“The only excursion in my life outside of New Orleans took me through the vortex to the whirlpool of despair; Baton Rouge. In some future installment, a flashback, I shall perhaps recount that pilgrimage through the swamps, a journey into the desert from which I returned broken physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
John Kennedy Toole
I, in my Timberland boots, stood atop the pearly burning steps of the capitol. In my shaking hand I held a microphone, beyond which a meager crowd, a sea of miniature, smiling people stared menacingly at my red, gleaming face. I could feel the beads of sweat rolling down my back and legs, the nylon of my bomber antagonizing my heat-ridden arms. I recited methodically, but with a mounting sense of panic. I serve because…
All of these people were here to see us, to listen to our speeches and watch us do our jumping jacks and parade our diverse asses up and down the stairs, which each bore the engraved lettering of a different state. Shit, shit, shit, shit… What did I write? What was I going to say? Dear god, how could I have been practicing this all goddamned day and I can’t remember why I serve?
I looked at my feet, if not just to escape the sun. Kentucky seemed to laugh at me, to prod me with its distinctness. As if it was saying, yeah, that’s right—no one ever forgets what to say here, because it’s written in stone, dummy. Where’s what you wrote, huh? I realized that I had been standing in front of the crowd, halfway through my speech in the stiflingly dead silence for what seemed like an eternity.
I learned something important that day that I’d like to share: You haven’t really known public humiliation until it’s occurred in front of a crowd during an official procession with a microphone in hand, sweating a gallon a minute, while wearing men’s clothes.
Later on people approached me with exaggerated looks of endearment and enthusiasm. Awesome job up there! Nice work today! All I wanted to do was to tell everyone to f off and go dig myself a hole somewhere—a nice, solitary, cool hole in the ground. But even holes were out of the question—damn you, swampland! It was this afternoon, grimacing from the fresh memory of my own stupidity, that I realized that opening day was most likely to be the start of an exasperating, ten-month exploration of what it really meant to humiliate myself.