Somebody said the war had started, but I’m not so sure.
Not long after the bombs began dropping in Afghanistan, I was sitting in the lobby of a bowling alley in Baltimore with some friends. I hadn’t been inside a bowling alley in years, although I used to bowl all the time as a kid. When they asked me if I wanted to join in, I shook my head. Sometimes it helps to know your limitations.
Anyway, this particular bowling alley was huge, the music was loud, and situated at the rear there was a well-stocked bar as long as my house. Multicolored glow-in-the-dark bowling balls were gliding endlessly down spit-polished lanes; the walls were phosphorescent blue. An electronic scoring screen above each lane flashed animated depictions of the pain that the ball had inflicted upon the pins, in case the bowler lacked the imagination to figure out what had happened. There was the perpetual sound of thunder as one ball after another was dropped hard onto the wood in this gleeful form of chaos and destruction created solely for our entertainment.
But this was only a small part of the complex. Under the same roof were a 15-screen movie theater complex, a pool hall, a sports bar, a video game arcade that looked to be as big as a good-sized gymnasium, plus several other areas I didn’t even get a chance to explore.
The United States had begun dropping bombs on Afghanistan, and the party was rockin’ without missing a beat.
President George Bush has encouraged Americans to please continue flying, shopping, and doing everything else possible to maintain a normal lifestyle. Consider the message received. These Americans were determined to obey the president’s request right down to the very letter, and my guess is plenty of folks around the country felt this way.
Folks are already getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. We’ve been told that this war and its accompanying high state of alert will probably be an ongoing state of affairs for at least the next several years — if not longer. We hear that information with our ears, but the real meaning — and accompanying burden and responsibility — of that information has yet to fully register. I suspect most of us are doing all we can to keep it from registering. Denial can sometimes come in handy.
Inside the bowling alley, at the far end of the lanes, hung four huge television screens. I guess these were to keep bowlers’ minds occupied during those interminably long stretches of time between turns. Much better to keep jolting the senses nonstop, otherwise a thought process could occur (and this would not be good).
So, in keeping with the festive spirit, each of these massive television screens was tuned to a different football game. Occasionally, the second screen from the left, which must have been tuned to CBS, broke away from the game to show a serious-looking Dan Rather moving his lips and saying something that must have been important since it interrupted a major football game. But since nobody could hear Rather, folks generally shrugged and went on bowling. Dropping balls and knocking down pins is much easier to handle than the concept of dropping bombs and blowing up people. For one thing, the pins won’t strike back. After a few more minutes, Dan Rather disappeared and the football game returned.
It’s all just a game.
Not long after I returned from my trip to Baltimore, a guy I hardly know felt the need to tell me his views on the war. His views echoed those of several other friends and acquaintances I’ve talked to since Sept. 11. What he said, with quite a bit of intensity, was that this wasn’t even his war so why should it matter to him? These folks had bombed the World Trade Center in New York, not Detroit, so why was this supposed to be his problem? Another guy told me, “Shit, I didn’t even know a bin Laden existed until all this. I thought it was some new kind of weapon or something.” Still another one said, “What I wanna know is, where’s the Ku Klux Klan?” implying semihumorously that the Klan always has something to say about dark-skinned people, but now that dark-skinned people have crashed jets into both towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, you don’t hear a peep from the Klan. He went on to tell me that when some of his co-workers asked him whether he wanted a flag to wear in his lapel, he told them in no uncertain terms that he wanted nothing to do with it. Not his war.
A friend of mine from work has asked me several times with a sly grin, “So you gonna fight for your country, man? You gonna wear that American flag?” As far as he’s concerned, the U.S. government is probably behind the whole thing. Probably got something to do with population control. Just so you’ll know, this isn’t some ranting, raving lunatic that you’ll find wearing a sign near the on-ramp of a major freeway. Far from it. I’ve heard more than one person express the basic opinion that the U.S. government isn’t to be trusted under any circumstances, and especially not under the current circumstances. As far as they’re concerned, all this rah-rah, we’re-all-Americans stuff is just a flag-waving ruse to geek us up to go and get ourselves killed. Once the war is over, it’ll be back to business as usual.
At the bowling alley, one guy told me that he hoped the war would finally help Americans to come together as Americans and forget all that other stuff that divides us. I told him I hoped he was right. But at least some people seem to feel that it will take more than a war to make us rally round the flag and love the country. Whether you agree with that or whether it makes you blow smoke out your ears, you should at least consider that maybe, just maybe, this war hasn’t yet changed all of us as deeply as we’re being told that it has — or that we hope it will. And so we continue to bowl.
Some folks have to actually see the smoke before they believe there’s a fire.Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org