“’Merica. Fuck, yeah. God bless.” Quote (consciously) unattributed
Cynicism and sarcasm toward my country and its future are hard for me to get around these days; sometimes I trip over them in unexpected ways. This was clear recently when two European friends and I spent a month traveling together in the West. We discussed the current state of America – the political climate, gutting national healthcare, the disenfranchised majority, the “love it or leave it” attitude, the obvious homeless populations, and our vast resources.
At some point during our travels, one of my friends, in his extroverted and exuberant way, began saying, “’Merica! Fuck, yeah. God bless.” I was amused, of course. This epitomizes what is both great and not so great about America.
I was also somewhat annoyed by this antic. It was perplexing. Although I’m not patriotic, being an American citizen has brought many advantages for which I am grateful – among them, it allows me to freely write and publish this essay.
I swear a lot. This doesn’t offend me. I often say, “’Merica. Fuck, yeah,” when confronted with egregious Americanisms.
I never say, “God bless.” I don’t believe in a God, as long as people don’t dump their personal responsibility into God’s hands (or their God onto me), hearing it doesn’t concern me.
I think the phrase is overused. I hear it every day within the dysfunctional political system – the shysters peddling watches and bridges. More poignantly, I see it on the signs of homeless people asking for money, “Hungry, homeless, anything will help. God bless.”
I wonder how the most disenfranchised of our population has come to embrace the most privileged and those least apparently concerned with their fates. Is it an appeal to those they know have the most to give? Statistically, the less you have, the more you share. How is it, that in “the greatest country on Earth,” we have a staggering homeless and hungry population in the first place? Is this not a contradiction?
“Theology made no provision for evolution. The biblical authors had missed the most important revelation of all! Could it be that they were not really privy to the thoughts of God?” E. O. Wilson
As recently as 2014, 63% of Americans believe with absolute certainty that God exists (Pew Research Center). And, in 2013, only 21% of Americans believed that humans evolved without divine guidance (Huffington Post). Stated in the reverse, this means that 79% (79%!) believe that God created humans.
As an American, this embarrasses me. As a biologist, it frightens me.
“I tend to believe that religious dogma is a consequence of evolution.” E. O. Wilson
E.O. Wilson is one of the great biologists of our time. (Forgive me, Dr. Wilson, for dragging you into this.) He is an Alabaman, an Eagle Scout, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, a New York Times bestselling author, and a forty-year Harvard University professor, now Emeritus. He was raised as a Christian and a Baptist – although, he says, “I drifted away from the church, not definitively agnostic or atheistic, just Baptist and Christian no more.” If he is correct, we can potentially evolve past religious dogma.
Stopping for coffee and pastries in a seaside town on the fourth of July, my friend specifically bought a cupcake for the tiny American flag stuck in the top. He waved it at passing vehicles and held it up proudly at every opportunity. I shook my head.
To my knowledge, I have never waved an American flag. I find it odd that Americans are so dedicated to their flag and are so vehement about it as a symbol of our country. Should not deeds be the greater symbol of our strength and unity?
We continued north to a local brewery for a tour. On display was a beer glass –a pint glass the like of which is found in every pub, taproom, and brewery in the country – with the brewery’s name and an American flag printed on the side. Shortly after its release, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) confiscated every.last.glass (although apparently, they missed a few). It is illegal to portray the American flag in such (an undignified?) manner. How is it then, that we can wear clothing that puts American flags squarely on American Asses? I asked this but it seemed to offend everyone in the room. Have you noticed that car dealerships have the largest flags? (Be an American. Buy a car.)
Independence day progressed and it came time for the obligatory fireworks. We walked from the campsite along the jetty to the harbor bridge for viewing. Being a dead-end, there was one way onto the jetty and one way off. Both sides of the road were lined with vehicles pointed toward the anticipated display; most people were sitting in their cars with the engines idling. No one seemed concerned that at some point they had to get off the jetty.
My friends were astounded by this display of a quintessentially American way of doing things. It was a recipe for a long night of burning fuel and wasting time. I have long resisted these occasions because I foresee the end result. It is not something I enjoy.
“It’s the American way,” I said.
We continued walking, commenting on the scene. “I can’t believe all these people are just sitting in their cars,” my friend said again. Then, finally acquiescing, “I guess it’s the American way.” With this last statement, we passed a minivan. The passenger side window was down and the dashboard was lined with fireworks awaiting detonation. The man in the seat, cigarette in hand, inches from the fireworks, challenged, “What about America?”
My friend turned, flashed his most beautiful smile, and waved his tiny American flag.
He was rewarded with a thumbs-up.
If history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. E. O. Wilson
It’s spring in Ashland, Oregon. Winter in the west has been long, cold, and snowy. Most people are over it.
Walking through town yesterday, I stopped to enjoy the magnolia blossoms that are about to explode. They have escaped their protective bracts, but are uncertain about fully opening to the tepid sun. A massive camellia tree stands next to the magnolia. Camellia flowers are a color never seen anywhere else, red and pink and raspberry, but none of these.
As I stood admiring the tree, a man walked up next to me and commented on the flowers. I responded, “They’re beautiful.” He impulsively reached over, snapped one off, and handed it to me.
He asked my name and told me his, Tom. We walked away from the trees and back toward town. He began speaking, jumping directly into his life – how it is and what was happening in it.
Tom has lived in Ashland for eight years. He works for a restaurant in town as a dishwasher. He said every year the work gets harder and the owner gets meaner. The owner, he said, has been good to him, but, “I’m 51 now, I’m not getting any younger.”
I am 51. It’s hard to say if we look the same age. Maybe we feel different ages. It’s not the years; it’s the miles.
His hands are hard, especially for someone who has them in water all the time. His nails are short but torn, and there is eternally embedded dirt around the cuticles and in the creases of the knuckles. His laugh is rough, maybe a smoker, but it is genuine. He was wearing a heavy army surplus style jacket with several hooded sweatshirts underneath. Each hood was neatly stacked inside the next above the collar of the jacket.
Tom is applying for a construction job, an annex to the art building on the Southern Oregon University campus. It pays $28 an hour. If he could get that, he said, he would be doing well.
We stopped in front of a restaurant window. Patrons were sitting at the counter in the window, looking out to the street, looking at Tom and me.
He pulled a smartphone out of his pocket to show me a photo of the sign announcing the construction and the new building. He zoomed in so I could see the artist’s rendition of the building on the sign.
“This is what they’re building. $28 an hour. They’re supposed to start work this summer and be finished next year.”
We both looked at the photo. The corner of the phone was shattered and the glass spider-webbed. There was no indication it was attached to any sort of cell service – no bars, no service provider name in the corner.
We continued walking. Tom went on to say he couldn’t live on what he was getting paid. He wanted a wife, a girlfriend – not simultaneously. He wanted a place to live. He had lived in the restaurant for a while, he said. It was difficult to determine if he meant that was his current address.
A few weeks ago, a friend was telling me that he had just learned about the Law of Attraction, that if you are thinking about something or someone, they suddenly appear. It may be a person you haven’t seen in a long time or something you’ve never seen before.
Last fall in California, another friend traveling with me in the camper told me straight up the first day, “I want to see a roadrunner.”
The next day, we were doing yoga poses in the sand of Joshua Tree when a roadrunner hopped up on a rock next to us and leisurely strolled through our practice. Done. One roadrunner delivered.
For me, it’s potholes. I see them. I know they are there. I know they will eat my tires and the rims that hold them. And I still hit them. Repeatedly. I have to consciously think, “look away!” in order to avoid them.
I’ve been vacillating a lot the last weeks. My housesitting gig ended early. I am looking for meaningful work and a place to settle. I love the camper but am ready to stay in one place again, to venture out as often as I can without dragging the cat along – especially after our zigging and zagging mishap last week. He is still traumatized.
I’ve applied for a number of jobs. I’ve had a few interviews. The ones I most want don’t seem to want me. The ones I don’t want seem to be prolific. The wages are too low to actually pay rent in the towns where I am looking.
It occurred to me yesterday that I am looking at the potholes too intently. I am only seeing the things I don’t want.
Last night I dreamed about my truck. I was driving when suddenly the truck was tipping over the edge of a cliff or a steep slope or, obviously, a giant pothole. As the angle of the truck increased, I was no longer driving but, rather, watching from outside the vehicle, from across the expanse of the pothole.
Tom and I worked our way up the street. If he could get this construction job, he said, he could turn things around.
“A few weeks ago, I did something I shouldn’t have.” We stood at the corner, waiting for the light to change. “Without going into the details, I overdosed.” He didn’t say how or on what or how he survived. It was a matter of fact. There was no plea for sympathy or expectation of understanding.
“It’s hard but I’m trying.” We crossed the street. I went one way; he went the other.
The Law of Attraction
In my comfortable, chosen state of unemployment, I have attracted an amazing array of experiences and relationships. I have found beauty, compassion, love, and forgiveness. I found nothing but open, generous people.
As I attempt to find meaningful work, an income, and a place to call home, these things continue to support me. I am not living in a restaurant where I am underpaid. I have never overdosed. I have enough.
Yet, here, now, after all this, I am looking for the potholes. I do this when I am not grounded or am uncertain about my life in general. I would like to say it’s subconscious, even unconscious. But, I know what I don’t want. These things are clear to me. And, I am headed straight for them, the potholes of life. After 51 years, I am not focusing on the abundance of my life, rather, I am still telling myself, “Look away!”
In the larger scheme of the current world, the potholes are becoming big enough to eat a nation. Collectively, we need to look where we want to go. We did something we shouldn’t have. It’s hard, but we have to keep trying.