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
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
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.