Move your elbow and you change the periphery of the universe. A high school English teacher named Gordon Wood told me that the year before I dropped out. Hmph—what a thought. A fragmentary remembrance that appears pregnant with meaning. A particle allowing me to understand this place and time in the same way Higgs Boson allows matter to understand mass. Magic to keep me connected with all and everything. It leads me to think about Camp 14. Camp 14, a prison camp in North Korea where starving children fight vicious battles over kernels of undigested corn picked from cow turds. Then, to think about this nation. My nation. Not America, but the United States of America. America the Exceptional. Perhaps the most warlike to ever exist on planet Earth, that being our solution to all things foreign, domestic, universal. Trying, in my head, to count the number of conflicts that have occurred in my lifetime. Shooting wars. Culture wars. War for fun and profit. Wars on this. On that. National treasure squandered on squabbles. Treasure down the rabbit hole. Monuments and institutions transformed. Turned to green paper bandages to stanch bleeding. To cover wounds. Our final solution.
In January 1964, Johnson declared “unconditional War On Poverty in America.” Since then, taxpayers have fronted $15 trillion for that magnificent endeavor. Money well spent, to be sure, as I no longer see neighbors rummaging cow turds with hope-filled eyes.
Over time we have become a nation of Czars. The better to manage our wars, I guess. When we went to war with banks for stealing money, President George H.W. Bush appointed a Savings and Loan Czar. The Millennial Threat caused President Bill Clinton to hire a Y2K Czar, and later, Hillary promised a much needed Poverty Czar to manage those trillions, if only we let her win. Too much for her to ask, perhaps. She is still hanging around stage left, so maybe it will yet happen. In any case, we now have a Pay Czar, Climate Czar, Drug Czar, and twenty or thirty others, created, anointed, usurped now and then. All sitting on golden thrones within their bureaucracies, warring with one another while we sit beside our picnic baskets eating fried chicken, watching like spectators at The First Battle of Manassas, and understanding little to none of it. Makes me wish I could pack my trash and leave forever. Just go back to the little barrio I know in the Philippines, sit on my front porch, drink coffee, eat sweet bread, and watch uncorrupted children play.
I live my time in an imperfect country in an imperfect world, as all before me have. I know that. But knowing does not make life better. So it seems, anyway. Maybe that just means my mirror is warped, or that I need new glasses, or perhaps simply to howl at the rising moon. Do something to draw me away from all the cow turds lying in the middle of the road. Something to remind me of my impotence and knock my arrogance down a notch or two. But that is a lie I tell myself. In truth, I need soft things with round corners. I need to embrace my wife and children. Kiss a baby’s cheek. Drink chilled beer with friendly neighbors. Write my stories no matter their worth. Do things that restore me. Things that make me whole. For the rest? Well, it will probably have to take care of itself, because I can, after all, only move my elbow in hope it will be enough.
For more of Sigurd’s letters, click here!