Monday, May 17, 2010

I Want My Country Back

I want to be able to order a vodka smoothie when I get parched without fear of anyone wondering if they ought to organize an intervention.

I want free agency for professional athletes to be rescinded so that a player stays for his whole career with the same team, even if that arrangement renders him a virtual indentured servant. If athletes don’t like it, they can get temporary jobs as census enumerators like the rest of us. I don’t want to live in a world in which no one isn’t talking about with whom LeBron James will now sign.

I want, in the words of Rodney King, for us all to get along. Back in my student days, we campus radicals may have passionately hated the administrators who invited Dow Chemical to recruit on campus, for instance, but that didn’t preclude our going out with them for a couple of cold ones after someone had bailed us out. (We’d been arrested for occupying their offices, and drawing portraits of Eldridge Cleaver on the walls with our own feces.)

I want to live in a country in which teenagers don’t wantonly injure their parents — one in which, however intense their antipathy, they dutifully mumble, “Yes, sir,” or, “No, ma’am,” as in early-‘60s sitcoms. When I was myself a teenager, I (very foolishly) disliked my parents, though I graciously allowed them to feed, shelter, clothe, and educate me. However fervent my disdain, though, I never stopped speaking to them, as my own daughter stopped speaking to me eight years ago.

I’m reminded of her “promotion” (the Santa Rosa Unified School District apparently frowned on the use of “graduation”) from elementary to middle school. The father one of her classmates, Javiera, an enormous, enormously shy chicana, attended, in a laborer’s clothing, but looking proud enough to burst at any second. He’d apparently stopped en route to the modest ceremony to buy one of those brightly colored inflatable balloons so popular in dollar stores. The one he’d picked inappropriately exulted, “Happy birthday!” I don’t suppose he spoke a lot of English, but you should have seen the looks on his and his daughter’s faces as, after the list of promoted students was solemnly intoned, he presented her with his small gift; they could have melted Iceland.

My daughter (and Javiera) started middle school. On her first day, my daughter held my hand as I helped her find her homeroom. I learned later that one of her classmates, who’d apparently become terribly worldly over the course of the preceding summer, had teased her about it, and that my daughter had told her, in different words, to take a hike; she held my hand because she loved me. It might have been the proudest moment of my life.

Within a few months, though, when I’d drive up to Santa Rosa (from San Francisco) on Friday afternoon to collect her, my daughter wouldn’t deign to greet me as she got into the car, wearing the expression of a condemned prisoner about to be marched before a firing squad. We’d be south of Petaluma before she could bring herself to converse with me.

I asked if she saw Javiera at school, and confessed how he spectacle of her dad proudly presenting her with the balloon several months before had nearly brought me to tears. She seemed to take particular delight in informing me that Javiera, she of the straight A’s in elementary school, had become a foul-mouthed little reprobate. I assumed Javiera had done so for self-protection — there’s no sadism like the sadism of middle schoolers — but I imagined her dad being no less hurt by it than I was by Brigitte’s seething surliness.

I want my country back.

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