This Tightrope’s Gotta Learn How To Bend

Pete drove me to work this morning so I could walk home in the snow storm we could feel coming. He has known me a little, he has known me all my life, so he expected a call and a change of heart that did not come. I walked home into strong flurries while cars churned in paralyzed traffic, my face wet and my mind free. I have been very concerned with conversations. What is said. What goes unspoken. What we leave hanging in the air. This one between Sadly, No! correspondent Mister Leonard Pierce and a stranger plays on my mind.

He’s sitting next to me in the lobby of the Omni Shoreham, typing furiously into a Sony laptop. He has a striped shirt with a popped collar and an ‘80s haircut he cribbed from Shadoe Stevens. For a long time, he says nothing; even when some steak-and-brandy fatass rumbles through the joint and disconnects the cable to his computer, he just eyefucks him and mutters to himself. But after a while, we strike up a conversation, borne of the boredom of waiting. His name is Tony, and he’s a stockbroker.

Why is Tony so mad?

“That fuck-stick Romney dropped out. That just leaves us with McCain.”

You don’t have any affinity for the Senator, then?

“He’s a weak sister. He won’t have the guts to invade Iran.”

Iran must be ripe for invasion. It seems like we’ve been waiting forever. But what of Iraq?

“Iraq is over. Iraq is somebody else’s problem now.”

The problem of the Iraqis, I would guess.

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Iran is the issue. Iran has the Islamic bomb.”

A bomb that follows a religious ideology is a terrifying concept indeed; but what about Pakistan?

“Pakistan is our ally. But even if they weren’t, Iran is the destination.”

Not according to my travel agent. But what makes you say that?

“Iran is where the money is.”

What money?

“Look, Iraq has been good to us. Everybody knows that. Construction, defense, telecoms, it’s a whole new market.”

It’s a real success story.

“You’re telling me. But compared to Iran, it’s nothing.”

A trying five years for nothing. But what do you mean?

“It’s a bigger country. It’s a richer country. It’s a country with a market class and a rich and developed economy. It wasn’t living under Stalinism like Iraq. Once we get our hands on those markets, we’re finally going to see a payoff for all the effort we’ve put into the wars.”

We?

“Well, America.”

America put in the effort, but you’ll get the payoff.

“Not if that fucking McCain gets in.”

Well, we can only hope.

“That’s the problem with the conservative movement these days. Too much hope.”

I could not excerpt because every line offers me a new reason to wonder what the fuck is wrong with Tony that the words sovereign nation ring hollow, that people’s lives are utterly meaningless, that he stupidly believes he’ll always find himself on the sunny side of oppression. He won’t, and he won’t understand what he is and what he’s done until he’s forced to choose which of his children goes to the crematorium.

No one does.

The other day, I stood in the family store as a man with a heavy accent walked around in circles. He wanted a particular Buddha head statue, and when one of my sisters bargained him to a standstill, he spoke to me again about the town. He said, “It has such potential.” I froze.

“NO,” I said. “It’s a small town, and it’s going to stay that way. Some our families have been here for more than 100 years, there’s no more land, and we have no stupid ideas about expansion.”

“I just got here,” he apologized, confused by my refusal to consider soulless prefab sameness. Some people will always fold and leave, but most people here like the small town feel, and temptation isn’t tempting. If you want that crap, go where they already have that.

“My great-grandfather bought one of the first houses on South Fourth. I will never buy coffee from Starbucks or eat at Papa John’s. Quiznos just went bust on the Main Street. Why should anyone eat that crap when Mom and Pop restaurants serve real food and support real families?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t think.”

“Thank you,” I said, “for supporting a local business.”

Tonight, I listen for the gentle whisper of snowflakes striking the ground.

It can feel like distant thunder.

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