In the few months since the elections, I’ve found myself uncharacteristically edgy. I managed the post-partum depression pretty well, but the residual effect kicked back in, especially in my left shoulder, my unfailing barometer of tension.
I tried a number of remedies:
I plunged back into crosswords and cryptics, usually an ideal distraction for a word nerd. Nada. Perhaps I was imagining some grand puzzle-constructor conspiracy, but it seemed that things persistently pointed back to the source of the problem: 15 Across: Go one better (TRUMP); 41 Down: Huey’s uncle (DONALD); 55 Down: Id’s governor (EGO); 63 Across: Enormous, slangily (YUGE).
I found temporary distraction in numbers. Sudoku, especially, offered politics-free, total concentration, but how long can you live in a world bounded by 1 and 9?
I thought of board games, but Monopoly is the only one around the house, and it’s just too close to the bone. Besides, if he’s not going to Jail, why should I?
I knew I had to go back to words, on my own terms. I decided to try medication (Editor’s note: that should be meditation). I knew I’d need a mantra and decided, why not, I’ll face my demon head on — Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, DONALD TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP, DONALD FUCKING TRUMP, DONALD F …
No, that definitely wasn’t working. Perhaps, if I used his actual middle-name, it might work (in some cultures, evil spirits can only be conjured with their full name). I looked it up: Donald John Trump. OMG, his middle-name is my first name, and my Dad’s too, a good name, a name to trust — John the Baptist, Elton John, John Barleycorn, John Wilkes Booth … But, no, maybe that last one brings it too close to the edge.
Then I thought maybe the opposite tack would work — take Donald Trump and transform him, make an anagram of him, rearrange him like the Replicator in Star Wars or the Omega 13 in Galaxy Quest. OK, it’s just a diversion, but it gave me hours of exhausting pleasure:
DUMP OLD RANT … DAMP OLD RUNT
LOP DAMN TURD … MAD LORD, PUNT
PORN-MAD ‘DULT … DOLT AND RUMP
PRAT, DUN, MOLD … DONALD TRUMP
Try it. Start simple (MIKE PENCE = PEEK MINCE). It’s word therapy and it works. And let me know what you come up with. I’ve scarcely had a printable comment in years.
It was the day after the Panama Papers came out — you know, all those leaked documents about the money that Putin, Cameron, that guy in Iceland, and a few hundred others of the world’s richest and most tax-evasive have squirreled away in offshore accounts — when my phone rang.
It was the Washington Post, asking if I had any comment about my name showing up as a holder of one of the offshore accounts listed in the Papers.
Offshore account, ha ha ha — who is this really? I cackled, but they cited name, date of birth, SSN, significant birthmark, and a few other details that spelled ME.
It’s on page 4,238,766 of the Papers, they said, and shows an account in the Cayman Islands, in your name, with $14.89 in it.
I’ve never had an account anywhere outside the U.S., I protested, and, anyway, whatever mistake has attached it to me, why in the world would you bother with such a tiny amount?
That’s just the point. We had to find out why anyone would bother to hide $14.89 in the Cayman Islands. It’s Human Interest, not the Financial Page.
I argued my point, but got nowhere, and they didn’t have any more details that would help me figure it out, so I ended the call and didn’t answer when they re-dialed.
But, of course, I had to find out what was going on. Fortunately, I have an accountant friend who once sleuthed for the I.R.S. He said he’d try to help, and, sure enough, within a week, he called:
I confirmed that you’re the owner of the account and that it’s been in the Caymans for about two years. It had been held in a Russian bank, which, you won’t be surprised to hear, got the account in a hostile takeover of a Ukrainian bank, which, in turn, had assumed it from a Dutch conglomerate that dumped U.S. holdings in 2008.
Before 2008, it’s a little murky, but it seems to have got to the Netherlands through a string of American bank mergers that were so common from the ‘70s to the end of the century. I lost trace of it sometime in the late ‘70s. Does that help?
The late ‘70s didn’t ring a bell, but I told him I’d try to figure it out. Giving it some serious thought, I realized I could probably get close to the year it was opened, assuming it must have started tiny, by reverse-calculating what $14.89 would have been, at a reasonable average of 3%/annum, back in time. Maybe the year would jog my memory.
I did the calculation, and there it was — $2.00 in 1948, shining like the eight brand-new quarters I took to the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank to set up my first savings account!
Let me explain: In the summer of ’48, my parents and I spent eight weeks on Martha’s Vineyard. It was mostly play, but my parents wanted at least a little responsibility out of me — bed neat, clothes hung, trash out — and gave me my first allowance: 25 cents/week.
To underline the responsibility angle, they insisted I save what I earned, so we went to the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank and set up an account. Mom and Dad jokingly called it my Offshore Account, explaining that the Vineyard was, after all, offshore, if only a little.
When we returned home at the end of summer, planning to go back next year, we left the account open. But other things intervened and we didn’t go back, then or ever. Maybe it wasn’t worth the effort to close it, but, for whatever reason, the account stayed open and soon was completely forgotten.
This doesn’t explain how my little account got started on its globe-hopping. I can only speculate that the late ‘70s, where my friend lost the trail, might have been significant. That was when Martha’s Vineyard went through one of America’s weirder spasms of political rebellion, Vineyarders threatening to secede, either from Massachusetts or from the entire U.S.A. (you can look it up).
Nothing came of it, but I’d guess that, before it ended, someone may have seen, in that turmoil, the chance to manipulate, possibly hide and protect, vast amounts in an otherwise insignificant, long-forgotten account.
Whatever the case, three things are clear: (1) no money went into the account after the first deposit of eight quarters (lesson: don’t make vast plans with half-vast notions); (2) the account island-hopped from Massachusetts to the Caribbean; (3) I am stuck, right at tax time, with checking that little box saying I do own a foreign account and seeing my long-lost allowance gobbled up by back-taxes.
Putin has annexed Crimea and, by the time anybody reads this, may be finishing his second helping of Chicken Kiev. What at first seemed a snack could become a banquet, with our allies, our interests, maybe even ourselves the main course.
Putin cites two fundamental principles behind his liberation theology:
(1) The right to reincorporate former Russian territory.
(2) The duty to protect ethnic Russians.
With that line of reasoning, what’s to stop him from:
Seizing Alaska: America, you have allowed Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska to deteriorate shamefully. You long ago acknowledged that your so-called purchase was folly. Eskimos may stay — after all, they are long-lost Siberian brothers. All others must leave, especially Sarah Palin.
Annexing Parts of Brooklyn: Russian occupation of Brighton Beach, Bay Ridge, Sheepshead Bay, and Midwood, previously a mere civilian, demographic fact, is now a geo-political reality. We guarantee safe passage to their own ethnic enclaves for Greek-, Italian-, Irish-, Jewish-, African-, and other non-Russian-Americans.
Liberating the Russian Tea Room: This bastardized temple of conspicuous consumption sullies the proud reputation of Russian gastronomy and culture. New Yorkers and visitors, pay attention — if you wish to savor the essence of Russia, you must obtain a visa and pay in rubles.
Bad enough, but consider the possible bandwagon effect:
France Demands Return of Louisiana Purchase: Prime Minister Hollande cites widespread Cajun poverty and PETA threats to foie gras as justification.
Britain Presses for Cession of Original Thirteen Colonies: Prime Minister Cameron calls position justified response to American corruption of Her Majesty’s tongue (labor for labour; See ‘ya for Cheerio; suspenders for braces; Thank you for Ta) and failure to pay for spoiled tea. He assures Putin he will respect Russian sovereignty over Brighton Beach, Bay Ridge, Sheepshead Bay, and Midwood.
Spain Calls on U.S. to Restore Stolen Colonies: Prime Minister Rajoy singles out American treatment of Hispanics as justification. Obama objects, but signals willingness to trade Texas for Puerto Vallarta and two other minor-league resorts to be named later.
Native Americans Trump French, British, and Spanish Demands: Pointing out that they were here first, Native Americans retroactively void sale of Manhattan and file claim in International Court of Justice for rest of America (including all of Brooklyn).
It could spread:
Pakistan Gobbles Up Bangladesh; India Reincorporates Pakistan; Great Britain Reclaims India; Celts Take Over Great Britain; Knicks Beat Celts in Overtime.
Austro-Hungarian Empire Reasserts Claim To Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Italy and Any Remaining Territory We’ve Inadvertently Left Out.
Holy Roman Empire Seizes Austria-Hungary and, just for the hell of it, Greenland.
All things considered, it might be best to stop matters before this all becomes a dog’s breakfast.
Normally, when an international crisis breaks out, Uncle Sam calls me. This time, however, with the Ukraine situation just begging for the catchy title I’ve been saving for decades, I called him and lobbied for the job.
I got some hemming, but no hawing, and I knew I was in. I packed quickly and still had time to scrape a little rust off my Russian at a Met matinee of Prince Igor (boy, did Borodin steal a shitload from Kismet.)
The next morning, I landed in Odessa, hoping to get to Sevastopol. I managed to wangle a berth on a Carnival Line cruise doing the Black Sea. My plans seemed scuttled when they announced they were canceling their Sevastopol stop, but, never at a loss and never without my emergency cosmetic kit, I colored myself a sickly bluish-white and, at the height of dinner, collapsed next to the fruit salad.
It worked like a charm and, faster than you could shout NOROVIRUS!! the captain did a u-turn into Sevastopol harbor, slammed on the brakes, and we were besieged by local health officials.
I took advantage of the chaos to slip down the gangplank, disguised as a bedpan, and made it into town. Here’s a taste of the situation:
Florists are completely sold out. The regional FTD rep explains that the locals are hedging their bets by putting flowers into every gun-barrel they encounter. Roses are preferred, but even yesterday’s baby’s breath is acceptable.
Tours of the Russian naval base are cancelled. A handwritten sign reads: To protect our patriotic sailors against nefarious Western plotting, the base is closed until further notice. The word Western appears to have been hastily scribbled over the word I-m-p-(letter indistinct)-r-i-(letter indistinct)-l-i-s-t.
Tramping the city streets, I hear clanging noises. I follow the sound and, in a large square, come upon a group of self-desribed Technical College blacksmithing students, beating plowshares into swords.
In another part of town, armed, helmeted men, who identify themselves as Department of Public Works employees, are meticulously cleaning defaced Yanukovych posters.
The Bolshoi has just arrived in town. I go to see Swan Lake, which is reasonably well done. The Black Swan, appropriately, carries a Kalashnnikov, but the White Swan’s army boots just don’t work.
Walking along the shore, I encounter hundreds of swimmers in wet-suits, goggles, snorkels, and fins emerging from the water. An official explains, Just the local Polar Bear Club, before he hurries me away.
In the market, I buy a Russian nesting doll. When I open it, inside is a business-suited-Putin; inside him, Yeltsin; inside Yeltsin, Brezhnev; and then, Stalin, who looks stern, but pleased.
The situation is calm but mildly unsettling. Russia claims that armed individuals patrolling the streets (including the blacksmiths with swords that still have cow-shit on them) are simply local militia, called out to restore order. Restore what order? It’s a bloody love-fest (report has it that there isn’t a virgin left on the peninsula).
And, if the claim is true, why has the Loyal and Independent Republic of Crimea granted them immediate citizenship? Perhaps more fundamental, what is this Loyal and Independent Republic of Crimea and who’s behind it? And where does Stalin figure in all this?
With so many questions still to pursue, I’ll need more time, and more spending money (flowers are a useful door-opener, but the price has skyrocketed). Make sure payment is in rubles.
There is no Edward Snowden. The mousy guy on the news, claiming that the NSA is up to no good, is really Travis Tennenbaum, a semi-employed actor.
And that isn’t the most shocking part of the story. The Obama Administration is behind the whole thing! Trust me.
Why? According to my White House sources, Obama’s been pounded by the Wikileaks scandal, and trashed by the Bradley Manning revelations. Yes, Assange is trapped in the Ecuador Embassy in London and Manning’s on trial, but Obama’s petrified that this makes them even bigger heroes to anyone else laboring in the top-secret data mines, longing for 15 seconds of fame. We’re bleeding secrets faster than we can make them, the President griped.
Staffers came up with a plan: get somebody who can do negative charisma; give him a suggestive name (Snow-den: winter, bear, hibernation); have him make up some outlandish story — like, the NSA is harvesting data on every phone call since Alexander Graham Bell; break the story when it will make a mark but then fade fast if, for example, some major race-related murder trial should crop up or a big-shot Royal have a baby; have him flee the U.S. and then vanish into a distant no-mans-land — an airport … Moscow. Put all that together and you can drain all the glam from secret-leaking and plant the seeds of doubt:
Would I be stuck in some godforsaken transit lounge, eating nothing but cabbage and boiled potatoes for the rest of my life? Would I have to wash my underpants in the mens room? How would I get the ball scores?
But here’s an even bigger bombshell: Obama got Woody Allen to script and direct the whole thing. Why? According to my showbiz sources, Woody, like all those Hollywood leftists, is a sucker for Obama. Staffers remembered a big fundraiser he threw for Obama in 2008. And, as they planned the caper, it reminded them of one of Allen’s earliest movies, Bananas.
They story-boarded the idea to Allen, who, concerned about his recent ups and downs, thought maybe this kind of crossover would recharge his batteries. He was dubious about using Putin, but Obama told him he’d keep Vladimir in line by reminding him what we could reveal about Russia’s snooping. (As it turns out, Putin gave a brilliant, if quirky, performance.)
If this thing worked, Allen realized, it could make a great movie, like the old ones his fans have been clamoring for, with himself as Snowden (who better to play a bumbler?). And, best of all, it would be fantastic free publicity for the movie.
It’s not over yet. The whole Snowden affair has to be wrapped up. They’ve got to get him out of Russia. Word on the street is Bolivia. President Morales isn’t in on the scam, but, as much as he’d like to stick it to the U.S., he wouldn’t dare admit he’d been duped, so he’ll let Tennenbaum slip away quietly. Then Woody can start filming. He’s not sure what it’ll be called, but, for now, the working title is Look Before You Leak.