Tina and I spent the past weekend in Hayward, Wisconsin photographing a cabin for an interior designer who so happens to be a great friend. The home is owned by the family of another good friend, a jazz singer, and we all had a lovely extra couple days of R&R mixed with intermittent photography sessions.
There’s a main house associated with this cabin and several small garage buildings. It sits on Lac Courtes Oreilles with two boats docked, canoes and other various things to do in the yard. It’s also on a Native American Reservation, which, if I were superstitious, amounted to some really intense dreams and nightmares.
I still can’t pronounce Lac Courtes Oreilles the way the locals do. It’s like La-Court-Oh-rails or la court-oh-rays. The words are French, but they are turned around a bit. But as soon as I saw it written and not spoken, I said: “Oh, it means lake short ears.” I’m pretty sure that technically it would be Lac Oreilles Courtes to be grammatically correct, but it’s French. “Oreilles” is ears in plural. “Courtes” is the word for short. Lac = lake. Aerially, the lake looks kinda like ears, I guess.
The area is quaint and the people are typical midwestern with that thick Fargo-style dialect. The town of Hayward looks like an old Western town, only cars are parked where the horses should be.
It’s far enough away from everything that masks were more sparse at some locations. But there are enough progressives to remind some of the locals that some shopping and public life still requires one.
I’m under the impression I’m going to be wearing one on and off for the rest of my time, whether the government requires it or not. A year and a half without a major cold or flu? Fuck yeah.
The local culture is hunting and fishing. Lots of places are named after fishing, like “Anglers” this and “Anglers” that. You can buy a bottle of liquor two feet from a cooler filled with styrofoam containers of fish bait. Driving? Watch out for combines and ATVs. Camouflage is a given.
On the road up there, a 6.25 hour drive, there were lots of Trump signs. This is America after all. But there were no Biden signs that I could see. Lots of Christian messaging like “Depressed? Jesus is the answer.”
I spent a lot of my thought time engrossed in a conversation inspired by ones I’ve had recently. During our last trip to North Carolina, I got a NC drivers license and it automatically registered me to vote in NC, a state where a voter like me actually has a chance of making a difference. In Illinois, the votes lean blue so hard that liberals don’t find it necessary to spend campaign money.
But in NC, there are enough so-called conservatives to swing the votes red over half as often as blue. I say so-called, because it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that our consumption culture ruins everything. At Walmart, you see noticeably poor people buying way too much. You see me, buying way too much. Costco: multiply those figures by a thousand.
But the consumption culture also invites a lot of political dysmorphia. News Junky Bulimics binge on their news sources of choice and vomit it all over you. They don’t go in the bathroom and close the door. I have a couple conservative friends and I saw their sphincters pucker when I told them — separately — the good news of my new voting option.
After I got back to Chicago, I was on the phone with a friend to discuss an unrelated matter. I asked him what he thought of the pipeline hack and he couldn’t control himself from saying Biden is ruining America. “I asked you how the gas shortage might affect our AirBnB,” I replied. But a shortcut to kvetching about Biden was much more important. When I asked him how it was his fault, he said, “Everything was Trump’s fault when he was in office.”
“It was?” I responded.
I laughed. “Okay. Sure. Ha.”
How it was Biden’s fault, not the point. It was just that he has the helm and he steered the boat into a ransomware attack on corporately-run fuel distribution and a shit ton of “smart Americans” raced to the pumps to stock up.
Imagine, living in a world where you want it to end so badly that any and all whispers of destruction send you into gluttonous self protection mode.
My friend was also quick to blame Russia. This same person read or heard the words, “There was a Russian hacker campaign to install Trump as president bolstered by kompromat” but they would never repeat them out loud. But the first time they hear, “Russians hacked the eastern fuel pipeline, it’s rock solid repeatable evidence.
I dug a little and read that the group was tied to Russia, but couldn’t find a good reason to stick the whole shebang on the Ruskies.
A little digging around revealed that the government doesn’t have its filthy hands in the pipeline’s operations and that it’s internationally owned at a private corporate level. Which, in a sense, is the dream of conservative philosophy. Corporations should have control over their operations and keep the government out.
The irony was not lost on me. But it was lost on my friend.
So what’s the angle? What’s the reason that some people just can’t help themselves from politically puking all over your shirt and expect you to be like, “Yeah, god, you’re right.”
In the sense that Biden is now president and all things American are now his fault, in that jest, yes, it was Biden’s fault. But this friend seemed engrossed in the idea that it was revenge for liberals blaming every little thing on Trump, despite all the amazing things he did for America, its people, its economy and her standing in world leadership and strength.
I think back to the last four years and I scratch my head. I don’t remember once telling this friend that Trump was at fault for any of America’s woes. I criticized him heavily for being a philandering loud mouth absent of morals or any Christian proclivities. But I made rare judgement calls on his performance as a president.
I remember lots of people saying, “Thanks, Obama” sarcastically after anything bad happened. But that was a republican talking point.
I told my friend he needs to lay off the news booze. The indulgent nature of delusionally thinking that you’re educating yourself by consuming news and regurgitating it without so much as a second thought is truly what’s destroying families. Not America. But families and friends.
If alcoholism requires AA, addicted news junkies should consider BNA or SNA: Broadcast News Anonymous or Streaming News Anonymous. There has to come a time when we read books and literature and share that with people. But that’s not what we want.
I love finding poetry and reading it out loud to Tina. I try this on my friends. I have since college. At parties, I’d pick up a book and say, “It’s now time for a dramatic reading.” I’d go into a book’s middle pages, find a section and read it from the heart.
Over this past weekend in Hayward, I desperately wanted to share the opening page of prose from Zora Neale Hurston’s “their eyes were watching god.” The opening paragraphs are poetry. Amazing poetry.
To be fair, the book was given to me by my friend above who blames Joe Biden for America’s woes.
Here is the first two paragraphs:
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
“Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”
The whole first page and into the second was mind-blowing. I read it twice. And I wanted to read it again to friends. But their interest is in other things.
I found a poem and read it in the presence of the jazz singer friend, thinking surely she would latch on to words that inspire and drive deeper thought, but was surprised to receive a response of complete silence.
These instances drove me to a sense of challenge and heartfelt wonder. “How can I convince a friend that the words, ‘the pipeline ransomware attack is Joe Biden’s fault” is a pejorative and divisive but that the opening lines from a book are inclusional and kind?”
I’d much rather steer the conversation away from how evil Trump is to how amazing the carefully crafted poetry of Robert Frost is. I’m reading books and books by David Sedaris. But it doesn’t translate into interest from friends, because their addicted to thoughts and ideas that don’t require as much thought as the ones that require very little.
How is that we can all agree on regurgitated madness of content creation from blinking images on TVs and not on sentence formulation and depth filled thoughts from an artist?
After dinner downtown Sunday night in Hayward, the four of us were driving back to the cabin in the woods. The route requires a pass by a larger casino, and we all said, “Let’s stop!”
Inside, we all made change and sought out a machine to give our money to. I found an area in the non-smoking section with machines I learned to play 25 years ago in Cherokee NC. The interface is so old. It’s a poker game and I lost $7 before I cashed out for my remaining $3 and looked for the others.
Tina and the jazz singer found a more contemporary machine, stuck their money in, pushed buttons but then scratched their heads in confusion. Tina stopped an employee and asked, “How do you work this thing?” He kindly showed them how to play. And when Tina won $90, she told me later, “It was anticlimactic. I think I saw that the amount went up, but there was no fanfare like the Vegas machines I knew back when I visited my grandparents on the strip.” It was as if the blinking lights were to hypnotize her into not cashing out, but just to continue playing.
Tina’s smart. She cashed out.
I walked the floor mesmerized more by the people than the machines. The machines blinked gigantic shapes and fruits. They belched loud high pitched ringing noises and subliminal messaging. I watched one guy, cigarette between two fingers, hunched over this huge screen, pushing buttons and staring at the screen that appeared to hold sixteen Tasmanian devil Cartoons spinning and spitting.
My inclination was to open my phone’s camera and surreptitiously record him to look at later. But then I looked up and there were eight cameras in my upward glance looking down at me. If someone saw me do it, I would surely be kicked out. “We can watch you, but you cannot watch us,” I imagined them saying.
Later in bed, I put two and two together. There’s almost no distinction between the gambling machines in a casino and the screens of Fox, MSNBC, NewsMax, CNN or the like. The news organizations pack the screen with an overwhelming amount of information. It makes the watcher feel invigorated and enlightened. But it then induces addiction and bulimia nervosa. “I have consumed. I have consumed too much. Now I need to shit or puke. Please watch or listen when I do so. It will make the stomach ache not as bad.”
My friend is a microcosm of the bigger picture. So many think consuming too much news is good. “Oh, I read and watch both sides!”
“Both sides?” What the fuck does that mean?
“My side right. Your side wrong!”
My side more American! [beats chest]. Your side commie Nazi Mao Se Tung!
I wanna read this poem I found. It means so much to me. It moved me the way it was written and the sentiment it communicated to me was heavenly …
No, commie! What are you? An American hater? Listen to me tell you that you’re mentally ill libtard!
I wanna share this book passage with you. It moved me to tears.
No! You’re an elitist who needs to agree with me!
I just wanted to share something that made me feel good and I think it would make you feel good, too.”
“That takes too much thought! Let’s stare at these blinking lights and divisive words for hours.”
I think I’ll cash out. Thanks, though.