“That’s just too much to think about,” he said, waving a cigarette. “I mean, think about it. We’re young. We have our games and our bars and spars with emotion. We have our ceremonies. We have sex and pop culture. We have sex, mostly. This is what concerns us. This is how we find value in our lives, by how much sex we have. What more do we need? I mean, who wants to break all this rhythmic lovemaking to worry about elections?”
He sucked on his cigarette, the garden light behind him breathing electricity into the white smoke, thickening it into luminous veined strands. He looked up at the deep black canvas sky, a breathing shadow silhouetted on pale light, a living penumbra of audacity. He smiled.
“But I see what you’re saying. This stuff is important. This stuff should be important. What I’m saying to you is our priorities are confused. You and me and our whole generation. We’ve graduated into ethical destitution. We’ve been moving this way for years. Activism and social justice are irrelevant to us. History and our culture has dictated to us the ignoble farce of our own lives, it has fashioned us into gluttonous instruments of superficiality.”
I shook my head and the woman walked toward us, slinking into our light, a slow dirge of crickets announcing her arrival. There was an empty plastic cup in one of her hands.
“What are you boys talking about out here?”
“Your boyfriend here was just explaining the privation of virtue common to our generation,” I said. “And I was just preparing to refute his bullshit and destroy him intellectually.”
“Take it easy on him,” she said, her body melting into his, their arms disappearing behind one another into those ritualized human folds, those tactile zones of repetitive comfort. The small of the back. The nape of the neck. Gently rubbing and patting. A stray finger jutting somewhere below, a test of safety and assurance but also identity, the interpersonal barometer of another’s mood, the formalized suspension of leeriness, a subtle acknowledgment of partnership. This body, this strange and miraculous human shell of pulsing cells, where skin and hair entwine in the murky heat and residue of dimpled flesh, the lines of animal and operator integrating the fragments of pure behavioral essence. This is what I thought about in that brief flashing moment as I drank from my cup and waited for my friend’s predictably lowbrow retort.
“He told me himself that he uses big words to compensate for his inability to please women.”
“Play nice,” she said, kissing her boyfriend softly on the cheek and filling her cup from the keg of beer nestled benignly between us. Then she stepped out of the light and moved toward the house, chatter wafting lazily from its open windows, men and women laughing together over the sleek resonant drawl of cozy urbane music. These summer nights are heaven, I thought. I’m dead and this moment is the post-elegiac reality of my former life, thrust into perpetual bliss, this is what I’ve chosen to take from the succession of years of toil and reward to project upon the eternal screen of my career as a perceptive agent of experience. This is the crowning jewel of everything I ever was, my skin warm and sunburned, a warm stale beer in my hand and rivers of it in my blood, a smile on my face in the most tragically happy I’ve ever been, I’ll ever be, levity and something like ardor equally on display beneath the incandescence of history’s crescent moon.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” I said, filling up my own cup. “There will come a night when politics is truly useless to men like you and me. It will be a dark night much like this, cicadas buzzing death chants from the trees, the moon looming large and fraudulent in a sky just as endless and inviting. It will be a night of a thousand thousand corpses, a night lit by the profane infernos of man’s destructive whims. The night politics died will be the night before men won’t be around not to talk about it the next day.”
“You’re scaring me,” he said. “I’m trying to stand here on a beautiful summer night and drink beer and you’re concerned with politics and death and revelation. Whoever designed this god-awful scene paired me with the wrong character.”
He filled his cup and we drank and others strolled out of the house in pairs to refill their cups. The music changed, a languid discourse of trumpet and alto over a steady athletic electric piano. The bass and drums were in there somewhere, holding down the measures, keeping everything intact, everything including the meaning of the song itself, and we bounced casual and profound ideas off one another until the dialogue approached that inevitable crescendo of laughter, the apex of the moment before we all reset and start again, shifting in our places, our skin, taking brief solitary seconds with our own thoughts before engaging in the others again, and we all realize in our own peculiar way how our scattered vignettes are somehow united out there in the lamp-lit perfection.
“I wonder if heaven is anything like this,” someone said into the quiet.
“Probably for some people,” I said.
[originally posted to truthfront on 7/2008]