“Comparisons are Odorous,”

BY KATHY PERUTZ

declares Dogberry in the third act of Much Ado About Nothing. He’s a Shakespearean fool of the first order, an  insufferable windbag whose words are empty of meaning, though he believes that the bluster he speaks is language and that he is communicating.

It’s been a long time since my last blog. The results of the election came a few days before Michael and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, at home with close friends, good food, pink bubbly and a large cake inscribed with M and K in gold letters. Despite what had just happened to our country, we were happy. In the last months of illness and confinement we had grown together, two trees entwined; a single entity forged from two separate beings. Then came Christmas, when Michael’s ability to breathe grew even weaker, though his mind was lucid and he continued to work on an important paper with his collaborator, Herb Terrace, attacking Chomsky’s notion that language is ultimately based on a “mutation,” which in this sense would make it a miracle, a deus ex machina suddenly landing in the field of evolution – a quasi-religious sort of belief that Michael and Herb opposed, and with excellent reason.  In January Michael died.  A few days later Trump was inaugurated and since then I have found myself at a loss for words.

*

Last year, over many of my blogs, I warned against Trump. My parents had come to America in the late 1930’s from Central Europe (he born in Vienna, she in Prague), skiing across the Alps when the Nazis invaded Austria, led by their guide into Switzerland from where they made their slow way to New York, where I was eventually born.  Others in the family were put to death in the camps or, perhaps worse, survived 4 years of Auschwitz.  I was aware that the sophisticates in the cafés of Vienna in the ‘thirties had reassured each other over their kaffee mit schlag that Hitler was a buffoon and clown and would never affect their lives.

Until he did.

In writing about Trump I was aware of Stalin too, the millions of deaths he perpetrated on his own people, murdered outright or left to die of planned starvation. I knew that Stalin was able to re-write history, to claim that something which had clearly happened hadn’t happened.  He and his experts were capable, even then, of erasing an image, a person, from photographs and of rewriting history, removing textbooks from the schools and replacing them with his newer versions.  Fake facts were his meat, as they are of any dictator, always have been and will be.

I made comparisons, odious and odorous. Trump was also the great showman, like P.T. Barnum, who showed the world the truth of the sentiment, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Berlusconi too. That 70-something mad clown with lipstick on his face and pancake makeup who liked screwing children, at least those old enough to have breasts and curves.  He gave me the heebie-jeebies just to look at him, and he owned the media in Italy.  How could the Italians be so dumb?  How could they not see?

And then the Orange Dishrag appeared and the same nausea overtook me. A visceral reaction, going hand in hand with the mental revulsion that awful creature caused and keeps causing, because nothing in the world exists except himself, because he doesn’t care for anybody, doesn’t see that he is made in the image and mold of man, a person like others; that we are all the bloody same in our needs and desires and claim to respect.  So he spouts rubbish, any rubbish, just to be heard, to be the center of all eyes all the time.  No matter that he is crude, that he was kicked out of his elementary private school (Kew-Forest) for being a bully even though his father was on the board.  Quite an accomplishment, that.

I saw it coming and told myself I was wrong (as almost everyone around me did, saying how wonderful that this buffoon was running against Hillary; it guaranteed a landslide.) I tried to tell myself that I always go straight to the worst case scenario, that this was my form of optimism (since if it happens the way you’ve predicted, you’re not shocked, and if it doesn’t happen, well then, marvelous.)

Then came Brexit. I had lived in England for a few years after college. My first novel and the next two were first published there.  Michael was a Brit who had gone through the education system famous for producing leaders of the world, stiff upper lips honed on “the playing fields of Eton,” where men learned the onus and responsibility of privilege (colonialism) known as “the white man’s burden” to Kipling when Britannia ruled the waves and much of the world.  Michael did not go to Eton, but to another “public” school built on the same foundations of belief and empire, and then went on to Cambridge.  He left England after that because the system he’d been raised in oppressed him.

Brexit appalled us both, and my friends in England took to their beds. It was then that I realized democracy has a basic flaw: it does not require that the person who casts a vote know anything at all about the issue or person that he or she is voting for.  Brexit should never have been put to public referendum; the public simply didn’t understand the ramifications of what it would mean to leave Europe.

When Brexit was voted in, I was sure Trump would win. The know-nothings would invent their own scenario and project it onto the man who was nobody, nowhere, who had no objectives, no vision, no knowledge.

And so it happened, and now we are fed daily, hourly dispatches of such appalling behavior that any three-year old doing it would rightly be confined behind the bars of the playpen. Whatever Trump does brings pain or anger or grief or all of it.  “Whither I fly is Hell; myself am Hell,” is how Milton’s Satan put it, but Satan was an introspective sort compared with the dishrag now in charge of the planet.  And to be rid of him, with all those awful appointees in place is no longer the solution.

Now I find a new comparison, odorous indeed. I realize Trump is very like a hippopotamus, an animal that marks its territory by spinning its tail like a fan when it excretes, scattering the excrement over as large an area as possible.

A hippo is described by Wikipedia as: An extremely large animal with a round, barrel-shaped body, short legs and a large, broad head. . . . The virtually hairless skin is moistened by a secreted pink, oily substance that protects [it] from sunburn and drying, and perhaps infection. . . The hippopotamus is a highly aggressive and unpredictable animal and is ranked among the most dangerous animals in Africa.

The difference between the two is that the hippo is limited to one continent and even there has become a threatened and endangered species. Our excrement-flinger is leader of the world.  The hippo does not rape females, nor force other hippos of perhaps a slightly different shade to leave the river.  The hippo is an animal.  What we have in the White House is a “beast that wants discourse of reason,” as Hamlet characterized him some 414 years ago – an empty, cruel, self-seeking demagogue.

“Demagogue.” It’s a word we don’t often use of our own leaders, though we have used it of leaders in other country, particularly those known as “undeveloped.”  The word ricochets in my ears and returns as “demi-god,” which is what the followers of the Orange Dishrag must believe he is.  Some form of deliverer, certainly, though one who is without values, standards, or any concept of social behavior, empathy or responsibility.  There is no inner man there, only the hippo with its shit-flinging tail, and a very bad sort of hippo at that.

And yet, because I am an optimist in pessimist’s clothing, the sequence “demagogue. . . demi-god” puts me in mind of a beautiful Emerson poem that begins, “Give all to love,” and concludes:

Heartily know/When half-gods go/ The gods arrive.

Or perhaps we could convince Pope FrancIs and Angela Merkel to set up a joint rule in America, he being the visionary and she the enforcer. We don’t deserve them of course, but what a dream team they would make!

 

 

Happy New Year?

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

The new year is nearly upon us, sure as the towering wave at Jones Beach that caught me in its undertow when I was a child and kept me there for what seemed a lifetime until it spat me out, mewling and terrified, no more a Jonah than my cat Jumpy would have been.

Last year was certainly bad, even awful in spots, a year that will be known – as long as there is anyone alive to know anything – as one of homelessness and terror, millions of refugees fleeing certain death to be met with ejection and deportation by the democratic nations of the western world, and terrorists of every stripe blowing up people more or less for the fun of it.  That’s the old year.  And the new one?  It has me more terrified than any year I’ve encountered or even thought about in more than seven decades of conscious living.  It is the annus horribilis of Queen Elizabeth II (when every one of her children was divorcing and the tapes of Prince Charles on the phone with Camilla Parker-Bowles, revealing that he would like to be a tampon in her you-know-what were made public) and then some.  The world has moved so far to the right that most citizens of the west – and many outside it – are certain to be deprived of rights and services, of essential needs and of liberties they had taken for granted, much as the air they breathed or (certainly here in the Land of the Free) as the gum they chewed and toilets that flushed.  I have spent the time since November 9 in hiding, trying to bury my head like an ostrich.  I don’t read newspapers, watch t.v. or listen to my habitual morning NPR.  I can’t stand even to hear the name, that thumping, humping sound, the morning’s plop in the potty.

“Happy New Year” has become an oxymoron.  In case some readers are unsure of the term, and unlike what popular derivation might come up with, an oxymoron is not an eight-armed or 8-headed idiot (though the idiot part is right.)  An oxymoron is a figure of speech meaning sharp (“oxy”) dull (“moron”) with both “sharp” and “dull” having their other meanings of “clever” and “stupid.”  It is a contrast in opposites, like “a wise old Texas saying” or “British cuisine.”  A happy new year with the orange Dump as Leader of the Free World is another example, and the one that is worrying me now.

I can explain it to my friends – many of whom, thank god or their own generosity, are readers of my blog.  But when someone in the elevator wishes me a happy new year as I step out on my floor, what kind of grouch or pedant would I have to be to go into the intricacies of the oxymoron, a term in itself questionable since it is not found anywhere in ancient Greek texts, but came into being much later, via 5th century Latin?  And so I answer automatically, “Happy New Year” and I smile, but as well Hamlet knew (“one may smile and smile, and be a villain”), behind that smile I am sneering like a long-mustachio’d scoundrel about to steal either the house or the girl.  I talk the talk, I mouth the words and in my heart of hearts (which heart is that?) I am half-convinced these people are all insane, the great wave is rising up in front of them and they cannot see it, the revolution (not the revelation), is at hand; we have come full circle back to where we started from, or at least where I started from, my parents getting out while they still could, leaving behind others who couldn’t and who burned or were gassed or both or jumped rather than ride the boxcars to hell.  I see dictatorship in the USA, as Philip Roth did when he postulated the election of Lindbergh over Roosevelt and the resulting fascism in The Plot Against America.  Or as H.L. Mencken wrote in an article for The Baltimore Sun in 1920 (!),  As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

And here he is.  A President-elect who is supported by the Ku Klux Klan, for Christ’s sake!  By all the white supremacist groups.  By that British monster Farage who, along with a number of politicians, master-minded Brexit.  Because people voted for what they did not understand (Brexit should never have been offered as a referendum, since it was voted against by those who supported British exceptionalism, in the sense of Britain First – just like the America First crapola we’ve been given – but had no idea of the economic and political fallout that would follow), the British electorate voted for what they thought it was about and not for what was in front of them.  In the same way American workers, hoping for better jobs and easier lives, felt relieved that someone was crashing through the barrier of privilege that stood between them and the political establishment (represented by Hillary Clinton), and voted for a man who had and has absolutely no values at all, no consistency, no logic except for his need to be worshipped, his need to be the center of attention at all times, his three-year-old’s greed and iconoclasm, his inability to tell reality from illusion, his continual mirror-gazing even though we know mirrors reflect things backwards,  his alliance with foreign dictators, his total corruptibility and history of past corruption, his stiffing of workers, rape of children (13 is still a child), his refusal to pay debts (he owes Deutsche Bank half a billion dollars for starters), and so much more that I have almost forgotten it by now, after having been driven to near-madness by all of it during the unbearably long and inescapable live feeding-to-the sharks known as the Campaign.  So America went the way of old Germany, and Germany went the way of goodness, taking in far more refugees than it could absorb, imperiling Angela Merkel’s position as Chancellor.  She spoke with her heart, the only world leader to do so.  Pope Francis too has been a champion of the poor and oppressed and the expanding waves of refugees.  If he were our president now, with Angela at his side (The Pope being the heart and the Chancellor the brains), it would be a Happy New Year indeed.  Or if Obama just hangs out, refuses to leave, doesn’t recognize the Orange dishrag as commander-in-chief.  Or if Joe Biden steps in, as he should have, could have from the start – my choice for Democratic candidate.  Good, solid, squeaky clean Joe, a man of the working class who might have won his fellow workers away from the loudmouth billionaire or perhaps no billionaire at all, just a windbag in the Billionaire’s New Clothes, a man with no credentials whatever for the job he won in that crazy lottery we called our Presidential election.

The New Year begins. . . Will we become satellites of the great Russian Empire? Will we blow up the world? Whatever happens, all we can do is tend to our own lives – those who can are already out there, collecting alms, making progress, devising a new future, uniting in protest, joining in solidarity to save the earth, save Roe v. Wade and Brown v. the Board of Education, prevent slavery, protect plants and animals, save souls, plant seeds, re-commit to old commitments – and keep our love alive by whichever means we can. Love for our friends and all growing things, for kittens and elephants, for Alpine glaciers and hidden streams and for one another; love of our bodies, love of peace, of humor, absurdity, books,  songs, pictures, words, music, wine and fresh baked bread.

And so, I must weasel my way out of this blog, no Happy New Year or Bonne Année, just  c новым годом  and let it go at that, at least until the Big Bang, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Washington to be borne.

Fidel and Me

BY KATHY PERUTZ

1959.  Spring in New York.  Still early, not yet the blooming gardens of English squares and perfumes of French parks, but the bird was on the wing from Brooklyn to the Bronx and in upper Manhattan on April 22, the students were waiting.  We from Barnard had crossed the mighty river of Broadway onto the campus proper of Columbia (of which we were the female part) and were standing on the steps outside Low Library waiting.  We’d heard a lot, read a lot about the guerilla fighters with bushy beards who’d toppled the dragon Batista and were taking control of their own island in the name of the people. A rousing call to revolution for 19-year olds like me, hoping to be part of something that would sweep away inequality and bring liberty and justice for all.

A great cheer went up. He was here, entering the campus from the Broadway gate, walking east across 116th Street towards Amsterdam.  In rugged gear, cap on head, booted and bearded he came striding past us, waving.  Fidel!  Stirring our hopes and libidos, swelling our chests.  The man of the hour (with Ché Guevara, even more handsome according to the pictures, more rugged, and a quasi-intellectual besides, a wide and deep reader who was familiar with Faulkner and Kipling, Marx and Gide, Neruda and Sartre.)  What more could a college girl dipped in ivy want?  We were in love, we fell for them in every way.

So did the New York Times. So did most everyone I knew, though Ike was not impressed.  But then again, we were the girls who as freshmen had canvassed for Stevenson against Ike in the 1956 election even though we were too young to vote (21 was then the legal voting age, and we were not yet 18), and in Nancy Sternheimer’s room she’d put up a banner saying: I’d lay for Adlai.

***

April, 1961 was warm and lush in southern Spain in the village of Torremolinos near Malaga where drunken second sons of England’s finest families stayed up all night gambling and making intermittent passes at the young women who came by, among them Iris Owens, an American writer who published under the name of Harriet Daimler with Olympia Press in Paris, an English-language publisher of non-traditional books (William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch) and novels heavily invested in sex.  Iris was the first female pornographer I’d ever met, and certainly the only one who made her living (or some part of it) by her pen.  The pale Brits and their Yank companions, along with a few scattered self-exiles from other lands usually rose at dusk and headed for the bars, where the latest drink was a Fidelista, formerly known as a Cuba Libre, or rum coke.

I was there with my mother, who had picked me up in London, where I was then living, to take me off to a warmer and more congenial spot for conversation. Her mission was to convince me to return home to New York in light of the Bay of Pigs invasion (the CIA had attempted a military invasion of Cuba, which was put down in 3 days by Fidel Castro’s troops) and, since the Soviets had Cuba’s back, the threat of war, possibly nuclear war which hung across America like disused curtains, constantly rustling.  She came as an emissary from my father, who wanted the family united at such a time.  I could understand; he and my mother had fled Austria as Hitler’s troops entered the Alps during the Anschluss of 1938, annexing Austria into the German Reich.  The unthinkable had happened then, and it could be happening now.

But I was adamant. I was firmly set on the path of my own life, I’d had a novel accepted for publication by one of Britain’s most prestigious publishers (and by an new American publishing house as well) and I needed the break from the person I’d been up to graduation.  It was only a few months since I’d left home and fewer than that since my Christmas visit, and to return now would be to lead an interrupted life, possibly forever.  Besides, I reasoned, if it was going to be a nuclear war, we’d all be incinerated within minutes and what would be the use of a family reunion then?   My mother naturally didn’t think much of the argument, but I had a Welsh film director in London who was driving me crazy by refusing to go to bed with me.  He wanted us to wait (he knew me well without knowing me) though when I returned from Spain, he’d promised, I could have my way with him.

So in the end I stayed in Europe, flying from Madrid back to London and into the arms of my brilliant strategist. We made love, not war, and the sixties unfolded, England swings and the Beatles ruled, and I flew back home for the March on Washington, 1963, where Martin Luther King spoke about his dream.

Fidel Castro, too, had a dream, and it caught fire all over the world. How could it not?  It’s always the same dream: “. . .that all men are created equal;” “liberté, égalité, fraternité;”  “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” or the Marxist dream of fairness, “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.”  “Venceremos!”

What happened afterwards in Cuba is not one story but many, an accordion of stories, glorious and calamitous, leading to the major paradox of most revolutions: that they become established, and the leader becomes a cult. It happens on the right and on the left. Stalin, Lenin, Hitler.  I had been in Franco’s Spain when I was 18 and at a gathering with my parents a young officer invited me to have dinner with him the following night.  He was one of Franco’s men, a Falangist, (I didn’t know) and though I had not rejected his offer, my father did with great vigor.  My closest brush with dictatorship, though when I was much younger we’d been in Buenos Aires, in Juan Perón’s Argentina, from which I remember very little: that they had a Pink House instead of the White House and he had a wife, Eva, called Evita by the people, who adored her.  I also remember hearing that whenever the workers were dissatisfied, Perón declared another national holiday, on which they wouldn’t have to go to work.  He remained quite popular.

***

November in New York, 2016.  The darkest November I’ve known.  The will of the people has been recognized and the leader chosen.  A less committed one, a less informed one, a less admirable man could not be imagined.  The other dictators rode in on dreams – often vicious, mad dreams – and plans.  What we have now is Mr. Tabula Rasa, President-elect, a figure on whom anyone can project whatever they imagine him to be.  He has no policies, no agenda, no logic, no heart and no convictions beyond his absolute confidence that he is the Sun God, anointed by himself to be forever the love-object of his people.  He is us, our chosen one, the image of ourselves.  Narcissus looked upon the surface of a lake and fell in love with the image he saw.  Our Narcissist-in-Chief is our mirror and what we see is darkness, rage, a sense of entitlement and of  injustice (the motivator of so many revolutions)  but this time we’ve chosen a blind man who sees nothing beyond himself.   A man who when he looks at a map of the world sees only his own face.  The world is himself, as it was for Lucifer, flung down from heaven to reign far below as Satan: Whither I fly is Hell; Myself am Hell. (John Milton, Paradise Lost.)  If only our president-elect had as much self-awareness!

The winter of our discontent is now fairly established. Personality has won out over issues, values, morals, honesty, history and people.  I do not know how to deal with this, but intend to keep my head firmly ensconced in bubble wrap, avoid newspapers and TV and try to think of other things.  Spring, for instance, when the earth will inexorably bring forth new blossoms, new births, and when young girls will again think of nothing but how handsome a man can be, or how to change the world.  Farewell, Fidel, and hiya Donald.

On the Eve: A Plea

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

It’s fast upon us now, the Vote that will lead us to chaos or keep us (though with dependably violent after-shocks) on the side of civilization.  A friend from England emailed me that the rest of the world really should be entitled to vote in the American election, since it affects the entire world.  And so it does.

The orange blob is the greatest menace of my lifetime.  Or, to be low-keyed about it, just think of what 4 Supreme Court appointees by Trump would do.  Revoke Roe v. Wade to start, then maybe Brown v. the Board of education. . .  who knows? Declaring certain kinds of people (gays, blacks, Jews, Muslims, migrants, Hispanics) non-people, which is the greatest argument since slavery.  In fact, it WAS the argument for slavery, as it was for the Holocaust.  If you declare some citizens to be monkeys, they will not have human rights.  Logic is clear, though I am not sure the word logic or any other derivation of Logos, the word (as in: In the beginning was the Word) should even be brought up when mentioning the orange blob, since logic, facts, history and even what he said a minute ago hold no validity to an ever-changing, vacuous, self-regarding brain no larger than the smallest of his famously small fingers.

In short, we must slay the monster.

VOTE!!!! And whether you like Hillary, can’t stand her, were/are a Bernie person or favored her over Obama, doesn’t matter anymore.  Third party candidates mean a throwaway vote. So do write-ins.  Those kind of votes are only of interest to very young people determined above all else to show they have a mind of their own.  Minds don’t matter right now; in fact, not even politics matter right now.  And if you’re in a “safe” state, vote anyway.  The popular vote is extremely important, since we know that if Blob don’t make it, he’ll be contesting everything.  Yesterday the chant in New Hampshire went from Lock her Up!  to Execute her! – a wonderful throwback to the days of Stalin, via Putin, via Blob.   And my last-minute hope was dashed two days ago, when the woman raped by Blob at the age of 13 refused to testify because of all the death threats.  Surely, I thought, remembering my years working in prisons, a child rapist is the lowest of the low, and even the prison population attacks such a criminal.  Maybe, I thought, all those crackers would finally turn away in disgust.

My husband Michael and I voted already, absentee ballots since we can’t get to the polls, he needing oxygen and my cancer becoming more demanding.  We’re on our way out, but please, everybody who can do anything about it, keep this country, this world and this planet alive.  Vote!!!

 

Sex and Sensibility

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

“Qu’il est beau!” exclaimed the chambermaid at the small hotel on the left bank of Paris.   How handsome he is!

“N’est-ce pas?” I said.  It was early summer, 2004. We were looking at the photograph on the dust jacket of My Life, Bill Clinton’s autobiography just out in the U.S. and already for sale at The Village Voice, a small Anglo-American bookstore on the rue Princesse, where I’d bought the last copy.

A beautiful man, we agreed.  She and I were generations apart, cultures apart (she, French North-African, in her 20’s; me, New Yorker by way of Central Europe, already past 60) but we each felt the attraction, saw the humor playing on his features, responded to the startle of intimacy that made it seem we knew each other in a way having nothing at all to do with his wild celebrity.

A few months later back home, walking east along 53rd Street after my hairdresser appointment, I noticed a small crowd outside Chase Manhattan on Park Avenue and asked the closest bystander what was happening.  “Bill Clinton’s in there,” he said.  “A meeting.  They say he’s coming out soon.”

I had the time, nothing much on for that balmy Fall afternoon and even as I moved to join the throng, people started drifting away, their lunch hour over, the siren call of work thrumming in their ears.  Within a few minutes I was in the front row behind a white barrier and a moment later, he came out. smiling, striding towards me.   We shook hands.  In his astonishingly blue eyes the heavens opened.  I blushed, he held my gaze for another beat and then he was reaching past me to the right, toward the outstretched arm of the man behind me. My abandoned hand brushed against the sleeve of his jacket, a soft wool sleeve that I found myself stroking as I whispered to him, “Take me with you. . . take me with you,.”

Of course he didn’t, and of course I wouldn’t have. . . .(?)   In any case, it was over in seconds, he somehow dematerialized and I tripped home, still on air when I came into the lobby of our building and told everyone there that I had met, and actually touched the hand of Bill.

A slide captured in memory, a bit of fluff, a few seconds of flirting.  Of course his fame added to it, but the nut of the encounter was that split second of recognition, true or imagined, when my heart went out to him taking the rest of me with it.  The spice of life, the playfulness of desire, the lightness of being (thank you, Milan Kundera) that provide pleasure, optimism, energy.  In other words, sex.  Not mating, not dating, certainly not procreating.  Flirting is the added accessory, a gift of the gods to make us forget we are mortals and will die, forget how old we are or sick or lonely or how many bills we have to pay.  Simply a frivolous bit of excitement or arousal, with no past and no future, just a crowing NOW of pleasure.

I bring this up because in the spate of stories about sexual assault, campus rape, date rape, rape by politicians, child molestation and the terrifying rest of it (mostly brought on by a torrent of violence from the man in the orange dishrag who seems to equate sex with the violent appropriation of anything he wants, with “thing” expanded to mean humans, especially female), and since he is followed by hordes of angry citizens who also feel dispossessed and entitled to pillage anything they see, sex has become, in this election campaign and particularly in the last weeks, something that I fear young people may never again know as the loveliest thing on earth, along with babies, sunsets and chocolate soufflé.

Friends much younger than I tell me about their co-workers, employees and children who complain if they get whistled at (“It scared me”) or if road workers throw compliments at their feet as they pass.  This is without any contact at all, the kind of bouquet I used to relish as a young woman (and even more as I grew older), or a kind of dance, a form of play in a world too regulated and predictable, the sudden compliment that tells you someone thinks you’re pretty, or cute, or simply nice, and that there’s laughter on the breeze, sex is in the air and in the mind, and you move on to your meeting or your difficult times with a family member with a sense of leavening, legerity, lightness.

Flirting was, and still is part of the grand scheme of sex, which includes but is not limited to, love and friendship and desire.  Sex that has nothing whatever to do with issues of feminism or “women’s rights” (which is and should be recognized as a redundancy since women are humans and more humans are women than anything else) or with all the just causes (that should have been resolved a long time ago) like equal pay for equal work, which is so obvious I can’t understand how anyone could argue it.  You pay for the product or service and not according to the type of genitalia the producer or service person may or may not possess.

And of course I am not talking about criminal sexual behavior.  The violation of one person by another is against every moral precept in the world. And the orange dishrag and his mob of thugs should never be mentioned again in print, ether, air, or any other element; and trauma specialists around the world should be working day and night on a way to erase him & his violators from the minds and memories of anyone who has ever had to think about him and them for even a minute.

***

            Years ago I spent a summer month writing a novel in an Austrian farmhouse near a glacial lake where I took breaks on a small deck owned by a family I knew. There was always a medley of generations on those gray wooden planks, lowering themselves into the icy waters and then scrambling back for more sunning, more tanning lotion and the small barbequed fish on skewers brought around by local fishermen. A boy of maybe twelve or thirteen bantered with a woman who could have been his grandmother.  They laughed and teased each other, obviously enjoying themselves, the boy perhaps feeling what it was like to be a man, the woman happy to be regarded not only as a person, a grown up, but also as the woman she was.  I was about 23 then, raised in America, and it took me several minutes to puzzle out what was going on.  Finally I realized that what they were doing was flirting: amusing themselves a while along the journey through the human comedy of life. Everyone did it here, age no factor in that little country of snow-capped mountains and pastries heaped with whipped cream.

The French did it too, always have.  The Parisian or Lyonnais bus conductor reaches out his arm to give a pretty women a lift up onto the bus and is not thinking of grabbing her purse (double-entendre intended).  The woman smiles. She likes knowing that people find her pretty.  It’s all part of the culture, of enjoying each moment.  And it is no more related to sexual assault than a glass of Burgundy at dinner is to the sort of binges that regularly kill high school and college kids, or to the all-day drinking nurtured in gormless suburbs by desperate housewives hoping to kill the hours before night comes to blanket memory.

Sex is within us and part of us and makes up a strong portion of our interconnectedness.   We notice if our friends are good-looking and respond to that, and just as we depend on the exchange of ideas with others in order to more clearly define our own and be stimulated to new thoughts, so too we need the interchange (or call it intercourse) of appreciation, of being seen anew, becoming (if only for a moment) the object of someone else’s interest and desire, all of which is part of flirting and can lift us out of despair or impatience or the rut we’re stuck in.  A light touch, compliments, the evocation of laughter – all these are a part of it too, of feeling that you are a surprising and delightful person after all.  When men whistle at women, it doesn’t mean they want to hurt them or take them by force (except when those men are pathologically unable to think of anything in the world except as an object to be possessed), and I hope that for this new generation of women, if whistles or compliments are thrown in their direction, that what they hear in those sounds are angelic trumpets announcing that Beauty is passing by.

The orange menace threatens, and has already wrought, hatred, fear, suspiciousness, violence and every form of racist and misogynistic bigotry ever known.  He has taken away our innocence and beliefs and joy, as well as our personhood, whoever we are, of whatever sex or inclination.  Whatever happens in the election and its aftermath, we must apply ourselves to regaining our health individually and as a nation.  And before we can return to respect, morality, sexuality, kindness,  humor and appreciation of each other, we must rid ourselves of the man and the movement that have made destruction prevail, turned spontaneity into violence and twisted self-love into shame.

Terrible Men

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

In this time of Terrible Men, terrible in a way we’ve always known but never seen in such abundance, such confluence, every day more and still more until it has become a typhoon, maelstrom, churning and dragging us down to the baseness of all things; in this time of terror and men who are mad with fury at everything they don’t have and don’t deserve and who possess a blindness towards fellow creatures that is almost impossible to achieve in the natural course of things, humans having evolved the ability to see another as themselves to be able to work together in such essential tasks as getting food and protecting the young; in this terrible time I’m not sure how any of us can stay afloat, never mind sane, but last night, waking from a trumphitlerian nightmare, I was rescued by images that came unbidden, like good angels – images and wisps of remembrance from other times, of gentle men and gentlemen, of my father with his big hands and his love and generosity and magic.

He was a charmer, Tino (diminutive of Constantine), Viennese, handsome, tall and dark with a flair for languages who told jokes that were not jokes so much as encapsulated stories, miniature plays, often with a philosophical tail and they were always funny.  He adored women of any persuasion, childhood, adulthood and age.  My little girlfriends adored him back and when they grew older they had crushes on him.  He loved having fun  (his childhood in Vienna not having supplied a hell of a lot of that, especially when other boys would gang up on him and pull down his pants to see if he was circumcised) and was constantly inventive.  The summer we rented a house in Weston, Connecticut he and my mother and two friends set up a orange traffic sign on which my mother Dolly, an artist, had painted SLOW.  Beneath that she painted a black snail and below that the word CROSSING.   A few hundred yards beyond, on the opposite side of the road they put up a restaurant sign: Á l’Escargot Bienvenu.  (At the Welcome Snail.)

That was the summer of his chamber music festival, with young musicians from all around the area and a fat magician named Dr. Stanley Jaks, whom we had met on a ship sailing from New York to Buenos Aires in the winter of 1948-49 and he remained a friend, a refugee himself, like my parents. His pinky nail extended for several inches and he treated it with great respect.  He was a member of the Society of 13, the world’s greatest magicians.  He had performed in the White House for President Truman and General MacArthur, setting it up and finally laying out cards for the finale.  He offered the General a choice of bibelots from his collection, a metsuke perhaps, a tiny jade Buddha or a turquoise elephant and asked him to place the trinket on the card he’d first selected.  When MacArthur had done so Jaks asked him,  “Are you sure?  You wouldn’t prefer a different card?”

To which Douglas MacArthur, from the battlefields of Korea, replied, “A general never changes his mind!”

Harry Truman reached out for the trinket and moved it to another card. “But a president does,” he said.

At the music festival Stanley Jaks presided as King in a rented monarchial outfit, ermine tails and all and I, twelve or thirteen at the time, was outfitted as the court jester, bells on cap (“I AM the royal jester/ My name is Peter Chester./This glorious person THAT you see/ Is his Royal Majesty.”)  I led the way, the King behind me, followed by the rest of the procession which included my mother as a lion, a very perfect lion with a large mane (she was a Leo and prided herself on that), into the house where the music would be played, different groups in different rooms and on the porch and grounds of the rambling farmhouse.  That was the summer of the snails, and their friend Tom Hollyman, a well-known photographer who played the bagpipe with a vacuum cleaner and had a dog named Flugelhorn.

By then I was on the cusp of some form of incipient maturity that has never found a correct appellation because how this maturity happens and when depend on the society and circumstances a child grows up in, and I had developed a new self-consciousness with accompanying irony.  In other words, though magic was all around me I did not believe in magic.

But when I was younger, how could I help it?  Those very early memories came to me last night as my mind skittered away from the Terrible Men that are beyond the thinking of.  It was summer, we were at a place with a hill,  a tent, a car. .  .  I had trouble sifting through indistinct images and then realized that very early memories are not actually of place in the sense of rooms or settings or landscapes; they are much smaller than that, outlines or suggestions of something – a barn door, the edge of a table, the rumble seat in the old car where we kids (what kids?) sat squashed together.  It was probably New England – where else would we have gone?  Rumble seat!  Holding on and screaming in fear we’d fall out (though I don’t believe the car, rumbling on the dirt road, ever went faster than 5 miles an hour.)  One day my father put on a magic show for us, but the rain came splashing down, a storm was gathering and we all went into the tent. Though maybe not a tent.  Now I am writing this down new images are popping up, or most likely ancient nearly-obliterated images at last resurfacing in the developing fluid of my brain’s darkroom.  It was something more like a garage, roomy. My daddy performing hocus-pocus.  All of us enthralled.  And then came a flash of lightning and we screamed, huddling together as the thunder came crashing after, the garage no longer safe. And my father raised his hand (or wand or finger) and we all fell silent.  He called out to the rain and told it STOP! which it did instantly.  We all filed out, the sun was shining, the grass smelled fresh and green and on the hill there were horsies – I mean, horses – and maybe other animals too.

He was a magician who could make things turn out the way I wanted, my Zauber-König in a Mozartian vein (which was very much my father’s vein, Viennese vein, little Wolfgang Amadeus having come to the palace of Schönbrunn when he was 6, in the little gala outfit given him by the Empress and Emperor, still sitting there now among the royalty at the banquet table in the painting that hangs in a Rococo room where little cherubs climb out from the ceiling feet first.)

At night, on the rare nights when he was home and could put me to bed, he didn’t read to me. Instead he told me wonderful stories that he probably made up as he went along.  Lovely little animals, each of whom was a character, a personality (sometimes with an accent) – the oyster (called Oystraka) defending his pearl; the two sheep, Wooly, who was white, and Tar who was black, best friends.  But Wooly was a good student and Tar could never learn to count beyond 3.  This was because he was lame in one foot and when he walked he went thump-thump-hoppeta-thump, counting only the thumps. And so Tar couldn’t get promoted to the next grade.  But one day when Wooly was missing and no one could find him, Tar went looking everywhere, high and low, calling his name.  At last he came to a little patch of clover, and there was Wooly, and Tar bounded over so fast he didn’t even limp.  “I came for you!” he cried. “Wooly, I came for you!”

“Four!” said Wooly. “You just said four!”  The friends embraced, and soon they went back together and Tar made his way in school alongside Wooly and they were inseparable for the rest of their lives.

I loved all the stories, though admittedly my favorite was about a little girl called Kathy who had braids, just as I did, and who climbed up over the back of the armchair into a painting that hung on the wall above it. She took the little path through the high meadow and walked towards the house far in back.  Everything was beautiful.  She looked out the window at flowers blooming and birds flitting in the trees, and in the kitchen where there were wonderful things to eat.  When she had her fill Kathy walked out the door, back along the path, through the meadow and out by the frame, my daddy sitting on my bed, my head on my pillow, traveling thorough paintings..

But the most forceful magic happened during a hike. My parents were very fond of mountains, and though my mother didn’t share my father’s love of or ability in skiing, she did like to hike (“marschieren,” she called it). On Sundays they often went to Bear Mountain and I had to come along, though I hated exercise in any form at all, and especially having to climb up stupid, fall-down paths with grownups (their friends Pepik and Olga often came along) all talking in grown-up, sometimes even in Czech, and me feeling so sorry for myself that it became difficult to propel my body forward even a few inches.

My father would drop back every few minutes to encourage me, and though I complained and maybe even cried, I did finally make it to the very top. And when I got there I saw a perfect little conifer tree no bigger than I was and its branches were hung with chocolate.

I am now a long way from cynical youth and deep into furious age. But now I do believe in magic.  There are moments that simply arrive or descend, engulfing you with pleasure for no reason, making you see how good people can be and how beautiful, or catching up your breath when you notice the sun’s rays falling on the trees just before sundown on 17th Street, turning their green to gold; or the rush of gratitude when a doctor finally diagnoses what is ailing you, speaking to you with compassion and intelligence. Words of all shapes. The magic of friends – Eli, already near 80, flying in from Finland to visit me for a couple of days in my illness or the unexpected delivery of luxuriant food ordered by another darling; the flowers from David, reuniting with two Lindas; the kindness of Michaels.

*

I think of my father often these days. I have a loving husband and loving son and loving male friends but they are here with me now, in this toxic swill that seeps into every conversation.  I can’t understand anyone who can’t understand what is happening.  So I turn to the past (civilization) instead of the future (chaos) and try to believe there is something beyond the present madness where:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats went on, in probably his most-quoted poem, “The Second Coming,” to ask:

What rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

“Rough beast” is good.  I take refuge in lost worlds and gardens of the mind where things can still grow. I hope every woman on earth can summon up in memory or at least imagination some gentle men she has known or loved, great good men like Pope Francis or an uncle, a neighbor, the mailman, someone with whom she felt happy and safe and who brought magic with him.  Of course it’s not only women who are suffering in all this, but we are the majority of people in the world and have been treated abominably by terrible men for a long time all over the globe. What we must do now is to recognize the clear and present danger of the most terrible man of all, heir to Hitler and Stalin, ally of Putin, racist, hater of women and everyone who doesn’t worship him; a man who steals from the poor, an ugly old fat man who attempts to shame others for one goal only: to crown himself god.  We must defeat him as surely as if the Black Death had returned that decimated most of Europe’s population before there was an America to which survivors (immigrants) came. Defeat him in the polls of course, but also by returning to our true concerns and values, to lightness, logic and imagination, reclaiming our country and our lives, ourselves.

In and Out the Window

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

The rest is silence. 

– Hamlet, Act V

Last lines are a joy forever: perfect codas to lives of the great. The quintessential period at the end of the long sentence.  Gertrude Stein, lying on her bed, eyes closed, about to expire. She opens them, sits up and  asks, “What is the Answer?” and falls back on her pillow.  Silence. The camera waits.  Again she rises from the pillow and speaks: “Never mind that.  What is the question?”  Finis.

Or, going one better perhaps, Alfred North Whitehead, the philosopher: “Why are we always in the dark?”

And beyond him, the great German genius, majestic Goethe, whose last words, perhaps whispered gutturally in his bedchamber in Weimar have resounded through the ages: Mehr Licht! (more light!), leaving to posterity the question of whether he, than whom there was no one of  nobler mind or wider range of thought, was still, at the very end of consciousness, seeking further enlightenment; or if, as some cynics have suggested, he was simply asking the nurse to raise the shade.

Continue reading “In and Out the Window”

In My Beginning

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

They met at a masked ball in Prague. I never learned what their costumes were, but certainly her mane of auburn hair must have entranced him, and his tall dark handsomeness no doubt caught her eye. He came from Vienna but was working here in a business established by his grandfather, as he’d done since he was 16 and his father died. She was born in the town of Beroun, just outside Prague, and never went to school in her life. Her father, director of a textile mill and anglophile in his ways (orange marmalade and toast for breakfast, the London Times, English wool in winter), provided her with tutors. Her older sister and brother went to University but not Dolly. She was the pretty one, the pampered one, home-schooled, intuitive and wonderful at tennis, which she played with her coach on the family’s court.

When they met at the ball, I’m sure he filled her carnet de bal with waltzes Tino loved waltzing and as a Viennese took to it naturally, spinning round and round in the same direction without getting dizzy. She was a little stiff in his arms, she held herself very straight and proud and even then, I’m sure, they looked like the perfect couple.

Continue reading “In My Beginning”

Blondes: A Reprise

BY KATHY PERUTZ

Note:  The piece below is a revision of my post # 7 “Blondes” and was published on August 2, 2016 in The Huffington Post   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-perutz/blondes-do-have-more-fun_b_11200444.html.

 

One thing is certain, short of alien invasions and Armageddon, and that is that the next president of the United States will be blond. Or at least blond on top.  And so it is incumbent upon us as Americans to understand what “blond” – with or without the final “e” – is all about, “blond” being the shade as in champagne or key lime pie and also referring to men with fair hair, while “blonde” means a woman and a lot more.

There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays.

So begins the greatest soliloquy on the subject of the twentieth century. Perhaps of any century. It goes on for a very long paragraph, which would put most blondes to sleep, but it is a very good passage, written by that master of English prose Raymond Chandler whose books are full of twists and turns, cops, cigarettes and booze, wisecracks and blondes. Chandler wrote about crime and criminals with an innocence that turned his books into medieval romances, the knight in shining armor defending the lady fair, though many of these ladies were not the kind who appear in sitting rooms, at least not with their clothes on.

The passage is from The Long Good-bye, a wonderful meandering book full of digressions like Don Quixote, who really was a knight in armor, or Moby Dick, who wasn’t talking.  Philip Marlowe, the detective extraordinaire of Chandler’s books, is a man like his creator, strangely prim in his private life (Chandler was a virgin until his 30’s, very close to his mother, and eventually married a blonde named Cissy, 18 years his senior), romantic and cavalier, although inordinately fond of drinking.

All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very tired when you take her home.

That’s from a man’s point of view, of course; Clairol gives us the woman’s perspective with Blondes Have More Fun, a slogan that landed them in the Advertising Hall of Fame, later topped by  Clairol with If I’ve Only One Life to Live, Let me Live it as a Blonde!

I was a blonde when I was little – that is, I was a little blonde. The black hair covering my skull at birth soon fell out and was replaced by flaxen curls, light as the hair on Northern heads in Finland or Iceland where the sun is weak and women are strong. At three, I had fair ringlets and a chubby face, which in the hands of a Reubens or Renoir might turn a child into a cherub, but in my case it was a good thing ringlets covered up some of my cheeks because I was fat as a baby pig. There is a photo somewhere, probably mulched at the bottom of the Hudson along with other mislaid objects of New York childhoods, taken in the backyard of our house in Kew Gardens, Queens many decades ago, of me with my mother hanging out the clothes. My mother was a pretty redhead, though you couldn’t see that in the picture and I was cute as a lace doily. A Daily News photographer who happened by snapped us and I landed on the cover of the News as Monday’s Child (Monday, washday), my first public appearance as a blonde.

What did the blonde say when she found out she was pregnant?

I wonder if it’s mine.

By the time I was 12, my blondness had suffered serious alteration. The once-pale blonde had turned to gold, but not of the durable variety. It was the gold of a cheap ring in Vegas, lasting not much longer than the honeymoon. My summer streaks faded as the days grew shorter and when I was in Junior High I took matters in my own hands and dabbed on Light ‘n Bright to bring back the freshness of my preteen youth.  By the time I went to college some 4 or 5 years later, I was a mass of streaks resembling the samples a furniture upholsterer might give out to clients needing their sofa recovered.  Even my father noticed, he who had forbidden my use of makeup in seventh grade but never realized when he was face to face with it.

I admitted to having bleached for quite some time. (People bleached their hair in ancient Greece too, more than 2000 years before I did, but I didn’t mention that to him because I didn’t know it then, and in fact would still now be in ignorance were I not living in a time when you can Google anything that enters your head, bleached or not.) It didn’t look natural, he said, I should make it all one color, though he was vague on details as are many men, I find, who can’t understand the difference between dyeing and bleaching no matter how often you explain it to them.  Simply, dyeing means putting color in, bleaching means taking color out. That’s it, though show me a man who doesn’t use “dye” when he means “bleach” and I’ll call him professor.

My father said to stop using Light ‘n Bright. When I explained that it would take years for all my hair to grow out, he told me to have it done by a hairdresser.

I came out of Lily Daché on Fifth Avenue a platinum blonde. I walked up the avenue and could feel people turn to look at me. I was bathed in light, each step took me higher off the ground, I floated into the hotel lobby and when my father saw me and realized I was me, he let out a loud gasp and clutched his heart with both hands. (He’d had yearnings to be an actor in his youth.) I was very sorry to hurt him but also elated. I, who had been kept in pigtails for far too long, who wore my mother’s hand-me-downs and could never fit in with the popular girls at school or talk to a boy without turning an unhealthy shade of purple, was now metamorphosed or perhaps alchemized into the most desirable thing a person could be: a blonde bombshell.

A blonde in a BMW was speeding in a residential zone when a police car pulled her over. The female police officer who got out was also a blonde.

She walked up to the side of the BMW and asked for the driver’s license. The driver searched frantically in her handbag and finally asked the policewoman, “What does the driver’s license look like?”

The blonde cop was having none of it. “Don’t be a smartass. It’s got your picture on it!”      

The driver emptied her bag and found a small rectangular mirror at the bottom.  She held it up to her face. “Here it is.” She handed it to the policewoman, who started walking towards the police car.            

In a moment the cop was back and returned the mirror to the driver with a smile. “You’re free to go,” she said. “And if I had known you were a police officer too, we could have avoided all this.”

When I became a blonde, I discarded my shyness and despised anyone who was attracted by me.  This gave my adolescent self-hatred a firm basis. Groucho’s law: anyone who accepts me as I am is not worth my time.

I was a blonde because I needed to be. I suffered for it, the bleach burning into my scalp and opening it up and later forming welts. The color was slightly green when it was freshly done, and then would “oxidize,” as my colorist explained, so that by the third week it was a perfect light ash. After that it began to veer towards orange, turning brassier, and at the end of 5 or 6 weeks I’d have to go back and have my roots done again.

Getting my hair bleached was the most expensive thing I ever did in my life, including cars, travel, children and medical expenses. When I became allergic to the bleach in my fifties (I’d faint, run a fever, and come close to death, as in opera when the heroine takes poison), I had to abandon the two-step process that took 5 or 6 hours from start to finish and accept being a single process blonde, which meant not platinum, just as light as possible.

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non- fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and . . . speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal.

Less than 2% of adult white Americans are blond naturally. 75% of American women color their hair according to a Clairol study, and they should know, having 70 shades of blond on the market.  Seventy Shades of Blond. Talk about blondage! It excites us – the hair, the walk, the pictures in our mind, Marilyn, Brigitte, Beyoncé; ask not what nature can do for you, ask what you can do to nature. A blonde is the perfection of self-invention, and anyone at all can become blond – poor or rich, black or white, Arab, Jew, old or young, gay, straight, trans and not-saying.

And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co- pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.

It’s true, blondes do have more fun. We who are not naturally blond but choose to become so are a gorgeous part of the American Dream where everyone can be young and sexy, rich and powerful. And if our Presidential candidates are blond by choice, that’s to be expected, since blond is optimistic and they are vying for the biggest job in the world, blond-in-chief: Trump – who spent most of his life with dark hair and more recently wore something resembling an orange dishrag before turning to a more professional colorist – or Clinton, who has been blonde time and again and knows what she’s doing. .

 

Dark at the Roots

BY KATHY PERUTZ

 

When the time came, she often said, when she was older, she would let her hair go gray. But the time never came, and her hair colorist continued to dye her graying roots to match the rich auburn of her younger self.

My mother kept many secrets, and though some of them wounded me and made me hate her at times, on the whole she kept them beautifully. Some had to do with her personal habits, others concerned her actions and interactions, those I witnessed and those that came at me from out of the past.  Still other secrets had been thrust on her beyond her control: names she had to keep hidden to safeguard lives and also her own name, given her before her parents or ancestors or anyone in the world knew that the man’s name hers was derived from would become synonymous with evil on perhaps as great a scale as the devil’s own, because though she was always known as Dolly, they named her Adolfina.

I didn’t know her birth name or her actual age for many years. I learned how old she was on a  day my father’s mother came to visit, a rare occurrence because my mother never cared to entertain her.  My grandmother mentioned that Dolly had me at 31, though I’d thought she was currently 29.  When I later confronted my mother, she explained that she couldn’t tell me the truth because I would have told my schoolmates and then everyone would know.  I nodded sagely, thrilled to be given such an adult (and mysterious) explanation, and never afterwards told anyone her age or – when I learned it – her birth name.

In other ways too, I went on lying for her, because she demanded it. When she was dying of multiple myeloma, cancer in the marrow of her bones, she insisted I tell her friends that she had a “bellyache.” She believed cancer was “psychological” and was ashamed to be caught with it.  But she was also dying quickly, in the hospital and at home with round the clock nurses.  I hated having to lie to people on the phone; I was embarrassed for them, for myself, ashamed of that childish word  “bellyache,” ashamed of the knowledge I had, the dead certainty of what was going on.  I couldn’t tell anyone, and I couldn’t stop what I knew.

Everyone has secrets. I don’t believe, as my mother did, that cancer is a sign of repressed rage or repressed anything else. My cat Corduroy, who was also my best friend, died young of cancer and his rage was never repressed, nor his love either, shown in the way he tried to feed the family, bringing in headless squirrels or birds he’d killed and placing them beneath my seat at the dinner table.  But there are other secrets, so big that people spend their lives and countries go to war protecting them.

America’s secret is racism. It is the darkness at America’s heart.  Though it can be set aside (look at our President!), it continues, since it’s easier to blame whatever’s wrong (in your life, in the country) on others than on yourself.  (This may be one reason to get married, though not a good one.)  If other people don’t look like you, it becomes even easier.  Hitler had to tag the Jews with big yellow stars because they looked (and thought and felt) like other Germans. The star provided a target for German rage, which in truth had little to do with Jews and was mainly caused by devaluation of the currency and loss of jobs.  But an enemy is a handy tool for an aspiring megalomaniac dictator.  Especially for the newly-blond Donald Trump (who is dark-haired in photos of him in youth and middle age, and whose hair resembled an orange dishrag earlier this year), with his family tradition of racial intolerance, a father and grandfather who didn’t like dark people, didn’t rent to them, and who were drawn to the ideology of white supremacists.

Trump picks up on the American secret and adds the terror of the unknown. All murders are now the fault of foreign darkies, whether or not they had anything to do with it, all part of a world-wide conspiracy against blond white (straight) Christian men.  In Trump’s hatred of M folk – Mexicans, Muslims, menstruators, minorities –  he rounds up a lot of dark people.  Women make it into the core of his publically-proclaimed nemeses by being biologically different from other people, in that they ovulate and menstruate, two cycles that Donald Trump would never in his life engage in, and therefore finds disgusting.  Different is the bugaboo, and to Trump there is no reality outside of Trump.

He presents us with a caricature of the two greatest dictators of the twentieth century, Adolf Hitler (né Schicklgruber) and Josef Stalin (born Jughashvili), with an added dose of pure American hucksterism. Like Hitler and Stalin, Trump is his own creation, in his case a blown-up cartoon of The Big Male with scowling face, broad chest, lots of sawbucks, lots of broads and a grunter’s vocabulary.  He’s the entertainer, like Hitler in Brecht’s play Arturo Ui and also like P.T. Barnum, prankster galore, who toured America with his freak show, entered politics in Connecticut, made millions, lost them and then made them back again in the firm belief that, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public” (though the quote varies and is sometimes  attributed to H.L. Mencken).  Barnum said of himself: “I am a showman by profession . . . and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me,” which shows a great deal more insight into his own nature than Trump has ever demonstrated.  His personal aim, said Barnum, was “to put money in my own coffers.”

The huckster, snake oil salesmen, slimy politicos and purveyors of hype that dotted our frontier probably were natural outgrowths of America’s wild Dream: to invent yourself, to become anyone you wanted to be because the old rules no longer applied. It didn’t matter who your parents were, where you went to school (or didn’t) or any of the values that cosseted Europe in its old ways.  Being American was a god-given passport to fun and freedom, to children who refused to eat their spinach because “America’s a free country,” and, on a more deadly note, to the necessity (for keeping the myth alive) of making sure some of the people are not included as people. The secret remained.  Be white, be powerful, and the Dream is yours.

Adolf Hitler said: If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.

Trump also resembles Stalin, particularly in the penchant for putting his name on everything (remember Stalingrad? if things go rotten in November, New York could become Trump City.) To every proposed building during his years as Chairman, he added steeples that transformed them into secular churches erected to the greater glory of himself. Stalin, like his latter day successor Vladimir Putin – a man much admired by Trump – did not believe in negotiating with perceived enemies.  He had a quicker solution. “Death,” he wrote, “is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.”   Putin seems to agree.

What is great in America is that this country took in my parents when it did; that it welcomed immigrants throughout its history because it is, on a grand scale, a nation made up of immigrants, a tree with many roots that finds its genius in difference. Americans are optimistic and flexible.  We’ll try anything, which is why we’re such rich fodder for entrepreneurs.  (P.T. Barnum: There’s a sucker born every minute.)  But if we screw up in November, we might lose far into the future, with a Trump Supreme Court meting out its justice.

Hitler: The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.

Truth is a moveable concept to Trump, who controls it as he controls everything around him. The Don sees himself as Czar of this country, Czar of czars, which is as czar-y or crazy as it gets.

N.Y. subway: If you see something, say something.

Donald Trump.

[Note: this blog was also published by the Huffington Post]

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-perutz/dark-at-the-roots_b_11173174.html