The Borg and the Swamp
The meritocracy is a machine that claims to have ransomed me.
One starts thinking about these things again when talking to fry-chefs in New Haven. The fry-chef for Koffee 2 (the law school hangout) was a wonderful vagabond who had travelled across the US with a backpack at least twice, and told me about his adventures. Ladies of New Haven. Pay attention.
So what happens next? Nice Cliffees have so much. We're so unbelievably careful. We choose the weedy ones who have thought for themselves and stand apart from the rest of the ruffians, and they talk to us about astrology and chivalry. If you chose right, he'll never make a pass, never utter an obscene comment, just tell you all the pirate and gypsy stories you could ask for: the key to safe and healthy urban adventuring for the well-educated female.
So you're a Cliffee sitting at the bar. You close the book, you pick up your messenger bag, you leave the pub, and go back to the firm and fast network of ivy-league educated trust-fund babes who compose one's world. They give you life, inspiration, ideas, jobs, dates, one long road stretching from start to finish. They're your past and your future.
Last night I found myself talking with another child of the swamp, that is, Louisiana, land of the whack-jobs, from whence my people hail. Now it's been a long time since Louisiana. As happens when intimate strangers unite, words and thoughts start to fly. You sink back into an older identity, your self and the ambitions you were working on shrink until they're almost imperceptible; meanwhile the rest of the landscape pans out and swirls in a vertige of immeasurable possibilities. You could go back to the swamp. You could move to Algiers. I don't even know why this is so important, but the horizon's sudden appearance is shocking.
Now there are two basic rules for a first date, in San Francisco as everywhere else, so fundamental as to never have to be articulated: 1) never talk about your family's history of mental illness. 2) never get into an argument over the theological implications of the Eucharist. Both broken. It was great. So one finds oneself talking about American landscapes, roadtrips, the land of white trash, the manufacture of hashish, the followers of new-age religions, the whole of the surreal underbelly of the American subconscious that I know so well from growing up.
Came home and answered an email from an old friend, dear past memory, working now in a skyscraper somewhere in Texas for 48 hrs before flying back to New York. He's taken two days off in the last year. Thought maybe he'd have time for BBQ and wanted a req. Didn't have time for BBQ.
The meritocracy claims to own me. I'm part of a machine. I've been trained and coddled, introduced and given promises. I'm supposed to shut this all off and go away to hang out at the black tie dinners with deal-makers who wear ascots. And doubtless I will again. But I feel the whiplash of moving between worlds, and I think about the George Orwells and other down-and-out slummers cheesy and ridiculous. And I'm so grateful to have a season away from the noise, lurking in biker bars in the Mission. I think, Christ has ransomed us with his blood. The price on my head has been paid. No matter how hard you work, even if you should work all the days of your life, you should never amass enough to pay that ransom off.