Message in a Beer Bubble: Ten for Today


Happy hour. A hearty hoppy beer might make things go right for a short while anyhow. Maybe even release the vise grip on my brain. This tension headache brought to you by your local, fucked up telecommunications service. No tv, then no internet, and no rhyme or reason. “We’ll overnight that modem to you, but it will take 3 to 5 business days.” What do you answer to that kind of math?

But at least it forced me to work at my favorite watering hole for some atmosphere, compared to my usual, dull writing environment: dusk-lit room, dilapidated desk over-cluttered, bed beckoning from behind my back, and puppy chewing on my bare feet as I try to focus on a screen that sometimes allows me to reach the world outside–when the internet hasn’t drifted in then out. Today, like yesterday, it’s all out.

And then there’s the election. It’s worse than anything I can remember in my public awareness age. Yes, even Watergate. This trumps all, pun intended. The banana republic antics. It’s hard to stomach any more. It’s like stupid times infinity, as we used to say. We’re sliding speedily down the ice hill in reverse. I can’t watch–but like that carnage on the side of the road, I must. No entertainment. All sadness and nausea. There’s an ache in the pit of my stomach that threatens to swallow my entire body, engulf it in burning bile. 

Or is it just me? I can’t tell any more. As I look into the foamy, golden crystal ball of my immediate future, cold and wet to my clasped hands around its glassy trunk, I ask, “Is it just me?”

She answers from inside a beer bubble, “It’s always been just you.”

Feeling no burn

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Always astounded by the lack of historical fluency of college students, I once again found myself defining terms like ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ and giving history lessons on the Constitutional context–revolution, tyranny and power. Most students did not even know from whom America gained its independence judging by the quiz on the first day of class. It’s always a big job to explain the story of America.

But now it’s research paper time and the readings turn political, especially advantageous in an election year: essays on gun control, torture, colonialism, free speech, economics (subprime mortgage debacle) and poverty, to name a few. My hope is that students will attach history to current events, find relevance in the story behind the polarization of just about every issue: guns-no guns, pro-life/pro-choice, as well as examine the apologists for just about everything from torture during the second Iraq war to complaints of reverse discrimination in school admissions policies. 

But after my history and vocabulary lessons, I asked my students about voting. Very few said they would vote this election on the grounds of apathy and disengagement from the process. None felt it made a difference. Where were all the enraged college students riled by the rogue candidates on both sides of the political spectrum? I was hoping to find a few Bernie Sanders enthusiasts in particular to question. From newscasters and social media accounts of his popularity, I was certain I would find a few supporters among college students. I did find one.

She liked his free college and single payer universal health care solutions and felt he was for the people and not big corporations nor Wall Street. Unfortunately, she did not stand up to gentle questioning about how she thought congress would vote regarding free college and universal health care. But she had reached the end of her thoughts on the subject and so I was on my own to speak on behalf of revolution, which is how Bernie Sanders’ words and ideas have been characterized. 

In the end, I worked myself into a lather detailing some of the best known revolutions in American history from independence to unionization to the Vietnam War’s end. They all took people getting hurt, risking life and liberty. They took numbers on foot, in the streets. Short of that, revolutions do not happen, just gradual shifts by attrition, erosion, desensitization and devolution or evolution. The pendulum keeps swinging. But Bernie’s revolution, as inviting as it sounds, is one for the streets, not the ballot. 

I am skeptical about what will happen should he get to the White House and meet with an intransigent congress as has been the trend in recent years. Will he disappoint those youth who came out to get him elected and thereby give them reason to stay home next election? I suppose that is the risk of any campaign’s success–failure to make good on promises.

We read Garrett Keizer’s “Loaded” about guns for today. Keizer is a gun-toting progressive by his own admission. After outlining the traditional camps and characterization of the two sides as either NRA gun violent nuts or tree hugging pacifists, he decries the lack of revolutionary fervor in defending rights, ideas and the Constitution. His last paragraph segued nicely into my drifting English, history and political lecture:

The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Still, if asked to choose between an urban guerrilla armed with an Ak-47 and a protester armed with a song sheet and a map showing how to get to the designated ‘free speech zone,’ I would decline on the grounds of insufficient faith and negligible inspiration. Rather, give me some people with very fanatical ideas about the sanctity of habeas corpus and the length of time an African American or any other American ought to have to wait on line to vote. Give me some people who are not so evolved that they have forgotten what it is to stand firm under fire or even to squat near the fire in a cave. Give me an accountant who can still throw a rock.