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And The Wichita Lineman Is Still On The Line

Posts have been sporadic of late due to a hectic and depressing stint of traveling in Middle America, a sparsely populated swath of flatland peopled by the truly uninspired, bland, pudgy denizens of a watered-down version of life enacted primarily in front of the tv set. I was actually happy to touch back down in this little self-absorbed bubble that is stretched and straining to contain all of its wet-behind-the-ears young graduates and dour old suits who are all wrapped up completely in the “bidness” of running our government, who want us to believe that their systemic approach to otherwise nonsensical events actually changes us or our lives, when really, the whole thing is as flimsy as a house of cards built from the deck of Iraq’s Most Wanted.

Just ask the people in Wichita. They’ll tell you. Yeah, I felt conspicuous and guilty when I frittered away some money at the mall there because the whole atmosphere of the town made you feel that it was NOT a time to be frivolous and spoil yourself with a skirt that you really don’t need merely to cheer yourself up a little because, fuck it, after all you are in Wichita. It comes up out of the southern Kansas plains a little suddenly. It’s got a downtown cluster of buildings but this is quickly challenged by a skyline of abandoned grain silos. It’s all flanked by empty train yards. That town has nothing going for it. Bad times. It is economically stagnant, you can tell. That kind of beaten down depression is more subtle than the effusive, almost frantic, poverty of the ghetto, but it still hits you just as hard and as fast.

But you do notice while you are driving in on the interstate that you are passing exits with names like “Hydraulic Way” and “Aeroplane Blvd.” When you get into town, you have something to eat at a coffee shop downtown. And yeah, that’s a coffee shop as it actually is meant to be; there are no Starbucks in Wichita. The place has a few Formica tables, a counter, waitresses in crepe-soled shoes who call you by some endearment that suddenly makes you feel so lonely, almost homesick, like you come from a place where people talk to you like that, which you don’t.

There are newspapers on the counter and people are hunched over ashtrays like steaming bowls of soup, into their mid-day conversations at the counter. They are mirrors of each other, the papers and the talk are all about airplanes and factory work and the huge Boeing contract that was just handed out. The military industrial complex, is what you try to think, but instead you look out the window at the Chevys and Fords, mostly sedans but some pick-ups, going by, a few people walking up the block shrugging at the wind and looking pinched by their skin, and the cynicism comes from a different direction entirely.

It sideswipes you while you are at the mall, standing in the Cinnabon stink and Christmassy mess of the place, holding the bag with the skirt in it. Wichita gets new jobs because of the planes that the Air Force is going to pay Boeing to build so we can keep the peace in the Mid East. Gas prices are expected to rise a nickel out here in the next 60 days, you read somewhere else or heard on tv. When you go out and do your job for the government you are sitting across from single moms who didn’t graduate from high school and tell you there’s nothing to do around here anyway if they had. It’s towns like this that gets kids into the military, like Palestine, West Virginia, and every other podunk pit that’s out there somewhere between the two coasts that bookend everything about your country, keep it straight in your head.

It’s true that you are always bitching and crying in your beer about “federal policy,” about the war, about everything Washington is all about actually. And what the hell? Here is where all that NPR fodder really matters, where it is imparting meaning to people’s daily lives not just serving as a soundtrack for your commute around the Beltway and it is all wrong. It’s the wrong meaning and everybody’s lives are all wrong and flat and ugly, but it’s still not Washington, which also never gets it right.

And I was never so happy to creep back here. It’s safer here, in the house of cards. The cars are pretty, the people are pretty, all the green awnings that wake us up.

reflect - reinvent ....rayclaire@gmail.com... what i used to think... what i hear... what i see... where i'd like to be...

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