Valentine’s Day is about Hallmark, Christmas is about Target and Best Buy and Amazon.com, Halloween is about Nestle, “President’s Day” pretty much exists to give teachers and public employees a day off, Veterans Day and Labor Day could (should!) be very meaningful but are mostly used to arrange bar dates and barbecues. (For what it’s worth, we bet those laborers and those soldiers would like nothing more to know that people are taking a day off and spending time with one another; they fought and, on many occasions, literally died for you to have that right.)
Thanksgiving, though? It’s still real, and still correct. Simple. It’s about people getting together and cooking food for one another, trading recipes and pouring drinks, and enjoying each other’s company. Making each other laugh, listening to each other tell stories, and, when necessary, offering consolation. Caring for one another. No more, no less.
We gather ‘round a big table (or a small one; hey, it’s your party to plan!) and say grace (though only if you want to!) and try smiling at each other and being civil. It’s not always easy. But what is?
And we (or some of us, anyway) feast on a bird whose brothers and sisters are (in my chosen neighborhood, anyway) quite literally stalking the streets, a frightening gang of hellraisers who seem to be quite literally plotting our deaths. (Leave Ivan alone!)
Franklin kinda wanted to make turkeys the national bird. LOL, Ben. No! Eagles. They’re brave and badass and care for their young. At least eagles know better than to peck at and eat their own, and don’t panic in the rain.
A few weeks ago we at City Pages were plotting a story about the 2018 elections -- "the hater's guide," we called it, because everything seems to fucking suck right now -- and this author met with two young reporters to figure out which of us was doing what. One of them, a young queer woman, began idly drawing on a napkin as we spoke. She drew a bee visiting a plant.
At the time I didn't make much of it. Later she left the bar, and left the napkin drawing behind. I grabbed it and took it home. It later occurred to me there were people in those elections we were writing about who are quite literally anti-bee, because they're into pollution, and pesticides, and hate certain scientific facts, and think the way you grow plants is to pump the living thing full of drugs and dump pigshit on it.
My side won the election, and I think my country's gonna make it.
Just barely. Still! Who knew?
Maybe my favorite line (top 10 for me, anyway) in literature is from Kurt Vonnegut, our most recent Mark Twain figure. Vonnegut survived the Dresden bombing and wrote a masterpiece called Slaughterhouse Five. The last chapter of that book, a merger of Vonnegut's story of survival and some weird futuristic space travel plotline, begins like this (it's an abrupt departure!):
"Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles from the home I live in all year round, was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes.
Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes. And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam. So it goes.
My father died many years ago now—of natural causes. So it goes. He was a sweet man. He was a gun nut, too. He left me his guns. They rust."
That last line, “They rust,” is the one I like most.
It occurs to me, makes me sad, that 50 years ago this year a man sat in an empty building and waited until he could draw a bead on Martin Luther King, whose sin was being born. Here's Martin’s last speech. It's great.The night Martin died, Bobby Kennedy had to get off a plane and announce to his audience of young activists that Martin was dead, and quote Aeschylus to them (and yes, I'm a little mad at the eagle who killed Aeschylus) -- aaaaaaanyway, here's Bobby's speech. (It's great.)
Bobby felt compelled to ask his audience to please not be mad at each other. To try loving each other. Of all the riots that occurred that night, Indianapolis was not one of the cities marked by violence, because people like Bobby or Martin can sometimes, when lucky, turn righteous anger into a movement instead of a riot, and turn what would be energetic street crimes into acts of justice. Make war into peace. All Quiet on the Western Front.
Soon after Martin was killed, a Palestinian schizophrenic walked up to Bobby, on the night he won the California primary, and took Bobby out of this world. One time I asked my dad what he was doing in 1968 when the going was getting weird and the weird were turning pro and he said, "I was working on Bobby Kennedy's campaign." And on Tuesday of last week, as I wrote this piece, I thought about that answer, and I cried a little, and clenched my fist, and then went back to writing.
I took a break from the writing process, went outside to smoke in the dark and drink some cold coffee and cool my head, and a dog a couple houses over looked through its fence and howled at me, over and over, and I’m not ashamed to say I felt a little like removing the headphones from my ears and howling right back.
I was not around in 1968 -- though my face might look like I was! -- but, 50 years later, this year, men are mailing bombs to a black president and a heavily criticized female candidate and walking into synagogues and country bars filled with college kids to wipe them, their enemies, off the earth. And I am pretty sure that I have not done enough to stop such things from happening, or to console the survivors. And I am trying to work certain words out of my vocabulary and certain words into my vocabulary and one of the terms I want to use more often is: rectify.
Another is: intervention.
That second one I picked up when I asked a man to accompany me to the Wayzata Country Club, Paulsen country, on this year's election night. Time and circumstances didn't work out -- he had a good alibi! Needed to spend time with his daughter -- and as it turns out you can't get into the Wayzata Country Club if you're not a member or sponsored by a member, and how the fuck am I going to make friends with someone who’d pay many, many dollars per month for the privilege of getting told which suits and which jackets he must wear in which room?
"What a great intervention that would be," the man I'd asked out said. He was picturing he and I posting up at the bar and letting those rich men and their empty wives look at us laughing about a successful election for our side. The man, a new friend of mine, is a radical black story teller, big dude with a beard. We're going to write a movie together. Or at the very least get some drinks and try to make each other laugh. Share a meal.
I'm afraid 2019 is gonna be a good year. As the old and perhaps apocryphal Chinese blessing slash curse goes: "May you live in interesting times."
I don't know if the future is female (I'll do my best!), but I'm about 96 percent certain it will be FIERCE. And marked by fires and floods. And I know another thing: that my cell phone is [expletive deleted], my email address is [email protected], and if any single one of you or any of your friends ever needs a goddamn thing you better ask my dumb ass for help.
I am available and, in short, friendly bursts, semi-capable. Whenever possible I invite you to do the same for the people in your worlds. Avail yourselves.
Try acting like a bee, and doing something to help other things grow. And don't be afraid to sting someone if it's out of self-defense, or -- and perhaps especially -- in the defense of others who cannot quite defend themselves at the moment.
And take care of your sisters and brothers, literal and metaphorical, and your babies, and your dogs -- cats, by the way, do not really need your help -- and … OK fine, what the hell, even take care of some of your parents, at least the ones who did right by us and did not try writing us out of the will just because we dropped out of college on two separate occasions. (It’s OK mom, I forgive you, just like you forgave me.)
Let's help each other find money, clothing, food, water, and shelter. And company. That one most of all. For it is only with each other that any of it means anything at all.