Scoundrel Time

Essays

I Am My Mother’s Mother

Happy hour in the memory care unit means Frank Sinatra on the stereo, kiwi smoothies in little plastic cups, and my mom, wearing elasticized pants and my dad’s old zip-up sweater, dancing among wheelchairs. This late-January snapshot of my mom’s...

Parasite and Capitalism: A Romance?

Note: This essay contains spoilers. Bong Jung-Ho’s award-winning film Parasite centers around two families, the Kims and the Parks, each with four members: father, mother, son, and daughter. The Kims are all savvy, intelligent, and hardworking;...

The View from My Bed

1. Because the blue and gold pot on my windowsill is made of Prague glass, it seems to glow in the dark. There are four small windows in the bedroom where I am living now. Deep wells set into the low wall of an attic with a sloping ceiling. Each...

Fear Will Not Save Us

In 1967, when I was 7 years old, I learned to pace at night. Those were nights when my father and his fellow black ministers in the Tioga-Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia held ride-alongs with Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo’s cops to prevent...

Barriers

The homeless man, whom I’ll call Gerald, hunched on the end of my exam table, gingerly picking at the metal shield taped over his left eye. “It happened like this, see, I was out panhandling, and with this new virus thing I’ve been trying to keep to...

The View From Inside

Blanche walked through the lobby, her hands in her pants pockets, and looked out the window. Her short hair, usually curled and slightly teased, hung straight and was tucked behind her ears. “That snow is out there taunting us,” she said. I couldn’t...

No Classroom Is an Island

“Remember Hoping Hospital?” I started my oral training class with a rhetorical question. Silence. The eighteen English majors, even the active speakers, had been quiet since the class began in early March. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the spring...

UPDATE: Trump and the Criminal Culture

This is a follow-up to Roxana Robinson’s earlier essay, “Trump & the Criminal Culture”    If you ran a company, would you offer a product that would kill nearly half your customers? How good a business model is that? If you’re...

Dispatch from Hanoi

I am lying on my couch, watching the lights come on in Hanoi from the window of my 33rd floor apartment. Phone in hand, I alternately scroll through headlines about the devastation coronavirus is wreaking on the USA, and search for updates about...

Letter from Andalusia

I have been in lockdown, here in Spain, for two weeks now. Actually a bit longer—I didn’t go out much the week before, either. This is our second home, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, in Andalusia. The village is remote, definitely not...

The Trip Home From College

On Monday, I drive six hours from North Carolina to Atlanta to pick up my son Sam from his university. On Tuesday, we prepare to drive back, shoving into our car his entire dorm room—electronic piano, ratty sheets, plastic stackable drawers, boxes...

Mask

Arrival February 10, 2020 I landed in Guangzhou to a newly polished, eerily silent, cavernous airport from my vacation in Vietnam. As I watched a middle-aged man carefully polishing an already gleaming section of marble wall, the feeling crept up on...

Where Is Our Spring?

Each click was only a few minutes apart. Nothing had changed. But I still could not help myself from refreshing my computer screen. It was the John Hopkins COVID-19 Global Tracker, an interactive map that tracked the numbers of infection, death, and...

Trump and the Criminal Culture

The photograph showed a new kind of behavior in the Oval Office: Donald Trump was using the body in a way that was unusual for a U.S. president. On his second day in office, the new Commander in Chief was demonstrating his physical domination of the...

High Risk

Right before Christmas, I developed a persistent cough. In due course, I went to Urgent Care.  Upon examination, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. An ambulance (with an accompanying fire truck) was quickly dispatched to take me to the ER. I spent the...

A Heartbreaking Lesson of Politics

I first parted ways with my parents politically during a presidential primary race. I was eight. The Republican candidate was Richard Milhous Nixon. My parents were staunch, active, pragmatic Democrats, and they were backing Lyndon Johnson in the...

Family Trees

Bubba (center) surrounded by her children and extended family (c. 1904-5)   I am moved when people invoke their ancestors as fonts of wisdom and strength. I know so little about mine. My ancestral line comes to a halt three generations back in...

COFFEE AND CATASTROPHE

“I’m the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse.” – Hillary Clinton   One of those mornings, portentous, dread-full. A sickly sky, as happens in September in LA, when the wind singes, and the light is yellow-weird more...

Seasonal Elegies

My mother is sick, my best friend was dying; I had to travel quite a bit this winter—Vermont, North Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon, Massachusetts. And yet the way chain stores nudge a landscape into a kind of global uniformity, there was a...

The Color Cure

The Color Cure, installation by Lee Crouch Zero Prestige through June 21 by Joy Katz The Color Cure, an installation by artist Lee Crouch, is a room whose mood changes depending on a visitor’s skin color. It’s a little like one of those “mood rings”...

The Hot Hot

In Kristen’s driveway by the hoop she says you know global warming is real right and kicks the bottom of her metal scooter with the inside sole of her leopard Converses. I say yes. Yes. I remember this—had seen a plastic-covered book about it on the...

Funeral in Barcelona

In November, 1975, my ship, the USS El Paso, made a scheduled port call in Barcelona. I was excited. I’d never been there, and seeing such sights (along with escaping my Midwestern hometown) was a big part of why I’d enlisted. Almost immediately...

Stonewall at 50: Still Making Our Place

“We have to read this new book for book club,” my friend Michael told me during a fall afternoon call in 1994, back when people still telephoned each other without texting first. I was 32 and Michael was a role model for me at the time – in his...

An Interview with Xu Xi

  Scoundrel Time’s Robert Anthony Siegel talks to Xu Xi about her new essay collection, This Fish is Fowl: Essays on Being Xu Xi’s new essay collection, This Fish is Fowl, is a wry, self-aware journey through a globalizing world where borders...

Forbidden Art: A Journey in Persian Dance

A hush fell over our class, as Mrs. Mofid, the principal, boomed, “What is the meaning of this?” Her voice petrified us, like the wave of the wand that turned the heroes of our beloved fairy-tales into stone. My hand, reaching for Mina’s braid...

All I Needed for 2018 was a Knife and a Heart Emoji

January: The President taunts the other idiot with nuclear weapons. 🔪🔪🔪 🔪🔪🔪 🔪🔪🔪 I lose my wedding ring because I can’t stop taking it off and nervously playing with it due to the state of …well …everything. Husband doesn’t divorce me. Doesn’t get...

The Wild Blue Yonder Is Actually Gray

At the start of 2017, I was in this exact same position, returning from the same writing conference in Mexico, dressed in a black Empire Strikes Back sweatshirt, the evening after Inauguration Day. Nervous. Hands trembling, my left eyelid twitching...

The Trump in Me

A few nights ago, my husband and I had a reservation for 8:30 p.m. at a new restaurant in town. When we arrived, the young manager told us they didn’t have a table yet and asked us to wait at the bar. There wasn’t an especially comfortable spot to...

(Favor) in His Sight

(Homewood Cemetery) Before I moved to Pittsburgh seven years ago a friend sent me a recording of a comic Yiddish patter song from the 1920s or ’30s. It was like one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s rapid-fire recitatives, only in Yiddish. I...

There Were Six of Us

  There were six of us. And then, abruptly, there were five. It happened overnight, except the truth was that it was over dinner. It was late in the summer, an August evening; warm and sultry, which in San Francisco occurs maybe once or twice a...

Sweet Talk: Refugees and the Language of Community

“Hi sweetheart. I’m on my way. Can’t wait to see you.” The WhatsApp message appeared on my phone, just after my plane touched down in Athens, Greece. A moment later, I heard another ping and looked down to see “I’m here out of the door number four”...

One Year In: How Will It End?

  Special to Scoundrel Time: Twenty-two writers imagine how the current administration will end.   A Note From the Editor One year ago today, we launched Scoundrel Time in response to the devastating U.S. presidential election and clear...

How It Ends: Wonderland/Wasteland

I was raised by a father who self-described as a “realistic optimist” and a mother who oscillated between bracing for the apocalypse and buying outfits for the award ceremony. So it’s no surprise that my own predictive tendencies are tangled up in...

How It Ends: April Fools

On April 1, 1988, my college newspaper published an April Fools article about Donald Trump buying Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center and proclaiming himself its president. It was the last semester of my freshman year and by that point...

How It Ends: Follow the Money

A few years ago I read a biography of Al Capone. I learned a lot about him. He was a good dancer. He had tertiary syphilis that probably caused his erratic mood swings. He grew up a block away from me in Brooklyn. When he got to Chicago, his...

How It Ends – Or Doesn’t

How is the ongoing shitstorm that is Donald Trump’s administration going to end? Though everyone on earth has noted his unpredictability, his year in office may have established, paradoxically, that it’s not so hard to predict where Trump himself is...

How It Ends: Wanna Bet?

  The election of Donald Trump was not a triumph of conservatism or any other set of political values. Like the upsurge of  nativist and far-right  movements in many other countries, and even the rise of Islamic extremism,  it was a huge and...

An Amorality Tale: Fire and Fury, a Review

Now that the shockeroo revelations in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury have subsided into our latest weary Trump-era rearrangement of America’s much abused mental furniture, I’ve got a mildly rude question to ask. To whom, exactly, were they shocking...

The Hierarchy of Suffering

    When I hesitated before posting #MeToo on social media several months ago, I noticed that I wasn’t the only woman wondering if my experiences of workplace sexual harassment fully qualified for this conversation about the ubiquity of...

Dream House: Biography in Brick

At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson built a north octagonal room and dome. The elongated dome with rear windows half clear and half mirrored was Jefferson’s twist on the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum, even though all temples to Vesta are reportedly...

Taking a Knee at the Symphony

  One Sunday evening last month, my husband and I sat in a side balcony in the Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center, waiting for the music to begin. We looked down at the stage, where National Symphony Orchestra musicians in tuxes and glittering...

Sanctuary, City

A “new” Lotería card appears spray-painted on a viaduct in Chicago’s near Southwest Side.   While reading Night with high school freshmen on Chicago’s largely Latino Southwest Side, I often had to explain new vocabulary like...

Before & After

7 November (the day before Election Day 2016) Hitler analogies have always disturbed me. As a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I take this subject very personally. Usually the comparison is intentionally hyperbolic and over-simplistic, designed...

My Trip to Greece

Written by Mostafa Fadi, with an introduction by Dana Sachs I go to Greece regularly with a small aid team, Humanity Now, and on Lesvos Island I met Mostafa Fadi, a 26-year-old refugee from Syria. At the PIKPA Camp, which shelters 85 people, Mostafa...

London’s Calling

Preparing a lamb curry wrap, Borough Market, May 5   I walked around the Borough Market exactly a month ago, reveling in how the South Bank has become a favorite part of the city. The market is a great place to grab a bite to eat or just watch...

The Trumpbox

  The Trumpbox is 12 3/16 tall and 15 7/8 wide. It can hold quite a lot; according to the label, its “capacity gallon” is 14. It is made of Polyethylene, which I cannot say I really know much about, but I can promise you this, it’s strong. If...

My Mother’s Pilgrimage

  In September 2015—the year a crane collapse in Mecca killed 111 people, followed by the deaths of another 2000 in a stampede—my mother returned from the Hajj with flu and was immediately quarantined in a hospital in Indianapolis. It took her...

Artists Dying

  The first time I saw an artist dying onstage, I was a kid. I went to see Rahsaan Roland Kirk at the Village Gate. The great saxophonist, composer, and vocalist had recently suffered a stroke. His body was non-existent inside a rumpled tuxedo...

Laughing at the Demagogues

It’s become predictable—though still, I hope, not normal—that a Saturday Night Live skit will be followed by an angry tweet from the new President, using words like “unwatchable” and “not funny.” If these silly overreactions at times seem like part...

Note from a Mother

My middle child is fascinated by his ethnicity. He looks the most Ecuadorian with his dark almond eyes and wide nose. He stretches his arm next to mine to see the contrast of his brown skin against my white. He teaches his younger brother to say...

The Future Is a Ceiling of Impossible Water

I was driving in a rented yellow convertible through the desert, near the eastern border of California. A bright spring morning: overhead, the sky was brilliant and blue, like a ceiling of impossible water. My forehead was damp. My hair was wild. My...