I thought I'd try to write a book about America these days, a work of definitive analysis, you know? Like the big thinkers. Come up with an all-encompassing theory about the end of history, or the Whatsit Generation, or better yet, be Tocqueville--so that everyone in the Hamptons or on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket this summer would nod in somber yet enthusiastic agreement that, yep, this is America, all right.
But I look around and realize that I've never been in this neck of the woods before. And if I could, I'd get in my car and drive back to a place I was familiar with, wherever that was. Only I might run out of gas and not be able to afford to refill the tank. That's what is called a crisis in America these days--expensive gasoline--which is one of the reasons I don't know where I am any- more, because I thought that a crisis meant the AIDS pandemic in Africa or the state of public education here, or the justice-system gridlock. Anybody recognize this place?
If there were a cause in sight, or a national commitment, I might be able to get my bearings. But I feel like a guy who has come home to the wrong house, sort of like Tony Soprano as he drives past the pig statue on the roof of the butcher shop on the way to his mansionette on the hill with the marble this overlaying the teak that. He knows where he is, technically, but he is also a lost soul, which accounts, I think, for his appeal.
Cause and Commitment. Well, I suppose nuclear-missile defense qualifies as a cause. President W. and Secretary of Missile Defense Rumsfeld explain that we ought to cough up $100 billion to construct a Slomin's Shield to protect us from rogue nations like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, in case they go ballistic (those rogues!). Since normal deterrence has worked for 50 years, goes the reasoning, let's scrap it.
Then there's the cause of the environment, which W. has addressed in an unusual way by going soft on the rules governing CO in the air and arsenic in the water. W. also wants to build more roads into the national forests, to make it easier for the drilling equipment to get in, I guess.
There is the commitment to tax relief, and its odd connection to energy depletion. If you save money on your taxes, you can spend it on higher energy costs.
In my hometown of New York City, Mayor Giuliani is setting up a decency panel to judge whether offensive works of art should be supported by state money. In other words, he wants to use state government to defend us against the Constitution. Anybody recognize this place?
I'd have an easier time identifying the country if the leadership were tending in one direction and the people were tending in another. But the people aren't tending. Everyone seems contented as a cow to stay at home, order out for pizza and plan a vacation to Virginia Beach. Should I write a book about America being bored with itself? I need a title. Yawning in America?
I know it's late spring and the flowers are just up, but I'm feeling winter in the woods, and remembering Robert Lowell's Inauguration Day: January 1953, in which he felt the country as a block of ice, with "the mausoleum in its heart." America and the Subzero Refrigerator. America and the Really Big Chill.