The blog that reaches the wet, dark, secret places where other blogs fear to tread.
The blog that reaches the wet, dark, secret places where other blogs fear to tread.
Thanks for visiting my blog. It is a sampler of my murder-memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn. The best way to enjoy it is to start at the first post and read chronologically. I hope you’ll find it both hilarious and horrifying.
I will also be posting about the best books, movies and songs about Brooklyn. And, sharing my practical and off-beat travel tips. If you enjoy my blog, please follow me. Hover your mouse in the lower right corner of the screen and a pop-up box will appear. Enter your email address and you’ll never miss one of my posts. Your address will not be sold or shared and you won’t be pestered with any sales cons.
Welcome to my Brooklyn,
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I love reading good books – especially good books set in New York. I’m guessing you do to or you wouldn’t be here. And, I’m guessing that, like me, you love discovering book stores built over basements bursting with used books and then hunting and coughing your way through the dusty stacks.
I even have a recurring dream of descending into an imagined basement in a Manhattan slum and finding the used book store of my dreams. (Literally of my dreams.) For years, I’ve been returning to this seemingly limitless catacomb.
The great joy of being a book hunter is stumbling over a new author, subject or world. Here are some of my most treasured discoveries –
Psychic Dictatorship in America
by Gerald B. Bryan (1940)
Instantaneous Personal Magnetism
by Edmund Shaftesbury (1933)
Adventures with Vending Machines
by Ray Burkett (1967)
Analism Among the Poor
by Preston Harriman (1970)
But what does all this have to do with Joe the Engineer, I hear you cry. This –
You know how it is – your moving down the used book aisle, head tilted sideways, giving yourself scoliosis, scanning the book spines when a title catches your interest. You never heard of the author. The cover and blurbs intrigue you. You read the first sentence and next thing you know the clerk is telling you the store is closing. You blow the mildew from your lungs, brush the cobwebs from your clothes and head up to the cashier clutching gold-in-print.
That’s how I found Joe the Engineer by Chuck Wachtel (1983). I stumbled over it in the used book basement of the original Sam Weller’s in Salt Lake City. I found Francine Prose, David Markson, Charles Portis, Sam Lypsyte and Tom Perrotta in similar basements around the world. (They haven’t written any “Brooklyn” books so I’m not featuring them on this blog. But, if you are a fan of dazzling prose, do yourself a favor and read them. Trust me. Just do it.)
Anyone who has read my memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn will know that my opinion of the neighboring Borough of Queens is not high. Since Wachtel’s book is set in that hellhole, it’s not a “Brooklyn” book. But, since I grew up surrounded by “Joe the Engineers” and might have been one myself, and since it validates everything I’ve written about Queens and since it is so damn good and since this is my blog and I can do whatever I wanna do – I’m gonna do you a favor by making it my Brooklyn Book # 5. (So there.)
Joe the Engineer is quite simply one of the truest and most moving novels of working-class life ever written. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Joe is a Vietnam vet stuck in a dead-end job reading meters in Queens basements and living in Richmond Hill – the same dead-end Queens neighborhood where he grew up.
Joe is saddled with half-assed intelligence and half-assed dreams. And, Wachtel does a masterful job of capturing the mind of a person who isn’t fully conscious of the “how and why” of his miserable state but senses that something is wrong somewhere. The working class is full of such “canaries in a coal mine.” The media loves to mock them when they are inarticulate in their rage and confusion but I’ve always heard them loud and clear.
I’ve heard them because I am one of them. My antenna has always been finely attuned to pick up snide condescension from the elites. (That’s what cost Hillary Clinton the election. White workers ain’t dumb ya know.) So, I appreciated how “working-class Wachtel” applied his writer’s eye to our shared caste without snobbery or sentimentality.
I especially enjoyed listening to Joe’s thoughts as he read his customer’s lives while reading their basement meters. I saw him as a blue-collar Howard Carter mining the minutiae of ancient Egyptian life from hieroglyphs though in Joe’s case it is from ancient wall calendars and broken toys.
I found a 1983 radio interview with Wachtel – the year Joe was published. I was pleased but not surprised to learn that one of Chuck’s literary models was Hubert Selby Jr. whose Last Exit to Brooklyn is one of my Brooklyn Books. I was less pleased and surprised that Wachtel sounded prissy and academic. And when he blithely stated that America was a “mulatto” nation, my antenna started twitching. “Mulatto” is code for White genocide. It’s shorthand for “Death to Joe the Engineer.”
Happily, in 2020, “mulatto” is still not the norm in America and race-mixing is frowned upon by the vast majority of all races. (Don’t believe me? Listen to minority talk radio.) And, it was certainly not the rule fifty years ago despite Wachtel’s best wishes. However, due to the subversive work of those condescending elites (whom Wachtel chastised) and their fellow-travellers like, ironically, Chuck Wachtel himself, the Joe the Engineers of Richmond Hill and the world are being replaced.
Yes, the solidly White working-class Richmond Hill, Queens to which Joe returned after being used as cannon fodder in Viet Nam is now not open to his kind. For Richmond Hill, Queens is now known as Little India-Guyana-Trinidad and Tobago.
I eagerly sought out and read Wachtel’s other works which include poetry but, for me, Chuck is a one-hit-wonder. Still, as with those other liberal half-wits I’ve reviewed, Alfred Kazin and Pete Hamill, I’m gonna cut Chuck Wachtel some slack coz he wrote a beauty. Do yourself a favor – read it!
There seems to be a movie in the works but I fear they’ll kill the book with politically correct crap. Betcha the supermarket check out girl is Black or Muslim. And, probably cast with Chuck’s approval. Never mind – “I hereby pronounce Joe the Engineer an honorary Brooklyn Boy.”
Pete Hamill and I grew up side-by-side in working-class, Catholic, Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Pete – Irish. Me – Italian
That last distinction was the biggie. For as much as I admired and even feared the Brooklyn Irish; and though we lived cheek by jowl, I felt they were alien to my tribe. Sharper. Colder. Meaner. And, lots, lots drunker.
I can’t remember ever seeing an Irish parent being warm and affectionate with one of their children.
It was the Irish parents who mocked their kids and blackened their eyes; the Irish parents who drunkenly fell off bar stools and tenement stoops; the Irish parents who got thrown into the aptly named Paddy Wagon to be hauled away by Irish cops.
It was the Irish mother upstairs in our tenement who got her sluggish sons out of bed by throwing pails of cold water over them. It was the Irish father upstairs who chased one of those same sons out of their kitchen window only for the terrified kid to go sailing past our kitchen window as we ate dinner.
My childhood impression, formed in countless games of stick ball, tag and Monopoly, was that all Irish kids had fiery tempers and green teeth. I also learned that all Irish nuns had cheeks forever reddened with fury. No lie, it seemed like all of Irish Brooklyn was constantly plastered and pissed-off.
So, for me, Hamill’s memoir was an insider’s lowdown from the enemy camp – one that confirmed what I felt as a child about his kith and kin. In A Drinking Life, he spills his guts on himself and his breed with bittersweet affection and brutal honesty. This is a brave, brilliantly observed memoir that captures the feel of 20th century urban American life as well as any I’ve read. Pete’s description of the VE Day celebrations in Park Slope brought me to tears. The way he conjured his proud, angry one-legged father made me see and feel the man as he limped up the street to the corner bar.
Pete Hamill and I played in the same streets, rode the same trolleys, hung-out in the same parks, fought in the same playgrounds and gorged in the same ice cream parlors. I suffered a year of weekly piano lessons from a terrifying Irish nun at Holy Name School where Pete suffered the full-time fury of the Sisters of Perpetual Rage.
I even bought movie tickets from Pete’s mother at the local itch-house.
Yet, no matter how similar our childhood landscapes, we were separated not only by ethnicity but by politics.
Pete – Left. Me – Right.
Pete Hamill became one of New York’s premier newspaper columnists and bleeding-heart liberals. Like his contemporary Irish columnist, the insufferable douchebag-blowhard Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill loved playing the “muck-raking White knight” fighting for what he believed was equality but what I knew was actually White replacement.
In the 1980s when Brooklyn was stewing in crack-fueled racial violence, Hamill sided with Black Brooklyn against White Brooklyn – specifically Italian Brooklyn. He sneeringly called we Italians fighting for our survival, “guidos” which was tantamount to calling Blacks, “niggers.” I’ll never forgive Hamill for being a race traitor.
Irish drunks are a dime a dozen (and a fuckin’ bore) so Hamill’s saga of bottoming out before straightening out, though well told, wasn’t for me. I much preferred his bawdy, Henry Miller-like tales of being a budding beatnik artist. Those were full of fun period details and read like Tropic of Art School. Besides, a little sexual braggadocio never hurts. In fact, Brooklyn and braggadocio go together like sausage and peppers.
And, hey, if you were playing “hide the shillelagh” with…
You’d braggadocio, too!
So, this social-justice leprechaun wasn’t averse to a bit of jet-setting at Elaine’s and P.J. Clarke’s. (Somehow I doubt he ever squired Tawana Brawley to either boîte.) And yet… like Alfred Kazin (the subject of my last post ) as much as I wanted to smack Hamill in the chops for his silly knee-jerk liberal bullshit, I couldn’t help liking the guy.
I’d love to sit down with him over a beer (Oops, better make that a root beer) not at Elaine’s but at Farrell’s – the legendary Irish working-class watering hole in Park Slope. We could stay off politics and shoot the shit about the nuns, the priests, the gangs, the girls, the Irish Mafia, the Italian Mafia, Coney Island and especially the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers.
Pete & Me
Two boys outa Brooklyn
So very different
So very the same
Alfred Kazin (1915-98) was a noted Jewish critic – one of my least favorite literary types. I’m not a fan of that species because it’s part of the Jewish monopoly on printed media. (Don’t believe me? Check the names on the mastheads of every magazine and publishing house in America but… be careful. Many of those Anglo-Saxon sounding names are not genuine. Name changing is part of the Hebraic shape-shifting ploy called passing.)
The Jewish critics rave about members of their own tribe (often without merit) while neglecting more talented gentile writers. And, they only promote philo-semitic authors. Plus, their view of literature is hopelessly tainted by their Jew-centric perspective. So, to put it mildly, there exists an unbridgeable political, religious and cultural gap between Alfred Kazin and I.
And yet… I gotta say that I loved Alf’s memoir of growing up in the Jewish ghetto that was Brownsville, Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, I couldn’t help liking the guy. Go know. I think it’s that undefinable “Brooklyn” thing that bonds us.
A Walker in the City is Kazin’s elegantly written collection of character studies, incidents and musings. It brims with colorful tales of rabbis and radicals, great books, great music, great meals and great awakenings. The reader senses Kazin walking himself into adulthood and consciousness. His love of Brooklyn, literature and his people permeate every page. I admire his own writing more than his criticisms of others.
Don’t get me wrong. I bristled at much of what he wrote but he did such a great job of writing that I cut him some slack. Hey, I’m easy. So, sue me.
I owe Alf a debt of gratitude because his memoir was one of those that inspired me to tell the story of my boyhood across the borough in Italian-Catholic Brooklyn. That said – our takes on race, religion, sex and politics are as diametrically opposed as his Brownsville is from my South Brooklyn.
It’s a sad but predictable irony that all of the Marxist and liberal bullshit about class and race preached in the streets and synagogues of Brownsville (and described so brilliantly by Alfred Kazin) failed. Bigtime. Marxists embedded in the city government used Marxist principles to replace the Jews of Brownsville with the Blacks of Brownsville. The result? After “70 count’ em 70” years of those Marxist ministrations, Brownsville is the murder capital of New York City.
The area was never a garden spot but now it is a no-go zone of hellish housing projects. It makes Flatlands and East New York look like Cap d’Antibes.
The few Jews left in Brownsville (even fans of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela) have become the prey-of-choice for roving gangs of feral youths playing the “knock out game.”
Never mind… if you enjoy reading memoirs written with wit, style, brain and heart then have I got a Brooklyn book for you – A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin.
So, read it already!
The Thomas Boyle Trilogy
Only the Dead Know Brooklyn (1985)
Post-Mortem Effects (1987)
Brooklyn Three (1991)
The late Thomas Boyle was a Pennsylvania kid who spent part of his childhood in Brooklyn. (That makes him an Honorary Brooklyn Boy in my opinion.) He graduated from Cornell, earned his doctorate at NYU and taught at Brooklyn College for many years. Some book review sites confuse him with the more famous T.C. Boyle the author of many brilliant novels including The Road to Wellville – set in a 19th century health-spa and Drop City – set in an Alaskan hippie commune.
Our Thomas Boyle’s last book (published in 1990 in the midst of his crime trilogy) was Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead – a study of Victorian crime fiction. It sounds like the Sherlock Holmes mystery Conan Doyle forgot to write! I’ve added it to my “must read” list.
Any fan of gumshoe fiction will enjoy Boyle’s modern yet faithful reworking of the much-loved archetypes and plot devices of that often hackneyed genre.
Anyone who knows the geography of Brooklyn will get an extra kick out of Boyle’s locales. His hard-boiled tales follow Detective Frank DeSales as he chases bad guys down hidden alleys in Red Hook, across garbage strewn vacant lots in Williamsburgh and even onto the hallowed ground of Green-Wood Cemetery.
If you like Lawrence Block’s ex-cop now “private dick” Matt Scudder, you’ll feel right at home with Thomas Boyle’s active duty detective Frank DeSales. They are brothers from another mother.
I can’t find any movies or TV shows based on this trilogy which is a shame and surprising. For decades now, “All things Brooklyn” have been all the rage. Go know!
Any list of famous writers from Brooklyn would fill a decent sized phone book. And any list of books set in Brooklyn would be almost as large. I’ve read plenty of both but there are many more I’ve missed. So, the posts I’ll be making about Brooklyn books will be far from a definitive list. Think of them as tips from your friendly Brooklyn librarian.
It would be remiss of me not to begin with the very first “Brooklyn” book I ever read. (Hell, it was the very first book I ever read cover-to-cover!) And, I’ve reread it many times since – most recently last Tuesday. In fact, it’s the overdue book mentioned above – overdue for over 60 years! If you haven’t read it then all I can say is, “I pity you!”
“Psssst, hey kid, ya wanna read a really doity book?”
As you drive into Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge a large sign looms up at you. It screams, “Last Exit to Brooklyn.” If a driver doesn’t take that exit they are taken onto the Gowanus Expressway and thence over the neighborhood of Sunset Park where the spectacularly downbeat novel Last Exit to Brooklyn is set. In the 1950s, the period of the novel, that sign should have screamed, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
In the 50s, the waterfront of Sunset Park was a land of perpetual night – a slum rotting in fetid shadow beneath the elevated Gowanus Expressway. The Mafia had killed the docks, Robert Moses had killed Sunset Park by cutting it in two with his hideous highway and the Dodgers had killed Brooklyn by moving to L.A.
Hubert Selby Jr. knew this coz he was a Brooklyn boy born right next door to Sunset Park in Bay Ridge.
Selby’s book consists of inter-locking tales of losers, junkies, sadists, pimps, hookers and trannies who fight for scraps in a nightmare world of gangs and gang-bangs.
I was raised in the 1950s just a few blocks away from this world. I even swam in the public pool there. But, I knew better than to venture into the Terra Incognita below the highway. Many years later, I met a Yorkshireman who had lived in a sleaze-bag hotel in Sunset Park during WW2. He was outfitting ships to British standards that had been built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He told me that the whole area was full of crap games, gyp-joints and whorehouses all making a fortune from the servicemen and dock workers.
In the 1980s, I would spend pointless, penniless weekends meandering around Brooklyn by bike. I was drawn to the derelict and rotting factories of Industry City that lined the waterfront in Sunset Park. I thought, “Damn, this would make a great film set.” And, that’s exactly where, a few years later, much of the movie of Last Exit to Brooklyn was filmed.
That film is good but doesn’t capture the daring style and outrageous vitality of Selby’s prose. Plus, by 1989, much of the shock value of his book’s subject matter had been lost. But, when it was first published in 1964, Last Exit to Brooklyn was an outrage and banned in several countries. I haven’t been impressed by Selby’s other work but anyone interested in the lower depths of Brooklyn life and the heights of “outsider” American literature should read Last Exit to Brooklyn.
In 1965, I read it as a 15-year-old while working as a messenger in Times Square. The guy who sold it to me could have been arrested. I made sure that its instantly recognizable cover was always visible sticking out of my back pocket as I made deliveries. And, I made sure that same cover was visible as I read Last Exit to Brooklyn on the subway. I didn’t live in a artist’s garret in Greenwich Village but it was fun to pretend that I did.
London has many wonderful parks; some so large they are home to herds of cattle and deer! The parks in my ‘hood were royal hunting grounds in medieval London and are still surprisingly woodsy. For many years, I’ve used them for occasional long walks but, during lockdown, I’ve made them my daily haunts.
“Haunts” is the perfect word because, as the lockdown continues and my boredom and anxiety deepen, I am not so much walking as haunting the same well-trodden paths day after day. And, I encounter familiar masked faces doing the same. We are so many woodland ghosts sharing glances of grim determination and forced friendliness as we carefully pass each other. Actually, I let them carefully pass me. I plow ahead as in normal times – refusing to make flamboyant gestures of “giving way” or to take drastic action to avoid breaking the two-meter social-distancing rule.
It’s the terror in their eyes that makes me shudder and makes me furious. They are my enemies – members of the 84% of the British public that want this insane lockdown to continue.
Of course, there are many in that number easily dismissed as low I.Q. slugs quite happy to lay about with the state bracing them up. (Uh… better make that the taxpayer doing the bracing-up.) And, hey, there might be some otherwise intelligent folk in the 84% who are enjoying the forced curtailment of their liberty. (Maybe they hated going into the office. Or, love playing with their kids.)
But, I can see in the eyes of my fellow woodland ghosts that they are just gutless wonders who fear. Fear the state. Fear their neighbors. Fear the future. Fear death. Fear life.
They are the obedient wage slaves, consumers and pawns coveted by technocratic dictators who plot our dystopian future on their desktops and slide rules.
It’s the timid couples I pass in the woods who make me angriest. I imagine their hushed, fervent pillow-talk plans to clap even louder next Thursday night for the NHS and start a collection for the rapeugees who land daily on Britain’s beaches from the Calais jungle. Invariably, these couples are not only masked but masked to the max. No cheap paper masks or basic medical face coverings for them. No. They wear space-age contraptions with multiple fail-safe straps and vents. In the middle of the woods!
I guess they missed the memo that no two “experts” can agree if masks are even worthwhile. And, the “experts” to whom they grovel have admitted that they invented the two-meter rule with no scientific backing. And, those same “experts” say that Covid-19 droplets don’t travel or live in air for as long as they had claimed. And, the virus doesn’t survive on surfaces for as long as they had warned either.
Remember all those medical horror-hype stories of Covid-19 droplets traveling 22 feet and living longer than Methuselah? Well, you can forget that. Oh, this just in, now the “experts” say that you don’t have to wipe down your groceries after all.
In 1961, the late, great baseball manager Casey Stengel was fired by the mighty New York Yankees and immediately hired by the lowly New York Mets. One day he looked down the Mets dugout bench and asked, “Can’t anyone here play this game?”
I’d like to ask that of all the “experts” who have clogged the airwaves and newspaper columns for months – all those fusty-musty eggheads carefully cultivating their images and soundbites as they salivate over a book deal and regular pundit spot on MSNBC.
But, I’m glad to say that some genuine scientists are asking (as I have) whether the astonishingly wrong predictions made by the “experts” could have been by accident. And, if the mistakes were deliberate, what is their agenda?
Maybe they felt that to get the attention of a dumbed-down population (Dumbed-down by them) they had to push the worst-case scenario.
Maybe they felt that to get the attention of polyglot, multi-racial countries (Made so by them) they had to push the worst-case scenario.
Maybe, however disastrous the result of their strategy, they had our best interests at heart. (What was that about good intentions?)
But, how ’bout this?
Maybe this pandemic:
is now being manipulated by the technocratic elites to their own ends.
It’s anyone’s guess what their end game is but when Warren “Billionaire” Buffett drops his airline stocks, this “anyone” suspects that restrictions on international travel will be one outcome.
And, as the UK starts testing its new Covid-19 tracking App, restrictions on domestic travel will be another outcome.
Chew on this… if you refuse to comply with the tracking App you could be denied travel, health care, pension, education, housing and every other aspect of life controlled by the “benevolent” state. Last time I checked, Big Brother can give with one hand…
Welp… this is one ghost who plans to resist all technocratic incursions into his life. But, I’ll betcha my woodland friends comply in a heartbeat. And, I expect a knock on the door after one of those not-so friendly ghosts drops a dime on my ass.
So, the next time you visit the woods in my ‘hood don’t be surprised if you find me hanging around.
I’ve got some questions. You do, too. We all do.
Who died and left them boss?
Welp… as of today 218,000 have died from Covid 19. Possibly. Maybe. We’re pretty sure. That’s our guesstimate. Ballpark figure. Some with. Some suspected. But, yeah, 218K. That’s the body count. There or thereabouts.
Now, if you ask us about diarrhea… 1.5 million die annually from that. No foolin’. 1.5 million. Annually. From diarrhea. You can take that to the bank.
As long as we’re talkin’ numbers here…
The Flu pandemic of 1918-19 killed 20 – 100 million.
The Flu of 1957 killed 1.1 million
The Flu of 1968 killed 1 million
In an average year the flu kills 300 – 650,000
In the 1918-19 flu pandemic the sick were quarantined. Otherwise, life went on. And, there were no lockdowns in any of these earlier pandemics. In fact, aside from this corona-panic, at no time in history have the healthy been quarantined.
Before you argue that social-distancing and lockdown have kept the Covid-19 deaths down consider that the official modellers included those mitigating factors when concocting their original vastly exaggerated infection and death rates. Those geniuses got it so dead wrong that a suspicious person might think they did so on purpose. Could they have been that stupid? After all, from the git-go there were modellers who got it dead right.
Any dispassionate observer who examined the history of the UN, WHO, CDC, NIH, NHS (or any other member of the alphabet soup of so-called public health agencies) would conclude that the inmates had taken over the asylum. Their record of wrong projections, lethal injections and spectacularly inept responses are beyond dispute and beyond belief.
And, yet. And, yet. They are lording it over us. Calling the shots. And, we are allowing them to do so.
Coming soon to an economic zone near you, the motion-picture entertainment of the ages!
“1984 meets Brave New World”
Plus, you’ll thrill to the spectacular second feature –
“Big Mommy vs. the Big Bad Bugs
That Might Give You a Boo-boo”
I feel it in my waters. You do, too. We all do. We all feel it but dare not speak it. We know what’s really going on here. But, we also know that terrible truths must be spoken aloud to be made real. We are terrified of speaking into life the horrible future we foresee.
“In the beginning was the word…
and the word was made flesh.”
Meanwhile… Don’t kid yourself. There won’t be any big pushback. Oh, sure, a few horn-honking, flag-waving, Bible and constitution-clutching diehards. But, no widespread revolt. No 1776, No Yellow Vests. No Antifa. No alt-right. No nuthin’. Acquiescence. That’s all there will be. Acquiescence. Surrender. Compliance.
POLICING BY CONSENT
I wish I was wrong. I hope I am proven so. But…
I looked across the street and there was Kirk sitting alone on a bench at a bus stop. I was surprised to see him because I had only moments before deleted him from my WhatsApp. I had deleted Kirk because he was dead.
I had spent several moments debating his deletion. It’s an act of frightening finality like scratching a dead friend from an address book or a family member from your Christmas card list. Now, I felt slightly affronted that, after causing me the upset of eliminating him from my social circle going forward, Kirk was back. Uninvited.
It was Kirk alright. Over there on the bench. Waiting for a bus. No play of the light. No doppelganger. No undigested bit of cheese. No. It was Kirk in full fleshy form. Dead but somehow alive. I considered hailing him, “Kirk, what the fuck?” But, decided that might frighten him. So, I used the nearby zebra crossing to get over to him. I checked for cars to my right but when I checked to my left, Kirk had vanished. He hadn’t boarded a bus because none had passed. The street was empty. No crowd to get lost in. No place to hide. No. Kirk had vanished.
I was sure that Kirk had died earlier that day of Covid 19. At least, that’s what they told me. Covid 19. That’s what they’d been telling everyone about anyone who had died. Covid 19. But, in Kirk’s case it made sense. He was a burly type but pushing seventy and deceptively weak inside. He’d been dealt a bad genetic hand. They turned Kirk’s respirator off on the eight day. But, I knew he was a goner when he stayed in the London hospital for more than two days.
English hospitals are lethally dirty places at the best of times. Kirk would have been safer in a men’s room stall in a tube station. But, Britain’s National Health Service is the state religion and otherwise intelligent folk are afraid to criticize it. They prefer to die. To take one for the team. (This misplaced stoicism is the only remnant of “stiff upper lip” still on display on this island.) The NHS manages to kill 40,000 a year with malpractice. And, that’s in normal years. How many of Britain’s Corona dead were foolishly trusting souls who fell not to the virus but to the inept ministrations of socialized medicine?
The only other person I knew who died of Covid 19 was a New York actor of some note. I’d never met him. Yet, our lives were inextricably linked. Forty years ago, he inherited a girlfriend of mine who had just dumped me. He didn’t do this to hurt me. We’d never met. But, I never forgave him for poaching my quail.
Then, in a coincidence of startling cruelty, he starred in an off-Broadway play as a character that was based on me. And, he got the biggest laugh of the night with a monologue in which he recounted one of the most painful romantic disasters of my life. The play had been written by an old roommate of mine. I didn’t mind that he used my life as comic fodder. But, I never forgave the actor for playing me. And, worse, for getting such big laughs.
So, when he died, I was glad. Not elated. But definitely a “gotcha” moment. It wasn’t schadenfreude – that’s the sweet pleasure one feels due to the failure and misfortunes of friends. This actor was never a friend. But, his death from Covid 19 gave me an undeniable twinge of sweet pleasure none the less. I am not completely without compassion. I hoped his death had been as painless as possible but I was glad the son of a bitch was dead. And, of course, I felt a hint of sorrow for his widow. A hint. I hadn’t thought of either of them for decades and then they burst into my life uninvited and haunted my Corona lockdown dreams.
As I sat typing this post, my cat walked between my legs as she often does, rubbing against them demanding attention and food. She’s been doing this more than ever in the lockdown. And, she’s taken to sitting on the stairs that lead up to my flat. She’s always waiting there for me when I come back from my daily sleepwalk through the local parks. And, many times during the day, I see her in her favorite spot in the back garden stretching her neck to see up to my third-floor windows and begging entrance. None of this would be unusual aside from the fact that my cat died two years ago.
As I sit typing, my neighbors are out in the street banging pots and pans, cheering, whistling, blowing horns and setting off fireworks. They are waving to each other across the street and across garden fences. Some are weeping. All are bathing in an orgy of self-congratulatory virtue-signaling.
In Britain, Thursday nights at 8PM have become a national circle jerk, a Korona Kitsch fest. It’s a mass public-display of lock-step sentimentality as we give thanks to the selfless saints who work in the National Health System.
I am reminded of the North Koreans who must cry copious tears on demand before the tomb of their fallen great leader. Or else! Meanwhile, in Britain, at a time of supposedly unprecedented crisis, our monarch has never seemed so insignificant. For, in Britain, Corona rules not Elizabeth and kitsch is king.
Saccharin citizens have put “Thank You” notes on garbage cans to cheer our noble trashmen. Widdle kids have attached finger-painted rainbows to those same garbage cans. And, those scamps have pasted rainbows to the front windows of their houses to lift the spirits of our indomitable postmen. (If you can find one!)
Worse. There have been regular street sing-alongs to such kitsch favorites as You’ll Never Walk Alone, When the Saints Go Marching In and (Please shoot me!) Imagine. All sung while maintaining social-distance, of course.
Social media is then flooded with gushing declarations about how moving the songs were followed by the usual teenage girl emojis but posted, in fact, by post-menopausal women. Actually, the Corona-mania has transformed the population of Britain into a squealing, tearful pre-pubescent girl. And, this is the men! The women…
Long gone are the British “stiff upper lip” and motto “Keep Calm and Carry On.” British media (especially the undeservedly acclaimed BBC) has become one big broadcast moan of dependency, vulnerability and entitlement. Every radio call-in show and TV chat show is now a “can-you-top-this” contest of Corona victimhood.
Readers of a certain age will remember the 1950s US TV show Queen for a Day in which pathetic women competed for prizes with their tales of misery. Audience applause decided if the gal who had lost a leg to cancer was more miserable than the one who had lost a husband to the bottle. (Younger readers in need of a good horrified-laugh are urged to find the show on Youtube.) So, I guess it makes sense that a country already used to being ruled by a monarch should embrace the idea of a national misery contest to decide which lucky citizen is to be crowned King or Queen Corona.
Meanwhile, the latest UK government figures reveal that Corona kills at the negligible rate of about 0.11 as was predicted by honest epidemiologists months ago. And, it’s been confirmed that the official current UK death toll of 20,000 includes those who died with but not necessarily from Corona. “Can you say, massive exaggeration, boys and girls?”
But, facts be damned, the wailing and gnashing of British teeth proceeds unabated. In this panic-demic the Brits are determined to run to their rooms, throw themselves on their beds and have a good old cry.
What caused this seismic shift in the British character?
Answers on a postcard.