Yes indeedy, those of you who subscribe to Murrmurrs have probably noticed I’ve signed on with a new subscription service called follow.it. I had no idea it would send out such an alarming spammy-looking initial email, and if it made you suspicious and you unfollowed me, well, you can always sign back up again at that <<–new box in the left margin under Pootie’s handsome mug. It’s actually a pretty spiffy outfit and gives you options of how you want your Murrmurrs dose, such as to your phone, to your email, to your mama, up your butt, or dropped by drone on your front porch. It also makes it super easy to unfollow. Horrors! And now, to really test your-all’s loyalty, I give you a new, super-bleak post with no humor in it whatsoever. I don’t want this to be a trend either, but I had to get it out of my system. Thank you all for coming. And caring.
Let me set the whole sorry scene. We’re in a major drought. It’s worse every year. Large trees were already visibly suffering. We just had our three hottest days ever recorded, and by a long shot. Four trees on my alley turned brown literally overnight. They clatter in the breeze.
This year there seemed to be a consensus that fireworks would be a very bad idea. They’ve been banned in the whole state. Some teenager burned down most of the scenic Columbia River Gorge with a firecracker a few years back. Last year the parts of the state that weren’t on fire were smothered in acrid smoke for weeks. This shit is real.
I say there seemed to be a consensus because for the days leading up to July 4th we heard maybe one or two bombs bursting in air, which is way under our traditional mayhem. People would talk about it on the street. Hope no one sets off fireworks. How stupid would they have to be?
And so we got all the way to about 8pm on Independence Day before the first one went off, and it was a doozy. Sparks flew a hundred feet high. Two more followed. You could feel the outrage igniting from inside every shaken household. And then one of our neighbors went screaming down the street like an avenging angel in the direction of the noise. That’s illegal! What the hell do you think you’re doing? Hey! And so on.
Only takes one such soldier and suddenly I, nobody’s vigilante, had jumped out of my chair and bolted off to offer support. Of course, I had no idea who was setting off the fireworks, but I figured a posse would be helpful. On the way I passed another neighbor, an 80-year-old gray-haired woman in a bathrobe and scuff slippers, shuffling the same direction, loaded for bear. By the time I got to the blast zone, there were about fifteen of us arriving from all directions. All of us women. All of us old.
There was my dauntless neighbor, loudly explaining about drought and fire danger and the fact that a nearby apartment building had burned to the ground from fireworks the previous night, killing two. And that the governor had banned them. She was nose to nose with another woman yelling even louder.
And that’s when things got ugly. Rather than the twenty-year-old drunken yahoos I was expecting, our miscreants were a Black family, one of very few in the vicinity. There was a lot of hollering. Mainly it was the two women nose-to-nose, but people had their backs up. The fireworks lady said they’d been shooting off fireworks for fifteen years and they weren’t about to stop now. Everyone yelled back that this is not a normal year. Someone said they’d had a death in the family and they just wanted to cheer themselves up. Someone else said maybe they could do that without burning the place down. Everyone was yelling at once. Within minutes our old-lady posse had been pegged as racist. There were ugly accusations. The avenging angel continued to insist this was not about race but about fire. Her adversary laughed in her face and said “Just look around you. Look at the demographics here.”
I walked away. What was clear was that nothing good was ever going to come from this confrontation. I knew a lot of facts about the situation, but they wouldn’t be heard here. One: yes, all the complainers were white, because that’s pretty much who lives here. That is a problem, but it’s a different problem. Two: we had converged on this family because they were the ones setting off fireworks. Three: as far as I could tell, most of us had come from two or three blocks away, and had no idea who was responsible. Four: I know the avenging angel well. She is the original Anti-Karen. She wouldn’t call the police on a Black man if he was threatening her life; she doesn’t trust the police to behave. By confronting the other woman, she was treating her exactly as she would have treated anyone else doing the same thing. Five: she shouldn’t have come at her so hard. Nobody likes to be charged and yelled at. It didn’t help. It made things worse. Six: she did it because she had just plain lost her shit. We were all crazy with worry over this. That. And all the other Things.
All the other things.
And that is why, as I lay in bed later listening to the bombs going off, from that unrepentant corner and from one street over in the other direction, for hours, with my window open in case I smelled smoke, I finally burst out sobbing. I’ve done well holding it together, but suddenly it all was so hopeless. My own personal troubles, which are not trivial. The impossibility of communication when we’re all stoking our own private fires. The drought. The three days of insane heat that, frankly, shook me up more than I could have imagined. The quickening tumble toward climate catastrophe. Extinction. The coming water wars. A world in migration. The sheer stupidity, at every level, of our kind. We’re face to face with it, now. Nose to nose.
I’m as well-rooted as anybody but sometimes I feel myself clattering in the breeze.