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January 6, 2006

Happy new year

Posted by Phil on January 6, 2006 8:35 PM

By a strange convergence of personal fate and human history, I managed to be on the verge of becoming a father just as 9/11 happened and the planet was on the verge of overheating and the country was on the verge of whatever the fuck it is that the country is on the verge of. How very odd it continues to seem that I was on my roof in Brooklyn with binoculars and a microscopic view of the second plane hitting the South Tower, knowing immediately that the world had changed even as pedestrian commuters on the sidewalk below were still heading for a subway that would soon stop running. I wanted to shout out to them--but what I wanted to say would have taken paragraphs, and who would have understood?

September 11 was a Tuesday. The Sunday prior, I had taken an out-of-town friend to the train, pausing on our way out to trade wiscracks with my neighbor and landlord, Scott, who was painting the wrought-iron fence and stair-rail (the parking rules on our street had suddenly, miraculously, changed--just a month before we were moving!), then spent the rest of that beautiful afternoon drinking tall glasses of weisse beer with lemon wedges on the deck of a local pub. A curious, elderly Hispanic gentleman in short pants and high socks had ridden by on his ridiculously tricked-out bicycle--streamers, bike flag, boom-box, god-knows-what-all--and paused to doff his fedora(!) and bid us young, middle-class drinkers, "Enjoy the rest of your day." Just after I saw the second plane hit and then paced in a panic around my rooftop, I looked down on Carroll Street and saw this same bicyclist pumping up the hill--still in his ridiculous get-up, boom-box blaring salsa. It was the most enragingly poignant thing I think I'll ever see.

I never went to work. My wife was 8 months pregnant and already at work way uptown. She walked downtown with a friend until they could catch a Brooklyn-bound train in Chinatown. She was fine. We were fine. My landlord, Scott, by a fluke, was at a meeting at the World Trade Center that morning and never came home to his wife and two kids.

I don't know how much of what I'm feeling is the fragile, sympathetic mortality one gets when one has children (I'm 39; they're 1 and almost 4; I have T-SHIRTS older than them; their presence here feels entirely unestablished), and how much of it is an honest reaction to a unique state of affairs. This week's New Yorker prints a fairly low-key piece on how global warming is already affecting the evolution and range of various species of insects. The article includes a conservative estimate that extinction awaits between 15 and 37 percent of a sample of 1,100 plant and animal species over the next 100 years.

I don't know if I have all those numbers right, but I'm in the ballpark, and what's the fucking difference? We and our natural world are clearly at some sort of crossroads--have been for some time, perhaps since the early 19th century--and yet a sizable portion of smart, powerful people are still lying and denying that this is even the case. But there's really no denying it anymore, and the whole idea is becoming so casually mainstream that the only question (which no one will ask) will be how it went from crackpot's nightmare to "just the way it is" without so much as a blink of the collective eye.

Here's where I'm inclined to lurch into sloppy condemnations of the unholy union of shortsighted corporate greed and end-times religiosity.

And, indeed, that's what's fucking got us here.

But what's the use?

I'm disgusted by the death-cult Christianity that Pat-Robertson-until-they-give-us-someone-else represents--this whole criminal notion that we're pawns in a game that some Higher Being is conducting--a Test to see if the Holy We can withhold Our contempt for the Jews long enough for them to hold onto a scrap of barren moonscape in the Earth's ass-crack until Final Jeopardy. A Test in which the Grand Inquisitor only intervenes to strike down those fools who would seek a compromise that does not satisfy His lust for Blood and Dominion. How, in this belief of a wrathful and bloodthirsty God, does Pat Robertson or anyone who listens to him differ from Osama Bin Boogerman?

And, for all its Apocalyptic portents, even That is but a distraction from the steady erosion of Power from the People here in the shining city, the Great Republic, the Last Hope for the World. Oh, I know--the hippies ruined it for all of us, freaking out about the collapse of the good old Apple Pie Chevrolet. Those weirdos! Obviously the broad plain of the '70s only beckoned us towards a dream-come-true of fast foods and hilarious sitcoms! How Chicken Little of me, to believe the goddamn Sky might be falling--"the Man, the System, the whole Plastic Fantastic Nightmare!"

What a cliche to believe that the thing that's been threatening to happen and in the process of happening and HAPPENING for the duration of human history might be HAPPENING right now, again, in our time. You know--the thing that happens--the powerful pulling a con on the weak until the weak cobble together first the hopelessness then the awareness then the fearlessness then the numbers then the power to wrench the machinery back their way, in the bloody and raw-knuckled fashion that is all that's left open when Revolution is the only possibility--and don't doubt for a second that that's what it would take to lever Goddamn Dick Cheney off his hard-won seat of power, and if saying so makes me Jose Padilla then that's even funnier than Jose Padilla being Jose Padilla, because all I want is a salary, benefits, and decent public schools.

Anyway, how uncool and how cliche. Me, sitting here with my fine stereo blaring away overhead, and my computer readily responding to every keystroke, and my wife and my children each sleeping in their own rooms. Little old petite-bourgeouis me.

My point is, I feel weird and pessimistic in a way I never have before. I feel like the cards are stacked against everyone from my level on down, and the dealers are flipping us off and saying, "What're you gonna DO about it?" There are more liars than ever before, up and down the media chain, denying that things are as bad as they seem, let alone that anyone they support is responsible. Moments of Truth arise every day, and the truth is made to bend the knee of fealty to Mammon again and again.

I don't think it's just because I'm paranoid for my kids' future. I think things are really bad. With each downturn, of course, there is hope that people will finally stand up on their hind legs and say, "What the fuck?" But there have been many betrayals, and we still seem to be headed down. And those who would betray us must do so ever more fervently, for their shamelessness conspires with our trust and fear to cloak them.

I read, this week, the piss-shivering excuses some middle-aged blonde columnist from Florida offered for our President's trampling of our Liberties in the name of Security. It was classic "I've got nothing to hide, so let 'em snoop" horseshit. And that works, if you think They are interested in protecting Us from some other Them. But, in fact, They already ready see Us as Them. They aren't on the same team as Us, and we're fools if we think that because we share zip codes and a taste for khakis and NASCAR that they wouldn't cut us loose--haven't already cut us loose--if we dare to question their Right to govern these United States, or demand that they cut us more of a share in the massive spoils of their perfidy.

Somewhere else I read someone saying that they were seriously wondering whether this administration would peacefully hand over power in 2008. I'm not saying they won't. They probably will. I believe there will be enough persons of influence and good conscience willing to walk up Pennsylvania Avenue and tell them they better had do so that they will. But this is the first time I've come this close to wondering if that's what it will take. And I wish I was more confident that it won't.

And even if it doesn't--my God, we have sure fucked up the planet for my kids.

I was going to sit down and write some kind of summary of 2005 tonight, but I guess it was such an awfully bad year that all I can do is wave my arms in front of my face to ward off whatever fresh hell 2006 promises.

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oh well, at least you can escape the grim realities of this modern life by cheering the Colts on to the superbowl...

oh wait, dang!

Posted by: thp at January 15, 2006 7:08 PM