Wednesday, December 24, 2008


My wife says the holidays feel shorter this year because Thanksgiving came relatively late in November. To me the holidays feel longer this year because they started on November 4th, when I waited almost an hour and a half to vote. I’ve voted at the same polling station for nineteen years and the longest I’ve ever waited was fifteen minutes, max. Never have I waited on such a jolly line, full of smiles and amiable chat. Some voters had brought books and magazines. I stood with a friend and his eighteen year old son, who was proudly voting for the first time. A couple of neighbors said hello to me on their way out; one leaned in as she passed and warned me to be on the lookout for dual Republican inspectors minding the District 21 voting machine. “There’s supposed to be one Republican and one Democrat, not two Republicans. We reported it,” she said.
I am aware that the world outlook has, by most measures, deteriorated since Nov. 4th. The economy continues to collapse; violence and uncertainty dominate the international stage; the Knicks continue to suck, albeit now in a more up-tempo way.
But the light at the end of the tunnel shines on. Even now, during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year with its countless opportunities for soul-flaying introspection, the thrill isn’t gone. Hope is still in the air. Any day, the words “tectonic shift” will start appearing on the Op Ed page like toadstools after a rainstorm. For the record, I want to stately clearly that no one is shifting more tectonically than I.
For example, we’ve had our living room painted – for the first time since the Clinton years. This was not an easy change to undertake, even though the living room walls had seen better days, having withstood well over a decade’s worth of fingerprints, exploding champagne bottles, projectile vomiting and people who talk with their mouths full. Still, the ambience was wonderful: comfortably bohemian, chicly shabby, unfussily inviting and many other jolly terms designed to defuse my wife’s urges toward home improvement. Long, elegant curls of dried paint – at least I thought they were elegant – hung from the ceiling, reminders of the Great Leak of 2002. The leak was repaired, but the paint dangled on. No more, and that’s a good thing, especially now that the painters have left. With luck, that will be the last paint job I’ll ever have to cope with in my lifetime, and I don’t mean that in a morbid way.
Even the dog has found the new zeitgeist, and no one has ever called George a quick learner. George is a small terrier whose immense charm can be easily derailed by other dogs sniffing him at the wrong moment, or people coming too close when the light isn’t right, or black garbage bags wafting ominously, or taunting squirrels or a whole lot of other creatures and things great and small. When fussed, George lunges at offenders and barks in a surprisingly scary way for a fifteen pound dog. This can be a real drag on the atmosphere, especially when the object of George’s (let’s-not-call-it) bloodlust is, say, a school kid who wants to pet him.
It would be nice if George channeled Obama’s forgiving, hold-no-grudges-even-against-Lieberman attitude, but that is not George’s Way. Instead, George has honed his aggressive impulses. No more school children, no more dogs his own size. George’s irritants these days are big, beefy beasts wearing prong collars who have unknowingly trespassed onto what George considers his terroir. The morning of November 5th, George and I were walking in Prospect Park and passed a dog and person we see several times a week. The other gent and I nodded and smiled to each other and the dogs seemed to do what they usually do, ignore each other. The other dog looks to be about 150 heavily muscled pounds; he sports a collar with studs in it and a scrotum the size of a grapefruit. George abruptly went into his heavy-breathing, pre-attack crouch. Then he was snarling, growling, baring his teeth – everything except, you know, actually touching the other dog. To my immense relief, the big dog did not seem to notice George’s throwdown and George soon grew bored and pranced off proudly to cadge treats from his usual vendors among the morning walkers, as if he knew he was the dog he was waiting for.
Preparing for our bright new day has not been easy. Like many fellow citizens, I’ve found the last eight years a strain, and in order to keep my blood pressure from elevating dangerously every time the 6:30 news rolled around, I cultivated defense mechanisms – storing up nasty jokes about W and his unindicted co-conspirators, tearing off angry letters to my congressfolk, etc.
Now it looks like I won’t be needing these mechanisms much longer, and while I’m looking forward to a president who won’t embarrass the nation every time he opens his mouth, it’s a tough adjustment to make because, as any student of Freud knows, defense mechanisms can be, well, defensive. That is to say, they react with violence when their necessity comes into question.
So it has been with me. My defense mechanisms realized that by January 20th they’d be out of a job and in response they attacked me – my head, to be specific. Within days of Obama’s victory, I developed an enormous toothache, which hurt like hell and caused the side of my jaw to bulge like one of Brando’s jowls in The Godfather. Then I got a nasty eye infection, which was a recurrence of an eye infection that had last occurred in 1988. It waited all this time. Then I started sneezing and coughing and it turned out not to be a cold, instead an allergic reaction. To what? Don’t ask me, my allergies cleared up when I was twelve. Until now.
Then my son badly sprained his ankle playing pick-up basketball – just in time for the holiday. Then my wife caught something – milder than flu but much worse than a cold, very hard to shake to boot. And we’ve both noticed that a disturbing number of friends and acquaintances are suddenly coming down with something or other too. And we’ve noticed too that a disturbing number of these sniffling friends and acquaintances voted for Obama.
You do the math.
Please understand, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I never thought fluoridation was a communist plot and I do not believe the government is reading my mind through my dental work. But can there be any doubt that this welter of discomforts and inconveniences is the parting shot of a fading administration? I’m not accusing, I’m just saying that my view of the matter has shifted, though not yet tectonically.