Hungry Huffing Dragons of Glass and Steel; A Kind of Book Review

Morning. 7-ish central time. June 13. YOOL 2020. Summer a week away.

We face east – me, myself, I, and hundreds of characters wafting about my cerebellum both real and imagined, known and unknown, wanted and unwanted. They create a constant cacophony exacerbating all those pre-extant civilizational maladies: ADD – attention deficit disorder, ASD – Asperberger’s syndrome disorder, GAD – general anxiety disorder, BPD – borderline personality disorder, SAD – social anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar, and myriad other diagnoses cast upon me by numerous perplexed, yet well meaning, therapists over the 30-plus years of my adult life. Only lately have I realized it was all a big waste, treating symptoms, rather than cause. All the talk and medication in the world are simply salve and circus distracting from the real problem.

I sneeze from the swirling dust endemic to my apartment. It’s a violent sneeze. Dizzying. Eyes water. A tear absconds from the inner corner of my left eye. I shake my head to bring myself back around. I breathe in. My sinuses gurgle and pop. I regain equilibrium, look straight ahead, wiping the blood and snot seeping from my nose with a dark green bandana.

Bloody nose again.

This may take awhile.

Sun rays scream through the vertical slatted blinds standing sentry at the sliding glass doors.

It is a rambunctious rabble.

The slats are a shitty sentry, especially this time of day.

I rise, shuffle 10 feet or so around the detritus of everyday life – empty Topo bottles, backpacks, panniers, Yeti coolers, orange 5 gallon buckets from Home Depot, a music stand, half-filled nalgene bottles, enough mountain bike gear; chains, mirrors, tubes, tires, spokes, rims, and more; to fill a small shop – strewn about the stained and worn carpet.

I order the sentry to open the gates.

He happily complies.

Sun bursts into the room. There is festival glee. Waves of light surge to the front of the stage.

Azure skies hang back. Stark. Cloudless. Infinity.

Colors abound. The crowd swells. The air crackles in front of the stage.

Electric.

Behind it, where I am – where we are – not so much.

Sound check is over. It was tedious. Unfinished. Fruitless. Apathetic.

Not much of a show today, I expect.

60 hz hum.

I’ve been trying to start this post, or whatever it is, for more than 30 minutes. Distractions.

Texts.

Friend calls me “super bear.”

Not a 4th Street, Montrose, Cedar Springs, Randy’s Rodeo bear, mind you, but a grumpy personality, loner type human bear. They say those other bears are quite friendly folks. That is what I hear. I don’t get out much.

I respond: better than being a supergrass.

She responds: big green dragon emoji.

I have no idea what it means.

I think of asking, but let the mystery be.

I think about the IRA and the origins of the term “supergrass”. I should read more about Northern Ireland. I don’t think binge-watching Derry Girls, awesome as it is, is the optimal way to learn the history of The Troubles.

I have a crush on Orla.

Of course, there’s more to Northern Ireland, or Norn Iron, as it’s called in freckled patois, than secular struggle, but apparently, not much more. It’s a sordid and complex history. Growing up in the 70s, hearing about The Troubles flummoxed me. Why were people killing each other over the details of how to worship a Nazarene zealot executed a couple of thousand years ago by a now dead civilization? (Funny how one group of them proudly goes by the name “Roman Catholic”. I’m pretty certain no one consulted Big J before this appellation was made.) It didn’t make much sense to me at the time. Still doesn’t. May never. It wasn’t until decades later that I learned my family played its small part in the imbroglio, having come to America from Scotland via the Ulster Plantation. Most of us got here before 1700, but a few straggled. As if my early departing ancestors’ overrunning of the Gaelic kingdom on behalf of King and Queen weren’t bad enough, those remnants who stayed behind in Scotland a little longer, or even for good, whose blood I can’t deny is in my veins, would become the Proddie covenanters. These adherents of Johns Knox and Calvin, and shamelessly proud of it, would be the very people who sold out Scotland to the English. Makes me wonder how a lot of us can still stand up and scream “Flower of Scotland” before a fitba match without feeling a twinge of shame in our DNA. It is not the most illustrious family history, but, hey, civilization is about punching down at every opportunity. Is it not? You’re poor, Scottish, landless. If you can’t help the English King keep the Papes down, what else ya gonna do? At least it keeps food on the table.

I still have much more to learn about the McClains from the Isle of Mull, and various other family branches and twigs from the Thistled Dominion. I’m sure there is no end of dubious skeletons lurking about between the Lowlands and Brownsville.

With that said, the more I learn about Northern Ireland and the Troubles, the more I learn that it is just as much about land as religion, if not more.

So much to learn.

Just what was the Flight of the Earls?

Nine Years War?

Queen Anne’s Test?

Williamites?

Jacobites?

What was up Queen Anne’s butt?

What’s up with James VI turning into James I?

What was up his butt?

Ullans? What the heck is that?

My ignorance is rampant.

I might have a crush on Nicola Sturgeon.

Another text sends a link to a Wynton Marsalis essay on institutional racism published in The Guardian. “Marsalis 2020” it exhorts.

“Nice,” I tell myself. “Should I consider writing him in?”

Anyone is better than the alleged “candidates” from the two dominant parties on offer this November. One is a fast fading former Senator and Vice President from a toxic waste dump. The other is a toxic waste dump.

I think I have a crush on Jill Biden.

Also, considering the Marsalis piece, what is a “libertarian democracy” vis-a-vis a “liberal” one? Perhaps he can elaborate some time.

The hubbub settles.

Finally.

I put all asides aside. Pen meets paper. Confessions flow. Well, trickle, I guess. A light fills the vast caverns of a mundane life. Tedious thoughts drip drip drip into a bottomless well.

They echo.

Plop… plop… plop.

Morning routine.

Torpid mind.

Despite the Big State U education, or maybe because of it, this mind is many light years from the glory of brilliance. It senses the sun, but doesn’t feel it, much less bask in it. It’s hidden behind some rocks in yonder desert somewhere between Marathon and Terlingua. Many minds have been lost in the Chihuahuan landscape, as have many lives. It is, after all, no country for old men. If my mind does escape from its rock shelter, it moves as a slug, sometimes a sloth, as if any of those things could survive the sun blasts and whipping winds of the Trans-Pecos. Let’s call it an injured javelina, limping along, snorting, rummaging through ranchlands, National Parks, arroyos, and the occasional backyard looking for a tasty little snack in the form of a poodle, chihuahua, or other potato-size canine. I’m sure a feline or two will do as well. It has its good days and bad, this mind. But it’s all relative. To sum it up in the words of a certain Australian songstress, it is “pedestrian at best.”

But I’m cool with that.

Why complain? I’m still alive, methinks.

We can’t all be Ivy League whiz kids living supersonic lives in NYC, Silicon Valley, Boston, Los Angeles, or wherever they congregate. Some of us, well, most of us, must be the great plodding masses populating the vast middle of this once great – or so they say it once was and will be again if we just unshackle the capitalists, let them run rampant to extract the last drops of life out of what’s left of the planet and hate all our enemies, foreign and domestic, with enough flaming waves of venom and vitriol to roast them alive both literally and figuratively – nation. Those dynamic coasties sneer at us, the denizens of flyover country, those who provide the food, petroleum, raw materials, and other essentials of their frantic yet fascinating lives. After all, that is their just reward for being their amazing, super-talented selves. This is a meritocracy after all. Everything for the best and brightest. Everyone else, well, too bad. It’s all your fault. You should have studied, worked, prayed, deceived, plundered, raped, bribed, bullied, tried to be born to a better family living in better circumstances, pillaged, and kissed ass harder. Have some crumbs! That’s all you need to fuel your averageness, below averageness, or whatever trough of existence you inhabitat.

Machine. Machine. Machine.

Efficiency. Efficiency. Efficiency.

Let’s see how haughty the best and brightest will be when it all comes crashing down, civilization goes “Night! Night!”, and they must fend for themselves. You can’t grow a lot of food in asphalt and concrete. You can’t graze a lot of livestock on it either. For Daniel Quinn fans, there are not a lot of foraging and hunting opportunities either, unless you really like squirrels, pigeons, and that ultimate urban wild game, rat. Cities are unsustainable. All its staples have to be shipped in from somewhere else. Once the supply chain breaks down, well, as they say in Scotland, “Yer Fekked.”

But for now, those hungry huffing dragons of glass and steel are brimming with fashionable hamsters cooped-up in gilded cages. They run madly on late capitalism’s stationary spinning wheel. They’ve convinced themselves that the world is but a machine for them to poke, prod, and manipulate for their amusement and profit. Everything is quantified in dollars and euros. Humans be damned. It’s all about logistics and return on investment (ROI, which is French for ‘King’) – more and more and more! Eternal growth for eternal prosperity (for them, at least) on a finite planet. We can do it. We have the technology. Our amazing monkey brains can solve every problem! We are Gods! Trust the elite!

They don’t see, or refuse to see, the human toll of their abstractions and cold calculations. There are poisoned villages, towns, and countryside, lost jobs, and countless other debacles and catastrophes shouldered by the teeming masses way down the food chain. In the words of Ward Churchill, these global elites are “Little Eichmanns.” They are Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil”, Minnich’s “evil of banality.” Yet they consider themselves anything but. They see themselves as job creators, futurists, motivators, movers and shakers, start-up makers, thought leaders, innovators, disruptors, residents of curated condominiums, and countless other lofty labels held in grotesque esteem by America’s insipid hustler culture.

Perhaps events and circumstances can convince the occasional Little Eichmann to see the error of his or her ways and make a radical shift in life. This is what happens to Changez (there’s that pesky French again) in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, an intriguing monodialogue (you’ll see what I mean) between two men in a Lahore cafe. I am neither a reader of speed nor stamina – remember, I am but a mediocre mind in the mediocre flyover country who can already be counted as a loser in the warp speed world of neoliberalism – but I read all 210 pages in one sitting, though I was mostly lying about my bed in the wee morning hours.

There is Changez, a native of the city, and this mysterious foreigner, a person of European extraction. Is he American? How did these two polar opposites arrive in the same city in the same cafe at the same table at the same time? It is far from simple. The men are not as unalike as they seem, perhaps. The ups and downs of the monodialogue lead you through the years and events that led to this “innocuous” tête-à-tête over tea and dinner. Do these two men know each other? Yes and no. It doesn’t really matter and you don’t really care. The wild ride from Lahore to Princeton, to New York, and back again answers everything, though far from definitively, leaving plenty of room for the imagination to run riot. One thing is certain, you’ll never smell jasmine or see a firefly again without thinking of this book.

In fact, you’ll likely never see the United States, Pakistan, or 2nd and 3rd world nations quite the same again, not to mention the American education system and the American “way of life.” Gosh, there’s even a love interest that manages to turn the whole notion of love, friendship, and connection – and reality itself – on its head. What may frighten some, but exhilarate others is the realization that some variation of this story is happening everyday hundreds, if not thousands of times in cities not just across the United States, but the entire western world, and has been going on for quite awhile – decades at least. It is an indictment not just of global capitalism, greed, Le Monde Occidental, and amour propre, but the entire foundation of enlightenment philosophy. It declaims the enlightenment is eating itself and a radical philosophical shift is needed to save the human race from self-destruction. It is a succinct exaltation of Rousseau and demonization of Voltaire without mentioning either.

With echoes of Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, Rousseau, Che Gueverra, Fredy Perlman, and other voices (dare I say, Sayyid Qutb, Bakunin, Zamyatin, A. Huxley, Orwell, and Kropotkin, too?) who railed against the ever-expanding soul-crushing juggernaut of Western capitalism and even civilization itself, The Reluctant Fundamentalist may be a fast read, but it is anything but a light read.

Page one slaps you in the face.

The last page knocks your lights out.

Everything in between spins you in circles.

Shall we say “Next year in Lahore”…?

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