Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Planes and Automobiles..definitely no trains

Planes and Automobiles, definitely no trains (which are for those Eurotrash wimps, of course; here trains are drafthorses; get with the post-industrial age, pal). This thread will be in two parts: To Chicago and flight from Chicago to Kansas. Then Kansas and return. Perhaps it will be three posts. Like a mini-series. Networks like to use the mini-series to secure a loyal audience for at least three evenings. Will it work on a blog?

So, I don't usually make strictly personal posts. Usually about politics, culture, music, not about me per se/per son. So savor this rare sortie. Not much analysis, just third-rate poetry.

The flight over. Bad omens.

No more free wine or beer, to say nothing of cognac,etc. on American Airlines. At least it didn't cost an arm and a leg--just an arm.

The potbellied 50-something man in front is reading Anne Coulter.
I will never again say, "At least he's reading."

The stewards and stewardesses do not even try to hide their contempt for the passengers, for their jobs, for their lives. Keepin it real. Keepin it real comme ca: somewhat charming (the charm of refusing to fake), mainly depressing. It's a country's export of services that people don't like to render--not like that--and people don't like to receive--not like that. But there's no alternative--not like this.

I land in Chicago (to sound post-post modern, I'll just say that I thought of the old Stephen Wright joke--"and boy are my arms tired"--but I didn't say it, just thought it) . No people selling tickets, making change at the O'Hare CTA (Chicago Public Transportation/Transit Authority) entrance. Just machines. Oh, wait, there were people who had no contact with the money, with the machines. They were there to tell you that you could put your money in the machines, like this and that. There you go. After withdrawing money from the money machine. I am forced to put 20$ into the train-card machine, even though I don’t plan on using 20$ worth of train service. Moral of the paragraph: in this country, you are encouraged to waste--everything.

I'm aware that time register is erratic in this post. Shifts between present and past. I'm too lazy to correct them. Correcting is for fascists and neurotics (as is rationalizing).

A few minutes on the train and a small, patchily goateed man in a NASCAR cap and sunglasses boards behind people at whom he’s grumbling: “Fuck, get on the fuckin’ train!” He moves toward me and my two suitcases: “Can you move this shit so we can fucking sit down?!” I am stunned, trying my best to ignore him while I move my bags, slightly. I notice that he is shorter than I. Luckily, I'm distracted. An African-American woman approaches an African-American man on the train a few feet away from me. They don’t seem to know one another, but she immediately starts talking about how she was attacked recently by some “punk” in her neighborhood. “What kind of world are we living in?” is her refrain. The man appears to get off the train early to escape her anecdote. Are you still reading? Are you off the train?

An hour later I get to my friend’s place. I’m loving the ethnic restaurants I pass (Vietnamese, Chinese bbq, Thai, Ethiopian. Average cost of main courses:$6). The two-story, brownstone walkups, and small houses, both with big porches, on some of which are sitting old men with beers and/or pulp fiction. The dogs and their walkers. The homemade yard signs admonishing fecalphobic dogwalkers. The trash. The SUV’s, possibly 75% of the vehicles on the street.

That night I find myself munching a great burger and fries--stereotypically for you foreign readers, bien sur--for 8$ (it's not a fast food joint, but a tavern) and drinking a bottle of Czechvar beer for $3.50. They're playing Devo, Beck, and a few I can't recognize. I really miss having bars in Paris where I hear music I like. It's so rare that I will make a show of it when it happens. It has happened once. How does one compute all these things that aggravate and enamor?

Next day, after going to Siam Noodle and Rice and having a delicious Pad See Eew for 5.50$, I head down to Powell’s books. Great academic and fiction books, remainders in fact, dead cheap. Dead Cheap? Max Horkheimer’s essays, new (Continuum Press), for 5$. On the way back, people are descending from the el tracks, down the stairs. It’s two-way: left-side coming down, right side going up. But wait. There’s a lone man walking down on the right side, coming right for…me. “I’m going down, muthafuckah, before you’re going up.” What to do? Go all the way back down? No! I freeze. I do the cliché American macho shoulder bump with him and he goes on. I love American masculinity. Really. I long ago walked into Dostoyevski's Notes From the Underground--is there no exit?

The next morning I’m on another American Airlines flight from Chicago to K.C. Typical (?) American 14 year-old next to me? What’s he like? Big white basketball shoes;casual, new Eddie Bauer shorts and shirt. He has no patience. No attention span. He’s addicted to stimuli. Society of the Spectacle. He's fidgeting crazily. When the announcement of safety precautions asks for attention to be given to the steward/esses, he drawls, "Shuuut UUUp!" When he pulls out his portable DVD player (sort of like a Sony Watchman but bigger) and finds that the power is dead, he lets loose a "fuuuuuhck!" His dad is about my age it seems and apparently has the "I'm in junior high with you" parenting style. "Really?" dad queries. "That sucks." Indeed. It also sucks to sit by you guys. But I'm sure you're holding Bush's pants to the fire, vigilant citizens, when you get a break from your Gameboys and portable . (I also don't like to start new paragraphs. Too lazy. I just sat down. Not getting up to get another new paragraph. You're just going to have to wait.) So we're taxiing down the runway, and the kid blurts, "Come onnnnnn! Hurry up!" He's in the throes of tech-attention withdrawal. I recall the de-toxing scene from Trainspotting, where the kid is locked in the room by his parents and images of a sweaty, bulgy-eyed drug-addled kid clinging to the ceiling are offered to express what's going on in the kid's mind. I'm imagining the kid next to me in that room. It's not hard.

At least the kid has some fallback technology, the trusty MP3 player. He still treats me to epithets and sagacious observations nonetheless. I look out the window of the plane, away from the annoying teenager. Between Chicago and K.C. the ground below is a green patchwork quilt of astonishing symmetry. Squares of well-tilled and planted land are carved by straight and narrow dirt-rock roads. There is seldom a winding road to be seen, though I occasionally spy a diagonal. I try to remember my theorems from high school geometry. Those classes would have seemed so much more real if we had practiced on aerial photographs of the Midwest.

The Mississipi River snakes into the distance. It's a brown, thick snake. It's not poisonous though. It won't spew venom. Don't worry it's harmless, white people. Not much traffic on it today.

Back to the geometry of the fields and country roads. Oh, look, ma, it's a city. A little city, so well planned. So gridded to serve the shopping centers, the economy, which of course means it serves the people. From above, all the houses look the same. Sadly, they look the same down on the ground. I know, I can't be there while I'm above, but I'd bet all my highschool year books that they are. (It's a safe bet: I'm going to burn them anyway). More quadrants, sines and cosines, alternate interior and exterior angles, congruities, similarities, terms and rules that are learned and forgotten. Now the perfect square plots are getting some variation, thanks to little plots of brush and timber which look strangely similar to the tops of brocolli heads. It's like someone put broccoli (I don't know how to spell it, so I'm going to try and do it two ways, and hope I get one right) heads on the fields. They're slightly darker than the green fields around them; they're healthy heads of broc.

We land, and the kid takes off his MP3 player. The fidgeting is renewed. "Finally," he spudders when the plane touches down. He jumps up before the "fasten seatbelts" sign is dimmed, before, in fact, the plane has stopped taxiing. I will never forget the kid or his dad. God Bless America. People say the Founders had great foresight. That's why they created the Constitution, such a durable and adaptable document through the years. I'm sure they saw the kid and his dad when they debated and drew up that time-honored prescription for the good life.

I get out in the K.C. airport. I'm struck by the obesity. The khakhi shorts and golf shirts. The midrifts on girls and young women--comme il faut. Strange, violent even, extremes of sculptured bodies clearly belonging to fitness nuts and, on the other end, Supersize-it obesity everywhere. There's also a semiotics of sports that can't be avoided. The bodies and the clothing. If you're obese, you're still going to perform your cultural legitimacy with a ball cap or t-shirt. Testosterone is visible like the fog when you breathe on a cold day. Encore: SUV's. Shopping. Pollution. My favorite ad, ever, is the native American shedding a tear as he looks down on the polluted river. I think it's still downloadable at the Prelinger archives. It never left me and now has new company in a tech-stimuli-deprived teenager.

Moral of the post: I feel happy to live in Paris. But I feel like I've just walked into an elitist, facile, East Coast caricature of the Midwest. Have I just committed cultural suicide? I'm listening to Cracker and feeling trashy. Is moral the same as "main idea?"

The end of this section of "PLanes and Automobiles" part I is:

I don't hate the States, I don't hate it. I don't. I don't.

(My East Coast liberal Elite friends with imaginary knowledge of the Midwest would change that for me: "You don't hate the States. You hate the Midwest." Thanks for reminding me that I don't hate the entire country. I don't. I don't. Not even the East Coast prep school liberals. Honest. I don't.)

This post is finally over, finally, at least one paragraph too late. This is the way it ends.


jaytee said...

there's nothing
like a pig
after the rain
standing beside
a red wheelbarrow
pissing in his beard.

Jayson said...

That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me, Jaytee. Thanks, thanks, and ever thanks. Somewhere, Ezra Pound is rolling in the mud.

Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss said...

Americans are rage-aholics. This country is addicted to rage-ahol. And Jesus. The angry, knocking-the-money-changers-down-the-train-station-steps version of Jesus. But even the atheists here are pissed off at everything and nothing. As wrong as I know it is, I myself still want to pummel the hippie who dissed you in line at Jewel, even though you didn't even notice. Somebody around here needs a pummeling, and he seemed like the one.

I agree that the ubiquity of khaki can get wearying, but then again, not everybody can look as good in plaid pants as yourself, my brother. And once your waist gets over size 40, I'm pretty sure plaid trousers violate some provision or another of the United Nations Charter.

In corn-clusion (here I am in the Middle West, after all), in a country where even a yours truly is occasionally forced to make Power Point slides and present them to clueless managementoids who make three, four, or five times my salary, I have to say that I do, in fact, hate America.

Keep it realistic,


Jayson said...

Oh, yeah, STDPM, I forgot to include my nearly missed rumble at the Jewel supermarket. It was a banner 1.5 days.

Yeah, I should probably go easier on the fashion robots. Afterall, I recall reading on a billboard a few years ago that Allen Ginsburg wears [wore] Khakhis.
Say you can, STDPM: just don the plaid. Or something else. Not looking to replace the officially socially comfortable with another uniform. Besides, since when does anyone in this country (yes, I was hyperbolic again--it's a personae, people)give a [image of rat pulling a mule on a leash] what the U.N. and its charters say? They're soft on terrorism and are jealous of American success.

I love it, but in its ideal, un-realized, Other form. Woooooo, let's end on that mysterious note.

Jonathan said...

I love the midwest. Just not the transportation part.

Jayson said...

I love the midwest, I hate the midwest. I love "America," I hate it (and don't quote me out of context, extremists!). I contradict myself. I contain multitudes. I sound my barbaric yawp oer all the rooftops of the world.

le Meg said...

Is there a labor issue with airline staff right now? Have they not been paid for 12 weeks? Because I had the same experience with flight "attendants" on my jaunt to the US. I said to one, "so I have this connection to make,..." and she nearly screamed "Everyone ON this plane has a connECtion to make!!"

And later the highways were packed with speeding SUVs carrying red-faced worrywarts with probable pistols packed in the glove box.

Say what you will about the French, and you will, but RAGE they are not. Except for the car-torchers, I mean. And Le Pen. And, well, Zidane.

Global warming indeed!