I'd arrived in Rouses Point feeling rejuvenated! The stomach bug…so familiar by then I’d named it Ticonderoga’s Revenge…had passed and I was ready to attack my old friend Route 2 and make my way to Maine.
Things began perfectly and generated optimism. It took just 10-minutes to hitch a ride across the bridge spanning part of Lake Champlain back into Vermont and Alburg, a little town on an islet surrounded on three sides by the lake and attached by land only to Canada.
Then it stalled. I was reunited with Vermont but the positive vibe encountered in the southern part of the state were replaced by something different. Something standoffish. Suspicious. Familiar. Something Wyoming-esque!
A Credit To His Profession
I was up with the sun on July 4th and a few hours later my first ride of Independence Day also proved to be an overall first: a police officer in full uniform on his way to work! I chuckled as I walked up to the window and accepted a ride to Swanton figuring I could pick up I-89 abandoning the surprisingly little-traveled Route 2 in favor of making up miles lost in Whitehall over the weekend to Ticonderoga’s Revenge.
You remember what I said about plans (ha!), right?
As he told me stories about other hitchhikers he’d encountered, the general theme from this friendly Vermont cop was one of refreshingly condescending bemusement. Not directed at the drifters; he seemed to, if not appreciate, at least understand or sympathize with them. No, it was at the locals! The ones repeatedly calling to “report” travelers passing thru, not because they were doing anything illegal, but because the simple sight of them made these “concerned citizens” uncomfortable! I asked if, being a cop, he thought people watched too many cop shows and therefore thought they were all competent "detectives" as a result. He laughed. Then agreed.
The chat with Josh poured fertilizer on seeds that had already been sprouting along the way as cars passed and I found myself categorizing the stares drivers unconsciously gave while passing by. I’ll hit that hard in a bit.
The Ministry Ministering
I sat in Swanton for maybe an hour before a middle aged guy, Bob, and his 17-year old son, Jake, offered a ride toward Colcester, 15-minutes south and at the northern edge of Burlington.
Bob was a stocky, blue collar guy; also opinionated and overbearing. Bob happily handled all conversational duties as I obligingly nestled into observation mode in the back seat. His son sat in the passenger’s seat not saying much beyond a declined offer to share the joint he was nursing. Fret not, concerned reader. Dad was there to offer guidance-by-example. He immediately requested a beer from the cooler next to me.
The conversational track didn’t take long to materialize as Bob began lecturing his son, via the monologue presumably directed at me, about why Jake “needed” to work hard during these, the “good years”, to collect all his “stuff” (wealth, big house, all the toys) so he wouldn’t have to worry about such important things when he was 45.
Bob’s oblique brow beating reminded me of a rancher breaking a horse. He was using me as a proxy to help kill the kid’s spirit. I sat in the backseat biting my tongue and silently, but vigorously, shaking my metaphorical head in disagreement. This well-intentioned man was the overworn cliché: projecting his life onto his son's. I never learned what the kid wanted out of his young life but, considering he was numbing himself with a joint, it wouldn’t surprise me if it had nothing to do with collecting all the “stuff” his old man failed to gather during his "good years" on The Plantation. Or, maybe he just liked pot.
If you’ve read my recent stuff, you’ll understand why, by the time he dropped me off, my mind was primed for what became a remarkable, signal-tuning day.
The Today Show
Sitting inside a trucker’s lounge shortly before this quick trip ended unexpectedly two days later, I made the colossal mistake of trying to watch NBC’s Today Show.
After being almost entirely disconnected from TV for three months, I’m re-sensitized. Television (like “politics” and ideological religion) once again hits my palate fully and accurately. The taste: putrid. Top to bottom, your media…all of it…from children’s programming to MSNBC and FOX News is little more than a deluge of advertising embedded in and masquerading as “entertainment”. Even by those standards, The Today Show, and its cast of convulsively giggling marionettes—so inauthentically euphoric they seem to have overdosed on Huxley's soma—sets itself apart.
From the detached under-stimulated perspective of a hitchhiker in a random trucker’s lounge, The Today Show seemed to serve two supposedly undetectable purposes. First and foremost: capitalist/consumerism reinforcement. Reminding the herd that the Mammon Driven Life is indeed the path to existential purpose! “Stuff is your salvation!” All the gadgets (paid product placement) were the BEST THINGS EVER! All the food being “taste tested” (paid product placement) was “DELICIOUS! YOU ABSOLUTELY *snort* MUST BUY THIS! IT’S *snort* AMAAAAAZING™!”. The latest pop-culture and “entertainment” promotions? Designed to establish subconscious standards and notions of “success”; the bar of social acceptability while generating silent comparison. And of course, they were all “must see”!
But don't be fooled by the radio
The TV or the magazines
They show you photographs of how your life should be
But they're just someone else's fantasy
So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because your neighbor’s got it made
Just remember that it's a Grand Illusion
And deep inside we're all the same.
Then there were the “news” snippets reminding cattle gorging at their electronic trough how “dangerous” the world is.
“You need to remain “safe” inside your hermetically sealed cage with all the “stuff” you’ve been convinced equates to life. It’s your identity! That shiny shit is who you are and needs constant protection!”
“Get Comcast Home Security! Look how “safe” it makes this paid five year old actress appear to feel!”
The coup de grace: Matt Lauer hocking Smucker's fucking jelly by exploiting people on their 100th birthday. NBC put their faces in the middle of a computer generated Smucker’s label! Using old people to hock Smucker’s. Really, fuckers? No dignity? No fundamental shame? At all? And no one suspects the motive of their media?
I won’t bother with the delirious zombies who'd staggered into New York from around the country just to spend all morning herded in a people-pen outside NBC’s studios in hopes of validating their "lives" by saying, “Mooo! I’m on the teeeeeveeeee!”
Wait...did I just bother?
All of this was deafeningly clear and, once again, I was berating a television set!
“How the fuck can anyone watch this horseshit?? How has this been on the air for 60-fucking years!”
Once disgust overcame curiosity…I was afraid someone would hear it and kick me out…I found something else to occupy the space while I charged batteries. The winner: Green Acres.
Both new and decades-old media desensitization is real. It's getting worse. I’ve felt the sensory assault whenever I’ve returned from Latin America. As soon as I step off the plane, it’s as though I’m bombarded at the airport and what I was conditioned to before leaving The Plantation astounds me. Social media and the Internet in general have the same vile effects and it's and far from benign.
Thankfully, it’s treatable. You can reclaim your senses with some mindful focus. I highly recommend fully disconnecting from as much media as possible, especially television and the Internet, for an extended period of time...yes, even NPR, Moonbeam...then reconnecting, briefly, to see how exposure to electronic media had conditioned you. If I were less concerned with overall brevity, I’d include the addiction to the Outrage Industrial Complex via boutique news and its accompanying Ideological Riptides as another example.
The now-cliché frog in the pot analogy is tempting. But, even the frog is mercifully released, if only by boiling death. You’re not as lucky. The marketing & branding drill just lobotomizes your soul a little more each day.
Let’s try tying this all together. You remember Josh, Bob, and Jake, yes?
The Ministry Revisited
The Today Show dovetailed with Bob to become perfect contemporary flesh & blood/electronic examples of my decade-old idea: The Ministry of Standards & Practices. The collection of messages from, not only institutional media outlets, but also the people closest to us who try to guide, force, even shame us, into accepting their definitions of “life” and “success”. Picture Jake in the passenger’s seat. It’s not hard to understand why it’s often (but not always) so subversive—coming from a well-intentioned place—and usually incredibly effective. If you’re unaware that the abstract definitions of happiness, success, and even life are fluid and subject to your unique personal interpretation as the master of your own existence, the default setting can become "there’s something wrong with me for not wanting to live life as a cog in a cultural and economic machine."
But, it’s not you who’s “crazy”. Possessing a sense of Matrix Awareness yet trying to live your one life according to someone else’s standards? That’s fucking nuts. Stop that. By any means possible.
Reprising my role of wandering out on the fringes observing, I once again began seeing people going about the business of “life” on Mammon’s Capitalist Plantation. I put life in quotations for a reason: it again struck me as a silly and confused interpretation of what life is. These folks struck me as fooled, perhaps hypnotized, into the belief that “life” means “work” and that Mammon masquerading as stuff is the real deity. To borrow from Tyler Durden, trying to impress people we don’t like with shit we don’t need.
America spells competition.
Join us in our blind ambition.
Get yourself a brand new motor car!
Oh well. Maybe they hit the “Independence Day Sale!!” at Mattress Mart and “saved” some money on a bed they didn’t need in the first place. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The Terror of Encountering a Free Individual
As mentioned earlier, I reminded myself of another movie scene that looped in my mind as I sat sitting, walking, and observing on July 3rd and 4th; one triggered by the looks greeting me thru windshields as people sped by: disdain, amusement, confusion, bewilderment, but most of all: fear.
Again, I’m paraphrasing simply because I don’t feel like looking it up: Jack Nicholson’s character in Easy Rider, George Hanson, said, “they’ll talk to you and talk to you about personal freedom.” But when they see a free individual they get scared. But it’s not you they’re afraid of. They’re afraid of what you represent: freedom.
Seeing the fear, even hearing doors lock as people drove by (ha!) over the years, I’ve put much thought into “why”. I believe there are a few reasons (including the terrorizing media again) as to why fear and disdain are such common reactions, but George’s philosophy rings true on several levels. I believe much of that fear, and frequent bold-faced disdain, stems from that deep down the hypnosis and indoctrination; spirit breaking; hasn’t completely snuffed out their basic humanity. The sight of a free individual makes their splinter itch. Suddenly, yet subconsciously, they remember for a brief moment that they are plantation slaves; beasts of economic burden. That their lives aren’t their own and they've shackled themselves thru psychological bondage. The primary of which: the inseminated tyrannical goo of imposed communal “obligation” and “responsibility”.
As mentioned in another post, some bought (steered/bullied) into the American Dream too early. They started families as kids themselves without asking: “Is this really going to be “my” life? Or, have I been conscripted into living someone else’s?” I’ll say it again: once you have kids, your life is no longer yours. It’s been mortgaged whether you were prepared or not.
But for the rest, then comes what’s often the more difficult yet inevitable follow up: “Would I rather be hand-fed or free?” Whether it’s in-person or inside The Matrix, when he who falsely sees themselves as free encounters someone who actually is it triggers something. A raw reminder of the shackles they’ve tried to forget.
Otherwise, why would Mr. Personal Freedom have any reaction whatsoever? Why would they care how someone else exercises their own “liberty”? No, there’s much more to it than that. The Mirror. It doesn’t always reflect Teddy Bears and Happy Meals.
“Deep inside we’re all the same…”
Translation: People are self-delusional and downright goofy. And, not unlike children, rather simple when it comes down to it.
Sorry if that stings, Snowflake. Rub your boo boo and check back next time because obviously fear and disdain aren’t all I see on Mammon's Plantation. Not by a long shot. For The Splintered Tribe-- those who haven’t just rolled over waiting to die? Those whose spirit still kicks and whose humanity hasn’t quite expired? For he who would rather be free than spoonfed by Master Mammon? The sight of freedom can be inspiring...