Friday, November 11, 2016

(Do Not) Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor...

This is painful, Hillary Clinton announced at the beginning of her concession speech Wednesday morning, her emotionless voice nearly cracking at moments.  Young women were weeping; her staff and volunteers were exhausted, feeling the pain of failure, of deep disappointment.  One day and hours later, the ugly reality of our American election has spread like black slime.

Walking back from the hospital this afternoon where my friend is experiencing another kind of pain-- the relentless, unstoppable agony of late-stage cancer--  I don't dare weld the metaphor here, but it made Hillary's words just a little less poignant.  It surprises me on these days that Central Park is as dazzling as ever in the crisp fall sunshine; the skyline is buoyant and proud.  I stopped also by a building on West 69th Street where a woman I'd only met months ago had jumped from her window just a few weeks ago.  I've heard it was her heart that was broken; nothing else.  Another version of pain.

The doctor's aide wears a hijab and is lovely.  She confided that she is terrified about her immigration status and about the xenophobic sentiment of our President-elect.  You mean his bigotry and ignorant hatred, I replied?  She nodded, looking around her as though she feared being lynched.  She is feeling another kind of pain, as was the young African woman who shared my path back to the east side.  She works for a church downtown, has a limited visa, was enchanted by the beauty of the Reservoir; it was her first visit to my neighborhood.  She'd escaped a hard life in West Africa; she was orphaned, raised her siblings and was looking for a better life in the US; she'd been sponsored by a LES Christian community.   She wanted to go to college but now she was afraid and discouraged.  This was not the version of American she'd understood.

I can't make excuses for my country; I'm a New Yorker and we are Democrats for the most part.  We are disappointed, we are frustrated, we are angry.  But pain?  I'm not sure this is the correct description. Anyone who has suffered a serious wound, an accident-- even the experience of childbirth.  No pain, no gain, the sweatshirts used to say at my gym.  I've never loved that expression.

Late nights I admit to watching this program called Versailles which is sort of a glam-erotic series shown last year in Europe about the excesses and vices of Louis XIV.  His ultra-lavish spending on the palace became a symbol of the unprecedented power of the Monarchy.  I am trying not to draw silly  parallels between the Trump empire and the decadent elitist pomp of the 18th-century French court.  Of course, like all addicting television, there are plenty of women-- sequential and multiple mistresses.  His extra-marital intrigues are maybe criticized, but overlooked.  Those who fall out of favor are disposed of-- some painfully.  But speaking of pain, even the King suffered during these times.  Few medicines, no anesthetics, no antibiotics.  Childbirth was risky, illnesses were difficult and life-threatening; poxes, plagues, infections and fevers were agonizing and fatal.  There was a scene where a medic warned the King that a proposed treatment would hurt.  "Good," said the King.  I can't imagine Donald accepting such a pronouncement.  I can't imagine him fighting a war for his country or even his children, or making any kind of sacrifice for any kind of principle.  I doubt he has sympathy or empathy for anyone's suffering and I'll bet his tolerance for physical discomfort is low.

One thing the royals often did-- was to import their wives for better breeding and political reasons.  I guess Donald did the same.  Few American women outside the Stepford wife prototypes would put up with his brand of macho husbanding.  I can't figure out whether Melania is a saint or a talking Barbie.  But for a man who married non-Americans, the hypocrisy of his policies seems that much more absurd.   What if he were to seriously purge New York, for example?

The kitchen staff at half the clubs where I work--- the kind Mexicans who sneak me care packages for my starving neighbors-- they'd be sent home.  Who would cook, who would wash dishes for our hungry audiences?  The Pakistani man who sells magazines on Lexington Avenue and talks to animals like a happy wizard-- where would he go?  What waits for him and would he be allowed to bring along the feral cat who lives in the shop and bites?  The construction team in east Harlem who work at night, who sit outside and eat their 4 AM lunch on the stoops of dilapidated tenements they are renovating for sleazy landlords-- with their headscarves and home-made dust-masks-- what will become of them and their families?  They speak some strange language among themselves, they laugh and sing and smoke during breaks.  Their clothes are thick with dust-- in summer their skin is covered with grime and paint and sweat.  Their bodies are beautiful and sinewy like athletes.  The hotdog vendors-- especially the one who sold me a pretzel today for $1.50.   I would miss him. The ladies who collect cans at night--  the Mexican and the Chinese women who amicably divide the massive piles between them.  Their work ethic-- rain, snow, extreme heat-- they are out there, on hands and knees-- teaching us things-- recycling, to keep their children fed and clothed-- heroes, they are, of their young families who rely on this difficult, tedious dark labor for survival.  Will they all vanish?  Will I not hear the musical variety of uptown like a colorful marketplace opera in multi-lingual counterpoint?

Concession for Hillary is 'painful', she claims… but she will have some consolation-- she has money, she has a foundation… a husband, a legacy… For the rest of us it may mean something else; we're not certain.  Surely this has been a misdiagnosis of some sort-- missed symptoms, bad medications-- poor management of a societal disease or lack of preventive care here…  and the prognosis? Will all these protests, the voices who spoke too late-- will they have any bearing on the outcome?  Will the ailing patient of America survive a round of toxic Republican treatment?  I'm afraid the pain is yet to come-- with or without gain, with or without cure.  God Bless America.  We've never needed it more.

1 comment:

Theodore Bouloukos said...

In one of our darkest hours, you've given us reason and light. Thank you. Much love to you.