Friday, September 10, 2004

cleaning up

"...the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule" ~ Walter Benjamin.
The worst thing about a third hurricane story in the same region is it really screws up the news cycle. You've done the terrified citizens thing twice already. The hasty preparations, the fearful families, the brave news crews. Everyone has memorized the location of shelters that take pets. We've all heard, to a bulimic breaking point, about the gas, food, water, and ice shortages, the blasted homes, the aftermath-story chestnuts about folks cleaning up, dedicated volunteers, brave emergency managers, sincerely caring high officials, and the down-to-earth business of getting on with our lives.

Barely have we turned to What's up with Kerry? the dog shot that guy? Can that really be Fallujah? Britney's cellulose? Eisner's swan song? when another one hits. Headlines now bellow, "Hurricane Fatigue takes its toll," but like many media "events," what they in fact reflect is how the media feel about covering this story yet again, their queasy discomfort that, in fact, nobody gives a single good god-damn anymore. Been there, done that, twice in fact. God -- for Whom the Eternal Return of the Same is pretty much all that's ever on the tube -- has weighed Florida in the balance and found it a little light in the loafers. Sheeit, what do we do now? Lop the freaking state off already -- maybe it can still manage to enjoy a seedy nano-celebrity's afterlife in Vegas.

More to the "point" here, as we await the cone of error of Ivan to melt, thaw and resolve itself into an actual event or nonevent as the case may be, is the uneven modality of time in the before, the anteroom of the Thing in Itself.

For example, there's the odd adjacency of stringent emergency preparations and routine daily exercises: Home Depot has become a Mexican shrine, besieged by endless lines of pilgrims seeking the intercession of Saint Plywood and Blessed Duct Tape; homeowners whose homes have not yet been sufficiently wrecked busily nail boards to windows; gas stations choke with Mad-Max gasoline addicts. All the while, schoolkids quietly do their homework in the library, out of town Realtors scout cheap waterfront lots (1), FEMA contractors tear up front yards (2) like nothing special is up.

Inside the zone, or cone, of a state of emergency, normal life takes on a surreal disposition -- the strangeness lying not in what "normal people" are doing, but in the fact that they cannot seem to stop doing it. The endless chatter du jour, the political sniping as regular as lawn sprinklers, the uninterrupted blogging of this and of that, the random everydayness of the day, takes on a kind of arbitrary perversity, as if, in the suspended moment after the first plane had found its target three years ago less a day, setting us all up to witness the accuracy of the second, interpolating that feeling even before we knew it, a foreboding sense that not only were ladders of Capital falling, but so was some invisible membrane, a fourth wall that had always seemed to be there, a kind of NBC of national broadminded complacency and delusion keeping us safe from any extreme of anything, this wall now attenuating, fraying, opening to something we preferred remain on the other side of the mirrored world we pretend to live in, as if, in the dawn of our knowledge of that fraying, we took a moment to look around and found everyone we knew just as they'd been an instant before, sweetly oblivious to what now irreversibly was past and seduced by an eternal deja-vu apprehension of what nevermore could be, smiling, chattering, blogging, so like ourselves.

(1) Days, or maybe hours, after Hurricane Charley hit, lemonade signs went up from Realtors offering to buy homes, especially those on waterfront property. [Later edit: e.g.

(2) Contractors working under FEMA's direction have been cleaning up some streets by the novel method of digging holes in people's yards and burying rubble therein. Saves the trouble of carting it off, even if a few water mains and the last trees still standing get torn up.


Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Thanks Dorothea - good questions, and for the reasons you cite, I have no answers about communities other than the one I live in. Mail service was restored very quickly here (Charlotte county), and electrical power within week to most places. What you might try is checking the emergency management offices of the counties where your friends are located. Here's a possibly useful page - no idea how current any of it is:

9/10/2004 7:37 PM  

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