If You Think It's Bad Now, Search Your Memory | Lookaway Zine

As told by Kyle A. Bruder
Published by kbruder tech✞ᵀᵀᴹ on Jun 04, 2021
Last updated on Jul 02, 2021

New York City, 2003

Shock and Awe

Photo: Steve Bent

In the years following the 9/11 attacks I was living in New York. My roommates and I had just signed up for cable and turned on CNN that night only to watch the city center of Baghdad get blown to shit on live television. It looked far away and fictional like a video game and seemed to go on for an uncomfortably long period of time. How were there just cameras rolling there all the time? How did they not get blown up in the raid? What the living fuck?
The next morning when arrived at my job at a grocery store in Manhattan, I walk in on by boss sobbing face down on his desk. I immediately withdrew, surprised to see such a sight due to the fact that this guy was one mean motherfucker. Until then the guy reminded me of Tony Montana. I asked the shift lead what was going on and proceeded to explain that his entire family had been killed in the “Shock and Awe” campaign. I didn't even know the guy was Iraqi.
“How is that even possible?” my formerly naive self asked.
“You got to understand,” he started to explain, “Baghdad is an ancient city. Unlike modern cities which are laid out with zoning and districts where you have all your municipal buildings in one area, and commerce in another and residential buildings off in the distance, everything is all mixed up over there.
They'll have a palace, a grocery store just like this, a prison, and a bunch of shitty little apartments all on the same block. The boss man's family lived right there in the action. Now they're gone.”


Photo: Mario Tama

Over the next few weeks, my boss went on like nothing even happened. However, right outside on Broadway, the streets were filled with a half million anti-war demonstrators. The sound of their deafening cries echoed down the blocks. The streets were so packed, shopping practically came to a halt so we all went to the door to watch. I felt an urge to put down my apron and join the march but as I began to make my move the shift lead stopped me.
“You aren't going to join those idiots out there are you?” he asked.
“Why the fuck not? Are you saying you are for the war?” I replied.
“Trust me, one more of you rubes out there isn't going to make a difference. In fact the entire march won't change a damn thing. Those boys are over there for the oil and nothings gonna stop them. This is how empire works kid. If you aren't taking whats not yours, then some else is moving in on what you got. And besides, if you walk off the job I'll have to fire ya.”
Just then, a regiment of armored police each with a grip of zip ties stormed the crowd with pepper spray and dropping billy clubs down on heads like Vikings hopped up on toadstools. If the sounds of the screaming and breaking bones wasn't enough to repel us into a basement retreat, the clouds of pepper spray wafting toward us sure was. We quickly closed the all of the tall glass pane doors that comprised our store front to the dismay of the few straggling shoppers still inside, stopping short of dropping the metal gates.
The next week, in The Village Voice, I would read about the makeshift holding pens and bus depot prisons where demonstrators were held for over 12 hours without access to their lawyers, food, water or medication. No trial, no charges, only interrogations and torture. I am pretty sure that was the year any semblance of a bleeding heart was let out of me, and I was able to see the way “adults” and “experts” saw the world: a battlefield; a chessboard; a pyramid with the weak masses supporting the strong few on top.
That certainly is not how I see the world. I see a perfect balance. Just as the events today are no better or worse than those that transpired in the wake of 9/11. No matter which sack of blood and bone you are born into on this rock, you will have good days and bad days. You will laugh and you will cry. You will wake up some days wishing you had died in your sleep and there will be other days when you will beg fate for eternal life because its so good and you never want it to end. This is true of the rich and the poor. This is true of every person in every corner of the world across all time.

Santa Cruz Mountains, 2015

Some years ago I pulled up to my Dad's house nestled in a small mountain community. The balding tires of my 89 GMC S-15 screeched up the grade of the side of the hill on which his house was built. The small road was paved but slick and unforgiving. There was no slipping in silently.
I was coming back from school, a community college, one of the best in the state, mind you. A place where fully formed adults end up when they are too good to flip burgers or clean loads off the booths at the strip club, yet have burned one too many bridges along the corporate path. That week some Islamic fundamentalists shot up an office that published the French version of Mad Magazine over a picture of the Prophet Muhammad. All of a sudden everyone and their mother is in solidarity with the Frogs unlike during The 2003 Iraq War when Americans wouldn't even buy French salt because they refused to join the western coalition in the storming of Baghdad. The joke was on them because ALL of the salt we get here is French in origin and food tastes terrible without it.
Please don't get the wrong idea. French people are great, I despise fundamentalists and I abhor terrorists. On the other hand I'm not a pacifist either. As an artist, I know full well the risk of provocation that comes with making REAL art as I am sure those poor bastards who were massacred did. In fact, if you aren't taking a risk by making your art, you're not doing it right and I don't give a shit how cliché that sounds. Artists need to be reminded from time to time. As far as I was concerned they died an honorable death doing what they do.
This event captured the American imagination right around the same time they closed half the bathrooms on campus due to gender grievances, the number one reality star hinted at running for president and a handful of dipshits were going postal at community college campuses up and down the west coast. Despite the empathetic sentiment towards the fallen, it felt like this was probably the worst time in recent history to be an artist with ideas, opinions and no filter, but in reality, its always been a difficult area to navigate and has never been without risk.
I put the truck in park, turned of the engine and and sat there for a minute, as was my ritual, to enjoy the silence for a few minutes. Perfect silence, unlike at night when the owls were out. I climbed the wooden stair case up to the top deck where my Dad was sitting in the shade of the towering redwoods. I must have been visibly frazzled because, although he said nothing, he didn't retreat into the house knowing his ear might be of service. For a moment I looked up at the coniferous canopy searching for owls like I had the instinct of a small rodent. I put down my heavy bag full of large texts and spiral notebooks and took a seat. The silence was still comforting so the thought of speaking seemed profane. After a short time I got up and went into the house.
I grabbed a tall glass bottle of beer out of the fridge labeled “Denoginizer”, poured some of its contents into two small jars, returned to the top deck and handed my Dad one of the jars which he took without a word. He had been reading something on his phone, current events no doubt.
“Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Sure”, he said.
“Has the world always been this crazy? Were things this fucked when you were in school?”
“Yes, son. The only difference between today and back then is that today everyone knows how bad it is.”

The California High Desert, 2020


Photo: Kyle Bruder

Over the years I've had to navigate life's murky waters on instinct alone like a titmouse lost in the woods without a hole to crawl into, but this piece of knowledge, I kept in mind as best I could. Over the next few years, sometimes I lost track of it like a small trinket in the bottom of a sack of similarly sized pieces of useless trash, rummaging for it when silence was scarce.
Folks feel like the walls are caving in on them and the world is falling apart because this is how the external world is presented. We are conditioned to think of the world as a hostile place rife with wolves in sheep's clothing waiting for you to slip up. This is not because “The Media” is run by masochistic sociopaths or because the need to panic today is more urgent than it was yesterday. External influences exploit our survival instincts in a tug-of-war for our attention. Media outlets don't want or need your attention the way your family and friends do, they want it because your attention is a commodity that can be converted in to profit. It is as simple as that.
Indeed the world is exactly perfect and in balance as it always has been and always will be.
When every verifiable piece of information you hear sounds worse than the last, and you start to feel the weight of the world bear down on you, remember two things. First, things are not getting worse, they are just unfolding before your eyes. Second, you have a choice that our ancestors didn't have; you can stare reality in the eyes and accept it for what it is or you can retreat into an ignorant bliss. Neither choice is right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or bad but you do have that choice.


If You Think It's Bad Now, Search Your Memory | Lookaway Zine is a true story written by Kyle A. Bruder in the year 2020. The names of people and places from the story may have been changed in order to protect the privacy of actual persons.


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