In love and war

Table Talkers on making history in Massachusetts, the two Americas, and scenes from a spring night.

By Salon Staff

Published May 21, 2004 3:33PM (EDT)

White House

W's Theocracy

pt bridgeport -- 09:54 pm Pacific Time -- May 16, 2004 -- #9375 of 9392

It's my good fortune, at this moment in history, to live a 12-block walk from Cambridge City Hall. So at 20 of midnight, I slipped out my front door and strolled on down. When I drew within four blocks, I heard the murmur of the crowd. I would judge there were two or three thousand well-wishers spilling over City Hall's steep lawn, Mass Ave., and the Post Office steps opposite. Cops had closed down two blocks of the Avenue. Balloons and soap bubbles were soaring; one lady in peasant finery was passing out sweets from a huge wicker basket on each arm.

A dozen or more protestors formed a knot in front of the Post Office, bearing four signs explaining in bright red their firm opinions about "FAGS." No one was paying them the slightest attention, and just at midnight, the police escorted them off the scene. Whether that was their idea, or the policemen's, I don't know -- but none of the emerging couples had to deal with their ugliness.

I learned that the doors had opened for couples to come in and start filling out paperwork at 10:30. Just before midnight, the crowd belted out a verse of "This Land Is Your Land" -- there were almost as many American flags as rainbow flags in evidence. And then the couples began to descend the steps, at three- or four-minute intervals, to thunderous cheers. A troupe of mummers broke into their performance. There was no way to tell which pairs had done the extra paperwork to waive the three-day waiting period and had just been married, and which had only received their licenses, so we hailed them all the same.

I stuck around for half an hour, soaking up the optimism. All the way home, my ears informed me every time two more partners came out the door of City Hall. I am flat out stuffed with pride for my state and my city. The American dream just opened its arms a little wider tonight.

Private Life

What Are You Doing? 18: This is Dedicated to the One I Love

vivid -- 08:32 pm Pacific Time -- May 17, 2004 -- #6371 of 6475

Strolling home from the gym on a gentle evening with all the summery smells of lawns mowed, roses, peat moss, and turned soil. Tiptoeing through a chalk galaxy from a planet with three blue moons and vibrant multicolored stars. Observing a tabby-point siamese sitting well-tucked on a gate watching a suitor or a rival under a nearby shrub. Cutting through the park and leaning full into one of the late lilacs just to inhale for a bit. Realizing I am not as alone as I thought and that the couple walking on the path is looking at me oddly. Wishing I could do a loon call. Wanting early summer to go on for another few months and to be able to call in silly, or lazy, or just defer work for a bit longer while the sun's still out.

White House

Gulf War II -- #4 -- Dedicated to Our Troops

Dr. Zachary Smith -- 07:23 am Pacific Time -- May 15, 2004 -- #3418 of 3958

I'm not posting from a position of moral relativism. One of the things that I find so awful and ironic and morbidly funny all at the same time is that the very folks who were telling us that morality is absolute are now telling us that it's okay to be evil because our evil is considerably less than their evil. I don't find both sides to be good in this conflict; I find both sides to be evil.

There are at least two Americas. There's my America and your America -- I'm making an assumption here, I admit it -- which is the America of the Deist founders, the America of Lincoln's second inaugural, the America of Thoreau and Whitman, of FDR and MLK Jr., of the part of the Pledge that I'm proud to say: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Some posters on TT have derisively asked me what I'm for, and I find it easy to say: truth, justice, and the American way.

Then there's the other America (oh, I know I'm oversimplifying). It's the America of the United Fruit Company, the America of slavery and Indian genocide, the America of Custer and Curtis LeMay, the America of the Bush family and Father Coughlin and Rush Limbaugh, of Cheney and Halliburton.

Which America was attacked on 9/11? Which America was the target of bin Laden? Which America invaded Iraq, put hoods over men's heads, tortured and raped and murdered in the freshly painted torture rooms that once belonged to Saddam?

The problem, of course, is that we cannot separate ourselves so easily, one America from the other, in reality as we can in rhetoric. Indeed, in many Americans both Americas exist at once: Jefferson owned slaves and used them sexually; Lincoln was willing to suspend habeas corpus; FDR may have manipulated events in regard to Pearl Harbor. And in the mind of the world's citizens, the confusion must be tremendous.

We are now engaged in a great civil war, though not one shot has been fired by either side, to see whether this nation, or any nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men -- not just Americans -- are created equal and are endowed with dignity and are worthy of justice, can survive its darker self.

I believe that this is the last time in my generation in which a choice can be made for the soul of America. As apocalyptic as it sounds, I believe that events in the next few years will set this country on a course: either to fulfill what I believe to be its destiny, to stand for and fight for truth, justice, and the American way, or to become the New Rome, the empire that will justify its wars, torture, oppression, and murder in the name of safety, security, and standard of living. Daily I consider the possibility that it may already be too late, for us and the world. If I believed in a Divine who could hear us and answer our prayers, I would be on my knees imploring it every day that the choice was still before us, not behind us.

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