Summer of Our Discontent
Oh dear, you’re probably thinking. Not another post of angst-filled pathos on what is, I believe, day forty-seven since the onset of a horror with no real discernible name. In the muddle that passes for my current state of mind these days, I can do no more than ask your continued indulgence in permitting me a kind of moratorium of my own. Tragedies take time, after all.
Throughout the land, the official designation has come to be known as the BP Deepwater Horizon crisis, which strikes me as comical, particularly when that exaggerated narcissistic label seems more suited to one of those cavalierly comped corporate fishing outings, where the ‘good ol’ boys’ gather round with their world-class cigars and high-octane intoxicants for an all expense paid getaway to the high seas to soak up a little sun, rest and marlin wrangling.
The more aptly titled, but limply named, “Disaster in the Gulf” hardly registers notice, so quaint and parochial is its epithet. In a culture consumed with random disasters appearing nightly at the local Cineplex, it is difficult, if not impossible, to raise one’s pulse level to the apocalyptic orange alert. But leave it to those ubiquitous media hounds to come up with the winning attention grabber for the ages: Katrina meets Chernobyl. Can the movie rights be far behind?
While I skim through the news cycles, each training me in its own peculiar locker room lexicon of “top kill,” “junk shot,” or the latest soon-to-be-tried complimentary chaser, “top hat,” I feel as though I am suffering from a ‘top kill’ of my own brought on by a binge of excess as in “too much.”
In my former care-free carousing days, my poisons of choice centered on “too much” sugar, “too much” tequila, and the always wildly popular “too much” drama, but in these prudent, anxious and tumultuous times, I feel glutted with “too much” oil, sickened with the “too much” greed that produced it, and gorged with the “too much” addiction that created it. When does it stop? I think. Where does it end? I wail with weariness at each incomprehensible image, ache with sorrow at every tortured tale and shudder in despair at the magnitude of what we’ve done.
In mute disbelief, I learned last weekend, along with everyone else, the harshest and cruelest of truths. The nearly inconceivable blow came out of nowhere, defying all reason and logic as it was solemnly announced that the eruption one mile beneath the surface of the sea, the hole from hell so to speak, was out of control with no end in sight. How fitting that the proclamation should reach us on a holiday weekend associated around memorials for the lost and fallen. How far and how fast had it taken us to get here?
The indomitable American can-do spirit that has seen us through war, havoc and devastation, through hurricanes, earthquakes and 9/11, was finally brought down, humbled in shame, dropped to its quivering knees in one prophetic moment with the sudden and sickening realization that we didn’t have a clue as to what to do. Threatened by a colossal crisis, we were dumbfounded by our own incompetence. “Too much” had finally become just that.
Historically, the Memorial Day weekend has always acted as the harbinger of the much-awaited sun-filled days and long, languorous nights to come. Visions of sipping sangria off the garden patio, firing up the barbecue, emptying the garage of rods, surf boards and beach chairs, and trekking off to wave-drenched vistas of sand castles, seaweed, and encrusted shells, all the while burrowing deep in the folds of Para sheet blankets and rainbow umbrellas — these are what we’ve come to expect of summer.
But in this season of 2010, the idyllic innocence is forever changed with the knowledge that no matter where we alight this summer, knee deep in sand, or beneath the fore-and-aft sails of a gaff-rigged schooner, the presence of millions of gallons of poison, slipping silently and lethally off our shores into the pristine waters of the gulf stream, are never far from memory.
Again, I plead my own special form of hysteria in dwelling on what most would prefer to avert or ignore. I’ve read everything from rants on tar balls to how up close, the petroleum — refracting the punishing Gulf sunlight — looks like a malignant lesion on the skin of the water. I feel sickened, sad and witheringly helpless over this hole on the ocean floor that is dumping, relentlessly dumping at record speeds, unfathomable amounts of brackish toxins into the estuaries, wetlands and shores of our homeland. And of late, I am truly frightened to learn that it’s not “what we see” on the surface of the water, but “what we don’t see” beneath its depths that most alarms scientists and those who study the life-enabling fragile eco-systems of the planet.
Does it calm to know that the “responsible party,” one not unfamiliar with controversy, misconduct or negligence, has lost well over two-thirds of its value since the onset, or that countless civil and criminal charges are being initiated, or that every individual, or potential “expert,” from all walks of life — engineering, biochemistry, science, the citadels of learning, even the movie industry has weighed in — corralled together on capitol hill in a kind of doomsday scenario (sorrowfully late, one would think) to suggest, recommend, and/or volunteer even the slightest semblance of a solution? Not especially.
One well-intentioned reader advised that I cease publishing these unbearably heartbreaking images, an understandable and sage piece of generosity, but my own internal protester cannot abide. Nor can I stay silent on what I’ve learned with each passing day — that for years, at least since the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989, the top five revenue-producing companies of all time, in the whole of the world, were petroleum companies. Exxon, despite its blunder, ranks, unbelievably in first place and the currently reviled BP (British Petroleum) falls in handily at fifth.
These same petroleum companies who wantonly spared no expense in researching and funding the ‘best and brightest’ technology money could buy in drilling deeper and further into the outreaches of the unknown, yet made no investment in protecting humanity or the delicate ecological systems that sustain us, never for a moment thought to consider what might happen if something went very wrong.
Nor did they consider the possibility of risk, worst-case hypotheticals, or assume even the simplest and most basic of precautions in the event of a tragedy. Where, I continually ask, were the all-important fire drills? The dive under the desk code-red-rapid-fire emergency response system that shuts down, turns off, grinds to a merciful halt. Where, pray tell, were the rules and regulations, practiced and perfected, repeatedly, should the unthinkable occur? Very simply, none existed.
What we’re witnessing day after day is dubious speculation, rampant misinformation and little more than ineffectual stupidity. Which explains why those frequently discussed booms you see floating across the Gulf coast on your television screen, precariously propped into position with simple light-weight bamboo sticks that shift and sway with each passing wave, appear so pathetically primitive and childishly naive, like some historically hoarded relic used by our ancestors, the Neanderthals.
Hence, after twenty some years since one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur in history, we are left with a situation out of our control.
How is it that such a powerfully potent word like “catastrophic” could come to seem so small, benign and inconsequential in this summer of our discontent? Or that a “catastrophic blowout” would be on the lips and minds of the citizenry for months to come? Did we need something colossal to derail us into shamed submission? Did we need a shared tragedy of unimaginable proportion to silence the drill seekers, still the gas-guzzlers, and quiet the government abolitionists? Did we have to cower in disgrace to unite and enrage the environmentalists, the defenders of the endangered, and the clean energy crowd? And what of the seafood craving patrons who frequent oyster bars and seafood shacks? Where will they come out on all of this? Did we require a complete and utter senseless tragedy to awaken us to our own culpability?
I dread the thought of the coming days ahead filled with the exploits of those enterprising underwater robotic heroes working round the clock in synchronized swimming and diving teams, carefully choreographed to foil the rapacious gusher with the same lock-leg precision of those 1950′s MGM “aqua musicals.” I detest and deplore the unlimited ad nauseam debates that have already begun arguing the benefits of green, while mightily challenging the economic realities of black. I ask you, dear reader, how much spin can one be exposed to before contracting a life-threatening disease with a lingeringly slow death, made all the more noxious by the incessant, unrelenting and pointless chatter?
I have no answers. Nor does it appear anyone else does either. While the sickness lingers and the spill spews, one can only hope that somewhere, somehow the spirit will arise and act to reveal the path out of nowhere.
It is often said that out of chaos and misery, comes order and creation and it has begun in the gentlest of ways. On Grand Isle, Louisiana, just down the road a ways from the wharfs, one family, life-long residents of this cherished place, erected a simple little cemetery of one hundred and one small crosses, lining their front yard for all those passing by to see, each one commemorating something they love, like “brown pelicans,” “beach sunsets” and “sand between the toes.” The sign next to the cemetery of dreams reads, “In memory of all that is lost.”