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Power tools, protests, Joan Didion, cookies
Good morning from Chinatown! I don’t yet know what it’s like outside because it’s still dark and I have assiduously not turned on the TV news because, haven’t we just done that for four years? I’m not sure what I’ll do today, maybe head down to City Hall, which is within walking distance, and see whether people are behaving themselves, see if, unlike the last time I walked down there to check out the civic action, a dozen young dudes will decline to jump on and kick in the windows of a parked police car. That was this night, if not these guys. Little did I know, then, that much of my summer and fall would be taken up with listening to some version of “we only succeed through violence,” as with the two young people who snickered at a cop in the lobby of Portland’s main police station, who was sitting next to a fan blowing out the stench of the liquified feces sloshed in the night before by protesters:
"Quit your job!" shout the two young people. It's a stock refrain. Still, I ask them, why did they say it?
The young people stop. They are in the black bloc uniform—black clothes, black face mask, black helmet. And yet there is something patrician about them. The boy reminds me of Benedict Cumberbatch; the girl is fine-featured above her mask. It's as if, under different circumstances, one might encounter them at cotillion.
"Do you believe that property is worth more than human lives?" asks the boy.
"Do you believe the police should be allowed to murder people?" asks the girl.
Is that what's been happening in Portland, the police murdering people?
"The entire police force is built on systemic racism," she says. "On keeping black people down."
"We've tried for 20 years to do it another way," says the boy, who is maybe 22. "It hasn't worked. Nothing changes except with violence."…
Then he flipped me the bird.
But! It’s a new day, right? And maybe people are going to behave beautifully, or at least better. We did not see that last week at the Capitol, but my gut, or maybe just my hope, says people are craving to chill; to not scale walls; to — if only for variety — turn down the rhetoric.
When I was in Portland, I had one of the US Border Patrol guys stationed in the federal courthouse slide into my DMs; we had some good conversations and still stay in occasional touch. A few days ago, he passed along a 26-page criminal complaint against someone being framed as a left-wing American terrorist. I read the complaint. With the exception of a reference to the man’s having in 2017 joined “the People’s Protective Units (“YPG”), a group fighting in Syria against ISIS and the Turkish Government” (a group I know nothing about), the person the complaint was against struck me as openly performative, announcements made of Facebook and, last week, reposting flyers in support of “armed takeover,” in this case, in Tallahassee.
Alarming, certainly, and yet, the man’s life struck me as exactly as framed above: “chaotic.” He had been homeless; he didn’t seem able to hold a job; his pronouncements were overblown and “look at me” and in this way, he reminded me of Michael Reinoehl, as someone looking for a place to land, to seen as important to a cause, someone who, in Reinoehl’s case, had everything backwards, and we know this because he killed a man and five days later was himself killed. I don’t know what I can wish for people so lost, except calm and comfort and better days and, on this Inauguration Day, whatever the existential equivalent is of warm pie.
So let’s get to some lovely things, shall we? I spent a few hours yesterday working on the Paloma Media studio...
… then decided to give it a test-run with my friend Yael Bar tur, who knows All Things Social Media whereas I know nothing. If you want the answer to the pressing question, “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”, you can check out these quick Instagram Stories, which go poof within 24 hours so act fast.
One of the questions I answered was, “Tell us why you love Joan Didion.” I need more than 30 seconds for that, but will tell you here, I received an advance copy of her upcoming collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean. The title piece from Slouching Towards Bethlehem is not here, but Hilton Als quotes liberally from it in the foreword, and I include it here, on the chance you think we are living in exceptional times. Also, to show you Didion’s razor eye. Here she is, reporting from Haight-Ashbury in 1967:
Janis Joplin is singing with Big Brother in the Panhandle and almost everybody is high and it is a pretty nice Sunday afternoon between 3 and 6 o’clock which the activists say are the three hours of the week when something is most likely to happen in the Haight-Ashbury and who turns up but Peter Berg (a Mime Trouper and later a Digger) He is with his wife and six or seven other people along with Chester Anderson’s associate The Connection and the first peculiar thing is they are in blackface.
I mention to Max and Sharon that some members of the Mime Troupe seem to be in blackface.
“It’s street theater,” Sharon assures me, “It’s supposed be really groovy.”
The Mime Troupers get a little closer. There are some other peculiar things about them. For one thing they are tapping people on the head with dime store plastic nightsticks and for another they are wearing signs on their backs. HOW MANY TIMES YOU’VE BEEN RAPED YOU LOVE FREAKS and WHO STOLE CHUCK BERRY’S MUSIC. Things like that.
Then they’re distributing communication company fliers which say:
& this summer thousands of un-white un-suburban boppers are going to want to know why you’ve given up what they can’t get & how you get away with it & how come you not a faggot with hair so long & they want Haight Street one way or the other. IF YOU DON’T KNOW, BY AUGUST HAIGHT STREET WILL BE A CEMETERY.
Max reads the flier and stands up. “I’m getting bad vibes,” he says and he and Sharon leave.
I have to stay around because I’m looking for Otto so I walk over to where the Mime Troupers have formed a circle around a Negro. Peter Berg is saying if anybody asks that this is street theatre, and I figure the curtain is up because what they’re doing right now is jabbing the Negro with the nightsticks. They jab and they bare their teeth and rock on the balls of their feet and they wait.
“I’m beginning to get annoyed here the,” Negro says. “I’m going to get mad.”
By now there are several Negroes around reading the signs and watching.
“Just beginning to get annoyed, are you?” one of the Mime Troupers says. “Don’t you think it’s about time?”
“Nobody stole Chuck Berry’s music, man,” says another Negro who has been studying the signs. “Chuck Berry’s music belongs to everybody.”
‘Yeh?” a girl in blackface says, “Everybody who?”
“Why,” he says, confused. “Everybody in America.”
“In America,” the blackface girl shrieks. “Listen to him talk about America.”
“Listen,” he says helplessly. “Listen here.”
“What’d America ever do for you?” the girl in black face jeers. “White kids here, they can sit the park all summer long listening to the music they stole, because their bigshot parents keep sending them money. Whoever sends you money?”
“Listen,” the Negro says, his voice rising. “You’re going to start something here, this isn’t right –”
“You tell us what’s right black boy,” the girl says.
Didion also discusses, in “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” her being confused — and this is in 1968 — at how overwrought parents could become about getting their child into the right kindergarten, whereas, “When my father was told I had been rejected by Stanford, he shrugged and offered me a drink.” Really, it’s okay parents! The kids turn out fine.
A few things I found super-fine this week:
Nearly every day my daughter Tafv (rhymes with “lava” and means “feather” in Creek [Muskogee]; her dad was full-blood) sends me something visually beautiful, often an Instagram story, which (as above) disappear, as did this one, so forgive my dork-o recapture/repost, anyway, I present the most recent, What Tafv Sent:
Was chatting yesterday with my Paloma conspirer Matt Welch (content a’comin’!). We don’t like paywalls, so you know what? Keeping this content free. If you want to and can pay to subscribe, I’ll be grateful and will take it but, it’s up to you!
Love and hot pie and all that (and now, to the TV) xx