There might be no greater shame than looking out the window and seeing nothing but empty asphalt that hates you back. Maybe there is retribution in sealing yourself away in this far away world where nothing happens except the dim silver trucks rolling by with their logos of conglomerated companies or the echoes of quick pings of signs that flicker in the late autumn days, their neon testing its own rest point, but that same sense of familiarity and abscission from society can most likely hurt you in the long run.
It was only the inhabitants of Bristol Indiana that were able to care so much about McDonalds. The monolith and the little agents underneath running around trying to make tapestries out of sand in the windiest climate where nothing seems to stick except lots of snow and the growing paunches and indigestion and general ignorance, there was a passion for sitting planned every day for a small rebellion against the bright lights of some urban ordering sign and the dollars foisted across counters by homeless men hoping to buy a sandwich that would only make them hungrier. No, it was the same food out here, but there was a different agenda in the air. Like the linoleum of the old diner that was out of business down the road, the torn and holed fabrics on the old peoples’ arms filled up the booth and the swirls of near toxic mist rose up out of the reusable coffee cups, the paper already stained but facing a morning of constant abuse as the denizens of Bristol got together to discuss.
Talk about what? No tablet of affirmation of what was progressing or a docket describing a happy life, but some infatuation with what was broken. The way things were going poorly, the way the young people were off in the city, burrowed into dingy apartments in the city that they paid for with gold. The way their daughters’ faces were growing gaunt as their grandchildren passed on into bliss cradled over the side of a bed with nowhere else to go but Elysium and the fentanyl store where no one would miss them except for the image of them in the gates’ possibilities that had them as tall men and women that could make children and build buildings and order food for their relatives at sit down restaurants scattered along a highway. It is a terrible burden to bear, to have to imagine sitting down at this table imported from some mysterious place and drinking coffee that is designed to kill you and dining on food that is going to kill you faster, infinite of it, to hold out and to whisper into your coffee as you cool it down that you understand what’s in front of you, and you won’t give up.
Because despite all of the sucking that comes out of a burger store in the middle of Bristol, the people still care. They still want to talk about the world, even if they grow more and more infantile with the passing days, as they recourse to their rooms in their shoddy old homes and watch the televisions that help them detach further from the broad sunsets on flat land or the swaying of the grasses in the farm fields that are eerily silent, the way they used to make snow angels in the grasses that made hills down to the lake where the kids would ice skate and the high school gym instructor would store his bottles.
It was some kind of heaven that they lived in where they had nothing but themselves to reckon with, sharp minds and good prospects and coming off of the last wars that mankind would ever experience.
So in a way it was simple, what they were talking about. Howard started with the premise that his sister was going to die soon, because diabetes was getting bad and her one leg was twice the size of the other. They could see it in his eyes and his greying skin that he was destined for the same thing soon. George was as thin as he always was, seemingly immune to the sweets that he consumed day in and day out, which were plaguing his gums and making his bite get progressively worse and worse as the teeth rotted away. And Christian was a good pious man, but it did nothing to stop him from flying to Las Vegas once every four months to waste the money that social security gave him. They all had their vices and they all agreed to merely skirt around them as opposed to engage with them in a way that would bring about the first simplicity of what they were talking about, which would be far too depressing.
The truth was, ever since the atomic bomb dropped while their fathers’ war was coming to an end, there stopped being any real reason for war. Like two dogs that realized that they couldn’t fight each other or else they’d kill their own owners, they realized that defending their corporeality was a moot point when the nuclear bomb would end all conflict anyway. They would squirrel away some conflict in traditional conflict areas, but by and large, the fighting was over. They were more peaceful than they could ever imagine. The best one could hope for was squabbles over this and that, but no one was really willing to ruin the Earth altogether through nuclear war.
And because there was no purpose in fighting, it didn’t make any sense to continue to get taller or to care about their country, because they weren’t really fighting anything anymore. The countryside was subdued, and there was no need to fight the Indians anymore, because they’d killed them all, and there was no reason to go exploring anywhere else, because they were in the best land in the world. Sure, there might come a time where conflict in trade or culture might endanger who they were or their situation, but it wouldn’t happen in their lifetime, and there was no way anyone would consider it worthwhile to go all the way out to Bristol to fight some guys at a McDonalds that were having breakfast of infinite coffee and some hotcakes.
The hotcakes cost extra, and they paid.
There was a mettle to them though that was conducive to fighting. They fought when they came to America to build what they had, and for a while, it was in the state’s best interest to make smart individuals that could send spaceships to the moon or to Vietnam to know how to find mines in rivers. Or, there was a reason that they needed people that were technically proficient, so that they could start the digital revolution that would press forward into a century where technology was everywhere and was frankly all consuming, without any semblance of appetite. But now there was no use for them anymore, so they sat here at the table, the way that they were instructed, slowly sliding into nothingness and the malaise of watching the blinking signs and the tents on the table and the plastic trays and the glint of the mist collecting in oily pools outside as the night set on and the snowbanks got greyer and the expense of their lives came due.
Let other people do the important things, they thought as they discussed nothing at all, burning away time and watching the day go by, as each crawled into bed that as furnished with sheets that were actually a lot higher quality than one could buy in stores today, because they were so old that they came from the era where people looked critically at what they made and did not simply make it because it was the cheapest way to weave fabric together and still claim that the thread count was hospitable. In fact, they were quite comfortable, even though there was a nagging sense of theft in the air.
There was the theft of all of this time because even though their children were dying and there was no recourse out onto the parking lot, they still stuck through it and they imagined further. Some of them turned to deviance, the frailties of human composition burning away in their heart and waiting to get out, the violation of the rules that they had because they were raised right. They would consign themselves to the claim that many people of a younger age also find, which is that, if we’re going to lose our humanity soon because things are going so fast and we’re losing control of what it means to be human, who are we to not enjoy it while it lasts? It’s the same devilish look that a young man in California gets in his eyes when he lines up with several of his friends in front of high girls and takes turns on them, gouging in and out of the dignity that used to protect a system of life that is all but forgotten and certainly not at the bottom of these coffee cups.
So the second conclusion was that they were unnecessary because there were no longer any wars to be fought. They were reasonable people and they saw that justice was important, but they also felt and decided to not talk about how it would not change anything when they were impelled to lay their sins before god. When Christian got up in the morning and slowly wandered in front of the mirror that he had got at a friend’s estate sale that came all the way from Charleston before the compound had burned down later, the last non-effigy from the plantation home, he didn’t see someone that was at risk of not involving himself with the wonders of the world as they related to what was right and wrong and who should be in office tomorrow, but rather in terms of his mortality, his own escapism that was here now, when he would wander to and fro with his friends from the tiles upon which the workers gave them their hotcakes to figure out what they were going to do this weekend, whether it was going to be nothing or nothing, the same bliss in working with tools in a play sand castle that was going to be washed away by waves anyway.
George thought of his high school experience.
Howard was worried about his relatives but for the most part he understood that it was the way things were. The best of them, the flower of their generation, was off somewhere making a lot of money in New York, working at a big bank. He actually looked a lot like Howard, with the same sharp hairline and the good jaw that was used for looking at things with an eye for detail, like Howard would look at machinery when he was still working, or when John Deere still sold tractors that he could work on, or when he cared enough to buy new things for his house instead of just leaving them broken. How many garages were out there filled with tools that did nothing? You could write a whole novel about all the things it takes to redo the air compressor in the gas station parking lot next to them, because it really needed to be replaced, but the townspeople were no longer interested in fixing air compressors. Bristol only needed one after all, and eventually they’d all die and then cars without tires would not need the air compressors, just like the old figures that they cut in the glass windows that needed to be washed were remnants of a time when people took pride in making every individual happy and prosperous, each of these Americans, such a strong word, each of these Americans at their full stature so that they could enterprise and undergo, a generation removed from where conflict was dead and it was just little children falling over each other to get the last candy bar out of a sinking ship.
Better to die while looking at the stars, George said, speaking about his friend Elijah who had died so soon the other day, at the young age of sixty-seven. Elijah shot himself on his ranch because he didn’t want to live with Parkinson’s. Just like Donald Tober, the Jew in New York who made SweetN’ Low, which they served at the old café down the street.