Trump teed off at virus

The president was on the tee at the par-3 seventh hole when his caddie told him of a coronavirus death in the United States.

 “I’m sorry, Mr. President,” added Mike Pence.

“I’m calling Nikki Haley ,” snapped the president.

He resumed his stance over the ball. The shot sailed into a pond in front of the green.

“Gimme another ball,” Trump ordered.

Pence, wearing a blue suit and black dress shoes, slipped on the grass as he rushed toward the cart carrying the bag with the presidential seal. Trump snickered. 

Pence, his pants sporting grass stains flecked with dirt, returned to the tee with a shiny new Titleist and handed it to the boss.

Trump’s next shot hooked toward a greenside bunker. “Shit!” he spat, before lumbering back to the cart where Lindsey Graham was waiting.

“Where is it?” the South Carolina senator asked.

“Bunker,” Trump said as he lifted his bulk into the driver’s seat beside Graham.

“I was referring to the virus death, Mister President.”

Trumped ignored him and gunned the cart down the path,  followed by Pence and the presidential golf bag, six Secret Service agents, a military aide with the nuclear football, and Eric with a bucket of chicken and a cooler filled with Diet Cokes. 

A great egret took flight as the motorcade careened around the pond and skidded to a stop beside the green. 

It was a chilly Saturday morning in South Florida. Trump was in shirtsleeves while the others were still in jackets.

Pence and Graham had made jokes about global warming on the first tee, trying to ameliorate the president’s anger over Fox News reporting on the growing health crisis. 

It didn’t work. And it didn’t help that Trump was playing lousy, bitching and moaning on every shot.

Now, off the seventh green, Lindsey and Mike resumed their ongoing conversation about gay conversion therapy while Trump putted out.  

“Three,” the president shouted to Lindsey,  who was keeping score. The senator did not remind the president about hitting a second ball from the tee, or question how he managed to emerge from the bunker.

Trump spent the rest of the round screaming at Pence or someone else on the phone.

Inmates in the highrise Palm Beach County jail, which overlooks the course, could hear the barking of various presidential orders.

“Get me Hannity.” 

“Get me Rudy.”

“Get me Mitch.”

“Close the border.”

“Sue the bastards.”

“Declare martial law.”

Gimme the Purell.

“Get me a Diet Coke.”

“I need Ivanka – now!”

Other golfers turned away in deference to the club owner. Boat-tailed grackles cackled in the trees. 

“You have to be a fucking moron to screw up this job,” Trump berated Pence on the fairway of the long par-4 eighteenth hole. “I told you I wanted a six iron and that there are to be no more deaths from this bullshit virus.”

“But the state reported it, not us.”

“Isn’t the governor a Democrat? Go on the Sunday shows tomorrow and say he’s lying, it’s a hoax.”

When they reached the clubhouse, the TV in the locker room was blaring breaking news from nearby Riviera Beach. A black teenager, wearing a surgical mask, was shot dead by the white owner of a gas station convenience store.

The news anchor quoted the owner as saying: “I saw the mask and assumed he was a robber.”  

Trump was apoplectic when the anchor segued from that story to the latest coronavirus death, followed by a clip of Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert calling for a boycott of Corona beer.

Lindsey chortled. Pence didn’t look up from cleaning the boss’s golf shoes.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Why I voted for Amy

My only issue is how to thrash the imperial wizard of the Republican Klan in November and perp-walk his fat ass out of the White House before he irreparably trashes the USA.   

Running down my Super Tuesday absentee ballot, I eliminated all the easy targets for Agent Orange – he has many evil allegiances, goes by many names – and  the GOP GRU.   

I looked for the candidate who would play in Peoria. 

That’s sure as hell not the 78-year-old Jewish socialist with a bum ticker and a Brooklyn accent.

It might be Biden, 77, but he appears even older, worn down, not up for the race.

Bloomberg, 78, should let his money talk and shut the fuck up.  

This is not the time for geezers – or the first Jewish president.

Too much is at stake to gamble against American bigotry.

Same deal with Mayor Pete. 

What about a woman? 

What about the last woman? Did Hillary lose because of her emails, Benghazi, or the smears of the Clinton Foundation?

Or was it because she claimed to have all the answers, appeared phony and entitled?

Will voters see Elizabeth Warren as another smarty-pants in a stylish pantsuit?

But then I came to the woman with the short-bob haircut, flat-soled sensible shoes and the off-the-rack jackets and dresses. 

What can you say that is bad about Amy Klobuchar.

She seems like  the dependable sister-in-law who shows up at 3 a.m. in an emergency, provides comfort, takes charge, and sees the crisis through to the end.

I imagined a campaign this fall between an old, grotesque gasbag, ranting and raving, and a nice, decent Midwestern lady, winning hearts and minds with smarts and a smile. 

She also can be Minnesota nice while carving up bullies and boors.

Remember her performance on the Senate judiciary committee during the Kavanaugh hearings, when she asked the beer-obsessed Supreme Court nominee  if he ever blacked out during one of his drinking binges.

“Have you?” the douchebag jurist shot back.

“I have no drinking problem, judge,” came the reply, cool as ice, from the daughter of an alcoholic sportswriter.

Through all the tortuous Democratic debates, Klobuchar has been a voice of calm and reason amid the racket.

“If you are tired of the extremes in our politics and the noise and the nonsense, you have a home with me,” she said before her strong third-place showing in the New Hampshire primary. 

I knew Klobuchar was a long shot when I filled out my ballot and emailed it back to Maine, the last place I lived in the United States.

This was the day before it was confirmed the Russians are working for Trump again, before it was revealed that the Moscow propaganda machine is promoting Sanders as its preferred patsy, just before Bernie won big in Nevada.

The media storylines are already locking in. Sanders is unstoppable. Unless the moderates gang up on him. Unless there is a “brokered” convention. In which case, the Bernie Babies might burn down the party.

Or would they once more cry wee wee wee all the way home?

The media live for the fight. 

 A Trump-Sanders race would be a doozy – the crypto-Nazi versus the pinko Commie.  

Don’t the majority of Americans want an end to the tumult and the madness?

I’ve been thinking about Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

The 1960 play, which was made into a movie with Henry Fonda, focused on the two leading contenders for their party’s presidential nomination.

One is a ruthless phony-man-of-the-people senator that Vidal based on Nixon. The other, the Fonda character, is a principled, idealistic intellectual patterned after Adlai Stevenson.

It’s the kicker to the story that came to mind when I marked my ballot. After the frontrunners beat each other up, a third candidate, an inoffensive compromise, walks off with the nomination.

My hope is that character, that candidate, is Klobuchar. That she can hang on until the convention in Milwaukee this July. 

That The Best Man– The Best Person – will see a revival.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Two Jews walk into a bar …

Bernie was the first to arrive. He appeared edgy as he entered the hole-in-the-wall bar off an alley on the Lower East Side.   

He paused in the doorway, waiting for his senses to adjust to the dusky, dead-quiet interior.

He checked the time: 4:23 p.m.  “Hello,” he shouted, taking a step inside. 

“You’re early,” I barked from the back room.  

Bernie walked slowly down the narrow aisle between the long bar on his left and the single row of tables on his right. I met him halfway. 

“Thanks for coming,” I said, shaking his hand before taking up my post behind the bar. “Pull up a stool.” 

Bernie was griping about this and that – “I don’t know why I agreed to this” – when the front door opened and Mike joined us. He’d been here before.

I inherited the joint a long time ago from my Uncle Julius, who ran it as a front for his bookmaking operation. The sign out front still said Arnold’s,  a tribute to the godfather of Jewish gangsters. 

I turned it into a hideout for political wiseguys to drink and caucus.  

“What’ll ya have?” I asked.

  “Draft, please,” said Mike.

“Do you have Heady Topper? “ Bernie asked.

“Hedda Hopper?” I laughed.

 “Never mind, I’ll have a Rheingold.”

I laughed again, explained to Bernie that the Rheingold brewery shut down in the ’70s, and drew another Coors Light.

I poured myself a vodka on the rocks and broke the ice. “Does the media know you two are Jewish?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?” Mike asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I read the papers and watch too much cable news – mostly MSNBC – and have not heard one word about you both being Jewish, that your party could nominate the first Jew for president, and that it might be an issue.”

Ever since the smart money moved from Biden to a Bernie-Mike race, I’d imagined what the general election would be like. I painted the picture for my guests.

Thousands of Nazis, Klansmen and other Trumpiacs in the streets, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

Talk of Christ killers and international Jewish conspiracies.

Holocaust denial.

Fox News retrospectives of Emma Goldman and the Rosenbergs. 

The president slandering “Hollywood elites” (Jews) and “media liberals” (Jews). Calling out Barbra Streisand, Jake Tapper and  “Sulzberger’s” New York Times.

Rally-goers screaming “lock him up” whenever Trump attacks George Soros, Adam Schiff or Alexander Vindman.

A campaign fundraiser, a masquerade ball, called Kristallnacht. Steve Mnuchin comes as Shylock.

Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and Father Coughlin awarded Medals of Freedom.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anti-Semitic propaganda from czarist Russia – later required reading in the classrooms of Nazi Germany – hot on Amazon.

“The Russians have a long history of weaponizing anti-Semitism and Putin is probably already dishing out shit to help his most valuable asset.”

I’d talked for about twenty minutes. Bernie and Mike periodically interrupted, but I ignored their protestations and plowed on.

“What do you suggest we do?” Mike asked.

“You tell me,” I said. “What’s your plan?”

“My plan,” Sanders said, “is to win the nomination and destroy Trump in the debates.”

“There aren’t going to be any debates,” Mike said with a frown. “He’ll find some excuse and chicken out.”

“And,” I said, “if either of you wins the nomination, there will be blood.”

Non-stop attacks on synagogues and Jews throughout the country. 

Trump blames immigrants.

Declares martial law.

Calls off the election.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Days of infamy

Finally flipped the calendar on the wall over to November. Certainly no rush to get to this Friday. The 8th.

Expect there will be third-anniversary toasts in Moscow, Ankara and Riyadh, as well as in boardrooms, trailer parks, Republican cloakrooms, KKK clubhouses and their kin across the USA.

For the rest of us, the past three years have been like watching episodes of The Twilight Zone on acid. 

Not sure we’ll ever recover from November 8, 2016, or survive the madness it unleashed. 

Of course, we’ve been bushwhacked by lunatics before.

 “… December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy …”

– FDR

Roosevelt was right. Nobody forgot.

I wasn’t born until about five years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but, even as little kids, we always marked the date.

“What’s today?” Eric Epstein shouted in the schoolyard.

“Dunno,” Stevie Bock shrugged.

“Sneak attack!” Eric screamed – and kicked Stevie in the balls. 

Growing up, I thought a lot about the Second World War. About the Nazis and the Holocaust. About that maniac Tojo and his crazy kamikazes.

I thought about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hitler dead in the bunker, the Nuremberg trials. 

About keeping score. 

“Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”

– President Obama, May 2011

Payback. Never forget 9/11.

Or the lingering fear – and fear-mongering – that followed.

What was next? Dirty bombs? Nuclear? Chemical? 

Constant chatter about sleeper cells. The enemy within. 

“So, ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again.”

– June 16, 2015

One year, four months and 24 days later, the Charlatans of Fifth Avenue took the stage as the next First Family of the United States of America.

His fanatical supporters, rooted in stupidity and ignorance, bound by racism and malice, rejoiced. 

They live in a dream, and we live in a nightmare.

– Philip Roth, The Plot Against America

Trump still had to get through the Electoral College balloting in December.  Maybe enough electors would look themselves in the mirror and say, No way am I giving this wacko the nuclear codes.

But only ten of them didn’t follow the script, one casting  his presidential ballot  for Faith Spotted Eagle of South  Dakota.

 The Electoral College, it turned out, was stacked with dropouts from Trump University.

We were left in limbo until the descent into hell on inauguration day, January 20.

A last hope for sanity was that Chief Justice John Roberts would face Trump on the terrace of the Capitol and proclaim, “There’s no fucking way I’m giving the oath of office to this idiot.”

Instead, the new president spoke of “American carnage.” He failed to mention it was his agenda.

After nearly three years, impeachment is finally in play in the House – because Monica Zelensky was asked to give Trump a blowjob while he held up the Ukrainian’s arms.

Never mind that the American president is Putin’s stooge. That he left the Kurds to die in Syria to please Daddy Vlad.

Or that he is the unchallenged Don of the GOP crime family. Or that he puts babies in cages and inspires racist mass murderers.

I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want.

Al Capone said that. The press ate up his every word. People cheered. 

He left a trail of bodies across Chicago and went to Alcatraz for cheating on his taxes.

No telling what Trump is in for.

“I hope you wind up in Attica, you crypto-Nazi scumsucker – see how you like it taking it up the ass from some crazed three-hundred-pound junkie biker flying on smack.”

I wrote that in my memoir, recalling what I shouted at the TV the night Nixon resigned.

I’ve had more time to consider payback for Trump, compile a wish list.

A good start would be perp-walking his fat ass down Pennsylvania Avenue, the sidewalks lined with people laughing and cheering.

After that?

 How about spending the rest of his life:

  • Pulling a train for Mexican rapists in federal prison.
  • In a cell filled with monitors locked on MSNBC, CNN, North Korean state TV and Stormy Daniels videos. 
  • In a coal mine in West Virginia.
  • Working as a janitor in a morgue in Puerto Rico.
  • As a nurse in an Ebola clinic in Congo.
  • Sharing a small cell with the El Paso shooter.
  • Confined to a one-room apartment in West Baltimore, haunted by holograms of Elijah Cummings, Obama, Maxine Waters, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Robert De Niro and a prepubescent Ivanka.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

The last tomato

I stopped at the local fruit and vegetable market to check out the tomatoes on my way home from an afternoon walk in the marsh.

The tables out front, displaying baskets of tomatoes in recent months, were now covered with pumpkins and other unsightly squash. Not a good sign.

I’d sliced half of the last one at home for a sandwich at lunchtime. 

“Do you think there are any more field-tomatoes at Herridge’s?” I called out from the kitchen.

“No, they’re all gone,” Linda replied. 

I held out hope she was mistaken, without unleashing one of my usual tirades about supermarket produce being mostly garbage. 

Living in southern Ontario, tomatoes are my autumn groundhog. No more tomatoes means winter is coming soon and another year of inedible hothouse frauds. 

I didn’t care about tomatoes when I was growing up in New York. My dad was the only one in the family who liked them, so they were rarely at the top of my mother’s shopping list. 

I followed her lead when it came to fruits and vegetables. 

She preferred her vegetables raw – broccoli stalks and kohlrabi,  peeled and salted, peas scooped out of the pod, crisp celery.

Her taste in fruit ranged from tart red plums to tart Granny Smith apples.

As a teenager, I struck out on my own, developing an affection for nectarines after hearing the 2,000 Year Old Man

“Fruit kept me going for 140 years once when I was on a very strict diet. Mainly nectarines. I love that fruit. It’s half a peach, half a plum. It’s a helluva fruit. It’s not too cold, not too hot. Just nice. Even a rotten one is good. That’s how much I love ’em. I’d rather eat a rotten nectarine than a fine plum, what do you think of that?”

– Mel Brooks

My annual obsession with tomatoes did not begin until we moved into our first house in Clarkson, soon after Jodie was born in 1983, and discovered Herridge’s market.

These tomatoes were not orbs with rock-hard, white innards, or the ones that oozed green slime. These were as red on the inside as on the outside, firm yet juicy, carrying  the subtle scent of earthly ambrosia.

I’d start stopping by Herridge’s in late July – “Have any field-tomatoes yet? – and keep going back until its crop was exhausted. 

For a couple of months, there would always be a half-dozen or so red beauties on the kitchen counter, auditioning for the next meal.

For lunch, two thick slices , dabbed with mayo, sitting atop roast turkey or tuna salad or Balderson cheddar on fresh bakery bread.

At dinnertime, I’d slice a couple more for a side dish, drizzle them with Newman’s Family Recipe Italian dressing, maybe add chunks of cukes, also fresh-picked in season.

“What would you think of having real tomatoes year-round?” my friend Mike said to me one winter afternoon, sitting on the dock of the bay on Sanibel Island.

“Is this one of those if-they-can-put-a-man-on-the-moon-why-can’t-they questions?”

“Precisely,” he said. “Only this question has an answer.”

Mike and his wife Geneva had built a large house on San Carlos Bay, just down the beach from the modest cottage Linda and I rented for winter vacations for more than ten years starting after Lacey was born in 1986.

He’d retired from a corporate career in Chicago and, as the story went, struck it rich when he backed the inventor of microwave popcorn.

His tomato brainstorm involved farms in Chile, a fleet of jets, and dedicated grocers in the big cities across North America. “There is no reason we have to be satisfied with inferior tomatoes for all but a few months.”   

 But, though we saw each other in Florida every year, his tomato plan never came up again. His death notice arrived in the mail sometime in 2003.

Anyway, I stopped at Herridge’s last week, walked down the vegetable aisle – don’t tell produce merchants that tomatoes are a fruit – and frowned at the pale imitations where the real ones had been.

I meandered around the market for a few more minutes, shaking my head. “See you next year,” I said to no one in particular as I left.

The next day, at lunchtime, I sliced some Balderson cheddar and the last half of the last tomato.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Taking a page from the late Hunter S. Thompson

“Members of the press – what the fuck? It’s these questions that you know the answers to.”

– Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke

Que carajo? Beto. Why’d you waste the best line of the campaign, the most bang-on riposte in the annals of the press-pol circle jerk, on a couple of reporters in El Paso? I know you were pissed after the Trumpiac went on a murder spree at a Walmart in your hometown.

But you could have saved it for one of the Democratic debates, live in primetime.

Q: Has the president inspired racist mass murderers?

A: What the fuck?

Q: Does Trump deserve to be impeached?

A: What the fuck?

Q: Is it okay for an American president to shake down a foreign leader to smear a political opponent?

A: What the fuck?

Q: Who was better on Dancing with the Stars? Rick Perry or Sean Spicer? 

A: Who gives a shit. 

Would be a nice break from Elizabeth Warren lecturing, Biden phumphering, and Bernie trying to hail a cab.

What does this have to do with Hunter S. Thompson?

What the fuck? We’re only 150 words into it. HST’s Rolling Stone wrap-up of the 1972 election didn’t mention George McGovern in the first 1,166 words and Nixon’s name didn’t come up for 8,849 words. 

This year, I’ve watched all sixteen of the Dem debates, where a panel of TV stars nitpick wannabe successors to a nitwit who has turned the White House into a criminal enterprise.   

Yesterday, I finally got around to the latest show and right off the bat had to hit pause and freeze it. Who the hell is the guy from the New York Times sitting with Anderson Cooper and whatshername from CNN?

Went to Google. Sent me to the Times site, something called the Reader Center. 

Over his 20 years at The New York Times, Marc Lacey has worn many hats: a White House correspondent, a foreign correspondent who has reported from dozens of countries, the editor of the weekend news report and, now, the national editor.

Then, the Times got to the Q&A, which included celebrity-magazine-style questions that would have sent Abe Rosenthal screaming down 43rd Street.

What’s something that readers would be surprised to learn about you?

“I ride a motorcycle – not a particularly mean one, but a motorcycle nonetheless. This is very much counter to my image, which is why I don’t sell it.”

How do you spend your time when you’re off duty?

“I have a dog named Sandy who greets me at the end of each workday with so much enthusiasm that I forget all the hostile tweets I might have received that day. The debate’s going to be great, I have no doubt, especially to my labradoodle. To her, no matter what happens onstage, I will have won.”

Lacey’s star turn came about 20 minutes into the proceedings, asking Warren the same question she has ducked in the previous seventeen debates and in 256 interviews: “Will you raise taxes on the middle-class to pay for (Medicare for all) – yes or no?”

Whoa – yes or no? Snap to it, Lizzie. The gentleman from the New York Times demands an answer.  

Warren did her usual dipsy-doodle around the question, leaving Sandy the labradoodle frowning.  

The three-hour extravaganza was as predictable and revelatory as a Sarah Sanders press briefing.  It concluded with a Barbara-Walters’-type-if-you-were-a-tree question for the dozen Dems – a debate, or whatever this was, at this juncture of the campaign should not include more participants than defendants at the Chicago Seven trial – something about Ellen DeGeneres, George W. Bush and the Dallas Cowboys. 

CNN should have had Chris Cuomo instead of Cooper asking questions. “Let’s get after it.”

  • Vice President Biden, if you’re really an average Joe from Scranton, Pa., why did you give your son an elitist name like Hunter? Why not Gus? Or Daryl?
  • Senator Warren, what are you going to do if you are the nominee and the president comes out on the debate stage wearing a Comanche headdress and war paint?
  • Senator Sanders, is it true that Jackie Mason was once your voice coach?
  • Mr. Yang, how much cash money will you give every member of the audience right now to vote for you? 
  • Mr. Castro, how do we know you are not your twin brother Joaquin?
  • Senator Booker, can you name every person who lives in your Newark neighborhood?
  • Senator Klobuchar, can you name every state in the Midwest, its capital, its state bird, and sing all their state songs?
  • Senator Harris, how much pot did you have to smoke before you finally came around to supporting the decriminalization of marijuana?    
  • Congresswoman Gabbard, is there anyone on this stage you could not overpower and kill with your bare hands?
  • Mayor Buttigieg, you are mayor of South Bend but you never talk about Notre Dame. Do you have something against the Irish?
  • Mr. Steyer, is this really you or a hologram from a commercial? 
  • Beto, c’mon, curse me out. Right here. Right now. Dare you.

What does this have to do with Hunter S. Thompson? And the debate was more than a week ago.  Isn’t it old news?

The HST opus I mentioned, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in ’72, was in the July 5, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone, seven months and 28 days after Election Day. 

I remember picking up a copy, as hot off the presses as it took to get to Vancouver, at a newsstand on Granville Street. Walked down the hill to my office, the UPI bureau in the Pacific Press Building, and read from beginning to end.

The opening scene was set in the Seal Rock Inn in San Francisco, on a cliff above the Pacific, with HST missing deadline after deadline, month after month.

One afternoon about three days ago the Editorial Enforcement Detail from the Rolling Stone office showed up at my door, with no warning, and loaded about 40 pounds of supplies into the room: two cases of Mexican beer, four quarts of gin, a dozen grapefruits, and enough speed to alter the outcome of six Super Bowls. There was also a big Selectric typewriter, two reams of paper, a face-cord of oak firewood and three tape recorders – in case the situation got so desperate that I might finally have to resort to verbal composition.

There is a comfortable kind of consistency in this kind of finish, because that’s the way all the rest of my presidential campaign coverage was written. From December ’71 to January ’73 – in airport bars, all-nite coffee shops and dreary hotel rooms all over the country – there is hardly a paragraph in this jangled saga that wasn’t produced in a last-minute, teeth-grinding frenzy. There was never enough time. Every deadline was a crisis. All around me were experienced professional journalists meeting deadlines far more frequent than mine, but I was never able to learn from their example … From time to time they would try to console me about the terrible pressure I always seemed to be laboring under.

 Any $100-an-hour psychiatrist could probably explain this problem to me, in 13 or 14 sessions, but I don’t have time for that. No doubt it has something to do with a deep-seated personality defect, or maybe a kink in whatever blood vessel leads into the pineal gland . . . On the other hand, it might easily be something as simple & basically perverse as whatever instinct it is that causes a jackrabbit to wait until the last possible second to dart across the road in front of a speeding car.

I went on for another 15,326 words. I savored every one of them.

I read the hardcover book too, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail  ’72. Bought it as soon as it came out later that year, the Rolling Stone piece reprised in the 505 pages. 

It didn’t matter that it was ancient history, that Watergate had already swamped the White House and Nixon was up to his neck in the crooked shitstorm he had unleashed to get re-elected.   

Thompson was writing as fast as he could to keep up with the onslaught of developments in the downfall of the president and his gang of thieves and thugs.

But every burst of Gonzo was worth waiting for.

Now … 

Editor’s Note: It was at this point the writer began raving, spitting out words: “nothing worth waiting for … nothing worth waiting for … click … Times … nothing worth reading … click … Post … nothing … click … click … nothing … nothing … Rick Bragg … banished … Rolling Stone … Esquire … Village Voice …  zip … zilch … zero … Tom Wolfe … New Journalism … Joe Eszterhas … Charlie Simpson’s Apocalypse … Mailer … dead … Breslin … dead … HST … Woody Creek … .45 … BAM! … ashes … gone …”

Eventually, the writer had to be physically restrained by hired muscle from the Walden Circle Retirement Home, and sedated with tranquilizers prescribed for a  neurotic standard poodle.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Who’s on first?

A fellow American, an auld acquaintance not entirely forgotten, called to ask about Monday’s Canadian election.

She first introduced herself and quickly reminded me that the last time we saw each other, the last time we spoke, was in the parking lot of a cheap motel in upstate New York on an autumn morning in 1966, when she was a freshman in college. 

Then, she brought me up to date with too many details of her marriage and divorce and professional life. “I own a nursery and don’t have any kids,” she said, laughing at a line she had undoubtedly used often and still found hilarious.  

 She sounded drunk at three o’clock in the afternoon.

She said she’d recently read my book, discovered I’ve lived north of the border since the early 1970s, worked as a journalist and covered a couple of Canadian elections going back to  Pierre Trudeau.

“Are things as fucked-up up there as they are down here?” she asked.

“If you’re talking about politics and government, it’s nowhere near as fucked up as it is down there.”

“So, what’s with Justin’s fetish for wearing blackface?” she asked.

“The media here call it brownface.”

“Why?”

“Probably for the same reason they spell color with a U.”

She pressed on. “Doesn’t he know it’s racist?”

“He’s confused because he played with a black Barbie doll when he was a kid.”

“What?”

“His parents were very avant garde.”

“You knew them, right?”

“If you call arguing with his father and chasing after his runaway mother knowing them.”

She laughed. “Do you think Justin has something going on with Melania?”

“The current prime minister does not confide in me,” I replied. “The last time I saw him was at a distance – when he was three or four years old.”

There was a pause in the conversation. I was starting to regret answering the phone, something I rarely do, but had been intrigued by the familiar 516 area code.

The sounds coming from Long Island suggested she was either refreshing a drink or taking a piss. 

“Who’s running against Justin?” She was back.

I hesitated. Didn’t want to explain the parliamentary form of government to another American. I’ve done that too many times over too many years.

“Look,” I said, “like I wrote in the book, I’ve pretty much tuned out Canadian news since I stopped working in the news business and teaching journalism seven, eight years ago.”

“Yeah, but you must know who’s running.”

“Look,” I tried again, “Canadian politics is boring. Might as well be Who’s on First.”

“What?”

“What’s on second.”

She didn’t get it. But didn’t stop talking. “I’m really interested. I really want Justin to win.”

“Why?”

“Because Obama likes him and Trump hates him.”

“I sighed, “Trudeau’s main opponent is the Conservative, Andrew Scheer.”

“He’s the one like Trump, right?”

 “He’s whiter.”

“But he’s a right-winger, like the Republicans?”

“I think he’s from Saskatchewan and only campaigns at Rotary Club meetings – so he’s more like a kid from North Dakota who wore an I Like Ike button in the 1950s.”

“Isn’t there a third-party candidate.”

“Yeah,” I said, “a third and a fourth and maybe a fifth and a sixth.”

“Any of them have a chance?”

“Not really, though the third most popular party, the NDP, is led by a guy with a turban who says his first name is pronounced JUG-MEAT.”

“That’s sexist – and disgusting.”

“Sorry, that’s all I know about him.”

“So, Justin’s going to win?” 

“I Don’t Know … is on third.”

“What?”

“Is on second.”

“Who is second?”

“No, Who’s on first.”

She finally got it. Giggled. “Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.”

 “Abbott and Costello.”

“Who?”

“The first baseman.”

“I don’t watch baseball,” she said before taking another pause to pour another drink  – or take another piss.

“Well, it was nice talking to you,” I said when she was back.

“Are you writing another book?”

“Maybe after the next seventy years.”

She laughed.

“I’ll call it The Girl in the Motel Parking Lot Who Grew Up, Had No Kids and Owned a Nursery.” 

This story, to borrow a line from Kris Kristofferson’s The Pilgrim – Chapter 33, is partly truth and partly fiction.

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

The day real news seemed fake

Fifty years ago, I was sitting in a café in Geneva, reading the International Herald Tribune, when I discovered the Mets had won the World Series.

I missed most of that 1969 season, living in Switzerland, but I would have hid behind the Iron Curtain if it would have put me beyond the reach of this particular piece of news.

The fucking Mets. World champions.

What else did I miss during my six-month sabbatical from American sports? 

A clown car winning the Indy 500? 

Don Knotts knocking out Muhammad Ali?  

Mister Ed winning the Kentucky Derby?

Before 1969, in their first seven seasons, the Mets never finished higher than ninth in the 10-team National League. They were a laughingstock, a freak show. Bad ballplayers playing bad baseball. 

The only fellow New Yorkers I knew who welcomed the Mets were my dad and Jimmy Breslin.

Dad had grown up in Brooklyn a Dodger fan. I inherited his devotion to Dem Bums and shared his devastation when that money-grubbing bastard Walter O’Malley shipped the Dodgers to L.A. after the 1957 season.

When the Mets came along in ’62, they filled dad’s need to see  National League baseball and root, root, root for a home team that was not the damn Yankees. 

I had other interests. Mainly girls, getting through high school, and trying to be cool. 

The Mets were uncool. 

They hired a guy with a papier mache baseball head they called Mr. Met 

And they had a theme song – not exactly Sinatra singing New York, New York at Yankee Stadium, or Neil Diamond revving up the crowd at Fenway with Sweet Caroline.

It was a stupid jingle cooked up by old-hat mad men on Madison Avenue.

Meet The Mets.
Meet The Mets.
Step right up and greet The Mets.
Bring your kiddies,
Bring your wife.
Guaranteed to have the time of your life.
Because the Mets are really socking the ball,
Knocking those home runs over the wall.
East Side,
West Side,
Everybody’s going down,
To Meet the M-E-T-S Mets,
Of New York Town.

After the Mets first season, Breslin wrote a book called Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game. The title was a rare coherent quote from the ancient manager, Casey Stengel.

Breslin managed to massage his trademark working-stiff-hero worship into the comedy of errors at Coogan’s Bluff:

You see, the Mets are losers, just like nearly everybody else in life. This is a team for the cab driver who gets held up and the guy who loses out on a promotion because he didn’t maneuver himself to lunch with the boss enough. It is the team for every guy who has to get out of bed in the morning and go to work for short money on a job he does not like. And it is the team for every woman who looks up ten years later and sees her husband eating dinner in a t-shirt and wonders how the hell she ever let this guy talk her into getting married. The Yankees? Who does well enough to root for them, Laurence Rockefeller?” 

And then there was this: People did not follow the Mets. They loved the Mets.

I didn’t know who these people were. They were not my friends. Not people who loved the game. Not baseball fans. 

They were hangers-on who brought their own participation trophies to the ballpark.

Met fans tried to match JFK’s “vigor” but couldn’t spell it. 

The bozos with their homemade signs at the Polo Grounds, and later at Shea Stadium, were pioneers in the look-at-me approach to fandom, the first generation to buy a ticket betting on a chance to get their mugs on TV. 

The Mets’ organization encouraged the exhibitionism in the stands –perhaps to divert attention from the performance of the home team– and further sanctioned fan participation with Banner Days, pre-game shows with fans parading on the field.

But that wasn’t enough for some. They wanted to stand out from the crowd.

In the Mets first season at Shea in 1964, Sign Man showed up, caught the attention of the cameras, and became a Flushing celebrity.

A few years later, a guy started beating a drum in the bleachers in Cleveland and hasn’t stopped since.

Fans in Atlanta got in on the act with the nauseatingly monotonous  tomahawk chop.

The need for attention spread to other sports: the ghouls in the Black Hole at Oakland Raiders’ games, the mutts in the Dawg Pound snarling for the Cleveland Browns.

 Mr. Met, the original sin of baseball mascots, morphed into the San Diego Chicken, the Phillie Phanatic, and all their creepy cousins in every major league ballpark.

As Casey Stengel said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Acts of atonement

 “Do you know about kapparot?“ my cousin Brian, the rabbi, asks, then explains the ritual performed by some Orthodox Jews at Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown Tuesday. 

“They take a chicken, sling it over their head to break its neck, transferring all of their sins onto the chicken.”

What do they do with the corpse of the sin-infested chicken?

“Give it to the poor.”

I imagine poor, hungry people in Brooklyn and Beersheba dining on poultry tainted with lies, deceit and illicit sex. 

I recall a joke told on the playground in Queens when I was a kid. The punchline: “And, on Yom Kippur, Jews blow the chauffeur.”

No need to expound on the ritual of blowing the shofar or speculate on who transfers sins to whom in the homophone.  

But I will say a dirty play on words was hilarious after a hard-fought game of stickball.

I was born a Jew in the 1940s, raised a Jew in the 1950s, and drifted into uncertainty, agnosticism and cynicism in the 1960s.

In the early ’70s, I left New York to live among the gentiles in Canada. Over the years, I was periodically reminded of the flipping of the Hebrew calendar on Rosh Hashanah when my mother would begin a telephone call with, “Happy new year.” 

I’d usually respond with the same wiseass crack: “I didn’t know it was January already.”

My Jewishness does not stretch beyond the occasional hankering for a pastrami on rye and a taste for such Yiddish words as mashugana, schlemielschmuckschnorrerchazer, putz and goniff, all of which apply to the current president of the United States.

The last time I went to synagogue on Yum Kipper– which is how we New Yorkers pronounce it – was probably the month before I was bar mitzvahed in 1959.

What I mostly remember about the Day of Atonement is Sandy Koufax not pitching the opening game of the 1965 World Series and my father annually ending his sundown-to-sundown fast with the triumphant pride of Lindbergh landing in Paris.

Disdainful yet curious about the notion of acts of atonement, I called Brian, my Deep Throat on all things Jewish.

Not that I was planning any atoning. Like most Jews, I stockpile guilt as a natural byproduct of breathing. 

I just wanted the skinny on what others did beyond not eating, drinking, working and fucking.

From books and movies, I was more familiar with the Catholic concept of confession, saying Hail Marys in exchange for absolution, which seems like a pretty sweet deal.

Duval and De Niro in True Confessions (1981)

Brian, who lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two kids, is not your traditional rabbi tied to a synagogue and religious dogma. (More on his Religion Outside the Box later.)  

He probably offered the chicken-slinging story because it would get the conversation off to an outrageous start.

We soon settled into Brian describing his typical Day of Atonement. “I get phone calls from people I haven’t spoken to for most of the year, and they say, ‘Listen, Brian, did I do anything wrong to you this year? And if so, please tell me.’”

Truths are told. Apologies accepted. Hurts healed.

“And you find out if there is restitution that needs to be made. And you can negotiate on all parts of it. Like, ‘Okay, you’re asking me for that, I can’t do that, but I can do this, is that enough?’”

He paused. “It’s Jewish.” 

There is another high-holy-days happening in Rabbi Brian’s world. 

“Traditionally, there’s an A through Z that’s done. The way I do it is I sit with my group, and we list all the A words (sins) … from being an asshole to committing adultery, or advocating the wrong causes.”

People don’t confess their sins, just all the possible transgressions – from A to Z – that could have been committed by someone in the group over the past year.

“It’s taking on the guilt as a group.”

Also, he says, “there’s something ritually cool about spelling out the list of things we all may have done and say, ‘Shit, we fucked up.’ And we can forgive each other.”

It’s certainly less messy than slinging chickens.

* * *

A few more things about my cousin Brian. 

When he was young, he did magic tricks for my daughters, Jodie and Lacey, in our backyard. 

When he was a rookie rabbi, in June 1994, he officiated at a remarriage ceremony for my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary.

A couple of years later, when he was living in L.A. and I was in the wilds of Northwestern Ontario trying to write a novel, I enlisted his help with the dialogue I needed for a scene with a rabbi

A version of that fiction and stories on Brian and the other more interesting members of the family are in my book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer

Finally, as promised, here’s a link to Brian’s services – weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc. – his writing and other cool spiritual stuff at his Religion Outside the Box site.

9/11 reduced to a slogan

On September 11, 2019, I kept seeing the words: Never forget.

And kept thinking: Never forget what?

Never forget the sight of the towers going up?

Never forget that Carl Furillo, the great right-fielder of my Brooklyn Dodgers, worked on a crew installing elevators in the towers?

Never forget driving to work on the Long Island Expressway in the early 1970s and watching the sun set between the towers? 

Never forget Aunt Fay’s birthday party in Windows on the World in 1986, where three-month-old daughter Lacey slept under a table?

Never forget that day in 2001 when I awakened to the news?

Never forget sitting in my home in suburban Toronto watching TV replays of the plane exploding on impact with the North Tower?

Never forget seeing the second plane smash into the South Tower?

Never forget the South Tower collapsing?

Never forget the North Tower collapsing a half-hour later?

Never forget all my unanswered calls to family in New York – before all were accounted for?

Never forget the 2,977 people who died?

Never forget the fear, shock, grief, confusion and chaos?

Never forget the expressions of condolence from people around the world?

Never forget the days I spent in a TV newsroom supervising coverage of the story?

Never forget all the people in Kansas and Oklahoma and Mississippi and Alabama who suddenly seemed to give a damn about New York?

Never forget that Rudy Giuliani was called “America’s mayor”?

Never forget the pilgrimage Linda and I and the kids made to New York on the Thanksgiving after 9/11?

Never forget crossing the George Washington Bridge and looking south to the empty space where the towers once stood?

Never forget the feeling of going with Linda to Ground Zero?

 Never forget that most of the hijackers were Saudis?

Never forget Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other al Qaeda sons of bitches?

Never forget the war in Afghanistan?

Never forget the Bush-Cheney bullshit to make war in Iraq?

Never forget all who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11?

Never forget the American sense of unity right after 9/11 was a mirage?

Never forget that Ground Zero was merely a piece of valuable real estate?

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.