Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's only a model

I had expected it to be more difficult.

All of the other anniversaries I had ignored, switched past the programming to a movie channel, turned off the radio at work, gone outside and spent the day puttering in the yard, or at the beach pedaling my bike or wandering amidst the tourists on the boardwalk.  To tell you the truth, I don’t even know where I spent those days, so studiously had I ignored that they were those days.

But this year, I found myself at the airport, returning home from Denver.  I found myself standing in the enormous, snaking line of travelers at DIA, watching officials from the Department of Homeland Security on television screens placed at the end of each switchback of the queue drone on about the importance of the process to which we were about to submit ourselves.  It was difficult to place much importance in their arguments, given that the situation required all of us to not stop and listen to the officials on the screens, but to shuffle past them and out of earshot and then eventually into the sphere of another screen, where another, different official was going on about another different aspect of their argument, the gist of which was, of course, that everything was fine, and we were all an important cog in the machine of everything being fine, in spite of the mildly 1984-ish feeling of never being able to walk outside of the  glow of those screens, or to not see the not-too-broadly-smiling faces of officials in navy blue blazers and unremarkable haircuts.  Everything is fine, citizens.  Everything is just fine.

As I approached the Transportation Security Administration agent who checks boarding passes and identification, I began to hear snippets of his conversations with those ahead of me.  He asked one woman what is the state flower of Arizona?  I could not hear what she answered him, but he smiled and said “That’s right,” and checked her pass with a red pen and sent her on.  To the next gentlemen in line he asked what ice cream franchise operated in the airport to which he was returning home, and the gentleman thought for a second, and then said “Baskin Robbins.”  And the TSA agent again said “That’s right,” and then the gentleman added, as if to further cement his familiarity with the franchise, “They’re good,” and the agent concurred that they were, in fact, good.

I was a tad dumbstruck by what I was hearing and I searched the face of the agent to see if I could determine if he was being serious, or merely trying to lighten the mood, or perhaps even attempting to pass the long hours of his day amusing himself by toying with us, his captive prey, in the same way the a cat allows a mouse to think that he is winning at escape before he brings his paw down again upon the mouse’s neck.

It occurred to me that the situation unfolding in front of me resembled the scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in which the knights must correctly answer the bridgekeeper’s questions before passing over the Bridge of Death to continue their quest: “What is your name?  What is your quest?  What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

Would I get a difficult question?  I didn’t think I could tell him what the name was of the bar in the Burbank airport in which I almost always killed time before my departing flights.  Or maybe, like Sir Lancelot being asked his favorite color, I would get an easy question, like what brought me to Denver.  Would I tell him that it was simply to visit my sister, or would I say, trying not to look too self-satisfied, that I had successfully assisted her in her search for a wedding gown?  Was that too much?  Would that much detail be suspicious, or even merely annoying?  Don’t try so hard, I thought to myself.  You’re always trying too hard.

Nevertheless, I mentally assembled a checklist of home state trivia.  State flower?  California Poppy.  State bird?  California Quail.  State tree?  California Redwood.  Probably that government employee Alex Trebek up there was no match for a flora and fauna nerd such as myself, I thought.  I got this in the bag. 

When it was my turn, I thought to smile in a relaxed way, and to look him in the eyes, and then he glanced over my boarding pass and said “Burbank, huh?  That’s a small airport.” 

He looked at me. 

“Yes, it is,” I replied. 

And he checked me off with his red pen and waved me on my way.  I picked up my bag and then moved along to the line for the scanners.  And I instantly knew that the point of the question was not to know the answer, but to allow the questioner to hear you speak, to evaluate the ease of your tone and the origin of your accent.

I felt that combination of triumph and disappointment that all nerds feel when they’ve over-prepped for a test.

And then I wondered, if all of your life, you cannot help but compare and contrast the events you’re experiencing to those that formed you, that occurred in your childhood, then why don’t we give our children a better baseline than a series of brick and mortar Skinner Boxes, in which they are tasked with distinguishing themselves to those that operate the boxes from a horde that must be, if only by the relentlessness of its onslaught, indistinguishable?  No wonder so many children feel as though they can’t win.  They literally can not win, and those that think they have are merely more successful at deluding themselves.

It’s not the best mindset with which to begin a journey home.

Especially since I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go home anymore.  I haven’t been sure for a long, long time now.  For ten years, I haven’t been sure if I even wanted to go home.

It’s not that I don’t love my boyfriend, my pets, my house, my yard and the intermittently successful life I have fashioned for myself on this piece of land outlying the second largest collection of Americans in the world.  I do.  I do love all those things.

And it’s not a question of loving them enough.  Loving them enough to overcome the other stuff.  It’s more that loving them is irrelevant to the other stuff.  How could that be true?  And yet, ten years in, it seems pretty damn true.

I used to be able to push this feeling I had aside.  All those years of yelling about what a fucked up mess we were making of this country, I still thought of it as my home, my place, my country, I guess because I thought that someday the trauma would end.  I would no longer feel like I had to jump out of this speeding car that was headed in a place I did not want to go, a place that was a crazy, bad place to be.  Bad for everyone.  Why couldn’t they see that?  Why wouldn’t they listen to the people that were screaming about the bad direction we were going in?  Where did they think this car was going, to a good place?  To a place where we were all safe again?  Couldn’t they see that was wrong?

I guess I thought that someday we would collectively, as a people, stop and decide to go somewhere else.  I thought that when we changed leaders, and we started to officially do less bad stuff as a people, that I would feel different.  That it was our actions as a nation that mattered.  But inside, it didn't seem true at all.

And I didn’t figure it out until just the other day, when I saw them, those people on the other side, screaming “We want our country back!”

Hey, I remember thinking, that’s my line.

Because remember when we said that?  But it was about the other guy?  Remember when he did stuff that we thought was wrong?  Criminal, even?  And we were not being listened to at all, or taken into account in any way?  Remember?  I’m not saying we were wrong to think that.  We weren’t wrong.  I’m just saying that now they feel that way.  They feel that same way, and how can they?  How can they feel the same way that we did?  What the Left is doing, and trying to do, it’s not wrong for the country, it’s not evil, it’s not illegal or against the Constitution, but they’re saying that it is all those things, just like we did.  How can they say that?

I don’t know how they can feel now like we did then.  But it makes me feel like giving up.  It makes me feel like nothing I have is of any use. 

It makes me feel like I have no home.