I tell myself a lie, that things are gonna change, that mankind is making progress, that next year will be different, despite all my experience to the contrary. I need the lie to keep going because it doesn't get any easier, this living business, in the midpoint of your sixth decade. When you're hot-blooded and young, full of jism and jive, the future looks like the future. Now it looks like the past. (As far as the present goes, the effin thing continues to elude me, just out of reach, though tantalizingly close.)
I was born at the end of the Korean War, in a country supposedly tired of hot war, having just emerged victorious from World War Two, about to engage the Soviets and Chinese in a worldwide cold war, just a few years after the big bomb was dropped on Japan, among people scared shiteless of nuclear destruction, being led by an avuncular general called Ike, who had the guts to warn us about a military-indutrial complex, then retire to play golf, nurse his heart, and die a hero. Look what happened in Cuba. Fifty years later you still can't buy Havana cigars at the corner store. Some progress. It was Disneyland versus the Kremlin. Fun stuff, especially during Camelot when those Cuban missiles gave the best and brightest ulcers. Quist said, "Listen, Camelot is an effin play with music, not the government." Some disaffected freak killed Kennedy, then a few years later another one got his brother. Lots of assassinations back then, and riots.
King murdered in Memphis, Newark on fire, Detroit on fire, DC on fire, half the effin country burning, blood spilled as hardhats clobbered peaceniks at the World Trade Center construction site, taking a break from building those boring towers, celebrating the ascension of that ugly prick Nixon. Hey, poot, remind me -- why did we do drugs? Vietnam, another hot war. Maybe it was Disneyland versus the Pentagon. Progress. We shut down the ROTC, closed Low Library, and danced ecstatic on the private beaches of the jet-set. Lindsay wanted to carpet NYC subway cars, while Henry the K was carpet-bombing Cambodia. Another noble Peace Prize. And always those unwinnable wars, the War on Poverty, the Mideast War, Star Wars, the War on Drugs, the War between the Sexes, Gang War, the War on Terror. The romance of the cuddly old Godfather, followed by the sermons of that Sunday School teacher Carter. Long lines at the gas station, alternate day fill-ups, regime change in Iran leading to a hostage crisis. Hell, poot, we were making good progress then, thirty effin years ago.
In the eighties we had Mr. Sunshine, Reagan the trained parrot, little wars, big budgets, crappy music, sexual dysfunction on a grand scale, lots of treaties, most of 'em abrogated before the ink was dry, arms for hostages, and an end to the cold war. Some bubble-headed clown called it The End of History. Tell it to Hegel. I asked myself a question: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" Nobody could give me an answer, still can't. At the bookstore, we saw our first case of AIDS, then the scourge of downtown. My effin glass wasn't half full yet. Another war in the mideast. Or was it the same one? The liberation of Kuwait, another punchline. Troubles in the former Yugoslavia. Then we got a Woodpecker in the White House. Everybody making money hand over fist, except for those damn poor people. I guess Christ was right -- they will be with us always.
Now we've got the savants and Nobel economists telling us how bad this past decade was. Calling it the lost years. Saying, hold onto your hats, it's gonna get worse. War. Terror. Another bubble. Gobal warming. Lemme tell you, poot, Marquez wasn't engaged in magic realism when he wrote that insomnia -- leading to amnesia -- is contagious. We're all amnesiacs. If we weren't, we'd go bonkers and wind up eating dirt. As the poet said, human kind cannot bear very much reality. You think I'm angry or depressed? Nah. This is the way the world works. Lots of people living in a tight space, stepping on each other's toes, looking for a little elbow room after a hard day's work. There's bound to be some bloodletting now and again.
This is the way the world works. It's all theater. History is just the painted backdrop in front of which our individual lives play out. The trapdoor, the fire exit, the sound of footsteps in the wings. Some psychopath up on the catwalk aiming his sandbag at your skull. The backdrop has barely changed in fifty years, even though there's been some progress. We live longer and we're getting bigger. We've got computers. Yippee.
It's okay. My little life is taking place in that pool of bright light center stage. There's music playing, something effervescent like a Strauss waltz. Let's say An der schönen blauen Donau. Not all clichés are bad. The whole cast is here, seated at table, enjoying a meal, bantering, laughing, teasing each other, thrilled to be together. It appears to be the end of the second act. It's a comedy, of course. My family and friends are there, those I love and trust, even the ones who've forgotten their lines, the shy ones, the brave ones, the adults with stage-fright. The children who know exactly what they're doing. Some came of their own volition, others happened by, still others had no choice -- you're born when and where you're born. It's cozy and warm in the theater. The lighting is superb, everybody glows. If there are tears, they are tears of joy. A woman leans over and whispers, "Everything will turn out alright." An older gentleman at the head of the table stands up and proposes a toast. "To the power of love!" Hear hear. Hear hear. The audience applauds loudly as the curtain descends. We high five each other. It feels great to be an actor in a successful show with another act to go. Time for a break.
I rehearse my lines. Things are definitely going to change. Don't worry, it may be slow, but we're making progress. Next year will be different. I am sure of it.