There is a telephone pole outside my house – seven steps down the front porch, one step across the sidewalk, and there it is – that leans only slightly enough to the right to raise concern. It does it's job tolerably well, as least as well as its sagging brethren that hover along and above my tired old Brighton sidestreet. It offers no complaints. It does its duty.
Take a close look, however, and all of a sudden this simple, slightly splintered nondescript thing makes you think. There are at least three hundred nails sticking out of its old hide, and some of those nails look old enough to have held the Son and Savior Himself, in His well-documented agony, had this particular piece of pine been available on Golgotha.
Once upon a time a utility worker planted that pole in that spot, another utility worker strung the wild carnival of electrical wires that are still festooned above my house, and now I get to enjoy electricity and cable television and all the nonsense that goes along with both.
The nails in that pole will get you thinking if you look at them long enough. Hundreds of them, in spirals and straight lines and T-shapes, all over and up and down the thing. Buried deep, rusted to the quick, part of the essential wood now…and each one of them once carried a message. Lost Dog. Lost Cat. Ride Needed. Have You Seen This Girl. Concert Tonight. Strike Tomorrow.
Each message, once upon a time, was important enough to nail up, and each message is remembered now only by the nails left behind. The paper wound up in the river long ago, along with whatever message that was so important at the time, but the nails are still there for the counting in the old skin of the pole.
I feel like posting something up on that pole, you know, for the Fourth.
Something patriotic, straightforward and strong. “Eat The Rich” has been done, and there are children next door, so “F——-g F—k The F——-g F——-s” probably won't do. But the old, hoary history of that pole, all those nails and all those old, lost messages, seem to sing out for another post, another message, a simple shout nailed to the wood, nailed up and out there for all to see, like a blogger speaking his piece before anyone was stupid enough to come up with things like blogging in the first place.
What should I put up there next to all those old nails?
I remember everything we aren't supposed to remember anymore. Things like “Free Trade” isn't free at all, that the “Free Market” is just another way to screw me and you out of a lifetime of labor and saving – might as well scrape the sweat off my brow and drink it right in my face – but be sure to vote for the Republican when you hit the voting booth, because we are all going to be rich like him someday. The American Dream says so, and as it turns out, so does he.
Funny how that works out. For him. Not so much for us.
I look at that old pole outside my home, at the lines of communication ranging from it to my house to the next house to the next pole, and beyond. A marvel of modernity. I can hear the low thrum of activity along those black, low-hanging wires, and I wonder…who else is listening? I have to ask, because, well, yeah. It isn't right, listening in on private conversations, but you see, we do that now. Been doing it for quite a while. Right here in America.
It's OK. The government says so. Shhh…not so loud. Someone might hear.
I remember America, and it was not always this way. I count on my fingers all the ways it is different now, and I run out of fingers before I am even half-started in the counting. And the spooky thing is all the people walking around who don't seem to see the difference like I see it. It is this way because it has always been this way, don't you know that, didn't you see the news last night?
I think about all those old nails in the wood of that pole. What messages did they carry? Were they important? Rust may never sleep, but it certainly tells no tales. The nails lie mute in the wood, slowly mouldering in time, their purpose long spent, and whatever word they were meant to carry is in the wind now. Along with so much else.
So much else.
Maybe I'm just a bad person. A bad American. A bummer. After all, it is a great country if you're rich, or white, or employed, but God help you if you're gay and in love, or a member of a Union, or a public-sector employee, or a teacher, because apparently this whole Godawful mess is on your head.
Never mind the bankers and the mortgage-lenders, never mind the hedge-fund hucksters, and for sure never mind the whores, frauds and snake-oil salesmen of our illustrious House and Senate who, in Congress after Congress and year after year, happily re-wrote the rules again and again so as to let the rabbits guard the lettuce…no, no. Shhh….
Never mind eight years of idiot rule by an idiot “president” empowered by an idiot “mainstream” news media. Never mind the two wars and two tax-cuts-for-rich-people that are basically every reason we are down in this ditch…but shhh….shhh…we don't talk about that.
Every single “responsible” person in the American power structure went along with what Mr. Bush was selling, because he peddled it neatly between solemn lines about how terrible 9/11 was for everyone…and now that the bill for Mr. Bush's bullshit has come due, and come due with a lethal, nation-shattering vengeance, all those “responsible” people are suddenly looking around like someone trying to avoid getting the check at the restaurant at the end of the night.
I remember America, and it was not always like this.
Pretty soon now, the fireworks are going to go off, and the Souza march will play, and the flag will be unfurled, and we will all be joined in an act of habitual adulation of God and country. We will cheer what was, and what was supposed to be, here in the ashes and dregs of what is. We will pledge allegiance to something that has been sold on the cheap right out from under us.
Want to know who really celebrates the Fourth of July? Look for the smiling ones in the limousines on Beacon Hill and Madison Avenue, the ones who raise toasts to their unimaginably bright future on the broken back of your American Dream. Pomp and circumstance, roll the fireworks, lights out, good night. They got their bailout, right?
I'm sure it must be nice to sleep so well.
Lousy communists, I say. Living off the public tit. Right?
I remember America. Once upon a time, before a corporate-owned tsunami washed away everything that matters, there was this idea. It was dirty and unwashed and espoused by slave-owners and woman-haters, but it was an idea that became America. The genius of those stuffy old geezers was their uncanny ability to create a self-improving democracy. Slaves? Fixed. Women can't vote? Fixed. Separate but equal? Fixed. Reproductive Choice? Fixed.
Messy? Bet on it. Much left to be done? Damn straight. A long, grueling struggle? Indeed. Light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to that self-improving quality at the heart of the idea itself?
Well…it was there, once upon a time. The bastards have done an admirable job of snuffing out any genuine chances at self-improvement, but democracy keeps managing to bust out at the seams. Just ask the great state of New York.
I'm going to nail something up on that old phone pole outside. Something simple. The pole won't begrudge me one more nail.
How's this grab you?
“I Remember America”
What the hell, right? Maybe someone else does, too.