If you thought Odysseus had it bad, taking years to win his way back to Ithaca after the Greek triumph in the Trojan War, at least he eventually found his way to fond reunion with his wife, son, and small island kingdom. The rest of the Homecoming tales about the heroes’ return to Greece tend to be less cheery. Odysseus had a woman named Penelope waiting for him. Agamemnon had a woman named Clytemnestra.
The poor son of a bitch, as F. Scott Fitzgerald has the only mourner at Jay Gatsby’s wake declare. The poor son a bitch, as Dorothy Parker repeated at Fitzgerald’s own funeral. One of the things both their stories prove is that the cost of being an artist at that high a pitch is more than anyone in their right mind would pay.
The first time I tried moonshine was in the 1990s at a Fourth of July party in Washington, D.C. Someone handed me a mason jar filled with a clear liquid. The mere whiff of it made me wince—it smelled like paint thinner. But since everyone was giving it a try, I agreed to take a swig. It was awful, and I quickly returned to my vodka-soda while nodding to the beat of Third Eye Blind. (Did I mention this party was in the 1990s?)
These are odd times for the American Right. Republicans have unparalleled domination of federal and state governments, but are led by the least coherently conservative president since Ford. Americans are materially better off than nearly everyone who has ever lived, yet our life expectancy is falling for the first time in generations. The United States is unrivaled as a global power, but the nation has turned inwards. In a nation where there are more children with mobile phones than intact families, it is difficult to deny the presence of some sort of decadence.