My routine is fairly fixed. I wake up, write something, walk the dog, eat something, water the flowers, write some more. A little exercise, maybe run an errand and it’s time for dinner. Not what I would call a life of thrill and triumph. Maybe even a rut. Even so, it’s my rut, shuffled by me, and I’m content enough. It not only could be worse, it will be.
At least there isn’t a lot of television. Sometimes, if my wife is working downtown, I’ll sneak in half an hour of “Peaky Blinders,” a BBC program about a violent crime family in the 1920s. There’s a quality about Irish actor Cillian Murphy, a wide-eyed, expressionless stare that is endlessly satisfying to watch. Another numb, shell-shocked witness to numb, shell-shocked times.
My mother, however, is in the hospital, and for the past two weeks I try to drive there every day, sit at the foot of her bed, and make small talk. Wednesday I was there at 3:30, and she announced it was time for “Jeopardy!”
I don’t have to explain what “Jeopardy!” is, right? A popular game show where answers to questions on a range of subjects are given to three contestants, who try to provide the questions that evoke them. “Jeopardy!” debuted on television when I was 3, and I’ve been watching it ever since, when somebody else watches. “Let’s watch ‘Jeopardy!’” is not a thought I’ve ever had.
Since I’m always with company, I like to blurt out the answers to show off how smart I am. There is something very circle-of-life about watching it with my mother now. We watched it in the mid-1960s, hosted by Art Fleming, on our black-and-white Zenith. And we’re watching it still, on a flat screen TV, almost 60 years later. That’s sweet, right? Or horrible. Or both.
This being primary season, most commercials were a Punch and Judy Show of Republican candidates having at each other. Their opponents are all liars and scoundrels and, worse, closet Democrats, either on their payroll, or harboring the secret shame of having voted for Joe Biden. Montages of awkward photos narrated with frozen contempt.
The Hill called the Illinois gubernatorial race “The Battle of the Billionaires,” with Gov. J.B. Pritzker already spending $125 million and Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, firehosing $50 million at Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who seems to be running on a pro-crime platform — pro-crime by police, that is. The narrative he’s pushing is that holding police accountable for the crimes they commit makes them sad, so they stop doing their jobs, and crime soars. But by turning a blind eye, or even encouraging police to batter and abuse the people they supposedly serve and protect, then everything will be fine again. That’s actually Irvin’s plan, simply stated.
There were also commercials for Illinois secretary of state. That office was owned by Jesse White for 23 years, and several messages from his would-be replacements and I was ready to rush over, wrap my arms around the knees of the 87-year-old White and beg him to stay. I didn’t realize processing driver’s licenses is the fulcrum on which the fate of Illinois teeters. It’s almost funny to see Alexi Giannoulias tar Anna Valencia as some kind of demoness in one commercial, then have her shoot back in the next that Giannoulias is a Trump fan who would bar women from having abortions.
That seemed a stretch, and is; turns out that Giannoulias, a Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton, wrote an op-ed shortly before Trump’s election in 2016 urging people to unite behind the new duly-elected president. whoever it was. Oh, the horror!
The idea that voters might want to support candidates who don’t continually slur their opponents while floating vague, fantasy solutions never seems to occur to any of these jamokes.
We live in dispiriting times, and these commercials make them feel worse. The candidates are like the cast of creatures in a 1960s Japanese monster movie — Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra — wrestling with each other while indifferently flattening Illinois and Chicago like so many pasteboard Tokyos.
Is there a commercial where any candidate says anything near, “Hey, I’m a decent human being, fairly intelligent, and if you elect me I’m going to work hard to fix these massive, intractable problems”?
They’d have my vote.