Questions I can answer

How come you’re not writing cat columns any more?

To tell you the truth, the cat thing was becoming a drag. I have 12 insights into cat behavior, and I used them all up in the last century.  And lately we’ve been down to one cat, Pancho, and he never does anything interesting.

Bucket died a few years ago, literally looking into my eyes as the fatal shot took effect, but I disapprove of maudlin “my pet died and here’s how bad I felt” columns. People will cry, but the tears seem unearned. Any writer or filmmaker can kill a beloved pet and make people sob, but so what? I don’t like being manipulative about a personal sorrow.

Also, by writing it I would diminish my own experience. Writers should take time to stop writing and participate in their own lives.

Come to think of it, Pancho did learn recently how to fake a limp. He tottered into the house one day, right front foot lifted off the ground. We poked around tentatively, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. The next day, the limp was gone. It came back a week later, and he looked pathetic, but the limp went away again. This pattern continued. Once, he forgot and lifted the other foot.

And yes, we took him to the vet. Don’t ask. That’s another reason I abandoned writing about cats: Every time I mentioned some cat eccentricity I’d be deluged with suggestions from people about diet, toxic environmental chemicals, and/or diseases frequently (or infrequently, but you never know) contracted by cats. Or, in one case, the possibility of cat poisoners operating in the neighborhood. Those readers all meant well, and I could hardly insult them, but God I wanted to.

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Bucket, not dead yet

What was it like to be a semi-famous columnist?

It was great. What did you think? I was never so famous I had to hide from the paparazzi, but I was famous enough to get seats in restaurants that were theoretically booked up, or tickets to sold-out shows. Also, I got to do insanely cool stuff, from swimming with the dolphins at the Academy of Sciences to speaking to the graduating class of the English Department at Cal Berkeley.

Also, people would come up to me, sometimes literally on the street, and say, “I bet you hate hearing this all the time, but I really love your work.” Oh my yes, I did hate that, because who wants to hear that they’re doing a good job? I hate praise. Particularly when it’s delivered with a little bit of what might be called flirting.

Gradually I got unfamous. People slowly stopped coming to my writing classes, or sending me pleasant emails, or even recognizing my name. I wasn’t the flavor of the month anymore, and I wasn’t sure why, but it probably had to do with my personal failings. I kinda missed being semi-famous now that I wasn’t.

On the other hand, I learned who my friends were.

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The heartbreak of anonymity


What’s it like living with a rage potato as president? I’m sorry, that was inappropriate. What’s it like to live with a shitweasel as president? A douchenozzle? A witless fucking cocksplat? 

I’ll get to that.

Can we agree that greed is the problem? Maybe not the problem overall (that would be racism, right? Or war), but the vice that’s put the United States into this chaos of dangerous stupidity. It’s why Donald Trump became president: People have been trained by half a century of propaganda that, in the immortal words of Gordon Gekko, “greed is good.”

So Trump, with his bogus trappings of wealth, his gilt rooms and his plush plane and his idiotic “You’re fired” parlor trick, and his obvious lack of both sophistication and information, seemed to represent the American dream. Anybody could get rich, even this guy. And everyone wanted to get rich, because that would solve all the problems caused by amoral capitalists who could give a shit why you fell behind on payments.

So, at the risk of sounding like a 1975 Troyskyite publication with a picture of huge capitalist surrounded by bags of money swallowing workers whole and drooling corpses, our government is, now, largely a money-making scheme. Policy is about maximizing profit.

Of course, Trump is doing the nickel-and-dime hustles, forcing the taxpayers to pay for his stays at his own golf club, raising the rent for the Secret Service offices in Trump tower, and shamelessly suggesting that people who stay at the Trump hotel in Washington might get favorable treatment. Also he raised the room rates there. Trump steaks! Trump airline! Best of all, Trump University!

He’s a grifter. They’re all fucking grifters.

So now we have a new Afghanistan policy which is largely indistinguishable from the old Afghanistan policy. Why continue this war that we will never win? Why not just stop? But that would leave in the lurch the arms manufacturers and the military vehicle manufacturers and the uniform manufacturers and the companies that set up fast food outlets in war zones (nothing like a Big Mac before you die). War is, after all, an enormously successful profit center.

A profit center, I should emphasize, that is managed by the government, where cost overruns are celebrated in song and story.

Am I being too cynical? Absolutely not.

Everything is monetized. Everything. Trump’s secretary of education  wants to monetize schools. (And don’t forget student loans, which monetize adolescents). Trump’s attorney general wants to monetize prisons — and fill those prisons with jaywalkers and marijuana smokers. (As someone said, “America’s justice system runs on the exchange of money for freedom.”) Trump’s Secretary of the Interior wants to open up national parks and monuments to drilling and mining, thus monetizing scenery.

And our drug prices are the highest in the world, thus monetizing us.

And we let that happen. There are so many distractions, sports and television and music award shows and two-hundred-dollar shoes, and meanwhile our government is being looted, and information about this looting is derided as “fake news”. The rules have changed, and we haven’t noticed until right now, and maybe that’s too late.

It’s entirely surreal. It’s like living inside a Terry Southern novel. It’s like living inside “Guernica”. Truth is imaginary, and rapey Mexicans are streaming across the border, and imaginary illegal voters are influencing elections. Did I mention that goddam wall? Plus, the Russians are doing God knows what, something shady involving Kushner and spies and unlaundered money and hotels in Georgia, not that one, the other one. Russia is the biggest kleptocracy in the world, but take heart. We’re catching up.

I own a garden full of plants. My plants are providing oxygen for a choking world. My fucking plants are do more good for the country  than the entire government. What? I am not yelling. THIS IS YELLING.

Not yelling



 Photography by Tracy Johnston

A soothing voice amidst the chaos: Michelle Mizera