“The night before my mom died she made us turn on Tucker Carlson while we ate dinner in her hospital room. We ate tacos in silence as Tucker was ranting about the border.”
The other day it was Fox News’ 25th anniversary I forget if I already mentioned that in here and people shared my famous Fox News piece anew and whenever that happens I get more stories from people about how it reminds them of their own family.
One nice fella sent me that line above so I asked him very kindly to explain more if he would like to and he said he would.
This was in January, she died two days after inauguration. I was watching when my dad called to tell me to come out to Arizona because she wasn’t going to leave the hospital. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in October and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia right at New Year’s. It was really fast. The thing is my mom was never Republican, my dad was always the standard fiscal Republican who didn't care really about social issues. She was a Brooklyn Jew who taught nursery school. The flip switched in 2008 and she just got scared of the world. Between Fox News and Facebook it just was a feedback loop of fear and hate. I went the other direction, I've slid pretty far left over the years. My brother and dad are both slightly Republican but got scared of my mom and I decreed whenever I visited she was not allowed to be blasting Fox 24/7 in front of my kids. She agreed and we ignored politics besides me seeing her like Ted Cruz posts on Facebook.
The night before she died (she chose to be taken off oxygen the next day) I guess she decided she needed one more hit and it was worth it to break our agreement. It was a Tucker segment about immigrants streaming over the border. I ate in silence, said goodnight and cried in the car.
I was curious for some reason to see exactly what Tucker was saying the night this nice guy’s mom was dying and I tracked it down via Media Matters. Say what you will about Media Matters but they have a low opinion of this particular guy Tucker.
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Biden also instructed the Department of Homeland Security to halt deportations of illegal aliens. And when we say illegal aliens, by the way, pretty soon we won't be allowed to say illegal aliens because it’ll be hate speech and therefore illegal. But tonight when we say illegal aliens, we mean millions of illegal aliens, not just the countless undocumented Americans that Joe Biden tells us are busy curing cancer, winning Nobel Prizes and in general being a lot more impressive than you have ever been. But this doesn't apply simply to them. Biden's order also includes non-Noble Prize-winning illegal aliens.
That means criminals, rapists, murderers, other people who are dangerous to you and me. So the message is clear. If you break our laws to get here, and commit violent felonies once you arrive, sometimes against American citizens, Joe Biden will reward you with blanket amnesty. And just to show how much he means it Joe Biden will do that on his very first day as President. It's a pretty strong statement. So why wouldn’t seeing that statement every poor person in the world sneak into America? Well of course they would. You would, we would, and they will. Increasing the size of America's population is the whole point of the exercise.
So that’s the last thing a son watched with his mom.
It’s insane how much money you can make on here and elsewhere by being a soulless reactionary writing about culture war shit nonstop. The rest of us have to constantly beg for the rest of the scraps.
Today the main thing in here is an essay by Gaby Del Valle about brain amoebas and growing up in and returning to visit Tampa during Covid. Very few mentions of Tom Brady in her piece I’m just now realizing which I personally would have focused on. Gaby is a colleague from the Discontents collective who writes the BORDER/LINES newsletter with Felipe De La Hoz. It’s an essential read about what is actually happening with our policies of abuse along the border. It’s all fine now they always say. No need to know about it anymore everything is cool now.
Earlier this year Felipe wrote for Hell World on where things stand with “kids in cages” under Biden.
Hold on a minute though.
I don’t usually publish the nice emails and dms I get from you nice people but for some reason I thought this one would be ok because it largely wasn’t about me it was about another writer I published on here and I love when that happens very much. Here’s some words from Kevin Beirne an Irishman who has good taste top to bottom as best I can discern.
The piece in question he’s referencing here was this one by Lucy Schiller.
Here’s what he said:
I don't know how Substack works and there's a good chance you won't even get this, but I just wanted to at least try to send a message about this newsletter. I've been catching up on old Welcome to Hell Worlds since my work returned to the office last week and this one really got to me. I wanted to send Lucy a message about it, but I couldn't find any contact info on her website. I even reactivated my Twitter account in an attempt to find her there but it appears she has, somewhat ironically from my point of view anyway, deleted her account. If there's any chance you could let her know that a random guy in Ireland read her piece and is thinking of Anita tonight, I would really appreciate it. I read her piece in the office surrounded by coworkers I have spoken to for about a year but only actually met a week ago, and I cried. Anita sounds like a lovely and fascinating woman and Lucy's piece is a gorgeous piece of writing. It's clear how much love is in each word. The angry ones too.
Also I have just received a copy of your book, Luke, and I am really looking forward to reading it once my brain allows me to read entire books again.
Hope all is well on your end.
All the best,
P.S. I read your newsletter about the concept of selling out and immediately listened to the Blue Album the whole way through again. You're dead right. A perfect album.
Ok here’s Gaby. Stick around for more of my type of shit down below if you like. I was “on one” it seems when I wrote it last night.
Every time I tell people stories about my hometown it sounds like I’m making shit up
by Gaby Del Valle
On my first day in Florida I picked my little brother up from school like I do every time I’m back in town. He was wearing a blue knit sweater, an admittedly confusing choice for the ninety-plus degree September heat. “It’s the only blue thing I own,” he said when I asked him about it. “It’s the color we had to wear today for brain amoeba awareness.” I thought he was fucking with me. He had to be fucking with me, but he swore he wasn’t.
Did I know about the amoebas? Of course I did. Every kid who grew up in the Central Florida swamp knows that if you go swimming in warm freshwater, some malevolent bacteria (or amoeba, which maybe is a kind of bacteria?) can get into your brain and kill you from the inside. Did I know how to ward them off? Well, he told me, all you have to do is wear nose plugs if you go swimming in water that’s warmer than 86 degrees. Or, I guess, don’t go swimming in water that’s warmer than 86 degrees, which is easier said than done when you’re an hour away from the beach and surrounded by lakes and kids whose racist dads have boats.
“During the morning announcements, they read a list of Amoeba Angels who died after the amoebas ate their brains,” my brother told me. After that they said “Don’t forget, the theme for tonight’s football game is luau.”
Then he asked if I could take him to Goodwill to get a tropical shirt for the game.
I spent nearly an hour in traffic trying to get to Goodwill. It’s not even that far from my parents’ house, but I kept missing my turn, which wouldn’t be a big deal on a normal street but is an issue when you’re on a six-lane highway that intersects with another six-lane highway, one of which is currently under construction to expand it into an eight-lane highway. So I kept having to circle back, then get stuck in the traffic I was just in again.
Traffic has been really bad here ever since they built the new mall, which is less than five miles away from the other mall.
They built a lot of other things here too: a Costco and a shopping center with a Chipotle in it and another shopping center with a Starbucks in it, and another one with a McDonald’s in it, and so on. I don’t know who “they” are exactly. Developers I guess? They built an apartment complex, too, and they’re in the middle of building a subdivision full of single-family homes. Tampa, I’m told, is an “up-and-coming” city, which means it has a few breweries and a food hall made of shipping containers and none of my friends can afford to buy houses there anymore—not even in the shitty little outskirts where we grew up.
Last time I was home my dad told me he got an offer on our house, which is not for sale. Zillow offered to buy it for $50,000 or so more than it was worth, and they’d only charge a tiny fee. (I’m not sure what kind of fees you have to pay when you sell a house, because I don’t have a house to sell, but he said it’s a much lower fee than one normally has to pay.) My friends and I can’t afford to live in Tampa even if we wanted to because Zillow is buying up everyone’s parents’ houses and installing hardwood floors and like, Chip and Joanna-style white kitchens, and suddenly the houses are “worth” twice as much.
My friends moved into a new apartment recently and they didn’t even get to visit it first. They just moved all their stuff in, sight unseen, because at $1700 a month for a two bedroom, it was an apartment they could actually afford and the model they saw online looked nice enough and the leasing office didn’t have time to give them a tour because so many people were interested.
It was full of roaches. Their apartment, I mean, not the model. The model didn’t have any roaches, it was very clean and pretty like things often are before you see them in real life. They’ve spent hundreds of dollars exterminating the place since then, and my friend has been sleeping on her mom’s couch because she can’t break the lease, and even if she did break the lease every other apartment in Tampa is too expensive now.
Every time I tell people stories about my hometown it sounds like I’m making shit up. One time my mom sent me to Dollar Tree to buy a card for someone who was having a baby shower, and they had this sign near the cashier saying they’re hiring and they’re so sorry about the slow service, but no one wants to work anymore. The old guy ahead of me pointed at the sign and said, “It’s a damn shame,” and then the cashier was like, “Thank god Governor DeSantis got rid of the extra unemployment. Now people will get back to work,” and then the people behind me in line cheered. I swear to god this is true. I swear it’s true even though it sounds like the kind of thing a reactionary would tweet to illustrate some kind of point about the divide between “real America” and the coastal elites. This was in May, when I went home for a month to just kind of dick around, and all I did was tan in my parents’ yard and go to the beach with my friends and run errands for my mom.
Another thing DeSantis did recently was fine Leon County, where Tallahassee is, $3.5 million for violating his ban on vaccine mandates. That amount comes to $5,000 a head for the 714 county employees who were vaccinated. A grand total of fourteen had refused and were fired. In Polk County, not far from where I grew up, seventeen employees of the public schools have died from Covid since the school year began. DeSantis had also banned mask mandates in schools through an executive order, which state lawmakers are hoping to put into law. The Covid rules at individual schools are too nonsensical to be of any help. At my brother’s school, students have to quarantine if they sit in front of, behind, or on either side of a kid who has tested positive for Covid. No one else in the classroom is considered “exposed,” even if they spent an entire class period less than a dozen feet away from an infected classmate.
This may or may not be related but the state is currently facing a shortage of over 5,000 teachers. Also perhaps related is that Florida ranks 49th in the nation for average teacher pay.
Despite all of that I have gone back to Florida too many times since the pandemic began. I went in August 2020 because I figured, like, things are pretty good in New York right now, and I’m not a danger to my parents, but I guess they’re kind of a danger to me, since every time they go to the grocery store they have to engage with a bunch of maskless freaks. I started going to the grocery store for them instead. I went again in December because, even though everyone was saying it was a bad idea to travel during the holidays, my parents wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I figured that if I was there I could convince them to spend Christmas and New Year’s at home baking cookies with me instead of going to friend’s house where they’d get sick and die and I’d never see them again.
I went in May too after my classes ended for the semester, but before my finals were due, so I spent a week at the dining room table banging out 20-page essays like some kind of teenager. For the first time in over a year I was optimistic. My parents had already gotten vaccinated; my brother planned on doing so as soon as he was eligible. I spent the rest of the month driving around listening to My Chemical Romance and drinking with my friends (not at the same time). It felt just like being in high school again, except I wasn’t cool and didn’t drink in high school because if my mom had caught me she would’ve taken my phone away for months. Also there wasn’t a deadly pandemic when I was young.
Back in May, my friends and I were freshly vaccinated and ready to party. We rented a house on the beach and got drunk. We went out to dinner and ate really bad Italian food. We went to a bar and got relentlessly hit on by men we didn’t want to talk to. Eventually we found two guys who seemed interesting enough to talk to, which really just means they were hot. We forced our way into their group and it was all well and good until one of them told my friend he isn’t vaccinated, and neither are any of his friends, and it’s not like he’s against it or anything but he just hasn’t gotten around to it, I don’t know, what’s the big deal?
We saw two dead pigeons on the sidewalk that night.
By the time I went back in September, the pandemic was worse than it had ever been in Florida. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. Covid deaths have happened in Florida. It recently passed the number of American deaths in the Vietnam War which is a comparison people like to make for some reason.
While I was there I read news reports about people who refused to get vaccinated waiting in hours-long lines for monoclonal antibody treatment. Hospitals were using so much liquid oxygen that the water treatment plants couldn’t get any, so they started treating our drinking and showering water with bleach. If I were a more hacky writer I’d bring this back to the amoebas, make some kind of joke about how everyone in Florida spent too much time swimming in the lake and got their brains eaten. But really I’m just sad and scared, and every time I think about how different my life in New York is from my friends’ lives back home I feel like we’re living in different countries, or maybe even on different planets.
Brain amoebas are really rare, incidentally. There were only 148 recorded infections between 1962 and 2019. The thing is, once the amoebas get into your brain, you’re fucked.
Gaby Del Valle is a reporter in New York who writes the newsletter BORDER/LINES.
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