Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Tuesday, June 10, 2003: RANT


I don’t know when it started or who was the first to go. I know that they tried to hold themselves together for the longest time, using what they had and working from within the parameters set down for them by the fathers. They knew that they had to take care of themselves and that the government was no longer to be the provider, but they practiced this new capitalism communally. Everybody worked and to western eyes it was a remarkable parade: old people young people, shamelessly rag-tag and voracious, but with smiles and a cheerfulness long a part of their previous world. We in the west, having learned that those with money do the pruning and cropping, weeding out the good for the bad, we in the west having been taught to live without mercy for each other with only Darwin and Adam Smith to guide us, would never approve of such a circus. It was quaint to my unaccustomed eyes; it was charmingly humble. But the pain and the endless burden that was before placed upon these people, and the fear that replaced the security of a monthly check was not shown. They held onto their calm, a calm that we fear in the west as preceding something terrible. The clung to their calm with all of their hearts because from that calm came social order. Scandal was not for the amusement of a dinner party, agreement, understanding and love were. It was a society built upon learning how to love each other. They were atheists, though only officially, though practicing to live more Christ like than any American charismatic I have ever seen. This wasn’t togetherness by force, this was no bonding experience to be had and then remembered, this was a lifelong everyday art project practiced by all and for the sole purpose of sustaining a life in a singular place. The evils that we in the west had heard of and read in Solgieniskin and in the horror stories of the post war purge were practiced by the same government that was in the center of everybody’s lives with finality and totality. But if there is a part of our humanities that is aggressive and winning, as we in the west like to point out, there is also a passive resting trusting part that we ignore. And as much as we like to see ourselves as warriors on life, so too did these people prefer to live in the peace and tranquility of home. It was the government that was the giver and the taker, the good, the bad and the ugly and not any outside adversaries. It was the government who was to be feared and loved at the same time. Stalin was papa and Alexander Lukeshenko has this same title now. He is the father of a country that will never grow up to remember him. But there is no society in any way that was here any more, and to me, to see this go is the worst thing in the world. I think of the defeat of living together as the second or third biggest crimes of the century on par with dropping the bomb or the holocaust. I think the cost to the world in the agreement to live a Darwinist existence at a time when the population density threatens to pollute and overrun the whole of the planet is absurd. To forget that we are of the same flesh now, at the time of our seemingly greatest technological intelligence, is the stupidest single thing since the burning of the library in Alexandra. But if I feel this, I know that those people around me feel this even more, even if it has become unfashionable to speak of these things. I am now seeing books that say that Lenin was a bad man and that he tortured children and played with the minds of people. His statue still stands in the square but seems to be graying, aging before our eyes as ironically does Lukeshenko, both the leader and scapegoat for the economic disaster that is Belarus. People here are slowly leaving, starving for money, for enough money for food, for lack of attention, for lack of purpose, for lack of something to do. They are starving, but no one is listening. At the mayday celebration, the communists met nearby the Lenin, but in such small numbers as to be humbling. All protests and politicos here are humble. Everything everyday is humble from the shops to the work to the dirty beat-up old cars and bikes that squeak along the rutted street. No one has the time to or inclination to go protesting now: Protesting is a sign of caring, of feeling for the world. Life here is insular now: insular, lonely, greedy and cheap. People now live not for any greater good or social purpose, but for the scraps for their own table. They work now only for their own comfort just like the rest of us in the world. There are winners and losers now, the process by which the weak are culled from the heard. Slowly the old and weak, the tired, the ugly, the slow or the disfavored give way to the fashionable ones, the younger ones, those with money or connections and these things are to be obtained in any manner, and to hell with those that must die in the process. And I am only describing all of the world with these words, but I know that this is a change for this place and that it is felt here, perhaps more than in any other place. Here at one time these very people with whom I now live were once hailed at the best of the best; the finest people at living together in the entire world. They were the models for the soviet man: Be like the Belarussians! they used to say. Here I am sure that they remember each other because I remember that they did. I was here; I saw it with my own eyes and what I saw was beautiful. Everything I ever thought was possible and should be thought of as the proper way to live in this world was being practiced here even 8 years after no one was paying them to do it any more. It was only after the Russian ruble gave way a second time, after all that was worked for together through a merciless famine of eight years was washed away in a second inflationary blizzard, did the principals give way and it was every man for himself. So who was the first to go? It was the men, of course. It was those born without childbearing hearts that staggered and reeled first. There was simply no way for their faces to stay in tact; there was no training, no resources, and no ideas… They were alcoholics, true enough; formerly kings and philosophers; men with families who would never forget and/or ignore them. But when the honeymoon ended, they simply weighed too much to be carried. Perhaps the western argument is real, and they were a burden then, but perhaps the real truth is that a man is a man is a man, and there is love and hope and family that comes from this just as there is for people at any age of development. Perhaps there is a deeper human truth that we miss when all we do is count the pennies we make or don’t. Why is it only the economic achievements made in a corrupt and slanted market place the only measure of the righteousness of our humanity? Why were Jews led to the gas chambers if this were the case? And where is the difference between the Nazi Ghetto’s of Warsaw and the bureaucratic nightmare that is Belarus? Where is there a difference in how much money there is to make or the corruption that surrounds everything? And when all of this began, it was the men who fell first. They simply couldn’t compete because they were never given a chance. And when their women forgot these former royals, the weight of the walk grinding away at the endless patience of the women who supported them now, not the other way around, they fell and fell and fell. They fell in the streets and in the bars. They fell like flies and kept falling. Last year when I was here, the streets were covered with the bodies: casualties of war, heroes waiting for the ambulance to come and cart them away. One man crying and pissing his pants because he had taken one, two three too many 200 gram shots, a young cop, dropping his Kevlar vest and belt to try his hands a wrestling a drunk who wouldn’t leave a bank where he had no money, A suicide, two, three, four of them; people dropping dead without help at 60, 55, 50 from broken hearts, broken livers, broken blood vessels… and a lack of hope. My own partner Sergei, manager of the bike team, tightening grease seals for 12, 13 and 14 year-old future champions of the town, dead at fifty six because, I am told, he simply couldn’t care less anymore. And the one’s that did live: Why didn’t they die? Why were they still here when it was obvious no one wanted them? And to them this certainly must have been a new insult, the new insult, a situation unknown in the former world but dropped on them like a bad practical joke made against a gate crasher. The joke must have come again through their alcoholic fogs like fireworks, and whirled and twisted through their minds like a reoccurring nightmare that one never wakes from: This is not right! This is not what I was taught, this is not the right way to live: This… is…wrong! Did they think it was punishment? Did they believe for a while that there would be hope, help? Did they cave in and begin to pray to God for forgiveness for their sins? To the west? To the government? Where were their friends and their family telling them not to do these things? Why was it that there was no one there to remind them where they were supposed to be anymore? Why didn’t anyone care? Why? Maybe there never was someplace anyone was supposed to be. Maybe there never really was anyone or anything anyone was supposed to remember. But I am sure this is not true. I am sure everyone here remembers a time when they did remember, and remember and remember. I believe that there was a time when, anyway, no one was allowed to forget. Was it force or was it philosophy? Were they told to remember because some terrible man wanted only to control them, or was it because everyone knew in their hearts that they were supposed to remember? And they were the best because no one forgot. And back in the day, way back when, back in those days they thought would never end, they did all have a home and a family. You could see it; it was there, it really did happen. But now, even the illusion for the party is gone, and when they felt bad for this, the drinkers drank and fell and folded until they dropped and found one day that no one was listening any more. Somebody told them they were poor. Somebody told them about the idea of being rich. Someone showed them a picture and it made everything seem so old and dirty and hard. The Soviet Union never anticipated satellite TV. They never figured on the Internet. They thought a thousand miles of iron curtain was enough to keep the news away. It was 1917, or 1945 for a long, long time, and then someone told them that the world had moved. But did they buy it? Did they all buy it? I don’t think so, not at first, not for a long time because for eight years until they took everything away from everybody again, they told the west that they were just fine, thank you without them. They wanted it to stay the same because the truth is that they liked it because living together well is life. If they wanted their MTV, they would watch it in their old humble homes just for the laugh, no damage done. And then came another storm and then they began to sell those homes for money. They sold their families and their friends and their lives to pay for things they thought they needed. If they remembered, they soon forgot because there was simply no other thing being said to them anymore but MTV. I remember these men the first time, before the quitting, before the final deathblow dealt by the same Moscow contingent that demanded so much of them for so many years. I remember the lions and how they really were the kings. They play that drinking song here: “Those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end, I thought we’d dance, forever and a day…” I think of our own drunks in the west, lunatics, beggars, social trash left to migrate with the weather like so much clutter, the police not even willing to soil their jails with them, poster children for social sympathy and Christian obligation. These men were and are fathers and brothers and sons, and here, they were for seventy years simply people, no better and no worse. We in the west love to speak from a position of victory bout how our greatest and brightest would never survive in a system that so suppresses people, but how many winners are there really, and how many “people” are their really in the world? Not those who win and those who lose, but those who live? And what happens to people when they fall? How much salvation is there at the end and who is there to catch them when they fall? Here before, they simply never fell because no one ever let them fall. Life continued and there was a job to go to no matter how inept you were, and all shouldered the burden. And was this so damned terrible? What are the real numbers of the success stories? How many winners are there really and how many losers? How many people live in poverty so that a few may eat like kings? And, are there ever really winners, or is it just a few dogs having their day. We that do not remember history are obliged to repeat it. And the great irony and crime here, is that these people did remember, and that was their problem. I think they remember now, only that now, as we have learned from birth to do in the west, choose to forget now because it is easier. Now, they no longer think it is “our” problem but that it is their problem, whoever “they” are. Now, they no longer care what is in their rear view mirror, only that they have the car to pollute the world. Now, anything that can be sold is sold, anything that can be exploited is exploited, and if there is anything left or nothing left when this grubbing for peanuts is through, it doesn’t matter because there will be drugs and food and TV and movies and sex books and lies to keep us all warm. The church people were here, the scavengers and the blackmailers and the carpetbaggers, and they took and took until people realized that nothing would ever come back. In the countries that were not so difficult to come in like Poland, like Czech, like Hungary, they came and took and hired the people at the local slave wages and sold the products they made for the normal prices back in Europe. The tariffs kept the prices high and the easterners out of markets that could have saved them. When a foreigner wanted in, the government stamps took the money shown to them in black leather briefcases and let them go through to rape and steal because the money stolen was no someone else’s problem, not theirs. And then the west came in. There was now some money in those countries. There was no vested interest, no ownership stakes or property holdings, only wage slaves working for a foreign ownership who were the only deal in town. And the people bitched, not because they were being bled, but because they could have only three hundred dollars a month, stipend at two hundred dollars a month and this wasn’t as much as they saw the Germans had. They didn’t care about what was happening, they wanted vacation money and cocaine, goddamnit! But here, where the rapists were held at bay by fear and loathing and distrust, here where what was left of the former regime actually remembered the people around them and demanded to be the ones who stole from their people themselves rather than a bunch of foreigners, they worked for a quarter of that money or less. Here there isn’t enough money for the drugs, here there is no “Oh, I will hang on a little longer and I’ll make sure I get a vacation to deal with this…” Here there is only today and tomorrow, here there is only more work to remind oneself that that one is alive. And here, there is no longer even each other to hold onto, to laugh with, here now, they laugh at each other the way that we do, they laugh at each other as they thrust their hands into each others pockets, each others hearts and souls. Here they laugh at each other like a drug, finding some solace in another’s pain that is not their own. Here now power is a drug, and the theft of time and attention…the men were the first to go and when they went, there went also the family and the male role model and the security of the simplest male and female relationship that we make. The kids, now predominantly in single family home, the dads all drunks and losers say the moms, the men are all shit here say the moms, the men, who cannot comprehend of working 160 hours in a month and being handed $60 for their troubles, sixty dollars for a family, for a house, for food. These men who couldn’t for the life of them remember what the hell they were doing when they made these families, the pressure eating away at them started to drink to escape as their fathers did, and their fathers before. But now, there was no sympathy for their failures, only a blank unending reality to come home to. Steal it goddamn you, they heard. Kill for it you loser, you coward, you miserable piece of shit, why are you not a man? Why can’t you take care of me you fool, you drunk, you idiot. The men went because the women, no longer caring about the reasons why went, and the children went next. And who were these people I saw so many years ago? Who were these people who were once seen as the best of the best? Now the kids are no different but for their purses from their western counterparts. Disaffected, singular, jaded and dripping with what is thought to be cool detachment they simply now wait to leave, their home no longer a place worth supporting, working for. Their families merely burdens, anchors and fools. Where before there were more parents than it is possible to have, all of the neighbors, all of the extended families that repeated the mantras over and over again, now there wasn’t even a family to come home to, Just a sad, frustrated and overworked mother, and the faded fool she was unfortunate enough to have fucked for a while. Hillary Clinton told us that it took a village, a thoughtful revelation for a westerner. But these people lived in this village for 70 years. The children they made knew right from wrong, learned how to listen, to be self sufficient, how to live with nothing and to give and to love. And when they went, what went with them was the hope that comes from children and has come from them from the beginning of time. And when the kids went, there really was nothing left, and the only joke in town comes from the lips of these first generation heathens as they bite the hands that fed them, just like everybody else. They went next because just like with the west, no one really had time for them. They went next because no one really cares or remembers. In the west, we lionize youthful energy, but forget the expense in social order it breeds. The kids went because there was no longer any reason not to, and when they left, knowing they would never come back, knowing there would probably never be anything to come home to, they took with them the last of anything there ever was to have here. Graduation was a week ago, and that is exactly what they told me. I just didn’t want to write anymore in my book without saying what I have actually being thinking. Just in case I forgot.