What I value about America is B.B. King singing, “One day, baby...”
What I value about America is how, at Stonewall, blacks and whites, gays and lesbians and the transgendered fought back against police who intended to beat them.
What I value about America is that I’ll never be in a situation like that, but I’ll have to fight back in some other situation and who knows whether I’ll do as well.
What I value about America is when, on July 4th, the police arrest a drunken white man for shooting off fireworks on the sidewalk, he shouts, “I love my country I love my country,” as they handcuff him and pin him to the pavement.
What I value about America is the forgotten dead.
What I value about America is nunchucks.
What I value about America is that moment when it seems funny and that moment when it doesn’t.
What I value about America is laughing uncontrollably the moment I write, “it doesn’t seem funny.”
What I value about America is flirtation.
What I value about America is anything, anything, to keep me distracted so I don’t have to feel myself dying.
What I value about America is a new theory.
What I value about America is a smart young woman who spends a few years in the Philippines studying with revolutionaries after graduating from college and becomes more aware of the problems caused by globalism and poverty and devotes a number of years of her life to working for organizations which try to change U.S. political structures.
What I value about America is cynicism.
What I value about America is cross-platform computer programs.
What I value about America is the way I can feel “I’m making it through life” as if life is the work week and death is the weekend.
What I value about America is the cult of youth and disdain for the old and their wisdom, assuming that any of us at any age has any wisdom.
What I value about America is how the success of fast food has contributed to high obesity and depression.
What I value about America is Alaska.
What I value about America is desolated parts of its cities or hidden parts of its countryside where poor people, white or black or of many different cultures or backgrounds, live in decrepit apartments or on the street or in their cars or in a tin shack, hungry or out of work or both or carrying some small blunt weapon, and how the lives they live are still unknown in most of America.
What I value about America is runaway teenagers.
What I value at America is being told, at an afternoon barbecue, that “there are more wealthy people in China then there are middle class people in the U.S.”
What I value about America is getting the good stuff.
What I value about America is how many people, even in casual conversation, feel free to establish a point by quoting a study that nobody else has heard of and that may or may not exist.
What I value about America is how health insurance companies do everything they can to charge you the maximum and pay you as little as possible and kick you out if you actually get ill and not allow you on if you ever have been ill at any time in any way that anybody officially noticed.
What I value about America is that even though health insurance is a rip-off, it’s much worse not to have it.
What I value about America is the cheese sandwich, the tuna fish sandwich and the turkey sandwich.
What I value about America is companies who spy on employee e-mail.
What I value about America is the power of textbooks.
What I value about America is so many types of charts.
What I value about America is blurry boundaries.
What I value about America is one toke over the line.
What I value about America is the home credit crisis, with Bank of America and other corporations being sued by the San Diego city government for fraudulent loan practices, with people who have lost their money and their houses and who, in abandoning their houses, break windows and crack swimming pools and strip walls and pour concrete down toilets, and I value the mosquito problem that has developed in those neighborhoods because of the standing water problem created by the ruined plumbing, as if the aftermath of the collision between the naive and overwhelming desire for the American Dream Home and abusive corporate practices is an infestation of insects.
What I value about America is termite fumigation.
What I value about America is cliches about America that make Americans feel comfortable while at the same time saying nothing specific, and I value the way Americans often want to value America without valuing anything about America too specifically.
What I value about America is road trips. And given the cost of gas, road trips are more valuable than ever.
What I value about America is that “looking for a job has become a full-time job.”
What I value about America is office gossip.
What I value about America is the proliferation of credentials.
What I value about America is that “A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.”
What I value about America is how often I’d rather be distracted than actually do the work I most want to do.
What I value about America is local brew pubs.
What I value about America is golf courses.
What I value about America is who’s lurking out in it, waiting for a chance.
What I value about America is shell games.
What I value about America is the skyrocketing price of gas and the way I can’t get out of my head the idea that even under these conditions, gas prices will go down in the few weeks before an election so that the American population will feel more optimistic, since when they feel more optimistic they’re more likely to vote Republican and oil corporations know that.
What I value about America is conspiracies and conspiracy theories, especially ones that suggest that the U.S. government is involved in bombing or poisoning the American people.
What I value about America is wondering about what sorts of Americans are more fascinated by John F. Kennedy or Lee Harvey Oswald.
What I value about America is that, at the Republican National Convention, every camera angle taken on the crowd seems to show precisely one African American.
What I value about America is lawn mowers you can drive.
What I value about America is how America wears me out just thinking about it.
What I value about America is that I could never run out of things to value about America.
What I value about America is institutional funding.
What I value about America is grammar manuals.
What I value about America is that even weather reports are designed to manipulate emotion.
What I value about America is dead baby jokes.
What I value about America is 11 a.m. check out.
What I value about America is corporate sponsorship.
What I value about America is Iggy Pop singing, in the 1970 song “No Fun,” “Maybe go out/ maybe stay home/ maybe call Mom/ on the telephone,” and that in America, boredom can be a function of privilege or a function of poverty but either way it empties the mind and soul a little at a time so that many people eventually come to the conclusion that it’s ridiculous to care too much about anything because nothing you care about matters to anybody.
What I value about America is isolation.
What I value about America is that whatever you think about America, someone in America or not in America might be dying, right now, because of what’s going on in America or what somebody thinks about America.
And I value, in America, the American poets who like to point out to other American poets that people in America or not in America are dying because of America, even though pointing that out doesn’t stop anyone from dying.
What I value about America is the struggle to wake up, to go to work, to try to help people or take people’s money or protect people or protect yourself from people.
What I value about America is not an abstraction but a question I face every one of these too little too big days, and that can be answered only by who and what I try to care about and who and what I don’t care about.
What I value about America is trying to figure out what matters and live a little with that every now and then, doing something about it or not doing something among all the other things I don’t want to do but have to.
What I value about America is that it’s easy, at any given moment, to forget about America, but that sooner or later I remember it again whether I want to or not.
What I value about America is the end of America and all the people who have imagined different ends for it, good or bad, and all the people who never want it to end, and I value the way that sooner or later, all of us say goodbye to America and to all the people who think about the end of America or who have never thought about it.
And I value about America that what matters most personally to me in the world, the people I’ve known and the animals I’ve known and all the others I haven’t known but who matter most anyway, and that it would be possible to have them all matter even if there was no America although I will never, even if it ends, be able to think about any of them without having the image of America stand in the way, whether the image is the Statue of Liberty’s raised hand or the Wounded Knee killing grounds or rows of corporate buildings standing greyly under Atlanta clouds or protestors along Pennsylvania Avenue with signs suggesting that America could still be as wonderful as it might have been but never has, and I value the disappointment of that dream’s loss and the need to find it somewhere other than America or to insist that even at this too late moment, America might still live up to it or even if not, might not so actively prevent it every time and everywhere it comes across it.
What I value about America is the whole sick surge of the desire for Heaven on Earth or the City on the Hill, and all the lies that have been told and the people killed in the name of that desire, and that wanting Heaven on Earth makes it unclear whether you want justice or to kill or just to be dead.
What I value about America is that, here in Carlsbad, only a few hundred yards from my home, I stand on the crumbling small cliffs above the ocean and watch the vanishing mythic sun as it leaves America, dropping below the edge of the ocean while nearby other people stand, some who come every day to watch the sun leave America, and I know how this moment is the most clichéd moment there is about California and the end of America, one that all sorts of people have mentioned, and I know that I’m never more than one of those people, and I know what else I think about although sometimes I don’t understand it but I never know what the others are thinking, the ones standing there, although of course I could guess and in some instants not be far wrong, their children or their car or the love they’ve always wanted but never had and are never going to, and we stand there awhile, watching the sun go and looking at each other while trying not to be seen doing it and wondering who else is here and what they might be thinking and whether all of us here are finally alone with our thoughts and with what’s left of the sun before it goes, just for today because it comes back tomorrow, probably anyway but who knows. And I value, in America, that once the sun is gone, people get in their cars and drive away or, like me, walk away because they live so close, all of us going back to lives that have nothing to do with each other but are unthinkable without each other, and a few yards back from the cliff I cross the Coast Highway at a crosswalk where the cars are supposed to stop for pedestrians although a few don’t until one makes the decision to slow and others do too, and once on the other side of the highway, walking on Acacia Street past the older, little beach houses and the newer beach mansions, almost always closed and empty, owned as real estate ventures by people who never live in them and don’t even rent them much, their huge windows showing me my own reflection and the Coast Highway behind me, I feel lost like the last man on earth and it’s pleasant and unbearable and suspicious, and feeling it and not knowing what to do except to write it I climb the stairs to my own darkened balcony, looking out at the low blue light above the leaf and twig choked pool that no one cleans or uses, and there’s enough twilight left in the shadows to allow me to find the lock on the door of the rented apartment where I live, who knows for how much longer.