Copyright © by Len Holman, 5/6/13


  I live in a rural area of the California high desert.  Sometimes, when I am coming home at night, even after living in the same house for seventeen years, I lose track of where I am and miss the dirt road I have to take to get to my house.  It’s dark out here at night out in my part of the world; streetlights are few and far between, and they are not very bright.  If I’m not really paying attention, I lose track of the few landmarks there are out there which indicate where my turn-off is:  that small brick wall painted yellow; that flagpole with a ragged American flag; those mailboxes on the side of the road.  After missing all my marks, and realizing I am driving to Nowhere, I pull off and curse and slowly turn around, trying not to get stuck in the soft sand which lines the narrow pavement on both sides.  Then I carefully drive back the way I came, hunched forward over the wheel, looking for something I recognize. 

  I finally see my road and turn off, thankful for successfully negotiating the desert’s confusing and—sometimes—treacherous darkness.  In the daylight, no problem.  At night, or in a dust storm, landmarks recede or disappear completely and even though I know approximately where I am, I still get nervous and frustrated, and—yes—angry.  Angry because the place I know like the brow of my head has been replaced by a landscape as foreign as Disneyland was to Mother Teresa.  If you’ve ever driven in a thick fog or a driving snowstorm, you know that feeling of being trapped in an alien place, fearful you are never going to get back, fearful you will lose every comforting identifying signpost of your former life, which, at the moment you have realized you’ve lost your way, suddenly seems to be the best life you ever led, a golden age—to which you desperately want to return. 

  And so it is now in the United States, with its traditional, mythical, and sometimes (but not often) factual landscape.  We seem to be divided into two main groups:  those who see a future and want to go there, and those who see a future they don’t want to ever see arrive.  The landmarks of our society, our world are changing at a faster rate than Hugh Hefner changes housemates.  One group knows, KNOWS, that if we could just turn around and go back, everything would be all right and the members of that group would be reassured and calm. The other group, a more pragmatic, less doctrinaire, bunch, sees the changes around it and acknowledges them.  This group says, for example, “there used to be a green house on that corner, a house I used to use as a sign that my turn-off is next—but now that house is gone, or at least has been re-modeled and is a different shape and a different color, so I’ll remember that and use it now for a new indicator of where I am and where I’m going.” 

  And our landscape IS changing—and at a rapid, dizzying pace:  people of the same gender are forming partnerships, unions, loving commitments to each other, and raising kids; there is a family with dark skin, which was not sprayed on or acquired at a resort in the Hamptons, living in the White House; the U.S. still has mighty military power, but continues to be persistently beset by the mosquitoes of terrorism and disaffection from countries and regions most Americans can’t find on a map; technology has come out of the secret labs and onto the shelves of Best Buy and Wal-Mart, transforming our entertainment and our information sources and dissemination; the planet is warming at a rate which confounds even the most conservative of climatologists, with consequences just starting to be felt, with consequences which could be dire and could change food production, housing patterns, and the balance of power worldwide; the sick, elderly, and indigent are being treated to sacrificial rituals which eviscerate their tenuous hold on life for the sake of an austerity imposed by politicians who have shown no compassion, no leadership, and no ability to solve problems; American government is not working and some are fine with that, thinking that—when the smoke clears and the rubble of democracy is shoveled away—the “real” America will emerge, and when that happens a hardy, conservative, golden-aged era will commence to make American great again. 

  This golden age is, of course, a relative term, since it was not so golden for Native Americans, women, the LGBT community, African Americans, and anyone not a white, land-owning male.  These people will go back into the shadows, where they belong.  It may be that with new excursions by machine and telescope into the outer reaches of our cosmos will change everything again, where earth-like planets are being found with increasing frequency and where there may be some new life for us to consider.  Americans do not assimilate very well.  We mow down the Other, the Not Like Us, with imperial, ruthless efficiency.  Our Omega Point is a dot painted on the nose cones of Hellfire missiles and the focus points of surveillance cameras.  We seem to be willing to do as we have always done, but the night is dark, and the landmarks we have always used are dim, receding, and in many cases, disappearing altogether.  Will we miss our turn-off, or just keep driving until we are stuck, hubcap deep, in the sand, wondering what went wrong?


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