Gotham Diary:
Bad Dreams
3 November 2014

Goodness — this picture looked fine in the viewfinder of my camera, and as a thumbnail, too, when I sent it along to the cabinetmaker. I had been asked to send photos of the pieces that are to be disassembled before the move and then reassembled afterward. Happily for me, the cabinetmaker is still very much in business, and just around the corner. I received no complaints from that quarter about the blur, which, this morning, captures my uncertain state of mind. I can’t tell if I already occupy this state of mind, or if I’d just like to. The disorientation of living in a half-packed apartment, with its overall air of advanced dementia, has begun to infect my sleep, with the horrible result that I wake up from a nightmare only to discover that it wasn’t a dream!

There is a third piece of cabinetry that I have to ask the workmen about, although I don’t want them to take it apart. I don’t think that it needs to be taken apart, but I may be wrong (elevators). It’s the china cupboard that they built for us about twenty-five years ago. For the first time in ages, it now holds all the china and tabletop crystal that Kathleen and I want to keep. A lot of the really good stuff was stored rather precariously in the drawers of a sideboard. This we emptied onto the dining table. Then we made space for it in the china cupboard by moving out the doubtful items. There weren’t as many of these as I feared. Of course, we had packed up three different sets of china to give away. Two of these were kept in the cupboard, and the vanished stacks of plates left some nice empty spaces. The remaining set, by virtue of having been kept in the sideboard, meant that much less to transfer. The doubtful pieces were odds and ends that I rather liked, but to which Kathleen was indifferent. We discarded most of them. Life will be so much easier with everything not only in one place but in the right place. A bit less everything is a small price to pay.

Kathleen wrapped a great deal of china in “bubble packaging material,” using, I thought, more Scotch tape than wrap. I myself did nothing. I took the weekend off. Kathleen told me to. I didn’t even tidy the bedroom, largely because Kathleen, whose way of taking the weekend off took the form of spending it entirely at home, was always in it. (It is the only habitable space in the apartment, aside from two dining chairs and my desk in the blue room.) So I just read and read and read, until I couldn’t read any more. I was very tired, and doubtless needed the rest, but by Sunday night I was almost in a panic. I kept seeing closets, particularly the back corner of one of the closets in the blue room. Stacks of plastic milk crates stuffed with papers. If I start dreaming about that sort of thing, I’ll need a straitjacket.


On Friday evening, I finished The Iron Lady, John Campbell’s biography of Margaret Thatcher. It’s worth reading, despite its disagreeable subject, just for the excitement at the end, which, in Campbell’s treatment, packs all the wallop of Aeschylus but without any of the bloodshed. I had never really understood Thatcher’s downfall, except vaguely, as some sort of palace coup. I got it mixed up with the IRA bomb that nearly killed the prime minister during a party conference at Brighton — not really, but sort of. In fact, Thatcher lost a peculiar vote of confidence in Parliament. This vote, instituted back in the Sixties by Sir Alec Douglas Home, the lame, if not lame-duck outgoing Tory, had never been exercised, and a prime minister with majority support ought to have had nothing to fear from it. But, Parliamentary peculiarity that it was, more than a mere majority was required, and Thatcher fell four votes short. Her reflexive response was to insist on a second round, but before this could happen, she was  persuaded to resign by colleagues who could no longer conceal their massive cases of Thatcher fatigue. The local cause of her collapse was some wild talk about a single currency for Europe (this was in 1990, two years before the Maastricht vote). The general cause, though, was the sheer protraction of her regime. She was beginning to look like Walpole, only without the grateful friends.

I had been dying to be done with Thatcher, but, the book closed, I rather missed her, the old witch. Campbell’s book achieved its honorable objective, which was to make it harder to dislike Thatcher in any sweeping, absolute way. If nothing else, he made it difficult to say just what it was that “Thatcherism” accomplished. But the great blot remains undimmed: Thatcher, and the American Republicans who propped up Ronald Reagan, embodied a mortal lack of humane generosity. They cared nothing for those who could not care for themselves. Nothing — Thatcher herself most brazenly of all.

I want to waste as little breath as possible on the evils of the politics of heartlessness. The problem is that those of us on the other side too often don’t know what we’re doing. We create muddles, occasionally of Augaean dimensions, that wind up bestowing the heroic aura of Hercules upon grubbily selfish bean counters. The road to hell may not be paved with good intentions, but the road to Thatcherism certainly is. In political life, good intentions are never enough. Policies must be paid for, and paid for by reasonable means (ie, without mortgaging the future). The complexity of human nature cannot be wished away by political programs.

We also fail by accepting, in the interests of an alleged pragmatism, certain objectionable features of the landscape. Once again, we must assume the mantle of abolitionists. Just as former slaves were set on the road to full political personhood (a road that, to our shame, too many of them still tread), so we must now strip business corporations of a spurious “natural” personhood that grossly amplifies the economic and political power of a few hundred CEOs, who need to be cut down to normal size. As a correlative of this campaign, we must abolish paid political advertising of all kinds, before it makes the Internet too dangerous to use.

Now I’ve moved on to Beth Macy’s Factory Man, which follows The Iron Lady with almost frightening continuity.

Between 1997 and 2000, Bassett Furniture went from operating forty-two factories to fourteen.

“We used to brag about how many plants we had,” Rob Spilman said. “But Paul [Fulton] would say, ‘I’d like to brag about how few plants we have — and how much money we make’.” (226-7)

Capitalists are like big cats. They’re adorable when they’re little, but when they grow up, they eat their employees.