Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Down and Out in Omaha

It's notorious that every American city, even ones of relatively small size, has at its heart (if not its exact geographical center) an area known, euphemistically, as the “inner city”... less euphemistically as “the ghetto”... and, by those who live nearby, as a “bad neighborhood” -- which almost always is code for “black”, although the Hispanics are gaining ground in this race to the bottom. This is a feature unique to the American landscape, and -- lest anyone wonders how things got this way -- it was not an accident, but part of a meticulously-conceived and implemented plan. The best outline (I say that with a touch of levity, because it's 668 pages long) of this is found in E. Michael Jones' “The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing”. It also helps explain why there are “inner cities” in some of the most unlikely places – places where you would not think black people would settle of their own free will... places like Omaha, Nebraska, whose inner city represents a small island of blackness in a vast sea of white. In places like that, I want to stop black people on the street and ask, “How did you get here, anyway? I mean... surely your ancestors didn't live here a hundred years ago. How did this all come about?” And mainly, if they, or their forebears, moved there of their own accord, for, presumably, good economic reasons, why have they nonetheless slid into the same inner-city doldrums that characterize places like Washington, DC and Philadelphia?

What started me thinking (again) about all of this was a recent late-evening excursion through Omaha in search of food – a search which started out with “interesting food” as a criterion and ended with “_any_ food” as a criterion. I've been out in that area enough times now that I ought to be able to remember that you can't get anything to eat after 9 PM – I mean zero, zip, nada. Even the fast-food places close at 9, except for the odd drive-through window. It's definitely a plot against effete Eastern urban elites like me -- to show us that we don't belong. So I was in a state bordering on starvation when I happened to find myself in Omaha's modest but not-to-be-trifled-with “ghetto”, and sure enough, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a McDonald's, and it was open! And I also remembered that I had resolved to finally have a crack at this “McRib sandwich” that has received so much hype of late. (Its reputation is slightly overblown, to say the least, since it consists of, basically, a squashed loaf of mystery meat with a halfway-decent sauce, but on the usual balloon-bread bun. Plus "a fries" that, if allowed to cool off, dies a horrible and malodorous death right before one's very eyes. Nuff said.)

And actually, it wasn't until I walked into the place that I realized exactly what neighborhood I was in... but I soldiered on, figuring that if I can survive West Memphis, Arkansas I can survive anything. So now... the staff, all black of course, were jovial enough even if overly-loud and boisterous to my ears, so that was all OK. The customers, on the other hand, with one exception (which I'll get to soon), were all black, all hooded, all baggy-panted, and all sporting some sort of earpiece, connected, visibly or otherwise, to some sort of electronic gadget that was, I suppose, spewing out some sort of brainless, hypnotic “music”. And this is something one sees in those neighborhoods – everybody is tuned in to something else... some event that is occurring, or has occurred, at some other time and in some other place. And who can blame them? If your own life, as (apparently) dictated by your environment, is “nasty, brutish, and short”, as the saying goes, then why not try and escape it as best you can and for as many of your waking hours as possible?

And I guess the most adept of all those present at this exercise was a guy at the next table who had to, number one, have weighed in at at least 400 pounds. Not only was he hooked up to a laptop, and had something in his ear, but he kept humming loudly the whole time... and then punctuated the humming with the occasional combination cough/sneeze that would have exceeded the average shotgun in decibel level. Twenty-four hours in a room with this guy, and you'd be ready to confess to anything! But actually, the most unusual personage in the place was the one I dubbed “the ketchup dispenser ogre”. He was also the only white guy in the place – besides me, that is. So his shtick was to sit so close to the ketchup dispenser that, in order to get any ketchup, you had to violate his personal space, in return for which you got this helter-skelter glare, like “how dare you?” So that was all very pleasant, and added immeasurably to the overall atmosphere.

It is, in short, a world where sudden, explosive violence alternates with long periods of numbness and depression – not unlike a war zone, in fact. So yes, it's no wonder that the people who live in that world don't really live in it; I mean, they are there physically, but mentally or psychologically they are somewhere else (or nowhere at all). And the fact that this phenomenon can be fully manifested in a place like Omaha, Nebraska, is, in my opinion, worthy of note.

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