My late mother, veteran of a long and happy marriage, hated "The Honeymooners," a long-gone television series in which the married couple of the title blustered and battled and schemed to outwit each other. A big tag line of the series was the show's star Jackie Gleason saying, "To the moon, Alice," whenever he fought with his wife, which was daily.
"To the moon" did not mean, "I love you to the moon and back." It meant that someday he was going to hit her so hard that she'd leave the Earth's atmosphere.
Of course, he never really hit her. It was just a joke.
"What kind of bum talks to his wife that way?" my mother used to say. "No wonder they live in a dump."
The show was set in a dingy New York tenement, the kind of place my mother thought you deserved to live in if you fought all the time.
Last night, dragging my scarred brain through the first presidential debate, all I could hear was a supposedly humorous, not really funny marital brawl.
As invitations to shut up zipped through the air, as "clown" was used to describe the president of the United States of America, as President Donald Trump postured and preened and interrupted and rolled his eyes and grimaced like an angry monkey, I heard "The Honeymooners." I live in a city. On hot nights when the windows are open, you can hear the neighbors fight. I thought of that, too.
I've heard exasperated women scream, "You lie all the time," and I've heard men bellow back, "You're wrong." I've heard "clown" hurled across the warm night, too.
The only good thing about the neighbors who fight all the time is that they're usually not around for too long. They get evicted for non-payment of rent, or they sneak off in the middle of the night to avoid paying the rent, or the man goes to jail, and the woman finds a smaller, cheaper apartment. Their kids are blank-faced. They've heard it too much. It's good for the quiet neighbors when they leave, but the brawling couple just goes on to create other versions of hell.
"It's the kids who suffer," we piously say. When the kids grow up, we call them "junkies" and curse them for breaking into our houses.
And it goes on.
Right now, America is kind of a dump. Half of it's on fire, all of it burns with hate, and people die of the pandemic Daddy said is a hoax. When you grow up, you'll learn not to believe what Daddy says, or Mommy, or anyone, really. Thank God for the free breakfast and lunch in school.
So, we're living in a tenement apartment with no curtains in the windows, and gray walls, and the rooms are too small, and everything is dirty and broken.
And the big people, the people who are supposed to work, and grocery shop, and clean, and do laundry, well, they're fighting again, so fixated on "winning" that they can't smell the dirty diapers or see the roach scurrying across two days' worth of dishes in the sink.
And it never gets any better, and it couldn't get any worse.
There's another fight coming soon, because there's always another fight coming, and no one ever wins.
"To the moon, Alice," Jackie Gleason used to bellow at his wife, raising his fist to mime a punch.
Well, America's been to the moon. I watched it on television, and it was a long time ago, before there were so many fights. Before we were scared all the time.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, a good, family kind of book, is a collection of his best columns titled, "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in The Ashes of America." It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle, GooglePlay and iBooks.