A few weeks back I rode my bike to the State Capitol for a peace rally. It had everything a rally should have -- labor, veterans and Gold Star mothers, respected speakers, a sunny day -- except people.
It was subdued and surreal, like the final scene from "On the Beach," the 1959 movie about nuclear annihilation, in which banners flutter over an outdoor stage and flyers scuttle across the flattened grass and no one is there.
OK, I exaggerate. Our rally had maybe 300 to 400 people, still pretty much alive, but it seemed we all had an ashy coat of hopelessness.
In Ken Burns' recent series, "The War," a veteran says the military knew that the longest a person could endure combat before going totally nuts was 240 days. We've been in Iraq roughly 1,650 days now, and though God knows most of us haven't been asked to do much more than sell off our children's future, I think we're all going a little nuts.
We sit glassy-eyed through committee hearings on such fantastical characters as Blackwater USA's Erik Prince -- a secretive megabuck donor to President Bush whose "troops," paid to escort diplomats, will now have members of the State Department paid to escort them.
We watch slack-jawed as Republicans vie for the affections of their crumbling evangelical base by proclaiming love for their (third) wife or the unborn -- unless the unborn becomes born and requires health care and education.
We nod out as Hillary's machine rolls on toward the inevitable, fed by media reports of -- the inevitable. And as 2008 approaches, those of the liberal persuasion are filled with a familiar dread.
We agonize as Congress squabbles over who is more unpatriotic for calling which members of the military more unpatriotic -- and our president assures us that the American government does not torture people.
Iraq is a never-ending nightmare, and the Decider's mind seems decided on something catastrophic for Iran. We're drowning in debt. Our health-care system is great -- for those who can afford it. It's October and 80 degrees outside. Creepy.
On the way home from the State Capitol I got lost trying to find the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 94. I pedaled through a backwater of apartments and townhouses along the freeway. A group of African-American guys were shooting hoops, women and kids laughing and playing along the side. A group of Mexican guys were working on a car, two wheels pulled up on the curb so one could crab his way underneath. And a group of Hmong guys were re-siding a 1960s-era flat-roof church, a temporary sign hanging over the old one, "Hmong Evangelical Lutheran Church."
Stereotype alley, I know, but also reality. And a comforting bit of normalcy in a world gone nuts.
Susan Lenfestey lives in Minneapolis and writes at the clotheslineblog.com.
© 2007 Star Tribune