5/30/20: A Beautiful Day in an Ugly Country

I can hear the dryer downstairs, tossing something with a zipper on it; the zipper is lifted and falls with a small whip-crack sound, over and over again in minor monotony.

Yesterday there was a storm, a big enough one to finally wring the humidity out of the air. The heavy drops raced down like a stage curtain or cavalry charge, driving the humidity into the ground, interleaving it into the pavement and the soil. And today the sky had a washed face, a focused blue, and the benign clouds were docile, walking peaceably to the horizon.

I’m reading things about what is happening elsewhere: in Minneapolis, in Los Angeles, in Chicago, in Columbus and Cleveland. There’s no easy or subtle way to broach the topic. Huge infrastructures of oppression that have been in place here since America was founded are rising and everywhere, every day more visible, like the spires and turrets of some cursed city that only rises from the sea under a sick green moon.

Here in the suburbs of the suburbs – and this desiccated place is a physical manifestation of the Fundamental American Distance – things, as usual, are quiet, and cryptic in their noncommittal silence. Yesterday when I was at the store I looked for signs of recognition in the faces of the other shoppers. Obscured by masks, I couldn’t see any. I listed for some acknowledgement, and heard none.

When I was in school they approached the topic of the United States government with a philosophy similar to that of the old joke about that guy who likes his steak rare, like really rare: “just walk the cow past the grill.” They flashed simplified schema of how the government theoretically worked in front of us. But it was just another of many numbered and fundamentally identical steps in the system, a perfunctory digestive spasm of the muscles that moved us slightly forward in our education – an intestinal system, capable only of processing, not improving, minds. Commodified like everything else, they were words to memorize for multiple choice tests (the first customer surveys), a big janitor’s ring of keys for a series of doors we were expected to pass through, before moving onto college and finding another educational institution to fail us – this time more directly on our own dime.

I grew up in complacent distances of white suburbia. It’s all I’ve ever known. Even as our family splintered, and, moving in with my mom, we moved inexorably towards lower middle class, and even now when I’m poor, I’m poor amongst the toothless niceties of the mild suburban nightmare. In some obscure inescapable way, as long as the system stays in place, matter how far I fall, there’s always another safety net for me.

Every time any terrible thing happens, one of my little vices is to wonder what people I respect are thinking about it, what they’re doing or would do about it.

What is Thomas Pynchon thinking?

What would Melville do?

I do this because I’ve been taught for years to shape my opinions from the stuff provided by authority figures.

(I also wonder what you are thinking and doing.)

I remember once, I was laying unblanketed in bed next to a partner (maybe you, maybe someone else, I can’t remember), listening to the night sounds through the window and wishing, suddenly, with an insufflating warm yearning of the heart, to be deep in despair, to be swords and swords deeper into it than anybody else, ever, so that everyone I turned towards would immediately know me solely by the visible beautiful ravages of my sorrow, and anything I touched would be consumed in the dark blue waters that rushed out from my touch.

I can see my car’s front fender through the front windows. Reflecting enough of the mild evening sky to look white.

We are all angry – all good people, I mean. We all want to write the glowing words of fire that will flash out and realign the millions of broken minds in this country and the world. Parched, scared, adjacent to incredible suffering, laboring under massive other fears too, we want regeneration. But how bad do we want it? And what will we do to achieve that change?

Because the real counterforce to bravery isn’t fear, but complacency. It would be so easy for all of us at that Fundamental American Distance to, in a week or a month from now, accept the status quo again. Everything is shifting, we’re all injured and heartbroken. But what will happen when the Offer is inevitably made, as it has been made before and before and before: the offer of the same old comforts our hearts ache for so raveningly if we just agree to slot back into our well-worn niches, like statues of saints who walk around the church at night on creaking stone limbs. Because this anger, this anger that you hope, this time, doesn’t go away, you’re also deeply afraid of it, and the cataclysm that it mandates.

Outside, the sky overhead, prelingual, maintains its eternal tongueless honesty. In the late day sunset the clouds are particular and pure and small: little more than tatters, crisply etched against the darkening blue.

The dryer’s stopped.

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