Issue #22/77, November 5 - 18, 1999  smlogo.gif


Feature Story
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Moscow Babylon
Book Review


Our Civic Duty

About three months ago the staff of the eXile got together for an editorial meeting. Actually, it wasn't a meeting, but more like a lunch. We crowded into a booth at the Starlite and sat staring at each other in total silence for about forty-five minutes or so.... As we sat joylessly sipping our coffees we examined each other's faces: parched deserts of charmless cynicism, bleak receptacles for the lifeless globes of our eyes, speckled all over with various cosmetic flags, each signaling the advance of mean, frightened middle age.... And looking at each other at that moment, we each seemed, as we realized that each other's sad company was mostly all we had to live for, to have exactly the same thought. And that was this: is this all there is?

The answer: no. There was one more thing to live for, one thing beyond our own washed-out, hopeless lives in Moscow. And that was the same washed-out, hopeless lives, only relocated. In America, for instance. On the Presidential Campaign Trail.

This past Tuesday was an election day in America--not the big election day, but an election day nonetheless. Spending the first Tuesday in November at the polls is a tradition as American as apple pie, whether a president is being elected or not. The folks in Boston this week, for instance, finally booted the sacred Irish hack pol Albert "Dapper" O'Neill from his seat as Councilor-at-large, after something like thirty years. The city of Philadelphia elected a Republican mayor for the first time in half a century. And last but not least, on two consecutive days, lone gunmen entered their former workplaces and unloaded their magazines into their ex-coworkers, killing seven and five, respectively.

One-day assassins may not be a tradition yet, but they soon will be. They'll be a tradition every day, in fact. They will come, and are already coming, as a result of Americans of all shapes and sizes, and in all different states, looking in their mirrors and having the same thought that we at the eXile had that day at Starlite. Is this all there is in life? Do I have to lose my job and just take it, too? Do I have to be a loser, and just accept it? Or is there something else I can do on the way out?

Good question. For most people, taking a gun to work really is the only viable option. Because one thing's for sure: nothing else most Americans can do will have an effect on their surrounding environment. If you don't like your heath insurance situation or the fact that you can't get a date, or want to know why the President can declare war without asking your permission, or just want to burst our crying at your office sometime and not worry about getting fired--well, you're out of luck. There's nothing you can do. There are no avenues for exploring these dilemmas available to most people.

There is, however, one thing we are, as Americans, allowed to do, and that's vote. Every four years, we get to pick a President. In the past, the successful prosecution of this ritual assured most of us that we were participating in the shaping of our lives. We were having an impact. Our voices were being heard.

And do you know what? That was damn reassuring--and still is. For all of us at the eXile, at least, it was a relief to remember that we had a say in something outside our own rapid physical declines. That we were welcome to take a seat at the table of the Great American Debate. This is, in fact, the only reason we didn't shed our containers right there in the Starlite that day. We had one thing left to do, and that was little more than our duty--as citizens.

That's why we're back in America covering the campaign. We're taking what they're giving us. As we're finding out, it's not much. But it's something, and we'll give it our best shot.

And if this doesn't work, well, there's one way to go. That's one more reason we're in America. It's so much easier to buy automatic weapons here. And you can always be sure that CNN will come to film your last hurrah...

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