Saturday, January 16, 2010

Barbarians Are Us

So how many of us spent Tuesday and Wednesday night in our warm little apartments watching live footage of the horrific devastation in Haiti, the way we watched after 9/11… pulling our hair, weeping, a bit of voyeurism, a bit of helpless prayer… me always thinking about the women in labor… someone underneath the rubble undoubtedly suffering the triple irony of hopeless birth?

Does this make us better people, walking around with the heavy guilt of our own safe lives, desperately rounding up our friends to give money, to donate services…wanting to board planes or boats, knowing our only power is financial, and many of us are helpless?

So many are miserable…here… the wealthy and the welfared… the phenomenal numbers eating anti-depressants and amphetamines. Do we for seconds abandon our own self-absorbed neuroses and yearnings for plastic surgery, for weaves and laser-treatments, for skin-products and fashion, gyno- and rhinoplasty, dental veneers and hair-dye? Perhaps. And because we weep, we beat our breasts in silence and cannot sleep— does this help? It does not.

Among the moments of unbearable poignancy, footage I saw last night— a truck piled high with cartons of biscuits…unloading and distributing… and someone among the starving desperate hoard surrounding the truck, someone who we now know is in the minority of literate Haitians— cries out, the date is expired on these boxes of biscuits… because he has seen the packaging date, not the expiration date which is somewhere in the way-distant future… and there is a panic, and all the people fear illness, pain, intestinal poisoning…and they run back.. .and there is chaos, and the truck drivers in frustration finally get back on the truck and pull away. But now it seems perhaps someone has figured out their error, and a few begin shouting, and men and children are running after the truck, which has now gone on… and the people are left devastated, starving, abandoned… victims of their own panicky deception.

Because in a moment of crisis so few of us are able to think rationally… and when one has discovered there is nothing, nowhere that is ‘safe’… it is near impossible to make a decision. The earth beneath is crumbling… one accepts the perils of outdoor street-habitation for fear of being crushed indoors in an aftershock wave. Some panic and scream, some weep… some like the teenage girl pulled from her home with the broken leg swear that they are not afraid. Who is this girl, from where do her genetics come—from some godlike warrior-race of such dignity and courage? Because my own son had a fit of rage during a summer blackout when his cellphone could not be charged.

Easiest to see 20/20 with hindsight. To find our way out of an overwhelming maze requires someone else’s vision. Beneath the rubble one has no concept of what has happened…the world, or is it about me? Does everyone see the world from two eyes only? This is the way we are made.

Meanwhile, Conan O’Brien fights on. Why he can’t donate whatever remains of his contract to the Haitian relief effort is beyond me. He will probably never need to budget hair replacement, but he has lost whatever entertainment value he never had. Perhaps he lies awake and thinks… if I were an NFL wide receiver, I’d be getting bought out for way more. Ah, Conan, it’s superbowl month… and there has been an earthquake, and we are sick of the kind of TV which no longer serves. You are both a relic and a souvenir. Your wife will probably not leave you and you can maybe write for an unscripted reality show. You might even get one of your own.

For Conan, like my son during the blackout, perhaps this was his personal earthquake. What is pathetic is that it’s all ‘game’ for TV—the endless gossip-mongering and personality posturing, the Cramer bs and Deal or No Deal, the heartfelt weeping of Oprah and her weight issues, the disaster footage, the bloating corpses that find themselves TV stars without contracts or even permission to be filmed in the ultimately humiliating state of human horror which is the future of each and every one of us, whether we are being nursed and morphined in a hospital or flattened by a drunk driver.

Does literacy and intelligence make us good? It certainly does not, nor does seeing with that third eye. Is Anderson Cooper a better person than Oprah? They will both do more good than I. But one can try to get off the truck and explain about the biscuits... one can try to send anesthetics and antibiotics and help those who can help. Today two teenage girls were sitting on their front stoop in Brooklyn enjoying the warmer weather outside...and a man walked by and shot them. Whether or not they were thinking about the Haitians. Whether or not they had Haitian relatives, or whether or not the shooter had Haitian family and couldn't get his own medication. For the non-helpless among us-- and you might know who you are--- one can try to be good.

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