(Whenever my wife reads one of my pieces and says, “I’m not sure you should post this one — people may not know you’re kidding around,” I realize I may have hit for extra bases, perhaps even put one out of the park. Then again, it’s likely that I never left the locker room. Let’s begin.)
I imagine myself as somewhat similar to one of those Chilean miners, emerging above ground after being trapped in a pitch-black tunnel.
At last, I inhale fresh air; the light stuns me.
I work hard in the bunker in the basement all last week, lowering myself deep in the Digihole, with only a suitcase of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, a large dropper bottle of my pal Joe’s elixir, a pack of Wholly Guacamole Minis, some stale corn chips, and a Ziploc bag filled with high-potency THC Gummi Bears to sustain me. I expose myself to all manner of pollutants and insipid nonsense over a seven-day period, digging in search of the Internet mother lode. I am a journalist, but I am also an Explorer of the New Order.
I go in search of America.
I discover no treasure lodged in the walls of the deep chase, only dank standing water and chunks of fool’s gold.
Example: a woman posts a meme on Facebook. “40 years ago, every pickup on a high school lot had a rifle in the window & there were no school shootings. What changed?”
I read. I think: Nothing changes, certainly not the average IQ of people who post memes on Facebook, memes being sad substitutes for original thoughts and expressions. Plus, what high school did this woman attend?
Just before I suspend my project and emerge from the depths, I scan an Internet article about King Philip of Spain’s marriage to his niece, and the damaged Habsburgs that result down line. It provides a starting point for a series of suspicious conclusions.
A glimpse at several portraits of the mutant King Charles II brings me to my senses. My god, I ask myself, how much of the destiny of this planet and its creatures (excluding roaches, several species of sea worms living at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and a great many viruses) has been given over to the twisted whims of genetic wreckage?
I consider Donald Trump, ponder the probability that Fred’s great-grandfather banged a few close relatives. I check Donald’s son, Eric, for verification of my hunch. Eric bears a startling resemblance to Charles II. Don’t believe me? Call up photos of the distorted geeks (of paintings, in Chuck’s case); look at the faces. Don’t turn away. These idiots arrived with barely set custard wobbling between their ears. Daddy’s sperm had broken tails, and that condition, believe me, does not arrive overnight.
I unbuckle my seat belt, put the Mac to sleep. I creep upstairs, to the light.
I’m damaged goods.
Much of my time in the bunker is spent reconnoitering the ravaged wasteland of American politics. As a consequence, injury is unavoidable, given the objects of my investigation are missives from members of a fractured nation, people laid low by pre-election convulsions. I am exhausted, too old to tote the burden of this level of stress and despair.
Once out of the dark, I mix a muscular vodka tonic and collapse on my favorite chair in the living room, where I listen to the buzzing of angry wasps as the little demons crash against the windows attempting to gain entry to the house and my papery skin. The insects remind me of those nasty cretins —White Nationalists, Proud Boys, Antifas hiding behind their facemasks — who promise to confront one another in Portland on a regular schedule.
A clash of clowns is gathering steam in the Great Northwest — each side encouraged by quick-profit hucksters, one-percenters who hope for a major diversion so they can continue to pursue further gains with little notice. Americans like nothing better than a diversion; we resemble cats driven mad by laser pointers.
The cynical and rapacious fucks who pimp one folly and diversion after another on cable “news” TV, and on the Net, are now aided by Russian teenagers slumped behind computers in the basement of a brutalist structure in Novosibirsk, the Slavic scabs helping to produce the online circus attended by gullible saps on both sides of the American political divide.
The field on which the oafs will collide in Oregon is an operatic set: a city doomed to destruction, if not the result of the collision of hordes of halfwits, then when it is tumbled by earthquakes, crushed by tsunamis, and covered in molten lava.
Portland is a goner. Where at one time food cart vendors offered tasteless vegan fare to rheumy-eyed millennials, the ground will soon be littered with splintered billy clubs, discarded tire irons matted with clumps of hair, and crudely scrawled posters thrown to the ground during the melee and shredded by rabid squirrels. The pavement in Portland will be stained by blood, littered with broken teeth. It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to make predictions based on this spectacle.
I have no intention now of visiting Portland, though a friend, Courtenay, lives there, and I’d like to see her before the Proud Boys string her up and quarter her. I make a note to send her a message, wishing her luck as the cataclysm looms.
Prior to my exposure to Chuck II and Eric, I spend ten minutes watching a “news” interview on a right-wing propaganda feed. I enjoy right-wing radio and TV hosts; I trashed my hearing as a kid in the music biz, and these people are loud. Some of them yell constantly. The guest on this show is Mitch McConnell.
The creep from Kentucky made a huge fortune during the last decade or so — on a U.S. Senator’s salary? — all the while promoting plans to bust unions, steal the right to vote from African Americans, shuttle money freed by Citizens United to colleagues, and deprive newborns in Appalachia and Detroit of baby formula.
McConnell is part of an administration chorus hooting for control of the budget, and the chumps in the voting booths buy the line, as they do the promise of jobs returning with a revival of 19th century industries.
Next year’s budget deficit, under the watch of curs like McConnell, will reach or exceed $1 trillion, and the best thing about the coal industry, as it clings to life in the Econ ICU, is there are fewer guys contracting black lung disease these days. With the encouragement of McConnell and his ilk, Chinese companies move into old GM auto glass factories in Ohio, and a thousand workers return to the job. Politicians hold rallies, take credit, and everyone cheers. In the past, the workers made $30-plus per hour, and had decent union support; now, they labor at $14, with no benefits, as their Chinese overlords berate them for laziness on the factory floor, and limit lunch to a small bowl of cold rice and three chunks of old tofu.
The future, delivered by sniveling con men like McConnell: more tax cuts for the wealthy, and for corporations.
The wrinkled Turtle Master should be stripped, chained by the ankles to the bumper of a vintage Chevy pickup, and dragged through the streets, his fortune dispersed to the poor yokels whose votes and dull minds he gerrymandered over the years so he could continue to drink from the corporate tap. He and his loathsome kind are beneath contempt.
It’s obvious: I don’t like them.
Example, a news item: “Republican lawmakers introduce bills to curb protesting in at least 18 states.”
But, I worry about the deluded souls who vote for them. Many of them are friends.
Example, a Facebook post: “So now you can’t say or claim to be American
because it’s offensive, well I don’t give a gigantic rats ASS who I offend, I’m A PROUD AMERICAN!!!”
I read this, and I ask myself: Who says you can’t claim to be an American, and
that it’s offensive to do so? Did I miss class that day? Does this person watch Fox and Friends? Does he listen to Rush Limbaugh? I think I know how he votes.
I survey the American political landscape during my week in the control room, scanning the arid plain on which fools of all stripes stumble in tight packs, delirious, sharing outrage and suspicions, searching for any sustenance that nourishes opinions that cannot change.
My work makes one thing clear: trucks are backing up to the chutes at the packing plant. The cattle are jumpy, and they make noise, a lot of noise, but the kingpins at the plant won’t listen. The bolt gun compressor is running at max rpm, knives are sharpened; the next slaughter is on schedule. There will be no delay.
The atmosphere in America grows more putrid by the day with the stink of anxiety, humid with mass fear sweat. It’s nearing the time for High Political Season, and the info pimps thrash in their dilute 24-hour news cycle like raccoons trapped in a garbage can. Gripped by the promise of a spot in the West Wing, either now or when the regime changes, these vapid twits serve up a buffet of half-baked ideas, hints, cons, conspiratorial tidbits, partial truths and downright lies, to tantalize true believers, feed their fans with flashy lures. If there were a hunk of flesh on the lure, a sucker could live for a moment, happy with the illusion she is being fed, before the hook is set, and the pain crashes in. But, there is no flesh on the lines the media mouthpieces toss out on behalf of their pol masters. Folks in the Rust Belt should know this process and pain by now, as should industry proles promised a return to security and prosperity by the current president and his craven minions. Just as they believed it in the past, when more likable liars promised them re-education and success in the solar energy industry, day trading, or computer repair. A lot of farmers know the story.
Speaking of members of the current administration, I check out several photos of Stephen Miller during my stint online. In none of them does the little asshole appear to have a soul; his eyes reflect no light. He cannot distinguish Honduran children from members of MS-13. He is blind, and he is evil.
Example, a news headline: “Trump Immigration Official Rewrites Statue of Liberty Poem.”
From my seat at the control panel in the bunker, it is obvious that things are no different now than they’ve ever been — only the ID tags and party affiliations change. Mean-spirited slugs like Miller have been the rule of the day forever, regardless of ideology. Vile little assholes have never recognized social, political, economic, or religious boundaries, not since the first vile little asshole stalked the savannah in a quest to possess more roots and berries than the other members of his clan.
The lures are tossed out, the suckers are charmed, hooks are set, the game is on.
The dupes who camp off center on the political spectrum, left and right, are in a lather now, their propaganda handlers working them overtime, whipping them online, via cable and dish. The troops on either side of an ever-more-fortified political divide are drinking in any and all of whatever brews comfort them, confirm their bias. They’re convinced that they know everything. They are poster children for the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
We’re all of us up a polluted creek, without a paddle.
The bolt gun compressor roars in the background, knives are honed. The cattle make noise. Some ranchers wear MAGA hats, others wear Rasta caps or snappy fedoras. Every once in a while, a rancher sports a T-shirt with a peace symbol stenciled on it. When the bank account beckons, they all ship cattle to the plant. Some pretend to be sensitive. Bill Clinton pretended sensitivity at the same time he boosted a crime bill that resulted in mass incarceration of Americans, most of them African-American or Hispanic, many with little but a piddling pot bust on the books — a move that shot the U.S. prison population to No. 1 in the world. Billy was deeply sensitive as he fired his loads on interns, and rumor has it he was seen with Prince Andrew, sneaking into Jeffrey Epstein’s Upper East Side townhouse through a rear entry under cover of darkness. There are no boundaries. Some will say Obama was much better. Perhaps he was, but for a few Afghan wedding parties interrupted by drone strikes, and high public speaking fees. Maybe that’s part of the job description, like it or not. I have knowledgeable friends in the military who say that if a few drones don’t fall by mistake over there, suicidal militants will make their way here to orchestrate another 9/11. These guys know their shit better than any semiotics whiz at Harvard.
Speaking of danger, sensitive people have become increasingly prominent on the national scene. Some of the most disturbing among them are the Stalinists who wear PJs with feet, members of the phalanx of Savanarolas that crowds quads at institutions of “higher learning,” the mob demanding comfort for those who’ve suffered as a result of gender(s) or color, or were triggered during literature class. As a signal of their compassion, they require exile and enduring agony for anyone who does not fall in step. I imagine it won’t be long before the PJs with feet are all a drab gray color, the rules for acceptable behavior made available in small, red books.
Example, info and quotes from a 2015 New York Times article: An announcement of a Brown University event held to discuss sexual assault on campus leads hyperaware, sensitive folks on campus to worry that the dialogue could trigger attendees “who might find the debate upsetting.” Those triggered are provided with “a safe space room” equipped with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies.”
Dear god, we are becoming a nation of cookie-nibbling sheep, our herd wandering in the pasture as wolves come out of the woods.
Let’s stay with animals: some cows are fed cookies before they’re hustled up the ramp.
All of this rattles my system. As a result, I have a dream, the third and last one I endure during a restless night. In the dream, I am awakened by loud noises coming from outside the house.
I roll myself from the bed, and stumble in the dark, feeling along the wall for the snazzy “is it a shelf?” gun safe in which I’ve parked a SCCY CPX-9mm (no safety) with an aircraft aluminum alloy receiver and durable Zytel polymer frame. I don’t actually own such a safe, or a gun. Such is a dream.
I can’t locate the safe, and the noise from outside increases. I hear loud footsteps — the thud of scuffed Doc Martins on the worn vinyl planks of the porch. Fists pound on the door, the door handle rattles. I hear shouts. I’m shot through with adrenalin. This is not a good thing for a man of my age, unless it takes place during an uptick at the tables at Bellagio, or in the company of a young consort as she tempts me with her floral odor, lavishes me with clearly false praise, gin, and empty promises, and offers up an occasional innocent caress.
I fail to locate my firearm. I try to remember the phone number of a friend of mine who was a longtime member of Seal Team 6 (I can’t say more). I rush to the telephone directory to find his number, to summon him and the ominous firepower he possesses. Since his retirement, he has become a successful arms dealer, peddling death-dealing equipment to any oligarch or tyrant who coughs up the dollars. He’s made a small fortune to date, built a house with an infinity pool, and amassed an impressive arsenal. Instead of playing golf with the aging, bloated, and intensely patriotic Republican dickheads who live in his gated community, he adjourns regularly to an exclusive firing range, and blows Acuras to pieces with a M134 GAU-17 Gatling Gun. Every now and then he invites a neighbor to join him in the destruction, knowing there are few things more entertaining than a fat man with a false sense of power. The oaf from down the block tosses off a thousand rounds in a matter of a couple minutes; his ego swells, he returns home to his “den” a fulfilled man, locks the door, and watches Granny Gangbang videos on Pornhub. All’s well with the world.
In my dream fever, I think: My friend can handle this crisis. True, he’s out of uniform and not quite legal, but his wounds have healed to the point he can move relatively well, and he knows how to eliminate a threat.
I can’t find the number, I can’t locate the phone. I try to stay calm. It’s a dream, yet I am worked up.
From the sound of it, there is a group of people outside so, I reason, it can’t be bandits — not even the dimmest thug makes a racket as he prepares to fuck you over. It must be the neighbors, I think, warning of an approaching wildland fire, or sounding the alarm about marauding, drought-ravaged black bears in search of fats to sustain them through what is sure to be a brutal winter. If the snow promises to be heavy after a lean feeding season in the south San Juans, bears go berserk when they sense that disaster is imminent. In this, they are a lot like the bozos who watch Fox News.
Perhaps the noise is raised by a gaggle of Jehovah’s Witnesses toting magazines and bizarre notions, the simple goofs seized by a self-congratulatory rapture they are compelled to share.
I open the door, to discover I am wrong.
At this point, the dream offers me two alternatives. It is an unusual dream: I rarely confront options during a REM period.
- I am dragged across the threshold by bald-headed fascists, my cheap bathrobe ripped from my pale, flabby frame, the light from tiki torches flickering above the driveway. I’m throttled to the accompaniment of shouts of “send her back,” “lock her up,” and “Jews will not replace us.” I attempt to correct the chanters concerning their attitudes regarding gender, race, and religion, but I am kicked in the throat by a brute wearing a pair of Doc Martins. Aryan symbols are spray painted on my abdomen and back before I am run through a gauntlet in the cul de sac, my tormentors gleefully employing electric prods and lit sparklers to urge me on. As I’m loaded into the back of a black van, my captors chatter excitedly about a camp of some sort.
- I am beaten with batons by a gang of “woke” university sophomores, most of them privileged and white (but remorseful), most majoring in art, gender studies, or sociology. They travel to my porch via transportation provided by Mom and Dad (scholarship students arrive courtesy of their respective institutions, as a gesture of the administrators’ deep understanding of the travails of the downtrodden, people of color, the poor, etc.). The more shrill members of the mob drive me to the gravel of the driveway with their cudgels, and mouth quasi-Maoist slogans as I plead for my life. They demand that I shed my colonialist/chauvinist/paternalist ways, promise to use the pronoun “they” when referring to transgender or gender-fluid persons, and successfully complete the Wicker Man Re-orientation Program at Oberlin College.
As I ponder my choices, I wake, naked and cold, huddled on the tile floor of the bathroom, my head resting on the toilet lid. I have been in this position many times before, but never as the result of a dream.
It occurs to me again that things are no different now than ever before: once turds fill the bowl, it’s time for someone to flush them.
It occurs to me that whenever someone flushes, it is likely because they want to be the next one to take a shit.
(An aside: I recall that both King George II and Elvis died while sitting on a commode. I’m pretty sure Elvis, The King in Memphis, reads Field and Stream as he struggles with severe constipation and an OD of one kind or another, then cashes in. King George? I’m not sure.)
The pattern: someone flushes, then captures the throne. Greed whores are no different now than ever: they arrive promising everyone personal time on the can. The new top dog flushes. They sit, they shit, they stay. They laugh at the clowns who wait their turns, and all the while they transfer funds to offshore accounts. The bowl fills and, eventually, an opponent forces open the bathroom door, enters in the company of a crew of sycophants, disposes of the jerk on the throne, then drops his or her drawers, and sets to work. They arrive to great acclaim. They proceed to take a dump. Then, another dump. And another. A member of their posse provides them with free toilet paper. They take it. Another offers a supply of submarine sandwiches to refuel the process. They take them. Someone offers scented hand soap for a cleanup. They take it. They continue to shit, hard and heavy, uncoiling monsters while members of a crew of deceived pinheads wait for a place on the shitter that will never come.
The allure of power, wealth, and the blind worship by members of their tribe, is too much for any Top Crapper to resist. They assemble a base of followers, then make promises aplenty, that mean nothing. After a while, a new shitter arrives to the sound of cheers, a golden aura surrounds them as they squat, and supporters line up to help them wipe. The hero or heroine leaves the bowl full, leaves their successors to search for a mop when the sewer backs up.
With very few exceptions, this is the case in American politics. It doesn’t matter: the Trump coven or The Squad, Louie Gohmert or Bernie Sanders. Little but the veneer differs, only the types of treats left at the end of the chute to tease the cattle onward.
Bottom line: the cattle pay the price. They always do. The story for a steer: it’s simply a matter of which truck you’re in, since every steer meets the bolt.
The next morning, I review my nocturnal experience as I pound down seven cups of extra-strength coffee — drip method, on-sale store-bought brand. I have no need at my age for fancy machines and exotic grinds — the boost is all that matters to me. I would consume the potent energy drinks favored by members of the younger generation, if I could afford them. I have only enough cash for vodka and Gummi Bears, so a case of 10-Hour Time Release Energy Shot is out of the question. I need to make some money so I can take this baby for a spin.
I drink the coffee, my head clears a bit, and the source of my stress is obvious: I am typical, my routine is the source of my misery. I spend at least four hours each day glued to the fucking computer screen, mousing from one site to the next, exposing myself to the torrent of blather that flows through the tube. It’s no wonder I suffer horrifying dreams. Mix a massive dose of infowaste with several hefty vodka tonics, a dropper or three full of elixir, a Gummi Bear and a half pound or so of Bleu d’Auvergne, and disaster is guaranteed.
This level of Internet and social media exposure is common in the Land of the Free. Look around the next time you’re waiting to board the Greyhound to Sioux City. It’s a good bet at least ninety percent of the other passengers are using their phones to check the latest news on their favorite propaganda site, to tune in to the latest distortion available on Facebook, or to exchange gibberish with family and friends. It’s no wonder most Americans are deranged, sad creatures — easy prey for the pimply wretches in Novosibirsk, for Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow.
It’s also no wonder I mix so many metaphors. Just wait: there are more to come.
Like this one.
Engaging the pervasive stupidity that dominates a bifurcated American society is like plunging into surf, eager to enjoy a relaxing swim, and quickly finding yourself in danger.
Soon after I enter the surf, two forces converge on me, one from the left, the other from the right. They meet to create a powerful rip current.
The more I attempt to swim directly out of the rip current, the greater its pull. The harder I paddle against the current, the farther from shore I find myself.
Soon, I am exhausted, proverbial arms and legs flopping like overcooked Thai rice noodles. The shoreline is no longer visible. I notice large, dark shapes circling below me, the ravenous carnivores rising now and then to brush me with their abrasive skin.
Absent the good sense to not enter the water in the first place, there is but one way out: to escape the rip current, I must move parallel to the shore. Go sideways, don’t fight the current.
If I struggle, I die.
I should know better than to dive in and fight the current. It’s a well-known fact that most swimmers drown when they do this.
I should know better because I’m a seasoned scribe, with deep experience. Working as a newspaper hack for many years, I am presented with evidence on a daily basis, confirming a maxim: It’s the same old shit, it’s just dripping from different holes (see the toilet metaphor, above).
I should know not to struggle, not to expect things to change in any but the most superficial ways. I’ve witnessed in the micro realm what drives the macro; carnivores circle in backyard pools, as well as oceans.
During the decades I spend in the newspaper trade, most of them laboring in a weekly paper/small community situation, all kinds and qualities of persons cross my path, sometimes to block my path. They are my teachers; I learn from them, I study. I’m exposed to every notion du jour, to a full spectrum of fantasy, ideology, obsession. It’s the biz: you cash the check, you do the lifting. It’s a rule. It’s like Obama and the drones.
I work for a long time as a reporter, dealing with everything from 4-H rabbit competitions to mayhem. I examine plane crash sites, take photos of old women gluing pine cones to Christmas wreathes and listen to their chatter, endure Civic Club lunches. I see the results of brutal collisions (car/car, car/truck, truck/truck, vehicle/elk, car/husband, etc.), examine murder victims, capture the images of pathetic adult softball players as they savor their sad, small triumphs. I cover sensational trials. I am exposed to some of the best that humanity has to offer, and much of the worst (e.g. meetings of property owners association directors). I interview U.S. senators and representatives, state legislators, governors. I listen to them as they lie, each grinning like a Baptist preacher, sure the mask will distract anyone who sees it. I observe, and converse with fantastically wealthy people who are driven to my office by wage slave Filipinos, as well as with meth-charged characters who slip into town during the night, leaving their plywood hovels in the woods to the care of semi-feral pit bulls. Many of my visitors are heavily armed. All want something. All of them know everything.
I work for a long time as an editor, expressing my opinions in weekly editorials. On Thursdays, a day after the main and tab are off the presses, I take a bottle of Buffalo Trace from my desk drawer, pour a double, and wait for the blowback. I write weekly columns for years, and I’m confronted in public on a regular basis. I can’t buy a rutabaga at the grocery store without hearing a remark from someone who knows everything. Militia members come to my office toting semi-automatic handguns, the pockets of their baggy camo pants bulging with clips, candy bars, and cans of chew. Ranchers check in to moan about the business; real estate developers crow and strut like winners of a cockfight; workers let go at a mill or mine want someone to expose the cash vampires who fire them. Girl Scouts try to peddle cookies. Wives weep as we compose their husbands’ obits. Simps weep because Timmy didn’t get an NCAA I football scholarship. Everyone wants the truth told. Everyone knows the truth.
This is my turf. I’ve studied people who want things. I am familiar with the strategies humans employ to get what they want. There are schemes behind compliments; smiles quickly give way to sneers when goods are not delivered.
It’s nasty out there, kids. And, now, everyone can experience it on the Internet.
I’m the elderly physician who has seen enough of a disease that an accurate diagnosis is second nature (the final metaphor). I recognize illness, I know the medicine.
There’s but one cure for the digidisease I’ve contracted.
Go back online.
Here’s my prescription: watch You Tube videos of Benny Hinn healing blind people by hitting them in the face with his god jacket.
According to Benny (and, he assures us, the lord) he can assemble an auditorium jammed with terminal cancer patients, the membership of the U.S. Senate, and the top tier leadership of the Islamic State and, once he wails on them with the magic coat, they’ll be healed, cooperative, and ready to spasm forward together, and create a wonderful new world as they sing Kumbaya and cuddle puppies.
This will do the trick for me, and you, pull us from the edge of despair. It will work, trust me. I know everything.
Hair of the dog, my friends.
Hair of the dog.