Barbequing in a Fire

It was unfathomable to think that anyone’s sense of loyalty to “Americana” could still be this strong. This…cartoonishly devoted. And yet, every time the bookends to summer came along—marking a precious three-day weekend for a nation so accustomed to never having time off—it was as though everyone “plum forgot” not only what their country represented, but what it continued to do to them over and over again. To fuck them dryly in every crevice of their body, even their seemingly empty cranial cavity. It had to be empty, right? Because how could anyone with a brain keep accepting things as they were?

Yet Alissa found herself among the many “just accepting” things as they were that usual odious Monday. Another Labor Day, another goddamn barbeque. But what made this one so uniquely terrible was that fire season in California had gotten off to an earlier, more roaring start. In fact, it had begun all the way back in July. Most of the fires were still in the process of being “contained” even now, in the first week of September. They had not burned sufficiently, one supposes, to get the full extent of their wrath and rage out. And it seemed unlikely that they ever would, what with so much contempt to harbor against humans, the ones who had made the land this way. But that was another story, one that Alissa couldn’t think about without needing to consume far, far more drugs. And since she had already spent most of her morning dabbing before arriving at this godforsaken barbeque (riding her bike high as usual), she didn’t take her cousin, Dave, up on the offer of an acid tab. He told her it would “greatly improve” her sour mood, but the truth was, no amount of mind-altering substances could have. 

She was already sent into a deep depression while riding over to her aunt and uncle’s house, where the accursed barbeque was being held. Alissa had bargained with her parents to “let” her come later on, needing more time to herself alone in the house. More time to prepare for the notion of being around so many self-admitted Republicans. There would be a sea of relatives and their assorted acquaintances all talking of their banal jobs that were somehow meant to signify the “American dream.” Being at this kind of event made Alissa feel as though she was in a time warp. And yet, the tragic thing was, most people still didn’t find this way of life decidedly “retro.” Everyone was acting as though, while the world literally burned around them, it was perfectly normal to keep “existing” in a twentieth century way. That was the century when America was at its most Kool-Aid drinking about its shit not stinking (no rhyme intended). When it was easiest to get the public to lap up just about anything a conservative politician said—because there was no evidence all around to the contrary. Most palpably, in this era, the environment’s overt illness. 

On her bike ride over, it was more than just being high that pronounced the absurdity of the decay to her. It was seeing the “loud and proud” American flags waving from their mounted perches near the front doors of these cookie cutter houses that sent her over the edge. That, paired with the excess of cars overflowing from the garage and into the driveway. Not just any cars either, but unabashed “gas guzzlers” of the variety that had been poisoning the Earth for so many decades. The coup de grâce for stoking her vitriol for “America” on this particular holiday was cemented by the smell of barbequing intermixed with the “pure” smell of smoke emanating from the fires that were burning throughout the county. It vexed her to no end that people were going on as though nothing cataclysmic was happening. 

When she tried to explain this anger to anyone, especially someone like her parents or her aunt and uncle, all they would say is that life had to go on. People couldn’t stop “living.” How could they not see that they weren’t? Or that, in continuing to “live” in the manner Western society had been conditioned to, we were sealing a certain death? Life could not go on this way. It was so obvious. And yet, all around her, Alissa could see that Denial wasn’t just a Joan Crawford movie after 1940. It seemed everyone believed that if they just ignored the issues at hand, went about their “business as usual” “philosophy,” everything would magically “fix itself.” But it would not. Alissa knew this, and, she knew that, deep down, everyone else did, too. So maybe it was a way for them to numb that knowing by continuing to engage with this false rhetoric regarding the worship of Americana. Complete with smoke-emitting barbeques amid an already smoke-filled climate. 

Yet the incongruity was too great for Alissa to bear, especially as she looked on at the horror show of this homogenous neighborhood. One that could have been plopped down in Anywhere, USA. Minus the distinguishing part where California seemed to bear the monopoly on smoke signals, indicative not of the vengeful ghosts of Native Americans past, but of a constantly burning state. One might say these residents were constantly burning—at least on the inside—as well. Roiling with the suppressed knowledge of a sham existence built upon the tenets of neoliberalism. 

After parking her bike outside (lest Aunt Deirdre get scandalized by the notion of her “tracking in dirt” with it by placing it in the hallway), Alissa immediately regretted walking into the lion’s den of “normalcy.” The laughter, the mindless chatter, the willful oblivion to what was really going on—it all made her want to retch. Consuming a disgusting burger (full-on red meat-style, not even a turkey or veggie burger) did not improve that feeling, and she felt all the worse afterward. Like a lemming incapable of saying no to this horrific lifestyle that was only secured via the subjugation of others. Perhaps only Franny Glass could understand her nausea over the superfluousness enveloping her at this barbeque. Everyone here was just another Lane Coutell, concerned with, really, the most superficial and meaningless shit. All in a bid to get other shitty people to “respect” them. Except that would entail said people pulling their head out of their own ass long enough to actually notice another being. The only reason to do so, of course, was for the sake of comparison. Running a tally of how one measured against somebody else based on income, on “station.” Alissa couldn’t tell if it was the sight of all this that made her finally throw up in a bush near Aunt Deirdre’s kidney-shaped pool or if it was, at last, the smell of the fire smoke intermixed with the barbeque smoke that did it. Even though no one else seemed to notice or really even be bothered by the distinctive coalescing of odors. 

It was then she realized that she would always be the only one to notice. And that’s what made her so unfit for functioning in this falsely rendered world. After yakking up the burger, she had her excuse to go home early, her parents welcoming the opportunity to usher her out, embarrassed by their “weird daughter” as usual, and silently wondering if she would ever be able to “make it” outside of their own house. Alissa would, eventually. She only had a year left before graduating high school, though she did wonder at the purpose of even bothering with college. Why pay tens of thousands on “education” when she could skip straight to the part where she was making something like a middling fourteen dollars an hour? That was the going rate for a soul. 

Assuring everyone she was well enough to ride back from whence she came, Alissa did just that, passing a slew of laborers on her journey who were working on… Labor Day. Working, evidently, to keep the immaculate front yards of the middle class well-manicured even on a supposed “off” period of eight hours meant to “honor” workers. Well, a certain kind of worker anyway.  

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