I'm in neutral this week, as next weekend I'll have to shift into overdrive and start converting the basement boycave into a bedroom suitable to a teenage girl. There might still be a call from LAUSD to return to teaching when school begins, August 16, but as the summer passes, without any response to my messages, I grow less optimistic. Nevertheless, I know that a flurry of activity and enormous change kicks off next weekend when Number One Son packs up his little Toyota and sets off for the Windy City. Our Korean exchange student arrives the following weekend.
Even though I know I'll be busting my butt in no time I feel slothful in my prone position, remote at the ready. I've experienced other spells of indolence and for as long as I remember, there have been few couch-ins where the line of a John Prine song hasn't wafted through my mind. “There's flies in the kitchen. I can hear 'em in there buzzing. And I ain't done nothing since I got up today...” As the kids are less than scrupulous about leaving the doors open, there are actually a handful of flies which drive Himself apoplectic to the point of smashing a window. I usually do manage to make it into the office most days and behave like a reasonably responsible business owner. I make dinner just about every night. Laundry is washed, folded and put away. Linens are changed. Floors are swept. Trader Joe's and Sprouts are patronized. I even see my first theater movie of 2016 (Indignation-good) But an inordinate amount of the summer is spent wallowing in the guilty pleasures of Trump and murder shows.
The TV does stay off when I force myself to write a few words here each Friday, although of late occasionally I let it slip into Saturday. Another surcease in the self loathing accretion is writing letters, just about every week, to two prisoners I was connected with nearly ten years ago by a Jewish prisoner support agency. Alan is actually being released in July of 2017, about a month after Spuds graduates. He is studying laptops and cellphones and the DMV manual. We are trying to decide where to eat when we pick him up in Tehachapi and help him get home to his mom's in Oregon. The other inmate is Jim. Letters from him mostly complain about the inadequacy of prison medical care. He refers to his East Indian physician as Dr. Bombay. In his mid-sixties, Jim struggles with a number of health problems. He can be somewhat amusing although there is an occasional racist joke. His sentence is for life but I have never inquired about his crime, nor has he volunteered this information. I have not seen a picture of him. At times he mentions that he is ordered by the guards to trim his beard so that's all there is for my mind's eye. I think he enjoys my letters, or at least appreciates the regularity of them. I print out the annual NFL Schedule (including pre-season), pay for his TV Guide subscription and supply him with stamps and stationery which I assume is his main motivation for maintaining our correspondence. He knows that I know this and we're both ok with it.
Perhaps none of my readers ever faces the dilemma of selecting a birthday card for a person serving a life sentence. “May your birthday wishes come true?” “For all the special things you do, we're wishing you a special day?” “Here's wishing your celebration brings many happy times to remember?” “I hope your special day is filled with fun and happiness?” There are no cards like, “Hope that despite the lack of cake and gifts and only the shitty food that you will eat until you die and the grim surroundings that you will die in, that your birthday is slightly less depressing than the other days.” Also, I think there should be Mother's and Father's Day cards without the word “love.” Maybe there's a niche market.
Now back to the inordinate of time I spend supine. I have become a total Trump junkie, constantly scanning The Times, Slate, Huffington Post and even lately the Daily News trolling for reports of more deliciously vulgar, almost camp, shenanigans. I'm loving the lies and outrageousness and how the line you'd expect him to cross just drifts father out of his orbit. In Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Neil Postman posits that as television images replace the written word, exposure to serious ideas is diminished. Postman accused television of undermining political discourse and turning complex issues into superficial images. I guess it's best that Postman died before the genesis of Twitter and the presidential candidate it spawned. News and issues are more and more conflated with entertainment and Trump is the personifcation of this. The Donald, like Ol' Blue Eyes (who slurped fried eggs off a call girl's tits) is one of the great entertainers of all time. Reprehensible, but captivating nevertheless. He doesn't bother anyone with substance or ideas but I listen 24/7 just to know what shockingly inappropriate thing he'll say next. I cannot look away.
One exception to my fare of Trump and murder is the extremely dark comedy“Unreal” which chronicles the production of a show like “The Batchelor” and the ruthlessness with which ratings are pursued. Just as Trump seems to lack boundaries, the show runners of the show-within-the-show “Everlasting,” are unscrupulous in their efforts to manufacture watchable TV. Off the charts on the Bechdel test, Unreal's two female leads, Quinn and Rachel, have a relationship that's as fascinating and complex as that of Walter White and Jessie Pinkman.
My other summer discovery is a “real” reality show, “The First 48.” The show follows homicide detectives and ascribes to the theory that progress made during the first 48 hours of a murder investigation is a huge determinant of whether or not the crime is solved. Detectives in Detroit, Houston, Miami and other big cities search for clues and interrogate witnesses. There are a handful of white victims and white perpetrators but mostly it's (young male) blacks killing (young male) blacks. It is remarkable how many suspects ignore their Miranda rights and incriminate themselves. Some of the detectives are aggressive and there are frequent examples of dishonesty and questionable ethics. Other cops seem compassionate and tenderhearted. Some suspects are bad liars and others blurt out confessions and are obviously relieved and unburdened, even as the cuffs come on. The show captivates me as it seems that in these particularly taut circumstances suspects, witnesses, families and detectives seem less aware of the camera and the intimacy is often very powerful.
Unfortunately, this exceptional reality show is not as real as it seems. I learn that in one instance the show's producers are so eager for big drama that riot police use battering rams and grenades to raid a suspect's home. It turns out, its the wrong house and a seven year old girl, asleep inside, is killed. One of the First 48's line producers is convicted of perjury for lying about the footage of this. The episode is never broadcast. In other instances, feeling rushed to comply with the show's 48 hour formula, there's sloppy police work and innocents languish for years awaiting trials. Still, the show serves to humanize young kids for whom a split second rash decision results in a life imprisoned. And it shows too the human capacity for staggering hate and anger, unlikely to be ameliorated during the course of a draconian prison term.
I have lunch with a lovely colleague who is a hardcore Hillary-ite. Knowing the Bern I feel, she asks immediately if I'm “with her.” I have to assure her three times that I don't intend to vote for Trump. Lest she get too complacent, I add that I think that Hillary needs to stop taking credit for the accomplishments of Bill Clinton's presidency. She wasn't president. And I presume that in future she intends to hold the office by herself. Not only does resting on her husband's laurels feel somehow retrogressive, “the woman behind the man” and all, but when she does take credit for his presidency, there's a lot of stuff that makes me like her less. Drug policy and welfare “reform” have led to the festering cesspool ghettos and the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in the world. The First 48 shows the hopelessness and descent into addiction and violence that besieges these impoverished communities. Ditto, the middle class, still scarred by the economic crash and rampant foreclosures now suffers from stagnant wages and enormous college debt. The catalyst for this catastrophe was the deregulation of big banks during Bill Clinton's watch. I'm cautiously optimistic about the Bernie inspired platform but I'm still curious about the content of Hillary's pricey Wall Street speeches. Nevertheless, if anyone's concerned that I'm not over Bernie, I firmly believe that Hillary is far and away the best option.
I will likely watch the election by myself. Himself is too principled to vote for a lesser of evils and will likely sequester himself in his office with some unwieldy tome while I am glued to CNN (Does Anderson Cooper ever sleep?) Spuds will celebrate his 21st birthday and Number One Son his 24th, far from home. When I write about my discomfiture with regard to the impending midwest transplantation there are two schools of reaction. Many friends comfort me and understand my devastation about what seems to me an enormously risky decision. But there is also a contingent who encourage me that it's time to give the Jewish mother thing a rest and have some confidence that the young man who we've raised will have an opportunity to grow up and find his way. It's all true, Everyone's right. I am thankful however that there will be a new houseguest and circus-like election to distract me from the reality of what bodes to be an everlasting empty nest.