Only recently have I tried to return to my usual routine of listening to NPR every morning. I can barely take it. The lies—the lies are intolerable! The Bush Administration’s M.O. is wearisomely predictable and obvious by now: fabricate a crisis (weapons of mass destruction, social security going broke), create hysteria, then use it to force people to accept whatever you want to do (invading Iraq, dismantling the New Deal). Bush is cutting social programs but increasing the military budget, except not taking into account the expense of ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or of making his tax cuts permanent. Condoleeza Rice is confirmed as America’s emissary to the rest of the world on the strength of her straightfaced perjury skills. The Democrats take a more compromising stance on abortion. I can usually take ten or fifteen minutes before snapping off the radio and turning to the single best thing in my life right now, a satellite radio on loan from my friend Carolyn, which gets in a station that plays nothing but movie soundtracks all day long. (As I write this I am listening to Bernard Herrman’s score for Psycho.) My friend Megan, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me through antiwar marches and rallies and made me go leafletting in Brooklyn and canvassing door-to-door in Philadelphia, tells me she’s found it similarly painful to re-immerse herself in the news now that the hope of an electoral defeat is gone and there’s no end in sight for another four years. I felt we could all use some cheering up this week.
Note on panel 1: Arthur C. Clarke lives on the island of Sri Lanka, but was on the west coast when the tsunami struck and is fine. He is generally credited with inventing the concept of the communications satellite, and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation has spent the last several years planning a satellite early-warning system for the Indian Ocean area in the event of earthquake or tsunami. It was to have been tested in 2005. There are rumors about him and the local boys but the only formal charges ever filed were dismissed in court. Innocent until proven guilty, as far as I’m concerened, except when it’s funny. And there really is a scene in Childhood’s End in which aliens warn a young boy about a tidal wave, and had I been a purist I would’ve drawn one of the Overlords’ featureless silvery metal spheres hovering in the background, except only hardcore sf geeks would’ve gotten it. So the monolith it is.
Note on Panel 2: Reagan’s birthday was this week, and friends remembered him in the media. His enemies did, too, though we got less publicity. I believe in kicking a man when he is down. And I promise you I will exhume his corpse and toss it gleefully around yet again in cartoons yet to come.
I was about halfway through drawing this cartoon
when I had to break off to go to a luncheon engagement with Carolyn’s
friend Lucretia (not her real name). Carolyn had had to cancel because she’d
gotten a job substitute teaching that day, but I had been hankering for some
good West Coast oysters ever since I arrived here and my publisher had recommended
the swanky seafood restaurant Oceanaire, which, as it happens, is where Carolyn
and Lucretia had arranged to meet, so I offered myself as a substitute lunch
date. Lucretia (we’ll call her Lucre for short) is about a decade older
than me, wealthy, stylish, and decadent, sort of like a character out of Oscar
Wilde or Noel Coward or Absolutely Fabulous. She calls me “darling.”
She and I had exchanged barbs over politics at the welcome party held in my
honor (Lucre is a Republican, and voted for Bush), a kind of verbal jousting
I do not enjoy, but in the end my lust for oysters and will to procrastinate
won out. Lucre arrived at Oceanaire in what she described as “fragile”
condition, meaning hung over. We had a couple of caesars (Bloody Marys except
with clamato juice), a dozen oysters—Belons, Breton Sounds, and Sisters
Points—some white wine, and split a rich, buttery crabcake. Lucre unexpectedly
produced a little tin of pills and we each popped a Vicodin ™. My reasoning
was, fuck it. I could always get the cartoon in on Saturday. My deadline’s
pretty arbitrary anyway. Lucre recommended Montaigne and Sir Walter Scott;
I thought she might like David Foster Wallace and Richard Russo. The Vicodin
hit unexpectedly hard—it usually comes on in languorous waves but this
was like POW, all at once—and I had to warn Lucre that I might become
noticeably less interesting. Instead our conversation became very animated.
We recited Yeats and Coleridge and Roethke. Lucre flirts shamelessly with
the waitstaff and leaves extravagant tips, so our glasses never quite got
to the bottom. She was astonished to learn that the urinals in the men’s
room were filled with ice, and insisted on being taken in to see for herself.
After lunch, Lucre drove me home in her sleek little white Porsche. The acceleration
pushed me back into my leather seat at about one and a half Gs. Other motorists
on I-5 ogled us jealously. When I walked in, my housemate Aaron reported that
he had asked the sexiest girl from the lingerie party we attended last week
(don’t ask) to dinner, but she said she had “a sweat” to
attend. (This, for the benefit of my East Coast readers, refers to a sweat
lodge ceremony, a ritual sacred to the native Americans and to some of the
spiritually confused descendants of their European exterminators.) “That’s
it,” I said, still high on protein and opiates. “I’m becoming