Long Drive Home
by Kim Nicolini, October 5, 2016
I took this photo on my drive home from work last night. I was dog tired. So tired that even my teeth and toes ached. In the true spirit of corporate capitalism, whether at the level of the state or private business, I am presently working two jobs while being paid for one. I am doing it to care for my kid. I am doing it because if I make it five years and two months longer into this job, I will retire with a pension.
Lately it has crossed my mind that as much as I try to be more than I actually am (you know like an artist or writer or poet or whatever), that I really am just a woman who has spent her life working to the bone while trying to pretend I’m something else. I am what I am. So I have written some things and made some art. But at the end of the day, I have spent the majority of my waking hours on this planet working to make ends meet. Whether selling my body as a kid when I was thrown to the curb or slowly inching my way from a series of shit jobs to white collar work, I have done what I had to do to keep my head above water, sometimes barely.
When I die, I probably will never have visited a foreign country. There will be many things I will never have done or seen. I may very well die alone. It will be an unremarkable death. I will be gone, and my biggest achievement will be busting my ass to take care of my kid. I’m not unhappy with that because caring for my kid is something that never happened to me by my parents, so I’m glad to break the cycle. That is an accomplishment.
Looking at my life on these terms, I could come from any generation. I could be my dad, except I got sober sooner, and except we live in a new era now. The post-Reagan, post-NAFTA, global capitalism feeding frenzy where people like me, my dad, my whole family lineage and every hard working and struggling person on the planet has become expendable and obsolete. The system has become the Ouroboros circling on itself as it consumes the very blood that fed it. Working people. Let it eat its own head. It seems to enjoy it. But I’m done watching.
I am an ant crawling up the street in my car, and all around me, I feel the complete disregard of human lives across the globe. I feel those hideous looming heads that have dominated international media (the blustering red faced pig and the stone faced blonde smirker), and I feel their torrents of shit spilling over the mountains like an apocalyptic flood. I feel sick and invisible.
I look to the clouds for comfort from some other place. I have been reading the signs for a long time. I have felt and observed the systematic erasure of the under and working classes. Is there a god out there for fucksakes? I admit. In these dark times, I sometimes spend my nights asking if there is one and if so if he or she can please stroke my cheek and soften the edges of this hard world.
But I’ve been keeping silent. I’ve been biting my tongue. I’ve been swallowing my words. I got nothing to say except FUCK THIS SHIT.
Have I been watching the sickening and monstrous spectacle of this presidential election go down? Yes, I have. I find myself spiraling. I read the rants, the incredulous corruption, the imperious demonstrations of systemic disease, and I divorce myself from it. I want no part of it. I refuse to write about it.
Because I don’t want to join the fight. I don’t want to fight. Maybe I’m a pacifist, or maybe I’m chicken. Because I’m not as tough skinned as I seem. Because I was beaten down so young and so early that even when I speak with outrage and an internal fury so volatile it could knock down the fucking Pentagon, I turn my back and dodge the blows.
I think I did something wrong. I find myself on the defensive from being offensive. So I have shut down.
Like so many people, I live in a haze of disenchantment. I am grasping at threads to find magic in a world ready to implode. In a world of power structures that don’t really give a living fuck about the very vast majority of the human population, from me as working mom slugging away at a day job to care for my kid, to the innocent black people being murdered by police in our so-called democracy, to the thousands and thousands of murdered innocents in the Middle East or those left landless and wandering into countries where they are met with hate or landing in this country where they are met with hate. There is too much hate.
TEAR DOWN THE WALL BEFORE IT’S BUILT AND TEAR DOWN THE WALLS WE CAN’T SEE.
Oops. I slipped.
So I go silent because I know everyone is angry, and everyone wants to blame someone, and anything I write will fuel the flames. There will be hate. People will want to correct me, especially those from the educated liberal left who know so much more than me. Or those from the right who want to put me in my place because I am a ranting woman who doesn’t know shit and needs to shut up. I will become a target. And I know what it feels like to be a target.
I don’t want a part of any of it. Hear me now. I am not for any of this, and none of this is for me. I am stranded on the island of lost souls who are the salt and breath of this earth and who are being stomped to the ground one political move at a time, regardless of parties. Parties are just marketing strategies, and I’m not buying any of it.
I’ve come a long way in my life. I was born the daughter of a drug addled psychotic mother and a corrupt sexual sadist cop. At age two, my mom married her husband’s best friend, the man who became my dad. He was an ironworker and a drunk. He died three years ago this coming Sunday of a broken body and a poisoned liver.
My dad was a staunch union man. He bought goods made in the USA. He bought American cars. He shopped in union grocery stores. In his late years in life, he subscribed to mail order catalogs that only sold products made in the USA. He would never in his life consider voting anything but Democrat. But when the tide changed in the Clinton years, the new economy almost killed my dad. It broke his body with its mindlessness to labor. My dad quit his job early, took a smaller pension, and said fuck it. But he still stayed true to his union and his class, and in the last election of his life, he voted for Barak Obama.
I come from a long line of blue collar laborers, including teamsters and longshoremen. No one in my family ever voted Republican, and I was raised to believe that the Democratic Party was the party of the working class. It was hard wired into my very DNA and genealogy for my entire lifetime and lifetimes before mine. No matter how off the grid I was, how punk and rebellious I was, how much I spat my fury at the world, when it came time to vote, I was hard-trained to vote Democrat to beat the Republicans. Period.
Even with Bill Clinton’s passing of NAFTA which sold out my whole family and so many other working class people in this country, I still couldn’t unwire myself from my blue collar gene pool. Even as I worked with inner city kids during the Clinton administration’s implementation of the Welfare Reform Act, and I witnessed firsthand the impossible demands it put on the impoverished in this country, I still held a thread of belief from what was bred into my blood — that there was a political party that cared about the working and lower classes. Wrong.
That was self-delusion and genetic and cultural conditioning. I met an eighty year old man the other day who said he has never experienced such political dismay. I cautiously mentioned my roots in the working class and how betrayed I feel. He said, “Me too. I come from a family of tradesmen. We worked hard for our pay, and I have never voted anything but Democrat. That was the party that was supposed to be taking care of us. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m just glad I’m old. I feel bad for the young people.” Right, like my daughter who has her whole life ahead of her.
Now here I sit in a state of numb. Betrayed by a system that has been betraying us all along. I just wasn’t awake or was holding on too hard to my connection to my roots, even if they were a bunch of drunken abusive laborers. I held my family and my ancestors high as pillars for surviving the toil of their labor. I take pride when I look at the San Francisco skyline and know that my family helped build it. I am outraged beyond belief that the New Economy has alienated and dislocated the very people who built the city and their families from their home because they can’t afford to live there. I can’t afford to live in the city built on the sweat and blood of my dad and my ancestors.
It’s easy to call me stupid for buying into the system and the belief that my vote counted, but when you come from a long line of laborers who have been paid union wages that put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and a pension in my mom’s bank account after my dad died, it’s hard to let go.
Well I have let go. I am furious. I am alienated. As a working mom and child of the working class. As a woman who survived being sold as a commodity in my teen years. As the mother of a child who is facing her first opportunity to vote in a presidential election and who is faced with no choice. I feel betrayed, abandoned, furious, sick.
I look at Hillary Clinton’s smug face, and I think, “What the fuck do you know about anything you privileged cunt?” Excuse my French. Do you have any idea what it means to be a working full time mom who does all her own housework and laundry and fixes the broken sink and builds the school projects in the garage? Do you know what it’s like to be a woman whose only option in the world for survival is the sale of her own body? When was the last time you were at a Coin Star cashing in change and being charged 8 cents on the dollar to buy something for your kid? I was there two weeks ago. Hillary Clinton you are no icon for women.
And people do not tell me how she came from the working class or is a proponent of the working class. She grew up in the Chicago suburbs and went to Wellesley where she was president of the Wellesley Young Republicans. Sure she stepped down later, but her political DNA was off from the start. Then she went to Yale, and she has strategically clambered for power and money since. She has fed the war enterprise, and she is responsible for the senseless murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children in the Middle East. She is not of my people or for the people.
I’ll throw two F words out here.
Fuck you Hillary Clinton.
Fuck you Feminists who think she is some kind of revolutionary answer to the glass ceiling. I know what the glass ceiling feels like. Hillary has never been part of that world. Smug. Privileged. Clueless. And full of power and money. Shut the fuck up.
Girlfriends of the world, I got news for you. Feminists themselves are for the most part elitist leftists who think they are populists. They have not been down in the trenches. They think prostitution is a form of self-empowerment. How many of them were bought and sold as children, had their innocence stolen, live with the legacy of having their very bodies robbed from them for the profit of others? Have they felt the hammer of Capitalism smash the belief out of their worth as human beings? I have.
What does it REALLY mean to be an everyday woman in this country? A woman who is most likely significantly underpaid for her labor compared to her male counterparts. A woman who when she expresses her outrage is called crazy and unstable and needs to do something to fix herself. What does it mean to be a lesser human in the grand patriarchal scale? Hillary Clinton wouldn’t know because MONEY comes before gender. And she’s got plenty of money to buy her way to the top.
Just as you can’t think about race without thinking about class, you can’t think of gender without thinking about class either.
Sure, Hillary gets plenty of digs that a man wouldn’t get. And it pisses me off. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. She can buy her way out of them. She has the power and the money to do it. She comes off clean.
How many women have that kind of cultural and capital privilege? Not many.
If she were poor and white or, even worse, poor and black, do you think Hillary would have a leg to stand on breaching national security? Please. She’d be tasered, choke-holded, jailed and/or killed.
That bitch doesn’t care about me or you. She cares about herself. She has primed herself to win this election, and she will because she has the cultural and economic capital to do it. And she is mobilizing her power to run the final stretch as I type these words.
And she has left me feeling betrayed and invisible. Fuck you twice Hillary.
Then there are the Left Elite. I’ve written about them before in my piece on Russell Brand and the Posh Left. This election is so fun for them. They have the time to write their rants and their treatises, telling us what we should and shouldn’t do in the name of the revolution of which really they are just impotent pundits.
Not unlike Ms. Clinton, they have the educational credentials and the time on their hands to spin their theories. They are going to tell me what it means to be female when they have never been beaten down so low that they accepted their body should be sold as a commodity because they weren’t worth anything else. They are going to talk of the working class when they have never been part of the working class or even gotten their hands dirty. They are full of soft handshakes and hard unfair ignorant judgements.
They take their summers off to travel the globe and have coffee with the intellectual elite. They say they are promoting the working class agenda while I and millions like me wake to the alarm every morning, head to work, punch out another day, go home, and count the vacation hours I have accrued and the years to my retirement.
Sometimes they write to me and ask me to write this or that. I have resigned if you haven’t noticed. I have given up hope. I am not one of them, nor will I ever be. I am a working class working mom who grew up on the streets and is recovering from decades of violating abuse while trying to hold down a job and make a better world for my daughter in a world that ain’t getting any better.
I took my daughter to see the new Beatles movie the other night because she is a huge Beatles fan. I promised her I wouldn’t squeal, and I didn’t. But I did come away thinking if that many people could be mobilized for a band, if 56,000 people could bowl over an entire police force to see four guys play music, why can’t people be mobilized to take the System down? Beatles for President. Right. All we have is Ringo and Paul, sadly.
Are you kidding me? This is the kind of man who would have used me as toilet paper when I was a teenager. This spit spewing, snorting, bulging face, enraged lunatic is probably the truest face of the System we’ve seen in my political lifetime. This is what economic politics looks like. It’s a big ugly money-grubbing tit-grabbing bully who dehumanizes the masses for self-interest, power and money. Need I say more?
I will. This morning I got in my car to drive to work. I pulled behind a Toyota Prius with a Trump bumper sticker. I audibly sighed. Who the hell drives a Prius and votes for Trump?
Last weekend, I saw another Trump bumper sticker. I was taking my daughter out for ice cream when we pulled in next to a truck with a rugged white man, his wife, and three kids. The beat up Ford bore a Trump bumper sticker, and when the man and his family stepped in front of us in line, three handguns swung from holsters on the man’s belt. Not one. Not two. Three handguns. I live in Arizona, an open carry state, a state in which men like the one I saw last weekend feel it is necessary to carry three guns to the ice cream shop. Why? To fight off the Mexicans crossing the border?
Don’t these people realize they are shooting themselves in their own foot and shooting every other hard working person with them? This was not a wealthy family. I would not even call them middle class. I would say they are barely scraping by. So why vote for a money mongering pig? Because he’s a bully, and men like the man with the three guns like bullies because it gives them the illusion of being empowered when they are actually being squashed like the rest of us. It’s just easier to deny when you have three guns swinging next to your child’s head as she licks her rocky road ice cream cone.
I was on the elliptical at the gym last week when a man next to me began ranting at the TV. I tried to ignore him. Hillary was on Fox TV. The man looked at me, face dripping with rage and sweat, and he said, “That woman is looking for trouble. What we need is to be the bully we once were.”
What did that man expect from me? I have a feeling he was putting me in my place as well as Hillary. I shook my head and pointed to my headphones pretending I didn’t hear him. Hillary and I do not share the same place. Fuck off bully.
I feel so done, so resigned. The other night I saw Glen Hansard perform live at the Rialto Theater in Tucson. Like some kind of miracle, I won tickets on the radio. I had to be the second caller, and it was a ridiculous affair. I was actually dumping a bag of garbage in a dumpster because I don’t have garbage service. (Hello economic reality!) I got in my car and heard the second caller would win tickets. I maniacally punched the code to unlock my phone and then dialed the number. I won. I squealed. I wanted to go to the show so bad. And I went.
Glen Hansard was great. A wonder of sincerity, fury, love, and, yes, politics. A working class Irishman with a guitar, he played a rendition of a Woodie Guthrie song amongst Hansard’s own classics. As he poured his soul into his guitar and voice and told tales of his childhood in Ireland, the audience was entranced. The experience reminded me that despite the ugliness of politics, I don’t have to own them or let them ugly up my life. The human creative spirit is beyond politics and debates. We can make music, art, and poetry. We can dance and love. We can hold onto our inner shining stars because if you are not One Of Those Other Motherfuckers, then you have an inner shining soul. I have mine. It’s vulnerable. It’s been through a hell of a lot in this lifetime. I’m going to do my best to take care of it until I reach retirement, so I don’t drop dead two weeks later but can actually maybe spend the majority of my senior years doing things I love to do rather than things I have to do. Not that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump gives a rat’s ass. And frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass about them.
(Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently completed a book of her artwork on Dead Rock Stars which will was featured in a solo show at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA. She is also completing a book of her Dirt Yards at Night photography project. Her first art book Mapping the Inside Out is available upon request. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)