Dateline August 2005—
Just went into the garden to harvest the latest bumper crop of zinnias for the kitchen table—this has been their banner year. The radio station that usually plays Randi Rhodes and Air America has been preempted in favor of a Seattle Mariners baseball game, OK. So I rig up a way I can listen to KPOJ out of Portland on the truck radio, sitting in a lawn chair with the truck windows open.
Hard to shake the pallor of worry and sadness for the people in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana today. Hard to not feel kicked in the chest with anguish, not to want to pound your chest and cry because once again it’s poor mostly black people in the south who get screwed out of their lives and livelihoods, yet again. Hard not to remember back to thirty-three years ago in my own young life when a flood changed forever the way I looked at life and possessions, at what matters, hard not to see how this scenario in New Orleans isn’t playing out wrong, wrong, wrong. I don’t know what else to say. Yeah, it was a crazy place to build a city. Yeah, it was one of the best, most interesting cities in the United States. Gone and the community with it.
I’m listening to a soundtrack of songs used on Six Feet Under, that one song by Sia, “Breathe Me,” really affects me. It’s a song G. would have played over and over—well we both would have. Within seconds of hearing it, closing act on the show’s finale, I knew it was one of those songs. Nina Simone starts the set—white guys in blue shirts and red ties on the muted television news take a microphone, start their platitudes, do they teach them how to talk like that in business school? I don’t even need the sound on to know it’s all b.s. All those years around the bureaucrats at Cornell taught me that the play-it-safe school of C.Y.A. kicks in immediately when there’s any breath of controversy around any kind of situation. Is that what’s wrong with the ruling class in this country, no ability to remember that they are connected to other human beings, no practice at feeling their chests hurting in sadness, tears of compassion in their eyes, looking at people who had some measure of a way to be doing life one day and poof! now it’s gone.
I remember why I never watch television news—even under the best? of circumstances (non-politicized, reporting on a natural disaster, etc. )—they go in for the death watch and the sappy human interest stories. Also seems that the more white people they can interview the better. Heading back out to the gravel and the lawn chair and Air America on the radio in the truck.
Painting by Florine Stettheimer, 1920.