In the Year of Our Trump



American wisdom:  It is not, primarily, about dropping pearls of wisdom to the eager masses, nor is it about passing on an oral tradition, nor is it even a matter of opining upon our collective past for the amusement of whoever might want to listen.  No – it's about action.  I'm thinking of a rebel, a rebel or . . . a life-long activist perhaps who, when she speaks – when she has her audience with us – brings to bear upon the back of her every word her own history, her own long fight (personal as well as political, we will eagerly consume it all), but always in service to the message that now is the most urgent political moment she has yet witnessed, and that now is the time to act.  That is American wisdom, as the best of our elders can give us.

I keep thinking about it, I keep finding myself imagining it.  I don't know if I'll buy some again tomorrow or not.  Half of me says yes, half says no.  I guess I'll just have to find out tomorrow.  It strikes me as interesting, interesting and . . . delicious, to find things out this way.  All the arguments have been made; the debate is done.  I don't even have to wait and see.  I can ignore it.  It's just going to happen, and it's going to happen one way or the other.

Beyond waiting there is time.  It's a marvelous thing, time.  The way it unspools so inevitably.  The way it makes things happen.  The way it cannot be stopped.

But –

Things getting in the way.  Things getting in the way, phone calls and cats and clocks.  Traffic lights and people crossing the street.  Work.  I float on the moment:  Time slips away as things happen.  Time makes me afraid.

Mine:  Old age:  It's the endless cleaning up of shit.  Other people's; your own.  Then somewhere along the way your shit becomes other people's.  Of course, it may have been going on your whole life; it may be the very thing that made you old.  Other people's shit:  Then you shit your own.  Everywhere that's home.

Love:  Is a cobweb, wet with dew and also sticky, stretching between we who are hanging upside down, resting in silk, waiting for our last meal.  The spider is fear.  Hence:  Pray to the spider under the auspices of love.  Fear makes the heart grow fonder.

When sounds cease to intrude they come and go.  But still some sounds shred the nerves.  The American character:  Ever in motion.  The American soul:  Always hunting silence.  It's in the sound of trucks and cars, computer keyboards and construction sites.  Ever forward.  Hunting silence.  The web is money.  The spider is power.  Hence we pray:  Pray to the spider under the auspices of wealth.

When glass shatters, things bleed.  Blood runs like sap, red and dense, down her throat.  Down his throat.  Down my throat.

She lived in a world where even when she tried to do right, things went wrong.  He lived there too.  They were friends.  They had lunch.

I know there's a dead one tomorrow
A dead one, a dead one will come
I know there's a dead one tomorrow
To lead us the dead one will come

I know there's a dead one tomorrow
And he shall be blind, deaf and dumb
For him, all sorrow transcended
For him, all suffering numb

It is the dead one will lead us
Believe in the dead one to come
Onward and ever we soldier
To lead us the dead one will come

Always be ready, he told us
For then my will shall be done
And onward and ever we soldier
For the war is already begun

And if you would transcend your sorrow
To all suffering you must be numb
As onward and ever we soldier
For the war is already begun

I know there's a dead one tomorrow
A dead one, a dead one will come
I know there's a dead one tomorrow
To lead us the dead one will come

She of the loveless marriage, he of the bachelor life.  She who worked as a receptionist to a financial advisor, he as head chef in what passed for an upscale restaurant in this backwater town.  Really he was head cook.  But that meant he also had to manage the kitchen staff – and it was hard, what with putting together menus, doing prep work plus his share of the cooking while simultaneously trying to get everyone else to do their jobs on top of the unexpected absences and everyone's egos and romantic dalliances between members of the staff and the temperamental spats – but that's what he'd come to, somehow, someway – figuring out how to deal with all the pettiness of that.  Every day he worked in a medium-sized room full of shiny, grimy surfaces, noise and pressure and dull routine, the restaurant owner's demands and the customers' complaints, all compounded by the continuing misadventures of a frequently incompetent wait staff.  She on the other hand spent her days amidst the hard sufaces of desks and the soft squash of carpeting, the silent noise of computer screens, bad art staring at her from the walls.  She answered the phone with a practiced friendliness that was not always insincere, gathered information, passed on messages, completed forms.  A bland mixture of classical music and inoffensive jazz, punctuated at one-hour intervals by brief news summaries and bulletins about the weather, filled the stifled air.  Though to be honest, she no longer heard the piped-in music; what she heard was the sound of a room stuffed with boredom.  She did not know her boss very well, even though she'd worked for him for years.  For years and years and years.  Decades.  Centuries perhaps.  Yet, if he were to die suddenly, she would have felt exactly as if somebody she'd met only the day before had died.  Surprised and a little sorry, but a reaction soon done with.  She didn't know why she felt about her boss this way, or why he felt the same about her, as she suspected he did.  She didn't dislike him.  She just . . .

They had both gone to the same college, and known each other then slightly.  They met up again years later, quite by accident, on the street.  It was a small town after all, bound to happen sooner or later.  They were both in their fifties by then.  They both felt very tired.

She had arthritis in her hands.  His feet bothered him more or less constantly.

Character of the American worker:  Of course I bought some.  Time slams into my head, then gently unrolls for a few peaceful hours.  This is better than sleep.

O! how I do love my crazy tv.  Each packet of programming, whether it be fact or fiction, comedy or drama, suspense – I love thrillers – or . . . whatever, each is like another yummy chocolate to unwrap and chew on.  Time smacks me in the forehead and unrolls.  I suppose if I had children I'd love them too.  Or horses.  Or calligraphy.  Or quilting.  Pleasant dreams all . . .

So nice to be back behind the glass curtain again.  It's artificially constructed, but that's ok.  I can stretch out in here.  At last I can unwind.  It's my reward:  I got through another day.

Ciphers, they recognized each other as they sat on the opposite sides of the o-shaped table.  They never attempted to be sexual with each other.  They never even felt like talking about their bodies as erotic entities.  Frankly, there was too much bony ache.  They were closer to sixty by now.

They smiled when they greeted.  Was a time when they used to laugh a lot together, now they just enjoyed each other mildly.  But persistently – about once a month.  To compare notes.  Sometimes talking about things they hated talking about to each other.  They led quite separate lives.  But they felt like they had known each other, and not known each other, for a very long time.

Who cares?  It's all I see when I see my husband's face:  A puddle.  Absent all discernible features.  Reflecting only the muddled, empty sky of himself.

The only reason I fail is because I fear failing.  The American citizen:  It doesn't matter if I try, it doesn't matter if I fail.  It only matters if I win.  Winning is what makes it matter.

Who cares?  Even so, we nearly lost the house.  We nearly lost everything, because of that stupid, vacant man.  I didn't know anything.  Was oblivious.  And it was too late to leave.  So here I sit.  The room I work in – open, no privacy – has three windows in one of the nearby walls off to one side.  Three long, narrow slits, set close together so as to give the illusion of a view.  And here I sit, relaying messages, filling in tax forms, cataloging portfolios.  Grinding my axe on other people's diamonds.  And each stroke of the keyboard marked by a tiny pain.

. . . Yeah, but I can say some lines too:  I may be good, but maybe it's because I'm good that I can see the evil in you.  Does that make you good?  Cheesy as some third-rate writer on a third-rate tv show.

But underneath that, there is something unsettling about you.  Something that makes me feel a little queasy.  If you are the negation of everything, you are grandiose – a symbol – a facade.  You are only a shadow cast down by the sun, and not to be feared.

Say you are a vacuum.  Would it give you pleasure to suck me in and eat me too?  Would you be sorry, once that pleasure was done, to find yourself alone?  And what happens when you've eaten everything?  Then you will eat yourself.  Draw your lips open and back like rubber bands stretching wider and wider until they fold over on themselves and slide, pink and pulpy, over your cheeks, flattening your nose, blinding your eyes, swallowing your head whole until you disappear down the endless cavern of your own ribbed throat . . .

But:  From zero comes two.  There was never a one, until after two.  That is the law.

So we need each other, you say, and hold my gaze.  Your eyes are two whirpools winding me down into a void, but not yet, and maybe never.  Almost is what you want.  Two whirlpools gently pulling at me, gently sucking . . .

I wonder if any of this is true?

Who cares.  There's a small ache aching in the small of my back.  I think I'll smoke a little something (more) and try to relax.

But he painted American Gothic, didn't he?

No, he just looked like he did – or wanted to.

It's like, one day you can be watching Fred and Ginger waltzing across the screen and it all seems like the most fun in the world.  Life's a dance.  Three months later and it all just looks like so much stupid.  A thin veneer covering nothing, but carried off with sunny panache.  Where were the poor, other countries, elections, assassinations, movements among the masses?  What did Fred Astair look like naked?

The American middle class (as ideal):  We lived in the rooms of cinema; like children in a stranger's house we began exploring and knew that, sooner or later, everything would be shown.  That trick of light flickering before us, so detailed, so bright, meant we would no longer have to imagine anything.  We were hypnotized.

The richest country on earth, and we thirst only to work.  Road work, garbage collectors, bars, churches, wives, kids, mechanics, lovers, up on rooftops, up on electric poles, small-time cops and grocery store cashiers.  And all we ask is that you give us our own culture.  Our own music, our own style, our own laughs.  Our own words.  Our own meanings.  Our own guns.

Our American faith:  More.  More.  More.  More:  We want blood.  More:  We want red meat.  More:  We want mayhem.  We want reward.

When I go into work time wallops me upside the head, pushes against my back and I spend the whole day in a wobble.  Fuck my knotted calves.  They don't pay me enough for this.

I get requests.  With monochromatic pleases and thank yous stuck on like post-it notes at either end, of course.  I used to love to give.  Not just to husband, to child, but to people, modestly but generally.  Even at the office my voice was warm, though the personality behind it had always to remain, for business purposes, essentially neutral.

Now it's suddenly like – Yah, we love you too but – right now we're thinking maybe you should just hunker down and take it.  We're thinking our love is something you require.  We're thinking we've decided that.

I live alone because I don't feel I have the right to inflict myself on anyone else.  And because of the way the light from the white flame flickers, dances, rises and falls, on my bedroom wall.

Reading helps.  I don't know what my husband does.

I like alotta lotta tv.  Bury me; these are the kind of little deaths I need.

What is this food – Chinese?  Italian?  Mexican?  Indian?  No matter – it's all American now.  Yummy-good.  American food:  It's what we eat.

We trade warm smiles as we chew.  That's as affectionate as we'd ever want to get.  The thought of more would oppress.  Much nicer this.

It's like being around a mirror, and sometimes you catch a glimpse of yourself, and sometimes when you do it's like you're looking at yourself dead on, and the person you're looking at, when you stop to really notice, is familiar to you, but when you peer into their eyes you find that you have no idea who they are – no idea at all.  It almost hurts, knowing this.  Then you step back a pace and look again, and this time you know it doesn't matter, you know that the person you see, whoever that is and whatever happens, will soldier on.  Automatically.  And you relax.  You smile.

American bravery:  We go it alone.  All together now:

~ END ~