For the past week Atlanta has been covered in a cloud of brown smoke. The fact that it coincided with an election made the dirty haze even more troublesome. Many people were convinced that the two things were linked, that somehow the political shift had set fire to the air. The barbarians were at the gates. We would soon see them rumbling down our roads on their coal-powered iron horses, and soon after that we’d be led away in chains.
The internet is a reliable place for hysteria. It is a funhouse for the bending and refracting of light and information until it comes out all exaggerated, caricatured, a prism of grotesque reflection that bears little resemblance to the light it manipulates.
The cover story was that North Georgia was on fire. This was obvious enough. 5,500 acres of forestry burning out of control, which coincided with one of the longest droughts in recent history. The weather has been beautiful here this fall, but even paradise needs a little rain. Blue skies don’t water the plants. The leaves are falling off the trees, but nobody is sure whether that is due to a mild drop in temperature or the fact that everything is dying from lack of water. The beauty of the internet is that whichever opinion you feel like adopting, you can always find somebody who champions it. The sweeping wildfires are actually an incalculable disaster or a natural and beneficial way to enrich the soil. The drought is a normal part of the weather cycle or a troubling consequence of global warming. Crime is either out of control or statistically average. The Republican party is either going to save the nation or destroy it, at which time the Democrats will swoop in to save it further, or destroy it further, at which time the Republicans will either swoop back in to destroy what has been saved or save what has been destroyed. My barbecue grille either gives me cancer or prevents it. So does the sun. Running either helps my body fight off illness or destroys my bones and joints. California is about to fall into the ocean or serve as a model for all future economies. ISIS is either about to take over the world or they are one drone strike away from obliteration. Immigrants are either the backbone of America or its doom. It’s all so disorienting. Even Schrodinger’s famous cat released a statement saying, “You know what? Just fucking kill me. I’m a dead cat. The cat is no longer both alive and dead in his theoretical box. I’m dead. Finally, some peace.”
I went to my favorite bar the other week. Taverns, bars, public houses, and saloons, by the way, are society’s original echo chambers, long before social media and filtered news streams. A perceptive carouser can immerse in whatever news suits him just by choosing the right venue. If I want to hear people champion Corporate America I can go to Buckhead. If I want to hear people blame the greed-heads I can go to Edgewood. If I want to hear people disparage the mainstream I can go to Little Five Points. And if I want to hear the sound of a beer can being crushed between two saggy titties, I can hop on over to the Clermont lounge. Say what you will about the sound of aluminum being flattened between two sweaty boobs, sometimes it is a melodic relief from some of the more hostile rhetoric.
I was over at the Righteous Room on Ponce. It’s one of the city’s great watering holes. The place openly revolts against the modern business conveniences. Checks are still handwritten by bartenders whose penmanship is so bad that they all must’ve been in medical school at one time. The cash register is a rusty abacus. The jukebox plays wax. The walls are simple and reliable brick. And the bathrooms, well you just have to see them to believe it.
There was a kind of wild jubilation at the bar last week. People were getting as wrecked as possible to celebrate either the end of the world or the new beginning. I was talking to one guy who was wearing an arm brace. He said he had been driving on Jekyll Island and had crashed his car into a flock of seagulls, but nobody could figure out whether he had hit a gaggle of birds or the synth-punk band from the 80s. Another guy had just returned from a scuba trip to Belize where he said he had survived the biggest hurricane he had ever seen, but nobody could tell whether it was an actual storm or the high-proof rum drink. A nearby girl admitted that she had been binging on sex and the city, but nobody was sure whether she was just promiscuous in an urban setting or obsessed with the television series. Feeling sick with ambiguity I ordered a Moscow Mule and the bartender told me he would look for some Russian idiots. I told him to make anything with vodka and he told me there were no more absolutes, which either meant the bottles were empty or modern understanding had devolved into relative pluralism. Someone asked me how my novel “Wet Brain” was selling? The bartender leaned in to announce that he had heard of wet brain and that he was pretty sure it sucked, but I couldn’t tell whether he was referring to my novel or the clinical stages of alcoholism. Like everybody else, I decided to go with the option that best suited my needs.
Cheers to the new dumb.
More Alembics to come.