I can see time flying.
7:14 a.m. February 12. How much of the ski season is past already? How much is left?
Coffee on the couch. Reading a short story in The New Yorker about Khmer immigrants in California, survivors of Pol Pot’s camps. Listening, absently, to the clicking of studded tires on snowless pavement out front.
7:15 a.m. A pinkish dawn on the upper branches of the spruce across the street. And there is the moon. Waning, two or three days past full, moving down and west behind those high spruce branches.
There used to be a second spruce, taller even and bigger around than this one, growing near the sidewalk in this neighbor’s yard. Closer to where I sit on the couch. Able to catch the first sun rays even earlier. This tree blew down in a terrific windstorm a couple of Februarys ago not long after Ellen and I moved here. I’d been astonished to learn from the neighbor, Anna, that her spruce were planted (they are not native to the east side of the Cascades) after her house was built, in the nineteen teens. So these trees were just 90-some years old and already four feet across the base and 100 feet tall. In Colorado, where Ellen and I raised our girls, spruce this big were extremely rare, and would have been growing for 400 years probably. It is that much wetter here in Oregon. That and the well-drained volcanic soil, I guess.
Anyway, that morning five years ago as I was eating breakfast my eyes ran back and forth from my cereal bowl to the trees across the street, which were swaying violently in the wind. I thought of John Muir who wrote with rapture about climbing a 100-foot spruce in a Sierra windstorm, how the tree and he, clinging to its topmost branches, traveled back and forth in big arcs, around and around through space, how thrilling it was and how contrary to the staid notion that trees, rooted as they are, don’t go anywhere during their often long lives.
Anna’s spruce was tracing big parabolas in the sky as I loaded skis and drove to the mountain. Some time mid-morning Ellen called with a subsiding panic in her voice.
“Anna’s tree blew down! The big one on the corner. I heard the crash. Maybe I felt it too. Shake the house. The house is fine. But it came pretty close. It’s so huge!”
Her heart was still racing. The spruce came down on a diagonal across the street and sheared some branches off an old mountain ash in our front yard, missing our place by a scant 20 feet. When I got home the massive trunk filled the view from west to east. Power lines were down, still live. A rental car parked on the street near the upturned root ball was engulfed in greenery, spared miraculously by thick lower branches, like Doric columns supporting the now horizontal trunk; otherwise the car would have been crushed.
Anna has planted a new baby evergreen, a pine, in the spruce’s place. It’s already 15 feet tall. The old spruce behind it towers over the immediate neighborhood, first to catch the morning sun. Anna’s house, a lovely, gabled Craftsman, built at the height of the logging boom, when mills on the Deschutes River produced more pine lumber than anywhere else in America, waits below for the sunlight to reach it. Our smaller, hip-roofed house, built three decades later, in 1950, as the ponderosa were logged out and the mills began to close, will feel the light a few minutes later still.
Meanwhile the moon, this morning’s moon, is moving so fast I can see it fly by. There isn’t a breath of wind. So the still, upturned branches of Anna’s spruce are a perfect marker of the moon’s progress. I take a sip of coffee and a bright white edge slips behind the needles. Another sip and more of the fulsome curve is gone, the day racing into being.
It’s not every day that a degenerate former swinger and serial scumbag who built a career based on a single line of bullshit and self-fellation so constant and vigorous that it is practically a yogic art form stands before the bar of justice, but here we are. Roger Stoneis, as he loves to be, in the center of a national political scandal, and with his sentencing approaching in just days, Stone hoped the Trump “Justice” Department would save him from a well-deserved sentence of seven to nine years in prison.
Stone earned the recommended sentence not because he is a Trump ally, but because he threatened witnesses, lied to the court and to the House of Representatives, and got caught. Worst of all, he threatened Judge Amy Berman-Jackson online, defied various gag orders, and engaged in his usual rat-fuckery. He made the mistake of thinking that Judge Berman-Jackson is as gullible as the claque of hangers-on, wanna-be catamites, and scumbag errand boys with whom Stone usually surrounds himself.
The Trump media has been bleating for two days now that the original sentence recommended by the career Justice Department officials that Stone serve his twilight years breaking rocks, stamping out license plates, and working in a prison call center was a massive miscarriage of justice, a horror beyond words and reason, and a grim penalty for a wee, decrepit old dandy barely able to totter to the stand in his own defense.
It led to the withdrawal of all four of the prosecutors, and the resignation of one. Barr’s bull-in-a-china-shop efforts on Stone’s behalf were comically absurd, driven by a Trump tweet, and will no doubt land him in front of congressional committees for a full political rectal exam in the immediate future.
But they were also par for the course in his role as the chief enabler and defender of this president. Barr has been systematically choking out every investigation of the Trump administration since he killed off Bob Mueller, and has no intention of stopping.
Like Trump, Barr is unbound, uncontrolled, and has no fear of congressional power. He doesn’t care about the scummy appearance of his actions; it’s a feature of Trumpism that anyone engaging in any action defending this president will be praised for it on the presidential Twitter feed and on the Presidential News Channel. The shamelessness is a feature, not a bug.
As Trump seeks to settle scores, terrify future witnesses, and generally act out all the fantasies in his authoritarian spank bank, Barr is his chief fluffer. Trump’s fantasy of having another Roy Cohn has come to life, with all of Cohn’s mendacity and amorality, but in a size 54 stout from Men’s Wearhouse.
Stone deserved everything in the first sentencing memo. Every minute. He deserves to be dragged from the courtroom in shackles and issued his itchy, federal-prison poly-cotton orange scrubs. Karmically, he deserves it because he was one of Trump’s lifelong enablers, and because once Trump was elected, Stone trafficked in the most lunatic and corrosive conspiracy theories under the sun. Stone’s gift for sleaze-bag political tactics was always that — tactical. He was great at piling on a wounded victim (see Elliot Spitzer), but it was Trump who kept Stone afloat for decades.
Of course, Stone likely won’t serve his full hitch, because Trump and Barr know that without a pardon Stone will squeal like a rat in a blender, proving that Trump lied to Mueller and about the details of the Trump-Stone-WikiLeaks connections. Stone sure as hell deserves his time in the graybar hotel for reasons of both ordinary and moral justice, and Judge Berman-Jackson has also likely had enough of Stone’s weapons-grade bullshit and may treat the revised DOJ sentencing letter as the political trash it is.
In some ways there’s a terrible and largely unremarked symmetry to the role Barr has played as Trump’s Roy Cohn. In the early days of his career, Stone was a bagman and dogsbody for the infamous Cohn, who served as an early Trump attorney and fixer in New York. Cohn, one of the most repellent and degenerate stains on America’s political landscape, was a perfect role model for both Trump and Stone.
In the late 1990s, I once asked the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) New York political operator Ray Harding about Stone. Harding was a man who knew where all the bodies — literal and metaphorical — were buried. He looked across his desk from behind a cloud of unfiltered-Camel smoke and said to me, “Roger parlayed one line of bullshit into a career. The only person who buys his bullshit is that moron Trump.”
At least some justice has come for Fort Lauderdale’s most prominent Penguin cosplayer and sleaze-ball boulevardier already. Trump left his former confidant hanging for two years, reducing Stone to penury in a one-bedroom apartment. Even if Trump pardons him, Stone will never work in politics again at any serious level — not that he did anyway.
He’ll never get out from under his legal bills. His speaking circuit appearances at local Republican clubs in Florida often bring in tens of dollars, and it’s gonna take longer than Stone has on this Earth to catch up. His days as a provocateur are over. He may get a hit or two on Infowars or OANN, but he’ll never be in the big green rooms again. His days without having the mark of “felon” — pardoned or not — branding him are over.
For Stone, one of the tragedies is that the world of campaigning has moved on from dumb, dirty tricksters like him; Trump will likely never allow him back into even his outer circle because Stone brings nothing of value to a modern campaign. He will never sit at the high table of the Orange King with his old status. Even a man of Stone’s unlimited chutzpah will never be able to wink and nod his way to convincing any but the most slack-jawed Trump fans he still has the confidence of the president.
The attention he craves will, on its best days, come as a form of pity. Stone’s last whisper of power and influence is gone, and no matter what happens next week, he’s going to bear the lifelong stain of a man who spent time in prison for crimes he gleefully committed.
Long sentence or short, everything Trump touches dies — even his most loyal henchman.
SPECIALIZING IN THE UNUSUAL
The Great Randini
trapero de rata . dirt pimp
gentleman . poet . pirate . bar-tender extraordinaire
mountain guide , ski historian . shameless reprobate
Wes Anderson’s new movie, “The French Dispatch,” which will open this summer, is about the doings of a fictional weekly magazine that looks an awful lot like—and was, in fact, inspired by—The New Yorker. The editor and writers of this fictional magazine, and the stories it publishes—three of which are dramatized in the film—are also loosely inspired by The New Yorker. Anderson has been a New Yorkerdevotee since he was a teen-ager, and has even amassed a vast collection of bound volumes of the magazine, going back to the nineteen-forties. That he has placed his fictional magazine in a made-up French metropolis (it’s called Ennui-sur-Blasé), at some point midway through the last century, only makes connecting the dots between “The French Dispatch” and The New Yorker that much more delightful.