Ferguson Journal: New Normal
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Do not be distracted by Discourse on Pumping Iron and Viagra I get Somewhere
I forget now there is a new normal and I started Wednesday the same way I start every Wednesday when I’m well. I did my Wednesday morning pump-up with a trainer and when I was about dead I walked over to my city of sanctuary on Wednesday mornings one of two Starbucky’s within walking distance from my training gym in my fashionable suburban neighborhood that houses the County government center where the grand jury is meeting [met – ed.] and now is known all over the world and has been one of the sites of demonstrations: code Clayton, Missouri.
My routine is I walk to one of the two cities of sanctuary and sit and write until it’s time for me to visit the jailhouse which is also in the vicinity of homeland Clayton Missouri and in the same complex where the grand jury is meeting.
I am a transplant here. You have to be born here to belong here, it’s a feature of this region I find both charming and chauvinistic.
Charming is that I am not much a joiner so I appreciate the permanent outsider status. It gives me a certain edge when the truth is elusive and that term of new normal: nuanced. Also the heart of the other, the outsider, etc., it is permanently mine whether I went to high school around here or not. I appreciate not being landed here. It helps me in the realm of independence of thought, attentiveness to details and telling something somewhat true. Who writes history? I have re-thought that entirely.
Chauvinistic here means cheer-leading. There’s a lot of that: my team, my team. Sides. We’re the best we’re the best kind of thing that goes around everywhere I suppose but I have felt it keenly here, maybe because when I arrived thirty plus years ago, the area was in serious decline and teetering to revive.
The recent events code name Ferguson cannot possibly help with that, we are still in that phase teetering as far as I can tell, though there are signs of stabilization and growth in recent years — the development of corridors, a more serious effort at downtown development/re-development that I don’t understand why it takes so long with excellent sporting atmosphere here, good teams, serious hostage taking to share expenses of support, the promise from gambling to pour the miserable gains of those who can’t afford it into the community — a potential for development in a city well placed on an historic riverfront. So much story floated up and down this river.
It’s a riverfront Mississippi River waterfront downtown location and I bet if you sat a few visionaries down at a table and asked them to draw a plan they could do so in a couple of hours. Ask them to design from downtown out as a showplace for the rich history of this node on the mighty Mississippi a couple of miles away from the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi where Lewis and Clark pushed off to explore the West, and you would get something.
The local newspaper did just that a few years ago, sat a few visionaries down, and they drew a plan for downtown that I see the deciders are starting to implement after planning commissions and visits to other cities, etc. It’s a riverfront a nine year old child could figure out how to develop, run out and find a nine year old child, we can’t seem to make heads or tails of it here.
Of course one of great problems is race. Race and class, that’s one of the biggest problems that’s holding this region back and so it erupts in code: Ferguson.
I walked to the Starbucky’s nearest to the jailhouse and the place was packed. Who are all these people? I thought as I sat down on a hard table and unpacked my machine to write a story. I plugged in and started to tap tap when a man and a woman sat in front of me asking permission to sit down in an accent I couldn’t identify. Of course, I said. They unpacked a load of sophisticated equipment with their own modem, etc., and started sending pictures and stories and stuff somewhere I could see they were consulting cards and addresses and names from local sources, mostly in Ferguson, to their homeland newspapers I surmised.
The guy sitting in front of me had a tag on his machine that read photojournalist and a western European address. So you’re a photographer? I asked. Yes. I opened a conversation. He asked me about television. Where he could get news from the world. CNN is on your television I said. He then said something about Niagra. There was terrible weather up around Buffalo and I had just talked to my friend near Rochester and said to him oh no you don’t have to worry about that weather (I assumed he was talking weather, Niagra Falls) it’s far away from here and the storm came in over Lake Erie my friend lives off Lake Ontario and I was just talking to him and I began to explain a little geography of the Great Lakes since I’m from those parts.
His girlfriend and/or colleague sitting next to him was writing stories about the Ferguson animal clinic (she had the card on the table) and she looked up at me just then and said: he’s asking about Viagra.
Oh Viagra. Yes, she said, he wants to know why on television when he is watching the news they are selling so much Viagra.
Oh, well, that’s their market you know the generation that buys Viagra and the television is basically a retail notion here. Buyers. Ah, he said, satisfied though he was perfectly willing to listen to me discourse about the Great Lakes. His English was not so ay yai yai and I might not have been listening closely enough either.
But why on the news? He asked, as if the news were something sacrosanct.
The news is selling too, I said, selling story selling Viagra. Everybody is selling something.
At that moment we experienced an international incident of the highest significance: we each said the same thing at the same time, real slow: strange world, and a meta-personal cross cultural understanding passed between us.
I looked around and the whole room was full of foreign journalists this Wednesday at Starbucky’s and I imagine all of them were perplexed by this oddity and a hundred others about the United States of America but they were here to cover the story of Ferguson and from this station they were dispatching their missives to their hungry public.
Do you live near? The photographer asked.
Do you know where the justice center is?
Yes. I’m going over there in a few minutes.
Why do you go there?
I go there every Wednesday and without filling in details I told them I visit the jailhouse. I then realized they perked up when I said I go over to the justice center, the woman companion lifted up her head and looked at me closer and I saw she was wondering if she had the good fortune of bumping into somebody who knew something.
I assured her I knew nothing, surely she knew that from my inability to understand the foreign correspondent sitting next to her and the discourse on Niagra and Viagra. She asked me a few questions anyway which I evaded because I had to go and how interested might she be about the side of the story I did know about, those who have fallen out of the tale entirely and end up in the jailhouse waiting for transfer to one of the institutions that will be their home for the next number of years.
But she wanted story. Every correspondent in that room wanted story. They were traffickers in story. Not the part of the story I know, the story I know has no voice. She wasn’t interested what happens once someone enters that part of the system I visit.
The guys I see in the jailhouse know all about every side of the story code name Ferguson they are experts on it and they are the most forgotten sources and I often wonder what they are thinking as they gaze out the obscured windows up above the street where the demonstrations are taking place, what must they be thinking about all this as they watch from their perch in the sky.
So I asked them.
Each of them had of course an adversarial story having to do with the justice system, every form of it, from the police on the street to the court room experience, to the corrections arm once incarcerated. They knew who they could get a fair shake from and who they could not trust, weighed heavily in the latter category.
They were powerless once caught in the web of the system, they all knew that, nevertheless they seemed to make the best of it, and the worst of it meant they spent time in the hole, in seclusion, segregated from the rest of the prison population.
I have written elsewhere about the nature of the hole, it was an eye-opening experience when I visited there, I will post that next, and seclusion is rank enough to serve as a deterrent, unless a person cannot manage anger or frustration or hopelessness. Which is frequent.
The inmates I teach are all aware of the problems frustration, anger, poor impulse control has caused them in their lives. They do not avoid that responsibility. When down (in prison), it becomes worse. They are trying to manage a raging beast and every trip to the hole feeds it. With every passing year, they become more hardened. Institutionalized.
On the news now is the latest chapter in the continuing tale of grand juries and death and failure to indict. The news people are using the wrong language. In their questions are the words restore confidence, return to trust. Restore and return is the wrong language. Restore and return to what?
There has been little trust in the entire system for a long time among the people I am dealing with, return and restore as vocabulary seems remote and out of touch. We have to start over. Use words like earn and demonstrate and create.