In order to take my pup Liberace out for a poop I was obliged to carry him down four flights of stairs in the dark. I then braved Sandy’s lashings while the old fella dithered and sniffed about, trying to decide if he needed to “pop one out.” Did he thank me? Of course he did not. Nor did I expect or need any thanks. His poop was reward enough. Hold that thought.
On Tuesday morning, the morning after, we drove uptown in search of running water and cellphone service. We wanted to escape lower Manhattan—the blacked-out area that Jon Stewart accurately dubbed “Little North Korea”—if only for a few hours. At my mother-in-law’s pad on the Upper West Side we finally gained access to a telly and the full scope of the horror was revealed … sort of. I am obliquely referring to those bizarre and profoundly frustrating live press conferences—Fred Armisen did a brilliant Bloomberg parody on SNL Saturday night—which took place immediately post-Sandy.
These mayoral briefings were scant on info and heavy, knee-bucklingly heavy, on mutual appreciation. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The mayor preceded what meager nuggets of concrete information he had to offer with a barrage of call-outs and nods to Govs. Christie and Cuomo and to his fellow officials, each of whom then embarked on a similar thankathon. What did these guys actually say? Most of the airtime was spent lauding the high level of communication and coordination. Isn’t that what these dudes are supposed to do in an emergency? Instead of a disaster briefing, I felt like I was hearing the “housekeeping notes” for a suburban community board meeting. If the goal of all this mutual admiration was to reassure us, it was completely unsuccessful. Liberace and I sat there screaming at the TV, “Stop giving each other hand jobs and give us the bad news. If we are fucked please tell us! We can handle it.”
Showered, but none the wiser, we drove back downtown to the Stygian gloom of the Kim Jong-il Village. Our one consolation came from knowing that the telly would not be working and that we could not be subject to any more good ol’ boys highlighting and praising each other’s professionalism.
Hearing my frustrated rants about all that televised mutual masturbation, a politically-involved neighbor undertook to explain this malaise. According to my source, compulsive thanking is just what politicians and elected officials do. Whenever they are not sure what to say, mutual appreciation is their go-to mode. It’s a way of saying, “Good job, and I would know, because I am more experienced/powerful/important than you are.”
Clearly my neighbor is onto something. It’s a political thang. After all, you never hear a bunch of overworked nurses in an oncology ward standing about thanking each other. You don’t hear about combat soldiers offering each other bouquets of appreciation every five minutes. Even in my world, the fluffy world of fashion and fabulosity, we are expected to deliver the goods without blowing hot air up each other’s dirndl skirts.
Looking back on the mayhem and confusion of those first couple of days, I feel it would have been much better if, instead of stroking each other’s egos, the mayor and the governors had just told the truth: “We are royally screwed. This is a terrifying and monumental disaster. We are shitting bricks. Marathon? What marathon?” I cannot help feeling that a more blunt, high-pitched reaction in those first couple of days might have put FEMA and the Red Cross on the ground a smidge earlier. It was only after Anderson Cooper and others started showing the raw choking emotions and frustrations of citizens in dire straits that an appropriately panic-stricken tone was achieved.
Now that the nightmare has unfolded and the dead bodies have been found and the real scope of the horrific devastation has been revealed, we can begin to give thanks. It’s time to thank the workers. It’s time to thank all the blokes who are climbing through filthy tunnels filled with drowned rats in order to get the subway running. It’s time to thank all the unselfish people who are giving food and comfort to people they never met before. It’s time to say a special thank you to people like Marybeth Melendez, the blind gal who, with the help of her seeing-eye-dog Trixie, set up a food kitchen in Staten Island. You are a mega-goddess and a beacon of inspiration. Have you ever thought of going into public office?
TODAY IN SLATE
The Ebola Story
How our minds build narratives out of disaster.
The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics
A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.