OUTRAGE CONTEST: This American CarnageMac Robinson
She tells me to fuck off when I try to wake her.
“Come on, baby, you asked me to…”
“I’m not getting up, I refuse to acknowledge this day. I refuse to remember it.” She makes a point of rolling deeper into the covers and burying her face in the pillows. I’ve tread the boards of this particular morning scene many times but today it’s nothing to do with our collective hangover.
“We need to remember it,” I say, though I’m not sure she hears me. For a moment I consider turning on the soon-to-commence coverage but decide it will only make us both feel worse. I tell Madison I’m heading out for coffee and something close to words reaches me from the bedroom. I put on one too many scarves and my big coat before heading out the door. It is cold today.
The mood on the street is hard to gauge, or rather, I feel like I’ve lost the ability to gauge anything. It’s somehow bustling and dead at the same time, like the excitement for a party until you realize it might actually be a wake.
“Even Bush is looking more and more like a fucking verdant green, compared to this impending toxic spill.”
A couple of nights before, Dev and I were three rounds deep when the inevitable came up.
“Screw Dubbya, man, I’m already missing Barrack.”
“Barrack? Of course you miss Barrack. He weren’t no president, man, motherfucker is a damn angel. And now all you fucking white people that voted for this damn mangy sack of rotten orange peels suddenly got buyer’s remorse and shit. Fuck you. And fuck you!” Dev started waving his drink at a few other patrons in Proletariat. He eventually settled on a trio of college-aged women at the end of the bar.
“And you, ladies! The fuck happened?!”
I put my hand on his arm, not unforcefully.
“Dev, come on, man, I don’t think these girls voted for Little Lord Trumpleroy.”
He gave them another look before dismissing them with a wave and a grunt. He returned his focus to me.
“Fifty-one percent. Fifty-one percent, Jack! You told me that. Fifty-one percent of white women and now y’all are sitting there fucking slack-jawed, wondering how the hell this all happened. Shit.”
He shouted back to the girls at the bar, “I bet you think it ain’t right, huh? Unjust?” “Yeah, I do actually,” said the one nearest us, “We’re even marching in
four days so leave your drunken mouthing off for your friend there.” She shot me a dismissive look and turned away. Dev persisted.
“Oh! You’re marching? Well, my bad then. Actually, I should apologize, I mean, we’ve probably met, right?”
At this she was a little confused and let her guard down.
“I’m not sure I know what you me-”
Dev pounced, cutting her off.
“-Yeah, at a BLM rally? Aww nah, it was at Trump Tower, right? No? I didn’t think so…”
The girl had turned candy apple red and began holding her glass to
her face. “Well… I don’t usually do this kind of thing.”
“Of course you haven’t. I don’t care who you voted for, just don’t expect me to suddenly buy your fucking righteous anger thanks to your first brush with the injustice of crazy stupid white people.”
Dev knocked back what was left of his Jameson and slid his empty glass down the bar.
“Our drinks are on them,” Dev exaggeratedly motioned towards the girls and made for the door.
“I’m really sorry, ladies,” I said, leaving some bills on the bar, “I hope you’ll still go. Every bit counts.”
The bartender shook his head in my direction but I still thanked him as I walked outside. Dev was standing in a cloud of fragrant smoke spilling out from his vape.
“Shit, man, I’m sorry, that was out of line,” Dev shook his head.
“Well you definitely didn’t handle it brilliantly but… you’ve got a point,
“Yeah, but still, I hope those girls still go.”
“Me too. They have to.”
“Wanna see if we can get into P.D.T?” he asked after a beat.
“Sure thing, man,” I laughed.
It had snowed last night and as Maddy and I had stumbled home, bolstered by booze and immune to the cold, we’d resolved to join the resistance and march on the 21st. Standing outside of our building now though, the fresh powder already turning to sludge, Dev’s words come back to me. Maddy and I aren’t conscious protestors, we don’t go to rallies or marches, do we have a right to join in now? What makes this calamity that much worse than everything else this sad broken country has thrown at its people? The air is tickling my nose and ears and I consider re-joining Maddy upstairs but the cold has already woken me completely and I resolve to continue on my quest for caffeine.
The barista at Caffe Vita has told me his name at least twice but I’ve already forgotten again and it is far beyond the point of asking.
“Hey, Jack,” he nods.
“What a day, huh?”
“Fuck, dude, where do we begin?”
“Your family all OK, bro?” He’s already well into making my regular order. “Huh? Oh yeah, man, they’re all right. Just a little shocked, I guess? Yours?” “Nah, bro,” he says, his eyes hitting the floor, “my dad’s Mexican, he’s kinda
shitting himself to be honest.”
“Oh, Jesus…” Dev’s words hit me again and I feel like shrinking into the
“These are on me today, brother,” he says, seeing me pull out my wallet, “for your repeat business.” He smiles sadly, handing over my coffees. I thank him with an embarrassed grin and make for the street. The sound of the bell on the door gives me pause and I turn.
“Hey, man, what’s your name again?”
“It’s Diego, bro, same as my father.”
“Thank you, Diego.”
“See you tomorrow, Jack,” he says, the smile reaching his eyes.
Heading back homeward down Ludlow, four young guys in business formal wearing those gaudy red baseball caps are walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the street. A part of me hopes they’re just being ironic but their smiles are too wide and genuine and they stride with a swagger undeterred by self-examination. Calls of “fascist!” from a window above go entirely ignored. It’s a sad reminder of how enough of our country sees itself, or rather, how it thinks it ought to be seen: brazen, rash, bullish in the face of facts; belief over truth, arrogance over consideration. This is not the America I believe in. Is it?
As I get closer to home, I notice a shape on the door to our building that I don’t recognize. My pace accelerates and nearing the threshold, the shape comes into sharp, colorful focus against its white surrounds. Rendered in clean lines and bold, vibrant colors is a sunrise, floating above a single green hill with Lady Liberty looking on, her torch even more afire than the sun, a wry smile on her face. I recognize the artist immediately and feel a pang of longing for the friend I haven’t seen in years. His work has matured significantly but his script has remained unchanged. Beneath the image, written in his sloping, painted hand, it simply says: “Don’t let them take our color away.”
America is not my America. I am not magnificent. That is not the way of these United States. The only claim I hold to this sick, beautiful, mammoth country is the same claim everyone else has to it. Our own history is not even on our side. We abound with tragic flaws and gross injustice, a failing to most of our people. And yet… we can still be magnificent. We can be. And yet…
Stepping inside, the stairwell is filled with droning guitar music. I do my best not to trip on the stairs. Nearing our third-floor apartment, the opening measures of “Killer Parties” become clear. I somehow manage to get the door open without spilling any coffee. I can feel the bass pumping in my chest. Maddy is still in the bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed, wrapped in our blankets. The TV is on but
there is no way she can hear it. Sensing me in the doorway, she looks up, locking me in her gaze. She smiles deeply, in spite of the tears running down her cheeks. She starts mouthing the words, her stare and smile unwavering: “... we were young and we were so in love and we just needed space, and we heard about this place, they call the United States…”
Handing her the coffees, I peel out of my heavy winter clothes and join her on the bed.
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