been four years since I last visited the country of my birth, the
Shining City on the Hill, the country on the cover of my passport,
the United States of America. That was an interesting trip. Sure,
there were things to be angry about, and other things, many other
things, to be horrified by. There were also, however, many signs that
were encouraging. There were opportunities to hope for a return to
sanity. Slowly, surely, but to hope that some of the negative trends
in American society could be turned around, to hope that it would be
possible to return to a condition that was more conducive to enhanced
security for the greatest number of American families, and for the
increasing numbers of Americans who had given up on ever being able
to afford to have a family.
was hard to be optimistic though. It was hard enough to hope that the
American economy could ever again reach a condition in which everyone
could afford food and shelter simultaneously. So many people are
bereft. It's food OR shelter for many people. Good people, educated
people, people of all ages with no mental problems, no drug problems,
people with jobs that they go to every day, people who once would
have had a nice life, but who are now forced to live in their cars.
most encouraging sign on my trip to California four years ago was the
American people themselves. Almost everyone that I interacted with
was reasonable, considerate, and friendly. The record of that visit
was almost shocking. Amidst the ruins of American society, individual
people were still decent, hard-working, and kind. (I'll get to the
“ruins” part momentarily.)
were the little things, like buying a burner phone and a one month
hookup so that I could make and receive calls and text messages
during the trip.
I went to Fry's, in Manhattan Beach. I had loved this place for
years. They had everything; if it comes even vaguely under the
heading of “electronics,” they had a good selection of it. That
place was deep. I found, and bought, the only DVD copy of “Godzilla
Raids Again” that I have ever seen. It's almost impossible to find
that movie. Original cut, letter-boxed, full length, in Japanese!
(With subtitles.) Heaven at once. I say, “had,” because they are
gone now. The entire chain. My best guess is that Amazon put them
under. People are buying everything from Amazon now, everything from
TVs to computers to electronic components to hot sauce.
found the burner phones with no trouble and examined the selection.
The problem was that someone had decided that everyone in the market
for a burner wanted a smart-burner. A cheap substitute for your
Samsung back home. They were all about $100, or more, and I didn't
need that much phone. Pardon me, I'm not a penny-pincher, but nor do
I enjoy throwing money away. As I was standing there looking at least
confused, perhaps a bit annoyed, an employee came over. A very young
looking Hispanic man, probably still a teenager. He looked a bit
confused and annoyed himself. I told him, “these are too much phone
for what I need. All I want to do is make and receive calls, texting
would be nice, I'm only here for ten days.” He explained that these
were what everyone seemed to want these days. “We used to have the
cheap burners, but they're gone.” I thanked him for his help, and
gave the smart-burners the “oh, what the hell” look, and the kid,
with no change of expression whatsoever, says, “you know, let me go
and take a look. Maybe there's one back there.” He was back in
about five minutes with a small box, smiling for the first time in
our interaction. “This is the last one. Thirty bucks!” Some
typical Chinese company name, “Lucky Princess” or something.
Perfect! “Where do I get the hook up?” He knew that too.
“T-Mobile is the cheapest for short-term.” Great! There's a
T-Mobile in the shopping center that my bank is in. And my pizza
connection. And my Fatburger. And my Von's Supermarket, where my
phone number from twenty years ago still gets me the discount prices.
It's down the block from my old house.
went well at the T-Mobile. There were two customers, one lookie-lou,
and one guy working on forms. The nice young lady says to him, “do
you mind if I help this gentleman while you fill out the forms?” He
says that's fine. I was set up and out the door inside of ten minutes
with a one month unlimited calls and texts for thirty-five dollars.
That's sixty-five dollars all together, and the help was first class.
true in many countries, and America is no different. Nearer the
bottom of the demographic, people tend to be nicer. My next project
put me in a position where I was asking for assistance from people
further up the ladder. Much further. I held my breath.
they were great too! I cashed in two old whole-life insurance
policies that my father took out on my life long ago. At that point I
was the owner, the insured, and the beneficiary. I got nowhere
calling the companies, just stuck in endless menus, “to buy a new
policy, press one.” When I got a person on the phone, they were no
help. “What is the agent's name?” Honey, I hate to break this to
you, but that was three corporate mergers ago, and the policies are
from fifty to sixty years old, and the fucking agents are dead. When
you get all the way up to corporate in America, you get no
consideration at all.
I looked up offices currently serving as agents for the current
corporate entities holding the policies. In both cases, I didn't even
call first; I just showed up. I wore a suit and tried to look
prosperous. In both offices, I was welcomed with open arms, and
introduced to a high-powered agent within minutes. These were small
policies, very small, and I was just cashing them in, but both agents
were very generous with their time and energy. They made some calls,
verified everything, I provided them with a current address that
would work, and then they both took some time to chat. I had both
checks in hand within a week, and was able to deposit them while I
was still in town. One guy even validated my parking. (That's not a
small deal. The one that I paid cost me $28 for about an hour and a
second check to arrive got stuck in the bear trap. I have no middle
name. My father, the original owner and beneficiary of both policies,
did have a middle name. The check was made out to him.
I arrived at the bank to try to deposit the check, my regular guy was
not there that day. It was my last day in California. I scanned the
open-plan desk area and focused on a friendly Hispanic man with whom
I had a nodding relationship, developed over my two previous visits
to the bank. I went over, introduced myself, and explained the
problem. Bear in mind that my name is very unusual in its spelling,
and even the first name is on the rare side. So there are not a lot
of guys with my name, middle name or not. He thought about it,
smiled, and said, this should work. “Just sign your name like it
appears on the account.” He walked it over to a teller, and in a
few minutes he came back wearing a big smile and handing me a receipt
for the deposit.
was 2018, and now I am suspicious that America has slipped into mass
insanity, mental instability, and financial chaos just over the last
four years. Although the signs were there.
four years! So, on to the RUINS.
are in our third year of SARS-Cov-2 (COVID 19).
is officially a gangster state, and now seems poised to grab another
slice of the Ukraine. Kazakhstan just invited Russian military “peace
keepers.” Belarus is in the “forget about it” column, and the
three viable Baltic states are all on high alert.
Xi, over in China, has clearly decided that the old Chinese
preference for soft-power takeovers wasn't working for him.
must mention Trump. Please forgive me for bringing it up.
global climate is rushing to its tipping point, its point of no
return. You would think that the matter is no longer suitable for
debate, but you would be wrong. Even with the fires, the floods, the
droughts, the funnel storms, the atmospheric rivers, the entire new
catalog of climate horrors, a vast swath of the population maintains
with a straight face, if red-cheeked and angry, that that whole thing
is a hoax. Probably a Chinese hoax.
list of failed states grows longer day by day. Many countries are
poised to join the list. These places generate refugees at a
countries, including America, seem to be deciding that democracy
isn't the way to go after all. This list includes a few countries in
the European Union, and at least one that has been on the short-list
to join the EU. England is on its second bottle of vodka, washing
down the last of that hundred Seconals.
everywhere are on edge. Suicide rates are up. The entire world
financial system is a house of cards. All of the markets are in
danger of simultaneous collapse. Bubbles! Artificial Intelligence is
a creeping threat, through things like autonomous murder robots,
ubiquitous surveillance drones (often armed), CCTV, license plate
readers, facial recognition, block-chain, Facebook's Metaverse, and a
host of other mechanisms. Police are more on edge than anybody, and
surveillance society has become so pervasive that it's ridiculous. I
don't know how they do it. I woke up one day last month and had a
fleeting though that I should look up a certain thing on the
Internet. I didn't say anything out loud, and I made no reminder
note. When I turned on my computer, I didn't look for it right away.
And yet, within twenty minutes I saw two ads focused on that thing.
This morning I was sitting and talking with my wife about language
acquisition, a popular subject in a household where I am studying
Thai, half-studying Spanish, and always have German in the back of my
head, while my wife is working on a second BA for fun, in English
this time. I said one sentence in German, to make a point. (“Heute
geht den [der?] Plan nicht.”) There were no computers in the room, but her
phone was on, although dormant. When I returned to my computer, the
first ad that I saw was entirely in German. (“Willkommen zu Ihre
neue Stelle!”) I could read it easily, but it is very unusual for
me to get ads that are in anything but Thai or English. How do they do
that? It gives me the creeps.
just the last four years, the entire character of human society seems
to have shifted in a bad direction. Think of the BRIC countries.
That's Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Ten years ago, they were the
up-and-comers, the future of the world economy. Think for a moment
about the current state of those countries, and their four
presidents. I'm sorry that I even drew your attention to that horror.
still have many friends in California. Friends and relatives. Several
of them are anti-vaccine, and have lost very good jobs for their
refusal to cooperate. Three, to be exact. One has gone “off grid,”
living now in a cabin in the woods, Unabomber style. Couples are
talking about moving to other states. Divorce is in the air. People's
children can feel all of this tension and it's not doing them any
homelessness has become a permanent feature of life in many cities.
The response of government, large and small, has been, of course,
hostile. Homelessness, and even helping the homeless, has been
criminalized. It's all being handled in the most unchristian way, the
most inhumane way, the most cruel way possible. Many municipalities
have put spikes on all of the warm, flat surfaces! Dividers on public
benches to prevent homeless people from lying down! Laws against
standing in one place too long! I find the whole thing quite
chaos and dysfunction that settled into our Federal Government during
the Trump presidency also seems to have become permanent. Half of our
politicians seem to thrive on it, and the other half seem either
complicit or diffident. The Federal agencies are sleepwalking, and
suffer greatly from weak leadership. The Republicans have insured
that the Federal Courts are a total train wreck. I am under doctor's
orders never to think about our current Supreme Court, so I will
refrain from comment.
great divide in American politics has hardened into permanence. I'm
afraid to go back. I have a long, shiny paper trail marking me as
socialist, progressive, liberal scum. I might not even clear the
airport. There are people who would love to shoot me. That's
overstating the problem, but if I started shooting my mouth off it
would not be out of the question.
gives new meaning to that old book title, “You Can Never Go Home
Again.” In the micro sense, your old neighborhood, it has always
been thus. But that's gone macro by now. That whole world that we
knew and loved is well and truly gone.
comes next? God have mercy on our souls.