I’m cleaning up files that migrated to my new computer and found this ditty. Must have been recorded somewhere around 2009. Change the bridge and it could apply even more today.
I’m cleaning up files that migrated to my new computer and found this ditty. Must have been recorded somewhere around 2009. Change the bridge and it could apply even more today.
Because NC passed its bathroom law, I get to see Audra McDonald and the SF Symphony tonight. The symphony was supposed to be in NC, but has instead chosen to celebrate LGBT pride in SF with a gala concert. Thank you, NC legislators, I guess. It’s the only time, though, that you’ll get thanks from me.
This will be somewhere around the seventh time I’ve seen Audra. I guess I’m semi-officially an Audra groupie. My wife says Audra might be the only person I’d leave her for. She might be right! I used to feel the same way about Alfred Brendel, but my wife never worried about him.
FWIW here are my Audra chronicles.
1994, Lincoln Center, Carousel, I walk out of the theater and go on and on about, “Who was that?”
2000, w/San Francisco Symphony, I walk out of the concert hall and go on and on about how wonderful she is.
2004, w/Boston Pops, I walk past a symphony hall on my way to a business meeting and I hear her booming voice. I had no idea she was in town. I say screw the meeting and hear her rehearse. Then I go to the box office. Do you have any tickets? I ask. One at a table, I’m told. I buy the ticket. I sit next to a Boston Brahmin. Twenty minutes into the outstanding show, the Brahmin leans over and whispers to me, “If she wasn’t black, she’d be as good as Garland.” I think he’s intentionally trying to get me to strangle him.
2004, a sort of Audra meet. I run into a marvelous singer. I ask where she’s from. Fresno, she says. Oh, Audra’s town, I say. She turns bright red. Don’t ever say that name to me, she says. Why not? I ask. I was in high school with her, she says. “Do you have any idea what it would be like to audition for parts and compete against her? For years, I thought I had no talent.” I express condolences, but think, well, she’s good, but she’s no Audra.
2005, Mountain View. My wife says there’s a benefit for a charity she likes. Audra is performing. Do I want to go? I scream for joy. She expresses her opinion that I just might leave her for Audra if given a chance. I think she might be right. The concert is actually mediocre, but hey no one is perfect.
2015, Broadway, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. I love those recordings of Billie Holiday when her voice is shot and she has one foot in the grave. Poignant stuff. So this is a special night for me. Audra doing Billie in decline. I’m in town on business. No way am I not going to see this. But I’m worried. This could be a train wreck. It is in fact jaw droppingly good. The audience, I can tell, knows nothing about Billie Holiday or Audra. They have no idea Audra is singing poorly on purpose.
And now, tonight!
I forgot about this little video I did a few months ago, but found it on my old phone when I was transferring data to my new one.
I note that I share more than a little bit with Bob. Midwestern. Jewish. Write songs. Write novels. Write memoirs. Neither of us deserve the Nobel Prize.
This video is not searchable publicly on YouTube, is available only here. Exclusive. Lucky you! Note that my harmonica holder falls apart 20 seconds into this thing (also I was recovering from eye surgery, hence the squinting), but I’m a trouper. The show must go on!
I’m available as a Dylan imitator for a fee. Weddings, bnai mitzvot, brises, funerals, wakes, shivas, you name it. Run, do not not walk, to your email app and contact me for a Dylan imitator performance stat! The rumor that I’m also an Elvis imitator is, sad to say, fake news.
Today is Purim, the annual Jewish holiday where we eat hamantaschen (here I am eating one sent to me by my daughter in DC), dress up in crazy costumes and tell the story of Queen Esther. I thought the story could use a modernization. See below.
The Whole (New) Megillah aka The Book of Ivanka
And it came to pass in the days of Trump, the same Trump who ruled from Maine to Hawaii, fifty states. In those days Trump sat in his royal throne, which was in Mar-a-Lago in Florida. After the primary before his reign, he made a four-day feast for all in his party, the GOP, both its ministers and servants. It was not well attended by A-list celebrities. Actually it was not attended at all by A-list celebrities. But that was OK as far as the king was concerned. A-list celebrities were losers.
On the first night, when the king’s heart was merry, he ordered Bannon, his son-in-law Kishmeintuchasner, Flynn, Miller, Christie, Gingrich and Giuliani, the six chamberlains who attended King Trump, to bring Queen Melania to the feast, to show her beauty to the nations and ministers, for she was indeed beautiful and to give a speech. But lo and behold, Queen Melania botched the speech by plagiarizing the words of another queen, and the king grew furious and his wrath seethed within him.
So the king conferred with the sages, those knowledgeable of the times for this was the king’s custom, to go before those who were versed in every law and statute. He asked them, “By law, what should be done with Queen Melania for plagiarizing her speech?”
Bannon declared before the king and the ministers: “It is not against the King alone that Queen Melania has sinned, but against all the ministers and all the states of King Trump. For word of the queen’s deed will reach all the women and it will belittle their husbands in their eyes. For they will say: ‘King Trump commanded that Queen Melania give a speech and boy oh boy did she botch the thing.’ If it please the King, let a royal edict be issued by him that Queen Melania be banished to a tower in the state of New York. Let the King confer her royal title upon another woman who is better than she.”
The idea pleased the king and the ministers, and the king did as Bannon had advised. The king’s attendants advised: “Let beautiful virgin girls be sought for the King. And let the King appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, and let them gather every beautiful virgin girl to Mar-a-Lago, the winter capital, for a Miss Universe contest. Then let the girl who finds favor in the King’s eyes become queen in Melania’s stead.” The plan pleased the king and he acted accordingly.
There was a Jewish man who attended to the king, Jared Kisnmeintuchasner, son of Charles, who was a crook, son of Shim’iy, son of Kish, a Benjaminite who had been exiled from New Jersey. He had married the king’s daughter, Ivanka. The girl was shapely and beautiful. Now when the king’s order and edict became known, and many girls were about to be gathered to Mar-a-Lago, the winter capital, Ivanka was also present in the palace. Every day Jared would stroll in front of the palace courtyard to find out how Ivanka was faring.
And the king loved Ivanka more than all the women and she won his favor and kindness far more than Melania. Jared said to the king, “Do you not love Ivanka more than all other women? Screweth the Miss Universe contest and make Ivanka queen.” And the king agreed; he placed the royal crown on Ivanka’s head and made her queen in Melania’s stead. Then the king made a grand feast for all his ministers and servants, the Feast of Ivanka. He lowered taxes for the states and gave presents befitting the king.
In those days, while Jared sat at the king’s gate, Flynn and Christie, two of the king’s chamberlains, botched phone calls to Russians and closed a highway in a pathetic and petty power play, respectively. The matters became known to Jared and he informed Queen Ivanka. Ivanka then informed the king of it in Jared’s name. The matters were investigated and found to be true and the two were hanged on the gallows. It was then recorded in the Book of Chronicles before the king.
After these events, King Trump promoted Bannon, son of Martin, the telephone lineman, and advanced him; he placed his seat above all his fellow ministers. All the king’s servants at the king’s gate kneeled and bowed before Bannon, for so had the king commanded concerning him. But Jared would not kneel or bow. Bannon said to King Trump, “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King’s interest to tolerate them. If it please the King, let an edict be issued for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand silver talents to the functionaries, to be deposited in the King’s treasuries.”
And the king asked, “Who are these people, the Jews?” And Bannon answered, “Well they’re bad, too, but I’m more worried about scientists, especially those that promote the hoax of global warming.” And the king asked, “What about the blacks?’ And Bannon answered, “Some of my best friends are blacks.” And the king asked, “Really?” And Bannon answered, “Not really.” And the king asked, “What about those radical terrorist Muslims?” And Bannon answered, “We have their violence under control in our land, but we can’t say that because fear of Muslim terror keeps our citizens under our thumb. Scientists aren’t under our control, though, and they need to be.” And the king asked, “What about those bad hombre Mexicans?” And Bannon answered, “As bad as Jews, but scientists are even worse. They are about verifiable truth and nothing is worse for the king than verifiable truth.” And the king said, “Bigly.”
The king removed his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Bannon, son of Martin, the telephone lineman, persecutor of anything based on facts and data (and Jews). The king said to Bannon, “The money is yours to keep, and the scientists are yours to do with as you please.” The king’s scribes were then summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and all that Bannon commanded. It was written in King Trump’s name by executive order and sealed with the king’s signet ring.
Letters were sent with couriers to all the states of the king: to annihilate and destroy all the funding of scientists, young and old, men and women, on one day the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar and to plunder their possessions and gut the EPA. Copies of the executive order were to be proclaimed as law in every state, so that they should be ready for that day. The couriers hurried out with the order of the king and the law was proclaimed in Washington, DC, the summer capital. Then the king and Bannon sat down to grope pussies while the city of Washington, DC was in turmoil.
Jared knew all that had occurred and told Ivanka. “Our planet is screwedeth,” he said to Ivanka. “What can we do?” And Ivanka said, “Absolutely nothing. We can’t get daddy angry otherwise he will have a tweet storm and my clothing line sales will tank again. He might even shut me up in that tower with Melania. I needeth some Xanax!”
Jared told Al Gore, who was once almost king, who tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ash. Gore went out into the city crying loudly and bitterly. He went up until the king’s gate, for it is improper to enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the edict of the king and his law reached, there was great mourning among the scientists, with fasting, crying and wailing; sackcloth and ash were spread out for the masses. Ivanka’s maids and chamberlains came and told her about it and the queen was terrified. She said, “Gore needs something from my clothing line stat.” She sent garments with which to dress Gore so that he would remove his sackcloth from upon him, but he did not accept them because they were made in China.
Ivanka summoned Hatach, one of the king’s chamberlains whom he had placed in her service, and she commanded him to go to Gore to find out the meaning of this and what it was about. Hatach went out to Gore, to the city square that was in front of the king’s gate. And Gore told him about all that had happened and about the sum of money that Bannon had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the right to destroy the scientists. He also gave him a copy of the executive order that was proclaimed in America calling for the annihilation of scientific funding, to show Ivanka and to tell her about it, and to instruct her to go to the king to beseech him and to plead with him on behalf of scientists. Hatach went and relayed the words of Gore to Ivanka. Ivanka told Hatach to relay to Gore, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes to the king and enters the inner courtyard without being summoned, his is but one verdict: execution; except for the person to whom the king extends his golden scepter only he shall live. And I have not been summoned to come to the king for thirty days now.”
They relayed Ivanka’s words to Gore, and Gore said to relay to Ivanka, “If you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will not come to the scientists from another source, and the world will become an uninhabital sauna. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position.” Ivanka said to relay to Gore “Go and gather all the scientists who are in America and fast for my sake, do not eat and do not drink for three days, night and day. My maids and I shall also fast in the same way. Then I shall go to the king, though it is unlawful, and if I perish, I perish.” Gore did all that Ivanka had instructed him.
On the third day Ivanka donned garments of royalty and stood in the inner courtyard of the palace, facing the palace. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the palace facing the palace entrance. When the king saw Queen Ivanka standing in the courtyard she found favor in his eyes. The king extended to Ivanka the golden scepter that was in his hand and Ivanka approached and touched the tip of the scepter. The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Ivanka? What is your request? Even if it be half the kingdom, it will be granted you.” Ivanka said, “If it please the King, let the King and Bannon come today to the feast that I have prepared for him.” The king said, “Tell Bannon to hurry and fulfill Ivanka’s bidding.”
And the king and Bannon came to the feast that Ivanka had prepared. That day Bannon left happy and content. But when Bannon saw Gore at the king’s gate and Gore neither rose nor trembled before him, Bannon was filled with wrath against Gore. Bannon restrained himself and went to his house and sent for his friends. Bannon told them of his glorious wealth and all about how the king had promoted and raised him above all the king’s ministers and servants. Then Bannon said: “In addition, along with the king, Queen Ivanka invited only me to the feast that she prepared. Tomorrow, too, I am invited to her feast along with the king. Yet all this is worthless to me whenever I see Gore, the inventor of the internet, sitting at the king’s gate!” Then all his friends said to him, “Have gallows erected fifty cubits high, and tomorrow tell the king to have Gore hanged on it. Then you will be able to go in good spirits with the king to the feast.” Bannon was pleased with the idea and erected the gallows.
That night, the king’s sleep was disturbed. He ordered that the Book of Records, the Chronicles, be brought, and they were read before the king. It was found written that Jared had informed on Flynn and Christie, two of the king’s chamberlains from the threshold guards, who had planned to assassinate King Trump. The king asked, “What splendor and honor has been accorded to Jared for this?” “Nothing was done for him,” the king’s attendants replied. “Who is in the courtyard?” asked the king. And just then Bannon had come to the outer courtyard of the king’s chambers to tell the king to hang Gore on the gallows he had prepared for him. “Bannon is standing in the courtyard,” the king’s attendants answered him. “Let him come in,” said the king. Bannon entered, and the king said to him, “What should be done for a man whom the king wishes to honor?” Now Bannon said to himself, “Who would the king wish to honor more than me?” So Bannon said to the king, “For a man whom the king wishes to honor, let them bring a royal garment that the king has worn, and a horse upon which the king has ridden, and upon whose head the royal crown has been placed. And let the garment and the horse be entrusted in the hands of one of the king’s noble ministers, and they shall dress the man whom the king wishes to honor and lead him on the horse through the city square, proclaiming before him, ‘So is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!'” The king said to Bannon, “Hurry! Take the garment and the horse just as you have said, and do just so for Jared the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Do not leave out a thing from all that you suggested.”
So Bannon took the garment and the horse and dressed Jared, and he led him through the city square and proclaimed before him: “So is done for the man whom the King wishes to honor!” Then Jared returned to the king’s gate while Bannon hurried to his house, miserable, his face covered. Bannon told all his friends about all that had happened to him. And his wise men told him, “If this Jared, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail over him, for you will certainly fall before him.” And Bannon answered, “Some of my best friends are Jews.” And his friends asked, “Really?” And Bannon answered, “Not really.” While they were still talking with him, the chamberlains of the king arrived, and they rushed to bring Bannon to the feast that Ivanka had prepared.
The king and Bannon came to drink with Queen Ivanka. And again on the second day the king said to Ivanka during the wine feast, “What is your plea, Queen Ivanka? It will be granted you. What is your request? Even if it be half the kingdom it will be fulfilled.” Queen Ivanka replied and said: “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the King, get rid of the creator of the internet, who won’t wear my clothing line because it’s made in China, the twit. King Trump said to Queen Ivanka, “Who is this, and which one is he, that has the audacity to do such a thing?” “A man who is a complete fashion don’t and an enemy: the evil Gore!” Ivanka replied. And Bannon said, “Good idea. I have gallows erected that I’ve never used. It would be a shame to have them go to waste.”
The king arose in wrath and left the wine feast and went to the palace garden. Gore entered into the palace gate to beg Queen Ivanka for his life, for he realized that the king’s hostility towards him was irrevocable. And the king returned from the palace garden to the wine-feast chamber, and Gore had fallen upon the divan upon which Ivanka was reclining. The king said, “Does he even intend to have his way with the queen while I am in the palace!” As soon as these words left the king’s mouth the face of Gore was covered. Then Charvonah, one of the chamberlains that attended the king, said, “There is the gallows that Bannon erected for Gore standing at Bannon’s house, fifty cubits high!” “Hang him upon it!” said the king. And they hanged Gore on the gallows that he had prepared and the king’s wrath abated.
On that day, King Trump gave Queen Ivanka the estate of Gore. And Jared came before the king. And the king removed his signet ring which he had taken from Gore and gave it to Jared, and Ivanka put Jared in charge of Gore’s estate. Jared asked Ivanka, “What about Bannon’s war against the scientists and global warming?” And Ivanka answered, “Warming, shmorming, I’ve got to save my clothing line.” Ivanka again spoke before the king and fell before his feet and she cried and begged him to promote her clothing line. The king extended the golden scepter to Ivanka and Ivanka rose and stood before the king. She said, “If it please the King, and if I have found favor before him, and the idea is proper to the King, and I am pleasing in his eyes, let free advertising be issued on TV by your sometimes advisor Conway, who will tell the world to buy my clothes. For how can I behold the calamity that will befall my clothing line? And how can I behold the destruction of my brand?”
King Trump said to Bannon, “See, I have given Gore’s estate to Ivanka, and he himself was hanged on the gallows for not wearing her clothes. Now you can issue decrees concerning the scientists as you please, in the King’s name and sealed with the King’s signet ring. For an edict written in the King’s name and sealed with the King’s signet ring cannot be withdrawn.” The king’s scribes were then summoned, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on its twenty-third day, and an edict was written according to all that Bannon instructed the satraps, the governors, and the nobles of the states from Maine to Hawaii. He wrote it in King Trump’s name and sealed it with the king’s signet ring. He sent the letters by couriers on horseback, riding mules bred of mares from the king’s stables saying that the king commanded scientists to be stripped of all funding and that all were allowed to plunder their possessions and destroy their data on one day in all the provinces of King Trump, on the thirteenth of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.
Copies of the edict were sent to be proclaimed as law in every state, so that the people would be ready for that day to take revenge upon scientists. The couriers, riding mules from the king’s stables, left urgently and hurriedly with the king’s edict, and the law was proclaimed in Mar-a-Lago, the winter capital. And Bannon left the king’s presence wearing a royal garment of blue and white, a large golden crown, and a shawl of fine linen and purple wool. And the city of Washington DC celebrated and rejoiced. For the GOP there was light and happiness, joy and glory. Many of the scientists converted to know-nothingism, for fear of Bannon had fallen upon them.
On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, when the time for the carrying out of the king’s edict and law had arrived, the Trumpists and GOP dominated the scientists. The Trumpists and GOP gathered in their cities throughout the state of King Trump to attack all of science. No man stood in their way, for fear of them had fallen upon all. And all the ministers of the states, the satraps, the governors and the king’s functionaries honored the edict, for fear of Bannon had fallen upon them. For Bannon was prominent in the king’s palace and his fame was spreading throughout all the provinces, for Bannon was growing in power. And the GOP struck at all the scientists with the sword, killing and destroying all their funding from the EPA, DOE, DoD and NSF. And they took the funds and used them to build a wall between the US and Mexico.
Across the nation the Trumpists destroyed the homes of 500 prominent scientists including all Nobel Prize winners. They took their spoils and used the cash to buy Ivanka brand clothes. That day, the number scientific agencies eliminated in Washington DC, the capital, was relayed to the king. The king said to Bannon, “In Washington, DC, the capital, the GOP killed and destroyed all the agencies of the scientists; what have they done in the other provinces of the King? What is your plea? It will be granted you. What is your additional request? It will be fulfilled.” Bannon replied, “If it please the King, let that obnoxious know-it-all Tyson be hanged on the gallows.” And the king said, “No way, Mike Tyson is a friend.” And Bannon asked, “Really?” And the king said, “Not really.” And Bannon said, “I was talking about Neil Tyson, not Mike.” And the king asked, “Who is he?” And Bannon said, “A loser scientist.” And the king said, “No problem.” The king ordered this done, and the law was proclaimed in Mar-a-Lago, and Tyson was hanged.
And the GOP of Washington, DC gathered on the thirteenth and fourteenth of Adar, and rested on the fifteenth and made it a day of feasting and rejoicing. Now Bannon recorded these events and sent letters to all the GOP living throughout the states of King Trump, near and far, instructing them to obligate themselves to celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar, the days upon which the GOP was relieved of the rationality of science, and the month which had been transformed for them from one of sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity. To make them days of feasting, rejoicing, sending food portions one to another. And the GOP accepted as an obligation that which they had begun to observe. For Bannon, son of Martin, the telephone lineman, persecutor of all the scientists, plotted against the scientists to destroy them, and he cast a pur, which is a lot, to shatter them and destroy them. And these days are commemorated and celebrated in every generation, by every family, in every province and every city. And these days of Purim will never pass from among the GOP nor shall their memory depart from their descendants.
Queen Ivanka, daughter of Ivana, and wife of Jared the Jew, wrote about the enormity of what transpired to establish the holiday with a second Purim epistle and to encourage all of the GOP to buy Ivanka brand clothes. And the behest of Ivanka confirmed the observances of these Purim days, and the story was included in Scripture. King Trump levied a tax upon the mainland and the islands of the sea. And the entire history of his power and strength, and the account of Bannon’s greatness, whom the king had promoted, are recorded in the Book of Chronicles of the kings of America.
With the loss of science, Bannon issued an edict, sealed with the king’s signet ring, that all should run on coal: cars, trains, planes and power plants. And states across the nation, from Maine to Hawaii, converted all power to coal. And people choked on the air. And verily the Earth turned into a sauna. And Jared the Jew said to Queen Ivanka, “Look what has transpired due to our lack of courage!” And Queen Ivanka said, “Courage, shmurage, my bikinis are selling like hotcakes. And Jared said, “Frankly Ivanka, I don’t give a damn about your clothing line.”
As the sea air warmed, hurricanes became commonplace and hit the Atlantic coastline with frequent ferocity. On the 16th day of Tamuz, a hurricane barreledeth through the capital, Washington, DC, and uprooted the White House and lifted up King Trump, Jared the Jew, and Bannon to the heavens never to be seen again. Queen Ivanka tore her clothes and put on sackcloth and ash. Ivanka went out into the city crying loudly and bitterly.
She had never understood either of the men she had loved and so she had lost them both. Now, she had a fumbling knowledge that, had she ever understood Jews, she would never have loved Jared; had she ever understood King Trump, she would never have lost him. She wondered forlornly if she had ever really understood anyone in the world.
And Queen Ivanka said, “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Mar-a-Lago. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to expand my clothing line. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
The plan is to be holed up here while the blessed rain falls until I’m so deep into this next book that it invades my dreams most every night. The goal is modest. Write something that will make people: laugh so hard that the CDC will require the publisher to provide a box of Depends with every book; think so hard that Stanford, once given proof the reader has finished and understood the book’s contents, will award the reader a Ph.D. Modest, I tell you, modest.
I can’t watch TV shows. They all leave me cold unless I’m way sick in bed. I’m a movie kind of dude.
I saw about 80 movies this year, mostly at home while recuperating from eye surgeries (four!). Here are the new and newish ones that stood out. I’ve seen about half of the movies that are getting Oscar buzz. I’ll probably see some of the rest early next year.
Baba Joon (Israeli)
Manchester by the Sea
Hell or High Water
Coming Home (Chinese)
Son of Saul (Hungarian)
Hello, My Name Is Doris
If I Were You (Canadian)
Above and Beyond
The Stuey awards this year.
Best drama: Manchester by the Sea
Best foreign comedy: If I Were You
Best domestic comedy: Maggie’s Plan
Best actress: Amy Adams
Best actor: Casey Affleck
Best foreign drama: Coming Home
Best animated movie: Anomalisa
All results tabulated by Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
My parents, who grew up in Poland and the Soviet Union, believed both that America was heaven on earth and that it could easily turn into hell. To create that hell would require two elements: an economic downturn and the emergence of an anti-democratic strongman. They were convinced that Americans were susceptible to the appeal of a demagogue because they took their democracy and economic comfort for granted. As a kid, I thought my parents were crazy in this assessment. Tonight I found out that they were on target.
I have lived in a country that moved forward, believed in human dignity, and had a uniquely optimistic spirit. I was amazed by and cherished the collective behavior of America’s citizens. I felt my country was special. That pride ended with this election tonight. We’re now an ordinary, banal place.
I traveled to Nevada this week to help Democrats during the election. The person I’m standing next to in the picture below became our first Latina US senator tonight. That’s something to celebrate. But hers ultimately was a small battle won. We as a country have lost our uniqueness.
I came to Nevada in an upbeat mood. I walked to the Democratic Party’s “victory celebration” with a little skip in my step. America was going to vote to continue its 80-plus year long march of progress and its embrace of its role as a world leader. I leave Las Vegas deeply embarrassed. We have elected a man who is profoundly ignorant and mentally unfit. The American voter has made a mistake of monstrous proportions.
My parents also believed that demagogues had to be fought. Individuals needed to be vigilant and speak out whenever democracy was being challenged. I accept Donald Trump as a temporary and completely unsuitable leader of my country. I will help to make sure he is only a one-term president. I will help anyone – left, right or center – who possesses the political talent to bring Trump down.
My electric bike came last week. I think of it as a cool version of one of those mobility scooters you see advertised in AARP mag (not that I get AARP mag, mind you). The FedEx dude said the box was huge when he pulled up. I said, “It’s an electric bike, my birthday present for turning 60.” He said, “No way, you’re 60. I’ve got a dad who’s 60 and he looks like a dinosaur in comparison to you.” I should have given him a tip. Instead I said, “Since I’m an old man, you’re going to carry this thing to my porch, right?” He said no problem. I got my wrenches out and set the bike up (something I used to do in bike stores when I was in high school and college), charged the battery and took it for a spin. Very spiffy. Two hours later my wife and I ran into a novelist/film maker on the street (he was in town to premier a movie; I had no idea). I wanted to bring him home to show off my new toy, but instead we (mostly my wife and him) talked about books. Books! Who’d a thunk it?
I’m trying to put together a summer men’s mah jongg league. We’ll smoke cigars, drink vodka, tell stupid jokes, and play mah jongg under the stars. First we need to learn the rules and next month I’m going to take lessons. My mom played the game this way:
The Fourth Hand
“One crak.” My mom took a sip of coffee from a cup that was part of her Rosenthal China set, one of the few things my family brought with them from Europe.
“Two bam.” Eva, a dozen years older than my mom and in a floral dress with a lace wrap, took a piece of my mom’s strudel.
So it went during all of my childhood in Milwaukee. Once a month when I’d come home from school, three ladies would always be there calling out their tiles. There was Eva, a German war survivor who was always cheery yet formal. There was Rosie, another boundless optimist just like the other two, but who was American born and petite. She always wore a cardigan sweater, even in the summer. Of course, there was my mom, a Polish war survivor. The game would rotate from house to house once a week.
I still don’t know what craks and bams are. But my wife does. My mother-in-law does. My daughter does. Every Jewish woman I’ve ever known well knows how to play mah jongg, an ancient Chinese tile-based game.
All the tile sets I’ve seen have been made from plastic, but once upon a time they were made from bone. My wife owns a set. My mother-in-law does too. So does my daughter. They don’t play regularly, hardly at all. My mother played the game once a week for thirty years.
How did a Chinese game become an entertainment staple for Jewish women in America in the 20th century? I have no idea. Mah jongg does seem kind of exotic in comparison to card games, and playing cards was a crude thing to do according to my mother. Whenever she said the words “card player,” kurtenshpiler in Yiddish, it was with derision.
Ah, but mah jongg. That was something real ladies did. It showed refinement and class. How this distinction came to be is anyone’s guess. It was just implicit. Card playing was done at night with cigarette smoke in the air. Mah jongg was done in the day with your best china. You dressed like a lady should dress, as if you were going to a charity luncheon. You talked politely with your friends. If you talked about other people, you didn’t gossip, but focused on their successes. These were the unwritten rules of these three ladies.
Playing mah jongg was part of being balbattish. You kept up your home. You made sure that your kids’ clothes were clean and mended. You made sure that your husband was color coordinated when he walked out the door. There was always a meal on the table promptly at 5:00 so you could watch the news at 5:30 as a family. And you played mah jongg. It was all part of a package and all three of these women were effortlessly baltbattish.
Except there was one essential problem for this trio. You play mah jongg with four people. My mother played mah jongg with Eva and Rosie for decades. But the fourth? There was never a suitable fourth for the long haul who shared their sensibility.
At first, my mother’s good friend Honey played with the threesome. But there were compatibility problems. Honey was a top-notch bridge player, a fast talker, crude and down to earth. She hated getting dressed up. Mah jongg or “mahj” as it is known for short ultimately was twee and beneath her. She lasted for several years, not ever fitting in, before she called it quits. She always liked my mom, she said to me once about her revolt from the weekly mah jongg trio. “But those other two.” She shook her head.
A second fourth hand came on board, Sylvia, who was someone my mother barely knew from synagogue. She caught on instantly to the vibe of the other three. She dressed up. She was polite. Unlike the first fourth, she didn’t mind that every week they set some money aside from the bets for a yearly trip to Chicago to have lunch and go to the Phil Donahue Show (and after that TV show went off the air, Oprah). Honey would call Phil Donahue a fag and laugh after she hurled the insult. Sylvia, like the other three, thought Phil Donahue was one of the most attractive men on Earth. “And so intelligent, too,” they all concurred.
My mother became fast friends with Sylvia as a result of mah jongg. They’d shop together and drive down to Chicago to buy clothes. With Sylvia on board, the mah jongg group was as tight as it would ever be. Then one day, my mother walked into her friend’s house and found Sylvia slumped over her kitchen sink, dead of a heart attack at the age of forty-two. That event truly shook my mother. “Her face was all blue!” She said more than once. For two or three years after, my mother was very conscious of her own mortality. The mah jongg group was back to three.
A new fourth hand was found, someone who was a dead ringer for the comedienne Madeline Kahn. Marilyn. She even talked like Kahn, with the same strange theatrical rounding of vowels. She was American born, came from serious money and unlike the other three wasn’t sunny. She dressed up because she always dressed up wherever she went. It was a strange fit, this oh so serious and status conscious woman in the mix with the other three.
At face value, Marilyn shouldn’t have lasted. There was always something a little off about her personality, nervous and diva-like. Then three years into her being the fourth hand, something happened that made her a fixture in the group in an off again/on again kind of way. She went off her rocker. Off to an asylum she went for three months. When she got out, her doctor recommended that she return to normal activities. One of those normal activities was mah jongg. Back she was at the weekly table. The replacement fourth hand was sent off to exile.
Marilyn wasn’t the same woman when she came back. She’d stare off into space and rattle off words that made no sense. She’d shout out in anger over little aspects of the game. My mother and the other two adapted. The joy of playing clearly was gone, but now they shared a valuable community role. They were doing the right thing by helping a sick woman.
Every eighteen months or so Marilyn would go back to the asylum. The temporary fourth hand – another German-born war survivor, Ava – would come back. You’d see the original trio relax and enjoy the game again. But it was understood that this would be a brief holiday. No one ever suggested that Marilyn not come back and join the group. Weekly mah jongg was essential therapy for Marilyn.
For ten years this shuttling of Marilyn into and out of the asylum took place. She died in her fifties of cancer. The temporary fourth came back full time. My mom, Eva and Rosie finally were back to being ladies, not nurses. The only sore point was that Ava would not infrequently mention that she didn’t understand why they had kept Marilyn on all those years, that it hadn’t been fair to her. The other three would say nothing when Ava’s hurt feelings would periodically surface.
Once a year they’d all go to Chicago to see Oprah, although they still remembered Phil Donahue fondly, and have a ladies lunch in the big city. They’d talk about how good a person Oprah was for weeks after. She wasn’t crude like the other TV hosts and hostesses. She was a real lady. It’s probably true that Oprah would have made the ultimate fourth hand at my mother’s mah jongg table.*
About a year before my mom died, Eva passed on. She was about 80 at the time. I saw her a month before she died and watched her play. Thirty years of watching women play mah jongg and I still don’t know the rules. She was sunny as always and alert. That was probably the last time my mother played mah jongg in her own home.
My daughter has my wife’s aunt’s mah jongg set on my father-in-law’s side, I think. My wife has her aunt’s set on her mother’s side. I don’t know who has my mother’s set. Maybe we do. I probably should learn how to play. But I think that there is another unwritten rule out there that of course my mother never told me. Real men don’t play mah jongg.
*Oprah’s mother lived outside of Milwaukee for many years. She was a vivacious woman and my mom met her once or twice at a burger joint they both liked that was near my grandfather’s junkyard. According to my mother, Oprah was in high school with me for a brief time. I remember a very shy, large girl who had a locker down the way from me, was in choir, was harassed now and then by upper class boys, and who disappeared in the middle of the year. Was that her? I have no idea.
My Vitrectomy Log or Too Much About Stu’s Eyeball
These are my thoughts and impressions about my macular hole and subsequent vitrectomy surgery. They are not designed to replace or even augment any professional advice. I note that I didn’t begin this log until January 19, 2015, two weeks after my surgery. I simply didn’t have the oomph to start earlier. The recovery from a vitrectomy is a long process. I’m slowly but surely getting better. I wrote these thoughts down because: 1) I hadn’t written much of anything for over two weeks and was itching to write; 2) I couldn’t find much information online about what recovery from this surgery was like from a patient’s point of view and thought it would be useful to others with upcoming surgery if I wrote a bit (Probably too much!) about my experience.
On November 21, 2015, I flew up to Seattle, Washington to give a few talks in the Pacific Northwest. When I got off the plane I immediately understood that my vision had changed. I couldn’t read any of the signs in the airport. I tried to look out of my right eye only. My vision was a complete blur. I tried to look out of my left eye only. My vision was also blurred. I tried to use my fingers to make a pinhole and focus my vision (I am nearsighted and wear glasses and this is a trick I’d discovered when I was a kid), but that didn’t help. I was supposed to take a rental car from the airport to travel to a friend’s house. I immediately thought, well that isn’t going to work. But somehow as I walked toward baggage claim my vision came back. I then examined the vision from each eye separately, yet again. My left eye was working fine. My right eye was not. The peripheral vision in my right eye was fine. But its central vision was a complete blur and distorted. It was like looking at the world through a bad funhouse mirror. Somehow my brain had figured out in an amazingly short period of time that my right eye wasn’t very useful and was relying almost completely on my left eye for vision.
For about a week before this, I had noticed that my vision wasn’t quite right, especially when I worked on spreadsheets. I had even told my wife that I was going to go see an eye doctor when I came back from Seattle. Then there had been times when I had been reading over the past few months when my right eye I would go in and out of focus for minutes at a time. But this airport experience was different. My distance vision was being affected and it didn’t seem to be coming back. Still I could see fairly well using my left eye for central vision and both eyes for peripheral vision. I didn’t want to bother my friend about picking me up at the airport. Plus I had to use a car to get to my talks. I decided to rent my car and try to drive to my friend’s house. I was able to drive with only modest impairment to my overall vision. It was late at night when I got to my friend’s house. I was pleasantly distracted by conversation and I knew I had two talks to give the next day, one in Seattle and one in Vancouver. I put my vision issues out of my mind.
It was a bit of a struggle to read from my novel during my talks the next day, but I got through it by closing my right eye as I read. It wasn’t until I got to my hotel room in Vancouver that I had spent any time alone examining my lack of vision. I looked at my face in the mirror with my right eye and noticed that I could see all but my eye. There was just a blur where my right eye was. This image – like something from a nightmare – did not make me feel good. I was in more than a bit of a panic. I spent about an hour on the phone talking to two nurses, both of whom recommended that I go to an emergency room in Vancouver. I thought about doing this, but then I thought about the expense of visiting a Canadian hospital without Canadian health insurance. Plus I had my doubts whether an emergency room had an ophthalmologist who could diagnose my problem. I decided that instead of going to an emergency room I’d go see an ophthalmologist in Seattle after my afternoon talk the next day. I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist using an online site.
The ophthalmologist in Seattle was excellent. He did some imaging and quickly told me that I had a macular hole caused by vitromacular traction and that I needed to see a retina specialist when I got home. I flew back home that afternoon and made an appointment with a local retina specialist for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. He, too, imaged my eye. He said that we should wait a week or two. He thought that there was a decent probability that my retina gel would separate from my macula on its own. Then I wouldn’t need surgery. But if it didn’t separate we’d have surgery on December 16th. He’d detach the gel sticking to my macula and inject a gas bubble to aid healing of my macular hole. He didn’t explain how involved the recovery from the surgery might be. And his advice seemed a bit off. I started to read research papers about vitromacular traction and macular holes over Thanksgiving break. The more I read, the more I became worried and the more I started to feel hesitant about both surgery and using my local retinologist. I contacted a retinologist from UCSF and he agreed to squeeze me in for an appointment. Somehow I felt much better about this doctor. He said anyone could do my surgery and the earliest he could get me in was January 5. He didn’t seem to want to do my surgery, I could sense. It was too mundane and ordinary. But my feeling was that this was the guy for me.
I cancelled my December 16 appointment with my local retinologist. On January 2 I started getting flashes in my right eye’s upper peripheral vision. I also developed a huge floater in my right eye. I knew I had surgery coming up in a few days so I decided not to contact anyone about these changes. That was undoubtedly a bad idea. On January 5, when I talked to my doctor before surgery, he said I should’ve called him within a day of seeing flashes. I now had a retinal tear in addition to my macular hole. The floater, as was discovered during surgery, turned out to be a piece of my retina.
I had my surgery on January 5. For someone like me, a scientist, it was fascinating. I was only under light anesthesia so I could hear and watch the entire surgery. The crew at UCSF was highly professional. It was like listening to a NASCAR pit crew quickly put on tires in a race. I could see the gel being sucked out of my guy and the gas being pumped in after. The fluid sloshed into my eye like a rising tide.
The surgery took about an hour. The doctor thanked me for telling me about the flashes. He said that without that information he probably would’ve missed the retinal tear, which he lasered shut during surgery. I sat in the recovery room for about an hour and then my wife drove me home. We got back around 6 o’clock and I was exhausted. I felt no pain, just a raw burning in my eye. It felt like someone had lightly sanded my eyeball. My sinuses were draining with gobs of clear fluid. I used up a few tissues and then collapsed face down for the night.
My doctor told me during my first visit that I would need to stay face down morning, noon and night for six days following surgery. On the day of surgery, he upped this period to eight days. The gas bubble in my eye, which he had injected during surgery, needed to press against my macula for at least a week to make sure the hole closed and stayed closed. He told me that I wasn’t allowed to read during this time. For someone like me, who reads at least eight hours a day, this was a tough restriction.
I prepared in advance for the recovery period from my surgery. I’d bought a massage chair used off Craigslist for $100 for face down time during the day. This turned out to be an essential purchase. I’d gone to the library and brought back over a dozen books on CD. These turned out to not be particularly useful. I got a bunch of free audiobooks for streaming on my iPad and iPhone. It turns out that I don’t like audiobooks much, but the streaming versions were useful as a sleep aid as I’ll explain a paragraph or two down. I got a Netflix streaming subscription for a month and free Hulu streaming for a week. I find all TV shows completely boring, but I was hoping they’d have some decent movies for streaming. This hope turned out to be mostly false.
The big hurdle I knew about in advance was sleeping face down at night. I put a futon cushion on the floor and placed the massage chair head rest above it for my head to burrow into at night. My wife had made a cover for the head rest out of soft cotton quilting material, which increased its comfort level considerably. By the way, I don’t know how I’d have recovered from this surgery without my wife. You can’t do this alone, that’s for certain. She has been fabulous.
I slept pretty well the first night because the surgery had taken so much out of me. I woke up after four hours because I felt that the head rest was like a straight jacket for my face. I managed to go back to sleep for two more hours. This would be the only night of decent sleep I’d get for eight days.
I went back to see my doc the next morning. He took off my bandage and said everything looked good. He told me to check for black areas appearing in my vision during the recovery period. Because my right eye was filled with a gas bubble everything distant was blurry through that eye, but I could read text if I placed it a centimeter from my eye. I hadn’t been able to read anything in my right eye before surgery, so I was elated. My doc said that my macular hole had probably closed overnight. I asked him to explain the science behind this. He said no one understood how the hole sealed, it just did what it did. My first thought was, “Medicine. What a wanker science. They do shit and without finding out why and how it works.” But then I thought, “Don’t be an obnoxious jerk. Idiot, your hole probably has closed.” I went back home feeling optimistic. The burning sensation in my eye was gone after less than two days.
I fell into an easy routine during the days. My doc told me that I could spend five minutes of every hour with my face up. I could shower, eat, go to the bathroom, etc. just like a normal person as long as I spaced things out. That’s what I did. The rest of my time I chose to spend in my massage chair. The chair has an arm rest, which is where I put my iPad. I’d watch streaming videos and listen to streaming books with my head down. I’d nod in and of sleep as I watched. I missed reading, but I kept telling myself that this is what I needed to do to get better.
Daytimes were OK, if incredibly boring. I needed some intellectual stimulation so I listened to some Hebrew conversation CDs. But I was also pretty out of it. I was tired both physically and mentally. My wife gave me my four sets of eye drops a day.
I’d check my reading vision a few times a day. I would fall in and out of being able to read with my right eye. A little purple dot appeared in my central vision early on, which would fill in the circles in o’s, g’s etc. It was something I could live with easily, I thought. No black areas appeared in my vision. There were no complications.
The gas bubble meant that distance vision was completely fogged and worse than that the bubble would shake around as I walked. This made walking difficult and I’d hold onto things along my path to make sure I didn’t fall. The sloshing would get worse as the days wore on because the gas in my eye was gradually leaking away (as it should have done). It made my right eye seem like it was going through a washing cycle in a laundromat. The difference was that I wasn’t viewing the washing from the outside. My eye was the washing machine and I was looking from inside the machine to the laundromat outside through my lens. It would take me a few days before I felt sort of steady on my feet.
It was the nights that were the big bother. Every hour I’d wake up with a straight jacket on my face feeling. I’d want to sleep on my side, but I keep telling myself, “Idiot, do you want to see out of this eye or do you want to be as blind as you were before surgery?” I knew my left eye would be susceptible to the same problem in the next few months to years. As I heard my surgeon say to his nurses during surgery, “Wow, some people have really sticky gel!” The gel was sticky in my left eye, too, and had yet to separate from my left macula. If my left eye gel blew a hole in my macula or worse, I wanted my right eye to be in decent shape. Taunting myself worked wonders. I’d force myself back into my head rest or alternatively push away the head rest and place my fists between my forehead and the carpeted floor. I’d sleep for an hour and wake up again. This was my nightly routine. Often, I’d listen to a streaming audiobook through my earphones between sleeping. The books usually would put me right back to sleep. My body ached from my neck to my waist.
On the fourth night, I borrowed a full body massage cushion with a built in head rest from a neighbor who is a professional massage therapist. I moved from the futon on the floor to my bed. It was nice to sleep next to my wife again. For two nights, I slept this way. It wasn’t much of an improvement, though. After two hours, I’d wake up with the straightjacket feeling yet again. I’d throw away the full body cushion and rearrange a bunch of pillows so I could sleep face down. I was also trying to keep still so my wife could sleep well. This added consideration of making sure my wife wasn’t disturbed was not good for my sleep, so for the rest of my face down nights I went back to the futon on the floor. I found it far more comfortable to turn around 180 degrees from the earlier way I’d been trying to sleep. My knees and feet were now on the carpeted floor. I put a pillow under my knees. I put another pillow under my chest. The massage headrest was on the futon cushion. Again, I’d start with the headrest and sleep for an hour before I’d wake up feeling that I was being tied down. Then I’d go to using my fists between my forehead and the futon cushion and wake up every hour. I’d listen to streaming audiobooks as I’d doze on and off. I wasn’t sleeping any better than before, but I was far less achy when I woke up.
I went back to my doc after 8 days. A resident manhandled my eye before my doc saw me. He was really rough, made me clench the arm rests of the examining chair frequently as he blasted a light in my eye. My wife said I was jerking my legs up and down as he was doing this. It was painful. He also scratched the outside of my eyelid and had zero in the way of a bedside manner. I hoped to never see him again.
But my doc was excellent. He’s very calm and efficient. He has a light touch and has a comforting bedside chatting style. I still couldn’t see a damn from a distance with my right eye because of the gas bubble (which was still filling up about 90% of my vision) but could still read text close up quite well. He told me that I was done with my face done time. I was ecstatic about this news, especially because the resident had told me that I’d probably have to spend another week or two face down during the night.
I assumed wrongly that now that my face down time was over, I could go back to living a normal work life. I was eager to get to back to work. I’d just spent over a week with little intellectual stimulation and was desperate to start thinking and doing some problem solving again. Plus I had put on four pounds while being a face down slug for a week (dinners tasted so good during that week; everything seemed to tantalize my taste buds) and wanted to drop some weight in a hurry.
But the fact was that I still didn’t feel well and still had washing machine eye. When I left the doctor’s office, I still felt unsteady on my feet. Plus my eyelid stung from the scratch I got from the resident. Plus my eyeball suddenly felt raw, dry and scratchy.
I went back home and slept like the dead for nine hours. I still didn’t feel well, though, when I woke up. My eyeball still felt dry and scratchy. The gas bubble bouncing around my eye was distracting. I pushed myself to walk for a couple of miles during the day. I read some, but it was tiring to do so because my bad eye was interfering with my reading vision. My doc said it was important to keep using both eyes and not put a patch over my right eye. I kept unconsciously closing my right eye as I read and then would force myself to open it again.
I slept eight hours straight through the next night and still felt lousy when I woke up. I still had a scratchy eyeball sensation. I called the ophthalmology office and talked to the resident I disliked. He recommended artificial tear cream at night and noted I had spots on my right cornea. That was news to me. I drove a little bit to get bagels and mail some letters. I walked about five miles. I still wasn’t feeling at all energetic, but was pushing myself to keep going. I tried to read, but it was still difficult. I used the cream at night as per the resident’s suggestion.
I again slept well and the scratchy eyeball feeling was gone when I woke up, but I had new problems. My sinuses were aching from my right temple to my cheek. They were throbbing so much that I couldn’t sit upright. Plus my eyeball felt like it was a tight fist. Whenever I tried to focus on a moving object as it got close to me, I’d feel a jolt in that eye. I’d get a jolt if I tried to put toothpaste on my toothbrush. I’d get jolts even if I closed my bad eye and let my left eye do all the work. I took two acetaminophen tablets and took to my massage chair. This proved to be very comforting. I sat face down for a couple of hours. The rest of the day, I made sure to avoid any close up vision. I only looked at distant objects. This kept the jolts down, but my eye still felt like it was tight and cramping. My sinuses still ached but they weren’t as bad as they had been in the morning. My wife and I went to a friend’s house for dinner. I came home, sat in my massage chair for an hour and then contacted UCSF’s on-call opthamologist, another resident. I talked to him and he said my symptoms were unusual and he didn’t have a good explanation for them. He wanted to meet me the next day, Sunday, to rule out anything dangerous.
The next morning, my sinuses were painful again and my eyeball was still tight. I’d felt it twitch and cramp once or twice the night before. I took two acetaminophen tablets again and went back to my massage chair until it was time to meet my doctor.
He gave me a thorough exam and found nothing terribly wrong. My interocular pressure was fine, something that was on the high side during my last visit. He, like my regular doc, was excellent with a light touch. He theorized that when I went off my atropine drops the previous Wednesday my eye started to over-flex its lens. He recommended I go back on atropine drops until my next scheduled appointment.
I decided to tough it out for a day or two to see if my symptoms would dissipate on their own. I discontinued the tear cream at night as well. The next morning, my eye still felt tight – I’d again woken up in the middle of the night because my eye was cramping – and my sinuses ached, but the intensity of the pain was down. I immediately took two acetaminophen tabs and went to my massage chair. By the afternoon, I felt much better, as good as I had felt in two weeks. I had decided that perhaps my tight eye was due to the mismatch in vision between the two eyes. If I stopped wearing glasses, maybe the mismatch wouldn’t be as great and the eye strain might abate. I stopped wearing glasses. Maybe this helped. All I knew was my eye wasn’t feeling so tight and cramped
Today I woke up with even milder symptoms. Again, I went straight to my massage chair. I have energy again, enough energy to type these few thousand words at any rate. I still can’t see a damn through my right eye. I’m guessing it will be another two to three weeks before the gas bubble shrinks enough that it no longer obscures my vision. Recovery from this surgery has been a full time job. It’ll be at least a month total before I’m done with my recovery. I’m optimistic I’ll have most of my vision back when I’m done,