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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The view from Bushwick (Hurricane Sandy)

It's very boring/enervating in Bushwick right now. Watching (more accurately, hearing) Hurricane Sandy unfold was both visceral and abstract. Viscerally, it sounded like my poorly dry-walled walls were breathing and the wind was howling something horrible with violent intent. Abstractly, I was glued to Twitter plus three live-blogs of ongoing events mentally far away but physically rather close: generators exploding in Manhattan, fires in the Rockaways, et al. Proximity, in the form of suspense about subway transportation, made that inevitable.

I don't read or approve of a lot of contemporary fiction, but I'm a big admirer of Teju Cole's Open City, so it's been fun to watch him assume the role of contemporary race relations referee (his antenna's certainly acute enough, his outrage correctly apportioned from where I stand). Thus, co-signed, his Halloween-eve tweet:

Non-Americans—54 in Haiti, 11 in Cuba—are people too. MT: At least 39 people have died due to Hurricane Sandy.

A point the Guardian made in its Sunday live-blog of the storm, a context-correction reminding me "that Sandy didn't spontaneously form off the east coast and descend on the US" (thank you, sharp-tongued anonymous writer) but had, with much less fuss and bother, killed 54 people in Haiti. Nonetheless, coverage has been incredibly empathetic and focused on the very bad news for lower Manhattan, Staten Island, many parts of Queens, etc. We'll be hearing about people left to fend for themselves and FEMA failures for a good long time, as we should, but in sheer humanitarian terms it's more a story about the most devastating Manhattan disaster on digital record (iconography) than a Katrina-size event that'll fundamentally change the landscape and workings of the city.

I sat and observed the flooding of places other than where I live with amazement, detachment, and morbid, guilty curiosity about when I'd be allowed to resume my normal routine. Sunday/Monday I sat and heard my building threaten, futilely, to lapse into disaster. An electrical wire twitched ominously in the wind, drifting past but never striking my bedroom window, but that's all it did. I have a boring day job that's strictly telecommuter-ish, so I've done that every day this week. Tuesday I finished work at 7 and tried to go read in a bar at 8. No dice: the three on the small 6-block loop I use for a brief walk were beyond packed with relieved young people getting the hell out of the house. (Also, it was NBA opening night at the one bar with a TV.) I didn't even go in and eventually went to the closest domestic place where people I knew were hanging out, a non-difficult 20 minute walk each way. They'd been smoking pot and playing "Magic: The Gathering" for three days, which kept happening while I was there. The disputes over terminology and assigned powers were way beyond anything the Jesuits might have imagined, but I was just happy to be out of the house.

Last night I walked 40 minutes to Williamsburg. I wanted the quickest calorically-substantive food I could get, which meant stopping at Loco Burrito, a place I'd incuriously passed for years. It was, predictably, jam-packed with take-out punters and running on a delivery time-table schedule. A horrible woman called in while I waited for my totally unexceptional burrito. First she called to complain that the nachos she'd ordered weren't present. The woman at the register pulled up the receipt and told her (far more patiently than called for) that if she'd ordered nachos, that wasn't on the receipt. Then she said she could have the nachos anyway as a pick-up order. The woman signed off, then called back  two minutes later, now deeply irate about an alleged continued injustice: she was a regular customer who paid for extra cheese on her nachos but never got it. (All of this was picked up through the counter woman's responses, which were thoroughly synoptic.) This conversation went on for 10 minutes. All I could think was "you fucking people don't miss a beat, do you?"

All's well in much of Williamsburg and Bushwick, in other words. Horrible, petty, possibly lying people are screaming over the phone about the lack of extra cheese on their delivery nachos, weed delivery dudes are doing blockbuster business, people gather up their friends for impromptu walking-distance gatherings, excited chattering voices plot parties for an unscheduled week of work. (Unless you work in high-echelon or service jobs, the odds of having to go into Manhattan for work this week are slim.) The precise summary I hope to convey is that the two Brooklyn neighborhoods I've walked through  are experiencing no emergency: we're just impatiently wondering when subway service will be restored, aware but unresponsive to nearby disaster. (Someone should correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard no reports of major disasters in those two areas.)

I don't want to particularly get into this, but Lindy West (brief primer: sprung to internet fame with this enjoyably apocalyptic response to Sex And The City 2, subsequently assimilated Jezebel blogger) pissed off my entire Twitter feed with this post. Basically half of this is the usual kind of internet fare, where italics and repeated vowels make for automatic comedy. Also there's a part where there's a joke about "Cupcake Wars," a show I've never heard of but I assume my desired response would be something like a) OMG SO EMBARRASSING b) WAIT I WATCH THIS OR SOMETHING LIKE THIS c) WE ARE ALL HUMAN BECAUSE BOUND BY CRAP d) THERE ARE NO GUILTY PLEASURES IF WATCHED BY SMART PEOPLE e) SO IN CONCLUSION THERE WAS THIS LARGER EVENT I DON'T UNDERSTAND AND PRETENDED TO FEEL BAD ABOUT BUT DIDN'T REALLY BECAUSE WHATEVER CABLE TELEVISION.

It's pretty standard blogger stuff (MY VOICE IS THEORETICALLY INSECURE BUT WE ALL ARE I AM CONFESSING MY FOIBLES LET US BASK IN OUR SHARED RECOGNITION OF SAME), although at one point West insinuates that Sandy's getting way more coverage than Katrina because it concerns more privileged white people than New Orleans. I can't even get into this, because I'm not equipped to conduct a study about media coverage, but I remember Katrina being covered pretty exhaustively. I think West just wasn't following the news as closely in 2005 (by "news" I mean "the internet," which transformed the storm into a social event of sorts; don't have time to argue this point comprehensively now). The point is "debatable," though my scare quotes are meant to indicate my skepticism on that point. That still doesn't explain why Lindy West thinks her weird feelings of guilt about not being involved enough, of not FEELING ENOUGH, are of interest or important.

I live here, in proximity to majorly problematic events that, if I can ignore my cabin fever for a while, are far more urgent than the petty complications bogging me down. E.g.: I don't have quite the distance West does, but I'm still geographically close and emotionally far from the worst fallout of the storm. But I really don't understand what difference feelings make in anything. There are [x] fluctuating number of people waiting futilely for FEMA, [x] fluctuating number without power, [x] fluctuating number waiting to find out if those reported-missing will be located dead or alive. This has nothing to do with empathy: it's nice (I guess) that someone has Feelings about Not Feeling Enough about the event, but there are concrete issues that can and must be addressed regardless of emotional investment. My personal responses have nothing to do with problem-solving, no more or less than someone 2,000 miles away. Nobody's do, or should.

I can't really understand in what way the storm is getting coverage elsewhere; I've been in contact with gchat friends, but that's not really going to tell me anything. Maybe America is getting this rammed down its throat, though I don't particularly recall people watching/reading the news who don't want to. New York (and the nation) must, very soon, apportion a budget which creates a new infrastructure for its rails (one better equipped to handle salt water floods etc.), or put up with this bullshit every year.

2 comments:

  1. The news coverage I've seen, especially on CNN, has focused as much on New Jersey as on New York, for whatever that's worth. And I recall Katrina getting plenty of media attention. Had Facebook been around then, I'm sure it would've been the main topic of conversation.

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  2. I imagine the impetus in assigning a "my feelings on x" post from West was to throw a bone to the many many people either on the outlying areas of the storm's thrust, or simply outside of it altogether, who are held by the coverage while in many cases not really being quantifiably affected by it, if they are affected at all. Obviously an extremely low priority reporting-wise in regards to the actual disaster and its consequences, but one that I'm guessing the Jezebel staff deemed worth posting as a way to make unaffected readers somehow apart of the narrative. Yes, it's pretty superfluous, but these kinds of "make the readers feel involved" pieces are not unusual (though obviously they tend to take on a form different from the YOU GUYS I CAN'T EVEN BEGIN TO COMPREHEND stuff).

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