Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Roger and Me: A Middlebury Story

I met Roger Lewis in the autumn of 1963, our paths crossing and recrossing in the confusing rush and clatter of becoming Middlebury College freshmen. We were not in any of the same classes, except for R.O.T.C., which was then a two-year requirement for male students, but we were both assigned rooms in Hepburn Hall as all four floors of us, some eagerly, some warily, were getting to know each other.

My first impression of Roger was of a bespectacled scholarly type, shy but also intense. From glancing encounters in Hepburn corridors, adjacency at Proctor Hall dining tables, and checking our mail together downstairs, he seemed interested in getting to know me. He wanted especially to know what I liked to read, which was not something my other new acquaintances had thought to ask about. It so happened that at the time my first great non-school related reading passion had recently crested: a deep immersion, beginning my junior year in high school, with the work of J.D. Salinger. Something like immersion was possible for me because Salinger’s published output was slight. There was the enormously popular Catcher in the Rye, a slender story collection, Nine Stories, and some novella-length stories about Glass family siblings published as Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Like millions of my fellow adolescents, I felt that Catcher in the Rye had somehow found me out and in doing so had set free a more feeling and honest self. The appeal of the other stories would have been harder for me to name, but it too was intense and even at their most perplexing, the stories managed to convey some of the allure of Catcher in the Rye-- a feeling that this writer, Salinger, was letting me in on important secrets.

I don’t know exactly what I said to Roger in response to his question, but not a week later he stopped me in the Proctor Hall mail room and handed me a manila envelope thick with documents. He seemed almost embarrassed to be handing it over to me. He told me I might be interested in the material: uncollected, previously published Salinger stories, since disowned. I did not know what to say, but I hope some kind of thanks, before he hurried off. Back in my room I took the blotchy photocopies out of the envelope and read them straight through. I remember feeling the stories were pretty obvious in their intent and not very compelling, but in one or two of them there was a hint of the Salinger secret-sharing. I also remember a feeling of unearned pride that I had now become something of a Salinger scholar—not that I had at that point the slightest notion of what a scholar or scholarship was. Though even then, I think Roger did.

I did not deepen my relationship with Roger after that. We formed different friendships and moved in different circles, circles unlikely to intersect after I joined an athletic-leaning fraternity. I became preoccupied learning to play the guitar. I was increasingly engaged in campus publications, editing both a slapdash literary magazine called Stimulus and the college newspaper, The Campus. For a few months of our sophomore year Roger and I were fellow English majors before, in a fit of despondency, I abruptly switched to political science. Truth be told, Middlebury English courses had discouraged me by their--altogether appropriate--  stress on analysis: how the elements of a text combined to produce their effects. I did not want to think about “imagery” as a strategy. I did not want to step back and consider how the particular voice of this or that “speaker” bore on the impact of a poem. I wanted only to enter into the story and to be carried away. Roger must have felt otherwise, for he became an accomplished English major in a very demanding program in an era when English was by far the most sought after major at Middlebury.

After graduation from the college Roger and I would not meet face to face for a half century, but our life trajectories would intersect again in consequential ways.

After Middlebury I went on to graduate study at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, then a year at Cambridge University, before completing a doctorate in political philosophy. To support myself in these studies and, not incidentally, in order to get married, I took a job teaching, coaching, and counseling at Cleveland’s University School, an independent boys’ school. I would remain at the school until my retirement in 2005, by which time I had become its headmaster. I mostly enjoyed the challenges of keeping a rigorous school. I was also beyond lucky that school life enabled me to find myself as a writer. In my mid-thirties I had some luck with a novel, The Headmaster’s Papers, set in the prep school world, and thereafter books of all kinds—more novels, a memoir, some poetry, books about child development and learning—came along in a satisfying succession. My retirement “plan” was to write all of the time, which so far I have been able to manage.

Though I was unaware of it until late in life, Roger’s career path after Middlebury was not dissimilar to mine. After completing graduate studies in literature at Indiana University, he began a productive forty-year professorship at George Mason University, from which he has recently retired. Along the way, he too emerged as a writer, producing a novel, a book of poems, and a number of scholarly studies in American literature. Scholar and bibliophile in equal measure, he established in 1983 a belles lettres publishing house, Orchises Press, which now includes an impressive inventory of literary fiction, contemporary poetry, and memoir, as well as facsimile editions of classic works, including James Joyce’s Ulysses and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Along the way, Roger has also managed to meet, know, edit, and sometimes befriend an array our era’s of literary luminaries. Along the way also, Roger Lewis, for personal reasons, has become Roger Lathbury.

Though he is honorably qualified to drop distinguished literary names, Roger does not. For example, it took my rambling on at length about why I found the late Christopher Hitchens’ argument for atheism faulty, for Roger to reveal that he actually knew Hitchens and had lifted more than a few glasses of wine in his company, though not nearly as many as Hitchens’ glasses of scotch. Moreover, you might be long and agreeably acquainted with Roger without being aware, unless you read about it elsewhere, that he had forged a cordial relationship as well as a business relationship with the famously elusive and reclusive J.D. Salinger.

In 1988, on a whim as he tells it, Roger wrote to Salinger in Cornish, New Hampshire, to propose that Orchises Press publish his last short story, the novella- length “Hapworth 16, 1924,” as a book. The story originally appeared in The New Yorker in July, 1965, an extended letter home from summer camp written by the seven-year-old mystic, Seymour Glass. To Roger’s delight, Salinger answered the inquiry, saying he would “consider it,” though Roger was not at all surprised when he heard nothing further.

But then he did. Eight years later, Salinger’s agent contacted Roger asking to see the Orchises catalog and some representative books. Orchises Press having passed this vetting, Salinger himself contacted Roger by phone, and together they proceeded to schedule a meeting in Washington, D.C., where plans to produce the book were finalized. In the months that followed, Roger and Salinger communicated cordially without a trace of Salinger’s legendary refusal to be heard or seen.

As final page proofs were due back from Salinger prior to printing, Roger believes he made a misstep. Among Salinger’s strict conditions for allowing Roger to publish was that there would be no promotion or publicity, terms to which Roger readily agreed. An alert reporter for a business journal, noticing that the Library of Congress listings of coming titles included a new book by none other than J.D. Salinger, telephoned Roger to find out more. Roger answered her questions, unaware that doing so would constitute “publicity.” He was mistaken. A reporter from The Washington Post saw the article in the business journal, and the story quickly became national and international news: after decades of silence, a new book by J.D. Salinger!

The new book never appeared. Salinger did not return final proofs to Roger, nor would he take Roger’s calls or answer his letters. “I blew it,” Roger told reporters and researchers eager to learn the story of the almost publishing coup.

By the time I read about the “almost” in a British newspaper, I had already learned that Roger, now Roger Lathbury, had become a professor and a publisher. A Middlebury classmate and friend who worked at Deerfield Academy told me about bumping into Roger as he was showing his daughter around the campus in the course of an admissions visit. “He’s Roger Lathbury now,” my friend said, “and he’s an interesting guy.”

I was not surprised to learn that the Roger Lewis I had known at Middlebury had become an interesting guy. I had not forgotten that generous deliverance of the disowned Salinger stories. For that matter I had not forgotten the impact Salinger had made on me as a boy, a conviction that if a writer could create what Catcher in the Rye did to me, maybe that was something I could do. Whether I succeeded or not, the idea of trying has held me in thrall.

I decided to reestablish contact with Roger. I found his email address through his university’s website. Then he appeared in a Facebook succession of potential “friends.” I was, after all, a writer, and he was, after all, a publisher. As we became reacquainted through a lively exchange of emails, I did not have in mind something I hoped he would publish, but I had a strong, inarticulate desire for him to see my work. I sent him some books, and his considered responses let me know he had read in them exactly what I thought I had conveyed.

Our correspondence has grown now to what are now almost daily exchanges, including an occasional exchange of artifacts. The inexplicable generosity that impelled him to reproduce and give me those lost Salinger stories a half century ago is still at work in him. Two years ago on my birthday he sent me a remarkably pristine copy of the first ever The New Yorker, which was published February 21 (my birthday) in 1925. A little research revealed that the magazine was valuable, so I wrote back thanking him and pledging to send it back when I had looked it over. He said not to bother; he believed he had others. On another birthday, he sent me a copy of a mock formal invitation to a cocktail party W.H. Auden had sent to his New York friends—this because Auden, like the inaugural New Yorker, shared my February 21 birthday.

As our fiftieth Middlebury reunion loomed, I was tapped to put together a memorial service for the sixty or so classmates who had died. Roger seemed an obvious choice to present an appropriate literary tribute in memoriam, and in the event did so gracefully. It was very good to see him in the flesh. Like the rest of us, his undergraduate frame had filled out a bit. There was a faintly tweedy, professorial air about him, which I found becoming. His assessments of the people we met and of the events we attended together were considered, also at times mordantly funny.

All three days of the reunion were satisfying, but the highlight for me was a surprise, haphazardly arranged get-together in a Forrest Hall parlor after one of the class dinners. A dozen or so of us managed to forage a suitable supply of wine and spirits to extend what had already been a fairly bibulous evening. To my delight there was an unlocked, in-tune Steinway piano at one end of the room, and various clusters of us managed to exhaust what turned out to be an impressive repertoire of show tunes before proceeding into the history of rock and roll. We sang and played on in the highest of spirits into the small hours. Roger, who seemed to know every song in both genres, appeared to be in a sustained state of elation, though no longer professorial.

A few years prior to our reunion, I had set out, at first tentatively and then with mounting conviction, on what I am sure is my most ambitious—and last—literary project. I wanted to document through regular, sometimes daily journal entries the late life experience of passing from full sentience to less to none. Because the experiences I chronicled were unfolding as I was writing about them, they could not be shaped by any authorial plan or prior assumptions. I knew I would in time be recounting declining physical and perhaps mental function, diminished social interaction and impact, and all manner of loss. I also hoped to capture whatever surprises and new perspectives might arrive in consequence of the liberation granted by those losses.

A year into the project and now lost in it, I knew the person most likely to tell me what I was doing was Roger. What I wanted from him most immediately was for him to tell me if I was doing anything beyond keeping a diary. When he responded warmly to some excerpts I sent him, I resolved to send him the whole thing to date, fully aware that it was an imposition, as the manuscript had grown to about a thousand manuscript pages, and the thing was still alive and growing.

To my astonishment, Roger got back to me three days later. He had read all of it and in fact told me—every writer’s fondest wish—that he couldn’t stop reading. He seemed especially interested in entries I feared would be tediously mundane. His response was full of praises and interesting questions, which gave rise to an intense correspondence back and forth, resulting in a decision to publish. Whether there would be a single, probably brick-ish volume or a succession of volumes was decided in favor of the latter, given the fact that the project was still in progress.

For a number of good reasons, we agreed to discard my working title, An End Game, in favor of On My Way Out, and Roger got on with the business of technical editing and book design. The finished book appeared in the fall of 2019.

The ease and pleasure of working with Roger bore little resemblance to my relationship to my prior publishers. Beginning in the early 1980s I began producing books for publication at a rate of almost one per year. My publishers ranged from large commercial houses to small independents, some, like Roger’s Orchises, operating almost single-handedly. Over those writing years, my experience of editors fell into three general categories: imperiously domineering, timidly respectful, and doggedly proceeding through established protocols. Common to all three was the editors’ terror of the book failing to please imagined markets.

With Roger there was none of that. Questions, requests for clarification, cautions about potential repercussions that might arise when recounting events involving living people were posed directly in a spirit of what did I think? From Roger’s initial, unexpected response to the manuscript through final edits, I became aware of something I had not experienced before as a writer: that my editor/publisher had taken in and affirmed everything I had intended in my manuscript. In consequence it had become neither mine, nor his, but ours. It was like finally drawing a full, deep breath after a lifetime of shallow ones.

As I write this, Volume Two of On My Way Out is scheduled to appear in the fall of 2020. By my estimation, Volume Three and then some is hovering in some dark recess of my Mac. I have more to say than anyone needs to hear about responses to the book so far. My purpose in this reflection is hold up to the light something too often overlooked in reckoning the value of a “college education.”

In 2013 Columbia University historian Andrew Delbanco wrote a provocative book on the subject, College, What it was, Is, and Should Be. In laying out the past-to-present trajectory of American higher education, he raises serious concerns about the social contribution and viability of even the most well-established colleges and universities. He of course addresses the phenomenal cost of selective private colleges, the dominant trend toward job and professional training and away from traditional liberal arts. He also addresses what he believes to be the hollow scholastic value of schools’ being “highly selective.”

The challenge to established colleges and universities, Delbanco argues, is to articulate and demonstrate as never before the sine qua non that justifies a young man or woman’s four-year removal from the business of getting on with their material lives. Just what, he asks, is the “value added?”

At seventy-five, I do not have to guess at the answer; nor, I believe, does Roger. My great good fortune is to be doing daily exactly what I feel I was born to do. That I am able to do it is due to the generosity and discernment of a college classmate who seems to me also doing what he was born to do.

And the sine qua non: the potent serendipity of small residential college life.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Pig Farm - A Fable for Our Times


When piglet Rumpford was old enough to think, his first thought was, “There is not enough.”

Before Rumpford’s father, Big Rumpford, went away on the Goodbye Train, there had been plenty of slops. Pop Heartland, or sometimes Ma Heartland, would come out of the Dry House in the morning and pour buckets of slops into the pen. Big Rumpford, who was the biggest hog in their pen, would grunt and shoulder the other pigs into a corner, then guard the steaming trough of slops until he and Rumpford had as much as they wanted. But now Big Rumpford was gone and there was not enough.

Eating as much as he wanted, Rumpford had grown fat and white and sleek, but now he was troubled. There was talk in his pen and also in the other pens that Pop Heartland was not doing a good job anymore. He was old now, some of the breeder hogs said. So was Ma. Sometimes the slops came out long after the sun came up. Sometimes it was only fruit rinds and egg shells and coffee water.

Two young pigs from Rumpford’s pen approached him to talk. One of them was Shank who admired Rumpford because Rumpford was fat and white and sleek. The other one was Booker, who knew how to read.

“We want more slops,” Shank said. “What are we going to do?”

“Things are bad now,” Booker added. “There is not enough food in the slops we are getting these days. If this keeps up, we are going to starve and die.”

No!” grunted Rumpford. 

“And,” Booker said, pausing thoughtfully, “It could get worse. Pop and Ma Heartland don’t want us to starve and die, because then we would be of no use to them. Before that happens, they will send us away on the Goodbye Train.”

Rumpford thought about the Goodbye Train. The Goodbye Train had taken away his father, and then there had not been enough slops.

Rumpford said, “Let’s do something.”


Day after day there were not enough slops, and the slops that came out were sour and watery and unsatisfying. One day, there were no slops at all. On that day neither Ma or Pop Heartland came out of the Dry House.

Rumpford and Shank and Booker talked over the situation. There was also talk among the other pigs. In one of the other pens, a new piglet was killed and eaten by the breeding hogs, and now there was fear.

Rumpford told Shank and Booker he had a plan. This was the plan. Rumpford had noticed that when Ma and Pop Heartland came out to the pens, they weren’t very big. Even up on their stick legs, they were not as big and round as a grown hog and certainly not as big as two grown hogs. 

Rumpford told the pigs in his pen that the next morning when Pop Heartland came out to slop the troughs, they should huddle together in the back of the pen pretending to be afraid. When Pop Heartland came into the pen to see what was going on, they would rush at him, knock him to the ground, close in around him and trample him until he was be dead. When Ma Heartland came out to see what had happened to Pop Heartland, they would do the same thing to her.

“But,” Booker said, “Where will we get slops?” The other pigs also wanted to know.

At first Rumpford didn’t know the answer, but then he had an idea. “We will get them,” he said, “in the Dry House! The Dry House has all the slops.”

Shank looked confused and asked, “How can we get to the Dry House? We can’t even get out of this pen.”

Rumpford knew the answer. Ma and Pop Heartland would have to open the pen to get in and when they were dead, the gate would still be open. The pigs could go out, go wherever they wanted. The could go right into the Dry House and eat the slops.

“That’s a good plan!” Shank said, and he realized he liked Rumpford more than ever. He liked thinking that everything was going to get better and that there would be enough. The other pigs in their pen liked the idea, too, once Booker explained to them what each of them was going to do.

The next morning the pigs in Rumpford’s pen were waiting. When Pop Heartland looked over the top of the gate into the pen, he saw that all the pigs were huddled together in one corner. They were snorting and snuffling as if something was wrong. Pop Heartland unlatched the gate and walked inside to see what the trouble was. Maybe a fox or a snake had gotten into pen, he thought. He put down his bucket of slops and stooped down to look under the trough. Then he got down on his hands and knees to see all the way under.

Rumpford snorted, and all the pigs rushed forward and in an instant Pop Heartland was buried beneath a great mound of squealing pigs as they dug into him with their sharp horny trotters. When Pop Heartland was dead, the pigs backed away and looked to Rumpford and Shank and Booker to see what to do next.

Rumpford said, “Wait a minute.” Then he went to the upturned bucket of slops and ate nearly all of it before walking away. Shank and Booker rushed forward to slurp up the rest. The other pigs were snuffling and snorting around the empty bucket when they heard Ma Heartland calling out for her husband.

Rumpford had been thinking, and he whispered to the other pigs, “Hurry! Gather around old Heartland, so she can’t see.” The pigs did this, and when Ma Heartland, puzzled, wandered into the pen, they sprang forward, knocking her down. In just minutes, she was dead too, though there were no more slops.


Rumpford was the first to walk out of the open gate of the pen into the barnyard. He walked out onto green grass. Beyond he could see the dry road leading out of the farm and in the distance a green wood. There were great gray bins standing inside the open barn doors. The bins smelled of slops. He called to Shank and Booker to come join him, and they did. 

At the back of the Dry House they nudged a tall bin of slops over on its side, and they ate all they wanted. Then they went around to the front of the house. Ma Heartland had left the door open, and they went inside. They sniffed and snorted through all of the rooms. Booker noticed a wooden stand holding shelves of books. 

Rumpford was stuffed and drowsy from eating so much slops but he followed a pleasing smell into the kitchen where a shiny pail of slops stood beneath a sink. He turned it on its side and dreamily ate a few mouthfuls, although he was no longer hungry. At the back of the kitchen was a small room, its shelves stocked from floor to ceiling with boxes and cans and sacks of what smelled to Rumpford faintly of slops. He was almost too sleepy now to think, but what he did think was, “There are going to be enough slops.”

As they clattered out of the house into the bright sunlight, Rumpford noticed something standing upright against the wall by the front door, and he was startled. It was Pop Heartland’s killbang, the killbang he used to kill foxes when they got into the pig pens and chicken coops. Once when Big Rumpford’s brother was sick with skin sores, Rumpford had watched Pop Heartland put the killbang against Big Rumpford’s brother’s head and make the dead bang. The dead bang was so loud and terrible Rumpford had emptied his bowels.

Rumpford knocked the killbang down onto the floor with his snout. He sniffed up and down the oiled wooden stock, over the metal trigger housing, and down the long blue barrel. Shank and Booker came back into the house to see what Rumpford was doing. Rumpford lay down on his belly next to the killbang. He looked up at Shank and Booker with his meanest eyes and snorted. He knew two things now. There was enough. And he was in charge.


Rumpford was happy and proud. The bins behind the house and inside the barn door contained all the slops he could eat. He liked wandering around the barnyard and lawns, exploring and doing what he pleased. Shank and Booker enjoyed themselves also, but they took care not move in on Rumpford’s slops until Rumpford had finished eating and moved on. Rumpford, they could see, had gown fatter and whiter and sleeker than ever. He had become, they thought, a splendid pig.

The other pigs from their pen were not as happy. For a day or two, there were no slops, and when they wandered out of the open pen and approached the bins in the barn, Rumpford, Shank and Booker blocked their way and said they were not allowed. They saw that Rumpford had grown big now, even bigger than Big Rumpford. Rumpford told them he had a plan and they would really like the plan. He told them they were not only going to get their slops, they were going to get more slops than they had ever had. He told them, “There are going to be enough slops again!” Even though they were very hungry, some snorted cheers.

Then Rumpford led them to a spilled bin of slops where he had been eating and told them they could have the rest, but they were not to approach any other bins unless he told them it was all right. “If you do what I say,” he told them, “there are going to be enough slops again.” When the pigs had eaten every scrap of what was left and wandered back across the barnyard to their pen, they heard the frightened and angry squeals of the pigs in the other pens, the ones that were still latched shut. They had been given no slops since Ma and Pop Heartland stopped coming around.

The penned pigs called out, “Help us, please! We are starving in here.” 

Shank and Booker did not know what to say. They could not unlatch the pens, and if they could, and all the pigs on the farm got out, they would go straight for the bins, and soon all the slops would be gone. There would not be enough.

“Don’t worry,” Shank shouted into the pens. “Rumpford has a plan. It is a great plan, and there will be enough slops again.” The pens quieted down, and Shank could hear the pigs explaining to one another that there would be enough slops again. 

“When?” A breeder hog asked.

“Very soon,” Shank said, although he did not know. “You must be patient, or you will spoil the plan.”

“And please,” Booker added, “Don’t eat your babies.” 


Rumpford decided to live in the Dry House now. When he had eaten his fill of slops out in the barn, he liked to come back to the Dry House and lie down on the cool living room floor next to the killbang. From there he could keep an eye on the barnyard through the open door.

One morning a truck drove up the farm road into the barnyard. Three men got out and began walking toward the pens. Rumpford watched Shank and Booker approach the men. Because of his reading, Booker was able to understand the language of the men. They said they were from the train yard. They wanted to know where Pop Heartland was, because he had not delivered the pigs he had promised. When Booker heard them say “train,” he thought at once of the Good-bye Train, and he felt fear.

Booker and Shank backed away from the men. Booker said, “Pop Heartland is not in charge here anymore. Rumpford is in charge.”

The men wanted to know where they could find Rumpford. Booker thought for a moment and said, “He is not here right now. Why don’t you come back tomorrow, and we will tell you what you need to know.” The men agreed to come back the following day.

Booker and Shank called for Rumpford to come out of the Dry House. They told him about the men who had come for pigs they wanted to take away on the train. They asked Rumpford what they should do. At first Rumpford did not know. He had been thinking about something else. He had been thinking that all the bins behind the house had been knocked over and the slops eaten. There were still one or two bins of slops in the barn, but pretty soon those would be gone. In fact, they would already be gone if he and Shank and Booker had not run off the other pigs who broke Rumpford’s rule and knocked over a bin for themselves. Those pigs had gone squealing out of the barnyard, across the long pasture, and into the green wood.

Rumpford was feeling hungry, and he thought of a plan. There were seven latched pens full of hungry pigs. Lately their squealing had not quieted when he promised that, if they would be patient, there would be enough slops again. His plan would work this way. When the men came back, Booker would say that they could open the latch of one of the pens and take those pigs away to the train, but in return they must dump a full truckload of slops inside the barn. 

“That way,” Rumpford explained to Shank and Booker, “we will be rid of a pen of complainers, and we will have all the slops we can eat.”


For two days Rumpford’s plan worked perfectly. The men from the train yard seemed happy to exchange a truck load of slops for a truck load of pigs. And when the pigs in the remaining six pens smelled the great heap of fresh slops in the barn, they grew excited that they would at last be fed. When they cried out for slops, Rumpford told them, “Yes, they have come, just as I promised. You must be patient.”

But then the problems began. When there were three full pens left, the bleating squeals from the pigs inside them could be heard day and night. From the straw beds they had made for themselves in the barn, Shank and Booker could not sleep for the noise. 

Rumpford lay on his belly on the living room floor of the Dry House, next to the killbang. He could hear the screams and the squeals. He knew the penned pigs were starving for slops, the heavy odor growing more intense with each new load the men dropped from their truck. It had been such a long time since the penned pigs had been fed. It had not rained in days, so there would be little water in the water troughs. The pigs no longer quieted when Rumpford went out to their pens and told them to be patient because soon there would be enough slops. “Can’t you smell them?” he would say.

The enormous hill of slops steaming just inside the barn doors no longer pleased Rumpford. It was more than enough, but it did not feel like enough anymore. It was strange, he thought, as another truckload was dumped onto the pile. There were more slops than he wanted, yet the pigs in their pens did not have any at all.

When the men came to take away the pigs in the second-to-last pen, they went looking for Booker and complained. 

“These pigs aren’t going to be any good for anybody,” the men said. “They are scrawny and sickly, and some of them have sores all over their skin.”

Booker said he was sorry that had happened and that he would report their concern to Rumpford, but the men looked angry. Booker did not like it that one of the men talking to him held a burnstick in his hand, the kind of stick the men used to prod the pigs from the open pen onto the truck.

“Just so you know,” the man said. “We’re not bringing any more slops for pigs like this.”

Booker went to the Dry House to tell Rumpford what the man said, but Rumpford wasn’t there. As Booker nosed about the living room waiting, he paused before the book stand. He had not read anything in weeks. He nudged some of the books onto the floor with his snout, and was struck by the words on the cover of one of them: PIG SLAUGHTERY. Booker nosed the book open and began to read.


Rumpford returned to the Dry House and lay down on the floor with his snout resting on the stock of the killbang. Booker looked up from his book.

“Do you know what happens on the Goodbye Train?” he asked.

Rumpford did not know. He remembered that Big Rumpford had been taken away on the Goodbye Train. Rumpford closed his eyes, but he was listening.

“It says here,” Booker began, “ ‘The pigs are first rendered unconscious using one of the following means: stunning using an electric current applied with electrodes, or stunning using a captive bolt pistol, and inhalation of CO2, then in some cases a .22 pistol/rifle which is shot directly into the brain. They are then hoisted on a rail, after which they are exsanguinated, usually via the carotid artery and the jugular vein. After the blood is gone, the carcass is drenched in hot water in a device called a pig scalder, which helps in the removal of hair, which is subsequently completed by using scissor-like devices and then if necessary with a torch. However, in many countries around the world…’ ”

“Stop that!” Rumpford said. He didn’t know about reading, and he didn’t like hearing about reading. Booker went out of the Dry House and back to the barn to find Shank.

Rumpford thought about the Goodbye Train. He thought about where it went. He tried to make a picture of the place where it went, but he could not do it. It must, Rumpford thought, be another kind of farm. When Rumpford opened his eyes, Booker and Shank were standing in the doorway.

Booker told Rumpford about the men, that they had not liked the looks of the starved pigs from the last pen and that they would not be bringing any more slops. Booker asked Rumpford what he was supposed to say to the men if the pigs in the last pen were small and sick and full of sores.

Rumpford could think of nothing. He felt himself starting to be afraid, and this made him angry. Rumpford got up from the floor and looked hard at Booker and Shank.

“Tell the men to go away.”


Booker and Shank stood at the barn door watching the truck with the men come up the dusty farm road and into the barnyard.

The men said nothing to Booker and Shank as they got out of the truck with their burn sticks and moved to the last full pen. They unlatched the gate and began prodding the squealing pigs toward the truck bed. Booker saw that the pigs, like yesterday’s, were starved-looking, wobbly, and unwell. There were no babies.

When the last pig was prodded up the ramp into the truck bed, three men, each holding a burn stick, came over to Booker and Shank at the barn door.

“You know these ain’t no good either,” one of them said to Booker.

Booker didn’t say anything. He wanted the men to go away. 

Then the man said, “But there’s nothing wrong with you two.”

Booker wanted go back into the barn, away from the men, but before he could move, two of them were behind him and Shank. Then there was a white-hot jolt in his haunch.

On the bumpy, sickening truck ride to the rail yard, Shank was more frightened than he had even been. He kept asking Booker what would happen on the Goodbye Train. Booker would not answer.

When at last the truck arrived at the rail yard and the rear gate of the truck bed was let down, Shank and Booker were the last to walk down the ramp.

“Now look at those two,” a man said. “Don’t suppose there’s any nice fat ones left at the old Heartland place?

Booker stopped and turned. Just before he felt the burn stick on his haunch, he said, “There is one more.”


The sun had been up for hours, but Rumpford had not moved from where he lay next to the killbang on the living room floor. There had been no deliveries of slops for days, and the sour smell of the steaming brown mound in the barn penetrated all the rooms of the Dry House. Rumpford found he could still eat from the slops mound, but after a few mouthfuls, his hunger would not come. This morning he could not think of a reason to get up.

He had watched through the doorway when Shank and Booker were prodded into the men’s truck with the other pigs. Shank had said many times that Rumpford was a splendid pig. Shank had squealed in pleasure when Rumpford announced his plan that there would be enough slops again. Booker could read and he had ideas, but they had nothing to do with Rumpford. And now Shank and Booker were gone.

Rumpford lay a foretrotter over the barrel of the killbang. He remembered that he was in charge. But with Shank and Booker and all the other pigs gone, it did not feel the same to be in charge.

Rumpford’s thoughts were interrupted by the rumble of the truck’s motor in the barnyard. He heard the truck doors open and slam shut. He heard men’s voices, but he did not know what they were saying. Then through the doorway he saw the men. There were four men. They looked about the barnyard and then turned toward the Dry House. Three of the men held burn sticks, and one of them had slung over his shoulder what looked like a killbang.

The men were walking toward the house. Rumpford’s thoughts felt like noise, but then he thought about the Goodbye Train. The Goodbye Train had taken away Big Rumpford. But what was it? He made a picture of a pen, a room like the living room, but on wheels. You got into it and it took you away. It would take you away to— Rumpford could not make a picture. He could only make a picture of the farm: the barnyard, the pens, the fields. The Goodbye Train would take him to another kind of farm, a farm with Big Rumpford, with--? Then Rumpford had a better thought. In the other farm there would be enough.

Rumpford got up onto his feet and walked out to meet the men.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Banality of Awful

I. Marty Faye

As a little boy growing up in 1950s Chicago I was at once fascinated and disturbed by the periodic presence on our family television set of a man called Marty Faye. I learned later that he was something of a broadcasting celebrity in the city, a “controversial” commentator on topical events. He referred to himself as “The Loud Mouth,” and he once made headlines by receiving a bomb threat after disparaging the newly emergent Elvis Presley as a “mediocre, raucous, street corner singer.” The two teenagers who made that gesture were arrested and prosecuted.

Marty Faye projected a bug-eyed, leering countenance and, for me, a disturbing enjoyment in being rude and insulting to guests he would interview. The adults around me watching Marty Faye’s show would laugh or complain out loud in response to his provocative utterances, but I could sense that even at his most reptilian—or perhaps especially at his most reptilian—my parents and their friends were energized by Marty Faye. I had trouble integrating these impressions into a clear picture of how people should behave. Marty Faye was being awful. On purpose. He was on television, and people wanted to watch.

My understanding of the appeal of unashamedly, unapologetically offensive media figures deepened in the course of my college years in the 1960s. Comedians like the Lenny Bruce succeeded in blurring the lines between laughter and embarrassed astonishment. Saying that, describing that, crossing never before crossed lines generated all manner of adrenal responses, including a certain kind of laughter, the kind of laughter that says oh no! The public appetite for intended offense seemed to me fed by the same uncomfortable ambivalence that compels gawkers to crime scenes. 

Marty Faye, as it happened was no more than a mild harbinger of the Shock Jocks to come. A continuing parade of practitioners, aided now by instant digital access anytime, anywhere, has transformed what was once a cultural sideshow into something like the main attraction. The legacy of Marty Faye, of Joe Pyne, of Morton Downey, Jr., pervades our punditry, our “news”: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly. They are awful. On purpose. They are on air, and people watch and listen.

 II. Hard and Easy

My first and only job was as a teacher—and later headmaster—in a school for boys. In the course of four decades teaching, coaching, and counseling middle school and high school age boys I had unceasing opportunities to deepen my understanding of the power of awfulness to engage the developing minds of my students. 

The boys in my school, like boys anywhere, tended to venerate historical heroes. Almost all of them, despite occasional and even spectacular lapses, acknowledged the rightness of the school’s insistence that they tell the truth, keep their commitments, and maintain a generous, inclusive, and courteous regard for others, including the understanding that vulgar, bigoted, and threatening behavior were not to be tolerated. But they were also fascinated and energized by media and entertainment figures who behaved dramatically otherwise. Like me trying to integrate the fact of Marty Faye into my boyhood sense of right and wrong, my students experienced and expressed openly the cognitive dissonance created by not okay at school but thrillingly okay on Saturday Night Live.

Saturday Night Live is, in my judgment, less malevolent than exuberantly boundary-pressing. The sketches elicit genuine, deserved comedic appreciation, but they also elicit a good deal of oh no! laughter, in which the emotional clout is a trespass into the forbidden rather than any triggered hilarity. In their response to SNL and in their other favored entertainments, the boys of my school went both ways.

They were of course children, and we were in school together, and my clear responsibility was to help them understand that being stimulated is not in itself a good thing; that being stimulated to do and to tolerate hurtful, repellant things is, however arousing, bad for them and bad for others.

Boys were generally receptive to this message. Most of them could see the distinction between genuinely funny and oh no! But seeing the distinction does little to alter the allure of the next oh no!

In my own teaching and disciplinary exchanges with boys who questioned—often thoughtfully—anything that appeared to censure their tastes and pleasures, I did my best to point out concrete, consequential harms that resulted from immersion in vulgar, aggressively provocative or violent cultural offerings. The issue, I conceded, was not free speech. Long live free speech. The issue is what we do with our free speech and how we respond to the free speech of others.

I did my best to draw another distinction between life-enlarging stimulation and oh no! stimulation. I invited my students to consider the full range of publications available on any given magazine rack, the tabloids lining the check out counters of supermarkets, the range of programming on television cable networks, the range of on-line offerings from YouTube to games to pornography. I asked them to assess what kinds of offerings were most popular, most prevalent and what they themselves preferred. They saw the point. They admitted readily that they were drawn to mostly violent video games, action videos, and porn. Their frankness was  a promising sign, and there were no high-minded outliers. I asked them if these inclinations to thrill-seeking, law-breaking, and extravagant sex expressed their true nature, the way they would live if they were allowed. This they energetically denied and proceeded to describe themselves and their actual behavior along lines that might reassure their parents and teachers, including me.

Suspended before us was the puzzle of these likable, generally well-behaved boys’ admitted tendency to dissolve imaginatively into illicit and otherwise forbidden behavior. “It’s just a relief,” they explained, “an escape.” “It’s not as though we are going to do all that stuff.” I probably lost a teachable moment in not pointing out that some boys in their circumstances do all that stuff. Two Columbine High School boys did all that stuff. Instead, I asked my students why, since they were not inclined to such trouble, they were so diverted by its virtual enactment? And why, for that matter, was the field of cultural offerings dominated by so much that was aversive, repellant, evoking situations and worlds no one would want to live in.

The boys did not pretend to know, so I offered an explanation. Sleaze, crime, delinquency, mayhem are easier to convey than any basic social good, such as truth-telling, friendship, committed love, community. Anybody, I told them, can say fuck. Anybody can pull a fire alarm. Anybody can commit a crime, be a terrorist. No special training or talent are required to do those things.  Nothing is harder, I told them, than heroic sacrifice. Nothing is harder than achieving excellence in a demanding field. Nothing is harder than to be consistently good. Nothing is easier than to deny all of that, to disparage such boy scout notions. Nothing is easier than to stop trying, to be dramatically lost, to get drunk, to get high, to play victim to so many plausible injustices and deprivations.

I was trying to appeal to their “better natures”—natures in progress. I was telling them hard is better than easy. But the boys were aware, and so was I, that the larger culture was making a different case, and they were all ears.

III. Black Holes

Black holes are created when star-size masses of matter lose their cosmic thrust and collapse back into themselves with such powerful gravitational force that they suck  surrounding matter into the lightless abyss they have created. They are voids and cannot be observed, their existence detectable only by the forces they exert on other cosmic bodies.

Black holes are promising metaphors for all kinds of sub-cosmic processes, including social processes. An example might be the devolution of knowledge into ignorance, empirical science into primitive superstition. How would such a devolution begin? It would most probably begin with the popular acceptance of authoritative but false assertions. It would be accelerated as valid assertions, those supported by logic and evidence, were ignored or reduced to the status of mere claims. When supportable assertions and unsupportable ones become no more than rival claims, when any fact can be opposed by an “alternative fact,” conflicts between competing claims can only be resolved by the relative power of those who hold them. The assumption of objective, transpersonal truth is lost and with it the grounds for trusting others and the validity of any proposition, thus dissolving the only reliable basis of interpersonal agreement and political consensus. It is then no longer possible to know, to know better. There are no grounds for correcting or reversing this descent, the speed and force of which are at first astonishing, then terrifying-- as when familiar neighborhoods become walled ghettos, when citizens are herded into cattle cars, when they pass under a gate saying Work is Freedom, when they file naked into poison showers.

This black hole is not a metaphor.

IV. Iron Filings

Iron filings scattered within the attractive range of an electro-magnet will be drawn to the magnet and held fast. The location and prior propulsion of each filing will determine its individual trajectory en route to the magnet.

Now assign each filing a mind, a mind complete with ideas, emotions, and a measure of understanding, a mind distinctive to that particular filing. What might each mind experience on its trajectory to the magnet?

The range of responses might include I am going where I was created to go, proceeding to something ultimate, to my maker. Or: this change of course is powerful, irresistible—I like this ride. Or: I was going in another direction, but maybe this new route will get me where I wanted to go. Or: What is happening? Everybody is going crazily off course. Can’t they see they are going to be stuck in a bad place—and that they are taking all of us with them?

Whatever they think or feel, all the filings are headed for the magnet. This is a metaphor. 

V.  A Human Absence

I am a liberally educated man, a student of politics, at the threshold of old age. I was slow to recognize the emergence of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and even slower to credit it. At a professional meeting in June of 2016, I predicted confidently to an informal gathering of my colleagues that Trump would not carry a single state. When a number of friends hastened to tell me that Trump was certain to carry the states they lived in, I began, sickeningly, to pay closer attention.

For me Trump was hard to understand in the way Marty Faye was hard to understand when I was a ten year-old boy. I hadn’t taken much notice of Trump prior to the past election cycle but had formed a vague image of him as an embarrassing self-promoter, hungry for publicity. When I was in midtown Manhattan I often passed his shiny glass tower, TRUMP gaudily displayed in gold. I was aware he had a television show, the appeal of which was said to be the tension surrounding his firing prospective apprentices, but I never watched it. A few years back I was struck by an angry letter he wrote to The New Yorker in response to an article he felt had disparaged him. The letter was crude and defensive in the manner of a wounded child. In it he called the author of the offending piece a terrible writer and said that his, Trump’s, books were better written. I did not know then that Trump had not written a sentence of the books published under his name.

These impressions were fragmentary and superficial. To the degree I had thought about Trump at all, it was as an aversive figure, far from my world, busy with erecting  buildings with his name on them, proud of his “deals,” a vain, ridiculous  looking person with that impossible hair-do, interesting, if at all, as a figure of fun.

But as he began making his way successfully through the Republican Party primaries, I felt a citizen’s duty to pay closer attention. It was not easy for me to watch his rallies, debates, and interviews. He made preposterous claims, including the pledge to erect a wall separating the United States from Mexico and that Mexicans would pay for it. Who on earth could take that seriously? The unnatural set of his mouth as he forms words, the affected, purring cadence of his speech, his unembarrassed flow of self-praise were and still are all but unwatchable for me. Something insistent from my deep interior wanted the camera to turn away from him, wanted to switch off the set, wanted him to go away. In all, a much more intense expression of my childhood response to Marty Faye. He was being awful. On purpose. And people not only watched, they cheered. 

I was certain at the outset of his campaign that some spectacular falsehood would undo his candidacy. He had said that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City had cheered in the streets as the Twin Towers were leveled by terrorists on 9/11. He stood by this claim even after it was firmly established that no such thing had happened. No one composing what we now call his “base” seemed to mind. Not long afterward while campaigning in Iowa he boasted that said he could “go out onto Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and not lose voters.” At this point it was becoming possible to imagine him demonstrating the strength of his supporters’ allegiance by trying it.

Watching news hour clips from Trump’s rallies, willing myself to sit though every second of his three debates with Hillary Clinton, I felt I was witnessing a kind of dystopian Wonderland in which nothing was what it seemed, nothing was continuous with prior political process. Not only could anything happen, anything was happening. 

Every week and sometimes every day, a new seemingly candidacy-ending, if not career-ending revelation about Trump’s past or business practices would dominate headlines. A number of women accused him of sexual trespasses. It was revealed that a former wife in the course of divorce proceedings had accused him of rape. Long, investigatory articles appeared in print recounting how various business ventures, including his short-lived casinos, had failed unto bankruptcy, harming creditors and contractors, but leaving Trump solvent and prosperous enough to engage in subsequent deals. A man called Tony Schwartz who had ghost written Trump’s The Art of the Deal came forth in The New Yorker and other forums to confess that he had fabricated an attractive, business-savvy Trump persona in order to make money, and that the man himself was dishonest, dangerously impulsive, and self-obsessed. The for-profit Trump University was challenged legally as a fraud, the case settled in favor of the defrauded plaintiffs. A coarse, ugly video clip was unearthed revealing Trump and a Hollywood talk show host sharing their inclination to sexual imposition, including Trump’s now infamous admission that because he was a “star” he could do “anything” with women he encountered, including grabbing them by the vagina. In calling out Hillary Clinton’s disputed use of a private email server, he publicly invited Russian hackers to carry on, in the hopes of embarrassing her and weakening her candidacy. And they would do so.

There is more, all of it, like the above, well known, none of it sufficient to deter Trump’s rise to the Presidency. Like many other appalled, confused, liberally educated Americans, I stepped back to consider why I had failed to see Trump coming, why I failed to see how millions of people could have observed the same Trump in action I had observed, contended with the same evidence of his awfulness  and, unfazed, excused him, defended him, voted for him.

I read books and selected journalism documenting the attitudes and opinions of Trump supporters. This material helped me understand the depth of the popular aversion, especially in the south and in the heartland, to privileged liberals and the perceived media bias in favor of established liberal candidates and policies. It was also apparent that poor and struggling whites generally were fed up with federal programs pitched to improve the plight of minorities while ignoring theirs. 

It was not hard to understand single-issue partisans who would vote for whatever candidate promised to abolish abortion rights or oppose gun control or rescind unwanted business regulations, all of which Trump promised to do. It was also not hard to understand wealthy conservatives who, while privately dismissive of Trump personally, stood to gain mightily under his tax proposals. 

The peculiar admixture of populist grievances, single-issue passions, and an abiding unease about Hillary Clinton propelled Donald Trump to his surprise electoral college victory. And while I understood the various Faustian bargains voters had made in voting for Trump, I could not understand how this particular Mephistopheles, given all that that was so spectacularly on display during his candidacy, could be counted on by anyone to deliver on his promises. More urgently: how could this person, Trump, be anybody’s best bet to guide the nation through whatever domestic and international challenges lay ahead? Even granting the legitimacy of every Trump voter’s favored outcomes, how could they filter out his personal awfulness?

In my heightened state of alarm after the inauguration, when it became clear that no other, “more presidential” Trump was going to emerge, I found it difficult to focus my concern. Seemingly everything was wrong. Key advisors like Stephen Bannon were even spookier and more volatile than the President. Lewis Carroll whimsy seemed to direct cabinet appointments: a climate change denier was appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency.  A southerner deemed even by fellow Republicans  too racist to be a federal judge became Attorney General. The former Governor of Texas who, as a presidential candidate had vowed to eliminate the Department of Energy, assumed the post of Energy Secretary. A bevy of billionaires was set in place to direct the economic course of a country beset by crippling income inequality. There was a stream of delusional presidential tweets from the White House in the small hours of the morning.  The FBI acknowledged a months-long, ongoing investigation of Trump’s campaign staffers’ suspected collusion with Russians in tampering with the election.

Pundits trying to take the measure of Trump’s first Hundred Days as President were as flummoxed as they were taking the measure of his emergence as a candidate. A fraction of Trump’s dubious utterances, personal embarrassments, and reckless gestures would have undone any other elected official. What was it about Trump that enabled him to bluster and bumble forward with what now feels like dreadful inevitability? My own answers failed to satisfy me. Worse, I was aware that in my mounting preoccupation with Trump, I was now held fast in his orbit. 
I could not even state with confidence exactly what he was. I wanted to conclude 
that he was an incipient tyrant, but that was not it.  In Trump there was no evidence of the will, the focus, or even the intelligence of Mao or Stalin or Hitler. Like the psychiatric establishment, I was eager to peg Trump with a known pathology. I tried to understand him as the kind of sociopath who makes a convincing con man or salesman, as the kind of narcissist who, because he is unable to relate empathically to others, feels no guilt or shame hurting or abandoning them.

A dark realization lifted me out of this amateur psychologizing and name-calling when I read a Facebook post composed by Virginia Heffernan, a contributing editor and co-host of Politico’s Trumpcast. She too wanted to identify Trump’s essence and wrote the following:

The president is not a moral figure in any idiom, any land, any culture, any subculture. I am not talking about the liberal enlightenment that would make him want the country to take care of the poor and the sick. I mean he has no Republican values either. He has no honor among thieves, no cosa nostra loyalty, no Southern code against lying or cheating, none of the openness of New York, rectitude of Boston, expressiveness and kindness of California, no evangelical family values, no Protestant work ethic. No Catholic moral seriousness, no sense of contrition or gratitude. No Jewish moral and intellectual precision, sense of history. He doesn’t care about the life of the mind OR the life of the senses. He is not mandarin, not committed to inquiry or justice, not hospitable. He is not a bon vivant who loves to eat, drink, laugh. There is nothing he would die for—not American values, obviously, but not the land of Russia or his wife or young son…Trump has no fairness or piety. He’s not sentimental; no affection for dogs or babies…

There is more, but at this point I realized at last why I had failed to reach any kind of mental closure about Trump. In my revulsion for so many of his aspects I had been trying to pin down, to name his distinctive presence. It took Ms. Heffernan’s extended riff on the things Trump is not to realize that he is fundamentally an absence.

The problem was never Trump himself. He represents no coherent set of values, directs no coherent policies. He is the living negation of anything like coherent values and policies. He is an absence, an illusory orange cartoon projected over the abyss into which we are now helplessly drawn. Even as we descend, we understand that he is being awful. On purpose. Fascinated, we cannot turn away. 


Note. The excerpt from Virginia Heffernan’s Facebook post, which was also included in an article she wrote for Roar magazine, is cited with her permission.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Screwtape Redux

[God] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

 -C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letter VIII

My Dear Wormwood,

Of course we are pleased, but I do not want to hear any more of your ‘not believing our luck.’ Luck is not in play here, and we still have work to do.

You have done shrewdly well with the Patient and his like in this presidential election cycle. His newly aroused political passions have all but eclipsed what had been so bothersome about his Christianity. Don’t worry overmuch that he may appear to embrace positions or actions that appear to be “principled.” The point is to deepen his conviction that particular adjustments to the current political and economic order are ends in themselves, and that once they are achieved, all will be well.

Slowly but surely-- here again the glittering prospect of prosperity is such a boon—we have been able to encourage great masses of affiliated Christians that their faith is not an end, but a means to alluring earthly things, such as a prosperous and delightful mortal condition. With bright and smiling sales pitches from our fellow agents we have managed to convince professed Christians that achievement of earthly goods is no longer a distraction from their moral way forward in the world, but rather a sign of divine pleasure in all their worldly works. Who would have thought anyone once bitten by The Enemy’s bug would buy this? But Our Father Below works in strange ways his wonders to perform. 

Not only do we have a fully articulated Gospel of Wealth, we have TV shows and whole TV networks dedicated to the proposition. We have universities committed to  directing young lives to its realization. How utterly, demonically inspired that the Wealth and other self-realization gospels should be fueled by what their devotees righteously consider their Christian fervor, a fervor so unreflective and pleased with itself that it is impervious to contradiction, to science, to evidence, to charges of cruelty. It is not mere Christianity—pun intended!—but evangelical Christianity. Entirely faith-based!  Faith in sanitized, gleaming kitchens, manicured lawns, faith in everything clean and bright and predominantly white. Without a shred of connection to The Enemy and to those troubling beatitudes. 

In all, such gratifying progress--though it would help if more of our Wealth evangelists could manage to keep their sexual secrets and criminal investigations into their personal holdings out of the news.

We must not in any event become complacent in our labors. In the present political climate we can do much more than merely consolidate our gains. Our elected Agent-in-Chief has done astonishing work, but he cannot succeed without our dedicated help. His bold challenge to so-called “truthful” claims, to “facts” of any kind, promises to burst open the doors to the democratization of all claims, and in that exhilarating cultural climate conflicts can only be resolved by the stronger party, a principle well understood by the wise Machiavelli. Our Agent-in-Chief is on track to be that stronger party. But that will require the continuing nurturance of his hard-won base. This, my dear Wormwood, is where you and your fellow Junior Tempters can make an enduring contribution.

You must continue to remind your Patient and all subsequent patients of what he is most afraid of. Start with his physical vulnerability and fear of pain. We must thank Our Lord Below for Terrorism, its almost daily eruption in such inspired places as schools, hospitals, weddings, funerals, bistros, movie theaters, and shopping malls! Your patient must be constantly reminded of impending terror and terrorists. It has been helpful that people whose looks, dress, faith affiliation, and ethnicity help to identify them as likely terrorists, but even more promising is the startling possibility that anyone’s next door neighbor could fall under the sway of terrorist thinking—that anyone and ultimately everyone is a mortal enemy. Wormwood, the mind reels.

Here again our Agent-in-Chief has paved the way. He has proposed making his countrymen great again, safe again, untroubled again, wealthy again. Don’t you love that dizzying again: that dream state when everyone was Anglo-Saxon, wealthy, safe, and world dominant? When, yes, there was racial segregation and before that slavery, but no one minded. None of the political pundits know what our Agent-in-Chief knows about how willing his poor and suffering countrymen were to accept bold assurances of jobs restored and provision of all comforts, including those never previously enjoyed.

In fairness, Wormwood, you and your colleagues deserve credit for fanning the fervor of “single-issue” patients, helping them to blur or put aside doubts and critical thinking about worrying aspects of our Agent-in-Chief’s promised program. Our Lord Below knows well the preverbal, limbic brain fascination with guns and weapons, the “rights” to which our Agent-in-Chief supports with winsome zeal. The trick, which we now know well, is to acknowledge every patient’s most deep seated resentment and, with ringing certainty, pledge to fix it. For who, really, likes to be regulated? Who, really, wants to treat or even worry about other people’s sickness? Who, especially people who don’t have much, wants to share? With foreigners?

Wormwood, I must stress again what I stated at the outset. Despite so many heartening victories, our work is far from over. Yes, we have elected and all but enthroned our Agent-in-Chief. But the Enemy’s followers and millions more who hang skeptically in the balance are not yet silenced. 

Our chief concern must be those who persist in organizing a formal Resistance. Our  strategy must be to dismiss all such expression as unpatriotic, as mere partisan sour grapes. As our Agent-in-Chief is so fond of reminding Resisters: “I won, you lost, and you are losers.”  This, combined with a program of almost daily sensational distractions, is our best bet to delay the Resistance from revealing exactly how we won--about which the word from you should be mum!

While I cannot be absolutely certain, I believe the Resistances is quieting down. All of us in the Lowerarchy were concerned about the movement not to “normalize” our Agent-in-Chief. His normalization is of course Our Lord Below’s grand plan. Advancing our Agent-in-Chief to the highest office in the land was in itself a giant step toward Normalization, but it is only half the battle. Before the Second War, our German Agent did as much, but that glorious momentum was lost to those who refused to normalize him.

Let me be clear: you must work with your Patient to normalize our Agent-in-Chief. Take heart that every passing day supports your mission. The longer your Patient endures our Agent-in-Chief’s leadership and the more distance he keeps from the lessons and inspiration of the Enemy, the more surely he will be convinced that this, too, is life and he will endure it. Assure him he can weather what is only at the moment a historical novelty. Help him see that this or that disturbing headline is of little consequence in the fullness of time. Steer him to his favorite diversions. Encourage the extra drink. He must not mentally linger in the awareness that his days feel shot through with All-Wrongness. Comfort him with notions of his superior perspective. Assure him that his all-being disturbance is what sensitive men and woman have always known and felt. Help him to see that this too is history.

If you succeed in this, if all of us here below succeed in this, think of what we will have accomplished! We will have normalized—legitimized!-- the conduct of our Agent-in-Chief. We have made him, just as he is, the elected Leader of the Free World, exemplar of national character and will, arbiter of contending appeals to justice, role model for children’s future conduct as citizens and as public servants.

Moreover, we did it without aid of cheap tricks. In the course of his rise our future Agent-in-Chief wore no deceptive masks. He did not once offer a hypocritical nod to the works of the Enemy in order to achieve some short-term gain. He achieved each short-term gain just as he is. And hats off to that performance! He has boldly proclaimed events that have not occurred. He has made emphatic promises and broken them without apology or regret. He is unmoved and unashamed of the disclosure of repellant sexual behavior. He has introduced a mode of personal and public discourse so confusing and so coarse that it slips below standard efforts to argue and refute. He has thrillingly refused to be corrected even by judges in the highest courts, journalists, and scholars. Unrivalled by even our best Agents in the past, he has brought his people to the threshold of failing to distinguish true from false, real from fake. Of utter baselessness he has built a popular base, and what his base reveres in him is that he tells it like it is! Oh, Wormwood!

Again, the normalization must proceed, and as it does, our Agent-in-Chief’s sensational gestures will begin to trigger a new, dark, adrenal response in your Patient. His reality will increasingly become our reality, and you can count on him to become immersed in all of the breaking news. At that point it will not matter whether he is fascinated or horrified. Whatever the case, he will be held helplessly in its thrall, and we will have him.

There has been much to praise in your recent work, Wormwood.

Full of hope, I remain,