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Like most people of my generation I am the product of divorced parents. A failed marriage. A broken family. Process servers and mandatory custody disputes in various courthouses across the land. Tears all around. My parents were members of the first generation of truly dedicated sport-fuckers, elsewhere known as baby-boomers, and what my Marine Corps colleague–while we were slagging pints of Victoria Bitter at The Plough Inn in Brisbane–notoriously dubbed: “The Lamest Generation.” That’s a broad condemnation but the inability or unwillingness to sustain familial relationships is the first citation in a rather lengthy affidavit penned by the children and grandchildren of boomers. The contagious lameness of the boomers—it remains an active pandemic–is probably a side-effect of the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which gave birth to an orgy of worldwide nihilism that shows no signs of cessation and now finds its highest form in the present-day spectacle of people like Sam Brinton, a transgender nuclear waste official from the Department of Energy who wears lipstick under his mustache and was recently arrested for stealing a Vera Bradley suitcase at the Minneapolis baggage claim—and for wearing the woman’s underwear he found inside. This should surprise no one, because this is precisely how chain-reactions work.
While Dave and I were arguing about the boomers, and Steinbeck, and De La Salle football’s ridiculous winning streak, another of our colleagues was outside talking up an aboriginal man who had made his residence in the sidewalk greenbelt. Days later we discovered that our friend, a Sergeant of Marines, had gone on walkabout with his newfound pal from under the gum tree. Our warship, the USS Peleliu—the same ship from which Bin Laden’s corpse was later tossed overboard into the Persian Gulf–eventually stoked her boilers and left Australia without him. We were not reunited until our eventual return to Camp Pendleton, where Walkabout Willy—as he came to be admired–was confined to the brig and busted down to private for one of those UCMJ terms I can’t resist: missing a movement. When he was finally released—he avoided a bad conduct discharge by invoking the ever-present ghost of Chesty Puller–all he could offer by way of explanation was to smile broadly and to say with a tantalizing gleam in his eye: “Worth it.”
When we weren’t carrying machine guns on the pointy end of American foreign policy Dave and I haunted the quays of Singapore and Thailand, the gold souks of Dubai, and the debauched nightclubs of Bali. We thought we were Butch and Sundance, although Butch and Sundance were chased by Pinkertons rather than the lingering specter of the shot tower at Trinity. Once, we convinced two above-average looking Scottish women to bring us up to their rented flat which had a commanding view of Sentosa Island, but in the end I blew up the arrangement after mistaking them for Australians. We sat around for another hour discussing Scottish cheeses: Caboc, Crowdie, and Lanark Blue, but I had already rolled a cultural stink-grenade into the project and enthusiasm lagged.
So, we left.
When his enlistment ended Dave became a hired gun for Blackwater in Iraq where he once famously delivered, via armored fighting vehicle–and while manning a Browning in the turret dressed only in goggles, a red-checkered keffiyah, and flip-flops—a crate full of fresh socks sent by the Mothers of America to Marines tortured by a solid month of sandstorms, MOPP 4 drills, and epidemic heat rash that presented to the battalion’s Navy corpsmen like an outbreak of smallpox. Later, Dave would vanish altogether into the northern provinces of Afghanistan where many of us believed he was attempting to carve out a fiefdom among the descendents of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Lion of the Panjshir, who was famously assassinated by a video camera turned into a bomb. When Dave surfaced years later as a student at Washington University and a part-time repo-man in St. Louis I was both relieved and confused. I didn’t press for clarification because a man’s songline, the means by which he navigates the earth, can only be his own. If he wants to share a couplet from his travels he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t. Also, according to Bruce Chatwin, there is the important matter of initiation when it comes to learning the songlines without destroying the entire creation. Dave said he was considering marriage to a competitive powerlifter and sent me pictures of them together on Mykonos, sipping from flutes of champagne above the briny blue Aegean. And then he vanished again which remains an unexplained gap in his resume. And then, more years later, Dave washed up on the south coast of Texas, having something to do with Elon Musk and Space‑X rocket launches.
It’s potentially related that Cabeza de Vaca, in 1528, under the command of the raving idiot Narvaez, washed up on the same Texas coastline after floating for weeks in the gulf currents on a terrible handmade raft. The expedition had been plagued by problems from the moment of their contested arrival in Florida–where three of their ships were sunk in Tampa Bay, and many of the shore party were perforated by native arrows or killed by falling trees in a hurricane.
De Vaca wrote, of his party’s initial rescue on what was probably Padre Island:
“The Indians, on seeing the disaster that had befallen us and the disaster that was upon us with so much misfortune and misery, sat down among us. And with the great grief and pity they felt on seeing us in such a state, they all began to weep loudly and so sincerely that they could be a great distance away. And this lasted more than half an hour, and truly, to see that these men, so lacking in reason and so crude in the manner of brutes, grieved so much for us, increased in me and in others of our company even more the magnitude of our suffering and the estimation of our misfortune.”
Ritual weeping has lost favor almost everywhere, with the important exception of those smarmy balloon-filled ballrooms where modern political candidates make concession speeches.
The broader point is that I ended up with two men purporting to be my father. One of them clearly wasn’t, in the biological sense, and it’s worth remembering that men—particularly English kings—have often acted like bears when it comes to rival progeny—they will kill another boar’s cubs to keep the sow in heat. Fortunately, nobody ever tried to kill me outright, although I was attacked with a shovel once and there were several attempts at poisoning—mostly of the psychological variety which is like being gutshot: it hurts like hell but takes a long time to die from it. As a gangly youth with a crossbite that would eventually require a kind of medieval surgery–suddenly whisked from one man’s Great Hall to another’s–the shock was profound and created an enormous psychological monkey’s fist I continue to unravel—mostly around the holidays. But hear this clearly: we aren’t going down the splashy flume of an emotional log ride. There are no victims here. We are merely dealing in fact, if such a thing exists. Rimbaud, among others, noted that everything we have been taught is wrong.
Both of my grandmothers were strange women. One of them was of pure Norwegian stock and raised by an alcoholic shoe salesman in Omaha. She was bitten by a rabid dog as a child which made the front page of the Omaha Herald. Her father, Charles Edward Steen, would disappear on weeklong benders. His father, Charles, was born near Oslo in 1836 and was one of six brothers who served in Company A of the Minnesota 1st Infantry during the Civil War. He fought at Bull Run, Marvin Hill, Fair Oaks, Seven Pines, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Spottsylvania. He was wounded by a minie ball at Gettysburg and had his leg sawn off in the field hospital. I have the pocketwatch he carried through the war. Which doesn’t necessarily explain why my grandmother gave me an unprovoked open-handed slap across the left cheekbone one evening in a North Hollywood kitchen, but probably explains Charles Edward’s occasional vanishings into subterranean Nebraska. The Norwegian grandmother was, probably, agnostic, though in her twilight years she attended the Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, California. I suspect mostly for want of company.
I remember being smoked by the Norwegian woman clearly because it came shortly after my other grandmother had done the same thing in the kitchen of a pea-green Viking doublewide trailer parked 800 miles away on the edge of the Great Basin. This grandmother was of murkier stock which may explain her night terrors and eventual seduction by the Armageddon branch of the Seventh Day Adventist Church–whose doom-laden prophecies were aggressively fulfilled one afternoon on live television by government agents in Waco, Texas. Her sudden conversion to the faith led, ultimately, to my cowboy grandfather running off with a buxom bank teller from Bishop, California, a divorce, and puritanical devotion to the scribblings of an alarmingly bug-eyed prophetess named Ellen White–who claimed to have received 2000 or more visions directly from God after being struck in the face with a rock in Portland, Maine. Ellen White’s father, incidentally, was a hatmaker steeped in mercury and had revelations of his own.
There are rumors of a French-Canadian ancestry along this line and so naturally a suggestion of connections to beheaded French royalty. The actual history is a very dense forest full of trees sagging under a load of wet snow, which is to say impenetrable. Somehow, the family ended up on the desert near Brawley, on the edge of the Salton Sea, a kind of American Sinai from whence great religious passions are continually birthed into the world. It also explains, to some degree, why this grandmother gave me a sweeping thunderclap—because I had emphasized the syllable CHRIST when saying Christmas which was, in the event, an entirely spontaneous discovery of the joys of compound language, but also–and more importantly to my toothless and militantly vegetarian grandmother–the shocking and sinful uttering of a godless reprobate and child-heathen. So. A good clocking was clearly in order.
I was, quite literally, smacked for Christ.
Even as a child I could take a punch or, if required, a stinging slap, but I hold no grudges. Call it an act of immersive journalism. Or maybe it was just the beginning of an artful effort to understand the power of chain reactions. Who were these strange people that had created my even stranger parents? They were clearly confused–consciously or not–about the remaining value of a purpose driven life after the unexpected explosion of fission bombs over Japan. I began to understand this only later, but they have been behaving erratically for decades.
In Stella Maris, Cormac McCarthy writes that “…anyone who doesn’t understand that the Manhattan Project is one of the most significant events in human history hasn’t been paying attention. It’s up there with fire and language. It’s at least number three and it may be number one. We just don’t know yet. But we will.” He puts these words into the mouth of Alicia Western, a mathematics genius who has checked herself into the looney bin and whose visions are directed by the Thalidomide Kid, a midget with flippers for hands, and an assortment of other Edwardian figures who occasionally step out of the broom closet or rise-up from a dripping sea chest. But the larger point is that fission bombs didn’t just sere the shadows of living people into concrete, they seem also to have scrambled the exquisitely evolved synapsis of every subsequent generation of civilized human beings.
Alicia was a boomer.
When I lived in Flagstaff I would often drive up to my grandfather’s ranch in Montgomery Pass, Nevada. This was an excellent escape hatch from the political gymnastics of graduate school where I was outnumbered by a nasty cohort of eastern-seaboard communists. I have traveled widely along the eastern coast of the United States and most always felt like a foreigner with only a few exceptions. One was in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where I sat for three hours in a shack talking to an ancient black fisherman and eating fresh sashimi off a cutting board. The other was the city of Boston, which reminded me of San Francisco, which was formerly a fine place to visit. I had a writing fellowship at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania where the Amish at the Saturday morning farmer’s market in Lewisburg were the only people I could recognize. Also, they made the best pastries I’ve ever eaten because they were made with real cream and the recipes were written in Old High German. The other fellows came from places like Bard College and Radcliffe and Wellesley, and it was clear the kid from Nevada in pearl button snaps and a destroyed pair of Tony Lamas wasn’t high on their guest list. My presence may even have been a token gesture, what with my manual typewriter and thumbworn edition of Netochka Nezvanova, which Dostoevsky was unable to complete after being exiled to Siberia. I made one friend, the poet Mary Szybist, who would later win a National Book Award, and we spent hours wading in the syrupy Susquehanna River and reading Whitman aloud on the rocky banks. Once she took me to her family home in Williamsport which was the first time I’d ever seen a pierogi. I wrote one good poem in Pennsylvania called The Hermit in Rickett’s Glen which was published in an obscure literary journal that no one has ever read. Mary’s family were Polish Catholics who have typically shunned the world’s deserts although Mary would, years later, visit me where I was cowboying in the Black Rock country of northern Nevada. She took the train from Iowa City and was likely startled when I arrived at the Reno train station in full-dress buckaroo uniform. This is memory work, I’ll admit, but it fits into my study of disruptive fission and chain reactions because on the flight into Harrisburg, when the rainclouds parted, I was greeted by an expansive aerial view of Three Mile Island.
For milk runs to the ranch I’d leave my apartment on Lake Mary Road at midnight which was better driving because the only other people on the road were sleepless truckers. The biggest danger was plowing into a herd of migrating elk between Flagstaff and Ash Fork. The sun was rising by the time I made it north of Las Vegas where anti-nuke protestors had been camped at the turnoff to Mercury Test Site for 20 years. The camps were ratty affairs and looked like they had been strafed daily by Apache helicopters. Tarps flapping in the wind, tent poles akimbo, shredded revolutionary flags. But it wasn’t hard to admire the pluck. I would zoom by and honk at an old man with a Tolstoy beard standing in the greasewood with knobbed knees and whang leather sandals, jabbing his No Nukes sign into the air in a kind of feverish tribal dance. The last time I went through that country the nuke protestors were gone and Predator drones were taking off from Creech Air Force Base, where airmen wearing flight suits sit in air-conditioned shipping containers, sipping Diet Cokes from a straw and launching precision-guided missiles into Afghan wedding parties.
My cowboy grandfather was grateful for fission bombs because it spared him a certain death during the pending invasion of Japan. He’d had enough of fighting anyway. Bougainville. Saipan. Tinian. Iwo Jima. He joined the Marine Corps out of Lebanon, Missouri, where he grew up loving horses and wanting to play professional baseball. His father was a stonemason and a muleskinner for the US Army. They ran hunting dogs in the woods at night, where the men and boys would sit around a campfire passing a clay jug and they could tell whose dog was in the lead by the tenor of baying in the echoing darkness. Family photos from the era show a people without shoes, and always include horses posed like second cousins on the margins of the composition. On cold nights they heated stones on a woodstove and put them in their beds. He was already a Marine and on liberty in San Francisco when the meatballs appeared over Pearl Harbor. He’d never heard of Oppenheimer.
Forty years after my grandparents’ divorce I was present for dinner in a Reno steakhouse where they were accidentally reunited. The Cowboy and The Nun. They were cordial to each other but that was explained afterward when my grandfather asked me sincerely who the woman across the table was. They had four children together but his honest inability to recognize her was probably the result of her wizening religious beliefs and a weird habit of sunbathing in Crisco oil which had turned her, in the end, into a slice of bacon. She was forever having lesions burned off. She endured the dinner powered, one imagines, by a kind of righteous seething against the wheels of heavenly injustice, and by weaving almost imperceptibly in her chair, which is the most ancient form of prayer. Also, she only ate the house salad, which wouldn’t trouble her dentures, though by this time she had strayed from Ellen White’s strict prohibitions against eating meat and would occasionally tear into a breast of fried chicken.
Of their four children only one survived as a recognizable citizen of a first-world nation. The other three all went to prison for various offenses. One of them walks the earth wracked with gout and making continual victim noises when he isn’t being fired from his job swamping out the shitters at a sandblasted McDonalds in Barstow, or Needles, or Tehachapi. Another tends marijuana buds in Colorado after she was caught bringing meth into a prison facility in California. Even in California, which has largely given up on criminal justice, authorities still frown on smuggling dope to inmates—particularly if you are employed there, which she was. A third wound up destitute in a camp trailer beached in the Owens Valley which, before the phenomenon of Los Angeles, once hosted millions of migrating birds each year but is now reduced to well-publicized and fantastical Chupacabra sightings. He died from burns suffered while smoking in bed–which caused his oxygen tank to explode. He lingered for a while, minus one leg that couldn’t be saved, and finally just put the morphine drip into four-wheel drive and drove himself away. It’s pointless to blame all of this on Oppenheimer but these people were among the very many boomers who did something unexpected with the legacy of a victory over fascism. A lot of it, a truly incredible amount, went up their noses or into their veins. I could lay it all at the feet of my grandfather who has been accused of various crimes but there is something larger at work. Perhaps there was no proper initiation into the inherited responsibilities of a fission world which would explain what looks like a general collapse of the appropriate songline–and so all of creation with it.
Chatwin: Civilization was lashed into place; we inherit the load.
The spectacle of my father was greatly informed by his childhood visits to the family farm near St. Joseph, Missouri, where a man they called The Conehead, and another they called Tarzan, lived meagerly out of clapboard shacks hidden in the river bottom. The Conehead would occasionally be found eating dog food on the porch of the farmhouse, savoring each bite of kibble like hard candy. It was said he preferred the kibble to most natural foods, and that he could drive a four-in-hand team of mules with extraordinary skill. Tarzan lived even deeper in the margins and refused to speak in a language anyone recognized. It was his dedication to milking cows that kept him on and earned him a meagre wage, even as he plodded toward inventing his own language and refused to wear anything but rubber boots without socks and overhauls without an undershirt. His beard was pure white and reached his navel. He wore a hat borrowed from a fevered dream of Walt Disney. Rimbaud may be correct that these teachings were tarnished when given to me but there is photographic evidence of both The Conehead and Tarzan which corroborates the saga as handed down. It’s easy to imagine that both men were largely unfazed by the existence of fission bombs and were instead stuck somewhere on the timeline between steam power and internal combustion. They were among the last people on earth, outside of those uncontacted Amazonian tribes who shoot arrows at airplanes, who would manage to live entirely outside of the chain reaction. Of course this came at its own price which was, and always will be, terminal poverty. The farm was owned by my grandfather’s older brother who ploughed his significant inheritance—made possible by my great-grandfather’s patent, and subsequent manufacturing of the first electric washing machine–into marginal farms across the Midwest. He married a woman called Maddie who looked like Winston Churchill with a mustache and he finally died under a tangle of antique farm implements near Hamburg, Iowa, on the Nishnabotna River.
During the early nineties there was an epidemic of suicides among midwestern farmers. There were a number of fission-related factors informing these deaths but more interesting is that many of them skipped writing a proper suicide note and instead left love poems addressed to their tractors. One of the more memorable deaths involved a 42-year-old man who kept an entire journal of love poems to his John Deere model 410, which he had named Stone. He was found hanging from the bucket which suggested an accidental death by auto-erotic asphyxiation. He would apparently dangle from the bucket while redirecting Stone’s exhaust to blow on his naked fanny.
To wit: he died making love to his machine.
My father’s fission-induced mania manifested in an obsession with flight. There was an expectation that I would inherit this love-affair which probably ended—for me–when I was fitted with a parachute and a World War One aviator’s cap, and then strapped into the open cockpit of a Pitts Special with a size 80 chain and lobster claw clasp. We took off from the one-room airport in Susanville, California, and what followed was an hour-long lesson in gravitational physics–Split S maneuvers, Immelman turns–over an expansive desert valley where mastadons once roamed. You have not properly shouted invective into the void until you have done it from an open cockpit while flying inverted over the desert. Shouting at yourself in the mirror after eating a tab of LSD comes nowhere close, though the experiences may be related. I realize now, with the benefit of age, that my father was merely barnstorming, and the entire spectacle was the human equivalent of ursine tree-rubbing in the dark timber. That’s true because four thousand feet below us the rival boar was forced to look into the sky and realize that he had no overhead cover—and one thing we have learned as a species is that without air superiority one cannot expect victory on the modern battlefield.
It’s notable that one of the first airplane models I ever built was a 1/72 scale Enola Gay. For years it hung from the ceiling above my bed. The bomb-bay doors were glued open.
In the March 1957 edition of the Atomic Energy Booklet the US Government proudly proclaimed that: “You people who live near Nevada Test Site are in a very real sense active participants in the Nation’s atomic test program.” That was meant to be encouraging because we now had fission rivals and the newer race was for the honor of a neutron laurel. It was going to take all hands-on-deck to properly detonate the Bikini Islands before anyone else could. So, welcome aboard. Also, the problem with chain reactions is that their ultimate effects cannot properly be predicted by differential equations. Eat a pangolin from a Chinese wet market or, as it were, play gain-of-function games in a leaky research lab, and there is no equation available to predict how this grievous act may rapidly pinball into an emergency demand for refrigerated trucks at the Kansas City morgue, or an eight-year-old being arrested in Wyoming for refusing to wear a mask during the annual spelling bee. For instance, nowhere in Oppenheimer’s chalkboard equations would you discover that Fat Man would eventually begat Abby Hoffman, or that I would eventually read and recommend Hoffman’s progeny in the form of a marvelous book: Steal This Urine Test. But one most certainly follows the other.
I mentioned my friend Dave earlier because he is now working in the nuclear energy industry in New Mexico. Also, the word reactor is closely related to the word reactionary, which first appears via John Stuart Mill in the 1840s. It was meant to refer to a person who generally favors a return to a previous, more conservative, state of affairs, though it was also Mill who made the relevant observation that: “We have never perceived any object, or any portion of space, which had not other space beyond it.”
In the Honey Lake Valley of northeastern California, where I was mostly raised, the US Army once detonated old ordinance above-ground. Windows rattled, a shimmering wake spread across the alkaline waters of Honey Lake, and a mushroom cloud, often several mushroom clouds, would ascend to the blue heavens. If you happened to be watching you would see the cloud rising first, a red flash at its core, followed by the hard wind of the shockwave, and finally you would hear the explosion. When you were a child playing at war in the sagebrush these detonations added desireable realism to the game because you weren’t yet cognizant of the actual produce of warfare. There was no danger that a needle of shrapnel would bury itself in your brain. You would not be clubbed by the falling and limbless torso of your best friend. For years there were rumors of a mysterious nuclear “white train” pulling into the Herlong Ammunition Depot, but these were never confirmed. What was confirmed is that they were cooking off these old bombs not far from the Tommy Tucker cave, where 5000 year old petroglyphs survived a decade of ordinance disposal but were later shotgunned by whiskey-powered rednecks. Which shouldn’t be surprising because the original settlers of this country—known as Neversweats—also shot Indians for mere sport, according to Fairfield’s Pioneer History of Lassen County. Not far away, past Tommy Tucker’s cave and the ammunition depot, through Sand Pass and the Smoke Creek desert, the US Army cornered a band of Paiutes fleeing the Pyramid Lake war. They were mostly old people and women with children but the Army killed them all. They cut up the women’s private parts and wore them as hatbands. That happened, which tends to sour my appreciation for martial parades and pioneer days festivities.
We can probably be forgiven for occasional dives into despair, or from gloom as we watch the treadmill trinity of home, office, and commute destroy the utility of bi-pedalism, opposable thumbs, and outsized craniums. The annual dudeo at the now defunct Spanish Springs Ranch is one reason for absolution. Spanish Springs was a dude ranch and yoga retreat built into the side of Snowstorm Mountain, the grand vision of a plastic surgeon from Las Vegas named Donald Eban and his wife Darla, a flight-attendant turned transcendental yogi who claimed powers of levitation and sponsored exclusive seminars in yogic flying for wealthy TikTok influencers and non-binary crypto executives. The couple did not live at the ranch and locals couldn’t afford to stay there, but they hosted seasonal blowouts meant to demonstrate their respect for local mores and an enduring commitment to the sustainable communities-movement. Rumors of satanic torchlight ceremonies and swinger orgies abounded but were never substantiated—and even the horse wranglers and kitchen staff were required to sign NDAs.
The spring event was a dudeo for the benefit of The Young Presidents, the children of wealthy republicans from the leafier redoubts of America, launched into the Nevada wilderness to learn the timeless conservative values found in primitive fire building, trail-riding, and manure shoveling. No one, far and wide, was under any illusions. The camp was a sex-romp for America’s future CEOs, Yale and Stanford bound high-school seniors, and an opportunity to sit at the feet of acerbic and alcoholic cowboys who shared pithy lessons from their sanctified western ramblings, sometimes in song, around the nightly bonfire. The dudeo—a term of derision–was the final showcase, a ranch rodeo where real cowboys could ride bucking horses and rope calves for beer money, and yawning parents in stylish sunglasses and inappropriate footwear could see how a week of outback living had stamped rosettes of rugged individualism on the foreheads of their otherwise intolerable brats.
Also on offer was a bison hunt. From my daybook:
They pick a guy up at the airport in Reno, drive him out there, and then pack him full of steaks and mashed potatoes. If he’s feeling froggy maybe they haul him down to Janey’s for a Hundred Dollar Drink. Next morning, they blow reveille at four am, stuff him full of pancakes and greasy bacon, pack him into a Land Rover, and then drive him around in circles for a couple of hours with his ‘guide’—some punchy kid from Fallon who couldn’t track a Red Bull through a refrigerator. The client is hungover and ashamed he paid for a Basket Trick in the Roundup Room, and really has no idea where he is. But it’s dark and coyotes are yapping and he starts to think he’s on an African safari with Peter Hathaway Capstick. By sunrise the guide has him shivering in the greasewood overlooking Grasshopper Valley. The guide whispers tales about migrating spirit animals and how the herd will often pass through the valley at sunrise. It’s all very majestic. What the client doesn’t know is that the dude-wranglers have been holding the herd behind a ridge for three hours waiting for the flag to go up. And then, miracle of miracles, as the sun rises over the desert, the bison suddenly appear. The lawyer, or city manager, or whatever he is, is laying there with ten thousand dollars-worth of Rigby rifle and Swarovski glass and is just amazed all to hell to behold the mighty tatanka spilling into the valley just as he was promised. Then the guide lines him up on an old bull with hoof rot they want to cull anyway, and the client takes his shot. And that, my friends, is a bison hunt at Spanish Springs, which will set you back five or ten grand, plus tax and gratuity. More if you’d like the head mounted for your conference room.
We are encouraged to make of things what we will. And we do. I harbor no animosity worth mentioning. The world is held together with cotton candy and dental floss. We amble about, seeking solace where we can find it, beauty in the purely quotidian, perhaps, like floating naked in a remote desert hot spring, warm mud bubbling between our toes, a zephyr in the rimrock, fetching for equilibrium in the whirling galaxy, and hoping to avoid the experience of a rancher in Eagle Valley who rode over a ridge one day and sat his horse beside a Joshua Tree, where he unexpectedly witnessed an atomic blast and spent the rest of his life trying to rinse the metallic taste out of his mouth.
Not sure this is a blog or a manuscript. A lot to digest but I’ll stick with my first spark. “The Lamest Generation”. I can’t believe I’ve never heard that but nothing as accurate has ever been said.
I’m either the last Boomer year or the first X Gen but being the youngest to to hardworking Depression Era parents I was raised a self-sufficient albeit latch key kid but also a reluctant victim of young Boomer teachers. The 20 something’s in the 70s trained in Foucault and Che Guevara and bent on our destruction through Disco and Me Gen on down to spoiling every educational institution and multinational while permitting non-binary TikToker grandchildren and child castration to be a thing.
My personal belief since forever has been that the restoration of civilization starts with the eradication of the Boomers through attrition. I’m sure a bunch of good boomers exist but like the bird flu, it’s time to cull the flock and start again in the spring. Even if I’m not there to enjoy it.
Craig Rullman says
It’s probably a little of both, but mostly an ad-hoc response to Stella Maris and the rabbit holes it forced me down. The Passenger and Stella Maris were worth the wait, methinks, and will likely be the last offerings we see from McCarthy as he fades to the one color. I am convinced his view of the Manhattan Project is both accurate and true. Language, fire, and fission–they inform everything, everywhere. I hadn’t really considered that before–at least not the fission part.
I haven’t read those McCarthy books yet. There’s a lot of McCarthy I haven’t read even though I found all that I have read to be extremely powerful. (I can’t really say I ENJOYED Blood Meridian but I got so much out of it.)
Craig Rullman says
These latest two are different, and have been maligned in some quarters, but I’ve read everything he’s published including the plays and nothing in his latest offerings shows–to me–any reduction in his powers of observation or of storytelling. If anything, I think they bolster my belief that he is the finest novelist of our time, by orders of magnitude.
I like “The Lamest Generation” too. There are good baby boomers of course but that seems to be when things went wrong. My parents were among the good baby boomers, but that was because they largely because they held to the same values of their parents.
I’m not sure what I am. I grew up in the 80s/90s but was really to young to be a Generation X but not old enough to Gen Y or Millennial or whatever.
John Maddox Roberts says
I’m a classic Boomer — born in June 1947, and I can attest that my generation was shaped far more by pharmaceuticals than by fissionables. The “sexual revolution” was kicked off by two medical developments: Penicillin and the other “miracle drugs” that came on the civilian market in the late ’40s. The other was the Pill, which reached America in the mid-60s. Two things had made sex frightening for previous generations: STDs (we called them venereal diseases) and unwanted pregnancy. The miracle drugs eliminated the first and the Pill the second. We were the first (and only) generation for whom sex wasn’t scary and we took advantage of the fact. We hit our sexual stride in the mid-60s and had it mostly out of our systems when HIV/AIDS came along to spoil everybody’s fun. The Drug Culture that everyone associates with the Boomers got its start much earlier. Recreational drugs were hugely popular in the teens and 20s, mostly in pill, powder and liquid form. Marijuana was associated with poor and nonwhite people and therefore shunned. Then came WWII. Blitzkrieg and long bombing missions are extremely exhausting, and the answer was seen by the military in the form of methamphetamines. In short, the Greatest Generation fought WWII wired to the eyeballs. This continued in the postwar years. They worked incredibly hard to produce the famous postwar prosperity. This called for them to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when they got to work but also they had to get enough sleep. The answer was uppers (called “pep pills”) and downers (called “sleeping tablets”). Doctors prescribed them like vitamins, especially to women, including my own mother. She never neglected her children but she could be hard to wake up sometimes. My parents stayed married until my mother’s untimely death in 1979. My wife and I will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in April. Sometimes things work out.
I’ve heard people talk about how no one knew anything about recreational drugs before the 60s but I never believed it. Mostly, because it is mentioned in older detective fiction. Sherlock Holmes used cocaine. Heroin played a part of the plot in the Big Sleep. Drug use is discussed in The Thin Man.
David Tindell says
I don’t agree that our generation is the lamest in history. While we may not measure up to the Greatest Generation, primarily because we didn’t have a self-induced Depression to survive or a World War to fight–we did a lot of things that have had a profound, and positive, effect on our country and the world. We went from having crude rockets blow up on the pad to putting men on the moon in only a dozen years. We held the line on the advance of communism in Europe and Korea, struck a deal that would’ve done the same in Vietnam if the other side hadn’t reneged, and brought down the Soviet Union without directly firing a shot. We drew a line in the Taiwan Strait that Mao and his successors have so far feared to cross, so that at least some Chinese live in freedom today. We revolutionized communications and information-gathering by inventing the internet, explored the solar system, constructed telescopes that allow us to peer at the most awesome of God’s creation, defeated polio and smallpox, and created entertainment options vastly superior to those our parents built. Today, the world’s population enjoys a level of peace and prosperity never before seen in human history. But our work is not yet done, and won’t be done by our generation. All we can do is teach our children to follow us and build on our achievements as best we can. The jury’s still out on whether or not our efforts in that regard will succeed, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
Ugly Hombre says
There are plenty of good 20′ & 30’S young people- ran into two recent, my jalopy had a flat the big dummies spare tire was deflated- my cheap charlie tow company would not pick up the phone kid drove by saw Iron Ox and Lonesome Poll Cat forelorn on the side of the road not a dummy the kid had a air compressor in his car. Above and beyond pulled over and pressurized the dummies flat tire.
“Kid here’s 20 bucks yer a good man”
“No thanks Sir can’t do that”
“Kid its beer money take it- go get some brew and your girl enjoy thanks again”
Dad was a cop did not get his name or number should have- I would have called his Dad and told him you raised yer off spring right.
Second one black guy early twenties works making pizza helped the dummy with his computer at the pizza place X10 loves the Republic does not cotton to “America Is Bad” bull chit does not get it ‑lived overseas went to DOD schools know’s reality about the state of nations does no buy New Democrat bull chit, works at Java Hut as well, puts whiskey in the dummies “hot as hell black as sin” mud*. ok maybe that’s no so good lol. Told me soft tails his age are down on Yankee land.
“They need to live in so and so for a while and find out how good soft tails have it in the states.”
No chit kid… right on. I have a copy of “Defenders Of Liberty” in my truck next time I see him at the java hut he gets it as a tip
The lamest generation to me is in your face evident- carved in stone- its the old coot Brandon and his malefactors, henchmen and minions. JHC — never in my worst night mares did I think our country would find such a gaggle of chit heads at the helm of the ship of state. Its right out of a comic book lame don’t even cover it. Lame is lame the chrono age don’t matter.
They want to ban propane stoves due to pollution in the late great and they just found baskets of classified documents at various old coot hide outs must be a Russian Op. Or maybe the evil orange man sneaked them in to the old coot’s hideaways.? Glad the various are on the case I am sure the old coot will be held to account. right..
You would think there would be a limit to how GD lame leadership could get- but I guess not.