Lincoln by Gore Vidal
Subtitle: Cute Elitist Disguised As Former Teacher, Red States vs. Help, And A Few Thoughts on Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln”.
But first some nonsense.
Character X: The world is starving for variety and things dynamic. The world requires nothing from humanity and yet things static and universal seem to rule all – simply because that’s what thrills humanity?
Character Q: Why?
Character X: I’m guessing that the opposite of things static and universal might be the variation and dynamic. I come to this lackadaisical conclusion because life wouldn’t be where or what it is if things were variable and dynamic. (Short pause, deep breath, exhausted from the banality.)
Character Q: Oh goodness. Your brain is hemmoraging again. Let me get a tissue and some sewing thread. There. There. (Pause. Threads the needle he found under the couch and proceeds.) Now. If you must push on. I must, as well. There’s so little time left. (Shorter pause but proud of the banality.) So. Sorry for that. Go on.
Character X as Q: At the least, variety and things dynamic are worth fighting for. Or? Let me move on to the subject at hand.
While visiting Tuscany in 2005, beyond the astonishment of the beautiful landscapes, rolling vineyards with perfectly manicured vines, I had to face the onslaught of American’ts who could still afford the weak dollar abroad to sight-see and, of course, drink extremely overpriced wine. In contrast, I wasn’t a tourist and for the past so-many years I consider myself a class fighter warring against the Disney-fied evils of complacent, superficial, malignant but bat-outta-hell fun American’ts. (Actually it’s a war of attrition and I’m my own enemy.) You see, I too am an American’t – in the form of an expat that can’t get far enough away. With that in mind, my American’t is different than the American’t of those cruising to Italy and bathing in tannin tastes. Indeed. It’s even more different to those I was facing because I was on a mission from Flying Spaghetti Monster to fill a German cellar with Montepulciano.
Being judgmental is a very rude thing to do but I do it all the same. Don’t we all? What I don’t do is put it out there for everyone to see (present company excluded). Unless you want to know how it came to be that the image of children playing in a sandbox symbolizes the(ir) future. The only thing I ask when pushing (as I am now doing) my thoughts and ramblings as (worst)writer is that you do not assume, like other judges, that I’m being hypocritical. My Tuscany visit was not of my own doing and the criticisims I hold toward (former?) compatriots was also not mine. I am not the elitist nor do I strive to become such. To be clear: I am nothing more than baggage and I really do prefer to be left alone to waddle around in this society of baggage carriers. Wishful thinking, eh.
Why is it then that I get so perturbed by American’ts that can afford in this economy to spend two weeks in Tuscany drinking wine and not reading a damn thing to help better the lives of what in reality they are all running away from? The reason is simple and reveals itself in the form of a question: how many more generations of American’ts will be able to ride on these laurels?
While waiting in the lobby of a hotel in Tuscany for my girlfriend (she was getting ready for dinner) I ran into three New York women fresh from a long day of wine-tasting. Two of the woman were retired public school teachers and the other was the assistant to the director of New York City public schools. They heard me using American’t English on my handy (that’s Eurowasteland language for mobile phone) and when I was done the assistant to the director of New York City public schools mentioned from across the way:
“Oh, how is he,” she said in an endearing but somewhat smoked-out voice. She was referring to the book in my lap.
“He’s fine,” I uttered. I was reading Lincoln by Gore Vidal.
“It’s not good,” she either asked or demanded assuming that my previous response was a form of skepticism.
“No. No. Of course it’s good. It was written by a brilliant man,” I said with a bit more confidence.
“I’ve never understood where Vidal is coming from, you know what I mean,” she asked, her tone changing, pacifying.
“Well,” I said, wanting to be more provocative. “What does that matter? I think he’s brilliant at using fiction to depict truth.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re right. But I just don’t get him,” she said.
“Well, you should give this a read then,” I said and tried to get back to my book.
She remained standing and massaged a look into her face that couldn’t relieve the want of a question to coincide with an answer that she thought she already had devised. When the two other women left for their rooms I assumed that the one who stayed wanted to spend a bit more time weakening the effects of a day of sun, landscapes and tasting. Instead she sat down in the chair across from me. I understood it as a gesture of combat.
“I’m curious, she said, he eyes glazed. “What do you think of him? Tell me more.”
Stop signs went off in my head. How many times have I beemn coerced into conversations with people who wish they would read more? Years of travel, years of lifting my eyes from the pages of a book only to see if her ass was round enough for my tastes have all come back to haunt me. And I hadn’t even checked out this school teachers other parts. But there are just some mannerisms that stick after being reared in the breadbasket between a north and a south.
“I can understand that people consider Vidal a bit wordy or perhaps a bit anti-American. But honestly, if you want to read about the mind of a president and how he made some very difficult decisions and was eventually annihilated for it, this is the book. Lincoln was truly the last great president because he is the only one that stood the true test of what this country is supposed to be about.”
“Slavery,” she interjected at my pause.
“N0. A union,” I said. “Besides, all other presidents that followed him you could wipe the floor with.”
Oh!” she said. “I really don’t understand him.”
It turns out that she tried reading one of his books once, but she couldn’t recall which one, and since then had only followed the press and TV that he appeared in. Then she gave it one more try.
“But he’s so… How can I put this without sounding… I mean… He’s so… Elitist,” she said.
I was a bit taken-aback with someone who lives and works in New York City claiming someone else is elitist. I thought and/or judged (her): New York City; perfectly manicured hair and finger nails; she still sits with a straight, stiff back as though her lost girl-ness was poured into her spine and hardened like the concrete used in the Berlin wall.
I decided to stear clear from the internal conflict of my heritage on that side of the Atlantic.
“So. Because you think he’s elitist you don’t read him? Seriously, especially now, after what’s been going in the world, this book is more valid than ever before. The way Vidal describes Lincoln’s decision-making and the interaction among his cabinet members… In a way you get a picture with this book about what it means to vote and have your vote heard. It’s utterly brilliant the way Vidal portrays the whole thing.”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about voting, too. I mean, what is wrong with our country? It’s such a relief to get out. There’s no talk radio in Europe is there? When I’m here I see different things. Hear different people. Do you have any idea why the red states have become so powerful?”
She sat back in her seat and crossed her legs. I was dealing with an American’t democrat, a liberal, someone who thinks that being nice is a way of life. Oh my!
Luckily my girl came down stairs all freshly showered with her thick dark hair in a bun, subtle eye makeup and no lipstick. Our magical dinner of red wine, Italian ham, antipasti and fresh bread was just around the corner. But I’ve been trapped before by “liberal” American’ts traveling around Europe. They all think that American’t is screwed up and getting out for a two week vacation is gonna answer any of the existential questions they have about the corrupted soil they walk on. When they meet Europeans who can see through the idiotic foreign policies that are only feeding war mongers and profiteers I’m probably somewhat of a relief to chat-up. I reckon it’s the twang, slang, draw of my fake accent. I can actually understand the politics that are governing the US post cold war. I can even understand how my home country has become overly self-conscious regarding its odd status in the world (and perhaps even in history). And I can disagree with Americant’s antics in a way that isn’t just US-bashing. Also, due to my effort(s) in becoming an ex-pat, it’s not that easy for the traveling show-case of elitist tourists to see that my heritage is the trailer trash that is now occupying their lives and making what little spec of American’t culture there was prior to Ronald Reagan a gaseous cloud of methane rising out of the soil and mental trailer park that has become their United Mistakes of American’t.
I gestured to the New York City woman that it was time for me to go. She acquiesced and the conversation ended with one last question.
“What is it that you think we can do to make things better? America can’t go on like this. You live abroad, you live in a place where people think. You don’t know what it’s like back home.”
“Then go home and change it. Either that or read Vidal. In fact, since you’re a teacher n’all. You should seriously start thinking about instead of teaching American’ts history the way you guys do it, just make all kids from middle school to high school read Vidal’s history series. Seriously.”
After that little elitist epitaph of mine, I told her that I had no clue and that she might want to just give in to the red states. Which was a lie. I actually have the answers to everything but didn’t have enough time to get into the whole thing about the world, especially conservative American’t, needing more variety and dynamic. I just wished her a nice remaining stay and recommended a vintage bottle of Montepulciano.