The International Writers Magazine: From our New York Correspondent
St. Louis Blues
Who could have predicted that orange would become the new fashion color? I look like a piece of safety equipment. Maybe I should go over to Times Square and pose like Goofy with the tourists for five bucks.
Or maybe I should head over to Ferguson MO for America’s 2014 version of the Summer of Love.
If you’re going to Ferguson Missouri
Be sure to wear a helmet in your hair
In his cowboy ballad “Red-Headed Stranger”, Willie Nelson alludes to the Year of the Preacher, one of the mass waves of evangelism that used to sweep the country, an “Elmer Gantry” world of big-tent revival meetings, thousands of weeping, sweaty thick necks speaking in tongues, writhing in ecstasy and driving back Satan. An event like that is driven forward by its own momentum until it wears itself out. What started as an obscure, nasty little incident in a little-noticed corner of America that time forgot, a gathering of black workers overseen by an all-white city government and all-white police department, has evolved into a three ring circus of insensate loathing and carnival sideshow that has attracted worldwide fascination reminiscent of the scene in Fellini’s “8½”, where the whole Italian nation is entranced by the spectacle of some young girls who claim to have seen an apparition of the Madonna. Now she’s over here, now over there, as the girls chase around the field pursued by a gang of nutcase believers and a clutch of television announcers.
Ferguson MO in the dog days of August is much more acute, a stifling, airless heatwave that could explode into spontaneous combustion at the merest hint of a spark. Ferguson MO is like an upgraded version of the old plantation, an upper layer of white overseers making their living off the travails (tax receipts) of the laboring black underclass that comprises 2/3 of the town population. I don’t think that the civic administration is exactly breaking its back to promote local elections – only 12% of the city’s residents cast ballots in the last municipal election, and I guess we all know who they were! In fact, when Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson arrived there the first thing they did was to mobilize a voter registration campaign, eliciting howls of protest from local Republican officials that these interlopers were playing politics with their politics.
The white oligarchy that controls Ferguson MO has got a million scams to squeeze revenue out of its black population. The number of traffic citations issued in Ferguson is four times higher than in corresponding white communities. What do you want to bet that the citizens there are hit harder for utility taxes and any other damn taxes and fees that the bureaucracy can think up!
Ferguson MO is a fascinating control group for anybody interested in speculating how far American attitudes have progressed during the last 150 years. Sure, we have got a mixed-race president who exactly mirrors the country’s complexion (at least the way I understand it as a New Yorker), but that is the result of demographic shifts in the population, not to any changes in attitude in the still-majority white nativist segment.
Ferguson’s white authorities, unaccustomed to having their little racket exposed in the world media spotlight, are adamantly obstructing the investigation by refusing to produce or even interrogate the cop accused in the shooting. The cops themselves are behaving unprofessionally and publishing lies and racist tirades over the Internet. Ferguson’s mayor is refusing to remove the town DA from the investigation despite his soporific handling of the investigation. The state and the municipality are arguing over which has jurisdiction over the investigation. Obama, ever cautious, is refusing any commentary about the affair. He has sent in his stead US Attorney General Eric Holder to act as his political point man, but I can’t imagine what that is going to resolve, aside from layering on another dimension of dark comedy to the sideshow.
The clearest concept for an average person like myself to understand Missouri society is to rely on the history that I know. The territory was a part of New France for 200 years until it was sold to the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1802. St. Louis is named for King Louis XIV of France, and there are apparently still existing enclaves of French language and culture, a bit like Louisiana. When Missouri became part of the US, it was admitted to the union as a slave state and it declared allegiance to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Some of the most vicious fighting of the war in that area took place between pro- and anti-slavery militias which had no affiliation to the armies of either side.
Mark Twain’s most famous novels take place in antebellum Missouri, and the dialogue in those books are filled with so many racial insults that the unavoidable impression gives life to H. Rap Brown’s famous throwaway line, “Racism is as American as cherry pie”. I mean to say that racism is so baked into the porcelain of our national DNA that no amount of scrubbing will bleach it out. Given the fact that there is not likely to be a convergence of attitudes regarding the post-slavery status of Blacks in America, they need a stabilizing culture of statutory protections enforced by a strong central authority (which we don’t have) to guarantee their rights under the US Constitution.
This uniformity is what Europe is trying to achieve with Brussels, but the Europeans are only grudgingly cooperating now, and that is only after having experienced a century of chaos, where the nations bounced around like crazy particles in an accelerator until they exploded. Not to be a Cassandra, but are we also destined to collapse into cataclysmic chaos until we’re finally too exhausted to care anymore? Remember, the Roman Empire and England both disintegrated in civil wars that occurred at the height of their power. You either wise up the easy way, by learning from the mistakes of others, or you wise up the hard way, by being beaten senseless and laying supine on the ground like Michael Brown, whose lifeless corpse was left to ferment for hours in the August sun in public view, sort of like the slave drivers of the past would do to discourage any independent ideas. Is that what it is going to take to induce people to let go of previous vanities?
What you wear says more about you than talking a load of garbage and trying to impress the world by reciting whatever lame epiphany that passes through your mind, when all the hot air being released by loud blabbermouths is already destroying the ozone and causing whole neighborhoods of Brooklyn to break off and float away in the sea. That’s why I am secure that if I fly down to Ferguson MO wearing my orange golf suit and neon green running shoes, they’ll mistake me for Kermit the Frog and tip me five bucks.
© Dean Borok September 2014
If they’re going to deport people for driving offenses, that’s going to have to include everybody.
Bar Mitvah Survival Techniques
The problems with Bar Mitzvahs is that they are all about kids. I can take the three-hour ceremony in the synagogue. Everybody gets to say something, and it’s charming. But don’t invite me to the reception, where it’s six hours more of the same