On the Subway
By Sharon Olds
The boy and I faced each other.
His feet are huge, in black sneakers
laced with white in a complex pattern like a
set of international scars. We are stuck on
opposite sides of the car, a couple of
molecules stuck in a rod of light
rapidly moving through darkness. He has the
casual cold look of a mugger,
alert under hooded lids. He is wearing
red, like the inside of the body
exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the
whole skin of an animal taken and
used. I look at his raw face,
he looks at my fur coat, and I don't
know if I am in his power-
he could take my coat so easily, my
briefcase, my life --
or if he is in my power, the way I am
living off his life, eating the steak
he does not eat, as if I am taking
the food from his mouth. And he is black
and I am white, and without meaning or
trying to I must profit from his darkness,
the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
nation's heart, as black cotton
absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
no way to know how easy this
white skin makes my life, this
life he could take so easily and
break across his knee like a stick the way his
own back is being broken, the
rod of his soul that at birth was dark and
fluid and rich as the heart of a seedling
ready to thrust up into any available light.
I love that Sharon Olds has the guts to try to explain this stuff, to admit that she's thinking these things. And I am going to say something that is undoubtedly politically incorrect, but so be it.
I imagine that most people here can guess how I felt about Reagan and his presidency and his legacy, if I have not made it clear enough. I was in junior high school when he was elected, and I was terrified of him. I blame him for so many things...for disastrous economic policies, for an escalation of the AIDS crisis, for wars in places we had no business sticking our noses or our troops. I particularly blame him for what the Republican Party has become: not a defender of the rights of states versus the federal government and a model of leadership that gives businesses autonomy, but a place where the most corrupt excesses of the upper class running those businesses are not only permitted but protected, where businesses may violate the most basic, sensible environmental and worker protections, where individual rights have no place because of the claim that this is a Christian nation where so-called "Christian" values and traditions must be defended and forced upon others. I have never been a fan of Reagan -- not as an actor, not as a spokesperson, certainly not as a president.
That said...if I posted some of the things about the leader of another country and his mourners that people all over this morning are posting about Reagan, I'd get called a typical arrogant American who always thinks I know how other people should be living, electing their leaders, etc. I don't expect anyone anywhere to have liked the man, and I have no problem with people expressing disdain for him and his policies, but when that disdain gets extended to "the U.S.", "Americans" and the people who for whatever reason have chosen to participate in the public spectacle of mourning, it pisses me off.
I remember I got slammed right and left by my British friends when I expressed some bemusement over the fever-pitch public hysteria and wailing at the death of Princess Diana, and had it suggested that it was so typical of an American to sit in judgment on something we couldn't possibly understand. And it's true, that's perfectly fair and there's a good point there, though I was raised to disdain the sort of aristocracy she represented and am just as happy that I don't understand. It must be nice in a way to have one's figurehead rulers separated from one's government, though it's quite obvious that the channels of money and power are very deeply ingrained even if the Queen of England no longer actually runs the country. We don't have that here; when we remember major world events, civil disasters and public celebrations, we don't have a supposedly apolitical Queen to recall at the festivities but whoever happened to be in the White House at the time. Our pomp and our politics are enmeshed that way.
I completely understand why people from Nicaragua and people who lost loved ones to AIDS in various countries are singing "Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead" where Reagan is concerned. But when some 19-year-old from Canada who can't possibly even remember the events in question subjects me to a tirade about American mourners in the name of her principles, I can't help but want to tell her to put a stopper in her imperialistic snobbery. How is your contempt for Americans mourning Reagan any less an act of cultural insensitivity than any contempt Americans might hold for people in various countries defending various governments which, though obviously flawed and sometimes tyrannical, are their own?
There's one person on my Friends list not from the U.S. who seems to devote all her political energies to posting about what's wrong with my government, my country's exports, my country's values...and even though I agree with her about 90 percent of the time on the issues, the arrogance of her proclamations leaves me cold, and I sometimes find myself picking disagreements with her just because I'm so sick of her contempt. Yeah, the Reagan presidency was a nightmare in many ways, but it was also a benchmark of many of our lives -- it was his voice we heard on television when Challenger exploded, when the Iron Curtain showed signs of crumbling (whether or not you believe that he had anything to do with it, he did make the damn speech), and to be told that I or anyone else have no right to think back on those events and remember the figurehead with a kind of nostalgia -- it's not only none of your business, it's counterproductive if you expect Americans to show respect for your country, your leaders and your values.
On a happier note, I would like to thank boxer_ferret for a brief dose of Death By Jack Aubrey. As for where yesterday went...had a lovely lunch (Mexican food and ice cream) with gblvr who now owes me a Minion's Handbook so I know the proper rules of etiquette when I am in her presence, came home and wrote some articles, called my mother who had what was supposed to be very minor skin surgery but is in a great deal of discomfort from it, tried to call my sister to see whether visiting shall occur next weekend, pumped fluids into my very overheated children who had Field Day at school yesterday despite the ghastly temperatures, sent my older son off to his baseball playoff, discovered that Snape does not like and in fact flatly refuses to have his feelings edited, welcomed my older son home early from his baseball playoff after he became nauseous from the heat after a day spent in it, and tried to figure out what needed doing before his graduation from elementary school tonight which will be attended by all four of his grandparents.
I have not heard from my editor this morning and am going to take that as a blessing, as I am insane, between taking perkypaduan to Virginia with me to meet beeej for a thrice-postponed lunch, getting my younger son to violin, needing to pick up dinner for the crowd, possibly needing to stop at the drugstore for my mother and various other insanities. Sorry that I am once again behind on correspondence, which simply cannot be helped until the school year ends!
ETA: Have provided my own dose today of Death By Paul Bettany!