May 2016


A few decades had gone by, and still the war went on.  Nobody in the country even remembered who Osama bin Laden had been, although some had a vague memory of a terrorist getting killed at a televised White House dinner.

And yet, every Friday afternoon the same thing continued in my hometown–the old hippies came out to protest.  The real 1960s hippies had died out by then, but these folks proudly carried on the tradition.  They slouched down Main Street with signs proclaiming hilarious things such as “Troops Out Of Iraq!” and “No Money For Israel!” and “Funding For Infrastructure!”  They circled the downtown blocks, screaming at a President who couldn’t hear them, and who wasn’t listening anyway.

I could hear them, though, every week when I left the office.  The company I worked for manufactured toy drones, and I was always worn out after a long day of customers with malfunctioning drones which crashed into trees or attacked their children.  Friday was when I would treat myself — fries and a beer at my favorite downtown pub.  Even as I chewed, the hippie chants echoed in my direction.  Rain or shine, they were there.  And she was there.

I did my best to keep my eyes on my plate and avoid eye contact as she went past the glass. But on that particular day, much to my dismay, she came in to talk to me.

“Hey, Mom.”  I managed to fake a weak smile.  “I’m very tired right now, so…”

“Can’t I even say hi to you anymore?”

“Not if it turns into another crazy rant…”

“It’s not crazy.  It’s not crazy to tell you that your job is bad for you.  You’re wasting your life. You hate those stupid toys…”

“Oh, sure.  And you’re not wasting your time doing this?”

“I’m doing it for my country!”

“Look, Mom.  Nobody cares.  Your country isn’t paying attention.  This is my one reward for my shitty week–could you please leave me alone?”

“Okay.  Have a good dinner.”  I felt her move away and walk out behind me, but didn’t look back.

But once I’d finished my beer, my anger faded away.  Alcohol made me sentimental.  So what if she wanted to walk around and yell with her anti-war sign, or tell me about all the conspiracy theories she’d read on the Internet?  She was retired, and retired people got to spend their time doing whatever silly stuff they felt like doing.  Hell, maybe I’d join her at the rally.  I wouldn’t hold any signs, of course–I didn’t want any embarrassing pictures of me online–but I could applaud the speeches and pretend to chant along a little.

I paid for my meal and went to the city square, where the marches ended every week in a sparse, hoarse-throated rally.  I must’ve taken too long, because the square was empty by the time I got there.  The cops were half-heartedly arresting one or two people.  The grey-bearded little man who liked to throw eggs at them was being led away.

No rally, no protest, no chance to chant.  No chance to make it up to Mom.  It was now drizzling miserably.

I heard indistinct shouting to my right.  It was the other protester who was there every week — the one with pictures of chopped up babies.

“You’ll burn in eternal Hell!”  he boomed at me through his bullhorn.

He eyed me with suspicion as I approached.  I handed him a twenty.  “For your church,” I said.  I didn’t tell him that I felt sad for him.

He glared at me, but he did pocket the twenty.  In return, he handed me one of his anti-abortion brochures.

As I walked away, he called after me:  “Remember, God doesn’t just want your money!  He wants your soul!”

I laughed.  How sweet of him to assume I had one.

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In my fantasy, I’m climbing the barricades.  I’m not sure why I’m climbing the barricades. It’s been a long time since I’ve believed in anything strongly enough to do that sort of thing.

Maybe I’m climbing the barricades because I got tired of playing with my phone.

I’m waving a flag, but what flag could I possibly be waving?  The flag of doing my best to pay my bills?  The flag of 9 to 5 employment?

I’m surrounded on all sides by real fighters–warriors truly engaged in the battle.  Unlike me, they’re not here to march down the alley in slow motion, trying hard to be Beyonce in her Lemonade video.  They actually want to change things.  They’re not here looking for a shiver of excitement, for a reminder that life doesn’t have to be safe and boring.

Me?  I think the truth is I want to belong somewhere.

But speaking of the excitement, where is it?  Where is the smoke?  Where are the tear gas cannisters?  I don’t see any bombs or bricks getting thrown.

For that matter, I don’t see anyone to fight.  The street I’m wandering down is suddenly very empty.  No creepy authorities dressed in black.  I look around, feeling lost.  Nobody to get angry at, to shout at.  And why should there be?

It turns out, the person I’m protesting is myself.