Friday
Jun112004

« On This Day, 13 Years Ago »

I graduated from Madison High School in Sandy Eggo. There was a Bush in the White House back then too. Oh, and a war with Iraq just a few months earlier! But at this very time, I was looking forward to traveling to Europe to meet up with my good friend Steve, who had been my buddy that year in school as an exchange student from Germany. Part of my trip was to see his town and stay at his place for a few days. The following year, I went back for six weeks. On this particular year of 2004, I don't particularly think overseas travel is too wise an idea for an American. I have heard mixed stories. I guess most of Europe would be pretty safe overall, but right now, world events are sort of making me shelf the idea. And yet, I realize that isolating is part of the problem. My world view was well improved from traveling, and these days, I think a huge part of the problem is the American world view, or lack thereof. American hubris has been a huge problem lately, and some think the solution is more hubris. Some think the problem is solvable with more attitude, more macho, more guns, a nastier outward look, tougher talk, et cetera. If anyone from a non-American country is reading this, let me separate myself from this idiocy.

Thirteen years ago, I fell for the party line. I had no political affiliation, but from my years as a military aircraft buff, and proximity to a Reagan/Bush republican war vet grandfather, generally speaking, I was not opposed to the Gulf War. I was just stupid, and went along for the ride. I think I would have seen it differently if I were 18, but at this moment, I was 17. I was always enamored with military firepower, but the human cost of that power was not something I appreciated. I still get a hard on when an F-18 flies over, but now I think that as amazing a feat as it is to create such a machine, we still don't have the means or the sense to render them unneeded. There was a lot I was not awake for. I did have a great teacher that year though who did in fact lay down some foundational material for me in the government class, and he did eventually be the cause for me listening to NPR many years later. I never would have thought that years later, the survey course in government and politics would come in handy as I seek to understand and now protest another war in Iraq brought to us by another Bush in the White House. Jeeze, I hope this isn't going to be a trend!

There was this picture of me taken sometime in the Gulf war days, of me standing in front of an American flag in my bedroom, spanning the entire width of my covered-over window, with my drums in the foreground (maybe because of a pose, but likely because the room was small). I see that pic now, and I cringe. But then I think, 'why should I cringe because I once believed in my country?' I was never really a flag waving patriotic dude. Not that I never waved one or put one out, but I just never got passionate about it. Now, too many times, I feel pretty ashamed of being an American. We've fucked up. We really have. I pin the blame on the government AND the people. The people let the government do things, some by neglect, and some by their own greed. Americans don't want to give up the mad consumption of resources to which we have become accustomed. That isn't the government's fault, though the government is doing the same thing, giving a certain validation to civilians. Maybe the government could do something to encourage conservation in its varied forms, but really, this is a capitalistic, opportunistic place. Our economy DEMANDS that we consume, and not just what we consumed yesterday, we need to consume MORE than that. So really, some of our problems now in foreign affairs come from—what else?—consumption. Our nation is largely defined by its productivity and economy. We put our faith in the markets, in profit, in growth. Well, we came to our natural borders of oceans and neighbor countries, and now we take our rapacious demand for resources to consume, to resell, to pillage, all the way to the other side of the world.

This country was founded in the company of trade interests, greed, and the severance from traditional values. The Spanish wanted gold, the Dutch wanted furs. The English wanted to get free of religious persecution. The rest is history. The New World was a place that didn't need to be respected because no one who came here from Europe felt there was anyone or anything to respect, and the ethos of individuality was growing up in tandem with the development of this land. So blatant and exploitative commercial and development interests are really part of the national DNA. In light of today's mess, well, it is easy to see the lineage. Four hundred years ago though, there was almost no way this land could be destroyed so recklessly, and so efficiently. Well, since we are "Christian nation" (cough), we have now established dominion over the earth, what do we do with that dominion? Destroy her and her people. We really got that down to a science. All of a sudden, a little hunting and trapping, and gold pillaging doesn't look so bad, given the crass commercialism we deal with today, and are attempting to export to all corners of the globe.

There was some irony after 9/11. We felt sorry for ourselves. Sorry for what? Sorry for the long-delayed response to our creeping imperialism and colonization? Do we really think our shit doesn't stink? After 9/11, I heard that people didn't want to cash in on the tragedy with T-shirts and hats and other souveniers. Why the hell not? We love to cash in on everyone else's loss and pain. Why the double standard? Isn't it the Great American Way to sell shit no matter what? So why can't people raid the 9/11 rubble and take whatever they can find and go sell it on the corner, or on EBay? Geeze—it would be so American! I mean, you want the government to look the other way so you can do business, right? If the government shouldn't get in your way, why should good taste and compassion? Sell stuff. It's the American way.

But I digress. I was talking about being a patriot. I suppose 13 years ago I was a patriot because I followed a pack. I never voted Republican, so I wasn't that blind, but wasn't clear over to the other side either. It was really more apathy than anything else, and lack of any sense of connection to anything larger than me. Well, people ask me (when I talk like this) if I hate America, or some even ask me why I hate America, as if it were unquestionably true that I do. I don't hate America. But I am not the flag waver, or the dude who goes to political fundraisers, or the one who enlisted for the service, or the one who absorbs hours and hours of media, and buys all the fluff. No, I am the patriotic American who wants to reawaken what is good in this country. Just today, I did something that I am proud of but really wish I didn't have to do. Actually, I did it all week. I think of it as a lesson in civics and civility.

My job as a home delivered meals driver just got a small extension to administering a congregate meal program at one of the company's sites. Just yesterday, some administrative lackey consultant announced to the assembled seniors that if there was food left at the end of the lunch hour, it either had to be served as seconds for the usual fee, or thrown away. The thing is, this entire program operates on a donation basis, and legally, we can't even ask for money, though the "suggested donation" is $3.50. Some pay that much, some pay less, and some pay more. Some don't pay. Our job is to feed people, and providing a reservation is made and there is food, we can't tell a person "no" because they can't pay the suggested donation. But the zenith of absurdity is the idea that if there is food left in the trays, it must be thrown away or sold. No middle ground. And even more absurdly, this is being told to a whole room full of people who lived during the Great Depression! These are people who know and appreciate the value of the food and don't generally waste it. Needless to say, there was unrest in the room after this.

Okay, then back on the driving part of my route, all this week there have been too many meals at the end of the day, from late cancellations and absences. So I have up to five meals left, and that is way too much. I don't like having that happen, but happen it does. Some I give to the harder up clients, but occasionally, I take some home, or give it to the random homeless person. This week, I had to actually seek out some homeless to give this to. This is food that, since it was not paid for by any client, supposedly needs to be thrown away. Is that stupid, or is that stupid? Realize our program is always running a threadbare budget, so it is never really in the black anyway, but to actually throw food out is just the finest in bureaucratic nonsense. Today, after hearing that county consultant urge us to waste food, I had this burning resolve to do the opposite. There was this one homeless guy I passed at a busy intersection, and had to stop by on the return trip. I grabbed a couple of meals and gave them to him while I was stopped at the light. They were nice and hot, and the side items were nice and cold. He was overjoyed, and sat down on the grass with his stuff, and started chowing down, his back to me. All this emotion was welling up in me, partially from cold hard rationale, and some from a growing sense of compassion I have from doing the work I do. I sort of gazed at this guy, feeling really good about what I did, but then realized how wrong it is that I should ever have to do that. I sort of had to choke back a tear as I thought about it all.

This country loves to think of itself as the richest, most compassionate or ethically sound, etc. etc. True, we have great resources, great minds, and maybe even great compassion. But it isn't always on display. Can anyone tell me why I had to give away food that was slated for the garbage can? The guy didn't pay for it. Does that mean he shouldn't eat, or does it mean he can't eat it off a plate with a modicum of dignity, like the rest of us? Should he wait to pick it out of the trash? Is this something to be proud of? Is this America? But wait—we can send food aid off to foreign countries. We can pay farmers to NOT grow crops, or to NOT take them to market. People can become obese from gluttony. Restaurants and grocery stores don't sell everything they buy and stock. We have more corn than we can use, ultimately turning it into a wide range of products from sodas to gas additives to chips. Seriously, we have more food than we know what to do with, but we can't or won't give it to people who can't pay, even within our own borders. But we can promise African nations $15 billion for AIDS prevention, and the absurdity du jour, we can pay for this stupid and morally bankrupt war, with a ticket of well over 100 billion dollars. Sorry folks, that just isn't the hallmark of a compassionate society. How many meals can Dick Grasso buy with that $180 million dollars he got from the NYSE, just for LEAVING? Of course, it is folly to ever think that he could ever part with a few bucks, even though he is richer than sin, and would be at a quarter of that amount.

So am I a patriot, or an America hater? Does the true patriot simply take the party line, with a chaser of soma, and just go on with the blinders? By that definition, I suppose I am not a patriot. Or should I just slap a "United We Stand" or "We Will Never Forget!" sticker on my jacked up F250 or Excursion? I have neither, and would never put one of those absurd stickers on my car. Strike two, I must not be a patriot. Well, sorry, this un-American just wants to feed a few people without fanfare, preferably using the system against itself to the benefit of those who otherwise stand no chance. Sort of a Robin Hood, I guess. Or I just want to tell people to wake the fuck up from this silly fantasy we have about being a great nation because we can kick anyone's ass. That alone, does not a great nation make.

I have one American flag. It was the one my grandfather's casket was covered in on July 10, 1996. I have never unfurled it from that day on. It remains just as the Marine color guard folded it—tight as origami. I don't fly the flag now. But when I did 13 years ago, I was completely missing the point. I hope at least that much has changed in 13 years.

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