Democratic Underground  

Professional Optimists
July 2, 2004
By Raul Groom

"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up." - Muhammad Ali

It was a rough weekend, and it put me very seriously on edge. I didn't realize it until I viciously attacked Sophia Monday night in our living room, for no reason at all, raving and jabbering at her until she was almost ready to cut off my balls with a withering verbal expose of my rampant and incoherent hypocrisy. And it would have been entirely appropriate, Dear Reader, for her to do just that, but she held back at the crucial moment because she has compassion, and because she has a strange sixth sense of when I am about to shift gears suddenly and collapse into abject blubbering, which I of course did directly.

Normally, as you know, I would tell you to Never Mind All That, but today I have a feeling that all this insanity is somehow important, that this time The Story is simply that I may be cracking at the crucial moment, crapping my pants and choking on my own bile just as the tide is coming in to wash away the stain of this horrible maladministration, this hideous, knobby, shit-stinking abomination that is threatening, even now, to plunge us all into utter ruin, from sea to shining sea.

My demise would be No Big Deal, of course, just another crazed hophead who thought he went straight when he was really just spiraling down to a place where not even his own wild imaginings could reach him, the way Philip Dick no doubt thought he was finally starting to figure things out even as they carted him off to a white padded cell, never to be seen again.

The thing is, I fear I am not the only one. It's happening everywhere. It's as if we are somehow poised simultaneously on the brink of a genuine Liberal Revolution and a vicious reactionary backlash, like some nightmare teenager grooving out to his first Beat poem as the Altamont stabbing unfolds in front of him, the genesis and the apotheosis of an entire generation dovetailing into one excruciating, perfect instant.

Or maybe I really am crazy, and this is all just a bunch of unreadable pap that won't help anybody except my editors, on a day when they are looking for some crazy bullshit to fill up a few column inches on a slow morning. It doesn't really matter, though - in fact, that's the point, isn't it? But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start again.

I went to see Fahrenheit 911 on Friday with a clutch of friends from the Outskirts, and I had a na´ve plan to craft a fun review of the film for the pages of DU, but of course I now realize that I will do no such thing. The film is not something to be poked, prodded, and dissected, but something whole and human and urgent and real, and if you want to know why no one in the chattering class seems to be able to say anything nice about the picture, go ahead and read that description again.

The one moment I remember best is the clip of Ashcroft singing "Let the Eagle Soar" at the podium, during a briefing of some kind. I recall feeling a strange mix of the expected emotion, glee at seeing a ridiculous man making a complete ass of himself in front of God and junior staff and everybody, and another, strange sensation - that feeling I had the very first time I strapped myself in to a real roller coaster, one of those big creaking wooden rail-jobs they don't even make anymore, as the thing rolled around the bend toward that first drop and I turned to my mother and said "Please, mommy, I want to get off."

But as we all know, and as my mother felt no need to explain, there is no getting off now. There is only the ride ahead which, despite appearances, we will survive, at least most of us, and which will deposit us back on the ground once again in due time, free to roam the asphalt paths of this weird, corrupt amusement park we call the American Dream, where the prizes are real but the games are rigged, and even the carnies get swindled in the end.

Which is why, the next day, I ran out immediately to borrow my local library's copy of The Great Shark Hunt, in the hopes that I might find some comfort in the knowledge that there were those who had gone before me into this very madness, and come out the other end, bloodied and grinning crazily, but alive and awake and awash in memories of the way things were, once upon a time.

However, just as foreign cultures do not exist to make vacationers comfortable, the writings of Hunter S. Thompson do not exist to set us at ease, but on edge, and as I ran through the pages of the tome I realized something ominous - this book, this triumph of journalism and fiction and balls-to-the-wall intensity, is largely a heap of useless pulp. I wandered a hundred pages into the thing before I found anything that really sang, that looked like it was actually fun to write, that made me imagine the Good Doctor hunched over his typewriter in a cold sweat, Dunhill hanging dangerously from his lips, banging words straight from his twisted soul to the printed page and cackling into the night. And that one thing was Thompson's obituary for a good friend, published in an obscure, non-paying publication that dried up and blew away long ago.

And that, of course, is the point. The Great Shark Hunt is an admonition to amateur hacks like myself, who think we are really weird enough to Turn Pro. Writing, real writing, is a back-country bitch, and most of the time the end product is so bad you wouldn't want to wipe your ass with it, much less show it to anyone. That's the stuff that really pays, the solid gold crap that you can churn out day after day after day, never really worrying about why anyone would ever want to read it or, worse still, what it might do to them. No one ever accused Louis L'Amour of being sublime or inspirational - he was simply the fastest pen in the West, and he died old and rich, and never once blew himself to bits with a shotgun or sent his wife off to the looney bin for no good reason at all. None of which is to say you shouldn't seize that rare opportunity for greatness when and if it comes along, but as Ali would remind us, the job, well, the job is just to beat up the guy they put in front of you.

Which brings us, in the end, to John Kerry. One of my recent fights with Sophia was about her complaint that John Kerry is not much of a candidate, when you compare him with someone like Clinton, or even Reagan. He's boring, she said, and even more he seems to have no particular direction or vision other than a weary understanding that Something Must Be Done, which is not something that plays particularly well in person, much less on TV.

I was appalled that she would ever say such a thing, and accused her in fairly blunt language of advancing the depraved agenda of the Republican Party. As she challenged my reasoning, I found myself casting around for a good justification for having slimed her so savagely, eventually struck rock before groundwater, and had to quit digging.

Sophia's complaint made me furious because I know I feel it, too, and it upsets the vision I have allowed myself to have of the next eight or so years of my life in America. The John Kerry years are not going to be fun. There will be no wild bacchanals where we trumpet the rolling back of the army of repressed sex fiends and psychopaths who have hounded us for as long as we can remember, and probably longer than that. Jim Morrison will not rise from the grave to proclaim the Age of the Lizard, and there will be no National Catharsis Booth where you can line up and pay $6.50 to kick George W. Bush squarely in the nads as many times as you can afford. But while it pains me to say it, alas, all of this may be A Good Thing.

Not that such shenanigans wouldn't make for a rollicking good Saturday afternoon, mind you. I can think of few things more potentially satisfying than to tie up John Ashcroft and force him to watch as I rolled the pages of the King James Bible, one by one, into huge bomber joints and chain-smoked them until he passed out from the contact buzz or I had burned all the way down through the Book of Job, whichever came first.

But despite what TV and the Ghost of Ronnie Ray-Gun would love for us to believe, life is not about wandering cheerily from one manufactured diversion to the next, sipping chardonnay and toasting the good health of our partners in conspicuous consumption. Life is work, a raging, roiling sea of work, and we take our pleasures where we can, in between turns in the field plowing and thinking of the Seventh Generation. The other option is to sit, drunk and bloated at sowing time, in the hopes of reaping what we do not sow, and if you leaf very far into good King James' Double Wide Rolling Papers, you'll find out what happens to swine like that in the end.

At best, the John Kerry years will be a dreary slog through a pile of cooked books and fetid sham companies going belly-up as the Democrats finally begin to pull the GOP's rotten, poisonous, crony capitalist third-world rape machine up by its roots. At worst, things will continue pretty much as they are now, we Americans remaining blissfully oblivious of our common peril as we hurtle toward certain doom, and take the rest of the planet with us.

Is it so hard to imagine, though, that somewhere, sometime in the future, there exists a reality in which we can, by the very act of submitting to this "pessimistic" vision of a world gone mad, learn to create something else? Is it possible that, rather than stubbornly clinging to the fading dreams of the 1960's when people thought they could change the world if they could only had enough fun, we should instead plunge ourselves into this hateful, destructive machine we call a society, and do our best to get its controls into working order in the hopes that we can turn it off its collision course with oblivion just in the nick of time?

I, for one, have had enough of the so-called "Reagan optimism," which as far as I can tell means pretending that things are the way you know they aren't, so that you can avoid thinking about the disastrous effects of your own half-clever wishful thinking. I'm ready for real optimism, which holds that even though today finds us mucking about having no fun at all, in the service of a cause we only vaguely believe in, working under bosses we don't respect and hammering out a product in which we can feel no pride; if we are honest, and dutiful, and tireless - if we are professionals - perhaps the day will one day come when we can experience a reality that is greater, even, than our idle imaginings of paradise.

I know what you're thinking - it's too bad that won't fit on a bumper sticker. But you can spare me your world-weary sarcasm... Our hypocrisy, now, is palpable, as I sit here writing this silly diatribe, and you sit there reading it. Don't we know there is work to be done? Have we forgotten that we are, after all, professionals?


Raul Groom's daily crap is available for free at raulgroom.blogspot.com.

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