There are two particular memories I seldom, but once conjured vividly replay that feel unfortunately germane to present days. Both are from prepubescent years.
First, there was that summer memory full of laughing, picnicking, big wheel races around our horseshoe-shaped neighborhood that hinged off a main road. An elongated U. Its bend descended between the two terraced halves of our street and provided a perfect gravity for us kids to learn the rush of throwing-it-into-neutral, long before licenses were in our dreams. An invisible and arbitrary finish line crossed the street at the bottom of this arc, a line demarcated by the stout black iron and brick mailbox at the end of my driveway, a placing for which I vehemently politicked in typical childhood committee shouting, exerting my logic, selfishly, whatever it was, for an obviously aesthetic potential.
I recall that day was some single-digit birthday party of mine, and I was, as any kid then, high on celebration and sunshine and Ecto Cooler Hi-C and blissful ignorance and life.
Riding my Dukes of Hazzard bigwheel, I furiously pumped its two fixed pedals in recumbent glory, intently, toward the crest of the hill, knowing, since I was unusually large and powerful for my age, somehow, that I would celebrate this day, this big race, my special-day championship (it had to be mine), soon.
I would just let go.
I reached the apex with plenty of headway between my trailing friends and so I simply let go of the pedals: The rush of sure winning, of hearing my family who had assembled at the bottom of the driveway in raucous applause, hot summer air wishing over chlorine-sapped flesh and through my crummy rubber flip flops as I laid back in my General Lee-orange plastic bucket seat and threw my feet up in the air and over the macho black handlebars. This, I then thought, this feeling of freefall freedom, was all.
And like the naïveté of a teenaged new driver, the physics underneath that sharp, hilled bend conspired with the lightness of the day, the helium consumer-grade plastic, and the weight of my pudgy white ass, and in the typical slow-motion horror of unforeseen black ice, I fishtailed on a bank, snapped askew, barrel-rolled and extracted my right foot’s big toenail against the approaching grey concrete curb, landing amongst the frictiony sandpaper of my neighbor’s gravel driveway, perfectly in front of the faux finish-line family grandstand and its flag of black checkered white.
Thereafter, I can only recall the screaming sizzle of August hydrogen peroxide and gritty blood cascading into my parents’ bathroom canary yellow sink. I remember the absurdity of gauze and Band-Aids and a lower-middle class family without sufficient medical insurance. That, that was all.
It wasn’t until months later in a subsequent winter memory that I was first able to willfully acknowledge the presents of laughter and ridicule some of my opponents gifted me after my last-place finish. It happened on a snow day, the kind of school-free New England snow day which creates a silence that mutes even the loud faraway laughter of sledding children, leaving only muffled, chainsmacking echos of passing snow plows and sand trucks on the turnpike that lie just beyond the deep rim of trees protecting this world. Our neighborhood, with all of its fine, steep hills, was a sledding wonderland, an Olympic wonderland, each backyard a different luge track, each neighbor’s layout a different wild west hide-n-seek frontier. Ten a.m. bootmarks revealed all the yards our congress of six- to twelve-year olds chose for the day’s events, each sunsoaked depression a sundial, a measure for snow melting, and that day we trekked far from the arc of the horseshoe where most of us lived.
One party of us, one emotionally united team, readied at the top of one particularly steep, superfast, icey track, a track necessarily crafted by cooperative, overweight sleigh-downs and handpiled snowbumpers. The others stood waiting, chatting, critiquing and soon refereeing, at bottom.
I don’t recall why or what or how it overtook me — and it overtook me, because I was an otherwise passive, timid kid — but evidently underneath a blisteringly cold dearth of reason inside a freezing paralysis of emotional rancor, a childhood logic and fear manifested into a sounds-good vidication. As an imaginary green flag fell and another medal race began, in those short seconds of freefall I irretrievably swerved my sled into a neighbor, the one whose face I painfully remembered pointing, laughing at my bloodied foot and cries, taking him out, summarily, swiftly and hard, crashing, together, into the side of an unforgivingly frozen above-ground pool.
What? How the fuck did I let this happen? As a child how could I muster this? So quick, reactionary. So puerile and stupid. So angry. So relieving.
No adults were present and the scene was youthfully grim. There was an asthma attack (my victim), a panic attack (me), and several kids frozen in the horror of emotional unpreparedness. There was blood, but nothing catastrophic, just suggestive of it. To catch my breath I played the scene for an accident. The were for others fierce runnings-home to retrieve help, mostly to catch their breath, to make sense of my madness. There was the victim’s mother running, perpendicularly, painstruck without a coat, through backyards and down the street, a snow-crunching sight I clearly heard and saw upon looking behind my back.
There was a permanence of memory — a permanence of history — of regret, and of silences that lasted long after we all left that street and went somewhere else. There was a colored inevitability of remembrance that could never be killed.
There was nevertheless a head-held-high walking-home — to a singular house, not the homeness of community — of satisfied retribution, for once, one, that for many years, felt a proud moment, certainly so in the infancy of that memory’s time, one, truly, that really relieved the powerlessness elsewhere in the unaddressed context of my life.
Those quiet, simple words of a childhood internal monologue, an illocution faster than the angle of that downward slope, unconscious even, manifested as an actionable conviction that to wash the laugh-stained blood from my memory, many of them, I needed, to draw around it, more blood.
This seems historically to be some primal human narrative: Reason softly; apply the big stick.
The fires of reactionary violence need only a puerile childhood logic and sophomoric sounding words to ignite, the sort of engulfing hydrogen convictions, blown into ourselves and out to others, that big sticks will suture emotioned dissensions and zeppelin us from our sufferings. Though they are often loud, they are most forceful when whispered in our silence, for the loudness eventually, surely dissipates into accessibly soft, easing echos of memory. The hisses of escaping fuel need one silent spark and no more. They are the kind of words, too, of passionate/less speeches, that hide from us the real wolves perched inside surrounds, in escape forests, waiting, for us, to run toward them, away from a hunter’s sonorous cries to arm.
The problem now engrossing our country is also one of memory, of forgetfulness, of a primal taste for the blood oozing in a depressing two-class war, the blood of a rotting education corpse, the blood of leaden rivers, the blood of an industrialized food supply, the blood of slavery, the blood of an owned information machina. It is a taste for the blood of an enemy that has been timelessly written for us, a colored everyman whose faith is a socioeconomic system other than the religious one we have been repeatedly led to believe in.
It is the blood from a heartbeat rhetoric of belief, and not a thirst for the waters from a river of recently traveled history.
The epochs of enemies who have crafted the world in which we now decline — leaders, their jurists, their financiers and industrial machinists — have riveted and fitted for us a recumbency of entertainment and basic sustenance, a New Wild West landscape, a territory of duopolistic governance as anarchic reality show, that distracts its riders from the historical actions which led us here, from the science which forewarns of our idiocies, from sled crashes by the very candidates — their jurists, their financiers and machinists — receiving their trophies and airtime under hot canopies of light. The whole system depends on the profits from this manufactured absurdity and the manufactured absurdity is paying the employees of the system. The relevant political duopoly, then, becomes not one of asses and the tusked, but of celebrity and historian: A party who distracts, a party who reminds.
But the staging is still duopolist. It is, to be said loudly again, again, again, a redressing of us versus them.
The political affiliations of today have become utterly irrelevant. They are meaningless merit badges stitched onto lapels in order to attract a certain kind of attention and indicate of a certain kind of accomplished accord, a successful carving of soap or a meritorious selling of boxes of unneeded ideological crap to raise funds for the sashes that go over the lapels. Even the red herring of a Supreme being, a fear of future judgments rendered, is a complete construction of fearful belief manufactured in order to distract from the sponsors funding the whole show. It is an aura necessary for a global product whose first ingredient is authoritarian fear. Yet, the power this Supreme being holds is unfortunately real, this being of our own creation, unabashedly endorsed on each slice of currency and each minted coin, each recitation of allegiance as an indoctrination into new epochs of children — a sledding of belief into their memories. It is a slogan beside a brand name: In Fear We Trust
The allure of authority is real, it quiets the painful silence of walking into death alone, and death, if you listen, itself, too, has now become a marketable product.
But when the collective leaders of a system — when society — is funded on all sides by the same narrow group of authorities, a group that increasingly allows itself to consolidate, privatize, and hypermonetize basic human necessities like shelter, sustenance, eduction, information, privacy, opportunity, and cooperation, the theater of democracy increasingly must sustain itself on the participatory entertainment of increasingly violent reaction. The voting process is simply a carrot fed to the audience during each intermission. So, when the wolves and the hunter dine on the same bloodied kill, in what hole shall starved rabbits hide?
The palliative of a spiteful leader who feeds the cries of hungered emotion outweighs the painful silence of rotting with an absent solution; the promise of food tastes better than the bitter reality of growing starvation, never mind the lecherous comb-over of predators or pantsuit oligarchs bearing sweets and zipties. Never mind the bankruptcies or ivy league allegiances, just be sure to keep making the memes — soon they will be your only soylent.
When challenged with manufactured suffering, and renewed continually thus far from a pendular menagerie of leaders we must keep choosing — groups of candidates essentially first chosen by the same financiers, from a unitary system, whose lifeblood is a necessary profitablity in their direction; groups monetarily knighted for election and then sustained along through political execution — groups chosen for us, the electorate’s primal response of fight or flight eventually must kick in, lest we forever wear these circular shackles. Absurd reactions should be expected, reflective of the absurd society to which we have been self-subjected. The insanity of cycling around yet again must eventually outpace the insanity of downward indolence. Once an inescapable silence of futility surrounds you, and the pains of memory ice your track, a slick ride toward any of the screams of promised relief seems sound, despite the bloodied crash you know, somehow, must happen, will happen.
If we allow ourselves to lose and forget our histories again, and again, and again, we will continually fail to realize that it is the unnatural elements in society — particularly money and manufactured technologies — that imprison us in a system which supposedly unites us. When sustenance is barely attainable, education and access to knowledge is further erased, privacy is purposefully eliminated, entertainment and advertising reign as the basic palliative currency of a thoroughly electronically mediated society, its celebrities reinforcing the imaginary dream of entry into the better above class, once the knowledgeable historians have been sufficiently silenced and ignored by the financiers and their machinists, the primal reality of emotioned violence will seem revelatory, relieving, and perhaps, then, blood or no, a real humanist revolution might become believable.
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