The flags are up all over town and voting is proceeding at the City Hall where the board for the country sits on one side of the meeting room and the board for the village sits on the other side. They are all women, middle-aged and older, stalwart, competent, and highly experienced. They know me as soon as I put my foot in the door, but I couldn’t name them. They also probably know what I had for breakfast and what my blood pressure score was this morning. I don’t know very much about their lives, except that they do the very best they can for their families and that many probably have diabetes II. I voted right after a rancher whose blue heeler waited for him in his pickup. (I’m not making this up, Tim and Isabella.) I didn't use the booth but sat at the end of a long table with a handsome cowboy on the other end.
I can’t find my flag. It blows down now and then and I pick it up and prop it in the garage until the weather is calmer, but this time I can’t see where I propped it. The little eagle off the end of the staff was in the flower border under the bracket, in spite of my duct tape reinforcement, but no sign of the flag. A flag is a symbol. I’m good at symbols. I’ll say the “flight” of this flag is symbolic of the “flight” of liberty from this country in the last eight years and that it might come back by the end of the week. Well, certainly by the time of inauguration, that flag will turn up.
Now I’m back at the computer beside the window that looks out the back of my decrepit but paid-for little house. My neighbor, who lost her son and her husband within a couple of weeks a few years ago and wept that now she would have to go through life alone, has formed an alliance with a rancher who lost his wife a year ago. She is going to quietly rent her house, which she still loves and defends and which is a twin to mine, both of them built on spec by a barber in the Thirties. She’s taking out boxes of belongings. There are flakes of snow sifting down now and then. Not enough to make much of a difference. It’s a dark day and chilly, but the bowl of cat water in the garage is not frozen.
I’m still getting by with electric heaters but haven’t seen my October bill yet so don’t know how much I’m saving by keeping the gas turned off. This morning I thought I caught a whiff of gas, which is scented with onions. My water heater is still on gas. So now I need to think about whether to ask the gas man to bring over his sniffer and maybe turn on the pilot light. The fridge, the computer, my reading lights (which are pretty strong because of beginning cataracts), and the heaters are keeping me at sixty degrees. But how much would the pilot light running cost me? And will the gas company charge me $50 to re-light it? They were charging that last year.
Maybe you think I’m mixing subjects, the election and gas bills, but on second thought you’ll see that I’m not. The collapse of the economy is directly related to the collapse of government due to finagling, secrecy, special interests, cronyism, and -- more than any single other factor -- an arrogant and malicious attitude towards people who are poor or different. We criticize the Chinese for their neglect of human rights, but support their government by buying the contaminated products they produce and sell cheap, having discarded all the constraints of quality and conscience. The same forces in the US allow us to be held hostage by companies that manipulate gas and electricity prices and supplies to their own advantage.
How do I be a force for good? Voting, sure. Suspicion verging on paranoia, but suspicion that searches for evidence. I eat my lunch while I listen to “Here and Now” which is a sort of radio news and magazine program. Today they were talking about Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders,” a Fifties book that alerted us to crowd manipulation according to psychological methods developed during WWII. In those days my social studies and English textbooks often had sections about how to resist propaganda. I remember as a kid being at a mountain lodge in some remote corner of Idaho and picking up a book that was labeled “Propaganda” with a great big red stamp. The college student whose book it was lifted it out of my hands before I could read any of it, leaving me with curiosity about what it could have said.
Now there is only free-floating cynicism about everything while all the time, the propaganda sifts into our lives. On the radio program they noted that “Mad Men” is supposed to be revealing the advertising tricks of evil corporations like tobacco companies, but all the time the sets for the show are planted with “product placements” that will encourage us to buy what these clued-in guys have around them.
We’re hyper-aware that we’re electing a president by trying to see through Obama’s tears for his Grandma and Palin’s ability to gut a moose. Do Biden’s hairplugs make a difference? Was McCain strengthened or made rigid by his years as a prisoner? Not many of us have the stomach for facts and figures that a real analysis would require, and most of us know that any President is always going to be constrained by the people around him, even other countries, as well as his or her own internal state. And as it becomes more and more clear that even the Republicans have little but disappointment and contempt for Bush/Cheney, those two set about pulling down the temple. Hopefully some it will fall on their heads.
Validating my schema of the circle (the edge of the world) and the middle (the very center of my being), I try to reach out there to the unthinkable (you know what it is, so I won’t say it) and then return to my own life. I’ve been putting things off, thinking that after the election the economy would settle, that after the election the humanities might be respected and valued again, that after the election people would come out of their houses and put their flags up. If they can find them.
You know, I like my Stars and Stripes and will be relieved when they turn up, but I’d really like one of those flags with the planet as seen from outer space on it. I wonder if they make one with the Milky Way Galaxy on it. I can see the Milky Way from here.