THE YELTSIN-CLINTON ERA, CENTRAL TIME ZONE
The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period, there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.
I saw her at the end of history,
a manic pixie dream-girl in black hat,
a smile of adolescent irony
hanging like an imported cigarette,
a denizen of corners. As she sat
off to the side, I stared. The smell of sweat,
Doritos, and the Oklahoma air,
sweet and allergenic, hit my nose.
I didn’t sneeze and held a pensive pose.
A Walmart of a decade, grunge CDs
about to hit the bargain bin, left stranded
like hapless Soviet cosmonauts. The breeze
reminded us that time, like space, still moved.
The Wall was down, the Eagle long since landed,
and we were told that nothing could be improved,
that this was the teleology, the sum
of humankind’s equation—cue our laughter
at a life spent in the morning after.
Never trust a hippie; punk was dead,
and there she was in her Doc Marten boots,
chin-length bangs and a partly shaven head,
and me with clothes and hair in mostly black
(the latter, though, showing some brown roots).
With nothing up ahead, we both looked back
and somehow saw each other as we did.
It’s no way to travel, but neither was the way
mapped for us. Another summer day.
another night. The party was a bore,
though everyone was there, and every room
echoed with conversations. You could score
a few hours in your head if so inclined—
an afternoon special tale of woe and doom,
erasers in the center of your mind,
or just a gakked-out evening passing time
with tabs of LSD or skunk-schwag weed,
mushrooms, alcohol, or trucker speed.
Brown hair and gray-green eyes, high-cheekboned face,
insomniac intelligence—a joke
she told herself running in a race
between the shimmers of her glance and lips.
I sneered, though fuck knows why, and lit a smoke,
arrogant from lungs to fingertips,
the dumbest smart guy in the room, but still
she followed me outside. Cue the blurred
memories of teenaged passions stirred.
Gas was cheap. I used to drive all night
looking for crowds I knew would be at home.
Nothing was going on. Cosmic spite?
A scene commodified and then discarded
like cardboard boxes, plastic, styrofoam
the day after Christmas? I wasn’t broken-hearted,
so much as empty as a city street
on Sunday night with everything closed down,
counting the days till I got out of town.
Ambition needs a narrative, an arc
—rising action, climax, denouement—
and what we had was groping in the dark
along with books we partly understood,
discussed across a coffee and croissant
some mornings. Good enough, if not quite good.
Understanding is the bonus point,
experience itself the pass and fail,
the revolution, Jonah and the whale.
I got the girl, or for a while at least.
Mazel tov. Yippee yi cy yay.
Behold the bread and theorize the yeast,
but know that when you eat it, that’s the end.
Ride into the sunset. What the hey.
History wasn’t over, that pretend
conceit was soon demolished. We were, too.
I wouldn’t say I miss her. The debris
remains beneath, and archeology
reveals the substrates, relics of a life
rebuilt on top of ruins. As I drive
through a different city, kids and wife
await me as the radio plays a song
I barely liked but heard back then, alive
but not like this, when summers seemed so long,
when love was hard, and love was what we had.
I change the station, hum a melody
that sings out past the end of history.
GEN X STORIES
He used to be the bass guitarist for the classic hardcore band Die Capitalist Pig!!! and was on their seminal album, We All Fucked Your Girlfriend, Even the Bass Player. Now he lives in Altadena, teaches memoir-writing at USC, and voted for Elizabeth Warren after considering Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigeig. He also just blocked you for saying, quite truthfully, that the Clash weren’t actually that good.
When she was a girl, she had a Cabbage Patch Doll named after Sally Ride. In high school, she wasted two weeks of everyone’s time because her English teacher alluded to the character of Shylock as an anti-Semitic trope, and she decided he was an anti-Semite. Even though most of the teaching staff and administration hated her afterwards, her essay on the matter got her into Bard. Now she works for a non-profit that specializes in teaching homeless children how to play Dixieland jazz. She also just blocked you because you called Tulsi Gabbard “thicc” to see what would happen.
He came out of the closet as soon as it became clear that he wouldn’t get written out of the will if he did. He owns three restaurants: Billy Bob’s Shake-n-Bake (the one he inherited from his parents that actually makes money), a faux-dive called The Pink Flamingo (after the line in the Soft Cell song), and a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant called The Meiji Risorgimento. He once beat a lawsuit from a disgruntled employee by successfully arguing that calling people “bitches” is part of his culture. He also just blocked you after you posted a link to an article about sweatshops making Beyoncé’s clothing line.
She was the Assistant Vice Treasurer in high school and was voted “Most Likely to Narc on a Friend.” She majored in art history at Vassar, did a law degree at Michigan, and married a regional manager for Chuck E. Cheese, who bought her an art gallery in order to have painters fuck her so he doesn’t have to. She runs for local office as a Democrat as a hobby, losing by fifty more votes each time. She also just blocked you for calling her “the Amy Klobuchar of Ventura County.”
He spent high school listening to Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse and trying unsuccessfully to kick you in the genitals. Once, after taking several tabs of LSD, he joined the army and ended up doing a tour in Iraq. He got an honorable discharge, gained 300 pounds, and is the leading Facebook expert on how war crimes are actually good. He also just blocked you because… could have been anything, really.
She was Native American in that Elizabeth Warren way, in that the only way you could know was if she told you—a lot—and you still had to take her word for it. Now, she lives in the worst suburb in your home state and produces children, revenue for chain restaurants, vaguely white nationalist online tirades, and second-hand lung cancer. She also just blocked you over the chain restaurants that she likes more than you do, of all the goddamn things.
When he was a boy, he wanted to be president as soon as he ceased wanting to be a leopard or a cobra. After a school career spent listening to Classical music and doing an impression of an unusually ambitious Teddy Ruxspin, he settled for being a corporate attorney. His hobbies include playing the piano, collecting rare liqueurs from the former Soviet bloc, and tweeting about the #Resistance. He also just blocked you when you called his would-be Bond villain boss an asshole.
She was always going to be a star and was not without a certain waifish charm, by which I mean she had a fondness for flowing dresses and singing in her thin, reedy voice to a tentatively strummed guitar until people hated her. Now she owns a cafe that she bought to save the open mic from the previous owner who thought it sucked. She also just blocked you when she remembered you called Tori Amos “white girl suicide music” twenty-five years ago.
When he was a teenager, he was so violently and obsessively homophobic that everyone assumed he was secretly gay. Turns out he isn’t gay. He’s just a massively bigoted asshole. He also just blocked you because he was only in your timeline in the first place due to a misunderstanding.
She used to have hours of dialogue memorized from every season of Northern Exposure, even the one after Rob Morrow left. She was also heard to remark that she wished the world could be more like Edward Scissorhands. Now she makes Christian-themed videos for children on YouTube that feature her playing the glockenspiel. She also just blocked you for posting a parody of a Creed video.
When someone told his class in high school that his generation would work harder than their parents for less remuneration and less job security, it gave him a boner, and he knew exactly why. Now he has exactly the job you think he would, precisely the ugly McMansion you think he’d live in, the kids with the exact godawful names you’d think they’d have, and the exact car with the precise bad gas mileage everyone suspected. He also just blocked you because he thought you were making fun of him when you cracked a joke about people who like Charlie Sheen.
She does a reasonably good impression of being Michel Foucault’s illegitimate daughter with Judith Butler. Her signature moves are using the word “radical” to modify every noun referring to her academic work and looking violently ill every time someone said “dialectics.” She’s an adjunct professor at five schools, is shopping around seven articles and nine book manuscripts. She also just blocked you for being a socialist.
His first big concert was Garth Brooks in 1990, and his belt buckles and pickup trucks have gotten bigger ever since. He has an MBA from the state university, lives in a four-bedroom home with unforgivably high ceilings, and manages a sporting goods store that mostly sells guns and fishing rods to fat people. He also just blocked you for being a coastal elite.
She would have been beautiful had she spent less time on her appearance. These days, she sells houses to investors who think a Cheesecake Factory is the acme of gentrification. She’s a church-council psycho who posts pictures of food she feels guilty about eating and which she blames for her ex-husband leaving her. She also just blocked you because you said her nickname in high school was “The Black Mamba.”
He was the sort of guy you figured would end up designing elf-themed emojis, hosting a gardening show on a local NPR affiliate, becoming a serial killer, or some combination of the three. Instead, he has chartreuse dreadlocks, goes by DJ Kompound Fraxyoor, and is the seventh-most-popular purveyor of EDM on the Belgian club circuit. He also just blocked you for not realizing that “you have to be on ecstasy for it to sound good” was intended as a compliment.
In the eighth grade, she cried for two hours after she got mud on her Guess jeans during a wilderness excursion. Her first husband was a cop and her current husband is a white-collar criminal who’s an actuary on the side. She loves both her boys, who despite being seven and thirteen are already Large Adult Sons. She also just blocked you because you said that cheese was racist ironically, and she took it literally.
He’s forty-five years old and still wears leather. Being the father of two children has had no discernible effect on his level of swearing. He’s a middle-class Ivy League leftist who distrusts people who went to elite schools. He’s an alternative rock snob who finds most first-wave punk rock unlistenable and goth rock funny. His hobbies are reading, writing, caffeine, vituperation, and hate. He hasn’t blocked you, but sometimes you wish he would.
Featured Image: Illustration shows a scene in the “Grand National Congressional Theatre” at the conclusion of the performance of “Fair Promise Combination No. 47 – Great Reform Bill – Act I Tarif Reform – Act II Civil Service Reform – Act III Internal Revenue Reform”. The audience is pelting the cast with cats, eggs, onions, turnips, and other vegetables and fruits. Among those on stage are David Davis, Thomas W. Ferry, George M. Robeson, Jay A. Hubbell, Frank Hiscock, Horace F. Page, William Mahone.
Title from item.
Illus. from Puck, v. 12, no. 312, (1883 February 28), centerfold.
Copyright 1883 by Keppler & Schwarzmann.