Fairytale of New York

This Christmas Day Shane MacGowan turns 59. I wonder if he realized thirty years ago while he was writing the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” (co-written with Jeb Finer) that the saddest Christmas song ever would be his most widely-listened-to:

That woman singing with him is Kirsty MacColl, may she rest in peace. Her father Ewen MacColl was a Scottish Communist and folk-singer. The story goes, he wrote his most popular song for his young mistress Patty Seeger while he was still living with Kirsty’s mother. It’s had many versions, including a super one by Engelbert Humperdinck, but Roberta Flack “owns” it:

Not a bad song for the yule log either. Merry Christmas.

Tree of the Wooden Clogs

Seeing The Tree of the Wooden Clogs (L’Albero degli Zoccoli) in a cinema this week was a neorealist sacrament.

Ermanno Olmi wrote and directed it, in 1978, using both actors and non-actors, in the Bergamo dialect. I saw it with a friend from Milan, which is less than an hour away from the setting, and he swears he had to read the subtitles to understand the dialogue.

Killing an animal onscreen is a kind of rite of passage for documentary filmmakers doing rural subjects. Brother’s Keeper did it. Most recently I saw it in a heart-breaking film called Peter and the Farm. In both of those, the killing goes to show the meanness in the life of the main character. The implication is, of course he might be capable of euthanizing his brother, or becoming a charmingly angry alcoholic, as Peter does, if animal-killing is a common endeavor around him.

I first saw The Tree of the Wooden Clogs in the mid 90s (which means more time has passed since then than had passed from the making of the film till I had first seen it, but I digress: Time!) and the main things I’d remembered about it were the sad shots of the peasants taking the lion’s share of their grain to their landlord, and the central metaphor, and that gruesome scene of a pig being butchered. And mud, mud everywhere.

Life is mean, but it was meaner in the late 1800s. I don’t know if this was the first neorealist period piece, but it’s the best example of sweet, simple, languid story-telling in a period setting. The only other Ermanno Olmi film generally available here is Il Posto from 1961, in the Criterion Collection, but you don’t even have to see that to see Olmi’s sympathies: his sadness for the passing of ways of life, his skepticism about modernity, his appreciation for working people and their complicated family lives, and and his sympathy for both superstitious Catholicism and socialism.

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The Tree of Wooden Clogs draws on a wider palette of narrative units than most films. You learn something about a character and have no idea whether that element will ever resurface, but the palette is the thematic message in a film like this: Life is unfair.

Olmi blesses his story with a fantastic opening scene, every bit as expressive as The Godfather‘s: Batisti is struggling to make ends meet, and has a baby on the way, so he asks the parish priest for leave to not send his oldest son Minek, who’s still around 10, to school, since he can use him around the farm. The priest insists, Minek is gifted and should be in school, and Batisti and his wife have to suck it up.

Already you see it all: The power of the church, complicated by the “progressive” influence of the priest’s message about education, and the utter vulnerability of the peasants. That Batisti never wanted to send Minek on the six kilometer daily walk to school in the first place makes the complications that arise from the eponymous wooden clogs only that much sadder, but we don’t see this take shape till a good 90 minutes into a three hour film. It’s monumental.

John Montague, Poet from the Land of Poets

The Irish poet John Montague died last weekend, with hardly a peep around here in the place where he was born, Brooklyn. It was Montague and Seamus Heaney, specifically their selections in The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, that kept the poetic flame alive inside me during a long period of estrangement.

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Glass and video have replaced “the cage” on the Clark Street 2 & 3 Train stop, formerly the I.R.T., in Brooklyn Heights, where John Montague’s father worked.

His Irish Times obituary hinted, not surprisingly, that he regarded Heaney, the more successful, Nobel Laureate face of Irish poetry, as his rival. It added, also not surprisingly, that in his final years his jealousy lifted and he quoted Heaney’s poetry with fondness.

Among his works I revisit through the years are “The Trout” (Super homoerotic! I was surprised to learn he wasn’t gay.) and “The Cage.” Though born in Brooklyn, his mother got sick when he was young, and he was raised by relatives in Northern Ireland, while his father stayed here to work.

 

The Cage

My father, the least happy

man I have known. His face

retained the pallor

of those who work underground:

the lost years in Brooklyn

listening to a subway

shudder the earth.

 

But a traditional Irishman

who (released from his grille

in the Clark St. I.R.T)

drank neat whiskey until

he reached the only element

he felt at home in

any longer: brute oblivion.

 

And he picked himself

up, most mornings,

to march down the street

extending his smile

to all sides of the good

(non-negro) neighbourhood

belled by Teresa’s church.

 

When he came back

we walked together

across fields of Garvaghey

to see hawthorn on the summer

hedges, as though

he had never left;

a bend of the road

 

which still sheltered

primroses. But we

did not smile in

the shared complicity

of a dream, for when

weary Odysseus returns

Telemachus must leave.

 

Often as I descended

into subway or underground

I see his bald head behind

the bars of the small booth;

the mark of an old car

accident beating on his

ghostly forehead.

 

I confess to ruining the mood at a dinner party one night a few years ago, when the subject of poems about fathers came up and I broke this one out and read it. I’d remembered it as a sad story of a man who’d sacrificed his happiness for a job in a literal cage. The afterthought phrase “non-negro,” to me, testified to Montague’s great love for his father, whom he accepted faults and all, with no indication that his da’ didn’t share his neighborhood’s racism. The real-life “negroes” present at this particular get-together seemed a bit like a jab to the belly had been delivered, like they might have preferred a little warning for so hurtful a subject to come up, or at least a reprieve till dessert was finished.

My own love for Irish America is complicated by this very issue, our complicity in covering up the original sin of our country. It’s very American, really, that Montague appends this phrase to his poem at all, rendered in parentheses no less, as if he needs us to know where these people stood on the epoch-making issues of their day, and to discreetly take a position himself. (He and Seamus Heaney both lived in the U.S. for decades and became celebrities here, or at least paid the bills.)

This Christmas with my family, when the beer and wine are flowing, I plan to break out another of Montague’s poems, “The Silver Flask,” a country idyll about a family passing a flask of whiskey around the car. It begins:

“Sweet, though short, our

hours as a family together.

Driving across dark mountains

to Midnight Mass in Fivemiletown,

lights coming up in the valleys

as in the days of Carleton.

 

Tussocks of heather brown

in the headlights; our mother

stowed in the back, a tartan

rug wrapped around her knees,

patiently listening as father sang,

and the silver flask went round…”

Not exactly Christmas with The Waltons, neither my family nor Montague’s. He was a poet from the land of poets. I can understand young writers feeling like Montague and Heaney are both losing their relevance, their Irish heritage a kind of thesaurus of evocative images. They’re still special to me, though, and it goes beyond their Irish-ness. Even when they’re trading in nostalgia, they keep our eyes on sad details, then hint at some universal experience, then go back to the images to let them have the final word, and that, to me is what poetry is.

The Impermanent Collection

This fall I’ve gone for a few escape days to the Medieval collections of the Metropolitan Museum. With reality TV running the planet, it felt right to connect to something permanent, to the superstitious and anarchic foundations of our culture.

“There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages,” as Mark Twain said, and there’s nothing like a visit to the reliquary collection, the bejeweled, decorative boxes used to carry the sub-divided bones of the saints, for a good laugh. At the Louvre I once saw a reliquary battle crown, so a king could ride into battle with the bones of his kingdom’s favorite saint decorating his head.

First was up at The Cloisters, which I vowed to visit again just to see the gardens in high season. Medieval art is full of trippy aesthetic surprises, easier to like, in some respects, than the graph-paper Renaissance stuff that came after it. The Rolling Stones got dressed in Medieval garb for some of their album covers, a part of a revival of Medievalism in the 60s that included Terry Gilliam’s animation, whose inspiration I see in the tapestries.

I catch myself reading too much in museums: taking a brief look at an artifact, registering that it warrants a closer look, then reading the text that goes with it before spending any quality time with it. It’s better to look first, to take an object in as a piece of art without any context to crush its capacity to excite you. Then see what the context does.

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J.C…..but not Jesus Christ.

Admiring a tapestry at the Cloisters, I figured it was a series of events in the life of a king, or possibly a bishop, knowing that the military-religious complex would have made Eisenhower blush. Well, it turns out it was a depiction of the life of Julius Caesar, from the Netherlands around the year 1405.

Of course they dressed him like a contemporary king, the way Shakespeare pictured ancient kings in Elizabethan costumes, but what was he doing there at all? It defies what we think we know, that no one cared about classical subjects, only religious ones, until traders brought ancient texts from the East, and the Italians spontaneously fell in love with the whole Greco-Roman thing, and a wonderful feeling spread north from Fra Lippo Lippi’s paintbrush as the 1400s went on. Well, in 1405 some important or at least rich person in Holland liked Caesar enough to commission a giant tapestry about his life, and there it was.

Back at the regular Met this week, I caught the exhibit Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven. Though the projected images of modern Jerusalem on the walls gave some of the rooms a propagandistic feel, the collection was mind-blowing. Everybody was there! Jews and Muslims, sure, but also Orthodox Christians, Coptic crosses from Africa, invading Catholics, and a Chinese bowl that somebody got from somebody.

There was even a decorative golden plate with the coat of arms of the House of Lusignan, a French dynasty that ruled Cyprus for 300 years. The coat of arms was tiny, and the script all around it offering good wishes was in giant Arabic characters. Did everyone who could read and write know Arabic, and maybe something else as a second language, or was it the kind of gift a conquering king gets from the locals? “Here’s a lad and a lass in the national costume presenting you with our famously refreshing cultured goat milk drink, oh, and this plate with our favorite sayings on it”?

I’ve written before about my preference for museums as repositories of artifacts rather than overly-curated shows with too much thematic baggage. The Met, I was happy to see, now has a giant room in a far-off wing devoted to visible storage, where it keeps its 19th Century chairs and tea sets that aren’t sensational enough for prime time, crowded together but behind glass. History is full of contradictions. The Medieval collections are always full of hallucinations and murder, and above all surprises, and despite the curators’ best efforts the Jerusalem show is another good example.

Carefree Highway

Last year around New Years, my wife and I heard Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For a Winter’s Night” and asked each other, on a lark, “I wonder of he’s still touring.” Within minutes we discovered he’d be playing in April in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, on our wedding anniversary, and couldn’t resist.

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Gord in Stroudsburg, PA in April. He’s had the same bass player, Rick Haynes, for 48 years.

On our way we wondered if he’d pay any tribute to Prince, who’d died a few days before – dedicate a song to him perhaps. (Springsteen played “Purple Rain” that same weekend.)

For the record, he did speak fondly of Prince, describing him as a “genius,” but didn’t play any song for him. Nor did he play the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” which disappointed me a bit. Months later I heard the WNYC interview with him and realized that this century he’s suffered both an aortic aneurysm (six weeks in a coma) and a minor stroke, and that he rehearses more than he ever did, because he has to! So you have to forgive him for skipping his hardest songs.

Today is my birthday, and I have too much to do to fall into a YouTube hole, but I’ve been known to spend hours watching singers. I even love seeing them try to lip sync to their own records during TV appearances. “Where are those strings coming from?” you wonder, “and was anyone really fooled by this?”

I also adore homespun attempts to sync up studio versions of songs with live footage, like the one below. I picture a guy with a Mac or at a cable access studio poring over the exact outpoint when the singer is obviously going “off script.”

I don’t know how you experience birthdays and anniversaries, but they’re starting to make me feel old. Like the pain in my feet and the extra second it takes to remember a coworker’s name is who I am. This year Gord was there, all 150 pounds of what used to be an imposing Northwoods frame, with a sweet smile and lovely manner, to say, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be cool old people.” He turned 78 a few weeks ago.

He started his set by playing about a half dozen of his recent songs – a classy maneuver – then played his 70s hits, starting with “Carefree Highway.”

The Designated Mourner

“These people, and God knows why, well, they don’t like us. They don’t like us. They simply don’t like us.”

That’s Jack from Wallace Shawn’s The Designated Mourner, a film I’ve watched more than once this week. That phrase rang in my ears the night I watched the election results from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump was going to win! Of all the reasons we were already starting to hear about why, I had to fixate first on one plain truth. Working class men in Erie and Kenosha really don’t like us coastal “elites.” So much that they’ll shoot themselves in the foot just to spite us.

 

By the next morning friends were texting and emailing hopeful quotes from Gandhi and Hafiz encouraging me to stay hopeful, but I went straight to Shawn. The whole film is on YouTube now, but if you don’t feel like watching it, it’s about a disintegrating marriage in a fictional post-coup America: If Chile in ’72 happened in New York today…

Jack is an unabashedly low-brow writer married to the daughter of a leading liberal intellectual. The first thing he tells us about his father-in-law Howard is what a capacity for contempt he has when he judges others, describing the pleasure with which Howard wins an argument by comparing it to a knife going into his body being twisted gratuitously.

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Wallace Shawn in the stage version.

Wallace Shawn knows how to savage liberal intellectuals. (While Judy’s giving her account of the coup, she takes a moment to describe how perfect the chutney complements the cheese at the last get-together.) On stage he played Jack in this play himself, but the film version is a good chance to see Mike Nichols act.

By the end of the film (spoiler alert!) he describes shitting on a book of poetry. It’s all about the release a person feels giving up any high brow aspirations, the accommodations we make with crass culture – in this case writ huge by the fictional coup setting, but really about all our lives. It feels a lot more prescient than ever.

 

 

 

Why I Love Horror Films This Week – and I Hate Horror Films

I’ve never liked horror as a genre, and yet the most timely film in theaters right now is Ouija: Origin of Evil. I came across it at the end of a horror film bender I started a week or so ago. I could blame Trump, but really the devastating fall cold virus that’s been haunting the continent dropped off a demon spawn in my bloodstream for a long weekend, and it just seemed right.

It started with 2016’s Sacrifice (written and directed by Peter Dowling, based on S.J.Bolton’s book), a Wicker Man knockoff about an American obstetrician who moves to her husband’s hometown in far northern Scotland – Big mistake! This whet my appetite for 2013’s Neverlake, written by Carlo Longo and Manuela Cacciamani, whose credits include production-managing The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The story, not unlike Sacrifice, is about a British girl who goes to visit her Italian father in southern Tuscany and finds he has more than just a passing interest in the the bizarre fertility rituals of the Etruscans. When production managers start writing stories, you can expect them to be about this exciting.

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“Which Oxford twit dies first?”

This made me crave a classic, so I watched 1973’s The Legend of Hell House. I recall this one being the late movie on television – one that was so late getting started, it seemed unthinkable that anyone could tolerate watching it in a dark house. It’s about a team of scientists and psychic experts who go to spend a week in a house haunted by a patrician serial killer.

By now I was sensing the old familiar patterns of horror of films, and the minute Pamela Franklin appeared as Florence Tanner, the young psychic whom the “real scientists” don’t respect, I said to my wife “She’s going to get sexually violated,” and she was. Horror films tend to be moralistic. Dionysian pleasure, and especially sexual precocity, get rewarded with violence.

They’re also often about self-righteous believers in science and reason getting their comeuppance, and that’s why the classic British horror films are the best. Enter Christopher Lee or Basil Rathbone talking about how thank goodness we don’t believe in superstition anymore, and wait for the spirit world to make a stunning comeback. Take that, Oxford twit!

Richard Matheson, who wrote The Legend of Hell House based on his own novel, had a long writing career that included the novel I Am Legend, episodes of Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, and The Night Stalker, and screenplays for the series of Roger Corman versions of Edgar Allen Poe films from the early 60s like The Pit and the Pendulum.

For good measure I thought I’d watch Children of the Corn, the 1984 film written by George Goldsmith based on a Stephen King story. This is about kids reimagining Christian fundamentalism in a brutal and childish way. One thing I always found frustrating about horror is the need of story-tellers to reveal “the secret” inside the story: the nuclear accident or experiment on monkeys that went awry and got covered up. It makes me tune the stories out for offering so much new information just when they’re promising clarity.

In their defense, horror films are often just about perfect in length. 90-100 minutes of tight story-telling that rivets you for the first 60. Then comes the unnecessary backstory about a sexually abusive bishop or Nazi doctors.

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Sheila Vand in “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”

For this, among other reasons, 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, is in a class by itself. Setting the film in an imaginary Persian underworld called Bad City, she takes the moralism inherent in horror and jacks it up by turning a feminist vampire on the loose. Her vampire, who devours drug dealers and shows mercy to prostitutes and children, is someone we get to see having downtime, enjoying English language music in her apartment. Her cape, coupled with a striped shirt, is equal parts burqa and vampire cape, and manages to evoke Jean Seberg from Breathless.

Amirpour has a new film coming out soon, and has to live up to the hype of being “the next Tarantino,” but I hope she just keeps writing stories like this. Really A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a love story that uses horror as a setting. No bombshells from the backstory needed come the one hour mark.

Which brings me to Ouija: Origin of Evil, a film that reviewers kept insisting is “actually not that bad,” which is true enough, for an hour. It’s written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard. Elizabeth Reaser, who many of us know as the diner waitress-siren of death from Mad Men, has bills she can’t pay so she starts spicing up her scam psychic business with a ouija board, and lays a moral trap from beyond the grave for herself and her daughters.

That the film is set in 1967 fascinates me, and that the dad figure who almost returns to make the family whole again in the conservative, Hitchcockian way, is a priest who’s obviously regretting his celibacy, also makes this movie extra titillating. So many lovely plants in the first hour of this film, you hope for a tight story, and just then it spins out of control. This week has been all Trump versus Hillary, which the Times is calling, correctly I think, a final rematch in the intra-generational fight inside the Baby Boom.

What hell they’ve unleashed on us.

Herr Tamburin Man

Did Bob Dylan deserve the Nobel Prize for literature? A better question might be, “Who is this cabal of Swedes that decides what greatness is?” Me, I don’t know, but on the face of it I suspect he does…

My friends are mostly elated about it, each of us under the spell of Dylan in some fashion or another. His award, if you believe their comments on it, is a return of literature to its rightful place, in a circle by a fire, with a blind poet plucking at a lyre.

People lose their minds over Bob, as Woody Allen lampooned in Annie Hall. When asked by Shelley Duval’s Rolling Stone reporter whether he’d caught a recent Bob Dylan show, Alvie answered, “Me? No, my raccoon had hepatitis.” (Woody never liked the Beats, or the counterculture in general.)

When Stephen Metcalfe of Slate laid out a case for why Dylan the musician was no poet of Nobel size, he punctuated it with a line whose sentiment comes up sooner or later whenever any writers doubt he deserves it: “We pathetic literati have a few days to pretend to world importance. We just lost another.”

Do we all have such petty, shriveled hearts? Do we look at what the world thinks of writers in general and feel we’re so under-appreciated we can’t clap when the old Stephen Foster and Reverend Gary Davis fanatic gets a medal pinned to him?

I think we can.

 

Elevator to the Gallows

Louis Malle was to the French New Wave what the Kinks were to the British Invasion. Though he is not the first name you think of associated with it, nor the second or third, he is clearly of it and did many of the things it did first and better.

That’s what occurred to me yesterday as I left the matinée screening of Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud) on the last day of its run at Film Forum. It was quite a sight: There were two dozen of us, by my count, which included one couple and all the rest of us solo viewers. What is it about arthouse cinema that inspires the same kind of following as weekday masses, where widowers and heartsick people worship in semi-private? But I digress…

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Jeanne Moreau and Yori Bertin, “So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you-ou-ou.”

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, written by Malle and Roger Nimier based on a novel by Noël Calef, was released in France on January 29, 1958, but didn’t come to the U.S. till the summer of ’61. In that interval, both The 400 Blows and Breathless came out. In the U.S., Hitchcock released both North By Northwest and Psycho, and a Papist became president. What a time.

Malle’s better known film The Lovers (Les amants) was also released in the fall of ’58, and in the interval between Elevator‘s French and U.S. releases, The Lovers caused a famous obscenity trial in Ohio, which it ultimately won. (The Kinks later got blackballed by the U.S. music business, and couldn’t tour right when the Beatles and Stones were solidifying their following with major U.S. tours.) So The Lovers became known as Malle’s first big film, and its upper middle class characters, and decidedly middlebrow atmosphere, put him at odds with the New Wave.

Elevator to the Gallows is basically a pulp novel story with higher aspirations, like lots of early Truffaut and Godard, and also looks like a New Wave film. Seeing Jeanne Moreau’s face lit by flashing lights, her makeup smudged, makes it feel like a low-budget labor of love. In the new digital restoration, you can see the boom operator’s reflection in the glass phone booth. Having seen it, I feel like I’ve been to Paris in ’58, and I can’t say the same for the Plaza Hotel or Mount Rushmore, as many times as I’ve seen North By Northwest.

Like Psycho, it begins like a step-by-step crime film, but instead of killing its heroine and becoming an admittedly unique whodunnit (a dull one, in my opinion), it sustains the tight time frame in three different stories: Tavernier, the man who just killed his rival, stuck in an elevator; the woman whose husband he just killed (Moreau) having a meltdown because she believes she’s being stood up; and the impulsive teenagers joyriding in Tavernier’s car, using his name. This all goes on a delightfully long time till the final unraveling.

The young couple playing the part of rebels is every bit as compelling as the kids in Breathless or A Band Apart, but Malle would never have been content with a story that was all about them. When Moreau finally tracks them down, it’s like an adult has broken up her teenagers’ beer party. Never mind your theater of rebellion, a broken heart is at stake here.

This is the kind of art-babble that kept me from going to grad school, but here it goes:

Elevator to the Gallows is ultimately a conflict between what medium is authoritative. It starts with the crime novel, which is just a point of departure. You know Tavernier will ultimately get caught, it’s in the title, but which crime will he get caught at, and how? Once he’s in custody, the free-wheeling New Wave locations give way to 100% atmosphere. The police station looks like a minimalist theatrical set, and we see some of the Malle we’ll get to know in My Dinner With Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street. It looks like interrogation – simple dialogue – is going to one-up the detective story, and have the last word, but in the end it’s photography that’s decisive.

It’s often remembered for its Miles Davis soundtrack, and that’s a good enough reason to keep watching this film:

My Donald Trump

The TV event of the year is happening tonight. I’m invited to a viewing party to see it, and have a bottle of party wine picked out (a liter of Italian grenache) and nothing else going on, but still I’m leaving the option of skipping it on the table till the last minute.

Based on past experience, I’m not sure I can sit through it. In October 2012, I’d spent a week on a solo writing retreat near the Vermont border and was driving back right on time to see the second Obama-Romney debate. My wife and friends had a nice supper waiting, and as we tuned in I could feel the peace and focus evaporating through my temples. I started pacing, then doing the dishes. Romney was pestering Obama about domestic oil drilling, and Obama, who knew it was nothing to be proud of, bickered right back, saying his plan allowed for more drilling than Mitt’s plan. “This is how we choose presidents?” I finished my drink in the kitchen.

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Melania. Be very afraid.

And this year, I’ve actually had face time with one of the candidates: Donald Trump used to be my boss! In the spring of 2005 I was new to New York and answered an ad for crew wanted for a TV show. An interview was scheduled for Trump Tower, which I naively figured was just a space another production was renting. It was one of those situations when you’re expecting an interview, and you show up and they want to know why you didn’t bring any ID’s for an I-9. There’s no discussion, you’ve got the job.

So, I figured, “What the hell? Let’s see what working for The Apprentice is like.” It would be good for a laugh anyway. My way with assistant-level jobs was always to wear a nicer shirt than anyone else, which isn’t hard on a TV shoot, because everybody looks like crap, and before you know it you’re promoted. The first day was a full crew meeting, where we watched a sizzle reel of that season’s contestants. We laughed, often at their expense.

We were warned that although The Donald would be on set at times, we were not to talk to him: He has a habit of going down the chain of command when he has a bad idea. If his producers disagreed with him, he asked his producer’s assistants. If they disagreed, then he started talking to random guys in baseball caps until someone nervously answered, “Good idea.” It seemed like a curious thing to say to – I don’t remember how many of us there were, but the meeting was held in the Hammerstein Ballroom, which tells you something about how many of us were present.

The first episode of that season started on Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, NJ, with Trump telling the gathered contestants that he would give a leg up to one person by giving him or her a ride back to New York City in his helicopter if they’d be the first to run to it, which started a race across a fairway to his waiting chopper, a scramble reminiscent of the longshoremen fighting for a token to work in On The Waterfront.

That night, after a twelve-hour day, I was told that I looked something like one of the contestants, and asked if I could come back for the reshoot the next day. A “reshoot” in reality TV? Yes they do! If they need a wide shot without the twenty-plus video cameras in the frame, they restage the action a day later with stand-ins. I was told that it paid better and could lead to steady work doing it.

Producer: Can you come tomorrow?

Me: Sure.

Producer: Do you have a black suit?

Me: Yeah.

Producer: Do you have a red tie?

Me: I don’t think so.

Producer: Can you borrow one by tomorrow?

Me: I doubt it.

Producer: Well, do your best and let us know.

The Apprentice was the number one show on NBC at the time, and it relied on the aspirations of not just its cast to break the actors union, but its stand-ins’ own wardrobes to get the correct color of tie for its reshoots. I had no aspirations of being on screen, so I showed up sans cravat and figured it would be their problem if they needed a red tie. We shot it without it, the production manager himself playing Trump in the wide shot, wearing a Chinatown Trump wig. That’s the great business genius in a nutshell.

Crew members were tired of constantly going through security and up the elevator, so one day I offered to run an envelope up to set. My $24.99 shirt from H&M separated me from the riff raff and I strode right in. Trump smiled at me, and we nodded hello, but I could see by his handlers’ expressions, something like the look on the cop’s face the moment Jack Ruby shot Oswald, that it wasn’t the time for introductions.

After a few weeks of dozing behind the wheel of a van in the no-parking zone outside of Trump Tower I asked the coordinator if maybe we can excuse a few of us to leave early, since we had too many vehicles anyway, and he leveled with me: It was cheaper to keep them attended than to park them in a ramp. That’s when you realize you’re taking the long way in your career.

And now Trump could be president. I guess it only makes sense that the person responsible for putting so many TV writers out of work is flummoxing so many writers as a politician. As columnists one after another publish their own version of the definitive reasons Trump is not fit to be prez, it feels like they’re falling on their swords, realizing that discursive writing itself is meaningless.

I’ve said in the past that the real determinant of elections is the first ladies: Voters turn out to vote for the kind of sex life they want the country to have. Democrats lose when they try reviving Eleanor Roosevelt, and they win with youthful, exciting first ladies.

That’s the unknown that terrifies me as much as the prospect of another numskull with a pipe bomb tilting the election to Trump. Bill Clinton, as the first male “first lady,” has to play the part of the sagacious grandpa; being the frisky grandpa like Bob Dole doing Viagra ads is off limits for him. He’s always more Eleanor than Jacqueline or Michelle. Voters are hardly deft enough thinkers to identify with a 70-year-old leader (I know, I’m rounding up: Hillary will be 69 next month.), and we’re asking them to do that and get over their bias against female leaders, when Trump has Melania standing next to him.

I feel the urge to hide come election time, not because I fear the opponents but because I get frustrated with my friends, many of whom, this time around, are breathlessly repeating every last transgression of Trump, whose strategy is obviously to keep people talking about Trump the released American id, so we never talk about Clinton.

I refuse to believe that the 55 million Americans who are going to vote for Trump are either fascists or willing fascist-enablers. There must be some other motive at work, but judging by the reception a column by an anti-Trump Republican got last week, the Left doesn’t want to hear it. Ross Douthat posted a cheeky piece with the admittedly misleading title “Clinton’s Samantha Bee Problem.” Judging by the online response, you’d think he was blaming a beloved feminist comic for Trump’s rise, when all he was doing was pointing out that, historically, the ascendance of cultural liberalism doesn’t necessarily translate into political power, and in fact inspires a knee-jerk response against liberalism in the hinterlands, one that Trump is riding right now.

Are voters really so short-sighted? So tasteless?  The answer is apparently yes, except for our saviors, the women of the suburbs in Cleveland, Philly, and Miami. If Hillary keeps up this message, she’ll rally them and win:

This is the Hillary I’m looking for tonight, or the Hillary I would be looking for, if I weren’t in my friend’s kitchen, washing the wine glasses and looking for a lid for the Tupperware container that’s just the right size for the amount of tabouleh that’s left over.