Sitting Shiva for Us All

I managed to make it out of the house Saturday to attend my 10-year high school reunion. People were bafflingly kind and without attitude—with the exception of the girl who in fifth grade was the not-as-attractive best friend of the prettiest girl in school. The sidekick was still mean and snotty, but unfortunately, she was also really hot—like, Playboy hot—and had her own sidekick. Where's the karma in that? She did have a really old husband, though, and everybody was making fun of her for it behind her back, so that's good. The only other people who walked in with the same arrogance they employed when they were the coolest guys in the richest school in town (Go Westlake Warriors, fight, fight, fight!) turned out to now be Newport Beach marketing dudes, which is really the only reason I'm even bringing it up.

Except for this: during my senior year in high school, the Gulf War was being waged bloodlessly (for us, if you don't count the boys killed by “friendly fire”) and antiseptically on the fledgling CNN. There were a couple of dozen of us damn dirty hippies who manned the mean streets of Thousand Oaks—and many, many more who occupied the corner opposite ours in counterprotest. It was pretty festive, and when the jocks across the street fell in love with their own testosterone, they'd troop across en masse and break our signs and punch us and shove my mom and other cool jock stuff. One deranged freak—though I'm sure he preferred to think of himself as a “patriot”—drove up on the sidewalk into our group of protesters. A girl was paralyzed. When they were bored, they'd send delegations out to their monster trucks and tear around the corner really fast, waving Confederate flags. And ever since, flag-waving tends to make me wrinkle my pert little nose in disgust.

Even this week, a part of me shrivels when I see our flag so ubiquitously flown, to the point where they have fallen from people's antennae and are getting run over on the freeway. It's simply a matter of aesthetics: in Europe and elsewhere, their sorrow for us is so eloquent and graceful. Here, the flags make me fear we're about to see mindless mobs of pumped-up teenage boys chanting, “USA! USA!” and marching on an Illinois mosque. Oh, wait: we already did. It's like Spring Break at Havasu, but with war instead of date rape.

That said, I'm not necessarily against going to war for this. I simply don't know yet, but I do know it helps that those folks responsible appear in large part to be aided by the Taliban—a regime so wholly oppressive and without redemption they actually bury widows alive in mass graves. Or maybe that's just another Internet hoax. Nostradamus, anyone?

I am rambling and stricken—and afraid. You will forgive the lapses and ridiculous transitions. You will forgive that I've appointed myself some kind of commentator and big expert. I have this page to fill and am desperately hoping to avoid clich.

I don't even know who I am any more. My eyeballs chafing on the television screen, did I really just agree with Dick Armey, the nastiest man in the U.S. Congress? Am I rallying around the president? Many of my friends are predictably blaming us and our Mideast policies; I would have thought I would be among them. But I reject that argument categorically. However much we colonize the Middle East for our oil, and we do; however much the Palestinians should have a homeland, and they should; however often we create these monsters with CIA training and American weapons, and it's often, we did not do this.

But just this year, under our new administration, we tried to make nice with the Taliban—I believe that strategy, as exemplified by Neville Chamberlain, was called “appeasement”—gifting them with $43 million in aid because of their effectiveness in stopping opium production. Last year, my son went to school on Halloween decked out in some hastily applied monster makeup. He was the only child out of uniform, and they quickly lent him one as I (who happened to be there for a meeting) scrubbed the greasepaint from his face. I was upset: Had the school (a Long Beach public school) decided not to celebrate Halloween because fundamentalist parents had complained it was pagan? “It's not so much that,” his teacher told me. “We just think it distracts students from the school day. But they will have a Red Ribbon march this afternoon for the DARE program!” she said brightly, thinking that would comfort me. I was so pissed I almost ran for the school board. But what would my platform have been? “I'm for drugs”?

I also left my house Thursday night for the launch of Riviera Magazine. I should hope the name tells you everything you need to know, but in case it doesn't, Riviera is a “lifestyle” magazine for the “very, very rich.”

Having spent two days solid switching among CNN, Fox News and CBS (because Matt Drudge said Dan Rather was the man New Yorkers were watching), I was looking forward to some canaps.

A couple of hundred people turned out in the “California chic” the invitation called for. There were a couple of the principals from ad agency dGWB, Victor the Gay Russian and the Traveling Langstons. Most of the Weekly's stable of freelancers was there, having found a side gig besides OC Family or Coast magazine, as well as every art critic in town because we and Kedric Francis, Riviera's new editor in chief and my good friend, mooch at all the same museum openings.

But though I enjoyed the canaps, and people were thoughtful, and it's nice to get a break for a bit, and no one was shouting, “USA! USA!” I don't think I stayed more than an hour and a half or so. The DJ was hip and soothing, but my television needed me. Riviera, by the way, is just as dreadful as I could hope, with lots of articles about champagne, Tiffany, extremely expensive tea parties thrown for four-year-olds, and “Why we live on the Riv.” I adore it.

Anyway, that's all I did this week. Even after I stopped watching the news (about three days in) while playing a little game I like to call “Did They Confirm That?” (correct answer: no), I didn't want to leave the house. I'm sitting shiva, I suppose, and according to my Yiddish dictionary, shiva is sat for seven days. There is still mourning to be done.

My young friend Justine, who is a beautiful, extremely intelligent and aware high school freshman, went to school last week with teary eyes. Her classmates assumed she had lost someone in New York; they couldn't understand that she'd grieve for people she didn't know.

Me, I'm sitting shiva for us all. I doubt I know any of the dead; my friends in New York don't know jack about finance, and I'm not worried for their physical safety. I do worry that we'll look at this as a glamorous time—all that happened in World War II was that there were nylon shortages and lots of handsome men in uniform, right?—and not realize until too late how devastating it will be. And I worry about the water supply. I worry all the damn time. Mostly, though, I worry that we will not live up to the grace other nations have shown us this past week. Whatever our course of action, let us take it nobly—and without yahoos.

Sit shiva with the Girl: Co**********@ho*****.com“>Co**********@ho*****.com.

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