I’m slow, but I just caught onto the obvious, that extremist Islam is the new Communism, i.e. the new enemy of the United States. Has there been one that I missed? After all, there must be an enemy. We can’t just get along together. We can’t get along with ourselves, much less together. Later on, when there’s nothing left, we’ll head out looking for a sunset and hope for clouds for a nice one. Speaking in the pleasant tense, we’ll have poetry. Politics will be a bad memory. Who thought up the war called politics? Barack O’Bush is proudly, sadly, moving the correlative along, from the halls of Congress to the valleys and peaks of Afghanistan. I’m an innocent bystander, enjoying my judgments, having breakfast in bed, a new shiny object on the tray making politics and sunsets alike immaterial. It’s an old silver napkin ring, the name “Jorgen” inscribed in it, with a napkin, surprisingly enough, folded and threaded through it. I last saw this ring Christmas day 1980. That was my first Christmas with Ingrid, and Jorgen (pron. “Yourn,” if you can), who died in 1976, was Ingrid’s father. Ingrid had her own ring at dinner, inscribed from childhood. Her mother’s and brother’s were in possession of her brother, living in New York but having his own Christmas. So Ingrid’s friend Lenora, who had joined us, had a perfectly nice ring, with no name on it. I ask Ingrid why she produced Jorgen’s napkin ring now, lo these twenty-nine years later. She says she saw it in a drawer, and it was “just a moment of inspiration.” I don’t believe her exactly. Inspired maybe, but over what? Over something you can’t ever have? Like a father? I had been writing a letter to my own dead father, a man the universe knows I never met, wrestling over how I want to view him, or how I want to be perceived as viewing him. But all things end as they begin, with “Water from the Moon,” an old Javanese saying meaning “something you can’t ever have.” Now that water has been discovered on the moon, or so it is said, we or I anyway will need another piece of poetry to describe such a definitive absence. Barack did meet his father, but something is dreadfully missing in his presidency. I suspect it’s himself. One day I said over the phone to my friend DM, we elected “Rainman.” And he said you mean someone who could count a precise number of toothpicks? He meant Dustin Hoffman staring at a spill on the floor of over two hundred that had fallen from a box, counting them accurately in a matter of seconds. Well not toothpicks exactly. But yes—a supernatural aptitude. In Barack’s case, for writing and delivering speeches. But now that he has introduced “evil” and “just wars” into the script to justify American aggression abroad in protecting us from extremists hiding in some hills, the spell he cast is gone, and he sounds like whirring propellers. I want him and all his fellow warring politicians to realize that we’re not stupid: terrorists are everywhere, even or especially in our own government and corporations, not just in the Afghan canyons where we’re sending 30,000 troops to satisfy one general’s fantasy of victory, or hundreds more orders for drones. Drones are simply incredible. Their pilots sit in living rooms in such places as Kentucky or Idaho and push buttons that kill people. Naturally these drones can ferret out precisely who sent those nineteen suicide bombers to bring down our Trade Towers. Is there a rule of law any more? Is there a sign of intelligent life on earth? If there is, the LOCATOR surely could find it. He is my new Rainman. He used to be on every Saturday night on the WE channel for a number of half hour episodes. Then he was replaced by the Golden Girls, and now he appears every Tuesday. His episodes are works of art, a form of poetry. They are also somewhat trashy because they conclude without exception, predictably and shamelessly, by appealing to our lachrymal glands. Troy Dunn, the Locator himself, works out of a high-rise in Fort Myers Florida with a team in a citadel of computers and telephones headed up by his mother. Incoming calls and videos are processed to determine the next most promising seeker to link up with a lost relative. Troy takes recommendations and makes final decisions. Once a seeker is identified, he heads off in his cool corporate jet to interview them. If he clears their motives, and they appeal to him, he gets on the phone to “Mama” (who calls him “Buddy” sometimes) in Fort Myers to give her what information he gleaned in order to help the team locate the seekee. It may be little to practically nothing, like only a first name and a birth date. I think he could find my father in the great beyond. On just one case, Troy might crisscross the country several times making sure emotional contingencies are aligned before arranging a meeting place. His supernatural aptitude is warmth! Would I vote for him for president? You bet! Would he sacrifice his principles to save his life? Not in a million. Would he lay it down for a socialized health care system? Absolutely. Does he care about people in other words? Caring is what propels him! If there’s one other man on the vast nothingness of TV who comes close, it has to be Bill Moyers. Moyers was interviewing two fine progressive journalists recently, and one of them was saying not to be too hard on Obama because he inherited a really difficult situation. Then he went on to inhala the collective gasp on the left: “I think one of the challenges of the president is to transform reality rather than work within its parameters…[We] invested so much in this remarkable figure…and we read our own hopes into him. We saw him as a potentially great president. We saw this as a potentially transformative moment…where he could’ve chosen to be the kind of president Roosevelt was.” The Roosevelt connection always warms me. I’ve been bloviating over jobs, “Where’s the new WPA program?” Roosevelt was our last supernaturally appropriate president. But not even these Moyers journalists would think of linking Roosevelt’s enterprising compassionate populist policies with his polio affliction, not out loud at least. The weakness of his condition alone spells out—well, female. He needed help standing up, and the news media had an unspoken pact never to reveal him in his wheelchair. So is Barack too healthy? No I think we just misread him. He’s too Rainman. He wants to impress us with slam-dunk hoops of writing. And all we want right now is something crushingly sensible. Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen bluhn.* Ingrid gives me German and napkin rings. Danish is far too difficult. It’s something else I can’t ever have. The rings, I must expatiate a bit, account for something far more drastically missing in my life than the old water from the moon proverb. That first Christmas in 1980, playing Jrgen, was my symbolic introduction to European tradition. I had Christmases in America with my mother and grandmother until I was eleven. We had no napkin rings, but the Santa days were plenty traditional. After that, until 1980, all of them are a blur. They’re blurry and forgettable. If I couldn’t have them, they held no interest for me. I had long not believed in the Christian anthropomorphic premise of this holiday anyway. And had begun privately celebrating the real thing—the Solstice! I’m a Solstice worshipper. Oh I wasn’t completely immune to the sentimental memory of early Christmases. And sometimes one would come along. I remember one or two, here or there. A favorite was sitting outside in Connecticut at a long table with an extended family that had adopted me. I was way too old to be adopted. But I never thought so myself. I love adoption. The Locator deals for the most part in cases of adoption. He started his business, he announces before every episode, after helping his mother twenty years ago to locate her biological parents. I’m pretty sure Barack was adopted by Michelle and her mother. What kind of father did Michelle have? I don’t know. I’m an innocent bystander, enjoying my judgments, seeking connections and poetry. When I mentioned to my physical therapist one day that I’d been looking at Top Gun, she glanced at me a bit uncomprehendingly, “You like Top Gun?” She knows me fairly well by now. I said a bit sheepishly, “Well it has this father thing in it.” The excitement of guys zooming around at high speeds in the sky trying to kill each other aside, Cruise is out to prove himself against a classified record indicting his top gun father, who bought it on one of his missions. Since his father’s record was classified, Cruise has to find out what the indictment was before he can stop flying dangerously irresponsibly, and become an even better top gun than his father. But the movie has this great line in it, spoken by the boss, the top top gun: “Although we’re not at war, we must always act as if we are.” Barack’s “great white father” (McChrystal et al) is not going to cut it for him in the end. Somewhere I read that he comes on strong when he’s behind. If that’s true, we could stop holding our breath. Future has history. And his is ours. He has only to claim his background, a unique one in the annals of presidents. So strikingly different, it can seem coded and inaccessible to the population. The locator could help out. A message for Ingrid just came in from her Danish cousin Carsten, thanking her for her birthday greeting, asking how we are—not how the rest of America is!J Here’s a toast of silver rings to you, Carsten. You knew Jorgen. You must have your own from childhood. We miss you and everyone. I’m slow, but counting my steps every day. “Look Ma, I’m walking” must have a Danish equivalent. Think of us driving out to the end of our landscape, looking for some ultimate poetry. Wherever you are, clouds make nice sunsets.
Supernally yours, Jill
*By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from “Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre,” Book III Chapter 1.
Republished with permission from The Johnston Letter.
Copyright 2009 Jill Johnston