The Critical Mass

Unemployed in America: I’m wandering in the woods, searching for marmots to put on the grill.

Draining the bottle

As I arrive at Week Two of my eviction from the mainstream media, I had figured on spending the first days of my layoff sitting on the couch in my boxer shorts, watching baseball, a half-empty bottle of bourbon between my feet.

But it’s not been that way at all. That bottle is half-full.

It’s called optimism. I’m writing, reading cool books, getting the laundry done, re-tooling my web site, eating well thanks to dinner invitations, and grilling chicken or whatever unfortunate creature crosses the path of my shopping cart. I’m still reading hundreds of encouraging posts on social media. And I’ve enjoyed some new experiences: I saw a spectacular waterspout over Lake Erie, I’d never seen one before. Everywhere I go – restaurants, the library, places where bands are playing – people tell me how sorry they are that I’m no longer writing for the Democrat and Chronicle. At the Rochester Public Market on Saturday, two people added, “I cancelled my subscription… and told them why.”

Yeah, I cancelled mine as well. Can you blame me? But I’m not sure how I feel about it. I have friends who still work there. And I still believe a strong free press is essential to our democracy.

And without home delivery, I find myself without paper for lighting the charcoal in my grill.


So many books to read. I just finished “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

In this world, I consider myself to be a 60-watt bulb. Not dumb, yet not overly bright. I can’t imagine how people get through this when they aren’t used to dealing with bureaucracies, or elderly folks who have had a lifetime of them and no longer want to be a part of it. It’s a morass of paperwork and interviews designed to make sure that someone doesn’t get a few hundred dollars that they aren’t entitled to have.

Think about this for a moment: The president of the United States refuses to release his tax returns. He is hiding something. He is also accused of violating the Emoluments Clause, which bars public officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments. Leaders from other countries are staying at Trump hotels, playing his golf courses, buying his made-in-China products, pumping money into Trump bank accounts. Lobbyists and business people convene at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. All of it because they want access to the president. The conflicts of interest here are clear.

Yet we’ve set aside all of this because Trump is at the head of a government that is a New Crisis Every Day. Puerto Rico has been leveled by a hurricane, the people have no electrical power, food or clean water, and he’s accusing them of being lazy and not doing things for themselves.

Sane Americans, of course, are outraged by these comments. But in a day or two Trump will unveil a new insanity – this guy does command a nuclear arsenal – and we’ll stop worrying about Puerto Rico.

So Trump is getting away with whatever it is that’s hidden in his tax returns, and using the White House as a cash artery connected to his own corrupt heart. But if I want to do some honest work to scrape together a few extra hundred dollars to pay for a new water heater? Forget it. You know what this is all about. The playing field is tilted dramatically in favor of the rich and powerful. There are hundreds of examples of it written into the tax codes, in access to high-powered lawyers, in layers of management set up to protect themselves. We play by the rules, they write the rules.

My optimism comes from the wonderful people around me. It ends there. That bottle of bourbon? What’s going on in this country is not a matter of perspective. Anyone who looks at that bottle now can see that it’s nearly empty.

%d bloggers like this: