America is a fun country. Still, there are aspects of it which I would prefer not to think about. I am sure, for instance, that the large “chain” stores with their big friendly ads and so-called “discount” prices actually charge higher prices so as to force smaller competitors out of business. This sort of thing has been going on for at least 200 years and is one of the cornerstones on which our mercantile American society is constructed, like it or not. What with all our pious expostulations and public declarations of concern for the poor and the elderly, this is a lot of bunk and our own president plays it right into the lap of big business and uses every opportunity he can to fuck the consumer and the little guy. We might as well face up to the fact that this is and always has been a part of our so-called American way of life.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people here who are sincerely in love with life and think they are on to something, and they may well be right. Even the dogs seem to know about it – you can tell by the way they stick their noses out of the car windows sometimes to whiff the air as it goes by. Old ladies know about and like it too. In fact, the older an American citizen gets the more he or she seems to get a kick out of life. Look at all the retirement communities and people who mow their own lawns and play gold. They surely have more pep than their counterparts in Asia or Europe, and one mustn’t be in too much of a hurry to make fun of such pursuits. They stand for something broader and darker than at first seems to be the case. The silver-painted flagpole in its concrete base surrounded by portulacas, the flag itself straining in the incredibly strong breeze, are signposts toward an infinity of wavering susceptible variables, if one but knew how to read them aright. The horny grocery boy may be the god Pan in disguise. Even a television antenna may be something else. Example: bearded young driver of pickup truck notes vinyl swimming pool cover is coming undone and stops to ask owner if he can be of assistance. Second example: groups of business people stranded in stalled elevator sing Cole Porter songs to keep their spirits up, helping each other recall the lyrics. Third example: a nursing home director convicted of a major swindle goes to the federal penitentiary for a period of not less than five years. Fourth example: you are looking down into a bottomless well or some kind of deep pool that is very dark with the reflected light so far in the distance it seems like a distant planet, and you see only your own face.

(John Ashbery, from The Vermont Notebook, pp. 381–3 in Collected Poems 1956–1987.)

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