One day you find you’re a cliche. For one thing you’re old, and though people say things like “sixty is the new forty” and “you’re only as old as you feel” the truth is, you’re not susceptible to the old optimisms. You console yourself, say things like: “I’m not a quisling cliche—like Ronald Reagan who foreswore his progressive youth to be a corporate shill and a commie hunter. No, I’m still left of center, and probably more left than your average reader of The Nation. And then I remember I’m a cliche, for I’m old now and therefore out of touch.
It happens. You’re no longer interested in pop music, though you think Kanye West’s new album “The Life of Pablo” is pretty interesting. And you don’t give a shit about novels with titles that start” “The Girl Who…” though you like George Eliot more than you can say, and once you went all the way to Highgate Cemetery in London to place flowers at her tomb. You also put flowers on the steps of Karl Marx’s tomb. And for good measure you put some at the grave of Beatrix Potter. (Highgate is a one stop devotional place.)
No, you’re a cliche, old as dirt, darkened by the smudges of a thousand fingers, wounded by all the razor-y tongues, discrimination, listless committees, and the bloviation complex—advertising, military spending, random doorbell ringings from religious zealots, elections rigged, corruption like fluoride in the water, or lead.
You became a cliche the honorable way. You lived. You tasted the morning air and found it promising. You smelled the turds and leather of a policeman’s horse and thought it was good because you were nostalgic, you thought there was a time of honor, somewhere back there, until you remembered the three principle pogroms in Russia, how they inspired the Prussians, how the Prussians inspired the Arabs, and now the policeman’s horse doesn’t smell good and you shake your fist because the world has stolen your childhood joy. And you can’t blame it on Freud or Paul deMann or even PeeWee Herman, though you’d like to. You’d like to blame them. But then you’d sound like an old man. “You kids get away from those magazines, you’ll get the pages all sticky!” You’ll sound like Paul Krugman. What could be worse.
Last night you dreamt you were in a beautiful hotel. It was very white. Everything was clean.
Then, in the way of dreams, people you didn’t like turned up. They crowded into your room. Even in your dreams you can’t get away with purity. Your frigging dreams are soiled. You’re a cliche alright. You’ve turned into Saul Bellow’s Herzog. Your antediluvian cane has blood and feathers on its tip. You want to wake up from the dream but of course you can’t. When you do wake up your feet are tangled in the sheets. The real sheets are not as white as the ones in your dream.
You’re a cliche. You don’t believe Bernie Sanders any more than you believe Noam Chomsky. You’d never want Noam Chomsky to take care of your dog. Bernie might be OK with your dog but you kind of doubt it.
You’re a cliche. You trust people based not on intangibles but in terms of what you can see without an intermediary text. I’ve a friend who is doing everything he can to help rebuild Syracuse, New York, one of America’s poorest cities. He also pushes poetry.
I trust people like that.
I no longer trust people who use the word “revolution” seventeen times per hour.