Seaside towns are the same the world over. Bumper cars, arcade games, neon lights, waves lapping against the shore. I love them. American lakeside towns now add a special something of their own: hatred. It's an ugly word, but how else do you describe the conversation I had on the second floor balcony of Surfside on the Lake?
Man in pink shirt outside room 701: "You're not going to mug me, are you?"
Me (not looking especially threatening): "No."
Man (chuckling): "Not like Joe Biden."
Me (at a rare loss for words): "Come on now..."
I found his car in the parking lot later. It says "WALK AWAY" in white letters on the rear windshield, followed by the phrases "57 DAYS" and "KNOW QUESTIONS." I have no idea what these things mean but I'm sure they have something to do with Biden and his perceived senility. Next to the kind of car writing that one associates with "Just Married" vehicles in happier times (often on their way to Lake George), there is a sticker which says "Trump: Keeping American F**king Great Again." The alarming thing about this sticker is not just the false way it pretends to decorum. It is the array of environmental stickers below it, the kind that you would expect to see on a Subaru in Vermont or Oregon. Upstate New York has fallen heavily for Trump since the 2020 election. New York will never go Republican, but if Lake George is a fair indicator then Pennsylvania and Michigan will. With Ohio and Indiana already lost, that means that the 2024 election is already as good as lost. We have to prepare for this.
I was in Lake George for a Scrabble Tournament (that's probably why the man in the pink shirt thought I was going to mug him - we are some of the most terrifying people on the planet). I was surprised to hear Kaia, one of my favorite players, and the nicest person you'll ever meet, spouting profanities in the hotel lobby. "FUCK YOU BIDEN" she said. The person she was talking to shook her head sadly and replied with a similar profanity. It turns out they were reporting on the graffiti they had found in the bathroom of their hotel rooms. "How are you supposed to relax," Kaia said, "with that kind of hate speech on your bathroom mirror?"
It's a good question. Here's another example, on the side of the man in the pink shirt's car.
I read this wrongly the first time. "Don't believe in the wall? Take off." That's already a strong statement, nicely tuned to send racist dog whistles across to the car in the next lane. But the idea of turning immigrants and their sympathizers out of the country is so 2020. In the Revenge Tour, as Trumpers are calling the inevitable comeback of their Twittering King, the message is sharper and more deadly. You have to read the little triangle in the back as well. The message actually reads: "Don't believe in the wall? Take off your front door."
That, my friends, should send shivers down your spine. This is not an attack on people you know or people you love, it is an attack on you. These are the new stakes for Trump-Biden 2024. There can be no doubt that Trump will run, with or without his 88 million followers on Twitter. There can be no doubt that he will win every Republican primary in every state - most states won't even bother to hold them, as four states didn't in 2020. But now the 74 million who voted for a man who by indifference to a preventable global scourge became directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens have been inspired by the events of January 6, as much as the school shooters got into line after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris put on trench coats and walked into Columbine. 25 states voted for Trump and 25 states voted for Biden in 2020. In 2024 that number changes. Based on a reading of the current Trumpiness of Lake George, NY, that second number goes down.
Needing an escape after a difficult loss to the top seed, who found an out play of 31 when he only needed 15, I drove past the cabins of Route 9 North, just to the West of the Lake. Lake George is a lovely spot - Georgia O'Keeffe, Janette reminded me, did some wonderful paintings from her shanty back in the 1920s. Here's one, looking just like the photograph from that afternoon's drive.
The drive along Route 9N winds past little log cabins that remind you (or me) of nothing more than Humbert's search for Quilty in Lolita. Places with cutesy names like Up Yonda Farm and Bearly Inn, like Nabokov's Kawtagain. That section of the book has always struck me as its best part, as Nabokov allows free rein to his love of small-town America and its motels:
The two-room cabin we had ordered at Silver Spur Court, Elphinstone turned out to belong to the glossily browned pine-log kind that Lolita used to be so fond of in the days of our carefree first journey; oh, how different things were now! [...] I have a memo here: between July 5 and November 17, when I returned to Beardsley for a few days, I registered, if not actually stayed, at 342 hotels, motels and tourist homes.
Coming to Burton Landing, I stopped in at Tavern-on-the-Lake, where the preparations for a wedding were in progress. (It was scheduled for 3 o'clock later that day, during what would turn out to be a torrential downpour.) It was hard to find a parking space for my little TT in the sea of Dodge Rams. Every truck on the Eastern Seaboard must have been there, each one blacker and shinier than the next. The insignia of the Dodge car company, I thought to myself, will become the oak leaf of the new Trump Militia. Every paramilitary vehicle in the 2024-2028 crisis will be a Dodge Ram. When the newly politicized Germans lost everything in the Beer Hall Putsch, it took a time in prison and a long book now required by Texas as alternative reading to Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl for the leader of the National Socialist Party to regroup and return to power. It will take our 45th President one failed coup d'etat, two years in the wilderness, and 280 characters or less to get back into the White House.
We should have learned one thing from this pandemic. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And the reverse is true: what you don't manage to kill comes back with a vengeance. The original Trump voter was the kind of person who parks at an angle in a supermarket parking lot and doesn't return the shopping cart. He was a cartoon. He died tragically in the great unvaccination of the red states, along with everyone else who felt that there were more important things than living.
This picture of the driver of the white car that makes everyone else adjust to him is from the other side of the parking lot at Surfside on the Lake. Let's go back and take another look at the little triangle on the driver's side of the car owned by the person in room 701 again. There is a tight if incoherent logic to "Don't Believe In The Wall TAKE OFF UR FRONT DOOR." I'm not sure why "in" is underlined or the first sentence is in lower case with capitals - these must be features of the new insouciance to grammatical clarity. The same thing with "UR" and the missing question mark: the man in the pink shirt is showing his anti-elitist bona fides by deliberately looking stupider than he is. Remember that he's the one with the zinger about Joe Biden mugging the country.
And is Joe Biden mugging the country? No, he's actually providing a financial blanket for all unemployed and evicted Americans, over the objections of Mitch McConnell. Is he redistributing America's wealth? No, unless the man in the pink shirt has assets of over $10M, in which case he should have really sprung for a poolside view. Is "The Wall" (the 49 miles of new fencing along the Mexico border) really like the front door of your house? Well, no. You own your house. You do not own the country. But let us accept the false analogy for a minute. If your house is a United States in miniature, then what can you do without? Do you need water? The internet? Cable TV? Sun and air we can give you for free, but how about food and electricity? These things do come in your house, just not through the front door. And you need them to live, to exist, to watch Squid Game, to troll your friends, to collect National Park stickers, to buy white crayon paint, to learn to fit words on windows. A world that shuts out immigrants, imports, semi-conductors, and lithium batteries is a world in which you cease to exist. Just that morning, I said to the imaginary man in the pink shirt (fuming in room 700, desperately thinking of a comeback far too late, suffering an esprit de hotel corridor that would make Proust look like Dorothy Parker), just that morning I was up to see the sun over the lake and heard two people speaking comfortably to one another on the patio. They had been there the previous day but I hadn't registered their presence. They were speaking Spanish, and raking the leaves off the beach. That's right, Mr. Pink Shirt, I said to myself. If you want a leafless beach to enjoy on a cold October morning during your stay in America's heartland hideaway, you will have to pay someone to pick them up. And that means opening up your f**king front door.
Returning to Tavern-on-the-Lake to watch game 3 of the ALCS, and for more of the Adirondack Brewing Company's excellent Red Ale, I saw that the wedding hadn't been rained out after all. The flotilla of Dodge Rams was still in full array, but their owners had changed into lounge suits and were dancing the night away to Abba. (And if you haven't seen a young lawyer busting a move to "Dancing Queen" you haven't lived.) The tournament was going well - I had challenged "SIRVENTE" only to discover that it was the word for a satirical medieval ballad, but that was to someone who sang "Let It Go" to me when I obsessed about not knowing the word.
I had played "VARIETY" off "GLITZ" for 102 against the closest thing we have to Scrabble royalty, the daughter of Stefan Fatsis. She and I ended up in competition for the unfortunately named "Lucky Stiff" award, where the person who has won their games by the closest margin is recognized for having the gods of Scrabble with them. What rubbish: do Scrabble players never play chess? Does winning by a pawn in an endgame make you lucky or good? The award, which comes with no money or recognition, should be at least renamed "Defensive Warrior" or "Person Who Can Count." Anyway, here's proof of my miserly point spreads:
Good defeated evil by a razor-thin margin in 2020. The work of Stacey Abrams in Georgia won us the Senate, only to be defeated by Manchin in his role as Saruman the White. There are rumblings in Mordor, as Gandalf said to Frodo back at the beginning of the Trilogy. "Already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening." Sauron has been defeated once, but it will be much harder to defeat him again, especially with Biden doing his best Denethor imitation. This is not a fantasy. Not to get too Orwellian about it, but this is as real as Hate Week. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell produces one of the finest sentences ever written in an effort to shake his audience out of their torpor. He is taking a train back to London in 1938 after fighting for the Party of Marxist Unification (P.O.U.M.) in the Spanish Civil War. His position, remarkably, is both anti-Fascist and anti-Stalinist. It is also profoundly pro-human. I reproduce the final sentence here:
Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen--all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.