big shoes

lincoln unclenching

a few years back, my buddy barack got himself a fancy new house down in the district. i’d been meaning to get down there, have a look around, see where life and ambition had led my old friend since our days of knocking on doors and flyering for community board meetings, but you know how it is. and then last week i was in town on a travel job, put up in a fancy hotel on the hill with a few hours to myself, and figured i ought to have a look around.

the digs are spacious and stately but they don’t really suit him, or at least i hope they don’t. i sometimes wonder if he didn’t pick the place because he could, rather than because he liked it, and now he can’t figure out why he’s always humming that talking heads song to himself. but maybe that’s just me, preserving my fragile little truths.

barack’s house

the neighborhood is what you’d expect, lush and lifeless, epic and empty, rich in everything but neighbors. (those douchebags are the absolute worst. if you knew him like i do, you wouldn’t think he’d last five minutes in the same room with them before jumping out of his own skin. i bet he hates every minute of it. at least, i hope he does.)

but the real problem is a matter of scale. all the doors are twenty feet high, and you’d have to be a basketball player to even peek in a first-story window. i found myself scaling an endless set of marble stairs, each too deep for a single step, but not quite deep enough for too, and a bit too high for the comfort of human hamstrings, and broad enough to welcome an invading army. after four you break a sweat; after forty, you’re trying not to pant. after a hundred, you wonder who the hell this city is built for, anyway, and after a hundred million, you get your answer. it was built for abraham lincoln, all 28 restless feet of him, and his size-72 stone shoes and twitching half-ton fingertips. it was built for men six times as large as they were, who only ever spoke their most eloquent sentences, whose ambiguities and imperfections are forever buried down in their foundations, irrelevant and forgettable and forgotten.

maddie’s water

is this what became of our college pals, our old editors, our organizer friends? is this where they bought the ugly suits they wear in their facebook photos, where they met those wives, where they spawned those pink puffy aliens? is this what happens when we let loose our biggest freshwater fish into open waters? do they lose their way in the poorly-lighted depths? do the sharks devour them? does the salinity degrade their biological integrity?

or is our inability to understand the inevitable just a failure of metaphor?

maybe we send off our best and brightest as a selfless gift to “the people,” like a care package for a lost and lonely electorate. but the package never gets there in the condition we mailed it; it’s manhandled on trucks and in loading bays, busted open and hastily repaired, and the best bits are forever lost in transit.

most of the old gang falls into one of these camps, complaining either that the place, or the getting there, has changed the man. but i figure my friend is still the same soft hue in a less cohesive palette. up north he was that one sky blue brush stroke that made the whole composition sing; down here he’s just another glop in the muddy muddle.

because we’re all of us rendered in context: at best, we are as excellent as we have the opportunity to be. at worst, we’re as miserable as circumstances allow. and in a city built for behemoths, we can only aspire to be scurrying little rodents.

so maybe we should stop sending the ones we like to washington. maybe we should stop sending anyone at all. i don’t doubt the giants are all very happy here, but it’s no kind of a place for people.

madame secretary

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  1. Neil says:

    When are you putting out a zine with some of your writing? I quite enjoy it when you wax poetic.

scrawls

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