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alking Story 
by Polo


 

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #21 (November 6, 2017), pages 6 & 8.

When Iím sixty-four, oooh

Pretty soon Iíll be sixty-four. Thereís a fun Beatles song about this. About how abuelos like me can still be "handy, mending a fuse when your lights are gone." And thatís true. I still can.

Pero whatís also true is how ó in neighborhoods rich in Native- and Spanish-speaking Americans; in cozy households from all over Asia, from Father Russia, from Mothers India, Africa, and China; around family tables from several Pacific and Caribbean island nations ó at sixty-four, folks like me finally get some Respect. With a cap R.

They say weíve earned some perspective. We can see above housetops and treetops, and across borders supposedly separating peoples and places, over the immediacy of time rushing by you and me.

And looking back, over the relatively short time our familia has lived in this otherwise kind and creative country, hereís an astounding fact: the United States has warred fifteen times. Thatís a lot. Thatís five decades of our government crushing families where they sleep and school and work; where they shop and sit down for coffee or tea. All that awfulness, on the premise that weíre killing some very bad people. Threats to you and me.

Whatís evident to me now ó and I say this with a grandpaís great love for America ó is what actually allows our policy leaders to war on faraway communities like that, is the same emotional and moral segregation thatís killing you and me in Ferguson, in Baton Rouge and Baltimore. In short: Weíve become a nation of consumers. And what we consume, disconnects us. The nation ó once our achy earthís expression of participatory democracy, of an idealistic people pitching in, shaping our world ó is today a very passive place.

When America meant it

Hereís what I mean: When I was a squirrelly krotjong, our elders spoke fondly of slim and polite soldierboys nicknamed Red, Brooklyn, and Ski. Earnest Yanks who sent our enemy, Imperial Japanís brutal army, running. Then they rebuilt our schoolhouse. They made us a seesaw and a swing set from construction leftovers. We shared Lucky Strikes and Hershey bars. Our grandparents and parents cried, these boys cried, when they sailed away, longing for their own moms, wives, and girlfriends.

Ultimately, we sailed away too. To here. Thank God. But unlike past era migrants who had to break with their elders and ancestors, my generation of newcomers participate in a robust circulating systems of peoples, products, and ideas. We jumbo jet, Facetime, and ATM round and round. This connectedness matters a lot.

In quiet conversation with any New American from any of those energetic communities mentioned earlier, itís not uncommon to hear about a time she was sharing a bad or a beautiful moment she has lived with her settled American co-workers, and have them turn that conversation to a Huffington Post article or a New York Times bestseller. The disconnect startles us, every time.

Instead of worldliness, our settled neighbors and co-workers seem locked into much smaller universes. Sworn to newsy networks. Stuck among agreeable Facebook friends. Sure, theyíre less exposed to sorrow, to joy and our inevitable loss of it. But thus disconnected, they seem so vulnerable to curators of niche knowledge. To distributors of shallower experience. And containers of narrower selfhood.

What results is a shared narrative thatís so intellectually and emotionally affirming that actually acting in a dissonant world of "others" becomes unnecessary. Indeed, unlikely. This outcome is bad for Afghanis and North Koreans, both homogenous folk locked into small, poor countries. This is really bad for Americans.

How we got so small

Stanfordís best MBAs are on it. Theyíre on to us, every time your peepers touch your iPhone. About 80 times per day. "Like" someone or something and tightly tailored commerce closes in even more. Their rapid cycles of research, development, and distribution are making real time (painful familial or communal or national history) irrelevant. Their products, like clichť characterizations of rural Republicans or un-understandable Islamic clerics, make real people unnecessary. The truth of real places (unthinkable Ferguson or unjust East Portland) donít matter. Website hits and shares do.

And herein lies the possibility of a heartless nation. You and me segregated into tight consumer communities. Trending news, films, fashion, people. Disconnected from the "other." You never have to talk to him. You wonít hear his mom wail. Cops and prosecutors will deal with cross-town others. Our awesome Navy Seals and our stealthy Air Force will handle those over the horizon.

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me," Paul McCartney sang sweetly, surely to his lovely Linda, "when Iím sixty-four, oooh" ó a sassy clarinet flourish finishes his line. That Beatles album was released exactly 50 years ago. Today, Iím feeling it too. Pero itís not a grumpy opaís grievance. Really not. Itís an American believerís hope that weíre just taking a little break from a world of hurt. And our role in all that.

Itís me wading through red leaves on S.W. Fifthís autumn sidewalk, knowing that Red from Rosebud Rez and Ski from Polsk North Portland and Brooklyn from Paisan Brooklyn will soon round the corner. Sharing smokes and chocolate bars.

* * *

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