That Your Final Answer?
had failed me, so I briefly took heart from a drunk, because
he seemed to be offering and I was in need. Now, though, days
later, I find I’m uneasily turning his rhetorical question
over in my mind.
all worth it, isn’t it?” he asked.
My daughter and I were taking an evening stroll around the
neighborhood, which is something we do often enough just for
fresh air and fun; but while it was for her another opportunity
to delightedly point out all the puppies on the block and
comment appreciatively on how startling Harley Davidsons can
be (thusly, “Mocha-syko yowd, Daddy!”), it was for
me an attempted balm. It was, I hoped, a restorative walk.
I had made myself sick with stress and impotent disgust by
obsessively point-and-clicking through the endless accounts
of the abuse inflicted by American soldiers and their allies
on detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison and other locations.
I read story after story, and related story after related
story, and tangentially connected story after tangentially
connected story; I read the op-ed pieces and the DOD press
releases; everything, every scrap, I could find online. I
looked at all the accompanying pictures—the real and the staged,
the verified and the disavowed. And, of course, it left me
And, what’s more, guilty. Guilty, not in any specific political
way—I was not, as it happened, a supporter of the decision
to invade Iraq (not that anyone asked). Rather, I felt guilty
in a kind of genetic way. I felt an inclusive, species-wide
loathing. I saw the leers on the faces of Pvt. England and
Cpl. Graner, and I hated us. Not us Americans: Current atrocities
notwithstanding, we’ve not yet cornered the market on man’s
inhumanity to man, an equal-opportunity enterprise if ever
there was one. (Just add power, makes its own human-rights
violations!) But us.
I mean, did you catch the scandal at the Boston Globe?
A Boston councilman called a press conference to decry the
actions of the American military, whom he said were raping
Iraqi women; further, the outraged politician claimed he had
photographic evidence to back up the accusation, which he
displayed. The images, which were violently pornographic,
were clearly visible in the Globe’s own photograph
of the meeting. This curious decision on the part of the paper
to run that shot freaked everybody out—including the writer
of the article, who had been careful to mention that the authenticity
of the photos could not be ascertained and was, frankly, dubious.
Sure enough, turns out the images were supplied to the councilman
by representatives of the Nation of Islam and were originally
obtained at a Web site called, get this, Iraqibabes.com, which
depicted nonconsensual sex acts between ostensible servicemen
and female Iraqi civilians.
Tell me, how do you collate your revulsion? There are so many
levels of brutally ignorant selfishness, of shortsightedness,
of exploitation, of raw fucking evil in this true-life tale
that my stomach is cramping again at the recounting. How do
you harness your outrage enough to begin thinking about, much
less responding to, such news? It recalls to me a colorful
caption from an old John Callahan cartoon, “This program contains
material offensive enough to knock a buzzard off a shit wagon”,
but here, I think, sarcasm and satire sputter ineffectually.
And, truth be told, these days, without them, I haven’t got
So, I shut the computer down and turned the CD player on.
Believe it or not, my first attempt at consolation or comfort
was to take out the all-instrumental discs that’ve been in
the carousel for weeks and replace them with singers. I wanted
an intimate reminder that we are capable of beauty. I wanted
the immediacy and the reassurance of the human voice employed
in the service of celebration and affirmation—as, I think,
all art is implicitly, however dark its subject matter. If
you have, as I have, ever been cheered up by Nick Cave, you
know what I mean.
But it didn’t work.
So, when my daughter woke from her regular post-daycare nap,
I strapped her in her stroller and we headed out into the
evening for some head clearing, though I was not optimistic.
This was not just one of my cyclical fits of prissy indignation,
nor another—increasingly common—indulgence of my prop-room
cynicism: It was nihilistic and misanthropic and despairing
and sincere. I wished us gone. Like the dinosaurs.
I will not wax parental here; suffice it to say my kid does
cheer me up with almost unfailing consistency. Her pleasure
in the world around her makes the world pleasurable. So, when
the florid and boozy gent in the skewed trucker cap smiled
at her and, without looking at me, said, “It’s all worth it,
isn’t it?” I was inclined to agree, and I felt renewed. It
is, it is worth it, I thought: It’s worth it for me, because
it’s a beautiful night for a walk with my daughter. And for
me, the world of sweat and fear and humiliation and debasement,
of enforced sleep deprivation and depleted uranium and Sarin
gas and things on which no buzzard would comfortably settle
is a world of TV and Web sites and newspapers, which can be
shut off, shut down or dropped unread (save the crossword
and Savage Love) at the curb. I’m free to drown out the reports
of murder with Murder Ballads, and if that fails, to
stroll the streets thrilling with pride as my daughter politely
greets my neighbors’ pets by name. I’m free to ignore the
uglier technologies, and to revel in the only one my daughter
truly loves, which is the simple one granting stickers (“stick-ews”)
Selfishly—goddamn me—I say, it is worth it, and hope I can
be forgiven for the thought.