I stood with the father of one of the little girls who lives on my block and we watched the school bus swallow up 9 jittery kids, my twins included, like so many amphetamines and disappear around the corner. Walking away, I turned and asked this father, “So, anything going on with you today?” He was the only other guy on the street who, like me, seemed to work mostly from home, although I had no idea what the hell he did.
“Well,” he began, “I was in Wisconsin earlier in the week putting the final touches on the [Z#9*%$!-X59].”
“On the … what?” I asked, his sentence having ended with what sounded like a speedometer reading pronounced through a shit sandwich.
“The [Z#9*%$!-X59],” he said again, explaining that the gobbledygook was the official word for a new military transport vehicle with an iron belly that was 50% stronger and more mine-resistant that the traditional Humvee that the U.S. was using in Iraq and Afghanistan. He then went on to talk about how the new [Z#9*%$!-X59] was going to be blown to smithereens at an army base in Maryland.
“When?” I asked.
“Today!” he said, excitedly, as if it were a pinata full of gold coins rather than Pandora’s hairy box full of doomsday gremlins too adorable to want to quarantine. “Nobody from the design team is allowed on the test site to watch,” he griped.
“Bummer,” I said, thinking back to the spring of 2004 when I downloaded a video file onto my computer and watched U.S. contractor Nicholas Berg getting his head sawed off by a bunch of what sounded like Middle Eastern men in ski masks. I remember looking for the video online because I wanted to see if I could dispel the notion for myself that, according to all reports, the beheading was proof that our new Iraqi enemy was evil and savage and deserving of complete extermination.
I thought how odd it seemed that those most outraged by the beheading were the ones most likely to applaud the terror that the United States was visiting upon the civilians of Baghdad from 15,000 feet up, where the only indication that anything evil or savage might be going on down below came from a tiny flashing light on a computer screen – the same technology used to indicate when the French fries are ready to be removed from the fryer at McDonalds or that the video camera is recording.
I then spent the next twenty minutes following the Berg beheading calling friends to tell them not to do what I’d done, that my whole physiology had changed as a result of what I’d seen and that I would forever be at least one degree colder at my core. It made me terribly sad. I explained how the execution wasn’t interesting to look at on any level whatsoever, making me worry that Hollywood might not be doing its job. Where, I wondered, were the Hollywood movie scenes of murder that were slow-moving and so cruelly intimate and so awkwardly unprivate? Where was Morgan Freeman or Halle Berry in the terrible throws of trying to resist the movement of a blade through their windpipes?
Where was the utter senselessness of brutal homicide?
Tragedy, it turns out – the patriots are right! – plays a lot better when it’s massive and when a lot of people die all at once and from some distance, like in Titanic or Godzilla. Or Nagasaki or Hiroshima. Sure, if Berg had been torn apart by a Tyrannosaurus Rex and then eaten in big drippy mouthfuls his murder might’ve been easier for me to process, but only because my eyes would’ve mostly been on the dinosaur and how invincible it seemed and not on the agony of the dinosaur’s lunch, baby faced and wearing an orange jumpsuit and bare-footed.
I then realized that the [Z#9*%$!-X59] was really designed to one day give Brad Pitt another shot at an Oscar and Sandra Bullock the serious script that she’s been praying for.
I also realized that by preventing a viable film-making industry from forming in the Middle East, an industry that grows from the wellspring of fantasy and make-believe, America is, in effect, offering humanity one last chance to save itself by guaranteeing that the most terrible realities be preserved by the savagery of the region’s most repulsive and heartless videographers.
God bless America.