Friday, January 04, 2013

Barbarians Are Coming

The end of the world came and went and nothing perceptible changed. We stood around rubbing our eyes and blinking on a bright winter morning a week later asking each other how our end of the world was.
Josh, the honey guy as I thought of him, was wearing a pair of blue gloves with detachable mitten tips. These little caps were peeled back so he could work his digits and in each fist he held a jar of honey, a silent offer of trade. I told him how Lydia, who worked for the Bavarian Bakery, and I made music and danced with a church of ravers in a building like an old castle in Oakland. He nodded and told me that he attended three different solstice ceremonies in San Francisco, the last occurring at a beach in the Sunset district. My turn to nod.

We had all been here a week ago, a day after the twenty first, while a rainstorm raged all around us. As far as we could tell, that was the sum of the apocalypse, a cold heavy rain and a wind that threw canopies over backwards and tore their aluminum legs in half like a starving yeti mangling some black eyed Bhutanese doe.
We all huddled in our individual camps, by cars or trucks, and waved to each other through the tempest but couldn’t speak. Inside the back of a big white Cargo truck I was standing huddled with Sing and Backtaur by the portable tandori. We had hooked this and the steam table up to a propane tank  right inside the truck's cargo hold. Whenever some brave soul skittered across the parking lot under an umbrella I shouted:
“Samosas! One dollar!”
Often my shout drew them to us like a lighthouse beacon and they shivered below us, faces peering up over the mammoth truck's tail gate awaiting a cup of hot chai and some steaming curry.
In the moments when the storm was most violent we felt it battering the truck and fairly cringed looking at each other with wide eyes of amazement. Then Sing would laugh his pure, rich laughter and I would murmur:
“What a wind!”

Now and then the storm would tire itself out and be still. Then the birds came out and somehow found Sing, who always remembers to share the bounty of India Gourmet with the littlest market patrons. He threw his customary handfuls of basmati rice seasoned with cardamom pods to them. More birds than I had ever seen at the market came to the feast,  multicolored varieties; black with red wings, black with beady yellow eyes, tiny brown and black sparrows, larger brown speckled specimens with long yellow beaks,  lumbering midnight hued crows, side by side in a temporary truce, all gobbling up the offer with urgency.

“They are hungry.” Sing boomed with his deep musical voice, “They can’t get their breakfast in the storm.” He threw them more and more rice, a tall man with a jolly belly, a white beard, red turban, and big glittering brown eyes, a Sikh Santa of the birds.

So it rained, but the world was still there a few days later when the clouds blew away and we could come out and check.  We were disappointed, let's not dance around this point, we Americans born in America. We clearly wanted something to happen, probably different things depending upon each person's particular background. Flying saucers full of Mayans, or Jesus with laser eyes, or a spontaneous psychedelic awakening to free us from our petty and deeply artificial consumer culture.
We wanted to stare the grim reaper in the eyes in a way that was never possible in a society where children are told to close their eyes and step over the bodies of their massacred peers, where we are only permitted to see death once it has been washed and painted and put in a box lined with satin, where we are assured that our nation is the mightiest and will never fall so that what we really fear is an unbroken and monotonous horizon whereupon we will never see the outlines of approaching barbarians.

We hoped for a reprieve from the unending sameness and safety and guilt inducing comfort and might. We longed for something real.

I  think that secretly many of us held on to hope until New Year's Day. We let ourselves get excited again on the eve of December 30, fingers crossed for the twins, death and rebirth. Then we woke up and the sun was still shining. Is still shining.
But Americans will never give up. Even our elders were running like lemmings towards our artificially imposed fiscal cliff, seeking to plunge ourselves and the world into an economic down spiral, only turning back at the last possible moment.
Many others will no doubt arrive in public buildings with semiautomatic rifles in the coming months. We are a suicidal nation. It would be too difficult to admit that we are sick  and make changes. Much easier to set the world on fire so that we will never have to admit our shortcomings.

Or maybe change is here, fast and invisible, in the embracing of the artificial. Maybe we are saying goodbye to our earthy roots and our old social and moral codes as we somersault blindly into the heart of our techno creations without regret.
Our children will be the future, not our flesh and blood offspring, but our spawn  of micro chips and liquid crystal. The change may be here and we are simply blind to it as a mother is blind to the inch by inch growth of a tot she sees every day. Each morning it appears to be the same child and yet it is transforming right under mother's nose. In 20 years mother will be obsolete, all that the child needs of her it carries already within itself, in the software and hardware she provided. The child will spread its wings and fly and mother will be both a cast off shell and a voice within.

A death and a rebirth. All that we hoped for but dared not admit to ourselves. The other from within, the ultimate barbarian on the horizon.

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