Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TALKING 'BOUT 'NAUGURATION

(From SomeEcards)

On my sixth birthday in 1961, my family was living in Pecos, Texas, in a trailer park which would be massively damaged by multiple tornadoes a year later. My mother had finally given up on my father ever changing to a job which would bring him home at nights. She agreed to selling our ranch-style three-bedroom in Lafayette, Louisiana and buying a trailer, a 10x50 New Moon with three bedrooms if you count the closet-sized room assigned to me as a bedroom (it was so narrow I had to pull my feet onto on my twin bed to open the dresser drawers). We began moving every few months as my father's crappy job demanded. But Mama thought this meant we'd be together for dinner at night, on weekends, holidays, birthdays.

She still didn't know my father, really.

However, all that slow decline in despair was ahead of us. On my birthday in 1961, I was given a "Have Gun -- Will Travel" toy rifle with a Paladin style black hat and, most thrilling of all, a small set of calling cards embossed with his logo. To keep my little brother Bill, who was two, from feeling left out, he was given a similar set from "Wanted: Dead or Alive" with a plastic sawed-off shotgun.

Have Gun, Will Travel calling card
The first time I took my rifle to the playground in the middle of the trailer park, a little boy named Corky stole it, saying it was not something a girl should have. I went home crying and told Mama. She steamed over to his trailer, where his mother flatly denied he'd come home with anything that didn't belong to him. My mother got into a screaming fight with her, wherein Mama unleashed her legendary ability at profanity and called the woman "white trash". The woman slammed her trailer door in Mama's face. Mama walked around in a rage the rest of the day and unloaded on my father when he came home two hours past dinner time.

It's a milestone memory for me, an initial slam into class and gender walls.

The day before that birthday, Barack Obama had been born in Honolulu, Hawaii.



(Barack Obama as a young boy)

I work nights, sleep days, usually being sound asleep by 8 a.m. But not yesterday. I was too excited to drop off, and wound up flipping from channel to channel for eight hours. I cried a lot. Here are some non-chronological impressions.

There was no smirk on McChimpy Flightsuit's face, not once that I could see. What a fucking relief to see him looking like something might be penetrating that beady-eyed, alcohol-damaged frontal lobe, especially if it might in any way be noticing he is Mr. Epic Fail. How long will it take Laura to divorce him, I wonder? Here's a contest we should start: Which will occur first, McCain admitting he has recurrence of melanoma, Laura divorcing Dubya, or Palin being arrested on corruption charges?

I knew immediately when I saw Cheney in a wheelchair that smart-mouthed teenboy progressives were not going to be able to resist making cheap swipes about it. And I was right. They've jumped on the bandwagon, comparing him to every movie villain they can name. Have you dickheads never stopped to consider why it is that movie-makers (especially the Bond series) feel so free to make the bad guys disabled or having an obvious physical difference? Because it's okay to play on that hatred. Can't pick on blacks or women any more, but wheelchairs, man, that's the kind of difference that's fair game. (Almost as good as swish jokes. And talking about fat chicks.) I mean, I hate the man enough to give me serious pause, but him being in a wheelchair has nothing to do with the issue, pro or con. No wonder FDR hid his braces, with the likes of you losers itching to make comment.

I loved the music quartet, the joy on their faces as they played, the music itself. As a prior attender of Quaker functions, I've heard "Tis a Gift To Be Simple" more times than I can count, but this was an original take on it. (Although, I have to confess, I always think of a parody a friend of mine wrote: "Tis a gift to be pimple / Tis a gift to be wart / Tis a gift to be a blemish of any sort...") I do wish they'd been in a better line of sight. Maybe they should have been to the left of Biden and Obama, and move Darth and Dubya up to the nosebleed zone. I also wish they'd once done a close-up of the pianist (the only woman) performing. But the guys always get most of the camera action -- unless the woman is partially nude and playing a sex kitten, of course.

And Aretha -- the first album I bought on my own was by Aretha. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Yowza. Perfect choice.

I am always glad to support poetry read in public and included in ceremony. However, it was a poem that needed editing, and the poet reader was far too stiff. I kept wishing for Sonia Sanchez or Sharon Bridgforth to be reading up there, now THAT would have been something to see.

I ADORED seeing Obama led in by two powerful women, setting aside my differences with those women at various times. I also adored how many non-white faces were filling the lenses. It's like my chest got full of air for the first time in ages, you know? It got all tight again when I looked at the wide shot of the Congressional luncheon later -- almost all white men over 40, how can this be considered representative leadership? You have to ignore so much about the planet, about human history, to accept that logic.

And speaking of which: My lizard brain is hoping for retribution against John Cornyn. He kept Hillary from being confirmed on Inauguration Day just because -- like the dog licking its genitals -- he could. One more CDS prick-slap. Or do you really buy his argument about transparency?

I found Obama's speech to be EXCELLENT. He was direct, was clearly speaking to the rest of the world as well as America, and he spoke truth to power (take THAT, Bushies). I particularly liked his reminder we don't have to give up civil liberties to be "safe".

I was also glad to hear a few direct references to race, more than his usual allegory. (Excepting the single "race speech", whose title right there tells you how often Obama raises the issue concretely.) He's elected now, he no longer has to play to the majority of white supporters who want proactive redemption for a guilt they deny feeling, who want him to speak in terms of "we" and "it's gonna be better" instead of pointing to the elephant in the room. White people prefer not to move on the issue of race unless it seems like it was their idea in the first place -- or the National Guard is involved. He did it deftly enough that commentators like Charlie Gibson and Bob Schieffer felt a sanctified glow in repeating his remarks, sure the troubles he referred to are all in the icky past.

So, now we have one out of 44 Presidents who is Not White. I have mixed feelings -- incredulous relief at it occurring in my lifetime, followed immediately by noticing the pathos of needing to feel such relief. If the next four Presidents are African American, the next five after ten or eleven after that Latino, then at least one Asian and Native American, we'll reach actual racial diversity in Presidential representation. Of course, every one of those plus another 27 Presidents (until 2184) will need to be women for us to reach gender equality.

(From SomeEcards)

Now, as for the prayers. Let me begin by saying I'm so fucking ready to take g*d out of all these oaths and falderol. If you don't believe they'll tell the truth without bringing g*d into it, then they're not who we should have as leaders, right? And either g*d loves us all and supports us in everything we do (even Dubya) or g*d is not much of a supreme being, more like a Britney kinda parent.

I multitasked during PRick Warren's ridiculous display. I did sit up straight and sing "America the Beautiful", thinking about the end of the second stanza (America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw / Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!) and the author's 25-year relationship/residence with her beloved Katherine Coman. But I also read the captioning on my TV screen and when I'd finished singing, I listened critically to the style of PRick's prayer as well as trying to hear if there was any resistance coming from the audience. Flipping between channels, I noticed at first the camera showed quite a few people who were obviously not "praying along", looking bored or disgusted. Eventually the networks all found folks with closed eyes and clasped hands, and stayed with this stereotype until he was done.

I grew up listening to fundies preach, and the thing is, he simply wasn't very good. Aside from the obvious offenses in his content (I'll get to that), it didn't hang together very well, it was overly exhortational or groveling, alternating between the two, without any good hooks to suck in the emotion of the listener. And the expression on his face looked to me like that of a man who was busy sucking off the sweat behind a largish pair of balls.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

As for offense: You don't introduce Jesus as g*d in a prayer designed for people of all faiths. You'll notice Lowery didn't do it, nor did the Chaplain who prayed at the beginning of the Congressional luncheon, both of them devout Christians, I'm sure. It's as offensive as if he had insisted on using the term Allah instead of the agreed-upon generic g*d. But -- this is a man who earns his living by refusing to see the full humanity of others. No big surprise there.

He also appropriated the Sh'ma and altered it (perhaps botched it). Again, fundies think they have a right to claim Judaism, and too many right-wing Jews in the last few decades have allowed them to get away with it. In lesbian-feminist circles, you'll be met with torches and pitchforks if you refer to "Judeo-Christian" anything or allow gentiles to lead Jewish prayer without obtaining prior consent.

It was, in short, a pitiful effort, definitely not worthy of the cost to Obama to include this vermin on that platform. Plenty of that example on the other side of balcony.

Reverend Joseph Lowery would definitely have looked better by comparison, in any event, but he did everything right. He spoke the language of actual inclusion, he caught us up, and he ended with humor. It's the kind of prayer an atheist can listen to and find enough relatable to accept as speaking for all of us, not just "believers" (as if nonbelievers have no beliefs). Below is a YouTube copy of his benediction.



I kept watching after the ceremony was over, mainly in hopes of seeing President Obama sign some key executive orders right away (didn't happen) and wondering if the networks would also block out the lesbian/gay portions of the parade, as HBO did to Gene Robinson this weekend (didn't see all of the parade, so I can't say for sure). During the parade, all three main stations made some comment about how the Obamas were expected to make D.C. their actual community, to go out in it and do community organizing, eat at local restaurants, and make friends there, in contrast to the Bushes who had no locally made friends after eight years. They also put up a photograph from the podium looking down the length of the National Mall to show the vast crowds attending, juxtaposed with the same shot from Bush's inauguration which drew perhaps one-fourth the number of attendees. (So much for a fucking mandate.) Why wasn't this sort of analysis ever done by the mainstream networks while Bush was in office?

I also have to say, I think people who don't wear a warm, buttoned-up coat when they have to be out for hours in that kind of weather look stupid. It's painful to see that much insecurity on display (i.e., my looks are more important than my well-being.) When will my sisters be "free at last" from that imprisonment? And don't try to tell me it was a choice. You know damned well that all anybody would be talking about is if the First Lady had dressed appropriately instead of an object on display. But reverse it: Imagine if Barack had been in shorts and a light dress jacket. At least they put their daughters in coats.

I'm reminded of a story about Sam Houston, the first President of the Republic of Texas. (He was a slaveowner but was opposed to the extension of slavery into new American territory, and was forced to resign his later governorship of Texas because he refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. He proclaimed "A house divided against itself cannot stand" eight years before Lincoln did.) When the Republic was new, a group of visitors from the East came, bigwigs in fancy clothes whose report on Texas would be instrumental in gaining future assistance and favor. Houston was showing them around the grounds of a new building, and in the back near the kitchen, a pot of cornmeal mush was hung over a fire, simmering. Houston picked up a spoon and took a mouthful, not knowing it was near boiling. He promptly spit it out onto the earth near the feet of his horrified visitors. Houston remarked "There's many a damned fool who would've swallowed that!"

As for all the "designer" obsession, let me just report that my cat Dinah chose to wear full-length tortoiseshell to her Top Of The Bookshelf Inaugural Ball.

When I finally gave up on there being anything covered except fluff, I came back to my computer where I had an e-mail waiting from a friend living in the Boston area, but formerly from Texas, saying "Happy New President! I'm so sorry you have to take the old one back now." Ah, you and me both, Amanda. You'll notice he went to Midland first, where there's still enough of the deluded to gin up a crowd for him. (I say that having lived in Midland as a child.) You'll also notice he's chosen Dallas, not Austin, as his future residence. Dallas can have him. I only wish we could give all of Dallas from Central Expressway to Irving away to Oklahoma and not have it affect Texas elections any more.

I opened my blog's layout and removed the Backwards Bush Clock, which for six months has been counting down the days until he was gone. It's amazing this day has come. I'm glad I watched, totally worth it to lose an entire cycle of sleep over. Then I made dinner and, in the words of Jeb Bartlet, said to myself "Next?"

(Image by Alvin Blair.)

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]

4 comments:

spabeachresorts said...

interesting!! thanks for sharing...

kat said...

The first time I read through this I thought to myself "Swiss jokes? Who makes swiss jokes?".....oops.

In regards to the music (because you know I can't resist):

Aretha Franklin's voice is starting to go. It's not surprising, but sad to hear wobbles and rasps where there never have been before. That said, she's still an insanely good performer and singer.

Jon Stewart was right, though. Taking a giant breath in between the first and second syllables of the word "country" is Not. Good.

The quartet:
Jon Williams wrote the music (or arrangement, I suppose, since there were at least two well known songs quoted). He of Star Wars and Jurassic Park and loads of Spielberg movies fame.

I'm a total snob when it comes to music, as you know, so I really would have preferred something NOT by a film composer, but that's just me.

In fact, after listening to Williams's piece, I thought that it sounded suspiciously like Aaron Copeland. I also thought that I would have preferred to hear Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

That, though, requires a full orchestra. Can't be done with a small ensemble.

The Fanfare for the Common Man also quotes "Simple Gifts" and it's one of those pieces that gets me every time. I know it backwards and forwards and inside out, but every time I hear that huge sweep up to the first notes of "Tis a Gift" I lose it.

Williams tried, and pretty much achieved, the simple yet full sonority of Copeland, and it was okay, but the original is better.

Now on to the players: Yo-yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman are two of the century's greatest players on their respective instruments. The other two in the quartet, who both seemed phenomenal, didn't stand a chance, glory-wise. At least the clarinetist got a nice solo moment.

I was annoyed that the pianist was not more prominently featured, musically, but the piano rarely is in string quartets. It's often more of a support than anything else. Still. Also, I didn't even see her name credited. I have no idea who it was.

***

I was working in kindergarten on inauguration day, so I initially thought that I wouldn't be able to watch. Luckily, though, the other teacher in that class decided it was important enough to have on, even if not all of the kids could sit through it. I know that most of the kids (well, the ones who didn't stay home to watch with their parents) didn't really get what was being said, but they got that it was important and historic, and that was way cool.

Also cute was the little girl who kept saying "Parack Obama."

little gator said...

You just did my homework for me. Born in 1961.

Barack Obama is the first US president to be younger than me. this is also true for 4 of my six siblings.

kat said...

It turns out that the pianist is named Gabriella Montero, and the clarinetist is Anthony McGill. At least on the CNN feed that I watched, he was credited but she wasn't.

It turns out (I'm not surprised, really) that they had to play along to a tape of themselves. Stringed instruments (including piano) are insanely hard to keep in tune when playing outside anyway, and at only 30 degrees, it would be nearly impossible.

Apparently that would affect the clarinet also, but I'm not clear on the details as to how.

They had made a recording during a rehearsal or soundcheck, and it was played on sound systems. The quartet played along, so if you were sitting in the first row you would have heard them, but they couldn't risk playing fully live. That was the highest profile string quartet performance in this country in quite a while, so they couldn't let themselves play out of tune.

The article that Yahoo posted about this tried to make it sound all scandalous, but anyone in the classical music world is likely to respond with "well, duh...."