Postcards of travel.
I’m in a hotel in Bayside San Diego. The Midway looms out the window to the left, massive, and kept in great shape, externally, so that tourists get a chance to see what those old floating fortresses from the big one were all about. Earlier, I’d taken Adam down to see it and was surprised and overjoyed to see some instances of true Republican Party art – an art that evokes warm patriotic feelings through the kind of unabashed kitsch which is so vulnerable to mockery that it doesn’t deserve even to be mocked. One was an enormous painted statue that took the famous iconic moment of the sailor kissing a woman in Times Square on V-E day – when Americans were under the delusion that they were celebrating the end of the war in Europe – and monumentalized it, the woman bent in the man’s arms, dressed in a short white skirt and with white stockings, the sailor in blue, his sailor hat on his curly head, his mouth about the size of my arm from the hand to the elbow on her mouth, ditto the size and with thicker lips, for the delectation of tourists. Myself, I didn’t have a camera, or I would surely have asked someone to photograph me under this monstrosity. Why not? Sometimes, the plunge into the moronic inferno is a tonic to the soul. The other is the Bob Hope Memorial, where a statue of the comic stands in front of an appreciative and ethnically diverse group of Gis, posed in attitudes of rapture and applause. Because overdetermination is the heart and soul of kitsch, there is a soundtrack of Hope’s routines perpetually running in the background…
To give you an idea, then, of the place. This is where we are. I’m in the hotel seven stories up, and I’m in the hall with Adam, who is fascinated with the view outside the big window. Up the hall comes your standard issue, clean limbed American whitetype, circa thirty years old: he has a friendly face, and he says, pointing at Adam, wants to be spiderman, right? Nice guy, so I reply, I think that or a politician – he likes to get above the people and give speeches. This brought about the unexpected reply that this man was in politics, but thought this “cycle” would be his last. I’m going into private equity, the man says. I mumble something. They are scumbags, but they are honest scumbags, he says. Then, pointing at Adam, he says, Never see his social security.
I reply, getting to my feet, that on the contrary, he’s french, and he certainly will. The guy begins to back to the elevator, which has arrived. You know, I say, Adam his mother and me spent five days at the hospital before he was born and it costs less than a thousand dollars. The man is now in the elevator, and he smirks. Paid for by the taxpayers, he says. Before I could reply, the smirk vanished.
In that instance, I had several arguments and responses I would like to have launched. Most pertinently, that those taxpayers had all been born, and thus were beneficiaries themselves of the French system. Or that doing single entry accounting is not a good way of getting into private equity – you have to count not only what you pay for but what you receive.
However, what struck me was that just by making arguments, I lost. The man had the victor’s smirk. It is even a cognitive smirk – a smirk that your thought, going around a corner, runs smack into and is smothered forever. At one time, the left had that smirk in the twentieth century. But for a long time now, it has been the exclusive possession of a certain rightwing type – the kind of upper twenty percent looking guy who repeats cliches (such as that about the honest scumbag) shamelessly, more as a way of showing an insignia, of asserting a place in the lockerroom, than of actually meaning anything.
That smirk is, of course, on the neck of the vast majority of Americans, but it is respected, revered and imitated by those it trounces on because, well, it is the smirk of victory. Why put yourself on the losing side? Especially when, because it is the losing side, you know that the losers, if they have a chance and actually gained power, will only fuck things up.
San diego, man.