Holiday weekend morning. Gnat’s with a friend at some sort of festival somewhere, doing the usual festival things. It could be a city-sponsored Celebrate Diversity In a Non-Specific Fashion! Festival or a Chant to Wake the Dark Lords Festival, and she’d come home with some face painting, a stick, and a cranky mood. My wife is in bed, having contracted the grippe. A neighbor is doing target practice with one of those guns that fires nails through concrete, or so it sounds: CANK. Wait 40 seconds. CANK. Wait 40 seconds. CANK. I expect my wife to storm down here any minute and demand to know what the HELL that sound is. So I’d better have an answer, eh? Time to get out the camcorder and use its handy zoom function. . .

. . . As far as I can tell he has rented a foot-powered guillotine for bricks. He puts one brick in a slot, turns a handle to secure it in place, then pumps the device until it cleaves the bricks. I have no idea what he is doing. I mean, he has to have purchased the bricks somewhere, unless he has a kiln in the basement. You’d think that any decent brick supply house would be able to cut them to order, but apparently not. “What’s that, sir? Cut the bricks in half? Oh my no. We just make them. Once they’re cool, we want nothing to do with them. Can’t hardly bear to look at them, truth be told. That’s why none of the windows here in the office face the yard. Fact is, we hate bricks. We can barely bring ourselves to say the word. We tell ourselves we’re saying ‘bric,’ without the k, but it doesn’t help. So asking us if we’d pick the things up – with our hands, mind you – and alter their basic dimensions, well – frankly, we prefer not to. Good day to you.”

Now he’s stopped. Apparently he only needed to break a certain number of bricks.

Maybe it’s a new diet.

Cicadas, airplanes, wind in the trees. A peaceful weekend. At least here. There’s a bloody child on the front page of the newspaper. The Strib subhead calls them “Islamic guerrillas” and “fighters” and “militants,” because you know one man’s terrorist is another man’s disciple of God who practices his sharpshooting so he can nail children in the back at 50 paces. This teaser to an inside story made my jaw bruise my sternum:

“This week’s bloodbath in Russia shattered the notion that innocents are taboo terror victims.”

This is why I despair sometimes. Now we learn that innocents are no longer taboo terror victims. Which means that these people weren’t considered innocent.

Or perhaps the notion that innocents were taboo was still a reasonable assumption. Which means that the people on the buses in Jerusalem weren’t considered innocent.

Or perhaps the notion that innocents were taboo was still a reasonable assumption. Which means that the people in Bali weren’t considered innocent.

Or perhaps the notion that innocents were taboo was still a reasonable assumption. Which means that the people in Spain weren’t considered innocent.

Or perhaps the notion that innocents were taboo was still a reasonable assumption. Until Beslan. Oh, that changed everything.

And I can hear the eyerolling already; why bother, who cares. But I don’t know how someone can write a sentence like that in 2004. And I don’t know how a reputable wire service (AP!) (coff) can send it out. It’s like reading a dispatch from occupied Paris in 1943 wondering whether the Nazis have ambitions beyond the Sudentenland.

I got a letter the other day, the daily I’ve-stopped-reading-you-because letter that accused me of being “intolerant” of other points of view. I suspect that for some, “intolerant” means unwilling to agree with points of view I find unsupportable. You will, I hope, note that this site spends very little time on taxes, regulation, stem cell research, abortion, the death penalty, gay marriage, environmentalism, school vouchers, mass transit, clog dancing, circumcision, Central Standard Time, Coke V. Pepsi, or any other major issue of the day. Now and again I’ll bring one of them up. But not often. I do bring up the war more than any other issue, because I happen to believe we’re in one, and it should be won. I have no problem debating strategies and objectives, but there are some arguments that bore me right away. I am not intolerant of these ideas. I’m just tired of them. They come from some Happy-clappy parallel universe where Islamic terrorists do not bayonet little kids in the gut when they ask for water. I do not live there.

An example from one of our deep thinkers, Wallace Shawn:

'Part of the problem presented by Bush and his gang is that they are so crude ... These people believe in cruelty, vengeance and brutality. I think Shakespeare would have done very well with these characters. The American government in my lifetime has never been in the hands of people so unbelievably unqualified to run a large country. These guys are out of touch with reality. The most shocking thing about them is that they have only a contempt for the law. That means that they could - and probably will - do anything. This is the scariest I've known it. Part of the problem with these men is that their sensitivities have never been shaped by any civilisation, of East or West - or even the wisdom of primitive cultures.'

Whatever, Wally. Sensibilities never shaped by any civilization. The wisdom of primitive cultures – like the way the pre-Columbian civilizations perfected ritual sacrifice, perhaps? Sure, they ripped our hearts to appease monster-gods, but their ability to understand astronomy was astonishing. Cheney could learn much from their calendrical skills.

Eh. I
t’s a waste of electrons to tarry on such nonsense, and all you can do is pity such a fellow. Given the words to describe a hurricane, he spends them on denouncing a hair drier. Who will listen to these people should things ever get worse?

The people who have to fill the pages of magazines and the empty minutes of TV, of course. Because yesterday never happened. No one ever said anything. What counts more than words is your attitude, your perspective, and if you have the right perspective you’re immune from judgement. (Not that we judge.) Yes yes, I exaggerate. But there’s a certain mindset you see reflected time and again: a small dense potent anger over how the ah, theatricality of the 9/11 attacks overshadowed the more important points about American perfidy. The United States was the victim, and that inconvenient fact just ruined everything. Which brings us to another sad parting of the ways.

I’ve always respected Art Spiegelman – for "Maus," of course, and for his role as a curator of the comics medium. I think he's a brilliant artist. "Maus" did for me what Weisel's memoir did for the previous generation; it was a sharp stick in the ribs: listen, heed, remember, understand. It made you ache. Art has a new book coming soon with a clumsy title: “In the Shadow of No Towers.” (A Zen koan that ain’t.) I’m sure it will be very well received; consult the publisher’s summary, which speaks truths we all know are manifest and undeniable:

The horrors they survived that morning were only the beginning for Spiegelman, as his anguish was quickly displaced by fury at the U.S. government, which shamelessly co-opted the events for its own preconceived agenda.

Let’s pause for a moment to recall our own anguish in those days.

What would it have taken for you to swap those emotions for anger at the government?

And swap them quickly?

As if you were almost eager to be shed of them?

Well, the attack on the Taliban, of course. That would make you forget 9/11 tout suite. Apparently Art believes that the administration had a preconceived agenda that involved Afghanistan, and could - not – believe - its – freakin’ - LUCK when the planes slammed into the tower. All this, plus a pretext to suspend the Constitution! Booyah! Naturally, Art had to take a stand and protest the war against the Taliban. Speaking to Corriere della Sera in early 2003:

For the Thanksgiving cover with turkeys dropped in the place of bombs, I chose the title 'Operation Enduring Turkey' to mimic 'Operation Enduring Freedom' then begun by America in Afghanistan. But David Remnick forced me to change the title."

That’s how bad it has become in America: the cover is printed, but the artist is forced by his boss to change the title, which few note anyway since it appears in tiny type on the table of contents. He was permitted to use the turkey metaphor, but forbidden to name it as such. Prisoner without a name, Cartoon without a Caption. He also did a New Yorker cover for the Fourth of July that featured an atomic bomb, because, you know, well, isn’t it obvious? Apparently he got some grief in the office. What form this took, who can say, but you can easily imagine someone taking him aside and saying “What’s with all the oblique anti-war lefty stuff, Art? This is the New Yorker, fer chrissakes!” It got so bad he had to resign. I can only imagine how Remnick has his goons kick Seymour Hersh half to death every other week; it’s a miracle the man has the strength left to type.

Art’s latest book has been serialized in Die Zeit and the Forward; no doubt good Germans were pleased by this panel, from "Shadow of No Towers.". Take a look. It features Spiegelman in Maus form, of course, as if the experience of the American Jew is the same as the European version, and requires no alteration of the metaphor. Our Hero was “(e)qually terrorized by Al-Qaeda and by his own government,” he writes of himself, and if there was any doubt that he had just revealed himself to be a hysterical fool, he gives us a four-panel account of his facial hair variations, filed under “Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist.” Because when it came to New York after 9/11, it was all Art for Art’s Sake.

Note the poster that proclaims his brain “Missing, last seen in Lower Manhattan, mid-September 2001. Metaphorically missing, of course. Some other posters hinted towards more literal absences, but really, let’s not quibble about the nature of victimhood, shall we? Dead or alive, we were all dispossessed. In a way, the living envied the dead, because the dead didn't have to draw pictures about how they felt. Again, speaking to the Milanese paper:

Q. Do you consider yourself a victim of September 11?

A. "Exactly so. From the time that the Twin Towers fell, it seems as if I've been living in internal exile, or like a political dissident confined to an island. I no longer feel in harmony with American culture, especially now that the entire media has become conservative and tremendously timid.”

Exactly so. Really. Victim. Victim. Victim. Victim. Then there’s Art, who is “like a political dissident confined to an island.” Granted, he can leave any time he pleases, because, well, he’s alive, and free to come and go as he pleases. Otherwise it's indistinguishable from a coffin. Or a gulag barrack.

The interview concludes:

"Sometimes, I think I would like to emigrate to Europe; and seeing that in America they won't even let me smoke, the temptation is very great."

You wonder what his old man would have thought. The sage of Rego Park, the stooped, cantankerous, parsimonious old hardhead who survived the horrors of the camp and made it to suburban America. And now his son wants to go to Europe to be safe. You are meshuggah, Richieu. You want to go back so you can smoke? Trust me, they let you smoke.

Europe is only too happy to see a Jew smoke. They even built special places where they could do it together.

Someday some Kurdish artist will produce a graphic novel of how his family suffered under Saddam. A New York publisher will pick it up. They'll probably ask Art to write the forward. And he'll have the gall to say yes.