Dear Dirty America


Another Year of Deception & Befuddlement

Another Year of Deception & Befuddlement
January 11
10:41 2016


I heard somebody sitting in the seat behind me say, “It’s going to be another year of deception.” He must have said it loud to be able to hear him over the rumble of the plane’s engines. “Those telling the truth will be thought liars, and the liars will be made out to look as if they are telling the truth.”


Francis Barlow, 1687

Not very cheery for a new year’s speculation, I thought, but then again, I couldn’t argue.

If more than fifty years ago Malcolm X had said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”, then we are living in an ever-magnified palimpsest of that distorted reality.

“Everybody thinks they have the facts,” the man said. “Everybody thinks they understand the world stage and the players on it. But very little is as it seems.”

What could he mean by that? Only in my limited life experience could I analyze his words.

Not long before I heard that voice on the plane, I watched a strange situation play out in Peet’s Coffee in San Marcos, like a microcosm of a local comedy shuffled across a stuffy Midwestern stage in the rear room of an abandoned fire hall.

It was just toward the beginning of the holiday season, and a man had been occupying the men’s room for an inordinate amount of time. I hadn’t seen him go in. I sat at a table that was visible from the restroom doors. An old, white-haired, ornery gentleman stood outside and gave a hard pounding on the door with a swollen fist. This was already the second time he’d hit the door.

“Just a minute,” a voice from inside cried out. “Please be patient.”

The old bugger was not willing to be patient. He slapped the door, shook the knob, and curled his upper lip.

Ugliness, I thought, runs like a hot wire through each of us, and if we’re not careful, it’ll glow hot enough to show through our good character.

The old man retreated, heavily, with an ugly brace strapped around his left knee over washed out blue jeans. He said loud enough for all to hear, “Latrine Queen. Why don’t you take a shit at home next time?” He walked out, crossed the street, and was gone.

I was only mildly perturbed by that. It’s Southern California, after all, and manners don’t count for anything that far south. The consistent pleasant weather gives license, somehow, to stormier dispositions.

Soon, a middle-aged man with a trim little beard stood from his table and walked to the bathroom. He’d been sitting at the other end of the coffee shop and hadn’t seen or heard the old man’s bellyache. He was a jaunty fellow, light on his toes despite the bulge around his waist. The kind of guy who rises on his tiptoes again and again while waiting in line.

He tried the men’s restroom door handle, gently, and found it locked. He wiggled it a couple of times, testing it. Nobody wants to wait for an empty bathroom.

A crack of plastic on porcelain erupted within. From inside a harried voice piped, “If you’ll please be patient! I’ll need a minute.”

The gentleman thought that was reasonable, I could tell from his humble look. He stepped back and leaned against the wall. A very peculiar situation had been set up. A scene from a play, almost, from a comedy of errors. The man in the bathroom knew nothing of the situation that had changed outside the door. All he knew was the disturbing, impatient knocking at a desperate time (for him) while tending to what must have been urgent business. He was feeling the heat.

As I thought about how that situation unfolded, the man on the plane continued to philosophize. He must have been a professor or, what my friend Hubert Humdinger calls, ‘a full-time reader’.


I’m So Confused!

The man said, “If all the disharmony of the 21st century is any sign, we can expect the new year to hold that extended note of discord even longer and louder while humanity turns blue and purple, struggling to catch a breath of fresh, sane air.

“It’ll be a year like the rest, a continuance of not knowing at whom to direct one’s anger. It’ll be another twelve months of not understanding why there is anger directed at you.

How did this start? you’ll wonder. And, more eerily, how will it end? It’ll be a another year when scores of men are killed and they don’t know why they are being killed, and those killing won’t know why they are killing.”

I nearly turned in my seat to get a glimpse of my fellow traveler. Did he have a grey mustache? Beady eyes with stress lines around them? A tweed jacket and a briefcase? Something to indicate authenticity to these claims? What else would identify him as a learned one? If he were talking military jargon, I would have looked for ‘chest candy’, or an assortment of ribbons and medals clung to his breast.

But I stayed facing forward like a good holiday traveler. Nobody wanted any seat-turning on the airplane, as it could easily escalate to what is known as ‘sudden in-air passenger disturbance’, which, of course, requires an emergency landing.

At the very least, I would have liked to relate my coffee shop story to him.

And so the tension continued. The man waiting outside the bathroom was as unwitting as the man inside. He did not have knowledge of what had gone on before, and that lack of knowledge opened him up as a target to what could intensify into a violent affair. I was watching a ground situation enter into a ‘rapid state of deterioration’.

And me, the one and only who seemed to be really appreciating the tenuous circumstance did what? Rise to my feet and warn the middle-aged gentleman with his Johnny-don’t-worry-‘bout-nothing attitude? Jump up to stand next to him in case the man using the can should try to assault what he thought was a rude man still bugging him about getting off the toilet? Knock on the door and shout to the man inside that the situation was different than what he was obviously interpreting, so please don’t come out with guns blazing?

You’d better believe I didn’t do anything to clear up the confusion. It’s part of my American culture. Doing nothing to ease a tight situation is part of my more recent Western heritage. In short, I should have un-assed myself. But instead, I sat and watched.

I soaked up the lessons and half-enjoyed the anticipation of what would happen when the door opened and our slow-poke saw that lazy demeanor on the face of the man he thought was tormenting him.

If that isn’t a sign of the new year to come, I wanted to tell the educated man behind me, then I don’t know what is.

Inaction. Inability or apathy to act in kind and thoughtful ways. Embarrassment to drop a word of truth to a muddled situation just before it might bounce off into an uncontrollable fit. An unwillingness to stick one’s neck out even a little. That is an exacerbated continuation of 21st century human politics.


A loose spirit, credit: Nvanwinden

How can you blame folks? We’ve been hearing we might live forever if only we can scratch out an existence until 2045, when scientists can nail down transference of the mind to biological androids. It’s best to lay low until then.

It behooves you to take your vitamins, keep your head down, and dream of being strapped into the material world for an impractical amount of years.

What will you do with all that time? Who cares? It’s a lot of it, and having a lot of anything is what life seems to be all about.

Finally, the click of the lock ricocheted throughout the noisy coffee shop. The door opened, and the man waiting to get in leaned toward the open door.

If he were slain by the man inside—maybe a sharp punch to the throat or head that would collapse him to the ground and crack his head on the floor—then his consciousness would fully enter his spirit body and instantly re-create in the World of Images his tiny life inside the coffee shop, and then it would re-create the path home, and his favorite chair, and even that heavy feeling of Sunday night before another week of work Monday morning. All before his body even had time to cool.

So startled and confused would his spirit be, that it would insist it hadn’t dropped off that millstone of mass only hours before in a ferocious attack that it hadn’t seen coming. His spirit wouldn’t know that it could fly free, as so many do not.

But there was no bloodshed that morning. No reason to rouse the paramedics out of bed. No reason to delve into ideas of life after death. The 21st century has seen sperm levels plummeting across the board, in France, Germany, the US. The decreasing levels of testosterone are thought to carry the blame. Men don’t attack men like before, or not nearly as often anyway. And so we squeaked by without a confrontation.

A gruff, fat man pushed out of the restroom. His hands dripped water. Wet splotches colored the front of his maroon shirt. He’d been washing in haste. Even the undone ends of his belt swung loose across his thighs. He’d sensed a maniac growing more restless every second outside the door. How could he possibly take the time needed to clean thoroughly?

Upon seeing the smaller, pudgy figure leaning against the wall, the fat man paused. A tense moment, less than a second, ensued. Then he rushed past him, his shoulder only centimeters from his chest. Barreling down the short hallway, he threw up his hands and said, “Next! Bathroom’s open. Wouldn’t want to keep anyone waiting.”

I was hit in the face with a water droplet that had flung off his fingers. The gentleman waiting looked after the man for a moment. Then he shrugged and went into the bathroom. The lock clicked.

Behind me on the plane, the smart man was clearing his throat.

“It’s going to take a tremendous amount of will and focus,” he said, “to determine the root causes of all our problems on this planet. You’re not going to get to the bottom of them by watching face-value newscasts and reading the big time new sites. The deception is profound. The layers of misunderstanding overlapped and spreading faster than they can be addressed. It’s best to sit in your home during these times and not choose sides. Take no serious action. No side is what it seems.”

I stood to use that squalid airplane restroom. It was occupied, so I knocked lightly and hoped for the best.

[header photo Happy New Year from Nic McPhee; confusing signs photo from Ian Sane]


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