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By Chuck Palahniuk
The View from Smalltown, USA
The problem is I don’t have a television so I have to visit people. I listen to the radio. Plus, there’s always the phone and e-mails. I had to call a lot of folks. The other problem is that this is Oregon, 2000 miles from the attack. My friend Mike shrugs and says, “So? If people want to live in New York they need to accept the risks.” Another friend, Dan, who clerks at the farmers’ market, says, “It serves us right. How long can we continue to consume the majority of the Earth’s resources?” A farmer comes by, and Dan stops talking. There’s a sign outside in the parking lot. Dan’s rearranged the plastic letters to read: “Pray for peace.” A relative calls to say it’s the Jews trying to make Palestine look bad. My sister calls to say it’s the Bush political machine. “Every time we’re in a depression,” she goes, “what gets us out? A war.” The local mayor comes on the radio every 10 minutes to say no-one has attacked Portland, Oregon, yet. At the park where I walk my dog, a 55-year-old Vietnam veteran tells a group of young men, “It’s war. Yeah, it’s war all right. And we’re going to go over there and kick some camel-jockey butt.” All these young men, all registered for the draft, they try to change the subject. The sun is warm. Our dogs play. The veteran talks about all the women he’s slept with. He tells us he’s a plant expert and gets paid $60 an hour to tell people their gardens suck. He says the government has already dispatched the military to destroy targets. He says we’ll all have to fight in this one, but it will be a glorious war. He says he sleeps with his four dogs and every morning he has to wipe a layer of shed dog hair off his face. After an hour he’s the only one left talking, and it’s all war, war, war. Everyone else has left. On the radio the conservative presenter Rush Limbaugh says Americans need to forget their differences of race, income, sex, religion. “We just need to be happy with what we have,” he says. We need to unite against our common enemy. I ask my neighbor, Linda, if she’s worried about going to war and she says, “Women don’t have to fight in wars.” She says, “We don’t have equal rights so why should we support this country?” My friend Monica says, “I want to go to Mass, but isn’t religion what got us in this mess in the first place?” My mom calls to say, “Well, we could use that federal budget surplus right about now.” There are a lot more American flags around, but not on the majority of houses. On television, when I visit friends, we watch the World Trade Center towers crumble again and again. My friend Anuj in New York says, “It wasn’t surreal. It was hyper-real.” On the radio, a local gas station-owner makes a public apology for boosting his gasoline prices to $5 a gallon. My friend Ken in New York says the grocery store shelves are bare. He stood on his roof and watched the disaster, so close he could see the individual panes of glass. On the television there’s only older white men talking. Newscaster Dan Rather reads some really profound Abraham Lincoln quotes between the same few seconds of video, the towers falling, again and again. The same shots of people falling, jumping to their death. At Mike’s house, Romona comes in the room and watches someone falling 70 stories. “I saw that one already,” she tells us. She’s brought take-out Mexican food and we eat it, channel-surfing for new and different video shots, angles, slow-motions. Mostly it’s the same old death shots we’ve seen 100 times before. The local mayor comes on the radio to say no one has attacked Portland, Oregon, yet. My friend Jim sends me an e-mail full of Nostradamus quotes that seem to prove this is the third world war. Still, when I check a volume of his prophecies, each line of the quote has been gleaned from a different place and the whole assembled to have this wild new meaning. A couple of days ago I made a victim’s rights statement in court. This was part of the procedure for sentencing the man convicted of killing my father in 1999. The law allows the defending attorney to cross-examine me, but the convicted man dismissed his attorney so he could question me himself. My father’s killer-a convicted child-molester and rapist, now a multiple murderer-he and I talked back and forth for a half hour. Then I had lunch with a reporter. Then I sat with the coroner and looked at photographs of my father’s dead body, burned beyond recognition. We discussed the angle of the bullet, the contents of my father’s stomach, how long he lived with both lungs punctured. How he was shot in the legs to cripple him first. In the photos both his legs are burned off, and the torso and head rest on a scrap of plywood. I call my sister to tell her how the bullet passed through dad’s diaphragm and his lungs. It missed dad’s heart and stopped against his shoulder blade. Over the phone, I can hear she’s eating something. I ask if she wants to go to the sentencing-the death penalty looks likely-and she says no. Her local kite festival is that same week. At home my doctor tells me this isn’t a good time to come off Zoloft, a prescription drug for stress and depression. He says, “If you don’t like the side-effects, would you try Paxil?” I’ve been on Zoloft for two years. My doctor says people have been on Zoloft for 20 years with no ill effects. My friend Mark says Zoloft has saved his marriage. He used to look at the world and get so angry and frustrated. His wife maintains the erectile dysfunction side-effect is worth the hassle. They’re both very happy now. At dinner, Monica shows me her bottle of Klonopin, an anticonvulsant. “Yeah, it’s addictive,” she says, “but they still prescribe it.” You only take it when you’re actually anxious, but she takes one. She gives me one. We order some wine. Her friend Russ wants a Klonopin, and Monica gives him one. “Percocet [narcotic painkillers] and Valium,” my friend Linda, a nurse, says. “It’s the high everybody wants now.” She describes the vague symptoms of fibromyalgia and says faking is the best way to get an ongoing prescription. On television, the towers fall again and again. The same people cartwheel down through the air. The same voice yells, off-camera, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” In one shot, firemen pick through the rubble near burning wreckage and smashed cars. Behind them a large red digital clock says the current temperature, and Mike says, “That sign’s all messed up. With all those fires, it has to be hotter than 86 degrees.” Dave calls with the address for a new bestiality website. Diana calls from San Francisco, where she’s stranded on her book tour. From the airport she says, “At least Anne Frank never had to tour with her book.” On television, Bart Simpson says about Generation X: “We need a Vietnam to thin out their ranks.” On another Simpsons rerun, Bart watches the Superbowl, saying, “Stadium snipers, where are you?” On the news, the same dark silhouette of a jetliner plows into the second tower. Again and again. The burning fuel billows out. The same plume of yellow smoke rises from the tip of Manhattan. It’s yellow on Mike’s television. Every 10 minutes we see what Dan Rather calls “the fourth explosion.” Monica asks me where I was when the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986. I was at work, my first job as a newspaper reporter, on a suburban street, and a strange woman leaned out of her house and shouted the news to me. Neither Monica nor I can remember where we were for the Columbine High School shootings. Or the federal courthouse bombing in Oklahoma. Or the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas. Never mind any killings in Europe or Asia. Mariah Carey’s hotel crack-up. The Bill Clinton blow-job. The OJ Simpson car chase. All those other school shootings. It’s all gone fuzzy. We remember the jokes. “What color were the Challenger traveler Christa McAuliffe’s eyes?” “Blue. One blew east, one blew west.” The OJ Simpson/Butcher of Brentwood jokes. On the internet, we watch the school security video of Columbine, the video that police dubbed with popular dance music so more people would watch it. On the radio, Live’s song “Lightning Crashes” has been established as the rock anthem for the “Attack on America.” Monica says, “I hate that line ‘Her placenta falls to the floor,’ but at least it’s not Elton John.” After the last attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993, television producers filmed a low-budget movie here in Portland. It was called Terror in the Towers. They shot it in a warehouse near my friend Suzie’s house, and her family was awake most nights, hearing explosions and the screams of dying actors. Suzie calls to say, “I just hope they don’t film the television movie next to my house this time.” My friend Jonah e-mails me a map he made that shows every house in his neighborhood where they grow oriental poppies in the front yard. He attaches a recipe that uses ginger, lemon juice, crushed ice and poppy seed pods to make an opiate smoothie. He asks, can he use my blender? On television, the towers fall in slow motion. The same crowds of people stand around on the West Side Highway, observing. There’s the same jiggling, chaotic shot taken by some cameraman fleeing the cloud of dust. Watching this, David says, “This is worse than The Blair Witch Project.” Then he asks, “They ever find that intern, Chandra Levy?” Another friend, Cory, calls to ask if I’m going to the Dada Ball, a big-ticket costume rave. I say no. Cory says it’s OK. “The president told everyone not to stop their lives.” She asks if I have any Vicodins left. Behind her I can hear a really good dance mix of that Suzanne Vega child abuse song. At the lumberyard, my friend Larry helps me load wood into my truck. After we’re done, he stands there, silent, leaning against my truck’s tailgate. He just looks at the ground. Finally, he straightens up and wishes me a good day. I tell him to take it easy. If he’s stoned or sad, I don’t know. At Geoff’s house, on television, it’s the same shots of the Pentagon, the towers falling, the field in Pennsylvania. The same burned people are being lifted into ambulances, and Geoff asks if they’ve announced any celebrities who were killed on the hijacked jets. On the radio, Rush Limbaugh says this is the time for a return to traditional values. He wonders out loud, again and again, why the people on the hijacked planes did nothing to save themselves. At the pharmacy, the druggist says that Paxil has a cumulative effect. My fear and anger and confusion, frustration, all this anxiety-the druggist, she says I should feel better in about three weeks. Anuj e-mails from New York that September 11 will be the line of demarcation for Generation X. This will be our opportunity to become heroes. He says everyone should light a candle to show solidarity. He says to forward his e-mail to all my other friends. The local mayor comes on the radio to say no one has attacked Portland, Oregon, yet. Then David e-mails me the address for a sex doll website. It’s where they make the really expensive ones that cost over $1000.


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