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.


SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

Oh god, it totally feels like that. It just DOES, oh, it so does.

I have now realized that I have become just 'like them' and want to bury my head in the sand and think that somehow things will work themselves out because... because they just HAVE to, right? Don't they? Haven't they always, for the most part, just worked themselves out?

But the thing that I am saddest and maddest about is that our current president lulled every fucking one of us into a false sense of "it will be right. I will make it right." And then he turned redcoat and stepped and fetched his way to do whatever The Man told him to do. Why? So Rush Limbaugh followers would like him? So he could add to his shining, untarnished crown of First Black President with the singing, angel halo of "The Man Who United the Country Forever" ? Did he actually think he was that all powerful? Yeah, I think he did. And still does. And so he, even he, turned out to be just as big a dumbass as the guy who tweeted photos of his junk. Instead of hope, so many of us are set with despair. Despair. A word I equate with the Dust Bowl and bread lines.

And I am sad. And feel homeless like you. And I want to think about it tomorrow.

Poplicola said...

First of all, good travel tips. I know it wasn't really the point, but from now on, no more automatically responding to inane airport worker questions with "and dogs will devour your flesh, insha'Allah." Unless it's specific question-appropriate. Never say never.

Second, bordering on serious, between you and SJ, I'm reading despair. The thing that confuses me most is my inability to share it. Given what I know of where our leanings prop up against one another, I should be right there with you, but I'm just (as I type this at least) not. I think it goes back to your central idea about the shouting and the sloganeering. The media savvy radicalized fringe making a lot of overrepresented noise just doesn't strike me as terribly threatening. If you need an historical precedent, look how much goddamn difference it made when it was us doing it. It's a mistake to dismiss them as deluded or stupid, yes, but it's an equal mistake to regard them as representative of anything other than themselves. The pitch will get louder and louder in the tin-walled echo chamber until there's a Republican nominee. Let's see what happens after that, when it's all of us being asked. Depending on the answer, I'll despair after that.

Third, as a practical point, where else are you going to go? Canada? The leader of the political opposition just died and everyone was so... genuinely sad and respectful. I'm pretty sure he died from boredom. That's what civility will do to you: it will kill you dead.

vikkitikkitavi said...

And here comes Pops, the cure for what ails ya.

To SJ and Pops: I'm not one of those who is despairing over Obama. I never believe campaign rhetoric, so I'm never disappointed when it doesn't come true. If figured that once in office he'd try to pass the closest possible thing he could get to his agenda, and that seems like pretty much what he's doing. I can't say I'm very impressed with his negotiating skills, but then the negotiator who actually cares about the hostage is always at a disadvantage.

In fact I think that the unrealistic expectations of Obama, and the letdown that inevitably follows unrealistic expectations is a big part of why I feel really depressed about the Left. The Left got hugely disillusioned with Clinton soon after he took office, and this is part of what allowed the '94 Republican takeover, and a huge opportunity to enact progressive legislation was lost. And then all those disillusioned Lefties screaming about how Bush and Gore were "the same," and of course the tragedies that followed close upon those heels.

We just never learn. Or we don't learn fast enough, I guess. I wish I could take the long view, like you, Pops. Maybe I should've majored in history.

Except not, because it apparently makes you insufferably pretentious. I mean, "AN historical precedent"? AN? No wonder they hate us so much.

SJ said...

I've never believed campaign rhetoric before. I think that I believed that the country itself was different, had made a major shift toward the better because, after all they elected a black man with a Muslim name as the president, what the.. But when it all became shaped by the fringe Right media into a Lottery-esque rock throwing free for all and the black president let them all have whatever they wanted, and then so did the left leadership on every front... shit. I can't take much more of it.

SJ said...

an historical. (snort)

kirby said...

"The negotiator who actually cares about the hostage is always at a disadvantage." That's the only explanation for what's been going on that actually makes any sense to me.

Dad E said...

I have been through the despair of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Jr. and I am confident we will get through this rough patch. I knew that it would take a long time to correct the problems caused by W’s administration. It has been disappointing the Obama has not used this most powerful asset more effectively, the bully pulpit, but recently I see signs that he know he needs to get tough and play up the issues that the public is in favor of, like more taxes on the rich. Remember, in the end, the election will be a choice between Obama and someone that appeals to a minority. In the meantime, I will continue to watch John Stewart every chance and keep hope alive.

Marshall Park Slope said...

I drank the Kool aid big time. Really for the first time. And I'm disappointed too, and I like the "negotiator hostage" line too, but no one has ever, EVER, faced more bullshit opposition and cry baby "I'm not playing with you" fuck wad racist assholes than Barack HUSSEIN Obama. Ive been trying to take the emotion out of it for 3 years, but that's the truth. No one will ever convince me otherwise. And yeh Dad E, I love John Stewart. And Colbert too. They keep me laughing...and sane.

Marshall Park Slope said...

And in case pops jumps back in, I know, I should have used a semi colon or a period.

Poplicola said...

OK, for starters, did not volunteer to be the English police. First of all, I'm American, so I'm totally unqualified. Secondly, there isn't enough Lexapro in the whole wide world.

And the pretentiousness, that's not an optional extra. It came standard. And in answer to your next question: yes, I've been punched in the face.

I think it did help that I never really bought in to the Black Jesus narrative. I turned 18 in 1992. Therefore the foundation of my political education is really 1994, which is: you're never more than two years away from a total reversal of fortune. I didn't experience any of the 60 years(!) of almost entirely unbroken Democratic control of the House. As far as I can tell, exchanges of charges of treason between sides isn't a bug, it's a feature.

The only thing that ever made me nervous about Obama was the whole Black Jesus narrative in the first place. I had trouble seeing how that ever paid off in anything like equal value for money. Nobody was ever going to do the things it SEEMED like he was going to be able to do. As I said before, you've only ever got two years. Factor in scheduled Congressional recess times and the election cycle and you're looking at 8-9 months of actual work-time tops, in total, to achieve everything that needs achieving. Should he have done more? Sure. But I haven't been able to make it all the way over to betrayal or failure.

Besides, ask Nate Silver: policy is window dressing. Elections are almost always decided by economics anyway. Well, except 2004. But that was special circumstances. Gays wanted to marry each other. Good thing we rose up as one and put a stop to that.

mrgumby2u said...

I used to be with Dad E on this, "I have been through the despair of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Jr. and I am confident we will get through this rough patch." The thing that's different this time is "our" guy is in the White House and I feel that same level of despair. Maybe worse. When little Bush was president we could tell ourselves that when we replaced him things would get better. When we replaced him, though, things got worse. The other guys have learned not only how to completely fuck things up while they're in charge, not only how to keep us from unfucking things when we're in charge, they've now learned how to fuck things up when we're in charge. And our guys are clueless as to how to stop them.

So, yeah, despair seems about the right place to be.

vikkitikkitavi said...

I can take the idiots being idiotic, what really bugs the shit out of me is intelligent people who seem to have no idea how government works.

Here's the biggest disconnect: Obama is supposed to be able to command absolute worship and slavish obedience from every Democratic leader in Congress, no matter how "centrist" a Democrat they may be, in order to achieve a complete Leftist agenda. If he doesn't do that, some Lefties start screaming about how he failing and selling out and he's no different than McCain would've been, etc. They fault Obama for not having control over every single person in the party and yet THEY THEMSELVES are the first people to stop supporting him, once he deviates from the absolute Left path they have set for him in their minds.

I don't get it. I just really don't get it at all.

dguzman said...

I often feel like I'm looking into a mirror within a mirror within a mirror, where I'm looking not at what's actually there but what's being reflected -- as though reality doesn't exist except for how it is reflected. I think I understand what is happening, that I have a handle on what's true and what's bullshit, but then they (Fox, friends, others) reflect it back some different way and I'm confused again, wondering just what you do: how can they feel now like we did then? WE were RIGHT! THAT was REAL! Now THEY'RE saying that what THEY think is real? No way! But they're just as convinced as I am, and how can that be? How can they be so wrong? Or how can I have been so right that they're so wrong?

It all makes me kinda nauseated. I feel your despair. I too wonder if there's going to be an end to this "rough patch." How can there be, when with each election, we get an even more ridiculous slate of candidates?

I look into that series of tinier and tinier reflections and just want to throw up.

Larry Jones said...

There is no moral equivalent between the yahoos currently complaining about the guvmint and the millions who demonstrated against George Bush's bullshit. In any case, the loudmouths in the street have their fingers in their ears when you are making your intelligent points, lest the facts taint their opinions. They are not the ones you are debating.

Please don't be discouraged. You are a strong voice. Maybe if you speak the truth often enough, the world will start to believe it.

Liberality said...

oh boy, do I hear you. I feel the same way. :(

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