Originally published October 9, 2007
What a bullshit holiday. I say this not only in the brainwashed, proletariat worker sense of the word, the bank holiday sense of the word, the 4th grade school play sense of the word, but in the abominable, genocidal sense of the word.
There I sat – just inside the doors of the ticket area at SFO reading a newly brandished copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, killing a few moments, biding my time before passing through security on my way home from San Francisco to Detroit. This particular copy was purchased to replace its’ weathered predecessor which was given to an unsuspecting high school graduate family friend last summer in a somewhat reluctant manner. I had hoped this particular teenage troglidyte would find deep wisdom within, it was more likely used as a doorstop in a 4th rate frat house, but such is the risky business of intellectual gift giving. I bought this new copy at City Lights, the birthplace of beat, the house of Ferlinghetti, so perhaps minimally the point of purchase served to right some wrong, in some way, in some fashion.
Despite the congressional mandate of years past that we as loyal Americans pay homage to the great “explorer” from Spain, I.E. granting every civil servant a paid day off amounting to a 3-day weekend, the rest of the country was in the throes of a normal Monday. People milled about as if nothing American had ever occurred. Coincidentally, by the idealized spirit of our great nation, nothing ever did.
I did not plan to read the opening to People’s History that particular morning, it just happened, by accident, which is ironic considering that only out of pure ignorance and blind luck did Columbus actually crash into the Bahamas and “discover” America. As Zinn so effectively tells, the real story of Columbus – his voyage, his piratelike ways, his deceitful, manipulative, cruel and plain barbaric methods that in effect led to the slaughter of somewhere between 500,000 and 8,000,000 “Indians” made for interesting reading on this national holiday. How wonderful that we as a nation stand bull-headed against tyranny and injustice in the middle east as we celebrate the life of a murdering sociopath who committed atrocities far greater than any Saddam, any Ayatollah ever did.
I ripped through the first 50 pages or so that day, between the terminal and the flight itself. Then, feeling the short-term effects of repeated time change, my mind aspired for something less filling. There, in the seat pocket in front of me, was my answer.
A Sky Mall catalog.
It is recommended reading. There is in fact something for everyone and everything inside.
Gravity defying shoes, the voice activated R2-D2, the closet organizer trouser rack, the worlds largest crossword puzzle, Androscoggin Sheepskin slippers, the Thomas Kinkade illuminated tree village, the pop-up hot-dog cooker, the Thomas Kinkade illuminated Christmas village wreath, the instant doorway puppet theater, the remote controlled robotic shark, the Thomas Kinkade “The Night Before Christmas” talking house….this Kinkade character it seems is quite popular in the mid-air commerce sect.
I always enjoy browsing such a fine and large collection of items both over-priced and under-utilized. It seems to me the perfect capitolist metaphor for us as a nation. We go to cocktail parties and tell acquaintances how we watch PBS when we are actually watching (and recording) Dancing With The Stars, we speak pompously of Hemingway and Steinbeck when we are reading Grisham and Clancy, we extoll the virtues of Matisse when we are buying Thomas Kinkade.
We celebrate a noble explorer who discovered our land when we are in fact honoring a con-man and a killer.
This contradiction begs me to ask the question – is there in fact any portion of the American Experience that we enjoy both on paper and in reality? What do we praise both for its’ implied importance and its actual meaning? I have thought long and hard about this, well, I’ll tell you I have when in fact I considered the question for a minute or two before settling on one item of late 20th century nostalgia which I believe fits the bill.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The 1986 John Hughes film is in fact my honest Americana.
As an 11 year old boy in the midwest the idea of a rebel teen hell-bent on exploration in the face of the opposing forces of conformist parents and mind-numbing high-school curriculum had a tremendous appeal. Sure, it was homogenized, drug-free, barely a cuss-word and without nudity and/or graphic sexual violence, but I contend it was and is the American Dream.
The film has taken on such a cult status where it can effectively be named as a reputable influence, yet contains the misty eyed dreaming of youth without inherent boundaries. The suspension of dis-belief is just ripe enough to raise the hairs on the back of the neck without completely conjuring thoughts of improbability. Well, at least I think so, and what can be more American than insisting you are right at all costs?
So this morning, as the sun begins to rise and my eyelids begin to set, I shall watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I only wish the idea had come to me on Columbus day itself. Rather than be hog-tied into celebrating the spirit of an evil profiteer I could have indulged in the appreciation of a true American hero. I will save Ferris. I will save him for next year, for Ferris day. If later today when I wake I am so inspired I shall turn ahead in my 2008 calendar to rename October 8th in such fashion.
I shall drag the clarinet my grandfather once bought me from the attic, wearing a bowler hat, playing erratic tones, stopping only briefly to say “never had one lesson”. I shall sing bad lounge lizard songs in the bathroom of a fancy restaurant while combing my perfect hair. I shall give myself a shampoo mohawk in the shower while quoting John Lennon. I shall raise my best friend from sleep to seek out wild adventures, skip school, see a cubs game, drive a 1962 Ferrari GT California, get the girl and perhaps, yes perhaps, even sing on a parade float. After all, life moves by pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Kind of like missing the turn around the southern rim of Africa and ending up in the Bahamas, rather than India.