I’ve been sitting here thinking about the regret I’m starting to see from many quarters. Like a bad one-night-stand that came with a surprise wedding ring, that face just won’t go away, and all the skull sweat in the world won’t change the reality. Yes, you did that.
Believe it or not, I have some personal insight into this, one I’d forgotten about. Mind you, this is minor league, childish stuff, but startlingly relevant.
Long ago, as a teenager, I was a member of the DeMolay. Junior Masons, basically. Named after the last grand master of the Knights Templar, Jacques De Molay, who King Phillip the Fair (there’s a name for you) tortured and then put to death when he sacked all the Templar temples looking for gold and endeavoring to erase his debt to the Templars. Legend has it when the raids began, the king’s men found empty temples, no gold, and managed to arrest only a handful of Templars before they could escape, among them Jacques.
Fast forward and we have the establishment of a youth branch of the Masons in 1919. Anyway, it was cool in a very adolescent way. Secret rituals, passwords, officer positions, and we got to wear these excellent black satin capes and carry ornamental swords from time to time. It was one of the rare times I willingly joined something like this and it was fun for a couple of years.
Now, we did do a lot of community service, charity work, and other things. There was serious purpose to the organization and we did some meaningful things. Obviously it was a stepping stone into fullblown masonry, so there was grooming and preparation and the assumption of responsibilities. We pretty much ran our own lodge, although there were of course some adults around to make sure we didn’t get out of hand.
The officer positions were sort of on automatic rotation. Once you took a position, you ascended as a matter of course.
Except for the top three positions. Master Councilor, Senior Councilor, and Junior Councilor. These seats were voted on by the members of the lodge. Even then, it was almost pro forma. The only one of the three that ever actually was in question was Junior Councilor. Moving up from there was just a given. It was the Junior Councilor seat that was regularly empty when a Master Councilor’s term was up and he stepped down.
My third year, though, an unusual event happened—all three posts became vacant at the same time. So we had to vote to fill each one from the membership of the lodge.
I threw my hat in. A couple of others did, too, friends of mine who then proceeded to plan what we would do when we were all in the councilors’ chairs.
Only thing is, I lost every single vote.
Not just lost, but was brutally trounced, receiving two votes for each chair. I had to sit there and listen to the tallies until it was over. The other two who thought I’d be up there with them started looking at me in shock, as if to say “What the hell!”
I sat through the rest of that meeting, performed my duties, and left. I did not go back. I’d been humiliated before, but never so publicly and so thoroughly.
Best I could determine from things later said, everyone thought I would be a hard ass and make them work. I had ideas, I’d never been shy about criticizing what I thought of as stupidity, and I was not particularly popular. Naively, I didn’t think that last mattered. I thought ability was what counted. I was wrong.
I went back about six months later and sitting around with several of them in the lounge I listened to them moan about how badly things were being run and how this went wrong and that was going south in a big way and so-and-so was an ass, etc etc etc. I sat and listened with a rapidly vanishing sympathy. “We should have voted you in,” one of them said. Heads nodded all around.
I was quiet for a few moments, then stood. “Yeah, you should have,” I said. “Hindsight’s twenty-twenty. But frankly I’m glad you didn’t.”
Shocked expressions all around.
“Because I would’ve been stuck trying to manage you bunch of morons.”
I left and never went back.
I have joined exactly two organizations since.
Buyer’s remorse can be a real bitter thing. It looks so shiny, so cool! It makes those agreeable noises and feels powerful.
Then you get it on the road and find out what a lemon it is.
I have zero sympathy for those who voted for this guy and now are stunned, horrified, shocked, and disappointed at what they got. Just a reminder, I suppose, that so many people never do mature past someteen, no matter how old they are. The thing that grinds is, they saddled the rest of us with this mess, too.
In lieu of an impulsive screed on the latest inanities, some images from this January past.
From a day of wandering on an icy January before…well, before everything seemed to change.
I did not watch the inauguration. This is nothing new, though, I rarely do. I saw Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, I watched Obama’s, parts of it, after the fact. I would rather read the inaugural addresses than listen, but really the main reason I skip them is that for me they don’t mean much. This is the party after the fight, so to speak. Parades, lots of glad-handing, important people with lots of money doing a Hollywood red carpet thing. It’s show.
Show is important in statecraft, certainly, but it’s not important to me, so…
But the aftermath this time has been fascinating. It’s a show, so why lie about what went on? Why try to tell the national press corps that what they saw with their own eyes was not the reality? Why start with petty numbers games as if the show was the only thing that mattered?
Well, Trump does do reality tv.
However, I would like to say a couple of things here about some of the images I’ve seen—and some of the vitriol attached—after the fact.
I’m not going to say one damn thing about Melania Trump unless she starts getting involved in policy. Which from all appearances, she will not. Likewise for his kids, especially Barron. I don’t believe in that “Well, your dad’s a so-n-so, so you must be, too!” kind of schoolyard bullying. I rejected that whole sins of the father argument back when I parted ways with christianity. I won’t go there.
I will say this, though, about her supporters and detractors: hypocrisy runs deep.
The so-called Christian Right lent considerable support to this man. His wife is a former model and sex symbol. She’s done nudes. She projects an image which I had thought ran counter to the standards of that so-called Christian Right. Had Michelle Obama done anything like that, these people would have declared the advent of Sodom and Gomorrah and the End Times. (Many of them do that anyway, on a regular basis.) These are people who collectively have made it clear they see the sexualization of culture as a decidedly Bad Thing. But they voted for him anyway and got in the face of anyone who criticized Melania for being what till now they claimed to oppose. This is Through The Looking Glass Time for them and I won’t pretend to claim any understanding, other than recognizing the serious two-faced hypocrisy evident.
As to those critics who have held old photographs of her up for disdain, mocking her and her husband thereby, as if the fact that she pursued a career which many of them might have made apologies about (women have so few options, etc) has anything to do with her suitability to be something else.
Lay off. This is all part of the same bifurcated mindset that places sex in one room and everything else in another and then treats public examples of it as alternately empowering or a disease.
Just because her husband treats her like a trophy doesn’t mean the rest of us get to repurpose her for our own ends.
I have no problem with pointing out the hypocrisy of the Family Values crowd over this, but I will not blame Melania for it. We just bid farewell to a presidential family that had no sex scandals of any kind and clearly set an example as a solid, loving, neuroses-free family—who suffered ongoing derision for 8 years at the hands of people who have violated their own professed standards in that that regard to elect someone who has pretty much been a poster-boy for everything they claim is wrong with America. Well, clearly the whole thing was a deep, deep neurosis on their part. I will not blame Melania for their shallowness, lack of integrity, and evident moral malleability.
Nor will I support attempts to ridicule him by holding her up as some example of unsuitability based on the opposite neurosis attaching to women who—
Well, let me put it this way: all those who were (and are) madly in love with Hillary and feel the world has ended because she is not the president—would you have supported her fervently if nude photos of her from her college years surfaced? With all the rest of her qualifications intact, had she taken a year to do something that doesn’t fit with an image of “stateswoman”, would the love have been there?
Food for thought.
But for now, unless she gets involved with policy—and if she does, I will wait to see how and what she produces—I will not credit any shaming that goes her way.
I should be working on the short story I’ve been struggling with, but instead I want to say a few words about art and talent and memory.
Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and (briefly) Asia has died. He was 69 and he had been fighting cancer.
The first time I heard a piece of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it was Knife Edge, from their first album, and a bolt went through my brain. This was the “other” band that mattered to me–suddenly and thoroughly, the cadences, the depth, the compositional holism, the instrumental proficiency, the temerity of three young guys to challenge Bartok, all of this displaced the light-hearted, Bazooka Joe triviality of so-called pop music that saturated the airwaves a the time. We had that or the in-your-gut near-chaos of Jimi Hendrix and the grime-laden street patina of the Rolling Stones, and now, above it all, musicians who not only had the chops but the historicity and grasp of the psychological possibilities of infusing contemporary rock idioms with the incision and deep-boned depth of what we often mistakenly call classical music and make it speak to a new generation. They elevated what was in so many ways a toy in musical form to something that could take us out of ourselves in the way Beethoven or Mozart did for people so many of us neither knew or respected at the time.
The period lasted from about 1967 till 1975 or ’76. In that less-than-a-decade near geniuses made musical pronouncements we are still responding to if only to try to deny or reject, and the best of them were represented by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Condemnations that they were “pretentious” mean little in an era where pretension is embodied more by attitude than talent. A major “star” styles himself by not smiling and mouthing polemical inanities better known than the music he produces, this is a form of pretension, but one that elevates nothing, reifies nothing, establishes nothing beyond a sullen narcissism. Perhaps ELP was pretentious, but those who criticize them for that understand little about real pretension, which is a mask hiding an empty space. Maybe ELP were pretentious, but if their pretension masked anything it was a room filled to bursting with ideas and exuberant joy in musical experimentation. It contributed. If it made some feel inadequate or small, well, that was not ELP’s fault.
Greg Lake, in his ELP years, possessed a magnificent voice, a gift for phrasing that bordered on the operatic, and deftness of interpretive innovation that was a match for Keith Emerson’s volcanic expressionism and Carl Palmer’s controlled hyperkinetic rhythmic adventures. They were evenly matched and magnificent and I am ever so grateful to have grown up to the soundtrack they provided.
Take note. Brilliance has moved on.