Sayed Kashua |

Fascism, Terrorism, the Occupation? Who Cares? There's an Eclipse!

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Sayed Kashua drives a red convertible with a giant ear of corn in the passenger's seat.
Illustration.Credit: Amos Biderman

This weekend is the Sweetcorn Festival. The streets in the center of town will be closed, and there will be stages for performances by local bands and guest musicians. My daughter is going to play with the school band, there will be children cavorting on inflatable bounce houses, and booths selling hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos and beer. And, of course, there will be the corn stands, where you can opt for buttered or not buttered. This week I discovered that I’m actually eagerly awaiting the Sweetcorn Festival, and have been following the weather forecasts, and hoping for a dry, pleasant weekend.

What’s happening to me? Sometimes I ask myself aloud: Is this okay? Is it even considered legitimate? Is it alright that I found myself swept up this week in the festivities surrounding the solar eclipse, getting excited and preparing the kids for this awesome cosmic event, buying glasses to protect our eyes and watching live television broadcasts beamed from observation points coast to coast? Is it legitimate to be thrilled by an eclipse of the sun? The only thing that happens is that it gets dark for a minute, but nothing else changes.

What’s happening to me? What’s come over me? Do I need to start recalculating, if this week I found myself worrying mainly that the grass is starting to go yellow, upset that not enough rain fell this summer and wondering whether I should install sprinklers and start watering the lawn? Grass? What the hell?

I reprimanded myself, thinking: Look at the president, at the fascism, at the terrorism in Spain. Remember that you’re a migrant, a political refugee. Focus on the communities in Israel that reject Arabs, on swimming pools where only Jews are allowed entry. Look at Syria, read a little about Yemen. But I don’t really manage to do this, and the yellowness that’s starting to spread on the lawn is giving me sleepless nights and making me angrier than even the thought of the annexation of the territories.

I’m going to have to deal with the sprinklers even before the sweetcorn festivities begin.

Is this an age thing? An emotional disconnect caused by physical distance? Is it only me, or are these processes that time naturally dictates? What will things look like if we go back home? Will the old, existential political rage come back? Will I again be appalled and shudder at the news, and will acts of injustice go back to being the focus of my concerns? Will a strong sense of revolutionary ardor return, even if it all adds up to no more than emotions and sometimes also a few written lines that have never influenced anybody?

Of course, I still follow the news here and in Israel, but less and less. Of course, I cluck my tongue when I hear about a terrorist attack in Barcelona, and I feel momentarily pained and curse the neo-Nazi demonstrators, until I console myself with the fact that tens of thousands came out to demonstrate against them, and that as long as this doesn’t reach me in my town, neighborhood or house – I see no reason to get worked up about a marginal phenomenon in a country in which I’m only a guest and have no emotional investment.

Sometimes, when my friends and I take advantage of the summer nights for a refreshing beer, we talk about the president, about Bibi, Korea and the White House. Afterward, I calculate the missile ranges as they were presented on the news programs and console myself that Illinois isn’t colored red on the terrorism-threat spectrum. Anyway, why would anyone dump something on Champaign? Very quickly, we discard the possibility of missile threats, and while we’re turning over the meat on the barbecue, the talk turns to the new brewery that opened in town, which offers excellent IPA and pale ale.

Is all this an age thing? Is it even legitimate? Sometimes I’m unnerved by the thought that I’ve become a one-dimensional person, the type of person I felt contempt for when I first read about him in high school. I promised then that I’d never go off course, that my eyes would be open and always detect deception in the system and conceptual degeneration. But lately I’ve been thinking about retirement, crunching numbers, trying unsuccessfully to understand the system and both current monthly outlays and anticipated ones – making an effort to figure out whether I’ll ever be able to realize my dream of buying the sports car I’ve always wanted. Actually, sports cars only started to interest me a few months ago, but since then I can’t get them out of my head. I think about them more than about the refugee boats, more than about East Jerusalem. Am I getting rusty? And when in the world was the moment I reconciled myself to life?

Here, the lucky ones – who don’t need to be rich at all, but regular folks who worked 20 or 30 years and sent their kids to university with or without loans – buy cars that they only drive during the summer. On the streets you see classic cars, convertibles, and huge, colorful, glistening motorcycles that people take out only in hot weather. At first I didn’t get it. What a waste to buy a car as a toy that you drive only on occasional weekends. It took me time to grasp that it’s a kind of fashion. I have to do it, too, I decided: that is, if we stay here and no political, ecological or health disaster knocks me flat, I will absolutely have to buy a sports car. Maybe a motorcycle? You probably need a separate license to drive one, but that can’t be too complicated.

After all, I’ve always wanted a motorcycle – or did I never want one until recently? Is it legitimate? Is it alright? To think small, about my life, my family, my lawn? It’s starting to yellow a little, and if there’s no rain by the Sweetcorn Festival, I’ll have to install sprinklers.

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