Independence Day has long been one of my favorite holidays.
I just love the fireworks, the food, the togetherness. The celebration of a country I’ve long loved.
This year, however, I hate it.
Independence Day feels cruel. Like a sick joke. We are now led by an aspiring dictator; by a man who has conned millions of Americans into thinking he cares about their lives.
We are now led by a man with five military deferments. By a man who discriminated against minorities who applied to live in his Queens apartment complexes. We are now led by a man who still insists the proven-innocent Central Park 5 are guilty and should be put to death. We are now led by a man who lied under oath during the USFL trial. We are now led by a man who created a phony “university” to bilk poor people of their money. We are now led by a man who continues to lie about helping at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of 9.11. We are now led by a man who devoted 4 1/2 years to “proving” America’s first African-American president was, in fact, a Kenya-born Muslim. We are now led by a man who paid a sex worker hush money to keep quiet about the sex they had 10 days after the birth of his son. We are now led by a man who uses his supporters as props, and shows no interest in their welfare in the midst of a crippling pandemic.
We were once America. Flawed, yes. But at least aspiring to good.
The ideals have been hijacked. Half the participants have been brainwashed and enlisted into a cult.
Independence Day has long been one of my favorite holidays.
In case you missed this, Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally was an absolute disaster.
It started with the hype. So much hype. Millions of people want to attend! Donald Trump is the biggest draw in the world! Excitement! Action! Thrills!
Then the day-of. This will be amazing! We need more room! Everyone wants to be here! Extra space! Extra time! Making America Great Again!
And, finally, the event.
Many moons ago, as a young writer at The Tennessean in Nashville, I covered a Jackyl-ZZ Top concert at the local dilapidated convention center. It was smoky and sad and half filled, and as I exited I felt like a stubbed-out cigarette. That’s probably how Donald Trump felt today, looking out into an ocean of vacant seats, standing before a half-filled arena of people he would never dare associate with on a one-on-one basis. The music was loud, the fake enthusiasm was buzzing around—but it was a can of flat ginger ale. Little more.
My dog Norma died two days ago, and I am still trying to move past it. With little success.
It actually reminds me of the summer of 1989, when I worked as an assistant counselor at a summer camp near my home in Mahopac, N.Y. I was positioned alongside another assistant counselor—Jen, I believe, was her name. And while Jen was nice, she was sort of unreliable. Here. There. Up. Down. Friendly, but just inconsistent.
Anyhow, one day Jen didn’t report to work. When I asked why, someone said, “Her dog died.”
I was dumbfounded.
Jen missed work … because a dog died? A stinkin’ dog? Seriously?
I don’t think I gave her grief, but I definitely thought negatively.
And now, some three decades later, I owe Jen an apology.
I wasn’t sure I’d start crying while typing those five words, but the tears are streaming for probably the 10th different time this afternoon. I am, with no exaggeration, devastated.
Norma was the best dog. Not merely the best dog in our house (she was the only dog in our house) or the best dog on our street or the best dog in our town. She was, simply, the best dog—an adorable, affectionate, opinionated cockapoo who gave less than two shits about any other canine (the late Mookie being the exception) but was a magnet toward the hand, arm or foot of the nearest human.
Before we purchased Norma some 11 years ago, I’d never had a dog. As a boy growing up on the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y., the only pets allowed in the Pearlman household were guinea pigs and the occasional fish. And while it was certainly sad when a Spunky or Sparky passed, well, there’s only so much bonding one can have between human and guinea pig. So they came, they lasted a couple o’ years, they passed, they were buried, their stinky cages were put to the curb. End of story.
Norma, though—I mean, anyone who has had and loved a dog knows that it’s just … so … friggin’ … different. In a way, we weren’t even supposed to have a Norma. Back in early 2009, when our kids were 5 and 2, the wife took our daughter Casey to the local pet shop, just to look around and gauge interest in an animal. We certainly weren’t ready for a dog. Certainly were not going to make the purchase at a pet shop. But there was this one semi-mangy little spud of an animal. Beige. Her curly hair was grown in crooked. She was a bit older than the others. The wife—again, just to feel things out—sat in a little pen with nervous Casey and this unfamiliar animal.
What transpired is family lore: Norma walked up to Catherine and plopped her tiny head on the wife’s crisscrossed legs. And Catherine turned to Casey and said, “Uh-oh. Better call Dad.”
That’s how we landed Norma.
Initially, we were going to call the dog Kelsey, after the name that inexplicably kept popping up as my sister-in-law Leah’s caller ID. But then we thought it’d be funny to anoint her after Norma Shapiro, my wife’s then-88-year-old grandmother. We called Norma (the woman) to check in, and she loved the idea.
Norma, it was. [amazingly, Norma the grandma is now 100 and in great shape]
At first, I hated Norma (the dog, not the grandma). Fucking hated her. I dropped a bagel, and she (the dog, not the grandma) grabbed it. When I tried pulling it away, she (the dog, not the grandma) growled at me. She was a pain-in-the-ass puppy. Barking all night. Bark! Bark! Bark! Despised her kennel. Picky eater. Occasional shits and pees in the house.
Then, something changed. Maybe a year after we first brought Norma home, the wife and kids went away for a few days. I decided I’d let Norma sleep on the bed with me, just to see how it went. And … wow. Pure love. That was the end of the kennel.
There was always something oddly reassuring about knowing Norma was there. Hearing her take a breath. Seeing her stir with an unfamiliar noise. She smelled like salted peanuts. But not in a bad way. She took unrivaled pleasure in belly rubs, and had a wide-eyed, frenzied reaction to people scratching in between the grooves of her paws. When you patted Norma atop her head, she would open her mouth and offer a look that cooed, “I could not be happier. I … just … couldn’t … be … happier.”
Norma had a slew of nicknames. Casey initially liked to call her Madam Noomsie III. That was shortened to Nooms. The wife called her Norms. One day, about five months ago, Norma rose from her favorite backyard sun-basking spot with four or five wood chips stuck to her fur. I said, “Here comes Captain Wood Chip!”—and a new nickname was born.
My daughter and I assigned Norma a pro-life, anti-Democrat hard-core Republican identity. Oftentimes the dog would enter the room and Casey would say something like, “Norma is tired of the gay rights movement. She just wants marriage to be between a man and a woman” or “Norma believes Donald Trump is the one person to lead America.” Then we’d look at Norma, who just wanted a carrot or a head pat. We’d laugh.
As a stay-at-home writer, I viewed Norma as my sidekick. That’s not an exaggeration—I’d sit in my chair, jotting down words, and she’d be on the bed behind me, waiting for interaction. I’d say, “I dunno Norma—does this sound right?” or “Norma, do you think Troy Aikman was better than Steve Young?” She never answered, but—in a way—she did. With a look. With a bark. With a sideways glare. There was beauty in having her here, by my side, as company. As companionship. As reassurance. As a friend.
Norma didn’t seem right yesterday. She was sluggish. Lingering under a desk. Didn’t eat a carrot.
The daughter and I brought her to the vet, and they did tests. Then more tests.
Her body, it turns out, was filled with cancer. There would be no recovery.
I’ve lost grandparents who I loved dearly. But this, truly, is a new level of pain for me. The vet called earlier this morning, while my daughter and I were driving. She was on speaker for a few moments, but I had to take her off. Tears started running down my face. Casey’s face, too. They said we could try and maybe extend her life a month or two, but that the compassionate route would be to let her die peacefully, with dignity.
We sat the kids down and explained the situation. We all cried. A lot. Then the wife went to the animal hospital and held Norma for a final time. She FaceTimed me, and allowed me to say farewell. Norma wasn’t Norma any longer—unresponsive, staring off into nothingness.
I later called my nephew Jordan, and that’s when it all really hit me. I hung up abruptly, sat by myself in front of the house and exhaled these loud, excruciating discharges of anguish. I feel as if someone has taken a machete to my innards. All carved up. Nothing there.
I know, ultimately, I’ll feel better. The days will move forward. There will probably be other pets. Circle of life and all.
So I have the misfortune in living in a school district where a good number of parents seem to see science and medicine as these blockades against societal betterment.
I note this because today I was alerted to an Instagram group—PARENTS SUPPORTED ACTION PLAN. And it is, well, infuriating. One parent after another complaining how the coronavirus is a hoax, or overblown, or stupid, or annoying, or this invisible fairy disease created by the government to help the invisible candy elves get their drugs (Admittedly, I made that last one up).
Anyhow, it’s exasperating. First, because these people proudly post images of themselves WITH THEIR KIDS not wearing masks or social distancing. Second, because there are pretty much no references to science. In fact, I can scratch out pretty much. Because there are no references to science. It’s all emotion. Or Fox News talking points. Third, because there’s a missed irony that drives me to drink: Namely, the same people screaming for education are relying on ignorance to emphasize education. Fuck, think about it—”We need to open our schools!” Why? “Because learning is important!” Why is it important? “Because our children need to be informed and educated!” So are you informed and educated about the longterm impacts of COVD-19? “Yes!” You’ve read up on it? “Of course!” Where? “Well, Dr. Phil. And Dr. Oz. And Hannity.” Any medical journals? “No. That’s fake news!” Oh.
Truth be told, the entire movement can be chalked up to one word: Fatigue. People are fatigued of being home. They’re fatigued of their children learning online. They’re fatigued of not being able to take that $50-pop-Mommy Yoga class at the boutique studio. They’re fatigued of having to carry out from Starbucks. They’re fatigued of masks, fatigued of distancing. Also—considering everyone in these photos seems to be either a Karen or wed to a Karen—I’m guessing there’s fatigue over the BLM movement; over the marches; over an America they increasingly fail to recognize.
But, come day’s end, these people are spreading poison. Because if there’s one thing we now know, it’s that untreated and unrecognized COVID-19 just … sits. And waits. And waits. And waits. If you don’t suffocate coronavirus, it lingers and looms and pounces. It’s more snake than jackrabbit—waiting, lingering, pouncing when it’s good and ready.
So, to all those angry parents out there—I get it. Sincerely, I do. You want your normal back.
I’m being sincere in not getting this. Is the coronavirus supposed to infiltrate our pipes and turn our running water into evil coronavirus-poisoned running water? Are there tiny microbes dancing within the H20 droplets running from my sink into a cup?
Is the CoronaWater Monster coming?
Have we all lost our collective minds?
[Pause for deep breath]
The answer, obviously, is we’ve all lost our collective minds. Because there is something within us—deep within us—that wants/needs/aspires to be terrified. I’m not sure what that is. If, perhaps, there’s a scientific explanation. But whether it’s the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Y2K bug or Putin spying on us or Dr. Evil gnawing on our gums, we are created to live in the shadows, nervous about that thing looming around the corner.
The coronavirus, to me, is a strange one. Maybe the strangest to date. We’re all scared. Myself included. But of what? Dying? I mean, we’re all gonna die eventually, and the death rate is (truly) very low. Getting sick? We’ve all been sick. Spreading something to others? Being known as “The Guy” with “The Virus”? Turning up on the 6 o’clock news—a local writer named John Pearlman has been diagnosed with …
What it is, I believe, is this: We’re scared because we’re scared because we know we’re supposed to be scared of this scary thing that’s clearly scary because everyone says how scared they are.
A fascinating night in American politics. Here are my thoughts:
• Joe Biden’s rise: This happened, and I’m shocked. Not because it’s Biden. Not because of the number of states. Nope. I’m shocked because it felt as if one day—one single day—changed an election.
And that day was yesterday.
When Mayor Pete endorsed Joe Biden. Then Amy endorsed Biden. Then Beto endorsed Biden. Bam. Bam. Bam. I said to a friend, “That might be the best single day a modern political figure has ever had.” And I mean it. Best day ever. Within a 24-hour span, Joe Biden was given life. He felt like a contender again. Like the choice for those who desperately want to see Donald Trump lose, but don’t believe Bernie Sanders is the best one for the task.
• Bernie’s mediocre showing: He’s not dead. Not by a longshot. Sanders has a ton of energy, a ton of support. But Super Tuesday revealed a major flaw, one political insiders discuss quite often. Namely, young people suck at voting. They’re great at Tweeting, at Snapchatting, at Tik Toking. They’re great at memes and Gifs and being loud and acting empowered. But it has always been a chore to get the demographic out to vote. It was true when I was 18, it was true when you were 18.
And the funny thing is, a guy like Joe Biden will probably draw more voters between 60 and 85 to the polls than Bernie would voters aged 18 to 29. The geriatrics won’t generate the buzz. Won’t be as loud. Won’t wave flags and hold signs. But they’ll see a four-hour line and stand on it.
• Campaigns don’t matter: I don’t totally mean this. But sorta, Biden spent almost no time in Virginia—and won handily. He spent, literally, zero time in California and gave a solid showing. It’s a different age, and one can reach millions of people with the tapping of some keys.
• Elizabeth Warren is done—and it sucks: I hurt for Warren, because she’s sincere and decent and would have been a wonderful president. But she ran a merely OK campaign—the big mistake being a refusal to truly separate herself from Bernie Sanders; to show why she’d be the better choice. There is also, sadly, a huge obstacle women still face. They’re always deemed unlikeable, hard to look at, hard to listen to. It’s infuriating.
• Michael Bloomberg lost his mojo in one day: His first debate. The showing was so awful, it took all $300 million spent on the run and flushed it down the toilet. He went from, “Hey, maybe this guy can save us” to Fred Thompson. Poof.
• Biden scares me: Every time he talks. The gaffes are maddening. You just never know what he’ll forget, or remember. But … at this point I believe he’s a more viable candidate than Bernie Sanders. People like him. Relate to him. He’s sincere and decent. He can win states (Florida, for one) Bernie wouldn’t.
• Trump should be nervous: Mainly because he sucks. But also because he’s getting a heavyweight. Even though it’s Larry Holmes in 1988.
So one of my favorite media/social justice figures of the past decade has been Shaun King. And while I know many people who think Shaun to be a piece of shit/a conman/a [fill in the blank]—well, they’re wrong. One hundred percent wrong. The guy busts his ass, has an enormous heart, wears his compassion on his sleeve. He’s been battered, slammed, mocked, ridiculed—and he keeps coming back. Because he’s strong and smart and focused.
Truly, he’s a role model.
Over the weekend, however, I noticed Shaun (a Bernie Sanders advocate) leading a Twitter movement where he enlisted people to promise they would never, ever, ever vote Michael Bloomberg …
And I feel like screaming.
Look, Mike Bloomberg is filled with holes. Tons upon tons upon tons of holes. There is no doubt about that, and this piece lays them out very well. So I get it. Truly, I get it. In my ideal world, Chris Murphy is running against Trump in 2020, with Stacey Abrams as his vice.
But the world isn’t ideal. It just fucking isn’t. And while I hate being this guy—well, I’m going to be this guy. Bernie Sanders cannot win a general election against Donald Trump. Actually, wait. Stop. Scratch that. He can win a general election against Trump, because 2016 taught us anything is possible. But is an 80-year-old Vermont “socialist” (as he will be branded every … single … day) the guy to lead us into battle? Will he pick off moderate Republicans who are fed up with Trump’s bullshit and offended by his assholeness? Will he inspire moderate Democrats who sit on the left, but not too far left? No. No fucking way.
And that’s fine. Truly, that’s fine. If you like Bernie Sanders (and I like Bernie Sanders a lot), support him. Fight for him. Donate money to him. Insist he’s your guy in the primary, and stand by him until the end.
And then, if Bloomberg is the nominee, don’t stay home like a fucking asshole.
Bust ass for him.
Why? Here’s why: Because another four years of Donald Trump means one, if not two or three, Supreme Court appointees—which likely means the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Because another four years of Donald Trump means an even greater destruction of environmental laws and the devastation of our children’s collective futures. Because another four years of Donald Trump means an even greatest partnership between the DOJ and the White House. Because another four years of Donald Trump means more xenophobia, more kids in cages, more travel bans, more bullying, more thugging, more unjust imprisonments, more ICE raids.
Life sucks. It does. It’s a blowjob to the skull.
But to urge people to stay home if Bernie Sanders isn’t the nominee; to tell your one million followers that it’s your guy or nobody—well, it’s just fucking self-absorbed bullshit.
Self absorbed bullshit.
And worst of all—you have one million Twitter followers. You have an enormous voice. If Mike Bloomberg is the nominee, use that shit. Meet with him. Demand stuff. In writing. Make it clear that if X and X and X and X don’t happen, he will face the onslaughts of onslaughts. That’s power. Real power.
Back in the fall of 1990, upon arriving as a freshman at the University of Delaware, I was assigned a triple inside Russell Hall A.
This was not ideal. The rooms were made for two, and three was painfully crowded. But, as a newbie, I didn’t have a leg to stand on. So I showed up and introduced myself to a pair of strangers—Anthony Marciano from Tuckahoe, N.Y. and Chris Moger from Long Island.
We basically had a bunk with vertical beds, then a single cot. For some reason (I don’t recall the negotiations or logistics), Chris took the bottom bunk, Anthony took the top bunk and I got the single. And—all things considered—it worked out fairly well. Anthony was this cocky, endearing kid who always had a lacrosse stick in his hands. He was charismatic and smooth and funny. He actually took care of me when I got wasted for the first time—a story I’ve retold quite often through the years.
And Chris—well, Chris was quiet. Sorta brooding, in a James Dean way. In fact, when I’ve thought of Chris through the years, I always have James Dean in my head. This image, to be precise. He just had a bit of quiet confidence to him. Coolness, without barking. Never mean. Never particularly giddy. Came. Went. As life often goes.
By the middle of the year, our triple was a double. Chris moved out, and at the end of 1991 I believe both he and Anthony transferred to other schools.
And that was pretty much that.
I received this e-mail yesterday. Out of the blue.
Anthony and I haven’t stayed in touch much. Chris and I stayed in touch not at all. I believe there was a quick Facebook exchange a decade or so ago, but nothing more. If you think about it, that’s the way so much of life works. For every lifelong friend who sticks, there are a solid 500 Chris Mogers who come, stay for a bit, then leave. The girl you hooked up with in the frat basement. The guys you used to run pickup with. Your favorite barista—who one day doesn’t report to work. The supermarket checkout clerk you chatted up about her future. The barber. The waitress.
Your freshman roommate.
I didn’t really know how to respond to Anthony’s message. So I Googled “Chris Moger,” and found this.
And what struck me, nearly as much as the awful illness, was the sad reality that I really would have liked Chris Moger. He wasn’t James Dean. Or even imitation James Dean. I mean, perhaps he was during a time period when we’re all young and insecure and trying to offer the world a glimpse of something desirable. But the Chris I was introduced to via the Fundraising page was a middle-aged family man. A husband. A dad of three. A guy who lived for his kids, worked hard, wore plaid pajamas come Christmas and probably looked forward to family vacations and relaxed evenings in front of the TV with a beer. He was a kid who became a man, and that man was someone I would have very much enjoyed.