I was concerned about the State of the Union, particularly my state (which is nebulously, Wisconsin) and so I decided to do the obvious thing: consult my Government.
Consultation is of course, as Winston Churchill once said, a vague and elastic term--"you can always consult a man and ask him 'would you like your head cut off in the morning,' and, then, go ahead and cut off his head." Vague and elastic.
But I wasn't looking for decapitation, no just for my Capital. Capitol? Well, however you spell it it still means that great grey domed building at the top of the Isthmus, rising above the two lakes of Madison like a gibbous moon. Atop the dome is good old Lady liberty, cast in some goldish material, pointing a languid arm over yonder East--that is, towards us and the rest of the Atlantic Coast folk, governmental and non. So I hiked up the snowy blocks of State Street, my black chair under my arm, and into the capitol.
The chair does become part of the story, so it's worth explaining. Somebody on State Street, which is a pedestrian/bicycle/bus only thoroughfare, lined with trees and people trying to sell you things (indoors and out, all the time, all the year), had set out this black chair to be thrown away. The cloth was frayed on the edge, where metal strut met canvas and cotton. Sometime soon, somebody was going to sit on that chair in the modernistic/artistic apartment it almost undoubtably used to reside in, and the cloths would part and Lo! a guest would be on his butt. With an injury at one end and a threat of suit at the other. Out went the chair. Along came me, and the chair, well, it came too. I figured to fix it and give it to Dad for X-mas.
For the time being, however, I was going to visit the Capitol, which is one of the few warm places around State Street where you can go for free, along with being a real serious place where lots of good and important and really reeally serious things happen. All the time, all the year. They, the people there, are selling to us: peace and prosperity. Government. At the low cost of XYZ % of your annual interrate disciplinary objective careeer-nexus net apartment-result equal opportunity cash employment intake. And the bill is neatly prearranged through IRS Bros Brokers Incorporated.
My bills were paid up, so I went in to see how the employees were getting on at running my country.
Every year the capitol Government of the great state of Wisconsin arranges for what-is-now-known-as a Holiday Tree, which rises up from the floor into the great empty space below the dome. The tree is remarkably ugly. Not originally of course; it was clearly, when in the buff in stark Wisconsin nature, a fine pine of northern stock; but they had taken this poor tree and given it a cosmopolitan makeover which completely concealed the fact that 'twas ever a nat'ral-born tree, free and proud.
I felt bad, for the old people who had spent months sewing beautiful lace snowflakes for the tree. The lace flakes were totally invisible behind the saccharine-thick tinsel and the yellow light-bulbs which were crusting their smarmy way up the tree. That tree, with nothing but those lovely white-knitted snowflakes among its branches, green and huge, would have been beautiful. Clearly my employees, my Govern-Ment, was doing a lousey job; some Christmas Bulbs'n'Tinsel business was winning out over the Old People, and I meant to kick some beauracratic butt. "Lobbying," or "white collar terrorism," is the more usual term.
The offices are upstairs, and so I was fixing to go up and have a word or two, when
At this point, a radio announcer came up to me and announced to me the entertainment for the evening there at the Capitol Center.
I'm not lying. I was standing there looking at the tree, with my chair beside me, when this guy with a microphone comes up shakes my hand tells me his name tells me his station name and asks if I'm a demonstrator (no commas, 'cause no pauses, just a soundbite-rush of Media Attention).
Why this media man thought I was involved in a demonstration is unclear, but I had collegey clothes on and this black chair beside me (not a usual accouterment to capitol visits) and he may have pegged me for a subversive. I didn't know a thing about the demonstration and immediately he lost interest in me although he had already given me his name and his hand and his etc, and I had given him reason to believe that I was interested in talking, about the state of the Christm Holiday Tree.
Old people's snowflakes are not, however, apparently Newsworthy, no matter how many arthritic hours they have spent on sewing them. But hey, my Government (who are on my side after all) early, early on granted this media man the right to treat as important only those things which are immediately appreciable as dynamic and exiciting, such as famine war and pestilence and otherwise exciting and sound-biteable things like charisma, Madonna, valuable political wisdom, the lifespan of the common gnat, poll results, arms agreements, editorial comments, earth evaporating nuclear strikes...hey, what a Sound Bite that would be, get that on all the networks, yeah boy. News Flash! and we do mean flash. And we do mean bite. And we do mean noise. BAWOOOOM !... as Calvin and Hobbes say. But I'm not worried because my government has everything under the Stars safe from Wars, has me sheltered under the umbrella of Technology, so I'm happy and warm in my rotomatic living room with the lazy-susan chair and the remote control environmental fix'it'all machine the IRS gave me inside my annual Christm Holiday rebate. So I'm content, if a little TENSE.
But, anyway, yes, as we were saying, only that which is exciting, to a pitch that is fully appreciable within the enriching spiritual'n'intelluctal crucible framework of the Sound-bite, enraptures the Media Man--and so he went away. I, however, decided to stay. And see the demonstration, before it got on the radio and became The Demonstration.
Eventually the demonstration began. I watched it for awhile from one of the upstairs levels, with a man who was looking tired and scruffy, and had lots of clothes with him. Many homeless people come into the seat of Government--not because they are lobbying or otherwise powerfully participating in our Free and Democratic society--but because it is one of the few warm places around State Street where you can go for free.
The tired man and I talked for awhile, and then, because I knew not a damn thing about the situation in Panama (the demonstrators wanted the US OUT OF PANAMA), I went down to listen and to ask questions. It is amazing how angry people will get if you just ask them questions, and then write down their answers. I didn't learn much from the people I talked to (other than that they wanted the US OUT OF PANAMA); they didn't even know if Panama has diplomats in our country, much less what the diplomats are doing and saying now, though they did say that they were "sure that there must be some [diplomats] in Washington." A more interesting statement, which I eventually drew out of one of them, was that they would, in fact, be happy if Khadafy bombed the Capitol (in DC--where the main decisions are made about whether the US should get OUT OF PANAMA.). After admitting to this sentiment about the true sovereignty of nations in the face of unwanted violence, they declared that I was "not being productive" and they stalked off. I didn't get a chance to talk to the two Central Americans (a handsome man, who gave a rousing speech, and his beautiful lady friend) who were surrounded by a sea of white, well dressed, concerned looking Americans speaking medium-well Spanish.
The best quote of the day came from my less well dressed conversation companion upstairs, who, leaning on the balcony rail, had said, "If these people paid more attention to problems right here in Madison, they wouldn't have time for this bullshit."
I replied, "I'll vote for that."
And that's the State of the Union...