I found two dollars in my pocket and I was like, fuck yeah. My son goes, “Daddy, you’re rich!”
If there’s anything more satisfying than the comely traditions of Christmas, it’s returning the gifts made by slaves for cash money. Those slaves know how we’re living. I was an exchange student in Malaysia and lived with a slave family. Mom made nickle ice pops out of well water and dried licorice prunes, sold them from a cooler beside the highway to evening motorists. Sis worked in a toothpaste factory crimping the tubes. Dad drove a lumber truck and drank. Being Muslim, the drinking didn’t sit well in the community, so we had a room in the shack filled with nothing but brandy bottles. A bottle a day piled the room pretty good. They’re making my crap, the stuff I hate next year. But I don’t worry, because I know they’ve been thinking about me. When I lived in Malaysia in 1988, my schoolmates would plead with me to please share the nature of poverty of the people who make your shoes, your packaged fluoride toothpaste, your coconut-infused products and palm oil, harvested rubber trees. I realized the true cost of my lifestyle.
It’s unfathomably unfair that people who give all their time and effort should live in squalor so I can discard their work. Nameless, a hundred hands for every dandy inch of me lifts me largess. I try to hide in the crowd and years and forget what I saw and felt, but I can’t. The fact that I don’t bitch about it doesn’t really make me a bad person. A first world pariah is easier to deal with than a third world revolution.
A cheeseburger costs a dollar. A red pepper costs almost two dollars. Looks like it’s fat Christmas for me and my boy. Besides, he hates bell peppers of any color. He hates grass and dirt and going outside. Because outside is empty. There’s no one outside in the neighborhood to play with. The bushes have creatures in them, making the retrieval of frisbees and balls not only dangerous, but perversely cruel, from his perspective. All the kids are banned from playing with each other. It’s crazy.
On the river, coal tugs are heralded by the horns on the 170-foot tall span across the mighty Monongalia River. Cars zip through and out of town like a tab button on an Underwood typewriter, heavy and lethal shifts the carriage over white, rough emptiness. A cheeseburger costs a dollar in this place, a vegetable twice as much. I explain to my son that he’s eating plastic and saw dust with ground up cow eyelids, hair, snot and tailbones. With ketchup. The three people who jumped from the bridge last year had the same cheeseburger options we have now. Not much has changed, at least according to cheeseburgers. No one ever mentions at a eulogy how fucking gross the cheeseburgers are these days. You don’t really want to dwell on stuff like that. Because the cheeseburgers are coming to get you like face invaders.
The cashless world is bland and predictable. Your tastes and predictive behavior has already been given branding arcs and will follow you around for the rest of your desperate life like a criminal record. Whatever you’re tuning in to, liking on Facebook, sharing with friends, commenting on, is all going onto the grand bargaining table of your destiny. Simply put, your choices are being channeled from presets and defaults that predicted your obviousness long before your time.
That’s why your every move is being monetized, monitored. The system demands your flesh. That’s why NPR only gives you “big money lite” Bobo news that makes you feel comfortable while you awkwardly endure the crapital dildo up your own spiritual asshole. I remember when Amy Goodman used to grind the axe, when the democratic party still had some moxie. Now, all I get is – seriously, wake up – news about things tied to massive money systems. NPR is dead. I can’t tell the difference between the different parties actions. Fuck the lip service. I’ve met socially compassionate Republicans and zealously meritocratic Democrats who do the same thing: codify and gentrify a power hierarchy. All things in their place, naturally. Under the tree, gleaming in the eye-catching sparkle of leaden tinsel, the packaging, it looks so merciful and good. You’ve been so good. What about the people living in dirt shacks who make your crap? Maybe it’s time to stop buying things you don’t need. Maybe you could make something out of the mountains of garbage you’ve already produced. The irony of the self-driving car is that, basically, there’s nowhere for your to go anyways in the system. The system drives itself while it inhabits lethal units of time. Think of the total expenditure of your life and all of its moments of woe and bliss as a form of currency to be traded among persons called corporations that speak in femtoseconds instead of syllables, speaking metanarratives of desire to power.
Keeping you inexorably linked to the idea that what you want is slightly out of reach, the tension on the spring in your heart is fled, unwound like an old clock that ticked off the appropriate amount of seconds the machine of civilization has cooled itself in the bath of your warmed, yielding fluids. Tick. Before finding the next demographic grown to supply the heat bath the machine needs so it doesn’t explode from the furnace it barely contains, you tick. You design, you make, you transform inward, a Mandelbrot. Approaching, but never capturing that which you lack, your center.
Time to shop. You have two hands, at 10 and 2, safely conveying the potential energy of the machine to appropriate, controlled releases of energy call points of sale. The goal of the vampire squid is to monetize every action per nanosecond. Wall Street is a measure of time per trade. In fact, all you have is the time. And there’s an app for that. The idea that every waking moment of every impulse you have cannot be relayed into some sort of commodified value system is probably the same sort of madness that pushed people to create the Rolex, to atomize the second. Imagine all the wheels and cogs whirring in a precision watch defeated by the inescapable grasp of gravity upon the microns of lubricant.
Your every moment is an escape from this vast iron prison without bars, a shout, a rising cloud of gas into the endless universe. The iron is in our blood, it grabs the oxygen out of the air and feeds it into the furnace of our mitochondrial eukaryota, the seedling heat of the sun born in every billion-beat heart, an endless nova exploding in red space. Radiating like heat, like loving hands through hair of time (bald sucka).
Pasteboard masks…behind which nothing lurks. So, fuck it. Seriously, fuck it. All attempts at making meaning, scooping the earth into clever shape and materials, all silliness like art and warfare and science, will we even survive this millennium? I take heart knowing that when our time is done, our bodies and the relics and errata of our civilizations will be ground and compressed into exotic molecules and crystalline structures unique to our time and place in the universe, a signature stamped into the bedrock of our great, beckoning earth. We phoenix, we flames, we dust of dreams, we cling to what separates us from what is non-human. We shall be transformed, possibly used in transistor radios built by alien slaves a million years hence. Working dry-flippered in a pool of ammonia, dreaming about kelp that doesn’t cause boils. Singing a tune that comes crackling through from some distant land, a dream.
If you can accept that Christmas meant absolutely nothing to almost every person who ever walked this earth, then you can accept it. If you think it should be a meaningful occasion, then make it about something truly meaningful. Work towards the harnessing of the power of the star that issued us like a declarative statement about dust spoken to someone a few thousand light years away.
I hate lying to my kid about Santa. It’s cruel to carry this tradition of lying to one’s children. Seriously, Santa would have to be delivering over a 100,000 presents a second to keep up with demand. Living in tin shacks with bad teeth and bent backs barefoot making treasure for the first world vampire progeny, chattering next to a brazier full of charcoal pellets, all the punks wet from the rain. No shelter, no mercy, no respite from vermin and cold.
If the department store were a looking-glass, you could see where it all comes from, you could see the cotton in Pakistan, verily, in the hands of children who won’t outlive your cultural references. But you don’t, you see the package, the price, the gleam of chrome and polish, your own reflection. You see the carrot, but not the ass. I can’t really twist my head around far enough to do that. I hope I get a mirror on a stick next year.