Rwandan Radio

If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn the system down and replace it, alright?  –Hank Newsome, BLM New York chapter, on FoxNews…just in case you were hoping for ambiguities.

So I picked up a guy in Glendale last year, from a Spanish revival house up in the hills that easily could have been Barbara Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity.  He was en route to a graduate program in Literature at Columbia University, and I asked him what he thought of James M. Cain.

Who?
You know, the author of Mildred Pierce. The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Never heard of those.
Really? You never saw the films?
Nope. Are they any good?

Glendale is James M. Cain-land. My rider had grown up in one of its historical neighborhoods, with literary ambitions, and had no knowledge of the man or his work. Now he was bound for the Ivy League, a certifiable cultural illiterate.  This amused me at the time, but no longer.  He was a harbinger of our frenzied anti-historical present.

Silence is not enough.

Last week I helped a friend in WeHo move his bed into storage. Driving up Melrose past miles of boarded-up storefronts he asked me what I thought about the Troubles. He’s a couch-surfing millennial and I figured I’d keep it friendly and meet him on safe ground. I told him I didn’t approve of looting. On that point at least we could agree, you’d think. My friend was having none of it.  The looting, the rioting, the assaults on police could not be separated from peaceful protesting.  They were on a continuum, merely left-handed and right-handed expressions of the same virtue, equally valid. It was not for us to question. He had contempt for the police:  “They were C students in high school.”

As we were talking we passed several dozen white people, mostly women, laying face down on the ground for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, under the instruction of black women. A month ago this tableau would have been shocking, but it already felt like just another afternoon in WeHo.

Now there’s this:

Raleigh News-Observer
Tony Webster, Flickr

Is there a limiting principle to statue-cide?  We went from toppling Robert E. Lee to Any Dead President Will Do in a matter of days. From there twas but a small step to Any White Man Will Do. Hans Christian Heg, who fought on the Union side and fell at Chickamauga.    Miguel de Cervantes, enslaved by Barbary pirates. Ulysses S. Grant, bulldozer of the Confederacy.  Inevitably, they now wish to topple Lincoln.

How the decapitators mimic the lynch mobs of yore! The chain around the neck, the sailor-like tugging, the great cheer as the bronze hits the concrete like a felled tree, the dragging and defiling of the corpse…this is the pleasure principle at work, an end unto itself.

Then, because it’s a day ending in Y, the Mayors thank the mob for its thirsts of anger.  White women in D.C. verbally degrade black police officers lined up to protect monuments. In Seattle, white volunteers unironically enforce a “Blacks Only” segregation zone in a public park.  America is now a perpetual Onion story but without the wry chuckle.  Nothing is funny anymore, especially the absurd.  Well, it is, but we are living in the time of You’re Not Allowed To Say So™.

How do we put the brakes on this thing?

Beneath the performative grief and the masochistic religious scenes of white contrition, a dark new normal is upon us: urban police are no longer handcuffing lawbreakers.  Gun crimes? Sure.  But anything short of that is an open question if you are proclaiming fealty to Team BLM. This is not intended to be a passing phase. This is a structural alteration.

What comes after statues?  Take a guess. Think of it as a dress rehearsal.

What is my Los Angeles breaking point?  What would drive me from my city? I don’t yet know.  Well, I sort of do. Kneeling, obviously, would be a red line. Self-denunciation I have pre-decided will not leave my lips.  But those things are easy to resist.  No, the tripwire will arrive sooner, and in a way I will not be prepared for.   What form will it take? This is something I wonder about.

I am blessed not to rely on the good political opinion of others for my income. Mrs. UpintheValley, on the other hand, can be fired at a moment’s notice merely at the insistence of someone tweeting.  I predict she will be asked in this coming school year to affirm the present madness.  One way or another, it will be demanded of her to assent to something she does not believe during a workplace struggle session designed for precisely that purpose. When she demurs, the clock will begin ticking on her employment and a chapter will close in a great teaching career.

The American media is now Radio Rwanda circa 1994: go forth and kill the Tutsis!  We are left with a question: am I a Hutu or a Tutsi?  To which BLM replies, choose wisely. To which social media adds, we can answer that for you.

Trixie at 3 AM

She waits on the rooftop, scanning the horizon for my return.  She runs down the stairs, wiggles into your lap and you tell her things about the places you’ve been.

You tell her about the beautiful boy with perfect abs who was carried into the back of the Uber by the bartender and the bouncer at Revolver who told me how hard it was to find love in WeHo. How you dropped him off at a house that looked like SpongeBob, and how he walked through the gate mouth and waved, and when you passed the other way, he was sitting on the stairs with his head down, exquisitely miserable in youth and luxury.

You remember the woman with the bamboo stick, out walking late, who hid behind this tree in Cheviot Hills while you waited for your rider to emerge.

And you tell her about the giant donut.

You recall the girl who waited in the car across the street from Tao until the traffic built up behind us, and people began to honk, and then slowly crossed the street, stopping momentarily in the middle to adjust her dress.

The rest of the night is a blur of signposts and unironic conversation.

The rides run together when you think back on your evening, a glass of whiskey resting on your forehead, your bare toes wiggling over the edge of the couch, listening to the crickets.

But if you open your phone and look at the waybills, the route maps work like a pneumonic device. Trivial details sharpen into focus: faces, smells, glances, snatches of dialogue.  

It’s your memory palace. You’re the charon, taking people across the river.