The poison in the atmosphere

Inauguration blues

Published January 20, 1997 5:53PM (EST)

we came to the Nation's capital on Amtrak from New York. Trains tend to go through the unpopular parts of town, but nothing could prepare us for the toothless horrors of dead industrial Baltimore and Philadelphia: miles after
miles of abandoned factories, home to nothing but rats and loveless fiends, the mislaid insane and broken glass. We passed huge stretches of Archie Bunker-like housing with plywooded windows and cars with no tires or back seats, like the skeletons of lost camels collapsed on the street. Some buildings looked as if some huge, avenging sky monster had bitten off corners of their heads and spit them into the parking lots. Parked cars had been cremated where they died, their remains never properly disposed of.

What the hell happened to America? It's impossible not to wonder. Our country is suffering the lot of hairlipped stepchildren and violent orphans  running loose and wild with ugly crowds. It has become stupid and godless, a land with a TV mother, and no father at all save the army or the state.

Washington has its best dress on today, as William Jefferson Clinton, his face frozen in appreciative wonderment, takes the big stage and claims the role of "daddy" for another four years. As the second Boy Strange and I got off the train in D.C., we were hit by a supercharged wave of hot, effusive, neon patriotic air. Everything over three feet high is draped in flag-like banners, including the cocktail waitresses. This is a town completely brainwashed by its grandiose celebratory function. It obediently scurries around the invading pomp and circumstance like blood cells yielding to disease. It is The Only Way.

My family's resident politico filled me in on the pertinent gossip before I left New York. "Gore is the story, not Clinton. Forget Clinton, nobody cares anymore. Gore is supposed to be the next president. Word has it that he might run with Dianne Feinstein, because California is such a big state, but since she's got that unfortunate personality, I don't think so. And don't bother with Barbara Boxer  she'll say anything, she wants to run again so badly. Nobody believes a word she says. Get into the Pelosi camp, if you can, she's a kick. And go visit the Holocaust Museum! It's great. They give you the papers when you walk in of a real Jew from a ghetto, and at the end of the tour you get to find out whether you died or not. Have fun!"

Family rumor has it that our resident politico shared a bong with Tipper Gore all through college. She has nothing but fine things to say about the second lady.

The first event we attended was at "The Mall," a long path of dirt stretching out before the capital building, where numerous white tents were set up with huge red, white and blue signs announcing the events inside each tent: "An American Kitchen!" (the food court), "An American Journey!" (the music stage), "The Millennium Schoolhouse!" (Elmo's temporary Graceland) and, of course, "The Bridge to the 21st Century!"

The latter, based on Clinton's hackneyed old swaying River Kwai structure of a metaphor, was our personal favorite. It was a large, paper-mbchi catastrophe with murals of smiling brown children painted on the sides. Americans from all walks of life were invited to use pens and colored paper to response to the question, "How can we help build the bridge to the 21st century?" These notes were then posted on bulletin boards beside the bridge.

A sampling: "JESUS is the ANSWER. Jesus!" "Moral and Ethics and Family Value in your Home." "Abortion is Evil." "No homosexual marriage  God's Law." Not much about education, we noted.
These notes seemed to have been written by the people clustered in front of the White House, the group with the eight-foot cross and the huge cardboard color photos of mangled fetuses. "Don't mock God, Mr. Clinton," said the signs carried by the unsmiling fat white women with parkas and bad perms who are evidently far more personally acquainted with the preferences of God than the president, and feel it their duty to inform him.

I had trouble digesting some of the more shocking dichotomies and ironies. PBS aired an "Inside the White House" special, which showed how, over the years, an enormous staff of butlers, maids, pastry chefs, clock winders, cufflink polishers, umbrella warmers, human shoe-trees and other invaluable domestic workers have been busy keeping the White House ticking along like Versailles since Washington's presidency. I started seething with latent communism when Hillary Clinton, praising one of their household staff members, said, "Oh, we love him. Thank God for him. I've never been able to program the VCR."

Flashback to industrial Baltimore, a Bruce Springsteen-colored nightmare where children with handguns shoot wild dogs in the corridors of the public schools and sell their siblings for crack. The president is supposed to be our Public Servant, I lamented. Christ, can't we sell some of the White House china and put the money into a new textile mill or something? Right now, there are too many starving Indonesians willing to stitch the ubiquitous Nike glyph onto every inch of the world's fiber for four dollars a month for Philadelphia to even have a prayer.

We went to the Holocaust Musem on Saturday, which is poised right alongside the brand new Reichstag-like Ronald Reagan Building, which still has plywood over the front door, it's so new. We were both Polish Jews. We both died. Tonight we go to the Ball, where I'm hoping that the free booze will revive my love for America.

By Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Abortion Al Gore Baltimore Barbara Boxer D-calif. Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton