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Back in college eons ago I and a fellow footballer spent half a summer employed by a concessions company that worked county and state fairs in the region. We sold foot-long hotdogs and ice cream bars on the carnival midway at night. It was a great job for people-watching, both the people riding the death-defying machines and the carnival barkers in front of the tent walls advertising the freak shows. Carnies are fascinating people whether they are disabled, fat, bearded ladies, sword swallowers, or the chimp-like man in the cage. We would close down when the rides stopped moving and go back to our truck-RV with the freezers parked with all of the vehicles and house trailers used by the carnival workers. The next morning we would sit down in the mess tent for breakfast and lunch with all the other carnies. Fascinating people. Many “freaks” physically handicapped or savants, but none at all mentally handicapped. I learned more about people in that six weeks traveling with them to fairs than at any other time in my life.
That’s why I was so attracted to a review of two books about the Siamese Twins published recently in The New York Review of Books. They were no doubt the greatest “freaks” of the 19th Century. Discovered by an American sea captain when swimming in a Siam river, Chang and Eng were attached to each other at the breast bone by a flexible six-inch band of flesh. They were conjoined twins who were never separated until a post-death 1874 autopsy that discovered they shared a liver. They may have shared other organs. The captain brought them to Boston in 1829 when they were 18 and managed their careers for five years. The Twins soon realized they could manage their own affairs and finances, and in another five years made enough money to buy large farms in North Carolina. They married two white sisters, built two homes next to one another, fathered 21 children, and owned up to 32 black slaves to work two farms.
They each seemed to have an “irrepressible” spirit one author wrote. And they were willing to exert pressure on critics. They traveled around the world--and made a pile of money—while teasing audiences and protecting themselves. A paragraph in one book reveals, although conjoined, they were not to be trifled with: “When attacked, the twins retaliated. In Georgia one of them punched out a country doctor who called them imposters. In Massachusetts Chang and Eng even fired at two men from a mob that accosted them while they were out hunting fowl. They criticized the hypocrisy of Christians, and told a preacher concerned with their heathen souls that it was he, not them, who would end up ‘down dere.’ At age 20 they chastised a visitor for calling them ‘boy.’”
An Amusing Thought: What If Chang And Eng Lived Today And One Was A Trumwhitican And The Other A Democratic Socialist?
Born in Siam in 1811, the conjoined twins had as normal a life as possible even if nothing medically could be done to separate them. One must assume Chang and Eng had to be way above average in intelligence because they overcame complex physical and mental challenges throughout their lives—and had become champion chess players by the age of 18. One has to think of the innumerable accommodations and compromises they had to make with one another just to accomplish simple acts like going to the bathroom, fathering 21 children, splitting time between two homes so their wives had some “alone” time, while all the time knowing that they would both die at the same time regardless of their personal physical condition. They died at home in 1874 four years after Chang suffered a stroke while playing chess with the president of Liberia on a steamship.
Although they were gentlemen farmers for much of their lives between making money in personal appearances around the world (they sold drawings of themselves and their families for 12.5 cents each—so people had to buy two!), upon death they again became freaks. Doctors and curiosity collectors desperately wanted their bodies and property associated with their lives. Chang and Eng were buried in a double-wide metal coffin which was soldered shut. But the widows were assured that grave robbers would dig it up and try to sell the bodies. Read the books to find out what happened.
The recent film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by the Coen brothers of “Fargo” fame is about a beautiful young armless and legless man traveling between mining camps and small towns of our West in the 19th Century. He is strapped to a large board by his owner (“who bought him in London”) and dramatically recites passages from the works of Shakespeare, Shelley, and other great poets. His owner passes the collection plate as the “actor” ends his program with a stirring rendition of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But the program falls on hard times and the owner/manager replaces the quadruple-amputee with a chicken that can add and subtract.
The Coen Brothers goal in the movie is to emphasize the myths of self-sufficiency Americans live under. They are saying we need society, government, help and handouts at times, and occasionally we need people to take care of us. We are not self-made rugged individuals. We particularly need people when we are going through the “terrible twos.” Amen.
I wish the Coens would come up with a movie script where the Siamese Twins would have Chang follow the Tea Party-Trumwhitican Party political philosophy and Eng would follow the Democratic Socialism of Bernie Sanders and the young Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (known as AOC). How would they accommodate and compromise with each other 24/7 when our politics are so polarized today? Would they apply for Social Security Disability? Food stamps? Medicaid? Obamacare? What about pre-existing conditions?
The Great White Tent In The Carnival Of Washington
Prior to the last three years I considered Donald Trump a bombastic buffoon playboy, ever-present in The National Inquirer. Since he was elected in 2016 I have been trying to find a spot on the human chain of being where he best fits, but he is such a constantly lying narcissist, so ignorant of the social graces, has such a limited vocabulary, has absolutely no background in the humanities of art, music, and literature, has been described as a pure asshole by 27 psychiatrists, demonstrates a complete lack of morals and ideology, that I thought I would never find a place for him. I think I have found a place after seeing and hearing his latest El Paso political rally with his cult for his wall.
Unlike the physically-handicapped “freaks” displayed in carnivals and freak shows but were of sound mind, Trump is just the reverse. He is now a sad unsound-mind freak with some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s, or other mental illness. He’s the king of chaos the 25th amendment was written to cover. Because of his erratic brain functions, he has turned the White House into a large white carnival tent with Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh outside barking his policies and selling the tickets. Ann Coulter, who has made a fortune spouting the tripe of the Koch brothers in colleges and writing right-wing wacko books only Trumwhiticans buy, is collecting the tickets at the White Tent door. After Trump’s election, over 200 white supremacists gathered by the White House and chanted: “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” in “Sieg Heil” fashion.
Trump is a dangerous freak because of his mental rants and emotional disabilities; thus is unfit for office. His ambassador appointments illustrate his role in the Washington carnival. He nominated Lana Marks to be ambassador to South Africa. Her only known talent? Designing and selling $10,000 handbags. He nominated Adrian Zuckerman as ambassador to Romania. He is well-known for sexually harassing women who worked for him. This morning Trump tweeted he had negotiated a deal with South Korea that it would pay $500 million to help support American troops stationed in the country. South Korean authorities immediately responded: the deal was for $70 million, not $500 million. Trump is an unstable liar who has lived his entire freaking life in a world of alternative reality, spouting false news and alternative facts. We have a little Hitler on our hands.
From this point on I was going to discuss Trump’s reaction to socialism, but I have just finished listening to his bombastic, leaning tower of babble one-hour press conference about his signing the “wall” bill and a national emergency declaration. Trump is a mental freak who is a danger to all of us and must be removed from office quickly. I just received an e-mail from a reader containing the thoughts of the English writer Nate White who has written a “Summation” concerning Trump’s mental condition. I’m going to end with some of his comments because it probably beats any kind of psychiatric summation. If you want to read the whole article just Google Nate White.
White: “Trump Lacks Certain Qualities”
• He has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honor and no grace—all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.
• Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, but he has never once said anything wry, witty, or even faintly amusing—not once, ever. Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs, he only crows or jeers. His idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.
• And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults—he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.
• He is not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat. He’s more like a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege. And worse, he is that most unforgiveable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies, then he suddenly transforms into a sniveling sidekick instead (think five deferments from Vietnam). There are unspoken rules to this stuff—the Queensbury rules of basic decency—and he breaks them all. He punches downwards…and every blow he aims at is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable and the voiceless—and he kicks them when they are down.
• It’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid. He turns being artless into an art form, he is a Picasso of pettiness, a Shakespeare of shit.
• He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W. look smart.