Saturday, May 6, 2017

Stray Thoughts from the Sunshine State

Vacation was good, but Florida is a bit like a series of resort colonies for the diasporic wealthy plotted within swamps full of gators and low income families.  Facilitated just beyond the fantasy theme park islands are living reminders of why people choose fantasy over hard truth, Trumpian daymare spectacle the closest corollary to the Disney dream factory when you can’t afford a ticket. There was some heavy metaphorical resonance in the fact that our vacation was merrily held between a series of brush fires consuming the state, the result of a long climate-change-induced drought that had left the land barren and dead.   On our way to and fro Legoland were large stretches of land full of dead grass and emaciated cows, waiting for rain as the cars lined the highway sputtering out carbon emissions for the ultraviolet light to get stuck on.   The cow’s loss was our benefit, a lovely day out without a cloud in sight.  It was as if the delightful weather was being controlled by the entertainment complexes, themselves suffering from a post-Trump decline in international tourism.  The whole world is postproduction now, unable to distinguish between CGI and principal photography.  Conspiracies everywhere, a wide spout flooding the drought of hope. 

Hoping to find a shortcut back from our hotel room from the pool, my kids and I attempted a shortcut back to one of the 7 identikit tower buildings comprised of hotel rooms spread throughout the resort.  This was planned living for the temporarily temporally displaced, an architectural maintenance program for those on leave from their anxiety.  The shortcut lead through this massive conference center, whose layout seemed designed to impress the attendants of white collar seminars, retreats, and conventions by enunciating the height of the lobby’s roof a good 30 feet above anyone’s head.  With no one gathered at this time of day, it seemed like a giant amphitheater of empty space, an riposte to restraint, which my kids took as an invitation to fill the lobbies with as much noise and motion as possible.   Gathering there that day was a “Cayman Business Convention”.   Soon, we’d depart to Disney’s private island getaway, Castaway Cay, and the money from that convention would go to its island too, escaping and being shielded from largely the same things.   A staff member soon came along to let us know that there was no way through.  We had reached a border of some sort and so the tax shelter’s ambassador ushered us off so that capital could celebrate itself beyond the periphery of eyes never meant to wander beyond mythopoeic realms or artificial paradises.

On a cruise ship, your equilibrium can get fucked up on the first day.  You recognize the movement of the ship, the minor swaying and rocking, but the enormity of the boat helps normalize it.  You feel a bit like a dog in a car, attempting to reconcile the traction while retaining an elegant poise, only to fall on your ass from time to time. They call it sea legs, but it’s more of a sea mindset.  Your body signals to your mind that things are not the way they should be and your mind confronts these by resetting the levels.  Hypernormalization.  It never seems exactly right, but you learn to take it as background.  If it’s a big enough boat, the consciousness of the ship becomes a part of you. Its culture instructs your physiology.

Likewise throughout the cruise, Disney’s signature customer service is meant to transport you, to erase the seams of their labor, and to make this elaborate experiential endeavor seem effortless.  The ruse is so precise that it becomes almost impossible to spot the cracks, the quivering lip behind the smile, the hidden shadow of who the sea leaves behind.  As a passenger, you know that no human being is actually this happy to serve another human being, but there is almost a military-like discipline in those patented contractually-bound veneers.  

Out the deck windows at odd intervals you notice staff running drills, lining up behind lifeboats, wearing gas masks, gathered in groups of four to replace a light bulb.  Odd behavior you have no logical explanation for, but you accept in your state of serene, complacent arrest.  That’s for the suits in Washington to worry about.  Were the vessel to actually go down, it’s plausible that they’d finish the deserts and in-cruise 3D movie showings before you ever realized you needed to debark.  Nearer, my God to, Thee are we in this state of semi-hallucinatory departure.

Disconnected from my phone and major news media, it was unclear if the forest fires and North Korean provocations would engulf the land before we returned.  It was a strange, pleasantly unsettling comfort to hide within.  We were sailing off into an ocean of ignorance.  As we departed shore to set sail from the Bahamas, I told my son to say goodbye to Florida, goodbye to America.  “Goodbye Legoland!” he yelled to the shores.  A land governed by creations and virtualities, all the bricks fully visible, which we choose to believe in nonetheless.

The identity politics of Legoland are strange.  Legoland’s signature branded hue is yellow, but it’s hard not to see yellow as a stand-in for whiteness.  Yellow is the default skin-tone of the brick set, with nary a brown skinned figure or character to be found around the park.  We attended a sort of lame show that the kids enjoyed full of jetskiers and some dull stageplay about pirates.  The plot involved the host, who made no gesture to hide his flamboyant queerness, being madly in love with the admiral’s daughter.  The admiral’s daughter seemed to assume all the responsibilities of the explicitly male Admiral himself, but who was nevertheless defined not by a title of her own but rather by her relationship to her father, and the gay man in “love” with her.  The Admiral failed to make an appearance.  Every brick in its own place.

The gaudy Florida roadside was itself a much more interesting show, flaunting sights such as the occasional abandoned RV, vivid strip mall church sculptures that towered above their flat origins like regional Wicker Man offerings, a massive lot of brand new cars several hundred feet from any inroad in an otherwise vacant grass field, gators chilling and waiting to cross the highway, a Domino’s delivery car with a pro-life fetus outline bumper sticker, some kind of discarded military airplane shaded under overhanging flora warning of low flying aircraft ahead, and, at one point, a hawk flying across the road carrying a squirrel in its mouth.  Predators and prey everywhere.  It was proto-hunter-gatherer terrain, dressed for the pre-apocalypse, readymade for the unaired final season of the Walking Dead.  There are an abundance of pharmacies and walk-in clinics, likely serving out drug cocktails to both locals without health insurance and out-of-network travelers encountering climate and crowd-bred toxins alike.  The other strip mall stores have names that cater to efficiency and illiteracy, and read in block capital letters like Soviet relics; “MARKET”, “TOYS”,  “BURGERS” and, of course “DRUGS”.

When you’ve had writing coarse through your system, you’re inclined to be awed by the incomprehensible depth of the ocean and how small a cog you are on such a massive boat.   Positioned on the veranda, several drinks in, I found myself pondering in Melville poise that those who stare down at the waves closest to the boat are inclined to think about their mortality, while those who gaze at the horizon are looking beyond it to what’s left to explore in the life left living.  Both left me a bit dizzy and I nearly vomited.   One of the days we had a couples massage and they played soothing new age music while uncomfortably rubbing hot stones on my back, interrupted halfway through by the loud reverberating crashes of a basketball court they stuck on the floor above the spa.  “It me”, I thought.  Self-awareness thundering through any half-cocked attempt to escape that irritable self.  Maybe it was just dream logic taking over. The present moment is such a prima facie anxiety-riddled absurdity that it often feels like the unconscious is seeping in, an orange-hued id of denial and macro-projection directing the psychic energy of the species towards self-destruction.   A collective struggling to find sea legs, looking for a restful state of composure where one can be relaxed and disengaged enough to pass off the doom and nausea off as background noise. 

We could use a vacation, I thought, while the crew did drills for deploying the lifeboats below me. 

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