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.

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.

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