100 Days of Trump: An Alternate Perspective

This week, I found myself, as I occasionally do, wandering Reno, Nevada. Reno is an odd little city, rank with the cigarette-infused sweat of benighted men and women gambling away their days, yet with development going on all over that is veering the town away from solely being Las Vegas's trashy sister. It is a mongrel town, fitting for this mongrel age we are enduring.

At a giant warehouse filled with artists and craftspeople ("makers," as we call them now), where metallurgists and carvers make giant sculptures meant for Burning Man, I met a young man in a wheelchair, almost quadriplegic - he had some small use of one hand, who painted portraits and landscapes with a brush affixed to a contraption he wore on his head, like a multi-hued unicorn's horn. They were delicate, small pieces, slightly askew in perspective but precise enough to be stunningly accurate, even if you weren't considering the artist and considering his technique.

An old man showed me the gypsy wagon he had built from scratch that he had intended to use as a camper. It was a colorful, canvas and rubber-topped tiny home, and he said he had been working on it for months. He had owned a furniture store in the South, and it burned to the ground. He didn't have enough insurance to rebuild, but he had earned enough to live on, so he retired. He and his wife didn't want to just head to Florida and call it a day. They talked about it, said they had plenty, moved to Nevada, and wanted to share.

So they opened their home as a shelter for battered women, and the old man became a minister. He noticed that the women spent a great deal of time talking about themselves when they did each other's hair and nails. So the old man, who had been a carpenter and business owner, went to cosmetology school and learned how to give pedicures. Now the women were opening up to him even more as he buffed their callouses and painted their toenails, and he felt like it made him a better minister. Oh, and he designed a cane made of PVC pipe that doubles as a flute. He'll be selling them sometime in the near future, if he doesn't give them all away first.

In the evening, I ended up at an old diner in the middle of Reno. One of the women I was with, older, white, a longtime resident of the town, had been a regular there for years, but she hadn't been to the joint in a while. When we sat down, several of the Hispanic servers and bussers came by to see her and talk to her. They talked about their families and how things had been for them, chatting like relatives who were overjoyed to reconnect. One man, stout, middle-aged told us how about his parents dying recently, within two months of each other. He had been brought to Reno over 30 years ago as a child from Mexico by his parents, and while they moved back, he stayed in Reno and loved it here. He was saddened that he hadn't been able to make it back to Mexico to see them. There was so much empathy at the table, for my friend, whose husband died a year ago, for a server, also from Mexico, who worked a second job, both full-time, 16 hour days, working harder than I ever have in my life, and was able to buy a house with his wife, another server there. As we were leaving, a couple of young white men came in, greeting the same servers like old pals.

Why am I telling you these stories from a town you'll never visit, a place you probably haven't thought of more than once or twice in your life? Why this instead of a long primal scream about how the Trump presidency has been a nonstop assault on everything that we believed was "American" for ages?

Because we live in a mean time. We are living through a coarsening of our country that will haunt us for the rest of our lives, even if this damned presidency were to end today, just 100 days in. That's the nuclear bomb that has gone off. One split second and we will suffer its corrosive effects for years.

Here, in this purplest of states (Nevada closely mirrored the popular vote and just went for Clinton), that meanness hasn't gotten to everyone, and, no, it never will, yet we know darkness when we see and feel it. But there are grace notes of light to be found along the moonless road we're on in our American night. And another way to resist is to pause to recognize the people who, despite everything they are being told, despite the growling dogs of this mongrel age threatening to devour us, find the good in each other.

Humanity isn't gone yet. Hopefully, we'll all make it the next 100 days.