Dinner party! Now that the garden is starting to look nice, and the cats are becoming less feral and more civilized, and Klopnik has begun to change (occasionally) out of his gardening clothes, the Storming Bohemian’s thoughts turn to socializing on the patio.
Klopnik, who insists that he is a hermit, and, like Huck Finn, resists all efforts to civilize him, is slowly coming around. Like Tom Sawyer getting Huck to whitewash a fence, I try to model enthusiasm and see if it takes.
So, I am busily considering menu and guest list. I’ll get back to this. But, meanwhile…
Today is the day that the SCROTUS (So-called Ruler Of The United States) fired the Director of the FBI. Evidently, Mr. Trump was shocked—shocked!—that the good Mr. Comey was found to have mishandled the investigation of Hillary Clinton. The very handling, you will no doubt recall, that Trump had enthusiastically complimented just a few weeks ago.
And did you see the revolting photo of our SCROTUS and his aids smiling and celebrating as the House passed their nefarious American Health Care Act? (AHCA should stand for American Health Catastrophe Act, shouldn’t it? I mean “care” in the context of these Repugnicans is a complete misnomer.)
I don’t usually get this in-your-face about politics, but, I mean, I opened the New York Times website tonight and was greeted on their front page by a portrait of Richard Nixon! What? I feel like I’ve fallen into a sewer and it does not smell pretty. The sight of Tricky Dick literally makes me nauseous, back in the day and now.
So, it is time for a dinner party. One must escape. There is so little to be done about the politics (although one does what one can, writing and demonstrating) but attention to the niceties of life, the affirmation of goodness that requires, seems vital indeed.
A great dinner party is a joy for a lifetime. Klopnik recalls a special dinner from his childhood in Mexico, when his expatriate family asked the local cook to create “an authentic Mexican mole” for their dinner guests. As they sat expectantly at the table, Maria presented a huge bowl of the chocolate chile wonder, with a crowning glory: a chicken foot reaching for the sky from the center of the sauce. The disturbed family and guests were unable to enjoy the meal. But an entranced Argyle spent the next three days consuming every last bit, much to the joy of Maria. The memory is so vivid he still talks about it over half a century later.
When I was a child, attending elementary school in a Boston suburb, my parents would invite the entire staff of teachers (about nine in all) to a dinner party. Such excitement! Teachers in our house! My siblings and I would excitedly take coats and stare in wonder as our teachers appeared in fancy clothes, outside of their natural chalk dusty habitat. I remember that my beloved second grade teacher, Miss Jackson, sat in a chair in the living room where one of my aunties used to sit and this, in my seven-year-old mind, gave me permission to jump into her lap. How glorious that was! I can still feel the thrill.
Professor of Philosophy David Livingstone Smith reminds us that he predicted months ago that Trump would fire the head of the FBI because (in the Professor’s analysis) he needs a willing “gestapo.” Smith warns there may be rough times ahead.
So I think about dinner parties and socializing and art and living well in spite of the hell. Do you know the Berkeley street poet and bubble lady, Julia Vinograd? Julia has been a vibrant member of the Bay Area poetry scene for fifty years, ever since she was a UC Berkeley student and street activist. Although she has a degree from the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Julia long ago rejected academia and any sort of “straight” life in favor of living simply in Berkeley where she sells her poems on the street. She is known also as the “Berkeley Bubble Lady” because once, in the midst of an angry street demonstration, she responded by blowing bubbles for the people. It became a longstanding tradition, and generations of Berkeley children have delighted in the gesture. So one day, I invited her to lunch. Now you should know that as a “street” poet, Julia is inclined to wear a “street” costume, a bit on the bag lady-ish side. And our lunch was in the very upscale dining room of the Berkeley City Club. Julia, who spent her early years in Pasadena dontcha know, played the grand lady to the hilt, and I will long remember the astounded reaction of the impressed wait staff. This was especially in evidence when she recited a poem that featured the F-word, shouted with considerable enthusiasm. It was a memorable meal.
When my family moved from a suburban New England home to live in rural Mississippi in 1968, where my father was establishing a health clinic for poor people and my white, Jewish mother taught in a Black high school and my brother was organizing for civil rights, our dinner guests included many civil rights workers and folks like Jack Geiger (founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility) and activist nuns. Most memorable was the dinner of freshly hunted quail that we were served by a neighbor not long after the assassination of Dr. King and just before we left town after my sister was the victim of a vicious attack that may have been politically motivated. Those rural birds were the taste of love, and fear, and politics, and racism, and hope all stewed together in one gamey mouthful.
And, speaking of dinner parties, I understand that soon Mr. Trump will be entertaining Filipino strong man dictator Rodrigo Duterte (who referred to Barack Obama as “son of a whore”), known to many as “the butcher” for his brutal war on drugs that reportedly has killed many innocent people.
But we can entertain, too. And Klopnik and I and our guests will light our candle in the darkness, and I’ll prepare a mole in honor of Klopnik’s Mexican childhood, although I (probably) will not include a chicken foot reaching for the sky, and we’ll laugh a lot, and drink margaritas (virgin in my case) and stay up too late, and we’ll talk politics but we won’t let it get us down.
One of my favorite contemporary writers, beloved friend, and Rumpus interviewee, Zarina Zabrisky, who grew up in Soviet Russia, talks about surviving an authoritarian regime. Sometimes, she says, the best you can do is refuse to support the authorities in any way whatsoever. Simply stop participating. Except no grants, no jobs, nothing, doo dah, squat. (I’m paraphrasing.) Instead, she says, meet with your artist friends, enjoy dinner parties, be creative, make theatre, make music, make love, and keep the fires burning for when the times inevitably change.
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks the Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.