You Could Die Laughing

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” – Donald Trump, January 23, 2016

I will probably vomit on the next Trumpologist who feigns surprise and pretends to condemn the terrorism and murder committed by Nazis in Charlottesville this weekend.

Who KNEW that the guy who bragged about getting away with murder might collect Fascist admirers?

Who could imagine that the guy who retweeted Nazi slogans and images of himself  would attract Nazis?

 

pepe-the-trump

 

It was all one big laugh riot when Trump said Mexicans are rapists, Blacks are lazy and Journalists should be imprisoned or murdered!

Wasn’t it a hoot when he said POWs aren’t heroes because they got caught, and how US soldiers with PTSD aren’t strong? Hey remember that lighthearted day he attacked the grieving Gold Star Parents of a dead US soldier because they’re Muslim?

Gosh – didn’t we all know it was just funnin’ when he said a woman questioning him has to be on the rag? Such a gigglefest to see a thin-skinned narcissist rage-tweet to his followers to watch a non-existent sex tape of the Venezuelan Miss Universe who had the temerity to complain about his fat-shaming. Calling women disgusting, fat pigs is just in jest!

 

Trump Inauguration

 

Oh, my, but how I laughed and laughed and laughed when Trump mocked a disabled reporter!! Although I *was* confused by the folks who lied to themselves and me in self-righteous fury at the pictorial proof.

I’m sure we all looked at his proposal of putting Syrians in concentration camps and deporting them as the jackanapes it was intended to be. And really, who *wouldn’t* chuckle deeply at the notion of Muslims being forced to register with the government and wear ID tags in public, while their mosques are closed by government decree? Trump continuing to lie about seeing ‘thousands and thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey on 9-11’ – despite an utter lack of evidence and the (Republican) NJ Governor & the head of the 9-11 Commission saying it’s an absolute fabrication – is really just an elaborate prank, doncha know?

 

Trump Protester Beaten

By gum – who thought Trump was serious when he encouraged crowds to beat up protestors? You’re reading FAR too much into it if you heard Trump say he’d pay the legal bills for those committing assault in his name.

‘Maybe he should have been roughed up‘. Donald Trump, Nov 22, 2016, on a protester

‘Knock the crap out of protesters, I’ll pay your legal fees’ Donald Trump, Feb 1, 2016

‘Go ahead and punch someone in the face and I’ll pay your legal bills.’ Donald Trump, March 13, 2016

Certainly NO-ONE could infer a message from those ratcheted-up statements, and to try to read into it the encouragement of violence and lawlessness, or look at his statements over the last 2 years and see an appeal to Nazis and Fascist is just horrible identity politics, and you should feel ashamed of yourself!

Who could have foreseen that encouraging THIS in March 11 of 2016:

 

Trump Nazis March 2016

 

Would lead to THIS in Charlottesville, August 11, 2017?

 

Nazi March in VA Aug 2017 5

 

Trump suporters can spare me their fake hand-wringing and denouncing this weekend’s terrorism as something coming out of the blue!

Trumpologists’ mealy mouthed denials of seeing Nazis in their midst are no better than Captain Renault from Casablanca standing in Rick’s Cafe collecting his winnings, while being shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU! – to find gambling in this establishment!

Fuck your False Equivalence, and Whataboutism with a side of ‘He was just joking’!!

 

Whataboutism

 

Is it REALLY that fucking hard to denounce the terrorism that killed peaceful protestor Heather Heyer?!!

If you don’t denounce the whole Nazi business – including Trump – you have Heather’s blood on your hands.

If you’ve ever wondered what you would’ve done during slavery, the Holocaust, or the Civil Rights movement…you’re doing it now.

Remember to Keep Laughing at the truth, Trumpologists, and Grab Them By The Pussy!!

Nazi March VA Day 2 Car 2

Fury and Truth

All of us know what it’s like to be white hot with rage over having been wronged on a grand level.

Perhaps it was a friend, a colleague or a loved one who betrayed you, cheated you – cheated *on* you. At the crescendo of your rage you hurled the accusation like the self-righteous Hammer of Thor, “How could you?!”

Every one of us knows how shaken a rage like that leaves you: The pounding heart and headache from cortisol screaming through your veins, and that queasy feeling when you realize you were not quite in control, and said things you regret. But, ‘Dammit!’ you say, ‘I’m not the bad guy here!’

The next day you felt that horrible emotional hangover of being wrung out, fuzzy headed with a sour stomach, and detached. There was always that betrayal staring you in the face, but at least you had the mantle of indignation to wrap around you to get through the days to come.

Imagine being THAT angry Every. Day. Of. Your. Life.

No – let’s crank it up even higher.

Think about leveling up to that kind of fury a dozen times a day.

You could not be an effective parent, partner, boss – or really anything. Partly because being in that many fights would be a full time job, but mostly because no-one can be that continually choked with rage and make sound, well-considered decisions.

Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between Being Angry and Being Right.

Trump thinks if he’s Angry he’s Right, and if he’s Right he’s Justified in meting out insults, threats and punishments.

It’s as simple as that – Trump has conflated the raw fury of not getting his every whim granted with that being a reasonable thing to expect.

There is not one thing reasonable about it.

In fact, every American should be keenly aware that our President’s Spiral of Rage is causing him to lose control every hour he is awake, and it appears to be accelerating.

I’m frightened by Donald Trump’s complete lack of self-control, his erratic behavior and constant self-aggrandizement. Above all, I am terrified at his need to make every snag and denial a scorched earth confrontation.

It is only a matter of time until Trump has a Grand Mal Tantrum and does something we ALL regret.

It’s such a simple thing to say Rage is not Truth, but it’s easy to forget when you’re caught in the undertow of toxic behavior and nonstop lies.

I’ll be here in the weeks and months to come to remind you to guide your boat by the stars of these absolute truths: Being Angry is not the same thing as Being Right, hurtful behavior is never okay, and this is NOT normal.

Fake Men and Angry Women

Last month I opened a parody account on Twitter, spoofing a well-known male politician’s name. In *3 weeks* I garnered 35% of the followers it took me a year to get with an account using my own name. Fake Man is averaging 10,000 views a day – totally smoking my Real Name’s views, due to his being liked hundreds more times a week with a clearly fake male name than with a real news woman’s name.

McCain's Conscience Numbers_LI

My latest tweet under Fake Man’s name was simply ‘Interesting Read’ in response to a linked article at the end of a *28-post thread* by the original poster. I received 16 likes off of 2,900 views, and one retweet off of a stupid throw away compliment. Why in the name of all that is logical would ANYONE retweet ‘Interesting Read’??!!!

Suddenly, one liners Claudia couldn’t get an inch of traction on have become an endless flow of positive reinforcement for Fake Man. I’ve had to turn the Twitter notifications off of my phone at night because the continual pinging was waking my husband and I up.

The best part? I’m tweeting EXACTLY the same things as before, but in the last 3 weeks not 1 person has called me angry, stupid, crazy, old, ugly, fat or bitch. You cannot BELIEVE the amount of abuse an opinionated woman who won’t be bullied takes on the internet. A fake man gets far more respect than a real woman.

 

McCain's Conscience Intersting Read_LI

 

The ‘go-to’ phrase for insecure men is that I’m angry. I bet I’ve heard, “You’re an angry woman,” every day that I post in earnest as myself on social media. It is – almost without exception – men possessed of a certain attitude that women aren’t as smart as men. Any good point I make based in fact must be made because I’m angry, not because I’m smart. Therefore, they can dismiss anything I say – thus preserving their bubble of past-its-expiration-date testosterone.

Women almost never accuse strange women of being angry – they prefer bitch, cunt or cow – and being accused incorrectly of harboring anger is something insecure men latch on to. For whatever reason (chauvinism, anger at equality, projection or intimidation) these men unconsciously reproduce the dynamics of being in an argument with a partner, not a stranger. They take it from casual to personal in 3 seconds flat. They beat their chest and pronounce their superiority and attack like a screeching baboon flinging poo. I would find it even more hilarious than I do if it weren’t so damn pitiful.

I look at these keening men who are clearly battling an inferiority complex and wonder at the women these wretched souls deal with on a daily basis. So often I am utterly grateful I don’t have to deal with them in any fashion in real life. I feel bad for the women in their personal circles, but feel deep empathy for the women I will never meet who must deal with these Rageaholic men in a professional manner.

Because that’s what it is: Rage. Pure, unadulterated rage.

Joe Knab Bullying

These tiny men are enraged that they have to share, or observe simple manners or treat women as equals.

You see the problem is they *don’t* see me as an equal. My approaching them as such causes such fury as to make them apoplectic and my laughing makes them reckless.

There is a sad little man on Facebook (a friend of a friend and a retired cop) who borders on the frightening now because it seems he is obsessed with me. He seeks me out on her posts to hurl invectives and he becomes unhinged when I refuse to be cowed by his pathetic behavior. When I grow bored with his antics and stop responding, this lonely little troll comes and shit posts on my page. Yes – a man who wore a gun for a living cannot grasp boundaries and believes it’s his right to harass me ad nauseum because I dared to answer him as an equal. I cannot imagine how this awful man abused his power over the decades as an officer of the peace.

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Barry Kittay 2 (2)_LI

He is only one of dozens of angry impotent men I see every month who project their Rage on any woman foolish enough to imagine herself an equal. This trend really took off in earnest in 2015 when bigots and sexists got permission to let their freak flag fly by Trump. “Grab ‘Em By The Pussy!!” was their rallying cry – and Oh! The sweet relief of finally being reassured that you ARE the biggest, brightest boy and it’s okay to threaten those mean scary girls until they get back in their place.

A tremendously well written, well thought out piece by Sara Robinson for Rewire stopped me in my tracks as I read it last night. You should read it, too, because Robinson nails it completely:

“This is something most women know in their bones, but which most men don’t have to reckon with to nearly the same degree. This is the truth Margaret Atwood got at in one of her most famous passages: Men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them. Robert Heinlein put the same idea another way: “Never frighten a little man. He’ll kill you.” Women learn young—as a matter of basic survival—that if you so much as crack a grin in the direction of a fragile man, you put yourself in grave danger. You may possibly provoke him to violence so brutal and so disproportionate that you could end up beaten, sexually assaulted, or dead. And in his mind, you will have had every bit of it coming, since your disrespectful laughter is the one thing in the world that can deflate his sense of masculine control and power in a matter of seconds.”

I once had a News Director come over a conference room table in a wild fury – with Human Resources and a Union representative in attendance – because I pointed out with a smile during a contentious meeting his multiple egregious spelling errors in a ‘Company All’ email. Look: Apologizing for the ‘incontinence’ you caused someone is fucking funny no matter who you are. Unless you are a rage-filled impotent little man absolutely terrified by a laughing woman. I will say that his physically threatening me was a main factor in the state finding in my favor that ‘any reasonable person could not continue working under such hostile circumstances without fear of reprisal,” and granted me extended unemployment benefits when I quit.

This morning in a freewheeling thread with 33 posts a man’s jabbing at a poster was tolerated without comment, while I was called ‘angry’. For what it’s worth? I have been hit by a bus AND I have Hashimoto’s – so my question was only 33% smart assery.

Angry Woman 1

Who ARE these men so addicted to fury at women? These insecure masters of projection who know deep down that they will never have the control over others they so desire, and who so shrilly demand that women acquiescence to them through fluttered eyelashes and muttered demurral?

Why do they imagine it’s their RIGHT to cruelly dominate women in conversation and the work place, in act and deed?

Any woman who DARES to resist and speak up the same way a man would in the same situation is labeled ‘Angry’ and attacked, often by multiple male strangers – weak Omega wolfs emboldened by the pack mentality who materialize out of the woodwork to provide a mealy-mouthed echo chamber of Rage.

If Angry Woman does not show immediate submission to the Omega she is to be ground down and bullied until she knows her place. If she cannot be properly tyrannized into submission she is labeled Crazy – the ultimate sentence of Excommunication for worshipers at the Temple of the Perpetually Enraged.

A Crazy Woman’s facts needn’t be taken any more seriously than you take her. Who cares about *facts* when a good Ad Hominem attack coupled with a bullshit Straw Man argument are ALWAYS good for dismissing stupid Wimmin.

Rageaholic Math: Sexist Character Assassination + Putting Words In My Mouth = I’m Crazy

Uh-huh. Got it.

My experience isn’t singular, and one has to look no further than how shamefully the most powerful women in the country are treated.

Senator Kamala Harris was spoken to appallingly during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding his lying about Russian contacts under oath. Harris – a self-possessed brilliant woman of color who is a former a prosecutor and the former Attorney General of California – was described as *hysterical* by Fox pundits after dispassionately pressing the current Attorney General to cite which policy or law prohibited him from answering every question that was put before him that afternoon . This was Harris’ wheelhouse as a prosecutor & AG, yet she was unsuccessful in getting Sessions to co-operate because she was interrupted and chastised by Senator John McCain and Republican Committee Chair Senator Richard Burr. Sessions ridiculously claimed Harris’ behavior made him nervous – dog whistle for ‘The Pushy Black Woman Is Scary!!!”

Burr was simply repeating his performance of a week previous when he interrupted Harris’ questioning Rod Rosenstien about his role in firing James Comey. She was chastised both times for her aggressive behavior, and I’m surprised Burr didn’t tell her to act more ladylike and that she’d be a WHOLE lot prettier if she’d just smile once in a while.

Perhaps you think Kamala Harris WAS being too pushy. Well, then why were her male counterparts not interrupted or prevented from speaking when they asked the SAME questions using the same vernacular Harris did?  Democratic Senators Ron Wyden, Angus King and Martin Heinrich were allowed to ask tough questions and make snarky remarks – and The Good Old Boys demanded that only The Angry Woman know her place.

Afterward, Heinrich, Wyden and King spoke up for Harris, saying she’d done nothing wrong and she was being subject to an unfair double standard. Unfortunately, these statements were made to the press and on social media; they were not entered in the Senatorial Record, where it belongs.

Harris’ treatment goes hand in glove with the most stomach turning, cringe worthy treatment of Senior Senator Elizabeth Warren as she used her time to read a 1986 letter by Corretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr, detailing Attorney-General-Nominee Sessions’ horrific and well documented Civil Rights record over the decades – a letter which would have allowed Warren to point out that Sessions was too racist for even the Reagan judiciary and his appointment was rejected resoundingly.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his power to exercise a little known rule to allow the GOP majority vote to silence Warren. Warren protested by continuing to read and her mic was cut off. McConnell thought his on-camera finger wagging diatribe meant to humiliate an equal colleague was a brilliant stroke. Instead, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, She persisted” became a rally cry for women across the country.

McConnell Nevertheless She Persisted

Imagine that, Senator Pearlclucther – a WOMAN staring at you unblinkingly, nonplussed by your attempts at intimidation. It must have made his blood boil and caused him to work his mouth like was gumming a piece of lettuce, right up until Elaine Chao put him back on his feet and reassured him that men ARE the Big Daddies in control. You know Elaine – Mitch’s wife and the utterly unqualified 18th Secretary of Transportation in Trump’s cabinet. A position tendered only when McConnell refused to throw his support behind PEOTUS. Elaine is undoubtedly thought of as ‘one of the good ones’ on SO many levels.

A majority of Congressmen are AGHAST and offended that female Senators intend to do their job and expect the same respect and courtesy from their male counterparts as they are required to give. These men are holdovers from a day when slapping your Secretary’s ass was A-Okay, and they are positively flummoxed that these Crazy Women won’t back down and aren’t subservient. It is a downright affront and assault to their very Maleness that these inferior females Don’t. Know. Their. Place.

If you think the whole damn GOP isn’t full of ugly men like this, kindly remember that not ONE woman was included in the committee to design Trumpcare, nor was there ONE concession made to female needs in the Whip or reconciliation processes. It was just one giant ‘Women are chattel who belong to us and whose physical needs are unimportant – They have no Personal Agency or Self Determination and do not even get to decide when they have children’.

There is a bottomless well of terrible behavior to draw upon: Sean Spicer verbally attacked reporter April Ryan (a WOC) when she shook her head ‘no’ at his direct contradiction to his own statement made days before, and one that Spicer was peddling as today’s version of the truth. He dressed down Ryan in a shocking fashion, flexing his power. Bill O’Reilly took it a step further and mocked Congresswoman Maxine Walters’ hair, asking if she was wearing a James Brown wig instead of addressing her real concerns and points – because terribly executed Ad Hominem attacks never get old.

What do you expect from a party who decided to bet the farm on the phrase ‘Grab ‘Em By The Pussy!!’ and who bats nary an eyelash when POTUS ogles and paws the First Lady of France? (Yer Honor! Look what she was wearing! She was in such GREAT shape – Beautiful!) Is it any wonder the First Lady of Japan spent 2 hours at the G-20 dinner seated next to Trump pretending not to understand a word of English when she is perfectly fluent?

The example has been set at the top, and is flowing down like some noxious champagne pyramid, filling every glass with a bubbly mix of chauvinism and cruelty. Men who chafed at having to display a modicum of control around women have been released to wallow in a perpetual Rumspringa of Misogyny, drinking deeply from the Cup of Rage.

The public push to control women is worse now than it was when I first became aware at 16. The anger and hatred and need to punish women is horrifying and palpable. Women have fewer rights and health care options now than they did in the 1980s – and goddam if I wasn’t FURIOUS at how few rights I was ‘granted’ then.

Here’s the thing, though: I had some wonderful male mentors who taught me from the earliest age that my opinion mattered. Norman Lear indulgently squandered 10  or 15 minutes with me every week or so when I bum-rushed his personal assistant – wait no! I joyously ran across KTTV from the commissary, ignoring my mother’s protestations, leaving her arthritic knees behind flights of stairs. Dashing across the lot at full speed and into the building where his office was I took the stairs 2 at a time, swinging around the corner to see if Norman’s door was open: If it was I waved at his assistant, and galloped across his office to throw myself into his arms. After our hug I would sit across from him and tell him about life on the set, school and the stories I was writing. He always made me feel like what I had to say was important, and encouraged me to write. At the start of the 2nd season a top of the line IBM Selectric auto-correct type writer was in my school room when I got to work one morning. That was a big thing. To this day I remember the solid weight, the way it vibrated when I turned it on and how it responded to the words in my head that came out my fingers. I could write and make mistakes and change my mind.

That kindness has given me an art, a craft, several livelihoods and the way to express myself almost as fast as I can talk.

Claudia and Norman

Oliver Hailey really taught me the hard basics of how to write and put in the work you must do to make a piece original and polished. Oliver allowed me to join a writing class with 7 other students – two of whom were Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly. Need I mention the level of wit required to keep up with that class, which was held at the Debbie Reynolds Studio? I was 15 and was doing a dual enrollment in High School and Community College. Oliver believed in the value of my writing and my ability to tell of a story, and he never let me off easy. I remember with absolute clarity the first time I nailed a short story and the class gave me actual respectful applause instead of just nodded heads. I cannot tell you the personal power that gave me – it is a compass I carry with me as I write: A burden that nags me into making a piece, a paragraph, a sentence or even a word be exactly right and to always *Pay Attention*  and to write in sequence – not matter how long that takes.

Greg Mullavey taught me about timing, NEVER denying a premise and allowing another performer to have the last word.

Martin Mull (probably doesn’t know it) taught me to believe in my comedy, to commit to it completely, and to develop a 1,000-yard gaze with a nod – A shield I carry with me always and wish I’d taken out of my armory sooner.

Claudia Gridiron 2002 2

 

 

There were men who hired me in radio *because* I could match the worst people wit for wit – Bruce Kamen being the most loved. He told me the thing that some General Managers would hate would be the very thing others would love – but to stay true to myself always. In other words: Don’t change your stance for the paycheck. It is advice that allowed me to leave Talk Radio with my dignity, and move into News with a good reputation – plus one HELL of a reference.

I would have walked across coals for Mickey Luckoff, the greatest General Manager of the greatest Radio station in the United States for 35 years (voted by our peers). Under his management at KGO I was part of the News Team that won 4 Associated Press Mark Twain Awards and 5 Edward R. Murrow Awards.

It bolsters me to know that there are men everywhere who are allies and accomplices to Equality.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t feel like I could tell my truth on my own blog about the abuse I take online without also acknowledging there were positive male influences in my life. I wanted to head off the “Yeah, but… Is she a man hater?” questions at the pass.

I love men. I’m married to one. I gave birth to one. 5 are my brothers, and I can count on more than 2 hands the number I consider dear friends. (Why, some of my BEST friends are male…)

It doesn’t change the fact that too many men are raging assholes who mean harm to women and too many men won’t stand up to their dickish behavior, chalking up online harassment toward women as inevitable and innocuous. It’s not.

Online Harassment of Angry Women is meant to silence the smartest, strongest and most outspoken among us. It’s nothing any of us should put up with, and I am so proud of all of my friends who brook no bullying on their timelines – and that includes me when I’m being an asshole. We all make mistakes or act like a dick and we *must* be called on it and admit it (admitting before being called is preferable) or it never changes.

Guys? If you see a another guy acting like a dick towards a woman and you don’t call him on it you’re not minding your own business – you’re enthusiastically encouraging dickish behavior. If a woman looks like she’s handling herself just fine and you don’t add a voice of encouragement? You’re part of the problem and a voyeur. Nothing ever changes until the majority stands up for what’s right.

I won’t hold my breath that folks will suddenly see the light and be counted among the righteous. That’s why we’re where we are.

As for me? I will Resist to my dying breath – a proud Angry Woman. It would be an honor to be scolded, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, She persisted”

 

Viva Las Vegas – Part 2

The next morning I got to do what every child of 5 dreams of doing. No – not go to Disneyland. This was even better: I got to  gamble for the very first time when my dad let me pick out the numbers for a game of Keno.  My first ever illegal wager in a legal casino was ten cents. Dad let all of his children break the law by allowing each of us to play 1 game over the course of our 69-cent breakfast at the Castaways.

Castaways 1

The 13 of us filed in to the coffee shop, animosity thick between the adults. My parents and the Anderson’s smoked and drank coffee silently while we waited on our food in the busy coffee shop. The sound of bells and the clank of change hitting the metal coin trays in the casino beyond came through the large open doors and drowned out the unspoken accusations.

Stubbing out his cigarette, my father reached over and fished a black crayon out of a tray on the table. He handed me the crayon and a small slip of paper that had 2 grids of numbers on it: 1 through 40 on the top, 41 through 80 on the bottom. ‘Win $25,000!’ it promised. He told me to pick 6 numbers, and put an  X through them with the crayon. I studied the numbers intently. I began by crossing out the number 4 – because my birthday was on the 4th of December.

Funny thing about that first bet: It turns out that my birthday isn’t actually December 4th, after all, and my folks forgot what day I was born. True story. But that’s a story for another day.

When I had finished picking my numbers and crossing them out with child-like precision, an attractive young woman in a tight mini-dress came into the coffee shop calling, “Keno! Keno!” and Dad had me wave her down. She came over and I handed her the marked up Keno card importantly, using both hands, and then solemnly put a dime in her palm. Using her tray as a desk the young woman with the giant hair scribbled something on the card, and then put my dime in the plastic bank that was strapped firmly to her tray. She repeated the ritual with my father, snapping her bank closed as she moved on shouting, “Keno! Keno!” She was moving quickly through the room, collecting all the cards and bets from the players in the diner, rushing to get them registered with the Keno Writer before the next game was called.

A few minutes later the Keno Runner in the mini-dress with the big hair returned the sheet to me. I saw that a game number was stamped in the upper right corner, and along the right side was scrawled ‘10¢’. Below that the number 6. She handed it to me with a perfunctory, “Good luck,” barely glancing at me. I clutched  the flimsy sheet of paper in my tiny hands, impatiently watching the electronic Keno board with rapt attention.

The board cleared itself, and then a game number appeared in the corner that matched the one stamped on my card. It was to be the only thing that matched that morning. The numbers began to light in rapid succession, and soon I was puzzling over 20 blinking lights on the board but not a one of them was mine. I busted flat right out of the gate, and before breakfast at that. Welcome to Las Vegas, Pardner!

Castaways 2

All of my brothers were allowed one game each, as well. All of us lost interest after our game was over and we began using the backs of the Keno cards to play Hangman’s Noose and Tic Tac Toe or to draw pictures of drag racers or airplanes. I wanted to draw horses or snowmen, but those suggestions were met with a flat stare from my 5 brothers.

My dad played Keno along with us and then a few more while we ate, which meant that during breakfast he gambled a bit more than what it cost to feed two people. We won nothing.

For the next 15 years my father and I would play Keno whenever we ate our meals in a casino. It was a game my mother cared nothing for, and as I recall neither did my brothers. But, my father and I would pick our numbers and watch the blinking board on the wall as we dined in cheap restaurants across Nevada. We enjoyed playing glorified Bingo and the occasional stroke of good fortune. I won $40 on Easter Sunday the year I was 15; it happened during a breakfast game in the Boomtown casino, just outside of Reno. That was like winning $150 today, and you should have seen the looks on my father’s face and his friend Victor from A.A.. It was priceless. But I digress.

By the end of breakfast the morning after my Dad and Mr. Anderson fell down the rabbit hole, a tenuous, grudging truce had been declared between the 2 couples. In a show of thinking about the children the decision was made to go to that holiest of holies: Circus Circus.

Circus Circus 5

How can I describe it? I can’t do it justice. But, if I may quote the great Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

“The Circus – Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos … but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County – Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space. Right above the gambling tables the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high – wire trapeze act, along with four muzzled Wolverines and the Six Nymphet Sisters from San Diego … so you’re down on the main floor playing blackjack, and the stakes are getting high when suddenly you chance to look up, and there, right smack above your head is a half – naked fourteen – year – old girl being chased through the air by a snarling wolverine, which is suddenly locked in a death battle with two silver – painted Polacks who come swinging down from opposite balconies and meet in mid – air on the wolverine’s neck … both Polacks seize the animal as they fall straight down towards the crap tables – but they bounce off the net; they separate and spring back up towards the roof in three different directions, and just as they’re about to fall again they are grabbed out of the air by three Korean Kittens and trapezed off to one of the balconies.”

He really wasn’t that far off: It wasn’t wolverines – it was bears, and I recall the barely pubescent performers as being from South America, not Poland.

 

Circus Circus Bear 2

 

Circus Circus had opened up 5 months before, the first of the casinos that marketed to families. It had no hotel for the first year or so, but something much better: A Midway to squeeze money out the gambler’s children and act as an ersatz babysitter while their parents set money on fire. The Midway ringed around above the adult gaming floor, and high above them both was a trapeze where hourly shows took place and scantily clad women were thrown between men in cod pieces. Above even that was a high-wire.

A giant net kept the performers from falling onto the gaming floor when they inevitably failed to pull off a stunt. At the end of the performance they would do a triple somersault into thin air, and drop breathtakingly into the net below. The net would pull down close to the card tables and then slingshot the acrobat back up into the air. They would keep doing somersaults and bouncing above the players until gravity kicked in.

When we walked in the show was underway. Immediately our heads snapped up. My mother instinctively clutched the enormous Mexican leather purse she bought at the swap meet to her side, distrustful of pick-pockets in large crowds. A man was yelling into a P.A. at top volume about the people twirling above our head. There were flashing and blinking lights everywhere, and a pall of cigarette smoke hung above the gaming area. People pushed and milled. Music came from somewhere.

Eclipsing all that was the noise of the slot machines: The relentless clang of coins dropping into metal cash trays and the endless ringing bells. That sound surrounded us as soon as we entered the building. It is a sound today’s slot machines can only try to replicate: You could actually feel the sound of coins hitting the cash tray.

It was the sound of winning.

 

Circus Circus 3

 

 

My mother grabbed my hand as the group of us walked along the outer ring of the casino until there was a place for us to stop, out of the stream of people. There was a brief discussion among the adults and I craned my neck to look at the inside of the tent, expecting to see the pink and white I had seen outside. Instead of cotton candy stripes my eyes were met with unfinished grey cement. It was just Hollywood magic on the outside, after all – a phenomenon I was all too familiar with.

While the adults were talking the show suddenly ended. Dammit! We’d missed it. I was nearly in tears when, without looking back, my father and Mr. Anderson disappeared into the press of people on the casino floor. It was just too much, watching the crowd swallow them.

It could feel my throat begin to tighten and the sting at the back of my eyes as I held my mother’s hand and adults pushed past and bumped into me on their way to the casino floor. But I knew there were serious consequences for complaining and crying:  Keep it up and Mom would give me something to cry about.

Moments later Dad was as forgotten as we’d been the night before, because my mother and Mrs. Anderson were leading us up the ramp to the Midway.

Flashing lights and fluorescent colors met us at the top. The garish patterned carpet made my peripheral vision strobe and it was hard to focus my eyes – I blinked and shook my head. Children were running everywhere, screaming and shouting, pushing each other for a better vantage point at the games that ringed the walls as far as the eye could see. I smelled popcorn and cotton candy. There were ringing bells, slide whistles, popping noises and screeching calliope music: I was slightly dizzy from the absolute deafening sensory overload, and it was glorious.

 

Circus Circus 8

 

Everywhere I looked was a something I needed to try: There was Skeeball, bumper cars, and a bb-gun shooting gallery. You could win a stuffed animal at a dozen rigged games like ring toss and dime toss, or you could try to shoot a basket with an over-inflated ball through a too-small hoop, or pop an under-inflated balloon with a blunt dart, or knock over weighted metal milk bottles with a squishy softball, or throw a ping pong ball onto a small fish bowl. There were *endless* ways they could take your money.

 

Circus Circus 7

 

We circled around the midway, doing one full lap just looking. There were 9 children, so everyone had a different interest.

We Lambs were all given the princely sum of $1 to spend how we pleased. There were nickel, dime and quarter games, so we began our judicious choices on how to spend our money on our second lap. What to do? What to do? How to spend our dollar – how to stretch it out?

My brothers and the Anderson kids decided on the bumper cars to start with. I wasn’t big enough to go on the original Tooth Chipper by myself, and my mother rightly refused to give herself whiplash. A few years later the bumper cars were yanked out unceremoniously because of the liability and the number of lawsuits. One of the suits involved the 10 year-old daughter of an acquaintance of my mother – the girl lost her front teeth on the metal, unpadded steering wheel one fine Sunday afternoon.

While the big kids stood in line to tempt fate, and Mrs. Anderson found a seat from whence to watch them, my mother and I went in search of something for a child my size. I settled on a game that involved shooting a water gun into a clown’s mouth to make a balloon inflate and be the first to make it pop. I stood and watched the game in process, and soon a smiling child was leaving with a small stuffed animal. The barker running the game shouted, “There’s a winna every game!!” I liked the odds of that a lot better than Keno.

 

Circus Circus 14

 

I came forward and handed the man my money. It was the second time that day I was playing a game of chance with a dime, but only the first time legally.

Incredibly, in that packed place, I managed to get a game with just 3 people playing. (I suspect a soft-hearted carnie), and I was able to shoot the most water into the clown’s mouth fastest (I suspect a rigged game), and my balloon popped first.

“Winna!!” shouted the carnie ecstatically as I squealed, jumping up and down. He placed a blue stuffed bear into my hands.  I clutched it in my left hand while he raised my right in Victory, shouting, “There’s a WINNA every time!!! Winna, winna, winna!!!” A crowd began to gather around the Carnie and the beaming child – a child fit for Hollywood holding a stuffed animal not a one of them would win if they spent $5. Money began to come out of pockets, and my benefactor patted me on the head, sending me on my way.

 

Claudia0032

 

Now you’re talking’ I thought in the euphoria of winning. Lady Luck had finally found me after running late at breakfast. I clutched that bear like it was 5 black chips at the tables. I was on top of the world.

My brothers and the Anderson kids came back, boisterously replaying the hits and misses of the bumper cars, admiring my bear  – we were all flushed and excited.

The whole time this riotous carnival is going on upstairs on the Midway there is music and the clanging slot machines down in the grown-up Midway below, with nary a glance upwards.

Then, above the sound of all the games and shrieking children and clanging slots starts the blaring of Entry of the Gladiators, that most famous of circus music. A distorted voice crackled over the cheap overhead speakers, shouting unintelligibly. Suddenly, people are flying through the air, spinning, twirling, defying death.

We all run to the rail so that we can watch the circus show that is going on over our heads. Utterly thrilled, I hug my bear and I am rapt at the soaring people doing somersaults and barely catching one another.

It is a circus family of some exotic name, whose skin and hair are darker than mine. The men throw the women, the women whirl and flip. A man walks on the high wire. We stand, transfixed. No one the casino floor looks up.

I am envious of the 2 children on the trapeze and the adoring, gasping crowds below.

For the finale a man rides a bike across the high wire with two women balanced on either end of a pole. The announcer shouts for more applause as the performers swan dive into the net, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, and then grabbing the edge to flip off of the side and be caught by a spotter on the floor. The people crowding the railing clap madly for a few moments and the applause dribbles off as they begin to focus on the flashing lights of the midway, and drift back towards the games. The people on the floor have still not looked up.

 

Circus Circus 4

 

When our dollars were spent and we had exchanged our Skeeball tickets for cheap rings, wax teeth and plastic kazoos we rejoined the men near the teeming front door.

The adults decided to drive on to another casino. The unanimous decision was Caesar’s Palace. I didn’t want to leave Valhalla, but I was dying to see the inside of a real castle, so I followed willingly.

Besides, there was the promise of one more surprise: A ride on the carved wooden carousel out front. We made our way to the street, but the Merry-Go-Round wasn’t running. In fact, I can’t ever remember seeing it run, although I was told it was supposed to work. I chalked it up to more show business fakery.

As we stared dejectedly at the carved, brightly painted animals on the carousel a howling wind kicked up and blew the spray from the fountains on us. I remember our eyes widening at the surprising sting of water and our lack of coats. And somehow that moment was hilarious… We all shrieked and laughed and ran from the impromptu ice-cold shower, the mist wetting our shirts. My hands were ice cold, my brothers hooted in laughter. We were all in on the joke as we made our retreat, wiping our eyes.

Out of the push of the crowd a woman with bright red lipstick, turquoise eye shadow and too much rouge approached my father and put a hand on his arm. She was dressed in a cheap evening dress and stiletto heels. “You looking for a date?” she asked with a heavy New Jersey accent, her grip tightening on his arm.

“Excuse me!!” my mother choked out an objection after half a beat of stunned amazement. “He is with his wife and 6 children!!”

“I wasn’t talkin’ to you, bitch” this most genteel Lady of the Evening shot back, eyes narrowing.

Thus endeth the Entertainment Portion of my first trip to Las Vegas.

 

Coming up: A study in 6 children openly playing slots – Learning Poker at the kitchen table: A How-To guide for Minors –And Never chase the numbers: A fool proof strategy for a game of chance

 

Vegas Circus Circus 1

 

Viva Las Vegas!

 

Viva Las Vegas – Part 1

Herbert William Lamb, Jr. was a child of the depression. He was born in Detroit in 1930 and raised by his maiden aunts after his parent’s divorce in 1937. He went to Catholic school where the nun’s ruled with rage and fists – but were never able to beat the left-handedness out of him.

He joined the Army at 18, married my mother at 21, and was the father of 5 boys by the age of 30.

Herbert Lamb never used the suffix Junior, never passed his name along to his 5 sons and was estranged from his own father for more than 15 years.

He spent the last 30 years of his life sober, and died in 1990 at the age of 59 from emphysema, the result of a 4 pack-a-day smoking habit – Salem was his brand.

My dad was often an inscrutable man whose hard eyes missed nothing. He was given to sarcasm and black humor. He was a jazz snob and a smart dresser who would not be caught dead in public in a t-shirt.

My father was also a gambling addict. He favored cards, but would play the one armed bandits, too. Having a wife and 6 kids didn’t stop him from taking money meant for the family and frittering it away in a casino. As I gained success and eventually made a bigger paycheck than him, he spent that, too.

We lived in Los Angeles and since there were no casinos there he would pack us up and drive across the desert to Las Vegas to indulge in his addiction. I recall only one childhood vacation that didn’t involve a casino. All the others were either in Vegas or involved a side trip to Reno, Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, Hawthorne, Mesquite or Carson City.

The earliest trip I remember is the one we took in February of 1969. The eight of us packed into the rattling bucket of bolts that was our 1962 white Ford Fairlane Ranch Wagon (with the blue plastic seats), and headed across the barren landscape of the high desert. I sat in the front between my chain smoking parents, with 3 of my brothers in the back seat, and the other 2 in the rear-facing jump seat in the way back.

As the Fairlane struggled up Cajon Pass the engine burned oil and billowed white smoke, while the radiator threatened to boil over even though it wasn’t hot outside. The only radio signals in the high desert were country music and the occasional Norteña station bleeding up from Tijuana. The only thing my father hated more than Mexican Polkas was Country Western – so that meant no music to make the time go faster. It was just hours of desert, plastic seats and cigarette smoke.

Half way to Las Vegas we stopped in Barstow to buy gas, cool off the car and gird our loins for the next few hours’ drive across the desert.

 

Barstow 1

 

Barstow was a mean little town in the middle of the Mojave Desert where Interstate 15 and 40 meet. It had been a transportation crossroads since the 1880s, when 20-Mule teams from Death Valley hauled borax to waiting trains. Trucks replaced the mules after the turn of the century, and in the late 1920s Route 66 and 91 paved over the dirt roads that went to Chicago and Canada. Finally, the Interstates made the highways and passenger trains obsolete. There was a moldering train station built in 1911 that saw few travelers. The Greyhound bus station was on the main drag, which had a tiny Sears, a bank, a pharmacy, and a few coffee shops and motels from a bygone era. Barstow was a poor and hard town, the buildings bleached beneath the relentless sun and weathered by the wind. Barstow wasn’t a destination, so much as it was a place you went to get to somewhere else.

 

Barstow 2

 

There were pawn shops where you could sell your watch or other jewelry for a tank of gas to get back to Los Angeles. Some of them promised you could buy your things back. I saw these so often as a child that I grew up believing people routinely needed to sell valuables so they could buy a tank of gas to get home.

We pulled off of the interstate and into the Shell station, us kids spilling out of the car, going straight to the bathrooms and stretching our legs on the way. The women’s room was filthy in a way only gas stations can be – with the special added bonus of drifts of dead Mormon Crickets that swirled around the corners when the door opened. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. My brothers and I drank warm water from the fountain attached to the wall, rinsing the dust and cigarette smoke out of our mouths.

 

 

As I rounded the building I saw my father staring off in the distance while the car filled, one foot on the bumper of the wagon while he absentmindedly smoked and defied the whole damn station to blow up. Releasing a mushroom cloud of carcinogens, the old man flicked the butt off into the street, watching it smolder. When the tank was full Dad paid the owner, and got a steak knife with a white plastic handle as a loyalty premium for buying a tank of gas.

 

Shell Steak Knives 2

 

Dad barked ‘get in’, and we piled back into the car while he lit another cigarette. Off we went, back out on to the interstate and across the desert. We passed the exits for a ghost town called Calico, and for the mysteriously named Zzyzx. But there was nothing to see until you came to Baker, a speck of a rest stop off the interstate, still 100 miles from Las Vegas. It is also the southernmost tip of Death Valley, where inside the National Park they recorded highest ever temperature on Earth of 134 degrees. Five months a year Baker’s daytime temperatures never dip below 100 degrees, and the area is so rocky and inhospitable that NASA tested the Mars Curiosity Rover there.

We sailed right by the off-ramp to Baker, and a chance to stop at Bun Boy (Established 1926!), continuing to travel this godforsaken stretch of road without an ounce of water for 8 people, and only a bag of candy to hold us until dinner.

Let me repeat that: My father was driving his 6 young children and wife in a wheezing station wagon 200 miles across an area that simulates the conditions on Mars, with nothing more than penny candy and an extra pack of smokes in the glove box.

Dad was nothing, if not a gambler.

 

Bun Boy 4

 

 

We began the long drive up Mountain Pass. There is an elevation rise of 4,000 feet between Baker and the top of the pass. It was a grueling grade for most cars back in the 60s, and off to the side of the road was the occasional abandoned car: Some heap that had broken down and was worth less than it would cost to tow it back to Barstow and get it repaired. The owner had hitched a ride, leaving it in the dirt and weeds past the shoulder. The air was too dry for it to rot or rust, and the hulks sat out in the desert like dinosaur bones.

We struggled up Mountain Pass at 25 miles an hour, my father cursing and smoking even more than the Fairlane. It was tense, and to my child’s sense of proportion the grade seemed endless. My father pointed out the mirage on the road that looked like water, always off in the distance in a place we couldn’t reach. We finally made it to the top, and were soon crossing the state line into Nevada. It was my first time out of California – and it seemed like a special occasion. I was quite excited.

There was a forlorn casino and gas station just inside Nevada called: ‘State Line Bar: Slots’. It was tiny and appeared to be made of wood, and looked so dirty and unsavory from the road that even though I needed to use the bathroom I didn’t ask to stop. There was a tow truck and one car parked out in front as we continued down the freeway, getting closer to our destination.

25 miles or so from town the billboards began: “See Lido de Paris at the Stardust!” said one, with half-naked women wearing elaborate headdresses with feathers and jewels. “Sammy at Caesars!” shouted another. “Liberace at the Riviera!!” promised a third. Then there was simply “August: Elvis Live at the International!!!” Everything had exclamation points, as if the entertainers weren’t draw enough.

There were also billboards advertising cheap rooms and even cheaper food. A $5 room was common for bottom tier motels. I remember a red billboard with black writing that mimicked a slot machine face advertising a $7 room at a brand new hotel – $7!! $7!! $7!! the billboard screamed, but time has erased which casino it was. (The Hilton?) There were ads for free hot dogs and beer, 50 cent shrimp cocktail and 99 cent buffets. Steak and eggs could be had for $1, and prime rib for $2. If you could get to Vegas it was dirt cheap to stay and eat – and free to drink. The casinos were willing to take a loss on those things, because if they could get you in the door you’d leave your money at their tables and in their machines.

The billboards continued along, a picket fence of advertisements. The newest and sparkliest were for the biggest casinos. There rest were timeworn signs with sandblasted paint promoting dying casinos downtown like the Golden Nugget, the Mint and the Pioneer Club with its Not-Creepy-At-All Clown. Each one brought us closer to our destination, and being set free from the purgatory of boredom and cigarette smoke.

 

 

After a long day in the car we saw Las Vegas on the horizon – a small town in a big desert. As we rolled toward Sin City my father told us that when The Mob caught petty thieves stealing from visitors they would take the unfortunate larcenous soul about a mile from town, kneecap them, and leave them in the desert. The thief was able to hobble back for help, but only after roasting for a day in the unforgiving sun, without water. It was a clear warning to anyone else who might think tourists were easy pickings. It was a sobering story for a 5 year-old: Something uttered half a century ago that sticks with me like a real-life ghost story.

 

Welcome To Las Vegas 2

 

We finally – FINALLY – arrived late in the afternoon, after a 7 hour drive. The ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign was a lone sentry in the median of the highway, surrounded by blowing sand and wide open nothingness. A half a mile later we came to the first casino: The Hacienda. The enormous neon sign had a vaquero on a rearing palomino, he had one hand on the reigns, and the other was waving to all the weary travelers just arriving in town. The casino sat back from the street, with an enormous parking lot, and nothing behind it.

At the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard the lots were dirt, devoid of structures. As we traveled further up the Strip the casinos began to appear more frequently. Sitting between my parents in the front seat I tried to take it all in. There were so many things to look at and so many signs to read.

 

 

We passed the Dunes with its minaret-shaped marquee. The Aladdin had a neon magic lamp, the Flamingo had pink neon birds, and the Stardust had a thousand neon stars next to Slots O Fun. The Sands’ round, stylized tower jutted up from the desert floor. I loved the giant, rotating woman’s high-heeled shoe in front of the Silver Slipper Gambling Hall, which was lit up with large white light bulbs, even during the day.

My parents were most impressed with Caesar’s Palace – a jewel situated far back from the road, an opulent hotel sitting on 34 acres. 18 fountains stretched from the street back to the Porte Cochere, lined with statuary and imported Italian cypress trees. My mother pointed out the Venus de Milo as we went by. I was puzzled why she was so impressed with a broken statue.

But, above them all was Circus Circus: An enormous pink-and-white striped circus tent with a carousel in front, and 5 fountains along the street. I had to see this inside of this wonderful place.

 

 

Suddenly, there was a problem. My mother couldn’t find the name and address of the motel where we would be staying, and where we would meet The Anderson’s, our family friends from the Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary – otherwise known as Holy Rollers. Mom had not put the envelope with the information written on the back inside her purse. My father began to cruise Las Vegas Boulevard looking for the Anderson’s car, but there were dozens and dozens of cheap motels in Vegas in those days in between the top of The Strip and Fremont Street downtown. It was the proverbial needle in a haystack.

An argument ensued between my parents, which was terrifically useful and terribly comfortable for those of us trapped and forced to listen. I remember being sick to death of riding in that station wagon – my head hurt, my legs were stiff and I was hungry because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Mostly I just wanted to get away from the smoke and the arguing. I pointed to the bear in the nightshirt on the Travelodge sign, and asked if we could get a room there. That was absolutely out of the question, and we had to find the Anderson’s. It felt like we would never be out of that car.

In an act of desperation my mother made a long distance call to the Anderson’s home phone from the phone booth at the Union 76 station. She dialed the number from memory and waited for the operator to tell her how many quarters she would need to feed the machine. My mother pumped a few dollars in quarters into the slot, and as luck would have it their house sitter answered and told her where we would find them.

The Holiday Motel was on the far end of the strip, in a row of motor hotels built in the early 1950s. These motels served visitors uninterested in or unable to afford the hotels along the strip. The rooms were nowhere near as cheerful as the brightly colored signs would suggest, with worn furniture, stained sinks and rough sheets. But the price was right for a frugal traveler. And who cares about black and white TV?

Mr. and Mrs. Anderson waved us down as we pulled in the parking lot, and my father finally parked the car. Mom and the Anderson’s stood together and smoked – agreeing it was lucky we found them – while dad checked us in and we kids fidgeted, finally set free from the car.

The short wait while Dad registered us seemed interminable to tired children. Eventually the men unloaded the car, taking our bags and us to the 2 five-dollar a night rooms the 8 of us would be sharing for the weekend. We had arrived.

 

 

I wanted to go swimming right away, but was crushed when told it was too cold and that the pool was closed for the winter. It just wasn’t fair.

We went to the Anderson’s room, where their 3 children were glassy-eyed and watching TV. They didn’t look away from the screen when we greeted them, making no room on the bed for us to sit and watch with them.

Dad and Mr. Anderson decided to go scout the area to find a good place for us all to eat dinner on the cheap while the rest of us washed up. A half an hour went by, and then an hour with no sign of the men. Mom and Mrs. Anderson went from being worried to angry, and back to being worried again, as still their husbands didn’t show.

I remember standing out on the sidewalk in the dark next to my mother as she scouted up and down the street for any sign of the Fairlane. I was scared and trying to figure out what was happening. The wind was blowing like crazy, and I was cold. I could see the Thunderbird casino sign blinking in the distance as I shivered, the neon wings winking in the clear desert night.

It was hours before the men returned, contrite and full of explanations. The short version was that my father, who was driving, had stopped at a casino instead of looking for a restaurant. ‘A few quick hands’ turned into a few quick hours. I have no idea if Mr. Anderson was oblivious of his family, too. (They stopped socializing with us after that weekend) I only know that my father got to the table and lost track of time, never thinking once about his hungry family sitting in a motel room waiting for him. Or, if he did think of us he chose to stay and play cards instead of feed us.

Thus, I was introduced to Dad’s gambling habit, and Las Vegas.

Stay tuned for Viva Las Vegas – Part 2: In Which A 5 Year-Old Learns To Gamble During Breakfast

 

LAS VEGAS THUNDERBIRD 1965_LI

Trump Zombies and Violence

Greg Gianforte’s election to Congress in Montana after assaulting a reporter has exposed the violent truth about Trumpers: They have decided they didn’t want to have to think critically and wanted a lawless bully to clear out a safe space for them using force.

45 would be NOTHING if not for his Cult followers. They aren’t misunderstood souls who have been led astray. No – these people have waited their whole lives for a stupider, meaner, more vindictive version of Reagan.

They fucking LOVE him and his scorched earth policy.

These were the people in school who stood behind the bully and egged him (or her) on. They often lacked the intestinal fortitude it took to be an honest-to-god bully, but could be counted on for malicious snickers and ostracizing as well as violence under the cover and protection of a group.. They were conferred power and status through their association with said Bully and flaunted it when the Bully was not around.

They are the tribe in Lord of the Flies that put Jack in charge and followed him into savagery.

They willfully and with malice choose to support a corollary of anarchy – it’s not that there are no rules, it’s that they are ignoring any that don’t suit their purpose of regaining a position of being the shitter and not the shittee. Oh, sure, they’re still getting shat upon in spades, but they’re okay with it if they can do a little shitting of their own.

The people who support him – the Public and Politicians – are all motivated by the same thing: The acquisition of Power

They are willing to allow 45’s destruction of the Constitution and looting of the Treasury if they can get a taste of the action.

Gianforte’s assholery didn’t spring up out of Zeus’s forehead. People *like* the tough talk and promises of cutting the safety net out from under other people – and they’re SURE it will never happen to them. Lest we attribute his victory to early voting, remember Gianforte raised $100K in the 12 hours after this hit the news cycle.

Whenever you’re tempted to reason with a Trumpologist remember that this is not an isolated incident. The Governor of Texas joked about shooting Journalists on Friday and it received a collective yawn. There are Press pens at 45’s events that are nothing more than modern day stockades. My god – POUTS assaulted the Prime Minister of Montenegro when he shoved him in the chest – and Trumpologists are *giddy* that he’s showing people who’s boss.

Assaults on and the arrest of Journalists are becoming all too common and not getting nearly enough coverage – by which I mean none at all on the Fox propaganda mill. 2 reporters in the last 10 days were arrested for asking politicians questions. Press and protesters at the Turkish Embassy were beaten by Erdogan’s goons and that goes by unprocessed in the never ending shit geyser.

Violence against political opponents and the press have become normalized and encouraged. It is only a matter of time before a member of the Press is murdered, and before this implied violence makes its way further than a murderous White Supremacist in Portland.

There is a serious mental illness problem in America. Its face may be Donald Trump, but its heart are Trumpers: The 2 in 5 adults who think violence is an appropriate response to questions or intellectual disagreements. Their brutality is vindicated by a man like Trump, and his “I’ve had ENOUGH of rules!!” behavior gives them permission to ignore facts and embrace their cruelty. The really frightening thing is they’re just getting warmed up.

 

Infectious Fascism and Someone Else’s Beer

Our local liquor store had been in business since the early 1980s, when the shopping center was built. The original owner passed it along to his 3 sons when he died, many years ago. There was nothing special or fancy about the shop, which had long, wide shelves stocked full of not-too-high-priced wines and liquor that tended to come in the Handle Size. They did a brisk trade in beer, $1 shooters sold out of an empty fish tank on the counter, and “Oh, jeeze! We’re all out of vodka/wine and I’m almost home!” purchases.

It had a coveted corner location on a major intersection with high visibility, and was next to a busy grocery store. The long floor-to-ceiling windows faced due west, which meant high cooling bills as the high altitude sunshine blasted in year round, roasting  the products on the front shelf and raising the temperature unbearably during the summer. A few years ago the Brothers balked at the raising utility prices from keeping the store cold enough to properly store their inventory, and slowly adjusted the thermostat upwards. The heat coupled with storing the wine upright – as one would store a fine vintage Yoo-Hoo – served to spoil their wares.

As if wine bottles that were warm to the touch weren’t enough, over the years the shop developed a nose-curling funk stank from their dogged insistence upon carpet, which served as a 1-way booze sponge when a bottle or case was inevitably broken, and because one of the brothers smoked indoors while doing the books afterhours.  Mmmm… the cheeky bouquet of nicotine braised in sour carpet wine!

We began shopping elsewhere, save for the times we emerged from the adjacent King Soopers, arms full of groceries (yes, we brought our own bags), and too tired or lazy to drive 6 miles round trip for a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Don’t judge me! The cork that crumbles like The Mummy is punishment enough.

Just before Valentine’s Day we found ourselves lacking the fortitude of an additional errand, the grueling 15 minute drive more than either of us could possibly handle, and so found ourselves choosing from wine bottles with dust on them.  I noticed a marked lack of champagne and other bubbly beverages appropriate for a manufactured holiday. “This is weird,” I told my husband, “Why aren’t there cases of cheap champagne stacked 5 high and 2 deep in here? In fact, there’s almost no champagne at all,” I gestured to the picked over front shelf, which was normally full of the boxed wine and cheap champagne that the Brothers counted on their clientele not being able to suss out were treated to daily solar pasteurization. It was a minor curiosity, one I chalked up to a screw up in ordering and went on with my evening.

A few weeks later, before St. Patrick’s Day, it was obvious something was up. The store was still very busy, but their stock had visibly dwindled – the shelves were no longer full, with empty spaces behind the wine and spirits.

“What’s going on?” I asked the young woman who worked there. “Not much,” she replied absentmindedly. “No – I mean ‘What’s going on here?’” She stopped and looked at me in confusion. She really had no idea what I was talking about. I gestured with my arm, “The shelves aren’t fully stocked…” She had a blank look on her face. “Are you guys remodeling? Selling?” Again, the clerk had a blank look, “No…” I left it at that, but told my husband changes were coming.

I wondered if they were going to finally move the stock out of the beating summer sun in the front window… Maybe they were going to set up a Growler station, or a tasting counter – moving forward  with the upwardly mobile neighborhood and appealing to the higher income residents who were replacing the middle income folks that had been a staple of the area when it was built 35 years ago. I had mentally moved the first row of shelves, replaced the nasty carpet with some easy-to-clean wood flooring that would brighten the space up, and show off the better selection of wine they would carry. I couldn’t wait.

At the end of March the only vodka left was bubblegum or peach flavored, the Bourbon shelves were flat-out empty, and most of the decent wine was gone. The Smoking Brother told me they were having distribution problems, but they would be getting a shipment in the following week. What he was telling me didn’t feel right – but I had been doing business with him for 16 years and gave him the benefit of the doubt by allowing him to assure me I wasn’t seeing what I was looking at.

We were gone most of April and upon returning we immediately noticed the barren shelves. Most telling is there was not a whiff of the upcoming drinking holiday Cinco De Mayo: No cut-outs of busty Latinas shucking gag inducing Lime-a-Rita beer, no garish plastic Papel Picado banners stamped with ‘Corona’, or posters of a Sombrero-sporting mustachioed stereotype peddling rot-gut tequila. You know – The Free Crap distributors beg store owners to take and give a price break for the best placement. But, there was still lots of beer – a good deal of it craft beer from start-up breweries & local brew pubs.

Several customers walked in and stopped dead, looking around at the long, mostly-empty shelves. They would do a 180 or full 360 to take it in; most left empty handed. It was clear the store was closing, but no sign indicated a last day or what was going on. I asked the only employee (someone I’d never seen before) what was going on and was answered with ‘Dunno’.

I suddenly realized: They must have sold the liquor license to King Soopers, the grocery store in the same complex. A recent change in the law allowed grocery stores to sell liquor, but only if they buy an existing license. I was happy for them in the distant way you can be when you hear good news from a stranger you’ve known for 15 years: It doesn’t change your life, but it gives you a pleasant feeling.

A few weeks later they were still open – somehow defying retail gravity. Richard walked the empty aisles with a curious expression on his face as he passed islands of bottles neatly arranged – 6 Rieslings here, 4 Moscatos half an aisle later, a lone bottle of gin in the next aisle. What stock was left would have neatly fit in 12 or 15 feet of shelf space, but instead was spread around the empty shop with the fastidious denial of a screamingly bad comb-over.

“When’s the last day?” I asked Morose Brother who spent a decade and a half demanding I show my ID every time I used a credit card. “Before the end of the month,” he answered with his usual dourness. Looking into my eyes he said “We sold the business,” and then spit into his dip cup.  “I… did you sell the license or the business?” “We sold the business and we’ll be closing sometime before the end of the month,” he repeated with a finality that forbade further discussion.

“How could they be selling the business?” I asked Richard when we were in the car, “When there’s no business to sell? I mean… there’s no inventory – and they lease the space. The only thing of value in that store is the license on the wall.” I chalked it up to him being contractually prohibited from discussing the details of the sale.

The very next day the City seized the store for failure to pay Sales & Use Taxes.

A quick call to City Hall revealed that they hadn’t paid a dime of the taxes they’d been collecting since January, and they’d been sending in partial payments for months before that.

It suddenly became clear that the inventory sell down was really them stiffing their suppliers – everyone from Coors to small craft brew companies struggling to make ends meet – and pocketing the money.

They stole not only from their liquor distributors and the city, but from their customers as well, by not submitting tax revenue that keeps schools open, roads paved and a live voice when you dial 911.

In retrospect it was quite obvious what was happening, but I didn’t want to accept the grand theft in front of me, so I provided pretty stories about Growler Stations and wood floors that morphed into them cashing out big by selling the license for a keen profit. None of it made sense to the scene in front of my eyes, but I held on to the fable rather than accept the felony.

I had been performing Olympic-quality mental gymnastics trying to explain away the obvious because the obvious made me uncomfortable.

It was a personal microcosm of what’s happening around the country: How we’re all staring in disbelief at the emerging Fascism around us, willing it to be something else.

We’ve watched fanaticism morph into a Fascist Cult of Personality, yet refuse to name it as such because then we have a REAL problem on our hands.

We’ve heard friends, family and colleagues embrace a man whose beastly policies call for banning Muslims, gutting the EPA, drilling for oil in National Parks and Monuments, building a useless Wall, disenfranchising women, and simultaneously cancelling the insurance policies of 23 million Americans while making it unaffordable for tens of millions more.

These aren’t policy differences on things like how to best fund infrastructure improvements or whether schools should focus more on science and less on the arts. This is the fundamental rejection of the invisible frame of our Social Contract by an alarming number of Americans.

They *like* the idea that ICE officers ate lunch in a café before arresting the kitchen staff.

They’re THRILLED journalists are finally getting the beat down that’s coming to them.

They’re relieved they can stop acting tolerant and want LGBTQ folks to climb back in the closet and for anyone darker than a flat white to know their place.

These people who benefit so much from the Public Commons of Society honestly don’t care if you lose your job, house or insurance – they don’t give a tinker’s damn for anyone who loses their disability, Medicare, Social Security or any other safety net program.

“I DON’T OWE YOU ANYTHING” they shriek like a misunderstood teen, unironically running the Social Contract through Mom & Dad’s shredder after they’ve slammed the office door.

The toughest thing about watching acquaintances and those we love support such heartlessness is when we finally realize they understand fully what they’re doing. It’s much easier to deal with people when we convince ourselves they are ignorantly supporting evil policies, and that if it was properly explained they would be enlightened. Otherwise, we have to accept that an uncomfortably large chunk of America is okay with a semi-literate bully dragging us backwards 6 months for every day he is in office.

Accepting that this is actually happening is a real hurdle. None of wants to stare into *that* abyss and it’s ever so much easier not to court discord and just let sleeping dogs lie.

Please don’t be like me, though, when I watched the local liquor store go under and cheat its vendors, and I chose not to see it because I couldn’t accept the Brothers could do that. Don’t imagine people are constrained by your sense of decency, however well or little you know them.

Once we see the hard truth of Trumpers actions, we have to either accept this Fascist Cult of Personality or fight it. There is no middle ground. When you stop selling yourself on proverbial Growler Stations and wood floors to brighten the place up, you can’t unsee the unsavory and uncomfortable truth that 45’s followers heartily approve of a stratified society that plays out like Lord of the Flies – only, in this story line there are no adults to step in to save the day when things are at their bleakest. There is no higher authority to appeal to, because our current POTUS thinks laws are impractical to follow (his words, not mine).

Make no mistake that we are in dangerous territory with 45’s spreading Fascism, and we ignore it at our own peril.

During the election 45 promised the state sponsored murder of children, he promised to crack down on Freedom of the Press, and he promised to violate the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 14th amendments, as well as end abortion, civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality and the EPA.

When you look at it this way 45 had a spectacularly successful first 100 days, now didn’t he?

Trumpers voted for him *precisely* because he promised to abuse other people and break things. They are the groupies that enable a bully to prevail, and who become emboldened by their support of him.

Trumpers like the chaos, the angst and the destruction they were promised when they voted.

It’s hard to see friends and family infected by Fascism. Worse – when they demand our tolerance while spreading this virulent disease of hate.

But, it is no longer possible to separate the Message from Man or the Masses – they own who they support and his policies, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you someone else’s beer.