In among the serious analysis of the US midterms this week, a small nugget of pure joy.
“It’s all over,” says a friend, calling from her desk at the heart of the evil empire.
“The New York Post has dropped Trump.”
There it is: on the front page of Murdoch’s New York tabloid, Trump’s face superimposed on to a picture of Humpty Dumpty, alongside the words, “Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall – can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?”
Hmmm. What it lacks in sense, scansion, or the acknowledgment that Republican women exist, it makes up for in mockery and the certainty it’ll drive Trump round the bend. Murdoch, moving to stand squarely behind Ron DeSantis, celebrated the Florida governor’s election win with the splash “DeFuture” – the first in what we must assume will be a long series of similarly constructed DePuns.
Trump reacted on Truth Social, the social media platform with an apparent user of one, with his usual combination of defensiveness and random capitalisation. “For those many people that are being fed the fake narrative that I am Angry about the Midterms, don’t believe it. I am not at all angry, did a great job (I wasn’t the one running!), and am very busy looking into the future. Remember, I am a ‘Stable Genius.’” This is one of those infinitely weird examples of Trump trying to reclaim as a joke something unhinged said in earnest, although a small part of me thinks good luck to the man. In Trump vs Murdoch, my money’s on the Digger.
I receive a $2,000 bill from a New York hospital and call my insurers to politely enquire wtf. It takes years of living in the US to learn the exact phrasing required to challenge the endless stream of refused claims. In this case – calmly, in a tone more tender and endearing than any I have used on my children – I murmur a chain of words that will have the desired effect while quelling my rage.
“This claim has been miscoded on your end,” I say sweetly, as if into a lover’s ear. “It was diagnostic, not routine and as such falls under the auspices of the benefit schedule for follow-up referrals.” I sigh, as if contemplating life’s endless wonder, which, in all of humanity, only me and this helpful man in the call centre understand. “If you could send it up to the escalation team I’d be incredibly grateful.” It’s as close to begging as I can decently get.
There are other phrases; the “loyalty discount” you must know to ask for to lower your renewal quote; the phrase “put me on the do not call list”, which, by law in the US – but only if you use that exact wording – ensures that the scores of insurance brokers calling during open enrolment are compelled to stop the harassment.
Most importantly, you must learn to recognise the terrible danger lurking in the innocuous-sounding phrase “limited benefit plan”. This plan, which will cost half the amount you’re currently paying – with the promise of vision and dental! – is in reality a “wellness policy” that covers you for jack shit in the event of a medical emergency. Get out your magnifying glass, because there it is at the bottom of the page: should you and your family wind up in the hospital, you will be responsible for “the first $17,000 in expenses”.
How much would you pay for Joan Didion’s pans? Or her ratty old sofa? Or her pens? Her pens!
It’s a poignant situation; Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, and her daughter, Quintana, both died years before the writer’s death in December last year and so her effects, right down to her scissors and paperclips, are going under the hammer.
The estate sale in Hudson, New York, is scheduled for 16 November, but bidding has already opened online. If you want Didion’s set of six Le Creuset saucepans, you will have to outbid the current offer of $1,800. For her iconic, faux tortoiseshell glasses by Celine: $3,500. A group of shells and pebbles of a kind one picks up on the beach and puts into a jar never to consider again? Current bid $1,100.
There are solid pieces of furniture, chairs and side tables, none of which, so far, have attracted remarkable bids. The major activity of the auction is clearly focused around what might be characterised as the semi-religious items connected to Didion’s writing.
For a loose collection of stationery described in the catalogue as a “group of writing ephemera” – that’s the scissors and paperclips, with a single ballpoint pen thrown in – the bidding is already at $1,300. An old typewriter, Didion’s collection of books, and bits and bobs from her desk, all attract substantial bids. The biggest gap between material and symbolic value, however, is vested in her 13 unused notebooks. Whoever has bid $2,200 on these blank pages is clearly hoping, with the kind of delusional fervour Didion spent her career dismantling, that once the spines have been cracked, her spirit will move them.
For any women suppressing flashbacks to netball skirts and PE knickers, cheering news from Wimbledon this week, which is moving to expand the range of allowable underwear for players on the women’s tour. For years, female players have complained to the Lawn Tennis Association that extending the all-white dress code to players’ underwear puts undue pressure on women playing while they have their periods. In an interview last week, Judy Murray spelled it out: “If you are wearing all white and then possibly have a leak while you’re playing. I cannot think of a much more traumatic experience than that.”
She’s right. For many of us, being made to prance around the gym in tiny navy skirts and big knickers when you had your period was among the top anxiety-inducing experiences of high school. Make that outfit white, change the venue to Centre Court, and it’s a category of nightmare up there with public nudity or being forced to do standup.
I order a book of children’s stories by Oscar Wilde, remembering how much I loved them as a child and forgetting the Christian allegory at the end of the Selfish Giant. It baffles my children, who have received no religious instruction, either at home or at school. Awkwardly, I try to explain the crucifixion.
“Why did he die?” says my daughter.
A long sigh. “He died for our sins. I mean, that’s the gist of it.” The cult of Didion would’ve been an easier sell.
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