The Hangover: Meditations On The End of The Beginning of The End of…Something

January 12, 2009

The end is near. President George W. Bush will leave office in about a week. Some of us have waited for this day with bated breath since the beginning of his first term. Others look to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president with a mixture of fear, sadness, and anger: at the prospect of yet another untested leader, at lost opportunities, at the end of a high, wild, magical time when anything you wanted was possible– if you wanted what George Bush wanted you to want.

Many more of us have seen our opinions change with an almost quarterly regularity as this or that bit of information or circumstance caught our attention and reshaped our view of the man, only to flutter away like an autumn leaf or a blog post as more data took its place and confused us once again. 

As I write, a Maruchan beef-flavored Instant Lunch sits on the floor next to me, a fork resting on the peeled-back cover to keep it closed so the heat and steam will not escape and the noodles will properly absorb the salty brine that now envelops them. The scene in my apartment is much as it was five years ago in my Spaulding Hall dorm room at the University at Buffalo: sunlight peeking at extreme angles through a window with no view, socks and garbage strewn about the floor in nonsense, and a meal of sorts, two minutes away and counting, steaming quietly next to my right heel, with an anatomically suspect diagram of a cow on the cover to let me know what I’m supposed to be eating. In the new year of 2003, George Bush was a fact most of us (middle class white college students with disposable funds and no job) accepted and ignored, like credit card debt or the sun. 

I’m stirring the noodles now. Instant Lunch is so much better than straight Ramen (and so worth the extra fifty cents) because it contains little freeze-dried carrot scrapings and several bits of corn and scallion, the remains of the remains of industrialized food, put to use like the tendons and bone of the buffalo on the Great Plains in the days before AIM and central heating. You always have to cut the noodles, it feels like, to get the dish to mix properly. I used to spend an extra minute hacking away with a plastic butter knife to get my lunch to where I wanted it to be.

Back in the dorms in 2003, on another wintry night spent subsisting on sodium and wheat gluten, I was informed that we were at war. We had known for some time, of course, that this would happen. Most of us could recall the Gulf War (or had at least seen the History Channel specials) and we all remembered the Clinton air strikes on Iraq. Sort of. In the way that we remembered anything before 9/11 or before that week: distantly, incompletely, with a lot of gaps cobbed with bits of newspaper and spit over time. America was at war. Iraq was the enemy, or at least the target. Bush was president. The sun came up somewhere between our last kill on the virtual battlefield and our first class, and, sometime later, it would set, somewhere… over there. ::gesticulating:: Westish. (Looking back now it seems strange that more of us in the first-person shooter gaming community didn’t try to identify somewhat with our peers in the actual shooting-and-dying set. If we had, it most likely would have been done in a dubious and insulting manner and it’s probably better that we all kept our mouths shut as much as we did when interacting with the real world, whenever we did.)

The problem with trying to be clever is that you’re never quite sure if you’re succeeding, and so try harder and harder as time persists and the absence of an editor or audience persists, until you’re not really sure what it was you had to say or if, in fact, there was anything there to begin with.

Today, President Bush, in his last press conference in office, likened the current financial situation to a night of drinking. “Wall Street got drunk and left us with the hangover,” he said. (Eight days from the end, a world in crisis, and this is his last press conference; I’ll let that take you wherever you want it to.)

Hangovers have several stages. There is the initial joy at waking up alive, against all odds. Next a state of childlike wonder and an independence from one’s own life: bills and relationships and grades are forgotten, there is only the self, the mind. And then you have to get out of bed and face the world, face what you’ve done, who you became and what that person wanted and felt versus what you believe your sober self to be. Introspection sets in, if you have time for it, and its pretty much downhill from there.

What will our hangover be like? The bill has come due. The party is over and has been for awhile. We have slept amongst the garbage and the curdling puddles of excess decadence and now it is time to find our coats and get some breakfast. Where will we go from here? What will we do? What shall we eat? Will we act or remain paralyzed by guilt and recrimination?

I think it’s time to rinse out our mouths, apologize to those we trampled or spat on in the fury of the party, and make something of what’s left of the day. That’s just me, but I know from hangovers, and we really don’t have any choice.


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