Back in Mexico after a frantic week in the Yankee capital, these days a cross between asylum for the chronically paranoid, besieged city, and kindergarten run by a totalitarian Mommy. Cops everywhere, metal detectors everywhere else, concrete stop’em-bombs on sidewalks, pop-up metal barriers on streets on Capitol Hill. Bin Laden won, big time.
Crazy people hear voices, right? In Washington everybody hears them. At the airport of course the gurgley over-enunciated “security” announcements by some dimwit elocution major who sounds like she wants to lick the microphone. On the subway we are urged by other recorded Mommies to watch each other and report suspicious behavior. What behavior isn’t suspicious late at night on an urban train system? “Yeah, officer, they’re like, swarthy and got beards and funny clothes and talk some weird language….”
Voices, instructions, warnings. We are the Admonished People. Free? No. Brave? No. Watched, warned, told, herded, yes. Urban robots. Just what Georgey Wash and Tommy Jefferson had in mind, I think.
Yes, this is a stream of bare-consciousness column. Sorry. My childhood makes me do it.
Anyway, dinner with friends at Joe Theisman’s Restaurant, across from the King Street Metro stop in Virginia. Classy place, dark wood, good American food, pretty Russian waitress—DC has serious diversity, often with great legs–and enormous TV screens everywhere.
Really. Above each urinal in the men’s room, at face level, also a television screen. Now that’s a serious sports bar. You never have to miss a play. If they had drink service, you wouldn’t even need a table.
On another day we had a lunch invitation from John Duncan, R-Tenn., a reader of FOE, so we made our way to Cap Hill. See? Fred on Everything is read in both high places and low dives, though you will have to decide for yourself into which category Congress fits. A delightful lunch. He is a Southern gentleman, a species regarded with derision in the North but, my God, after ten minutes in New Jersey I want to be in Tennessee. Anyway, he is among my scarce stock of heroes, one of six Republicans who voted against our last damned-fool war in Iraq. For this he, and they, should be reelected in perpetuity, and the rest of the Republicans drowned. All Democrats without exception should be drowned. We would then have a small but respectable government of six. Oh, sweet thought.
Think: What higher form of patriotism is there than not sending our kids to die in pointless wars serving only to funnel yet more money to military industry? How many dead in his district, and in the country, wouldn’t be if the rest of Congress had followed his lead? Most of them couldn’t find Iraq if they were standing in it. And how many millions of Iraqis, Pakistanis, Afghans, Cambodians, Viets, Laos, and so on have we killed for nothing? Don’t get me started.
Thursday, off to the Café Asia, my old hangout, in Rosslyn, just over Key Bridge into Virginia, for lunch with Jim Webb, author of Fields of Fire, for my money the best soldier’s book to come out of Viet Nam.
OK, OK, this is getting to be a scrambled column. It’s God’s will. I have nothing to do with it. Thinking about Jim’s book on the Scots-Irish, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, and John Duncan’s Southern constituency—the South is Scots-Irish territory—and my own birth in the coal fields of West Virginia (Crumpler, near Bluefield) followed much later by a boyhood in Athens, Alabama–has got me to thinking about run-on sentences. Although I never was a poor white, I lived among them, got drunk with them in high school, dated them. They weren’t trash, just didn’t have much money.
My grandfather in Crumpler was a coal-camp doctor, up the holler from North Fork. It was black-lung, dirt-shack country, sharp slopes and awful diets, and sometimes when a miner fell sick on the other side of the mountain, the miners put Granddad in a coal car and took him under the damn mountain to see the patient. I guess he took house calls seriously. My mother taught school there, to the extent that they had schools Once she went way up the slope to check on a kid, and a little girl, astonished by this apparition, hollered, “Gret God A’mighty! Here come that teacher lady!” It wasn’t Groton.
And I guess that’s why I feel a certain affection for the Duncans and Webbs and Joe Bageant, who lived a mile down the street from me in Mexico until he died, and his book, Deer Hunting with Jesus, is the funniest but saddest and most poigniant book ever written about po’ whites. It does contain wisdom: “Never eat weenies out of a urinal no matter how high the betting gets.”
Coming back to America, if Washington so qualifies, for me is a bit like coming home and a bit like visiting a foreign country. I am always reminded of how much I like the people. Americans are a friendly folk and, if they lack the sophistication of, say, the French or Germans, they also lack the stiffness and stand-offishness. My wife, Violeta, is Mexican. While there is much political hostility to swarming Latin immigrants, Vi is everywhere received with hospitality and courtesy. “Everywhere” to date means DC, San Fran, rural Virginia and Maryland, Chicago, several venues in Texas, and New York. (New Yorkers are courteous, dammit. They just go about it differently.)
On the other hand, I see a decline in maturity and public manners. In restaurants, instead of talking quietly in consideration of others, those under thirty tend to bellow, shriek, and cackle. Apparently they think that strangers five tables away are deeply interested in what Shirley said to Samuel about something of, to us, superlative tediousness. It smacks not just of uncouth upbringing but of insecurity, of a need to be noticed. Somehow I think of dogs peeing on hydrants.
Their English is astonishing. Time and again we sat near groups—“near” meing in voice range, which at times might be measured in parsecs—who could say “like” fifteen times in a sentence of eight words. “He was like, yeah, and I was like, well, why, and like, I didn’t know why he was like, weird, so I was like, tell me, like, what are you thinking?” My daughter Macon calls it “an ummm-substituion strategy.” I prefer Ummm.
And I was like, if you say “like” one more time, I’m going to, like, take a ball bat to you in the name of Milton, Ben Jonson, Galsworthy, and Thoreau.
Enough. I’m going to have a double shot of bust-head tequila, crank up the
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