HE'S RED, WHITE, AND VERY BLUE
I found Uncle Sam dumpster-diving behind a McDonald's in West L.A.. The red-white-and-blue striped pants sticking up, feet dangling in air, were a dead giveaway.
"U.S.!" I said, "What in hell are you doing?"
My uncle grunted, and heaved himself out and to a grudgingly upright position, coughing. His suit was filthy, his hair matted, teeth tobacco-brown, and the trademark Old Glory top hat was in hand, half-collapsed. Birds had saluted it. He put a finger to his lips.
"Shhhhhh," said Sam, winking melodramatically. "I'm incognito."
Then he slapped a knee and doubled over in a wheezing laugh worthy of Walter Houston in "Treasure of Sierra Madre." I scratched my head.
"Incognito?" I said. "You're inatrashcan!"
The laugh died.
"Well, I just feel too goddamned guilty to dine anywhere more upscale," he said. "And besides, you know, there's good stuff in dumpsters: pizzas, sandwiches, shirts, guitars, chairs, TVs, working computers. . .What a country! Why, I furnished my apartment entirely from dumpsters. Before I had to give it up, anyhow."
"You were in an apartment? You gave it up?"
"I had a little bachelor next to the San Diego Freeway, but I couldn't afford the $1000 rent, so they kicked me out. But the traffic noise was killing my hearing, anyhow. Hobo jungles aren't bad, you know---there are a lot of veterans there, and some of them are sane enough to play cards."
"Yep, Moore is a patriot," said Uncle Sam. "But he's accused of self-promotion. Ha! Self- promotion, my red-white-and- blue ass!"
U.S. stroked his yellowed goattee, lit up a butt and explained how he had fallen on hard times.
"I got outsourced."
"To Iraq. I'm America, right? Well, Bush says if you don't support Iraq, you're not patriotic. I always thought that if you didn't support me, you're not patriotic. But I was tired of the job, anyhow, between the Supreme Court stealing the electoral process and Enron and Halliburton stealing the government. I mean, it was depressing enough that my suits are made in China by little kids working 18-hour days---can you believe it?"
I told U.S. that I was shocked to find his spirit so broken that he was reduced to digging in trash cans, and living on the street.
"My spirit isn't broken!" he rasped. "What I'm doing is brave and right! There is no shame in being duly ashamed! How can I walk around proudly today? Tell me! I am hated the world over! Look what is being done in my name---in my name!---in that Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq! My God, man, haven't you read the papers? Women were raped and impregnated! Soldiers who use my initials are forcing people who were incarcerated by mistake to eat out of toilets! Prisoners were used as some sort of sadist sex toys! Women soldiers fondling the genitals of male prisoners! A young boy was raped! And the beatings, the beatings, the murders, oh---"
U.S. clutched his chest, and his breath drew in sharply. I put an arm around his shoulder.
"Are you okay, Sam?"
"Oh, hell, it's my heart," he said, softly. "When I start thinking of what this administration has done, I get palpitations and hyperventilate."
I told him to take it easy, and reassured him that many of his nieces and nephews are depressed about Abu Ghraib, Iraq, outsourcing---
"What Bush and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Cheney and Rice---all those guys, even Powell, who damn well should have known better---don't understand is that this isn't World War II, and those aren't old-fashioned G.I. Joes over there!"
"Hell, no. These soldiers---a lot of 'em---are overgrown kids raised on MTV and the Internet! Which is to say, raised on freely available images of sexual degradation, mayhem and the cheapening of human experience. So help me, Madonna! And they're reservists---barely trained weekenders---in some cases! Bush, Rummy and Rice thought they could play fast and loose with the Geneva Convention, and be badass motherf----ers---excuse me---but they got something they weren't expecting. They got their MTV!"
Uncle Sam did that Walter Houston laugh again, then rolled up a pant leg and scratched at some horrible scabs caused by God-knows-what.
"You should get those looked at," I said. "The Veterans Administration will help."
"With Bush cutting Veterans' benefits? Are you kidding, Rense?"
He whipped a pint of Hennessey out of his pocket, took a liberal---and I do mean liberal---swig, then wiped his hand on the back of his sleeve.
"So what are you going to do, Uncle, just wander around eating from dumpsters? You were always thin, but you look almost. . . skeletal. Someone is bound to recognize you, you know. I did."
"Nah. Most people just think I'm an old burnout hippie. And maybe I am, maybe I am. Nobody cares about homeless people, and---heh, heh---the Republicans keep saying that they're creating new jobs! Listen, how many people do you know who are starting glorious new careers right now?"
I told him I didn't know any, but I did know a few who'd been laid off. Some are selling turkey legs at swap meets. Others have taken their old jobs back, as temporary contractors, with no benefits, and half pay. One friend was recently told by his little fascist martinent "human resources"-trained boss that he is "too passionate" for the workplace. He'll be cut loose in a few weeks.
"See what I mean? How can I walk around with my head high, like I used to? Nothing's getting better. Education is shot. Everybody's hypnotized by movies and music and media hate-mongers and 'American Idol.' Everything is a lie---from this administration, from the corporations. . . Look at the environment. Bush and Cheney are wiping out the purple mountains' majesty, for the sake of corporate green. The fruited plains are full of pesticides!
"And why does no one---I mean no one---seem to care that we murdered between ten and 30,000 innocent men, women and children by invading Iraq? And maimed, dismembered, blinded, and otherwise ruined thousands more? Collateral damage, they call it---ptui! And thousands and thousands of our soldiers sit forgotten in hospitals---if they can afford the care, that is---missing legs, eyes, sanity. Does anybody care?"
I told him that Michael Moore does, and that he's laid it all out in a movie, "Farenheit 9/11."
"Yep, Moore is a patriot," said Uncle Sam. "But he's accused of self-promotion. Ha! Self-promotion, my red-white-and-blue ass! That man put his life and safety on the line for what he believes! He knows that this was never intended to be the United Corporations of America! How many people in government and industry would like to lynch Moore, eh? You know, what's sad is that believing in 'we the people,' like he does, makes you an idealist by today's chicanerous, larcenous standards. Of course, I don't much trust the people anymore, either. Gullible fools."
Uncle Sam grabbed his chest again, and hacked up some brown phlegm, spitting it on to a McDonald's wrapper.
He reached back in his mouth with two fingers, bending over, and yanked out a tooth. Or at least brown, gnarled, rotted thing with bloody roots hanging out.
"Can't afford a goddamn dentist. Bastard's been hurtin' me for months. Well, it won't hurt any more! Heh, heh!"
"Sam," I said, "You're really, really in bad shape. You're just going to pieces."
"Yeah, I know," he grumbled. "Maybe I'll just get the hell out of here, once and for all."
"Get out? You?"
"Why not? The goddamn terrorists are coming! Bush, Ashcroft, Ridge, Rice---they warn you all the time. A new report says Al-Qaeda has 18,000 members now, thanks to the Iraq mess. Know what I think? I think Bush wants it to happen! I think they all want another 9/11, those nutball neocons, so they can stir up more fear and get re-elected. Al-Qaeda is going to hit the U.S.! Well, that's me, and I'm gettin' the hell out!"
"But---but---where will you go?"
"I've been thinking about France," said Uncle Sam. "It was good enough for Franklin. Know where I can get a good fake passport?"
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