There’s shit in my shoes. A diaper in my cereal. But there’s also coffee in my mug, and then it’s in my gut, and after that I don’t care where it goes, as long as it gets its job done, the job it needs to do on my brain, in this age of enlightenment and cerebral fuckitude.
At the grocery store, a shopper refuses to wear a mask. Jeffrey the clerk asks her to put one on, or leave. “There’s no law saying you have to wear masks,” she says. “Show me any law that says I have to wear one.”
“Ma’am, this is private property, and it’s store policy,” says Jeffrey the clerk. “I have to ask you to comply.” And they both stare at each other, getting bigger on the spot, faces red, genitals dilating. She grabs a grapefruit, he picks up a bunch of celery.
“Hold on,” I tell them. “You need to calm down. You need to put down the produce. You need to understand that it’s okay to have either view. This is a free country, and it’s better to debate than resort to fighting.” They look at me like I’m nuts, but this is the free world I tell them. Let me show you how to find the common ground. I put a hand on their genitals. And I rub. I rub softly. Then notly. In the produce section, moans of bipartisan delight escalate as the two combatants find their common ground, a space constructed by the motions of my hands on their nethers, my fingers frantic as they search for a rapid accommodation.
Completion is a funny thing when you reach it, amidst the red peppers and the potatoes, as shopping carts clatter in a circle around you, castor wheels unsticking themselves amidst the sudden surge of agreeability and compromise. “Who are you?” they ask me, when I’m done bridging this divide. “Trent Lewin,” I tell them. “Bipartisan Bandit.”
At work, I sit in a fifty-foot boardroom alone. Tap on my computer. Tap on myself. There’s coffee in my gut, rich, gritty stuff that leaves a film at the bottom of the cup. I put it on my finger and insert it into my nose, sniff until it gets as close to my brain as humanly possible, those brown specks of bean-derived fuck-love that I need so badly.
“Dr. Lewin,” comes a voice on my computer, “there’s an altercation in the parking lot. Could you help please?”
It’s just a voice. It’s always the same voice that calls. Are you a human being or a computer, I want to ask. Are you a corporeal being, or are you like me? And have you ever snorted spent coffee grounds?
Outside, a man in a pickup truck is gunning his engine while parked. Plumes of black diesel smoke are coming out of his tailpipe. He’s wearing a cowboy hat. Slippers. And he’s got the type of beard that’s worth sucking on after you prepare it in a remoulade of mustard and hot relish. “Fuck yeah,” he screams, as he guns the engine.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” yells a girl scout. She’s wearing a sash and an orange backpack. “You’re polluting the environment for no reason!”
“Yeah?” screams pickup man. “Did you walk here? Pretty sure I saw you getting out of a bus. You think that thing runs on faerie farts and turtle shit?” He guns the engine. “Fuck yeah!”
The girl scout is half his size, but she goes right up to him. “You’re doing this for no reason! You’re a monster!” Her finger is in his face, like she’s going to scoop out his brain and take it home in her backpack.
“Hold on a minute,” I tell them. “Listen. Pollution or no pollution, we should talk about it. Find a compromise. This stuff is complicated. There’s no easy answer. We need to sit down. Here, sit on the asphalt with me. That’s right. Cross your legs. Relax. No, it’s not yoga. It’s better than yoga. I’m going to touch you in the nose. You’re going to like this. No, it’s not a drug. It’s coffee. It’s just coffee that I’m going to put into your noses.”
Fingers are fast, and fast they flee as they penetrate two nostrils, mixing bits of coffee with mucus until it’s a paste in there, a paste that is a holy expulsion of whatever god you choose to believe in, the icing on a holy cake, the sacrament in the holiest of churches, here in the asphalt outside my workplace. As I smear their nostrils, I tell them, “Look, the environment is big. It was here before we came along. It’s probably going to be here after we leave. So let’s talk about what the right thing to do is, because it may not be what you think.” They moan, eyes closed, conciliation achieved through the bountiful application of caffeine, their brains focused on a centrist position that, ten minutes ago, never was or has been. I leave them there, legs crossed, as they inhale the day, and the thing I did to them.
This is the way. This is the day, and this is how I spend it. Trent Lewin, Bipartisan Bandit, making good on finding the casserole in the pantry, the components that make the smoothie. Blend this. Blend that. Bring it together until it’s commonality and agreement, because the world doesn’t work in the divide. Take the lines off the maps, gentle people. Reassemble the continents until we are one big dickhole nation, worshipping the same deity, watching the same streaming service. Fucking at the same time every night. Drinking the same wine, and then the scotch, and then the more scotch until you’re ready for the cheap whiskey, singing on our porches at the same time, a raucous noise that’s a song of unity, the dream we have aspired to throughout the entirety of our civilization.
On the way home, a protest in the street. “Spend more on social programs and take care of people! Tax the rich!” screams one side. “No more debt! No more spending! Rich people are people too!” screams the other. One group is on one sidewalk, the other on the other side. Placards are raised. Banners are waving. And loudspeakers blare.
I park on the road and get on the roof of my car. “Wait!” I tell them, but the loudspeakers are so loud they can’t hear me. So I take off my shirt. Then my pants. I’m in my underwear. Trent Lewin, wearing briefs, because that’s what you need to hold yourself together in this day of the continued divide between people – you need strong, forming fabric that nestles your best parts against each other, generating a heat that leads to sweat, a sweat that drips on occasion down your leg until you just know that you need a backup pair of socks, because it’s getting so much hotter in this world. So much clammier.
I pull down my briefs, and unleash the truth. “Listen! Yes, that’s right. I’m not unduly endowed. I’m not big in that department, but I swing myself freely in front of you all. Witness the light hairiness of my bipartisan skin, and question if you will the sweaty sheen on my nether regions. Do you want to spend on social programs to take care of people, at the expense of encumbering future generations with more debt that they won’t be able to afford? Let’s talk about rich people and what they should contribute. It’s complex,” I tell them, as I grow emboldened by the thoughts, until the modest endowment I have been provided in this middle-class existence springs to life, emerging to scrutinize the crowd that hushes itself at the sight of the thing, as it twirls in involuntary circles and hypnotizes the masses into a deep contemplation of the middle ground – the compromise that forces them to sit upon the sidewalk, to think on the words of me, Trent Lewin, naked and engorged with all the flame of my holy purpose as I tell them no, do not pick a side, never do that, just find no side and you will be fine, my children.
At home, there’s a diaper in the catch basin. Shit on a stick. On my neighbor’s lawn, a pile of books and a can of gasoline. I park my car and walk over. He’s wearing a bathing suit and chugging a beer. “What’s up, Umba?” He’s from Strasbourg, moved here two years ago because Strasbourg is a shithole, he tells me.
“I’m going to burn these books, Trenty. I took them from the library. They are disgusting. Pornographic. Political. Racial. Satirical, umbilical, alliterical. So many things, Trenty. Children and other human beings should not be reading these, so I’m going to make a fire.”
“I can understand that, Umba,” I tell him. It’s hot. I’m sweating. He chugs his beer. “I understand your position. I respect your position.”
His eyes widen. “You do? Trenty, really? You support my book burning bonfire? You will sit with me and watch these books burn?”
“I respect your position and your rights,” I tell him, even though there’s a lump in my spleen. It’s the type of lump that fucks you up from the inside, because it’s got a knife. No, it’s a sword. That lump has a sword, and it’s got armor, and it’s slicing through your innards, mangling your intestines as it seeks to exit you into the outside world, where it’ll run down the street until they can catch the little fucker. “I understand your position, Umba. I get it. You have a point. I am very understanding, Umba.”
“That is fucking unbelievable,” grins Umba, as he starts to douse the pile with gasoline. A smell emerges. A smell that’s going to turn to flames and ashes, the type of fire you can see from space.
I excuse myself and go in the house. This is the way it is, when you’re in the middle. This is the hard work of being a conciliator. A mediator. A facilitator holding fast between the polarity of the endless divides that exist around us. This is what you feel, with the curtains drawn to shut out the next conflict, as you suck on a bottle of whiskey and determine the next intermediate position you’re going to put forth, the delicate in-between that is going to make all the difference in this world that probably started more united, back when we were cavepeople, and fucking and eating and fucking while eating was all we ever did, however we accomplished that unbelievable act of intake/outtake there on the cave floor, our art on the walls, art that painted an idealistic picture of no worries and no conflicts, just procreation and survival. That’s all. That’s it.
I drink, because middle ground is not the Christian Bible or the Muslim Quran. It’s not the Conservative or the Liberal, the abortion provider or the pro-life advocate, it’s not the football fan against the baseball fan, it’s not Costco versus Walmart, Amazon versus your local bookseller, it’s not internet medical advice versus doctors who went to school for two decades, it’s not scientists and evolution against creationism, it’s not even Apples versus Samsungs. It’s the light touch right in-between. The sacred ground on this holy stage, ineligible to compete on either side, the grey where the precious few brave souls tread, pulling on the extremes until they’re mushing their body parts together, smearing themselves in whatever substances emerge from their pores and orifices, there to create unity. Consensus. Harmony and peace, in this day of the great divide.
I sleep in whiskey fumes. Dream of tapdancing between the rain drops. Swimming between the shit in the sewer. Wake up. There’s a diaper in my milk jug. Shit in my robe. I put on the coffee, but I don’t have any.
At the grocery store, no coffee. At the Starbucks, no coffee. The Tim Horton’s… The Dunkin Donuts. The little family coffee shop on the corner. The uptown student place. None. There’s no coffee.
“What the fuck is going on?” I scream, running through town in my robe.
“Tea won,” says a police officer. “Didn’t you hear?”
“No. Fuck no.”
“It’s all over. They did studies to figure out what’s better, tea or coffee. It was pretty close, in the end. But tea came out ahead. So coffee’s off the menu. Beans are being sent back. Stores are being restocked with tea. Loose tea. Tea in bags. Tea with caffeine. Tea without caffeine. Tea sold in boxes and in cans. Tea accessories too. Tea cups. Tea pots. Tea strainers and tea cozies. I recommend tea cozies myself. They’re essential if you’re going to drink a good tea.”
A part of me wants to say, “Let’s talk about this. Let’s find some middle ground, where both sides can coexist. Let’s compromise, we’ll be okay.” But there’s no coffee in my gut, working its way through to that flabby bit of skin held upright by the power of my briefs. There’s no grit in my nostrils, next to my brain, livening up this parched bit of ground that we call Earth, the stupidest name ever given to any planet in a universe with more inhabitable planetoids than any one human being can count in an entire lifetime.
“No. Fuck no. This won’t do.” I take the police officer’s hand. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going, sir?” he asks.
“We’re going to lean hard to one side. We’re going to go up the chain. We’re going to make a fuss. We’ll make placards. We’ll write notes. We’ll go on tv, and raise a voice. Because. That’s why. Don’t even ask. Because this won’t do. This just won’t do. Sometimes, son, you have to choose. You just have to.”
And yes, you do. Yes, you can. Sometimes, you have to tell someone they’re fucking wrong. Sometimes, you have to lean hard to one side and make a point, and you have to fight for something or just die in a pile of middle ground bullshit nothing. Sometimes, you heat up and raise a stink. Sometimes, you war, because if you don’t do that, that tenuous, safe little bit of middle ground you stand on gets to be lonely and cold, no matter what you drink or how much, no matter how tight you pull the curtains and how convinced you are of your own innate righteousness. So sometimes you wake up with that diaper in your toothpaste or that turd on your pillow, and whether you like it or not, whether it’s safe or not, whether it’s rational or something totally opposite that verges on being an actual human instinct for justice, you have to do this one simple, memorable, and affirming thing. Yes, you do. You, and me, the we. We gotta. We have to. We must sometimes, all of us, pick a side.