Listen, pal. Osama bin Laden’s dead.
Somebody just told me about a bar that’s begun serving “Osamas” – some sort of fruity blast of alcohol in a glass.
I love it.
It’s a tonic of course, booze laced with 100 proof symbolism. You quaff it down because you want to feel better. Just a friendly pick-me-up like caffeine or a snort of cocaine in the toilet. For psychic bartenders, the symbolic ingredient is especially important in the recipe. The dose of “Osama” is pure evil, hateful, demonic terrorist rich guy from Yemen who scared the hell out of us by personally incinerating the twin towers and those thousands of terrified trapped victims.
To be clear about this: yes, innocents suffered atrociously in the 911 attacks, and yes, Osama was implicated and certainly despised the US and its allies.
But this is where the bartender’s manual turns a page. Osama is also “Osama”: a boogeyman, a condensation of all the complicated concoction of rage and fear and injustice that we feel. An “Osama” is an abstraction, the way Hitler has become an abstraction: a global celebrity who represents all the evil we love to hate.
Now before you say, “But they both really were evil,” let’s remember that the evil they stand for was and is much bigger than either of them. Osama is especially tricky to define, because he and his followers believed they were acting out of religious piety, serving the Lord, ridding their countries of American armies and multinational corporate invaders.
Right or wrong, the Osama motives are really part of a much larger historical storm of conflicted ideas in a part of the world struggling toward modernity.
What interests us here in psychic bartenders’ school, is how this new drink is concocted and how tipsy it makes the customers. Because let’s face it, after the killing of the symbolic mastermind and his burial in a vat of fermenting sauce, the crowd at the bar wanted to toast each other with glasses of the stuff.
And you know why. Swallow enough of the elixir and you feel triumphant, optimistic, virtuous, on the top of the world again. Like a football victory. You feel right about the world and your place in it. You’re drinking in Osama the way a vampire drinks vitality from strangers.
Capital punishment is supposed to work this way. You direct all of your fear and loathing at one particular criminal and take satisfaction, to put it politely, in his suffering and death. Yes, the guy may really be guilty, but even so we’re using him as a scapegoat. We need him to carry off the filth and fury that always potentially threatens us. People do this night after night around the world, tuned in to crime shows whose script whacks the villain in the end.
Hey, it’s how we’re built.
The problem with capital punishment, as Christians insist, is that you may kill an innocent like Christ. And in that event it’s almost impossible to admit that you were wrong, because that means you’re guilty of judicial murder. So prosecutors do cartwheels to avoid having to reopen bungled cases, and losers like Cameron Todd Willingham die after embarrassing, vicious miscarriages of justice.
But righteous killing can be so intoxicating that it overrides ordinary logic and inhibitions.
The Catholic Supreme Court Justice Scalia, for example, defends his enthusiasm for executions by assuring us that “for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.” Only wishy-washy “post–Freudian secularists . . . think that people are what their history and circumstances have made them, and there is little sense in assigning blame.”
Got that? “Death is no big deal.”
Unless of course you happen to be wrongly put to death.
Or unless one too many Osama-bin-Cocktails gets you too drunk to think straight.
Now some wishy-washy types have argued that Osama died in a vigilante execution, a sort of surgical lynching. But that’s not the point here. Us psychic bartenders are more concerned with the effects on the customer of drinking in an artificially hyped-up symbol of superhuman evil. We know it can be intoxicating, blur judgment, and so simplify the world that – let us say – you could feel really right-headed and go after “enemies” in a bar fight.
If you’re living in a tense, complicated world like this one, you’re bound to feel under stress at some point. Hey, why go to the bar unless you want some relief from the everyday grind?
For bartenders the problem is nagging: how to keep the customers from tearing up the joint. And that means trying to persuade them that “Osamas” aren’t Osama, and Osama isn’t what’s making you thirsty, pal.