-- Franz Kafka, The Trial --
Hi , Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent:
Yes, it was me all right. You saw me.
March –June 2011, I lived in your neighborhood: Funesland (see prior post) a.k.a. Vienna, Virginia. Rome, Madrid, Athens, Cairo, Paris: did you ever notice how many American cities were named after Old World ones? Roots problems?
Just so you’ll know I’m not putting you on about being in Funesland:
Gingerwood Ct. is a dead end street. There is no ginger. Where’s the wood?
Let’s park the car – no need to lock it – and go for a walk.
At the very end of the street, hidden between houses, a sidewalk leads down a hill. At the bottom there’s a small park. No swings or slides. The sidewalk turns to the right, and goes 400 yards between woods and a gurgling creek.
Incredible! We found it! Robert Frost’s road less traveled! -- and for a reason: a sign warns that ONLY locals are allowed here, and that they MUST pick up what their dogs leave behind; it’s the law. Can’t have woods or a creek without the law; everybody knows that. No need to ask.
No need to ask either if the sidewalk is paved. The grass beside it is muddy, but manicured. Glub, glub it mutters if you stray from the straight and narrow.
While I was there, you and your neighbors tore apart and carted off a small, dilapidated bridge. Close by, a mound of vegetation in the creek and gnawed trees in the woods are the legacy of a beaver your kid named Jo-Jo.
Jo-Jo isn’t the only thing your kid named.
White-tailed deer, I counted 11, come out at dusk. They eat your flowers. “Pests,” you sputtered. You wished somebody would, well, …
During the day, the deer disappear. Smart. I know where they hide, but won’t tell.
Wild deer; gurgling creek; beaver: the scene wouldn’t be complete without a fox. I saw her, small, reddish-brown, running alongside the woods. Husain Bolt wouldn’t stand a chance against her. She moved so stealthily, I thought I was dreaming. You said you saw her, too, several times. Did you ever wonder why the fox is there?
Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent, in your publicly-owned private park you stopped to watch me train a large Doberman. The dog belonged to the people I was staying with; I wanted to help them. They aren’t like you … oops, I just identified them – one of the few non C.I.A. agents on the block, maybe in the entire neighborhood.
Anyway, there we were, one hour a day, 7 days a week. You waved hello; I waved back. You asked, “What kind of dog is that?” You smiled, reached out to pat him.
What you didn’t know: on two separate occasions, he almost ripped off a child’s face. Didn’t know: that’s why you didn’t ask -- you couldn’t. Sit; stay; down: there are occasions when domestication = salvation.
In case you missed us in the park, I also worked the dog on Gingerwood Ct. We walked back and forth, up and down the street to the corner where your kid catches the school bus. Circles and figure-eights. Sit; stay; down. Hour after hour. Day after day.
From your kitchen window you watched us; you wondered how anybody could be so regular, how a dog could be so well behaved. Forget it -- you’re wasting your time asking about those things. You don’t need to know them; they’re strictly Old School: Speak Softly and Own a Big Doberman.
After a month, you worked up the nerve to wave hello, then motioned at the yapping dog running circles around you: “In case you’re interested, I got another one for you right here.” Sorry, I don’t do windows or strangers’ dogs. I also don’t do …
Was that your house I was in? Don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent, I know better than to ask or tell your address.
The first thing I noticed: the woods outside was replicated inside -- in a forest of toys. Toys are like coat hangars, I commented, they multiply in the dark. No, not in Funesland. Those toys are the fruits of your weekly pilgrimage with your nine-year-old to the Lego store. Nothing like a bag of plastic to build good will and better friendships. All the more so if the plastic is insanely expensive. At $100 a clip, you let your child spread out and not pick up, and not only do you never get mad but actually are proud -- yes, proud – that Lego won’t let go of your bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen. Your other visitors, too, cannot help but be impressed struggling to navigate your child’s minefield . Sit; stay; down. No need to ask who is in charge here.
In the living room, I watched your child play a video game on your TV. “Star Wars” I think. I asked what the goal was. No, I wasn’t insulted by the ensuing silence; it was entirely appropriate, because the question is incomprehensible. The game doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an endless conveyor belt of unrelated, unrelenting, constantly changing figures stabbing and punching and shooting and dying to the accompaniment of wall-to-wall, heroic, neo/crypto/pseudoWagnerian music that, like the conveyor belt, loops endlessly around and around.
No reality -- only pure process of scoring points. Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent , I’ll bet you played “Star Wars” not knowing it’s a product of unabashed, unabridged post-modernism. Drenched in a relentless shower of sensations, you didn’t -- you couldn’t -- ask if the points mean anything. As indicated, in Funesland, such questions are incomprehensible.
I swear -- I just heard you say I’m wrong. You know something, Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent? You’re right:
The video game does go somewhere, but you won’t find it in the instructions. Its secret inner essence emerged when you yelled from the kitchen, “Turn off the TV and come set the table!”: your child totally ignored you.
I saw what happened next. One bad turn deserves another. You ignored your child and the order you had given, and set the table by yourself. Are you creating new ambivalent emotions, Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent, or passing down old ones? What will you do later when or if your child becomes a drooling crack head, tells you to go to hell, and dumps you in a nursing home just like you did Mom and Dad? No new development there; your kid is already calling you stupid to your face and getting away with it.
The family dinner that followed was the true destination of “Star Wars.” I saw how your child screamed and grabbed when you hesitated over the remote control of the TV ensconced like a family member at the end of the dining table. (I offered to give the TV a place setting replete with knife, napkin, fork; your appreciation of the gesture was slightly less than cordial). Then, after you handed over the control, your child in a panic switched from the Fox Network news you were watching to “iCarly” -- you know, the Walt Dizzy chick who ‘s raking it in. $180,000 per episode.
To watch or not to watch? Ambivalence, again ... There`s the good side and bad side; on the one hand, on the other ... Gosh, these things sure are complicated, aren`t they! You didn’t fight with your kid over the control; you couldn’t -- anymore than you could fight with iCarly.
Ambivalence, begone! Forget retinal junk food; talk about a role model! Gosh, with megabucks like hers, you could pay off the Gingerwood Ct. house you bought when prices were sky-high, and which now is, like your stock portfolio, underwater. I swear -- I just heard Glub, glub, down the hill.
If I remember correctly, suddenly the situation became complicated, as situations often do. “iCarly” was into reruns -- which strangely seems to be the case 90% of the time -- so your child changed to “Sponge Bob.” He dominated dinner.
Ambivalence again ... Is he or isn’t he? Only his hair dresser knows for sure, and he isn’t telling. So don’t ask; leave it to the French to speculate about the underlying significance of “Square Pants.”
“Obama is a political no-show,” I heard you grumble in your frozen pizza. Indeed, no sooner was Barry sworn in than he began off-loading chief executive functions and responsibilities. But you know something? In that regard, I think the president truly represents you, Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent. Which leaves us with this question: Do you represent America?
Don’t say I didn’t tell you -- because I didn’t. That`s Funesland newspeak for you; hope you like it. Let’s move on.
Sorry I missed your block party. I heard about it, though; how everybody sipped expensive but cheap tord-boyau bought during a Lego pilgrimage, then dissolved into groups of three speaking in hushed tones; how they instantly changed the subject if an outsider -- not knowing -- walked up. A vintage case of Clusterphobia if there ever was one. Maybe terminal.
In case you missed me and the Doberman, you probably heard me chattering in Spanish with the Latin Americans who cut your lawn and plant your flowers and trim your hedges. They sure work hard, you said, folding your arms. I know you don’t believe it, but they actually save money. They send it home; their families exist outside December 24-25. Don’t be surprised if they go to church, pay their taxes, and don’t cheat their customers. Many have big families because they love children, not because they hate them and use them as garbage cans for shadowy projections. Are the nonAmericans putting your grass in sacks more American than Americans? Don’t ask, don’t tell. Thanks.
Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent, we’ve come to the best part. Unlike the Blacks you chronically gripe about, there’s no need to worry about the Hispanics; they won’t be moving to Gingerwood Ct. anytime soon. No need to ask what happens to property values.
I asked a guy from El Salvador what he thought of your neighborhood, so calm, clean, safe, Stepford wife-quiet. Muy nice, he said, turning on a hose.
He was right. Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent, I want you to know how impressed I was the first time I drove into your neighborhood. I invite all readers to take the same trip. Enter “Google Maps,” then click on “Street View,” enter “Gingerwood Ct., Vienna, Virginia” -- presto, there you are.
Indeed, all the houses are muy nice; some sort of Colonial Modern architecture right out of an Andy Hardy movie. Look at all those American flags and backyard decks. Gotta have a backyard deck; absolutely essential. ONLY; MUST: I don’t know who laid down the law about decks, but there they are; no point inquiring.
Googling on down the road, you’ll spot barbecues and expensive lawn chairs in front yards. As if to scream even louder that nobody here fears being burgled, check out those small outside lights on, nobody home.
Dear Reader, I sense you are about to say something negative about upper middle class white American Washingtonian machismo. I‘d better add quickly: appropriate. I mean, guess what is going to happen to anybody stupid enough to break into a C.I.A. agent’s house?
Lego a go-go; disappearing deer; backyard decks; barbecues; a beaver: the whole scene effuses an offhand remark proffered over coffee by a federal employee in her Los Alamos living room: “I’ve got mine; you got yours?” I don’t know; maybe it was the Gaslight Motel artwork on the walls; for some reason I started to wonder about rule of, by, and for the lowest UNcommon denominator. Then, I drove home.
I take it, Dear Reader, you finished the Google tour. They say you never get a second chance to make a first Impression. So, let’s go ahead and take second chances.
95% of the houses in Funesland are red brick. Great stuff – the big bad wolf can huff and puff all he wants, those bricks won’t be going anywhere soon. But, look again. The bricks are only the façade; most houses have vinyl siding on the ends and in back. The house I lived in was infested with mice in the walls. No need to ask again about the fox.
Once you get past the vinyl -- which is easy to do -- take a closer look at the roofs and wooden frames around the doors and windows. Rough stuff; a shingle or shutter may be missing. As for the backyard decks, don’t be surprised if a plank or two is cracked, curling up; the nails are showing. As for the paint, well, like the sidewalk, we’re in don’t ask, don’t tell territory.
Faded, flaking Funesland. What we have here is not a failure to communicate, but the normal destiny of houses thrown up in the 1970s. Far be it from me to tell you about an American home-builder joke/modus operandi rolled-into-one: Shit It In! Don’t take my word for it; ask your favorite electrician. Not knowing. Laughter … See? You really shouldn’t have asked.
The worse part of it is, Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent, you’re stuck. Like I said, chances are you bought your house when prices were obscenely high -- $400,000 and up. You’re going to have to wait a while to see those prices again. In the meantime, you’re drowning in debt. Unlike the guy in the suit and tie to whom you entrusted your life savings, the manicured grass got it right: Glub, glub.
Last week, when you controlled the TV for a few minutes, you saw something about Congress and Obama raising the debt limit. You wondered: how could our government be so irresponsible and spend money on things it can’t afford? How could it get so hopelessly in debt, and come so close to plunging the world into chaos?
Hard experience taught me that the answers to most problems are within an arm’s length. Look down at the yapping dog running circles around you. Look at your kid wielding the TV control; hear your real name pronounced definitively, unmistakeably: HaymomimhungrygetmesomeLuckyCharmswoodya!
No, your child isn’t abnormal. Amoral, either – contrary to popular belief. Your progeny is simply alingual like every other kid on the block. Don’t worry; Old School Stuff; it doesn’t mean a thing. There isn’t a single future stu-bum among them. CT-AVRS, M3, TAC: there will be places for each and every kid where you work. Exactly like there was for you.
I know you’re wondering: What on earth, or elsewhere, does Fuenesland muy nice have to do with middle class rebellion, with terrorism?
Whatever you do, do not ask that question. Ever. And if you do, don’t say I didn’t tell you -- because I didn’t.
Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent, you know your house needs work. (For starters, look into Hardiboard to replace your vinyl. Hardiboard costs more, but it`s worth it). And please stop blaming the weather your agency is feverishly working to control. The real cause is simple, plain. You never had a home. You don’t have a home now; you never will have one -- only places to rest.
Glub, glub; Sponge Bob; recalcitrant deer; clusterphobia; a beaver; brick façades; the big bad wolf; Lucky Charms; houses infested with mice and toys … You know something, Mr. and Mrs. C.I.A. Agent? I think Congress, like President Obama, truly represents you. Like them, you spend most of your time trying to fool others in order to fool yourselves.
Funesland is a monument, landmark, and indelible watermark to an unfoolable fact: even in your dreams, you lie to yourselves.