I have been reading a good book that outlines how a country that was once the most adventurous and entrepreneurial in the world fell into great malaise and enduring stagnation. It's a country whose immense ship-building skills gave its sailors tremendous advantage over the seas. The drive and ambition of its people to explore the world was fueled by clergy who wanted to convert savages; nobles and merchants who wanted to increase their wealth, and kings who wanted to increase power.
"Portugal, once an envied world power and, in the sixteenth century arguably the world's wealthiest nation, has become an unheralded land,'' write Barry Hatton in The Portuguese: A Modern History.
Much figured into Portugal's demise as a world power. "With the arrival of the Inquisition, established in Lisbon in 1536, the Church of Portugal, which had hitherto shown tolerance to the Muslims and Jews, hardened into a dogmatic and unyielding institution,'' Hatton writes.
The Dutch set their sights on Portugal's overseas assets as Portugal fell victim to power games between the Dutch, France and England. In 1755, the largest earthquake to ever hit Europe all but leveled Lisbon and all the rest of history conspired to leave Portugal in history's wake. Illiteracy, the lack of a strong middle class, little raw materials and especially coal: The Industrial Revolution did not take place in Portugal. In the 20th Century and now, even the poorest parts of Spain were still better off than Lisbon.
I'm not a student of European history, nor am I an avid world traveler, but Portugal is such a strikingly different kind of country that it begged me to try and square up the story behind what I saw and felt while I was there. Portugal's back story is one of heartbreak and failure, but the result is a place where the pace is accidentally human.
Portugal Is Personal
The wonder of life is that you can never exactly anticipate what event or experience will make you see yourself or the world in a new light, or anticipate how a person or place will forever alter the movie that plays in your mind.
Exactly two years ago I went to Portugal. It was my first visit to the country and it was a stroke of luck -- a gift within an already much-appreciated and cool work assignment.
I had been asked to cover the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team in advance of the 2015 Women's World Cup. Pretty great already, given the domestic travel I'd be taking for matches and then the eventual month-long trip to Canada. But in the middle of all that hum of work and travel and excitement, the U.S. team traveled to the Algarve coast in southern Portugal to play in a pretty good international tournament. I got to go, too.
From the moment I stepped off my easy, non-stop flight from Newark to Lisbon and started walking the narrow, dark, hilly, winding and stone tile-clad streets, I knew I was experiencing a city and country unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was magical not because it was fancy or "European" or foreign in some mysterious way, but because Lisbon is colorful but worn, enduring but not quite persistent, slow with a lazy sense of resignation.
It wasn't timeless like Paris or London, but fixed in the past -- decades behind countries like Spain or Italy or France. And the distinct impression is that Portugal is not lagging behind and is on course to catch up to the hectic, glitzy modernity that has draped so many cities and countries around the world. It will remain embedded in its own pocket of space, untied to the usual arc of history. It's a reality strikes you fast, and deep, and does so in the way the bright-colored tiles and paint are smudged with grime and dark edges of decay.
Portugal was suffering, perhaps, but resigned to its station. The language sounded more Bulgarian than romance, which relieved me of any notion of trying to decipher anything anyone was saying. The people in the markets, metro trains and squares were lively if not exactly jovial or extroverted. They didn't seem to notice me, but I didn't feel ignored or invisible. I found myself noticing how much the young people held hands and seemed uncomplicated and not neurotic, as if they had been reared outside the frenetic atmosphere of American and other strains of insidious pop culture.
Portugal was, simply, fascinatingly foreign while also not terribly intimidating. And I found myself hooked by Lisbon and the Algarve, where I explored old cities in Albufeira and Loule, where every tomato salad and dish of piri piri chicken induced another self-satisfied wave of emotion. Portugal was a place you could simply just BE.
Portugal As Internalized Motion Picture
It's been a vast, tumultuous, strange and loopy months here in America since that three-week trip I took to Portugal in March 2015. I suppose that maybe part of the reason Portugal has become an enduring star in the movie I play in my brain is because what I saw was like nothing I had quite seen before.
When I get sick and tired or downright alarmed by what has happened in the U.S. since that visit, I find myself turning to Portugal, extolling its magic and allure to friends and family, vowing to go back as soon as I can, contemplating retirement there or large chunks of time in the Algarve to wander the beaches and old cities and market places.
Lisbon's streets are serviced by trolleys you can pay one fare and ride all day. The art museums and culture are to linger over. The Algarve is a universe that the Swedes and Spanish and Germans and Brits have long made their warm-weather outpost. I met a gaggle of Canadian retirees who crowed about how good they had it for 3 months of the year, eating fresh foods for next to nothing under the Algarve sun.
Olives, fresh fish, cured meats, cheeses, fava beans and wine that costs four Euros for a delicious, deep red -- Portugal may have long fallen from economic grace, but the aftermath is antidote for me. It is a country now fixed in my mind's eye, sunlit, a slow-turning and hard-baked little planet that pulls me back.
I've asked a lot of questions the past 1.8 years since Donald. J. T###p first rode the golden escalator down from his gold-plated penthouse to the paid actors in the Trump Tower lobby to announce he was going to kill us all, I mean, run for president. Let's run through some of early questions.
1. Is he serious?
2. Is this some kind of joke?
3. He's putting us on, right?
4. He doesn't want to be president, does he?
5. What the fuck?
6. Can he win?
7. I thought you said there is no way he could win?
8. He said what?
9. He acted like what?
10. Who in God's creation would vote for this pig?
That was just during the GOP primary. When it became crunch time against Hillary, the questions were the same, only they were expressed from a psychological state that morphed from "mere" incredulity to full-on, five-alarm, hair-on-fire panic.
The mere sight of Gary Johnson made me want to renounce medical marijuana forever. He has given edibles a bad name and proved weed kills. The mention of Jill Stein's name prompted hallucinogenic flashbacks that featured Stein clad in cossack garb riding horseback toward the Urals like Julie Christie in some warped remake of Dr. Zhivago. For millions of Americans, the middle of the night was Siberia, where the question "Is this really happening?" swirled in the sleepless brain like driving snow.
11. He asked the Russians to find Clinton's emails?
12. Paul Manafort was paid how much by the Russians for his work in the Ukraine?
13. Jill Stein and Michael Flynn attended what kind of dinner with Vladimir Putin?
14. When did Trump say the IRS audit would be over and then he'd release his tax returns?
15. Rudy Guiliani promised what kind of bombshell out of the FBI?
16. Why did Comey release that statement about the emails right after Guiliani whose firm represents NYC FBI officers said there would be a bombshell when, after all, the allegedly bad emails from Anthony Weiner's laptop were the same emails already vetted in a look-see through other Clinton email look-sees?
17. He's going to Michigan?
18. She's going to Arizona?
19. They aren't calling Virginia yet?
20. It's over, there's no path to 270, so why are you leaving the TV on?
In fact, there have been a million questions about T$$$p, all a variation on the theme of "How the hell is this happening?" Now, however, here we are, 13 years I mean 3 weeks into the T@@@p "presidency". The questions have not only not slowed down, they have morphed into infinitely existential inquiries that promise no answer. Not now. Not any time soon. For example:
21. Why won't Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan do something, anything?
In fact, given the resignation of T@@@p's national security advisor over the T@@@p campaign's many ties to Russia, and given the ghost administration that has defied every rule and every norm, we've now got what to me seems like the most bizarre question that ever needed to be asked in America.
It's not the one they asked about Watergate that seems to be applicable here, especially since even GOP Senators are asking it:
22. What did the president know and when did he know it?
I'm pretty sure this question about T$$$p's cozy ties to Russia, or at least his part in having Flynn talk to Putin's agents, is just a rhetorical question. Of course T@@@p told Flynn to call Putin and tell him to back off retaliating for Obama's sanctions and dismissal of Russian envoys. Of course T###p is compromised and needs to be impeached. The specter of this reality is being flushed into daylight by the press and MAYBE someone with real police power makes me feel a little less insane. I suspect we are close to confirming that T###p is every bit the Narcissistic con man with a stairs issue who first rode down the escalator to start this shit show in June 2015.
The real question now is: Who's in charge of this country?
Today, with a misogynist bully scam artist having grabbed the role of "change agent" for America, I find myself wishing Mary Daly was still alive. She'd be wielding the Amazon woman's double-headed ax and she'd have the words. The best words!
What would this radical feminist theologian who devastatingly chipped Christian theory say about Trump? Specifically, what would Daly have said about the aggressor/abuse predations Trump uses for conquest and control of women, and, the acceptance -- even by some women -- of the denigrating rhetoric and the actual sex-abuse behavior of this diseased messiah? Daly, the Boston College "heretical" professor who died in 2010, left a luscious, lingering canon that contains legions of appropriate quotes.
“Male religion entombs women in sepulchres of silence in order to chant its own eternal and dreary dirge to a past that never was.”
A past that never was! See, Mr. Great Again Trump is tapping directly into a patriarchal strain of brainwashing that aims to gaslight the acolytes into darkness and despair!
Or this from Daly:
“Every woman who has come to consciousness can recall an almost endless series of oppressive, violating, insulting, assaulting acts against her Self. Every woman is battered by such assaults - is on a psychic level, a battered woman.”
There are many levels at which Trump and Trumpism needs to be unpacked and analyzed, but none more certainly now than a feminist analysis -- a radical feminist analysis even more so. The pussy-grabbing sex tape in which Trump confirms his abuses of women was more than an October surprise.
That phrase tends to address a political event that upends a national campaign. In Trump's case, given his self-described abuse of women and the taped "proof" -- as if we needed Access Hollywood to "know" -- the shift to women's rights, women's role and how men treat women has become primary. The fallout from Trump supporters who are pushing back against "political correctness" extends to a new campaign call: Repeal the 19th amendment, which gives women the right to vote. Maybe they're joking. It's all so very funny and cavalier, isn't it? Who needs women anyway?
It was the reason Michelle Obama, in a speech that far surpassed its original assignment to stump for Hillary Clinton, set forth an argument about what Americans as a society must accept as a standard for behavior between each other. At its heart, the First Lady's speech was as devastating as it was because it laid bare the insidious and person-condemning ways in which men's treatment of women -- from overt to subtle -- continues to make women feel at the margins of acceptance (at best) to outright objects for desire, control and abuse.
With her words, Michelle Obama struck a chord of pain for so many women who've been groped or marginalized or talked over or paid less than men. That's a majority of women, at least. It struck fast and hard in part because of Trump used his large body to stalk Clinton during the second presidential debate -- physical presence that many women and maybe many men immediately identified as a deliberate, controlling threat. When and where might the pussy-grabby and tongue-down-the-throater strike next?
We have not witnessed racism and demagoguery such as what Trump is brandishing in this heinous year of anger and hate. Neither have we witnessed so plain the stalking, insidious threat of not just white, male privilege, but male domination. It is a radicalizing moment. It is so viscerally disarming that the recent Trump speeches, abuse revelations and his subsequent double-down threats have led me to reconsider why and how a feminist theologian had, in our own recent history, set forth an actual philosophy of separation between men and women.
I would like to believe that Mary Daly, the Schenectady-born radical feminist philosopher who died at age 81, would have something succinct to say about the way Trump divides women: The pretty, leggy ones he grabs by the pussy and the ugly ones he would never touch and the ones that he does grab by the pussy but aren't beautiful enough by his standards so he uses them as evidence that he is not an abuser. Look at her? Trump taunts. Who would touch that? The only evidence is the word of the women. And what evidence is that?
See? This is no small political matter with a small "p." This is Political with a capital "P" because what Trump has perpetuated both in his actions and his denials of action is at the core of women's subjugated, secondary, lesser-than, unequal role.
Daly, an astounding and controversial, stood herself far outside the patriarchy. She was a radical lesbian feminist. She was a "separatist" from male society because it was the only way to confront the damage done by men and their systems not just to women but to the planet.
Daly's radical philosophy pushed beyond what Freud would have called "the narcissism of small differences" between Marxism and Nazism, Christianity and Judaism or Buddhism. All of these ways of organizing the world were merely "sects within the grand (and tragic) religion of patriarchy,'' wrote religious studies professor and Shimer College president Susan Henking.
In order to demystify the patriarchal structures and world views, Daly wrote in ways that are legendary and radical and thrilling. Her quotes are astonishing and brutal. But within Daly's philosophy of reorganizing the earth in balance, necessary. For instance:
“If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males.”
Or this, which distilled Daly's primary tenent that when God is seen as male, males are gods:
“God's plan' is often a front for men's plans and a cover for inadequacy, ignorance, and evil.”
Others have called Daly's principle agenda an act aimed to "reveal the structures and myths within patriarchy which degrade all, but especially women's, humanity." She started with her book "The Church and the Second Sex," where Daly reviews the historical record of Christian theory and practice to show its inherent misogyny.
"Drawing on the work of Simone be Beauvoir, Daly notes that Christianity, since its inception, has sought to oppress and deceive women. It holds up unattainable visions of the Virgin Mary as the exemplar of the good Christian woman, while also affirming that Mary was made pure only through the act of a male god and only for the sake of a male savior,'' one of Daly's interpreters, Dr. Wesley Wildman at Boston University.
"The paradigmatic woman is passive, asexual, and, in a striking reversal of the normal order, kneels in submission before her son. The model of Christian piety is essentially one of submission and of patient suffering in light of oppression. Women achieve some merit only by accepting and internalizing their role as the patient sufferer who will be rewarded in the life to come, or by somehow "rising above" the handicap of their sex and embodying more fully the masculine norm of spiritual rigor, as was the case with Teresa of Avila,'' Wildman said.
Adam to Eve. Trump to attractive women. It is still as it was written, only more coarse and barbaric since we're supposed to have moved forward.
For all the wrong and frightening ways in which Trump talks and motivates his base of American voters, the October surprise is that -- among the dispiriting and deadly "truths" he deals in -- Trump has laid bare the primal and primary ways in which men and women are divided in this society due to patriarchal systems that have yet to be smashed. Trump's misogyny is the patriarchy playing out en flagrante delicto.
Most women and many men understand this disqualifying pathology. Misogyny lives. The only consolation is that it's finally the reason Tump loses -- even after all of Trump's other denigrating and abusive forms of hatred were allowed a pass. I'll take comfort in that. Mary Daly would not.
It started with paper towels and toilet paper. That was why I went to Costco. I need household supplies. Abundance and low price was critical. I dealt myself in for a stop at Costco but committed the ultimate fail.
Prior to entering the retail warehouse, I did not commit that critical oath: THOU SHALT NOT BUY ANYTHING MORE THAN WHAT YOU CAME HERE FOR. So, of course, I fell victim to Costco and the $4.99 rotisserie chicken. Not one. But two of them.
Why? Because I suffer from that affliction that says: If you are going to buy an item at bargain prices, do not just buy one. Buy two. Buy 10. Because to only buy one -- even though you only need one -- would be like losing money. I mean, $4.99 for a whole, cooked chicken is ... a great deal!
The real problem with the Costco rotisserie chicken isn't, however, that it is so inexpensive that you buy more than you need. It's that they really aren't THAT good. They are reliable, but only in a serviceable way. They are juicy in the way that they must be injected with some kind of juice solution. I'm not certain, I'm just guessing, since they are juicy. Maybe too juicy. Far more juicy than the $8.99 rotisserie chickens they sell at North Shore Farms, which may even be organic chickens and are not nearly as big or juicy but, in fact, they do taste better.
Anyway, these rotisserie chickens are now looming in the refrigerator. It THE DAY after I went to Costco and succumbed to the pair of chickens. And now the realization that I must actually make USE of these chickens is getting me a little stressed out. I feel, frankly, oppressed. Usually, I use these chickens to make chicken soup for my family. But I realized TOO LATE that I still have an entire batch of chicken soup in the freezer from the last time I bought a pair of Costco birds.
Worse, my daughter informed me that after last week's spate of chicken dishes, she's sick of chicken. So she's been eating peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for the past 36 hours.
Tonight, I'm going out to dinner. I'm going to a Greek restaurant in NYC and I will not order chicken, because all I will be able to think about is how, back at home, there are these two chickens that have to be consumed. One of them is upstairs in the kitchen fridge. The other is in the spare fridge in the basement, because, after all, who has room in the main fridge for two chickens? Not me. Which begs the question: WHY?
Next time, I will take the oath. No rotisserie chicken from Costco. Ever.
No one cares that I had pneumonia once. I don't necessarily care, either, except to say that I am glad I didn't actually die from it the way I thought I was going to for a few harrowing days before and right after I was finally driven to a hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The attending doctor in the emergency room was so alarmed by the severity of my symptoms that he actually asked me if I had been on a drug or sex bender since my blood counts were so awful and my lung so filled with crud that he thought I might have Legionnaires Disease or, worse, AIDS! Talk about surreal.
At the time, I was a sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. This was a newspaper that I had been hired to write a column from a new and outside-the-box point of view in 1993. Unfortunately, within months of arriving at the P-I, one of my male colleagues filed a lawsuit against the paper, saying I had only been hired because I was a woman and that he had been denied the job because he was a white male. The lawsuit dragged on for years, and the tension in the small department of almost entirely male staffers became a source of great anxiety for me. I wanted to succeed. It's why I moved all the way across country from New York to take on the exciting job. But I felt the odds and perceptions stacked against me. All around, it was a very troubling feeling to contend with, especially since I was not a hardcore sportswriter but a columnist who had been asked to look at sports with a wider lens. My fellow sportswriters and editors didn't seem to appreciate what the papers' editor and managing editor wanted out of me. Many wanted me gone and, over the years -- despite refusing to fold or be run out of town or out of my career path -- I, too, knew I had to find a new job when a good one came along.
Then I got pneumonia.
It was April 2001 when I had flown from Seattle to Harrisburg to attend my grandmother's surprise 80th birthday party. For a few weeks that spring, I had felt increasingly weak and exhausted, but figured it was a bug or bad cold and eventually my normally healthy immune system would throw it off. I started to feel some effects of a horrible cold in February, when I flew to Las Vegas to cover the ESPY Awards. I went to spring training with the Mariners in Arizona, and continued to fight through fatigue.
Then came a trip in mid-March to cover the NCAA Tournament in Memphis. Gonzaga -- a Washington state school that had become a huge national power -- was playing in the South Region. All I can remember that long weekend in that famous Tennessee city is wondering why I was so freezing cold, and why I had no energy or interest to go sightseeing. Graceland was minutes away and, instead, on an off day between games, I stayed in my room and fitfully tried to rest. This was just not like me at all, but I still did not figure there was something really wrong.
Finally, on Opening Night for the Mariners' 2001 season, I chattered through the game in the open-air press box. I typed my game column and dragged myself home, just in time to start feeling intense pain around my heart. I don't know what I thought it was: A virus that effects the heart? I did not go to the doctor. But I did call my sister back in Pennsylvania to tell her maybe I shouldn't come to the birthday party because I was sick. My reason was I didn't want to get anyone else sick, but she insisted that no one would mind and I had to be there. So I flew across country with my newly adopted 2-and-half-year-old daughter in my arms.
By the time I arrived in cold, early April Pennsylvania, I was just feeling like a ghost. I was out of it. In pain. On the first night there, I actually got sick to my stomach. (Turns out it was pleurisy that caused the vomiting.) The next day, we headed up to Bloomsburg for my grandmother's party. I lasted about an hour before, exhausted, one of my cousins drove me to her house so I could sleep while the party went on. In that bed, under piles of down comforters, I felt so cold, I began to lose sense of reality. I could not even imagine getting out of that bed.
By the time my parents came to pick me up, it was clear. We headed back down to Harrisburg, straight to the hospital, where I was admitted after X-rays showed severe pneumonia. When the administered a nebulizer and a massive dose of antibiotics, I looked up at my mother in the blur of emergency room lights and thought this was it. I was dying. Luckily, I responded to the antibiotics and, after three days in the hospital, was allowed to be released. I was driven to New York where the doctor had told me I had to stay for two weeks: No flying.
My father had called the sports department initially to tell them I had been hospitalized. Now he called again to say I was going to be out of work for two weeks, at least. On the other end of the phone, the tone was not exactly sympathetic. It was more suspicious. Was I trying to get out of work, or was I trying to find another job back East? The resentments and lack of good working relationship with my editors and colleagues was that bad.
The idea that I would fake a case of pneumonia to take two weeks off back East was, well, another dispiriting blow. I had never been so sick, yet the guys back in Seattle who felt I wasn't good at my job or that they could do better had no particular sympathy. All those weeks that early spring of traveling, tying to do a good job writing and giving readers insight or a fresh look at their sports stars or favorite teams, I did not consider calling in sick or declining a coveted assignment. As a woman in a man's game, the stakes were high. It is very difficult to explain what it feels like to try and work in these conditions, in this kind of environment, without sounding like you're complaining or trying to make excuses. Especially when you come down with a whopping case of pneumonia. But within a year, I finally landed another job in Baltimore where the atmosphere inside the sports department was much better -- until the sports editor offered a new sports columnist exactly twice in salary what I was being paid. Within a year, I quit sportswriting altogether. I didn't like the fight.
Here's hoping Hillary Clinton recovers nicely from her current bout of pneumonia.
A taco truck on every corner. Imagine that. Imagine that a taco truck on every corner is now a symbol for how big a threat Mexican immigrants pose for Americans. This is the rhetoric from the campaign of a major party candidate for president of the United States.
The "specter" of such a phenomenon rose its "ugly" head this week when a Mexican-born American who now supports Donald J. Trump went on a cable news show and, when asked what he was so opposed to when it came to other Mexicans immigrating to the U.S., he said Mexican culture is so dominant that it would lead to a taco truck on every corner. His name is Marco Gutierrez. It all but blew up Twitter courtesy of the hashtag #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner. Why? It seems it's because most Americans who like food and like their neighborhoods and country diversified because, after all, this is a nation of immigrants, found the statement to be another sign of an unhinged candidacy, though it's hard anymore to pin down just exactly where the bottom is for Trump and his supporters.
But speaking of a taco truck on every corner, this leads me to another story that took place this week in America. It took place, actually, in Houston, on a thriving neighborhood about a mile from downtown Houston called Montrose. This spring, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Houston while covering the U.S. women's national soccer team's victory tour. Between practices and the game, I did a fair share of exploring in this Texas city, which I had not visited since I was a kid. There are many museums, including the Menil collection, the Rothko chapel, a small gallery dedicated to one of my favorite artists, Cy Twombly. There was redevelopment of downtown, particularly around the three new sports stadiums for baseball, football and soccer, leading to new townhomes and condos being built, streets repaired. And, as with so many U.S. cities, the outer ring of neighborhoods have seen new residents buying homes, fixing things up and opening great new restaurants.
However, one of my favorite finds were the icehouses. These are old corner lots with a ramshackle structure dating back to before refrigeration, when ice was sold to keep food cold. After ice became less important a daily item in people's lives, the icehouse owners started to sell and serve beer as a way to generate income. One of the most lively icehouses I found was the W. Alabama Icehouse in the Montrose neighborhood, and after the U.S. women's soccer game and en route back to my beloved Marriott, I stopped in for a beer and to experience a night at the icehouse.
An entire culture and community was born in these informal watering holes and continues to thrive. All kinds of people come in to hang out, to have a beer or mineral water or soda. The W. Alabama Icehouse, like all of them, is pretty open air, with overhangs and canopies providing some shade or cover. Fans blow but do little to stave off the Houston humidity. There are picnic tables, dart boards, pool tables in the garden. Strings of lights decorate the place like Drunk Uncle's Christmas. Usually, there's a resident dog that takes its place on a table. No one cares.
That night at the W. Alabama Icehouse, I met a lot of people and had a great time talking and learning about Houston. The barkeep was lively. A local architect sitting next to me gave me the lowdown on hot neighborhoods and what locals were doing to remodel homes and upgrade neighborhoods. Then, around 10 p.m., with no food served at the icehouse, the mood shifted towards anticipation. This was around the time that a local restauranteur would stop in with the nightly load of tamales. Sure enough, he walked in with a container heaped with these fresh-made tamales, which were sold out in a matter of seconds. The picante sauce, the barkeep said, was to die for, and she was right. Nothing had ever been so perfect -- except, my architect friend pointed out, for the tacos that you could get in the morning and throughout the day from the truck parked right behind us.
We turned and he pointed it out: "Stop there on the way to the airport tomorrow. Two of those breakfast tacos and you will never want anything else for breakfast ever again.''
I did not stop at the taco truck the next morning on the way out of town. However, that night in Houston is one I will never forget. What a lucky person I have been to be able to travel and spend time in so many American cities. It is one of the blessings of my life and has filled me with so many memories and thoughts about how Americans live, what they think, how the differ and how they are so much the same.
This week, on Facebook, I noticed that my Houston friend had posted a Go Fund Me item. This philanthropic site allows people who need money to solicit from strangers for issues or events that have made them in need of cash. Well, it turned out that the owner of the taco truck on the corner of W. Alabama in Houston -- the taco truck parked next to the W. Alabama Icehouse -- had just lost her daughter. Maria Victoria's 22-year-old daughter, also named Maria, succumbed to a brain tumor. Now the family that owns Tacos Tierre Caliente needed money to bury her. Someone at the Icehouse started to Go Fund Me page. They sought $5,000 to help with the burial costs.
The moment I saw this, I whipped out my Marriott Rewards Visa card and tapped out my $20 contribution. I scrolled through the list of other names of people who had contributed and watched throughout the day as the $5,000 goal was reached, then exceeded. I got a few alerts from the Go Fund Me site saying updates were posted. The fund was now up to $16,000, on its way to almost $17,000. The Go Fund Me drive was going to be closed, since the goal had been met and exceeded.
Again, I read through the comments on the page. The contributors flooded in with messages of sorrow and love and condolences. One of them had been Maria's teacher. She was heartbroken. She said what a great student Maria had been.
An entire community reached out with thoughts and prayers and money for this family. They are one of the clan. They are part of the neighborhood. These people who put a taco truck on a corner in Houston were not going to be dealt this blow and go it alone. A taco truck. In America. It's Mexican owners. Beloved.
The final tally for the funeral and burial was $17,903. It was raised in a single day.
There's a lot of cheapness in the culture world. There's a lot of throwaway and facile and juvenile. There's a lot of shock value or no values. There's a lot of bad language, not as in crude, but as in unimaginative words and poor sentence phrasing and narrative construction. If I hear another song with the word "Shorty" in it, or "Bling," I might lose my mind.
There's also a lot of ego in pop culture but little reflection about the ebbs and flow and elusive construction of the inner self. There's complaint without accountability. There's stereotype and misogyny, blatant or implied, and redundant doubling-down of same-old themes: Sex, cars, bitches, Benjamins, getting paid, hitting it, baby mamas. There's a lot of literal language and a lot of embarrassingly blatant metaphor. There's Drake saying he's the fucking man and he's too good for you.
Then there's Frank Ocean.
I'm hardly the only one enthralled with Frank Ocean. The critics love him. His peers revere him. His fans are so rabid they got pissed at him for taking so long between Channel Orange and Blond, or Blonde. The delay was no doubt artistic. This guy is "enigmatic and reclusive" as the NYTimes said. Ocean's new and awaited release was also a business/independence move. He bypassed and released himself from obligation to Def Jam, his label, by releasing "Endless" a day before he released "Blond" or "Blonde" which was streamed on Apple.
But I don't care about the machinations of the music industry. Neil Young pulled his catalogue on Spotify because digital streaming is sad sound quality. Jay Z and Beyonce and Rihanna started Tidal because they are bigger than a label. George Michael battled with Sony and Prince changed his name to a symbol to separate from his corporate overlords. Now Frank Ocean has taken another brick out of the corporate wall by controlling the release of Blond. Like millions of other fans, I'm just glad it's here. In the week since it's been out and I bought it, I've listened to it straight through about 10 times. Predictably I've gone from "It's not as good as Channel Orange" to getting the sense that the genius has upped the ante again. As a poet who has read many poetry books, there is something about the arc of Ocean's albums (or releases) that are as resonant as some of the most powerful poetry volumes.
Ocean creates albums the way Joni Mitchell created albums -- poetry that begs explication set aloft in music. I find Blond, even more than Channel Orange, as invitational as Kate Bush, particularly Bush's record "50 Words For Snow." The intentionality of that album by the British artist begged a listener to take it on, over and over, to understand each song and also to see how the narrative arc of the album was created, and to what end.
About Bush and "50 Words For Snow," NPR music critic Ann Powers once wrote : "Each song on Snow grows as if from magic beans from the lush ground of the singer-songwriter's keyboard parts. The music is immersive but spacious, jazz-tinged and lushly electronic – the 53-year-old Bush, a prime inspiration for tech-savvy young auteurs ranging from St. Vincent to hip-hop's Big Boi, pioneered the use of digital samplers in the 1980s and is still an avid aural manipulator. This time around, drummer Steve Gadd is her most important interlocutor – the veteran studio player's gentle but firm touch draws the frame around each of her expanding landscapes. But Bush won't be restricted. Like [Joni] Mitchell on Don Juan's Restless Daughter [sic], she takes her time and lets her characters lead."
As for Frank Ocean, his critically acclaimed Channel Orange in 2012 did not simply satisfy as a superior musical release worthy of a Grammy, it was the kind of work that led comparisons to the writer Joan Didion, for the way Ocean riffed and nailed California culture, among other topics. There was a freshness of voice and vision. There was a startling originality even when he referenced or sampled. It was a coming out album, but then it was so much more that even sexuality was merely a part of the Ocean Gestalt.
Sex and drugs are part of Ocean's work. It's not about these things but OF it. So you just go for the ride. The track Pilot Jones features sound effects of an airplane taking off and landing, with a nice flight above the clouds. So rich and aural and aerial and so stoned. In Blonde, Ocean sings that smoking weed is a cheap vacation. He takes you there, and not just with the obvious reference but with the mind-altered sonics he creates.
The 4-year wait for Ocean's follow-up to Channel Orange has set music critics up for a delightful task. In the Atlantic, Ocean's new work was noted for being "A Monument To Memory" by critic Stephen Kornhaber: "Popular music usually has a clear and agreed-upon relationship to time, allowing you to live for three and a half minutes not by the ticktock of the clock but by the tap of your toe and your awareness of the number of choruses that have passed. Ocean previously made brilliant use of these conventions on his way to next-big-thing status in pop and R&B, but he has returned after a four-year silence with a radically different way of working. Save for one glorious pop waltz, “Pink + White,” the songs on Blond(e) mostly operate by the twisty logic of how a narrative might actually unfold in the mind, rather than on the radio. It’d be art nonsense if it didn’t pack so much power in so many unexpected places."
Time. Memory. No greater or richer field of revery is there for artists. As the psychologist David Wechsler put it: "Memories are not like filed letters stored in cabinets.… Rather, they are like melodies realized by striking the keys on a piano.'' It's into this sphere that Frank Ocean allows you to go with him. Frank Ocean is melodic. And he creates his own plane. The trip doesn't have a destination. It just amplifies every time through. The lyrics and references are rooted in our time, in the millennial culture he inhabits, but they're timeless.
Rimbaud. Dylan. Auden. Ocean. Maybe that's a stretch or maybe in this age, it's an appropriate lineage. Frank Ocean delivers a lush and complicated art. You want to know him and what he's saying because it may help you know more about yourself. Or it may give you the freedom to see that the psyche's process for sorting out one's shapeless self is an out-of-time process. I'm in awe.
I know what you're thinking. I've been saying I had another gear in me, a more presidential presentation of character and ideas. No more gutter politics or reckless egotism run amok. Really wanting to make myself great again, there was only one place to turn: Trump country.
I know this sounds like lunacy, like a taunt or a petty play for attention. But this is exactly what, in the end, may save me! In this case I am talking about upstate New York, which in the Siena polling for the Republican presidential primary earlier this year had Donald J. Trump -- the Queens native who builds buildings and files for multiple bankruptcies -- ahead of other loser and low-energy GOP candidates by dozens of percentage points in the Empire State.
The bulk of that support for Trump -- the man who must fly home from the campaign trail he each night so he can spend the late hours Tweeting about Joe Scarborough within the gilded confines of his opulent Manhattan penthouse -- comes from the rural counties above Westchester or Dutchess or Sullivan. (Many years ago, when I first moved from DOWNSTATE to UPSTATE, I was made to understand that UPSTATE begins well above Kingston and likely does not begin in earnest until Coxsackie or maybe even Albany. The Catskills and Hudson Valley are bedroom communities for NYC, dating back to when Woodstock and Saugerties drew the likes of Bob Dylan and The Band and David Bowie, to name a few. I digress, but the point is: Just because you are north of the Bronx does not mean you are UPSTATE. To be UPSTATE, you have to earn it. And that means Saratoga or Fulton or Washington counties.)
Which leads me to my personal pivot, the one you have been skeptical I could make, the one that centers of being centered and not reacting to every bit of insane political news, like, for instance, the unending shitshow that has been the dark rise of Donald J. Trump. But there is a monstrous paradox of my pivot. The place I love most in my native state of New York -- a state I have vowed I will never move away from again -- is Trump Country! The lawn signs and ball caps declaring loyalty to Trump all over UPSTATE NY make that as bold and as plain as a gold Trump sign emblazoned on a midtown Manhattan luxury high-rise, the ones now financed with Russian oligarch money.
Upstate New York -- meaning all that land and all those towns and villages and counties that hug the southern Adirondacks -- has been my sanctuary, my spiritual home, since I was a kid. My No. 1 goal in life was to move upstate, to write and to earn just enough money so I could drive around and look at all the land. To my mind, all the acres of farmland and miles of forests and all the low-slung mountains and the string of lakes and all the gritty small towns and hanging-on-by-a-fingernail mill cities combined to make God's country. I moved upstate after college, worked at a newspaper and I lived in Schenectady for eight years before my so-called career took me to Seattle and Baltimore and Pennsylvania. For the next 20-plus years, living in some of the biggest U.S. cities, all I wanted to do was move back! I did not care that everyone said that was a weird yearning because upstate NY is not exactly a hotbed of progressivism, plus jobs are few and the weather is cold in the winter.
This past weekend, my upstate NY-born spouse and I spent a long weekend at the family camp on the Great Sacandaga Lake. For several blissful days of much-needed rest and relaxation, peace and quiet after The Year of Trump, we traveled the roads through Gloversville and Amsterdam, up to the Adirondack Park past lakes like Caroga and Pecks, on windy roads past farms that the Amish have made their own. The corn was high. The signs planted in the ground all throughout my piece of heaven read a word that had, for a year, sent me into a dizzying state of disbelief over how a con man and a fraud who does not even want to be president has become a legitimate choice for millions of Americans. My anger over Trump, though, dissipated under blue skies, traveling through the proverbially verdant Mohawk Valley, knowing the glacial walk of time in the end would see Trump and all of us as an insignificant blip. Plus, there are the reassuring polls that signal our national nightmare will soon be over, save for Trump TV that will take the sociopath to new lows of conspiracy theories.
The anger of these upstate Trumpsters was palpable. We met men who spat out how much they thought Hillary Clinton was "a bitch." They'd never vote for her because of Benghazi. One taxidermist we talked when we stopped to look at his his shop agreed that Trump may be insane, but said it was OK. "Congress will keep him in check."
Everywhere we looked, there was Trump support, Trump signs next to Confederate flags and homemade lawn signs calling for "Revolt." So far from Washington DC, living lives so different from the urban elites, upstate New Yorkers continue to inhabit a different country from downstate New Yorkers. The more of this anger we saw in people up there, the more inured we became to it. The landscape itself seemed an inscrutable oxymoron of beauty amidst such rage, or rage sitting coiled in all that vast beauty. It was impossible to sort it all out anymore, especially in such glorious countryside. It was easy to let it go, too, given the views and the space and the sense of utter freedom. The pivot, for me, was finally coming.
Players for the U.S. women's national soccer team should be commended for their decision to take on U.S. Soccer over contract negotiations and pay. Today, after months of positioning themselves for a proper challenge of their collective bargaining status and future terms of a new contract, five leaders for the U.S. women's national team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Working on behalf of the entire U.S. women's national team, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe are seeking an investigation into U.S. Soccer's contracts with broadcasters and marketing sponsors. In addition to pay disparity (they say they may 40 cents on the dollar to what the men's U.S. national team players make) the women contend that broadcast fees to U.S. Soccer and other sponsorship deals associated with the women's competitive and marketing success should bolster their pay.
In their complaint, the women contend that the 2016 profits will "thanks almost exclusively to the success of the WNT.'' U.S. Soccer now projects a $17.7 million profit in connection with these teams -- and it's not due to what Jurgen Klinsmann is doing on the men's side. With three World Cups win and string of gold medal Olympic wins, the U.S. women's national team is a juggernaut that ranks No. 1 in the FIFA World Rankings and continues to draw bigger crowds and TV ratings.
In an expose this week in the New York Daily News, Fox Sports head of business operations, David Nathanson, said the ratings' promise of the U.S. women's run in 2015 Women's World Cup was enough to make Fox's bid for rights a no-brainer. Fox paid $1.2 billion for both the men's and women's World Cups between 2015 and 2022.
“I can tell you that when we were bidding on the rights, we valued the Women’s World Cup almost as high as the men’s World Cup. We recognized at an early stage that the U.S. had the number-one ranked team in the world and there was a big opportunity to capture the interest of this country with that event. In fact, the Women’s World Cup final (in 1999) was the (second)-highest-rated soccer event. We knew there was tremendous value in it from an early stage, and we certainly considered that when we were bidding on the rights,'' Nathanson said.
Fox Soccer, which has very little women's soccer on its site in general, committed thousands of dollars in coverage for the 2015 Women's World Cup to have me cover the team strictly for the digital side of its operation. They knew what they were doing. They got the highest ratings of any soccer match ever broadcast in the U.S. The $17 million they expected in net revenue morphed into $40 million by the time Carli Lloyd netted her historic World Cup final hat trick.
“Women players are an inspiration,” Nathanson told the NYDN, adding: “You don’t have to explain that to advertisers.”
By their hiring of sports law expert Jeffrey Kessler, the women have finally graduated from trying to coerce U.S. Soccer into equal pay to arming themselves for a fight they can, and should, win. This complaint should help the women crack open U.S. Soccer's books and force an examination on how the federation structures its spending between the men's team and the women's team. As The New York Times stated today in its story, the EEOC complaint could, in fact, lead to millions of dollars in back pay for the U.S. women's national team players.
This is not a gamble by the U.S. women's national team players, as far as I can tell. They have a tremendous amount of leverage not just in terms of their popularity but in terms of inequitable distribution of revenue they help generate for U.S. Soccer. In their filing with the EEOC, the women cite numbers that show vast disparity in pay. For instance, they would earn $99,000 each if they won 20 friendlies, the minimum number they are required to play in a year as per their contract. The men would likely earn $263,320 each for the same 20 matches wins, and would get $100,000 even if they lost all 20 games. The women get no extra pay for playing more than 20 games. The mean get between $5,000 and $17,625 for each game played beyond 20.
In World Cup payouts, the disparity has already been widely reported. The U.S. women received a team total of $2 million when it won the 2015 Women's World Cup. The U.S. men played in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, earning $9 million despite being knocked out in the round of 16.
Of course Lloyd, Solo and the rest of the U.S. women's national team needed to bring in a top-notch legal team to not only negotiate a new contract, but to break down U.S. Soccer's patriarchal "benevolence" of doling out compensation that it says is fair. Maybe U.S. Soccer is, underneath it all, feeling cursed for having helped created this unprecedented U.S. women's national team -- an enterprise that is without compare to anything in sports anywhere in terms of its success and historical significance.
The U.S. women know they have led a soccer revolution here in the U.S. and around the world. Women are playing soccer at advancing levels of skill, acceptance and marketability around the globe. But at home, it's finally time to crack the books, crack the code on what's fair. They built it. They've earned it. This is another significant step in the delineating what equality looks like and how it gets paid.
Paris, Brussels, Lahore, Ankara and all the other cities where bombs or shootings have ripped through airports and train stations and parks where children and their families gather: These are the places and images that flashed through my mind when, suddenly, a normal moment morphed into an emergency response to an immediate threat. Normally, I would make a selfish joke about my bad karma about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but these aren't normal times and, since I escaped any harm, I'm just counting my luck, if not blessings.
Soon after arriving at Miami International Airport on Monday, March 28, me and my family were in Terminal H, waiting for our Delta flight home to New York. We were half an hour from boarding and were sitting near the gate when, suddenly, a thundering commotion could be heard. A pack of people came running down the terminal. My partner and I looked at each other in that instant and wondered: It must be a group running to make a connection. Were they laughing? We could see high emotion but it wasn't clear -- until the blue-shirted TSA agents started shouting: "Everyone run, let's go!" It took a second or two, which seemed longer, for it to sink in. What was happening in the terminal was now cause for everyone to get up and run for an exit.
This was the second time in the past three months that I've been in this situation. A day before Christmas, I stopped at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island to pick up a last-minute gift for our daughter. The mall is, once or twice a year, a necessary evil and I planned to be in there for less than 15 minutes. Five minutes into my shopping run, I had a few shirts draped over my arm as I hastily perused some pajamas. Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye a line of people running for the exit. That's weird, I thought. Maybe they're going to catch a bus or something. It didn't make sense, but in that split second, it didn't effect me, so I continued what I was doing. Then people kept coming down the aisle, running faster in thicker clumps on all sides of me and now they were shouting. Something about a shooting, that there was an active shooter in the mall.
In both the mall shooting and the airport evacuation, there came a strangely time-distorted period of time -- a second, two seconds or three -- that it took for my ears and eyes to transmit to my brain that the normally routine activity of shopping or waiting for a plane was turning into situation that demanded an immediate shift to reaction mode. And not just any reaction, but a response to what was in reality, or being perceived as, an immediate danger. In both these instances, the most surreal sensation was how the animal reaction to flee when faced with out-of-the-blue circumstances and events had to win a fast battle over the mindset that public spaces in this rambunctious, consumer-based, free-traveling society are here for our use and pleasure.
In the case of the Roosevelt Mall shooting, the seemingly slow realization that I had to get out of the mall saw me turning my head several times as people flew by me and grew increasingly louder and more panicked in their call for everyone to run. I remember having time to wonder what I should do with all the specific shirts I had picked out and was almost ready to go pay for. Do I put them down in a place I can find them for when I can get back in? That was weird, but I was still thinking: I made this effort to get here and I "needed" these last-minute Christmas gifts to make sure there was enough under the tree for our teenage daughter. Then, getting closer to finally reacting, I wondered: Should I just run out with the clothes, not to steal them but just to have them all in one place so I could pay later but not leave empty handed. Again. Weird. Finally, after clicking through options, I transitioned from American Mother Shopping At The Last Minute In A Big American Shopping Mall i.e. What Is More Normal Than That to ... a potential victim that needed to get the hell out of dodge. Finally, I ran for the exit and, as I got to the door, I just heaved all the clothes near the register and ran out into the parking lot.
Hundreds of other people were flooding the parking lot , too. Police cars and emergency vehicles came screaming in from all angles. People on cell phones were confused, crying, scared. There had been shots: I heard one as I ran for the door. If a terrorist attack was taking place in one of New York's biggest symbols of American consumerism, no one would be surprised. Yet, it was still a shocking feeling to suddenly identify with other people around the world who face this kind of threat, who have to be prepared at any given second to switch from citizen doing normal, daily tasks to part of a pack of people targeted by madmen and terrorists. The hair-trigger response by law enforcement was reassuring, yet also an alarming realization that, at any given moment, our normal lives can be ruptured by violence. It takes another few seconds for the mind to go from fright/flight mode to wondering what ends are the perpetrators seeking to achieve? The active shooter, it turned out, was a burglary gone bad. So the threat of gunmen mowing down dozens of people to make some twisted point turned out to be non-existent, though that was the image I took with me as I ran out to the mall parking lot. Did the dark fight of Jihadist terrorists come back to New York? Was this the time and place where, like 9/11, we were going to be brutalized by a war that will never be won?
At the Miami Airport yesterday, that same strange transition took place. After hearing the TSA agents shouting for everyone to run, I stood bolt upright and looked around, seeing that the terminal was now the scene of a mass evacuation. Some people shouted "What's going on?" to try and help summon the reason to jerk from gate-waiting somnambulance to action. I looked at my partner, made sure my daughter was right next to me, and we grabbed at our small suitcases. Scrambling, deciding, adrenaline kicking in so hard my stomach muscles flooded with tense buzzing, the three of us started running wildly down the terminal until, about 100 yards down, short of breath and wondering what good it was going to do to run wildly, I told my partner and daughter to slow down. We can't outrun a bomb, if that's what they're talking about, especially if we wind up making a rash move or get caught up in a stampede. "We're going to go at a good pace, together, and not panic,'' was our decision. We kept moving fast, and instead of being shoved into an elevator, we decided on a wide stairwell to take us down and out to the tarmac, where emergency and police vehicles were flying in from all over the airport runways and terminals.
Was it unattended luggage that spooked someone? Was it TSA agents seeing something on an x-ray scan that alarmed them? We heard different things as we waited in the thick Miami humidity, the heavy fragrance of jet fuel hovering over us. People were on their phones. Some were crying. It was certainly surreal, but after about 15 minutes, the situation seemed to be no longer a threat. Police and airport security were not boosting their response, but preparing to get us back inside. We never found out exactly what set this evacuation in motion, even as we stood back outside the terminal and had to be processed through security again. By then, the visceral images of Brussels or Lahore had dissipated, then vanished. We were not facing that today, after all. We were facing air traffic delays due to high winds into LaGuardia Airport, the place politicians call a Third World airport when, in the news, Americans disagree about how to tax and spend money and lift our society forward. Everything was back to normal, though, not really. One day, the ending may not be so good. I'm not sure if the threat of something horrific happening will, right now, shatter my sense of freedom and use of public spaces. We're creatures of habit. We want to move around, buy things, see places. We surrender or suspend certain feelings in favor of other, more immediate needs and desires. I will say, though, that the second time I had to run in fear of something horrible going down, I recognized a strangely now more familiar, sinking feeling of fear and sadness and sobriety about the world we're living in. More to the point, will my 17-year-old daughter factor this threat into decisions she makes? There's no amount of usual assurances that can take back that alarm and fright and rush of almost crippling adrenaline. It starts to get coded into your psyche, even when the threat was shown this time to have been a false alarm.
I used to write politics, news and sports for newspapers in cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. Now I take a lot of Instagram photos, check Facebook, swim, read about T$$$p and cook dinner for people I really like. New York native, living in Port Washington and Greenfield Center (that's near Saratoga Springs FYI).