Is mental illness afoot in the land? If you say, “Spiders are crawling up the wall! Can’t you see them?” And I say no I can’t but here, let’s take a picture of them; if there are none in the picture will you believe they’re imaginary? And you say, well, OK, and I take the picture and there are no spiders, and you say you cast a spell and made the spiders invisible! Does that suggest disordered thinking to you?
It does to me. Which is only my way of saying the people who are today saying, “Sure, Obama’s school speech is innocuous now. What do you think it looked like before brave patriots stood up and objected, huh?” Those people? Sound insane.
But I’m keeping my mouth shut. I sent an e-mail to my local school board about the administration’s decision on the speech. (They’re delaying it for later use — defensible under the circumstances — but allowing for parental opt-out, which… isn’t.) I hope I struck the right note of arch douchiness; I described myself as disappointed and disillusioned, which I think is just perfect for notes like these, a little bit of parallel redundancy to underline one offense with another. There’s something about writing a j’accuse letter that makes me want to use phrases like “I think not.” You just can never de-smug them entirely.
OK, then. Summer’s mostly over, and the past week — the last week of Kate’s vacation — was lovely. We went to the pool Sunday, and I made an appropriate end-of-summer gesture: I went without sunscreen. Ask me how much I regret my sun wrinkles. Yeah. About that much.
Meanwhile, I spent a chunk of a relaxed weekend catching up with a bit of neglected culture. First, “In the Loop,” one of those movies so small it barely exists, but god, funny as hell. Set in the U.K., Washington and New York in the drumbeat before the Iraq war, it’s sort of a meaner, blacker, harder-to-understand “West Wing,” with Aaron Sorkin’s politics sucked out and extra funny pumped in. I only caught about a third of it, cloaked as it was in thick Scottish burrs and English slang, delivered at a blistering pace. I think I’d need about two more watchings to absorb it all.
The action begins when a somewhat dim British politician tells the BBC that war is “unforseeable,” a word that puts the prime minister’s office into a tizzy and incurs the wrath of Malcolm Tucker, the p.m.’s chief of communication, so gloriously profane his rants edge into poetry. (When the minister steps further into the goo by saying, that sometimes a country must “climb the mountain of conflict,” Tucker accuses him of being a “Nazi Julie Andrews.” It’s the flat-A sound in “Nazi” that kills.) Soon said politician is off to Washington and then to the U.N., trailing aides far smarter than he is, if only at the fine art of ass-kissing and jockeying for favor.
If you have a decent on-demand cable service, you’ll find it on one of the IFC channels for about six or seven bucks. Definitely worth it.
And I got a good way into “Closing Time,” Joe Queenan’s memoir of growing up with a father so drunk and brutal he could only have fathered, well, Joe Queenan, the celebrated master of mean. Reviews tell me this story ends without the customary weepy reconciliation between father and son standard in alcoholism memoirs, and that’s what intrigues me — the bleakness that lies at the heart of a man who can honestly say his father beat him so hard, so often and so unjustly that he finally thrashed every last shred of love out of his own child. The NYT critic notes:
There will be truces near the end, but when the family attends the old man at his deathbed, there is precious little warmth or nostalgia. Two of his daughters consider their father “beyond redemption,” and their mother refuses, for herself and those daughters, to be listed in the obituary. The son feels neither love nor respect; he is there only because “having a bad father does not give anyone the right to be a bad son.” Three years later, the anniversary of Joe Sr.’s death passes unnoticed. “My father was dead,” Queenan writes, “and I did not miss him.”
As grim as that sounds, it’s still a vastly entertaining read.
And now it begins. Fall. Still weeks of warm weather ahead, but for all intents and purposes, we must put away our white shoes and put our noses back to the grindstone. I’m packing the sunblock and thinking of projects. How about you?