not in our stars, but in ourselves
In reverse order:
I don’t have anything insightful to say about the horrifying, entrenched racism that has allowed white police officers all over the United States to kill black people with apparent impunity. I was sickened by Mike Brown’s murder. I was sickened by the Ferguson Police Department’s access to, improper training with, and use of military equipment once it understood what a deep vein of anger they’d tapped. I was sickened by the way they fanned flames that, without riot gear, would have been unlikely to spread as uncontrollably as they did. (I’m not saying the community, and the rest of the world, wouldn’t have been furious and grief-stricken – but riot gear tends to have the opposite of a calming effect. It tells protesters exercising their rights to free speech and assembly that they’re a threat, one to be controlled and hopefully eliminated. Bad PR as well as bad everything else.) I was sickened by Darren Wilson (someone I heard described as the Charles II of Missouri – have fun with that link there) profiting from the murder of an unarmed teenager – some profits having come from noted supporters of villainy in all its forms, the KKK. I was sickened by the farcical grand jury proceedings, and their non-indictment: more than a miscarriage of justice, this was a forced late-term abortion. Most of all, I was sickened that Mike Brown – a kid with a family and friends who loved him, a kid who was on his way to college and who knows what else – was gunned down in cold blood for reasons that are, ultimately, bullshit.
And then it happened again. And again. And again, and again, and again. I’m sorry to say I’ve lost track of all the unjustified, unjustifiable, plain unjust murders of black people by white police. You might think that, with the anger boiling over in Ferguson, a place as allegedly progressive as New York would think twice about issuing a non-indictment in a clear case of homicide – one that was recorded and spread all over the internet like an oil spill – but no. Eric Garner’s murderer, too, will remain a free man. If Garner was doing anything at the time just before he died in a chokehold, he was perhaps selling cigarettes on the street. According to witnesses, he wasn’t even doing that – he was just trying to break up a fight.
The internet did a lot of things after this double-whammy non-indictment. Initially, white people responded by detailing their various exploits and instances of being total dirtbags with #CrimingWhileWhite. The punchline was the same every time: I did something shitty, and I got away with it. However well the white Twittersphere meant, they once more made the situation about themselves. They did it in the wake of Wilson’s non-indictment for killing Mike Brown: changing the cry “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter.” They did it after the non-indictment of Garner’s killer (whose name I can’t be troubled to look up): changing his last words, “I can’t breathe,” to “We can’t breathe.”
In Pnin, Nabokov writes, “Why not leave private sorrows to people? Is sorrow not, one asks, the only thing in the world people possess?” It would be nice if we could all try to remember that, especially when entire communities have been told officially that their lives do not matter. Anyway. Black Twitter responded to #CrimingWhileWhite with #AliveWhileBlack: proof from hundreds of thousands of people that, by virtue of their skin color, they are still – in the 21st century – treated as less than human.
It all just makes me sick. It makes me despair. But of course, I can feel that sadness and anger, compartmentalize it, put it aside, and move onto other things. As Roxane Gay wrote, “Last night I felt hopeless and this morning, I still feel hopeless but it is such a luxury to feel hopeless, to sit in my nice apartment, on my overpriced laptop, writing through my feelings while Mike Brown’s parents mourn, while black parents across the country try to explain to their children that they are deeply loved but that out in the world, they are not seen as human.” I’m white, and I’m from a pretty comfortable socio-economic background, and so I have very few oppressions working against me. I can feel miserable about this one minute, and think about what I’ll do at the gym tomorrow the next. I wish everyone were this lucky, and I hope I can do something to make it so.
Speaking of those more quotidian concerns, I have a bone to pick. A T bone, you could say. As you may know, I live and work in Boston. I do not drive. I therefore rely on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, or just the T to us locals). It is terrible. It is just embarrassing. Every day, there are huge disruptions in service. Every day, there are disabled trains and buses. Every day, every car and bus is packed to capacity. Universal Hub is a Boston news site featuring stories from actual Bostonians’ social media. Look at their MBTA stories. Disaster after disaster after disaster.
Yesterday was a doozy. I took the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing, walked over to the Park Street station, and changed to the Green Line. Well, I tried to. Specifically, I was going to take the B line. When I’d left my house that morning, the traffic reporter on the news said that there were delays on the B and E lines. When I arrived at the outbound platform, it was about 8:05. The MBTA’s Twitter account claimed that normal service was resuming on the B line. I waited. I waited. I waited some more. By 8:20 or so, the platform was choked with other people waiting for the B line, and I decided that I would rather take a different branch and walk from Kenmore to where I was actually going – about a mile up Commonwealth Ave. – on a day when it was (to use the official meteorological term) shitting rain. The ride from Park Street to Kenmore shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. It took us about 30. You see, there was a freshly disabled train at Boylston, thus slowing every other Green Line train to a crawl. And I’m not sure if it was that disabled train or another one in the same spot, but a door fell off while it was being pulled to Park Street. Passengers were in the train. It was a clusterfuck.
Later, due to all the rain, there was crazy flooding – leading to even more disruptions of T service/life during the evening commute. MBTA workers put up a makeshift dam between Kenmore and Fenway on the D line – an admirable bit of foresight that did indeed prevent flooding from the Muddy River, but maybe not so much admirable as “bare minimum required” because the Muddy River flooded the D line in 1996 and it forced Kenmore to close for two months.
The mind reels to consider that the MBTA, a vitally important service that millions of Massachusetts residents use every day, could be so easily kneecapped by inclement weather. This is Boston. “Inclement weather” is on the city seal, probably. Mark my words: the first big snowfall of the winter will result in miserably inadequate service. Why? How? How can this be? The T has been around for over 100 years. How could it be ill-prepared for cold, wet, snowy weather?
Oh, right: because it’s over 100 years old.
The MBTA is crumbling. A friend of mine, responding to one of my many T gripes, summarized it quite well:
I’ve seen some MBTA equipment held together with duct tape. And Government Center essentially needs a 2 year shut down to install handicapped accessibility and to put in some new tiles, never mind the Big Dig. Another reason the Olympic committee thinks we deserve the the honor of spending billions to host the Olympics is our willingness to go on voluntary lockdown after the marathon bombings. And of course we can’t forget major downtown neighborhoods DTX and the South End are absorbing the bulk of hundreds of displaced people due to the city’s inability to maintain the Long Island bridge that they full well knew was rotting out for years. Fuck ’em all. I am beyond pissed that there is any money being spent on exploring this ridiculous, unfeasible charade. I’ve seen worse run places (eg: Rhode Island), but I’m hardly impressed. Also fuck the Olympics in general. As much as I enjoy watching, it’s completely fucked and relies on human rights abuses and environmental destruction to build the facilities in most places, at best.
Wait, what? What was that? The OLYMPICS?!?!
Yeah, you read that right. Boston has made a bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024. With our antiquated public transportation system, snarling traffic jams, and just plain lack of space – we have thrown our hat into the ring to host the goddamn Olympics. I say “we,” but people who actually work and/or live in Boston do not want the Olympics. Nor do other Massachusetts residents, who would likely be stuck footing the bill for something from which they couldn’t possibly benefit. Who does want them? Well, as Universal Hub put it: Important People not going to let the hoi polloi stand in the way of their Olympics. Construction companies. Big business owners. Careerist politicians. University presidents. In Gene Wilder’s words:
Frankly, the T is too fucked to be able to support the influx of tourists that would come traipsing through our fair city. Yes, it desperately needs to be fixed, but “fixed” is too mild a word. It needs a massive overhaul. We need new trains. We need new tracks. We need proper planning and management – because we, the people, need it. We don’t need some half-assed quick fix, held together with epoxy and a screw, just in time for 2024. Please oh please, MBTA Gods, start acting like a world-class transit system if you want to pretend that Boston is a world-class city.
After all that whining, the good is going to sound flimsy by comparison – but after all, it’s like Rust says to Marty.
RUST: You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing.
MARTY: How’s that?
RUST: Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.
So here’s one of my little pinpricks of light in the dark: I will be going to see the Boston Ballet’s beloved cash cow, The Nutcracker, because of course I will. It’s the only Christmas tradition I care about.
I’ve loved it since I was a tiny idiot child, and I love it now that I’m a big idiot grownup, and I know I’ll continue to love it when I’m a shriveled idiot oldtimer. There aren’t many constants in this rotten world, but this is one of mine.
P.S. Relatedly: you know those stupid Visa Checkout commercials with Maria Kochetkova? She is a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. A principal dancer would not be in the “Waltz of the Flowers” – that is a showcase for the corps de ballet. Fuck’s sake, Visa.