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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

the greatest show on earth

There is a handful of men in the street, with a collection of cheap bags around them. They are held together with swaths of duct tape, splitting apart at the seams, everything sliding out sideways. A policeman stands, yellow vest and hat glaring into the dim afternoon with his hands on his hips. A radio blasts voices, dangling from one of his hands. Two of the men are grasping at the bags trying to understand how to carry all of them. Their faces are down, defeated. One stands, shouting at the policeman. I see his hands waving, the desperation in his face. I know it all too well. He knows nothing will be corrected, but the shouting, the declaration and the argument makes him feel better. He knows their car is gone now, and they are lucky to have gotten the bags from it first. 

There are birds flying around inside the supermarket. Not just one or two but whole families of sparrows roosting in the open ceiling, their shit dripping onto the cabbages and cheap beer. It all seems so normal. No one bats an eye, as they argue about the price of potatoes at the cashier. 

We are walking, and pass two men in a parking lot. They are dressed in desert camouflage, smoking cigarettes with automatic rifles slung around their necks. The guns swing back and forth across their belly laughs. The men look calm, eyes closed as they lean back and spit onto the sidewalk.

On Sunday, there is a woman singing opera. As we approach the street market and the tiny makeshift stage we see her. Microphone perched in one hand, feet together at diagonals to look pretty she sings. People are buying cheap pots and pans, maybe a nightgown or some giant shiny underwear. There is a wagon next to her, stuffed with pumpkins and corn. Men take turns standing next to it, one elbow out as their picture is taken. I see them asking, "Do I look good?" before we head home.

Upstairs, we hide. E is drawing characters for a film we are making. I am cutting them out, filling in the colors of their lips and hair. We will record some of their voices today, cracking each other up with our faces in screwed-up shapes. When E gets hungry we make cheeseburgers and sweet potato fries. She draws a ketchup smile on all of them before we cram them down, talking through mouthfuls at the kitchen table.

There is an election going on today, more whipped up drama for those curious enough to watch. Only one in four people will travel outside beyond the opera lady and the picture wagon, beyond the underwear tables and militia to vote. E's school is one of these locations, so there will not be class tomorrow when they remove the machines. She can stay up late watching movies until she falls asleep next to me, one of my hands under her cheek.

I am up late, half-curious about who won, knowing that this has all been decided in advance. I read the fresh set of quotes, about protest, about recounts. Six years ago I would have believed what I was reading. Three years ago, I would have stuck to some slim edge of hope. I know better now. It is just a show, an elaborate chess match with no real opponent. It is a fascinating distraction for some, a comedy to others. It is noise and static, even annoying to many. I am reminded of when Stalin said, "It does not matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes."


liv said…
A circus indeed - with a very heavy price of admission.

I'd be hiding inside too, especially if there were hamburgers and french fries waiting!

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