As a consideration, let’s consider what people considered prior to the American Revolution.
“Where are we exactly?” they may have wondered, crouching in an undisclosed Vermont General’s tax shelter as the autumn wind whispered soft annuities in Narragansett.
Or: “Will this call to arms be the same arms that our descendants use to polish English leather or pistol-whip the Lords who refer to them as butlers?”
They may have thought these things somewhere in the Old York region of their pre-Independent minds. Around Saratoga, early-October, late-September.
Pondering whatever else they pondered way back when the preponderance of evidence resided in thatched ancestral cottages as the great, great grandfathers of muckrakers cleaned their fingernails by candlelight.
Perhaps if we allow ourselves to envision an era when our spirits were deposited in earlier incarnations it would somehow endow Old World stenographers with an ability to sketch honesty into the eyes of their New World descendants.
Picture this: heaps of wild sawhorses cluttering the meadow behind the Pennsylvania Gazette shop.
A Gazette headline: DARK SECRETS OF ELECTRIC LIGHTS REVEALED.
Or this: black Atlantic privateers smuggling gun powder kegs to Boston Harbor.
And: Beat cops exchanging plantation jokes at a waterfront protest as a little ship approaches in the distance.
On a given Monday afternoon, we might spot Benjamin Franklin shouting axioms as he pushes the infant governor of New Jersey through the streets of Philadelphia in an old, oak wheelbarrow.
Or we may overhear John Hancock and Samuel Adams trading ale recipes at the entrance-way of a South Boston gentlemen’s club.
There’s a possibility we may also witness hatchets floating in the periphery of a haunted Roanoke dream-sequence or we may spy General Washington harvesting his Mount Vernon cash crop with faithful wife Martha and diligent slave Leroy.
Granted, these aren’t situations we tend to encounter on a living room Flatscreen, but fragments we’re likely to discover amidst the pencil shavings on the biographical floor of Stephen Ambrose’s editing suite.
Lost scenes: period pieces—cut by tomahawks and scotched by historical drizzle—falling onto the Savage Census Bureaus in our absent long ago’s.
Something has gone missing…
And now an Apache helicopter searches for whatever that something may be, as dark clouds stampede like haunted elephants.
* * *
Before we developed an ideal brainwashing solvent strong enough to make us forget yesterday morning, our minds were dirtier; polluted by fields of wage-less labor: shadows of primitive ghosts (later—immortal sports mascots) slow-danced on Windex ponds beneath banana moonlight to Shawnee Blues ballads.
Of course, these scenes aren’t indexed in used textbooks either. They will, however, serve as footnotes to the comments appended to the margins in broken Cyrillic.
And when the Final Exam comes (What final exam? Oh we’ll know it when it arrives!), we must be prepared to compose feverish micro-essays on Northwood deforestation, amidst the chainsaw buzz of animatronic cicadas while antebellum jazz cavalries roll across these impressive instances…
We Henry-Ford to fill the space.
* * *
Now let’s picture our nation in a non-linear flashback.
Envision it as a jigsaw something or other—involving clogged arterial highways built to scale (but bigger than actual-size), bloated, and the subsequent parings of the nonrepresentational vs. the representational icons alongside the abstract legions of regional religious nuts merging onto the same horse-drawn highways as the overt sects of quasi-zealots.
Back then, dissimilar ministries met in a forest clearing once a month to speculate on the calculus of heaven. Eventually, they called for Wooden Division, which resulted in the sort of frenzied separatism that prompted colonial teens to snarl pickup lines at grandmotherly Quakers and compelled colonial atheists to intentionally mispronounce words like “ethical dilemma”— out of spite to the world they loved but failed to comprehend.
And no one knew what to make of Rip Van Kilmer, the first narcoleptic Protestant living in Dolly Madison’s Snack Food District, a bearded fellow napping between rows of evacuated tepees in the dandelion meadow behind the denominational courthouse, ever since the century before turnstiles…
(250 years later, he'll wake up in a Halloween costume and roam the hills in a coyote suit for half an hour… Eventually, the God of 4-Legged/3-Dimensional Objects will confuse him for one of his own and mistakenly invite him to feast on rotting vending machine contents. This story will be relayed by a tribal lobbyist in the backroom office at the Mohawk Bingo Parlor.)
* * *
Now consider us for a moment: (U.S.) land connected by hard, black dividing lines on highway maps, tracing only the differences between the states as we now know them—
in accordance with the gas station road atlases which prove them to be unaligned.
Now consider Us as a concept… and keep on considering it until the U melts into the S and there are no more miles between Us…No distance to get in the way… Let Boston then reconcile with New York in 1792, and centuries later, let that offering rouse Dallas Cowboy fans to embrace Washington Redskin boosters, as we daydream in evergreen recovery rooms, together. 4, Eve, R.
* * *
Remember a time when the Declaration of Independence was nothing more than a wadded up draft that Thomas Jefferson kicked around during giddy nights of reflection in the afterglow parlor at Monticello, typically after an amorous hayride with Sally Hemmings’ abolitionist hair dresser—the two necking beneath the goldenrod flush of an Old Dominion sunset’s dying embers?
One evening in 1776, in the guest bedroom at Monticello, Jefferson’s personal psychic predicted the 1800 election results to his delight. Then she turned around and shocked him with a TV Guide entry from 1976: “Your last name will be co-opted by a sitcom about a black dry-cleaning mogul and his family that move up to the East Side and live next door to honkies…”
“What’s a honky?” asked Jefferson.
* * *
3 days later, Paul Revere’s Historical night-ride over crumbling clay ponds and blasted natural bridges occurs —his tired horse straining to navigate a darkly primitive, sans-electric-nightlight-version-of-an-a.m.-New England-forest—and then onto Lexington and onto Concord and eventually onto the short list of famous world-historical horseback riders whose autobiographies and surnames scratched in the cluttered paddocks of our imaginations.
And soon the war will begin.
The war that will determine (once and for all) where the American steering column is placed and whether we’ll prefer coffee or tea on our morning commutes.
The first man to shoot a Red Coat will be an actor from Hackensack named Asterisk. The Gazette headline will put stars next to his name and generations will surely remember *Asterisk*.
Except historians will forget to write this scene into the narrative and poor *Asterisk* will be lost to time like Paleozoic folk music or the story about the thirteenth time George Washington chopped down a cherry tree.
* * *
Remember the morning George Washington cried his eyes out as an old country doctor delivered the news of his sterility?
That afternoon, he and Martha will send a telegram to Jefferson’s personal psychic, inquiring as to whether or not Washington would father children.
She’ll write back, “Good news, George! In the future I see you being the proud father of a Nation.”
Later, General Washington dropped the axe in the Mount Vernon vineyard and stumbled inside to eat a continental breakfast (compliments to the wife) before he lit-out with his homeboy Leroy and raised a Continental “army” of under-funded, backwoods militia-types—and later, he led said militia-types onto an autumn-soaked battlefield in Saratoga. It was then he realized: people with wigs never have to pay to get a haircut.
Also: if everything panned-out they would someday be calling he and his men revolutionaries!
* * *
Now it was either late-September or early-October. Martha sent the children (her children, from a previous marriage) in search of grandchildren, either that or a set of matching epitaphs.
“Find a cure for sterility while you’re at it,” she added.
One epitaph read: Hubcaps hadn’t even been dreamed up until just now. (I stole the idea.)
Meanwhile, the General adjusted his disheveled wig and prepared for battle by staring at what he perceived to be himself, adjusting his disheveled wig and preparing for battle, in a reflection gleaming off the serrated edges of a Redcoat’s bayonet.
Just then, someone yelled “Charge” and of course some smart ass, probably Leroy, fired back with “Cash”.
Another epitaph read: Credit cards haven’t even been invented yet. How can I justify dying in war without being in debt?
And later, the tired troops wrestled in piles of damp leaves with their muskets drawn in shaky contours, because it all comes down to destiny, well that and liberation, and also liberation from destiny and all that other stuff too.
Things get complicated quick, things can break. And the pieces never fit back together again, like an avant-garde narrative edited by tomahawks and scotched by historical drizzle.
* * *
“Gentlemen,” Washington said, tossing a snowball at his lieutenant during that cold war winter in Valley Forge, “listen up. When we win this damn thing, I promise to get everyone’s paycheck situation in order. You’ll get pensions, promise.”
Later still, as the gaslight glare of unfair taxes and pre-orthodontic smiles faded into red Octobers, a Super-8 film about gymnastic corpses could be seen projecting down the pocked skin of Smallpox Hill, down near the future home of the James Madison Diner, where the leaves fall and fell in the vacuum between paradigm shifts and…
Into the partially-named clouds drifting like smoke signals from a fog machine…
And by then, the War had ended and the soldiers had gone home pensionless.
By then, Washington had had his photograph sketched for the dollar bill. He’d had his palm read by TJ’s personal psychic and learned that there’d be dozens of cities named after him, and that one city named after him would someday have an NFL team named after Indians.
That night, while racing his Mustang home to Mount Vernon, Washington spied three Shawnee children sleeping in a barren riverbed… He stopped his horse, and shot them with his middle finger.
* * *
Picture: another forgotten pre-American interval, just prior to the War, when the settlers put hard work on a tree trunk and worshiped it around the clock, as their white indentured servants and black slaves were sent to serve buckshot diplomacy to Redskins in drawn-out skirmishes; fighting and more fighting on fields of unlucky clover—
beneath omniscient thunderclouds,
between syncopated cracks of thunder,
as a tomahawk cuts rain.
* * *
It was as if the soundtrack to the War had been commissioned by none other than the Lord’s tone-deaf stepson Lester! And could the Lord who married Lester’s bronzed mother, Tammy, in a colonial motel’s whirlpool—could that really be the same Lord that inspired a cruel invalid like John Adams to abandon his rambling legal-pad compositions and begin calling for the immediate prohibition of any and all palm readings never be witnessed by the black eyes of his elected brother in the evil mind of Massachusetts?
His brother was recently appointed deputy sheriff in a region known for manufacturing dyslexic handcuffs.
Divine Providence, manifesting destiny to cross its fingers.
So Ol’ Adams quit scribbling his Feudal Law dissertations in black magic marker hieroglyphs onto a deck of playing cards. He’d heard the Lord calling him away from the wood-paneled walls of his Braintree farmhouse study… once and for all.
Later, Jefferson’s psychic will share with him the election results of 1796: “Landslide Adams!”
And even before “Landslide Adams” got embarrassed by “Landslide Jefferson” in 1800. This happened, this all happened before the fact that it ever happened.
Adams will die on a rainy afternoon and his last words will be: Thomas Jefferson still survives.
But Jefferson had died earlier, three hours earlier, after he’d eaten a continental breakfast. His last words were fitting: “I hear the Jefferson Starship approaching.”
* * *
Now, as the thunderclouds roll in, an Apache’s face appears on the horizon…
As Washington winks from a billion dollar bills…
Paul Revere comets across the Franklin Mint sky on the back of a Thunderbird, wielding a lantern…
tomahawk cuts rain