Taking a Rain Check

It hit us both at the same time.

Dad and I were watching a game between the Braves and the Red Sox on a slightly rainy Sunday afternoon in Nice. It was about two p. m. when we tuned in; the game had actually taken place a couple of days before. Since we don’t know anyone in Nice who gives a fuck about baseball, we can watch the season at our leisure without worrying about anyone spoiling the experience by telling us how a game turned out.

It was the fifth inning, Braves up 5-4. Both starters were gone after a pair of less-than-thrilling performances, but we weren’t expecting a pitching duel anyway. We chose the game because we had no idea how the hell the Braves wound up in first place and wanted to see what they had to offer.

Not much happened in the fifth inning. Neither team scored, but what was remarkable is that neither of us said a word. We usually have something to say on nearly every pitch—snarky remarks about a weird batting stance or pitching motion, frustration with the progressive blindness of the umpire or extending congratulations to someone who made a nice play. But this time, there was stone cold silence.

Dad broke the ice. “This doesn’t feel right.”

“What?”

“Watching baseball.”

I had the same feeling but I didn’t know why. “Yeah. What do you think it is?”

“I’m seeing things differently.”

“How?”

“When I see Mookie Betts—the best player in baseball this year—all I can think about is if he gets into a run-in with a cop, he’s dead meat. I see blue state vs. red state. I hear the fans cheering and I think ‘What do you motherfuckers have to be happy about? Why aren’t you out in the streets instead of stuffing your faces with hot dogs?'”

“Maybe they want life to be normal. Maybe they just don’t care. Or maybe they’re okay with what’s going on.”

“And that’s the killer. We all operated under the belief that the struggle was worth it, that progress would come, that even when things got tough, history was on our side. Everything we fought for—civil rights, the right to choose, peace on earth, the environment—destroyed. Wiped out in what, a year and a half? A half-century of progress—gone.”

He grabbed the remote and turned off the TV. “I can’t watch this anymore. Let’s get your mother and go for a walk.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “There are better things to do than watch baseball—it’s time to move on.”

I could feel the tears coming but managed to hold them back. Baseball had been part of the family experience as long as I could remember, a cherished ritual that provided a few hours of bonding in a safe space. Some people have church; we had baseball.

But dad was right: it was time to move on.

*****

A little backstory for those who missed it: I left the United States because of Sandy Hook. The non-reaction to that horrific event told me that Americans cared more about protecting the right to weaponize than they did about their children. I was frightened and no longer felt safe there. When the opportunity for a job transfer to Europe fell into my lap, I grabbed it. I couldn’t have imagined that America could get any more dysfunctional than it was when I left, but I underestimated the depths of greed, hatred and violence in the American soul. After the Russians and racists put Trump in charge, I renounced my citizenship.

However, it’s one thing to turn in a passport and another thing to break the emotional bonds to the place where you grew up. I’ve stayed in touch with my friends in the States and have continued to monitor the news from the homeland. Reading about what’s going on in America has become a depressing and frustrating experience: a flat-out fucking drag. You have a situation where the political party who holds the power in all branches of government is deliberately working to destroy democracy and establish an authoritarian state. The end game for the Republican Party is an autocracy run by the rich and white where women are little more than property, and the masses remain dumbed down by a state religion based on Evangelical Christianity and by an education system that denies the existence of fact. America didn’t have much of a social safety net to begin with; now the strategy is to destroy it altogether to create a Darwinian dystopia where only the fittest (i.e., white) survive. This has been the strategy from the beginning—what that disgusting man Bannon called “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

They’ve already made a lot of progress, if you want to call it that: The Economist has already lowered the U. S. rating to “flawed democracy.” Americans can still shout “We’re Number One” because they lead the world in many areas: #1 in obesity, #1 in the consumption of anti-depressants, #1 in military spending and weapon exports, and easily #1 in gun deaths. The health care system ranks last among industrialized nations, environmental ratings are plummeting, and—if you want to talk “progress”—Americans can take pride in the fact that they’ve finally entered the prestigious Top 10 list of most unsafe countries for women. Trump is in the process of destroying long-standing relationships with the western democracies, abandoning the long-standing American commitment to human rights, applying a wrecking ball to environmental protections, and cozying up to repressive, brutal dictators in Russia, Turkey, Egypt, North Korea and The Philippines. His regime demonizes immigrants, kidnaps their children and throws them into cages. They vilify POC and LGBTQ and are gradually working to destroy all legal protections for those marginalized groups. Like Hitler and Goebbels, they’ve mastered the art of the big lie and are completely unafraid to use it to attack any who dare to challenge their god-given authority. This is no joke, folks: Trump and his sycophants are doing all they can to transform America into a dictatorship—a violent, aggressive and very dangerous authoritarian state armed with enough nuclear warheads to create hundreds of Armageddons (biblical reference intended).

While there are Americans who have expressed outrage at these developments, the loose coalition referred to as “The Resistance” has been stunningly ineffective in stopping the runaway train. They seem like well-meaning people trying to go through proper channels when the opposition doesn’t give a flying fuck about proper channels. They place their hope in a “blue wave” this fall, dream of impeachment and predict a future where the entire Trump family is safely behind bars, all of which is highly wishful thinking. Nothing has been done to prevent election hacking, stop voter suppression, or limit campaign contributions, so there’s no reason to believe that the same widespread fraud and structural bias that resulted in 2016 won’t happen again in 2018 or 2020. Robert Mueller? I’m sure he’s an honest, upstanding professional, but everyone knows that the American legal system is massively dysfunctional and any charges against Trump and his mobsters will get tied up in the courts for years. Trump has spent a lifetime working around legal hassles, and he has the Supreme Court in his pocket. As for the Democrats, they’re doing what they always do: nothing.

The biggest problem with the opposition forces is that they are united in only one thing: denial. When I scroll through my Twitter list of resistance fighters, I constantly run into the claim, “This is not America” or “Dear Europe/Dear Canada/Dear World: We apologize for our idiot president but please be assured that this is not who we are.” BULLSHIT! Read the lists! The United States is a militaristic, violent, gun-loving, racist, male-dominated culture and has been for years! You ARE Trump! Americans need to move past the denial stage and face the ugly reality of who they have become, or things will continue to devolve. Here’s your new inconvenient truth: Trump is the United States personified. He is the perfect embodiment of American culture.

And here’s another inconvenient truth: most Americans don’t give a shit.

If Americans really cared about democracy and their responsibility to the world, they’d call a general strike and shut down the whole fucking country. That won’t happen, of course, because Americans would never do anything to intentionally damage their precious economy or skip a few  paychecks—even if it means sacrificing “cherished values” and ending the “great experiment.” And even if Trump and his cronies are sent to the hoosegow, I doubt very much if Americans have the stomach or the courage to begin to face the deep-seeded problems of racism and misogyny that led to Trump in the first place. As the incredibly insightful Propane Jane wrote on Twitter a few weeks back, “America is chronically ill and thoughts and prayers won’t cure it.” She said this in the context of the latest school shooting, but the disease has spread beyond the fetish for violence. Bred to believe that “We’re Number One,” Americans can’t possibly accept the fact that their flaws are all that serious.

I now understand that when I was growing up in the United States, I lived life in a bubble. The San Francisco of my childhood and teens was a tolerant, open place that celebrated sexual and cultural diversity and had a vibrant arts scene. When I visited other parts of the country and encountered less tolerant, more traditional ways of life, I just figured they were behind the times and eventually they’d get up to speed. Raised by parents who instilled the value of constant learning in me, it never entered my imagination that there could be people who actually cherished their ignorance.

The deteriorating situation in the United States has seriously impacted the pleasure I take in writing about American music. I choose to explore popular music history, where a major consideration is lasting relevance. This invariably involves comparing past to present. When I cover American artists, I have to deal with the difference between what America was and what America is today, and spending any time dealing with current events in the United States is very stressful for me. I don’t like spending my time feeling miserable, especially when it involves a situation that I cannot change or influence, so the best choice for me is to avoid contact as much as possible. It’s time to move on.

So, even though visitors from the United States make up 57% of my audience, I’ve decided to stop reviewing music by American artists. This is an act of self-help grounded in the acceptance that I am no longer an American and have no power to influence the situation. It also recognizes the fact that Americans are hyper-sensitive to any criticism from “foreigners,” and I am, after all, a citizen of France and the European Union. The change won’t be all that noticeable to my readers; of the 389 reviews I’ve written, only a third cover American artists. It will give me the opportunity to explore that appallingly-titled genre “world music” more than I have in the past, so prepare yourself for some artists who may not be household names.

I’ll publish my last review of an American artist on the Fourth of July, when I cover the most American artist of them all, Frank Sinatra. I’ve been meaning to do some Sinatra for years, and now the time feels right.

I really hope I’m wrong about all this, which is why I’m referring to this decision as a “rain check,” leaving me an opening to reconnect with American artists once the storm passes. Americans have tremendous potential to be a force for good in the world, but through a combination of apathy, misogyny and racism, they’ve chosen a very dark and disturbing future. Americans created this mess and only Americans can fix it. I gave up the right to participate in the fix twenty months ago, but I wish with all my heart that there are still enough good people around who can save the day.

To end this tale on a happy note, Dad just told me that he figured out how we can watch baseball without getting depressed! Nippon Professional Baseball! I’ll have to get used to players treating umpires with due respect, but who cares? It’s baseball! Go Toyo Carp!

12 responses

  1. ARC – you – and – your -family – and – your- soulmate – are – amazing. I know, it’s not the most relevant response to your post, but it’s my gut reaction to it. Thank you so much for still being out there.

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    1. Thank you—we’re very lucky to be together, especially during these times. If this had gone on when I was in Paris and my parents were back in the states it would have been excruciating for all of us. And the comment is relevant in that I excluded the current family discussion from the post, which is figuring what we’re going to do if it looks like the U. S. is going to abandon NATO and leave us to face Putin alone. Maman always insists on back-up plans, and she’s very good at making sure they’re feasible. We think it’s unlikely Trump will do anything that stupid before the midterms, so we’ve planned a family outing for South America (our escape route) this October, focused on Santiago and Montevideo. That would be a huge step in many ways—and I can’t even believe we’re thinking about it—but things have gone fucking crazy and we have to do what we have to do.

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  2. ….and I almost forgot: If, in the future, you can review the remaining six albums by one American artist – Phil Ochs – well, that wouldn’t be too painful, right? We could really use him right about now. Very much looking forward to your review of artists and music from different parts of the world……

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    1. Phil Ochs would probably be #1 on my list of people I need to avoid right now, but if you guys get rid of Trump and the GOP, implement real gun control, achieve 50% gender parity in both houses of Congress . . .

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  3. Reading this made me sad and angry and depressed and I totally respect your decision. As a 6th-generation German-Russian-Lithuanian American on my father’s side and the son of a Cape Verdean immigrant mother, I’m working desperately on my Portuguese citizenship. Because if I have to get out of this country fast, I will in a heartbeat.

    I still believe in the myth and the dream of America, even if the reality of it has turned into a fucking nightmare. And the saddest reality of Trump is that he came into power with only a third of the country heartily backing him (not to mention Russian bot squads coordinating with Western Facebook data miners), but primarily off the apathy or petulance of moderate/progressives who used every excuse to conceal the basic truth that they found vaginas icky, and didn’t vote for the pushy broad because BernieOrBust/Emails/Trust/Benghazi/Jill Stein/Send A Message/All Parties Are The Same/Don’t worry he’s never gonna really win/My stories are on/Oh look a penny… whatever.

    I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Maybe it’s “Don’t give up on America.” Or American artists. But even that’s kind of difficult when people I know and love voted for and still support Trump because their stock portfolio is “THROUGH THE ROOF! A-HOOYAH!!” Oh goody. We’re shoving children into cages, white supremacists are marching through the streets in an atmosphere of normalization unseen since the 1930s, we’re still blaming immigrants for all our problems, and HUZZAH! going straight back to supply-side economic practice that hasn’t worked in 37 years but let’s just give it a go one more time because who the fuck needs a thriving middle class anyhow?

    I don’t speak a word of Portuguese. I better get crackin’…

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    1. Portugal is probably the safest place in Europe right now, so consider yourself lucky to have some kind of connection. I had a weird experience trying to learn Portuguese: they offered it once in high school and at the beginning of the class, the teacher divided the students into two groups: one that wanted to learn continental Portuguese and the other Brazilian Portuguese. The result was total confusion as he’d take 10 minutes to explain something to one group while the other twiddled their thumbs. I still love the sound of the language, though.

      I share your disgust with the socialist purists. American socialists are really dumb. They should have appreciated the 15 million or so votes they got in the primaries, declared progress, then shut the fuck up. Instead, they decided they were the future and launched a revolt based on petulance.

      Like I said, this is more about self-help than giving up on America, though things look pretty bleak from my perspective. My gut tells me it’s going to take a cataclysmic event to turn the tide—I hope I’m wrong.

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  4. Like

  5. This saddens me on so many levels – too many to flesh out tonight. I battle with demoralization every day of the Trump presidency. I become dismayed at the dehumanization of an ever-growing number of our population. But I get your point, it isn’t just Trump. The Sandy Hook children stopped being children the moment gun rights were perceived to be threatened just as immigrant children have now become something less than children because of mean-spirited, cynical fear mongering. No good reason, really, other than cruelty (with cruelty in equal measure to the parents). How can this not be abhorrently depressing to a thinking human being? How can so many Americans support this? But I can’t let these forces win. For better or for worse, my citizenship is here (no dual Italian citizenship for me, unfortunately). I will not be made to hate, especially those I disagree with. I will not pass up a chance to let anyone/everyone know how I feel about these issues. I will not give up hope that this country will be wiser after Trump self-destructs. And I will not let these shits ruin the things I love! I am so sorry you cannot enjoy baseball this year. The same Mookie Betts you and your father worry about has been a cross between Joe Morgan and Willie Mays (I’ve thought a lot about this) this year. Right after I read your post, he completed the most amazing 13 pitch at bat with a grand slam that filled him with such joy he almost fell over running to first as Fenway exploded. I’m sorry this has been taken from you, but the sun will come out again and you’ll be able to redeem your raincheck. I have to believe that. In the meantime, I hope you were able to enjoy the World Cup!

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    1. I agree you can’t give into hate—or the many distractions that the Trumpers provide on a daily basis. The country’s gone mad, and I really hope it gets well in a hurry. I’m stunned that Americans seem to be just figuring out that Trump is a Russian agent—THAT has been obvious from the get-go.

      The Japanese and Mexican leagues aren’t bad, but losing the tradition has been hard. Man, I’d love to go to a real baseball park have a real hot dog. Sigh.

      I watched the final match with everyone at Place Masséna, but as soon as we scored the fourth goal, we got the hell out of there, went home and locked the doors. The place went fucking nuts after that, and many of the restaurants closed in anticipation of craziness. It has left a kind of nice afterglow, though—people are in good moods even with the shitty weather and the hordes of tourists.

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  6. I’m a Brit. Came here years back for the Tull reviews, stayed for everything else.

    I lived and worked in California for fifteen years. When I first arrived in LA, in the early nineties, it seemed that there were reminders all around of America’s golden age; a run-down Tiki motel, a bowling alley, Googie architecture and Post Office buildings. Back in dull, wet, grey northern England, I’d listened to Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner. On one of the tracks he rambles about Earl Scheib and suspicious looking patty melts at Norm’s Diner. I had no idea what a patty melt was and I’d never heard of Norm’s or Earl Scheib. Three weeks after arriving in LA I was sitting the Santa Monica Norm’s at 2:00 AM finding out what a patty melt was and looking out of the window at the Earl Scheib directly across the street.

    I found Americans to be generous, open and enthusiastic. Whenever I could I chatted to older people. It was noticeable that they seemed to be better educated than the 25 year olds I met. (Well, except maybe that one old guy in a hardware store on Ventura who asked me “Does England do 4th of July?”)

    America. I loved the place. It wasn’t perfect, but parts of it were truly glorious.

    By the time I was leaving the US, fifteen years later, it had been obvious to me for a while that everything I’d liked and admired about LA had been heading out the door for the entire time I’d been there. I hadn’t realized it when I’d arrived, but it had already been on a downward slide for a while, and by coincidence I’d arrived at just the right moment to catch it all before it was gone. I’m going to take a wild guess that it had been on a slide since 1980 when Ronald “Shit President” Reagan introduced policies that would start the process of sucking out hundreds of billions of Dollars (probably trillions) from the “Normal People” economy.

    It’s easy to be a generous and friendly people when everything is going great; it’s much harder to manage it when you’re flat broke, stressed out and feeling a constant, oppressive fear about your future. This is what the Republicans have done to the US for the past 38 years, and they did it knowing exactly where it would lead, because this is always where it leads.

    Thinking about the US as I knew it in 1992 and how things are now knots my stomach. Depending on my mood I feel furious or I could cry that people would knowingly do these things.

    And I’m just an English bloke that spent some time in California. I can’t imagine how it must feel to an American. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I don’t even know how to express myself over this.

    You have my best wishes. I know that means nothing, but you have them anyway.

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    1. Thank you for your best wishes, thoughts and experience. I wonder how an Earl Scheib would do in France . . . nah.

      I think you’re spot on about Reagan policies initiating the slow destruction of the American middle class; I’ll add to his list of sins the deification of business leaders, entrepreneurs and the military. My dad would date the decline further back to LBJ’s financial mismanagement associated with Vietnam and his inability to deal with the summer rioting in the ghettos. That opened the door for the whole law-and-order bullshit and the demonization of welfare queens, conveniently distracting the working class from the fact that the government was picking their pockets and taking away their rights. 9/11 accelerated the madness even further. Thanks to the rise of the GOP, Americans care more about guns than education, health care and any form of equality. You have millions of people now who have been conditioned to work against their own best interests—fucking amazing.

      I haven’t been there since July 2016, when I had the weird good fortune of being in San Francisco for my grandfather’s funeral the week a madman ran down all those people on the Promenade. I feel like I have a double dose of survivor’s guilt—glad I was out of town that day, glad I’m out of the USA, but in shock about both. I don’t think this is going to end well for any of us.

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