Unbidden Bits—May 30, 2024

I’m in Arizona, in the checkout line at Walmart, clutching something I need today that was two days away by Amazon.

I look around at the patriarchal beards, the camouflage cargo pants, thinking idle thoughts about the carnival barkers on Fox News, Samuel Alito’s wife, how temporary the privilege of calling Trump a felon will probably turn out to be.

It comes to me then: A people camping out in the ruins of their own civilization. I pay for my indispensable, cross the parking lot, head back home.

I throw my car keys on the kitchen counter, hearing Hillary the imposter’s earnestness, her arrogance, back in 2016. It was way too late even then, and now….

“Going forward,” as the Wall Street pundits are so fond of saying, it’s not what we do with them that will matter. It’s what they’ll do with us.

Brecht in the 21st Century*

Nur wer im Wolfstand lebt, lebt angenehm.

Years ago, when I first fell in love with a scratchy early recording of die Dreigroschenoper, I misheard the famous punchline from die Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (The Ballad of the Comfortable Life), which actually goes Nur wer im Wohlstand lebt, lebt angenehm.

The original line, which, translated into English means something like “Only he who is well-off can live a comfortable life,” came, in my misheard version, to mean something like “Only he who adopts the habits of a predator can live a comfortable life.”

When I discovered my mistake, my first take was, “God, how embarrassing,” and my second, which cheered me up a little, was “Hey, I just made my first pun in German.” (A friend of mine, who’d been partially deaf from birth, once confessed to me that he’d learned early on that when he misheard something in a social situation, being credited with a clever pun was much more to his advantage than being considered slow-witted. I now knew exactly what he’d meant.)

Brecht’s original line represented a very understandable attitude for anyone, let alone a Marxist, witnessing the horrors of the German 1920’s, but I have to wonder if he might not also have approved of my corrupted version had he been confronted with the viciousness of 21st century neoliberalism in the United States, or the schwarze Null fetishism of Wolfgang Schäuble and the CDU in the reunified Germany of today. With all due respect to the genius of the original, I’d like to think so….

*Apologies to any native German speakers who might be reading this, der Wolfstand not being a genuine German word, as far as I know, I have no idea what anyone born into the language would make of my accidental corruption of Brecht’s famous line. All I know is that it’s stuck with me all these years as somehow being even more Brechtian than the original. This is blasphemy, or at least lèse majesté, I admit, but I mean well….