March 9th, London
While we were eating lunch yesterday afternoon, my friend Jeff told me about a friend of his who believes there’s a secret planet hidden behind the sun that the U.S. government knows about but is keeping to itself.
On the bus home, I Googled “hidden planet” and came upon the following, which was posted by someone named XZiled, who calls himself a journalist: “Proof of an Object Behind the Sun that NASA Has Removed from Their Images,” it’s headlined. “Almost 6,000 years ago, the ancient Sumerians told of planet Nibiru existing in our solar system. The ancient Hebrew text, called the Kolbrin, also described this mysterious planetoid and called it ‘The Great Destroyer.’ ”
A number of people responded to the post, including this guy: “OK, I am a little confused. A planet ‘behind’ the sun? One that people who lived 6,000 years ago knew about even though they hadn’t yet figured out that the earth was round? I think it’s time to get some Science up in this bitch!” He then listed a number of reasons the hidden planet was bullshit. Later, Jeff told me about an American musician named Bill Callahan who once released an album called “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle.” God, I wish I’d thought of that.
March 20th, Rackham, Sussex
On this week’s “Real Time,” Bill Maher predicts that, if elected, Donald Trump will do away with the eagle as the symbol of America and replace it with a turtle fucking a shoe.
April 6th, New York
There are only two guest elevators at the Excelsior Hotel. They come infrequently, so, if I’m in the lobby, waiting to go up, I always check to see if anyone else is coming before I press the button. Late yesterday morning, it was a group of four middle-aged women, all plump and American. “Thank you, thank you,” they panted, as they piled in behind me.
“No problem,” I said, changing my mind as each of them pressed a button for a different floor.
“We’re all over the place!” one of the women cried, and the others shrieked. Their laughter was sudden and shrill, and the sound of it caused me to wince.
“Marcie here’s the crazy one,” a woman in a brown turtleneck said, and again they all cracked up.
“Me?!” the one named Marcie countered. “What about you on that double-decker bus!”
My floor was eleven, but our first stop was two, where I glared at the woman getting off and thought, Couldn’t you have walked? There are stairs off the lobby. I’ve taken them a thousand times. Making it worse, instead of just stepping out of the elevator, the woman turned to hug her friends and say how much she was going to miss them. “You tell Gary hello from me.”
“You say the same to Mark.”
The door started closing, so one of them held it open, and that set them all to laughing as well. How funny! We’re holding things up!
Next it was five, where again hugs were exchanged. “Thank you so much, Mary Beth, for organizing the trip.”
“No, thank you for coming.”
“Are you kidding? I’ll take any excuse to get away from Brian and the kids.”
On nine, the third woman got off. Hugs were exchanged, and, after the door had closed behind her, the one remaining woman turned to me, her eyes moist from laughter. “I bet you’d have never held the elevator if you’d known we were all so crazy!”
“Actually, no,” I said, my voice flat and cold. “I wouldn’t have.”
Then it was just weird and uncomfortable up to ten, where she finally got off.
May 21st, Emerald Isle, North Carolina
I returned from my walk last night to find Dad in the living room. “Hey there, paunchy,” he said.
“I don’t have a paunch,” I insisted. “It’s my shirt billowing.”
“You’re just sucking your stomach in,” he said.
At breakfast this morning, I asked him what he thinks about Trump.
“Well, he’s a businessman. I think he’s got a lot of courage.”
“Courage like when he said that Ted Cruz’s father was responsible for the Kennedy assassination?”
“I think the bigger problem is the news media,” Dad said. “Places like the New York Times, they have a definite . . . agenda.”
I nodded. “I bet the only place that’s not biased is Fox News.”
“Well, as a matter of fact, that’s right,” Dad told me.
“It’s because they say so on air,” I continued. “ ‘Fair and balanced.’ ”
“They do say it, but only because it’s true,” Dad said.
He was an old-school fiscal Republican until the advent of cable news. Now he believes whatever Bill O’Reilly tells him to, though he gets a bit confused as to why.
While walking along Ocean Drive yesterday, the stretch that’s situated off the Coast Guard Road, I passed a house with a sign out front reading “TEAM TRUMP: REBUILD AMERICA.”
Over dinner last night, Amy recalled the time her sixth-grade health teacher separated the girls in class and asked, “If you were naked and had only a washcloth, which would you cover, your top or your bottom?”
Amy’s answer—“I’d cover my face”—is, I think, the best possible response. But, still, what a question.
May 30th, London
I worked until three-thirty yesterday and then cut through the park. It was warm and sunny, and among the couples lying on blankets in the grass I saw two young men with their arms around each other. I could never have done that when I was their age, not unless it was Pride Day and every single person in the park was a homosexual. How different young gay people’s lives are today. How wonderful.
June 6th, Rackham
I was working yesterday and looked out the window to see Hugh on what was surely the world’s first riding mower. It looked like a buggy almost, and he was bobbing up and down in the seat. I laughed so hard.
“It’s like a Model T,” I said, “but it’s also like you should have a whip in your hand.”
“It’s Tom and Thelma’s,” he explained, which would make it a Model T & T. Later in the day, he tried transplanting some sweet peas he’d grown from seeds. “Neela tells me they’re like caviar to slugs,” he said, sighing. His painting studio is closed for the summer. Now it’s just piano and gardening. I came home from picking up trash last night and found him on the bench beneath the tree drinking a Manhattan and surveying his freshly cut lawn. This is my favorite encounter: him at the end of the day, drink in hand, sun-kissed and in a good mood. The house feels like a wonderful decision then—no matter how much trash I’ve picked up, it’s all worth it. We always seem old in these moments, but not in a dreary way. It’s rather like we’re celebrating something that was hard-earned. We were young once, and now we have all this.
June 9th, Rackham
On the Daily Beast yesterday morning, I read a list of demands presented by students at various colleges and universities this past year. Included was: no “cross-ethnic” food in the cafeteria. Taco Tuesdays amounts to cultural appropriation, as does stir-fried chicken. On one campus, they’re insisting that white people should not be allowed to have dreadlocks, which is something I’ve been saying for years.
June 13th, Rackham
A gunman opened fire in an Orlando gay bar on Saturday night, killing forty-nine people and wounding another fifty-three. An article in this morning’s Times described the weapon he used—an assault rifle that was easy to buy. After the bodies were carted away, the President made a speech, people piled flowers and Teddy bears on a curb, and an N.R.A. spokesman undoubtedly released a statement saying that one lone crazy person shouldn’t be allowed to ruin things for everyone else.
But one lone crazy person is always ruining things for everyone else. Some nut puts explosives in his shoe, and suddenly everyone has to walk through the security arch in stocking feet. One person sneaks a liquid bomb onto the plane, and the next day you can no longer fly with more than three ounces of shampoo. A handful of people who jumped from the high floors of hotels made it so that all the windows are sealed.
So why can’t one lone gunman ruin automatic rifles for everyone else?
“Shame about the killings,” the FedEx driver said this morning, when he came to deliver a package. We got to talking about guns, and he said that a few years ago he took his kids to New York. “They wanted to have lunch at McDonald’s, but I made us go to the Wendy’s across the street, because you never hear of shootings there. McDonald’s, on the other hand . . .”
Also curious is that the Orlando shooter dialled 911 during his rampage and pledged his allegiance to ISIS. To 911?
Trump tweeted what amounts to I told you so, but I don’t think this qualified as an ISIS attack. Rather, it sounds like a lone crazy person who decided, What the hell, might as well join the club, before killing a lot of gay people. It’s like a deathbed conversion.
Trump gave a speech and said that the killer was “born in Afghan.”
“Like the blanket?” Hugh said.
The guy was actually born in New York.
June 14th, Rackham
Walking home from Storrington, I passed a pro-Brexit sign reading “VOTE LEAVE.” It’s the first one I’ve seen, but it’s not surprising, given the area. City people and the young are more in favor of remaining in the E.U., but will they vote in sufficient numbers? What would it mean for everyone who works at Starbucks and Costa and Whole Foods and Ryman’s and everywhere else that relies on foreign workers?
June 16th, Rackham
On my walk, I listened to a bit of a sermon delivered on Sunday by Roger Jimenez, of Verity Baptist Church. “What if you asked me, ‘Hey, are you sad that fifty pedophiles were killed today?’ Um, no, I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job. I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against the firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out,” he said. “I’m not saying we should do it. I’m not saying we should go, you know, blow up Planned Parenthood. All I’m saying is this: if God had His way, that’s what He would do.”
Then I listened to a similar sermon from a church in Sacramento. This guy, too, used the words “homosexual” and “pedophile” interchangeably and said that the tragedy was that more gay men weren’t killed.
Hearing the snippets, I wondered if I haven’t missed feeling hated and discriminated against. Just a little, maybe. Here in Sussex, everyone’s so welcoming. “And where’s your partner? Are you married?” There’s no outside anymore.
Hugh and I were talking about the Orlando shooting, and, when I got into how easy it is to buy an automatic weapon in America, he said it didn’t matter. “If it was more difficult, the guy would have just made a bomb.”
“Certain people might, but most won’t even make their own piecrust,” I argued, “and I think that, if you made the guns more difficult to get, they’d do like everyone else and just yell and scream when they got angry.”
“What kind of person wouldn’t make his own piecrust?” Hugh asked. I pointed out the window at the greater world. “There are people out there,” I told him, “who don’t even make their own eggnog.”
“But that’s so . . . easy,” he said, finally as sad and confused as the rest of us.
June 22nd, Bucharest
On Monday, our babysitter from the publishing house was I., but yesterday it was G., who is thin and twenty-seven and relentlessly negative. She’s not a complainer, necessarily, just a storm cloud, though not without reason. Her parents had her late in life and suffered relatively early from poor health. Her father died of cancer a few years ago, and her mother has Parkinson’s. “What with my genes, I’m really looking forward to aging,” she said.
G. had nothing good to say about Romania: all the politicians are crooked, there’s no hope of improvement, etc. If I tended to believe her, it was likely owing to the heat. She met us at the hotel at eleven, and by the time we reached the Village Museum it was easily ninety-seven degrees outside. It’s a beautiful place, on a lake, and the old houses were stunning. Most were wooden and simple, with roofs that were peaked, sometimes thatched and sometimes covered in small shingles.
“Now all the houses in villages are so ugly you would not believe it,” G. moaned. “Most are painted the most horrible pink you ever saw in your life, or orange.” She frowned at a nearby tree. “I hate orange.”
There were a lot of stray cats living at the museum. Food was left out for them, and they dozed in the staggering heat, some with their tongues hanging out of their mouths.
For lunch, we walked to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. There’s a beautiful restaurant there, so we sat and were waited on by a woman who looked so much like my sister Tiffany when she was young that it stopped my heart. She was blond, but her nose was the same, as were her eyes and her build. It’s her, I thought. It was insane to believe that, instead of dying, Tiffany had moved to Romania, drunk from the fountain of youth, and found a waitressing job, but for a moment I was convinced that it was actually her. It was so eerie, seeing this young woman. I couldn’t stop staring at her.
June 24th, London
England voted by a slim margin to leave the E.U., and already the pound has dropped to its lowest level in more than thirty years. Against the dollar, it’s now at $1.35. When we bought this house, it was $2.06. These are just the first rumblings. If I believe what I read in the New York Times, wages will fall, and median incomes will shrink, yet still on the radio I hear people cheering: “We won! No more Brussels telling us what to do! We have our identity back!” You hear that word a lot, “identity.” It’s like me saying, “I don’t know if I’m a North Carolinian, an American, or a North American!”
Do people really lie awake at night worrying about such things?
In London, it’s like someone died. “The important thing is not to make any snap decisions,” Hugh says. Our friends Frank and Scott said they’d move back to the U.S. if England voted to leave.
Can it be as bad as all that? I’d wanted to get my British passport, since it meant I could live anywhere in Europe. Now it means I can just live here.
As we were sitting in traffic on our car ride from Ruse, Bulgaria, to the Bucharest airport yesterday, our driver asked if we’d like to hear some traditional Romanian music. We said yes, and, as the first song played, he translated it. “ ‘I sold my soul for a . . . few bucks. I am having some bad habits, and when I sleep in the morning . . . I said some bad words about myself.’ ”
The next song amounted to “I am old. No one has any use for me.” The song after that was also about being ugly and unhappy. Then came one that was just about regret. “ ‘At a restaurant I used to like there was a girl with . . . black hair and dark eyes and . . . a red face who had a very nice body. Then I find out that . . . she loves somebody else.’ ”
After our passport control on the border, we stopped for gas, then drove on unimpeded, passing farmers in horse-driven carts and grand houses—or, rather, the shells of grand houses—built by Roma. “Many times they live in tents in the back yard, and the horses live inside,” the driver explained. It was a hundred degrees outside, and I felt sorry for everyone we saw.
At the airport, we got our tickets and moved easily through security. The sad lounge was upstairs, and it had no air-conditioning. I sat there sweating until six, when we boarded and I learned that I had a middle seat. Our plane was delayed, owing to striking air-traffic controllers in France, so we sat on the runway for another hour, waiting to get clearance from London. After takeoff, the woman in front of me shoved her seat all the way back and the woman next to her put on some horrible melon-scented hand cream. I couldn’t have been any more miserable. When we got back to London, it was so muggy that I had to pull the fan out. Today it’s drier. The sun was shining when I was woken up at six by Hugh, who looked at his phone and said, “It’s done. We’re out.”
It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about—Brexit.
July 18th, Rackham
Every night, at dusk, Carol the fox arrives. “Bold as brass,” we say. On Saturday, she trotted by the open kitchen door. We put the bone from that night’s côte de boeuf in the pasture and peeked out of the house at eight-thirty to see her in the spot where we’d left it. She walked away as if she’d been caught at something, as if to say, I was just standing here, but now I think I’ll stand over there instead. She ambled over to the orchard, but a few minutes later she was back and had the bone in her mouth.
We’re just crazy about Carol. I think of her as half dog and half cat. I’d considered leaving her some canned food but read this morning that foxes are naturally pretty lazy, and if you feed them they’re likely to stop defending their wider territory. Then you go away on vacation and they’re, like, Fuck.
August 8th, Emerald Isle
As Hugh and I went for a swim yesterday, I tried to think of a name for the pink house we’d bought next to the Sea Section. “What about Come Shell or High Water?”
He loved it, which is nice but puts it squarely in the “no” category. A “yes” is when he moans or says, “That’s disgusting. That’s awful.”
He’s happy here, but I just don’t get it. Walking anywhere, in any direction, is a pain, even if it’s not a hundred degrees outside. I’ve passed a house called the Fighting Cocks in West Sussex a thousand times, always happily, but, if I have to walk by the Emerald Isle CVS once more, I’ll scream.
“But look at it,” he says. “Look at the ocean!” He sits on the landing and stares at the water in the morning with a cup of tea in his hand, in the afternoon with coffee, at dusk with a gin and tonic or a Manhattan. “It’s like Somalia,” he says. “I have my youth back.”
I say, “You’re crazy.”
He says, “You don’t understand.”
After our swim, I went out again and walked to the Food Lion, where I bought three boxes of Jell-O for myself and a pack of hot dogs to throw into the canal. The store was jammed with newly arrived vacationers, their carts heaping. “I ain’t never seen it this bad,” said the woman in front of me. She was buying frozen chicken fingers and a jug of water, and when she turned around I saw that a big chunk of her nose was missing. Skin cancer, most likely. She was as small as a child—four feet ten maybe—and wore a sun hat, a sleeveless top, and long pants. When we finally got close, the woman placed her items on the belt. I did as well and watched as she studied what I was getting. “Looks like you eat about how I do.”
I wanted to tell her that the Jell-O was ironic and the hot dogs—the cheapest there were, red hots, actually, the color of dynamite—were for snapping turtles, but it seemed pretentious.
“I don’t cook either,” she said. “No time—not that I’d do it if I was retired. I’m eighty-one and still work. My husband died five years ago.”
“Where do you work?” I asked.
“Yonder at the campground,” she said. “I manage it.”
I bet you do, I thought admiringly.
August 14th, Emerald Isle
Dad is incensed over a woman my age he recently saw at a funeral. “I don’t understand these people with no discipline. I mean, she’s enormous—legs that go straight down into her shoes. Just . . . Jesus. And makeup an inch thick. There’s nothing . . . feminine there. Nothing of beauty.” He made a series of disgusted faces, and Amy and I laughed. “It’s not funny,” he said. “You should have seen her!”
He arrived yesterday afternoon wearing white shorts with a matching T-shirt. We hugged, and he was just bones with a slightly humped back.
“So how’s the Muslim situation over there in England? Do you feel targeted because you’re homosexual?”
Dad either hopes or worries that ISIS will blow up a theatre during one of my events.
I said, “Where do you get these ideas from?” Though I know exactly where he gets them from: Fox News.
Later, when talk turned to guns and how easy it is to get one in the U.S., he said, “Well, that’s just the media.”
There were reports of a shooting in the food court of Crabtree Valley Mall yesterday. I turned to my niece. “I’m sorry to have to tell you, Maddy, but all your friends are dead,” I said. “All of them.”
Was it ISIS? everyone wondered. Was it a disgruntled employee?
As far as I know, it was a false report. Police closed the place but found no shooting victim and no shooter. Still, we thought of it on the beach yesterday, under the umbrella, tan-talking. This is different from regular talking. It’s lazier and more meandering.
“Is Jack Frost married?” I asked.
“That’s a good question,” Amy said.
August 20th, Rackham
I had the kitchen door open and looked over at around midnight to see Carol not exactly peeking in but standing not far away, waiting to be noticed.
“Well, hello!” I said. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
And it’s true. I’ve been calling for her since we got back from our trip. On Thursday and Friday night, I put out dog food, over Hugh’s strenuous objection.
Last night, I returned from my walk and found him at the table outside my office, drinking a Manhattan. He’s been cranky and depressed, threatening to get on the next plane back to North Carolina. When he saw the dog food I’d bought, he said that if I put it out he wasn’t going to make me dinner.
“Oh, you are so.”
He insists that my feeding Carol will ultimately make things harder for her—“What happens when you take off for three months?”—and I argue that she could get hit by a car tomorrow. “How nice for her to come upon a windfall. You don’t know what it’s like out there night after night, lucky if you come away with two grubs and a millipede.”
When Carol arrived, I took off my iPod and sat on the top step outside my office with a bag of frankfurters. They were all I could find at the Waitrose, no big hot-dog selection like you’d get in the U.S. Carol came pretty close and might have taken it from my hand had I been more patient. As it was, I felt like I was causing her undue stress. She doesn’t like making eye contact and isn’t crazy about eating in front of people. The three thin frankfurters I gave her were carried away and looked funny hanging from her mouth. “Carol, you nut!” I said.
The chicken back she ate in front of me, ditto the dog treat. Between feedings I tried to wake Hugh. “Come downstairs. Our friend is here. We’re fellowshipping.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what it means. We’re hanging out. It’s beautiful.”
He says I’m manipulating her. “It’s what you do, the puppet master. It’s the same thing with people—you try to buy them.”
He’s just jealous. Oh, Carol.
August 26th, Rackham
In the Times, I read about Martin Blackwell, a Georgia man who threw boiling water on the gay son of his girlfriend. He got the son’s boyfriend as well, and both of them had to have skin grafts. They were “moaning” and “hollering,” and “stuck together like two hot dogs,” Blackwell said. “They’ll be all right,” he insisted, when the police came. “It was just a little hot water on them.”
September 29th, Rackham
I was getting ready to take a bath and was in the bedroom undressing when I felt a sudden, severe pain on what would be the instep of my left foot if I had an instep. I was in my stocking feet and had just removed the sock, expecting to find a sliver of glass, when I saw a wasp writhing on the floor beside my bed. “Son of a bitch,” I said. “You come into my house and sting me on the foot when I’ve never done anything to you?”
What was he doing walking? Had the joy of flying worn off? I picked him up with Kleenex, and, after throwing him in the toilet, I continued to berate him. “Asshole. That’s right. Who are you going to sting now?”
God, did it hurt. If I’d been a child, I’d have cried for at least twenty minutes. As it was, I winced for a while, took my bath, and was in bed by one-forty-five. A few hours later I awoke, my foot alternately throbbing and itching. I’ve never been one to make a fuss when wasps alight on an outdoor restaurant table, but maybe I’ll change that. I’m also going to stop feeling sorry for whatever it is that’s going on with bees now, whatever that problem they’re having is, confusion or mass suicide. From this point on, bees can kiss my ass. I mean it.
November 8th, Santa Fe
I was driven to the airport this morning by a tall, pale, blond fellow who referred to his bosses as “gals”—two gals who were married to each other. Here it was, Election Day, he said, and he had no idea who he was going to vote for, or if he was even going to vote.
“Of course you are,” I said. “You’re going to vote for Hillary Clinton.” What I thought was, Gads, man, pull yourself together!
“I’m just not sure,” he continued. “I mean, I drove Ivanka once and she gave me a pretty big tip.”
“That’s no reason to vote for her father,” I said. “Chelsea Clinton would have tipped just as big; she just never happened to get into your car.”
“I just hate not to vote.”
“Then do it,” I said. “And do it for Hillary. That tape that leaked, Trump saying that because he was famous he could do whatever he likes with women—that’s not what a decent person would say. Hillary Clinton has her drawbacks, but she’s qualified, and you’re going to vote for her—end of story.”
I wonder if he will.
November 9th, Portland, Oregon
“How are we doing this morning?” the hostess of the hotel restaurant chirped.
I said, “Really? You’re honestly going to ask me that?”
Trump won, and I’m in shock. Here it is, not even eight, and already three American friends have written to ask if they can live in our back yard in Sussex.
I got into bed early, before Clinton lost, and every fifteen minutes I checked my iPad. He won Ohio. He won Florida, and North Carolina. Like everyone else I know, I started getting uncomfortable.
He flipped Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan. He won.
Every pundit was wrong, as were all the polls. Trump won by uniting white working-class Midwesterners without a college education. They’re people who voted against their best interests. Bye, health care; bye, fifteen-dollar minimum wage.
Like always, I blame those who didn’t vote. I mean, he won Pennsylvania?
November 24th, Emerald Isle
I waited around for Lisa, Bob, and Dad to arrive, but by five-thirty they still weren’t here, so I set off on my walk, which took me past the Pacific Superstore. Like any number of other places along the main road, it sells rafts and T-shirts and bathing suits. In its enormous windows hung two extra-large beach towels with Confederate flags on them.
Really? I thought.
When I returned to the Sea Section, the others still hadn’t arrived. Kathy planned to grill fish for dinner, and, just as she was carrying it downstairs, they pulled up. Lisa has continued to lose weight since I last saw her. You can see it clearly. “I told Dad I was down twenty pounds, and he said, ‘Lose any more and you and I are going to have a love affair.’ Isn’t that creepy?”
It made me think of what Trump had said about dating his daughter Ivanka. “Since when do men do that?” I asked Lisa.
At the table I told everyone about the Confederate-flag beach towels I had seen. “That’s just terrible,” Dad said, forking asparagus into his mouth.
Lisa mentioned the recent rise of hate crimes, and Dad said he’d heard there was a lot of bad stuff going on. “I wonder what precipitated it?”
“You wonder?” we all said in unison.
“It’s Trump,” Lisa said.
“Baloney. He has nothing to do with it.”
This was the conversation we were all hoping to avoid, or at least postpone until our brother Paul arrived, but now we were having it.
“He actively courted racists,” I said. “They were front and center at his rallies, and, since winning, he’s done nothing to disavow them.”
“He doesn’t have time for crap like that,” Dad said. “He can’t disavow every group he doesn’t like—he’s too busy.”
“Not too busy to tweet about ‘Hamilton’ at 3 a.m.,” I said. “Or to complain that ‘Saturday Night Live’ is one-sided.”
“Oh, baloney. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“How could you vote for that asshole?” I asked.
“Donald Trump is not an asshole!” Dad shouted, which I thought was funny. I mean, he pretty much ran on it.
“Any kid in America can go online now and hear his or her new President say the word ‘pussy,’ ” I said, my voice raised, my heart in my throat. “Is that the person you want your children to look up to? What kind of a man says that sort of thing?”
“It was locker-room talk.”
“He wasn’t in a locker room. He was at work,” I shouted. “And don’t tell me about locker-room talk. I’m in them five days a week and never hear anyone speaking like that. And, if I did, the last thing I’d think is, Oh, I wish that guy were my President.”
Amy jumped in. “It’s the most important job in the world, and you voted for someone with no experience?”
“He has plenty of experience. Business experience.”
“Steve Bannon in the White House?” I said. “Steve Bannon, who said he didn’t want his kids going to a school in L.A. because there were too many Jews there?”
“He never . . . I don’t know where you’re getting this crap. Trump is a wonderful man, the best thing that’s happened to this country in a long time.”
“He’s a con artist. He’s a huckster.”
“You’re wrong,” Dad said. “All of you are wrong.”
“You want to go for a walk?” Lisa asked.
“I’d love to,” I said.
We went five miles on steam. Idiot . . . asshole . . . how dare he . . .
“I was going to write Dad’s obituary in the car on the way here, but I was too upset,” Lisa said. “I’d wanted to get all the facts straight, but now I really don’t give a damn.”
By the time we returned, it was midnight. Dad had gone to bed, and we stood in the kitchen outside his room rehashing the argument with Amy and Hugh until we were all repeating ourselves. “Well, I’m going to go to bed,” Lisa said, sighing, at one o’clock.
“With Bob or Dad?” Amy asked.
I’ve never seen Hugh laugh so hard.
December 4th, Rackham
It’s bright and bitterly cold this morning. The yard is white with frost, and lying on the ground outside my office—frozen now, but still glistening—are the four slices of lamb’s liver I bought for Carol on the night I returned to Sussex.
“Thelma hasn’t seen her since we left in early October,” Hugh said over dinner last night. “Face it—she’s dead.”
But I don’t want to face it. It’s too early for that. I called for her after sunset, great clouds of steam coming from my mouth and dissipating. I read last summer on some wildlife site that fifty-eight per cent of foxes die before they’re a year old—hit by cars, most of them. Others are poisoned, or maybe they starve to death. Carol seemed pretty young to me. I expected that she would mate right about now and take a turkey leg from my hand on Christmas Day. I had it all planned out. In the spring she’d have her litter. I imagined her bringing the kits straight to me, and I thought of how I’d spoil them and their children in turn. This is different from having a dog or cat go missing. Carol was/is a wild animal. There’s no collar around her neck. I can’t put signs up. She wasn’t “mine,” but that didn’t stop me from being hers. And so the lamb’s liver remains where it is. I’m just surprised that crows haven’t taken it.
December 5th, Rackham
I can’t seem to put this election behind me. There was hope last week—crazy hope—that Jill Stein’s requested three-state recount would go in the Democrats’ favor, but, if it were likely, the Times would have mentioned it. Hugh promised last year that, if Trump won, the C.I.A. would “take him out,” but I don’t see that happening either. By this point, Clinton won the popular vote by three million, a result that Trump, with no evidence, is attributing to “massive voter fraud,” a claim that his surrogates, with no evidence, are supporting. I’ve never been this upset by an election and can’t shake the feeling that it’s somehow my fault, that I could have done more. That makes me sound grandiose—what do I think I had the power to do? It all comes down to a handful of people in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A handful in each state, and the stupid Electoral College that allows a vote in Wyoming to count more than a vote in California. In the paper, I look at people who attended his victory rally and wonder, Who are you? Then I think of Paul announcing with great authority that Trump is a man of peace and of Dad saying he’s the best thing that’s happened to this country in ages. My God, I think. Those people share my last name.
At four o’clock yesterday, Hugh and I drove to Storrington for his piano recital. There weren’t any cars parked in front of the teacher’s house, so we knocked and learned that we were an hour early. “Really?” Hugh said. He’d been a nervous wreck all day and probably would have played his brief piece (Schubert’s “Serenade”) then and there if he could have. Rather than leaving with me, he stayed and helped his teacher set the buffet table. I picked up a big sackful of trash and returned at five to find the small parlor packed with people. Kids sat on the floor while adults occupied the chairs and sofas. There was one seat left in the back of the room, and I took it just as an eighteen-year-old named Hannah stepped forward to play a piece that she had memorized. She and a serious-looking ten-year-old named Tom were clearly the best, but they seemed to take no particular pleasure in their superiority. Neither of them smiled at the accomplishment, much less pumped a fist. Is it an English thing, this modesty?
I liked that everyone was brief. “Now here’s William to play ‘Tearful Mouse.’ ”
“Charlie is a bit sick today, unfortunately, but had hoped to entertain us with ‘The Stegosaurus Stomp.’ ”
Hugh practices every day for hours, so I thought he’d do much better. It was painful watching him approach the bench. He was the only one who spoke to the teacher while playing, who acted like this was a lesson rather than a recital. I’ve never seen him so vulnerable. That said, he was a good sport about it. “I wanted to be perfect,” he said over dinner. “I . . . need to be perfect.”
It’s such a burden to place on yourself. Say you are perfect—who’s going to recognize it? Few things are like the Olympics, where judges hold up scorecards. How does one paint perfectly? Or lawyer perfectly?
The key is to fill the space between your skill level and perfection with charm. That said, you can’t do it consciously. Charm can’t be constructed that way. Maybe the word I’m looking for is self-forgiveness, the contagious variety. There, that happened, so can we all now agree to put it behind us?
After Hugh, a twelve-year-old blasted “My Heart Will Go On” on the trumpet. It was such a jarring instrument for that song—I loved it. A man played the Irish pipes with great skill, and then another child played, and another after that. It was such a lovely way to spend an early evening.
December 8th, Paris
“Ah!” cried Dr. Barras when I showed up for my semiannual periodontal appointment. “You wore green socks to match our walls!”
She was in a good mood yesterday. “I got a pain in my side after your election and worried I’d have to be hospitalized,” she said. “It’s Trump! How can so many people in your country be so stupid?”
Her assistant agreed. “Horrible. What a stupid, stupid man.”
I didn’t have as much plaque as I did the last time, but it was a bloody undertaking nevertheless. Afterward, I was given a training session with an electric toothbrush. Dr. Barras held up a mirror, and, after thinking that my teeth looked pretty good, I realized I was looking at my implants, which are only “mine” in the way that my socks are, meaning I bought them. My real teeth looked slightly better and slightly worse than I thought they would. Basically, they’re just old-person’s teeth, tea-stained and chipped. I’d love not to have so many gaps between them but am not sure I want braces again at age sixty. I’ll get them off just in time to be cremated.
This excerpt is drawn from “A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020),” by David Sedaris, out this October from Little, Brown.
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