Rockwellian Saturday Evenings

I wrote this on Memorial Day 2008, two months after I got home from Iraq. I grew up in a small farm town, and that weekend, while back in that small farm town, I attended a big Memorial Day BBQ. I wrote this  the next day fresh off a hangover from that party. I still had a little bit of faith left in America at that point but that was before being introduced to Howard Zinn in college, and getting arrested 3 times for civil disobedience. That was ten years ago. 


Flag draped boxes on cross Atlantic flights make silent return trips to sleepy small town American neighborhoods resembling Rockwellian Saturday evenings. Towns where children learn to hunt each other with paintball guns in their worn out thrift-store cammies and go to church on Sunday mornings before basking in the midday sun at the picnic tables of backyard barbeques where the men drink Coors Light and flip burgers on grills as the women soak sexily in pools sipping margaritas and talking about the tragedy that is the war. The tragedy that is the war that might call on their working class sons and daughters to serve over in a land that no one in their town can even find on a map. And the children throw horse shoes as the clank of near misses brings out thoughts of almost, thoughts of the hand grenades yet to come, while the men tap the Rockies at an alarming rate but not too alarming in this weather on this hot summer Sunday afternoon where the UV rays do a number on the fair skinned Polish farm boys the reddening tough guys who today refuse SPF fifteen but tonight will cry out for the ecstasy that is aloe vera, and they all retire to air conditioned living rooms to watch local newsmen speak of hell, speak of promising lives cut short. Promising lives cut short for what? And a man unwinds the windblown American flag so it again flies freely, for whatever that’s worth. But unwind it he does indeed as he unwinds to more Rocky Mountain freshness though he’s never been to the Rockies though he’s never been outside Massachusetts save his time in uniform his time in the sandbox where he was sent by a President Bush but not by our President Bush. As he unwinds in his air conditioned sanctuary he can’t help but think of what was what is and what might be as those flag draped boxes bring kids his cousin’s age back to teary eyed lovers, daughters and mothers, sons and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, grandmothers and grandfathers. Grandfathers as tough as nails from fighting the second great war. Grandfathers who worked their lives in laborious jobs to help provide their sons and their sons’ sons with something more, with a peace that was a promised result of their war, their sacrifice their blood, sweat and tears and all the beers needed to wash away the memories, the ghosts that the greatest generation hoped only they would have to battle. But as old men now they cry for their sons who fought in Southeast Asia, dying as pissed on patriots long forgotten by their greedy and racist government with its blood soaked hands. Its blood soaked hands that strangled and continue to strangle those home and abroad whom Uncle Sam has dehumanized since the infancy of this, the land they send us to represent. These grandfathers shed long repressed tears for the new patriots. As their sons fought Charlie their grandsons continue to fight Hajji continue to die and continue to come home as broken men, lost souls or as patriotic luggage silenced, cut down in their best days which became their last. Grandfathers who sit on VFW bar-stools buy watered down draft beer as a way of saying to the kids ‘you’re one of us now. We’ll all die soon but you poor bastards have a lifetime left in a world with no hope, no reason to dream, no chance of the peace we thought we paid for in our war, a peace that’s nowhere to be seen and your spilled blood won’t find in the mountains or the desert’, These grandfathers, the ‘greatest generation’ would trade places in a second with the kids forever six feet under after their time in the sandbox, just as they would have with their long forgotten sons killed by strangers in a strange land some forty years ago. They sit in their VFW’s, eighty something years old dying to die, crying for all they’ve seen for all they’ve done and all they’ve failed to do. As CNN shows the numbers they cry because that’s what it’s come down to. If you don’t know one of the numbers, if you couldn’t have become a number, then a number is all you’ll see. They cry. They cry for 24 hour news cycles glossing over reality and stirring up jingoist fear, pointing fingers at villages, beating war drums to kill people who had never even heard of New York City. They cry for the numbers that followed, and for the men and women behind the numbers. They cry for the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and for the widows, widowers and orphans behind the numbers. They cry for stop-loss and suicide, for color codes and lost freedom, for secret prisons and errant smart bombs. They cry for the orphans and widows left behind in faraway lands by our weapons, by our military might. They cry for discarded heroes, firefighters dying from rare cancers, and veterans by their own hand. These grandfathers, these hardened old men, tattoos and scars, chests full of medals, lifetimes of memories, realized dreams and hellish nightmares, ghosts and angels and demons, parades and accolades, pomp and circumstance, elections and impeachments and assassinations, sex and rock and roll and drugs in brown bags prescribed by VA doctors from Harvard, and funerals and cold war commies and nine to five jobs leading to bearable retirements spent fishing and golfing and drinking to remember, and to forget. These old, tired, sad men welcome grandsons with handshakes and rounds of beer like they welcomed their sons, as they wander through the front door looking lost and confused, some of them hopeful, all of them broken. The kids park their gas guzzling trucks next to the Cadillac’s of the old men with handicap plates. And you have father, son and grandson sitting there crying in their beers for what they’ve seen, what they’ve done, and what they’ve failed to do as history repeats itself again and again and again. And again more bodies make cross Atlantic flights in flag draped boxes and tiny flags get placed by new gravestones with birthdates beginning in the seventies and eighties, and ending before what dreams may come, came to be, before the GI Bill was used and college degrees were awarded, before aisles were walked down and toasts were made by best men. History repeats itself as those who make it home are left to fight another battle for all of their remaining days. History repeats itself again as Plato’s words ring true when only the men and women in those flag draped boxes have seen the end of war, when farm and city kids carry the torch to fight battles dreamt by businessmen casting lots. History repeats itself as Bob Dylan’s lyrics of World War Three don’t seem that crazy when World War Three is nearly upon us and peace is something only hippies can imagine and imagination is something that died with a Beatle in a field of strawberries in the city that would later ignite patriotism and fear and bigotry on a darker day than any the Pepsi generation had ever seen. History repeats itself again in days when cold war kids with Nintendo’s and compact discs become the next generation equip with X-Box’s, iPods and laptops and keys to the world at their fingertips but wearing blinders and earplugs are oblivious to third world bloodshed and starvation, broken levees and homes in our own backyard, and veterans with bags full of VA pills committing suicide by the dozen. History repeats itself again and grandfathers see the ignorance technology has bred when social networking drives us further from reality and war is a video game that pot smoking college kids play, and dancing stars, American idols, drug addled socialites and muscle bound ballplayers failing piss tests become the focus of a country that shrugs as CNN speaks of lives as statistics, and thoughts of dead GI’s only cross into the American conscience at memorial day parades and as flags fly from front porches during barbeques where drunken men tell children that they must remember the fallen heroes who fought and died for their freedom. And the children complain of six hour school days dragging into late June because of February snow days spent skiing at Vermont resorts. And the grandfathers shed more tears as history again repeats itself as more and more flag draped boxes make cross Atlantic flights bringing the next generation of working class kids to their final resting place.  And the tired men, the lost souls old and young crack open one last beer as history has repeated itself again…

About soitgoes1984

I live on a small island in the middle of the Pacific ocean in the Hawaiian Kingdom which is currently illegally occupied by the American government. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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