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America

2017

Graphic by Brian Kraker

Because 2016 wasn’t enough, 2017 has gone out of its way to escape its predecessor’s shadow and destroy the boundaries for how gratifyingly repugnant a single calendar year can be. Each day was a test of psychological fortitude on the parts of literally billions of people around this flat earth of ours, which somehow has yet to file for emancipation from us. For every second chance, we deliver a second disappointment, and a third, and a fourth, and–

Has the constant stream of threats, misguided anger, choose-your-own-isms and quasi-political figures you’re supposed to remember yet immediately forget driven you directly to the doctor’s office? Better there than to stay and wait for the robots to replace you, anyway.

We all have a thousand brilliant lies for the question, “How are you?” The better question, as we turn the corner with a glaring snarl, ’17 going on ’18, may very well be: Are you having fun yet?

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A funny thing about growing up with parents ceaselessly devoted to the music they like:  after a certain point, the idea of a “soundtrack” to growing up dissipates, and you’re left with a pastiche of sounds that, without warning, can trigger any number of nostalgic thoughts years, even decades, later. You didn’t ask for this, but it’s what you got. You live with it, and eventually, hopefully, you become grateful for it.

Along with a handful of other artists, I don’t remember the first time I ever heard Tom Petty because he was always just there. Not to make an assumption on your behalf, dear reader, but I’ve got a feeling that, unlike most of the rest of them for me[1], you likely don’t remember the first time you heard Petty either. He’s always been there, for all of us, which made it all the more devastating when word officially came down late Monday night that Petty had passed away at the age of 66.

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Fate of the Rebel Flag, William Bauley (1861)

It’s a curious thing, this American exceptionalism. It always has been, even before we inadvertently and loudly made this country the most exceptional nation in the world this side of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and even that bit is becoming questionable. Ego begets ego, and the hot air balloon rises seemingly infinitely, toward the clouds, toward the moon, toward the fully-visible sun. In any case, it’s getting away from here.

Every country is exceptional from the jump, at the most basic level. Any country can be exceptional in a next-level, “people are discussing this thing’s exceptionalism to a tautological degree in a bar over high-ABV motor oil right this second” sense. The logical next phrase there should’ve been “if it tries hard enough,” but then, that’s part of what got the United States into this in the first place, constantly feeling like the lights were turned on an hour ago, but you’re still at the aforementioned bar.

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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.

When he found himself down a set to 19-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, 36-year-old Roger Federer did not blink. As if staring directly into a sun of his own creation, Federer assessed his odds of survival and took to relying on the things that have gotten him by for so long: namely, an unparalleled control of proceedings and measured daring. Tiafoe dared the 19-time Grand Slam champion on numerous occasions, but the risks he took ended up being for naught, at least this time.

With a Roger Federer first round proceeding, the story becomes a narrative unto itself: how does Fed reveal himself, slowly, unsuspectingly, to a tennis public that has witnesses his every move, jut, turn and pivot? Even having abandoned this period of the previous calendar year, Federer remains a captivating sight for the tennis audience, especially those in New York, who yearn to watch perfection reach its most perfect, even under the most relenting of circumstances.

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Photograph by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I’m not at all qualified to discuss sports, professional or otherwise. Or, at least, not in the view of the people who believe Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment is anything other than a morally righteous comeuppance, an inevitable reaction to a decorated athlete of color speaking his mind. How dare a person have thoughts beyond their scope of expertise? Can’t he just keep quiet, perform for the fans and accept his sizable paycheck? Why doesn’t he #sticktosports?

Given that thought process, none of us are qualified to form an opinion on, really, anything. Your dentist shouldn’t tell you what he thinks about the Mets’ starting rotation, nor should your accountant divulge his thoughts on Gary Bettman’s perpetual dismantling of professional hockey. Drill the teeth, find the tax breaks, shut up and do your job. Most notably, of course, the current POTUS wouldn’t be anywhere near his position had much of his base applied to him the same logic they – liberally – apply to athletes, given his complete lack of political experience and expertise prior to assuming the role[1].

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The moon hides the sun for about two hours. That’s basically what all this business about the solar eclipse comes down to – the 14 brands of sunglasses NASA’s approved for viewing, the hastily requested time-off notices, the paths of totality sounding like some phony spiritual journey, the 99 years of waiting. But some state Departments of Transportation are taking it seriously in an effort to work around what they see as being a potentially severe congestion problem along many of the country’s major trucking routes. From I-5 running parallel up Oregon’s coast to I-26 slicing through the heart of South Carolina, officials are considering limited deliveries and restricted wide loads.

It’s a stone of madness, really. The country’s major terra firma shipping arteries could be clogged by a bunch of us desperate to stare at our most blistering light in the anticipation that it gets hidden for a twelfth of our day. What new astrological insights are we hoping for from down here? What are we expecting to be different? What truth will freshly burned retinas bring us?

Plenty of cosmic rituals make absolutely no sense to me, but this one is its own reality.

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