Here we are, women, watching the war.
I can’t get that Dave Mason song out of my mind, “There are no
good guys, there are no bad guys … It’s only you and me, and we just
Walking helps me think when I want to figure something out. So I’m
walking down Pine Street in the heart of the city (if you can say this
big east-coast city of mine really has a heart) and I see the tree with
a big red X on its trunk has finally
been cut down.
It was a sycamore, tall and curved and thick, some arborist told me.
He had to learn the names of 200 trees by sight to get his Ph.D., while
I merely recognized a few to survive as a child in an emotional drought:
the twin Japanese red maples on our front lawn, the Weeping flowering
cherry that mimicked my mother’s moods, the lush magnolia that assumed
my sensuality, the blue spruce surrounded by the waxy stems of Devil’s
Paintbrush, and Indian Pipe near the oaks in the woods at the end of the
block where squirrels played hide and seek, and so did I.
Well, when I first saw this big red X on the trunk last year, I knew it was not a
good thing, dripping, bloody, crude. I knew it wasn’t Jackson Pollock’s
rude gesture, not his message to the Angel of Death, Go away, fly over
this house, pass it by. Even though it was the week of Passover then
too, that holiday of my ancient people where they ask all those nosy
questions at the ritual supper they call a Seder: why is this night
different from all others, when will the prophet Elijah who we have set
an extra place at this table for 20 years finally show up and drink some
of the sacramental Manishevitz, and will he put an end to what’s going
on in Kosovo? That could be the real question.
But first, I know things could be different in my city. I know if
they cemented or tarred or filled the rotten spot of a trunk in the
country instead of killing the tree, in the city they would do the
opposite: amputate, uproot, discard, a hundred years worth of history
without a backward glance, then plant a twig in the same spot and call
it a Flowering Pear, until six weeks later, parched and sere, it would
have expired from the car exhaust, truly exhausted. Here, they don’t
repair. They say that. It’s easier to eliminate, and if we are in any
way fortunate, to replace. That’s how they do it. That’s what they say.
That’s their story, and they are stuck with it. Take the metaphor and
run with it.
How American this city I live in is. All the sidewalk trees are dying
here. The old ones from the cars, the new ones from stupidity. On the
so-called Avenue of the Arts, a thoroughfare devoted to the untrammeled
spirit of creativity, the municipal geniuses have glued the tree trunks
into the ground with asphalt in the guise of efficiency. I watch them,
parched and thirsty, finally die, their magnificence moot, mute tribute
to whatever crony of the Mayor got that contract. There is no greater
public rebuke to lack of nurturance than a dead tree, nothing. Children,
and Love, die privately but trees are there for us to see, accusing us
every time we walk by them.
The arborist says those city people are crazy, a big tree like that’s
worth $16,000 to a property owner. I bumped into the real estate man
whose office is shaded by that tree. I hadn’t talked to him for more
than twenty years. He was not happy about the tree’s fate either.
Eighty-one now, waiting for Alzheimer’s to do what World War II
couldn’t, he used to manage the apartment house across the street where
I lived right out of college.
The Realtor has the same name as my father, Leo. He’s sweet, Old Leo.
He was my first real estate man, ever. I remind him of this. Yes, right
over there, he points to the sandy-stuccoed building across the street,
the one Mrs. Dr. Ferguson used to own, the training analyst who wrote
children’s stories and decreed, All Writing Is Psychology. She was
definitely onto something.
Anyway, Old Leo keeps a picture of a young soldier in his back
pocket. “Know who that is?” He shows it to me. Of course. How many times
he survived in war, he insists, so Death didn’t want him now.
That encounter with Leo haunts me when I think of Kosovo. Here I am
obsessing about a dead tree when there’s a war going on. Right now, war
isn’t real to us until we see the bodies of OUR boys on TV. Not theirs.
Until our three guys were shot down, captured, theirs didn’t count,
didn’t register in the American consciousness, except as background
noise for dinner. We’re too comfortable, many of us.
We’ re waiting, perhaps, for some moral leadership. But as America
approaches the Millennium, the Democrats have become Republicans, and
Republicans have become Democrats. Hawks have become Doves, and Doves
have become Hawks. Something’s in the wind, or the water. Something’s
The Pope? While His Holiness’ Easter message was redolent of a weary
compassion for the mingling of “blood and tears” in Yugoslavia, he’s on
his way to becoming a Rock Star. Released a new CD: Papal Rap? Let your
mind run wild, you won’t be too far off. “I am the Father Son and
Holy Ghost. I counsel a world that’s Afraid of Toast. If you’re in Rome,
Visit the Holy See. Ring the Vatican Bell and say Buongiorno to Me. Pope
onna Rope. Pope onna Rope. Pope onna Rope.” Talk about your Holy
Rollers. Can a Papal guest spot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno be far
Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind that at all. I mean, if the Beatles could
brag they were more popular than Jesus, why can’t the Pope explore that
option personally himself of becoming more popular than the Beatles?
After all, isn’t that what life is about, exploring your options?
I guess that’s what The First Yuppie, Bill Clinton is doing, isn’t
he, exploring his Inner Warrior? In Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, the other
foreign places he’s peed on trees? Here’s the maximum leader of the free
world, the one who doesn’t inhale, who can’t use a computer, the guy who
I would bet probably doesn’t even know how to make his bed the proper
military way with tight, tidy hospital-corner sheets so you could bounce
a quarter off the middle — that guy has been using up our stockpile of
cruise missiles like they were his favorite color jellybean … to bomb
Deploying all this STUFF, which is what a Yuppie War is all about:
The brand-name hardware they’re agitating to bring in: Apache
Helicopters, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
Use them under a NATO shield, the imprimatur of a “peace-keeping” force
gripped by a grand and glorious international, humanitarian premise …
butt in on THEIR unruly civil wars, but pray everybody leaves U.S.
COMMERCIAL BREAK. Background Music, “Love Street,” by the Doors:
“This NATO action is being brought to you by Your War Machine.
Support your War Machine. War is Good Business and Good Business is Good
Yes, this could be disturbing. The President, a man who never was in
the Service, heck, avoided it, the equivalent of someone who never
played football taking over as quarterback AND coach. Could be
catastrophic. Simply put, is he trying to prove his masculinity with
these choreographed excursions in martial Show and Tell? I need a social
scientist to come forward with a theory linking Excess Testosterone and
Playing War. Bombs bursting in air? Is the President, er, all dressed up
with no place to go?
A neo-Freudian would have a field day. Let’s say, for the sake of
argument, Clinton is hyper-sexual. Testosterone poisoning, anyone? As
great American novelist Pete Dexter once philosophized after getting all
pumped up from picketing during a newspaper strike, “Well, the way I see
it, y’all either gotta fight, or fornicate.” So, watch for more alarming
displays of military might. Look, Monica’s banished. Other “bimbos”
wary. Unrelieved presidential sexual tension. Missiles as phallic
symbols. Exploding bombs as ejaculations. Remember Robert Anton Wilson’s
visionary dig, bombs as manifestations of a horny Chief Exec? Even the
ever-skeptical Calabash is beginning to become convinced: “You may be
Faced with the distinct possibility that war is a sex-linked trait
(except Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir), what can women do? Besides
pace, weep, wring our hands, get angry, develop an ulcer, write op-ed
pieces, roll bandages, barrage Congressfolk? Do refugee
work. In one of my favorite Greek dramas,
Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” the women, fed up by their husbands going to
war, banded together to refuse them sex. Unfortunately, that premise
would never fly in the modern era, where there’s always another willing
woman waiting in the wings. Sure, Hillary Rodham Clinton has probably
been there and done that for years, chilled Bill out. Good for her,
lousy for … us.
Meanwhile, I long for the short-lived Kellogg-Briand Pact which
“renounced war as an instrument of national policy.” What a concept.
Sponsored by Frank Kellogg, U.S. Secretary of State, who got the 1929
Nobel Peace Prize, and Aristide Briand, French Foreign Minister. Between
the World Wars in Paris, 65 nations eventually signed, including Germany
and Japan, ha, 1928-1929, agreeing to settle disputes by “pacific
means.” Yes, war was outlawed, but — paradoxically — no means of
enforcement were provided in the pact. The result: an unenforceable
declaration of intent.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says, “A government should not mobilize an
army out of anger, military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath.
Act when it is beneficial, desist if it is not. Anger can revert to joy,
wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed can not be restored
to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life. …”
What it feels like to me being an American at this moment is kinda
nightmarish: suddenly I’m a passenger in a runaway car. Burning rubber.
My seatbelt is on, the airbag is installed, but that doesn’t matter.
This car is outta control! I don’t want to be here, in this car, driving
hellishly toward another Vietnam to feed the War Machine. Yet the doors
seem locked, don’t they?