“Hey, Sis?  You realize that the guy who’s selling you the laptop lives out in Frackville, right?”

I leaned over my sister’s shoulder and whispered a few non-English swearwords.  “Why the hell would he be out there?”

“I dunno.”

“So this means I have to go outside the city limits, then.”

“It’s only an hour’s drive beyond the wall.”  My sister shrugged.  “People do it all the time and they’re fine.  Katie went outside just two weeks ago to visit family.”

Mother emerged from the living room, her face drawn.  “Right into the middle of the Disturbance.  This laptop worth this to you?”

“I need a laptop to do my work.  No worries, Mom.”

***

I continued to tell myself I wasn’t worried even as I got ready for my trip in front of the bathroom mirror.  I pulled my hair back and stared at my face, belatedly regretting all the time I spent lounging in the sun over the summer.  Was my skin a bit too tan?

Maybe it wouldn’t matter.  Even though I had chosen my rattiest jacket and ripped jeans, it was painfully obvious I was a cityfolk.

I grabbed my knife and purse.  It really was going to be okay.

***

At the checkpoint, a pot-bellied bearded man with a gun slung across his back sauntered up to my car.  I rolled down my window.

He nodded.  “Hello there.  Purpose of trip?”

“Just travelling to Frackville to purchase a laptop.”

“Mmmmm, going shopping, huh?”  He eyed my purse eagerly.

“How much is the toll going to cost me?”

“I don’t know yet.”  He chuckled.  “You got your ID on you?”

I handed my metropolitan ID card to him.

He scowled darkly.  “Maria?”

“I’m Ukrainian,”  I snapped.

“Oh.  Yeah, I guess your last name does look Russian.  That’s okay, then.”

“Can I go?”

“Not sure.”  He leaned into my window.  “What are you doing trying to go into Nowhere unaccompanied, anyway?  It can be dangerous for females around here.”

“My father died defending the city during the killing days,”  I said coldly.  “It’s your militia’s fault that I don’t have a male guardian with me.”

To his credit, he looked abashed at this.  He cleared his throat and stepped back from the car.  “I see.  We need to run one more quick check on you, ma’am.  Rob?”  He gave my ID to the other guard, who was holding a tablet.  “Check her voting record?”

Rob typed my name in.  “She didn’t vote at all last election.”

“Lucky for you,”  the first guard said.  “You won’t get hit with our wrong candidate surcharge.”

“Great.”  I felt relieved and, for once, grateful for the political cynicism which led me to be a non-voter back in 2016.

“We’ll be nice.  Let’s make your toll payment an even hundred bucks.”

I forced a polite smile, made the payment and accepted my ID.  As I slowly drove away, a truck came to a stop at the checkpoint, and the guards gestured at the truck driver to get out so they could inspect his goods.  I heard the driver yelling obscenities at them, and I sped up until the checkpoint was out of sight.

***

The laptop seller lived in a little white house in Frackville’s mostly empty downtown area.  Across the street, there were a couple of abandoned buildings, with a Trump poster peeling away from one of the brick walls.

I knocked on the door.  A skinny old man cracked it open and peered out at me.

“Hi!  I’m here to pick up the laptop?”

“Nice to meet you, Maria.  Come on in.”

His name was Gus.  He grinned at the knife on my belt (“They still don’t let you have guns in the city?”) and then vanished into the back of the house.  I sat on the sofa and waited.  There was a cross hanging in the entry hallway, but I noticed a distinct lack of Trump portraits.  This was an encouraging sign.

I smiled at him when he returned, bearing the laptop.  “I see you’re not a big fan of President Trump, eh?”

He fidgeted nervously.  “May his soul rest in peace.”

“Amen.”

President Trump had been assassinated soon after the beginning of what we all called the Disturbance–because nobody wanted to call it a civil war–but the Disturbance rolled right along without him.  It was common for the residents of the Nowhere lands to give a place of honor in their home to portraits of the Martyr President, sometimes building miniature shrines in his memory.

After his initial moment of anxiety, Gus relaxed.  “Yeah, I never did like him much.  He seemed like a big talker to me.  Seemed like a fake.”

“Doesn’t that get you in trouble around here?”

“Me?  No.  I leave the militia guys alone, and they leave me alone.  I’ve lived here forever, anyway.”

I examined the laptop.  It was small and the keyboard was wearing out, but it would have to do.

Gus shuffled his feet.  “Sorry, I would offer you some coffee, but I only have a tiny bit left, and I don’t know when the roads will be clear for me to go get groceries.”

“That’s okay.”

“So what kind of work do you do?”

“I knit handmade hats and scarves.  I sell them online.”

I glanced up at Gus.  “Would you like my website address?  Maybe I could make you something?”

“No need for that.  Doubt I could afford it.”

There was no time for me to hang around any further.  I stood up and looked out once again upon the desolate street.

“Are you ever angry at the militia, Gus?”

“Angry?”

“About what they did to your town?”

Behind me, I could hear his soft laughter.  “The town has always been like this, before the militia ever came.  There haven’t been any jobs in Frackville for years and years.  Why do you think the people here voted for Trump?”

***

I opened the car door.  I couldn’t wait to leave this dead zone and go home.

Somewhere in the distance, the small figure of an armed man crossed the road.  The sight should have made me scared, but instead it made me sad.  How had we created a world like this?  How had we allowed this to happen?

The curtains in the front window of the little white house moved.  I didn’t want to make Gus uncomfortable by staying there too long.  I got in the car and started on the drive back to the checkpoint and my exit out of Nowhere.

 

 

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Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the details of my daily life–or the details of the latest political PR stunt–that I forget I’m fortunate enough to live in very interesting times.  Well, fortunate or cursed, I’m not sure which one.  What I do know is that this is not a peaceful era in our country’s history.  As Grumpy Cat might say, “Good.”

Say what you will about the Obama administration’s achievements, his has not been a boring presidency.  He has been a Messiah to some–as we’ve found out this week–and an Antichrist to others.  I have yet to meet someone with a neutral opinion of Obama.  And that in itself is a good sign–if you’re not hated by anyone, you’re doing something wrong.

The country is not a neutral mood, either.  The Tea Party is trying to organize a constitutional convention–a meeting of the states to protest the direction of this government and to propose amendments to the Constitution.  State legislatures in two-thirds of the states would have to vote for this convention to happen, so who knows if this is something that will ever get off the ground.  Still, conflict and secession are in the air, as they have been pretty much since January 2009.

I wonder how we’ll look back upon this time decades from now.  If health care reform turns out to be beneficial to Americans, will Obama be remembered as the heroic President who made it happen?  Will we erase all the controversy and name-calling, the way we’ve done with JFK, and be left only with pictures of the new Camelot, of the glamorous First Family?  Will progressives do to Obama what conservatives did to Ronald Reagan when they wiped away all the wrinkles of his presidency and turned him into their Messiah?  Or will we continue to remember this as a contentious time, perhaps as the first rumblings of a deeper split in this country, or–if the threatening noises from Russia and China are any indication–the prelude to another global war?

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have the answers to any of the above questions.  Whatever the case, I’m excited to be here to witness all this and to write about it, however inadequately.  Despite the Chinese curse, I never did want to live in bland times.

So…which ones are conservatives?  The people who love civil rights?  Or the people who…maybe…kinda…prefer the time before the civil rights movement came along?

According to Glenn Beck at his NRA convention speech earlier this month, Tea Party conservatives are the new civil rights movement.  He even went so far as to adopt the “We Shall Overcome” motto.  On his show, Glenn has told the story of the NRA as a civil rights organization created to empower blacks in the South.

Historian David Barton on Glenn’s show:

“The NRA rises up in 1871 with three Union officers who had fought to end slavery, fought for civil rights, fought for civil rights for blacks…  And part of the reason is, they want blacks to defend themselves individually, use their individual right of self-defense against the Klan.”

So far, so good.  After all, conservatives want to reach out to minorities, right?  But ruh roh, wait!  Here is James Porter, the new president of the NRA, and here is how he feels about how the NRA started:

“It was started by some Yankee generals who didn’t like the way my Southern boys had the ability to shoot in what we call the War of Northern Aggression. Now, y’all might call it the Civil War, but we call it the War of Northern Aggression down South.”

Of course, Porter doesn’t say anything outright about how he feels about black people—if he did, he probably wouldn’t have a job anymore—but my guess is that anyone who refers to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression is likely not that excited about following in the footsteps of the civil rights marchers.

Ouch.  Every time conservatives try to look a bit more, well, normal…one of their own comes along and completely ruins that PR job for them.

Well, one of my New Year’s resolutions (besides flossing more often) was not to argue politics as much.  We’ll see how long that one lasts.  I have a feeling it will go the way of that other resolution to spend a half hour on my elliptical every day.  Obviously, when I break my resolution (when, not if) I will do it here.

Still, I’ve bought myself several nice boxes of art supplies and am going to attempt to make this year more about creativity and less about debating.  And it’s not just because it will keep my blood pressure low and help me live longer.  It’s because the political debates I’m seeing out there are scaring me.  The discussion has gotten more polarized since the election, not less.  I would have thought the election results would have settled some things (“hey, maybe the people of this country don’t despise that Obama guy”) but the fight to prove that he is somehow illegitimate and wrong has only intensified.  There is genuine hatred in the conversations.  It really sounds like people are about to start shooting each other, or start shipping off those they disagree with to labor camps.

And like many mild-mannered individuals have done throughout history, this makes me want to drop out and tune out of the politics thing completely.  In fact, it makes me want to curl up and hide somewhere.  I thought I was tougher than this, but it doesn’t feel so great when you are classified as the evil Other to be eliminated.  (It also makes me think my boyfriend was right when he said the Interwebs are full of right-wing crazies who might be out to get me.)

So, it’s off to draw some cute woodland creatures holding hands and singing, for the sake of my own sanity.  I know perfectly well that I can’t resist a good fight–as long as it remains verbal–so I’m sure I’ll be back.  But what is happening to the political scene right now…it’s not good, it’s just not good.  I have a very bad feeling about all this.

Well, I sure live in exciting times.  The list of states petitioning to secede from the nation has now grown to forty.  And, much to my surprise, my home state of Oregon is on it.  Woot!  Secession party!

But…hold on.  How, exactly, is this going to work?  Oregon is a blue state.  Most of us here voted for President Obama–in fact, almost everyone I know voted for him.  So…where are we going?  I can’t imagine that most Oregonians want to separate themselves from the government they voted for, especially to form a new conservative state they don’t agree with.  Are just the people who signed the petition seceding?  Is a fragment of Oregon going to separate itself from the rest of the state?  I suppose if these are the same crazies who believe in birther conspiracies and legitimate rape, I wouldn’t mind them leaving, but it’s all very confusing.

Oregon isn’t the only place with this problem.  Since the secession list is now up to forty, this naturally means that quite a few states which went Obama on election night are on it, including California, Massachusetts, New York and Washington.  Good luck making that happen.

So I gotta think that the petition signatures were just a gesture of anger by those who don’t like the President, and that the signers knew their action would not really lead to revolution or secession.  It must’ve felt good in the moment, but what was the point?  I doubt that anyone at the White House website cared very much.  But I suppose that an online civil war is preferable to a real one, and I can be grateful for that.

I listened to talk radio way too much at work today.  I’ve got the talk radio hangover.  Now I wanna move to Texas, arm myself and buy a supply of dried food that I can store underground.  I’m about to get torn limb from limb by a mob of unemployed hippies.  I’m about to be abducted by a Communist UFO.  I’m about to either get blown up by a terrorist or run over by a drunken illegal immigrant, I’m not sure which.  It’s all scary.  There are billionaire bankers who want me to starve and panhandlers who want to slit my throat.

I need to take my big gun with me everywhere I go.  I have to be able to take it to my church.  I have to be able to take it to my child care center.  Those children out there are rabid, you know.

What I need is for someone to save me.  Someone knows what the truth is.  Someone knows what God is thinking and can tell me.  Tell me what to do, please.

Actually what I need to do is turn off the damn radio.  The chatter is funny at first, but then it turns into poison flowing into my mind.

Isn’t there a station somewhere playing Christmas carols already?

 

Quick note:  Since I know people get bent out of shape these days, yes, the above is satire.  I do not even have a big gun, much less am I planning to take it anywhere.  However, on a connected note, the BBC News is reporting that sales of bulletproof glass have quadrupled in America during the last two years, as the American economy has tanked.  Just a little something to chew on.