Fleeing the country is taking longer than I thought it would. I’ve been planning my escape for several years now: the tunnel is dug, the papers forged, I stitched up an SS greatcoat out of old burlap sacks, made a pair of jackboots out of prosciutto nicked from the canteen, and I’ve memorized a few phrases of the kind of German they now speak in Washington (“Karl Röve ist ein Zionen mit einem Vorhaut”). Yet I’m still here, and I can’t quite say why. It’s not like I’m having the time of my life waiting for Homeland Security goons to show up at the house and shove an electric fucknozzle up my botty. The only obvious reasons to stick around, besides some atavistic sense of patrie, are bile, cowardice, and sloth, my three primary virtues if you exclude man tits.
Four years ago when I first started crafting a hang glider out of newspaper and broom handles, powered by a lawnmower engine with just enough gas to get me over the Mexican border, the cave-trolls of the radical Right were ascendant. It was an election year and Bush was handing Kerry a plateful of his own windsurfing ass.
Evangelical Christians, baby-eating Libertarian cranks, Neoconservatives, Paleoconservatives, and me-first, you-next authoritarian assholes of every stripe roamed the American scene like werewolves in a neonatal ward. If ever there was a good time to split, it was then. As in Daniel 5:1-13, Belshazzar’s Feast was winding down, the writing was on the wall , and the going was good. It seemed urgent at the time to get out of the country while the passport system was still valid. Yet I stuck around. And things got worse. The bilious response was first, probably: a self-destructive desire to be here in the States when things finally reach their nadir, just so I can get in the old “I told you so” on the way to the Wal-Mart Detention Center. But cannot the lesser but still pungent thrill of schadenfreude, or relishing the misfortune of others, be enjoyed from a distance, such as Southern France? No, that’s cowardice speaking, which is my next topic. To enjoy a disaster, it must be complete and absolute; no disaster is complete and absolute unless one is personally there. Which leads quite naturally to cowardice.
I am afraid to leave. It was either Mahatma Gandhi or Scary Spice that said, “Boy, you gotta pack your shit and get the hell out”. This is sage advice until you see the mountain of shit I have to pack. My blushing fiancée’s family left Ireland a few decades ago. This required little more than to pack a hamper and walk away; the family heirlooms at the time consisted of a busted fiddle and a delft macaroon plate. They didn’t even have to cancel the electricity or the phone, because there wasn’t any. For an American of the average type (and I am barely even that), moving overseas is a matter of organizing some half-million books, three quarters of a ton of old shirts, an exercise machine in unused condition resembling the superstructure of the USS Tripoli, numerous defunct automobiles, a box of obsolete cordless telephones, eleven antique chairs from Mother’s great-aunt’s place in Boston, a tub of vintage Viewmaster reels of travel and religious subjects, plus viewer; a beaver hat, my brother’s kung fu equipment that he left behind when he expatriated to China, enough DVDs to pave the Piazza San Marco in Venice (which would make them campi movies, hahaha), a stuffed hyena, a birthday candle in the shape of the number ‘4’, and a cracked chamberpot—plus the fiddle and the plate. Then there’s the useless stuff. Were I to move all this lumber to Ireland, for example, the place might sink into the ocean. It would cost me as much to ship it all overseas as it would to live overseas without it for six years. Which is clearly what my brother figured out. But I’m not only afraid of having to uproot my material goods and abandon my little comforts, however daunting that may be. There’s also the pelf question.
Man cannot live on bread alone, but it beats eating locusts. How much does it cost to move to another country? Nothing, compared to how much it subsequently costs to be out of work in Denmark for three years, consume my entire life savings (enough to purchase some fruit), and finally end up following an hitherto undiscovered gleam as a mucker-out of futbol stadium latrines. I cannot say, however, that I am more afraid of the unknown (destitution in a foreign land) than I am of the known (death and taxes, in that order). It’s not as if I’m holding out for some Great White Hope (Barack Obama, for example) to come along and save what’s left of the country I thought I knew. “But,” you inquire in a hypothetical epiplexis, “Aren’t we making progress against the forces of Sauron?” After all, since the last elections we’ve finally made some big changes. We’re putting the progress back in progressive! The anti-war, pro-environment, future-first movement has caught on. The so-called Left is on fire, blogging away like crazy, making frontal assaults on the congressional switchboards at all hours of the night and day. We’ve gotten Democrats elected back into positions of power, Republicans are dropping like flies (just exactly like flies), and a woman is Speaker of the House, no less. Is that not something to love, to keep fighting for?
No. Even as the Left rushes into the corridors of power, pitchforks and torches aloft, we discover the government has vacated the premises. A million people march on Washington, and nobody in the popular press reports on it. Nobody in power pays it no mind. The majority of Americans want to end the occupation of Iraq, and the least popular president in modern history simply says, “no”, and that’s that. The global climate is in crisis and politicians are talking about coal plants. The Democrats (whores of a different color) have moved into the ideological spectrum formerly occupied by Ronald Reagan, the Republicans are squatting in Mussolini’s old office, and anybody that isn’t preaching Biblical End Times is pissing up a rope. It was all well and good to decry the antics of the Government when there was still a chance of transformation within the bastions of Washington, and thus a return to the country ‘tis of thee I used to sing about.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the notion of “my country” was conditional. It’s not just a place, it’s a sense of being. Voltaire put it thus:
“Where then is the fatherland? Is it not a good field, whose owner, lodged in a well-kept house, can say: “This field that I till, this house that I have built, are mine; I live there protected by laws which no tyrant can infringe. When those who, like me, possess fields and houses, meet in their common interest, I have my voice in the assembly; I am a part of everything, a part of the community, a part of the dominion; there is my fatherland”?”
Read that again with special attention to the “no tyrant can infringe”, “common interest”, and “voice in the assembly” bits. For the right sum I can arrange to get you a hang glider. As for myself, the only reason I’m still here is sloth, but that would take too much effort to explain.
i One could say, were one a Biblical scholar, this was no time for Parsin our words.
ii Voltaire, “The Philosophical Dictionary”, 1752