Friday, October 24, 2008

The Undercurrent

Today I read this passage from a book by William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac called And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Co-authored by the pair in 1945, the two young aspiring novelists switched off, writing every other chapter. Apparently it wasn't a staggering work of genius for the budding beats, who hadn't yet written respective novels at the time. It was never published, but will be, next month. The following selection was written by Burroughs:

I walked over to Seventh Avenue, then up to Christopher Street to buy the morning papers. On my way back I saw there was an argument in front of George's, so I crossed over to see what was going on.

The proprietor was standing in the doorway arguing with three people he had just thrown out of the joint. One of the men kept saying, "I write stories for The Saturday Evening Post."

The proprietor said, "I don't care what you do, Jack, I don't want you in my place. Now beat it," and he advanced on the group. They shrank away, but when the proprietor turned to go back in, the man who wrote for The Saturday Evening Post came forward again and the whole process was repeated.

As I walked away the proprietor was saying, "Why don't you go somewhere else? There are plenty of other places in New York."

I had the feeling that all over America such stupid arguments were taking place on street corners and in bars and restaurants. All over America, people were pulling credentials out of their pockets and sticking them under someone else's nose to prove they had been somewhere or done something. And I thought someday everyone in America will suddenly jump up and say, "I don't take any shit!" and start pushing and cursing and clawing at the man next to him.

I think this passage speaks volumes to the spirit of anti-establishment that has died or been rendered counterproductive by younger generations over the decades. The legacy of the class-defying, bohemian free thinker has never seemed more ineffectual. Today, "bohemians" and "hipsters" are labels that people can buy into by listening to the right music, reading the right books, watching the right films and then wearing the proper apparel to prove one's allegiance.

After reflecting upon this a bit more, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that this spirit never died, it's just morphed into something perverse and frightening. People will always crave social upheaval. Classes of individuals, when threatened, will react. In some cases, in the good old-fashioned American way--violently.

I was talking to Dr. Morgenstern this morning, and I said, "I can't wait for this election. He's gonna win, and it's going to be so satisfying." Morgenstern then said, "It's not about the election anymore. It's about the aftermath. There's going to be some major change, and there is such an undercurrent of violence in this's frightening...who knows what could happen."

I'm getting a little scared about some of the recent anti-Obama sentiment. For example, the report today about the McCain campaign mental patient that carved a "B" on her face and told the police that someone had seen her McCain bumper sticker and carved her up like an evil Zorro:

(Ashley) Todd, who is white, initially told police she was attacked by a 6-foot-4 black man Wednesday night.

She told investigators she was attempting to use a bank branch ATM when the man approached her from behind, put a knife with a 4- to 5-inch blade to her throat and demanded money. She said she handed the assailant $60 and walked away.

Todd claimed that she suspected the man then noticed a McCain sticker on her car, became angry and punched her in the back of the head, knocking her to the ground and telling her "you are going to be a Barack supporter," police said.

She said he continued to punch and kick her while threatening "to teach her a lesson for being a McCain supporter," police said. She said he then sat on her chest, pinned her hands down with his knees and scratched a backward letter "B" into her face with a dull knife.

Todd also told police she didn't seek medical attention, but instead went to a friend's apartment nearby and called police about 45 minutes later.

On Friday, when she admitted the story was fabricated, Todd told police she believes she cut the backward "B" onto her own cheek, but she didn't explain how or why, Bryant said.

I don't know if people will rise above their racism and xenophobia and realize that it is possible to have a president acting on their behalf to create social justice. I think this country has been lied to for so long that it's too hard to comprehend. Or perhaps if they do eventually believe he is a trustworthy politician, I'm not sure they would be able to drop their egos and race-based fear. I can see an underground movement to challenge the New Guard already in the works and it makes me afraid--and greatly ashamed--of this nation.

No comments: