The Uncleansable Palate

“Sometimes there’s just no sorbet, even industrial strength sorbet, to cleanse the emotional palette,” said the skeleton of my father from his grave in Cortlandt, New York.  “Certain tastes are just too distasteful to stop tasting, sickening as that also is.   How’d you like that nice whiff of Hitler and his handiwork you had at eight years old?”  

I did not like it at all.  On the other hand, it’s not as if he killed my entire family, obviously.  Several of the dozens did survive.

“Well, you’ve always been a hyperbolic crybaby.  Look, obviously, this recent election, more than any in our memory, evoked that great image of Lewis Black’s that you and your mother laughed about not long before she went to her reward.   ‘When was the last time you went into the voting booth and voted for someone you really believed would do a great job, had integrity?   No.  You pull that curtain in the voting booth and– it’s two bowls of shit!  And you have to pick one!

“Your friends clearly found one to be a bowl of complete and reeking excrement and the other a bowl of some kind mildly inspiring, distasteful but edible sustenance, perhaps not the thing you’d choose to eat if there was any real choice in the matter, but something you could live with, something that would kill you much less brutally than trying to choke down the contents of the other bowl.  

“Hell, you might even have been pleasantly surprised at the weight loss benefit, since you would only have eaten as much as needed to keep you alive.  But that option is, sadly, now off the table, thanks to the skillful manipulation of popular anger and fear.

“On the other hand, Elie, the times now call out, in the most strident possible voice, for what Howard Zinn held out as those irresistible moments of human progress, like the end of slavery, the end of child labor, the vote for women.  At one time each of these institutions was considered just part of the immutable landscape of our great democracy.  A factory owner could make a killing employing kids instead of adults, or locking women in to prevent them from taking unauthorized smoking breaks on the fire escapes.

“Sometimes it takes a horror like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to move the heavy thumb off the scale of justice.   The image of all those dead women, their burnt corpses laid out in rows, poor women just trying to eke out a living in a brutal sweat shop, 146 dead to save the owners a few copeks?  Really, this is what you are, America, land of the free and home of the brave? 

“This guy you have now looked directly at the camera and claimed, with the confused look of a sincerely lying child, that he had no idea who David Duke was — no idea who the guy smiling with him in the photo was– then unconvincingly denied that he was coyly and steadily courting the enthusiastic endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan and their troll friends of the German hate-phrase adapting ‘alt-right’ lügenpresse.  

“Now that he’s elected, one of his first moves is to appoint Steve Bannon as his so-called chief strategist.  Bannon is the gauleiter and CEO of Breitbart, the white supremacist website that is the go-to cesspool for the ‘alt-right’– people who find guys like Rush Limbaugh to be tightrope walking pussies who lack the moral courage to call out the real reasons for our nation’s struggles:  non-whites, immigrants, Muslims and the fucking Jews. 

“The ADL said Bannon presides over a group of ‘unabashed anti-Semites and racists.’   The Southern Poverty Law Center said something similar.   Would they prefer a group of abashed anti-Semitic racists?  I mean, really, Elie, the world can be so judgmental toward men who stand proudly by their hatreds.  Plus, Bannon’s defenders do actually appear abashed when they defend their man and deny he hates anyone, even those groups who richly deserve it for being enemies of our freedom.”

Your skeleton’s sense of humor is not very funny to those of us who still have to walk, alive, through every day of the next four years.

“Only if you’re not struck down first.  You people just assume you’ll keep living, in spite of billions of cases you can look at to show the idiocy of that supposition.  All I have is this kernel of possible good news: this may be a tipping point in American history, the election of an American Mussolini.  Many of the people who voted for him wanted to blow up the system, and it’s about to catch fire.  

“You know that old saw, long debunked, about the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ being ‘danger’ plus ‘opportunity’.  That may be a cause for hope as much as a cause for fear.  Fear never got anyone anywhere– except out of direct danger, I suppose– but you know what I’m saying.”

Sure. I just don’t know how much longer I can ride the bones of this dead horse of talking to my dead father.  You know, the hard work, Brownie, the hard work… I dither here bullshitting with you instead of rolling up my sleeves and getting to it.  

“Well, it’s worked for you this far,” said the skeleton of my father, tartly puckish as he ever was sitting across the battlefield from me at dinner.


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