The thin blue lies

Testilying by cops is “the other side of the coin of this issue of police brutality. In the same way that we haven’t had good methods of keeping track of police brutality by particular officers, there has been even less keeping track of lying by officers.”— Samantha Melamed (@samanthamelamed) June 24, 2020

We were discussing whether the “l” in “testilying” was a typo or an intentional misspelling.

“It was on purpose,” I said. “The story is about how cops routinely lie in court and get away with it, something we talked about a few weeks ago. A lot of innocent people end up convicted unless there’s video disproving cops’ testimony. The person who was quoted in the article was just stating the obvious.”

Swamp Rabbit was unconvinced. “If it’s so obvious, then how come there ain’t been no public outcry to set things straight? How come the peeps put up with it?”

It depends on which peeps you’re talking about, I told him. If you’re poor and/or black, then you’ve probably had unpleasant encounters with cops and the courts, but you didn’t have the resources to fight back. You were too busy just trying to survive.

“Surviving is tougher these days,” Swamp Rabbit conceded, “but that’s on account of the virus. The justice system ain’t nearly as big a problem as that covid thing.”

We yelled so we could hear each other over the window fan in my shack. I told him the problems are related. The justice system has slowed to a crawl because of covid-19. Cops are arresting fewer people and fewer trials are being held because of the threat of spreading the virus in jails and in the courts.

“But the American justice system won’t change in the long run,” I predicted. “It’s like a meat grinder. It shreds you unless you can afford a good lawyer to challenge cop witnesses. Juries are always more likely to believe cops than defendants.”

“That might not be true no more,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Not after that video of what them cops did to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and them others. And not after the way they treated the peeps who protested them murders.”

“You’re wrong, rabbit,” I replied. “When things get back to normal, cops will get back to testilying. Juries will get back to believing them. Most of the news media, too.”

He laughed. “Things ain’t never going back to normal, whatever normal means.”

Footnote: I was called for jury duty in Philly a few days before the virus hit and the courts closed. They sit you in a big room with other potential jurors and hand you a questionnaire. One question is about whether you tend to believe the testimony of cops. I checked the “no” box because of my previous experience with cops and courts. They gave me a nine-dollar check and said, “You can go now.”

Regarding a (fat orange) face in the crowd

“I think he’s done. Can I stick a fork in him now?”

Swamp Rabbit was reacting to Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, OK, where he managed to fill only 6,200 of the arena’s 19,000 seats after bragging that his campaign had fielded more than a million ticket requests. Watching his rant on TV, you could see the arena’s empty upper deck.

Afterwards, Trump’s fans and non-fans didn’t clash in Tulsa’s streets, even though Trump had done his best to make this happen by holding the rally only a day after Juneteenth and within a month of the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre.

During the event Trump condemned AOC and the radical left, lamented the fate of Confederate statues, and came out against further testing for the “kung flu.” He even attacked the media for commenting on the perilous journey he took down that stage ramp in West Point.

It was a desperate speech but I told Swamp Rabbit not to count out the hog monster, not yet. He made a fool of himself regarding COVID-19 and the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, but most of his fans are still out there, still bigoted and stupid, although apparently not so stupid as to attend an indoor rally during a pandemic.

Swamp Rabbit said, “Ain’t no way that evil clown recovers from Tulsa. He looked shocked by them empty seats. Reminded me of that movie where the wanna-be dictator loses his base and has to use an applause machine to make up for nobody coming to his rallies no more.”

“You mean A Face in the Crowd,” I replied. “Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes. Patricia Neal as his long-suffering girlfriend turns up the studio sound and the TV audience hears him calling them pigs and idiots.”

“That’s the one,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Trump’s fanboys ain’t heard him call them names yet but they saw him holding a Bible upside down, and they heard him tell them back in the winter that the virus was under control. They’re gonna toss him like an empty bag of Cheetos.”

“We’ll see, rabbit. I wish they’d toss him before he tries to steal the election.”

At times, history rhymes

trump bible
Looks like he’s starring in a new sequel to “The Omen”

“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’” Halford E. Luccock, 1938

The “how low can he go” question came up again yesterday. This time Dear Leader had the cops use tear gas to chase peaceful protesters so he could pose with a Bible for a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, not far from the White House.

Swamp Rabbit was reading over my shoulder. “What’s up with the Bible?” he said. “Everybody knows Trump don’t read no holy books. He don’t even read them morning briefings from his cronies.”

“His base likes when he uses props — Bibles, flags, churches, whatever,” I explained. “It makes them feel all warm and hateful inside.”

“But that’s such an old trick,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You’d think the peeps would get sick of evil guys waving flags and Bibles by now.”

I shrugged. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, rabbit. Especially if the old tricks still work for him.”

Channel surfing through lockdown

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

My neighbor Swamp Rabbit knocked on my door and let himself in when I didn’t open it.

“Why don’t you quit tweaking that thing?” he said, meaning the short story I was writing. “I bet you ain’t changed ten words in ten hours.”

I shrugged. “We’re in a lockdown. I’m sheltering in place. I’ve got all the time in the world.”

He turned on my TV, which he likes to watch when he’s hungover. Then he picked up the remote and got into a channel-surfing rhythm, pushing past cable news and a couple of miniseries on HBO. The sports channels were showing a very quiet game of baseball in South Korea (no fans in the ballpark because of social distancing rules) and a Phillies game from 1992.

I’m not a major fan of Bruce Springsteen, but I couldn’t help thinking of an oldie of his called “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On).”

“Why don’t you get your guitar and play that song you wrote about the COVID-19?” I said.

“I need my TV fix,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “If all else fails, there’s always some new show about Hitler. He ain’t never goin’ go out of style.”

“No politics,” I warned him. “No orange hog monster.”

Snippets of TV shows from another century appeared one after the other — “Gilligan’s Island,” “Perry Mason,” “Friends.” None of this stuff felt good for my eyes, not to mention my mental health.

After a while I told Swamp Rabbit to settle on something and he narrowed the options to three movies and a cartoon show. I read the titles and plot summaries on the TV screen.

Invasion U.S.A.: “Slavic mercenaries with bazookas hit Florida at Christmas, drawing an agent (Chuck Norris) out of retirement.”

Song of India: “A prince of the jungle (Sabu) frees beasts trapped by zoos for callous Indian royalty.”

X-Men: Dark Phoenix: “During a rescue mission, Jean Grey is hit by a cosmic force that makes her infinitely more powerful but far more unstable. The X-Men must unite to save her soul…”

SpongeBob SquarePants: “SpongeBob and Patrick must save Mr. Krabs when he gets trapped in the bank.”

“I’m gonna pass on them movies,” Swamp Rabbit said. “What about a psycho-killer biography or one of them shows about peeps in jail? You know, real lockdowns.”

He surfed past a few hundred more channels. The Hitler shows were all reruns. In the end he went with SpongeBob, for obvious reasons. (Cue up Springsteen video.)

Footnote: Actually, TMC is good sometimes, and there’s always Netflix.

Don’t worry, it’s only a movie

last man2

Here they come, a squad of chubby Sandinistas wearing black surgical masks. Better cross the street. Oh no! A tall, skinny diva walking her tall, skinny dog. All I can see are her eyes, and they’re glaring at me. Better put on my mask and run in the street, at least until I get halfway back to my shack in the Tinicum swamp.

Easier said than done. On the block up ahead there’s a party going on with music playing and a Happy Birthday sign in the window of the corner house. None of the partiers are wearing masks, and they’re not in a social distancing mood. They’re teenagers. Probably more worried about running out of beer than catching the plague.

So I stay in the street and run harder and put my mask on whenever someone gets too close. And after awhile there are no pedestrians and I feel like I’m in a movie playing the sole survivor of an attack by aliens that left all the buildings intact. That’s it, I decide, I’ll pretend it’s a movie.

Barnes & Noble is closed. The restaurants have shut down and the schools and gyms and arenas and retail stores and bars and theaters and coffee shops. It’s not as if everyone just took a few days off and will return next week. Some of the storefront windows are boarded up.

When I get back to the shack, Swamp Rabbit shows me an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

… It’s already clear that our habits have been profoundly altered after just a few weeks of home confinement. Many people have grown comfortable working in their dens and basements and having life’s necessities brought to their doorsteps. The longer the closures go on, the more likely that Center City’s struggling retailers will finally succumb to the delivery economy.

The rabbit is rattled. He downs a shot of whiskey and says, “What if them office workers you dissed last week don’t come back? What if everybody starts living indoors all the time? If Center City dies, what happens to us peeps in the boondocks?”

I shrug. “In the boonies we’ll live like second-class citizens, same as before, except the taxes will be a lot higher. Uptown, the office workers will return, at least for a while. Center City will make a modest comeback when the infection rate falls to near zero.”

“Yeah, but what happens if there’s a second wave of virus, and a third, like with that flu back in 1918?”

“Have another drink,” I said. “You don’t even want to think about that.”

The loneliness of the long-distance office worker

“Oh man, this is making me weep,” Swamp Rabbit said. We were taking turns reading a Philadelphia Inquirer story about possible psychological damage suffered by office workers who, for their own safety’s sake, must work at home for as long as the COVID-19 disaster persists.

In suddenly empty offices all across America, idle water coolers stand as memorials to a workplace culture that has virtually disappeared during the coronavirus epidemic. For millions now forced to labor at home, the casual collegiality symbolized by those gurgling office gathering spots has given way to seclusion and uncertainty, possibly exacerbating what ex-Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called ‘America’s epidemic of loneliness.’

Swamp Rabbit shook his head. “Them poor water coolers. I’ll bet they ain’t gurgled in weeks.”

I pretended to smack him upside his head. “It’s not funny, dude. Forced solitude is taking a toll on our mental health. Where would we be without the casual collegiality of the office workplace?”

He raised his mangy head and looked me over. “You’re putting me on, Odd Man. You don’t like office work.”

I failed to suppress a laugh. “Let me put it this way. I never worked an office job that didn’t make me feel like I was trapped with people who, with a few exceptions, weren’t scheming backstabbers or just hopeless drones.”

“They probably felt the same way about you,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You ain’t exactly fun to be around.”

“That’s my point, rabbit. Why should office workers have to put up with each other? We’re talking mostly about bullshit jobs — writing ad copy, public relations and so on. Why not just use the Internet to do the work from home?”

“I don’t know, Odd Man, it can get pretty lonely at home.”

“You mean lonely like the loneliness of the long-distance runner? It’s a lot worse being lonely in a crowd of dead-ass office workers.”

I told him we were reading a bullshit story about people airing bullshit grievances about bullshit jobs. They’re getting paid to work from home and therefore had little to complain about, especially compared to essential workers who get paid next to nothing to risk infection every day.

Swamp Rabbit told me to calm down, he agreed with me, but why did the Inquirer run a story that tries to make us feel sorry for at-home office workers?

“Because office workers are their audience,” I said. “Who else would have the time or inclination to read such crap?”

Disinfecting the disaffected

I wanted to raise a glass Wednesday to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but Swamp Rabbit only wanted to lament the ironies of the occasion:

• The Earth Day anniversary calls for a big celebration, but it’s not happening because the coronavirus pandemic has made getting together in crowds too dangerous.

• The air in this country is a lot cleaner this month, but only because so many cars are off the road and so many businesses closed due to virus-related quarantines. And the hog monster in the White House just took action to lower fuel economy standards for automobiles, so don’t count on cleaner air in the long run.

• Wild animals are roaming on some city streets, but (again) only because of street-clearing quarantines. Don’t count on wildlife to make a comeback anytime soon. Count on global warming and human overpopulation to push wildlife into smaller and smaller confines. And count on human encroachment to cause more viral pandemics.

Enough of your cheap ironies,” I said. “Give some credit to the visionaries who created Earth Day. They were in the vanguard of all efforts to stop polluting the planet.”

Swamp Rabbit shook his head. “If you think most peeps are serious about stopping pollution, then you probably think hydroxychloroquine cures virus victims.”

“That’s defeatist talk,” I said. “Most people create a whole lot more dirt than they clean up, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to save the planet. They just haven’t made the right changes yet.”

I mentioned the slow transition to renewable energy that’s underway all over the world. Coal will be dead soon. Fracking companies are losing money. Even blowhards like financial analyst Jim Cramer are talking like environmentalists.

Swamp Rabbit wasn’t convinced. He reminded me that Congress is still subsidizing the dirt bags who make dirty fuel, and that the disaffected masses in the MAGA coalition are still following the hog monster’s advice.

“I don’t know about that, rabbit. He just suggested that mainlining disinfectant might be another good treatment for the virus.”

“OK, they won’t do that,” Swamp Rabbit conceded. “But they’d be happy if the Democrats did.”

Daily ‘briefings’ from the beast

Swamp Rabbit wore a surgical mask today when he went to the SuperFridge. To protect him against COVID-19, he said, but I figured he just wanted to rob the joint without being identified.

He brought ketchup and fish sticks back to the swamp, just in time to hear me ranting about Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Why did the liar-in-chief force the various states to engage in a bidding war for much-needed medical equipment and, in some cases, actually use FEMA to bid against certain states for that equipment? Why did he refuse for so long to invoke the Defense Production Act, which compels private companies to quickly make sure there is no scarcity of equipment needed for a national emergency? Is this a case of Trump being stupid and malicious, or just stupid?

“Don’t make no difference,” Swamp Rabbit said. “With a dude like Trump, stupid and malicious are the same.”

I showed him a Boston Globe editorial about Trump that doesn’t pull any punches. It starts with a famous literary line:

‘Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,’ wrote W.B. Yeats in 1919. A century later, it’s clear: The epicenter cannot hold. Catastrophic decisions in the White House have doomed the world’s richest country to a season of untold suffering.

The language is even stronger a few paragraphs down, just in case Globe readers hadn’t yet got the point:

The months the administration wasted with prevarication about the threat and its subsequent missteps will amount to exponentially more COVID-19 cases than were necessary. In other words, the president has blood on his hands.

Swamp Rabbit shrugged. “Trump ain’t no Lady Macbeth. If he gets blood on his hands, he just wipes it off and looks for something else to wreck.”

He suggested I check out Trump’s daily marathon press “briefings” and remember how we wondered what would happen to the country if its fate fell into the hands of someone who can only wreck things. As Yeats asked:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

We’ve known for three years what the beast looks likes. The only question now is how much wreckage he will cause before he slouches in some other direction.

From out of the blue, new realities


I was reading to Swamp Rabbit from Albert Camus‘s The Plague:

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky.

I reminded the rabbit that he and I, along with tens of thousands of others, had been at the Flower Show less than a month ago. Even the most ignorant tulip watchers knew the coronavirus was coming, but hardly anyone at the event seemed worried. It was too hard to believe, in such a balmy setting, that a plague would soon “crash down on our heads from a blue sky.”

“Enough Camus,” he said, stretching out in a beach chair on my porch. “I don’t need no more existential dread. I’m depressed enough as it is.”

He was playing devil’s advocate, like last week. Or maybe he wasn’t.

“Camus believed in courage, not dread,” I replied. “He believed in fighting the good fight, even though the deck is stacked against you.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “It’s easy to feel courageous if you got groceries and the Internet and checks in the mail. It’s peeps like us who ain’t got no dough who feel the dread.”

I fetched a rusty milk crate and sat down six feet from him. “This is tough on everybody, rabbit, even those with money. People like privacy, but they also like to go to ball games and flower shows and so on. They don’t like sheltering in place. They don’t like too much isolation.”

“Peeps don’t like forced isolation,” he said. “They like having a choice. The thing is, there ain’t never no choice if you got no money… Is my six-pack of beer still here?”

He was trying my patience. “Virus deaths are spiking in Europe,” I said. “The worst is yet to come over here. Trump has stopped saying the virus is a hoax and started calling it the invisible enemy. He wants his base to think it was planted by the Democrats and the Chinese.”

The rabbit sat up, angry. “Trump’s gonna do what he always does — blame other peeps for problems he’s too dumb to deal with. F–k Trump. He oughta be quarantined in some dungeon somewhere.”

“That’s better,” I said. “Anger will keep your spirits up, rabbit. We’ve got to grapple with the new realities, the opposite of what Trump’s doing.”

He slumped back into the beach chair. “You go right ahead and grapple with them realities, Odd Man. Where’s my beer?”

Is social distancing here to stay?



I read aloud from a Washington Post story about our reluctance to maintain social distance from fellow humans during the coronavirus crisis:

Hermits aside, humans are social animals, even what some call “ultra-social.” For millennia, survival has depended on being part of a group. If distancing seems hard, it’s not just you: It’s human nature.

“Human nature, my ass,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Whoever wrote that article must be tripping. Or maybe she never heard of the suburbs.”

He sipped whiskey from his silver flask and jabbered on. If the post-WW II years have proved anything, it’s that many if not most people prefer to exist as far away from each other as possible. Sure, there are family homes and barrooms and sports arenas, but these are vestiges of an earlier era in which humans felt their was security in clans and safety in numbers.

The automobile and the highway system ended the notion that Americans were inherently friendly and/or group-minded, Swamp Rabbit added. Big cities emptied out as the middle class grew. Suburbs sprang up and metastasized into mega-suburbs where endless expansion is driven by the human preference for private space.

“City peeps ain’t much different,” he continued. “The more money you got, the more you avoid other peeps. If you’re rich in Manhattan you can go from one end of the island to the other without crossing paths with nobody but the doorman.”

I told him he was exaggerating, people really are upset about having to isolate during the pandemic in order to keep the infection rate down. Most humans don’t like social distancing. They like face to face contact with their fellow creatures. There’s no substitute for the human touch.

“What planet you from, Odd Man?” he said. “Where I live everybody’s on the Internet. They stream music and movies instead of going to record stores and theaters. They order groceries instead of going to the market. They socialize on Facebook. If they need the human touch, they go to one of them quickie sites, Tinder or whatever.”

“You’re too cynical, rabbit,” I replied. “When the pandemic fades, things will go back to normal.”

He shook his head and took another drink. “Normal today means staring at a smartphone, in case you ain’t noticed. Ain’t nothing you can do about that pandemic.”