Halloween in the Pissing Rain

So, finally, a posting from Marin county where we landed in August. I know. It’s been a while. I’m averaging a post every three months, well worth the 200 dollars a year I’m giving to WordPress to host the website. I told myself last year if I’m not posting at least once a month then I’m taking the site down. Well, it’s been a year and I just gave them another 200 dollars with a promise to myself that I’m going to post at least every two weeks. Reverse logic, but I’m thinking I’m going rogue. No more of these attempted polished gems that I’m imagining some editor from the New Yorker seeing and contacting me about after traipsing all over the internet to track me down. “Yes, Mr. Scott, we’re wondering if you have anything longer we might be interested in, oh and by the way I have the names of a couple of agents who would like to talk to you.” Instead, I’m going a bit more punk.

We did Halloween of course. Some ups and downs. I was struggling with the tail-end of a man-cold. Not a cold, but a man-cold, which is an entirely different beast. It’s like comparing a Prairie rattlesnake to the Mojave variety. Only one is deadly. Hence, struggling with the man-cold, I couldn’t smell toffee apples if put under my nose and wrapped in garlic, and Barry White’s been camping in my windpipe for three days. Not at my best, had a long day dealing with 16 year olds who no matter how many times I cough and splutter enquire not after my health and instead concentrate on asking why I’m wearing a neck scarf. So I’m feeling a touch jaded, a touch sorry for myself, and I’m supposed to traipse around Fairfax for two hours sans alcohol. Oh, and it’s raining.

It’s not about you my wife reminds me, who’s dealing with her own head cold (though it’s not a man-cold) and when she says it she’s already in full zombie regalia plus make up so it’s more than usually intimidating. She’d be intimidating dressed as a rose petal, but that’s not the point. The point is that the kids absolutely love it. Of course I’m coming I tell her, but don’t expect me to dress up. Unacceptable response, and ten minutes later she’s got me in a wig and the kind of long down coat that people in Minnesota sleep in. What am I supposed to be I ask. Everybody’s slightly off-center neighbor she tells me. Well then. The kids are eleven and almost four, so right at the optimum ages where it’s not too spooky nor too cheesy, and the rain’s an added bonus. The 11-year-old’s a little sceptical about putting on full zombie attire cause, you know, she’s at that age where she’s beginning to think about what if I see so and so from school, so she insists on wearing her Converse and putting on her favorite sweater under the shredded zombie t-shirt, but she’s sufficiently in the spirit of things. And for about an hour it’s actually fun. I get to stand in the street under my umbrella that’s about the size of a studio apartment and watch the kids scamper in and out of this decorated house and that decorated house while all the other parents look at me a little strangely cause my umbrella’s beyond Marin’s specifications for umbrellas, not to mention more interesting than my costume. In the rain I probably look a lot like their slightly off-center neighbor just, you know, out for a walk. And then it starts to pour. As in torrential. The kids are still loving it, but most of the adults are gently trying to persuade them that going through their candy at home and sorting it into piles according to color or weight is actually the funnest thing about Halloween. I’m certainly up for that, alongside hoping that we got a good haul of Nestle Crunch.

The 11 year old certainly loves that moment of getting home way after bedtime, dumping her candy out on the floor and organizing it. And it was certainly priceless to put my 4-year-old to bed and have him tell me he’d loved getting wet, even when his underpants were wet and that when he got home from school tomorrow he was going to have some Dots and then maybe a Kit-Kat. After that he wasn’t sure, but I was under strict instructions not to touch any of his candy. Okay I said as I closed his bedroom door then promptly went into his stash for a Nestle Crunch followed two minutes later by another one as I waited for the water for my hot toddy.

A Tale of Infidelity

Saucy
Saucy

Appropriate, I think, with the premier league just getting under way again, to recall one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen–a team whose name most people outside of England couldn’t even pronounce correctly: “Less-duh.” Not “Lie-stir,” or “Lay-star,” or “Lie-shh-stir” (each with a rhythmic uptick at the end as if the town’s name was a question), but “Less-duh.”

As everyone now knows, rank 5000-1 outsiders in a division of 20 teams. How can anyone be considered that inconsequential? The step-child that all and sundry tread upon on the way toward  the top of the table. I’m not going to go back and talk about the football, the “soccer,” here–enough of the Jamie Vardy movie and how not so long ago he was playing non-league soccer wearing an electronic tag on account of an unpleasant incident outside a public house. Jamie Vardy having to be subbed before the end of the game in order to beat his curfew blah, blah, blah, to, now, Jamie Vardy breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 10 consecutive premier league games. Mahrez, the player of the year, a $750,000 buy from French Club, Le Havre–that number being what Wayne Rooney makes just about every 18 days. N’Golo Kante, a little more reasonable at close to 8 million, but still a bargain in today’s market where Chelsea can pay Augsburg close to 30 million for Baba Rahman. Who? Exactly. Kante and Mahrez, especially, players no one else had heard of and, apparently, no one else was scouting. The two of them, alongside Vardy, arguably, three of the best players in the premiership last season. Plus Wes Morgan, Captain Impossible, who pitch and putted around the lower leagues for the best part of a decade, only beginning his premier league career a season ago at the age when most players are casting surreptitious glances toward China’s Super League. Ridiculous. It’s akin to something like Hogan’s Heroes going over to the Queen’s for tea and knowing exactly how to hold a delicate Edgware cup and which side to sip from.

So, no, I don’t want to talk about the football so much. What I want to talk about is how this scrappy team with Claudio Ranieri, the preternatural, quintessential runner-up at their helm, inspired me, at least, to go extra-marital. Manchester United fan for 35 years. Die hard. Stretford-Ender as a kid. Wouldn’t chant the name of Everton after defeating them in the 1985 Cup final, the Norman Whiteside final, when their team passed our end of the stadium on a loser’s lap of honor. Just couldn’t do it–an act of betrayal. Yes, I was 19, young and inexperienced, but, still, misguided loyalty. Once United are out of the Champions League, I can scarcely bear to pay attention. Same with premier league games unless I’m desperate for a team anywhere near us in the table to drop points. In short, I’m a bull-headed, crazy loyalist with no time or inclination for anyone except my one, my only, love.

So, why then did I spend the latter half of last season getting up on Saturday and Sunday mornings in Los Angeles, at ungodly hours to boot, to watch Leicester? What’s that all about? I might as well have been sleeping with my wife’s twin sister. The answer, of course, being cause I couldn’t help myself. They played football the way it’s supposed to be played, at least to someone raised on the English way, and the way I wanted Man Utd to play it, at least occasionally. Full-on all the time. They were aggressive and flamboyant, but flamboyant without any of the preening and the Disney princesses. They were dangerous and irresistible, and they had no business winning as many games as they did. Really. No business. No pace at the back. Lack of a so-called world-class central midfielder. Nor should they have scored half the goals they did–things cajoled out of paper bags and top hats. And I loved them for it. Not because they were underdogs, but because of the pride, the venom, the sheer joy that so obviously came not just from playing “footie,” but from playing “footie” as part of that particular group. It reminded me of why I love the game and what I loved about it as a kid, a game that seemed simple and romantic, played by men who weren’t quite rock stars yet, men who didn’t make more in a month than most can expect in a lifetime. Leicester brought back, to me at least, a love of the game as something raw and utterly internal, a thing childish and playful and joyous–a thing that allowed, for ninety minutes, all the other stuff to fade. Surely they can’t do it again, especially now that Kante’s wearing someone else’s blue shirt. Nor would I want them to. I want to be back in bed with the old, familiar spouse watching them, under Mourinho’s guidance (and 270 millions pound’s worth of new talent, and, yes, if that were anybody else’s missus I’d be throwing up over the back fence, but she’s my missus so the more pearls the better) get back a little of the swagger “Less-duh” brought last year, even if it comes without the romance.

Hillary Clinton and Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter

Screen shot 2016-07-30 at 8.51.04 PMI’ve been re-reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter over the last few days, preparing to teach an American lit class in the fall. It’s been over ten years, and I’d forgotten just how good it is. Stunning stuff. Hester Prynne, whose husband, Roger Chillingworth, disappears for two years on some plant digging walkabout with American Indians, Arthur Dimmesdale, the priest she has the affair with, the affair which produces Pearl who Hester’s holding, new born, on the scaffold when the novel opens and Chillingsworth, by coincidence, returns to Boston. Dimmesdale looking down at Hester and asking her to reveal her lover. Dimmesdale, of course, the father. Don’t judge–one can only imagine the things Hester said to him to keep him shtum.

So, anyway, re-reading this timeless classic about the sanctity of the human heart, about how Chillingworth cannot forgive the adulterer, about how Dimmesdale and Hester each carry pain…and finding it impossible to forget Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC two nights ago. The one where he gives a wonderfully touching and personal portrayal of Hillary, of how they met, how they courted and so on. All of course, without the word “betrayal.” He does talk about heartbreak, but not in terms of his infidelities, the things he did with a cigar and another woman’s vagina and worse, the ways he lied about it, and kept lying about it until finally, a grand jury dragged some semblance of the truth from him. The point I’m getting to–how Hillary bore, and still bears, her pain with such grace and poise and strength–Hester Prynne-like poise. I wanted her husband to remind us of it because it speaks to Hillary’s strength, to her morality, particularly as she seems to have genuinely forgiven him. Who knows what happens behind closed doors, but in the public space their marriage strikes as remarkable for its ability to have absorbed all that tragedy, all that pain, the line stretching from the oval office to the beltway. A remarkable woman to forgive that.

And, to be clear, I’m not, in general, a fan. I struggle with the secrecy of what went down under her tenure as secretary of state. I struggle with her hand-in-hand relationship with the same big banks and private investment companies whose greed destroyed so many lives. I struggle with the fact that she makes more money in one speech to a room full of those bankers and hedge fund managers than I can make, as a high-school teacher, in two to three years. I struggle with the ramifications of that. I know that if a student’s family sends me on an all-expenses paid trip to Paris for spring break, I’m going to be a tad more inclined to overlook all the comma splices and the lack of depth in their next paper and instead focus on the quirky and creative introduction. So, no, I’m not a fan, but when I want to despise her, I keep coming back to the way she preserved the sanctity at the heart of her marriage. It reminds me of her humanity.

Which is something we also need to remember about Donald Trump. Despite all the foul, even unconscionable, balloons coming out of his mouth, he’s ultimately a human being, a product of privilege and a society constantly proclaiming that one of the most heroic things a man can do (besides putting on a uniform and saving other American lives at risk) is to make gobsmacking amounts of money. He embodies much of what the American Dream has become. We can not hate him for that. To do so, misses the larger point: that it’s the system that’s broken not the personalities, and until we can begin to fix that system, Hillary is maybe the best we can hope for. So, yes, on a down day, a part of me thinks that, maybe, she belongs in jail–if only for Whitewater, but then I keep coming back to this hope that she will bring the same poise, the same grace, the same healing to the United States that she brought to her marriage–exactly at that moment when it too hovered on the brink.