Death, with Compound Interest

The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem […] One sees it must indeed own the riches of the summer and winter, and need never be bankrupt while corn grows from the ground or the orchards drop apples or the bays contain fish or men beget children upon women.

–Walt Whitman, from his preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855.

Cool, the American stands on two legs, favoring neither left nor right, his weight equally distributed. No contrapposto wuss, he declines to lean on stumps, cherry trees, walls, chaise longues or, god forbid, another man. In his mind at least, one or more babes could be seen draping themselves, melting, practically, all over his dry solidity. For a casual yet don’t-mess-with-me equilibrium, his feet are set slightly wider than his hormone-bred, steroid-fortified shoulders.

His forebears stood at a sepia-tinted bar, draining liquor. Though sitting, he hasn’t gone soft but is perched on a high stool, his height nearly that of a man standing. Even at rest, he is erect and ready for action, be it darts, dancing or a preemptive strike against some dark pest of an enemy.

Just east of Italy or south of Spain, men squat. In all of Asia, even Japan, they squat. That says it all, he reflects, turning off his credit card charged plasma screen. If ever evicted, he would never squat, he doesn’t think. He imagines a squatting form in his foreclosure encroached, exurban cul-de-sac. With a running start, he would boot this collapsed, balled up, abject, defecating alien through the goddamn upright. You just can’t have shit on the sidewalk.

And baseball catchers don’t really squat, captain, since their feet aren’t totally flat on the ground. How long have you been in this country?

Standing tall, the status/stature of a state depends on its wealth and asskicking power, one sprung from the other. Lacking either, it’s just a one-legged pretender on the global stage, leaning on a patron. Lacking both, it’s nothing but a basket case, immobile flesh plopped on woven faggots.

Power requires symbols, a throne or a staff, etc. While plebeians crowded benches, the big man had his own chair, hence chairman, a head that schemes, tastes and barks orders. Tongueless, the middle class is a stomach that churns and digests. Upset, it aches and threatens to fart. The lower class is a sullen or shuffling rectum. “Would you like some freedom fries with that?”

As a symbol of money-generated power, the skyscraper was the obvious choice, with the biggest and baddest flaunting the tallest and longest, pricking heavens. No confusion of tongues here, we all speak Globish. Ramrod straight, free of decorative, barbaric frills, it’s just straight ahead shock and awesome, ya’al. Better yet, make it two towers, two legs, two pillars, down there, downtown, in the Finance District, where all capital actual or hallucinated are diced, bundled and swapped, with a proper commission for me! me! me!

Minoru Yamasaki’s career began with the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis. A hellish, Utopian prototype, it was made up of 33 11-story buildings containing 2,870 apartments. Its elevators paused only at the first, fourth, seventh and tenth floors. On March 16, 1972, after 18 years of use, it was demolished by controlled demolition on live television. Yamasaki’s other famous buildings include the Century Plaza Towers in Los Angeles, the Picasso Tower in Madrid and the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, but his magnum opus was undoubtably America’s twin legs in lower Manhattan, white and visible even in New Jersey. Erected in 1972, they came down on September 11, 2001. “Minoru” must mean “controlled demolition on live television.” The architect blustered, “World trade means world peace […] The World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.”

Yamasaki died in 1986, long before the double amputation, castration witnessed by the entire world as well as its hapless victim. What happened on September 11, 2001 was worse than the 1975 embassy evacuation from Saigon, since it took place on American soil, in the greatest American city, inflicted by American instruments — Bush, Cheney, American and United Airlines — on American assets with the greatest and most visible symbolic power. It was worse than Pearl Harbor, which had occurred away from the Mainland, in a territory that only became a state 18 years later. Further, Pearl Harbor wasn’t shown live on television. By retaliating against a wrong enemy, Iraq, America confirmed its impotence. By humiliating its “detainees” in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, it betrayed its pettiness and sadism. By legalizing torture, it trumpeted to the world that it no longer even pretended to be moral.

The Twin Towers surpassed the Empire State Building as the tallest in the world. Conceived during the roaring twenties, an era of jivey speculation and easy money, like our last two decades, the Empire State Building was built during the Great Depression. As excavation began in January of 1930, it was far from clear what the country was going through. Although the stock market had crashed on October 29, 1929, Lou Levin recorded in November, “Happy days are here again, / The skies above are clear again / Let us sing a song of cheer again / Happy days are here again.” This became the campaign jingle for Franklin D. Roosevelt, who famously declared during his 1932 inaugural address, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

With its destruction of America’s major rivals, World War II not only restored but greatly increased this country’s prosperity and political clout, but with its oil running low and its industries gone, not even a global bloodbath will save it now. It doesn’t mean it won’t try.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Brian Koontz said on October 6th, 2008 at 12:37pm #

    The destruction of America doesn’t matter to those in power, since multinational capital largely controls America (and the world economy). The victims of the destruction of America are primarily American citizens, who are only *one* market for multinational capital, the loss of which is a splinter in the finger, painful for a short time but finally extracted and forgotten.

    Multinational capital, a Godzilla stomping America flat, will move on – to China, to India, to South Korea, to Africa, to the ends of the world, to the ends of their reach. While Americans wallow in misery the global shark will continue to find victims to feed on, continue to engage in orgies of blood and death.

    The left continues to make the error of believing in states. States are merely tools used by the multinationals. They are becoming less relevant and may soon be entirely irrelevant.

    When will we kill the shark?

  2. Linh Dinh said on October 6th, 2008 at 12:55pm #

    Hi Brian,

    I agree with you completely. These people could care less about any nation or people. After wreaking destruction, they’ll move on, leaving their victims to KILL EACH OTHER.

  3. David said on October 7th, 2008 at 9:57am #


    Thanks for the most interesting piece.

    I have one concern though.

    As I approach my golden years and arthritis finds its way ever more into my knees, does this mean that I will lose my American manhood fought for so courageously in latte bars and malls across this great land? Will my stooped, creaky form be the object of ridicule in sports stadiums and bars?

    And should I choose to flee this catalog of Chinese offerings, will I be rejected east of Italy and south of Spain, forever (at least until I croak or max out my credit cards) an expat Flying Dutchman, because I am unable to squat and thus become one with the Indegenes?

  4. Linh Dinh said on October 7th, 2008 at 10:10am #

    Hi David,

    As long as you can deal with the squatting loo, you’re good to go worldwide!

  5. Gary Lapon said on October 8th, 2008 at 11:36am #

    States are still relevant BECAUSE they are the tools of capitalists (who, by the way, are not united on a global level…they use states to compete, hence the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, etc.).

    This article does a good job of addressing the argument:

    And I wouldn’t count America’s ruling class out yet; they may have taken a hit, but so has the rest of the world and while the US is losing power and prestige, the ruling class here is still the most powerful and ruthless in the history of the world, with the potential to become even more dangerous in decline. All the more reason to build a Left to challenge them, both here and around the world.

    P.S. It’s not so easy for capital to just pack up and go…although a lot of manufacturing can be easily outsourced, capitalists rely on the vast amount already invested in infrastructure and highly-capital-intensive industries in the industrialized countries of the Triad (US, Europe, Japan), which is not particularly mobil and not easily shipped overseas to the “periphery.”