An effin December weekday. I'm stuck with the overdrawn North Jersey landed gentry on Route 4 heading toward Paramus, just past The Shops at Riverside in Hackensack, a minor Bergen County shrine dedicated to the American Way of Life, traffic jerkily advancing inch by inch, behind a trussed and painted matron from Upper Saddle River gingerly attempting to ease her Range Rover into the right-hand lane to exit. Her tiny head bobs and her pickled eyes shine. The big unbalanced wagon lurches and bucks as she pumps the brake pedal. I study the NH Highlander high school football decal on her back window. You think she's had work done? You bet your arse she has. Everybody around here has.
She's picked up the scent. Ferragamo. Sniff. Vuitton. She may slur her words when she talks on her cell but she knows what she wants and she knows where to find it. Wolford. L'Occitane. She knows when to pay full price and when to look for markdowns. Hermès. Barneys. Her tiny antennae vibrate. This is what she's been trained to do. After fifty years of social education, she's a model consumer, stuck in traffic on Route 4 in December, one of tens of thousands -- my name is legion -- sitting in their big, inefficient vehicles, inhaling the yellow-brown air, stupefied, fatigued, burning up cash at $2.49 a gallon, working so hard at being model consumers. Model citizens. Keeping the economy on track.
I've seen 'em in Short Hills and Bal Harbour. Costa Mesa and Newport. White Plains and Chestnut Hill. Troy and King of Prussia. Naples and Buckhead. Fairfax and River Oaks. Highland Park and Scottsdale. In all the effin gallerias and fashion centers, the parks and collections. Chantilly and chardonnay, darlin. The heavy gold hanging off the pinched-back necks. And always a bookstore nearby, a Barnes & Noble or a Borders, or, if you're lucky, a local independent, because books are a sign of the good life, darlin. Especially fiction. After all, everybody loves a good story. Rags-to-riches, riches-to-rags, ultimate redemption. I love stories with a happy ending, darlin.
You see this traffic from above when you fly into Newark toward the south, the silver-backed caterpillar crawling westward from the GW Bridge to Paramus, the bubble of brown air over the New York Metropolitan area -- that's the shite you're breathing, poot -- and you realize with an awful feeling in your gut that we too are ants. You stare out of the window of the plane. It's not a pretty sight. Little effin ants crawling up the cloverleafs. Instinctual locomotion. The grid of lights. The green belts following the dirty rivers -- the Passaic, the Hackensack, the Saddle River -- down toward Newark bay. The infested swamp.
You can say what you want about Sunday church-going, that it's all superstition and that praying to god is dumb. You can go ahead and do your little I'm too effin smart to believe that shite routine. You can protest that nobody ever turned water into wine in this life and that a god who would let his son be killed on a cross is no god at all. You can point to the church scandals and talk about hypocrisy. You can show me the math, refer to the science, dangle the fossil record in my face. I believe you. I can see it with my own eyes. We are no different than ants.
So what is this birth that Christians are gonna celebrate in another couple of weeks? An excuse to go shopping, right?