Begins with B

I’m lying half-awake, thinking for some reason about the letter D. Does the bulge face right or left? Since it’s the first letter of my own name, you’d think I could remember, but after weighing both options, my sleep-fogged brain decides that a left-facing D looks much more natural. Facing right is what Bs do… right?


In video after video I see faces tense with hatred, spitting all the insults that polite society still permits: Socialist. Communist. Terrorist. Muslim. A man going into a rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania holds up a monkey doll with an Obama sticker wrapped around its head like a minimal turban. It’s Curious George — a strange mascot for those whose native openness to new and different things was stifled, I imagine, decades before. “Gonna bring Obama in with me today so he can hear some TRUTH,” says the man, his swagger, his accent, and the slightly adenoidal quality of his speech familiar to me since childhood.


Big bulge, little bulge. We belly up the bar in real America. What’s on tap? Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Michelob. Is that a can of Guinness down there? I ask. I’ll have that. Conversation falls silent. What’s that taste like, anyway? asks the female bartender, seeing what the men don’t: that I’m perfectly harmless. Well, I don’t know — it tastes like beer, I say, tilting the glass to slow the foaming black waterfall. The way beer was meant to taste, before someone decided it would be cheaper to sell flavored water. Someone says something in a low voice at the end of the bar which provokes a chorus of guffaws. Bitter, I say, as I swagger over to a stool at the other end of the bar. Smooth and bitter.


The American people are angry, the candidate says hopefully. And in truth, his opponent’s unflappable demeanor is really beginning to annoy him. The familiar knot forms in his belly and begins to burn. He rolls his eyes and grimaces. People are angry, he says again, his voice trembling with conviction. Well, that’s certainly true of the people he’s been meeting lately, those idiots from small towns who love their guns way too much and pray to a God who looks like an older version of themselves — a Great White Father. His opponent continues to spout his idealistic claptrap in calm, methodical tones. He blinks furiously. The American people are angry, yes, but don’t call them bitter. Bitterness is for losers, for people who have no way to strike back.


The campaign worker travels all the way from Texas to volunteer in Western Pennsylvania, where people share her outrage at abortion and the homosexual agenda. Somewhere in downtown Pittsburgh, let’s say, a couple of black teenagers spot the McCain/Palin bumper sticker and begin to point and laugh and make rude comments. Her windows are rolled up and her doors are locked, but she’s pretty sure she hears the word Bitch. At the next light she pulls down the sun visor, flips open the mirror, and can barely recognize her face, pinched, livid. Why are black men always so… angry? She pulls into a parking spot beside an all-night automatic teller. Must… sleep… soon… she thinks. She watches in horrified fascination as the point of a fingernail file approaches her cheek.

12 Replies to “Begins with B”

  1. That brown-eyed guy is going to take my identity and trash it. If what pollsters say is true, midnight on November fifth, all the mirrors in my house will break: that welter that made my face won’t be back, by my hand or any other’s.

  2. Boy! That was powerful, Dave.

    “The politics of sleaze that strokes our paranoia to divide our nation.” Bill Moyers

    Earlier this week I read an article in the Times, which said that each side was convinced that if the other side won the world would collapse. Fear is the candidate now. Well, maybe it has been since 911 but now it’s hit everyone in the pocketbook it has eveyone’s ear. What I object to is using fear and intimidation and guilt by association as election tactics. Have not seen the like since Joe McCarthy. When this is all over (God, will it ever be?) the winner, and I am hoping it will be Obama, who seems more like a grownup. But whoever wins is going to be sitting on the biggest pile of refuse ever left by a prior administration. Someone said it’s time for the states to put aside self-interest and think about what is best for everyone.

    The new president will need the confidence of the country, the rhetoric of Roosevelt, and a powerfully wise bunch of advisors just to plow through the collapse of worldwide economy. The economists don’t even know what to do. I seriously doubt there will be enough money to allow tax cuts for anybody, rich or poor…but whatever. If we don’t stop and try to see something..anything we have in common with the ‘other’ side then we are doomed. The prevailing rule of thumb has been ‘my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts’. It has to change. When we are sinking in the swamp we don’t have time to throw more sludge balls. We have nothing to fear but hate itself.

  3. Bill – Yeah, I’ve never understood identity politics – but then again, as a straight WASP male, identity isn’t really something I might feel insecure about. But the urge to define “us” by reference to an out group or groups seems almost innate, much as I deplore it, and I suspect that the best we may ever be able to do is remain conscious of this and struggle to prevent our sense of membership in any given group from making us feel superior or inferior. (Don’t even get me started on the cancer that is patriotism.)

    dale – Thanks. I hear you.

    Joan – If I had TV, I think Bill Moyers is one of the few pundits I’d watch (along with Jon Stewart, of course).

    I kind of agreed with the claim made in Bowling for Columbine,, that this nation was founded by scared and traumatized white people, who quickly set about passing their fear and trauma on to others. The redneck strain in U.S. presidential politics goes back at least as far as Andrew Jackson – the founder of the Democratic Party, lest we forget.

    Yeah, the next president will have a Herculean task – Herculean as in the Augean stables. I do not envy him.

    Actively reaching out to members of other groups may be, as you suggest, the best way to do combat the in-group/out-goup mentality.

  4. I hope you’ve heard by now that the attack on the volunteer was faked? The most obvious point being that the “B” was *backwards* — done in a mirror rather than by someone else….

    I like Guinness too, but I haven’t drunk in a bar down here in VA, thus accidentally avoiding any “scorning”. In NYC and (before that) Boston, this is of course not an issue — there, I could often get the “deep dark ray of sunlight” on tap!

    “Yeah, the next president will have a Herculean task – Herculean as in the Augean stables. I do not envy him.”

    LOL! I *will* quote you on that!

  5. Thanks, Beth.

    David – Yeah, that’s why I mentioned the mirror, and started off by talking about my semi-dreaming confusion this morning about which way Ds and Bs faced (which I suppose might have been influenced by my reading the story the night before).

    I’ve never been a big fan of bars. They tend to play music I don’t like, usually have televisions tuned to sporting events I don’t care about, and besides, I’m too much of a cheapskate. It’s far cheaper to buy a case (or brew one’s own) and invite a few friends over. Not that I even do that much anymore.

  6. Yes. I love how that Dave Bonta writes. I do, I do. And the D, B thing? You are onto something there. I had the hardest time with it when I was young.

    OK, with all the letters.

    OK, I still have the hardest time with the letters, even now.

    And the alphabet.

    Bottom line? Everything faces the wrong way and is in the wrong order. Plain and simple.

  7. Dave, your last post cleared up the only question I had about the nail file episode. I had not heard the story of the campaign worker..and the dyslexic B..or any of that. I had visions of her either going bonkers, or that the fellows who had been yelling at her were trying to tell her there was someone in the back seat. I think that’s an old urban/country scary campfire story, though.

    “Herculean as in Augean.” Ha! Darn! I wish I’d said that. Well, I did say part of it. (grin)

  8. Thanks, Dana. You know what they say – dyslexics of the world, untie! I’m only really dyslexic when I’m sleep-dprived, though. Whichis pretty often.

    Joan – Fortunately, the campaign worker’s scare story unraveled pretty quickly – the Pittsburgh police were never taken in. A lot of right-wing bloggers and talk-show hosts were, but they’re idiots.

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