Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jim Jones, The Woodstock Cult and the Death of America with the Big Z

Every generation reaches a peak, and for the unlucky bunch of knuckle-draggers at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the “Rally to Restore Sanity” is probably as close to the summit as any of us will ever get. We will never walk hand in hand on the mountaintop with the snow leopards, and once this shindig is all said and done, there will be nothing left to do but sit back and drink the Kool-Aid. Or, more specifically, the grape-aid, but in times like these, we’ll have to make do with whatever artificial fruit drink best holds the muscle relaxers and cyanide. Beggars can’t be choosers, and once this dance is done, the pinnacle of our generation will have passed and the storm clouds will begin to gather over our country like the shifting darkness of a mid-Western storm that presages an F-5 tornado.
 For the generation before, as in previous cycles, it might not have been seen so much a peak as it was simply the natural tides of the universe. Jesus, or the Holly Roller, or whatever deity, if any, that you choose to believe in – they don’t want us to have too much fun. So like Sisyphus, they dangle the summit just within our reach before knocking us back to the sad realities at the base of the mountain. First there was VJ-Day, then there was Woodstock, and finally, for the most recent generation, there was what, Super Bowl XXXVIII. The turning point for every generation has seen it’s stock diminish, and so have the salad days that immediately follow. Nuking the Japs got us Eisenhower and eight whole years of mindless middle-American prosperity. Woodstock got us those few waning weeks at the end of the 1960’s, and Janet Jackson’s weird nipple medallion got us four days of interesting headlines.
I tried using the Woodstock analogy to drum up morale for the Rally, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I was personally unconvinced. I suppose on some level the two are similar, the basic kind of “hipsters getting together to make a good time” idea holding true for both. But Woodstock wasn’t really about any overt political message; the “Peace, Love, and Happiness” mantra didn’t really apply to global politics so much as it did the more personal, “Tune In, Drop Out, Get Bent” meaning of the phrase. All that cold porridge about it being the defining moment of a generation came later, and even then it never really seemed to fit the larger scope of things. A few thousand people getting high and fucking in a field in middle New York had little effect on the War in Vietnam. The point is, if you charge into a beast of that nature with astronomical hopes, you’re bound to get gored, or worse. That was the problem with Woodstock ’94, and by the time Woodstock III (or whatever the controlling corporations decided to name it) reared its ugly mug, Peace, Love and Happiness had reverted into carnal rape and atavistic arson. 
Besides, what was the result of that glorious coming together of a generation that was the original Woodstock?
The 1970s.
A terribly skewed vision of the return to the status quo of the 1950’s, led by devious fiends who gave Americans a sense of peace at the expense of a few hundred thousand yellow people on the other side of the world. Nixon and his band of vicious thugs beat the piss out of so many holdouts of the love generation that when the walls finally began to cave in, his insidious Gestapo could only turn on itself. But by then they had already killed the good times for all of us. The final refugees of the Woodstock cult scattered like cockroaches, either to communes in the dark corners of the country, or in the opposite direction, to China White and the personal nightmare of disco.
            Everything about this country is cyclical, from its cultural movements to its politics. Or, perhaps a better metaphor for politics is a pendulum – a grand pendulum swinging back and forth, powered by some natural and invisible momentum. Cyclical makes it sound as if politics is moving under its own will, that things getting accomplished. Politics is more of a swinging back and forth, with nothing ever being achieved. It’s how the venom-fanged Dick Nixon gave way to the quiet farmer and all around Southern gentleman, Jimmy Carter, how twelve years of Regan-era economics gave way to Bill Clinton, and back again. The election of Carter seemed to be the great coming together moment of the 1970’s. It seemed for a time as if Americans had risen up to decide that their best hopes lay in the hands of good ole boy Jimmy. And in some ways, they were right – Carter pushed more of his agendas through Congress than any president since. Yet to this day he is considered a failure. Why? Because he wasn’t re-elected. Americans love a winner, and for all the good he did, Jimmy Carter lost.
And just like Woodstock, that crowning moment of the 1960’s, the peak of Jimmy Carter was not really a pinnacle at all but a precipice whose edge led to the Hell of Ronald Regan and the 1980s. But it wasn’t so much Carter’s fault as it was the Great Magnet of the Universe drawing the pendulum the other way. One of Regan’s first acts, after hanging a portrait of Calvin Coolidge, was to tear out the solar panels that his predecessor had installed, a powerfully symbolic gesture that things were changing again. People elected Regan because they wanted change, and who needs solar power when you have fossil fuels and nuclear energy? Shit, why bother to save the planet at all, the Commies could nuke us tomorrow.
The pendulum is why very few Vice-Presidents are voted directly into the Presidency. Before George H.W. Bush, you have to go all the way back to Martin Van Buren to find a V.P. becoming President by means other than assassination, death, or impeachment. And all Van Buren did was destroy the American economy. Politicians will never admit to the existence of the Great Magnet, no more than they will admit to spending their nights throwing chicken bones with campaign managers and Haitian witch doctors, but they know the score. Instead they use various terms to explain the phenomena to their constituents. It is “The will of the people demanding change!!” that sees a blood-sucking swine like George Bush tossed out in favor of the Chocolate Jesus. The false illusion of power in the hands of the voting public keeps the masses happy while politicians read the bones and draw chalk circles and pictograms around their beds, hoping to the pendulum will not swing away until after another Election Day.
 “Yes We Can” and “HOPE,” are like bad acid flashbacks to the days of Jimmy Carter. But Carter was a loser, and while Obama might not be a winner, he hasn’t lost yet, and that sets him far ahead. If anyone goes into this rally with any hope of change in 2010, they’re a bigger fool than those helpless hacks who voted for Obama with the sincere hope that change was really on the way in 2008. I didn’t vote for him, and it made for a hard defense in the cold winter that year, trying to explain to the brainwashed masses why I wasn’t choosing Candidate 1 over Candidate 1A. Giving reasons behind political decisions is useless in today’s hyper-charged political climate. Just last weekend I was walking through one of the richest suburbs in the country, just outside New York City, when I came upon a group of women soliciting funds for an “Impeach Obama” campaign.
As soon as I approached one of them, the first words out of her mouth were, “Are you with us?,” as if I was some spiritual brother in hatred. And make no bones about it, this seemingly harmless old black woman hated Obama. She kept pointing to a photo of the president that had a hastily painted Hitler moustache scrawled on the upper lip. All of the photocopied literature had similar Nazi-themed pictures, except for the photo of Nancy Pelosi, which sported Frankenstein bolts. The whole scene put the fright in me, to see such baseless venom spewing from the mouth of a quaint old woman on a Saturday afternoon. I didn’t even hear why they thought Obama should be impeached.
The woman asked me what I thought about the current political climate.
“You know… I don’t really care.”
I thought the indifference to her cause would make her angry or at least nonplussed, but she wasn’t phased at all. If I could just donate $25 to become a member of their organization…
I started to walk away, only to hear someone yell from a passing vehicle, “Screw Obama!” I turned just in time to see a grey haired old man driving away in what looked to be a Rolles Royce, circa 1930, burgundy with the canvas top down. I knew immediately why he hated Obama so much.
The reason I expected the woman to lash out at me ties in with my experiences of the political hunting season of 2008. I had several encounters with both Democrats and Republicans who were openly offended at my decision not to vote. One side thought I owed it to America to vote the Republicans out, or something along those lines, while the other side believed that it was wasting my rights as an American citizen. To both sides I tried to explain that it wasn’t mere apathy but a conscious decision not to vote, but it’s a vicious bear-trap, trying to make a coherent argument with a person so polarized on an issue.
The most passive response I ever got was a dejected shake of a head and an, “I feel sad for you.”
To me it came down to that “lesser of two evils” idea, and I wasn’t about to cast my lot for either. I tried to explain it to one Republican, clearly explaining that since they were too hardheaded to understand me, I was going to try hyperbole to make my point.
“So you’re telling me that I have to vote? Even if one candidate is Hitler and the other is Stalin? I have to choose one?”
Even with the prerequisite warning, the analogy was lost to her. Deep in the recesses of her mind she saw voting as essential to existence. That I had chosen not to choose was simply impossible for her mind to grasp. 
The Hitler/Stalin analogy was just to make a point, maybe I should have stuck with “Candidate 1 and Candidate 1A,” because that election was just like a horse race: two separate animals running for the same owner. One of them was going to win, even if they’re both losers, and I wasn’t about to soil my money with the promise of a $2.10 payoff. It’s just not worth the effort. Betting is not a child’s game, and those kinds of odds won’t even cover the track parking. I used to work at a racetrack, and it was a depressing sight, seeing thousands of people making that daily trek to Saratoga, hoping that this would be the day their fortunes changed. I myself got caught up in the sexiness of it all, and in the six weeks I was employed by the New York Racing Association, I gave them back more than a weeks’ pay. It might not sound like much, but it came out to be 20% of my summer salary, and by the end I had become a habitual gambler, despite constant threats from supervisors to immediately terminate any employee caught betting, even on lunch breaks. But that kind of threat seems empty to someone hooked on the knob of a bad gambling kick, someone who knows that the big winner is just one more paramutual bet away.
If the pendulum is a good description of the movement of politics, then maybe horses are the perfect analogy for the individual battles of politicians. It’s a losing proposition for anyone except the house, and even the winner is reduced to an all-you-can-eat buffet, a ticket to the glue factory. They don’t realize that having sacrificed everything for a win, they’re left with no spoils to enjoy. Obama would be a fine Filly, long slender legs that could outpace the bigger, more seasoned studs, but oblivious to the fact that all that speed has fractured his front legs when they finally snap at the hooves, he’ll be left face down in the dirt, waiting to be euthanized. That was Obama’s problem right out of the gate. He threw down everything he had to get the big win, only to find out the cost too late: the White House fine China had been mortgaged out to the Chinese and the lawn Flamingos have “Property of India” branded on their asses. It’s a very heavy thing to move into a new house only to find out the furniture is on loan and the taxman is just waiting to swoop in and seize it all in the night.
But again, I’m straying…
Now, now there is another corpse to throw in the mass grave of obscure platitudes along with CHANGE and HOPE:
I never believed in such a concept, and in times like these, I’d sooner go back to Jesus than I would a thing like that (And I write that with a full understanding of the idea that Jesus is not a bastard who likes it when people to turn their back on him).
But still, there is the question of Why?  Why are all of these hipsters and trustafarians congregating at the National Mall on the eve of Halloween? Is it to effect real change, or simply to go have a good time? And for that matter, why am I going? The right side of my brain is telling me it to simply string out the weekend as giant king-hell bender until collapse, the march being just the culmination of an epic Lost Weekend of Charles Jackson-like proportions. Those noir fans will remembers the 1945 film, the infamous Don Birnam and his simply powerful dogmas:
“I’m not a drinker, I’m a drunk.”
Scheduled for the night before is a master shit-show of a Halloween party, at my apartment, of course. The thing had been planned well in advance of the announcement of the rally and I wasn’t about to change it based on some generation-defining moment in history. My shindigs are always the highlight of the college semester, and like anything else, they signal the end of the good times. After seeing something like a drunkenly crazed idiot in a Richard Nixon mask doing pushups while sucking on the business end of a spigot, his feet held high in the air by two close confidants in that classic keg stand pose, well, I guess it’s all downhill from there.
But the left side of my brain is niggling this idea that there has to be some greater purpose to the weekend. Maybe not Peace, Love, and Happiness, but something of note.
And therein lies the problem.
I never try to anticipate the epic nature of events in advance. I’ve had too many experiences in the past that have ended like Shakespearean tragedies, and I’ve never made a very good Othello (If anything, I’d make a much better Iago, but look what that got him). But while stumbling in with high hopes is one thing, going in without a battle plan, escape routes, and contingencies is a miscalculation of dangerous proportions.
There is one thing I can bank on though: I am going to be so horribly twisted, and for such an extended period of time, that the best I can hope for is to wake up sometime a week later, hopefully not married to any mail-order brides or worse, in jail. It’s one of the reasons I invested so heavily in recording equipment, a state of the art digital SLR camera with HD video capabilities, and a Cadillac of a tape recorder to accompany the trusty pinto that I’ve been using for the past six years. I’ve been looking into weapons, mainly for personal defense, but the idea of bringing an MP-5 into Washington seems a dangerous prospect. Even the compact portability and high rate of fire don’t counteract the bad karma of bringing an automatic weapon on a five-hour bus ride. And it would be downright un-American to bring German-made technology to a thing like this. No, buy American, or go home.
            I think that is the ticket for me: strap a tape recorder to my chest and dive headfirst into the throngs of fornicating hipsters. Just see what happens. I’m not going there to vomit out any overt political dogma or express some sense of American duty. Fuck all that, I’ll leave that mindless gibberish to the mouthbreathers in the mosh-pit at the National Mall. Besides, even money says that in the middle of that orgy of drugs and violence you wouldn’t even be able to get a straight answer out of any hippie.
            “We’re here on this glorious day to protest Sanity! We want change! Shit, wait, what was it again?”
            I think it goes to something deeper, a childish fascination with Washington D.C., at least for me.  I’ve never been there, or for that matter anywhere like it: an artificial cityscape designed to promulgate the dead white men who shaped the luxurious used car lot that is America in the twenty-first century. How will I react to see so many flawed men immortalized in chiseled marble? The fact that it’s Halloween weekend is especially prescient, because not only am I going to be wandering around Washington in a hazy alcohol induced stupor, but I will be physically surrounded by a whole host of goblins, zombies, vampires and untold creatures of the night. And representing the far right in that swarm of horror will be me, dressed in my finest hunting jacket and my trusty latex Richard Nixon mask. A quick memory check tells the that the last time I wore it in public was at the grave of Alexander Hamilton, bottle of scotch in one hand, flintlock pistol in the other. Imagine: Nixon, sprawled out on a grave, in a powdered wig with a red gunshot wound in his abdomen. It caused a lot of head turning on Wall Street. Now, Nixon will return to city of his downfall and stand on the granite base of a statue and start spouting lines from the Book of Revelations. How will the denizens of Washington react? Will I be able to maintain?
                  I don’t have any answers, and that is why, more important than any piece of electronic equipment, I  made the decision to take along a trusted advisor. An Executive Officer if you will, to provide a lucid counterpoint to my captaincy of depraved indifference. Not just an X-O, but a designated driver. The bastards will look for any excuse to throw you in the tombs, don’t make it easy for them. It’s a time-tested tactic that worked to maximum effect at Hamilton’s grave in the heart of downtown Manhattan as well as at the Richard Nixon Museum and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. My old travelling companion, the Irishman with the German moniker, “Guenther,” was unavailable for the event. Instead, I am stuck with another character of questionable heritage, a Mexican-American who for legal reasons I will refer to only as “Gomez.” It has a nice ring to it; anytime you can throw a “Z” into a name, even a traditional Latino name like Gomez, people are more likely to see it as modern and thusly take you a little more seriously. Which I think is an important thing for Gomez, because at times his size can be a handicap, and if the screwheads decide to throw down the hammer on Saturday, any advantage, however small, will be needed. His race too might be a stumbling block, because the assumption is that when it comes to rallying behind a vague abstraction like sanity, the demographic in highest representation would be upper-middle class Caucasian. Two white guys, however varied in their national heritage, are still two white guys; travelling with a minority will only draw attention. There is no doubt we will stand out in the crowd. But will that be a good thing? Hipsters pride themselves on being unique, but will they react to skin color with contempt, or acceptance? Either way, if people are more likely to take the Big Z seriously, then maybe some of that racist karma will rub off on me. And I’ll need all the help I can get, drinking at a steady pace for thirty hours, half of that time spent imprisoned in a bus with dozens of causeheads looking to effect change.
“No man, no change. Real change. This time we’re serious. You want to hit this while the driver’s not looking?”
“The piece, or you old lady?”
“Either one man, I’m not here to discriminate. I’m here for sanity…”
Where’s the fucking sanity in that? Taking a hundred alcoholics and drug abusers and locking them in a cramped missile going ninety miles an hour for five hours at a time? There’s where the real fear is, some crazed hop-head running up and down the aisle, screaming at the bus driver to take him higher, go faster, to get away from the invisible beasts scratching at the bus windows.
“Go faster goddamnit! Don’t you see that claw? It’s almost through the glass. It must be a monitor lizard. Don’t you know that their bites are poisonous? Certain Death!”
But then again, that kind of madness will be a nice throwback, a lucky departure from the drug-heads of today. I’d take that kind of insanity over the syndrome of disaffected suburban sprawl-spawn decked out in their finest tweed coat and spaced out on a Vicodin habit they started in ninth grade by cracking into mom’s secret stash. Downers like that should have no place on a cross-country journey to the heart of the American strip mall. It’s like listening to a tape machine whose batteries are sputtering out of juice, those freaks who are numb to the world and only want….to talk… about….
                  …wait, what was I saying? Nevermind man…. 
                  That’s one of the reasons I am keeping it a strictly alcohol kick. Because like hauling weapons, drugs are just as bad, not to mention cavorting around the nation’s capitol with a man who would be pulled over on every street corner in Arizona and forced to show his papers. That’s it, use the Mexican as a scapegoat for your drinking problem. It’s the reason why I never understood today’s hot-rod culture, particularly the penchant for window tinting. Give the bastards a reason to pull you over and you can be damn certain they will. If I were to venture into the lion’s den carrying dangerous narcotics, I might as well just walk up to a pig and ask to be tased and thrown in a hole for five to fifteen, and that’s just the start. Once you start straying over borders the charges skyrocket, and all of the sudden a bag of pot becomes intent to sell and a joint is transporting dangerous materials across state lines. A woman is just a woman until you cross the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. Then it becomes a Mann Act conviction. Just ask Jack Johnson. Twice for him, a country drive with a female (one of which he would eventually marry) quickly became a career-threatening felony that forced him to flee the country.  That was 100 years ago, and now Brown is the new Black. No thank you sir, I’ll stick with Schlitz and bourbon.
                 If anything, any hopes for a generation-defining event are overshadowed by the finances of the thing. It’s just a week before the big day and I’m crippled. Not by fear or anticipation, but because I’m a techno-slave to the machines that I’ve grown so dependant on. The same day I invested in the new Nikon, I drunkenly dropped my cellphone in a toilet (and thereby destroyed a spotless safety record with such technology). I was without ears to the world and paralyzed by a lack of funds. Then the next day the cable man decided to take the Internet and television as well for nonpayment. Luckily for me, I know how the bastards operate – they can cut the juice to the cable box in the War Room, but the hard lines in the back of the house still function properly. Just enough to get me the nights’ hockey games and the NLCS.  In times like these, who wants the NHL Center Ice package and 40 games a week. No, consolidate resources. Root for the home team.
             And it may all turn out to be a good thing. Begin to consciously wean yourself from electronics before a cold turkey regiment forced by the government.  Now that the screwheads in Washington want to give the president the internet kill switch, the next time we decide to bomb some brown people into dust, the Big O can just flip the switch and kill us all. And what would we do if we couldn’t hear what Glenn Beck has to say in the time of national emergency?
Aside from the high up-front costs of so much equipment, the whole weekend will be a low-cost affair. Big Z is providing the keg and another source of mine is shoplifting some wine and hard liquor for the party, and in addition, some of the invited women agreed to provide food in exchange for free drink. It a perfect triangle trade where I get fucked up for free and everyone has a good time. The finest demonstration of capitalism in action that anyone has ever seen. The only person losing out is Gomez, who will be the main supplier of booze but will be playing teetotaler for the night, a tragic necessity to ensure a timely arrival at our chosen point of exodus.
A quick loan here and there got the internet back on, and really, who cares? The world is on the brink, so now is the time to get your hands on some quick money, even with the threat of loan sharks breaking legs. Once the world implodes, greenbacks will be worthless and it will come down to who has the most irradiated produce and canned goods. Like the internet, loans to shady and even nefarious characters count for naught in the face of Armageddon. Time to hedge your bets, throw all the chips on black. It’s a lot like betting on the ponies in the rain. Trudging through the slop, it’s anyone’s game, and even if you come out with a winning ticket, you don’t feel lucky, you just feel like a loser. Maybe we should pray for rain in Washington on October 30…

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