To: Cynthia Munch, Comptroller, Grants Division From: Mitch Kakuski
Ronald McDonald Foundation Helmsley/AMC Gitford Hotel
22278 Ronald Reagan Pacific Coast Highway 737 Seventh Avenue
Newport Beach, California 92663 New York, New York 10019
Dear Ms. Munch,
This is in reply to your response to my EMERGENCY request for more money. Let me remind you, in case you missed the messages I left on your machine over the weekend, that I am down to my last few thousand dollars, which won’t even cover the bill for last week here at the hotel. I know that by Third World (or even terrorized New York) standards, I’m not that bad off yet, but it makes me sick to think about having to go back to my old life. It would be like a genie giving you a magic carpet and flight lessons, then pulling the rug out when you got airborne. Anyway, you asked me to "give a thorough accounting" of the money already sent to me. Of course I’ve been too busy to keep track of every little thing, but here is what happened, from the beginning:
The Postal Service Delivers Hope
I received my Ronald McDonald Genius Grant by certified mail. Though I’d never applied for one, I wasn’t too surprised when it came. I’d seen an infomercial on TV about thousands of grants, worth billions of dollars, that foundations are desperate to give away.
I did think it was strange my name was misspelled on the envelope, and that the grant was for "Distinguished Work in the Flavor Dynamics of Recycled Fast Food Grease," but people make mistakes, even when large sums of money are involved. And sure, someone could question my credentials as a genius and say I should’ve known the grant wasn’t meant for me. But just because I was a substitute clerk at RadioShack doesn’t make me an idiot.
It’s true my mind can get lazy; I can’t count the number of times it’s spit out the command to "just do something!" when it got tired of thinking. And yes, I could barely put two words together on a page for the first few decades of my life. It took years of honing my craft, sending letters to the editors of local free weeklies, before I was able to write with my current coherency. But I did make it through nearly two years of community college, and have always been an avid collector of information, sometimes so much that I don’t know where to put it, so it just sits where I dropped it on the floor of my brain. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people have a hard time following my elaborate logic once I get rolling on a topic, and isn’t that an indicator of genius?
I really was surprised when I saw the amount on the check. You people are very generous. Of course I guess you can afford to be, with all the billions of hamburgers you’ve sold, even after all those cows went crazy from that "mad cow" brain disease a few years ago.
Moving On Up
After getting the cash (minus the 8% fee) at one of those bulletproof check cashing places and putting it in an old backpack, I found a "suite" at a nice hotel near Times Square (almost $300 a night). Spending money like that made me nervous at first, but it was just a drop in the bucket now that I was rich. I needed a quiet place where I could concentrate and make sure I didn’t squander the chance to turn my life around.
My new suite was sunny and spacious, with big TVs in both rooms. I ordered meals from room service (about $120 a day including tips), and sent one of the bellhops out to The GAP for three of everything in my size when I ran out of clean clothes (another $120 a day).
I spent a few days watching really interesting stuff on satellite TV and realized I was a sucker for living without it all those years. There’s a world full of knowledge out there, with channels dedicated to every subject you can think of, from debutantes to dictators, being broadcast on invisible waves right through our bodies 24 hours a day from broadcast towers, microwave dishes and satellites, but we can’t pick up any of it without the proper equipment. So I signed up for the hotel’s premium TV package ($50 a day), and bought a few DVD recorders ($1000 each) to record some of the stuff that was on when I was watching something else or asleep. You never know which nugget of information might turn out to be the missing piece of the puzzle. Did you know Xena the Warrior Princess is based on fact, according to the Amazon Network?
To top off the luxury, I didn’t have to lift a finger to keep the place spotless. The maid would come through every day at 11:00 AM, when I was watching "History’s Greatest Bloops and Blunders" on the What Happened Channel. I tipped her $20 a day, spreading the wealth.
After a week at the hotel, it occurred to me that I could afford a nice apartment. But I found it didn’t bother me at all to live in a place where I was always treated as a guest, and didn’t have to fill rooms with possessions like a pharaoh getting ready for the afterlife (thanks, Mysteries of History Channel). Instead I could become a more "evolved" human being, by realizing that "wisdom is the only luggage allowed on the soul train to enlightenment" (thanks, Don Cornelius Zen Channel).
The idea of becoming more evolved really appealed to me— I could almost feel the new "lobes" growing on my brain as I soaked up the satellite TV— so I decided to stay at the hotel.
Now That You Can Have Anything, What Do You Want?
Of course my first thought when I got the grant was to hire a beautiful young "escort" for a night out. We’d start in Chinatown, dining on the exotic deep-sea creatures I’d only dreamed about. I’d learned from the Green Channel that sadly, a lot of these species are nearly extinct because of demand from a wealthier China, and I wanted to try a few of them before the Pacific Ocean was vacuumed clean. But I found out escorts are really expensive. You could buy a decent used car for what they asked, and still have enough left over to buy gas and cruise suburban strip malls for bored and lonely housewives, happy with dinner and drinks at a freeway-exit steak house. Not that I would ever do anything so sleazy.
The last escort service I called gave me the number of an "adult entertainment" line. But I was so disgusted after talking to three of the girls there that I gave up. They each had low, husky voices and said the most perverted things I’ve ever heard. I was pretty turned off by the phone bill, too, when I found out the "girls" were really inmates at a prison upstate, and that the calls cost $19.99 a minute. You’d think being locked up with a bunch of sweaty thugs would dull the sexual imagination, but I guess not.
Peacock Feathers Are an Evolutionary Necessity (Thanks, Natural Broadcasting Corporation)
After that experience I realized there was a hole in my new life— I was kind of lonely. I was pretty sure I’d have a better shot at getting a girlfriend now that I could afford to maintain a decent appearance. I even considered getting plastic surgery to make myself look really good, but then thought about the burdens of beauty, and imagined how terrible it must feel for someone like Brad Pitt to be sitting around the house half drunk one day, then look into the mirror at those long eyelashes and suddenly realize it won’t be long— before they fall out, his gut spills over his belt and pops his shirt buttons, and he’s staring into the pink eyes of a fat leprechaun at the tail end of a bender.
Beauty is like fruit— the moment it reaches its peak is the moment it starts to rot.
Plus I wasn’t sure what I wanted to look like. Studies show that women prefer "pretty" men like Brad, but then so do men, and I wouldn’t be comfortable with a bunch of men’s eyes crawling all over me — I don’t know how you women stand it. Then I thought about going for a more "thuggish" look, but could guess the outcome: me and my new girl are the only passengers in a subway car late at night when some teenage lowlifes sit down across from us. They stare at us and smile, then ask if we want to go "party" with them. When I say "no thanks," they laugh and say "that’s OK, you don’t have to go..." then start praising the finer points of her anatomy. Pretty soon she turns to me and asks "Did you hear what they said? Are you gonna let these punk m………..s say this s..t to a lady?!"
There’s no way this scene can have a happy ending. Looking like a thug just attracts trouble, and doesn’t scare off a real one, who can smell the killer inside like a shark smells blood (yes, sharks do smell underwater somehow (thanks, Cousteau Channel), while we humans get underwater in the bathtub so we do not smell). I can get angry and boil for weeks, but don’t have a violent bone in my body, and want to keep all my bones. I decided that being average-looking and sort of invisible, like I’ve always been, isn’t so bad— you can pass through the world without anyone noticing and see it as it really is, like a reporter from another planet— so I skipped the surgery.
Prisoner of Love
No matter what you look like, it seems like most relationships either go bad, with a nasty divorce and decades of child support, or the marriage works out and the rest of your life is cast in stone, so there’s hardly any point in waiting around to see what happens. Either way, the husband will to have to spend his entire life:
1) working indoors, stuck in a dead end job at an airless office surrounded by incompetent bureaucrats, working for a petty fascist whose only enjoyment in life is spreading misery, until the poor guy has stewed in the pressure cooker for so long that one day he "goes off" and "takes out" everyone around him with an assault rifle, but then has to confront the ultimate, predictable humiliation when he can’t "take out the trash" that is himself, and winds up begging the SWAT squad to do it as he sits on the floor rattling hand grenades and whimpering in the smoke rising from the carnage, looking like a Big Baby Destroyer of Worlds, or
2) working outdoors, where the monotony, scorching sun and freezing rain break him down day by day, like erosion eating away at a mountain, until his face is shriveled up like a walnut, his fingers and toes are all crooked, and it hurts every time he moves, so he winds up drinking and taking pills all day to numb the pain and silence the alien voices that rise every afternoon like scavenging pterodactyls on the whistling wind.
(Yes, as I’m pretty sure you’re thinking, I shouldn’t look so far ahead and snuff out the embers of romance before they even catch fire. It’s not that I don’t feel the longing and desire that makes you want to drop everything and follow a beautiful stranger into the unknown. I get that feeling all the time here in New York, like an outline of her was tattooed under my eyelids at birth, so when my eyes lock onto her the world slows to a crawl and the DNA in every cell in my body starts screaming to leave this low-rent vessel and move into hers, to sprout a new branch of the family tree. The trouble is that after a while, instead of imagining the branch growing toward the sun in a sky blue future, I feel it wrapping itself around my ankles, then smothering me like vines on a dead tree trunk.
You’re right, I need to stop thinking so much, it gets in the way of my happiness. But without funds, you can bet I won’t have much else to do.)
So, after all that, I bought one of the Japanese key-chain pets ($29) I saw on the Spend ‘n Save Channel. It’s a digital leech named Froyd, and I have to push a button to feed him blood a few times a day or he starts saying "Froyd vants blood— a virgin vould be good" like a vampire, louder and louder until you feed him. It’s really embarrassing to have Froyd go off in my pocket in the middle of a crowd, so I’m pretty religious about feeding him.
The World Turns Out to Be a Super Titanic
NOTE: I have to warn you that things take off from here. Current events suddenly hijacked my new life and turned me away from luxuries like love and happiness, back to the irritated frame of mind I had when I wrote letters to the weeklies. Or even more irritated, because the topic in the weeklies was usually just an excuse for an argument, and now it’s the fate of the world.
After the terrorists murdered thousands of people for the greater glory of Allah and dimmed every beautiful day (like 9/11 was here) with a lurking sense of dread, I started wondering if my happiness was the only thing that mattered. I tried to think of what I could do to improve the world.
Of course my first thought was to go on a personal "jihad." I’d buy a plane ticket to Pakistan, grow a beard, and infiltrate the local scene. I’d act deaf and dumb, and carry a Koran with a picture of Osama bin Laden, then point to the picture and hold up a piece of paper that said "Please help me find my daddy!" I knew from watching the King Fahd Channel (KFC) that family is the most important thing in that part of the world, and some of these people have upwards of 50 children. (Maybe that’s why the women wear those big black robes? Imagine what having so many kids does to your figure.) Sure I didn’t look much like bin Laden, but if I started smoking opium when I got there it would give me the same deadly serenity, and after I played my KFC Islamic Science video that shows how infidels are descended from twelve-breasted rats and how Allah invented the nuclear bomb to eradicate them, there would be no question about my sincerity. I was sure I’d find "daddy" in no time.
And when I found him and his bloodthirsty crew I’d martyrize them on the spot: I got a bomb recipe from the Militia Channel (fertilizer, sugar and Diet Coke), and some tips on how to be a suicide bomber from the Al Jazeera Network (remind yourself that your victims are ants; eat garlic to cover the smell of the bomb; chant (something that sounded like) "God is good, God is great! Let’s go, let’s go, Mississippi State!" until you’re in the mood). It’s true this act would go against my non-violent, self-preserving instincts, but all I had to do to get past them was psyche myself up and push a button, then let everyone else worry about cleaning up the mess afterwards.
The only thing I wasn’t clear on was what I’d say just before I set off the bomb. People would want to understand my motivation— was I doing it for God, for my People, for spite, or just to get on TV? I needed something clever, something an action hero like Bruce Willis would say, but he had millions of dollars worth of Hollywood screenwriting talent to think up his lines, and all I had was myself. So I decided I’d have to put off the bombing, keep watching TV, and hope some of that talent rubbed off on me.
Is the World Such a Wreck That It Deserves to Be Blown Up, Along with All Us Inhabitants?
Meanwhile I’d continue to think about what was wrong with the world. Some people said the terrorists had the right to kill as many random strangers as possible because their People were being disrespected and the world is not fair. These people are idiots, but it’s true the world’s not fair. It never has been and probably never will be. But the terrorists don’t want a fair world anyway, they want a "perfect" one, under their thumb, just like the commies did. (Conclusions formed after weeks of grueling TV watching.)
After the terror attack, you could feel the hole blown in the side of reality, like America just found out it was mortal. All of a sudden nothing mattered but survival, and all the stuff we normally argue about was submerged under a river of grief and anxiety. But it wouldn’t take long for the thieves to learn to breathe underwater and get back to work.
Thank You Ronald
I walked by a group of half a dozen street people every day near 51st and Broadway, up the street from Times Square. A few of them looked like pirates, with shifty eyes and missing teeth, trolling for spare change in the stream of potential suckers that flows by every day. It was pretty obvious they ran the lives of the more disturbed members of the crew, "managing" their disability checks and medication.
Once in a while I stopped to talk to the ringleader, a loud woman who went by the name "Squirrel Girl." In between her twitching and profanity, and while I tried not to stare at what looked like algae growing on her teeth, she told me her story. She said she and her friends used to live in the crevices around the World Trade Center, "till them terror morons blew it up for virgins," and they were forced to migrate north, driven out by the smoke from burning computers and by rescue workers who didn’t appreciate her and her friends standing in line with them for free sandwiches and coffee.
"I can’t believe they think they’re killin’ everybody for God! God don’t give a damn what people do, or He’d take care ‘a these morons," she said, pointing a thumb at her friends. These lost souls passed their days buzzing around garbage cans and muttering complaints at passing shadows, living in private worlds that barely intersect this one. I realize this doesn’t mean they have no purpose here, though I doubt they know what it is. Their job, since the day the other Ronald (Reagan) started emptying the insane asylums, has been to keep the rest of us in line – by reminding us that this ledge we’re walking on is narrow, and when we fall off, it’s all over. (Thanks to FOX’s "World’s Craziest Homeless People" for this conclusion.)
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves,
Reagan’s followers, including the current president, Bush Jr., claim that personal responsibility is the cornerstone of a healthy society, and that’s one of the world’s greatest ideas. But then these ungrateful parasites don’t want to pay taxes to support the system that helped them get rich, so the rest of us suckers get to pay their bill, a.k.a. "the deficit." This is because they believe either that:
1) it will cost them less to put up electric fences and hire a private police force than to help support a healthy society (this is known as the "Republican Model," according to the Popular Front Channel), or
2) the meek shall inherit the earth, but only after assertive people have chewed it up and spit it out, and are relaxing in cryogenic tubes on luxury space ships speeding toward a fresh planet (thank you, Popular Mechanics Channel), or
3) they are geniuses who could have made it anytime, anywhere— selling heaters in Hell— and are upset they haven’t received recognition from a genius grant foundation like I have, or most likely,
4) they are blessed, and God has given them the moral right to live better than everyone else.
The Promised Land
Just before Bush and his "religious right" attorney general, John Ashcroft, began advertising their White House prayer meetings, the president said we are blessed, and it’s our natural right as Americans, practically our duty, to burn energy like there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile the "religious right" Reverend Pat Robertson bought an old, broken down oil refinery and tried to start it up, hoping to raise more money for the cause.
Then Osama bin Laden, a product of the Saudi royal family’s oil wealth and official fundamentalism, came along and made self-serving righteousness look bad— and momentarily distracted the Republicans from their endless attempts to move the U.S. closer to the Saudi "religious right" model.
What’s this relationship between God and oil, anyway? Is His spirit locked inside the stuff, and we have to burn it to spread the spirit? To the lungs, which are next to the heart? Or have these people been tipped off that there is no tomorrow, and there’s no point in conserving anything or worrying about the mile-high wall of flame about to engulf us because, in the words of Bush’s favorite Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, "for the believing Christian, death is no big deal." (These facts kept pouring out of the Nonstop News Network; I quit watching, it was too depressing.)
(Or maybe something even more sinister is going on. I watched a show on the Ripley’s Science Channel about how oil comes from dead dinosaurs. After some animations showing gigantic brontosaurus graveyards turning to liquid under the hot sands of Arabia, the show went on to hypothesize that we’ve inhaled so much dinosaur DNA from burning oil and gas fumes that some of us will start mutating into dinosaur-like beings pretty soon. Of course my first thought after learning this was that the Texas and Saudi oil people are part of a secret cult planning to resurrect the dinosaurs and take over the world. But then I remembered that they already rule the world.)
The news always shows pictures of politicians going to church, but it’s considered too personal to ask exactly what kind of weird religious beliefs they have. Maybe this is because half of Hollywood belongs to the Church of Scientology and the media doesn’t want to advertise the fact? I won’t even go into the contorted fantasies these people base their lives on, because I don’t want to get sued or murdered. But they are just actors, the off-screen shells of the characters they play on screen, and their beliefs don’t affect anyone. Until they run for office.
The Moral Quandary of Being Protected by Republicans
The ruthless, gun loving Republicans are naturals to defend us from the terrorists. But just like the fresh new kid in a maximum-security prison full of perverts, we’re going to have to pay for the protection (thanks for the nightmares, "Scared Straight— After School Special," AOL Time Warner SuperStation). It makes me sick, but the facts are:
1) someone has to stop the fundamentalist mass murderers, because they see everyone as slaves to the next life,
2) the Republicans have their own fundamentalists, and have always been comfortable with the rest of us being slaves in this life
(and like the fundamentalists, their success depends on keeping a large percentage of the smelly, sweltering "masses" desperate and ignorant enough to thank them for table scraps (thanks, Comrade Central)),
3) no one’s going to save you from the Republicans, now that the Democrats are deflated from: (a) finally figuring out that the world will never be fair, (b) losing faith in their plans to make the world as safe and caring as a daycare center
(run by robots, where everyone is so pampered that they turn into bloated parasites, fed liquefied Happy Meals by intravenous tube as they lay in their hammocks watching the Wrestling Channel all day, until no one has enough muscle left to dust off the robots, so they all break down and everyone starves to death (thanks, Twilight Zone Channel)),
and © getting slapped like sissies by the Republicans for so long. Now they just sit and watch, and let the money and corruption creep over them like clouds over the sun. Why should the Republicans be the only ones getting fat?
Meanwhile Bush, like Reagan, thinks reading the teleprompter with some TV emotion makes him a real leader, when it just makes him the "front man" selling the facade to the suckers. And instead of growing into greatness with his new popularity, he still spends most of his time selling the same old "pump gas, print money & pray" philosophy he was before the terror, just like the Saudi oil princes. Of course there’s plenty of time for him to change, but I’m not holding my breath. Unless the terrorists spray me with nerve gas.
I Had a Dream
By the way, if hearing the stuff above would upset all those rabid right wing Republicans out there in California, and cause them to vote at their next convention to let the Bush clan, Nancy Reagan and the Christian Coalition stand me up against the wall of an abortion clinic and execute me without a last meal, fine. I just had another one of those dreams, where a jet with its tail blown off and people spilling out the back is flitting all over the sky looking for a place to crash, so I don’t care. If we’re all going to die, we should at least speak our minds and face Judgment Day without a slick lawyer at our side.
You aren’t one of those rabid right wing California Republicans are you?
Go Forth and Multiply the Right
to Bear Arms?
The humiliation of being protected by Republicans has given me a feel for the NRA, militia nuts, and people in Utah, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc., who feel everyone needs their own assault weapons to protect themselves from everybody else threatening their paranoid way of life. Like those weasels at the U.N., who are always looking for a way to force Americans out of big, comfortable cars.
(When everyone knows the U.S. was built on gas-guzzling cars, that they are its blood and the freeways its veins. If that fact chains us to humiliated, corrupt oil countries whose proudly ignorant and spiteful citizens want to blow us up just because Britney Spears won’t answer their creepy love letters (People Magazine Channel), well, what can I say? It’s the best deal we could make with the devil.)
And after taking our cars and forcing us onto slow, crappy solar-powered buses, they’d raise our taxes to pay for (1) condoms in poor countries, so they can all go buck wild and have safe sex all day for free, and (2) abortions in poor countries, where all the peasants want boys who can pull a plow and inherit 1/50th of the farm some day, which means no more girls would be born there, which means pretty soon our shores would be choked with rusty boats full of horny foreigners trying to get at our women, including you (Repent! Channel).
So the pro-gun, anti-sex nuts do have a point. But how will assault weapons protect you from a jet plane without a tail? It’s almost like defending against an asteroid from outer space, and for that everyone would need their own assault spaceship with a nuclear device. Maybe that’s what this Star Wars program they’ve been working on is going to do? Spaceships are too expensive, but they would give everyone on earth their own miniature nuclear device, and the threat of getting blown up would make everyone respect the rights of others?
At first glance this might seem like a reasonable approach to security. But with six billion people on earth, there’s bound to be a few kids, religious nuts or drunks who go ahead and push the button, causing a chain reaction of 5,999,999,999 more nuclear explosions, and burn us all off the face of the earth (no TV necessary for this one, just common sense). Of course that would end our suffering— unless the religious nuts are right, and we’re all sentenced to their next life.
You aren’t one of those religious nuts, are you?
Back to Reality and Squirrel Girl
Anyway, in spite of all my bellyaching about Republicans, I definitely do not agree with people who say "nobody deserves to go hungry or homeless," when everyone knows some people don’t deserve to breathe. But I do believe everyone deserves a few chances, and it struck me that Squirrel Girl and her friends— who were working hard to eke out a living as bums in the wilderness of Midtown, and making a more honest attempt to cope with reality than the terrorists— deserved another chance.
So I bought them all plane tickets to L.A. ($3800 one-way), gave them $600 cash for drinks before, during and after the flight— they were worried about security— and enough for some new clothes, two weeks at a motel near the beach, three nutritious meals a day, and a chauffeured limo to take them to job interviews ($8800). I was sure the fresh air and new opportunities out west would help them turn things around, but gave them your address just in case. I guess that’s what the message from your assistant Eldridge was about. I could tell he was agitated, but that was about it— it sounded like he was shouting and drowning at the same time. You’d think a Digital Surround Sound answering machine ($600) could take a message without garbling it.
I have to admit I thought about escaping to L.A., too— there’s no center to it, so the terrorists would have a harder time figuring out what to blow up. But I’ve decided to stay put, because New York needs all the help it can get. Which means I need you— to send more money.
So Thanks for Everything, But Please Send More
The grant transformed me, like an ugly "larva" turns into a majestic Monarch butterfly (Wings Channel), and I owe it all to you, Ms. Munch. But there is a problem. After all the accounting above, I guess it’s obvious I need a higher level of income to maintain my lifestyle than I used to. Without being accusatory, I’d like to respectfully point out that you made me dependent on this lifestyle. And now that I’m out of money and facing life in the gutter, it’s pretty obvious you should’ve given me a fishing pole instead of a bucketful of fish, as I’m sure Ronald Reagan would tell you if he could.
From what I’ve seen on TV, he wasn’t right about much of anything, but he sure was right that welfare is poison, and that you shouldn’t just send people a check in the mail. The grant freed me from worries about basic survival, but then I started worrying about all these other problems. And how can I solve them if I can’t think straight because I don’t know where the next dollar is coming from? How can I go back to RadioShack after living so well, thanks to you?
When you sent the grant, you saved my life. And it’s a well known fact that you’re responsible for someone after you save their life. It’s just like saving a dog from the gas chamber at the pound— you can’t decide a week later you don’t like the slobbering Rottweiler after all, and ditch him in the suburbs with a bagful of burgers. You made yourself responsible for the poor creature, and it’s your duty to love and feed it till it drops dead of old age or a brain disease.
You bet on my future, too, financing my genius in the hope it would improve the world. If you invested in a company, would you turn your back the first time it hit a bump in the road? If everyone did that, pretty soon the whole economy would collapse and we’d all be sitting in mud drinking rubbing alcohol and trading army surplus grommets for zippers like they were in Russia a few years ago, before they struck oil.
It All Depends on the Future of
And speaking of Russia, the only way out of this mess is to put more money on the table and spend our way out— the same strategy Reagan used to beat the commies. I just need time to regain my footing and learn how to "fish," maybe with some foreign language classes at a small, elite college, so I’m ready when the future arrives, and either:
1) Bush and the Saudi princes become the biggest heroes in history and establish a world government that gives everyone freedom, education, fresh air, health care and satellite TV. Then space aliens reprogram the satellites to suck our brains out and transport all our thoughts to their galaxy for a new reality show called "The Universe’s Craziest Planets," or, more likely,
2) earth becomes a boring European socialist utopia where everyone sits around sidewalk cafes all day, meditating and reading poetry, and complaining about tourists, Hollywood blockbusters, and the three-day work week that’s running them into the ground, or, just as likely,
3) we’re neck deep in strife, as the world keeps contracting and everyone gets more and more irritated, like the inside of an atomic bomb, or a family in a hot motel room with a broken TV.
If (1) comes true, it doesn’t matter what I do. If (2) comes true, I’ll have to learn French and etiquette just to get a job as a busboy. If (3) comes true, an executive-level CIA job in Paris or Rome might be nice— so long as I get to wear a disguise that makes me look un-American and I don’t have to visit the embassy, which would be a prime target.
We have to worry about getting blown up nowadays because everyone in the world hates America. We were stupid enough to give them TV, they’ve seen all the stuff we have, and now they want it for themselves. They hate the way we run the world, too, as though they could do a better job. I just saw some Norwegian on the World Channel talking about what vicious idiots we are— this from an icicle of a country where nobody’s worked a lick since they struck oil, and like the Beverly Hillbillies, decided to buy some class; this from a country whose main export for centuries was seafaring thugs called Vikings, who would chop your head off as soon as look at you (Nordic Pride Network).
Everyone else had, what?, thousands of years to make the world a decent place to live and they failed miserably. We’ve been at it for less than 100 years, and now even the most backwards village in the world can drink Coke and watch MTV. What are these ingrates complaining about?
But I guess it’s natural for people from old places to be jealous after they’ve spent centuries cultivating the best cuisine, art and ideas, and then an upstart nation stumbles from one success to another without even trying, like a blessed idiot. It’s got to be galling to feel the haute blood of royalty coursing through your veins under the stupid uniform, as you call out "Un Big Mac, sans le pickle!" from the counter day in and day out, even if the work does ultimately result in such high-minded and necessary programs as the Genius Grant.
Conclusion: There’s Only One Right Thing to Do, I’m Pretty Sure
No matter how the world turns out, I’ll need more money right away (on top of living expenses), so I can pay tuition, buy books and get some clothes in the school colors. Beyond school spirit, I’ll need faith, purpose and money, like the right wingers, religious nuts and terrorists have, but more positive and less deadly. Unless you think it’s more important for the future of the world that I blow up the terrorists, in which case I’ll sign up for a screenwriting class so I can come up with my final statement. Or if all the cows start going crazy again and threaten the fast food business, I could either take science classes and discover a cure, or take public relations classes and talk people into accepting the risk of going insane from cheeseburgers. It’s the least I can do after all you’ve done for me.
With that kind of purpose and more money, all I need is faith. No matter what classes I take, I’ll have to cultivate myself, so I have faith in myself. And I’ll need to cultivate my faith in humanity, so I care about it enough to help save it. My faith in humanity, and maybe humanity itself, depends on you and your continued support— please don’t disappoint me.
Kurt Strahm is a prolific painter and writer. He lives in Greenpoint.
Anne Ishii with Cynthia Arrieu-King
JUL-AUG 2022 | Critics Page
The first thing I notice is the timbre of your voice as you tell me about alternative practices of reading, though I mean to begin with a more visual cue per the instructions of this prompt. Beginning with the sonic register of paperless notifications, audiobook mimesis, conversations over gluten-free snacks, I think, is not the alternative but the normative practice because it keeps us closer to vernacular praise, where we all need to be as people of the future. Anyone who has had a great teacher will recall a literal voice, and that is still what I hear when we converse silently: the teacher is a work of art because she travels in her own timbre.