Theoretically, we still live in a democracy, as long, that is, as President Bunker doesn’t dismantle it entirely with his next selfish, idiotic move. Sure, our voting rights are in peril. Thus has it been since the vote began. Poll taxes. Stuffed boxes. Gerrymandering. Not to mention the Putin bots. But despite those who want to trip you up as you attempt to do your civic duty, voting is still a thing in this country.
I’m old and cynical but I still believe that it’s not impossible to get some good people where they ought to be. Maxine Waters? She won an election. AOC? Got voted in. Val Demings? People voted for her and she won. The system is screwed up but every once in a while it works. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Supreme Court Justice who isn’t white and isn’t a crime against nature? (That was a little dig at Clarence Thomas, you’re welcome.)
This is a little off the point, right here, but grass roots politics, in my experience, seems to be the purview of the middle-aged lady. I really hate this. It’s so sexist. It’s just gross. What, my time’s less valuable than yours, Mr. Fancy Pants? What, you’re too important to make the calls, knock the doors, tweet the tweets, Mr. Big League? But whatever. I can’t let your, what–fear of failure?—hamper me in my efforts to make a better society.
Because what feels like “failure” is very often the name of the game.
Right now, we make phone calls. Right now, months before the election, we make calls and a Huge Percentage of them don’t go through—changed numbers, people who moved out of state, that weird busy signal you get when things aren’t as they should be. It feels like a huge honking Failure, a total waste of time to make these calls.
But you know what?
It’s absolutely not.
What you are doing when you get that busy signal is helping to clean up the phone records in preparation for the Big Dance. Every single sorrythisnumberisnotinservice you hear means one less wasted stamp to pay for, one less wrong number for a volunteer to call when the Rubber Really Hits the Road. That’s what you’re doing! You are preparing the garden for the bulbs! You are defrosting the chicken for tonight’s supper! You are measuring twice so you only have to cut once! Every single damn Failed Phone Call you make should make you shout hurray!
This is all to say this: figure out how to sit in your house and use your cellular telephone (or landline) for the good of our democracy. In NC, you can get in touch with Neighbors on Call (neighborsoncall.org) to find out how to do it. You can sit outside if you’re not afraid of mosquitoes. You can put your feet on your dog, or, alternatively, your dog can sit in your lap. You can drink responsibly. You can do one of those facial mask things. Whatever! It’s up to you!
But remember: you sitting in your chair? And making calls for the Democratic candidates who will address some of the systemic racist inequities in our government and our culture? That’s you doing something.
The Lies of Donald Trump: An Unsophisticated but Accurate If I Do Say So Myself Analysis
The Vanilla Lie
The Vanilla Lie is a straight-forward lie. Easy to make. Easy to disprove. Simple, if dangerous. But not a lot of fuss. A perfect example of the Vanilla Lie is the No I Didn’t Have an Affair with Stormy Daniels episode.
Everyone knows that Trump had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels while a) he was not only married to Melania, but, in addition, b) Melania had delivered unto him a son four months previous. He had sex with Stormy and then, when she threatened to tell, he wrote a check for $130,000 to shut her up. He denies it. But everybody knows it’s true including, and this is an important point…including Trump himself.
He’s not the first president to have played around. Nor the first to deny that he did it when everyone knows he did it. I state the previous out of a sense of fair play. But it’s not my point. My point is to explicate the Vanilla Lie, to wit: Trump knew he did something naughty and he didn’t want to get caught. Easy peasy.
The Public Relations Lie
Trump is a PR dude first and foremost. He’s a spin doctor. Some pundits have called him a “cheerleader;” this, they say, is why he tells us that there are plenty of Covid19 tests when there are, in fact, not nearly enough. He knows there aren’t enough because, although he often acts mentally unsound, he’s certainly intelligent enough to hear a fact and take it in, even if he doesn’t like the fact. Surely he has been told (over and over and over) that there are not plenty of tests and thus he must know, somewhere in the depths of his brain pan, that there are in fact not plenty of tests.
But here’s the rub: while he may understand the fact of the test shortage, he actively and passionately does not want you to understand it. This is the cheerleader in him: the person who says, “rah, rah, go team go, we’re number one,” even as their team is going down the tubes, because it’s better, in their opinion, for all of us to think positive. There’ll likely be a better outcome, they think, if we all can “get behind” the lie. To Trump himself, this sort of lie is a good thing if it makes people feel better for a split second. (He also assumes, because he’s spoiled, that if he wants something, it’ll occur, but that’s not lying; that’s just dreaming.) (And, of course, he figures that it’s better for his campaign if things are good rather than bad—duh—and thus he’s looking on the bright side and hoping we are too.)
The problem, of course, is that many of us are adults and prefer information to pablum. We want facts so that we can prepare. We desire the data so as to be able to solve the problem. We deserve the truth rather than a buncha bullshit. Because, while a cheerleader may have his place in games…this virus here? The running of a country? People’s lives and well being? Those things ain’t no game.
The Lie of Arrogance
The third type of lie is the Lie of Arrogance. The Lie of Arrogance is the most insidious and dangerous type of lie because the Lie of Arrogance is the lie that the liar believes himself. An obvious, though not-precisely-Trump-example is Brett Kavanaugh, who got too drunk to remember his misdeed, and then, because of an arrogance borne of privilege, was unable to believe that he had been capable of wrongdoing. He lied, but the first lie he told was to himself.
Trump’s lies of arrogance are epic. He’s the healthiest president ever to have graced the Oval Office. There were more people at his inauguration than at Obama’s. Mexico was going to pay for the wall. He thought the pandemic was a pandemic before anyone else thought it was a pandemic. The phone call was perfect. The malaria drug will cure Covid19.
Because of the way the psyche works, many of his lies begin as one type of lie and end up as another. He’s arrogant when he says that the US economy (pre-corona) was the best of all time, but this lie derives from his ignorance of history and economics. His claim that our elections are riddled with voter fraud (though study after study has proved otherwise) is a PR lie (for his base) but this lie derives from his belief that he knows all there is to know—arrogance at its apex. The aforementioned lies are easily disproved, but Trump is too sure of himself to believe that he could be ignorant of any fact. Ignorance, of course, is not a lie in and of itself, however, in a person who has the opportunity to learn but not the will, it does reflect a less than stellar intellect and a less than sterling character.
A nice example of the way one type of lie changes into another type is Trump’s claim that there are enough Covid19 tests for anyone who wants one. This lie began as a PR lie (as Rachel Maddow describes it, “happy talk”) but has recently morphed into a Plain Vanilla lie: the straightforward I’m-lying-to-get-out-of-trouble lie, in that Trump realized that if testing is kept to a minimum, the numbers of reported cases would be low, comparatively speaking. He doesn’t want to truth to get out because the truth hurts.
The fact is that if Trump were a complicated person, he still wouldn’t be good or interesting or worthy. What’s remarkable is that he’s so damn simple.
One of the best things about working as a bookseller is access, of course. Not only is one surrounded by books on the sales floor, but in addition, in the back room, there are the ARCs. Advanced Reading Copies abound. Publishers send us the books before they’re books: hardback-sized but bound in paper, with the future due dates printed on the back, along with a bookseller-friendly blurb. ARCs exist so that we booksellers can read the books in preparation for their debuts. The publishers (and authors, of course) hope that we will enthuse, wax eloquent, build anticipation.
Every bookstore has so many of these ARCs in the back that we could all build second stories by stacking them up, gluing them together, and slapping a roof on top. There are SO MANY. And no, we aren’t allowed to sell them, and even if we were, we wouldn’t, because bookselling is not a business that makes you rich in the first place, and if a bookstore were to sell an arc before its publication date, that bookstore would be shooting itself in the cash register in more ways than one.
Some books are so Big that they don’t require ARCs. It’s not like the new Harry Potter was going to need a concerted bookseller push in order to sell. Also, what if the surprises leaked. Thus: no advanced reading copies.
But most of the time, there are ARCs.
What this means is that I get to read the book before you do. That’s a perk of the job. Many jobs have perks. If you work in a restaurant, you might get to take home the leftover cheesecake. If you’re a surgeon, you likely get special attention when you get your gall-bladder removed. If you’re the current president, you get to spend most of your time on the golf-course at the country’s expense. Whatever.
But ARCs pose more than just a perk. They are also a responsibility.
Any bookseller who’s in it to win it needs to know about a new book: not just that it exists but indeed, how it exists. The customer has questions. Is it exciting? Does it enlighten? Is it too gory for my sensitive 13 year old? Is it saccharine? What’s it like? Will I like it?
Do I want to spend my fleeting moments and my treasure on this book if it’s going to flit along the surface/not make me laugh/make me wince at the style (or lack thereof)/piss me off/etc/?
As you see, the bookseller’s burden is gigantic. We’re the frontline. We’re what’s between the author and obscurity. You write a book and see if you can sell it without us. Go ahead.
And so: we read ARCs. We read them and report on them and write about them. If we don’t like a book, we don’t finish it and we remain mum. Not everyone likes the same things.
I myself like a little stream of consciousness with my tea and something new under the sun. Other people like A Gentleman from Moscow. If I only sold stuff I like, well then I’d refuse to show you books by Nicholas Sparks and instead show you the door. But I am a merchant and I’m not stupid. And also, I know that there are multitudes of wonderful readers out there reading multitudes of wonderful books and that therefore, I need not despair of the state of the written word.
One of my favorite memories is this: a young man walked into the store looking for a recommendation. Perhaps he was chagrined to find himself talking to me, a little grey-haired lady in a dress. If so, he didn’t let on and then we fell in love. He wanted something to read. Had he read The Pesthouse by Jim Crace? He had, and had loved it as had I. Could he deal with Lincoln in the Bardo? Of course he could. Did he know The Orphan Master’s Son? He thought it unsurpassed, so I relayed the story of how once, when the book’s author, Adam Johnson, came into the store to sign books, I had told him that his book made me want to throw up in the best possible way, and he’d laughed and shaken my hand. I observed to the young customer that he was a good reader (by which I meant of course, that he was a reader like me). I told him that I was going to show him something I kept only for good readers and he said, “Good. I want to go there,” which is a modern way of saying, “I’m ready.” then I put Milkman into his hands. He went away. Some months later he came in again and sought me out. I could tell that he wanted to hug me. But we kept things formal.
The above is simply to illustrate the immense power with which we booksellers are imbued. I hope it highlights, in some way, why it is that ARCs are serious business. We read so that you, my friends, may read.
Anyhow, I am coming to the conclusion—not immediately, but in due course–of my bookselling career. This means that new ARCs will no longer flow into my house like they were riding the tide of Boston’s Great Molasses Flood which I read about recently in an ARC of Bowlaway, a novel by Elizabeth McCracken.
What this means is that I’ll now have the pleasure of reading old stuff I’ve missed, the not-greatest-hit books, the quieter, less-known works by the writers I’ve read and loved. I look forward to Mishima and Murakami, to Pat Barker and Cormac McCarthy, to Atwood and Solnit and Dunmore and Woolf. But first, I’m going to revisit Jane Austen’s Persuasion, having just read about that novel in an arc of Rachel Cohen’s book Austen Years: A Memoir in 5 Novels. It’s pretty good, so far, and it’s due in May.
Maybe it’s a little weird that I’m interested in Mr. Alcott considering that his daughter, Louisa May, is the family celebrity. Lousia’s having a(nother) heyday right now, what with Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women. I just heard an interesting discussion on NPR about the new movie, in which the scholars discussed the meta-ness of the film: how the publisher in the movie wouldn’t publish Jo’s book unless the heroine married at the end, which that’s likely what happened to Louisa May, who had to marry off her heroine in order to get her real book published.
Apparently, much of the “marriage is an economic proposition” talk in the film comes from Louisa May’s personal letters and wasn’t in the book itself. Meta meta meta. I love that stuff.
It’s not so unusual anymore, for us to be interested in the non-celebrity family members of famous people. This, in my opinion, is often thanks to feminism. It’s similar to the history of wet nursing scholarship (about which I know some stuff): what 19th-century stuffed shirt gentleman scholar wanted to write about wet nursing? None, that’s who. Same with Alice James, the troubled and brilliant sister of William and Henry. Until some woman came along, who wrote about her? Nobody, that’s who. (That woman being Anna Robeson Brown Burr who edited Alice’s diaries, albeit poorly according to various reviewers.)
And what about Dorothy Wordsworth? Ernest Selincourt wrote her biography in 1933. (He also taught Virginia Woolf nee Stephen when he was a professor in the Ladies Department of King’s College.) But after 1933? Here are the first names of the people who had something to say about Dorothy: Frances, Kathleen, Susan, Catherine, and Jo (which there’s another coincidence right there seeing as what we’re supposed to be talking about is Louisa May’s father). I digress, duh. I would also like to tell you that the Wordsworth brother and sister rambled around Scotland quite a bit.
(Once, on one of my own few rambles, I stayed in a small hotel where they’d stayed. There, framed, on the wall of the lounge, was Dorothy’s memory of the very inn in question. In the essay, she describes how she’d rather have hung out in the kitchen with the drovers and the carters than in the formal lounge, which was, as I can attest, slightly dreary.
When I arrived at the Inveroran Hotel, I was drenched due to how I’d just walked over a mountain in a tempest. I’m not sure when I’ve been more exhilarated. My whole body felt like a wide (wet) eye. I was wearing a cheap poncho which descended almost to my boots, and in the wind and torrent, it whipped around my ankles like Emily Bronte’s skirts must’ve done. It was extremely energizing and damp enough a walk that when I reached the inn, I poured the water out of my boots like they were twin pitchers.)
So right here, I am turning the tables, albeit slightly, and instead of writing about an anonymous lady, I want to talk about a (now) (semi) anonymous man. Meet Amos Bronson Alcott.
***Bronson wasn’t always anonymous, which means I have taken this comparison and stretched it way out of shape but whatever. He was, in fact, pretty damn famous for a lot of his life. He had a lot to say and people listened and he had friends in high places (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
***Bronson founded Fruitlands, a utopian community which lasted about 7 minutes, well, okay, 7 months. Still, its name lives on with those of us who are interested in utopian communities which I am enough that I wrote a whole novel about a made-up one (I called it Longmeadow) (I took the name from a dairy farm that supplied our school with those little cardboard school-lunch milk cartons of the past)
(now, they’re likely plastic but maybe I’m a cynic). So I got all interested in utopian communities and did some research. And that’s how I found out about Fruitlands. I am glad to say that unlike some of them which shall remain nameless (Oneida, oh my god) there wasn’t too much bizarre sex at Fruitlands but who knows really.
****Fruitlands enjoyed (probably not all that much) such a short tenure because Bronson was extremely highly principled (read: a dictator) and made a bunch of rules no one could actually follow. Like: no animal labor was allowed and no artificial lights (which meant no candles in pre-electricity times) and everyone had to be vegan, though the word vegan hadn’t yet been invented. The community failed, in large part, because the women (there were two of them, Mrs. Alcott and a lady named Ann) had to do all the women’s work and the men, who were supposed to tend the fields, spent most of their time philosophizing. Then, Ann ate a piece of fish and got kicked out of the commune.
***Bronson was an abolitionist and supported women’s rights except, apparently, when it came to what men did on a farm and what women did on a farm, which every woman knows that a man may work from dusk to dawn but a woman’s work is never done. No wonder Ann felt like she needed some protein, is what I have to say.
I’m not saying that I don’t like Bronson. I like him fine. I figure that between him and his wife Abby, they turned out a right nice young daughter.
I just walked up to our nice independent trail shop and bought a new pair of hiking boots. They’re plenty nice and they’ll take me where I want to go. I tried on several pairs before I made my purchase. I tried on a bright-blue colored pair which usually I like bright blue? But I rejected them. I don’t care for too much whimsy in my boots. I have been known to wear sort of a lot of polka dots, and also tights with flowers on them, and also bloomers, so this is all just to say that I’m not afraid of dressing like a clown. But hiking boots? No. Hiking boots require a sober, can-do, undistracted kind of attitude. Bright blue will not cut it.
After I selected my new boots, I gave the old ones to the kind trail shop sales-person and I asked her could she throw them out. She agreed to do it.
There were several reasons I left them at the store rather than tote them home.
Reason First: Recently, I’ve been “helping” (read: shrewishly cracking the whip) my husband clean out his workshop. His workshop is spacious, fairly well-lit, and absolutely inaccessible. This is because he collects stuff and then he puts it in there.
Now that he’s retired, I think it’d be good for him to have a room of his own and also a place to put together birdhouses and play with stamps and sort through old camping stuff and deal with his dad’s collection of woodworking books from the 1960’s and keep the old computer keyboards which he feels like he ought to plant with alfalfa seed to make high-tech chia pets and store a bunch of old crutches with disintegrating armpit rests and keep his old bus-driver work shirts which I recently learned he hopes to make into a sail of some sort with them and keep his hiking boots from 30 years ago when he walked on the Appalachian Trail.
Which reminds me that I just unearthed a blank book which we’d entitled: Stuff Dave Found Which We Kept and which listed such things as “a jar of mayonnaise” and “2 mops” and “ionic column later used in Addams Family play.” In the play, the column held a vase of fake long-stemmed roses which our Morticia arranged by snipping off the buds and arranging the stems, a la the tv show. The column now resides in our living room and is currently holding a straw boater my dad bought for me in Key West 30 years ago. You can begin to see our problem with holding onto stuff.
We rent a room in our house via Airbnb. It’s listed as “Cluttered in Carrboro” because that pretty much tells it like it is though recently I’ve begun to realize that with the non native-English speakers, I often need to define “clutter” which that’s pretty easy as all I have to do is gesture around the house.
Anyhow, this is one reason I didn’t want to bring my old boots home—the clutter problem.
Second: I’m getting old and my back hurts and I didn’t want to put them into my little daypack and carry them home.
Third, and related to above: last year, Dave and I spent a long hot July week along with his brothers and sister and various assorted spouses cleaning out his mother’s house. We went through three industrial sized dumpsters—the 30 foot kind with the open top—and the house isn’t really all that big. It’s just that Dave’s mom had this marvelous combo of optimism (she wanted to do, and perhaps did do, All The Hobbies), and fear (there might never be another recipe for oatmeal cookies as good as that one in the 1971 Ladies Home Journal (so you’d better keep the whole canon) and if you don’t keep your bank statements from 1966, the bank might pretend they’ve never heard of you, and etc).
Due to the sheer volume of stuff we unearthed and threw away, I came down with a serious case of PTSD and I promised my own children that I would not make them go through what we’d just gone through.
Thus, I didn’t bring home my old boots.
I loved those old boots. They took me east to west across England, and from south to north in Scotland. They got taken off and put back on a whole lot in Japan, like every time I entered a house and then left same. They took me from my home in Carrboro to my job in Chapel Hill, and then they walked me around as I shelved books. They squeaked some. I wore them as I walked with my beloved dog in the mountains of NC and also on piedmont sidewalks. I wore them on the Appalachian Trail, and in cities, and to the movies, and with skirts. They weren’t terribly stylish, I never thought, but they were friendly, and they did what they were supposed to do. They got me, is how I felt about them. So RIP, old friends. And thanks.
I live in the suburbs of the piedmont, but we own (so far, the closets of) a little house in the mountains, on a low mountain, or “knob” as the folks around here like to say. Granny’s Knob is what it’s called. We may, in fact, live in Granny’s house, as ours is by far the oldest and shabbiest on the road, but it’s fairly snug except for the stinkbug problem. But, as I’m not the type to let the perfect lie in the way of the good, we’re pretty happy with it. Plus, the monthly mortgage bill is cheap. Also, soon it’ll be beachfront property due to climate change and we can leave it to our kids who can sell it for millions.
Down in the suburbs, we have a fairly sizeable fenced-in back yard, which our Akita mutt uses to full advantage. She’s a fine dog. We found her as a little bitty thing in a box of pups in front of our local food coop. The dude who was trying to find homes for the puppies had been stymied at the shelter, due to overcrowding; a huge puppy mill—the sort that generates the type of little frufru dogs people seem to like– had been busted in the next state over, and the shelters for a couple of hundred miles around were full to bursting with traumatized Pomeranians and Malteses. So there was no room at the inn for these little Akita mutt puppies. Thus: the box in front of the coop.
One of our daughters chose her from among the litter and we took her home. We named her Pumblechook, after a character in Great Expectations. It’s nice to name your pets after minor literary characters, who are often beloved of their authors and need a little time in the sun. Pumble likes the sun plenty but, sad to say, doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. Her coat is very thick: Akitas were bred to fight bears in the snow country of Japan, and so when she gets wet, she’s wet for days. And when she blows her fur? Lord God, there are not enough lint rollers in the world.
I take Pumble on walks but her leash makes me sad. Leashes, while necessary in the suburbs—especially for Pumble who wouldn’t mind eating any dog smaller than herself—are restrictive. Dogs are sorta ultra-refined wolves, right, and wolves like to run free.
For many years, I’ve entertained an elaborate fantasy about taking her off the leash; what would it be like? Would she stick around? Would she frolic and smile? Would she immediately bolt? My one daughter had a rescue Husky once; that dog spent every waking moment trying to get away, despite the fact that my daughter treated her like a visiting ambassador. Take the Husky to the dog park? She’d ignore the other dogs and patrol the fence line like an obsessed prison guard. I thought maybe Pumble off the leash would act similarly; she has been known to escape our back yard and wander the neighborhood officiously, the hair on the back of her neck at full stand.
You hear about how amazing a dog’s sense of smell is; how remarkable, their hearing. If that’s true, then how come all those stories of dogs getting lost and then found 1000 miles from home. Lack of intellect? Lack of loyalty? Looking for better chow?
Up on Granny’s Knob, I decided to try to make my fantasy reality. I put a baggie of cheese in my pocket and off we went, sans leash. Pumble was amazed. Her eyes were wide; her breath came fast. We set off up the mountain. She ran ahead ten feet, looked back, trotted ten more feet, looked back. I called to her often and toasted her return. She began to run further ahead, looking back to either a) make sure I was with her or b) wonder why I wasn’t chasing her down.
But she stuck with me. Day after day, we’d go out together leashless, and walk the mountain. Once we found a possum skull. Often, I sang. On one day, for a couple of hours, I helped my husband haul logs from up the mountain. Pumble ran around, happy, until she came to a spot that was so extremely steep that she couldn’t get up the slope. She was obviously worried and, as she’s getting on to elderly, I decided to help her, though I too am getting on to elderly. At any rate, in a Laurel n Hardyesque chain of events, I climbed down the slope and pushed her up by her butt, while Dave hauled her by her collar. “We saved her life,” I declared. Dave snorted. And while I’m fairly sure that she could’ve found her way all by herself, a doubt lingers: while Pumble’s awfully nice, she may not be the sharpest tool in the box.
One day, towards the end of our stay, I veered off the path and got totally bogged down in what mountain people call a “hell,” which is a nigh impenetrable cage of mountain laurel. Once in, you can’t really get out. I mean, you can, but it takes fortitude as well as the adrenaline that comes with panic. While I was fighting my way through, I caught the look in Pumble’s eye. “Oh. My. God,” she seemed to be saying. “Come ON.” I’m not sure but I think I saw her shake her head at my predicament. Then, with a final glance, she disappeared completely.
Back at our house, Dave stood staring into space, axe in hand. “I lost our dog,” I announced. “You lost our dog?” he said. I nodded. He put down the axe and walked up the road some, calling. About ten minutes later, Dave and Pumble returned together. I gave Pumble the rest of the cheese in my pocket and praised her, my good prodigal dog. Then I made Dave lunch.
Tomorrow, we go back to the piedmont, back to the leash and the fence. But until we return to the mountains, Pumble (and I) will live with our memories. Do dogs remember like that?
I believe Dr. Ford, of course. From the evidence I heard—uncorroborated, but totally credible—the truth is that Brett Kavanaugh, drunk out of his mind, assaulted her and attempted to rape her. That he didn’t succeed is likely due to the intensity of his drunkenness. I expect he was too stumbling-drunk to see the act through.
It makes perfect sense to me that Judge Kavanaugh believes he didn’t do it. He was likely so drunk he can’t remember. And he’s so arrogant that if he doesn’t want to believe it, he won’t. It doesn’t jive with his self-view. He doesn’t believe that a golden boy such as himself could have acted thus. He doesn’t have a confidence problem (which comes with an associated and often useful dose of self-doubt). He may not be lying about his assault of Dr. Ford; he just doesn’t remember doing it.
This is pure he said/she said. I believe her. Others believe him. The FBI did/did not do its job. The White House did/did not tamper with the investigation.
In point of fact: Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty and due to a conflagration of horrors, the truth is out there but inaccessible.
I don’t like Kavanaugh’s philosophies, his politics, his world-view. He’s a Republican dream-come-true. But here’s the truth: the Republicans got the chance to fill the seat. They’re filling it with the most useful (to them) candidate they can find. The total fury we Democrats feel about Merrick Garland is something that Republicans choose to overlook. They’re still mad about Bork. Maybe that’s what Kavanaugh meant when he said, “what goes around comes around.” We can hope that’s what he meant. We can hope that he was talking about the past not the future.
But here’s why he shouldn’t be confirmed.
It’s his partisanship. That’s all it is. That’s all we need to think about.
That’s all the Senate should think about. They can’t know for sure, beyond all doubt, about his drinking/his sexual aggressiveness/his capacity for violence.
But they can know this:
–he’s feels entitled to the position and this, in itself, ought to disqualify him;
–he believes that he was the victim of the actions of various Democrats and thus, cannot be trusted to be fair;
–he lied under oath about the fact that he had a drinking problem in college and high school;
–he’s unable, apparently, to keep his temper and thus, cannot be trusted to use logic and law, rather than emotion and rage when judging a case;
In which Mrs. Tell opines on the lost cause of equity; boasts about her cherry cordial; remembers her youth; suffers an epiphany.
We expected Miss Maria back by now, but she has wrote that she’ll visit Miss Juliet in London before she returns here to Longmeadow. I am glad that she ain’t in a rush for home, for she needed a holiday which talking to crowds in fancy halls ain’t my idea of it, but I then I ain’t high born. Perhaps she’ll find a little fun in London. I recall that when she and Mr. Charles was first married, they used to enjoy the theater which there ain’t none of that here at Longmeadow so maybe she’s missed it. Maybe she’ll watch Miss Julie sing which we hear she’s very popular.
I am grateful to Mr. Somerday for fixing things the way he did. First, he pushed Miss Maria to go, for he saw her misery around that gypsy and that she needed some new air. And he was as good as his word and has helped Miss Alta plenty on her rounds. Also, he told Miss Maria that Miss Alta’s doing splendid at her task of minding Longmeadow.
“I wrote that Alta is doing a masterful job,” he told me. “I bespoke her praises quite ardently and told Mrs. Pendergrast that she ought not to hurry home.”
He sort of twinked at me when he said it, if you take my meaning, and I twinked back. We didn’t say the words but I think we was both thinking the same thing: that it’s good for Miss Maria and Miss Alta both. Miss Maria gets a holiday; Miss Alta has a chance to come out of her shell, some.
“Mr. Somerday,” said I, “Would you like a sip of cherry cordial? I made it last summer and it ought to be right just about now.”
I fetched him a glass and watched while he drank it. He smiled which it’s the best cordial I have ever tasted if I do say so. We all like Mr. Somerday for he is a sunny person and polite.
And indeed, there he is, is regular as sunrise, ready for rounds with Miss Alta each day. This very morning, he climbed into the trap without a word of asking, just as natural as milk.
I had business at the sweet shop with Mrs. Miller which that woman will complain about a bent pin if you let her, so Miss Alta said I might ride along.
“We shall go to the workshops today, if you please, Mr. Somerday,” said Miss Alta when Mr. Somerday climbed up. “As it rains, we’ll be less likely to disrupt a group of visitors.”
He smiled at her and took the reins.
The shops make a neat little row: the cabinet makers and the straw-plaiters, the glassblower and the weavers, the sweet shop with its shelves of jellies and compotes, which that last is where Mrs. Miller works. But today them shops lack bustle. It’s too bad, too. July ought to be bringing daily tourists handling bonnets and jars of jam, but this rain which it’s been raining for days now, keeps ‘em all away.
Miss Alta chose the plaiting shop first. I went with, for I had a parcel to give to Sarah Ruth. She is my niece which her father was brother to my David. That was Dan Tell, and he moved him and his wife and eight of his children out of Longmeadow and down to Bristol, for he was in business and wished to live in a port city. Sarah Ruth stayed back, which I expect she didn’t want to live her life looking after them kids. It was good of Dan to let her stay here when he likely needed her there. But he’s a loving pa to his kids, though he has so many it’s right wonderful he can keep them straight. Sarah Ruth lives in a little house near Longmeadow Village with four other unmarried girls and Mrs. Couch looks after them, which she is kindly enough and a good cook too.
“Good morning!” said Miss Alta when we walked in.
“Good morning, Miss Alta,” the girls said together. They nodded at Mr. Somerday, who greeted each of them by name. Sarah Ruth stood up to kiss me on my cheek.
There were three of them at work—Sarah Ruth, and also Louisa and Kitty. They’re comely girls, even Sarah Ruth who is a little plump. Miss Maria likes to give them tourists their money’s worth: if them girls were big-nosed or grey toothed, they’d more likely be jam cookers or baby tenders than here in this shop to be viewed by all. Similar to Arum House: them good looking young men, all them roses, that swing on the branch of the oak. Sometimes Longmeadow seems like a giant pantomime, but for the players being real people.
To be truthful, I will say that this idea of Longmeadow as a great stage don’t come from my own head, but from Miss Juliet’s.
“I wonder,” I heard her say to Miss Maria during breakfast once, “why you are so adamant that the gypsies stay when they are universally unwanted. Perhaps you like them for their rough picturesqueness? Maybe you think that any performance without a dark foil cannot be much fun.”
Miss Maria just shook her head and sighed at Miss Juliet, as I recall.
Them plaiting girls sit on their little platform
behind the half wall that separates them from what ought to have been the tourists but today was only Miss Alta and Mr. Somerday and me. Their work tables are set close to big windows which let light in and fresh air too. Mr. Charles, bless his soul, placed a deal of value in fresh air. In this weather, though, the windows were closed and the lamps turned up.
“You are all alone,” said Miss Alta.
“Yes,” said Louisa. “The rain keeps them away.”
“No one even just to watch us,” said Kitty. “Not a soul.”
“It may yet clear,” said Mr. Somerday.
The girls nodded politely and went back to their plaiting.
I was about to leave on my errand when I heard Miss Alta say, “I have always wondered how you do it. Could you teach me, do you think?”
Now I was born plaiting as is most lasses in these parts but I have yet to see a piece of straw in the fingers of a high born girl, which I was curious to see how she’d do at it so I lingered.
Sarah Ruth said, “Ah then, Miss Alta, You must have nothing better to do, I suppose, if you want to learn such a thing as this. But come around and we’ll show you. Louisa’s the best at it, oh now, Lou, don’t be coy. She can do seventeen strands, she’s that good.”
“She’s a right marvel,” said Kitty. “This here English Wave is hers. No one else can do nothing near as good as this.”
“I didn’t realize this was yours in particular, Louisa,” said Miss Alta. “Why, it really is ornate, isn’t it.”
“Very fancy,” said I. “Not everyone can do that.”
“Thank you, Miss,” said Louisa to Miss Alta.
“And anyway,” said Kitty, “how could you of known it was hers—that pattern–for they’re all on the shelves lumped together with no way to tell who made what.”
“It’s all right, Miss,” said Louisa, throwing a look at Kitty, “We know we’re not meant to stand apart from one another. And Kitty and Sarah Ruth here, why, their stuff’s as lovely as can be too. Now, would you like to try it yourself?”
“Shall I?” Miss Alta said to Mr. Somerday.
“And why not?” he smiled. “Your fingers are certainly slender enough for fine work such as these ladies do.”
“Ladies!” giggled Kitty, while the other two smiled and blushed.
They showed Miss Alta how to sit for the task. “Now first,” said Louisa, “look here.” She held out her hands, palms up. “See the ends of my fingers?” she said.
“Oh my,” said Miss Alta, “They look…”
All three laughed again. “Much like cow hide?” said Louisa. “Go ahead, Miss Alta, if you don’t mind. Feel Kitty’s and then mine.”
“And mine,” said Sarah Ruth.
Miss Alta felt their fingers. “Well, yes,” she said, “you are right. They feel much like Bodger’s leash.”
The girls looked at each other and laughed when she said it which made Miss Alta blush as bright as a raspberry.
“I’m sorry!” she said. “That was very rude.”
“Not at all,” said Mr. Somerday, looking at the girls. “You took no offense?”
“No, no offense,” said Sarah Ruth, “and we offered, didn’t we. But they’re something, ain’t they, these fingers of ourn. My mam, who plaited for ever so long, used to tell us that work changes a body– and this is what she meant by it. Her own fingers was so rough from the years of it that she used to say she couldn’t feel her own baby’s cheek.”
“That’s right,” I said, “that’s exactly it.”
“Let me see how to do it,” said Miss Alta.
“Are you sure, Miss?” said Sarah Ruth. “For you’ll be bleeding afore you’ve even begun.”
“Let her try on that miscolored rye, there,” said Kitty. “Beggin’ your pardon, Miss. For we must keep the pretty stuff back.”
“Of course,” said Miss Alta. “That’s wise.”
“Very wise,” agreed Mr. Somerday.
“Hold it this way,” said Louisa. “You must hold seven strands at once, do you see?”
“Yes,” said Miss Alta, “but they’re quite stiff! My word! How do you make them do as you wish!”
“We wet ‘em, is what,” said Sarah Ruth. “See the vat there?”
“Your fingers is so white!” said Kitty absently.
“Kitty!” said Louisa.
“Oh, Miss,” said Kitty, alarmed. “I’m sure I didn’t mean anything. I’m sure I didn’t.”
“I know, Kitty,” said Miss Alta. “Just show me how to bend this without breaking it. I cannot see how to do it at all.”
“Here, Miss,” said Sarah Ruth, “here’s a rhyme we say to help us learn when we’re little: over one, under two….”
“….pull it tight, and that will do,” Louisa and Kitty and I finished for her, which I have knowed that rhyme all my life.
“Same old song,” I said, and the girls smiled.
They helped Miss Alta for a quarter of an hour. Mr. Somerday watched, throwing compliments at her for trying. Finally her fingers were about as pricked as she could bear.
“I must stop,” she said, “but thank you for showing me.”
“Well now you know,” said Louisa, smiling.
“It ain’t easy to do is it?” said Kitty. “Now you know, for you’ve tried it yourself.”
I looked hard at Kitty to see if she was whinging, for Miss Maria don’t stand for whinging here at Longmeadow.
“No, indeed,” said Miss Alta. “It obviously takes a great deal of skill.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Somerday, “I have heard visitors say that your shop is the jewel of Longmeadow for the quality of the work you do. It’s a favorite.”
I saw Miss Alta look at him but as usual, I couldn’t tell nothing from her expression. Lord, that girl keeps it in. It may be that she had the same question in her mind as did I.
Which was that I wondered if Mr. Somerday had spoke a little out of turn, which he didn’t mean to do it. But here at Longmeadow, we try not to talk about which shop is favorite or which jam turned out best or whose chickens lay the biggest eggs. I might know my cherry cordial is ten miles better than Mrs. Johnston’s, but I know better than to say it out loud. One, it ain’t polite to Lord things over. Two, it don’t make for a peaceful feeling betwixt us all.
But Kitty ain’t known for her brains. When she heard what Mr. Somerday said about their shop being a jewel, she turned to the other girls and said “Haven’t I told you it was so?” which it looked like they had often discussed this very thing. I noticed: Louisa bit her lip and sneaked a look at Sarah Ruth which it seemed like she had come upon a snarl in her plaiting.
I might have reminded Kitty that we’re all for one and one for all, like Miss Maria says, but Miss Alta said very quick, “Mrs. Tell, did you say you had an errand? Mr. Somerday and I will visit Ben’s shop while you’re occupied and wait in the trap for you if you like.” So Kitty got away scot free which she was lucky this time.
In truth, I took Kitty’s meaning clear enough. It ain’t nothing but pure human nature to hold yourself next to your neighbor, to see who’s done better. Everyone does it, no matter if we should or shouldn’t. When the county holds a fair-day, Mrs. Johnston don’t sleep a wink for her careful icing of her Longmeadow White Cake for which she has took top prizes. The younger children show lambs, and the older, hogs, and they are praised and made much of for any honors they get. Miss Maria don’t attend the fairs but I describe the award ceremonies to her if she asks.
“Lord,” I said to her just two week ago, “you should have seen Mrs. Miller when that gooseberry jam took first place. Twas as if she was Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar, looking this a’way and that a’way for people to notice her, and smiling as broad as pie. I was standing right next to her and, as I am a Christian woman and was feeling charitable just then, I did not bother to say to her that that jam was a cooperating effort, no I didn’t, and you’ll forgive me, Miss Maria, ‘cause it would have broke her heart right in two to have it pointed out to her. So I let it lay.”
Such pridefulness worries Miss Maria. Trying to best your neighbor just don’t fly at such a place as Longmeadow where the first idea is of equalness. Mr. Charles and Miss Maria tried from the beginning to lead us away from contests where a winner meant losers. Mr. Charles would have liked to ban the county fairs entire which even he could see that them Longmeadows would rise up in revolution if he did, so he gave up the idea.
And so, Mr. Charles and Miss Maria put a stop to races and contests, and instead said us sermons on hoops for the children and dancing and singing for adults. At our fetes we play Blind Man’s Bluff, but not croquet; we don’t have no contests of strength, but instead the young men chase a greased pig which can be done best when all work together toward the common goal.
But I understand the plaiting girls. They do not care to be unknown. They’d like a little credit. They’re just girls and they wish for special treatment. Likely that’s true of all them who work the shops and farms of Longmeadow, from the great ones to the small.
Today was too bright a day for Miss Alta to leave the house; I believe she spent her time back with them creepy things she likes so much and then in her mother’s office adding figures. At teatime, the doorbell rang and there stood Mr. Somerday, which he might as well walk in without ringing, for he’s come for tea every day since he landed at Longmeadow, more or less. I brought him into the parlor and went to tell her. I found her in the morning room now that the sun was in the west, sitting in a window-seat reading one of her Red Indian books.
I made Lil bring the tea. This was a point of disagreement between Miss Maria and Mr. Charles for a time, whether it was proper to have a girl to serve the tea. Mr. Charles said no, no one should serve no one else here at Longmeadow. “God gave me two legs in order that I can fetch my own tea when I want it,” he said. Miss Maria said, yes dear, but what of our guests; they can hardly be expected… They compromised. (I’ll tell you, I believe Grady was mouthing ‘compromise’ before he’d reached six.) Mr. Charles finally put it this way, “All right then, when we have guests, we will have servers who then may learn how to do it, so that if they’d like to explore the world on their own, they’ll have that small skill. Though,” he added, “I have no doubt that they will find, after having lived at Longmeadow, that the real world is not all it ought to be.”
“Yes, dear,” I remember Miss Maria smiling (which smiling was easy for her, for she had won her case to be served, of course) “and then we will welcome them back to us with open arms.”
That made Mr. Charles feel better for he loved to think that if any of us left, it wouldn’t be long before we returned to his fold, hat in hand, shaking our heads at what we’d seen outside of Longmeadow.
I had myself a cup and a chat with Mrs. Johnston back in the kitchen and then made a round of the house, which passed me right by the parlor, where Miss Alta and Mr. Somerday sat together as they drank their tea.
“Oh no, Alta,” I heard Mr. Somerday say through the doorway, “I am sure you are quite wrong. I am certain that…what did you call her?”
“Whistling Bird,” said Miss Alta.
“…Whistling Bird did what she did for love. I am sure that she was loved fully by her husband and he by her, though he was white, and she red. Her devotion illustrates it, does it not? Why else would she have died for him, as she did?”
I recognized the story. Often of a evening Miss Alta will read aloud from one of her Wild West books, and if I am about, I will listen. I remembered this one: when this Whistling Bird (what sort of name is that, for the dear Lord’s sake) was but a young girl, she was taken from her tribe by a white man who was out hunting and came upon her in the wood and was besmitten. He married her though how Christian that wedding was, I cannot tell you. Some years later, her own people robbed her back to them, but by that time she loved him, so she starved herself to death when they would not let her return to him who she thought of as her husband.
Miss Alta spoke next. “I cannot say whether indeed she loved him or not, Mr. Somerday. It may be that she didn’t. It may be that her devotion was borne of duty and nothing more.”
I was surprised to hear Miss Alta say such. When she read the story to Miss Juliet, both young ladies sighed about the lovey part of it. Once, I catched eyes with Miss Maria about it and we both smiled like we was having a secret together. Young girls will believe in violets and roses, and who’s to tell ‘em they oughtn’t?
“Alta, you are a cynic!” I heard Mr. Somerday say. “I wouldn’t have thought it of you!”
I listened but she did not answer for a moment. And then she did.
“Well,” she said, “I suppose I wonder about them, Mr. Somerday. It seems to me that when first they laid eyes on one another, they must each have felt a shock, as one feels when presented with something unfamiliar and perhaps bizarre. He must have seemed feeble to her; she must have seemed coarse to him. It seems more likely that they felt antipathy rather than attraction. And then, you see, to have had to overcome such….disgust?”
“But Alta, they surely found each other’s trueness through their actions. And in this way became beautiful to each other. All depends on the beholder, you know. In their case, love seems to have surrounded them like a flowering vine, blocking out any weeds of distaste at such a small a thing as a difference of feature.”
“So,” said Miss Alta quite slow, “it does not seem impossible to you, Mr. Somerday, to love someone who is so apart from you that they seem, perhaps, as if they were of an entirely different species?”
“Not at all, Alta. Not for me anyhow. I believe I could grow to love any pure heart, no matter her country, her language, her dress, her color.”
And then, as I listened, I saw what it was I’d missed. I don’t miss much, but I’d missed this.
My local NPR station which is all I ever listen to—except I’m trying to listen to country music some in order to expand my horizons but so far, all I like is the ladies of country, but maybe give me some time—anyhow, my NPR station gives away vacations at its yearly pledge drives. I lust after one of those trips. They begin with a trip to Paris and then someone wins and you hear them scream, “you’re kidding,” to the guy who tells them they won. And then comes the Rome trip and then London–so they always play the London Calling song—and I always hope that they’ll call me. And then comes Australia and I shrug.
Maybe my lack of enthusiasm about Australia lies in the fact that Captain Kangaroo kind of creeped me out when I was a kid.
Or, maybe it’s because I come from a long line of Eastern Europeans whose favorite vegetables were those of the root variety because that’s what grows where it’s cold. While my people may have sprung from the desert, they mostly ended up in the snowy fields of more northern lands– where we hung out for a couple of millennia—and which is why all our festive foods seem to be based on those that are grown underground where they’re protected from the frost. Anyhoo, with me, anyway, the temperature of our new homeland took and held fast. Some like it hot but I ain’t one of ‘em. My last name—or my dad’s—though of course it’s mine, too—translates to “a person from a cold village.” Which reminds me of how the Icelanders have taken a giant step into the future with their “dottir” and “son” surnames which why can’t we do that?
Also, I once saw a House Hunters International Extreme Something or Other Edition episode which showed a lovely young couple—he an Ozzie (which I just read is another way to say Aussie), she a Dane—who moved to some hellhole in the middle of the outback or the never never or whatever it is so that he could get a mining job and
since it’s always like 400 degrees there, the only way humans can survive is to live in caves underground which they build and then line with cement. Which, I don’t know about you, but I kinda like a window? I saw that episode like three years ago and I still think about that young rather waifish Danish woman and hope she was stronger than she looked on tv.
So maybe my apathy towards Australia is based entirely on climate. Could be.
But let me say this: I thought to myself, well gosh, Australia is a whole big continent and maybe they have all kinds of weather and what I think I know isn’t exactly what is fact? So I looked it up and in fact, the climate of the whole landmass seems to gravitate between quite warm and hellish. So now I feel all self-righteous.
Now: because my imagination is worn out like an old shoe, I tend to incline towards themes—because themes make life easier to digest– so this past week I had myself a little Australia fest. They banned plastic bags. They banned guns. What’s not to like? Not that Australia needs me and my approval. But hell, why not give it a chance, I said to myself.
My festival was comprised of a novel and a movie and in fact, I had a pretty good time. Of Killers and Thieves (which is sort of a lame title but oh well), is by a young man named Paul Howarth and is due in February of 2018 which is any moment now unless President Dumbass puts us into the middle of a nuclear nightmare which, like, seriously? Is there no one to stand up and say, “President Dumbass, have you no decency, sir?” And by no one I mean no Republican who actually plans to stay in office?
To continue. Mr. Howarth’s novel which is his first, is a big-time page turner but it’s also damn good and maybe even important. Talk about Black Lives Matter. Lord, God.
Here’s a question. Which of the following is worse?
kidnapping a bunch of people from their homes so they can do all the work you don’t want to have to pay someone to do which oh my god, of COURSE, the Civil War was about State’s Rghts. THE STATES’ RIGHTS TO KEEP BLACK PEOPLE ENSLAVED, THAT IS.
(And another thing: if, say, I was German and every day as I walked to my college classes I had to pass a statue of Goebbels? Well hell, yes, I’d be pissed. And hurt. And resentful. And then, when I grew up and became, say, an orthopedic surgeon, I’d have to be careful to treat my German patients just as carefully as I did my non-German patients because I was still pissed, all those years later, that they hadn’t taken down the DAMN STATUE OF SILENT SAM I MEAN GOEBBELS when they had the fucking chance.) (That this is a stretched comparison hasn’t escaped my eagle-eye but I’m guessing it’s not so out of shape that you don’t take the point.)
(In fact, I myself would be a crappy surgeon due to I panic, but my point is that certainly you’d like to think you always rise above the idiocy of others and turn the other cheek and be noble, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, but even orthopedic surgeons are just humans, and if one of them left her scalpel in somebody’s leg by mistake due to a lifetime of being pissed off, well, you see where I’m going. Which is the big fat stupid human cycle of who hurt who first.)
2) you invade a landmass and then go about trying to exterminate all the indigenous people which, hey, doesn’t that sound sort of familiar?
Answer: both are worse.
Anyhow, Of Killers and Thieves is about a white family scraping by in the Australia of 1880. Brutality and horror and violence abound like kangaroos hop. Which, like, can you call it gratuitous if it’s all absolutely true? Me, I have nothing against violence in a novel, nothing at all.
For example, The Orphan Master’s Son made me want to throw up and still does when I recall certain particular scenes, but I think it’s one of the best novels of the last five years. One time, Adam Johnson who is the author of The Orphan Master’s Son came into the bookstore in which I bide some time and I told him that his book made me want to throw up and he said, “thanks,” and I said, “you’re welcome.” It was a pleasant exchange.
Speaking of North Korea which is what Orphan Master is about: the president of these United States is, as I write this, embarking on a tour of Asia with Melania, bless her heart. At the Women’s March, the best sign I saw said, “Free Melania.” Anyhow, like many Americans, I feel this uncomfortable sensation in the back of my throat—sort of like the marriage of a nervous giggle and a gag reflex—at the speculation of what Our National Embarrassment might say or do in front of the good people of Japan, say, or China. Maybe he’ll say, “What, rice again?” or “I bet she has a nice little figure under that hanbok,” or maybe, “Yes this chicken is okay, but not as good as P. F. Chang’s.”
But back to Australia. I raced my way through Of Killers and Thieves and enjoyed it very much in the same way that you enjoy pulling a splinter out from underneath your fingernail. I recommend it heartily. It’s about race, is what it’s about, and while it reads in some parts like a wish rather than a reality, in the end it doesn’t leave you so hopeless that you want to go live in a cave lined with cement.
So the next part of my Australia-fest was a movie. I watched Australia, the big epic blockbuster-that-totally-busted by Baz Luhrmann, with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. It pretty much sucks but it has its good points, one of which is that it’s really long, which I like a long movie. It’s like that old joke about how awful the restaurant was: the food is terrible and the portions are tiny.
Anyhoo, the Kidman Jackman (see, in Iceland, there’s be “woman” somewhere around there) did what it could to keep the movie above water but it pretty much drowned under the weight of its efforts to be sweeping. But there is a cute kid actor. And horses. And lots of Australian scenery and, if you like the simplicity of cardboard characters and good vs. evil, it has a nice satisfying end. Just don’t ask too much of it and you’ll be okay.
The best part is the narration which is by the cute kid actor and is in the parlance of the blackfella (not my word). An interesting part of Australia is certainly the treatment of the Aboriginals which we used to call them Aborigines. Which reminds me: yeah, you go ahead and say “Se-vee-yah” for Seville and you go ahead and say “Buddha Pesht” for Budapest but howcum you’re not saying “Par-ee” for Paris, hm? But, I’m aware that there are linguistic chic-nesses just as there are in literature which, for example, Steinbeck is outre but he might come back.
Anyhow, often, movies and novels tend to treat the Aboriginals like happy peasants at one with their universe (Australia for sure does it, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does it, Of Killers and Thieves does it to a much lesser extent, but it’s not entirely absent even there). Which is how the more innocent among us view the Native American tribes we endeavored so hard to destroy—as happy natives—when they killed each other plenty, just as much as we’ve all murdered our neighbors, and since the dawn of man. My point is that there’s probably not that many happy peaceful native tribes on this good earth anyway because why? Because everyone is just a person and people when stressed– which when are we not– are just assholes.
My great loss of innocence re: the dearth of the simple happy peasant occurred over years but epiphanied one day in the shower (don’t ask me why) when I realized that the sweet rose-covered cottages of the English countryside were a) probably not rose-covered and b) probably packed with a widow and her children eating clay from their yard for lack of anything better.
And if you think about it, those happy English peasants, if they stole a loaf of bread? Or poached? They were probably either hanged or, if they were lucky, packed up on a boat and sent off to Australia. Like Pip’s sponsor in Great Expectations, remember?
Life’s a big circle, ain’t it. For better and worse.
Next theme: could be the Ozarks, cuz I’m reading Winter’s Bone which wasn’t that a great movie?
Mr. Somerday accompanies me on my rounds. We ride side by side on grey days, and on the sunny ones, I seek the shelter of the trap while he reins his horse alongside me. I’ve always felt proud of Longmeadow, both for its ancient lineage and its modern ideas. But Mr. Somerday’s enthusiasm helps me to see the place with new eyes.
He is enthusiastic about all of Longmeadow: he admires the land itself; he admires the people who work it; he admires Grady for his patience; he admires the turn of Ben Mangum’s lathe; he admires the high ideals of the place and the straw-plaiting girls’ skill equally. As well as much else. He waxes eloquent on my parents’ work and speaks about them with high regard.
“Really, Alta, it’s wonderful, Longmeadow is. I have looked a bit into other places that make similar claims and there’s no comparison.”
“Yes,” I called to him from within the trap. We were on our way to Arum House for a look-see. “I agree. My father wished not to repeat the mistakes of others, he said.”
Mr. Somerday nodded. “And from what I’ve read, failures are plentiful. Places like Longmeadow usually don’t last. I have read that it is hard to make a go of them.”
Look at how the sun dapples his white shirt as he rides along. If I had the skill, I’d like to paint a portrait of that shirt.
“Oh! Yes, Father used to call it a labor of love. He and my mother spoke about it at supper very often: how it is, for example that one may wish to improve a person who may prefer to remain…”
“Yes. One reason for Longmeadow’s success may be its mildness. Some of the communities were quite extreme,” I told him. “Oneida, for example.” Immediately, I regretted my words. I felt myself blush fiercely from my seat inside the trap. I hoped Mr. Somerday would not ask me to elaborate.
I had my information on Oneida from a treatise in Father’s locked desk which I had opened without permission. Lord, some of those images may never leave me.
“And the Shakers,” said Mr. Somerday.
“Mmm,” I said. I wished I had not opened this Pandora’s box.
“Why did they shake, do you imagine?” he inquired seriously.
I said nothing.
“Alta,” he said more loudly, “why do you suppose they shook?”
I think I sighed. “I imagine…I believe it had to do with…”
Mr. Somerday did not take the hint.
“With what? I am having trouble hearing you. Suppose I climb in beside you and Rudo can trot behind? This topic is quite interesting.”
“They shook to rid themselves of their animal urges!” I yelped out as quickly as I could.
He looked surprised—had I shocked him yet again?– and then he laughed loudly.
“Alta!” he said, “You are quite a girl. You do a fellow good!”
I was glad he thought so.
I have rarely visited Arum House. Mostly, I do not care to meet the ladies. On the rare occasions that one or another of them is invited to take supper at the manor, they treat me as if I am diseased; as if I am quite radical for wishing to dine at my own table and should, out of politeness, dine underneath it instead. At first, Mother urged me to ignore their rudeness, but she has lately relented and, upon the ladies’ infrequent visits, has allowed me to take my meal in the kitchen where I feel more comfortable.
“They’re ghastly,” said Juliet at breakfast once, the morning after one of them had come to supper. “And always all the same. Vastly overdressed and vastly underburdened with the sense God gave to a cat.”
“They are spoiled and bored and therefore mean,” said Mother. “I sometimes think about closing Arum House altogether.”
“Why not do it?” I asked.
“Did you know,” Mother told us, “that the Widows & Orphans is supported almost entirely by the revenues from Arum House? That’s one reason.”
“A valid reason,” I said.
“Another reason is the caliber of guest,” said Juliet. “You can say it, Mama, though it sounds coarse. She wants Longmeadow,” Juliet said to me, “to be talked about at an earl’s table as well as at a dyer’s. Maybe even more.”
Mother looked at Juliet. “Not more, no. But as much. Longmeadow will thrive best if it can appeal to all.”
“Mama,” Juliet had said, “you must take care not to sound too much like a clerk at Harrod’s.”
Mother drew herself up but then suddenly seemed to deflate. “Yes,” she said, sighing. “There are so many things I do for Longmeadow that I never expected to do in my life. Sometimes I feel confused by what I am about.”
Juliet relented. “I’m sorry, Mama,” she said. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”
Mother patted Juliet’s hand.
“Mother,” I said, “it seems strange that Father conceived of such an idea as Arum House in the first place. A holiday place for ladies? Whatever gave him the notion?”
“Oh my,” Mother replied, consulting the little timepiece at her bosom, “is it as late as that? Well, there are things to see to. I’ll see the both of you later at tea.” And she had gone off to her office.
Arum House was as charming to look at as ever. I’d forgotten its prettiness—all those roses. I could just see Mike on the roof, hammer in hand. He tipped his cap to me as Mr. Somerday helped me down from the trap.
As I tied on my sun hat, a plump lady emerged from the house and walked languidly over to the swing, trailing a parasol. I watched as the lady shielded her eyes from the sun with a mitted hand and looked at us, at the landscape, up at Mike on the roof.
I nodded at the lady who appeared not to notice.
I turned back to Mr. Somerday. “The woods here are especially lovely. I should like to walk a bit before we say our hellos inside, but we must seek shade, if you don’t mind.”
“Let’s go this way,” said Mr. Somerday taking my arm. “We’ll have an old-fashioned tromp, shall we?”
Mrs. Grey walked out of the house to greet us—tea? cold water?—and I told her we’d be back in a bit for some refreshment. Off we went. The sun was high and hot but my hat brim, made especially wide for my by the girls in the strawshop, protected me quite well. I’m a good walker.
“Do not dawdle, Mr. Somerday,” I said to him as he stopped here to peer at a fern, there, at a moss. “I will outpace you and lose you and you will worry that you have lost me when in fact I will be back at the trap awaiting you with impatience. Do come along.”
“Coming, coming,” he said, pretending to pant with exertion. In fact, he is quite lean and in no danger of losing breath. It was a great pleasure to be with him in the wood.
“What do you hear from your sister?” he said as we walked.
“She is quite thrilled with herself,” I reported. “She writes that she attends any numbers of parties. She’s become a salon favorite and is asked often to perform. I told her that I expect she’s become very artistic and that when I see her next, she’ll be swathed in veils of red and gold and have taken to kohling her eyes and I shan’t recognize her at all.”
“Well,” said Mr. Somerday, holding a briar away from my skirt as we walked along, “I understand that the urge to ornament one’s person is quite universal, but for my own part, I much prefer what is natural. Watch now, I’m letting go of this briar. Like you, Alta. Unadorned, natural, hair like Titania’s; why, you’re perfect just as you are.”
For a moment, I could not catch my breath.
“Well in that case,” I made myself answer, “you would not, I think, care overmuch for Olive Oatman.”
“Olive Oatman. She was captured by the Yavapai Indians of the Arizona territory. They tattooed her chin to show that she was their slave. She was later rescued but the tattoo remained, of course.”
“My God,” said Mr. Somerday. “Poor girl.”
“Well,” I said, “but think of the adventure. And she came out of it all right.”
‘But for the tattoo,” he said.
My heart was still beating hard from his compliment. I had never received one from a man before except for Father. The artists, Mother’s friends, and those visitors who came to supper—they might laugh at my jokes or nod at my comments. They might tell me that they were pleased to see me looking well. They might smile and even kiss my hand, but never had one of them told me that I possessed hair like Titania’s.
We walked on. My eyes are bad but my hearing, quite good. “What was that?” I said low. We both stopped. It had occurred to me, and must have to him as well, that the last time we were in each other’s company in such a landscape, the stag lay dead.
Mr. Somerday whispered, “I think it came from over there,” and sprinted in the wrong direction. I stood where I was until I heard the sound again. One more step and then I saw: the plump lady from Arum House, her back against a tree, her bustle quite flattened behind her. The man in her embrace—it was Mike– had his face pressed to her wide-open bodice as he moved up and down. I heard her moan: that was the sound. I could see the lady’s white skin—not as white as my own of course—shining in the sunlight.
I backed away as quietly as I could and then I ran—in the direction of the house and of Mr. Somerday, whom I wished both to see and not see, at once.