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Lauren Bacall died on August 12, 2014, at the age of 89.

August 12, 2017

My oldest son William started kindergarten this week. School starts early in the South, probably because June is so hot that asking kids to try to go to class when you can’t walk outside without every cell in your body bursting into flames is a bit unreasonable. Kindergarten is serious business. My wife and I were looking at the daily schedule, and it’s not like pre-K. There is no nap time, or “freelance lounge time,” which is an actual phrase I saw on a syllabus last year. Forty-five minutes for math. Forty-five minutes for social studies. Forty-five minutes for science. Lunch. Then 45 minutes for writing. These are actual fields of interest. These are actual things I studied myself, at least occasionally.

Fact is, kindergarten is just about the first age I actively remember being. I have vague memories before then — we moved into a new house when I was four, and can recall certain rooms of the house we lived in before that one — but kindergarten has a real, live thought process that I can recollect with little difficulty. I remember our teacher Mrs. Jett. I remember that we only went half a day, that one kindergarten class had school in the afternoon after we had ours in the morning. I remember sitting in a different section of the class with the kids who could read while the other kids worked with the Letter People. (Their section was a lot more fun.) I remember being the smallest, youngest kid at the bus stop in the morning, not sure exactly where that big yellow thing was in fact going to take me.

Which means the memories my son — and, to a lesser extent, his little brother — is developing right now are going to cement. And that’s terrifying.

From the summer of 2015 to last November, in large part because Daddy was constantly traveling to Iowa, South Carolina, Ohio and New York to write about the election, politics was a regular topic in our household. Even as Donald Trump began his ungallant, increasingly terrifying rise, it was normal to have the television news on when election coverage came on. The boys knew our house liked Hillary Clinton and did not like Donald Trump, but you know, it didn’t come up that much; life’s pretty busy, you know? There are diapers to be changed and meals to be made and dishes to be done and Better Call Saul recaps to read.

The only time we ever actively talked about the election was when I’d walk William to school. Our neighborhood was covered in Clinton signs — most of which ended up getting stolen, replaced and then stolen again — but there was a house on the route to school that had a Trump sign in front of it. William at first would give it a thumbs down, even an occasional funny boo, but I asked him to stop. “Just because someone likes Donald Trump doesn’t mean they’re a bad person,” I said. “Look, he’s got a Georgia Bulldogs sign on his house too. We like Georgia too. We just disagree on Trump.” Through most of October, as things were getting particularly heated and you couldn’t hide from it if you tried, William took to saying, “It’s OK! We just disagree on Donald Trump!” every time we passed the house. It made me feel good, that William was going to be the sort of kid who could get along with everyone, who could see the good in people even if they were different than him, who wouldn’t get bogged down in the daily muck the rest of us haven’t been able to escape.

Then November 8 happened. We started taking a different route to school after that.

For our own sanity, we’ve stopped watching news in the morning since then. It’s baseball highlights, or Sesame Street, or sorry boys we can’t find the remote now go make your beds. We haven’t been hiding from the news, the daily onslaught of horror, the regular feeling of New Fresh Hell every time you pick up your smartphone, the fact that there are fucking Nazis marching in the streets, but we’ve done our best to background it. I’m not sure Donald Trump’s name has been said around our children since November 9. We’re not trying to politicize them, and we’re not trying to keep anything from them. They’re just kids. They don’t have to worry about bills, or a mortgage, or climate change, or what happens after we die. Why put this mess on them before you have to? Let them be free of it while they can.

But in recent weeks, the talk has turned from repulsive views on immigration and LGBT issues and the poor and sick and Muslims and anyone who has not dined at the 21 Club in the last 46 months to, well, the downright apocalyptic. It is not a simple matter of disagreement over policy. It is a legitimate fear that the lunatic dipshit in the Oval Office is going to blow us all up. I’ve spent the last nine months wondering, “how in the world could this madness possibly end?” It’s a tad worrisome that the North Korea scenario has at last give me something plausible.

Still: It is one thing to avoid talk of the doddering old fool in the White House. It is quite another to have fear of annihilation back on the table. That’s not something you can shut off, even if you don’t talk about it. You carry it with you. When I was nine years old, it was the time of “The Day After,” of the school gymnasiums having signs for “FALLOUT SHELTER” on the bleachers. Did I walk around afraid? I did not. But my parents must have been terrified. That they kept that from me was one of the kindest things they could have done.

My friend Tim, for a New York magazine story where I talked to a bunch of parents about this scary new worldthat I’m hoping someday will actually run, told me that in his family’s house, “there’s a window here where I think if we stay away from [Trump] and again just go back to teaching basic human decency, we may be able to make Trump nothing more than a weird, foggy memory from their childhood. I was 10 when Reagan left office and I definitely remember him but not ... well. I remember the ‘88 Orioles lineup and the best lines from Ghostbusters FAR better.” That’s how I feel about it too. William and Wynn are more into Thomas the Train and Tommy Pham than anything else. Hopefully that’s all they’ll remember. Hopefully that’s all they will have to.

This is the specific time in a child’s life when they develop their core memories. I cannot think of a worst specific time in my lifetime for that to be happening than right now. We’re just gonna try to protect them as much as we can. That is, after all, the job description.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. The Best College Football Slogans in the Game, Sports On Earth. Making fun of “Row the Boat,” and specifically, the “explanation” of the phrase, is one of the more purely enjoyable writing experiences I’ve had in a while.

2. Rally Cat! Rally Cat! Sports On Earth. They found the cat! I’m very pleased they found the cat.

3. Review: “The Glass Castle,” Paste. I’m so old I remember when Jeanette Walls actually did write gossip columns for

4. The Crazy AL Wild-Card Chase, Sports On Earth. Imagine if they had varmints on the field in the junior circuit.

5. A Brief and Violent Dialogue on the Weakest Non-Conference Illinois Hoops Schedule in Recent Memory, Smile Politely. Alas: The commenters are right on this one. Still fun, though.

6. NFC West Preview, Sports On Earth. One last run for the Buzzsaw.

7. AFC South Preview, Sports On Earth. I have Tennessee Titans fever.

8. Dive Dive Dive, Sports On Earth. Dive Dive Dive.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, we talked about “The Dark Tower,” but the real fun was had with “Superbad” and “Anything Else.”

The Will Leitch Experience, talked with Rafi Kohan about his excellent new book The Arena.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, big national preview. Sorry about the echo on this one: We taped it at my parents’ new place, and they don’t have any furniture yet.

We end with this fantastic picture that I might get blown up and mounted on my wall.


Have a great weekend, everyone. Go Cardinals.