Oh, My America
“You ever seen anything that looks like that, Ted?”
That’s a bad sign, right there. Anytime anyone refers to you as a “thing,” you’re in for a fight. Especially when it’s two rednecks from the backwoods jamming up your drive time gas and sip stop. I felt for the kid, though. Blue hair or not, he probably was a person (unless he was an evil robot), filled with uniqueness.
“What the heck is that thing on your arm, son?” one of the two rednecks asks him, laughing. Bluehair looked up with a practiced nonchalant disinterest. There was a flinty hate buried behind the practiced glare.
“It’s a tribal tattoo,” he said, his voice sort of light, bored. The lady in the front of the line was paying her stupidity tax in the form of twenty or thirty scratch-off lottery tickets, and was taking her time choosing which ones to get.
“What tribe is that? The tribe of angry white kids?” This question from the guy in the suit directly in back of me. I suppressed a laugh, and the suit looks at me. “Kids, you want to be different?” he asks in a mock radioguy voice. “Get a tattoo!”
Oh my, oh my America. Where did your sense of friendly compassionate wonderfulness go? Now we light into perfect strangers, mocking their individuality (or lack thereof). My America, my heart breaks for your promises, I fear your people, I live in shock and awe.
Fact of the day: One out of every 32 Americans is under correctional supervision.
I get up to the front of the line, finally; the kid and the rednecks have escaped each other in their own little shiny boxes: a Ford F350 for the rednecks (complete with gun rack) and a Volvo D40 for the bluehair tribal member. I stare at the clerk’s head. The clerk doesn’t even look at me, mumbles a “can I help you?”
Oh, my America. We go through our days duty bound by our bosses to be nice to one another. Simple pleasantries become a necessary component to doing your job, America. “How can I help you?” “Would you like fries with that?” Artifice and beguiling trickery: you are not sincere, and I am not sincere, but we’ll pretend we are, we’ll stick to the script, we’ll let the words form the social contract, construct the society we find ourselves in, gasping like fish out of water, bug-eyed and foul.
Having completed the transaction (“Have a nice day,” deadpan, and “You Too!” in a cartoon voice), I climb into my car. I own a ridiculous car. It is fast, handles well, and is completely uncalled for. In my heart of hearts, I know that I am helping contribute to the downfall of my America. In some ways, this pleases me, and I leave a sixty foot trail of smoking burning rubber on the parking lot as I accelerate, frightening these two silver haired old ladies as they disembark from the Buick which brought them to my shores. First gear is all noise and smoke, and it takes 3rd gear to settle in, at ninety miles an hour, up Burnet, in traffic, with one foot hanging out the driver’s side window and my right arm extended out the sunroof. My America, home of the free, land of the Braves, filled to the brim with cloistered tribes, groups and cells, all of us bound by the fragile niceties of our insistant authorities. I stab at thee, my America, with a rusty splinter of hope, and shift into fourth.
There’s no room for the niceties in our automobiles. Secured in our mobile living rooms, we feel disconnected from the things which pass outside of our windows, the same disconnected interest we find in television. We scream and yell and try to hit one another, a constant bull fight. I am el jefe, el primo de los matadores. All others are number two or lower.
I am obsessively looking into other people’s cars. I can’t help it; my voyeurism permeates to the core. I am at awe in my America. Our seperate little lives, our seperate little shiny boxes. We feel this disconnected trancelike instinct to follow the rules of the road, and enrage ourselves at the antics of others. I passed four cars, and all of them honked at me for going too fast. Their sense of civic duty compelled me to slow down, and I became somewhat misty-eyed: they care!
Opinion of the day: Everyone who drives a car should be required by law to drive a motorcycle every week, once a week, on rotating days.
Winding my way home, the thrust of the tide lets go as I pull into my drive way and screech to a halt. The day has ended much as it began: surrounded by the dead walls of a house that sits on a tiny lot in a neighborhood that is recovering rapidly from ghost-township. Lots of my neighbors, the working poor, had lost their jobs. The number of For Sale signs that littered the neighborhood some days, well, it was the most popular accessory for the front lawn. No less than every other house, at times. The repo men made laps of the neighborhood; my neighbors to the rear started hiding their Mercedes coupe. From 2009 to now feels like fifty years; the neighborhood now a living, breathing thing again, houses with drawn curtains and shades down, the living, breathing embodiment of a thriving subdivision: we see nothing, we know everything.
I make it inside without having to interact with anyone, and slump into my America, remote in hand, waiting for the end of the world, again.