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BY MAX BURBANK | To those of you who read my column on the regular (thanks, all six of you, sincerely), it may come as something of a shock that in addition to being an incisive writer of scathing satire, I am also Sunday school teacher. Admittedly, it’s an odd fit, as my writing demonstrates a dark turn of mind, and in addition I think I may have mentioned more than once, I’m a Jew. Thankfully it’s a Unitarian Universalist church, so officially they don’t care. Our church is lousy with Jews, pagans, and atheists — and I’m fairly certain Clifford is a satanist, and he’s on the Social Outreach Committee. In addition, as I often remind my students, Jews invented Christianity, so it is, as they say, “all good.”
If it worries you that I am allowed to mold the minds of small children (and it worries me), you might be comforted to know I’m not very good at it. At least not lately. Partly it’s because I find even the smallest amount of preparation degrading, but mostly I think it’s where we are in the curriculum as juxtaposed with where we are in the history of the United States. The entire situation is depressing, but it did allow me to use the word “juxtaposed.” I take small comforts where I can, and advise you to do the same.
Generally in March, my class is discussing the coming of spring and rituals of renewal in various religious traditions. Trees lose their leaves, plants wither and die, the sun hides beneath the horizon — but eventually, spring comes. The sun returns; The Phoenix rises from its ashes; Sun Gods (and sons of God) of all cultures are sacrificed and then reborn. We’re edging toward Easter in our classroom, but many UUs find too heavy an emphasis on our Christian roots tends to bring on the vapors, so we couch things. It’s important the children learn that every fun thing we do is lifted from some earlier, more colorful religious practice. One of these days I suppose it’s bound to dawn on us this practice smacks of cultural appropriation. We’ll feel vaguely uncomfortable, an emotional state that always makes us feel closer to the divine. Win, win.
The irony is not lost on me that I’m writing the first draft of this article, the theme of which is ostensibly the metaphorical coming of spring, during the third massive nor’easter this year. Soon I’ll need to choose between torturing my two ridiculous little dogs by walking them in an ice storm like I’m Sir-Ernest-God-Damn-Henry-Shackleton forcing his woebegone sled dogs toward the South Pole, or just letting them happily crap in the house. Does either option sound very rebirthful to you?
You might recall the term “pathetic fallacy” from your high school English class — a personification attributing human emotion to inanimate forces of nature, such as huge-ass, bomb-cyclone, ball-buster, ice-bastard storms hell-bent on freezing me solid and then smashing me to pieces the way you dip a dead fish in liquid nitrogen and hurl it against the wall of your ex’s apartment (something I most certainly have never done).
These storms serve to reinforce the general feeling of dread I’ve been breathing like bitterly frigid air for over a year now. You know what I’m talking about. America is tossed before a howling political blizzard of stupidity. It’s impossible to focus on which piece of lowest-common-denominator, proto-fascist garbage hurtling toward us at hurricane force speed is the one I should write my next column about, or if the one I didn’t see directly behind it is far more massive and potentially lethal.
Is it Stormy (You see? Pathetic fallacies everywhere!) Daniels I should be writing about? Is a porn star suing the sitting president of the United States of America to release her from a non-disclosure agreement that in and of itself is almost certainly a $130,000 violation of campaign finance law column-worthy? If she wins the right to speak freely about how Trump cheated with her on his third wife who was at home caring for their newborn son, will that hold the national attention span from my deadline to press time?
No! Because trade wars are good and easy to win! I’d write about it, but while you were blowing your morning coffee out your nose over that one, our sun-dried Clementine-in-Chief announced (without consulting any of his staff) he’ll meet with Kim Jong-un! Two megalomaniacal, narcissistic, world-leading toddler-men who don’t share a language locked in a room having a nuclear button-measuring contest! What could go wrong?! And if I’m going to write about that, I’ll need to do a quick rewrite, because shortly after announcing the meeting, Trump decided we’d be going into it without a Secretary of State! We can celebrate come Veterans Day with a giant North Korean-style military parade, unless we’ve already used up all those soldiers and ordinance on, you know, a WORLD WAR! That should be this column right there, but suppose Trump draws national attention away by committing some brand new unpredictable, vindictive, childish act of obstruction of justice, like firing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe less than 24 hours before he was due to retire with a full pension and OH MY GOD THAT LITERALLY HAPPENED WHILE I WAS WRITING THIS SENTENCE!
What’s next? What act of lunacy happened between when I turned this column in and when it went to print? Something will have — something so nuts it will push all that other crap right off the new cycle!
And that’s when it hit me: Trump is the Anti-Easter. Every awful iteration of Trump dies, its significance paled to invisibility as a new, dramatically worse version of Trump is reborn. Every massive blizzard we survive is forgotten as a larger storm engulfs us. Our president is a perpetually reborn Sun God of a sort — a dark sun; a black light shedding headache-inducing, ultraviolet illumination across a flocked, black-velvet-poster-type dystopia.
Do you suppose if I teach that lesson in Sunday school, I’ll at last get fired? Maybe. But they didn’t fire me when my Christmas pageant featured a Trump/Caesar pushing his census as the groundwork for the “biggest, most beautiful tax reform any Caesar in Roman history ever passed, something the fake news media won’t tell you.”
Maybe instead, I’ll tell the kids to be wary of metaphors in general and always weigh them against stark reality. Even at Easter, if a rabbit leaves something small and round on your lawn, don’t eat it. That’s not candy.