Monday, December 24, 2012

The United States of the NRA


Dear Readers,

I’m taking a break from our regularly-scheduled programming of (usually benignly cockamamie) things Italian to paint a picture for you of (often grimly cockamamie) things American. For the past twelve years, from my perch across the Atlantic, I’ve had frequent cause to regard my fellow countrymen and their shenanigans with bemusement, if not outright shame: their penchant for junk food and uber-processed Frankenfood and their obsession with dieting; their bizarre evangelical creationist zealotry and their rampant consumerism; their shouts of ‘freedom!’ and ‘constitutional rights!’ and their proposed bleakscape of an armed renegade citizenry and schools-turned-bunkers with gun-toting guards. My countrymen seem to swing like rutting baboons from one form of extremism to the other, failing to see that their actions exist on a continuum in that great jungle of cause and effect. They do not seem to understand that the mess is of their making, that they cannot have their cake and shoot it, too.

Another distasteful tendency my fellow countrymen often display is that uniquely American moral tone with which most issues get injected, if not downright inflated. Rather than view the significant topics of the day with the cool detachment born of an Enlightenment heritage, the warring factions thump their respective literal/metaphorical Books of Holy Writ, playing unabashedly to groundling sentiment and infusing every argument with the farcical conceit of Good vs. Evil. Please, America—get over yourself.

The only rational nugget sifted from the muck of the Sandy Hook carnage is that guns kill. That assault weapons and high-capacity clips kill to the nth degree. That dangerous guns in the hands of dangerous people is a bomb that will keep exploding until we defuse it. Permanently. There is no moral issue here, no Good Guys vs. Bad Guys as the NRA and other righteous fear-mongers would have us believe. There is the stark, simple fact that having a lot of guns around is an invitation to spill blood; there are those who act on it—tragically, horribly—and those that don’t. The real issue is whether or not we, as a nation, are comfortable living with that risk, and if not, what concrete steps we will take to minimize it.

The NRA tells us that the only way to combat the Bad Guys is to protect a gratuitous reading of the 2nd Amendment and protect our tender little children by outfitting our schools with more firepower. An armed society is a polite society, they are fond of saying, without thinking of the grave societal implications of this. Imagine, then, life in America under an NRA regime…

The family that shoots together has a hoot together
source: Armed America 

***

I wake up in the morning and make myself a cup of tea and load my Glock 9 with fresh ammo. I pack the kids’ lunches into bulletproof lunch carriers (because you never know when an armed, psychotic hungry person might raid the cafeteria) and place these into their bulletproof backpacks. After breakfast I strap on the blingy rhinestone-studded red leather holster hubby got me for Valentine’s Day and load the kids into our new Ford bulletproof mini-van. We pass several neighborhood militia checkpoints on the way to school, but otherwise the streets are bereft of pedestrians, and with the absence of foot-traffic, most of the local business are shuttered except for those that can afford armed guards (like the Hallmark store [condolence cards being big], the Christian Science Reading Room, and a score of funeral homes).

It takes the kids 10 minutes to pass through school security—they wave to me with that strained, apprehensive expression that has become habitual—and I drive off once the beefy guards armed with sub-machine guns on either side of the entrance give me the thumbs up.

source: Armed America

At the supermarket, after passing through security, I try to hurry through my shopping list without looking like a mentally unstable person (I have the annoying and potentially life-threatening tendency to talk to myself: “Hmm. Let’s see, I need chives and avocado. Oops! Can’t forget the arugula!”) or someone in need of restraining because she squeezes the tomatoes to see if they’re ripe. I am careful to take even, measured steps and not make eye contact with the armed guards who patrol the cereal aisle, in the attempt to look normal without seeming like someone who needs to attempt to look normal, of course. At check-out, while I’m waiting in line, I pop some gum, a few 100-round clips, and a copy of Saveur into my cart.

I’m meeting a friend for lunch at a nice Thai restaurant. We arrive at the same time and the hostess asks us if we want to be seated in the assault weapon section, the semi-automatic handgun section or the revolver/pistol/hunting rifle section. “What’re you carrying?” I ask my friend. “Smith & Wesson double-action .45” she says. “Oooh, nice! When did you get that?” “A month ago. Anniversary present.”  I sigh: “I can’t wear Smith & Wessons. They make me look hippy. But you can carry it off, skinny girl!” I squeeze her arm affectionately. “What have you got?” “Oh, just a Glock 9,” I answer, turning so she can see it. “Cute holster!” my friend purrs. The hostess waits patiently. “We’ll take the semi-automatic section” we chime in unison, giggling. After showing our permits and a quick pat-down, we’re in.

Later, I do some online holiday shopping (only fools and outlaws and homegrown militia are crazy enough to frequent malls these days, and anyway, most of the stores have shut down. The in-mall mobile morgue probably doesn’t help matters). I’m sad we won’t be going to grandma’s this year for Christmas: she was killed a few months ago in the crossfire at Home Depot when an argument broke out over the last half-price dehumidifier. I go pick up the kids. With relief, I watch them come out of the school doors: they survived another day. I take my daughter to her ballet class, which is crowded—it’s the only dance school in town that offers bulletproof classrooms and employs former Marines as dance instructors. Then I wait while my son attends his mandatory 5th grade Gun Holocaust Preparedness course at the local Paramilitary Activity Center.

source: Armed America

After a quick stop at Starbuckshot for a coffee (I’m three mocha lattes away from earning free night-vision goggles!), we head home and meet the sitter, Rocky, also a former Marine. He’s armed like Rambo, as any proper sitter should be. I give him his instructions: make sure the kids wash up and finish their homework, heat up the lasagna for dinner, and be sure to do a perimeter check every 15 minutes. And stay away from the windows, of course; we’re still getting estimates on bulletproofing. I tell him my husband and I will be back around 11pm.

I slip the Glock into its holster and my husband, being Italian, grabs his favorite Beretta. “Really, honey? The Beretta? With those shoes?” He grumbles and switches it for his Browning 9 millimeter. Somewhat guiltily enjoying a rare evening out (it being generally unsafe to be abroad after dark), we go to a Mexican joint for burritos and beer. The place is run by drug lords so it’s the only one in town open after 6 and packs the kind of firepower that deters the lunatics or anyone checking Green Cards. Then we head to the BAC (Brink’s Armored Cinemas) multiplex for the latest Sandra Bullock rom-com. Armed guards patrol up and down the aisles and slim girls—chic in SWAT black uniforms— escort patrons to the restrooms or refreshment counter once the film has started and the Lockdown mode: kindly refrain from sudden movements light has gone on.

On the way home, we stop for a drink and a plate of fried calamari at a local eatery. The calamari is rubbery, so my husband sends it back. The manager comes over and asks, rather threateningly, if everything is alright. “The calamari is rubbery, so we sent it back. We’d like the shrimp instead,” my husband says evenly. “That’s impossible,” says the manager, leaning onto the table, “Our seafood is fresh and absolutely top-quality. It’s flown in daily.” “Nevertheless,” says my husband, looking him dead in the eye, “we didn’t like it and would prefer something else.” “You better stand down, mister, and take back what you said. Our calamari IS NOT RUBBERY.” “I say it is rubbery!” my husband stands up, “And whatever happened to the customer is always right?! Huh?”

Suddenly, too late, I see the kitchen doors swing open and the sinuous, ebony barrel of a Bushmaster grinning in our sights. I think to myself, fleetingly, “God, we should’ve brought the rifles!” And suddenly, in the merest of moments, my children have become orphans.

***

If there is to be a Bad Guy here, then fear is the Bad Guy: the kind of deep, entrenched, marrow-eating fear that makes people crave the terrible finality of guns. Fear that divides, that kills community. Fear that mutes discourse. Fear that derides common sense. Fear that would render Americans—so effing proud of their rugged individualism—into a homogenous herd of gun-waving homesteaders, running together in perfect isolation. As the civilized world moves increasingly towards the realization that it is our interdependence and interconnectedness that makes us human, these fear-mongering baboons would have us alienate ourselves from one another further and revert to some kind of misbegotten frontier mode.

Their world is no place I would want to live.


Campobello


Friday, December 21, 2012

Lo and behold! A Christmas Metaphor


Dear Readers,

After some 12 years of Italian living, I've learned not to expect much from the Italian postal service (I want to add a snarky "bwahahahaha!" but shall refrain). So you can imagine my surprise when we received a mysterious envelope, addressed to my daughter, from the Poste Italiane in the mail yesterday.




I can only surmise that the postal service lifted her name and address off the letterina to Babbo Natale--wherein she detailed her preferences (anything having to do with dogs) and demands (along the lines of "I know darn well I've been good so bring me all this stuff no later than 6:00 am Dec. 25 or you'll be sorry, kiss kiss ciao ciao heart heart Gemma")--that she shoved into the little red mailbox down the street about a week ago. In this large blue envelope was a letter from Santa in which he tells how he lost his warm berretto and the elves, out of deep affection for their boss, bought him a straw hat with which to replace it, and that even though it wasn't really appropriate (given the temperatures at the North Pole during winter of course), he loved it because it was a gift from the heart. He admonishes, "You know, my dear children, that which makes us truly happy is not what we want, but rather that which we receive from the people who love us." (Nothing like a preemptive strike in case the little tykes don't get what's on their list). Then the letter says that Reindeer Matilda will help him find his old hat (because he still would really rather have that one, see, thus rendering moot his earlier magnanimity) with her glowing purple nose--you just have to build her, discover the internet address, and then go look up the webpage where you can experience all manner of fun hunting for Santa's hat on the internets.

Huh. Those knaves! Who do they take me for? Like I don't know that this isn't merely a diverting Christmas activity for a child. It's a metaphor, a metaphor for life in Italy. Naturally.

Italians love children, they really really do. To the extent that even the inept, malingering Poste Italiane will incur considerable expense at sending these little packets around. Of course, this also means they're apparently too busy to deliver the package I've been waiting three weeks for.

Italians are impossibly long-winded in print. Gemma took one look at the long-ass letter from Santa and tossed it aside, couldn't be bothered. I myself react similarly to the emails I get from the PTA--by comparison they make most Wikipedia entries look like something you'd find in a fortune cookie.

Italians need their parents for everything. The complexity of Matilda the Purple-Nosed Reindeer's construction is mind-boggling. Not only do you need a parent to build it for you, you need a parent with an engineering degree and a good dose of Mother Teresa's DNA.




Italians take a simple idea or solution and make it impossibly convoluted and unnecessarily complex. Matilda the Purple-Nosed Reindeer has some 20 small parts made of flimsy paper, requires legs and neck to be folded accordion-style with obsessive-compulsive precision, and needs all the minute intractable flaps to be glued together (and apparently handled with tiny surgical instruments)--at 9:30 pm on a school night with your daughter insisting adamantly that she won't go to bed until it's finished and you regretting that third glass of wine that shot your fine motor skills to hell. Then you're supposed to hop online, pray your crappy DSL connection holds out, and surf your way to holiday fun-time while Matilda's scrofulous, rickety legs start falling apart and her antlers go awry. Frack you, fracking Matilda the Purple-Nosed Reindeer!

Do not question life on this immutable peninsula, just accept things as they are. Why does Matilda have a purple nose? Why is she called Matilda? (Was Matilda the name of some tricked-out, nun-garbed floozy at one of Berlusca's bunga bunga parties, and is thus a kind of twisted yuletide homage to a pancake-faced man who sleeps in pickling liquid?) What diabolical nincompoop designed Matilda? And why does the postal service have all kinds of time on their hands? These and all such equally rational inquiries fall on the stone-deaf ears of the cold, indifferent Italian universe.

I cannot help but think, dear Readers, that it probably would have been better if Matilda the Purple-Nosed Reindeer had never entered my life, never clomped into my living room on her insouciant brown paper hoofs, as it were. But she did, and I--as usual--have to try and glue all the little pieces together and make some merry sense of it all.


Ho Ho and all that,

Campobello