My mother and I talk every day. Boulder, Colorado, which offered so much when my parents retired there, geez, more than 30 years ago, isn’t quite the jubilee it was. Now in their mid-80s, they aren’t charging up the trail to Wonderland Lake anymore.
It can be a frustrating conversation. Particularly when my mother is planning to go to the store. “Ma!” I’ll say. “Don’t risk your life for coconut shrimp!” Or, when that doesn’t work, “Ma! You’re going to die alone, surrounded by strangers in masks.”
My father is sometimes watching television when I phone — CNN, thank God, not Fox — and my mother will mention something on the screen, the latest aftershock from our president’s daily twirl in the limelight, like some demented ballerina on the music box in an insecure girl’s nightmare.
“Don’t watch TV news, Mom,” I’ll say. “I never do.”
That’s true. Primarily because I read newspapers and follow events online, so anything on TV is repetitive. Even big breaking stories — the last time I fled to TV news was when Notre Dame burned. After 10 minutes of time-filling and tap-dancing, I bailed. What’s the point? As for the president’s daily 5 p.m. nervous breakdown ... “Fortunate the person,” Soren Kierkegaard writes, “who did not need to travel to hell in order to see what the devil looks like.”
People who do make that journey, the daily descent, feel obligated to react. This has gone on years, and I’m sorry, but by now those doing so seem merely slow on the uptake. “What? You’re saying that the president is lying?!? Oh, my gosh, that’s awful! When did he start doing that?”
And yet. Sometimes, you must join in. State the obvious. For The Record. Yes, there is something OCD about keeping track of the president’s lies. Maybe it’s like baseball; to ignore even one wild pitch is to lose the fabric of the game. I understand that. Was that a strike or a ball? Hard to determine the next day. You have to pay attention now. Though I bet journalists wish they had decided to keep track of his true statements — a much shorter list.
To the matter at hand.
On Monday, he — no need to speak the name — tweeted this:
“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens. I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”
“The Invisible Enemy.” He means the virus, right? Though you can’t be certain, can you?
Three of my four grandparents were immigrants. Maybe yours, too. If they weren’t, then somebody further down the line was. And when those people came over, be they Jewish or Italian, South American or Somalian, you know the riffraff on the pier fancied themselves as better, smarter, worthier, real Americans, because they were here already.
The old lie. His ace reliever. The horse he rode in on: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” His “Look! A squirrel!” fastball. The dogs always go for it, swinging at the heels. Whenever the president has made a botch job of something — and, man, is this a botch — he winds up, lets loose “build the wall” and his followers rush off, tongues lolling.
The good news is his bad idea immediately got watered down, as it often does. By Wednesday, it was nearly meaningless, just another unwelcome fumble at Lady Liberty’s crotch. By Friday, it’ll be nearly forgotten, replaced by a dozen other doozies and head-scratchers, contradictions, excesses, whoppers and jaw-droppers.
I’m not saying ignore the news. With 45,000 Americans dead since Valentine’s Day, and another 45,000 to die, easy, by Fourth of July, that would be irresponsible.
But I recommend a conscious program of distraction. Take your news, then take a break. Wednesday, I got my hands on an advance copy of an upcoming book about Jeanne Gang, the rock star Chicago architect, and her Studio Gang. I immediately began reading — to give you a full accounting before its publication date in June, but also to go somewhere else for a little while. This year, 2020, will always be the year of COVID-19. But 2020 will also be the year Gang’s 101-story Vista Tower opens. Cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.