Trump Doesn’t Represent Peace Or Progress. In An Increasingly Polarized Nation And World, He Stands For Evil.

All my adult life, I have imagined U.S. presidents—even the lousy ones—with a certain measure of dignity. Putting on a suit and tie while practicing speeches at the last minute. Negotiating complex economic agreements with global partners. Contemplating war and how to initiate or avoid it. Sitting alone in the Oval Office late at night hunched over stacks of memos and briefing statements, their aching shoulders weighed down by the gravity of the position.

Augustus Trump

Augustus Trump

Until Trump.

Now all I see in our future is a Gollum-like Orange Troglodyte with irritable bowel syndrome squatting on a golden toilet late at night angrily tapping its tiny thumbs on a cell phone while it mutters curses at its growing list of enemies. Expressions of rage and glee alternate across its infantile, narcissistic face as it struggles to turn the spotlight of glowing admiration back on itself using just 140 characters.

It senses it’s already failing, slowly losing even the fawning, gullible audience that accidentally handed it the keys to Mordor via the Electoral College despite a popular vote that should’ve crowned Clinton the winner by more than 2 million votes, the largest margin in a presidential election in 140 years. It’s miserable about that news, but it’s also greedily licking its chubby lips even as it shits its fetid guts into the toilet and onto the screen.

Why? Because it’s got powerful frenemies—a swarthy yet frighteningly clever gang of hateful Urak Hai orcs to make sure The Precious stays in its thorny grasp.

This is a nightmare.

What has happened to my country?

To our country?

A lot of intelligent people think they know how we got here. So do a lot of fools.

I’ve read all the theories.

That we ignored the working man. That most whites are xenophobic racists and wanted to make the White House white again. That Clinton’s an evil hag who couldn’t punch her way out of a voting booth. That liberal coastal elites finally got their comeuppance from country bumpkins. That third-party candidates were spoilers. That America’s deepest fears were ridden to victory. That he’s a closet liberal working for the Democratic Party bosses. That educated people voted wisely while the uneducated put on blindfolds and played Pin the Tail on the Elephant, Any Elephant. That celebrity trumps substance in America. That his voters believe his promises. That Russian hackers tricked us with fake news. That Comey threw the election. That the Gray Men are secretly using Trump to drive us to WWIII so they can refill their coffers, and many more.

They all have some truth to them, but they also all seem incomplete, even in aggregate. The working man theory, for example, ignores the fact that since 1980 nearly half our factory workers have found new careers, and that a large of percentage of the men who still carry a lunch pail to work are Blacks and Hispanics who voted heavily for Clinton.

Personally, I’m tempted to believe that a lot of Americans voted for a non-politician who speaks fluent Mussolini because they blame the government for a host of their problems, however wrongly. Or that they got tired of Congress’ endless childlike bickering and slavish devotion to lobbyists who represent the rich, and decided to shake things up even if Trump is laughably unqualified for the presidency and is really just Richie Rich all grown up and turned mean. Or that Americans are just plain stupid—thick stumps who fear Lizard Rulers have secretly assumed human form to take over Earth, but believe Trump must be one of us because he didn’t whip his tongue out to snag the fat fly that landed on Clinton’s face in the second presidential debate.

Even my own analysis doesn’t ring true, however.

I honestly don’t know how to explain a president-elect who’s so dumb he’s considering appointing Mitt Romney Secretary of State. Romney recently called Trump a “fraud” and “phony,” a misogynist who degrades women, and a leader whose policies would trigger a recession, make America less safe, and foster an era of “trickle-down racism.” Doesn’t he suspect Romney might undermine him for political gain?

It boggles my mind even more that Trump is dimwitted enough to claim millions of people voted illegally in the election he won. I expected him to be a sore loser, but a sore winner? Maybe we ought to take him seriously and hold a second election immediately to make sure we got it right.

But what really troubles me is that this unprecedented political slide into stupidity and divisiveness is bigger than Trump. It isn’t unique to America, it’s global. It’s increasingly the defining characteristic of our age, the same evil zeitgeist that descended on pre-Holocaust Europe resurrected for the new millennia.

Governments everywhere seem to be in turmoil.

Ethnic, gender, and economic polarization are widespread and growing. The herd instinct is seizing our minds, and so is government and corporate interest in what we might or might not be doing in the privacy of our own homes.

Toleration is no longer seen as an ethical force, but deplored as weakness. Radical fundamentalism is on the rise. Christians hate Muslims, Shiites hate Sunnis, Neo-Nazis hate Jews, and Ricky Gervais and Richard Dawkins hate them all. Race relations have rarely been more tense, and nationalism, which is fancy talk for tribalism writ large, is being championed as the solution to our woes as if modern global economies and markets can still be neatly chopped into pieces and wrapped in butcher paper like so many old-world pork cutlets.

England, France, China, Russia, Greece, Austria, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, and more are all being swept with same nationalistic fervor that’s got its iron fist tightening around America’s neck. It’s strong even in Germany, which ought to know better than any country that nationalism and fascism like to skip hand-in-hand not-so-gaily down the bloody-brick road to imperialistic New Oz, where the city is made from the blackest obsidian and life rarely ends well for anybody under the Dark Wizard’s rule.

Time is running backwards, and so is logic.

Hail Trump!

Against the backdrop of this ugly milieu enters the triumphant Augustus Trump to a cacophony of off-key trumpets and wailing. He is now the most-powerful man in the hostile world’s most powerful country. It’s sobering to think that his twitchy finger will soon hover over the big red button that reads, “Nuk’em.”

Hail Trump!

Ignore the fact that he’s Pol Pot scary. Overlook the threats he and his band of not-so-Merry Men have made to squash the freedom of the press, which paradoxically, they dismiss as powerless dishonest liars. Never mind that they’re threatening to imprison their political opponents, or subject Muslims, Mexicans, and other ethnic groups to the sort of show-us-your-papers treatment normally reserved for criminals and people facing an ethnic cleansing.

Hail Trump!

Don’t consider that these one-percenters also have vowed to disband and privatize public education—the same system that broke down centuries of aristocratic schooling for the privileged and once shot America to the top of the world educationally. Or that they’re threatening to undo laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities, especially students. Or that they intend to defund and privatize another program that made us great, scientific research, specifically climate change. Or that they’ll cripple or eliminate the agencies that help keep our food and drugs safe, and our air breathable and water drinkable.

Hail Trump!

If these designer-label brown shirts get their way, sacred spaces in national parks and forests will be given back to the states and opened up to logging, ranching, and mining. Medicare and Social Security—which we fund with our paychecks—will be privatized or eliminated along with the Affordable Care Act to help pay off the national debt or, more likely, to fund the next big war. It’s estimated that would double health premiums for senior citizens and force tens of millions to once again live without adequate health insurance, our biggest cause of personal bankruptcy, while tens of millions more totter into old age with zero financial security.

Hail Trump!

Go ahead and welcome the brutal torture of prisoners of war, and don’t fret that just about anybody can be hauled to Gitmo without legal recourse these days. Kiss free speech goodbye, especially if you burn an American flag, which Trump wants make illegal despite the Constitution. Better salute it instead, because Trump advisor Newt Gingrich has apparently been possessed by the ghost of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and suggested reinstating the House Un-American Activities Committee to “investigate disloyalty and subversive organizations.” No matter that President Truman once called the committee the “most un-American thing in the country,” or that it was a monumental mess, failing to protect the country from the Communist scourge even as it needlessly ruined hundreds or thousands of lives.

Hail Trum…

No, strike that. I’m no sycophant. I’m not about to act like Trump and his henchmen are normal leaders, let alone give them a chance to prove themselves or wait for the system to press them into the safe middle ground of politics.

Make no mistake about the times we live in or what Trump represents. It isn’t unity, peace, progress, or even a return to the heady expansionist days of 18th-century capitalism that built empires. Not unless you want peace and progress Stalin-style, at the barrel of a firing squad.

Now that Trump is the world’s biggest bullhorn for xenophobia and neo-Manifest Destiny, he is well-positioned to become the world’s next major evil dictator. As his chief strategist Steve Bannon put it, “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”

Coming from a wealthy man who frequently sounds dangerously anti-Semitic and xenophobic, those words are bone-chilling.

Fuck our democracy’s checks and balances. They didn’t stop FDR from tossing more than 130,000 Japanese, Italian, and German citizens into prison camps during World War II or labeling hundreds of thousands more as potential “enemy aliens,” something Trump and crew have repeatedly hinted they might reinstate for Muslims and other potential disloyals. Checks and balances haven’t prevented our leaders from repeatedly stepping on the civil rights of Blacks, American Indians, members of the LGBT community, or women, either. That’s despite the progress we’ve supposedly made since women won the right to vote in 1920, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and the Americans With Disabilities Act was approved in 1990. I don’t trust checks and balances.

Look, maybe I’m wrong. At the very least, maybe I’m overreacting. History tells me we’re usually unable to recognize the beginnings of grand movements that will determine the fates of our lives.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, Trump and his henchmen scare me, and I’m not easily scared because I’ve learned that doomsday predictions are wildly inaccurate and that things have a way of working themselves out, often for the better. But since the election, I find myself waking up every morning checking the news to see if history’s next Archduke Ferdinand moment has toppled us like wobbly dominoes into darkness.

If it does happen, I’ll probably get the news from one of the Orange Troglodyte’s early morning Tweets. In the meantime, I plan to oppose the president-elect, his cabinet picks, everything he represents, and nearly everything he wants to do. It’s the safest course of action.

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Up Next: Trumping Trump

img_5272It’s 2:13 a.m. on Nov. 9th, 2016.

An historic day.

The day after Election Day. The 396th anniversary of the day the colonists on the Mayflower first spotted Plymouth Rock and the New World. The 128th anniversary of the morning the mutilated corpse of Jack the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was found in her bloody bed by a thug sent by her landlord to collect the overdue rent.

I should be in bed myself. Sleeping, because I have 16 tons of coal to shovel at dawn and I owe the company store my wretched soul, plus interest.

But instead I’m sitting on the couch with my family half-watching the tattered remains of the press corps on television. They’re flapping their jaws about the meaning and impact of Trump’s election with all the authority and dignity of a cuckold caught naked at church on a Sunday morning. I’m not paying attention to their monkey chatter because they just proved that neither they nor their experts and pollsters know jackshit about jackshit where politics are concerned.

Besides, the answer to their question is obvious: About half of Americans either want a chauvinistic white supremacist homophobic oligarch nationalist in the White House or they aren’t brave enough to speak out against it before it becomes our collective new reality on Inauguration Day.

No, I’m ignoring the press. My mind is sailing away from Plymouth Rock on choppy seas with the badly bruised American Dream in tow. Not slowly, but like a fast clipper ship running illegal rum, which will come in handy later. All I know is that I need to get somewhere safe quickly, and that I’m afraid to look back at the sins of Sodom lest I turn into a pillar of salt.

The unthinkable has happened.

The huddled masses have elected a new ethno-chauvinist landlord to watch over their tenements. One who’s promised to give everybody high-paying factory jobs, chase the swarthy brown people off their front lawns, and single-handedly force the world’s bullies to their knees and return their lunch money with a ballsy display of Chuck Norris-style bluster. All while the world’s largest, most-powerful army stands behind him locked and loaded just in case the bravado isn’t quite enough.

Never mind that he was endorsed by the KKK’s official newspaper.

Never mind that no half-decent father or mother would let him near their daughter on prom night, or that he’d grab Lady Liberty’s pussy if only his hands were large enough.

Never mind that he’s a narcissist who represents the rich, white, patriarchal establishment that he criticizes more accurately than almost anybody in the world.

Never mind that he’s already an international joke, and a man with no political experience or capital who speaks with all the poise and sophistication of a 13-year-old boy asking an unlucky girl out on his first date.

Never mind that he is so ill-mannered and abrasive that he was sharply criticized and even shunned not only by liberals but also by many of the Republican leaders who are now enthusiastically lining up to clean his nasty arse with their forked tongues after every shit he takes on their Grandfather’s Old-as-fuck Party.

He’s President Trump now, boy. You’d better salute the Stars and Stripes and say your prayers at night or he’ll send you to Gitmo for a shave and face-first sitzbath that you’ll never forget. Not unless the electrodes on your nuts accidentally short out and send the current racing through your frontal lobes, turning you into a drooling baby chimpanzee (no offense to baby chimps).

My 80-year-old mother-in-law, a life-long Democrat and devout Christian, is sitting near me, shocked and muttering to herself as she watches the madness that is the Electoral College throw the switch and jolt the modern-day re-creation of Frankenstein to life.

“I told the Lord that if he wants a man like Trump to be president, then maybe it’s just His way of ushering in the End of Days,” she says, shaking her head in disbelief.

Maybe she’s right.

I’m no Nostradamus, but lately the entire world seems to be Jonesing for a war. Not a small, profitable skirmish like the ones we’ve had for the last decade or two to feather the pockets of Halliburton or General Dynamics. I’m talking about a real, honest-to-God blood-letting. One that sends hundreds of thousands or even millions of fine young men and women to early graves. One that satisfies our testosterone-fueled fantasies and spikes the sales of guns, tanks, rockets and all the value-added products that go with them, from coffins and tombstones to undertakers and clothiers.

Trump has promised to give us one in the Middle East if they don’t knuckle under.

War might be hell, but hell, it puts people to work and gives them new parks and memorials to visit on the federal holidays we create once they’re over. Besides, it’s fun to win, and we will win because God’s on our side.

I guess God’s on his side, because Trump’s a winner and President Trump it is.

What to do now?

The talking heads say we liberals need to make nicey-nice and pull together with conservatives like a team of obedient Budweiser Clydesdales to make America whole again. Even Hillary Clinton is saying it, and she’s a Nasty Woman who just got the smack-down from a man who was—this is true—inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2013.

I say fuck that, it’s time to act.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both,” the great abolitionist, American statesman, and early social justice warrior Frederick Douglass said in 1857.

Conservatives have spent years loudly whining about liberal policy failures and vehemently resisting any change that doesn’t fit their agenda, which I gather is couriered to them weekly from Heaven by the Archangel Michael. Now it’s their turn to set policy and our turn to relentlessly trash it, those rat-bastards. Only we won’t just sit back and carp like they have. Liberals have their faults—tofu and crystal healing leap to mind here—but we’re the ones who are exceptionally good at organizing coalitions, creating civil unrest, and fomenting progress.

Remember when women, blacks, Indians, people with disabilities, and other minorities took to the streets over and over again to peacefully support civil rights or environmental protections? Expect more of that—sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and long, expensive legal battles that will make your corporate overlords’ ears bleed.

I don’t say this to intimidate or scare conservatives. Liberals are wusses, by and large. They’re the ones with the guns, MREs, camo gear, and secret bunkers, not us.

No, I say this because they need our help. They’ve already benefitted from us in the past, even if their minds have been artfully mismanaged by politicians and the corporate fat-cats they represent to think otherwise.

Thanks to progressive rebels like us, education, once limited to elite preppies, was made available to every Tom, Dick and Tiny Tim. Workers, once nearly powerless wage slaves forced to mine salt 12 hours a day, seven days a week, fought for and earned a fairer share of the enormous, unparalleled wealth they created for their bosses. Women, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, people with disabilities, and other minorities fought for and won the right to vote, and along with it, secured their civil rights and fulfilled the Constitutional promise of equal access and personal liberty for everybody. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people fought for and got for the right to marry, even while wearing hot pink if they choose. They were beginning to envision the day when their civil rights would also be protected until Trump rose up out of the acidic slime vat like some alternate universe’s Orange Joker.

Conservatives, you have some good ideas and some legitimate concerns that need addressing. I don’t mean to sterotype you or your party, or to dismiss the real pain many Americans are feeling

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re going to get your way just because your man’s in office. He’s just a symbolic archetype, albeit a particularly unpleasant one. That sense of empowerment and entitlement you feel won’t last long. He’s just another corporate puppet, and the same political pressures that firmly push almost all presidents down to the useless middle ground will work their evil magic on him, too.

It’s already happening.

It only took Trump minutes after he won to stop chanting “Crooked Hillary” and break his vow to appoint a special prosecutor to throw her in jail for her imagined crimes. “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely,” he said in his uncharacteristically candy-ass acceptance speech.

The rest of his vapid promises will also go unmet.

He’s not going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, it would be logistically impossible. He’s not going to bring back manufacturing jobs, we can’t compete with people who will work 10 hours a day for a dollar. He’s not going to negotiate trade agreements that favor America, our companies need access to sell goods and services in the Chinese market more than they need ours, and nationalism spells economic failure in the modern global economy. He’s not going to stem the flow of drugs, we’re the ones buying them. He’s not going to make ordinary people rich or richer, he is Richie Rich all grown up—mean, and golfing at his Mar-a-Lago estate with the Koch Brothers. He’s not going to unify the nation, not without implementing some fascist vision that none of us wants.

And that promised wall on the Mexican border that launched his campaign?

Let me tell you something else about November 9th in history. That was the day in 1989 that the Communist Party announced East German citizens could start crossing the border whenever they pleased. That night, ecstatic crowds of newly free Germans swarmed the wall, tearing it down.

Freedom prevails.

Your border wall won’t even get built.

Yes, Trump is president.

Yes, he is your schoolyard bully and we liberals are the pansies.

But you conservatives would be wise to remember that we’re also the Social Justice Warriors you’ve labeled us. We’re pressed from the mold of Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King, Jr. We make shit happen. We are the angry mob closing in on Castle Wolfenstein to protect liberty and set things right, not you.

If you voted for Trump, think hard: He only won the election because he won the electoral college. He lost the popular vote. That means there are a lot more of us than there are of you, and now you’re on notice.

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Nicky Was Here

Nicky sharing a sweet moment with her youngest son, Max.

Nicky sharing a sweet moment with her youngest son, Max, in 2012.

Nicky was dying from liver cancer and in France to marry her longtime love, Jean-Philippe. I asked her to name her favorite moment of their trip so far.

“It is impossible to pick a favourite moment, place, nap or anything,” she wrote from her hotel room early one morning before heading out to explore Paris again. “Everything is just so incredibly beautiful. How could I possibly choose?”

So it went with Nicky until the inevitable end arrived some nine months later. She cherished each moment of her life. Even during the nauseating, nearly deadly rounds of chemotherapy she endured to extend her time with her family. Even later, when those treatments had run their course and her blinding pain was tempered only by morphine injections and medical marijuana pills that left her all but incoherent, or what she once called “sloggy and zzzzzzish.” She complained to me only once, during a particularly bad round of chemo, saying, “It’s hard to stay upbeat and positive when you feel like garbage all the time,” but also telling me not to panic because “this is just temporary and I will get past it.”

I tended to romanticize her sunny attitude in the face of such misery as heroic fortitude, but Nicky was always quick to correct me.

“Meh. I’m not tough,” she said. “Just don’t want to waste the time I have being sad. Also, there’s nothing like death to make you appreciate what you have. Life is short, so don’t waste time fucking around.”

I wish I had half her spirit.

I’m an adult, I understand everybody dies. But I accept it begrudgingly, if not bitterly. One day somebody you love is there, the next day they’re gone, and the relationship goes dark, as if a lightbulb has burned out. Maybe you will see them again in the next life, but in the moment it’s sudden and shocking, and it can’t be fixed.

The loss hurts badly.

It seems especially unfair to me that fate would claim the life of a 48-year-old woman who had a husband and three sons, two of them, Jacob and Kane, young adults, and one, Max, still a boy. Even worse that there is a seemingly infinite line of assholes in the world who deserve to die but survive to torment others when Nicky would’ve added so much happiness instead.

Why her? We discussed that question once briefly, and it made no sense to either of us. It seemed like random bad luck of the worst sort. Now, the thought of it just fills me with anger and regret. But Nicky admonished me long ago to focus on goodness where she was concerned, and so I will.

Nicky and Jean-Philippe got married last summer in France with their son, Max, at their side. Their love for one another was obvious to everybody and will endure.

Nicky and Jean-Philippe got married last summer in France with their son, Max, at their side. Their love for one another was obvious to everybody and will endure.

It isn’t hard to, either.

I only knew her through her writing and our personal correspondence, but we became friends and I can tell you she was a remarkable woman.

On the surface, Nicky had a keen intellect, quick wit, and a brilliant, often bawdy sense of humor that made her a compelling writer. She also had a knack for making other people (including me) feel special, as if they had rare talent or were especially charming and lovable. She had many friends real and virtual, and many more wanted to be her friend.

Deeper down, however, Nicky was also a rebel—a longtime smoker who quit a few years ago for her health, but still liked loud rock-n-roll music, dark colors (purple was her favorite), cold beer, and sometimes fantasized about escaping the routine drudgery of life in a fast convertible. In her heart of hearts, she was an independent, self-described introvert who didn’t like a lot of chatter and needed time alone to think, or even better, not to think.

Being sick changed Nicky a little in this area. For instance, when she asked me to edit her wonderfully funny yet poignant post announcing her battle with cancer to the world, I noted that it must have nearly killed her to be so open. Her response: “Priorities change when the timer is counting down. I don’t have time to waste building walls anymore.”

That sort of complexity was one of Nicky’s most-appealing qualities. Underneath a layer of reticence or reserve that was almost stereotypically male in its expression, for example, she was very feminine. Everybody who read her blog knows she rocked a pair of high heels as well as any woman and looked much younger than she was with her jet-black hair and infectious toothy grin.

What might not be as obvious is that she was also a devoted wife and mother.

Nicky was too realistic to say Jean-Philippe was perfect—”all wives alternate between loving their husbands and thinking they’re asses,” she once cautioned me after I had a upsetting spat with my wife—but her love for him was unchallenged.

He returned it, too, both romantically and practically.

Nicky's love for family was rivaled only by her famous fondness for high heels. She posted this photo in October 2014 to prove she was recovering well from surgery for pancreatic cancer, which preceded the liver cancer that ultimately took her life.

Nicky’s love for family was rivaled only by her famous fondness for high heels. She posted this photo in October 2014 to prove she was recovering well from surgery for pancreatic cancer, which preceded the liver cancer that ultimately took her life.

In Paris, “we met some ladies from Minnesota when we were in line at the Louvre,” she told me. “I took a picture of their group for them. As we were chatting, one of the ladies told JP to make sure not to miss seeing Venus. His response: ‘I see her everyday.’ ”

That melted her heart, but it was his consistent attentions that proved his mettle. When the chemo gave her diabetes, it was Jean-Philippe who administered her insulin shots, and later still, when her pain got bad, he stayed by her side constantly to give her morphine injections every three to four hours. She was, she admitted, very weak and completely dependent on him, and although she meant it physically, it was clear to me that his devotion pulled her through her most-difficult days. She loved him dearly.

Nicky was a great mother, too. She joked about what a pain in the ass her sons were, but also loved them fiercely.

My favorite photograph of Nicky shows her post-shower in a bathrobe without makeup, her hair a wet mess, sharing an affectionate kiss with her youngest son, who had climbed into her lap and cradled her face in his small hands. It’s a highly personal, surprisingly revealing picture for a woman who valued her privacy. It’s also courageous. How many women do you know who are willing to have candid photos taken, let alone without makeup?

That was just like Nicky, though. She could be soft one moment and enforce a no-bullshit policy that was even stricter than my own the next. As a result, it was nearly impossible to fool her.

For instance, one morning, driving to work and feeling particularly down about her deteriorating condition but mindful of her wish to focus on the positive, I blinked tears out of my eyes and took a cheery photo of Colorado’s famous purple mountains and golden plains in the early morning sunlight. Then I sent it to her along with a brief explanation of how a similar sight had inspired the song America the Beautiful, which should be our true national anthem instead of The Star-Spangled Banner. It wasn’t like me to pretend to be positive when I actually felt like shit, but I meant to put on a brave front to help make her feel happier.

“That’s beautiful, Michael! I am feeling better today and was even planning to do a little status update later this afternoon. I think America the Beautiful would have made a better anthem,” she replied before acerbically adding, “And stop being so wishy-washy now or I might just end up back in the ER.”

Nicky liked the Steampunk sunglasses I sometimes wear, so I sent her pair along with an aviator helmet when chemo claimed her hair. She got a lot of hats that year, and gamely posed with all of them.

Nicky liked the Steampunk sunglasses I sometimes wear, so I sent her a pair along with an aviator helmet in 2015 after chemo claimed her hair. She got a lot of gift hats that year, and gamely posed with all of them.

I adored her brand of no-nonsense, tell-the-truth-at-all-costs humor, but our communication got more and more spotty in the weeks before she died. I sent her a lot of messages about random subjects, asked her to comment on a short story I’d recently finished because I highly valued her opinions about writing, and made her a pretty box. I also asked her a lot of questions, and if two days passed without a response, I panicked. But invariably she’d gather enough strength to send me a line or two, sometimes more.

Finally, however, at 4:43 last Monday morning, I asked, “How are you doing today, Nicky?”

About 45 minutes later, after I’d fallen asleep, she wrote, “I’m better today, Michael.”

Then, some 15 minutes later, “I would like apologise for my stoni-nes and general lack of lucid communication.”

More than two hours later, she wrote, “You’ve also been bombarding me to keep me happy. Thank you.”

I responded as soon as possible, but that was the last message I got from Nicky.

She died early Saturday morning.

I miss her badly.

I knew I would, and told her so a long time ago: “I’ve shed a few tears for you, Nicky. And also for myself because, speaking selfishly, I hate that a day will arrive when you and I won’t have these chats anymore.”

“I’m going to miss these chats, too,” she wrote. “I hear there’s no WiFi in the great beyond. Which really sucks because I was planning a dazzling afterlife status update. Bummer. But don’t cry for me, Argentina. I’ll keep an eye on you from my seat at the bar.”

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The Golden Dragon

chinese-paper-lanterns

I’m driving to work on a cold, sunny morning, listening to news on the radio about a magnitude-6.4 earthquake in Taiwan that collapsed the Golden Dragon, a high-rise building made partially with tin cans. Authorities say 118 people in the building are missing, but rescuers picking through the rubble looking for survivors hear the cries of a 3-year-old boy. A pile of concrete has collapsed on one of his arms, pinning him alone in the dark for more than a day. A camera crew is on the scene and the boy is pleading for help, and even though he’s speaking Mandarin, a language I don’t understand, the fear and desperation in his young voice is unmistakable. His parents are missing, almost certainly dead, and the rescuers feed the boy through a long straw while they work frantically for hours to pull him to safety.

He is 3-years-old. Three! Trapped alone in the dark for a day in some profiteering capitalist’s tin-can apartment building, unable to free himself and screaming because he’s in pain and his entire world has cracked and broken apart, turning what he believed was his shelter into a would-be sarcophagus.

And he’s three. Three!

Images of a video my friend, Ziva, sent me a few days ago flash into my mind. It’s of her baby boy, Oliver, who is about to celebrate his first birthday. He’s sitting in a high chair in their kitchen, slapping the palms of his tiny hands on the curved, white-plastic plastic tray in front of him and giggling at the noise while he alternately plays with a toy car and a stuffed rabbit. He stares at Ziva the whole time like she’s the center of his entire universe, and I can see his love for her shining brightly in his eyes. She asks Oliver if he can hug the rabbit, and he babbles in response and then gleefully presses the rabbit’s cloth cheek to his own.

Now I’m thinking about how happy Oliver looked, and how frightened that little boy trapped in fallen apartment building sounded, and suddenly I’m peering at the road ahead of me through unwelcome tears, thinking that I’m a grown man and need to pull myself together, that tens of thousands of children die every day all over the world, and that there isn’t any rational reason to shed tears for this particular boy just because he was trapped in the rubble of an apartment building called the Golden Dragon.

But I was a boy once, too, small and happy like Ziva’s son, and it also occurs to me that on special occasions, my parents used to take me and my brother and sister to eat at a Chinese restaurant called the Golden Dragon.

Chinese restaurants are everywhere now, but the Golden Dragon was an exotic treat back then with its hand-carved mahogany woodwork, red-leather booths, and paper lanterns. I recall being riveted by the rare beauty of the waitresses, who had almond-shaped eyes and wore their long, black hair in ponytails, repeating our orders to us in quiet, deferential broken English while they wrote them on green and white paper pads with strange symbols that seemed more like hieroglyphs than language. We always ordered yellow Egg Foo Young smothered in rich, brown gravy, and Almond Chicken, and Chicken Chow Mein, and I remember trying to ignore the hungry rumbling in my tummy while I studied the 12 animal signs of the Chinese Zodiac that were printed in dark green and bright red on the stiff paper placemat. I remember wondering why fate had decided to birth me in the Year of the Boar, animals that are said to be imaginative, successful, highly responsible, and lucky.

The Golden Dragon restaurant was certainly lucky for me, but the Golden Dragon apartment building in Taiwan wasn’t so lucky for that little boy. He was pinned there all alone in the dark for a full day, his parents gone, unable to do anything but cry.

Life is terrifyingly and wonderfully random, both in the way it separates and connects us.

Why is it that an earthquake strikes a city in Taiwan while I’m sleeping comfortably in my bed and topples a building built with tin cans to the ground, trapping a baby boy in the wreckage? Why is it that the Golden Dragon evokes pleasant, safe memories for me, but will likely be lifelong source of fear and sorrow for a baby boy halfway around the world who lost everything except his life? Why is it that I am a grown man and that he is just 3-years-old—three!—and that, today, connected by nothing more than a name, we are both crying?

I don’t know why. I don’t believe I ever will.

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Of Birds And Men: How a friend tried to use Nikola Tesla to make me a birder

I’m often amazed by how much effort people put into trying to make you like the things they like, whether it’s movies, food, politicians, books, religion, or photos of their family vacation.

Consider the tireless pleadings of my good friend Cheryl Duford on behalf of birds, for instance.

Cheryl’s fascinated by, even obsessed with, birds. So much so that she regularly slogs through muddy swamps and hacks through thorny thickets to take photographs of cormorants, snowy owls, and many other fowl that look far too small to make a decent meal out of. Or even an indecent meal.

This is precious time she ought to be spending with her dear and increasingly lonely family. Or using to kneel and prayerfully beg God to forgive her for having impure thoughts about Mémère’s molasses-drop cookies.

Instead of doing something meaningful with her life, however, Cheryl has repeatedly tried to convince me to adopt her love of all things ornithological, even though she knows my basic position on the issue is that birds can’t be trusted because they will invariably peck your eyes out. Because everybody knows that’s what birds do. They peck your eyes out.

I’ve successfully resisted her earnest petitions to make me a birder for years, but now she’s set a clever trap for me by dragging Nikola Tesla into the debate.

 

I think we can all see why a pidgeon might fall for Tesla.

Yes, THAT Tesla. The brilliant Serbian-American physicist and engineer best known for creating those crackling, scary-looking electrical coils and ladders that have reanimated Frankenstein’s monster in countless movies. Oh, and also for inventing the wireless radio and contributing to the development of the X-Ray machine, radar, robotics, and an early form of cell phone communications. Not to mention conceiving and designing the alternating current induction motor that generates enough electricity to power them and all the other electrical devices that have become ubiquitous in our lives.

But that’s all common knowledge.

What many people don’t know is that Tesla, like Cheryl, was also fixated on birds. So much so—and I swear on the towering, ostentatious grave of naturalist John James Audubon I’m not making this up—that he eventually fell in love with one.

Near the end of his days, when Tesla compulsively sorted his life into threes and lived alone in room 3327 on the 33rd floor of The New Yorker hotel in Manhattan, he walked daily to a nearby park to feed pigeons and enjoy the company of his feathered paramour. Then he would return to his humble suite in the evenings to continue working on his inventions.

“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years,” Tesla wrote of his avian affair. “But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”

One night, however, Tesla said the white pigeon flew to his hotel and, speaking to him through an open window, announced she was dying.

He saw “two powerful beams of light” in the bird’s eyes, he said. “Yes, it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory.” The pigeon died in his hands, and the inventor claimed that at that exact moment he knew that his life’s work was over.

He died soon after—just before midnight on Jan. 7, 1943, some 86 years after having been born around midnight during a fierce lightning storm, an event that led his mother to predict little Nikola would grow up to be “a child of light.”

Now, you might think Cheryl would be satisfied to rest her case for all things winged and feathered on an intellect as piercing and as influential as Tesla’s. Or, setting education, creativity and knowledge aside, to swaddle her argument in a lover’s heart as full, as warm, and as courageous as the one that bridged the longstanding gap between two distinct species, man and bird, to fiercely love a talking white pigeon with fiery eyes.

But you’d be wrong.

Cheryl took this photo of a hawk. Maybe it’s a hawk. It might a chicken for all I know. Anyway, you know what it’s thinking? “I want to peck her eyes out,” that’s what.

You see, Cheryl is an infamously cantankerous woman, as hard and as unforgiving as the igneous rock that lends its name to the Granite State from which she hails, New Hampshire. She wasn’t content to simply make an argument and then let its transformative powers seep into the bird-resistant crannies of my mind.

No, she felt compelled to hammer her case home by sending me a near-priceless gift: A Tesla watch, a Steampunk-style timepiece I’ve long coveted and now proudly wear on my wrist even though it’s a constant nagging reminder that my position on birds stands in opposition not only to Cheryl’s, but to one of history’s greatest inventors.

I appreciate the watch more than I can say, Cheryl.

I truly do.

I’m also humbled by your generosity and resolute passion for the beaked beasts that fly overhead teaching us to aim high in life, if not with our personal goals, then at least with our camera lenses, or depending on your point of view, buckshot.

But I can’t lie. As beautiful and as practical as the Tesla watch is, as forceful a case as it indirectly makes for songbirds, raptors and their kin, it hasn’t changed my mind about birds.

Not one wit.

Birds will peck your eyes out. Because that’s what birds do. They peck your eyes out.

My new Tesla watch rocks, but not enough to make me a bird-lover.

My new Tesla watch rocks, but not enough to make me a bird-lover.

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