I didn’t think it was a better time, the 90s, my teenage years all homemade fire and explosives. My friend’s mom was a crack addict, we knew it and he joked about it, but that meant we could go to his trailer home and its large acres of woods and shoot guns, make bombs and see who’d stand closest. None of us was hurt, no shrapnel or errant flame. Kids now, I don’t get them, they tell stories of trying out meth or setting their brothers’ feet on fire and I’m disgusted. Do they tell it with a different language? Is the clef all broken, lines turning into a child’s scribbles as the notes dribble off? My friends tried meth, it was a curio. When Lynn described it to us she said she wanted to clean for 24 hours and we thought it was cool, maybe we’d do it if time or opportunity emerged from the curtained shadows, which for most of us did not happen. Once my friend bought an AK-47 from a gun show, legally, and we shot it in the woods. The cops got called because of a noise complaint, and when the officer saw a bunch of white kids (I was white before 9-11) with a gun made famous by movies and video games, he joined us in awe, shot a couple rounds himself. Kids these days don’t talk about guns, don’t talk about bombs, as if to mention them would make them manifest physically, Bloody Mary in the mirror. In the 90s we had such a purse between us, Americans, wealth and the idea of endlessness. We were sure the next generation of reckless teens wouldn’t have our racial problems we laughed nervously about, our homophobia. I was an atheist and I made sure everybody knew it, made an inverted cross out of beads and leather to hang around my neck. I would hide it in my bag once I got off the bus so my parents wouldn’t see me needling the locals.
Kids these days, I want them to avoid the suffering we knew, but the language is already in them. We thought America was a joke, they wear flag pins on their lapels and get nervous when somebody questions the legitimacy of extranational actions in class. Begin all doubts with “I love America, but....” When Clinton was getting blown my friends and I were fumbling in the dark, girls and boys and all the ways we failed to fit together. Ken Starr’s report was hot stuff.
Iraq fucked us up, the border of our youth even when I didn’t go (though I tried to go to spite my mother, my eyes were deemed way too bad). Evan got his shins shredded on a road patrol, is now on anti-psychotics. David lost hearing in one ear because of an IED, posts his Purple Heart on the wall. My brother had a rocket explode in front of him, speaks sad nonsense in his sleep. Not to mention the people they surely had to kill, the people they won’t even mention. Stories that could unfold like all the best failed trips and drug experiments we used to trade. I hope the companies who rented the American Brand for those years do well, the infrastructure dealings, commercial spots on War News, and oil. Kids now, they’d do it because of duty? Is that what they believe? What industry will push them into acting valorously, children who reenact the climaxes of action movies produced to demonstrate sacrifice and honor by corporations with mouths to fill with the best steak? Winter—we tell them it seems endless this year. Then it is summer, which is also endless.
GLENN SHAHEEN is the author of the poetry collection Predatory (University of Pittsburgh Press 2011) and the flash fiction chapbook Unchecked Savagery (Ricochet Editions 2013). He lives in Michigan and edits Matter, a journal of political poetry and comment. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Subtropics, The New Republic, and elsewhere.