel Aviv had found refuge, was captured next and the refugees were returned to their homes. The liberation of Galilee brought the remainder of the refugees back to their homes, to recommence the feverish activity. Large tracts of land were purchased, buildings erected and factories established. Two years ago immigration was reopened and thousands of newcomers passed through Tel Aviv.
As their predecessors had done 10 years before, they stopped, enchanted by the beauty of the town, and decided to settle there, buying land, to reestablish homes or factories, or to find employment as workmen or artisans.
. . the municipal budget is being used for the building of sewers, the construction of new roads and the repair of old ones. The excellent roads are kept in repair and the world of irritation and modernizing the oldest land civilization is carried on here solely by Jewish pioneers.
And now Tel Aviv is doing something which no city in the Holy Land, throughout its long history, has ever done before. It is floating municipal bonds, with interest and security equal to those of any other municipal bonds. The issue is not large, amounting to only $75,000, but it will be sufficient to furnish the town with a number of important utilities. . . the municipal budget is being used for the building of sewers, the construction of new roads and the repair of old ones. The excellent roads are kept in repair , and the work of irritation and modernizing the oldest land civilization is carried on here solely by Jewish pioneers.
From this, a few reminders:
* The settlers of Tel Aviv bought the land.
* There was nothing there before. They made the land bloom.
* The Turks drove them out. Any Jews bombing Ankara buses? No?
* In the 20s, some elements of progressive sentiment sided with the Jews in the Middle East. Imagine that.
* Bonds, loans, interest - never underestimate the power of usury to build a sturdy sewer system. The bin Laden letter seeks to reclaim the glory of Islam with a 14th century fantasy based on the sword, on obedience - but the writer would be advised to consult an article in a newspaper in a city not known for its love of Jews, to find a few clues for constructing a world in which people actually want to live.
Float some bonds, plant some gardens, lay off the hate. It sounds crazy, yes - but it just might work.
||TODAY: all over the road. Heart attack-ack-ack-ack, the banality of political mailings, the ideological implications of 1930s movie theaters, all wrapped up in a warm tortilla of simplistic blather. Im tired. Im rambling. I got five hours of sleep last night. Forgive me. Here we go.
Pulse rate - slowing
160 bpm, 150 -
There. Thats better. I just checked the mail; there was a thin letter from American Express. Thin letters from your credit card companies are never good news - they drop all the come-ons and inserts, and get right down to business. I open up the statement, and my eyes go to the AMOUNT box.
Then I see that its my Membership Rewards balance. Okay. Whew. (Like Gold Bond stamps, it probably equals about $75 bucks.) We can now continue with the rest of the mail. Hmm: heres a fundraiser letter. I get mail from both sides - a consequence of subscribing to many magazines and being a union member. The GOP, for example, is always sending me membership cards and implying that my $25 will keep the spectral hordes of liberalism from devouring Scoutmasters and small businessmen. To be honest, though, the conservative tone is mild these days. In the 90s I got mail from nutball outfits whose envelopes asked whether I wanted to know the TRUTH about Vince Foster. Youre telling me he was depressed and shot himself? No! I read on a newsgroup that his sex organs were removed by robot coyotes! It has to be true!
The frothy ravings have abated somewhat; victory will do that.
But all of these mailings from every side have the same message: despite recent successes, the world might just to fall into the long dark night of perdition and despair unless I toss a fin into the pot. NOW.
Anyway, this letter has a big headline: CONSERVATIVES FEAR EMPOWERED WOMEN. Theres a picture of two nice old ladies. THEY SHOULD BE TERRIFIED OF THESE TWO.
I opened it up, and read:
Its an outrage.
Its always an outrage. Everything is outrageous. I live in a state of rage over the amount of outrage thats out there, raging.
Although women are the majority in Minnesota, their best interests arent being served at any level of our government.
Really? Any level? Trash collection, drivers license renewal - theyre all skewed to grind the hornd heel of the patriarchy into the back of womens necks? Tell that to my empowered wife who, as an assistant Attorney General of the state, prosecutes those who take state money to help the poor and sick, then slap around old ladies like the ones on the front of the envelope.
Not a dime to any of them. Not a dime. You think I believe that conservatives are terrified of empowered women? Go ahead. You think Im worried that Hillary Clinton is holding a Wiccan ritual in the Senate cloak room to hasten the gay agenda? Feel free to think so.
If nothing else, the Womens Foundation letter is an interesting glimpse into the vocabulary of people who spend their lives having meetings and mailing letters. The very word empowerment gives me the heebie-jeebs, because its one of those words used by humorless, dead-earnest people who want to save the world. I dont trust anyone who wants to save the world, unless theyre the people who want to save the world from the people who want to save the world. The letter praises a volunteer named Shirley Jackson, whos been traveling around the state mentoring and training women for public office. (I suspect that the women she trains generally fit a particular ideological template, but thats her right). The letter describes her work as driving the way to systems change.
(Aunt-Selma corn-shaving shiver)
The modern world breaks down into two categories - those who say things like systems change with utter confidence that everyone knows what they mean, and those who hear the phrase and are stricken with that sharp pain above the eyes you get when you eat your ice cream too quickly.
The letter's postscript coda posits a new dire peril: The Senate, the House of Representatives, and White House are now controlled by anti-choice extremists. Look. If theres a challenge to particular laws in particular places, tell me. Be specific, so I can understand the particulars. Dont use the language that makes it sound as if women are being poked back into the kitchen, stripped of their footwear and impregnated with SpermBots wearing blank-eyed plastic Ashcroft masks. Extremist? I direct your attention to Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. If Bush is an extremist on abortion, then how exactly do we describe the mullahs and sheiks?
In the past that might not have mattered; those people were a world away. A century away. But the definitions have changed; the world has shrunk, and it will reflect well on any cause to acknowledge that we know now what extremism really looks like. Id have the same reaction if a conservative mailing described the incoming minority Senate as extremist opponents of American security. Grow the ($%* up.
The most interesting part of the fundraising letter told me that the times require Ms. Jacksons Women Candidate Development Coalition more than ever, what with all this extremism about. And if you doubt that the Coalition gets results, well, when it began in 1986, Minnesota ranked 26th nationally in the number of women holding political office. By 1996, the state had moved up 20 positions, to sixth.
In these letters, no news is good news. No news can possibly be good news, except for the good news that binds up our wounds, puts splints on our busted bones, and girds us for the final battle of GOP and MAGOP.
Modern political speech is so dopey, so banal, that its no wonder why people wish a pox on all houses. You wonder if it was ever so - and the answer is probably yes. But. I have an amazing political tract from the 30s I should scan and post; its a page-by-page refutation of FDRs campaign promises, with facts and figures from the government itself. Its about 40 pages thick, and presumes a certain intelligence on the part of the reader. But the 30s were different. The opposition party had become so marginalized that the only people who took the time to read the thing were gouty industrialists and other upper-class newsreel hissers.
By which I mean, well, what? Well, here comes a digression.
When I was in high school someone gave us a collection of great New Yorker cartoons. I got most of them, but some required knowledge of the times for the joke to work. Making fun of Al Smiths hat is not exactly a deathless jape. But one Peter Arno cartoon featured some fur-clad rich folk inviting other members of the tux-and-spats crowd to join them for the night: Come along. We're going to the Trans-Lux to hiss Roosevelt.
As I later learned, the Trans-Lux was a small chain of New York theaters that specialized in newsreels and short features. The facades were sleek, stripped-down Moderne gems, and the interiors had the same stark beauty.
People call this style Art Deco, but it isnt. And since the 20s saw the flowering of true Art Deco, some think this is what Manhattan looked like in the Scott and Zelda era. It didnt look like this at all. This was what the Depression looked like, and thats always fascinated me. At a time of true economic travails, the likes of which few of us can imagine, the Future suddenly showed up in concrete form. The modern world was born in the 20s - the rise of mass media, the first real steps toward the political and social emancipation of women, the democratization of technology, etc. But the look and feel of the 20s was still bound to the 19th century, for the most part. This changed in the 30s, when the Moderne and International Styles started showing up in store fronts, Post Offices, a few commercial buildings, and - gulp - Nazi newsreels. Its the difference between a biplane and a silvery zeppelin. You can only wonder what it must have felt like to see the old order fail and the new order assert itself - I mean, nothing else had ever looked like this. No classical antecedents, no references to Victorian ornamentation, no faux attempts at Egyptian or Greek motifs. This stuff owed nothing to anyone. It was the first style that demanded to be photographed in black and white.
After the Second World War, a new new style took root - the delirious Atom Age Googie style, occasionally blended with corporate interpretations of the International Style. This was a brash, cheerful, chestpounding hula-hooping style that seemed utterly apt for the postwar era, and its remembered with great fondness by many. Since it accompanied an age of prosperity and optimism, it still strikes many of us as the way the future ought to have looked; since it was part of an era of nuclear dread, it has an undercurrent of self-delusion as well. [All those tailfins and turquoise boomerangs seem like silly geegaws when compared to the existential dread of The Bomb.] But the Moderne style of the 30s was almost like a warning of what was to come: this was a style that upended the Etch-A-Sketch, started from scratch. And that idea - the desire to remake and remold pliant Man in the image of an ideology - was the most ruinous notion the 20th century produced.
Not to blame these lovely theaters for Hitler and Stalin, of course. But imagine you were in your 20s during the Great Depression, and you saw the old world dissolving wherever you looked. Everyone always thinks they stand on the verge of a new world, a new era, but I dont think we can quite imagine what it was like in the 30s. The modern world was a tightrope, and everyone knew that the net had been repossessed by creditors.
FDR, as it turns out, loved Arno cartoons, and hung that one in his office. He scribbled marvelous! across the picture. I miss that kind of man.
||Six ferrets with teeth filed to needle points have been stuffed in my pants; fire ants are being poured into my ears through two funnels, and in a few minutes I expect to be rogered with a phone pole. Those metal spikes the linemen use for steps are going to hurt, I fear. But still my answer is no. Do what you can. Do what you will. Im still not going to see an animated Adam Sandler movie.
I wasnt going to write tonight, but given the crappy quality of this weeks offerings I felt as though I should - either to continue the streak of craptitude, or break it. Right now its ten PM, and Ive spent the night picking at various projects - Im adding to the Cartoon site next month, a little ten-page salute to an early 20th century Minneapolis Tribune cartoonist named Rawson. He was the most skilled caricaturist the paper ever had; his work just jumps off the old microfiche. Cartoon bodies, oversized heads, incredibly deft portraiture. Utterly forgotten, of course. Not a single original drawing remains in the papers archives.
I have a picture of the view from the old Tribune building on my wall, a black and white shot from the era of hats and round-fendered cars. It bears absolutely no resemblance to the site today; its a picture from a time of soot and sweat, of clattering streetcars, miserable summers, rowboat rides on the lakes in long-sleeved shirts and straw hats. Its what Rawson and the rest saw when they left work for lunch. A few years after the picture was taken the paper moved to its current HQ, and Im lucky enough to work in a building that has been the home for one business for over half a century. Think of it: most people work for companies that move around, change their names, evaporate and leave only useless letterhead stationery. I work in one of those buildings where they carved the company name on the wall in stone: thats confidence.
Its been updated and renovated and gutted and rehabbed, and would be unrecognizable to the men and women who worked there in the late 40s. But theyd recognize the stairwells. Same tan marble. Thats about all that remains, aside from the elevator doors in the lobby.
So we should be thankful that there are some survivors from the past, I guess.
Like the way I worked that in? All subtle like? Huh? Here comes the big Thanksgiving essay!
No. To be honest, Thanksgiving always gives me a slight sense of shame. I have to be reminded by the calendar and the presence of fowl to be thankful?
Usually, yes. But sometimes I find myself the most thankful when Im in the tertiary stage of a bad mood. Ive succumbed to the idiotic vagaries of the day and slipped into a petty funk, snapping at the people on the radio, scowling at the MORONS on the highway, rolling my eyes at the supermarket when someone is hunkered down in the aisle examining the various brands of corn syrup, blocking my way. (Usually I tell myself that this is a matter of principle, that they are blocking the way in general, and my personal inconvenience is just an example of this cosmic sin, but I know better.) At this point my own selfishness and pettiness - manifested in silent monologues of devastating effect, of course - just horrifies me, and I feel Shame kick in like a furnace on a cold December night. What is the matter with you? None of this is worth what you spend on it.
We should exist in a constant state of gratitude. Of course, we cant. We live in the moment, and sometimes the moment just blows. Its difficult to be in the dentists chair, hearing the whine of the drill, and be grateful for everything that teeth do for you. Sometimes the obligation to be grateful seems oblivious to lifes nasty facts; the imprecation to give thanks at all times seems like a spinster singing hymns as the deck of the Titanic takes its fatal tilt.
True gratitude requires the long view and the short view. Long view: thanks for life. It beats the alternative. Short view: thanks for today. No matter how bad it seemed it was the domino that tripped the next piece. But inevitably youre so used to the clack-clack of the daily dominoes that you take it all for granted; how could you not? Even in cultures where life has a Hobbsian cast, people just live, like torpedoes threading through the water. It is the nature of life to move forward, and this motion, the commotion of the wake, the resistance of the water ahead, tends to make you forget about the miracle that launched you in the first place.
This is why I always feel abashed on Thanksgiving: I celebrate my boon with a feast. Typical. I ought to celebrate it with hardtack and crackers, just to remind me whats available to me any day. Thats the curious inversion inherent in the American experience - the feast was born of deprivation; this bounty was an anomaly in the settlers lives. The nation that grew from their effort is so successful that the hallmarks of that singular feast are now available to us every day. Turkey on demand! Yams for all! Cranberries out of season!
The weight of our riches ought to chasten us - for a moment, anyway. An interval of mute awe at the combination of history, determination, Providence and geography that made this nation possible. Its a time to be humble. Strut around like you earned that bird because you were born here, and you miss the point.
I guarantee that none of the lessons Ive prescribed will take root; I will swear at traffic, get peeved at fellow mortals, drop off to sleep thinking about the petty bedevilments of the coming day. Im only human, and a rather cranky, cramped, sooty-hearted iteration of the template. I could be thankful that Im not worse, I guess. I could be thankful that I realize now and then what keeps me from being a better person. But I am mostly thankful to live in a land that allows me to life in a state of ingratitude. Fear, hunger, mortality, and the rest of the common human concerns dont grind their callused knuckles into my temples every day. I am free to be petty. Free to be annoyed. Free to worry about the silliest things you can imagine. Im so free I have no idea how free I am.
This is nothing new; I feel this every year. Thanksgiving is my confession: bless me Butterball, for I have sinned. It has been 364 days since the last time I confessed my ingratitude. It seems sometimes as if the day is an elaborate scaffold built around the edifice of happiness, a complex construction whose intricate surfaces steal your attention from the object thats being restored. Today, for example: in the morning I cleaned the house, top to bottom. Did the woodwork, the windows, the stainless steel. Did the grocery shopping with Gnat, trying to get it all done before 11:30 so she could eat and nap. She tarried in the tunnel from the garage while I tried to carry up the groceries - cmon, kid! Lets GO! Away with the groceries, nuke the lunch, put the tot to bed, deal with the lawn guys, finish some emails, wake the tot, off to Nanas, finish the work at the paper, off to Target, buy the gifts, fetch the Gnat, head home, CHOP the chicken, START the rice, EAT the meal, KISS the wife -
The day is just a series of verbs.
But now at 11:48 PM, sitting at the kitchen island, each one of those verbs has a precious resonance, every noun looks like a gift. It was a wonderful day. It stuns you, sometimes, to tote up the moments of the day and realize what youve been granted.
For the beautiful little girl who hugs me and says I love you, Daddy;
For the gorgeous woman who puts up with me and gives grace and balance to my life;
For the friends who suffer my self-absorption and inattention;
For you folks who read my work despite its myriad hideous deficiencies;
For the dog who forgives me anything;
I am thankful.
And beyond my narrow circle:
For the men and women who defend us - soldiers, firemen, cops, bar-rush ER staffers - I am thankful.
For the chance to be better in the year to come: I am more thankful than you can imagine. I'd better be.