Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"The Second Day" (an accounting of my mother's funeral, Part 2)

the second day

After the difficult trip in to the funeral, and now without a car to explore my old hometown, I determined to spend the next day in my hotel room, reading the wonderful John Latouche biography (The Ballad of John Latouche) by Howard Pollack, and just listen to CNN as I do most days, despite the frustrations I often feel while listening to their supposedly “balanced” commentaries, which usually end up in shouting matches instead of coherent conversations, not to speak of their endless Sarah Huckabee press conferences which nearly drive me to total distraction.
     But, I finally learned how to turn up the heat, and I was as comfy as you can be in a hotel room, which has all most of the comforts, including a desk, a large chair, including a foot-stool, and a full screen television. Given the cold, cold air outside, it was a kind of paradise. Besides, just downstairs was one of the best bars in the city, so I felt, finally, a bit protected. Who needed a tour of a small American town which had already changed beyond my expectations?
     And then….there was Trump, describing all African nations as shithole countries from which we should not accept into our pure white world—he suggested he might prefer Norwegians entering our country—as well as dismissing any Haitians. If Senators Durbin and even Republican Lindsay Graham were shocked by the experience wherein the President, after suggesting just such a bi-partisan agreement would be possible, the entire world was even more startled by his completely racist language, and several foreign governments issued pointed criticisms. Trump seemed to love it; after all he was getting attention again.
      Of course, he had been racist for many long years, beginning when he worked for his KKK-member father, whose company, even in the 1950s, had been cited for racist treatment for their tenants, and then, again, over the years, when Trump led the “birther movement,” trying to oust Obama from his presidency. And this goes back to numerous incidents during his campaign and since, including when he failed to disavow the Ku Klux Klan in February of 2017. He later attacked Muslim Gold Star parents, Khizr Kah, describing his wife as forbidden to speak, when Kah expressed the fact that perhaps Trump should read the American Constitution.
     Soon after, Trump suggested that because he was of Hispanic ancestry, Gonzalo P. Curiel could not possibly give him a fair hearing with regard to the suits that claimed Trump University was simply a scam. Curiel, born in Indiana, was, in fact, a prosecutor of Mexican drug cartels, making him, as The Huffington Post suggested, a target for assignation by drug lords.
     Trump added to the racist rant, that a Muslim judge might also not be fair to him, since he had several times, finally successfully, attempted to keep people from several Muslim countries from entering the US.
     When racist white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, he argued that some of them were “very fine people.”
      And the list goes on, from the very beginning of his career to the present day, it is clear to any one who has any degree of perception that Trump is a true racist, despite his claim that he “is the least racist person in the world.”—a statement which, in itself, reveals his lack of perception of any racial perception. I would argue that racists always deny what they are, just as virulently as has Trump.
       What even made me more angry in the days following is how many of those loyal to the president, including the empty-thinking Tom Cotton, David Perdue, and others such as Home Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whose own name sounds Scandinavian, but who couldn’t even imagine, under investigation, whether most Norwegians were white, had no real memory of what Trump had really said during the conversations when he spoke of “shithole” countries, making it clear that either these people were utter liars or simply suffered from deep amnesia, and had certainly made deal with the devil. As Senator Durbin, himself, expressed it, this was the nadir of the American political system.
      When I was tired and frustrated with the news and from so many hours of reading, I went down to the Longbranch bar, first for lunch, when I tried to eat a pork tenderloin sandwich—a heart-stopping delicacy only available in Iowa—and ordered up several Bombay tonics. I ate along the edges of this terribly over-breaded sandwich, suffering its deep-fried effects.
     Simultaneously, the room in which I sat, which featured a buffet filled with the worst of friend chicken wings, and other even more cholesterol-driven delights, was filled with an elderly audience (most of them over even my of 70 years of age) who looked like some sort of wholly mastodons, bellies and butts so large that you couldn’t even have conceived how these people could have allowed themselves to become so clinically fat. Suddenly I felt thin, despite the evidence of what I had seen as my sort of barrel-belly. These people were gigantic, and mean, desperate for the cheap meals that were being offered up.
      I had grown attached to the waiters and bartenders, and now saw them having to deal with these not-so-happy monsters, complaining in no uncertain terms because what they had sought out that day was not available in the warming platters available to them.
     This is what has happened to an entire generation here, I realized, and I felt sad. Although I didn’t like my own profile in the mirror, I had actually been losing weight over the years, while these mammoths had grown and grown with a kind ravaging hunger.
     Not once, in the Longbranch restaurants, despite their attempts to serve up what might have in Cedar Rapids have been considered a rather sophisticated menu, could I even finish a single meal.
Except for my final night of my stay (to come later), I drank without eating.
     Back upstairs to more insufferable news (for which I don’t blame CNN, but just the facts), and more wonderful reading. A nap. And, finally, a return to the bar, where my sister said she was meeting me and my favorite uncle and aunt, Bob and Mary, along with her husband Ben.
     I put on my sweater and returned to Ben the bartender for what was a most pleasant evening, my sister showing up on time, and my father’s brother and sister arriving soon after. We all had a couple of rounds, for which I paid, and then were joined by other family members, by brother Dave and his wife Jill, my nephew Matt and his wife, with one of their children, along with  Dave’s youngest son, Ben and his wife, and one of my sister Pat’s daughters, Jenny and her husband Ryan, about 8 people in all, dining at a table reserved in the Longbranch steakhouse next door to the grungier bar. I hadn’t seen several of these individuals for years, and hadn’t talked to Bob, Mary and her husband Ben for many years.
      Bob, who still looked handsome and fit, was 89; we were all stunned. And Mary was in her mid-80s. As I have written elsewhere (see My Year), Mary was still in high school when I was a child and would take me to the movies with her girlfriends, behaving more like an elder sister than an aunt. My father’s brother Bob was a general in the air force, and brought with him, on his visits, a sense of masculinity and male power that I found hard to resist. When I look back now, I must have already been, at that early age, attracted to such males.
     In any event, we were now all elderly, and except for the fact that both Bob and Mary, wearing hearing aids, had some trouble in catching the words we spoke, it was a most pleasant evening—the joy and memories shared the way I always imagined family life was supposed to be, and now finally was. Everyone of us had now had some tragedy in our lives, Mary’s daughter Jane had suddenly died of a heart attack, and Bob’s son, Brian, from his second wife, had died of cancer. And now we’d all lost both my father and mother. My brother, Mary, and I had been through knee replacement, and several of us had had serious diseases and cancer. So we shared a sense of the precariousness of life and the joys of loving those around us before they might also disappear. And, in that sense, there was something poignant about this joyful reunion. We were, after all, gathered together to celebrate one of those now lost to us. Yet I felt such joy, and no real sadness. That is why people gather round each other at such times, I thought to myself. Not to share their suffering, but to share each other and to sort of reassert, “I’m still here.”
      After describing the events about my trip, everyone loudly laughed, my nephews and nieces claiming that surely I was making it all up! I guess I’m known by the entire family as the one who tells bigger than life stories, with those who live in such quietude and normality not even able to imagine that my remarkable tales represented in my memoir writing as being all utterly true.
      We talked a lot and long into the evening. The only thing we didn’t discuss was politics. Mary, a strong Democrat, later commented that she didn’t dare bring up politics, since you never know with the Messerlis. “Mary,” I responded, “the only one at that table who probably voted Republican was Bob. My family, now that our Republican parents are gone, are all Democrats.” And Bob only revealed himself a bit when he snarled at my mention that I had been watching CNN for most of the day.  

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, January 12, 2018

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