From the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast, America is struggling with ice storms and blizzards and general misery. The winter weather has been especially tough on Californians. Many of us don't own gloves, or forgot where we put them several years ago after we got home from Mammoth or Tahoe. Few of us have those scrapey things to get frost off the windshield—frost!—but I have witnessed our brave people making do with their credit cards or even the edges of their phones, which is probably not recommended by the manufacturer. But what do we know of frozen water outside? Frozen water goes in margaritas! Yet we are surviving this unusually chilly weather, together and mostly apart, like usual.
Pope Francis is a different kind of pontiff, a friendly and humble Jesuit who loves to hang out on the corner with his people. But what's that bowl-pipe thing he carries around and frequently takes a hit off? It's a mate cup with a silver straw. And it's how you drink the caffeine-loaded "national infusion" of Francis' homeland, Argentina.
problematic (noun, adjective) You're at work, looking at the Internet instead of doing tasks related to your employment. Something is bothering you! Did a celebrity comment on the issue of race? What is up with Katy Perry being so old? Why is "everyone" on Twitter mentioning a #longread that just didn't do anything for you? Welcome to the world of things that are problematic—meaning, things that don't concern you at all, as opposed to actual problems such as your parking tickets, student loans, self-diagnosed nutritional disorders and loser brother who wants to sleep on your sofa while he "looks for a job."
A weird relic rested on the bookcase in my family's last home in New Orleans: a wooden pipe that had belonged to Jim Garrison, the Orleans Parish district attorney who tried and failed to convict a local businessman named Clay Shaw for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The pipe still smelled of the tobacco its owner had packed and lit before setting it down at a cocktail party. Garrison—that's him on the right—had left the party and forgotten his pipe. And because he was still a hero to some, and especially to my mom, she took Garrison's pipe home as a souvenir.
selfie: (noun) Nobody has any idea how to take a photograph of another person. Or, everyone hates you. What else explains the badly lit and poorly focused horror mugshots your so-called friends produce when pointing their phones at you? Did they try to zoom in on the first pimple you've had in three years, or are they just fundamentally inept at life? Is it absurd to think a person might use the simple photo-editing tools on every phone to change your eyes from demonic-idiot red to their actual color, or to maybe remove that sesame seed stuck between your front teeth? The selfie is your only shot at ever having a decent shot of yourself. Don't be embarrassed. Take as many pictures as it takes to get one of your beautiful face, instead of your flabby arm that somehow got all the light from the flash.
Wives and husbands come and go, children leave, friends fade into abstractions on Facebook. The dog is generally there for life, all of his or all of yours, whichever comes first. Hunter, who died Sunday night at home and surrounded by his people, was there for life. It was really his second life, which began when I pulled his numb body from a freezing, half-empty swimming pool 10 years ago this month.
Is the Devil real? Yes, the Devil is real. Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger is actually Satan, according to the son of a man murdered by Bulger, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believes very strongly in a very real Lucifer. Deranged child star Miley Cyrus actually sold her soul to Old Scratch and even had sex with a lesser demon, according to a credible pair of religious broadcasters. And fresh-faced teenaged pop singer Ariana Grande says she is regularly visited in her bed by an immense black entity she identifies as the Devil—one time it even climbed atop her visiting girlfriend.
If you love excitement, you're going to love these last years of your life. Civil war, food riots, monster storms and a lot more apocalyptic religious extremism will spice up even the dullest and most comfortable existence, according to a new United Nations report on the now-constant insanity we boringly call "climate change." But even the weather seems to be capitalist, because the demons of global warming most enjoy hurting the poor.
We know what's wrong with Veteran's Day. We know this country is crawling with jobless, homeless veterans of America's constant occupations and invasions. We know there aren't enough jobs for these people already burdened with so much, and no labor market demand for the "skill set" of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and existential dread. And yet they went out there and committed whatever insanity they were commanded to commit, in the name of America, even if it never mattered to 99% of Americans one way or the other. Instead of the usual Veteran's Day garbage of saying "uhh ... sorry" to those who suffered for empire, how about giving the veterans the only thing that can hold them together: a mission.
Halloween digs itself out of the chilly autumn ground for a few weeks each year, too weird and primal for governments or religions to claim. It is an ancient pagan harvest festival and a leering plastic skeleton in a front-yard cemetery of styrofoam tombstones. It is candy and liquor, sex and death, and the only "moral lesson" of Halloween is a sneering threat from a child in the night: Give me mine or you'll get yours, mister. It is the only honest American holiday.
Having learned what happens when giant babies are elected to govern the United States, Americans are very disgusted with their government. They like the Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security and Obamacare and Prescription Drug Benefits, but they don't like democracy, which is a pretty weird way to run a country.
When that brave lady started ranting last night about the Freemasons and a United States controlled from the beginning by satanic money-worshipping pigs, the otherwise dull Congressional proceedings finally got a moment of excitement. Maybe this one lady, working within the House of Representatives all these years, could set off a devastating civil war that would leave the United States in ruins.
The fox is a clever beast, famously outsmarting human and animal rivals in ancient fables, recent movies and a current Top 10 song. Humanity's relationship with the fox has long been balanced between bemused tolerance and "let's shoot them for fun and raise them in cages, for fur." But there are abundant signs that the foxes have had quite enough of people, and are making coordinated global moves to take over civilization.
If the grim news about our slow-cooking world has got you down, you might be an environmentalist. Recycling bins, hiking boots, and that reusable grocery bag you got at the farmer's market are other signs that you may have ecological beliefs and concerns. To the industrial propagandists, even your awareness of the hotter temperatures and horrific storms is proof that your green behavior is actually a religion. So what would happen if 10 million or 50 million religious environmentalists suddenly appeared on the national scene?
People are strangers out here on the oil patch, and public conversation is terse and muted. You never know when an oil company manager or safety inspector or corporate spy is sniffing around. I learned after the first day in Williston, N.D., that my usual work uniform of an old sports coat and tie made me suspect. Leaving the tie at the motel helped, but not much.
Oil wells and sheet-metal buildings are hideous things, but America the Beautiful resumes as soon as you get past the last grim RV park and last signs of our shoddy civilization. The easiest way to refresh the soul is to look on the map for a big chunk of green: a national park or preserve or forest, or in the case of the Bakken, the Little Missouri National Grassland.
Boomtowns don't have to be ugly. San Francisco was built during the Gold Rush, as was Sacramento and dozens of still pretty towns in the Sierra Nevada. Virginia City, home to the Comstock Lode, quickly built up neighborhoods of ornate mansions and a main street that offered everything from Oscar Wilde lectures in the opera house to exotic prostitutes from Australia and China. But since the 1960s, when America lost its ability to see or create beauty, our endless boom and bust cycle produces nothing but garbage: garbage housing, garbage retail, garbage jobs and garbage products.