Search
  • knowles.1

October: The Ruth Stone

Updated: Nov 2


The Ruth Stone, West Dover

It was the evening of Friday September 18. Jen and I had found perhaps the best glaze for lamb chops of all time: bourbon, brown sugar, garlic, and olive oil. Jen Watt is literally the girl next door - we've been friends since 1971, and can finish each other's sentences. The Watts are my godparents and some iteration of their family has lived next to ours in Vermont for at least three decades. For some reason the conversation turned to rocks and lichen, the way it does after a bottle of wine. I remember now - it was the power of actual site learning for study abroad students. There are a thousand examples of this, but for me it was reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles at Stonehenge. I found the passage online and read it to Jen.


Like a greater than himself, to the critical question at the critical time he did not answer; and they were again silent. In a minute or two her breathing became more regular, her clasp of his hand relaxed, and she fell asleep. The band of silver paleness along the east horizon made even the distant parts of the Great Plain appear dark and near; and the whole enormous landscape bore that impress of reserve, taciturnity, and hesitation which is usual just before day. The eastward pillars and their architraves stood up blackly against the light, and the great flame-shaped Sun-stone beyond them; and the Stone of Sacrifice midway. Presently the night wind died out, and the quivering little pools in the cup-like hollows of the stones lay still. At the same time something seemed to move on the verge of the dip eastward--a mere dot. It was the head of a man approaching them from the hollow beyond the Sun-stone. Clare wished they had gone onward, but in the circumstances decided to remain quiet. The figure came straight towards the circle of pillars in which they were.

He heard something behind him, the brush of feet. Turning, he saw over the prostrate columns another figure; then before he was aware, another was at hand on the right, under a trilithon, and another on the left. The dawn shone full on the front of the man westward, and Clare could discern from this that he was tall, and walked as if trained. They all closed in with evident purpose. Her story then was true! Springing to his feet, he looked around for a weapon, loose stone, means of escape, anything. By this time the nearest man was upon him.


"It is no use, sir," he said. "There are sixteen of us on the Plain, and the whole country is reared."


"Let her finish her sleep!" he implored in a whisper of the men as they gathered round.

When they saw where she lay, which they had not done till then, they showed no objection, and stood watching her, as still as the pillars around. He went to the stone and bent over her, holding one poor little hand; her breathing now was quick and small, like that of a lesser creature than a woman. All waited in the growing light, their faces and hands as if they were silvered, the remainder of their figures dark, the stones glistening green-gray, the Plain still a mass of shade. Soon the light was strong, and a ray shone upon her unconscious form, peering under her eyelids and waking her.


"What is it, Angel?" she said, starting up. "Have they come for me?"


"Yes, dearest," he said. "They have come."


"It is as it should be," she murmured. "Angel, I am almost glad--yes, glad! This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much. I have had enough; and now I shall not live for you to despise me!"


She stood up, shook herself, and went forward, neither of the men having moved.


"I am ready," she said quietly.

(Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Chapter 58)


For a moment, Jen and I marveled at the force and detail of Hardy's description. Jen teaches study abroad programs too, and she could see the words as well as hear them. "The quivering little pools in the cup-like hollows of the stones lay still." He must have actually been there, I said, to see that. You can't make up the pools of water inside the Stone of Sacrifice quivering in the dawn air.


And then the world blew up. My search history tells the story. The next items in the list are Electoral-Vote.Com, Delta Flight Bookings, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court's Feminist Icon, Is Dead at 87. The world has been suddenly plunged into darkness. And I, unlike Tess, am not ready. It's now been nearly a week since then, and things have got worse instead of better. Empowered by the thrilling evil of their actions, the 54 members of the Republican Senate have determined to replace her while they still can. Two of them, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, are currently protected by the whole, and will vote nay, if the word doesn't choke them. At least two of them, Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney, will show their stripes, and reverse course. Lindsey Graham, who really ought to be broken at the wheel, or given some other Hardy-esque punishment for flagrant hypocrisy (a Skimmington Ride - that's it), will vote for the new nominee that the man he openly despises will put forward this weekend. His reason is about as Senatorial as that of Cassius and Brutus: "You would have done the same thing." Even the vote-to-impeach health-care-for-all Romney, who brought us the Olympics and then didn't invade a small country afterwards (how our standards have fallen), has determined that a liberal-leaning Supreme Court doesn't reflect this country's "center-right values." As if value could be determined by a theodolite, and the Republican Party had any business being its surveyor.


All of these conversations I have had with Ruth. Not with her in person, because I never knew her, but with her stone. Every day since her death I have walked down the path to the little pond and sat beside her. From the towering obituary that Linda Greenhouse wrote (I told her about that - "it's the longest obituary the New York Times has ever published"), to the aching love of Nina Totenberg's memories of her on NPR, it is clear that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a good listener, and maybe, if we had known each other, would have enjoyed conversations with me. That's what I like to think, anyway.


Saturday September 19, 2020

Saturday September 19. "I found the last New York Times in the grocery. You're on the front, with a powerful Egyptian collar and steely eyes. People are calling you a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness, because you died on Rosh Hashanah. Your granddaughter's report of your dying words will be treasured. No one can replace you, and no one will until a new president nominates your successor."


Sunday September 20, 2020

Sunday September 20. "Your granddaughter has been dragged through the mire. The current president doubts that you said that, and will nominate your successor immediately. Already your death is the political event of the year. 200,000 people have died in the US, according to the World Health Organization, but that is not the number anyone cares about. The number now is the number of Conservative Supreme Court justices for the rest of our lifetimes: 6."


Monday September 21, 2020

Monday September 21. "I love it that you were a horrible cook, and didn't even know how to turn on your own oven. My father was like that - when Mum left for a weekend he got this panicked look in his eye and asked how to work the washing machine. I love it that all your law clerks cry when they remember you. You did more for the people of this country than anyone in the past 52 years. My wife, bless her, has built a shrine in your memory. All weekend people have been leaving potted plants, flowers in glass jars, pretty or unusual stones. Your death has done more than galvanize people: it has electrocuted them. We stand in mourning day and night. The first thing everyone does when they wake up is think: 'Fuck. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.'"


Tuesday September 22, 2020

Tuesday September 22. "Hi Ruth. I think of you as Sylvester, in that book about the magic pebble. Trapped in a stone in the sunlight, beside a pond, waiting for the right combination of events so that you can return to your family. That's a book no child should read, but it tells you something important about objects and memory. Your lace collars have become an icon. The Statue of the Fearless Girl facing down Wall Street now wears one. The collar appears on telegraph poles all over the country. Half the country misses you fiercely. The other half is baying for you to be gone. This becomes more Shakespearean by the moment: 'the funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.' You will lie in repose in the Supreme Court building, while a special session of the Senate will move to nominate your successor. 6-3 is the only math these Senators need."


Wednesday September 23, 2020

Wednesday September 23. "Will it matter, do you think? Is your death like the death of Jo Cox, shot by a gun made from a 3-D printer and stabbed by a Brexiteer on Bloomsday, seven days before the referendum? At that time, I thought her death, so tragic and unexpected, would shake Britain out of its racist torpor, and win the country the right to stay in Europe. It turned out not to matter at all. It rained in London on June 23, so the Remainers remained behind. Fear provoked the leavers, so the Leavers voted and left. Will your death matter? It must. In life you were a gift to all of us; in death you can continue to lead us. We must go on and defeat this awful man, this cipher, this nothing. Perhaps McConnell has calculated that the Senate is a lost cause (Joni Ernst is down in Iowa, Susan Collins is underwater in Maine, Thom Tillis is finished in North Carolina, and Arizona and Colorado are locked up for Kelly and Hickenlooper), and a hammerlock on the Supreme Court is worth taking that loss for two and probably four years. If so, God Speed to Him. Just get out of the fucking way."


Thursday September 24, 2020

Thursday September 24. "Since you have died, there has been a lot of speaking truth to power, especially with the appalling indictment of the Black Lives Matter movement with yesterday's decision to charge one of three policemen with a fourth-class felony for shooting his gun into a neighboring apartment, thereby placing the three members of a white family at risk. Speaking truth to power is excellent, but better still is when power speaks the truth. You were always doing that. I want you to meet Kristina Johnson, Ohio State's new President. She arrived in Columbus like a breath of fresh air, and not just because she openly celebrated her partnership with another woman. Her messages to the community on COVID-19 didn't engage in mealy-mouthed President-speak, but were very clear and very urgent. 'We are seeing increases in contagion in the student body of 5.9% over the last three days. The good news is that we can do something about it.' That sort of thing. Her message today was short, direct, and to the point. 'Breonna Tayler deserves justice, and this does not feel like justice.' She's right, and she is in a position of power. Ironically, she is replacing a Black President who either didn't feel it necessary to comment on Breonna Taylor's case over the past 203 days or was kept silent by the Board of Trustees. Our new President Kristina Johnson clearly doesn't defer to that way of thinking. In the weeks to come, any open expression of truth from power deserves recognition and applause."


Friday September 25, 2020

Friday September 25. "I wonder if you liked dogs. I bet you did. Bertie, the smaller and more sensitive of my King Charles Cavaliers (best breed ever!), has become fascinated with your stone. I can't tell why this is. My wife, who is of a practical disposition, claims that he must have found a live thing underneath the rock, and is looking for it. But I prefer to think that he knows that your stone is important to me. For seven minutes today he sat beside it, for all the world like the dog in Hardy's poem 'Art Thou Digging At My Grave?' That's the one where the dog is addressed by the deceased owner, who imagines that at least one mourner has stayed true to him. (Of course, in true Hardy fashion, he's looking for a place to hide his bone. Chalk one up for the practical people...) The Victorians were mad for this kind of sentiment: the dog looking quizzically at the gramophone (Little Nipper, in the RCA version) is another form of sitting shiva. We all miss you and wish you were alive. Even our dogs are in mourning. Frank Bruni says we've reached the bottom of the well. Like the pond behind your stone, the water level of hope and faith and charity in our country is low, as low as it has ever been. But it will (must!) fill again."


Saturday September 26, 2020

Saturday September 26. "Your replacement will be formally nominated today, but everyone knows that it's going to be Dolores Umbridge. Never has a role so been completely owned as Imelda Staunton's inhabiting of J. K. Rowling's most wicked character. Both Staunton and Rowling know that sometimes a smile can hide an abominable evil - something Louise Fletcher understood, come to think of it, in her incarnation of Nurse Ratched. And behind the smile of your successor, behind the vacuous pink cheeks of her serenity, is the unshakeable wrongness of the never wrong. Doubt is the finest quality of any judge, or of any human being: this new justice will never doubt herself. Already she has written excoriating opinions against John Roberts's sleight-of-hand over the ACA tax, and seems to have no weakness in her defense of Wade versus Roe. She is no dummy: you don't clerk for Scalia on ideology alone. She is 48, and I will be dead before she reaches your age. This one's a keeper.


What the creators of Harry Potter and Randle McMurphy know is that the relentless pressure of certainty is a stainless sword that can never be sheathed. It will slash and cut and destroy as surely as the pen that Dolores Umbridge gave to Harry Potter to write his lines with. In her finest and most terrifying trick, the pen inscribes the words that he is writing into the flesh of the back of his hand. That is the pen with which the Supreme Court will be writing its 6-3 opinions. Justice Kavanagh, that beer-swilling rapist, is the new swing judge. It is his Court. And we are all the poorer for it.


However... This is a serious misplay by McConnell, and Trump has fallen into a trap. Conservative voters have now got what they want, and they don't go to the polls on Election Day to reward people. They go to punish them. In pushing the nomination through before November 4, as is almost certain, the Republican Party has handed the Democrats the single issue they have been craving since Watergate. Never mind that the ACA will survive the challenge against it on November 10: it will be a simple thing to remove the required tax penalty, which is no longer needed to make it economically viable. Never mind that the right to an abortion, which never was the government's business, now rests with the states. What does matter and will matter for the next decade is that the Democrats will win the White House, and will win the Senate. That's two branches of government to one. From where I sit, which is on your rock, that looks like a win."


Sunday September 27, 2020

Sunday September 27. "Guess what? You were bumped off the news cycle! In a move straight out of the Trump playbook, The New York Times threw down a shiny bauble for everyone to play with instead. 15 years of tax returns from #45. And it turns out he's been using Monopoly money all this time (who knew?). $70 million paid in taxes over 3 years because of a sweet deal with The Apprentice, and then $72.9 million (yes, the original amount plus interest) refunded to him by the IRS because of claimed losses on his businesses. From where I sit, that looks like FRAUD. A federal tax bill in one year of $750, or slightly less than the state taxes my son pays. In 10 of 15 years he paid no taxes at all. And like the daily distractions from The White House, this bombshell is perfectly timed. It's two days before the first debate, which will now only be about this. It's six p.m.: time for the rage tweets to gather escape velocity over night. A quick Sunday poll, and pundits lined up from Monday morning through next week to hammer the GOP on hypocrisy at three levels: executive (Trump's tax returns), legislative (McConnell's failure to apply his own rule), and judiciary (your replacement turns out to be as pro-life as a Death Star). Politics is fun again. I'm sorry you couldn't be here for this: we are reaching levels of high opera. This really could be the President's Gotterdammerung. Gottes wille."


Monday September 28, 2020

Monday September 28. "If you look closely at the top right picture in the set above, you will see that some very clever person has turned a pine cone into a lace collar, three times. Next to the three pine collars is a candle saying 'Rest in Peace RBG' with red stars drawn on a white band. Beside that is a card saying 'Thank You' with the handwritten words 'RBG We'll never forget you.' To the left of that picture is another image, with another lace collar, this time beautifully set on a black stone. Beside it is a note written in purple ink, held in place by two gray stones with a larger rock beside it. Below that, on the left, is a painted glass ball with colorful designs, placed carefully in a circle of six perfectly shaped rocks. Another smaller stone is placed on the moss beside it. And then in the bottom right picture you will see cut flowers in vases, another pine cone, some fronds of fir, and what seems to be a gift in green wrapping. All these items (and many more) adorn my wife's shrine to your memory, which is on the side of the house facing Nursery Lane. They have all been placed by neighbors, all anonymously, all from a collective outpouring of grief and thanks. The thing that makes this so special, and so consistent with the theme of these reflections, is that all these offerings are natural and handmade. They come from the heart. They are a genuine expression of deep emotion in a time when emotions are getting the better of all of us. We are grateful to you. You can rest, truly, in peace."


Tuesday September 29, 2020

Tuesday September 29. "This is my favorite picture of Scalia, a man I detested. It's also a lovely picture of you. I love it that when you were asked why the man was in the front and the woman behind you said 'weight distribution.' Tonight was the night that America sat in horror before a television set in front of 90 minutes of elephant shit. Good will between opposing viewpoints is based on mutual understanding of commonality; the Presidential Debate was more like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was frightening, and it was monstrous. The President of the United States called to a neo-Nazi group as if he were their Commander, telling them to 'stand by.' The President of the United States sneered at a Gold Star father and said 'I heard your other son was a drug addict.' Even Rick Santorum, a man so revolting that a particularly annoying consequence of a certain form of coitus has been named after him, admitted that he had lost every group he could have appealed to in order to broaden his base. Blacks aren't likely to be drawn to the incumbent commander-in-chief's incitement of white supremacist violence, and are far more likely to vote against him. Women, especially suburban women, aren't likely to respond favorably to a man who gouges eyes and pulls hair like the playground bully they have taught their children to avoid. College-educated voters, a group that intersects very closely with people who have read King Lear, have seen this all before. This was the King's mad scene, his moment on the heath, with Chris Wallace playing the Fool and Joe Biden an Edgar in beggar's clothes. 'The worst is not so long as we can say "This is the worst."' / 'Poor Tom's acold.' / 'Let me wipe that hand. It smells of humanity.' All we need now is for the President to come into his press briefing with Ivanka in his arms and ask for a looking glass."


Wednesday September 30, 2020

Wednesday September 30. "The best scene in The Hobbit, apart from the riddles, is Bilbo's conversation with Smaug. Tolkien was first and foremost a Professor of Anglo-Saxon Poetry, and in this scene he perfectly reproduces one of its most satisfying tropes: the Vaunt. In Smaug's pride, Bilbo finds his only weakness; in fanning the flames of Smaug's narcissism, he brings about the dragon's undoing. It's a very satisfactory form of ju-jitsu. '"Thief in the Shadows" he gloated. "My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!"' (216). Tolkien wrote an important paper in 1936 called 'Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,' the year before The Hobbit was published. Seamus Heaney cites that paper in the introduction to his incomparable translation of Beowulf, and says other things that are strangely familiar: 'Nevertheless, the dragon has a wonderful inevitability about him and a unique glamour. It is not that the other monsters are lacking in presence and aura; it is more that they remain, for all their power to terrorize, creatures of the physical world. Grendel comes alive in the reader's imagination as a kind of dog-breath in the dark, a fear of collision with some hard-boned and immensely strong android frame, a mixture of Caliban and hoplite' (Introduction, xviii). It is this image, I think, that CNN's Gloria Borger was invoking when she called Trump's performance in Tuesday's debate "monstrous." Trump is a dog-breath in the dark made flesh. Even his name is a boast. Here is Heaney's rendition of Grendel in Beowulf: 'Every nail, claw-scale and spur, every spike / and welt on the hand of that heathen brute / was like barbed steel. Everybody said / there was no honed iron hard enough / to pierce him through, no time proofed blade / that could cut his brutal blood caked claw...' (lines 983-89). No better description of Donald Trump exists, unless it's in 'The Second Coming.' (Dear Ruth: you must forgive me treating you like a literary companion. I hope you've read all these books, and if you haven't I hope you'll have time to read them in whatever afterlife you believe in. My guess is that you devoured Tolkien as a child, met Seamus Heaney in person, and just rolled your eyes at yet another reference to Yeats's poem.) When Trump summoned his minions with "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," and then disavowed any knowledge of them (as he did today), he was acting as Grendel does. You could feel his hot breath. But when he turned beet-red, he looked exactly like Gargantua, Daumier's caricature of Louis-Philippe, that marvelous pear-shaped monstrosity sitting on his throne as all of France moves via conveyor belt into his mouth. This country has become France in the Second Empire: a shadow of itself, a dog-breath in the dark."


Rose Garden Super Spreader

Friday October 2. "I've missed you - you were a wonderful person to talk to through the last few weeks. You'll never believe what happened. Your replacement came to the Rose Garden and at the blessed event the coronavirus was spread to (as of 11:45 tonight) the following people: The President of Notre Dame Rev. John Jenkins, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Thom Tillis, Senator Mike Lee, the First Lady Melania Trump, and The President of the United States. Amy Coney Barrett, Rhodes Scholar (according to the current Press Secretary, who had quite understandably confused Rhodes College in Tennessee with Oxford and Cambridge), tested positive for the coronavirus late this summer, along with her husband, who was asymptomatic. As a sensible precaution, she took a test on Friday of last week (can it only be a week since then?) and was found to be negative. She showed up the next day (Saturday September 26 - you'll remember we talked about her then) in a brown dress at the Rose Garden. 150 people mingled in and out of the White House, hugging and shaking hands. They were happy, you see. You had been replaced with the woman who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. This was the culmination of 47 years of work. And the Lord, working in one of the most mysterious ways since Machiavelli, struck them down. Typhoid Amy, they'll call her. (If it does turn out to be her. We'll never know.) It's all in Ezekiel 25:17. "I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord." But you know that. That was probably your bat mitzvah verse. Barukh atah Adonai, eloheynu melekh ha'olam. Amen.


Quarantine Tree House

Sunday October 4. "Today I am full of boundless optimism. My treehouse flag is flying. And why not? Biden leads Trump nationally by 14 points. (See? I'm learning to say his name. Enough with the He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named nonsense. He's mortal, overweight, and wears a diaper. A more fitting fate for a crueler man was ne'er invented.) Three Senators left the Rose Garden debacle with COVID, all (of course) Republicans. It will take Mitch McConnell a change of rules to get them to vote virtually, and the Senate has to agree to that. (Just to go back to that moment for a second: how lovely, how poetically right, that the sanctimonious usurpers of your Supreme Court seat spread the plague through an ostentatious display of how little they were affected by it. When have you seen so much hugging and kissing in a Republican gathering?) In my home state of Ohio, things are looking up. The Scioto River is usually a golfers' paradise, and it's 50-50 for Biden/Trump. My neighborhood hasn't desecrated your shrine, which still attracts photographers and well-wishers. It's 100% for Biden. Only the cul-de-sacs, the detours that take you through streets you have never seen, still proudly display the Trump banner. It's now clear to everyone that a vote for Trump is a vote for racism, pure and simple. I watched my daughter run a half-marathon at Three Creeks yesterday (in record time: 1 hour 39'55"!) and as I waited for her to come to the finish line I skipped stones across one of the creeks. Above me people were honking, trucks were pulling their air horns, it was a huge rally for Trump supporters on the bridge overhead. One of them shot someone [a fellow supporter!] from an overpass before the day was over. This doesn't communicate law and order. Biden's two best lines, lost in the shitstorm (as Dana Bash properly described it) of Tuesday's debate: "I'm all for law. Now could you show a little order?" And the best one: "The suburbs? You wouldn't know the suburbs if you took a wrong turn." The wrong turn for the United States is over. Biden in a landslide."


Don't Cry for Me

Tuesday October 6. "Shoot - I thought today was the debate between Harris and Pence. I'll have to content myself with liberal shade, which is easily the best thing about the last week. In his third worst day of this week, Trump revealed himself to be a cheat, a fraud, and a liar. Those were the tax returns on Sunday. On his second worst day, he revealed himself to be a disgusting creep that you wouldn't want to go to Disney World with, let alone run your country. That was the debate on Tuesday. And on his very worst day, he got COVID, rode around in a limousine the way you take a squalling child on a car ride to shut him up, and came back to the White House to breathe on everybody. That was yesterday. Yes, it's been longer than a week, but each day feels like an Era. And now - today - he did something EVEN MORE STUPID. He owned the tanking economy. Instead of taking some kind of stimulus package and getting the win that the last disposable income bonanza generated (his name on the checks! pass the money through to the banks and landlords!), he told an 80-year-old woman to shove it and THEREBY LOST THE ELECTION. Seriously, what a dumb-ass. It makes me want to go into Political Science just to write a dissertation on how not to run for re-election. Oh - and for icing on the cake, we have the news that Kayleigh Mycenae ("I will never lie to you") has COVID as well as a million memes reminding her that Amy Opus Dei Barrett didn't get a Rhodes Scholarship, and Stephen Killer ("children belong in cages separated from their parents - that's the only patriotic way") has COVID. As I keep writing on Facebook, 'Thoughts and prayers are with the virus at this difficult time.' There are those who insist on taking the high road, but look where that got Hillary. And Barack, who punted on Russian interference staring at him in the face when he was supposed to be the guardian of our country. And everyone who put on a kettle when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. This is a fight to the death. And Trump must be put to the sword."


Waiting to Vote, Columbus

Wednesday October 7. "Oh you would have been proud of Kamala Harris tonight. Not once did Mike Pence manage to drive a wedge between her and Biden. He spoke of court packing as if it were a call to arms for the Republican party, not realizing that it actually thrills the progressives which he was supposed to be peeling off. When asked why Trump wouldn't provide clear information on his own illness he spoke for two minutes about how grateful he was for America's thoughts and prayers and when asked why Trump wouldn't agree to step down after a free and fair election he said ... nothing. Today I had them destroy my mail-in ballot at the Board of Elections and voted for Harris and Biden in person, first on the ticket and first in my heart. It was a happy sea of people all doing their own thing, speaking clearly to avoid misunderstanding through their masks or through plexiglass, waiting in line, looking at handwritten signs, picking up voting brochures (by my count, the Democratic brochure was winning 37-1). The Trump voter in the scarlet Buckeye T-shirt and gray baggy pants was actually polite (like most Republicans, he's sure this election will be rigged), and his dyed-blonde trophy wife clung onto him like the fly on Pence's head. But they were OK. Everyone is OK. We'll win this thing. Kamala spoke powerfully to women and minorities, and Pence spoke weakly to people who have become exhausted by fact-free bullshit. When Pence was polite he reminded everyone of his boss and when he was rude he reminded everyone of his boss. When you cut off the megaphones Americans are ordinary people who just want a normal life. In 27 days they will vote to get it back."


World's Best Political Sign, Groveport OH

Monday October 12. "I saw the world's best sign yesterday in Groveport, Ohio. It read 'FINE. BIDEN. BUT THIS IS BULLSHIT.' I'm not sure what it means or who it's aimed at (Never Trumpers? Bernie Bros?) but anything that makes Biden/Harris a protest vote is a win in a country that seems to do little else. I swear, we've become the France of the Western World. Protesting everything, grumbling about everything, doing nothing and becoming weaker and more racist by the week. That's why you are so important to me, to us, to the USA, right now. You have become a secular saint, and not a day goes by that a miracle isn't attributed to you. When a giant fly landed on Pence's white coiffed head just as he said his thoughts and prayers were with Breonna Taylor and stayed there for the entire two minutes while he was saying race wasn't a problem in the country, there were pictures of you saying 'I SENT THE FLY.' Fresh flowers are left at your shrine at the back of our house daily, and people stop to photograph it, and thank us for it over the fence. There is now an important distinction between 'immediate result' states and 'delayed result' states, and the two swingiest of the 'immediate result' states are Ohio and Florida. So even though Biden will win over the months of the election process (which has begun already), if he wants to win on the night he will need to win Ohio. And I think, judging by the number of signs like the one above in the previously Trump-saturated rural areas of central Ohio, that he has a chance of pulling it off. Today is the day that hearings for your successor begin - they have started as I write. Dianne Feinstein has shown herself to be as unfit to lead a committee hearing as Jerry Nadler was during the impeachment process. The Democrats need new blood. Jaime Harrison, Mark Kelly, Theresa Greenfield, Sara Gideon (please, please), and Jon Ossoff will provide that new blood in the Senate. I would have included Cal Cunningham in that list but he fell into a honey trap set by a Republican operative from Pepperdine. The Republicans will do literally anything to win the Senate, and failing that, to appoint Amy Boney Carrott. You alone can stop them. Save us, RBG: you're our only hope."


The Purrfect Storm

Thursday October 15. "I finally saw the Cats movie. The four days of Supreme Court hearings were so boring that I needed a jolt of reality. And it wasn't so bad - the two leads pictured above, playing Victoria and Munkustrap, were both good actors, and Taylor Swift was drop-dead perfect as Bombalurina. I know you probably don't like Andrew Lloyd Webber, but this is the second time he's come up, after Trump's Evita-like performance on the balcony. But there's every indication that the chandelier is finally coming down on the Republican charade. Over the four days of the hearings it has become increasingly clear that in ensuring a minority rule for the Supreme Court the Republicans have lost their Senate majority, and lost the Presidential election. In less than twenty days, the Roman Empire will have fallen. Lindsay Graham has been reduced to doing a comedy act - when the Dean of the Notre Dame Law School failed to connect her monitor he said "that must be a 3G part of Indiana." He wouldn't be making wisecracks if he knew he could still win. Kelly Loeffler has sunk without a trace in Georgia, shamed into irrelevance by the WNBA. This push, or putsch, to clean the Supreme Court of any liberal bias, is backfiring. There will be two black Senators from South Carolina in January. There will be a special election to decide a Georgia run-off with Loeffler out, and it won't matter who wins. Like the German advance through the Ardennes Forest in December 1944, it is all too little, too late. The might of American numbers won the war in 1945, and it is doing so again. Only this time we are fighting in the polling booths, in the long lines to vote at sports stadiums and reconditioned shopping malls, in the determination of Hispanic voters in Arizona to risk registration with an enemy government and bring Trump down, in the 14 million voters who have already waited up to 480 minutes to cast a vote in swing states that matter: Wisconsin, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia. It is less than twenty days to a new republic. Nothing, not even an atom bomb, can stop us now."


Gustav Krupp, one of 24 German businessmen who agreed to finance the Nazi Party in 1933

Sunday October 25. "So it's over. Senators Collins and Murkowski spared their blushes by voting against a procedural issue today, joining the united Democrats in a brave and spirited effort to save their own electoral hides. With Kamala Harris off campaigning, the vote to bring Amy Boney Carrot's nomination to the floor was 51-48. This after the judiciary committee had hugged itself into submission, voting unanimously to send the nomination of their favorite Rapture Victim forward (the Dems on the Judiciary Committee all boycotted the vote, in another daring show of force). Since 30 business hours must elapse between the vote to bring the nomination forward and the vote itself, the Senate is nobly staying open all night to allow the vote to happen on Monday. What will they do during that all-nighter? Pass a COVID-19 Stimulus bill? Provide unemployment bonuses to the millions still out of work? No. They will not be doing that. They will be celebrating a coup, as much of one as the 10,000 uncounted votes in a file cabinet in Miami-Dade County nearly 20 years ago. In The Order of the Day, Eric Vuillard's magnificent reading of the events leading to the Anschluss (brilliantly translated by Mark Polizzotti), the Austrian government all finds their collective spines too late. Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Austrian dictator, negotiates his country out the window with the men who had assassinated Dolfuss, his predecessor as Chancellor. A new Minister of the Interior, Seyss-Inquart, is named Chancellor of Austria. Seyss-Inquart would later be hanged at the Nuremberg Trials, shouting 'I believe in Germany' as he disappeared through a trapdoor. Schuschnigg, the betrayer of his country, would end up as a Professor of Political Science at Saint Louis University. As Vuillard says, 'Great catastrophes often creep up on us in tiny steps' (70). And make no mistake, the vote that will happen on the Senate Floor on Monday, October 26, 2020 is a catastrophe. Say their names. Thomas. Alito. Gorsuch. Kavanagh. Barrett. A minority party in permanent control of one-third of the three branches of government. In 1938 Churchill spoke of 'The Rape of Austria.' That was overstated, as Vuillard observes: 'The bride was willing; this was no rape, as some have claimed, but a proper wedding' (86). But what, pray, is this? It will be up to later historians to come up with a term vile enough to describe it."


Sox Win!

Monday November 2. "I wonder if you were a baseball fan. I can see you behind home plate, a season-ticket holder for the Mets, filling in your scorecard. I hope not! As you can see by the picture above (which for those of you who are blog-challenged is Jason Varitek sticking his glove in A-Rod's face), I am a die-hard Red Sox fan. It used to be that those were the only kind. My favorite Stephen King novel, Faithful, has the subtitle: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season. That was the year we won it all, for the first time since 1918. The Curse was broken. A-Rod got faced by our catcher. Don Zimmer was dropped by Pedro Martinez in an epic slappy-fight. And we came back, not from 3-2, or 3-1, but from 3-0 to beat the Yankees. What Stephen King puts in perspective so well is how much 2003, the previous postseason, had hurt. In 2003, we lost to the Yankees in a predictable fashion, and everything about the next year was seen through the failure of the year before. 2004 was a shot at redemption. And it started badly. In game 3 of the series we lost 19-8 to go down 0-3. And then, one by one, we picked off all the swing states. Won all the toss-ups. Big Papi won one in the 12th. We were on a roll. (Can you see the analogy here? I bet you can.)


After beating the Yankees in 7, it was on to St. Louis for the World Series. My brother Jay bought me two tickets to game 3 and I drove 6 hours from Columbus to see the game with him. It was televised by Fox news, so I wore my Kerry T-Shirt (naturally!). Already the rifts in the American body politic were making themselves felt. It was East Coast Boston versus Midwest St. Louis, blue versus red, Kerry vs. Bush. And here's how Stephen King describes the feeling after that game:


'I don't think I've ever been so aware of the limitations of this narrative's necessary diary form until today. You sitting there with the finished book in your hand are like an astronaut who can see the entire shape of the earth: where every sea ends and every coastline begins again. I just go sailing along from day to day, hoping to avoid the storms and writing in this log when seas are calm. And now I think I can smell land up ahead. I hope I'm not jinxing things by saying that, but I really think I can.'


And you know what? He was right. Red Sox swept in 2004 and won in a win that made up for all the near-century of heartache. Biden sweeps in 2020 and wins in a win that makes up for four years of sheer hell. Bank on it. And then let's talk about sports instead of politics for a while."


The conversation with Ruth Bader Ginsburg has come to a close. Now everyone GO VOTE!

400 views3 comments

©2019 by Sebastian Knowles