Like a Heart Floating in Formaldehyde: A Letter to the President-Elect

The Weeklings participated in a nationwide Writers Resist event on January 15, at Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, NY. Over thirty readers and musicians participated, and more than $6,000 was raised for endangered causes Planned Parenthood, The New York Civil Liberties Union, and Riverkeeper. This letter was one of the pieces that was read that day. 

 

TO THE PRESIDENT-ELECT,

The first time I met you was in a dream I had in the 1970s. You appeared as The Greediest Man in the World. Some sort of really sinister archetype. You told my hardworking mother and father they were losers, then tried to take all their money to buy a new yacht. You were, quite possibly, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which is to say, the scariest figure in my psyche. Marauder of innocence and hope. You grabbed my Barbie dolls and tore their heads and legs off. Luckily, I woke up and it had all been a bad dream, and I was safe.

In the 1980s I vaguely knew you actually existed. I was reading a lot of books, a lot of poetry. And you—you were the opposite of poetry. No rhythm or grace and nothing to say. You were the world of dollar signs and commerce, you were the clanking machinery of jobs and bills and cogs in wheels, and I thought I could outrun you.

The 1990s, well, there we were, both in New York. You were the overstuffed frat boys working down on Wall Street, the con artists in Times Square, the stealth fondler on the subway, the advertising men who started ruining the business I worked for. You signed my checks, I cashed them willingly.

The 2000s, you had some sort of TV show? I paid no attention. Reality TV? It depressed the hell out of me. You were the set-up preceding the punchline, and you were the punchline too. The huckster, the snake, the landlord who kicked me out after I complained to the city that I had no heat. You had the soul of a subprime mortgage lender. I moved to the country, saw less of you there.

The two thousand tens, totally forgot about you for a while. We have Obama, and he is such a sane and beautiful human. He pretty much means what he says. We start, possibly, being better people in some ways. But there are guns everywhere, and Twitter is destroying our brains. Still, we can do this, everyone, we can beat this back. We’re on a roll. And then a bad dream again one night in 2016: You are the Child Catcher again, the Greediest Man in the World, you’re now exposing my Barbie dolls’ plastic parts. To satisfy your monstrous ego, you run for President. My subconscious has lost its mind. I wake up and you’ve taken the election. The Greediest Man in the World made it to the top. Like a heart floating in formaldehyde, you are divorced from all compassion. Lonely, I feel lonely for the world. But we can turn this disaster around! We can change the outcome!

January 20, 2017: Inauguration Day comes and we haven’t changed the outcome. Not yet anyway. But there is still time, the credits have not rolled, and my daughter, who was never all that interested in Barbie Dolls, who never even saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, still has a look of hope on her face. She was reared on Barack and Michelle. She believes in a benevolent world. So watch out, mister president-elect, the children will be doing the catching soon enough.

 

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Janet Steen

About Janet Steen

Janet Steen started on the editorial staff at Esquire, where she tweaked the prose of writers including Norman Mailer, Denis Johnson, and Mary Gaitskill. She went on to become the books editor at Time Out New York, an editor at Us Weekly, and the literary editor at Details. She has written for the New York Times, Interview, Details, Us Weekly, and Time Out New York. Her profile subjects include such widely varying personalities as Steve Martin, Barry White, Martin Amis, and Dennis Hopper. She edits books and is a co-founder of Editrixie.com, and lives in upstate N.Y.
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