Charley looks at his contemporary Elmer and mumbles hello, he’s none too happy to be here with his old friend who’s gone over to the other side now that the lines were drawn long enough ago to be considered at length before taking the crucial step across. Elmer is wearing his tea bags off the brim of his baseball cap.
Elmer replies Yo! as though . . . He looks a little stunned to find himself in the pockets of the Texas oil billionaire brothers: What’s their name, Cocaine? Reactionary politics is life blood to the comfortable couch he sits astride catching up, yes, always catching up, with the latest report so generously provided by Fox News.
If you can call it news, Charley says, echoing the admirable one on another channel no one who has only basic cable can ever see, and if they have no computer capable of running video clips who would even remember Countdown had nothing to do with Cape Canaveral back when little boys could participate in Reagan’s America by eating that well-known vegetable ketchup, which has now regained its former fame with Godfather Pizza (to be followed by TM) . . .
Elmer went over to the other side the first time Reagan quoted Tom Paine’s We have it in our power to begin the world all over again, which dovetailed nicely with John Winthrop’s desire to make Puritan America (don’t forget that adjective, Elmer, Charley insists) a city on the hill for all the world to see. It’s a wonder, Charley tells him, you didn’t volunteer for the Contras.
Charley goes into the streets. There he adds his voice to the voices around him that fill in for the absence of a sound system dismantled and done away with by the city’s Finest (during one of their first visits, all of which are invasions, the right to assemble to redress grievances being a highly contested part of the Bill of Rights since . . . when? Maybe always.) The city’s “finest” so-called: Who needs them to break your fucking skull, rupture your goddam spleen, run over your leg with a hog and claim you put yourself under it to call attention . . . Charley doesn’t have a job so he can find time to be where there are others who have no jobs and unless these people are heard and their needs met even partially, there may never be anything to do but go into the streets and exercise your franchise that way, after the baggers have given the Supreme Court permission to go the rest of the way in disenfranchising the poor by denying them the right to vote, having no photo ID, and No, Elmer and his ilk like to say, To step behind the curtain and take your own picture won’t do. And Charley replies, Even that takes money, Elmer.
Elmer is standing on the edge of the crowd. He’s frowning, of course, his hands are fidgeting with themselves, he shifts back and forth from one leg to the other.
What! No Fox News? Charley jibes. Not even watching TV?
I thought I’d find out how many hippies are here, Elmer says, . . . and pick up on the drugs and sex, man. He sounds like a time warp, if one were audible. Yet Elmer is as serious as a cop with a club.
Well, Charley says, there are unwashed hippies and drug addicts and ne’er do wells of all persuasions here. Por ejemplo, the sex is flowing like a river and you know damn well that’s why you hung out at the communes back in the day. Furthermore, the cops come in to make sure we don’t trespass on clean folks and get too near them and leave our stink on them, it might change them if they got too close to what’s actually here. At worst, they would risk beginning to think.
Tea bags swinging from the brim of his cap, Elmer moved through another crowd, sauntering up or down a street risking his skull and spleen if not for badges of belonging dangling. Elmer is taking a little time off now from Fox and imagines himself as one whose self-respect includes the need to go out among ’em, blend in as best he can (tea bags carefully removed before final descent into his own version of Sodom and Gomorrah) and hang around until he finds a little action he can’t refuse and thereby acquire another perspective, this time from another point of view, which is not to say “from another persuasion,” for men and women are in all this together, Elmer likes to say. Or so he dreams.
Charley lends his voice. He holds a sign. He moves with the others. He gives the bastards shit that have it coming. He has a birth certificate but doesn’t need to prove it. He was in Nam and made it back. He smokes dope every day. He goes home with women if they want, and that’s not to say he doesn’t know what to do without having to go up and down the street and hover around its edges looking for what can easily be mistaken for love.
Elmer didn’t have to worry about Nam. Now he receives a little money every week. His daddy not only knew a way to keep Elmer out of the draft and then the lottery but supports him now with Texas oil money, and it’s more than enough to keep Elmer watching Fox and changing channels during commercials and thereby discovering what Pat Robertson and his brethren have to add . . . Then there’s always the Playboy channel if you need to get off without going out. Elmer has a rich, full life, he always says.
Charley brings his own bag, to sleep in. Here he doesn’t do his own dope. He never drinks now. He showers on Mondays, not always at his mother's but mostly. When he lost his teaching job he found kindred souls who'd also lost theirs and between them they pooled their meager savings and kept going until now. Now much of the time they all live down here. Here the people he knows he considers, each one, a brother or sister he's working with to be and to stay free.
His mother lives alone and Charley sees her once a week at least, to be where he can help her get by, even if he can’t help financially. She has a pension, from when his dad retired two years before he died, and social security . . . as long as it may last now that the country seems about to experiment once more with being led by the man with no dog now, not yet, on the end of his leash.
Charley loves dogs and lets them run free. What he doesn’t love has no name but the old ones. Slavery: Let that stand for the rest. End the wars. Open the borders. What would you do if your people were brought here shackled from Africa? Or indentured to the rich man who lets you go free once you put in your time . . . White boy, you never knew the worst. There were too many masters here when your daddy arrived dirt poor, but at least he knew one day he’d be free.
(21 November 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander