I hurt myself today…To see if I still feel I focus on the pain…The only thing that's real The needle tears a hole…The old familiar sting Try to kill it all away… But I remember everything ~ Hurt, by Trent Reznor
On Memorial Day we all have our own rituals. It could be grim and reflective as graveside gardening… or a good weather get-together, smoke and sauce of a backyard barbeque with the drone of Indie engines in the ever-present eye. It’s the great glass eye in every living room that flickers but seldom blinks. It plays back laugh tracks, a collective of individual voices long forgotten.
Before “9-11” there wasn’t much in the “news.” Remember? The Cuban kid and shark attacks… the endless redux of O.J.. Who cares about Enron? Old Pop Culture was snoring on the sofa with his sleepy running dogs. Then it happened; the “big event” when the “world changed.” Well, the world didn’t change at all, but the glass eye did, staring sightless at instant replays of falling bodies and death on a clear day.
The glass eye screamed, waking up old Pop Culture who went crashing for his gun while the running dogs snarled and bellowed at the bushes. We had to DO something, so we went to church and filled up our gas tanks. Then what? Well, put some sweatshop flapping flags on the car and buy a bumper sticker. The heart-crack 4 NY is nice, but they’re giving away “The Power of Pride” free at the gas station.
Very powerful indeed is pride. So is cyanide. Pop bit out the corncob stopper on that old jug of hundred-fifty-proof posse trot and stuffed the tube with magnum double-ought. A few hit the table and rolled on the floor, but hell-fire shore, he’s got plenty more. Fully loaded and safety off, Pop pinballed out the door. A stray uranium round hit the neighbor’s Afghan hound. The noise was terrible “on the ground.”
I decided to get away from all of that today. Far as I know, Pop’s still out there, blazing away until the cops arrive, or he runs out of ammo and goes back inside to watch “Reality TV.” I have memories to visit. They sleep in a light beyond this world. Some of them were soldiers too, but this day isn’t just about soldiers. It’s about memories, and I have plenty of them. “But you are someone else,” says the song. “I am still right here.”
The anti-war slide show is hard to find now... but the conversation continues. The glass eye will never see it. “I focus on the pain… the only thing that’s real.” But it’s not real. At best, we made it all up. At worst, it’s made up for us, force-fed through the glass eye to keep us consuming like fatted calves. We forgot how to think long ago. But when we can no longer feel, it frightens us. So we look into the glass eye.
Pop should have blown that thing to smithereens, or at least pulled the plug, put on his hat and walked to the library to figure out where the hell it’s at. And what’s going on isn’t on a bookshelf either, it’s the walk. Talk to the neighbors, smell the trees, dance in the traffic get ideas with the bees. Pop Culture’s pantry is mighty low on fresh ideas, but there’s plenty of canned ammo and pre-packaged pride-power to put out the pain.
The pain, real or imaginary, is only a symptom. The disease is in our blind eye. When we are spoon-fed dreams, the still small voice is only the pain. The “power of pride” becomes suicide, and “united we stand” in front of a train. We can’t tell home-made from canned because we forgot how to make anything and we move from job to job like paper tinkers, following our “career path” in canned commuter tins.
I followed that pointless path every day for years, and I would occasionally look around and another friend’s face would be gone. Joy came out of a bottle and laughter came out of a box. My little girl learned to walk while I was away observing a focus group. Today among the fresh flowers and headstones, I decided to make memories from scratch every day with the fresh ingredients all around us. I let the Old Ones sleep.
They still visit sometimes, those memories. I miss Momma’s hugs and the Old Man’s jokes and the beers I used to drink with my buddies, gone but not forgotten. Save a spot for me guys, if there are any spots out there. Meanwhile, I’m staying the hell away from Pop Culture with his yapping pundits, his guns and glass eye. And you could have it all… my empire of dirt. Eye will let you down.
Eye will make you hurt.*
* and once again on Memorial Day, we will not remember a damn thing. The glass eye will give us the usual kitch dreck of uniforms and fawning teary-eyed-eagle militarism... with the sweatshop-made "flags" and the usual wretched hurl about how "freedom isn't free." We are about to learn that the hard way.
We had a chance at fulfilling our memory. Instead we opted to fill more graveyards. Maybe some of them really are "dead heroes." All of them are dead.
I miss them.