“Comparisons are Odorous,”


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?



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.

Unpleasant Women



London, 1963: I am having dinner in Notting Hill with Val, a Viennese-born economist, smart and nice but not my type.  Suddenly there is a shriek, followed by a crash as a whiskey bottle is hurled across the room. “That’s the woman,” a voice screams, “who’s fucking my husband!”

I turn to Val, my face a question. “Henrietta,” he says.

I know who that is. The English wife of a slim, beautifully-featured Indian poet who drinks like a school of fish and who has conceived a crush on me that keeps him humming beneath my window on Tottenham Street all night, and he’s still there on the bench in the morning when I wake.  His crush has been driving me crazy.  One day a carton of champagne arrived and later the Poet came over to tell me he had tickets for us to go to Paris that afternoon.  I was not interested.  Henrietta is still shouting.  Val has taken care of the bill and we get up to go.

When we pass Henrietta’s table, I say, “I have not been fucking your husband.”

“Why not?” she screams as we head for the door, “Afraid of having black babies?”

Continue reading “Unpleasant Women”