Levees Made of Lies
Rage, Grief, and the Chimera of the American Dream
by Phil Rockstroh
September 12, 2005
entire American city has become an uninhabitable mire of fetid water,
sodden ruins, and toxic sludge. Moreover, the destruction will not end
there: the financial, political, and psychological spill-off, incurred by
the deluge, will cause our nation to sink further into a morass of debt,
denial, and despair.
How did it come to this? How did we come to
buy this worthless plot of swampland known as George Bush's America?
Perhaps, at this point, a brief history
lesson, for a nation whose populace possesses the collective capacity for
long-term memory of a Louisiana gnat flurry on a hot afternoon in high
summer, might prove helpful. Let's begin with the watershed year of 1968.
After it became increasingly obvious that
the Vietnam War was neither a moral nor a winnable cause and,
concurrently, on the racially riven domestic front, when a sense of
hopeless rage among inner city African Americans, engendered by centuries
of racism and its attendant disparities of wealth and equality, lit the
spark of urban riots, Richard Nixon, by promising he had a "secret plan"
to end the war in Southeast Asia and vowing he would restore "law and
order" to the nation's streets, was able to slither into the White House.
Yet, within a few years time, it was revealed that Nixon's plan (to be
more accurate, scheme) would prolong the war for years, causing hundreds
of thousand of unnecessary causalities, and, in general, would screw over
all concerned. As for his law and order policy, it consisted of a covert
plan to take crime off of the streets and place it back within the
corridors of official power where it belongs.
But an unwashed, unruly mob of sticklers for
constitutional process got lucky, that round, and they brought Nixon down.
And, for our anti-American sins of self-doubt, we received Jimmy Carter,
who delivered cardigan-draped bromides of thrift and Sunday school sermons
of self-restraint and personal sacrifice ... and that sort of thing drove
people to cocaine and disco.
Moreover, the high cost and banality of (not
to mention brain-damage incurred by) those activities left the nation
susceptible to the platitudinous, confidence man assurances of power and
prosperity, without sacrifice, promised by Ronald Reagan. As, all the
while, through the 1980s, George W. Bush hid himself among
mountains of the afore-mentioned disco marching powder and Arnold
Schwarzenegger brandished fists full of anabolic steroids, creating for
himself a body that is a precise metaphor for his adopted land -- a nation
that worships the appearance of strength, but whose interior life is as
stunted as that of a narcissistic bodybuilder, a preening twit for whom
the larger world serves no greater purpose than for the adoration of his
over-sized, oil-lacquered muscles.
More and more, the American mind began to
suffer from steroid-induced psychosis. Worse, our self-absorption was only
surpassed by our paranoia: The proxy armies of the Evil Empire awaited the
command from their Kremlin masters to attack and enslave us; homosexuals
plotted to destroy the American family, thereby leaving aimless children
adrift and easy prey for conversion by skulking sodomites; civil liberty
advocates employed legalistic weasel words to hamstring the police and
thwart the legal system, giving criminals carte blanche to roam the
streets and commit crimes with impunity, while their Welfare Queen mothers
cushioned their posh asses on the leather seats of Cadillacs and cruised
city streets trading Food Stamps for crack cocaine. Then matters grew far,
In the early 1990s, came a
threat to everything we hold sacred in Christendom: Bill Clinton.
Although, godly souls need not have worried -- he turned out to be simply
a Sybaritic salesman of global neo-liberal economic colonialism.
Furthermore, Bill Clinton did Ronald Reagan one better: he bitch-slapped
those Welfare Queens so hard their taxpayer-subsidized gold teeth rattled.
Across the land, good Christians paused to listen to the satisfying thwap.
George W. Bush has shown us an even more
blessed path to salvation: He has revealed to us how we can ascend to
heaven -- by climbing the stacked corpses of the poor. In the meantime, he
will carry out Christ's admonition to give succor to the truly deserving
-- to the members of the true welfare state -- all those needy Halliburton
contractors in Iraq.
While domestically, with the intention of
protecting us from rising rivers of reality, Bushco, a division of Cheney
Inc., a subsidiary of JesusCorps and NeoConico have tirelessly labored to
keep us safe from the possibility of ever being so much as touched by a
droplet of truth. Therefore, they have constructed for us a shoddy levee
system of lies ... Beneath which, we, inhabiting ad hoc, flimsy
structures, live below sea level of self-awareness, all the while,
choosing to call this misnomer made manifest -- life.
Meanwhile, like the waters of the
Mississippi River flooding into Lake Pontchartrain, the waters around us
have begun to rise towards the tipping point.
And thus far, we Americas have risen to meet
the challenge of these perilous times -- by dozing off before our
televisions. With crumbs of Doritos stippled in the folds of our double
chins and upon our sagging chest, the garish glow of our sets flickers
over our sleep-slackened faces, while the programming fare proclaims that
"reality" is now comprised of the stuff of contrived competitions between
corporately-neutered, would-be pop stars and of Weather Channel remotes,
in which legions of blow-dried, sub-cretinous blathering heads are
dispatched to hurricane-battered coastal regions to be blown about on
camera for the amusement of viewers afflicted with a voyeuristic fetish
for "live" disaster footage. And it was big fun, until the appearance of
floating corpses put a damper on everyone's festive mood.
Inasmuch as the reality of our waking life
now includes crushing debt, runaway inflation, due to diminishing oil
supplies, global environmental upheaval brought on by global warming
(including increasingly destructive cataclysms, such as Hurricane
Katrina), and the enmity of the people of the world beyond our shores, in
response to our bullying militarism and economic imperialism -- we would
have to be a nation of narcoleptics in the first place to have ever
believed in the existence of this chimera called the "American Dream". For
it's not a dream: it amounts to complicity in multiple acts of criminal
negligence. And this is the actual criminal activity -- the large scale
looting -- that contributed to the destruction of New Orleans.
And the river keeps rising around us.
Why do we Americans accept this pernicious
and ultimately self-defeating arrangement? Because we're convinced that it
bestows upon us everything we could possibly need and desire. All we need
to know and experience is at our twitching, TV remote-happy fingertips.
Ergo, we can flip from enactments of explicit porn on one channel, to
explicit re-enactments of pornographic Christian prophecy on another; we
can transmigrate from fake sin to phony salvation, in an instant. What
else, in the whole of boundless creation, could we possibly want?
And, for our being provided with these
comforts and accommodations, the only debt we owe is this: It is mandated
that we make unceasing payments, using the scarce currency of the time we
have been allotted in this finite world, to our munificent masters of the
corporate class -- and only for the duration of our mortal existence.
It's a very simple arrangement: we give them the precious hours of our
lives and they keep us sheltered from the unsettling storms that we seed
suppressing the knowledge of all the things we have forsaken by said
transaction. In short, folks, it's the deal of a lifetime.
We have become a society of Willie Lomans
(as he might have been written by Joseph Goebbels). In this Potemkin
world, the public relations mountebanks of Bushco were convinced they
could indefinitely hold back raging rivers of reality by means of media
soundbites, spin control, cooked intelligence, and strategic leaks to
stenographic reporters. And because they had gotten away with it for so
long, I suspect, they actually believed they could respond to the lethal
winds and drowning tides of Hurricane Katrina by engaging in a Rovian
whispering campaign against her fury. Somehow, it would seem, in their
ineluctable arrogance, they went and mistook a level four hurricane for
those walking wet farts known as the present day Democratic Party.
I'm as serious as a tsunami: I think such
madness is in them -- in direct proportion to the fecklessness of the
leadership of our so-called opposition party.
And who is responsible for this miserable
state of affairs?
We are: We the people of the United State.
Our hubris, instilled by having lived our lives within the unreality of
corporate disptopia, has deluded us into believing that we can
indefinitely hold back the approaching shit storms spawned by our
delusional sense of infinite entitlement -- all of which have been
financed by a pyramid scheme of (personal and national) debt. By the means
of our emptiness, selfishness, and corruption, our "American way of life"
is an unnatural disaster that has been waiting to happen.
But god damn it to hell (or, at least, its
earthly exurb Houston) why did it have to be New Orleans that was
destroyed -- N'awlins -- one of the last outposts within this corporate
simulacrum of a country where a human pulse and heart beat could be found
-- where the primordial songs of bone and heart and flesh and clouds and
rivers had not been forced into the Clear Channel/Disney/Time-Warner
Uberculture blandification machine?
Just let Halliburton try to build Branson,
Missouri on the bayou. You see, in New Orleans, dead bodies will not
remain buried underground. By the same token, we must not deep-six our
grief and anger. In the name of the dead, we can't allow the truth to
bulldozed, buried, and have shlock erected over their memories.
Although, to be of any use to them, first,
we Americans must gaze down into the drowning pool that once was the
Crescent City, where, superimposed upon the raw sewage, submerged debris,
and bloated corpses -- we will see our own face reflected. It is the face
of empty entitlement, of exceptionalism, of state sanctified selfishness,
of ceaseless ambition, and mindless appetite. What destroyed NOLA is the
toxic spill-off from our national psyche.
Frank O'Hara wrote: "In times of crisis we
must all decide again and again whom we love."
Perhaps, to properly grieve the loss of New
Orleans, we must allow ourself to again be seduced by life -- not by the
soul-usurping machinations of the corporate UberCulture. Personally, like
so many others who knew the city -- beautiful, disloyal, capricious bitch
she could be -- I retain a lover's ardor for her. For: The enveloping
redolence of honeysuckle and jasmine on the humid, evening air, as I,
swigging a Turbo Dog, would hobble up Esplanade. For, the exquisite
indifference of starlight above the Bywater and the manner in which those
distant celestial bodies stood in stark contrast to the redemptive
immediacy of the sweat-soaked bodies near me, as we would lie on our
backs, on the sidewalk, watching steam rise from the roof of an old
Camelback house, listening, as inside, Kermit Ruffin's band played an ode
to Louis Armstrong's affection for reefer.
Living with the keening pain of loss evoked
by such memories is the easier part of the grieving process. Now,
through our rage and sadness, we must attempt to love, with the same
ardor, the intricate manner that our lives and fates are interconnected,
by way of mutual interdependence, with intimate strangers -- which is the
essential thing that we Americans seemed to have forgotten -- and it is
the reason our beloved city of New Orleans has been lost to us.
In a similar vein, we are dependent on air,
water, and soil. Tragically, far too many of us have been tricked into
believing we are dependent on the corporate power structure -- and its
proxy state, presently known as the three branches of the U.S. government.
For far too long, we have deferred the hour when we faced the fact that
this corrupt cabal cares nothing for us -- and, accordingly, we owe them
In contrast, we owe the air, water, and soil
-- big time. For these things sustain us; they are the face of our
We should carry snapshots of New Orleans,
before and after, in our wallets. And, in times of doubt, despair, and
alienation, we should gaze at the photographs, in order that we never
again forget: It was not divine wrath that brought on the flood; instead,
the tragedy was caused by billions of interconnected acts (personal and
collective; private and official) of carelessness, obliviousness, and
This is the choice our times have given us:
continued complicity in sowing the toxic winds of corporatism -- or the
passion-agitated air created by the ceaseless need to struggle against
Our choice will not only determine our
individual fates, but the fate of us all.
a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist
and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at:
Rockstroh is a contributing editor to Cyrano's Journal Online.