Monday, October 28, 2013

Sandy, One Year Later

One year ago, Hurricane Sandy blew into my life, flooded my apartment and uprooted my comfort and security.

Time heals all wounds, yet the pain of Sandy still lingers. Over a foot of water sloshed around my apartment, soaking my books and furniture, drenching and invading my personal space.

Private living space should be a sanctuary, a respite from the outside. Sandy barged right in, flooding the neighboring streets and seeping under the door cracks, rolling over the carpeting and creeping into low-lying cupboards and drawers.

Waterlogged mattresses, sofa cushions and bookcases. Sandy spared nothing, leaving me with a grim task of sorting through my possessions. A hurricane rendered me homeless, made me a victim.

I hate Hurricane Sandy.

Hate the fact I had to call a shoddy moving company to move my few remaining boxed personal effects one cold November night. Fat men with clumsy hands and dinosaur feet clomping through the dark rooms because the electricity was cut off. Flashlights stabbing the blackness, breaths foggy as the chill crept in.

Hate the idiotic moniker "Superstorm", as if it was forged from Olympus and charged with superhuman atomic thunderbolts.

Hate living without 80 percent of my possessions for a year. Boxes piled in a monstrous heap inside a metal storage facility. Paying over $100 to shelter my belongings while I stay in temporary lodgings where I’ve clearly overstayed my welcome.

Feeling helpless and immobile.

Seeing the town slowly rebuild, watching homes jacked up higher. Constructing taller than base flood elevation because the Federal Emergency Management Agency decrees it. It’s all about flood insurance, about reimbursements, grants and cash making people whole again.

Soup eaten in restaurants, eking out meager sustenance while the downtown digs out, scraping mud from floors, steam-cleaning carpets saturated with briny stench, noticing a sheen of scum where the high water mark receded.

How do you survive something like this?

The loss.

The new reality, where you’re a victim.

Landlord can’t rebuild the apartment. Walls removed, down to bare studs. Fans dry everything, preventing mold and mildew from creeping back. No renter’s insurance means nothing you have is covered.

Everything’s gone.

A FEMA worker from Tennessee apologizes as he records your information. Uncle Sam cuts you a check for your troubles, for another month’s rent in another apartment which you don’t see because you’re too proud to look.

Too proud to admit anything is wrong.

Fixated on fleeing far from this island, this resort town which brims in the summer, choking with tourists frolicking on the Boardwalk.

Yet the Boardwalk is deserted. Badly eroded beach, bereft of sand, which spilled onto the neighboring roads.

Front end loaders, dump trucks, debris. Downed power lines, furniture piled in gargantuan mountains on curbsides.

Gov. Chris Christie in his blue fleece, hugs teary residents, tours the coast. The state uses federal funds to tout how resilient the Jersey shore is, a phoenix rising defiantly from the ashes.

“Stronger Than The Storm.”

We weren’t stronger than the storm. If we were, the storm wouldn’t have gutted our homes, turned us into bitter wanderers, crippled our sense of security and purpose.

A year after Sandy, we’re still putting our lives back together. We’re still frantically searching for new homes and grieving for our old ones. FEMA’s red tape strangles us all, and those who can’t rebuild, sold their homes and moved on. Developers gobbled up crumbling houses, razed them and rebuilt condos and duplexes.  

Sandy was kind to the development community and construction trade.

Champagne corks popping round the clock for them.

How’s my life been this past year?

I still feel like I’m anxiously waiting for something to arrive. Mingled depression and frustration at my inaction. Sandy left me in limbo, in a place where things run molasses slow. I’ve largely had to do without what I escaped with. When you suddenly lose most of your stuff, the books and music and objects which give your life comfort and meaning, you realize how banal and trite materialism is.

On a personal level, I’m making do with less, streamlining existence. Spartan living with a few books, movies and creature comforts. In this stark absence there’s simplicity and less clutter. Nothing is burdensome, tempest-tossed bookshelves, brimming with volumes and CDs.

Life is very Zen right now. Less is more. Minimalist in the extreme.

I still have my girlfriend, and her love and support have weathered Sandy and every troubling storm since. We’re living together, far from our former lodgings. It might not be closer, with the same conveniences, but it’s become our sanctuary.

She wonders when we’re going to move. She wants new furniture, a new place.

I’m not ready to look just yet. I’m trying to save money to upgrade my apartment. I worry about the neighborhood, about crime, about our future.

Everything drowned in Sandy’s icy waters last October. Part of me sunk, pulled down never to emerge.

Political hyperbole and axioms do little to quell the pain or stave the losses.

Resentment, sorrow, bemoaning our malaise. We’re uprooted, torn asunder, flung to the wolves. Traumatized and angry, blaming FEMA, the state, our own ineptitude to plan better.

We were caught up in a historical storm which tore a rollercoaster from an amusement pier, pushed sand into beachfront homes and turned quiet neighborhoods into canals. We saw nature’s wrath and fury up close, witnessed widespread devastation and began the slow task of rebuilding. Amid the chaos and anger, we saw strangers helping strangers. Whether assisting an elderly neighbor, cooking hot meals or helping someone move, the best of humanity revealed itself following Sandy.

Though Sandy destroyed our homes and property, it didn’t damage true goodness. Selfless acts of kindness came through, amid all this suffering.

We huddle for warmth and give thanks. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sleepwalking Through America

           At 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the federal government shut down after the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House of Representatives clashed over a federal spending bill.

The House and Senate reached an impasse, when House Republicans passed their version of the spending bill which contained an amendment delaying enforcement by one year of the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate” requiring all Americans to buy health insurance.

The legislation also appointed Republicans to attend a Senate budget conference, which Democrats previously requested.

The Senate flatly rejected the proposal, requesting the House pass a bill absent of the provisions. Democrats called for the passage of a “clean bill”, absent of Obamacare provisions. The Republicans flatly refused, saying Obamamcare’s healthcare exchange marketplaces, due to open Oct. 1, would usher in a thousand years of darkness, cause baby Jesus to weep and break up more marriages than Internet porn.

In less flippant, cynical times, such posturing would be met with a bare-knuckle scrum at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial, where Senators, locked in death-embraces, rip each other apart like wild dogs.

Today, we’re the victims of an omnipresent media, turning its nattering pundits loose across the airwaves, ramping up the spin-machine and mass-producing bullshit.

Now the finger-pointing.

Now the incessant carping.

For this, the hoi polloi are rewarded with no functioning government.

We’ve passed the threshold of kindness, America. We’re plummeting off the deep end, hurling down a bottomless chasm ringed with ads for Taco Bell, Crocs and Duck Dynasty.

This country is becoming more and more like a trailer park, but not the fun kind of trailer park with immaculate lawns, happy-go-lucky neighbors and friendly grandmas who leave warm apple pies to cool on the windowsill. No, it’s the kind of festering trailer park inhabited by shifty, inbred rednecks staring blankly at you with narrowed eyes and tilted brows while polishing their shotguns and guzzling cheap beer.

In his farewell address in 1796, George Washington said “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent energies, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Washington’s dreaded premonition is our current reality.

America is a happy dystopia, populated with unwitting dupes too apathetic or lackadaisical to challenge the entrenched oligarchs who blithely gobble every last morsel of freedom from the people’s plate.

Politics has grown nasty, a blood sport akin to bear-baiting or bull fighting. It’s gladiatorial combat with thousand dollar plate dinners, where the same trite partisan hackery and rhetoric passes for insightful wisdom.

It’s not so much the blind leading the blind, but the blind who think they can see, leading people who are only nearsighted.

It’s like sending out a bunch of invitations for a celebrity dinner party and having only Charles Manson and Pauly Shore show up. The only ones who appear are deluded, bloodthirsty maniacs or complete nincompoops.

Hate speech isn’t so much a crime but a national pastime. Political campaigns, unrestricted in the amount of donations they receive, are free to engage in duplicitous behavior, hurling accusations against opponents and perceived “enemies”.

In short, our leaders are assholes.

Assholes with power are the worst kind. Both parties are power-hungry in their pursuit of domination, even subverting the Constitution to get their way.

The last concern a politician has is for his fellow man. Chiefly paramount is his own welfare, the strength of his political party and how he can gain an advantage over the secular, the intellectual, the free-thinker. His goal is to cause dissention and strife, to reap a whirlwind of shit and dismantle all unity in favor of chaos, to drive the hopeful into hopelessness and the secure into insecurity.

In short, his goal is to win.

The shutdown is not a coup de grace. It’s not a win for Republicans. Not a victory for stalwarts who “made a point” by closing the federal government’s operations.

It’s a failure for all the smug, conceited, Limbaugh-listening, round-gutted, Hummer-driving conservative stereotypes who use Obamacare as an excuse. Congressional Republicans tried killing the law over 40 times since it was signed in 2010. Despite being as jumbled as a dyslexic spelling bee, Obamacare is the law. It's a clusterfuck, but it's America's clusterfuck.

Instead of accepting the law's inevitability, instead of educating the citizenry on the Affordable Care Act's specifics, our leaders gave us fear-mongering, outright distortions and disinformation.

The absence of true leadership leaves a vacuum, one filled with ugly attacks.

Blame for the shutdown rests squarely on the Republicans. It’s bad political theater, complete with histrionics, posturing and nutjob pronouncements of a party in its early death rattle. It’s time to admit the batshit craziness of the Tea Party subverts any good the GOP once had. For the long-term survival of the party, it’s time to cut these guys loose and return them to the shack in the swamp.

Slash and burn tactics are desperate. Both parties claim moral ground, yet their desire to reject compromise shows how ineffective they are at working together to solve problems. Instead we're burdened with acrimony and stubborn representatives willing to carve a name for themselves in blood from the well of the House Chamber.

Washington D.C. used to be a town where the future course of the nation was established, where men clung to their principles, espoused creeds and prayed for wisdom. They cherished liberty and the gift freedom affords us. Now it's is a playground of vindictive tyrants, K Street lobbyists in Battistoni wingtips, gawking sycophants tapping on Blackberries, and alcoholic corporate journalists banging out their latest screeds on their MacBooks.

Not so much a shining city on the hill, but a ghetto of Section 8 housing with high-class escorts and an unprincipled spending habit.

What did America do to deserve such a collection of incompetent, recalcitrant hucksters, thieves and con-artists?

It’s like every school bully you knew growing up entered Congress, where they proceeded to torment America with wet-willies, wedgies and swirlies, before confiscating our lunch money.

Now it’s not their fault they’re so damaged and botched, these egocentric sociopaths devoid of scruples. It’s not inherently in their genetic makeup to behave so irrationally with no regard or empathy of humanity. It's not their fault they succumb to the temptation of  campaign donations and are led on a leash by their corporate masters.

It's not Congress's fault they have abysmal approval ratings.

It's our fault. It’s because we let them get away with it. When you see something wrong and don’t report it, chances are it will continue.

Congress’ bad behavior, its partisan bickering, vile rancor and outright naked greed is all our fault.

We allowed these botched villains to run the country through our indifference and apathy.

By supporting either Democrats or Republicans, we enable their gridlock. By paying their salaries, we allow their shenanigans to continue. My advice: change the management. Vote out all incumbents and start fresh.

Until then, we're just a nation of somnambulists lurching slowly towards the precipice, lost in our own dreams.