Sunday, November 9, 2008

Response from a Happy City

Lonely Christopher (web editor) mentions or comments on anecdotally the following aspects of last week: atmospheric excitement, public spectacle, holograms, 1968, hipsters under arrest, constitutional discrimination, preventing Asian land ownership, emotional vulnerability, the machinations of political power, a malevolent nincompoop, the same shit on a different day, bullshit that makes one feel better, a stupid car on fire in the middle of the road.

A collective nervous excitement was temporarily demonstrated in New York City last week --- during the time the polls were open and the subsequent exceptional day or two. Shortly after dusk on Tuesday, a varied assortment of individuals were already crying and yelling in the street. (I learned that Ohio was called for Obama from a kid running by on the sidewalk, screaming in disbelief into his phone, as I sat outside with my computer, trying to pick up a wireless signal to check The New York Times online.) Halloween seemed like an unenthusiastic rehearsal compared to the public spectacle that ensued that night. Members of The Corresponding Society spent the evening in a small apartment, equipped with television and Internet access, crowded with drunk and anticipatory students. The coverage of the election results was rather depraved in its theatricality --- but maybe it only seemed so nightmarish because I haven’t been exposed to news networks in several years (do people routinely appear for televised interviews via hologram these days or was that some bizarre novelty?). The neighborhood of Brooklyn in which I reside, Bed-Stuy, erupted in rowdy celebratory gestures upon the announcement of Obama’s victory. When CNN declared the win, I was on the phone arguing with my Republican mother about the political unrest of 1968. (She mentioned, “I married your father in ’68 and later he was flying planes over Vietnam.”) Our packed room of students watched McCain’s dignified concession speech, followed by Obama’s sort-of-general but incredibly-important-seeming address; then we drank a few bottles of champagne and sat out on the stoop to listen to the ruckus in the street. Outside: black Brooklyn residents expressed feelings of empowerment, white hipsters were beaten and arrested in Williamsburg, apparently there was some dancing on buses, and somewhere on Staten Island a few white thugs jumped out of a car and attacked a black kid on his way to his mother’s house. As far as the sweeping Democratic victories, the night seemed an indication that our country is capable of reforming after an awful decline into villainy --- but the occasion was also gravely marked by the establishment of discriminatory measures that will surely retard the social and cultural development of our nation. On a night when Barack Obama became the first president elect to include homosexuals in his acceptance speech, three states voted for constitutional bans on same-sex marriage (and I hear tell Florida decided to retain the antiquated legislative ability to prevent Asians from owning land, which is also unbelievable). Regardless, New Yorkers were walking around in a pleasant daze on Wednesday with an emotional vulnerability resulting from the shock of something tremendously positive actually happening in the political system. It was as if every smiling stranger was constantly poised to yelp, “Obama!” --- and his name did frequently punctuate all manners of daily activity. Reactions from our community of young writers were and continue to be more taciturn, but nobody is displeased about the general outcome. We are a group apart from the machinations of political power but we remain aware of how misdirected our country became under the Republican regime that was, for eight years, ostensibly led by a malevolent nincompoop. I was waiting for a slice of pizza last Wednesday when a woman ran into the parlor and screamed at the proprietor, “We won!” The man, kneading dough at the counter, looked at her wearily and replied, “I don’t know lady --- I woke up this morning in the same goddamn world as ever.” Maybe more optimistically, I overheard a fellow poet say, in apropos of Barack Obama’s win, “I know it’s all bullshit but it makes me feel better.” It’s difficult to provoke the city for long; nearing a week later everything has settled again. A car on fire in the middle of the road isn’t, as it was when I saw it on Wednesday, a car on fire in the middle of the road in a country that just elected a significantly atypical politician to serve as the next president, but simply a stupid old car on fire in the middle of the road that’s annoyingly blocking traffic.

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