Nothing good ever comes out of a 4 a.m. text. I got one Sunday at that time telling me my 8:55 a.m. Eurowings flight to Düsseldorf had been cancelled due to a strike, and that I was supposed to call customer service to reschedule. I called, sat on hold for a good half hour, even though I had been told upon connecting the waiting time would be five minutes. Finally, I gave up and booked a flight with easyJet – the only other one going to Düsseldorf that morning – hoping Eurowings would reimburse me. The reason I had to be in Düsseldorf that morning was because my connecting flight to Miami departed from there at 12:30 p.m.
I showered, drank a cup of coffee, got all my stuff together and said a sad goodbye to Erica. Then I was off, into the soft gray light of early morning Neukölln. One thing you can always count on seeing at that hour in the city is a myriad of drunken stragglers. I passed a handful on the walk to the train station, and on the train they surrounded me, most of them sleeping or nodding off between stations, looking like zombies. Sometimes, in their half-comatose state, they’d screw up an eye and catch a glimpse of me sitting across from them – freshly-washed, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed – the personification of sobriety. I must’ve been a total buzzkill.
When I got to the airport, I spoke with a representative for Eurowings about the flight I booked. She told me they had nothing to do easyJet, but I could talk to them about cancelling the flight. In the meantime, she told me she could put me on a plane going to Frankfurt in 45 minutes and that I would connect to my Miami flight from there. I told her to do it, knowing that I would have no time to talk to easyJet and that that money was just pissed up a rope. Whatever. I had no other choice. At least this flight had a meal on it. Plus it arrived in Miami a couple hours earlier.
I’d taken 3 books with me on the trip. Cellini’s autobiography, Im Westen Nichts Neues (auf Englisch: Alls Quiet on the Western Front), and Delacroix’s Journals which has taken me forever to finish because I love it so much and have been savoring it. I put it right up there with Van Gogh’s Letters.
Anyway, on the flight to Frankfurt, I read about Cellini’s crazy goldsmithing and soldiering life in 16th century Italy, drank an abominable cup of coffee, and did this five-minute Rembrandt-inspired sketch in my notebook.
On the flight to Miami, no sooner had we taken off than the stewardesses were coming down the aisleway with their carts offering free drinks. I requested a can of Warsteiner, and not long after that our meal came, which I had with a glass of red wine. The stewardess refilled it after I was done, and then the other stewardess offered me a shot of Cognac, which I of course could not say no to. I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a shot. It’s not in my nature. I finished it off and got one more refill of wine, and then the New York Times fell into my hands. In it, there was a short piece by Paul Krugman about the Trump administration called Corruption Hits the Small Time. I recommend reading the whole article online if you can find it, but here’s an excerpt.
Long ago Tom Wolfe wrote a memorable essay on what really drives many powerful men. It’s not so much a taste for the finer things; the truth is that private planes aren’t all that comfortable, and my guess is that most of the people who drink $400 bottles of wine couldn’t tell the difference if you served them a $20 bottle instead. It is, instead, the pleasure of “seeing ’em jump” — of watching people abase themselves, jump through hoops, to cater to your whims. It’s about making yourself feel bigger by getting other people to act small. Doesn’t this explain everything (head of the EPA) Scott Pruitt does? The absurdity of his demands is a feature, not a bug: I have doubts about whether he ever uses that $43,000 soundproof phone booth, but he surely took pleasure in making his staff jump to provide it.
I once had a mechanic working for me named Walter Eustace Peabody. Wally, as we called him, was a 58-year-old North Carolinian transplant who gobbled anti-psychotic horsepills like they were candy and had a collection of pistols and confederate flags and frog-gigging supplies. With those credentials, you’d think he’d be a republican, but I think he hated everyone too much to be anything. Once (the year was 2003), I asked him what he thought about Dick Cheney, vice president of the Bush administration.
“Cheney?” he said. “I’d slit his throat and throw him out into traffic, that’s what I’d do with that mutherfucker.”
Which is exactly how I feel about Trump and his groveling toadies, Scott Pruitt especially.
If I could get away with it – if there was a country I could go to where it was legal – I am pretty sure I could murder Scott Pruitt (Wally’s way or with my bare hands if necessary) and feel good about it afterwards, knowing I had done bird, beast, flower and mankind a great favor.
I put the article aside, took a sip of my wine.
It’s better not to give too much of yourself to politics, I told myself. It’s all just a game anyway. You might as well funnel your rage into something that you can control, something noble, true, impervious to greed and (to all our misfortune) nonexistent in the Trumps, Cheneys & Scott Pruitts of the world – I speak of poetry, art & the imagination.