Every night, I lie in bed and read the New York Times on my phone.
First I read some of the big headline pieces. Then I skip over to the real estate section and read about a girl and a guy who really need a quieter apartment, since their last one was next to a construction site -- will they find one? They look at a place in Harlem. They look at a place in Morningside Heights. Time is running out! At the last minute -- they find something! Phew. I read about the new building with affordable luxury apartments that's going up on the west side in midtown. I read about trends involving lamps and the story of a particular street sign.
"Why do you want to read that stuff?" asks my husband, Bear.
"Because," I say, but then realize I'm not sure. I just do. Unimportant article after unimportant article. "Listen!" I say, excited, "Here's one about big couches! The writer thinks couches have gotten too big."
"Really?" says Bear, without looking up from the word game he is playing on his phone.
Recently, a lot of the headlines have been about Romney and Newt and Santorum. With some Huntsman and Perry sprinkled in, for reference. Of course, there's plenty of Obama, but now it's more about Obama as relates to Romney and Newt and Santorum. Opinion pieces, and full, serious articles. Piece after piece after piece -- they come faster every day -- they grow thicker -- like salmon spawning. It's that time of year. It's that part of our four-year news cycle. And it's just getting started.
Already, I am tired. There is a dead, metallic taste in my mouth. I am experiencing tiny PTSD-like flashbacks.
Regular people who are now all potential voters are getting riled up in mega churches somewhere deep in Iowa, where I have never been and can't exactly imagine. They are aligning themselves with camps that will soon march out to war. They lend the Times reporter passionate quotes, little bits of themselves.
Here is a piece about a number of politicians and their hypocrisy. It's a popular topic, and you can understand why. It's pretty striking. It should be shocking. Perry is an easy target -- he's talking about how gay people are ruining America in his ad called "Strong." He has said things about how being gay is like having sex with animals, about how a kid would be better off with a dad in jail than two law-abiding moms at home. And suddenly he's saying something to the good people of New Hampshire about how he'd love any gay son of his like any straight son of his. He's saying he has a lot of respect for gay people. Uh huh. Uh huh.
On and on. Huge chains of lies, unspooling. Article after article after opinion piece.
Scrolling through them, I feel like the world has stopped. Like it is stagnant, a polluted film collecting on the surface, sealing us in. Why do we do this, again and again? I remember it from when I was eight. I remember it from when I was a teenager, and in college, and in grad school. The same cycles of gossip and backstabbing and spending unconscionable amounts of money for just the chance, the fleeting, taunting chance, at getting elected. Our country seems to stop in its tracks, mesmerized perhaps by its warped, blurring reflection in the film on the top of the water, and stare and groom and forget to eat while it fixates. It's a long, thorough, pointless process. Nothing is ever actually resolved. And if, for a moment, it is, the wheel will swing around again soon enough, and progress, clinging to the underbelly, will be knocked into fragments.
And here, nestled between headlines about super PACs and corrupt senators and Romney's time at Bain Capital, here is a little op-ed piece about one-time youth offenders who were arrested and then cleaned up their act and never got arrested again and still can't get a job, anyway, even though they were only fourteen when they got busted with that cocaine. Even though they are now in their thirties and have kids to support. Even though they are only applying for a job in a boiler room. They are still being punished, because America remembers. Because it is right there on their record.
The internet, the op-ed piece explains, makes all of this so easy. Records and information are so accessible- crimes linger, at the employer's fingertips, forever. Everything lingers there, forever. I know. Pieces I wrote that I never want to see again leap onto the screen when I google myself (which is why I almost never do).
But here is Romney, talking about his financial struggles, and Newt, talking about the sanctity of marriage, and Perry, talking about how gay people are human, too. And practically everyone else who is trying to run this country or currently taking part in running this country -- they are drawing bold lines in the sand. And all you have to do is google them, just once, to learn how little their pasts affect them.
Some people are punished forever, for one thing. And some people-Some of the most dangerous people, are never punished at all.
The internet must not be doing its job. It must not really be as worthy an adversary as my dad believes it is when he sends my brothers and me cautionary tales about someone's Facebook profile ruining their life.
Bear has fallen asleep.
I flip back to the real estate section, where someone is writing about wall paper. Does anyone use it anymore? Some people do, and they get creative with it!