Josh started talking and I wished time would speed up. I started playing Angry Birds 2 to try and show him I didn’t want to talk.
We were co-workers in a truck. We had an hour drive ahead of us from Livonia to Port Huron. I’d hoped I wouldn’t get stuck with him, but he insisted on driving. I’d ridden with him before but it had been a few blissful months.
We were pulling out of the parking lot fully loaded when he started talking.
“I was reading John Steinbeck’s Wikipedia article when something struck me.”
Oh, God, not now, I thought. We’re literally pulling onto the road.
“It seems like the entrenched elite of the American oligarchy seems to think that the only art worth making is by those who think and come from the same places they do. Which is funny because most of the art that influences them was created by people who would now be considered members of the Precariat.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, trying to sound as disinterested as possible. I pulled out my phone and opened the Angry Birds 2 app and started flinging birds in the arena. I was pretty good and always beat my opponents.
“John Steinbeck would not get a shot today. Ernest Hemingway wouldn’t. Charles Bukowski. Mary Oliver. Stephen King would not. Vonnegut, Bradbury, Dick, all those guys. All iconic names, would not be part of the American cultural lexicon if they had been members of the millennial generation. Their work would’ve been ignored if it was created at all.”
“Right,” I muttered. I flung Bomb into one structure but tapped the screen too early and he detonated in mid-air.
FUCK, I snarled in my head.
“Rock music is a good example here. The burden of putting on a good performance and the timing needed to get enough to do so, the cost of getting started, all the instruments, et cetera.”
(He actually said et cetera)
“We entered our current period of malaise and despair right as rock music started to wane in popularity. The last true good rock single I can remember was in 2008, Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon, and they were a privileged band that was signed before they’d even written a song. They had the connections. They turned out to be good, but they were still an anomaly.”
“Mmm-hmm,” I said as quietly as possible. I flung Red into a flimsy two-pig structure and he toppled it easily. I watched the wood planks and the ice blocks shatter on the ground.
Josh didn’t care if I was listening. He did this to everyone. Everyone hated it. He’d been hinted at numerous times. Even when Eric finally snapped on him and said, “No one cares about your boneheaded theories, man.” It’s never worked. He was the owner’s nephew. Most of us didn’t have the balls to stand up to him. So we all just put up with it and ripped on him when he wasn’t around.
“If they hadn’t had their father, they would’ve been just like everyone who gets stuck in the garage. Imagine all the voices unheard — and this is partly inevitable, you’ll never get all the ones you want. But look at the 20th century and how many voices were heard that wouldn’t be heard today, and you can see. Legends. Kerouac. Brautigan. McCarthy. And even some less conventional writers like Thompson, Bangs, and Ebert.”
Please let this end, I thought. I flung Matilda the egg-layer over a structure and midjudged the distance and she slammed into a stone wall without being able to drop her egg-bomb. My eye twitched.
“Nowadays, if you haven’t gone to the Ivy League, you don’t have a shot. You just don’t. It’s diverse, or getting diverse, yes, and that’s good, but regular white people aren’t represented in today’s culture. They’re just not. The white people giving us mainstream culture are all privileged. If I hear anyone else says the name J.D. Vance I’m gonna flip this fucking pick-up and piss all over the seat. Just because someone grew up in poverty doesn’t mean they understand what it’s like 20 years after the fact. Once you’re out of the group, once you’re in the club of the privilege, you change. Period.”
This is like Chinese water torture, I thought, tossing Chuck into the air in parabolic loop to get him over a wall and down. I scored a direct hit and the pig structure crumbled, one helluva strike.
YES, I thought.
Josh’s voice was like a radio that couldn’t be turned down. He wasn’t even bothering to see if I was listening or not. He was just talking.
“That is also something that didn't used to happen. Nowadays, it seems like the only people that keep some semblance of where they came from are members of the black community. American culture is only soulful if it’s fed with a blue-collar feedback loop constantly replenishing itself. Great artists can come from anywhere, but in order for that to happen they need an environment in which they can have a chance in the first place.”
He has to almost be done, I thought.
“Regular people need to be heard, and the internet isn’t doing it. As soon as a person is successful they change, they’re adopted into the mentality of the privileged, no matter who they are or what they are, it happens.”
He kept talking as we roared down the freeway, and I kept flinging.