Roo's jailhouse tat

You often see people with tattoos that make you think, Wow, are you ever going to regret that one day. One that stood out was at a pricey bar in New Hampshire where I was having a burger. A woman sitting next to me said to her boyfriend, “Ugh—such a pretty girl. Doomed for life.” She was talking about the 22-year-old bartender, who was reaching up to get a bottle of single malt from a high shelf when her shirt untucked to reveal an ornate tattoo of the variety called a tramp stamp. It was done in the curliqued style of an easel card for a vaudeville barbershop quartet of screaming eagles. The customer, who had a couple of drinks under her belt, said to the victime du tatouage, “Hon, you don’t mind my asking you, do you, but I’ve just got to know what were you thinking when you got that tattoo?” and the bartender said, “I know. I was 18. It was the stupidest thing I ever did in my life. I hate it.”

Of course, it doesn’t always have to be that bad. A few years ago I resided at a motel in Marshall, Michigan, where the owner had decided when she was either 60 or 70 to indulge her lifelong yearning for a tattoo. “I’m done trying to look good to anybody but me,” she told me, and she decided to pull the trigger in Orlando on her annual Disneyland vacation. The first one was, I think, Sleeping Beauty. She loved it and ever since then got another couple of them every year . She showed me almost—just barely almost—all of them, and I have to say, they were quite lovely. Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi—about two dozen Disney characters. Everywhere. She rolled sleeves up and waistbands down to show me. They made her happy, they were as cute as she was and I was honored to have been shown them.

But that’s the bright end of the ink spectrum. There darker side has always been busier. I don’t mean the tattoos people get to try to make themselves look tough—spiderwebs on their arms or cracked skulls on their chests or headstones with their own names on them under a Western pastiche of a pair of crapped-out snake eyes and snarling rabid wolves and dripping hypodermic needles and some wafting up from the barrel of a gun in the clenched grip of some anticipated future killer.

Of all of them, though, the most troubling one is the tiniest and least showy of them all: those teardrop tattoos that came out of the mix of gang life and jail. Every teardrop drop signifies a murder and the tragedy of a life of crime and violence. Not just for the dead, but for the killer. For the way murder changes you. And I wouldn't get any ideas about casually festooning yourself with a teardrop just for how badass it looks without earning it: let your local Crips see it and they’ll peel it off you like the skin off a slab of mackerel down at their favorite sushi bar.

One of the worst things about tattoos is how permanently they make their declaration. Not many people can afford the services of my acquaintance the talented Dr. Tattoff, who provides relief to his patients in the form of high-priced laser tattoo removal in Beverly Hills. Most people can not afford to get Billy Bob Thornton’s name erased to make room for complicated sets of navigational instructions. And if you happen to have something horrific depicted in your tattoo—not Billy Bob, but murder, (though Billy Bob was certainly guilty of murder when it came to the movie he made out of one of the best American novels ever, All the Pretty Horses), for instance—you better be ready for that tattoo to become your entire identity. If you have a teardrop tattooed under your eye, the cops might not even cuff the clerk down at the 7-11 for getting a little itchy with that .38 snubnose under the register when you reach into the your pocket to see if you've got exact change for a couple of 5 Hour Energy Drinks and a blue Slushy.

Seeing Roo show up looking that way after a burst of mayhem today in northwestern Arkansas got me thinking. That expression on her—have you ever seen Roo that distant? That pensive? Something went down in those brambles today, something about whoever had to pay for that badge. Maybe something in the way they looked or something they squeaked about how their family needed them, how many little rugrats they had. Roo’s not given to remorse, but that’s the look of a dog realizing that she’s never, ever going to unsee something bad. Real bad.

That’s how you earn your teardrop. And that one of Roo’s is blood. The worst of them all.

On second thought—nah. Roo couldn't possibly be happier about it. I think she was just burping on her duck jerky when I took the picture. 

The first good thunderstorm in five years

It was around ten o'clock on a peaceful night here in east Oklahoma. I had to go outside and was surprised to see a vast electrical storm lighting up the sky, some of it behind the low hills to the west and all the way northward to the pastureland and the prairie. My first thought was a deflated one. Oh, boy. Here we go again, of course thinking that Roo was in for another scare. And, to tell the truth, that was something of an exhausting thought. 

But, for all that lightning, there was no thunder. There would be later, as the storm rolled over, but for a while there wasn't, and because this was the first time since adopting Roo that I got to watch a storm without it being only about how terrified she would be, it was the first time I realized how much I missed being able to watch a thunderstorm. There was a time when I would fly 200 miles in a light plane to get close to the big ones over the deserts or skate a little nearer to the than I should have over the Rockies. I love them. It's especially odd when one recalls the way Orville appeared in a thunderstorm (the name of this blog is from that) while I watched the greatest Himalayan monsoon storm to roll over Kathmandu in a century, and Roo can only think they're going to kill her.

Here's the storm while it was on its way to where we are, just west of the Arkansas border, halfway between Mena and Fort Smith. It was a beautiful storm, and when it finally hit, it only lasted a short while. It did, of course, terrify Roo, but right around the stroke of midnight she calmed. It was an isolated cell, and there won't be any more tonight.

And this is the deep breathing technique Roo uses to deal with thunderstorms when they hit at three in the morning.


Not a day goes by without someone reaching out to this news organization to ask, “The, you’re such a well-known Sovietologist, Kremlinologist, historian of totalitarian regimes, not to mention the keenest observer known to scholars of American political corruption, so how is it that you’re letting The New York Times and The Washington Post get all the scoops about Trump’s connections to Russia? Come on, man!”

Well, it’s true. I really haven’t thrown my hat into that ring. Until now….

Let me begin with three syllables: Trololo. Ring any bells?

In case it doesn't, Trololo is Edouard Zhil’s iconic 1976 rendition of his landmark song, not to mention the best-known artifact of Soviet Communist-era television.

By 1976, the only thing keeping the Worker’s Paradise’s from going under was force, repression, imposed deprivation, a violent police and prison state and a few of the other features of Stalinism that Trump is trying to bring to America.

Not that many Soviet citizens back then had televisions — they were precious instruments, produced in limited numbers and distributed only to the most deserving apparatchiki — and those who did would steel themselves with triple their normal vodka consumption before consigning themselves to an evening of watching it. Typical programming might feature a lengthy special on metallurgic advances in the Kazakh boat propeller industry followed by a discussion of Lithuanian tablecloth patterns capped off with a few scenes of Leonid Brezhnev cutting the ribbon at the opening of a wheelbarrow factory.

But, every once in a while, the ether on those grey Stalingrad nights would be electrified by broadcast gold, and none ever captured the Russian soul or achieved as durable a fame as Tovarisch Zhil’s Trololo. In fact, it is the only known instance of Soviet television ever receiving a tribute from the elite American counterparts they could only envy in secret, as the embedded version will demonstrate. Please, Comrades—have a look. Then we'll continue.

So… why do you bring this up, The?

Last night a source alerted me to the fact that in 2012 Russian television produced a remake of the original performance. Of course, historians and journalists of my caliber can't normally waste time on such frivolity, but something told me not to pass it up. I hungered to know who would be there: the audience at such a pinnacle cultural event would be limited to the élite of the élite. It would be like reading the KGB's classified internal phone directory. No one who was not a personal darling of Putin himself could hope to attend a show like that. Go to the Bolshoi. Run naked down the halls of the Hermitage… but Trololo? Hardly.

And so it was that I spotted something in this version of Trololo that none of my colleagues in the broader press, our own élites, too finely feathered a bunch to stoop to the real work of reporting, caught: Nothing less than final proof of the Trump-Russia connection. Watch it. See for yourselves. You only have to go 12 seconds in to see on whom the camera lingers so lovingly and accords so much of the screen time that, by rights, should have been the great Zhil's and Zhil's alone—a clear message from the Kremlin. I will leave the identification of the person in question to you so that you may experience the pleasure of discovery for yourself.

So we have the disgraced traitor Flynn. We have Attorney General Sessions caught lying about meeting the Russians. We have Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the only American owner of the main Russian money laundering bank on Cyprus; Tillerson, Putin most favored of them all, the kind of fellow he'd take on a chimpanzee-shooting expedition. Manafort, Page, Bannon, Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, the Trump boys, reeking of lavender-scented pomade... there aren't enough electrons in the galaxy to pump all their names out on the internet.

None of that will matter after tonight. This is the footage that will bring the Trump crime and treason family to its knees.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


So he wants to play dirty, eh? 

You might have seen in the news last week that that skunk Kim Jong-Un, noted North Korean sausage imitator, had his half-brother murdered by exposing him to VX nerve gas in the middle of the airport in Kuala Lumpur (unless it was an act of mercy, which even VX might be after KL, which is one of the world’s true pits).

Well, the same thing happened to Roo today. Every single last detail: setup, delivery—all identical, with a few minor exceptions. The attack didn’t occur in Kuala Lumpur or at an airport, and the chemical used on Roo wasn’t VX and it wasn’t administered by a pair of hapless Pyongyang Junior League Mata Haris who are now going to rot away in a Malaysian jail eating geckos for the rest of their lives instead of the steady diet of Dear Leader’s wise proverbs that inspired their selfless act of patriotism. And though Kim may be a sonofabitch, there’s no evidence that he is in fact Roo’s half-brother. She is Mexican, after all. But as for the rest, it had all the usual hallmarks. It had to be that bastard Kim. 

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned, though, is that Enemies of the State can attack anywhere, at any time. In the guerrilla traditions of General Washington and Chairman Mao, the only thing you can count on is their utilization of the element of surprise. That’s why Sharia law isn’t going to come here to east Oklahoma: because folks here expect it too much. What’s ISIS going to do? Sneak into the National Turkey Federation meeting here next week? ISIS knows that the fear of having Sharia law rammed down the community’s throat and everybody being forced to wear Pakistani pajama-pant suits and camel hide sandals to the rodeo is directly proportional to the density of Baptist churches in any given American vicinity. Poteau—or, for that matter, nearby Cowlington or Cowleta—are probably safe for now. The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters at Infowars and Breitbart have made sure everyone around here knows those black flags are just over the horizon—so no one can be surprised. ISIS is going to go for someplace that isn’t expecting them. My guess? Catalina Island.

But the North Koreans? Have you ever heard anyone worry about them taking over and forcing the Jucho philosophy of Great Leader Kim Il-Song down everyone’s gullet? No, you haven’t, and that’s what proves that the attack on Roo was masterminded by that bastard Kim.

Roo’s months-long bout of gut disease taught her two important lessons. First, that she should live every minute as if it was her last, meaning that she should at all times be savoring the taste of mouse blood. Second, that if she lies on the floor and groans pitiably, it will make me drop everything to ask her if there’s something wrong with her stomach, which she then turns to advantage by insisting that it’s time to go out. She’s big on the FakeNews hashtag these days.

And so, around 1 PM today, she started. She lay on her side and moaned. Then louder. And louder.

I couldn’t take it. I knew it was going to get worse. I closed the laptop and took her out. 

We came to a ditch filled with mud, thorns and brambles. Yesterday, spotted a rabbit there. In fact, this rabbit bolted and led Roo on an eight-tenths of a mile chase at top speed. The rabbit was smart enough to keep to one side of a barbed wire fence. He probably used to work a greyhound track. It was still horrible to see. The rabbit got away, but Roo was yelping the whole time, the sound of her voice getter more hoarse as it receded into the distance.

Of course today she went back to check the hole and before long started digging one of the labyrinth of tunnels she has been constructing in order to connect various regions of the United States. This went on, as it always does, for a long time. I was relieved, because I’m not feeling too hot and can’t ride a bike at the moment and this way she gets her exercise without me having to drag myself all over the countryside.

But at one point, she backed off from the hole. There was blood on her face, over and under her left eye. When she gets so excited that she starts shredding her skin I usually make her stop. This is what she was ignoring my yelling at her about when she recoiled from the hole as if she had been shot from a circus cannon and catapulted herself into the air over the thicket and in an arc into the ten inches of slime in the mud ditch, where she started rolling around like a mad dog.

Of course I recognized that braying ass Kim’s fingerprints on the whole operation. The ambush, the nerve agent. The smell wafted over to me. It wasn’t quite like a skunk, but skunky. It smelled more like New Jersey—the odor of burning tires, spilled petrochemicals, Mafia-run garbage pits and sulfur depots run with bighearted Republican concern for the environment. It took her a while to get ahold of herself, even though she kept throwing herself back on the ground to try to roll it off for many minutes afterward. The video is the last of these attempts at self-purification.

Now, look. This could not have been the work of a regular skunk, because you can’t drive 300 feet around here without seeing them squashed on the side of the road. There are thousands of them, way too many for there to be any left. And so it stands to reason that the only possible culprit is that other skunk, that North Korean bastard of a pomade addict with the funhouse mirror haircut Kim. It only stands to reason.

I hope he enjoys it while it lasts. I simply didn’t have the strength to apply the antidote of hydrogen peroxide, Dawn and baking soda, which I keep prepared in a baggie in the car. And so tonight, Roo is a little on the pungent side, not the best company inside a tiny camper.  But all I can say is that if that rotund prick Kim thinks he’s going to get away with this, he’s got another thing coming. Under the generalship of Benedict Donald, an outrage like this will not be allowed to stand, as if it were just another item of fake news or something. This, comrades, is our new reality. 

They’re not coming. They’re here.


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