July 12th, 2013: Demented and Dumb

The Black Hawk War, 1832. Detail of "Battle of Bad Axe," engraved by Ernest Heinemann (1848-1912), from original by William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922)

I pigged out on ribs and pulled pork and mac & cheese garnished with slices of hot link, in a place with five different BBQ sauces on each table. Drafts were three dollars. I drank a mason jar filled with fruit and “authentic Tennessee white lightning”; it tasted like antifreeze and looked like it would tint my skin blue. I had worn my nice, new, ice cream-colored button-up shirt, the buttons now straining against my distended gut.

My once-fresh short-sleeves were drenched in a vile nacre of deodorant and sweat. A tarp hanging over the bar congratulated the Blackhawks on their victory, and also wished me a happy Independence Day.

The Fourth is not much of a time for reflection in America, which, I think, must be a biological function – the same way sharks must keep swimming or die. It was funny, seeing that Blackhawk head in profile – it looked like he was spitting out “HAPPY FOURTH” as if in a speech bubble. I’ve never met a real Blackhawk Indian. I do not know if when I did he’d be excited for Independence Day.

Amid the stench of burnt charcoal, my ride home was one prolonged, persuasive argument against American independence. People sweating, the floor sticky with beer. No one moved for the lady in the wheelchair coming in, even as the elevator slowly lifted her into the cabin. I leafed through a newspaper, and realized I had read the same sentence twice. I guess it’s bad when one doesn’t even have the energy anymore to find out what new depravity the NSA has been caught at.

Is this really it? It’s not that you or I lose so often that’s galling – it’s that the winners are so demented and dumb. And the Fourth is the holiday for demented and dumb. It’s where every political hack whose coarse racketeering has cost thousands of American soldiers their lives gets to wrap themselves in the flag. It’s the day every crass bigot and rotgut-swilling imbecile gets to don an American flag shirt “ironically” and feel like an aristocrat. It’s when this spiraling lie gets spun a little longer, even as the thread frays.  

As I laid in bed that night, a stranger very near by detonated bottle rocket after bottle rocket, the blast echoing through the alleyway like it was a firing range. These weren't meant to throw off any sparks or light up the night. Or make any little kids “ooh” and “ahh.” Just a coarse syncopation I couldn’t throw off. Just deafening explosions once a minute, fireworks by some dullard with a pit bull.

It was the most American I'd felt all day, falling asleep to that asshole exploding his rote, whistle-stop firecrackers.

General Gandhi

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June 23, 2013: Three thunderbolts

What to say? I see nothing but rainclouds from where I sit. My teeth chatter and my feather bed is as drenched as a Slip n' Slide. I staggered outdoors once today, to throw my uneaten lamb lunch to my stable of tame guard foxes. The air smelled like mercury, hot and dense, like a thunderstorm was in the offing. And so it was coming, and we are the poorer for it.

My malarial state is a memento from a different time and distant place (Ghana was not as receptive to my generic version of the Slinky as I might have hoped) and yet I carry this sickness inside me, still. It will even outlive me, as mosquitoes endlessly spawn and swarm, as they have since creation and will continue long after I've decayed into a lump of dust.

I am very tired, and have a great fear of falling as I lurch back to bed. Three days, three thunderbolts. I could feel the first buffets, the first chills, and I took to bed, knowing the squall to come. It was journalistic in nature. Michael Hastings, who had defied the bilious crowd of tastemakers and fluffers called the press corps, died. The only journalist of his generation to hate war, name names, and strike back is dead, burnt in a fireball after his car collided with a palm tree. Hastings had held the radical notion that few other "respectable" journalists would ever possess, a concept of reporting so simple and self-explanatory, that it is almost never practiced: like Hunter S. Thompson, he wrote what he saw. Big Stan McChrystal must have been dumbfounded to see a reporter accurately describe what he and his staff had said in front of a reporter, amidst the savage, pointless dead draw of a bloodbath called the "Afghan surge." 

Finally, one of us evened the score with these killers and psychopaths running our country.

My symptoms were acute then, bone-shaking. I slept the sleep of a half-dead man, only to awake to compounding pain. Now it was cultural, an even bleaker landscape than that of American journalism. James Gandolfini, the character actor who was never supposed to be a star but was, in the role of a lifetime, on a show that will be looked back upon as the greatest portrait not of the mafia, but of suburban, dead-end life in the years when America began to reverse course, and then drift. The anomie of Tony Soprano, the ursine, sentimental brute, can only be found in America, the place that makes these men. Unlike the rest of us, the squalor of Tony's existence was the knowledge that it would end in either murder or imprisonment - a damnation the rest of us aren't even lucky enough to receive, drifting through the rest of life.

Ah, what's the point? Even bread and circuses won't help this kind of heartache, not when it's the Heat that wins the silly games.

I'll take my sickbed. It's the world outside that's deadly to anything resembling decency.

General Gandhi

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June 14, 2013: This rainbow coalition

Speak softly and carry a big dictum.

"The bitter, of course, goes with the sweet. To be an American is, unquestionably, to be the noblest, grandest, the proudest mammal that ever hoofed the verdure of God's green footstool.”

—H.L. Mencken

It is a fait accompli — the cat can no longer look at the king. It was dusk, the sun a dull socket in the overcast sky, as I pruned the concertina wire lining the contours of my country estate. While an effective deterrent against disreputables, my razor-sharp abatis continues to offer a hearty invitation to suicidal woodland creatures, desperate to snag and tear themselves, screeching and sagging, on the barbs. I must spend a half day each week yanking the unfortunate creatures off the wire, or risk breaching my warranty. But this evening, I could not help but notice a new and heretofore-unremarked attribute shared by the expired voles, wrens and corncrakes whose remains I was transmitting into my wheelbarrow. These birds on a wire were wires.

The little men had finally run me in, the dogs. Oh piteous Christ! There is no depth of ingenuity to which the military-industrial Moloch will not sink. I gently splayed a dead goldfinch in my palm, his breast the lovely color of buffed brass. But his little beak but barely concealed the dimpled surface of a microphone, set into his throat. The iris of his left eye intermittently blinked red, like the timer on a coffee machine. The wings, when manipulated, sounded like a wind-up toy wound backwards.

I have already revealed far too much of the methodology afoot here. This, I have seen in the news this week, is not a pastime for which many allowances are made by our grand high mucky-mucks. A ridiculously successful young defense contractor with an Oahu villa and all the trappings of a spiritually fulfilling American life fled to Hong Kong, taking with him a treasure trove of evidence indicating the Stasi of East Germany never collapsed. Rather, it shaved off its mustache, hopped the Concorde, and slipped into the crowd somewhere around Fort Meade, Maryland.

Like that of a necromancer, the NSA’s black magic is best practiced on a moonless night, upon a desolate wasteland, and preferably against the walking dead. James Clapper, a gray, rumpled, dwarven creature in a position of some responsibility, respects the zombified data golems otherwise known as the American public enough to shield them from this truth. Having spent the last year lying to Congress, Clapper is doing his best to fill the NSA’s Brobdingnagian Utah compound with a minimum of fuss – you wouldn’t bother yourself with how your cat fills his litter box, would you?

Clapper is only one little man of many in this rainbow coalition, assisted by a supine, warmongering media obsessed only with discrediting Snowden, by a bloodthirsty class of senators obsessed with dark, faceless enemies, by the well-scrubbed, grinning robber barons of Silicon Valley, by an entire class of born-again liberal police statists, and by an America that simply doesn’t have the energy to stop its collapse into a heap of bloody rags and greasy garbage.

I most assuredly don’t. I dumped that wheelbarrow right over, told myself I never had a wheelbarrow, and walked home whistling a tune I didn’t know.

General Gandhi

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June 7, 2013: Prank calls

Ilya Repin, "Portrait of the Composer Modest Mussorgsky" (1881)

My personal physician, Mussorgsky, is a man of dignified bearing, who carries himself as would an exiled king. I anticipate his visits with anomie and dread. My congenital weakness is acute even in optimal conditions, but for a nervous, sweating gurnard like me to be seen next to a rockslide of a man like him – it is the kind of indignity with which I am all too acquainted.

But with the tattered remains of my delicate constitution on tenterhooks, I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep up appearances. The physician thunders like a bassoon, standing up from beside the fainting couch in my solarium, shaking his head. “Fresh air. Outside.” He points a finger like a rolling pin at a window looking out on my gas meter. “Walking. Every day. Less talking.”

Less talking. My legs are slick with sweat under the sheepskin I have pulled up to my chin, and my eyes feel like they’re clogging the gasket of a bicycle pump. But perhaps he is right. Perhaps my problem is I talk too much; there’s no earthlier reason for why I feel the way I do.

Take the telephone, for instance. I hate the contemptible device. I keep it in a bureau drawer stuffed with down feathers so I don’t hear it. But there are things I need that I must obtain jawboning into the damn thing: liquid mercury from my chemical broker, sentinel hawks for my country estate, pad thai. Which makes one wonder: if I need my phone so damn much, what does that say about me to the NSA? What deductions are they drawing in their alien calculus?

You see, the NSA appears to have very good cause behind their thirst for knowing everything there is to know about every call made through a Verizon phone . What earthly interest my monthly supply calls to the greatest cheesemonger in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, could have in battling the forces of Ayman al-Zawahiri – I know not. But perhaps I don’t need to know. Dianne Feinstein, one of the greatest teachers of classical jurisprudence and moral philosophy in the Senate today, posited that spying on each of these phone calls “is called protecting America.”

Well, it was a hard sell. But I must say, lying on my sickbed, wracked with the pains of a lifetime of indulgence, I came to see the wisdom of learned souls like Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss. “Dammit,” I squeaked, into Mussorgsky’s turned back. “Why isn’t the NSA stopping the things I do to myself?”

Friends, I strolled on an evening constitutional this evening, invigorated for the first time in millennia. Houses lie vacant, streets dirtied with litter, but I know which way the wind’s turning. Yes, in this tawdry, cheap culture of soullessness, of moral decay, of spirtual death, where the economy is a pallid face and the future an inferno, maybe, just maybe, there was a hand on my shoulder.

There will be policy questions to determine, of course. When the NSA sees a call from a jilted 22 year-old Texan to his former love at 3:12 A.M. on a Saturday morning, how best will we neutralize the drunk dialing threat? When a prank caller is successfully tagged targeting his neighborhood’s pizzerias for “dick cheese,” will Gitmo or federal courts suffice? Do we even need courts?

All quibbles to be ironed out. Glory in the real truth at hand: for the first time in our existence, somebody is listening to what all Americans are mouthing, every day, tower to tower. 

General Gandhi

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May 31, 2013: Gilding the Lily

Detail of John Everett Millais, "Ophelia" (1851-52)

I had split the fallen old-growth oak lengthwise, like a hot dog, with the blunt edge of my Webelos hatchet. Cracking it apart like a reedy ribcage, I had expected the hollowed trunk would prove an inviting bolt-hole, where my weary soul could find restful purchase.

Fine, smoky-yellow wood, lined with the soft clocoa of wild mushrooms – it would be a fine job. A few minutes of hacking with the adze of any rotted wood, and I would climb inside, lying down in my cool natural coffin, an open casket exposed to the elements. There I would remain. Would I drown in my sleep, choking on a sudden peal of midnight rain? Would I bake and broil at high noon, like a fajita sizzling on a Chili’s platter? I knew not, nor did I care. My cork-lined room would also be my grave. I would be delivered from the strictures of American life and public service in the only space more confining for a human.

But there were too many spiders inside the tree trunk. There was also a mildew odor.

I returned to the farmhouse, lank, ashamed. I had also forgotten the adze. The Boy didn’t even look up at me sweeping the porch. I felt like the proverbial heel. And so many letters since I’d gone! 

The first was from Eric Holder. I knew even before I’d slit the envelope with the cheese knife I keep for this purpose what it would say.

Eric, in his own words, is feeling “a creeping sense of personal remorse” for authorizing the FBI to spy on a reporter. I had sensed this was coming. A man of Eric’s sterling integrity would not gild the lily when he sensed immorality – especially his own. He is severe in that sense, as hard on himself as he is on the ghouls he has devoted his career protecting ordinary, decent Americans from. At times, he even found it necessary to substitute his own depravity for that of our enemies. And he has instilled this sense of destiny in his men – one of whom just shot an unarmed Chechen in the head last week, rightfully claiming the combatant had leapt for a dull decorative katana with a broken handle.

I will send Eric a begonia pressed between two slabs of concrete, to signify my empathy.

The second letter was perfumed – that faint, familiar aroma of Elizabeth Taylor’s “White Diamonds.” I also knew what this letter would say. My close personal friend, Rep. Michele Bachmann, has announced she will not be running for reelection. As is her wont, she made it plain that this decision had nothing to do with the open ethics investigation against her, the cooperation of a former employee with a corruption probe, or the liberal media which mobilized Republican primary voters against her. Nor was it because of her migraines, an unfortunate byproduct for such a prodigious intelligence. As explained in her letter, the real reason is a noble one – Michelle will devote her efforts to the healing ministry of her husband, Marcus. There are many homosexual teens in Minnesota still in need of the holy glow of God’s grace. Marcus knows first-hand. He has canvassed most of the state in his Wrangler seeking out these wayward youths.

I will send the Bachmanns a list I and the Boy compiled, after pain-staking detective work, of some fifteen hundred Islamic pinko homophiles in the Twin Cities.

The final letter was of course a final invitation. And as flattered as I was, I could in no way accept the President’s request that I return to his service as the “heckler-in-chief.” Barack had a very important speech last week, something about high-altitude something-or-other, and sensed trouble. “Cherished friend,” the letter begins, “I sense trouble.” His unerring predictive capacities remain inspiring. For midway through that speech, some humanitarian shouted out of turn, something about a secret prison where the Arabs seem intent on starving themselves. How rude! As Dexter Filkins explained, this was the rude way to react to a slightly shopworn promise to close down Guantanamo – barely a gulag, and in the scenic Caribbean. Ah, it would’ve been fine point-scoring, Barack giving me the nod for me to stand, heckle the heckler about her rudeness, about the right way to be ashamed of a cesspit of depravity, operating beyond any laws or decency.

I am sending Barack my love. It is not easy to sustain an ether high amid such incivility.

General Gandhi

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