Annotation — December 23, 2016, 12:43 pm

The Trumptini

Drinking in Trump’s America

Photograph by Olivia Nuzzi

Photograph by Olivia Nuzzi

1. A martini, like a country, is difficult to get right. Either can, in a matter of hours, elicit exquisite calm, wild anger, violence, agony, poorly constructed monologues, exhaustion. Some people are Democrats, others Republicans; some prefer gin and some vodka. In America’s 3.8 million square miles, martini-drinking citizens come to expect variety. Bernard De Voto, writing his Easy Chair column for this magazine in December 1951, reported, “I am afraid that the fine art of blending gin and vermouth gets small encouragement in my native West, and indeed the West (always excepting Denver, a center of aesthetics) is pragmatic rather than studious in its alcoholic culture.” The martini aficionado Roger Angell, a New Yorker, has advised, “Now, for vermouth, take a little less than you think you need, and then pour in a little less than that.” But the buzz was killed last week, when Olivia Nuzzi, a political reporter for the Daily Beast, tweeted a photo of a martini served at the Trump Grill, the steakhouse in the lobby of Trump Tower, in midtown Manhattan. The image was favorited twenty-eight thousand times, which is to say that it was greatly disliked. There, in Trump’s house, America had ordered itself a very bad martini.

2. The eye goes first to the glass. Only a day before this photo was taken, in a Vanity Fair article called “Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America,” a reviewer found the setting to be “a cheap version of rich.” Pouring a martini into a wine glass may seem fancy, but it makes less sense than pouring apple juice in there. According to Wine Spectator, “The sizes and shapes of the bowls”—meaning the cups, for us simpletons—“influence the intensity and complexity of the aromas, while the shapes of the rims determine where the wine initially lands on the tongue, affecting the perception of its taste.” Sniffing a martini is like sniffing a meatloaf, only less rewarding. As for taste, perception itself increasingly becomes a factor, as one floats blissfully into the evening, but any old table glass does the job. A martini glass serves “up,” to prevent your hands from warming the drink, but it doesn’t really matter much if you let it rest on the bar, sipping as one should: intermittently. The main thing to avoid would be Marilyn Monroe’s martini order from The Seven Year Itch: “I’ll have a glass of that. A big, tall one.”

3. The greatest offense is the ice. First, it is evidence of a production failure. How did this martini come into existence? Did an undercompensated, weary laborer pour gin, dry vermouth, a fistful of ice, and an olive into a glass and mix with a coffee stirrer? Did some combination of these ingredients get sloshed around in a shaker, as the ice broke down into chips and watery slush? Did a bartender cry, and this is what gushed out? The resulting martini reminds of the troubled American education system, which has failed on so many levels to teach students about the virtues of methodology, research, the principles of science. When Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, takes the helm, we must all remember that our future mixologists and tavern-keepers and home cocktail mixers hang in the balance; as a proponent of “school choice” and diverting public funds to religious-education vouchers and tax credits, her policies are not likely to properly prepare them. Beyond the greater misfortunes of the years ahead, we may also find a million James Bonds, drinking weak martinis beside girlfriends with unfortunate names.

4. The second problem with ice in a martini is the ice in the martini. Cocktail snobs know that in any drink that takes ice, a single big block is best, so as not to dilute the contents. For a martini, this never comes up, because ice never belongs, so the fact that what Nuzzi documented at the Trump Grill contained little ice cubes is really beside the point. The ideal way to get a martini cold is by thinking ahead—as Trump hates to do—and sticking a glass or two in the freezer before the ingredients are combined. When it’s time to mix—to stir, or gently swirl—ice should be the last kid in the pool and not stay in long. But it should be ample, like in the Arctic a hundred years ago, not a hundred years from now.

5. One last thing—the olive. De Voto again, in his most important martini column for Harper’s, in 1949: “I suppose, nothing can be done with people who put olives in martinis, presumably because in some desolate childhood hour someone refused them a dill pickle and so they go through life lusting for the taste of brine.” What is not pictured here, and what Nuzzi never mentions in her tweet, is the identity of the man next to her, the one who ordered this martini at the Trump Grill. This man crossed police barricades on 5th Avenue—some draped with an ad for Tiffany’s, Trump’s next-door neighbor, which decided to dress up the blockades with cloth cut in its signature blue—past security guards manning one tent outside the front door. This man brushed by executives and sycophants and tourists, and took a refuge at a bar, seeking something strong. The serious offense of this martini is how profoundly it failed to serve this man—this olive eater—who had come, in good faith, to Trump’s America.

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October 2018


The Printed Word in Peril·

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In February, at an event at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in New York, while sharing the stage with my fellow British writer Martin Amis and discussing the impact of screen-based reading and bidirectional digital media on the Republic of Letters, I threw this query out to an audience that I estimate was about three hundred strong: “Have any of you been reading anything by Norman Mailer in the past year?” After a while, one hand went up, then another tentatively semi-elevated. Frankly I was surprised it was that many. Of course, there are good reasons why Mailer in particular should suffer posthumous obscurity with such alacrity: his brand of male essentialist braggadocio is arguably extraneous in the age of Trump, Weinstein, and fourth-wave feminism. Moreover, Mailer’s brilliance, such as it was, seemed, even at the time he wrote, to be sparks struck by a steely intellect against the tortuous rocks of a particular age, even though he labored tirelessly to the very end, principally as the booster of his own reputation.

It’s also true that, as J. G. Ballard sagely remarked, for a writer, death is always a career move, and for most of us the move is a demotion, as we’re simultaneously lowered into the grave and our works into the dustbin. But having noted all of the above, it remains the case that Mailer’s death coincided with another far greater extinction: that of the literary milieu in which he’d come to prominence and been sustained for decades. It’s a milieu that I hesitate to identify entirely with what’s understood by the ringing phrase “the Republic of Letters,” even though the overlap between the two was once great indeed; and I cannot be alone in wondering what will remain of the latter once the former, which not long ago seemed so very solid, has melted into air.

What I do feel isolated in—if not entirely alone in—is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying of literature’s light, although it’s surprising how little of this there is, but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable. I first began consciously responding, as a literary practitioner, to the manifold impacts of ­BDDM in the early 2000s—although, being the age I am, I have been feeling its effects throughout my working life—and I first started to write and speak publicly about it around a decade ago. Initially I had the impression I was being heard out, if reluctantly, but as the years have passed, my attempts to limn the shape of this epochal transformation have been met increasingly with outrage, and even abuse, in particular from my fellow writers.

As for my attempts to express the impact of the screen on the page, on the actual pages of literary novels, I now understand that these were altogether irrelevant to the requirement of the age that everything be easier, faster, and slicker in order to compel the attention of screen viewers. It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself.

Photograph (detail) by Ellen Cantor from her Prior Pleasures series © The artist. Courtesy dnj Gallery, Santa Monica, California
Among Britain’s Anti-Semites·

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This is the story of how the institutions of British Jewry went to war with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn is another feather in the wind of populism and a fragmentation of the old consensus and politesse. He was elected to the leadership by the party membership in 2015, and no one was more surprised than he. Between 1997 and 2010, Corbyn voted against his own party 428 times. He existed as an ideal, a rebuke to the Blairite leadership, and the only wise man on a ship of fools. His schtick is that of a weary, kindly, socialist Father Christmas, dragged from his vegetable patch to create a utopia almost against his will. But in 2015 the ideal became, reluctantly, flesh. Satirists mock him as Jesus Christ, and this is apt. But only just. He courts sainthood, and if you are very cynical you might say that, like Christ, he shows Jews what they should be. He once sat on the floor of a crowded train, though he was offered a first-class seat, possibly as a private act of penance to those who had, at one time or another, had no seat on a train.

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the British media, who are used to punching socialists, crawled over his record and found much to alarm the tiny Jewish community of 260,000. Corbyn called Hez­bollah “friends” and said Hamas, also his “friends,” were devoted “to long-term peace and social justice.” (He later said he regretted using that language.) He invited the Islamist leader Raed Salah, who has accused Jews of killing Christian children to drink their blood, to Parliament, and opposed his extradition. Corbyn is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a former chair of Stop the War, at whose rallies they chant, “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free.” (There is no rhyme for what will happen to the Jewish population in this paradise.) He was an early supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its global campaign to delegitimize Israel and, through the right of return for Palestinians, end its existence as a Jewish state. (His office now maintains that he does not support BDS. The official Labour Party position is for a two-state solution.) In the most recent general election, only 13 percent of British Jews intended to vote Labour.

Corbyn freed something. The scandals bloomed, swiftly. In 2016 Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, was suspended from the party for sharing a Facebook post that suggested Israel be relocated to the United States. She apologized publicly, was reinstated, and is now a shadow women and equalities minister. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a political supporter of Corbyn, appeared on the radio to defend Shah and said, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” For this comment, Livingstone was suspended from the party.

A protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in Parliament Square, London, March 26, 2018 (detail) © Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images
Nothing but Gifts·

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If necessity is the stern but respectable mother of invention, then perhaps desperation is the derelict father of subterfuge. That was certainly the case when I moved to Seattle in 1979.

Though I’d lived there twice during the previous five years, I wasn’t prepared for the economic boom I found upon this latest arrival. Not only had rent increased sharply in all but the most destitute neighborhoods, landlords now routinely demanded first, last, and a hefty security deposit, which meant I was short by about fifty percent. Over the first week or so, I watched with mounting anxiety as food, gas, and lodging expenses reduced the meager half I did have to a severely deficient third. To make matters even more nerve-racking, I was relocating with my nine-year-old son, Ezra. More than my well-being was at stake.

A veteran of cold, solitary starts in strange cities, I knew our best hope wasn’t the classifieds, and certainly not an agency, but the serendipity of the streets—handmade for rent signs, crowded bulletin boards in laundromats and corner grocery stores, passersby on the sidewalk; I had to exploit every opportunity that might present itself, no matter how oblique or improbable. In Eastlake, at the edge of Lake Union between downtown Seattle and the University District, I spied a shabby but vacant one-story house on the corner of a block that was obviously undergoing transition—overgrown lots and foundation remnants where other houses once stood—and that had at least one permanent feature most right-minded people would find forbidding: an elevated section of Interstate 5 just across the street, attended by the incessant roar of cars and trucks. The house needed a new roof, a couple of coats of paint, and, judging by what Ezra and I could detect during a furtive inspection, major repair work inside, including replacing damaged plaster-and-lath walls with sheetrock. All of this, from my standpoint, meant that I might have found a solution to my dilemma.

The next step was locating the owner, a roundabout process that eventually required a trip to the tax assessor’s office. I called the person listed on the rolls and made an appointment. Then came the moment of truth, or, more precisely, untruth, when dire circumstance begot strategic deception. I’d never renovated so much as a closet, but that didn’t stop me from declaring confidently that I possessed both the skills and the willingness to restore the entire place to a presentable—and, therefore, rentable—state in exchange for being able to live there for free, with the length of stay to be determined as work progressed. To my immense relief, the pretense was well received. Indeed, the owner also seemed relieved, if a bit surprised, that he’d have seemingly trustworthy tenants; homeless people who camped beneath the freeway, he explained, had repeatedly broken into the house and used it for all manner of depravity. Telling myself that inspired charlatanry is superior to mundane trespassing—especially this instance of charlatanry, which would yield some actual good—I accepted the keys from my new landlord.

Photograph (detail) © Larry Towell/Magnum Photos
Checkpoint Nation·

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Laura Sandoval threaded her way through idling taxis and men selling bottles of water toward the entrance of the Cordova International Bridge, which links Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. Earlier that day, a bright Saturday in December 2012, Sandoval had crossed over to Juárez to console a friend whose wife had recently died. She had brought him a few items he had requested—eye drops, the chimichangas from Allsup’s he liked—and now that her care package had been delivered, she was in a hurry to get back to the Texas side, where she’d left her car. She had a …
Checkpoint on I-35 near Encinal, Texas (detail) © Gabriella Demczuk

Acres of crossword puzzles Americans fill in each day:


In Burma, a newly discovered noseless monkey was assumed to be critically endangered because—despite its efforts to keep its head tucked between its legs on rainy days—it sneezes whenever rain falls into its nasal cavity and thereby alerts hunters to its presence.

Paul Manafort accepts a plea deal; Brett Kavanaugh accused of sexual assault; Jeff Bezos gets into the kindergarten racketon the clock

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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