(That was a good Diary. It reminded me somewhat of something I’d penned myself, back in the 1990s. Not nearly as polished and precise, mine, as Meteor’s work; but then, after all, he is he, and I am me.
(But then that seemed like so much work. To retype it for the tubes.
(So I abandoned that idea: because, basically, these days, I’m fat and happy and lazy, and pretty consistently vote “no” on anything that seems like work.
(But then, for reasons that best remain obscured, I was galvanized to enter the thing—changed some, naturally, because the intertubes allows one to do that—after all.
(A day or 18 late, of course. And several hundred thousand dollars short.
(What’s interesting to me now, about this piece, is how angry I was then. Because I’m just not that angry anymore.
(But that’s a different Diary.)
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I write along a single line: I never get off it. I said that you were never to kill anyone, and I meant it.
“They’ve gone crazy.”
High above Second Street, in his nook in his cranny in the Chico News & Review editorial sukkah, journalissimo Jason Ross stood erect in full naked fulmination.
“They’re acting like it’s VJ Day, for chrissake,” he fumed. “And all they’re doing is putting up a flag. Ads all over the radio, live television coverage, Bruce Sessions beating the drum hourly—these people have lost all control.
“Look,” he demanded, freeing paper pinned to his wall. “Look at this.” Thrusts forth a Calvin Klein image, pleading to peddle Obsession for Men, flashing a giant b&w naked male torso: above, the head peers downward; below, a hand stretches open, and taut, the front of a pair of briefs.
“That’s what they’re doing, with all this flag bullshit,” Ross declaims. “Looking at their cocks. That’s all it is.”
Though Ross is a direct descendant of the dowdy dowager who sewed the first stars and stripes, in a fetching but ultimately futile attempt to seduce George Washington, he was not at all impressed with the day’s flag-waving affair.
For this day, out in the asphalt lot afront Ron and Nancy’s, the Park Avenue steak & scotch joint where cigarette smoke goes to die, a zealous swarm of north valley idolworshippers planned to raise a massive banner in honor of some nonsense known as “America.”
Karma—and, more urgently, the need for money—had called on Billy Buck Naked and I to cover the erection. We’d stopped by the office on the way to the event to grab a camera, and to receive last-minute instructions from the international communist cabal that controls the CN&R.
“If there are going to be dicks on display I guess we better forget the pictures,” Naked now mourned. “Speer’ll never print them. I used to work here; I know.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “These are Republicans; it’s against their religion to get naked. A lot of these characters aren’t really attired like you and I anyway. Bernie Richter, Wally Herger, Ted Hubert—those people don’t change clothes; they shed.”
“Then let’s get going,” Naked urged. “I don’t want to miss the blessing of the tanks.”
“I hear Reagan announced he has Alzheimer’s disease,” Naked spake as he crawled the Toyota slow, searching for a spot.
“After some forty years of denial, it’s about time,” I replied. “If I had as much blood on my hands as that coldhearted murdering baboon I’d hope to eventually lose all memory myself.”
“I don’t feel right about parking here,” Naked said, as he nosed the Toyota into the sweep of a culdesac, parking athwart an auto shop. “Mine’s the only non-American car in sight.”
“We’ll probably return to find nothing but a charred hulk,” I assured him. “With a huge white cross burning behind.”
“When’s the Klan supposed to come on today anyway?” he asked, as we picked our way through a weedy lot scarred barren by rivers of Roundup.
“Right after the skydiving Limbaughs,” I ventured, “or maybe after the Blue Angels napalm Chapmantown—I forget which.”
The field poured us into the rear of Ron and Nancy’s spread. The lot was filled with hundreds of wellfed white people. They sat; they stood; they milled; they trilled; they waved in the air huge tricolored foam fingers baldly declaring US: NUMBER ONE! Many male members bore the marks of allegiance of the forces of deep darkness, swearing to serve in swollen despicable gangs trained and engaged in the willful cessation of human life.
Surrounded on three sides the people were by multiple representations of the totem of their place and time: a piece of cloth with stripes of red and white, broken at top by a box snug upper right containing a field of blue sprinkled with fifty white five-pointed stars.
In one corner of the lot rigidly stood uniformed adolescents clutching musical instruments, pressganged this day into militaristic service.
In the very back: heavily muscled men unloaded bleating lambs from the back of a flatbed truck, passing them to other men in crimsonstreaked white smocks who coolly and methodically slit the sheeplets’ whimpering throats. A third clot of men patiently drained the blood, quickly peeled the skin from the now forever quiescent ruminants. Expertly they cut chopped and chunked, slopping slabs of fresh dead baby sheep meat onto huge smoking open air grills.
Nearly noon now, and this show would surely start on time, subject as it was to the dictates of television.
It seems KCPM channel 24, run by people with no more dignity, taste, or control than the brainless leaking terrier who daily dribbles mindlessly through the studio, has decided to broadcast the erection live.
A pair of simpering anchorbeings, imprisoned in pathetic threads of blue, white, and red, ascend the makeshift stage to confess to viewers what was to come. Very soon now, we are told, Chico will be subjected to the largest flag north of Sacramento and south of Medford, Oregon. Impaled upon a 60-foot pole, the flag will wave 15 by 25, containing enough fabric to cover a good five homeless people on a cold November night.
The crowd, we are informed, is littered with Important People, including Wally Herger, the most profoundly ignorant member of the entire vast California delegation to the US House of Representatives; Butte County Sheriff Mick Grey, pioneer of the concept of jail as sieve; Chico Mayor Ted “Let Us Pray” Hubert; some sort of factotum standing in for state senator and illegal immigrant Maurice Johanesson; Brice Sessions, squeaky-voiced spokesnut for those who were supposed to come back this time as plants; and a couple of gunwielding law jockeys from the CHP.
Comes now the co-owner of Ron & Nancy’s—Ron—who tells us we can blame this flag on some humungous Old Gory he spied once upon a time atop a hill in Lakeview, Oregon. Gotta get me one of those, Ron said to himself that day; this day, alas, we got it.
But this fond familial fairy tale quickly degenerated into an ill-tempered assault on the immigrants of today, filthy folk who don’t even bother to learn the language, intent as they are only on a life of lying belly-to-belly on sumptuous French four-poster beds, breeding unwashed unkempt imbecilic bastards, rising every now and then to take the Cadillac down to the welfare office to pick up checks groaning with gold. These people, Ron said, are Wrong, and must be Stopped.
To my horror, I notice Billy Buck Naked enthusiastically banging his hands together.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I hissed. “Why are you applauding this swill?”
“I don’t want to get killed,” he whispered, eyes widening at the fervor of the foaming multitudes. “You have a notebook,” he accused, eyes narrowing. “You have an excuse not to clap.”
“Take the camera, then,” I said, slipping the strap from my shoulder and passing the picture box his way. “Go out and snap some photos.”
“What kind?” he asks, fiddling with the f-stop.
“I don’t care. Just no more applauding.”
Ron was now wistfully allowing how he knows “we can’t head back to the ’40s and ’50s,” but goddam wouldn’t it be great if we could? And can’t we at least try to push things in that direction, even a little bit?
Sure. Black people don’t need to vote; some—let’s face it—really need to be lynched. Husbands should be able to beat and rape their wives whenever they feel like it. Children should be herded into schools where they can be caned and whipped if they don’t pray to Jeebus. Accused criminals don’t need any rights other than the right to be lied to, framed, beaten, tortured, shot, and hung by the police. Huckleberry Finn, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Wizard Of Oz—remove them all from the shelves. If the government wants to drop atomic bombs all over the South Pacific and the southwestern US, inject plutonium into pregnant women, and run radium through the testicles of prisoners . . . well, everyone knows the US, like Ozzie, knows best.
Ron now brags of downing cocktails in Reno with General Norman Schwarzkopf.
Generalissimo Blackhead: now there’s a creature straight from the seventh circle—a man who eagerly, publicly, without embarrassment, laughs, at videos of human beings, blown into bits of bone and jelly, by the bombs he sent.
Generals: butchers; stone killers; in all the essential ways, willful madmen: every one.
Maybe, maybe, they can come back as hookworms. Maybe.
But this general, this Blackhead, in Reno there, on this day, assured Ron that this here, America, “is the greatest country in the world to live in.”
Which is a goddam lie. This country is a fucking bone-rattling cage. You literally can’t cross the street here without risking jail for crossing Law. There are dozens of places on this globe where governments are more giving and humane, societies more open and free, and the people presented with the possibility of more real happiness and contentment of soul, than this benighted land oppressed by gnarled and twisted clusters of control cripples.
Look, now, and see: the Sakkudai, the people of Pulau Siberut, an island off the west coast of Sumatra.
The Sakkudai know that everything, everywhere, is alive, and breathes with soul. They perceive the conscious life in floods, rainbows, and the phases of the moon. The Sakkudai know that souls and the forms they inhabit are interdependent; that what happens to the soul happens equally to the form, and vice versa. Too much stress to the soul is the primary explanation for illness and death among the Sakkudai, responsible as well for accidents, long periods of fruitless hunting, and the withering of plants.
No object used by the Sakkudai is ever thrown away while it’s still functioning, for its soul would be greatly offended. It’s an insult among these people to ask someone to hurry—”moile moile” (“slowly, slowly”) is a common call. The Sakkudai understand that every human enterprise affects the Universe(s). When building a new house or boat, clearing a field, or felling a tree, they anticipate affecting harmony, and make offerings, or ask forgiveness, accordingly. In the same spirit, they beg forgiveness of the animals they slaughter; fish are killed with poisoned arrows, which paralyze them, causing less pain.
When misfortune strikes, the Sakkudai attribute it to something they’ve done to upset their harmony with the natural, supernatural, or each other. They search for the fault within themselves; harmony is restored by deliberately changing behavior.
These people are so far advanced beyond the redstate primitives of the US it’s an insult to them to say both are of the same species.
It went on.
There was a prayer. To the Abrahamic Dude, of course. I didn’t bow my head; I will never bow my head to a deity so chickenshit that he sent his own child to be killed in his stead. Yet this very same chickenshit, we are told, will, if we but righteously pray, fast, and seek, reveal to us “the right and perfect way for this nation to go.”
Right. Hundreds of millions of souls slaughtered over the last 2000 years by likeminded barbarians convinced they too knew that “right and perfect way” know where that kind of thinking leads—straight to the grave. More human beings have died in the name of the Abrahamic Dude than ever died for Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. And the only difference in the butchery is that no one perishes for Hitler and Stalin anymore, while killing for the Abrahamic Dude goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on.
The craven mayor debased all assembled with a gratuitous Abrahamic Dude reference, simpering of the cloudless weather on this day of erection, “what a beautiful day. I think Ron knows somebody.”
Bruce Sessions then rushed the stage to projectile vomit that everybody should head on out to the Red Bluff diversion dam, to cheer on a clot of trogs bent on burning a brace of UN flags.
She comes home, confused, and asks me what it means, this “pledge,” this “allegiance,” this “United States of America.”
I try my angry best to explain. But I cannot. For, long ago, I cried myself loose from this dreary tribe. Today, these days, I am lame with too many legs.
She listens, to my fumblings, endeavors to understand. Finally, she says: “I don’t think they should make kids say things when they don’t know what it means. I don’t even know what the United States is, daddy.”
Of course she doesn’t. She’s new: she sees.
She knows, like the wild geese who fly free over all and every border, that such a thing as “the United States” can’t ever possibly really actually exist.
A “country” is nothing but lines of ink on a sheet of paper, made real by force and terror.
Go to “Texas,” and stand on the banks of the Rio Grande; across the river in “Mexico” stretches nothing but more of the scrubby same. At the Four Corners Monument straddling Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah you can, if gifted with four limbs, place an appendage in each of the four “states.” What differentiates one from the other? Nothing. In every corner, it’s all just dirt.
Not so long ago, human beings remotely controlled by the stars and stripes of these “United States,” bombed, slit, shot, burst, burnt, and buried alive hundreds of thousands of conscripted Iraqi human beings, to drive them from an artificial construct known as “Kuwait,” a “country” with borders created—as Daniel Patrick Moynihan so eloquently pointed out, nobody listening, during futile pre-slaughter Senate debate—by a bored British corporal waiting out a sandstorm in a leaky desert tent.
And so I send my daughter back to school saying if you don’t understand it, don’t say it. Pledge only to who and what you truly wish, what and who you cherish, who and what you love.
And for a few days this she does. Until pressure from teacher, concern from principal, mockery from peers, sends her, tears streaming, home. “Daddy, I have to say it,” she sobs. “Because otherwise I’ll be weird.”
And that’s how you make your goddam United States real.
So fuck you and your flag.
Can you really stand up there on the sunburnt Chico stage and keep your face straight saying “the flag freed the slaves?” The flag made slaves. Slaves were sewn into the fabric of the Constitution over which the flag waves.
And don’t yammer at me about “the glorious dead”; don’t tell me about the flag flying over Guadalcanal. My father was on Guadalcanal; everyone he then knew in the war died there. And after he buried them, came the hurricane. The winds rose up off the water and cut into all the fine young victorious Americans; more men died in that storm than in the battle to take that island. They teach you that in history class? Four days my father drove a jeep round the blasted barren atoll, shepherding medical teams moving from one nascent corpse to another. Men drowned in mud; men impaled by straw. They sent my father back on a ghost ship, a vessel packed hull to hull with the dead. When Johnny comes lying home prone again.
Tell me about the flag. Tell me about the flag flapping in the wind above the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry, the day they rode onto the banks of Sand Creek, the dapper blueclad lads come to disembowel pregnant women; slitting and snatching scraps of bloody vaginas to stretch over the fine polished saddlehorns. Glory, oh glory, long may she wave. Tell me about the flag on the uniforms of the men who loped into Xom Land the morning of March 16, 1968, laughing and giggling as they shot and bayoneted fleeing villagers, tossed hand grenades into houses, rounded up 150 men, women, and children and herded them into a ditch, where they cut them to shredded flying pieces of flesh. She’s a grand old flag, she’s a high-flying flag. Tell me about the flag stitched onto the side of the planes that conducted a ten-year secret war on Laos, where the US dropped more bombs than it hurled upon all of Germany and Japan in World War II. Show me the flag that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; that sunk Bikini Atoll; that turned shiploads of Jewish refugees away from these shores. Place beneath my nostrils just one flag not reeking of needless, unconscionable death; wrap round me a flag not once coated with blood.
All and everywhere, the flag, this flag, any flag, all flags, the American flag, bleeds this:
He saw a tiny figure, no more than three feet high, waving his arms wildly.He looked more closely and saw that it was the upper body of a person. Beside it on the ground lay a pair of legs and hips, neatly severed by a shellburst.
The man was looking at him, and his mouth opened and closed, sucking air, trying to communicate.
He gaped at the apparition.
Until the arms stopped flailing, the mouth slackened, and the eyes glazed.
What so proudly she hailed.
The erection went limp early, when the pack of rottweilers patrolling the perimeter could no longer resist the inviting aroma of sizzling flesh, and broke from the leash to scrabble aboard the grills, to grab great hunks of cooking meat.
In the ensuing screaming chaos, Naked and I fled.
Naked and I arest now, in a stinking faux-Mexican grease-pit, its sole redeeming feature that it offers food we can afford.
“Pole sure was tall,” Naked marveled, through a mouthful of some sewage-like substance impossible to describe or defend.
“What I want to know is where is the goddam sign ordinance,” I growled around a rigid slab of cardboard dripping rivulets of grease. “We had to fight like twelve bastards to save the Barth fish and the Thunderbird neon, and then this Ron nimrod gets to shoot a giant flag halfway up to heaven.”
“I really don’t understand these people,” Naked allowed. “All these cutting references to immigrants and the homeless, the poor and those on welfare. They seem to think it’s easy to get a job. I have far more skills than the average person, and it’s always been hard for me to get a job. And I’ll take anything. I’ve cleaned Greyhound buses. I’ve worked in a rockyard, where all I did all day long was move rocks from here to there. I’ve sold shoes. I’ve worked in the floral department of Ben Franklin. I’ve dressed as an eight-foot bear.”
“Your problem, Naked,” I said, “is threefold. You weren’t born before 1935, weren’t born into money, and have not dedicated your life to getting yours and then screwing all who came after.”
“So what hope is there for me?” he asked, squirting a stream of “hot” sauce from the red phallic tube straight down his gullet.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, using a finger to sop up the last of the lard. “We’re what they’ve always said we are—transients. You and I, we’re only visiting this planet.”
In Washington DC there is a memorial to the 58,152 Americans killed during the Vietnam War.
It is said that during that conflict 223,748 South Vietnamese soldiers also lost their lives. And at least 440,000 combatants from North Vietnam likewise ceased to exist.
Dwarfing these figures, terrible as they are, are the 4,000,000 civilian casualties—one of every ten Vietnamese at one time alive at the time. These are people who really had nothing to with any “side.” Who wanted simply to live. To see, to learn, to love, to grow. To move each day, striving for even the smallest flicker of a promise of happiness. To, with grace, perhaps bond true with a lover, mayhaps center around a child, in the end turn the wheel, die happy, old, and in the presence of those they loved.
There is nowhere on earth a memorial to them. The uncounted billions, down through all the ages, who never at all sought any government, any law, any flag. Those who wanted only to be left alone; to see what they might do.
These are those, the only, to whom we owe our allegiance. Not a country, not a religion, not a flag. Lovers, children, family, friends, colleagues, companeros—these are the flags that matter. Circle out from there. Pledge allegiance to the man down the street watering the lawn, speaking softy to his mangy dirtdigging cat; to the crow clucking satisfied, as he effortlessly glides across the sky; to the willful lifedriven Johnson grass, that will derive from you a separate peace; to the extravagant extraterrestrial girl child, laughing wildly, pedaling with abandon, blonde hair streaming in the wind, jumping hedges first. These are those to whom I pledge allegiance. And to you. To every individual lonely soul ever caught upon this earth. Long may you wave. Let nothing get in your way.
tolling for the aching ones
whose wounds cannot be nursed
for the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones, and worse
for every hung-up person
in the whole wide universe
we gazed upon
the chimes of freedom flashing
Don’t you understand? I have arisen not from the dead but from the living. I am not a voice crying in the wilderness. There is no winter here. No dark. No despair. The lights are going on in my house. I shall not allow the President of the United States to enter here. There is no darkness anywhere. There are only sick little men who have turned away from the light. I have all my lights on. And it is my own face I see in the blazing windows of all the houses on earth.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Time, as they say, waits for no one. And so, in the some-many years since this piece was first inscribed, Ron has gone across that final Great Water. And what was once his steak and scotch joint, is today a Chinese restaurant.
And the flag, it is gone.
Wally Herger, still dumb as deep dirt, is retiring this year from Congress; most probably he will be replaced by Doug LaMalfa: a man much smarter—a manatee would be smarter—but so crooked it requires three aides to screw his pants on every morning.
Bruce Sessions is still clean out of his head, but is no longer on the radio; he is, sort of, my neighbor—both of us, through grace, passed into Paradise; though he is wrong on everything, he is, at core, a good man. He just can’t be gifted with any power. Over anything. Including his roses.
Jason Ross, descendant of the dowager, dreamed, when just a wee lad, of writing comedy; bravely, he sallied forth to New York: surviving waiting tables and minioning for Lewis Lapham, he elegantly ascended the wire, till he reached Jon Stewart, and has now won three Emmys as a writer for the man. Well done, Mr. Ross.
When I scrabbled aboard a book-publishing outfit, I soon thereafter hauled Billy Buck Naked in after me. He had no real skills to give to the place, but we kept that a secret for some months. Until one day he was placed before a computer. At which time, to the surprise of everyone, a star was born. Ala—this just one of her limitless insights—has noted that for thousands upon thousands of generations, when a Bill Gates was born, he was good for nothing but roasting on a spit, when the tribe ran low on food. For he had no skill the tribe then would need. Until Gates was born, this time, into the proper time. At which time: billions. Same, true, of Billy Buck Naked. These days he lolls around, most of his day, then spits out a little code, collects his check, and goes back to the couch.
a rebel i came
i’m still the same
my comrades ghosts walk beside me
But that’s just a sliver.
Really, what I’m doing, is building and outfitting a ship.
And listening to the lion. Inside of me. Who is also, inside all of thee.