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  • Writer's pictureJay Abel


The new great American dream, for a lot of us anyway, is to get the hell out of America before the landlord doubles the rent, again, before the homeless march on city hall with rocks, bottles and baseball bats, before furious evangelicals make sex organs illegal and before the deranged neo-nazi next door, with a bedroom full of AR-15s and bump-stocks, starts a shooting war at CostCo with the SWAT team.

Ashely Holt has bought his one-way ticket. He has turned his insolent, liberal-leaning butt to old glory, let go with a few shameless wind-breaks, and is now retired in a quiescent, very post-war Germany, with his wife, his drawing board, and some bitter-sweet memories about his glory days back home, as a national league fizzball player in an America where everything came “pre ridiculed”.

He seems, at times, almost regretful… But not quite.

One of many cogent points Mr. Holt makes in his most recent, scattershot collection of deceptively jocular essays, “an American Embarrassed” is that you don’t really understand America, or come to terms with it, until you’ve despised the place for good reasons. Like the fine, efficient, point to point expository writer he is, Mr. Holt begins his book of themed reflections with a caffeinated check-list of witty barbs detailing America’s loud, trashy and vulgar legacy that has redefined civilization as a spiritually and philosophically vacant capitalist feeding frenzy. (That has left half its population below the poverty line). Some Americans are only now becoming dimly aware that the heartless gouging they are subjected to, every day and for everything, is not necessarily the best of all possible worlds.

Mr. Holt has been painfully aware of this for a long time, but his contempt is tempered by two things. The first is his laugh-out-loud ironic twisting.

“I will miss the aggrandizement and high-octane hucksterism. World’s biggest! World’s greatest! You could already be a winner! Don’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime! The non-stop, carnival barker snow jobs that have built this country since the natives traded their land for trinkets and smallpox. In Germany there are no TV ads for shyster lawyers, or prescription drugs with crippling side effects for the shyster lawyers to sue over.”

The second is his hesitation to write a blistering, scathing, take-no-prisoners indictment of his former homeland least he come off as a crackpot, which he certainly is not. Mr. Holt realizes that the sheer loose-cannon brainlessness of American culture, “ the dollar store, Big Lots, Ollie’s or any of the other retail dumpsters where unsold product has been passed down the mercantile food chain on it’s last stop before the garbage barge” , “celebrity drunk driving” or “redneck knowhow, that can power a satellite dish during a thunderstorm with bailing wire and a lawnmower battery” is always lively and sometimes even amusing to someone who doesn’t take it too critically.

Mr. Holt is sometimes thoughtful, ambivalent, or nostalgic, if not conflicted, and this lends his larger points some credibility. He scores many such points between extended comic episodes. An essay called “Crowd Blast Replica” (a rhyming pun on an old Captain Beefheart album, wink-wink, nudge-nudge) is about a subject guaranteed to start a 15 round slobber-knocker at any Thanksgiving dinner between snooty niece Kristen and crazy uncle Earnie. I reference America’s murderous, idiotic gun cult, and its ugly consequences.

The argument is now unresolvable short of another civil war.

Mr. Holt begins with a commonplace observation; he sees two German kids playing bang-bang-you're-dead with toy guns in a crowded city center. The occurrence does not bring forth a potentially deadly encounter with German law enforcement. It does not even merit any particular notice. He considers this rather odd at first, and then realizes that he is over-reacting with the reflexive chorus-kick one might expect from somebody who is has spent most of his life in a country made batshit crazy by pointless, random massacres, every day after breakfast, a place he is no longer stuck with. After landing a flurry of very funny jabs against America’s pre-adolescent daydreams, shooting it out with the bad guys, holding down Fort Apache, etc, Ashley puts a horseshoe in his glove. “But the cosplay fantasy du jour is not protecting the innocent from mass shooters, rapists or bath-salt cannibals; it is about protecting one’s stockpile of weapons from those who would attempt to confiscate that stockpile. ‘my guns protect my guns from those who would use guns to take my guns’. There is no real heroism in this delusion. Only a nation wide circle-jerk of paranoia”.

It’s a pithy, aphoristic assessment of some kind of national insanity and it’s a good one. Many others precede and follow. There’s a lot more to Ashley Holt then being funny. He thinks as hard as he laughs.

Ashleys, tight, expressionistically inspired drawings are just as memorable in their own way, and a worthy extension of his wit. They raise the curtain on every essay and merit a book of their own.

10 bucks cheap. Buy it here.

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