Friday, May 27, 2011

Tornadoes and Politicians

Movie fans miss the most important point of the Wizard of Oz.  The film's plot depends on a tornado, the quintessential American experience.  The truth remains, as this country's politics proves to every neophite:  You can take the boy (or girl) out of the tornado, but you can never take the tornado out of that human being who has whirled into the heavens.

America suffers more tornadoes than any other nation on earth.  Who needs to tell that truth to American voters?  Even if they come from every state but Kansas, they quickly learn to fear the sky turning rancid blue or shimmering pink.  Faithfully, the American sky turns exactly those colors as confetti rains down at national conventions--at Hollywood Bowl dramas, too.

And now the two--the movie and the weather--are wed forever in voters' minds.  First, FEMA must clean up after national catastrophers like the twister which destroyed Joplin, Missouri.  Next, the president must answer to the voters in the next national election:  Did his crew arrive on time--or only after all the corpses were found, identified, and buried.

This alliance could not be clearer than it was for this writer when a tornado wound into Charleston, West Virginia, as she once stood on a look-out point over the city.  Incredibly, she was still at work, but anxious, and peering out from her place of employment with co-workers at her side.  That tornado did not belong in the mountains, yet on it came, with a will of its own, like a vision out of a photograph, imposed on a gray scene, still yet thunderous.

As these individuals stood fixated by photographic memories, one co-worker turned to this writer and said:  "If this were Kansas, I'd be worried."  So powerful does that movie remain that its setting trumped the speaker's recognition of where she was--and what was happening.  Yet not for one moment did any of those gathered to observe hell coming at them wonder where this event was occurring on the Earth:  America, home of tornadoes.

Those gathered soon returned to their desks and resumed their online employment.  Their callers could hear the storm striking:  Baseball-size hail pelted the windows all around them.  Still they continued with their assignments as callers asked innocently:  "What is that terrible noise I hear around you?"  The answer came innocently, too:  "Oh, it is a tornado."  The electricity stayed on, and the machines before the workers kept functioning because, perhaps, the hail only sounded like their chains clanking.

During that event, those American workers never left their positions, except to verify what was bearing down upon them.  Now, years later, the full fury of employment hazards seem to have arrived on the American landscape while citizens loyal to the American dream wonder:  Is it my imagination, or has another dream-vision come to pass? 

Yes, the US labor force would still work through tornadoes, if the work was to be had.  And the next president will have to pass the tornado test:  Where were you when the tornadoes tore our jobs away, and our homes went with them?  What were you doing the day the tornado struck us down like lost dogs?  Were you behind the screen with the Wizard, or were you out touring for photo ops?  Don't visit us when our towns are in shambles.  Come for supper when we have some, please.

These sad words occur to those who see their representatives turn up just when they themselves are most unready to welcome them--when politicos come with cameras to record their own compassion, when they come dragging paparazzi with them.  Instead, let them appear in the hollows when the lights go dark, for, with nothing but darkness around them for years, Appalachia's miners and Mountain Mamas still survive.

Tornadoes first appear in the mountains as snapping air--live currents crackling everywhere.  Residents rush to close windows, for fear of implosions--and realize nothing can stop the air from doing what it will.  To live in the mountains and find tornadoes still chasing after the poor--for that is the feeling--brings the realization that the powerful live, somehow, where tornadoes do not come.  How do they manage that burst of luck?

In the United States, the media cover Appalachia the way they cover Indonesia:  It could be on the other side of the world for all Washington cares or knows.  But, when the powerful want to recruit soldiers for a war, where do they find the needy, those so needy that they will trade their lives for their families' futures?  When congresspersons want to find a cause which will convince voters that their hearts throb for humanity, where do they come?  To some place where they can pose hautily facing smiles revealing poor dental care.

And those they seek out for posed pictures smile in welcome.  They agree that the outsiders have found such wonderful people--the best friends in the world, the hardest workers, the kindest souls.  Then, when they are done posing, the outsiders pack up, forget the poor dental care, repeated floods, and families begging for better education.  Appalachia makes a good set.  It's a place easily forgotten--unless one lives there.  Then one sees Washington's hurly-burlies as too busy making tough decisions to do anything but shun them.

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