We’re getting older.
The world’s getting colder.
For the life of me, I don’t know the reason why.
— Excerpt from “Dog and Butterfly”, by Heart
As I begin writing this post, the good people of Alabama are heading to the polls to vote for U.S. Senator. The candidates are, for the Democrats, an ordinary, highly-accomplished, seemingly reasonable human being, and, for the Republicans, the cosmic monster-entity Cthulhu, who features the head of an octopus and the body of a dragon and brings death and destruction, and was imagined by the author H.P. Lovecraft. According to my sources, simply gazing upon Cthulhu drives the viewer insane. I’m not sure how the monster gets citizens to vote for him, but apparently the tactics include insulting ethnic minorities, denying the legitimacy of homosexuals, fervently claiming the unqualified support of the Almighty, and supporting policies that concentrate wealth and power among the wealthy and powerful. That’s just a hunch on my part, though.
The actual names of the two candidates are Doug Jones and Roy Moore. Single-syllables only, the first names straight out of the Dick and Jane readers, the last names especially common and shared by all sorts of perfectly good people. How about Davey Jones, of the Monkees! Mary Tyler Moore, the actress!
We could continue with a fun word game. However, I’m going back to dubbing Roy Moore as Cthulhu. Seems more descriptive.
The last U.S. Senator I met in person was Al Franken, although he was candidate Franken at the time. I will use the present tense to recount.
August, 2008, at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, United Airlines departure gate, my wife and boy and I are awaiting a flight to Denver, where we will connect to points west. Then Al Franken arrives, and his wife is with him. Obviously they’re on their way to the forthcoming Democrat National Convention. Feeling emboldened, perhaps because I spent the previous afternoon parading around the Minnesota State Fair in a Team Franken tee-shirt, or perhaps because I’ve been following and admiring the guy’s career for many years, or perhaps because I think we are kindred spirits for reasons that the next paragraph will explain–or maybe for all of these reasons–I stop Al F. in his tracks and introduce myself.
We have a nice conversation. He inquires about my life and background, and he hands over a business card. I tell a rehearsed joke that he laughs at, which feels extremely cool. The joke is, “I know you’re concerned about the middle-aged, Jewish liberal, expatriate wise-guy vote, but rest assured, we’re solidly in your corner.” I also bring up the Lincoln Del, a bygone restaurant in our mutual hometown of St. Louis Park, which, as I remind him, he once put into a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Eventually, Al says, somewhat glumly, “I’m going to sit down over there,” which clearly was his way of getting rid of me.
Several hours later, as we arrive in Denver, the two of us pass each other in the narrow walkway of the airplane. I say, quite brightly, “Good luck in the campaign.” And Al replies….well, I’m not sure what he said exactly. However, I think it was….something really rude.
That is my Al Franken story.
I now recall another SNL sketch, which I am almost positive was written by Al Franken and his partner of the time, Tom Davis. Both appear as extras. The guest host was Carrie Fisher, and the premise is that Princess Leia is transported out of Star Wars into a 60’s-era bikini beach party movie. The line I remember is Annette Funicello (played by Gilda Radner) introducing herself:
“I’m Annette, this is Frankie, and (sticking out her chest) these are my breasts!”
I remember that the line was more shocking than funny, and thinking that it worked because of Gilda, who was wonderful in just about everything. (Check out her one-woman show, which she opened with the song, “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals.”) The logic of the breast joke is its superficial absurdity (introducing a body part as an actual person) yet underlying truth (the figures of Ms. Annette and her cohorts were, by all accounts, a significant reason for watching the movie.)
Anyway, I believe the women who claimed that Al Franken had imposed himself upon them. I especially believe the report of Al chasing a woman and demanding a kiss, and saying “It’s my right as an entertainer.” I can imagine him writing and speaking that line, because its logic fits the pattern of complete absurdity that hides, from the speaker’s perspective, a truth or desire.
But what do I know? Just what I read and hear, and what I infer.
I am struggling with the fact that so many of the Men I Have Admired, who include Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Woody Allen, and Kirby Puckett, have been credibly accused of unwanted and/or hostile behavior with women.
If someone says anything nasty about Paul Wellstone, I shall scream.
Time marches on, of course. Since I began this essay, Doug Jones has won the election in Alabama by a couple of small percentage points, although Cthulhu has refused to concede even at this late date, not a surprise given his status as infallible god of the underworld and keeper of the hearts of poorly-educated white people. The Trump Administration has announced the end of net neutrality, much against the wishes of Senator Franken, who fought long and hard to keep it. The government also enacted a massive tax cut for the wealthy that seems to promise fewer essential services for the general public, all the while the President is saying “Merry Christmas” as loudly as possible. I am Jewish, and am hardly an expert on any religion, but wouldn’t Christ have argued against the shifting of money and resources toward the already wealthy? Isn’t such a scheme exactly the opposite of everything Jesus stood for, as quoted in the Christian Bible?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
From my perspective, the Republican agenda is the real War on Christmas.
As for my little family, we awoke on Christmas day at our friends’ home on Long Island, then had lunch and a long afternoon with my mother in Queens, and then the long, dark drive into the snow-covered lands of Massachusetts, and finally our house. No one had plowed or shoveled the driveway, and a predator had waylaid one of the chickens, and there was cat poop in the bathroom, but within 24 hours we had put everything to right. On Tuesday evening we happily watched the latest Doctor Who episode, which concludes with the tired and grizzled twelfth doctor giving way to his successor, a cheerful and energetic young woman, who literally falls to Earth, ready to begin a new series of adventures.
At this point, some of you may be wondering why Connecticut, the Nutmeg State, is featured in the title of this essay. It is a true statement that I drove my family the approximately 124 miles from milepost 0 of I-95 to the Massachusetts border near Sturbridge. We stopped exactly once, at a Sunoco station in Wallingford, where my wife changed the baby’s diaper and I bought a (nearly undrinkable) cup of coffee and the 12-year-old wound up with an Orangina. The drive itself was on well-lit and well-traveled freeways, but almost all of the surrounding commerce was closed. The service plazas were open, as were a few gas stations and, surprisingly, some Walgreens drugstores, but the big malls and the auto dealers and the restaurants and the Starbucks coffee shops were all shut down for the holiday. So I imagined all of these people–the store staff and their customers–at home by their fireplaces, sharing dinner and drinks, opening presents that had been stored under well-decorated trees. Christmas in Connecticut, it’s actually a movie that I’ve never seen, and have no desire to see.
Some of you may also be wondering about the quote from Heart, a rock group from the 1970s. Forty years ago, global warming wasn’t quite the thing it is now. Although the world is getting warmer, I think coldness is the better metaphor. My country feels a colder, harsher place than it did 14 months ago, and Lord knows I don’t understand the rationale. Spring can follow winter, though. Hope springs eternal, as the saying goes.
Here’s hoping for a warm, rosy Hanukkah and/or Christmas and/or Holiday Season at the homes of my friends, family, admirers, onlookers, and whatever other category you might care to put yourself into. I hope you are enjoying if and whatever holiday you observe or celebrate, and I also hope you accept a category. We all deserve a little warmth and cheer, especially now, near the winter solstice, when the sunlight is its flattest and briefest.
August 13, 2018: The original essay had incorrectly identified one of the singer/songwriters from Heart. The correct names of the duo are Ann and Nancy Wilson.