It’s been a tense few weeks here in Portland: the owners of a nascent burrito food cart were shamed and shunned into shuttering their business after the um, enterprising, women bragged about nabbing “authentic” tortilla recipes from cooks and business owners down south of the border. A known white supremacist slashed the throats of three men attempting to protect two women of color from harassment while riding public transportation, and the carnage left two men dead and an entire community gaping in horror. A band of fascists landed in the city just a week later to stage an alt-right rally in support of I don’t even know what – the ascendancy of white supremacy? the destructive executive mandates of an orange menace? – and they demanded (and got) an armed wall of protection from the police so that they might shout their hate unchecked while a sea of horrified counter-protesters looked on.
Last Saturday, while out with Gabi on our afternoon neighborhood constitutional, I happened upon a garage sale. The sale was of outdoor stuff, mostly, spread out over the grassy front lawn of a classic, recently refurbished Portland home: a rack of musty, well-loved Patagonia jackets and vests; a jaunty collection of straw hats; a smattering of high-end camera bags and camping gear.
These items, surely, had a wealth of stories woven into their textiles. Curious, I got to talking with the woman sitting out front. As her cast-off items would suggest, she was sporty and laid back, and we had one of those rambling, intense conversations that inexplicably jumps camps from the mundane to the deep within a matter of seconds.
Last week, I visited the dentist. It was a rather mundane undertaking: a pleasant hygienist with a difficult-to-place accent cleaned my teeth, and as he did so, he entertained me by musing on a variety of topics: Portland’s increasingly untenable traffic “(The whole city is a highway!”), tips for remembering to floss (“Keep your floss in the shower!”) and praise for my good oral health (“These are very healthy teeth!”).
Not that I can take much credit for that last one — good teeth, like so many other things, are often a genetic lark. In my 20s, I didn’t have consistent access to health insurance, so I only had my teeth cleaned every few years. Also, I smoked. (Like, a lot.) Also, I didn’t floss much. (Like, ever.) Also, I drank gallons and gallons of black tea. But the compliment gave me a pleasant sense of moral right-ness, as did my conversation with the dentist after my teeth were picked and cleaned and fluoridated to a pristine and pearly white.
“If you want to destroy my sweater/
pull this thread as I walk away /
Watch me unravel /
I’ll soon be naked …”
Have you ever wished, at some point over these past three weeks (yes, it’s only been three, and yes, I know that is hard to believe), that you might through some trick of transmographic teleportation be permitted to live, just for a few minutes, as an insect on the wall of the Oval Office, just watching this bizarre moment unfold?
To those of my fellow Americans who will check Mr. Trump’s name on their ballots this fall: Please stand up and make yourselves known.
Kirk: “Well, there it is. War. We didn’t want it, but we’ve got it.”
Spock: “Curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”
– Stark Trek, “Errand of Mercy,” aired March 23, 1967
I know the smell of Cuba, of revolution. I’ve never been there, but I swear I know it.
It’s Sharpie markers. It’s phony Cuban cigar smoke. And it’s the vaguely humiliating stink of being rich and white that rises up off you like a dead-meat odor when you stare, bewitched, into the eyes of a dead man who probably would have hated everything about you.
Over the course of his strange and relatively short life, North Korean President Kim Jong-Il amassed many nicknames: “Superior Person.” “Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have.” “Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love.” “Guiding Star of the 21st Century.”
Or, from the other side of the fence: “Paranoid Dictator.” “Totalitarian Murderer.” “Incompetent Troublemaker.”
“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”
In Havana, there is a billboard. Socialisme O Muerte, it reads— Cuba’s semi-official national slogan: Socialism… or Death. Take your pick. And after fifty years of scarcity and struggle for which the Cubans have little to show but crumbling paseo maritimos and lean, weathered countenances, neither option seems to much appeal.