Black Ribbon Award

Month: January, 2016

DEMOLITION MAN

hateville

[Note: Some time last year, Greg Shepherd of Stark House Press had read “The Brutalist,” the essay I wrote on Gil Brewer in the Los Angeles Review of Books, and wanted me to write something of a sequel for a collection of novels he was publishing by the same author. “Demoiltion Man” is the result. Though you can actually read the whole thing in-book thanks to Amazon’s preview function, which is kind of cooler, I thought I’d post it here as well. As a standalone essay I think it works. I did transplant the background info from the first essay, but I thought the exposition was sufficiently conveyed enough not to rewrite, so think of it as a kind of “previously on …” edit. Everything else is entirely unique to the book’s contents.]

Why read Gil Brewer?

Because in all the trials we adults face in the day-to-day grind, few things are easier to do. One can do so without really being conscious of having done it. The typical Gil Brewer sentence does not allow time for idling. There is a force to them, and a heat. Placed in perfect sequence, the effect can be propulsive, whether like the engine revving towards a wall or the self-pleasurer convulsing towards climax. Or it can burn methodically through each layer of skin. “Doom. You recognize Doom easily,” he wrote in 1958’s The Vengeful Virgin. “It’s a feeling and a taste, and it’s black, and it’s very heavy. It comes down over your head and wraps tentacles around you, and sinks long dirty fingernails into your heart. It has a stink like burning garbage.” Gil Brewer wrote to be read, and to immerse those who read him in the sensory oppression found on bad streets and in worse houses. Get deep enough into the belly of one of his many books and any reader will understand that that is not the question they should be asking.

The seamlessness with which eyes glide over his words is of a diminished consequence compared to the force of will that is required in actively looking for them first. Why one would do so is a question that proffers different answers depending on the time a reader would conduct the search.

50 years ago his byline would have been out and about, buried in the smallest conceivable type under titles bearing words like wild, sin, teaser, virgin, bitch, Satan, and Hateville. They would spark from the spinning metal racks of train station book stands amid countless other lurid entries in a then-desired trade. In a time in which stag films and Bettie Page were too blacklisted to acquire or too light in calories to nourish, the entirely verbal sex and violence of Brewer and his ilk could abbreviate, say, the tedium between leaving the office and hugging the kids.

The pulp paperback industry of the mid-20th century was part content farm, part incubator. As an intersecting of publisher, writer, and profit it was a marvel of its time and place, descending nearly into fable with each ensuing decade. Such a system was easy money for all involved and especially helpful in facilitating a burgeoning artistic career, as it was for William S. Burroughs, Harlan Ellison, Terry Southern, and Ed Wood. For others, though, it became something of a niche from which it was very hard to escape. Orrie Hitt’s particular brand of “adult reading” had sufficient enough demand that publishers would put his name on books regardless as to whether he wrote them or not. This division was not always harmonious, as Gil Brewer’s case bears out. Though he longed for “mainstream” authorship, and tried his hand at more ambitious novels, his was a career increasingly sunk in lower depths, where imaginative capacity and market demands were always in tension and hazily established.

Brewer’s thirst for writing was seemingly inherited from his father, also named Gil Brewer, who published stories, usually airplane-themed, in such early pulp magazines as Airplane StoriesSky Riders, and Dare-Devil Aces. Brewer also inherited his father’s thirst for alcohol. The younger Brewer dropped out of high school in upstate New York, worked almost every conceivable odd job, and finally joined the army during World War II. When he returned from Europe, his family had relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he later joined them. He would remain in Florida for the rest of his life and set many of his novels and stories there. Rather than work by day and write what he wished by night, Brewer chose to write what paid. With the help of agent and former Black Mask editor Joseph T. Shaw, Brewer began a long career with Gold Medal Books, a paperback staple created by Fawcett Publications that published such luminaries of noir obscurity as Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis. In 1951, Gold Medal published Brewer’s first novel Satan is a Woman.

Brewer’s pulp output was typical of its kind. At his peak he could produce prolifically, rapidly (sometimes within days), and uniformly. Between 1951 and 1978, Brewer published 50 novels, 33 of which were in his own name. In 1960 alone he published Angel, Nude on Thin Ice, Backwoods Teaser, The Three-Way Split, and Play It Hard.

Taken in total, Brewer’s fiction forms something of a thematic chain, an endless succession of detonated men and the women who fiddle with their wiring, however clumsily or menacingly. The Brewer protagonist was less of an existential outcast or a cynical white knight and more of a man on the street with imbalances both biographical and psychological. His main publisher at his career peak, Gold Medal, was understandably fond of the average Joe figurehead, for which Brewer spun depraved yarns with aplomb. Brewer’s protagonists are almost always the weariest of world-weary deadbeats, men who are “dying in a flaming bonfire of futility, intense hate and frustration.” They are lonely, dejected, abused, jailed, and orphaned on at least two occasions. They broil with desperation and reek of booze. They do not, however, want for sex (or what passed for sex in a period fogged by euphemism), romping with attractive but not entirely trustworthy women.

Brewer covers all the noir basics: the power of bad choices and their consequences, of male lust if not of feminine wiles; the power of nothing left to lose and of the conscious pursuit of mere delusions of success. Noir characters, like all of us, strive for betterment, but few of us go to such extremes, let alone fail so resoundingly in the process. The narrative arcs that took shape out of this dynamic don’t, when all is said and done, allow for much distinction. Indeed, much of Brewer’s stories seem threaded together by unfortunate encounters a protagonist has on a given day. An encounter with a woman—whether a young trophy wife, former lover, or random harlot—gives way to an encounter with any variation of lowlife, and then repeats a few more cycles. He is, in their hands, a thing to be used and promptly discarded. Trauma is compounded upon with deception and damage. Death, as the novels progress, becomes something of a solace. Sometimes it comes, but being spared often means never being spared in one piece.

Noir is more sensory than logical, though far from a transgressive author, Brewer still managed to push its boundaries to greater extremes to serve his readers. In place of mystery Brewer offered fantasy, less of escape from the reader’s own life and more of intrusion into someone else’s. The Brewer fantasy was not the aspirational exploits of debonair antiheros and the women who want them, but a nasty and brutish spectacle of frayed nerves, dull instincts, and debauched decorum. It can be seen as a record of a manmade wilderness, the kind sectioned off by rail lines, filled by those of stations no higher than loathsome or pitiable. With the pornography of the time in its legal and creative stranglehold, Brewer and his pulp cohorts were articulating, however consciously or unconsciously, the more sinister essence that compelled its viewership. Though Brewer was never wealthy, this would help sustain him, for a time anyway.

Brewer’s career hit difficulties as it went into the 1970s. Pulp publishing’s overall market share endured crippling if not entirely fatal injuries from that decade’s revolutions in popular media. The verbal tradesmen were caught seemingly unawares by the new visual stylists and storytellers who could now equal, perhaps even exceed their abilities. Feeding off the counterculture, young, radical filmmakers—from Roman Polanski to Dennis Hopper to William Freidkin to Sam Peckinpah—used sex and violence to overwhelm the staid Hollywood behemoth. Grindhouse theaters, giallo, and the exploitation films of Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman replicated pulp’s cheap thrills, but in ways that were as much unpredictably offbeat and gorgeous as they were purely garish. And pornography, though still illegal, was becoming similarly bold and dynamic, replicating and then exploding both pulp’s erotic chic and industrious output. Out of this environment, the work to which Brewer and others had grown accustomed became increasingly less fashionable. Even as Brewer tried to answer these new circumstances with his talents, it did not prove so simple, as these three novels, written in the mid-1970s but unpublished until now, show.

Gil Brewer was not wanting in cheerleaders who recognized his talent and wanted it nurtured to its best health. This meant dialing back his rapid fire work habits and, more importantly, dialing down the sex, which had become something of a narrative crutch for him. It would appear these concerns went unheeded. Much of Brewer’s income in the 1970’s came from pseudonymous hack work and ghostwriting, but he continued to write novels in his own name that doubled down on both sex and violence. The composition dates of the rejected novels Gun the Dame Down, The Erotics, and Angry Arnold are unclear, but taken in this order they would be indicative of a decline.

Gun the Dame Down was rejected evidently for being too racy, but it is more peculiar for its service as an attempt for Brewer to write a more traditional noir mystery. All the beats are there, the oddly named detective (William Death?), the wealthy patriarchal victim, the family he has damaged, the enemies he made, the double-crossing and other plot twists that may or may not be able to be seen from a great distance, and the femme fatales, of which Brewer had something of a surplus in this case. And there was the style, written in the first person, typically unvarnished but dialing down the brute energy in favor of emulating the hard-bitten private dicks of old:

I turned and looked inside the suddenly opened door.

The someone was a she. They’re always cautious about my name, and I don’t much blame them. We Deaths were in America to welcome the Pilgrims when they landed, so it’s a bit late to think of changing the name now. Besides, my old man was devilish proud of it. He used to say he was Death to everybody, but particularly the ladies. My mother didn’t much like that.

The Erotics hews much more closely to Brewer’s oeuvre while adding some flourishes of its own. Chris Pope is your typical Brewerian hero, a deadbeat with poor impulse control, a weakness for women, a traumatic past with butchered parents and negligent foster care, and who is swept up in criminal catastrophe with minimal effort on his part. He is also a failed artist whose talent is present. “He showed remarkable aptitude, an easy way with realism that bordered on the devilish,” Brewer writes, “but very early he began to delve into the abstract and non-representational.” But that talent was thwarted by his own self-destructive impulses, reducing him to an ornament for the local rich and a plaything for their younger, cunning spouses. If the presence of “breasts” in Gun the Dame Down, Brewer goes one further. “All I’ve ever wanted in life was money,” Pope’s old flame confesses, “and a long prick, and it never necessarily had to be yours even if I told you otherwise.” His modernizing vernacular did not necessarily extend to his depiction of women. They serve several purposes here, all somehow connected to Chris Pope’s gnarled psyche whether as savior, whore, corrupted ideal, or mid-plot distraction.

Chris Pope seems charitable, however, when set up against Arnold Platt, the eponymous force of fury in Angry Arnold. Though it is by far Brewer’s clunkiest title, it is the most encapsulating of its contents. Platt is a jobless thirtysomething tyrannized by an overbearing sister, constant rushes of anxiety and depression, and (mostly) sexual frustration. He overcomes this as “The Accountant,” who has raped and murdered five young women in his Florida city, filled with “teasers” he is bent on eradicating:

He sat back, experiencing some uncontrol with his own breathing, thinking about them. Teasers. He could recognize them anywhere.

To Arnold, a teaser was not what one would exactly think. To Arnold they must be dressed richly, or at least very nicely, in tight clothes, colorful and exciting. They moved in a certain way that struck a chord in him; they had a certain flair, a look, a mode of carriage. Their hair was always long and full.

Angry Arnold anticipates the cat-and-mouse structure of the serial killer novel that Thomas Harris would make popular with Red Dragon in 1981. Like Harris, Brewer splits his narrative between the killer and the investigators. But where Harris was at turns haunting and mordant, not to mention a more elegant storyteller, Brewer holds close to his savage, feverish approach, and indeed accelerates it:

It was an agonizing moment. His erection had grown to full proportions, forking against the fabric of his underwear and trousers and the sexual sensations that consumed him were violent. All he could think was rape, forcing entry, spreading her thighs, seeing her face beneath him, the helpless, hopeless eyes, the begging eyes—with the knife in his hand.

The pale green room was gone. He was not even seated on the chair. He was floating somewhere within his own unconsciousness, a dark somewhere, of winds and rustles and beseeching cries.

“You won’t tell …”

Brutality called him, urging through a pink vertigo of lust.

Whether this was to best capture Arnold’s mindset or a natural progression of his writing, a veneer had been forcibly removed. It is almost apocalyptic. Pulp fiction had been reborn in the 1990s as kitsch art. The trashy covers and the purple prose were given ironic glances, either in mockery of the credulousness of the past or in condemnation of its repression. Angry Arnold would deny (post)modern readers that joy. Like Sade it demands to be refused or accepted as is, “for I shall not change.” Its closest kinship is with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 film Frenzy, his second-to-last and his most controversial. Like Arnold it is also about a serial rapist and murderer and a film for which Hitchcock too shed the self-censorious niceties of his previous work that people found so innovative.

Gil Brewer died in 1983, barely into his sixties, from complications related to alcoholism. Many if not all of his books had been out of print, their purposes having been served, and leaving Brewer with the feeling not simply of non-accomplishment but negative accomplishment. He wrote as much in 1977: “I’m 54 and I haven’t even started. Drank too much and was always in a rush to make enough $ just to get by. Now I’d like to try my hand at writing well… If I was well I might stand a chance.” He would not live to see renewed interest, however skewed, in his industry, nor would he see his novels and stories get reprinted—digitally and on paper—by at least five publishers. Which brings us back to where we started.

These novels, having been untested by contemporary readers, are coming into a landscape far more altered than the one in which they were composed. The hunger for noir not only as a genre of entertainment but as a high art—or at least an art—calls for select delicacies of “overlooked” classics given fresh perspective, and in earnest at that. What then to do with Gil Brewer, who doubtless put a great deal of work into his novels while being convinced to his dying day that his real art had gone unwritten? What is his place? Why would we be compelled by him over what else is out there? Over Woolrich or Goodis or Chandler? Over Fargo or True Detective or Twin Peaks? Or even over pornography, golden age or otherwise?

Gil Brewer was one of the great demolition men in noir fiction. Nothing unfurled in his work with greater logic than the destruction of his protagonist from chapter to chapter, as much by his own instincts as by the circumstances that put him on that track. If sex was ever more than a selling point on which Brewer had increasing reliance, it was also the purest, surest, and perhaps the most fearsome temptation to which a man of any constitutional soundness could succumb. If Red Dragon is gothic noir, then Angry Arnold is doom noir. If Behind the Green Door is porn chic, then The Erotics is porn grotesque. Gil Brewer’s class is the voyeuristic realism of American Gigolo or the Big Black song “Bad Houses.” It does not stand foremost in our minds as readily consumable entertainment or readily appreciable art. We do not go to him putting our best selves forward, with sound minds or clear consciences. Nor do we go because we can’t truly look away. If we couldn’t we’d be on the other side of the page.

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THE DISAPPOINTMENT FETISHIST

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The story is a typical one. Or maybe not so typical. In 1953, a Republican assumes the office of president of the United States after two decades of Democratic dominance. Eight months later, the last president’s chief justice of the Supreme Court suddenly dies after a microscopic seven years on the bench. Though it is not the most fortunate turn of events, the opportunity to make a dent in the life-tenured governmental branch filled almost entirely with Democratic appointees is too monumental to take both lightly and without some glee. The president sees to it that he taps a candidate who “represents the kind of political, economic, and social thinking that I believe we need on the Supreme Court” and “has a national name for integrity, uprightness, and courage.” He finds it in a three-term governor of California, who is in short order confirmed unanimously by the Senate. And not a moment too soon, it seems. A divisive case looms, the Republicans, steeled with confidence in their man, await the exertion of that integrity, uprightness, and courage to hold back the forces that would sow disorder in the Republic. Yet the outcome could not have been more adversarial to such hopes.

The rise of Earl Warren carries no small hint of the occult to it. It is as though he and Richard Nixon happened on a tanned, bikini-clad bevy of weird sisters with alluring but foreboding prophecy, or as though he was visited upon by a pomaded, Thunderbird-riding Mephistopheles wanting to strike a deal. Only in this case it was the country and not the man who was fraught with madness or saddled with supernatural debt. With a few moralizing platitudes, Earl Warren could render sanity mad, courage cowardly, truth erroneous, and magenta crimson. It even left his appointer to declaim Warren as “the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made.” When you leave aside that fact that Warren’s appointment was a purely political bargain to ease tensions he had with Nixon, that his independent streak was no secret seeing as he was nominated by both parties for his second term as governor, that his civil rights decisions did not immediately cure or reverse the ills that they addressed, that judicial activism was not of his making, and that no one can confirm that Eisenhower actually said what he said, it is one of the most enduring myths of modern America.

For a vociferous, if not sizable, subset of Americans, this myth stands as a kind of nationwide teachable moment. Warren is a Promethean figure in need of a rock. From him, all of our current ills emanate, both our social permissiveness and the fact that our presidential elections are now in essence contests for who has better taste in judges. But myths are multifaceted things. One can just as easily see the myth not as accursed but empowering. It has something of the incantatory to it, making purpose appear in someone’s conscience where none was to be found. It is the least popular of the interpretations, but it is the most powerful. Its holder makes it so.

On the surface, Anthony Kennedy’s reverence for Earl Warren is understandable. It would be bizarre if it were otherwise. Kennedy is a scion of California politics. His father was a prominent lawyer and lobbyist, his mother worked for the state Senate. As an awkward teenager, Kennedy worked as a page for the same body, and had crossed paths with the then-governor and his family.  As Jeffrey Rosen tells it, Warren’s example impressed upon Kennedy “the sunny belief in California as the embodiment of the American dream and politics as an opportunity for well-intentioned public servants to set aside their partisan differences and work for the common good.” Following Warren, Kennedy prefers “instincts” to “rigorous legal analysis” when it comes to deciding cases.

Anthony Kennedy is one of the most baffling and infuriating figures in American history. He is, at crucial moments, the most powerful member of our government, constantly serving as the deciding vote on all of the landmark cases before the otherwise polarized Supreme Court, while at the same time being the most basic and mediocre. Much ink has been spilled in teasing out how such an error could have been committed and how such a person could come to be as he so flagrantly and knowingly is.

There are, as I see it, two popular interpretations of Anthony Kennedy’s mindset, each with sufficient evidence that Kennedy himself practically giftwraps for his haters. One is the National Hamlet, the vacillating “brooder,” committing fully and freely to one side of the case before the full weight of the Great American Burden suddenly pushes him to the other side, and for reasons by which even his colleagues are baffled. Rosen again:

His performance in Bush v. Gore was similarly melodramatic. Kennedy initially joined the four liberals who wanted to allow the Florida recount to continue, but, after a brief show of agonizing, he changed his mind. This left Justices Breyer and Souter—who thought they could win Kennedy’s vote—with their hands extended, played for dupes.

Kennedy does have something of an obsession with the play, going so far as to preside over mock trials of its protagonist. And his interpretation of the play is wholly self-serving:

Hamlet is a tremendous piece of literature. You know Hamlet better than you know most real people. Do you know the reason? Because you know what he’s thinking. And this teaches you that every human has an integrity and an autonomy and a spirituality of his own, of her own, and great literature can teach you that.

The other, more public interpretation is Kennedy as the National Father, who uses his power not so much to sort out constitutional conflict as to fretfully tut-tut his perpetually out-of-line children. This is evinced in his fondness for lecturing off-hours on the importance of civic virtue, of courage, integrity, and freedom. Yet it is all the more apparent in his court work. It seems that one way to get Kennedy on one’s side in a case, particularly the hard cases, is to give him dibs on the majority opinion. I cannot see any other reason why his rhetorical stamp is all over the cases involving sodomy, abortion, religious freedom, gay marriage, and the 2000 election. It goes over like hardened syrup on a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s, overly sweet and immovably dense. Imagine the nostrums of Jim Anderson or Mike Brady performance-enhanced by a Harvard Law education. His much vaunted gay marriage ruling, for all of its positive results, bares this nauseating hallmark with aplomb:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Yet both interpretations seem insufficient. While the Hamlet-complex bares the mark of annoying melodrama, he is not the first Supreme Court justice to be willfully irresponsible in carrying out his duties, and America’s political history is strewn with finger-wagging would-be Ward Cleavers. Instead there lurks a third interpretation that better assesses Kennedy’s inexplicably strong hold on our nation’s law and morality.

In the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Warren had gone from a promising high court advocate for law and order to a rightwing pariah. The “WANTED for impeachment” flier, accusing him of “giving aid and comfort to the Communist Party” and for being “a rabid agitator for compulsory racial mongrelization,” among other things, is iconic of this break. This would continue through to his retirement in 1969. Kennedy actually doesn’t have much in common with his mentor. Warren was a glad-handing politician, which fed into his results-oriented approach to judging. He prided himself on persuasion and consensus-building. Kennedy is more the sullen loner with a flair for abstraction and drama. In this sense, Kennedy is less entranced by the results of Warren than he is by the fallout from the results.

Disappointment is an inevitable part of human life. In some ways it is its most defining trait. We spend inordinate levels of energy trying to evade it, yet it takes only one encounter with it—directly or indirectly—to level us. Disappointment unmasks us, it can reframe relationships or it can demolish them, sometimes beyond repair. But this being the Great #Decline, wherein anything can be given to pathology, so too can disappointment. There is a way to relish in it; one can even thrive and build a brand off of it, as Kennedy clearly shows.

Anthony Kennedy’s gluttony for disappointment far outshines his vacillation and lecturing. It’s hard to blame him. It’s practically standard issue for the arsenal of any lover of the dramatic. When it is done on one’s own terms, and with minimal material risk, the fruits of disappointment are bountiful and juicy. Disappointment, the kind we’d run headlong into incoming traffic to avoid, is often linked with personal failure or betrayal, yet seen another way, disappointment can be a happenstance route to self-definition at best, or a cruel mode of rebellion at worst. I contrast this with the desire to surprise, which is overall positive, it is more sincere and not necessarily done for its own sake, and the effect is evenly distributed between surpriser and surprised. There are no losers.

Disappointment as a conscious act is less equitable, it requires a decisive advantage on the one who is disappointing and marked, even lasting, despair on the part of the disappointed. It is a way of negating estimations others have made of us, unsatisfactory for whatever reason. Think of the believer who turns atheist, or the intellectual freethinker who succumbs to despotism. Sometimes we do it because we feel we must, other times we do it because the opportunity is there, if not to self-define then to feel superior. “They admire me, yes, even love me,” the disappointer bemoans in his self-styled darkness. “But no one truly understands me.” This seems particularly true of Justice Kennedy, who lacks any kind of definition of self beyond that it is assured. This is one way to interpret his antics in the Bush v. Gore voting process, or any other instance where he flouted expectations, such as his repeat dips into the waters of international law, or simply evaporating acts of legislation because he doesn’t particularly like them. Exactly whose expectations he is flouting at this point—his colleagues? The public? The media? Conservatives?—is hard to say. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

One thing Anthony Kennedy never had on his side was destiny. In this sense, he seems to have disappointed himself. The road to his confirmation to the Supreme Court was always paved only a few feet ahead of his steps. He was, in fact, Reagan’s third choice after Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg had crapped out. His hearing was smooth and boilerplate, a paragon of inoffensiveness but also unremarkability. It’s telling that Kennedy would arise amidst the unfurling of the Reagan-Meese grand plan to totally remake the federal judiciary. Things were going to go right this time. Ideological bona fides were a must, as was bench experience. No surprises; no mavericks. What is this thespian, this monologist, to do? His sworn duty, his pledge of public service and sober guardianship? Why are you complaining? John Jay barely even showed up. At least I’m present and accounted for. You should be grateful.

Kennedy is not Warren, but the symbiosis is too uncanny. Perhaps, in a way, he is born of Warren’s deeds. He is his madness cracking open, his supernatural debt paying out with interest.

GROUND INTO THE AGE OF TRUMP

70s

Though my eligibility as a voter, by this November, will be four presidential elections old, I got the sense of the futility of voting very early on; no later, I think, than the very first election in which I was able to participate. I’ve heard many hosannas sung to the civic virtue of democratic participation, but this does not feel very much like that. There is a hollowness I feel whenever I go to the nearby geriatric hospital to discharge my civic duty, and there is a shame whenever I leave having discharged it. To be perfectly frank, the energy exerted and the meaning attained don’t seem very far removed from that which one gets from mining the internet’s vast wealth of pornography. In the end, one’s humanity is reduced with each new encounter, rendering the spirit alarmingly emaciated. Some might balk at this; they might accuse me of melodramatic sour grapes; what do I expect when I keep putting my support behind office seekers who cannot win? Fair, I suppose, only for the last two elections my choices were candidates whose defeat was as plain as day, but I do not fret over such criticism. My despondency over voting, aside from its odd practical mechanics which renders any vote in my home state superfluous, was something I could not give figure to, at least until the unraveling of this very profound election season.

My despondency is actually twofold when I think about it. First it arose out of not knowing quite what I wanted out of a president. This, I think, might be very common, and it lends to the minor controversies we hear every now and then about voting age. Should we let 18-year-olds vote for an office they are not eligible to seek until they are 35? Hillary Clinton is doubtless ruminating on this in her solitary moments on the trail, bemoaning that she has to pander to the very people she would send overseas in a heartbeat to fight God knows who. No matter, though. Even as what I knew I wanted in a chief executive came gradually into form as I matured, the despondency was resolute. I could simply not find the candidate who could meet what I thought was required. I could only figure this out, however, once that had changed. The resolution of my despondency, in other words, is finally dissolute, and the solvent is Donald Trump.

Surely we have heard much about Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and reality television host who is pleading with the American people to become their president. If the many polls he has made us aware of are any indication, the American people are responding in kind. Though nary a vote has been cast, Mr. Trump’s frontrunner status seems all but confirmed, and so his road to accepting the nomination in Cleveland this summer will doubtless be devoid of potholes or stupefied wildlife. Though many people are falling over themselves to obstruct that road, I personally can only wish him a safe and easy journey, to Cleveland and beyond.

I suppose that this will come as a shock to the people who know my character, but be assured that this is integral to my commitment.

After several years of the usual confusion and prevarication so infuriatingly typical among the young, I’ve settled into a way of life that sees me greeting every day with a determination fixed exclusively on accelerating my own decadence. To put that in more technical terms, I am what they call an “aesthete jerk.” My life is lived for maximum enjoyment, any purpose that lies outside of that is highly alien. Most paeans to utilitarianism read like jokes that forget they require a punchline and so continuously loop at the setup. This principle propels every aspect of my life, not least of all my work as a writer. This was by no means my “calling,” no sense of destiny informs my choices. Quite frankly, I’m a bit confused as to why my parents thought it fit to have wrought me at all, though it is my great fortune that it was they who wrought me and not some malcontents who would otherwise enable my temperament towards far more nefarious ends, but I digress.

It should come as no surprise, then, that this would extend into what can roughly be approximated as my work ethic, assuming having none to speak of falls somewhere within the realm of the ethical. This is not to say that I haven’t worked very hard in my life, even to the point of serious overtaxing. But I can’t think of anything more distasteful to endure. Indeed, I’ve made it a point to never convey to employers that I consciously enjoyed the work they were paying me to do. I’m not sure what obligates me to give them my happiness in addition to my effort, but it is the highest order of perversity in an age already fraught with it.

If it seems like these attributes I’ve admitted have the smallest possible relation to the character of Donald Trump’s campaign (if not also Trump himself), Trump detractor and supporter alike would be equally correct. But that is also the point.

If voter apathy is as widespread as some claim, I can only lay it at the columns of the institutions that have been teaching it to us for countless generations. That there is only one way to vote—for the candidate whose policy platform seems the most sensible to execute—is the highest order of nonsense. This is especially true in America’s current governmental state, in which the executive office emits hard policies like the earth emits worms, taken up by the mother bureaucrats and regurgitated to us hatchlings. Civic virtue in this light seems so monumental a waste of time and energy that staying put and doing actual work not only seems more practical but more fulfilling. In truth voting requires much more than compatibility, a generally overrated attribute in most circumstances. Finding a candidate is something more akin to chemistry, but of a very unsettling and nuanced sort. It is about character assessment, not only of the candidate but of yourself, and finding the candidate that is most confident about your character and about how to utilize it. For some this is complementary and agreeable. For others it is simply … not.

Few times in my life have been more wonderful than those in which I have been able to safely ignore Donald Trump. But since his months-long interjection into the national conversation, I’ve come to see both him and my role in the society he wants to govern in ways I may never have before considered. Trump, to be sure, has offered little in the way of coherent policy in carrying out his campaign. As I see them, they are mostly vague but potent generalities geared toward shocking the people into fits of extreme love or extreme fear. If Harry Harlow’s study was expressionism as science, Donald Trump’s campaign is expressionism as politics. His ambition to “build a wall” along the border is no more practically possible than any previous proposal, but where John McCain’s plea for a fence was hollow pandering meant to be forgotten, Trump’s wall assumes power in its underlying metaphor of encasement and dominance. Whatever his actual accomplishments in office, it is certain that he will impose his will to accomplish it with such aggression and blind confidence that popular concession to them, whether enthusiastic or resigned, will be overlooked. This is the logical extent to which the chief executive can carry him or herself in a country of our kind. That Trump relishes this and seems to have the conviction to follow through is admirable.

Some still wonder how my voting for Donald Trump benefits me. It doesn’t. Donald Trump is, as Spy aptly put it, “short-fingered vulgarian;” I, by my own estimation, am a bleeding heart dilettante, if not an outright dandy. The brunt of Trump’s supporters are united by the principle that the good life is earned through the strenuous life, you get back what you pay into it—some, it seems, should pay more than others, but they should pay in any case; I believe that that is ludicrous. Trump wants, moreover, to Make America Great Again; I don’t even mind if America is adequate. By the estimation of most Americans, my whole biography is a rap sheet of one grave and unwholesome offense after another. But where most Americans, and the presidential candidates they get behind, are polite to the point of passive aggressive yielding, the Trump mindset has lost patience with politeness altogether, and in doing so—whether it was intended or not—it has made itself accommodating.

In Trump’s America, there is a place for me. That that place is the grinder does not lessen the point. If his slogan has any substance behind it that is the most optimal contribution I can make towards its realization. In fact I’d submit myself to it somewhat willingly, if only out of curiosity. I am not certain whether President Trump is to be a man of smooth and fast mercy or degrading and slow agony. Whatever the case, I am more certain that he has some awareness of what he is doing, that he is not just an artist of the unforeseen consequence. His conviction has such fury that he will do everything in his power to craft his vision into something wholly sensory, and we are his materials. And it’s fury more than actual greatness that truly goes into Making America Great. But that is the state we are in: voting coldly to wait for a world that won’t show up or throwing ourselves into Trump’s gilded and perpetual machinery to whatever outcome it churns out. It is not a matter of volunteering or conscription, but a matter of acceptance. And in keeping with my entitlement and my privilege, I opt to be first in line.