Sunday, January 29, 2012

Push Those Shopping Carts Hard Suckers

“It would be like ‘The Road,’ ” one publishing executive in New York said, half-jokingly, referring to the Cormac McCarthy novel. “The post-apocalyptic world of publishing, with publishers pushing shopping carts down Broadway.”

Personally, i can't wait. The publishing industry, in my experience, has combined the worst sort of clubbish, insider elitism with a head in the sand lack of vision and courage. They don't deserve to prosper. Open the floodgates and let the people decide, i say. I will always remember my meeting with Robert McCrumb of Faber and Faber in London when i was trying to publish my first attempt at novel writing, a book called Strange How i Miss You, half memoir, half travelogue. Mr. McCrumb took me into his office and shook my hand and said he liked my manuscript but would never publish it. My problem was I was an unknown writer and therefore unpublishable. How does that work, I wondered to myself. Keep writing, said McCrumb. A couple of years later he suffered a heart attack and retired, a relatively young guy. I guess the pressures of living and working in such a Kafkaesque atmosphere got to him. Then, amidst the flood of rejection letters, there was one, from the head of Random House at the time, a Jacob Epstein. He said he liked Strange How I Miss You, but it read very much like a travelogue. It is a blanking travelogue, I yelled aloud when i read the letter. We were living in a shed in the west of Ireland with no running water or electricity. My wife just looked at me and shook her head.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pink Pig Story

Fresh snow on the ground and a sunny day, warm enough to get the runoff from the roof hitting the deck and splashing you when you open the door. Time to get the cross country skis out. We convince the two girls with some effort to come along with us to Carter Hill Orchards. Michael is tired from a night of snowboarding with his pals and a day at work yesterday at the Tilton Farmer's Market, so he stays home. And he misses all the fun. We are driving the back road where Pine Hill Road loops one way to French's Farm and the other way down into Contoocook. We come around the bend and slow at the sight of a truck stopped in the middle of the road, two men standing at both ends of the truck, and a large pink pig with big ears wandering the road and circling. We pull around the loop and Susan says, stop and help them. Be a good neighbor.
So I get out and the two guys are from Hillsboro, dressed in old jeans and flannel shirts and road crew jackets and knit caps. One is about six five and the other is about my height. The tall guy is the owner of the pig. I can't believe this is happening to me, he is saying. By gosh something like this has never happened to me. That pig just jumped clear out of the back of the trailah. I never would have believed it.
I don't know whetheh I'd believe it if you'd a told me, says his friend.
They are waiting for a friend, Gamiel who is bringing a rope with him. The pig is very tame, is hanging around the truck. A lady runs by, a jogger, she shoos the pig as she runs by. Then Gamiel comes up behind us in another truck. He is French or Italian or possibly Arab, with a coil of greasy, knotted rope he is trying to untangle as he walks over. The men are overjoyed. Charlie, here take the rope says Gamiel, unknotting several feet of it and throwing it at the tall man. The two friends begin to stalk the pig. We'll tie 'is legs if we haffta, Charlie. Know what I mean? says the short man. Charlie aproaches the pig slowly and lifts a coil of rope and tosses it hesitantly. The pig catches it on her snout and decides it is not right for her and snuffs it off. Just throw it Charlie, says Gamiel. She wants to be caught. You haffta not be so nice.
I don't know if I like this, says Charlie. I'm not liking this one little bit. Then he tries again and this time he's got her head in the loop. The pig gives a mighty grunt and then she is tackled by Charlie into the snowbank. She is screaming bloody murder. At this point I go around the truck. The pig is back up and the two men are trying to restrain her with the rope by choking her. You'll kill her that way, I say. I grab the pig by the two front legs and lift. Charlie gets the idea and lifts the two back legs and she flips onto her back and we carry her around the truck down to the back of the trailer. Charlie loses his grip and I pat the pig's neck and loosen the rope from around her bruised skin. We'll get you home, buddy, I say. She relaxes on her side in the snow as we wait for Gamiel and Charlie's friend to lower the trailer's gate. Then we lift her onto the gate and she slides in, grunting with delight to be back with the other pig, which is her sister. Let's go I say to Susan. Good luck guys.
You left the door open, say the girls. It was cold.
We're driving through Hopkinton to get to the orchard. I'm stinking the car up wth the smell of the pig on my sweat pants. When we get to the orchard I get out of the car, what a beautiful sight of the mountains. And the snow is perfect, not too wet. The skis glide in the tracks and the girls are not too bad for the first time out on the skis they got for Christmas.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Day 2012

Today is passing. You could make a list and tally all the things accomplished and all the things yet to do. Sum it up with an aphorism about Sisyphus and call it in. Or you can step back and assume the perspective of the distant observer and call it honorable and grand that on such a day it was decreed to honor such a man. And what is diversity that it should assume such an honorable position in our pantheon of national virtues? Because it's not enough any more to say that all men are created equal. We must acknowledge the evolution of this judgement and now decree all differences allowed to prosper in their own time and manner. Because diversity is the new unity. Some day perhaps the color of one's skin will be the lowest, menial ranking of divergent traits, nor will it correlate at all with the diversity of spirit, diversity of conscience and diversity of heart that befall us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bah Humbug said the Gingrich

Right now politics leaves me unexcited. There is no fire in the race. The Republican primary is interesting as spectacle, not serious politics. The people who are weighing their votes tonight in New Hampshire seem sadly deluded, and the partisanship, a mirror image of the fervor I admittedly felt the last electoral cycle, almost infantile. With all the hope Obama generated, he has been impotent to move the debate forward on any issue that matters to me. At great cost and in the face of undying ideological opposition he managed to pass his health care reform. But the Obama health care package, as far as I'm concerned, is papering over the fact that our health care costs are sky high because we are the most unhealthy people on the planet. Until our lifestyle changes, nothing else matters. At least Obama might be cognizant of that. These Republicans are too tied to barbecue and white bread to move the dial on anything of substance. Except maybe Ron Paul who wants to take us back to the days before the Civil War, when slaves were raising all our food not mechanized agriculture. But I don't know, that seems a little scary to me.
So Obama does not generate much loyalty. His world view resonates with the college educated because it is generally rational and based on science and accepted social theories and not just on the works of Ayn Rand or the Spanish Inquisition. But I think his failure to overcome the Washington gridlock and his caving in on climate change policy have left me feeling that his feet are made of clay. I think David Brooks is right in his analysis in his latest NY Times column that the root problem Obama faces is that although Americans may agree with his premises and even his instincts, they generally are distrustful of the ability of government to deliver. And Washington's gridlock is a key component of that distrust. Hence the appeal of Ron Paul, who knows one true thing and sticks to it like a hedgehog, namely that the government must shrink. I agree with his premises but don't trust his single-minded reliance on the conspiratorial lens through which he views the world. However, Paul, not Romney, is the man of the hour, in my opinion, whatever the results tonight. Even if he doesn't win the nomination he will heavily influence the policy positions of both parties come November and beyond.

Monday, January 2, 2012

This Will Cheer You Up

This is the time of year for lists, and so here are my best and worst possible outcomes for 2012. We'll start with the worst:

Top 5 Worst Scenarios for 2012

1. The Mayans are right. Well actually not the Mayans. According to pessimists, 2012 marks the end of existence as predicted in the cycle of Mayan astronomy known as the Long Count calendar. This prognostication has been the source of some controversy, with some experts saying that it was never intended by Mayan astronomers to be the end of the Universe, but rather the transition to a new epoch. In any case, December 21, the winter solstice of this year, will be a busy time in the Guatemalan and southern Mexican highlands, as tourists of a ghoulish ilk look to be at the ground zero of a catastrophe which may end all catastrophes. Or not.
2. President Ron Paul. You heard me right. We haven't had a genuine populist uprising in this country in a long time, (the Bushes were faux populists and Reagan was a Hollywood artifice), and if it's going to happen, Ron Paul will be the man to lead it. However, what kind of world would a Ron Paul presidency tip us into? An isolationist, inward-looking America, at just the time Europe is sinking into a long depression, China is gobbling up Africa and Latin America, and the wolves of the Islamic world are circling as ever. Sounds like 1932 minus Franklin D. Roosevelt.
3. Nuclear Iran. This is potentially less scary than the pre-emptive strike to avoid nuclear Iran. But a nuclear-armed, fanatically led Iran has got to frighten the pants off anybody who thinks about it. Lots of people will not want to. As in the days of the Cold War, if Iran succeeds in arming itself with a nuclear weapon, and this is looking increasingly likely, we will be  counting on the Iranian leadership's attachments to common sense and love of life to spare the world an unprecedented body count.
4. The Russian Phobos ground probe lands on my house or your house. This is a Russian satellite weighing almost 19 tons and carrying a load of toxic rocket fuel and radioactive cobalt-57. It was intended to land on one of the moons of Mars, but after difficulties at launch, the Russian space authorities are now saying it will crash back down somewhere on Earth in the first two weeks of the new year. How nice. Although they say it will be impossible to predict where it will make its re-entry, it is likely to be somewhere in the northern latitudes where most of the planet's population resides. How charming.
5. Snooki wins Academy Award. Okay, this is my high minded stand-in for everything that's wrong with popular culture. I don't know Snooki from a hole in the ground. But you have to admit that would be a bad scenario.

Next up 5 Best Scenarios for 2012...