Sitting down to write this column, I checked the exact date this would appear and was immediately transported to that morning of 9/11/01. It is such an obvious choice for a topic that I am still wavering between the Coronado apartment I was living in that September in 2001 and…something, anything else.
That morning too, like this one, I had just sat down with a cup of coffee and my tape recorder. I booted up the hideous orange iBook I had inherited. On the tape recorder was a series of interviews I had done with people on the street in Hillcrest, and that neighborhood was to be the subject of my column. It was fairly well set in my mind as to how it would read when I made the mistake of turning on the television. I remember thinking this was some trailer for a new Die Hard movie and how incredibly realistic it looked. How do they do that? When it became clear what it was I was seeing — no cinematic effect but the real thing — I immediately became Sally Field as the Voice of America in Hell, “They hate us, they really hate us.” I am almost certain I said that out loud.
I was 48 years old then. When I was 10, I watched American Joint Forces dropping powdered milk and candy into East Berlin. Something, as Joseph Heller once put it, happened. But what?
Recently I was told by a friend that on that morning, or at any rate, about that morning, actor Richard Gere was quoted as saying something to the effect that, while no one is ready to hear this, eventually we are going to have to forgive the people who did this. When I heard it, I said and with a kind of snort, “He’s half right anyway.” And while I can’t imagine our country as a whole ever forgiving terrorists, I have since seen televised (a key word) evidence of American troops individually being decent to Afghan and Iraqi civilians, very much as if they were demonstrating forgiveness. That, I suppose, will have to do for now. Just as the HBO television series Generation Kill will have to do in lieu of any real national TV coverage of the current war. That profane chest-thumping, gung-ho epic of jingoism will have to mollify Americans and reassure us that we’re the man; we’re the man. Never mind Gitmo. Richard Gere is going to have quite a wait for much of anything, and he probably knows that — or I hope so — but the truth in what he says bothers my bleeding pinko heart.
Now, seven years later, I find myself in a very familiar and spooky movie. In Amsterdam in 1971, my girlfriend and I grew so tired of apologizing/defending/answering for the war in Vietnam that we changed our IDs to Canadian. The American Friends Service Committee, working out of a hostel in the red-light district of that city, provided us with fake student cards with our passport photos identifying us as students at the University of British Columbia. It was, in fact, the only way we could rent rooms in our price range. If we were Americans, we had damned well better spend like Americans or no dice. Now, that same friend who told me of the Richard Gere quote has a daughter living in Canada as a Canadian for very much the same reasons.
To all the trailer park patriots I would say, assassinating Obama is hardly the answer (by no means am I implying that this is anything like a common sentiment among any patriots; it is something I overheard — twice); you’re going to have to try something new. That would be thinking. No, you do not all live thoughtlessly in trailer parks. Sorry. Maybe I am addressing those who would send away for those silver plaques commemorating 9/11 as, presumably, an investment. My living situation is probably closer to a trailer park than your own, and while I probably think too much, most of it isn’t very helpful.
To Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and their fans and the likeminded I would say, I recently saw that movie, Déjà Vu, and while I thought it wildly unfair to charge exorbitant prices for a concert and then spring a political rally on music lovers, the film did have at least one salient point. It was Young, I think, who identified one pervasive malaise in the American zeitgeist about this war and America’s very questionable role, and that is, we all feel alone and impotent. I certainly have for years now, and after seeing this movie presenting so many mixed emotions (and the conviction that Stephen Stills got robbed for his dentures), I feel less so. That is important and may well justify the cost of making the movie. Of course, I got in free, but I did not leave the theater feeling terribly free. As I walked east on Washington after the show, I kept thinking of Ghandi’s quote — I know, I know, jeez — and that was, I believe, to “Be the change you would like to see in the world.” Or close enough. It may not seem like enough, but sine qua non or “without which, nothing.”
It’s time for my granola now, a little fiber to facilitate the bowels after that grilled tofu salmon last night. Then I’ll get my tie-dyed shirts and beads back from the cleaners, stopping to hug the odd tree here and there.