License to Kill
In today's America, the vast rift between the upper and lower classes grows by the second. The gap reminds me of the tale about Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigning by rail through West Virginia. Roosevelt had recently taken the nation off the gold standard and was promoting the move as he pulled into the city of Mount Hope. There a young child by the name of Amos Innocence, the dirt of the coal mine fresh on his cheeks, pushed his way through the crowd, tugged at President Roosevelt's pants leg, and asked why he had taken the country off of gold when Amos's father had always been sure to stash only that, meager amount though it was.
"Mr. President, why did you condemn my family to poverty?" Amos famously asked Roosevelt.
Unfazed, the president beckoned to a nearby aide for his umbrella. The move was curious, as there was not a cloud in the sky, but when Roosevelt plunged the sharpened tip of the umbrella deep into the then-beating heart of Amos Innocence, it all became clear. Amos had crossed a line and thus must be dealt with. And Roosevelt took care of it himself, man to man, human to human, aristocrat to poor miner, because Roosevelt was a good president. And the classes got along better because people knew their place; it's not like that anymore. If some child in a border town has a problem with immigration reform, Bush doesn't deal with it himself. He doesn't even pay it any mind.
But then, Bush is not a good president. Or a legally elected one.
Still, places remain where, regardless of status, we are all thrust into the same scenario. Going through security at the airport, it does not matter whether your shoes are Famous Footwear or Manolo; you have to execute the same humbling act of taking them off.
And then there's the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Going in, I knew the DMV was going to be a brutal experience. But What's So Funny has always tried to live on the razor's edge, so to make the DMV experience as painful as possible, I consumed 47 alcoholic beverages the night before. I went to renew my license not just hung over, but near death with a hangover, one nudge from vomiting mountains of bilious upchuck onto the dated linoleum floors. After waiting to be checked in for ten minutes and overhearing such delicate responses from DMV employees as "We don't accept border-jumpers here," I was told to wait in line two, a maze consisting entirely of non-English speakers, young 'uns awaiting their driving tests, and tattooed, bespectacled Henry Rollins-looking psychopaths who felt it their job to bellow unsolicited advice to said young 'uns.
"Don't drink and drive, do you hear me?" one boomed at a startled fifteen-year-old girl. "I'm serious," he growled, veins popping out of his neck. "I've been through it, and it's fucking hell!"
The girl tried to fight the man off with terrified, brace-faced smiles, but he persisted.
"None of your friends do drugs, do they?" he inquired. "Do kids still do the heroin these days?"
At this point, I was starting to think I might lose it. Nearly an hour had passed, and I was still far from the window. I'd given up trying to mask my hangover, and instead was relishing the guttural belches containing toxic levels of alcohol that I was releasing into the stale air. A mother accompanying her sixteen-year-old son turned around in disgust, horrified by the unshaven hipster wino behind her. I couldn't take it anymore; I began seething with real hatred for the throngs of humanity smothering me in this hellish, licensing hopscotch, feeling like I might burst.
And then something amazing happened. A stray child -- they are everywhere at the DMV, like dogs on an Indian reservation -- broke from the crowd and sprinted to the counter at the front. He leapt into the air and grabbed onto a ledge, the place where you would normally lean and conduct your business with the clerk. The boy then placed both his feet on the wall beneath the ledge and, while still holding on with his hands, began walking up the side of the counter, until his back was parallel with the ground. Everyone was watching with awe when suddenly the boy's hands slipped from the ledge and he slammed back-first onto the floor, the wind cold-cocked right out of his little body. But rather than respond with shock or concern, rather than run and attend to the boy, the entire room let loose with roars of laughter. Bent by hours of bureaucracy and futility, we had all been stretched to the point that our only reaction to a child falling down -- and falling quite hard -- was to laugh ourselves stupid. In that moment, we all thought it was the funniest goddamn thing in the world.
Wiping away my tears and fighting back the vomit in my throat, I suddenly felt connected with everyone in the room, with all walks of life. And you know what the craziest thing about it was? The boy was the spitting image of Amos Innocence.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.