Finished working for the night, I’m sitting alone on the patio’s wooden bench with a pint of beer next to me. I’m smoking a cigarette when a man walks by and asks me if he can have one. He’s a portly dude, glasses, plaid collared shirt, classic nerd type. I tell him I’ll roll him a smoke, so he comes over and sits down next to me.
He’s drunk. He was watching a movie across the street and left to have a smoke, then discovered he didn’t have any more cigarettes. Soon he starts talking about his work; he’s a civilian government agent, working in national security. He doesn’t and can’t give too many details, but he does speak with the free and slightly desperate demeanor of someone accustomed to carrying secrets.
My co-workers show up, and now the man has a reluctant audience. They’re more concerned with the beauty and tragedy of their own plebeian lives. Who’s going to cuddle up with who, where they’re going to drink tonight, whether there’s going to be another fight with the alcoholic vampire boyfriend, who’s got the weed.
They don’t know enough about the world to even begin to feel the weight of this man’s words. They don’t have the empathy to see how important it is for him to have someone listen. They don’t have the wisdom to ask questions and learn. After just over two decades of life, they’re more eager to assert their own ignorant perspectives and then flee. The man is too drunk and lonely to notice, or care. I am listening, and that’s enough for him.
So much in his head and heart he can’t tell, can’t share, can’t communicate with other people about. He’s jaded, but he believes in what he does. A man who watches the mall-shopping, reality TV-watching masses skim across the wafer-thin surface of the world, oblivious to the blood under the streets. He can’t tell us this, and he can’t tell us that, but what he can tell us might as well be secret, because most people don’t have any idea what’s Really Going On, and don’t want to.
Narco-insurgents, chemical weapon attacks in syria, russian military bases. Defective fighter planes forced into use by the political and economic machinations of people on The Hill. Cash rules everything around me, nothing new or secret here. But in his eyes, the melancholy hope. “You guys can do things that I can’t. Vote. Do something.”
The children leave, and it’s down to me and him. I’m smart enough to have a healthy paranoia about the government; the challenge for me in this situation is to prevent my fear from standing in the way of my humanity.
I mean, I’m a hip hop artist, and I say a lot of raw shit in my songs. Anti-Babylon shit, the type of shit the government and its corporate overlords tried their damnedest to destroy. I’ve bought books on anarchism and radical environmentalism over the internet, which probably flagged me. I have no involvement in “politics” or “movements,” but suddenly finding myself in the company of a government agent is enough to give me a tingle of The Fear.
But he doesn’t ask me any questions. He doesn’t show any interest in me or my life at all. He just needs someone to listen.