Columns

From the New York Times, Time magazine, and the complete Chicago Tribune syndicated columns

Here’re your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power.

So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack.

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A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

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Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

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Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit a shirt

As a Midwesterner, I was brought up to be self-effacing and make no demands of anybody. I don’t honk, I don’t wave at the waiter who’s ignoring me, I don’t want to be a problem. Offer me ranch or blue cheese dressing, I say, “Whatever is easier for you, whichever you have more of, whatever nobody else wants.” “Just choose, damn it,” the host says, and I’m tempted to ask for blue cheese but I don’t want to if it deprives someone else of blue cheese who is on the edge of the cliff already and, denied his dressing, might harm himself. “We have plenty of both,” the host says. But now I’m wondering, “What do I have against ranch? Is it my antipathy to cowboy mythology and the fetishization of guns?” And the host screams, “CHOOSE!” And I ask him, “Which one has less impact on the environment?” And he shows me to the door and locks it after me.

Self-effacement is rare in New York where I live. People don’t go around meeking each other as they do back in Minnesota, because here, the Christian faith is an oddball item, as it was in Jesus’s time. It’s a city of Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and a million people who moved here to escape from fundamentalist families, plus other minorities, Sodomites and Gomorrhians, and the people who designed the Tower of Babel and went into the practice of law.

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Looking down the road, seeing the future

It would appear that five of the Supremes are favoring an absolute right to possess any weaponry whatsoever by whoever has the cash, and to bear arms without restriction in schools, churches, shopping centers, aboard airliners, in the courtroom itself, that a right is a right, period. And when the Executive Quintet opens those doors, we’ll see dramatic changes here in the land of the free and home of the brazen, such as the man police apprehended carrying a gun near Justice Kavanaugh’s home last week, with intent to do harm.

We have 400 million guns now and when we get up to a billion, there will be more men with guns than police can apprehend, and it’s safe to say that no parent will send children to school, even one with armed guards. Law enforcement has been overwhelmed in many cities, including Minneapolis, where police have begun to privatize themselves and hire out as freelance security. Education, I suppose, will move online. Millions of people will become consultants and work out of their homes; manufacturing will all go to China. The closing of schools will likely mean the end of interscholastic sports except fencing, sharpshooting, and bowling, which may be useful for self-defense.

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The meaning of life as it dawned on me the other night

I enjoy writing this column every week but how would you know that, me being from Minnesota, from stoical people, brought up to bite our tongue and persevere through suffering, and if pleasure occurs, be patient, it will soon pass. In other parts of the country, our stoicism would be diagnosed as depression. Sedatives are pretty much wasted on us. Joy is a word on Christmas cards, not used in conversation. At games, the cheerleaders only try to keep the crowd awake, and if our team wins, we think, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse and next time it probably will be.”

We’re people of few words and that’s why we’ve produced very few writers. Fitzgerald was an Easterner born in St. Paul by mistake and he left as soon as he could and never returned. The poet Robert Bly’s big book was Silence in the Snowy Fields, which pretty much says it all, and then he wrote Iron John about plumbing. As for Louise Erdrich, she grew up in North Dakota.

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Recovering from disaster, thanks to my heroes

I’ve been writing nagging hectoring columns about malfeasance in high places lately, and now it’s time to admit I left the water running in the shower three weeks ago and it leaked down to two apartments below us and caused water damage and now insurance adjustors are working out a settlement and I am required to wear a hazard-orange vest with IN THE EVENT OF ERRATIC BEHAVIOR, CALL — and my wife’s phone number written on the back. I distinctly remember turning the water off, but plaster damage below us says otherwise. So I’m not going to write about the federal judge who threw out the mask mandate that led to the steep rise in COVID cases. I have my own problems.

My wife is a forgiving person. She has not filed for guardianship. She kicks my butt at Scrabble but she’s gracious about it. She rations my bacon cheeseburgers. She tells me if I look bedraggled so I don’t walk down the street and people hand me spare change. And she turns out the light at night and rolls over and puts her arms around me. This is better than a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t wake up in the morning with an aching in my head and the blues all around my bed and the water tastes like turpentine because my good gal left me here cryin’. She didn’t. She has made coffee and she has read the morning paper so that I don’t need to. When you skip the news, life is a lot more like Anne of Green Gables or The House at Pooh Corner.

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Some news, as we know, is realer than others

Uvalde stays in the mind despite all distractions, a pleasant day at a little summer house in Connecticut and Scrabble on the porch and the drive back to Manhattan on the Merritt Parkway with its arched stone bridges dating back to the days when families went for a “drive” for pleasure — it stays because it is so real. I don’t understand economics, Ukraine is far away, climate change is an abstraction, but the terrified parents across the street from their kids’ school hearing gunshots, they are real, and I have a great-niece who is the same age as the kids in room 112 and I imagine her as the girl who lay on the floor among dead classmates and called 911 and said, “Send the police now, please.” That is my niece, a lively independent spirited girl who loves reading and bonds with her grandma and eats like a trucker but is thin as a rail thanks to the intensity of her life. That girl has a name, like the kids in Texas.

The teachers Eva and Irma are real. They are my fourth-grade teachers, Miss Carroll and Mrs. Moehlenbrock. The Border Patrol trooper in the hallway who said to his two colleagues, “Let’s get this done,” and the three of them burst into 112, I know men who would’ve done that. The shooter is completely unreal, a blank shadow.

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What we know is not nearly enough

Of the ten worst mass shootings in America in recent history, five have taken place in Texas, so it was brave of Governor Abbott to go to Uvalde after the massacre of nineteen fourth-graders by an 18-year-old high school dropout with two newly bought AR-15s who had a whole hour to kill the kids and two teachers. The grief of a gun-lobby governor seemed rather thin but he went because he had to.

The hour delay between the first call to 911 and the shooting of the shooter was not explained in the media. A team of three Border Patrol troopers, carrying a ballistic shield, broke into the classroom at last and the shooter was exterminated.

Videos from Uvalde showed scores of heavily armed cops walking around, bearing assault rifles, bulky in their armored vests, even an armored vehicle outside the Robb Elementary School. For a moment I thought it was a scene from Ukraine, but no.

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Time to head for the graveyard and pay respects

Memorial Day is soon upon us, a day that is personal to veterans of foreign wars and rather abstract to us freeloaders and draft dodgers, and seldom the twain shall meet, but this Day is one of those occasions. I speak as one who got a notice from my draft board to report for induction back in 1967 and I wrote to them and said I was opposed to the war and wouldn’t go, and somehow the matter disappeared and the FBI never knocked on my door.

A classmate of mine, Henry Hill, died in Vietnam, in Quang Ngai, at the age of 24, a star athlete and class president, a first lieutenant, infantry commander, died of multiple fragmentation wounds, and I think, “The Army was unable to turn this guy into a deadly killer. He thought he was still on the football team.” I don’t feel responsible for Henry’s death, I think Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey were, and plenty of others who knew what was going on.

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