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Cold weather, Charlotte’s web, and, yes, Trump



It’s been cold in Oakland lately—cold by our standards, anyway, if not by those of the upper midwest. I heard an interview today on NPR with Thomas Friedman, who referred to his fellow Minnesotans as the “frozen chosen,” an apt description, I suppose, when the temperature is fourteen degrees below zero, as it will be in Friedman’s home town of Minneapolis next week. (All hail our modern day Oracle of Delphi, Google, which informeth us of all things!) Clearly it won’t be below zero anytime soon here in Oakland, where the all-time coldest temperature ever recorded (thank Google again) was 24 degrees, balmy by Minnesota standards, in 1949, although I lived here during the infamous “Hundred Year Freeze” in December, 1990, when I swear I recall the temperature falling to 17 degrees, and many of the flowering trees in my neighborhood were killed overnight. I can find no record of that through Friend Google, though, another blow to the Accuracy of Memory we like to think we possess but which is, apparently and increasingly, as fragile as a spider’s web, a simile I use because I have just discovered that my cleaning ladies destroyed Charlotte’s home, on my balcony, where that lovely spider had encamped for the better part of four months, hanging her silken web between a cactus plant and some sort of succulent, a volunteer, that landed in a flowerpot two years ago and now has grown to three feet in height. I had asked the cleaning ladies to please spare Charlotte and her web—their English isn’t so good, but my Spanish is worse, and so possibly they thought I was directing them to get rid of the damned bug. At any case, the vagaries of Babel aside, Charlotte’s web is, alas, no more, and I confess to a bit of sadness about that. Where has she gone? Was she wounded during the roust? More importantly, will she return? She seemed so happy. It amazed me how she could adjust her web in all sorts of ways, depending on the weather. When it was warm and sunny, in October and much of November, the web rode high, where it caught the sunshine, glinting silvery-gold in the light, and bobbed easily in the pleasant breeze. When the first of the season’s storms hit, Charlotte moved her web further downward, the way a snowbird might drive his RV to Florida. Clever little spider, I thought over the months, as I watched and got to know this Arachnid. I learn—Google again!—there are more than 100 species of that family, but I couldn’t tell you which one Charlotte claimed as her tribe. She was big, perhaps half an inch in circumference, and interestingly colored; depending on the light, I saw red, splotchy brown, black. I don’t think she was a Black Widow, but I wouldn’t have stuck a finger in her face. At any rate, Charlotte also seemed a very abstemious spider when it came to food. I never saw any insect entombed within her web, and wondered constantly what she lived on. Perhaps spiders need little in the way of sustenance, unlike me, for example, who needs to eat every two hours, or my body chemistry goes awry.

But back to Thomas Friedman. He used the phrase “sugar high” repeatedly, a little too much—it’s a powerful metaphor whose use ought to be sparing lest it sound calculated—but I knew what he meant when, by it, he referred to Trump’s recent cavorting into economic matters: the implicit threats to China, the explicit threat to Boeing, the Carrier deal in Indiana. By “sugar rush” Friedman meant that these things feel good—very good—to Trump’s ardent fans, who believe he will apply his businessman’s negotiating skills to saving and restoring millions of manufacturing jobs to America. But Friedman’s argument was that, while these activities may feel good in the short term, they are very bad, economically, in the long term. I can’t remember exactly why, although I know he explained it; just that “bad in the long term” is his take on Trump. I agree, as my readers know by now, or ought to; but I also know—this is the former wine critic speaking—that predictions are fraught with peril, including those about the ageability of wine, especially when said predictions are Parkeresque in duration (“drink between 2028-2045,” he might have written, of a 2005 Bordeaux, in 2008). Parker will be dead by 2045; so will most of his current readers; and such as remain of our own species, so Arachnoid in many respects, who are even aware that one Robert Parker predicted in 2005 that a wine would be “peaking” thirty years later will have no one to complain to, much less sue, if the prediction turns out to be rubbish. So Friedman is entitled to be dubious about Trump, even as Trump is entitled to be boastful about himself. I still think he (Trump) is a demagogue, a narcissist, a sociopath, a fraud, a liar, and a terrible danger. Someday, when I have joined my forbears in that place in the sky (or, as some believe, in the opposite direction) where wine critics go when they die, somebody can Google my quotes and dig that one up. (“Heimoff said in 2016 Trump was a demagogue,” etc., “but historians now rank him among the greatest Presidents ever, just after Millard Fillmore.”)

I have just heard, on the television, a Trump surrogate defend Trump’s environmental vision. “Two of his sons, Eric and Donald, Jr., are avid hunters, so they understand the environment.” I give up. Wherever Charlotte is in hiding, I just may join her.

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