Well, we didn’t really think this one out, that’s for sure. By “we” I mean the guy in the bed to my left, who’s barely holding on, the woman with the nasty skin condition on my right, and the new guy hacking away in a grimy bed across the room from me. The four of us packed into a room no larger than my cramped freshman dorm in Wellesley all those years ago. And “we” in this musty bacteria-cave are joined by all the other millions who came of age during Peace, Love, and Understanding.
Jesus, the smell in here. You wouldn’t believe it. And the heat. It’s like a jungle.
Yup, we definitely didn’t think this one out. Maybe after all of that – the anti-war rallies, the drive for civil rights, Kent State, womens’ equality – maybe we just got tired. Compassion fatigued. I’d like to think it was genuine, all that idealism, but these days I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe it was just a fad to be part of, a way to belong. One minute I’m marching down the street in Chicago with natty, unshowered hair, protesting the ’68 convention, and the next minute I’m strutting down Madison Avenue, wondering if the powder blue pant-suit is sharp enough for an interview in the PR department of a global advertiser.
Oh shit, here comes Vladimir. He’s by far the worst of the male nurses. Came here a few years ago from Chechnya. Not much for small talk or bedside manner. But I guess having a Russian soldier point a gun at your wife’s head makes the idea of working for $5.75 without benefits far more palatable. It’s time to shut the eyes and feign being asleep.
Well, the new clothes must have worked. We got those PR jobs. And those Wall Street jobs. And the CEO spots. And then we put our energy into buying houses and cars and timeshares. We told ourselves we had grown up, become “responsible.” But pretty soon that wasn’t quite enough. So we put our efforts into acquiring bigger houses and second cars. And then second homes to drive to in those second cars. And then that actor guy came along and ran for office, telling us that we were being held back by welfare mothers and the government. He told us that social welfare systems were a burden and he promised to “give us our money back.” And we went for it, eagerly. Adios to all that kid’s play idealism.
Loud, heavy footfalls approach my bed. Vladimir jams his arms under my back while I keep my eyes pressed shut. He grunts and flips me onto my stomach using way too much force. I stare at the pawn shop photo on the wall while Vladimir drains a bedsore. He swears in Russian (“kutcha” – roughly translated, “old mangy female dog”) and stomps out of the room.
Well, we kept at it for twenty years, voting in guys we knew would serve us economically. Sure, they were morons, but they were our morons. A few of us still drove ancient Volvos and clinged to Peace and Love, but the rest of us moved on, started getting ready for the golden years on the golf course and kept fighting back against taxes.
A grinding noise fills the dank air. Vladimir wheels in a gurney holding a frail woman. Jesus, where the hell is he going to put her? What’s next, bunk beds? The woman glances at me and grimaces. She bears a striking resemblance to a girl I worked with in the Resistance Underground who later became a V.P for Raytheon.
So we loaded up on houses and cars and stocks and bonds and turned a blind eye to almost everything else. You want to spend a cajillion dollars on missiles and military bases around the world? Fine, go ahead, just keep those taxes low. Two more wars? No problem, just throw in a tax cut and it’s all good. We just let it slide, let ‘em cut out the things other people needed. Hell, it didn’t affect us, so why should we have cared?
The monitor attached to my IV starts screaming. Vladimir stomps over and slaps the machine with a beefy hand. The monitor submits and stops squealing. Vladimir mutters “pushka” (translation – “useless piece of ancient crap”) before sighing and plodding out the room.
So why should we have cared? Well, apart from being a good thing to do, we never counted on the fallout, even the obvious parts that were looming right in front of our eyes. The stagnant stocks and bonds, the underfunded pensions, the national debt, the mega-drain of 80 million boomers exiting the workforce and taking those taxes with them, the lost manufacturing we never cared about. We kept thinking about tomorrow, just like the song at Big Bill’s inauguration told us to. But not the group’s tomorrow, just our own. And so here we are, trying to cover the medical costs of the boomers on the backs of Taco Bell serfs and Gap twenty-somethings and temps. I can’t really blame those younger people for resisting.
My arm goes numb. I look up at the IV tube and see that it’s clogged up again. I shout into the hall, trying to get Vladimir’s attention. He looks out from the supply closet, where he’s sitting on a stool, powering down a bottle of Vodka. He flips me the bird.
Jesus, it’s gonna take a revolution to change this. Where are the hippies when you need them?
Thomas Sullivan His writing has appeared in Word Riot, 3AM Magazine, and On The Wing, among others. His comic memoir about teaching drivers education (titled Life In The Slow Lane) is now available from Uncial Press. To view more of Thomas’ writing please visit his author website at http://thomassullivanhumor.com/