Mad in America
Posted on Feb 4, 2011
By Mr. Fish
Here’s what happened.
I arrived at the train station in L.A. at 5:25, five minutes before the demonstration was officially set to begin, a candlelit vigil I was told, and I found a seat on the wide lip of an enormous concrete planter on the landing where an underground train station emptied beneath a huge orange awning the size of a band shell at street level. Ten feet away from me stood two MoveOn organizers trying to recruit a pair of Awake! Jesus freaks into the protest, imploring them to put down their magazines and to pick up one of the 50 stacked cardboard signs leaning against an adjacent planter and to spend the next few hours standing curbside with it.
Mimicking the uncomfortable no thank you shown to them several thousand times a day, the Jesus freaks moved on, leaving a total of four people to begin the event. Sighing audibly, the protesters grabbed their baffling signs—HONK FOR KIDS, BE A VETO BANDIDO, WE THE PEOPLE JUST SAY NO and an indecipherable one that was on a piece of dress shirt cardboard no bigger than a standard piece of typing paper with lettering that had been drawn with a ballpoint pen—and shuffled over to where the cars were whizzing by as impenetrable as 5,000-pound seeds in pursuit of soil.
In 20 minutes the mob of activists had swelled to seven people, two of whom were under 5 years old, one of them crying in her stroller because she’d been swatted for chewing on her sign. Thirty feet beyond the seven was a MoveOn photographer who was taking pictures of the demonstration, his shutter snapping just at the moment when somewhere around a hundred bone-tired commuters would exit the train station and crowd around the sign holders to wait for the walking green at the enormous crosswalk before continuing their commute on the other side of the road at the bus station. Then the light would change, the camera would be recapped and the hoard, comprised of faces that looked as if the sign carriers were oozing something that might stain their clothes, would slide away from the minuscule number of protesters like sand being poured from a public ashtray around gum wads anchored where they stood.
“Get out of our way! Get out of our way!” hollered a man with widely spaced corn kernels for teeth and a limp severe enough to require airplane arms to help him keep his balance. He was headed toward the protesters, in the opposite direction of the commuters, and had noticed the MoveOn folks with their signs and assumed the hippies had taken over the world and he was speaking for all who hadn’t yet been corrupted by empathy and optimism. “Anti-American sons-a-bitches!” he spat, on his way home, I guessed, to piss in the sink and to slurp dinner from the fistful of ketchup packets that he’d been warming over in his pocket since midafternoon, the notes that make up the refrain from “God Bless America” circling round and round inside his head like vultures.
Just before the demonstration broke up a little more than an hour after it started (it was never dark enough for candles or quite bright enough for camaraderie), I watched as one of the remaining three protesters left his curbside position for a daring final attempt to incite some support for the humanism that he and his comrades were hoping to stir in defiance of Bush’s veto. Walking across the plaza with the deliberation of Jesus Christ moving toward the comfort of his cross, the man stopped at the top of the escalator leading up from the train platform below and hoisted his gigantic “HONK FOR HEALTHY KIDS” sign above his head, confident that he’d be impossible for the unwashed masses emerging from the underground to miss.
He stood there for 15 minutes unable to get a single honk out of anybody, his face souring and his eyes communicating a real disdain for humanity’s inability to see what was right in front it.
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