Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's not all in the genes

Sometimes it’s the city that gives me a headache, its sidewalks shining in the afternoon sunlight, bright as beach sand. J. is behind me, I hear her say, “It’s hard to breathe.” I don’t know if she’s talking to me or to herself. Around the corner a couple of delivery boys leaning on their hand-trucks make faces and drink sugar water. Blocking our way. They watch a boy and a girl tumble off the curb and head across the street, bare brown arms glistening. On days like this in the city nothing comes together. It’s too early for drinks upstairs in the cool lobby of the Kitano, too early for the weekend bus ride across the river. I’ve been trying to stitch some of the pieces of my professional life together but they want to stay apart, ragged remnants of a long week. The big picture has gone out of focus. Nothing but pixels up close, blobs of color, maybe people, maybe cars or trees. I’m beginning to see book covers in my dreams blend together. Why should I give a damn what people read? Look at the shite they put in their mouths...

Last weekend was a bust, a couple of spiritless days driving around New Jersey gathering evidence that our civilization is choking itself to death. Shop-Rite, A & P, Home Depot, Target. Fat-arsed Americans sitting in their air-conditioned cars waiting for an asteroid to land on their heads, their silly dogs slobbering all over the windows. Idling in the great clogged arteries of Bergen County, Passaic County. J. tells me that psychiatry has gone all wrong, with its emphasis on biology, on treating misidentified syndromes with drugs, on evolution. "The sociologists and cultural anthropologists won't even talk to them. They know that not everything is in the genes."

The rains will come but no god. The rains will wash the poison out of the air and the air will cool. But that still doesn't mean we'll be able to breathe. I think to myself, relying on purely biological explanations for human behavior is a neat way to absolve us from working to change and improve. There was a time when psychiatry scolded Americans for our repressions. I was a kid, it was a conformist society, a restive generation wanted to be free. It lasted a couple of years, proving too scary a pursuit for most of my fellow citizens.

Listen, poot, I don't accept this history. There must be another history. There had to be more to it than dope, rock 'n roll, chafed elbows and a couple of chipped teeth. There had to be more to it than personal gratification. Try stitching these things together that want to stay apart -- movements, ideas, events, personalities -- into something whole, something that fits. It's damnably hard. This history is as fragmentary as jarred memory, as messy as your little shite life. Sadly you desire to see the whole thing, laid out before you like a clearly marked map, one on which you can trace every step of the journey you've taken, from that tacky Cape Cod in Nassau County to a cottage in the wilds of New Jersey. Slowly move your dirty fingernail along the red highways, the black roads, the green rivers. Some trip. And, always along the way, there you were, wanting to apprehend the big picture, see it all from stem to stern, desperate to believe it had meaning, taking those baby steps that turned into adult stumbles. You wanted to take the Kierkegaardian leap but you could never step away from your effin shadow.

Big clouds piled up in the west head this way. Rain and hail throttle the tense traffic on Route 80. Some drivers pull over onto the shoulder to wait it out. A daredevil bored with his life in the left lane hydroplanes off the road into the center divider, bounces against it a couple of times, spins around, then comes to a crashing halt against a signpost. Miraculously, everyone avoids the accident and drives on. There must be another history.

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