Booze, Bombs, and Backyard Politics: The Strange Theater of American Suburbia

by | Jun 10, 2024 | POLITICS, SHORT STORIES

I was up in DC again. The suburbs. There was some sort of family gathering that I got invited to—a birthday party, a holiday, something of that sort. We were around back and a neighbor had the grill going. There was some talking:

“Can you believe this day we’re having?”

“Nice day, idn’t it?”

“Oh yes!”

“And would ya take a look at that chiminea?!”

The backyard was bright and tidy, the grass was tidy, and some folks were mingling. It smelled like success.

I dodged a few groups and managed to get myself across the lawn over to the cooler. I was checking the ground for mounds of dog shit but could not find any. Nor were there cigarette butts or 20 oz cans of beer in paper bags. No trash. Nothing. Not around these parts. Just a perfect yard with perfect grass for perfect people. Wealthy and tall while their assets did the work for them. 

I grabbed an IPA and popped it open, took a sip, watched. There was a Subaru circling carefully around the cul-de-sac towing an expensive boat. A white fence. A jet airplane overhead. The hot July sun. 

Over by the cornhole were the neighbors from Cuba. Diplomats. Enjoying the good life, having fled a poor country and enjoying a rich one. The wife was in her mid-fifties; she was fit and her skin was barely sagging. She wore pink lipstick and a flowery sundress that I thought might’ve been designed for younger women. She walked over to me at the cooler.

“Would you like a beer ma’am?” I asked.

“Oh no… no thank you.”

“Okay.”

All of a sudden she was smirking. 

“Did you know . . . I gave up drinking?”

“I haven’t seen you since I was 12.”

“I did, Chris! I gave it up!”

“Good for you, it’s not easy…”

Then a fighter jet flew over. Two of them. A drill, I was sure. Two young guns burning a million dollars of jet fuel, doing barrel rolls. As they ripped a hole through the air, she readied her next sentence.

“But I love those gummies!” 

“Do ya?” I said. 

I sipped my beer and twirled the bottle, looked inside of it for a way out. Nothing. 

“I swear! That’s all I do now is those weed gummies. They’re legal now, you know?

“Oh yah.”

“I feel so good! . . . but the cravings, my goodness.”

“The goddamned munchies.”

“Ugh, yes!”

I looked around, hoping her husband would take her for a spin over to the dessert table for a slice of bundt cake. But he was locked into a cross-neighborhood cornhole match whose results seemed to matter greatly. He slung a bag, nailed it. 5 points.

It was at that point in the conversation that I started looking around for an off-ramp. A way out. I saw some aunts and uncles were assembled around a picnic table forking cheese cubes with a toothpick, so I walked over. 

“Heya Chris!”

“Hey Chris! 

“Chris, it’s great to see you!”

Shit, I thought. They’ll ask me about my job. 

“How goes the job hunt?” Someone asked. There it was…

“Great,” I said. “Still lookin’ ya know?”

“Have you tried an internship?”

“Yah! An internship! That’s a great place to start!”

My head was down so I wasn’t sure who was saying what. On the ground, there were two ants having sex and I wondered what it’d be like to be squashed and killed in such a manner. Someone continued:

“Ya’now, Steve started on the ground floor at Raytheon and worked his way up.”

“Isn’t that great? It can happen!”

“I know.” I said. “I’ve applied to a few.”

“Make sure to mention your college degree! Did you mention your major?”

I couldn’t stand any more career advice from the Boomers, so I thanked them and walked to the bathroom, closed the door, flushed, turned the water on and off, walked back outside. It only bought me 30 seconds.

These sons of bitches had caught the luckiest 50-year run in human history: no ground wars, no famine, just five decades of a hot stock market and hotter real estate market. All you had to do was buy something, anything, and you looked like a goddamn genius. Now social security is running out, the climate’s on the brink, and a tiny home costs $800,000.

A while later I was into my fourth IPA and starting to feel it—but as a quiet, thoughtful drinker, no one could ever tell. 

A man as tall as a giraffe walked over with a beer of his own in a sports koozie. He was very, very tall, and carried lots of weight around his belt. The rest of him was skinny. Nice crop of short brown hair. Tidy. 

“Hi there! I’m Craig.”

“Hey Craig, I’m Christopher.”

He extended his hand out. I shook it. 

“Nice to meet you, Chris.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

Craig told me he’d just moved in across the street. His wife had their third child so he went and got a big promotion at work. Then he got a bigger house with a bigger yard and bigger mortgage. Now they had him.

The “what do you do” question inevitably popped up, so I told him I had just graduated and was looking for an internship.

“That’s a great idea! Get yourself in the door and work your way up.”

“That’s the plan . . .”

I didn’t ask him what he did but he told me anyway: 

“Procurement! I’m passionate about Procurement.”

I was nodding along as I thought, what the hell’s a matter with you? 

Instead I said, “What does that mean?”

“It’s government purchasing, the military, contracting stuff—I make it all happen.”

I cycled through a few ahh’s, mhmm’s, and okay’s. I asked him to explain, and that’s where he really lost me.

“You see, the government spends trillions of dollars on services each year…” 

“Right.” I said.

“So for example . . . let’s say the government wants to buy water. They don’t bottle water themselves, so they sub-contract out to a bottler.”

“I bet they’re very good at procuring bottlers.” 

“Exactly! That’s where I come in.” 

“Except they’re buying missiles, not water.”

“Right.”

Overseas, poor people were shooting each other in trenches because their countries wanted to redraw the map. Meanwhile, folks around here were cashing in. (A Whole Foods was going up across the street.) The war had little to do with America, but that didn’t stop DC from getting a piece of the action. The news was beaming: stocks were up, earnings were up, 401ks and pensions were up. Boardrooms were happy. So my guess was the men in suits would take their time negotiating. I’d bet on the over. 

The trick was to not think about it. You had to not think about it. If there was one surefire way of going mad it was to zoom out from your commute, your cubicle, your pretend job tinkering in spreadsheets, pretending on Zoom, the bombs that were dropped that you procured. It’d push a thinking man to the brink.

Meanwhile, the brats and peppers were coming off the grill. 

“Well it was great to meet you Craig.”

“Great to meet you too, kid!”

“Good luck with that Procurement . . . I hope you find some cheap bombs.”

“Thanks!”

I had myself a paper plate with relish and mustard and continued working that beer. All you had to do was not think about it.

Cameron Ritter

Cameron Ritter

Author of "Middlemen: Confessions of a Freight Broker". VCU grad. Student of Gonzo Journalism.




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