Coucou c'est la démocratieDresde, 13 février 1945
Karen Brown | Longreads | November 2017 | 14 minutes (3,613 words)
“How about Tuesday?”
My father is propped up on three pillows in bed, talking logistics with my sister and me. We’ve just brought him his Ovaltine and insulin.
“Or would Thursday be better? That’s a couple days after the kids are done with camp.”
“Ok, let’s plan on Thursday.”
My father is scheduling his death. Sort of. He’s deciding when to stop going to dialysis. That starts the bodily clock that will lead to his falling into sleep more and more often, and then into a coma, and eventually nothingness.
He is remarkably sanguine about the prospect, which we’ve all had a long time to consider. A master of the understatement, he promises it’s not a terribly hard decision, to stop treatment and let nature takes its course, “but it is a bit irreversible.”
If I’m honest, he’s ready now to stop dialysis. It’s a brutal routine for someone in his condition, incredibly weak and fragile from living with end-stage pancreatic cancer, kidney disease, and diabetes. It’s painful for him to hold his head and neck up, which he has to do to get to the dialysis center. During the procedure, he must be closely watched so his blood pressure doesn’t plummet.
But he’s always been a generous man. He’s willing to sacrifice his own comfort in his dying days for the convenience of his family, since we all want to be present at the end. If he pushes his last day of dialysis to Tuesday, then my sister can still go on the California vacation she’d been planning with her family. If he pushes it to Thursday, I can still take the journalism fellowship I’d accepted. It will also give his grandchildren time to finish up their summer jobs and fly down.
Are we selfish for allowing him to make these choices? Possibly. But he insists, as he always has, that living for his children’s and grandchildren’s happiness is what gives his existence meaning. We hope that’s true. This is a man who spent his career as a professional decision analyst but always picked the worst-colored ties.
As it happens, though, when Thursday comes, he just can’t get out of the house. He is practically crying from discomfort as the caretaker lifts him off the bed onto his rollator, to start the journey up the stair lift and into the car. I tell him it’s okay. He can get back in bed. He looks so relieved when we rest his head back on the pillows.
I cancel my Amtrak ticket home to western Massachusetts and tell my husband not to expect me for the rest of the month.
A day later, my father is quietly sipping his coffee in bed, the dog at his feet. He eats and drinks almost nothing, but he can usually get down a mug of hot milky drink.
My father is scheduling his death. He’s deciding when to stop going to dialysis. That starts the bodily clock that will lead to his falling into sleep more and more often, and then into a coma, and eventually nothingness.
He looks up at his bookcase, the one he’s been ignoring for a few decades as he wrote his professional tome on decision theory.
“All these delicious books I’ve been saving for my private delectation, and I’ll never get to read.”
He gets an urgent look on his face. “I wanted to tell you — in the next room, I have a complete set of ‘great books’ — I think there are 33 volumes — all the classics. Shakespeare too. I’m particularly sorry not to read those. Maybe you can.”
I suggest we find a book to read aloud to him over the next few weeks.
We chose As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, because even if he doesn’t always follow the story, the words are nice to listen to.
And you can’t find a more appropriate title than that.
I’m at the kitchen table trying to figure out which insulin pen hasn’t yet reached its expiration date. I’m also making my second Nespresso of the morning. And I’m eavesdropping on my parents through the baby monitor.
We tried different methods of communication, and nothing worked very well. My father’s room is on the ground floor, and most of the house’s activity is a floor above. He would try clanking the metal bar above his hospital bed with a spoon, but it wasn’t loud enough and he’d be exhausted by the time someone noticed. He used to be able to use his cell phone to call the house landline, but his fine motor skills got too shaky to dial the right number.
We finally realized the best method was the same one we use for infants. That way, when he talks or moans or coughs, we hear it on the next floor — as long as we have the volume up and the remote monitor nearby. My mom once heard his ghostly voice calling out in pain from the upstairs bathroom, where I’d left the monitor by accident. I almost knocked over the dog running downstairs to respond. I’ve taken to keeping it tied to my belt with a string.
Of course, he loses something with this method: privacy. He forgets that any conversation he has — on the phone, or with a visitor — is also heard by whoever has the other device. We probably should turn it off, but then we might forget to turn it back on. Plus, it’s awfully tempting to listen in on deathbed conversations.
Which is how I find myself listening to my parents talk, for the first time in a long time, about life, death, and marriage. She doesn’t like going down to the bottom floor (she says it’s hard on her legs, plus it’s too musty, and a little sad), but now that he can’t come upstairs, she has no choice.
“How will you fare after I’m gone?” he asks my mother.
They are not a terribly affectionate couple, not in the last few decades. She tends to be irritable, he can get defensive. She likes cruises and entertainment news on TV, he likes to read and write and think deeply about his profession. They have separate bank accounts. But they are still quite attached to each other.
“Well, I’ve gotten used to you being gone, in a way,” she says. “For the last 20 years, you’ve been working on your book. I’ve had to find other things to do.”
“That must have been frustrating.”
“Yes, it was.”
“I feel sort of guilty, but I’ve booked a cruise,” my mom says. “For September.”
“Why would you feel guilty?”
“Because I’m assuming I won’t need to be at home anymore. It just feels like I’m counting on you being gone.”
“Well, that’s a pretty safe bet. You shouldn’t feel guilty. I’m glad you’re going.”
Then quiet. I finally turn off the monitor.
We have a nighttime routine. After he’s taken all his pain medication, gotten washed by the caregiver, gone through the trying routine of pricking his nearly-bloodless finger to test his blood sugar, and eaten the one — or maybe two — bites of whatever delectable pastry my mother bought in vain from what used to be his favorite bakery, it’s time for mystery hour.
The only TV stations he watches — perhaps the only numbers he knows how to punch on the remote — are the three PBS stations you can get in the D.C. suburbs. And it seems that the only shows they air after 8pm are murder mysteries from England and Australia.
My father has always been a generous man. He’s willing to sacrifice his own comfort in his dying days for the convenience of his family, since we all want to be present at the end.
I usually watch from my perch on the double mattress we set up next to his hospital bed, but occasionally, since he’s so small now, I can fit in the crook of his arm and lie next to him.
That’s how we watched the Prime Suspect origin story of DCI Jane Tennison. And the light-murder stylings of Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. The tortured adventures of priest-turned-detective Grantchester. And — our lucky break — an old airing of Inspector Morse, our favorite Oxford intellectual policeman. The actor, John Thaw, who died in 2002, looks eerily like my dad.
This episode was a good one — and remarkably, one I hadn’t seen before. An academic had been murdered, of course. (As Dad pointed out, there are more murders on this TV show version of Oxford than there probably were in the whole of England, ever.) There’s tense but affectionate banter between Morse and his sidekick Lewis. About an hour in there was a second murder, of the main suspect (who else?). And then the words: To Be Continued.
The second part would air the following Wednesday. We didn’t have to say out loud what we were thinking: that hopefully we’d both get to find out whodunnit.
For the past year, my teenage son has taken one or two items of his grandfather’s clothing home every time he visits. It’s weird to see my boy wearing a track suit or Hawaiian shirt that Dad spent so many years shuffling around in. My mother gets frustrated — “I bought those for Rex, and he hardly has any clothes left” — but dad doesn’t mind; he loves Sam wearing his clothes.
Dad’s tchotchkes are a bigger challenge to give away. He has awful taste in souvenirs. There’s an oversized green wine glass that says “Sexy Bitch.” I once asked why he had it in his room. “Because I couldn’t think of anyone to give it to.”
Then there’s his “treasure drawer.” In it, a quick-acting corkscrew, never opened. A prickly rubber ball that lights up when it bounces. An oak toilet paper holder. A shell necklace he bought in a cruise ship gift shop. A beeswax candle. He wants to make sure no one fights over his stuff. I assure him that will not be a problem. (But I want the corkscrew.)
He wants me to find something that my daughter might like. “We had some lovely conversations on her last visit,” he says. “I feel like I really got to know the young woman she’s going to become.” I pick up a couple of hand-sized metallic exercise balls. I’m not sure she’ll know what to do with them.
He also warns me, somewhat sheepishly, that there’s a box in the closet of, let’s say, “erotic” literature.
“What do you think Goodwill does with that sort of thing?” he said.
We will not be donating that box to Goodwill.
He decides to try dialysis one last time. The kidney doctor had called our home after the first appointment Dad missed and practically begged him to go back. It seems the medical specialists and the hospice team are on competing tracks. The kidney doctor’s job is to keep him alive as long as possible; hospice wants him to have a good death. Sometimes those two things are mutually exclusive.
I find myself listening to my parents talk, for the first time in a long time, about life, death, and marriage. ‘How will you fare after I’m gone?’ my father asks my mother.
The transfer — from bed, to stairs, to wheelchair, to car, to medical center, to dialysis chair — takes about an hour each way with the help of his loving caretaker Rachel. She’d agreed to work late on her last day before a beach vacation with friends, a vacation she almost turned down because she didn’t want to leave my father. (A caregiver with her level of empathy is not the norm, I have discovered.)
It is a rough four hours. First the pain in his neck and back. Then his stomach. Then my panicked phone call to the hospice nurse, who says I can give him another Oxycodone. An hour later, still squirming, another panicked call: permission to up his dose.
The technician, named Sonia, originally from Afghanistan, is kind. She shows me how to follow his blood pressure on the monitor so I won’t worry. Her effort backfires. His blood pressure crashes, and I have to call out for help. I definitely keep worrying after that. (But thank goodness for Sonia, who keeps tearing up as she realizes how close to the end my father is.)
In the last half hour, when he’s finally had enough drugs to tolerate the pain, after his blood pressure has stabilized, he asks me to come closer so I can hear his rasped questions. “Tell me about you. Are you working on anything interesting?”
Well, actually, I tell him, I’ve been working on a few personal essays. I have a new one — a relationship story I am gearing up to submit to the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times. Would he like to hear it?
I pull it up on my computer — and read aloud the 1500 words of heartfelt emotions and memories. When I am done, he is quiet.
“Dad? You okay?”
“Yes, sweetie, I’m fine.”
“Oh. The essay is done.”
“Uh, what did you think?”
“Well, it was nice, but seemed a bit ‘so what.’”
Leave it to a dying man to tell you the truth.
This really will be the last time he goes to dialysis. I will not do it to him again. Even without the bad essay.
On the first morning he knows his head need never lift off his pillow again, he exhales slowly and asks me to hack into his email account.
I help him write farewell notes to doctors, old colleagues, admired friends, former girlfriends. He dictates as I type his words and click send. He wants to let them know he’s near the end, and how much they’ve meant to him.
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Some reply immediately with sweet messages, hoping to call. Others are returned by daughters or husbands, letting us know that the friend/colleague/ex-lover is actually doing more poorly than Dad. His best friend from childhood died just a month earlier, but before he did — as narrated by his daughter — he cracked one more one-liner to my dad: “Looks like I’ve won our race to the pearly gates.” My dad’s reply, to me at least: “But only just.”
Long-ago tennis partner Vince calls to tell him two jokes. I only hear Dad’s side, which is a surprisingly hearty laugh at the end of each one.
Then tells one back.
“A married couple go to the doctor, and the wife says, ‘Doctor, my husband won’t talk to me.’ The doctor turns to the husband and says, ‘Sir, is that true?’ And the man replies, ‘Well, I don’t like to interrupt.’”
After dinner with mom, I am eager to get back to Dad. I crawl into the bed next to him. The Great British Baking Show is on mute.
He puts his bone-thin arm around me and squeezes with a surprising amount of strength.
“We have just enough plumpness between the two of us for a good cuddle,” he says.
“Are you insulting me, Dad?”
“Oh, did I promise not to?”
We both chuckle. Then he adds, “I think I’m losing my inhibition in my decay.”
“Have you ever had any?” I say.
Another kind, hoarse laugh.
My youngest sister is sleeping in the extra bed, jetlagged. She’s just come from California to help. My dad wakes up when I enter. The sliding glass door to his room is slightly open, to let fresh air in. (We have ignored my mother’s insistence that we keep the air conditioning tightly contained)
My father can see the geese on the water. It took us three years to think of taking down the tall plants outside his room that were blocking the view of the lake. (He had my son plant them one summer, “to give him something constructive to do.”)
The morning before I leave on a four-day work trip, I bring him a milky coffee. I feel conflicted about going, as I know there’s a chance he may not be around when I return. But after a few emergency phone sessions with my therapist, emotionally panicked texts to friends, some soul-searching calls with my best friend, and assurance from my father himself (“I would hate for you to miss a professional opportunity.”), I decide to go.
Dad waited for me to return from my trip, then he waited for my children to arrive for the weekend. He waited for my husband to order new guitar strings from Amazon.
But first, our morning routine. Take blood sugar. Give pills. Try to get down some prune juice.
“Would you like me to read some more Faulkner?”
“No thank you. I’m just letting my mind free-associate.”
“I like listening to the birds.”
Dad waited for me to return from my trip, then he waited for my children to arrive for the weekend. He waited for my husband to order new guitar strings from Amazon. (He wanted to serenade Dad one last time.) And lastly, he waited for his old colleague Andrew to fly in from L.A.
Andrew was part of our family lore, a brilliant eccentric who was allies with my dad when they were both spearheading a new decision-analysis curriculum at Harvard. They hadn’t seen each other in more than a decade, and we were all surprised — touched — that it was so important to Andrew to see him before he died.
It was important to Dad too. In fact, the day before Andrew’s Monday visit, he asked me which day it was.
“Really? I thought it was Friday. So I only have to last one more day?”
They talked off and on for almost five hours, the last deep conversation Dad had with anyone. But the best part was Andrew’s parting gift: After they hashed out a long-ago professional feud that Dad had with his arch nemesis, a man named Ron, Andrew — who is smarter than everyone — declared that, if they were to compare Dad’s accomplishments and integrity with Ron’s, Dad would win hands down. “No contest.”
That would turn out to be Dad’s last good day. He wasn’t expecting anyone else.
I almost missed my father’s last breath because I was making nachos in the kitchen.
One of my sisters called out panicked from the bottom of the stairs. “Karen. Come now.”
Gathered around his bed were my mother, my brother-in-law John, my two younger sisters, and the hospice nurse — a petite sparkplug of a woman whom we had met an hour earlier. Her thick Polish accent had the comforting, confident lilt of someone who understood death.
We’d been on bedside vigil since the early hours of the morning, which came after an unusually bad night of pain. If I were to resent any part of his otherwise dignified death, it would be those hours.
When I was little, I used to get bad colic — intense stomach aches — and my dad would stay up with me in the bathroom as long as it took, his warm hand on my belly, and tell me “I wish I could take the pain for you.” So when I was sitting at his bedside some 40 years later, the roles reversed, I recounted that memory and said aloud, “I guess this is you taking my pain.” I’m not sure that gave him much of a reprieve.
The morning before I leave on my four-day work trip, I feel conflicted about going, as I know there’s a chance he may not be around when I return.
My sister and I held his hands all night. After calling in two emergency visits from the 24-hour palliative nurses, we hit upon the right dose of morphine and he was able to rest.
I had been so focused on getting him relief that I didn’t quite realize the trade-off: that he would start to leave us, for good, in a morphine haze. That I wouldn’t get a “last conversation,” at least, not one that I could schedule or choreograph.
We did get last words, though. Before the morphine, he had looked at my sister and me, full of love and trust, and said through his discomfort, “I’m in your hands.”
Over the next eight or nine hours, as he breathed quickly and loudly, his mouth open, eyes slightly open, but looking peaceful, at ease (please let that be so), we were told by the steady train of hospice nurses that his time was almost up. We told our children, our half-sister in Australia, his sister in England, and several other dear friends, that he would likely not wake up and it was time to say goodbye, even if just in our minds.
Those of us present each took a few moments at his side, whispering in his ear. (Could he hear us? They say, at some level, he probably could.) We left him with as much love and affection as words to an unconscious man could convey. He’d always had a hair-trigger crying reflex, from Hallmark commercials on up, and if he were awake, he would have been bawling.
Why I thought that was a good time for a snack, who knows.
My sister’s holler from downstairs came at about 5pm. I abandoned an open bag of tortilla chips on the kitchen table and had just enough time to join the circle around his bed.
His chest started to rise and fall at a slower and slower pace, until the movement was imperceptible, and then not at all.
The nurse took out her stethoscope, put it to his chest, and said, “I’m so sorry.”
“Are you sure?” I had to ask. That could have been the journalist in me. But it was probably just the daughter who couldn’t quite believe it was true.
“Yes, I am. I’m so sorry.”
It’s funny what people want to take of the dead, to keep the memories living. A few days later, after the equipment company came for the hospital bed, we took turns both throwing away trash and claiming it. One sister wanted his last uneaten Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar. My other sister wanted an old Cambridge University T-shirt with stains on it (he was always spilling.) And I wanted — of course — the green wine glass that said “Sexy Bitch.”
Rest in Peace, darling dad.
* * *
Karen Brown Karen Brown is a writer and public radio reporter based in Western Massachusetts, with a particular interest in health and psychology. She has contributed stories to NPR, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and other outlets. Her father, Rex Brown, was a decision analyst and devoted father of four.
Editor: Sari Botton
Astronomical Clock, Prague
Bohemian Master c. 1414
The Pentecost (detail)
I’ve been obsessed with systems in government, and in business, that completely erase our humanity. That could mean an algorithm on Facebook that’s designed to prevent nudity but unwittingly bans one of those most powerful images from the Vietnam War. It means the lengths we’ll go to pretend that our phones are not built from slave labor. Or it could mean the layers of bureaucracy built into a company that allows its owner, now one of the President’s top advisers, to target and harass low-income tenants without sullying his own hands in the process.
We use processes, and algorithms, and complicated org charts to isolate ourselves from those who we hurt. And the system was designed so that we can point the finger at the system when it fails.
As you’ll see in the below must-watch video from Jay Caspian Kang and Vice News, the willful dismissal of our own humanity and common sense lies at the core of U.S. immigration policy.
In many cases, the main excuse for cruelty is that empathy doesn’t scale. How can one create a fair, sensible policy if every heartbreaking story had to be considered on its own merits? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s certainly not blindly deporting a 41-year-old man who was, if not for a minor paperwork screwup, an American citizen.
It’s worth noting this is a case that started during the Obama Administration — and offers further evidence of Obama’s mixed record on immigration. That record is now being overshadowed by President Trump, who is pledging to take these inhumane policies even farther.
Shadows cast by buildings affect the feel and flow of a city, and lack of sunlight can change aspects of daily living, such as rent. In a place like New York City, where there are tall buildings aplenty, the effects are obvious. Quoctrung Bui and Jeremy White for The New York Times mapped the darkness.
The results are based on research from the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University:
Calculating the length and shape of a shadow cast from a simple object can be easily done with pen, paper and some basic math. But architects use a more sophisticated method known as ray tracing; it simulates the effects a ray of light can have on a building and its surroundings. Most analyses of shadows study just a few buildings at a time. What made it an interesting problem for the researchers at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University was how to do it at a scale so you could quickly study whole neighborhoods.
NEWS BRIEF German politicians and lawyers demanded answers Thursday as to why Jaber al-Akbar, the suspect in a plot to bomb a Berlin airport, was able to hang himself to death inside his jail cell.
Police had searched for al-Bakr all weekend, and he was finally captured and turned in by three compatriots, who like al-Bakr were also Syrians who’d recently come to Germany. Al-Bakr was taken to a cell in Leipzig, where he was placed on suicide watch, but was somehow still able to kill himself. His death is a blow to investigators who’d hoped to interrogate him and learn more about his alleged plot to bomb an airport, and if he was instructed to do so by the Islamic State.
When al-Bakr first arrived at the jail, guards checked on him every 15 minutes. That was downgraded to 30 minutes despite no video monitoring of his cell, and even after he was found to have tampered with power sockets, had broken light bulbs, and refused to eat, the BBC reported. A guard found al-Bakr’s body at about 7:45 p.m. local time on Wednesday.
“I’m incredibly shocked and absolutely speechless that something like this could happen,” Hübner said, adding that the prison was aware that Albakr’s risk of suicide had been noted in the log.
Al-Bakr came to Germany from Syria in February 2015. In recent months, he’d come under surveillance by German authorities, and on Friday they raided his home in Chemnitz, where they found explosive material. But al-Bakr had escaped. Police alerted the public and for two days over the weekend they searched for him. Then on Monday morning, a Syrian man showed up at a police station with a cell phone picture of al-Bakr bound in the man’s apartment.
The explosive material officers found at al-Bakr’s home in Chemnitz was the same type used in bombings in Paris and Brussels that killed hundreds of people. Those attacks were claimed by the Islamic State, and if al-Bakr was connected to ISIS, he could have provided crucial information about how the terrorist organization plans attacks on European soil, and how it recruits young men.
This now feels like a David Eggers novel.
Earlier today we wrote about a Reddit thread that was allegedly created by Paul Combetta, the "Oh Shit" guy of Platte River Networks, seeking tech advice on how to "strip out a VIP's (VERY VIP) email address from a bunch of archived emails" (see details here: "Dear FBI, This Is Intent: Hillary's "Oh Shit" Guy Sought Reddit Advice On How To 'Strip VIP's Emails'").
"Ironically," the day before the Reddit thread appeared, the Benghazi Committee reached an agreement with the State Department on the production of email and other records related to their investigation. How weird, right?
Well, it seems as though the Reddit thread is getting some attention on Capitol Hill as well. Earlier, Mark Meadows (R-NC), Chair of the Government Operations subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, told The Hill that committee staff are reviewing the Reddit thread and find the "date of the Reddit post in relationship to the establishment of the Select Committee on Benghazi [to be] troubling."
“The Reddit post issue and its connection to Paul Combetta is currently being reviewed by OGR staff and evaluations are being made as to the authenticity of the post.”
“If it is determined that the request to change email addresses was made by someone so closely aligned with the Secretary's IT operation as Mr. Combetta, then it will certainly prompt additional inquiry. The date of the Reddit post in relationship to the establishment of the Select Committee on Benghazi is also troubling.”
Of course, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the "Oh Shit" guy was granted immunity by the DOJ for cooperating with the FBI's investigation into Hillary's email scandal (see "The "Oh Shit" Guy That Wiped Hillary's Server With BleachBit Was Just Granted Immunity").
Therefore, the only question left to answer is what recourse, if any, Congress and/or the FBI has to nullify Combetta's immunity agreement with the DOJ if he is found to have withheld information and/or committed perjury while being questioned by federal agents?
One woman struck her thyrsus against a rock and a fountain of cool water burbled up. Another drove her fennel in the ground, and where it struck the earth, a spring of wine poured out. Those who wanted milk scratched at the soil with bare fingers.
– Euripides, The Bacchae
THE FIRST EPISODE
The maenad prefers the Cat Food Cafe because the chilli pepper lanterns make her feel at home and the busboy is not bad looking. He slips her bowls of hand-cut tortilla chips while she sits outside with her coffee and Mexican blanket. This week she reads Death in Venice, which is a story filled with so much sun that when she lowers the book to find the boy, sand pours from the spine. If the maenad drops one grain of sand onto this pile every second, it will continue to form a cone because the grains trigger miniature avalanches and the less-secure sand slips to the side or foundation. Like capitalism, she thinks. The busboy approaches with a pot of coffee. She brushes the sand onto her lap.
Nice dress, he says.
She smiles because boys never know the names of clothes. She is wearing a 70s buckskin studded hippie vest-jacket with a leather fringe, which she found on Etsy. The tassels begin just under her shoulder blades; she feels like a stingray.
He stares at her crotch while he pours her coffee. She feels self-conscious because everyone else in California has had more time to tan their legs. Both his forearms are tattooed – the left with a volcano, the right with a two-masted schooner. The maenad knows about schooners because when she was younger she read the diaries of George Vancouver and Archibald Menzies and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra.
Can you sail? she asks.
She lifts a rattlesnake from her purse and winds it through the belt loops of her shorts.
The maenad prefers to read at the cafe because when she works from home she has to go to the kitchen every time her coffee runs out, and every time she goes to the kitchen she has to eat something while the kettle boils, but only pieces of things, like banana chips, half a yogurt, hard breadsticks dipped in honey. Sometimes her roommate, Jolene, practices sun salutations in front of the fridge. She fills her chest with breath then folds forward, lunges, hovers in plank, cobra, downward dog, back to standing. With each salutation, she inches off her yoga mat until she ends up in the middle of the kitchen floor. It reminds the maenad of a millipede, advancing only by the length of her spine.
Tibetan pilgrims climb Mt. Kailash like this, says Jolene as she pushes a chair out of her way. These peripatetic salutations free practitioners from the constraint of the mat.
Cool, says the maenad. I’m going to order pizza if you want one.
In the garden, the fawn kneels under the bird bath and chews his cud. His mother was eaten by a coyote, so the maenad does her best to provide for him. The first time she nursed the fawn at the cafe, a woman complained and they put up signs reading: sorry – no breastfeeding. The busboy shrugged as he taped the sign to the door of the patio. She shrugged back and pointed to her breast pump. Horror passed over his face like he’d stepped on a link of dog shit. The maenad wedged the funnel over her nipple and started pumping. On the collection bottle, she stuck a Post-it that said you sucked one too, and in smaller print, or if you didn’t you probably got ear infections.
THE SECOND EPISODE
She feels self-conscious when she drinks alcohol, because her mother told her red-wine teeth are hereditary, and she fears other effects are hereditary too, like falling asleep in the bathtub, or singing ‘Good King Wenceslas’. Every Christmas, Uncle Dionysus sings‘Good King Wenceslas’ from the head of the table, and when the bottles empty, he offers the stash of blackberry wine he brews downstairs. Her other aunts and uncles exchange glances, and new bottles appear from the liquor store, as if by magic, so Uncle Dionysus doesn’t open his home-brewed wine until Christmas finishes and the family has left. It saddens the maenad to know everyone hates her uncle’s wine. When she visits she asks for a bottle to take home. Growing up, she picked the blackberries. The brambles snagged her hands, but she licked it all off anyway. The wine kit smelled like old books, she loved the brown, medicinal bottles, she loved wading into cold seawater, rinsing her sore hands with salt.
THE THIRD EPISODE
She tried to live with a boy once. He worked as a set decorator in Vancouver and his most recent project was a government commercial for Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. He made an animation with beet-top trees, a cantaloupe hot-air balloon, snap pea surfboard, waves of red cabbage and a carrot sun that sank into a disc of lunar cucumber. Together they peeled the thinning carpet, which the last tenant hadn’t even vacuumed, and ordered cork tiles from an independent retailer offering a 50 per cent discount and free delivery, and she imagined the renovations would be as bright as the vegetable ad – the sun rising, breeze in their hair, cork tiles filling the living room before lunchtime. The tiles never appeared; the independent retailer had gone bankrupt or never existed in the first place, that wasn’t clear, all that was clear was they wouldn’t be getting their $800 back. Meanwhile, they had ripped the first carpet in the process of peeling it back, which was bad luck because their lease had a clause against redecoration that neither of them had noticed. They couldn’t afford a replacement, so they filled the living room with picnic blankets and towels.
The blankets were comfortable; the maenad and the boy sat side by side and ate two-for-one pizzas. The landlord evicted them two weeks later. Then the boy boarded a Greyhound bus to his family in London, Ontario, and the maenad boarded a perpendicular bus to UC San Diego where Jolene was doing an MFA. The maenad and boy still exchange letters, and Jolene acts extra cheerful when an airmail envelope appears through the slot. For example, today she greets the maenad at the door and says, I am making a Buddha bowl for dinner, do you want one?
The maenad slides her gaze to the pile of mail on the breakfast bar. Sure. How was your day?
Eight out of ten.
The maenad fishes the blue-and-red-striped envelope from under a stack of bills. Inside is a postcard of Carmen Sandiego in her red trench, a yellow-ribboned fedora tugged over her eyes.
I don’t get it, says the maenad. Is he Carmen Sandiego or am I?
Jolene withdraws to the sink and rinses the quinoa.
Has he moved somewhere? Am I supposed to guess where he is?
She reads the reverse, which is written in feminine handwriting.
Thank you for your recent donation. We appreciate you thinking of us during the festive season.
The maenad frowns. She checks the return address. Jolene presents a bowl of avocado, yellow beets, sweet potato and quinoa with tahini dressing.
THE FOURTH EPISODE
There is another boy she thinks about, but the left side of her brain knows he’s a shit. He is a folk singer with an elephant tattooed on his chest, which isn’t itself undesirable, but she can tell he is one of those men in their twenties who thinks his misogyny is excused because he hates all people, not just women, and that as a songwriter he has superior insight into the human condition. He wrote a song that began, come here and take off your clothes, which he plagiarized from a poetry blog. Often, when they return from a gig, he says he’s too tired to fuck but he won’t fall asleep if she doesn’t give him a blow job. Blow jobs have never been her favourite feature of sex. It’s not the act itself, but with some partners she finds it demeaning, and she gets annoyed when they assume she thinks it’s unclean, which she doesn’t, but she can think of nicer things to put in her mouth. Not to mention her knees bruise easily, and she never feels confident enough to commit to the gesture – to really stick with it for a while, and shit was that her teeth? She asked Jolene what she thinks about, does she have any tips? Jolene said: I count. It should take between one hundred and fifty to one hundred and seventy five strokes. Two hundred if he’s masturbated that day. The maenad didn’t realize she should count.
THE FIFTH EPISODE
Today Reuben drops by while she sits outside in the garden and draws honey from the earth with the stalk of fennel she has wound with ivy.
I’ve always thought you had penis envy, he says from behind her.
She drips honey from the pinecone that crowns her stalk of fennel. She is thinking about the fawn, who has not returned for a few days. She hopes he’s okay. She could not handle a FernGully situation. She feels drawn to deer as her friends feel drawn to babies at bus stops or cafes, moms in sonic-blue jogging tights. Her friends crouch at strollers and say hello you, hi you, searching the babies’ nearsighted eyes for recognition, beaming at the mothers to say well done, you did it, mine would be cuter. Faces change around babies, but how they change depends on the mom. There’s the woman in sonic-blue jogging tights or a fashionably oversized black shirt, a beagle leashed to her wrist, clutching a cappuccino and a shaggy croissant. But what about the woman driving her stroller through hordes on the bus. She wears white sweatpants, a pink top that inches above her full belly. The tattoo on her hip says lil angel. Some people make room for this woman on the bus, but they don’t beam at her magnificent belly or coo at her children. They avert their eyes. The maenad’s friend Sofía feels self-conscious when she leaves the house with baby Marcos because she’s Hispanic, and people treat her like a ward of the state unless she wears Marc Jacobs sunglasses. This distinction – between young mother and single mother, and how our faces change when we watch babies on buses, and how we feel when we leave the house – is everything the maenad hates. This is what she is thinking when Reuben crouches behind her – not about him, or what he is doing here, complimenting her shapely back. Does he mean her back or backside, she wonders. She is wearing a halter top.
He cups her butt cheeks and says I want to fuck you over the Gerbera daisy. For a moment she thinks, but could an asshole identify a Gerbera daisy?
His phone vibrates. He walks away to read the text message.
In the kitchen, Jolene listens to a podcast on the water shortage in São Paulo while she cooks. The climate scientist says it has not rained in São Paulo because industry has stripped the Amazon rainforest and the clouds of vapour that normally form flying rivers did not gather. The Amazon has been called the Earth’s lungs, and she wonders what happens when you replace the Earth’s lungs with cotton and soybean fields, and if she should stop eating tofu and meat-free hot dogs.
She and Jolene listen respectfully, as you do when you enter the kitchen while your roommate plays a solemn podcast. They loop around each other, gesturing for the salt or the fridge door in perfect wordlessness, like two lovers who do not speak the same language, or who do not require language at all.
Reuben slams the screen door.
Are you eating? he asks.
Jolene glances at him with well-concealed irritation and nudges the spacebar with her elbow. The podcast pauses. The maenad’s principal problem is that Reuben is beautiful. Never has someone so beautiful wanted to bend her over the Gerbera daisy, and it is an experience she clings to, though the left side of her brain says it makes her a poor feminist. If his look were to be summarized in a pithy epithet, it would be Swedish nihilist post-shampoo. He wears ear gauges and often just a tank top. If he could manage to grow facial hair he would be approaching Ben Dahlhaus a.k.a the Swedish Brad Pitt.
I have some mushroom pâté, the maenad says. Bruschetta?
He squints slightly. What are you making? he asks Jolene.
She is chopping an entire head of cabbage.
Kimchi, she says.
What Reuben does not know is that fermented foods signal a woman is combatting or preventing a yeast infection/rebalancing their gut flora. The maenad feels smug in this secret language, which proves that though Reuben is beautiful, he is excluded from their inner cistern of communication.
She touches the small of Jolene’s back to indicate she understands.
I have some kefir in the fridge.
Jolene’s eyebrows edge together, puzzled, but she smiles quickly and crushes a clove of garlic with her palm.
Reuben’s cellphone buzzes on the breakfast bar with a text message from someone named Olivia.
The maenad pretends she didn’t see. Reuben pretends he didn’t see her see.
Gotta bounce, he says. Impromptu jam with the boys.
She avoids his eyes and opens her food cupboard, though she doesn’t feel hungry.
THE SIXTH EPISODE
She was right: Jolene is rebalancing her gut flora. For this reason, she will drink green tea boosters instead of blackberry wine. Such virtuous decision-making is the opposite of what the maenad needs right now, while Reuben plays at a rancho party near Black Mountain, to which she was invited, but Olivia will be there, and if she goes she requires backup, and Jolene wants to stay in. They light Nag Champa incense and sit on the Moroccan floor cushions they bought instead of a couch. Though she normally finds comfort in their living room, tonight it feels like a poorly attended party from the 1970s – all the barefoot women with center parts gone to find better drugs. She pours her uncle’s wine, and Jolene clinks glasses with her. They listen to Modest Mouse, which the maenad only discovered seven years ago because when The Moon & Antarctica came out she was somewhere between Alanis Morissette and Britney Spears, which is a fact no one will admit to, but she knows she was not the only one.
She tells Jolene about the text message from Olivia. Jolene rubs her shoulder and says, are you okay? Can I make you a Buddha bowl?
No thank you.
How about raw gingerbread truffles?
I have gummy bears.
Like so many girls in California, Jolene looks born of the beach, as if twenty-nine years ago she climbed from an abalone shell with salt in her eyelashes, her eyes nacreous green. You’d figure she must bleach her hair, but really she has just wafted between sun and swimming pools her whole life. Instead of a headband, she ties a rayon scarf around her temples. The maenad gets lost in how smooth her forehead is, maybe because she smiles all the time. In love, Jolene has been sentimentalized because of her name, though she could not be further from the rain-singed girl in Spokane, folded in the pocket of Ray Lamontagne’s blue jeans.
In the maenad’s experience, your life can go two ways if you are born beautiful. One way is when beauty dominates how you define yourself – you will attract partners who desire beauty above all, and you will be cagey with those who aspire to other greatnesses, and others will interpret your behaviour as contempt, they will dismiss you as a mega-bitch, which hardens you – first on the inside, then on the out. The second way is when you are impervious or resentful of your beauty. Perhaps you didn’t like girls your age because you preferred to race go-karts with your brother’s friends, perhaps your brother called you stink face or scrotum breath, so you figured you must not be beautiful at all, or how you looked was irrelevant, what was important was knowing where to sock boys so they shut up but won’t permanently scar. Beauty has convicted many of the maenad’s sisters – coupled with virginity, it is a virtue, but with libido or intoxication, beauty proves a woman’s wickedness. See the witch trials, see Jeanne d’Arc, see vases painted by Greeks and Romans of god-drunk celebrants who give suck to fawns and wolf cubs, who rip the horns from a bull’s head and open its pectorals with their dirty hands. Last year she saw a university production of The Bacchae and the maenads were cast as bronze-bummed lesbians who wore suede bikinis and kissed each other with open mouths, breasts bent to the moon, eyes clenched with rapture. How else to describe unbroken women? They are feral and fucking.
I didn’t realize you and Reuben were exclusive, says Jolene.
The maenad looks up from her wine with surprise. She had forgotten herself. She had forgotten Jolene and the Moroccan floor cushions.
Jolene’s eyebrows rise before she can help it. She doesn’t say, oh, or what’s the problem then. She refills the maenad’s wine and pours more green tea from her carafe. A round of lemon flops into the glass and sloshes tea on the rug.
THE SEVENTH EPISODE
That night, outside her window, the deer look like gods to her. They drift over sidewalks and boulevards, bowing now and then to ruffle the grass clippings with their noses. She first found the fawn on a night like this. She and Reuben had eaten a bowl of hazelnuts for dinner because that’s all he had in the house, and then they had sex in the living room even though his roommate was home, which she didn’t realize until she walked naked to the bathroom and heard him Skyping his girlfriend. She returned to the living room, and Reuben said, what are your plans now? even though it was 3 a.m., so her plans were to sleep, with him, in his bed. He said, actually I have an early morning. As she walked home, new shoes in hand because her heels were bleeding, she found the fawn’s mother unzipped on the road. Her globular eyes gazed at the maenad’s toenails, four legs still muscled and clean like she might stagger up and whistle down the road with a phew, close one. The only disfigurement was the red basin gnawed into her gut, her intestine unspooling on the sidewalk. The fawn mewed from the lawn, eyeing the maenad for an explanation. So when he followed her down the street, through her gate, into her backyard, she left him a bowl of water.
She is not sure how she drank an entire bottle of wine already, but that is the situation. She falls asleep thinking about the fawn – his loneliness, whether deer experience grief like humans do. At 2 a.m. she wakes with her forehead squeezed between the wall and flank of her mattress. The pressure soothes her pounding temples. When she frees her head from the crack, the blood flushes her brain in a seasick wave.
THE EIGHTH EPISODE
There is a suburb called Black Mountain Ranch, but that’s not where Reuben’s gig is. The party is two kilometres down a road lined with serrated shrubs that scrape her legs when she passes. She sees no rancho to speak of, if rancho implies a house, but people have gathered around the labial opening of a rock. Inside the cave, a bartender deals bottles of Pacifico and Modelo Especial. She sees Reuben straight away. He leans over a girl she recognizes as Olivia, wearing a crochet halter top that shows the sides of her breasts and pierced belly button. The maenad jostles a path into the cave and orders a shot of tequila. All the guests squeeze toward the beer coolers and DJ, who plays a synthesized beat that swells in the cracked earth above them and threatens to chip the rock. She inhales the hot scent of lime from the bar, bumps from shoulder to shoulder, her sandals stirring the mud with every step, the dust wet with spilled beer. A white cloth drapes the DJ table, the fabric blotted with the oils they carry, which rise off their bodies and cling to the rock. The bartender presents her shot and she licks salt off her wrist and tosses the liquid down her throat and wedges lime into her mouth. She pushes her way back outside the cave where Reuben pins Olivia against the rock with his mouth.
Hi, says the maenad.
They both turn.
My belly button is also pierced, she says to Olivia, whose eyes are green like sludgy newts. But I haven’t worn my piercing in a decade.
Who are you? says Olivia.
Are you drunk? says Reuben.
Aren’t you? says the maenad.
At that moment, the beat mounts to its crescendo; the rock pulses. She articulates the sound with her torso. Her wrists swing around her head and one of them hits Reuben’s chin. The sharp stone on her ring lacerates his jaw. She shuts her eyes. Her knuckle socks something hard. She socks it again. A fist knocks her shoulder. She slams back. She feels the wildness enter her and keeps her eyes shut. She does not need her eyes. Fingers hook around her collar. She latches onto a flag of slippery fabric. She wills her uncle to appear, wills him to come as a bull or serpent or fire-breathing lion. A button spits from her shirt into the air. Her blouse gapes and cool air funnels between her breasts. She opens her eyes and sees the wire that joins her bra cups. She catches Reuben’s hand in her fist and plants her foot on his hip and tears the shirt off his chest.
THE NINTH EPISODE
The next morning, she lies outside on Jolene’s yoga mat with a pitcher of cold green tea. The pain throbs behind her eye sockets like a second, slower heartbeat. She is gathering the will to stand, to salute the sun like her roommate. Jolene says she hasn’t felt hungover since she started yoga.
The maenad rolls onto her hands and knees, then tips back onto her feet, heels pressing into the soft recycled rubber as she straightens her legs. At the top, she clasps her hands and spears her arms upward, offering her chest to the sky. The motion makes her want to throw up, so she hinges forward, strains to touch her toes. From here, she lowers herself into a sinking plank, and can’t remember what to do next – does she arch her back again? Upward dog? She gives it a go. This bend is nicer, she feels the stretch in the tops of her feet. Then she presses up. Her buttocks push the air. Dog-bounds-downward-from-collapsing-tent-pose.
She is surprised she does not want to phone Reuben. She wants to phone the boy she used to live with, instead. Last she heard, he managed the bakery of a supermarket. After the Carmen Sandiego card, she sent him an email that said, This better not mean you got our deposit back and have kept it all to yourself. By the way, I hear they need set decorators in L.A. You could leave your Los Feliz apartment at 10 a.m. and meet me for a late lunch. The boy responded to her email with a bumper sticker that said, California is for Commies, the C in California replaced with a hammer and sickle. She hopes that means he’ll think about it.
Upside-down, she spots the wet nose of the fawn in the daisy bed. His front legs spring onto the bird bath, his muscular tongue lapping the water. She watches him between her hands, sweat prickling her neck, the fawn on two limbs, she on four. It feels okay, this trade, biped to quadruped. She doesn’t mind the clumsiness, the blood rushing her frontal vein, the dirt in her fingernails. Her collapsing tent sits half-on, half-off the yoga mat. Milk seeps into the holes her fingers have dug in the soil. A snake circles her hips. He dabs her sweat with his tongue.
Painting by John Collier, ‘Maenads’ (1886)
Parliament Hill by Shawn Kent
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Energy independence, especially if you don’t particularly like the country you currently depend on, is a very strong motivator for the adoption of renewable energy. Ukraine has recently become a great case in point, after the announcement that it planned to turn part of the uninhabitable zone around the Chernobyl power plant into a large-scale solar farm.
Chernobyl, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of the world, cannot be used for much: farming is impossible, as are most other productive human activities. But there is a lot of sunshine in the area, which can be harvested and marketed using already existent power transmission infrastructure, according to Ukraine’s environment minister Ostap Semerak.
Initial plans envisage the installation of 4 MW in solar capacity in Chernobyl by the end of this year. Semerak said that two investment firms from the U.S. and four energy companies from Canada have already expressed interest in the project.
Solar power is a major part of Ukraine’s renewable ambitions. Last year, the government announced that over US$3 billion will be invested in the development of solar power farms by 2020, as part of efforts to achieve a portion of the 11% for renewables in the country’s energy mix. By the end of this year alone, Ukraine aims to have installed solar capacity of more than 570 MW. As of July 1 the total installed solar capacity in the country was 453 MW. Further plans are to have solar installed capacity of 1 GW, which will cost around $1.1 billion, according to preliminary estimates.
At the moment, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is Ukraine’s largest source of financing in general and is particularly willing to spend on renewable energy, but businesses are also interested in taking part in what can be safely called an energy overhaul.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia are continuing despite the ceasefire that followed the long months of violence in the eastern part of the country, and there are still outbreaks on both sides. These tensions have made it clear once and for all that the two neighbors have a very long way to go to restore their good relations.
In such a context, energy security is a really essential priority for Kiyv, which has over the years proved unable or unwilling to pay for Russian gas deliveries in a manner as timely as Gazprom would have liked. This led to a couple of “gas crises” that put under threat gas deliveries, not just to Ukraine, but to Europe as well.
Ukraine has the best motivation for turning to renewable energy and is working on incentives for the industry to make that happen sooner. It’s offering feed-in tariff premiums to local renewable energy suppliers, which has, according to industry insiders, led to a “new renaissance” in the local renewable energy sector.
As for Chernobyl, it’s always smart to make the best of what you have, and that’s especially true when what you have is a wasteland that cannot be used for literally anything else than harvesting solar energy at least in the next few hundred years.
When you have graphs to draw or statistical concepts to teach, you need your data and you need it now. You can look for a suitable dataset, or you can simulate a result, but that can be annoyingly tedious. DrawMyData by Robert Grant is a simple tool that lets you click an x-y plot to draw points, and then you can just download the the x-y coordinates as a CSV file.
Tools like this always seem kind of frivolous at first, but then you use it a few times and becomes indispensable. [via @albertocairo]
Detail from The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ca. 1562.
If two triangles ABC and abc are oriented so that lines Aa, Bb, and Cc meet at a point, then the pairs of corresponding sides (AB and ab; BC and bc; and AC and ac) will meet in three collinear points.
The converse is also true: If the pairs of corresponding sides intersect in three collinear points, then the lines joining corresponding vertices will meet in a point.
Herat dates back to the Avestan times and was traditionally known for its wine. The city has a number of historic sites. During the Middle Ages Herat became one of the important cities of Khorasan, as it was known as the Pearl of Khorasan.
Recent Iraqi military gains over the Islamic State have dried up oil revenues for the terrorist organization by up to 90 percent, according to a report by Iraqi News on Tuesday.
Security sources from the ministry of oil said ISIS had been smuggling at least 50 vehicles full of oil everyday from oilfields in Qayyarah and Najma. The two sites stand south of Mosul—the largest ISIS stronghold and the third largest city in Iraq by population.
But new offensives against the terrorist organization have reduced the smuggling rate to five vehicles a day. ISIS’ prices for the smuggled oil, which once stood above $6,000 a vehicle, have now been reduced to $2,000.
After ISIS lost control of the Alas and Hamrin oilfields near Tikrit last April, the group’s income declined by an additional $1 million every day.
Yesterday, news broke that ISIS fighters may have been responsible for the deaths of five people in an oilfield located in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk, though the organization has not yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attackers attempted to take down a gas compression station nearby as well, where they planted bombs after killing four guards. The fifth victim was an engineer working at Bas Hassan, a media report read, citing Iraqi and Kurdish sources.
Sources from the Kurdish military forces, the Peshmerga, said that the attack on the gas station was neutralized and that three of the four ISIS terrorists involved in the double hit were killed, one of them managing to blow himself up, causing explosions in oil storage tanks at Bas Hassan. The fourth terrorist escaped.
There have been suggestions that the attackers belonged to a sleeper cell based in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.
ISIS attacks on Kurdish territory have been more rare than elsewhere in Iraq. Yet, the terrorist group is now being driven out of some important strongholds by the Iraqi army (and by the Syrian forces in Syria), cutting its access to oil, on which it is no less dependent than both Baghdad and Erbil.
Just earlier this month, ISIS set five oilfields on fire near Mosul, one of the first major cities that fell to the terrorists back in 2014.
* * *
While on the face of it this is great news, we wonder what ISIS fighters will have to lose from increasing blowback as their cash-strapped leaders blame the infidel for their poverty?
For those investors that have relentlessly defended equity valuations, shunning hard data in favor of the Fed narrative that lower borrowing costs should move discount rates ever closer to 0% and equity valuations therefore ever closer to infinity, might we suggest you turn your heads now because Class 8 truck orders just dropped a huge dose of economic reality that you might want to promptly ignore.
For everyone else, July Class 8 trucks orders were, in a word, abysmal. According to ACT research, Class 8 truck orders for July came in at 10,500 which is down 57% YoY and 19% sequentially compared to June. July marked the 17th consecutive month of YoY declines and the lowest reading since February 2010. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that July orders were 77% lower than the peak shipping month recorded in October 2014.
According to comments made by Dan Ake, VP of Commercial Sales at research firm FTR, to the Wall Street Journal the industry was hit with “several significant order cancellations” which was described as “uncharacteristic” for this time of year. Dan added that the “high cancellations are likely the result of fleets placing large orders at the end of 2015, for delivery a year out.”
Steve Tam, VP at ACT Research, added that:
“Too many trucks [are] chasing too little freight. I think the trucking community had an expectation that [growth] was going to continue. But with 20/20 hindsight, that did not happen. Freight has been very flat for basically the last year. There is anecdotal signs that freight is improving very modestly, but I would liken it to treading water but still below surface at this point.”
As we noted last month in our post entitled, "Domestic Trade Is Disintegrating: Heavy Truck Orders Plunge To Lowest Since 2010," it's hard to fathom how the equity market can continue to shake off hard evidence of deteriorating domestic freight shipments. As can be seen below, data published by the Department of Transportation clearly shows that freight shipments in the United States peaked in December 2014 and have been on the decline since. Given the significant truck order cancellations in July clearly Class 8 truck OEMs don't foresee traffic improving at any point in the near future. That said, data doesn't really matter...until it does, of course.