Sometimes it’s just one of those days. You’re on the subway before work and a 110-story skyscraper collapses above you after a terrorist attack, trapping the train so it slowly fills with unbreathable dust. You have a week in which terrorists set off shrapnel bombs near a team of your colleagues, a man escapes the car they’ve hijacked two blocks from your brother’s house, and the pub you retreat to turns out to be around the corner from the terrorist family home. You get evacuated when a domestic terrorist sends a mail bomb to your company, forcing everyone to race down a back stairway to the safety of the street.
All these events happened to me in the last twenty years—sorry, Mom and Dad, I don’t know why I can’t stay out of the terrorists’ way—but I don’t talk about them much. For one thing, I was ultimately fine, unlike many others who lost lives or limbs. I was part of a crowd, not specifically targeted. Only in one situation, 9/11, did I actually assume I might die; the mail bomb was a crappy one and never went off. And these glancing encounters pale beside traumas that have struck close friends of mine and myriad strangers directly. In the last year before the pandemic, after all, there were more mass shootings than days in the year.
Still, I found these experiences deeply upsetting. And if I were to tell you about them, you would surely say normal things: That’s crazy. How scary! You must have been freaked out. Literally no one has ever responded by telling me I am an idiot, liar, and big baby.
So it was striking to watch what happened as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has spoken up in the past month about the day domestic terrorists attacked her workplace to try to overturn the election, egged on by the sitting president. AOC, as she is already iconic enough to have become known, is sharply intelligent, beautiful, female, Latina, just 31, defiantly middle-class, and a proponent of what in Europe would be considered center-left politics. To Fox News and other far-right outlets, these qualities have made her a cartoon character—the villainous radical socialist who opposes everything you hold dear. She routinely gets death threats. The anti-democracy rioters who invaded the Capitol on January 6 to try to overturn Joe Biden’s election win are used to her face plastered across their screens, and would have seen her as a uniquely appealing target—one man has since been charged with urging her assassination. No one was more aware of that than Ocasio-Cortez herself.
“My story is just one story,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an Instagram Live feed on Monday, dressed simply in a pale gray turtleneck sweater and speaking to the camera. “But the reason why I think it’s important to share is because so many of the people who helped perpetrate and who take responsibility for what happened in the Capitol are trying to tell us all to move on. And they’re trying to tell us to forget about what happened. They’re trying to tell us that it wasn’t a big deal. They’re trying to tell us to move on without any accountability, without any truth-telling, or without actually confronting the extreme damage, physical harm, loss of life, and trauma that was inflicted.” Rep. Katie Porter, that same night, went on MSNBC to back her up. Visibly emotional, she described how Ocasio-Cortez fled to her office, flinging open doors to look for places to hide and looking for sneakers to replace her heels in case she had to run for it. “'I just hope I get to be a mom,” Porter recalled her saying. “I hope I don't die today.' "
To further clarify why she felt so menaced by armed men invading her workplace, Ocasio-Cortez disclosed another event of her past. “I'm a survivor of sexual assault,” she said. And, she added, “trauma compounds.” (This same theme came up in my piece on Covid dreams last week—psychologists have observed that surviving a new natural disaster raises the specter of earlier traumas.)
For some, a young elected official cowering, as anti-election rioters scour the Capitol and wound and kill police, is a sympathetic figure. Look at how People magazine, with its human-interest, women-centric approach, wrote up Monday’s accounts: the two women “offered startling firsthand accounts of their time in hiding together.” But in other quarters, AOC’s accounts have been met with hostility. On Jan. 14, before the most recent Live appearance but after she said she’d feared for her life, Fox News host Tucker Carlson took the opportunity to insult Ocasio-Cortez in prime time as a “vacuous little totalitarian moron,” and mocked her fears: “When the most harrowing thing you've done in life is pass freshman sociology at Boston University, every day is a brand-new drama.” By this week, with AOC’s revelation of her assault perhaps weakening that argument, right-wing media had pivoted to calling her a liar and exaggerator because her office is in the Cannon building rather than the Capitol building; apparently she should not have been afraid as her office was evacuated, since the insurrectionists who see her as an enemy of the people only made it into the building across the street.
The vitriol toward AOC is a testament to Trump’s legacy, whereby no-brainer questions are no-brainers no longer. Should elected officials be able to do their jobs without threat of attack? Should we honor the results of elections? Should we feel compassion for survivors of assault? As the Senate trial for his second impeachment looms, Republican senators can see that it will be unpopular with primary voters to convict him. They want to hedge on those questions, not have a charismatic fellow legislator insist that the obvious answer is yes and that to quibble puts her in danger. Their new call is for “unity,” which is another way of saying impunity for those who incited the riots. Ocasio-Cortez’s distress is a complication to that narrative, and it must be swatted away.
What to read
Kashmir Hill’s wild New York Times investigative feature about people who decide to destroy other people’s reputations online as a means of revenge. It turns out to be very, very difficult and expensive to clear your name once someone has decided to falsely brand you as a pedophile. I know people who have run into trouble with online stalkers determined to blacken their names, but I always assumed they were one-offs based in that particular relationship. For the slanderous “superspreader” woman at the center of this piece, it seems to be a whole way of life.
Ice cream gossip: Possibly the closest thing to paradise is an ice cream garden in summer. The roof of the beloved indie shop Ample Hills in Gowanus, Brooklyn, is one of my favorite places to consume a giant cone of Peppermint Pattie/It Came from Gowanus. But apparently Ample Hills has had a shocking business meltdown, according to this reporting from Medium publication Marker, and has now been sold off to a manufacturing company. I can only wish it well.
Amazon has become increasingly unavoidable even for us haters (read: former bookstore employees)—in just the last year, pandemic plus baby plus the fact that the company owns the nearest grocery store have worn me down. But this Vice story on warehouse employees being forced into extra-long “megacycle” graveyard shifts, in which they do the physical labor of picking and placing boxes from 1:20 am-11:50 am, all to facilitate customers unthinkingly hitting that two-day delivery button: oof. Amazon is so big these days that it’s hard to pressure, and that has brutal implications for labor practices there. Sounds like a problem for the new CEO, Andrew Jassy. (Here’s a good and sometimes unsettling interview my lovely wife did with him in 2019, when he was just running Amazon’s highly profitable web services division.)
The New York Times’s Sarah Lyall writing about the 43-year relationship of one of the pandemic’s most delightful couples, actors Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody, as documented on video by their son? Why yes. (The photos, by Daniel Arnold, are also fantastic. Do I spy Patinkin in a fleece onesie covered with reindeer?) Take this clip on aging and appearance featuring Grody, wonderful all on its own: “The conflict is I don’t want to give a shit,” she says, pawing haplessly at her face, “and I do.”
What to consume
Not food this week. Watch Bridgerton, on Netflix. Shonda Rhimes’s show about hot dukes and marriageable young ladies of various races in early 19th-century England is not a healthy meal. It is more like a sparkly, irresistible sugar cookie. I like sugar cookies. But I am also fascinated by the way this otherwise fluffy romance implies an entire alternative racial history of England and, by extension, the world. What happened? Was colonialism a thing? Are they going to explain?? I’m only five episodes in, so don’t tell me.
To relax after the cookie, watch this surreal and strangely relaxing Tiktok about swimming guys by a dude called Petey USA. Yeah, guys swimming, like fish. That’s it.
And then, for pure fantasy, think about what you would get if you could go to the diner with the person you miss most. Prompt by fiction writer and essayist Carmen Maria Machado, answers by thousands of people desperate for a tuna melt and their friends.
For the record, I’d like a turkey club on rye toast, sweet potato fries, coffee with milk on the side, and a black and white shake. We can stay for three hours, and you can tell me everything on your mind, even your weird stories about terrorists. Order wisely, even if only in your dreams, and I’ll see you all next week.