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2022: Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out

Abilene hanging out at Iron Smoke Distillery.

I’m not certain of the actual date, but in the midst of it all, 2022 got to be too much for me. So, with the exception of the stuff I actually get paid to produce – words that bring in the grocery money – I took a break from writing. No blogging: The Critical Mass is a vanity project anyway. I set aside the novel in progress: the bookstores are overloaded with them.

This year, the self-reflection that accompanies lining up words in the correct order felt too much like self-flagellation.

Despite assurances from the anti-Fauci stormtroopers that COVID was imaginary, I contracted the virus in May after attending a radio convention in Philadelphia. It lingered. I still feel it now. Or I still feel something, something’s leached into my bones….

This year, I lost my 92-year-old mom and my 14½-year-old dog. The actuarial tables insist those were good, long runs. That doesn’t make it feel any better. That dog and I, we explored Turning Point Park together many, many times. In the kitchen most mornings, I would hear Abbie’s toenails clicking on the wood floor as she wandered in to see what I was doing.

Making toast.

Of course there’s a piece for you….

My dogs – my college dog Hormel, the first Weimaraner, Mosel – have always made the world a more comfortable fit for me.

But in this most forgettable of years, a loyal dog was not enough salve to ease me through 2022. Beyond death and COVID, many of these other cuts were small, for sure, but they hurt like hell anyway. I have felt robbed of community intimacy and connectiveness.

I was still going into the office. But for vast stretches of 2022, we weren’t going out to hear music or eat at restaurants or see Rochester Red Wings baseball games. If friends visited, we sat on the deck, hoping the summer breeze would blow any lingering virus into the neighbors’ yards.

I’d go to the grocery store. I’d be one of the few wearing a mask. True, the infection rate of the virus had been dropping all summer. So wearing a mask was perhaps less preventative than it was the act of the neighborhood crank yelling, “HAVEN’T YOU HEARD? THIS THING HAS KILLED MORE THAN A MILLION AMERICANS!”

Yet as the year crept on, when I ventured out, even I was leaving my mask in the car. Throwing caution to the wind. Perhaps it was a belief that Americans are blessed, almost to a state of naïveté. As if, if we so choose, any of us can be Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Or, “Herschel Walker Nearly Goes to Washington.”

That right there should be a reminder: It’s not smart to rely on herd mentality, and the public in general making wise choices. My casual maskless summer is now being reversed. From what I have read, COVID might be making a comeback this winter.

Winter. It’s astonishing to see the photos of the record-breaking snowfall in Buffalo. And impassible roads throughout the country. Yet weirdly, here in Rochester, some 70 or so miles east of Buffalo, the snowfall has not been deep enough to completely cover the grass in the front yard. As I’m typing this, on New Year’s Eve, it’s 51 degrees outside with a drizzling rain. No snow in sight.

Earth’s weather. Astronomers tell us Pluto is cold, somewhere between minus-375 and minus-400 degrees Fahrenheit. At least it has an excuse, it’s 3.7 billion miles from the sun.

What’s our excuse? This cold Earth is no comfort for the people of Ukraine. And for the people in the United States who watched as the Supreme Court ruled that it, and not the women of this country, have control over their bodies. We have at hand and we need to lead just and productive and fulfilling lives. Yet we live like we are victims, controlled by circumstances that are within our reach.

As My Friend Frank Bilovsky just wrote on Facebook…

Trump’s tax returns, released by Congress this morning, conclusively show that he is a lair, a cheater and a fraudster. (Example: He earned $50,000 for a speaking engagement but claimed $46,000 in travel expenses to deliver it.) But 30 percent of the voters will excuse it on the grounds that they also fudged their tax returns and got $78 larger refunds than they should have.

That 30 percent is a cold, hard fact standing in the way of charging Trump with instigating the Jan. 6 invasion and vandalizing of the U.S. Capitol building. It will take some gallant nerve to keep pushing it forward.

And when Republicans take over the House next week, it appears they’re going to abandon that investigation and launch endless show trials over whatever is in Hunter Biden’s laptop. Which, according to reputable news reports of its contents, falls a tad – a really big tad – short of instigating an invasion of the Capitol building, where Proud Boys shit on the floor and endangered lives.

Earth is a cold place for the thousands of Americans who mourned death delivered by the teenagers who can legally walk the streets holding a weapon of war. Republicans have made a hero of Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who went to a protest following the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a police officer (Not the first time that’s happened, if you follow the news). Rittenhouse brought along an automatic rifle, he must have been planning to use, right? And he did, killing two people and wounding a third. Found not guilty of murder, after he bawled like a baby during his court testimony, the kid did a tour of conservative rallies and media outlets, and lent his name and image to a handful of products. Including “Kyle Rittenhouse’s Turkey Shoot,” a video game in which a cartoon Rittenhouse shoots turkeys that represent the media.

It’s all a game. Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Madison Cawthorn and Lauren Boebert, all Republican members of Congress, battled over which of them would hire Rittenhouse as an intern. He met with Trump at the White House. A $1 million book deal was reportedly in the works.

I’m a writer. Where’s my $1 million book deal? I’d kill to have one.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

The dangers of our C-level sustenance

I’m going off the grid for the next 10 days.

I will not answer your phone calls offering me great deals on Caribbean cruises.

I will not start each morning by scanning various web sites to take a measurement on how far we’ve fallen as a nation.

My Facebook and Twitter accounts will lie fallow, weeds sprouting between your gasps of disbelief over kitten videos and that photo of Donald Trump hugging the United States flag as if he were humping a Golden retriever.

Oh yeah, Trump doesn’t like dogs. Not exactly grounds for impeachment, but very telling in my book. I was at my doctor’s office a couple of days ago and in all honesty, if she had acted as crazy as Trump did during his CPAC speech last weekend, I would have run from the office. Two people I want to take their jobs seriously: The person who addresses my blood pressure issues, and the person who controls our country’s nuclear weapons.

And while I’m thinking about the doctor’s office, our waiting rooms need a literary update. People magazine is nothing but news of C-level celebrities and the occasional family that survived an encounter with a serial killer.

I refuse to subsist on C-level junk food. At least, for the next 10 days.

I will stop watching television for the next 10 days. Right now, as I’m typing this, I’m watching Department of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tell Congress that the Trump administration was not keeping immigrant children on our southern border in cages. No, she insists, those boxes made from wire fence with kids sleeping on concrete floors are “detention spaces that have existed for decades.”

I just need to get away. Even the arts, where I turn to for beauty and distraction, is no help. Last week, I went to the New York Times’ web site, and this was the first story I found under the heading Television:

Jussie Smollett Won’t Be on Final Episodes of ‘Empire’ Season.

And this was the first story under the heading Sports:

Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Charged in Florida Prostitution Investigation.

And this was the first story under the heading Music:

R. Kelly Charged With 10 Counts of Sexual Abuse in Chicago.

I will read two books over the next 10 days. A biography of Benjamin Franklin. And George Saunders’ novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo.”

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

Small fries with your hamberder

You’ve seen the photo. Donald Trump, with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln looming over him, posing for a photo op in the White House, its polished mahogany tables piled high with fast food. A buffet of the best to offer from McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King. Hamburgers and fries, their oils and fats cooling and congealing as they sit on their silver serving trays. All for the Clemson University football team, invited to the White House to celebrate its national championship.

And this is what they get. Big Macs. Or “hamberders,” as Trump called them in a tweet. One of the players said he thought it was a joke when he heard they would be served fast food during their visit to the White House. Another was caught on tape murmuring, “Our nutritionist must be having a fit.”

Also this week, My Friend Mike posted a link to a story on Rochester’s culinary signature, The Garbage Plate. Yet another story, written with a wink and a snicker, about the city’s alleged love affair with a plate piled with various combos of macaroni salad, home fries, baked beans, meat sauce, diced onions and hamburger patties or hots. Doused liberally with mustard or Frank’s hot sauce.

It’s not elitist to dismiss the Big Mac and the Garbage Plate as lesser cuisine. They have their purpose: At the 3 a.m. intersection of desperation and alcohol. But this otherwise overwhelming American infatuation with mediocrity is alarming. Why do we set the bar laughably low, yet still manage to trip over it?

In restaurants, supermarkets and banks, I see Americans wearing sweatpants. Not expensive-looking workout clothes, but baggy sweatpants with stains on them. I see people drinking cheap wine and smoking cigars rolled in tarpaper. People reading Fifty Shades of Grey and lining up for Adam Sandler movies. Garth Brooks bleating from rolled-down truck windows.

We can do better. Tapas 177, Rocco and Cure, those are restaurants worth seeking out. Rochester will get its first restaurant led by a Michelin-star chef when Richard Reddington opens Redd at the former 2 Vine in April. It’s not about the pretense. It’s about the search for excellence. The Cowboy Candy taco at The Silver Iguana on Winton Road. I’ll take a breakfast sandwich straight off the grill at Scott’s or Zimmerman’s at the Rochester Public Market over the Denny’s Lumberjack Slam.

How did we get here, to a point where we accept the uninspired? Look at Trump, with his Big Macs, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and cold fries. He is a loud, arrogant, mean, ignorant, poor-spelling hypocritical lying man-child of entitlement. Racist, sexist, xenophobic and corrupt beyond measure. Creating policies that separate immigrants from their children, endorsing what Vladimir Putin tells him rather than believing his own intelligence agencies, shutting down the government that he’s supposed to manage. Going to war with the two institutions that threaten to expose him, the justice department and the media. Closing his eyes and ears to science and fact. Refusing to take responsibility for his own actions. It’s a Garbage Plate of public policy. You want small fries with that hamberder? Cooked up by the most hideous of Ugly Americans.

Is it the unanswerable question of what came first, the Kentucky Fried Chicken or the egg? Not really. If we had held ourselves to a higher standard yesterday, we wouldn’t be in this mess today.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

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