Down at Sunset Glen, in the palliative care wing, hooked up to a ventricular assist device, American Empire is bitching and moaning about the grey food and the horrible, just horrible, Puerto Rican nurse who keeps scheduling enemas that never happen.
But it’s Monday, movie day, and American Empire is pumped to see the home movie that the Pearly Gates Film Guild has been working on for, well, “too effing long, if you wanna know.”
Ricardo the nurse wheels A. E. — with defibrillator, ventilator and all — into the home’s tiny cinema, props him up with pillows stuffed with cotton balls and eagle feathers and gives him his mid-morning Coke Big Gulp.
A. E. nods and the lights go down and there he is, short pants, almost cherubic, playing in a big, bright, bountiful yard. Then, orchestral crescendo, and there’s A. E., knees and elbows all bloody, and hollering, Manifest Destiny! “The things kids pick up,” laughs A. E.
Then it’s a string of jump cuts, fades and cross-fades through a montage of slavery, Indian removal, expansionism, imperialism and plenty of wars; all with cutaways of the early republic, the constitution, the great awakening, abolitionism, emancipation, women’s suffrage, civil rights, woman’s rights, LGBTQ rights. But in the denouement, flickering scenes in monochrome variously show a regressive bully, ageing addict, narcissist, celeb-cultist, fundamentalist, con artist, thief, opportunist and crazed pensioner, living on deregulation, bailouts, corporate tax cuts, and shares in the military industrial complex. And in the final scene: a radiating grey mist and clouds of blue-bottle flies. The whole shebang, the civic aspirations, the moments of nobility, the jealousies, the rages, the heart condition, the mania, all the pathos and bathos and waning ethos mashed together in under 90 minutes.
“Definitely not a feel-good ending,” says A. E. as the lights come up, “but the editing was out of this world, the best!”
Ricardo wheels A. E. back down the hall schlepping along the steel tree of drip bags and tubes; then leaves a copy of Nevil Shute’s book, On the Beach, at his beside, some stab at a last hope. But for naught, American Empire has forgotten how to read.
(This post owes its schema to August Kleinzahler’s poem, The Hereafter, and its genesis to the unabating mental and moral erosion of this American administration, which prayerfully will not end us all, On the Beach. )