Monday, April 19, 2004

April 19th-Again (My Disillusionment With Media)

Seems like I've been living with the damn OKC Bombing my entire adult life. Now that I say that, I guess it's true. It happened right after I turned 23, when I was still trying to make a go of college and work full time, making about $7.00/hr and living in some of the worst conditions I've ever been in.

The apartments were Section 8 apartments, which meant that we couldn't live in them, not being poor or anything. Or maybe it's that we weren't registered, because we sure as shit lived paycheck to paycheck. Anyway, there were a couple of indigent AIDS patients, a woman who was so fat she couldn't work (living directly above us--she was so fat you could see the bulge in our ceiling where her recliner sat), a stripper, and a cirrhotic landlady who had a dog named Pepper. Rent was a staggering $225 per month, which included hearing the stripper get fucked nightly, as well as occasional tongue lashings by the fat bitch upstairs who couldn't watch "her shows" because we were making too much noise. These apartments were at 17th and Indiana, which turned out to be inside the curfew area imposed by The Man in the days afterwards.

Anyway, on the morning of April 19th, 1995, at 9:00am, I was getting my ass kicked by an organic chemistry test up at UCO in Edmond, 15 miles away from downtown. About 3 miles away from the bomb site, my sweet but sleep-challenged girlfriend, Lexi, rolled out of bed and fired up the coffee maker. While waiting for it to brew, she sat down, picked up the remote, and hit the "on" button.


In Edmond, the windows rattled. Everyone looked up and around, but there was nothing to see, at least right away. We returned to our own little corners of hell.

In Oklahoma City, windows rattled and shit fell off the walls. Luckily, we lived on the far side of the apartment building, so we didn't have to contend with broken glass. Come to think of it, most of the windows on the other side of the complex were already either plexiglass or just broken out, so the building as a whole didn't really sustain too much damage.

In Edmond, I ceased pulling out my hair and gathered my stuff up in preparation for leaving. I noticed a plume of smoke coming from the downtown area, but didn't think much of it.

In Oklahoma City, Lexi got out from under the coffee table and called her mother.

The rest of the day was a blur--I can't remember what classes I had, and I'm sure there's no one in school that day who absorbed a bit of any lecture, period. The ones who skipped class stuck close to the televisions, which showed a surreal scene that I can still remember perfectly.

No one could imagine that this had been done on purpose. Explosions, while not common, are certainly more common than truck bombs here in Oklahoma. A lot of people still use propane or natural gas to heat water and their homes, so it's not at all rare for one of the places that sells these types of gases to go up in a fireball (there have been 2 in the last 4 years, in OKC and Tulsa). That's what I thought it was.

The whole town was chaos. The phones (especially the phones downtown) were completely impassable. Emergency crews were imploring people to stay the fuck off their cellphones. For a while, phone service to our area of the city was shut down, which was pretty exciting for me, as this was right around the time I started trying to find out if Lexi was OK. We were far away from it, granted, but you never know.

[Incidentally, this is what was so profoundly frustrating about the 9/11 attacks--I knew to stay off the phones, which meant that I couldn't call Liz, who lived very generally "near the Trade Center." Now, I realize the LES is nowhere near Ground Zero, but think of Manhattan in terms of Oklahoma geography. EVERYTHING is close to the Trade Center in Oklahoma terms. Thankfully, the cellphone system had improved a lot in six years, and Robert was kind enough to make that call for me.]

At home that night, I was confronted by a very nervous Lexi and a gaggle of rather wired-up kitties. Lexi's problem was that she initially associated her clicking of the remote with the subsequent explosion, and then spent the rest of the day in front of the television, which was trying to convince everyone that the entire world was coming to an end. This is Baptist territory, folks, and many of those people don't need much of an excuse to start seeing Mary Mother of Jesus in a Milk Dud.

By dark, a curfew had been set up which included our house, but didn't include Lexi's work, which was a CD shop a few minutes away. She was a little nervous about driving around after curfew, because the most hysterical TV channel here (Channel 4) had originally characterized it as a "mandatory ban on unneccessary travel," or some such tripe. Mercifully, she was neither shot nor hassled on her way to or from work.

The next day, the hunt began in earnest for the perpetrators of this act. Luckily for the FBI and the other dozen or so agencies on site, Channel 4 had already learned the identity and ADDRESS of one of the conspirators. His name I can't recall, but he was of swarthy persuasion and had been doing his best to go to school nearby (although in a different school than I). As you can imagine, he left town rather quickly after a news crew broadcast a picture of his house, complete with address, and mentioned his name on the air. Last I heard, he's suing the shit out of them from Pakistan, or Lebanon, or somewhere. Here's hoping he wins.

This, my friends, is when I started looking at media more objectively. To this day, if there's a big grass fire, other news channels will have coverage of The Big Grass Fire At 234th and Air Depot. Channel 4 will have ominous blarings of brass instruments, bass drums, and onscreen graphics notifying you of The Firestorm Emergency. I thought Hearst had died in the 80's.

Shortly after all this, they caught McVeigh and arrested Nichols, and everything started getting back to normal for us. So normal, in fact, that John and I forgot all about it and swung through another part of downtown to play pool in one of the local microbreweries. After six or seven brews each, our server grabbed me by the elbow and pointed out Tom fucking Brokaw buying tshirts in the gift shop. John, of course, almost peed his pants. "Jeff! Go ask him if he wants to play pool! It's Tom fucking Brokaw! Jesus!"

Now, you know me. I'm a shy dude. Odds are good in any other scenario, I wouldn't have dared approach Brokaw. But I had been pushed to the edge recently, by what I saw at the time as sheer self-pitying Hallmark sympathy card opportunistic bullshit on the part of the media, and by the daily barrage of the poor yahoos around here that bought into it. I mean, any time I turned on the television and saw or heard anyone using the word "heartland," I turned it right the fuck back off and kicked one of the cats. The cats, after a couple of days, learned to stay away from the television, but strangely enough I didn't.

And it wasn't just there. You couldn't turn on the radio without hearing Live's "Lightning Crashes" intercut with sound bites from emergency crews and shattered victims family members. I hate that song, to this day. My favorite, though, was the poetry. Anything from haiku to...well, sentences that rhymed, is all I can say. The couplet that sticks with me, after 9 years? "It was a big yellow truck, better known as Ryder/That had a big deadly bomb, nestled inside her." That one was two pages long, people. Two. Pages. Long.

Jesus fucking Christ. New Yorkers get "terror sex," I get freakin' daily prayer vigils and bad poetry published in the weekly apartment newsletter.

Anyway, my back was against the wall, I felt, and I also wasn't too happy with some of the shit that Connie Chung bitch had to say when interviewing some of our firefighters and EMSA units. So I approached Mr. Brokaw, and asked him if he wanted to play a game of pool.

"Well," he said, giving me time to absorb some of the bourbon fumes hanging around his head, "I'm sort of busy, but hell, what kind of game are you guys playing? 8 ball? 9 ball?"

Boys and girls, I'm not going to lie to you. I have no fucking clue about pool. I know solids and stripes, put the fucking balls in the holes, "chalk is free," and don't put your beer on the felt. That's it. I would have made a total ass of myself, had John not been right behind me with "whatever you feel like playing, sir."

Soon enough, John was racking the balls and Brokaw was smarming about looking for a cue that wasn't all fucked up (note to Bricktown Brewery: buy some goddamn pool cues, OK?), and I was being buttonholed by Brokaw's assistant. Here, he felt, is A Chance To Connect To A Real Oklahoman. Someone Who Lives Here. Someone to add a little local color to the story he'd no doubt tell when he got back to Manhattan. If he was lucky, maybe I was a victim. After all, how big could this city be, anyway?

After a question or two about "the mood of the city" and "how I feel personally," interspersed with "do you know those two girls over there?" and "what about those two over there," I'd finally had enough. I explained in excruciating detail just exactly why I had decided he and all other media gangsters were at best dupes and at worst evil, how televising someone's grief wasn't fucking journalism, it was cheap sensational ratings grubbing of the sort that had Joseph Pulitzer spinning in the grave, and that I was going to be a very angry and unpredictable man until everyone just left us the fuck alone and quit pretending to care what happened here, at least long enough for the crappy poetry to dry up. He seemed appropriately stunned, so I backed off of the climax, which included a rather graphic depiction of what Connie Chung could go do to herself in the closest Red Cross portable toilet.

He left me alone after that, allowing me to concentrate on how Tom was cheating at pool. I'm not making this up, folks, Tom Brokaw cheats at pool. The old "oops, I accidentally bumped this ball, let me put it back four inches away from where it was." But I don't care. John could have spotted that slick old bastard four balls, and still won handily. I've seen him beat people with wet mops. I've seen him beat people with the butt end of a cue, one handed. Hell, he once beat me with a freakin' plastic ashtray. But Tom beat him. When he did, the crowd cheered, Brokaw shook his hand, signed a couple of coasters for him, and dropped a hundred dollar bill on the table. He was out before the flunkie had a chance to warn him there was a dangerous anti-NBC zealot in the room.

I asked John later why Brokaw had beaten him at pool. You know, more than any other fucked up event in my life, the look he gave me made me feel like an idiot. "Jeff," he wheezed, "you just don't beat Tom Brokaw at pool."

Sorry, guys, this is a long rambling one, which does not pertain to the story at hand. However, I've been thinking about the events of 9 years ago since I got up this morning, and thought that you might enjoy hearing about it. Let it be known the following:

1) The events of April 19th, 1995 were evil and unneccessary. The men that perpetrated these acts are/were evil and despicable men.

2) The people who died there that day didn't deserve to die.

3) I understand that everyone's entitled to "grieve," and that "healing" comes in different ways for different people. None of the above is intended to mean "these people shouldn't be able to spout bad poetry."

4) I don't have it out for Tom Brokaw, his assistant, Connie Chung, or NBC. Tom cheats at pool, Connie is the worst kind of snotty, condescending yankee bitch, and NBC's probably no worse than any other mass media outlet.

5) I get pissed off every day about some aspect of the media, from fakery, to agenda pushing, to sensationalism, to the mass of people every day who take the news as holy writ. Most days I watch the news, and I do it with a leather strap in one hand, to flog my body alongside my mind.

"There's got to be a better way" -Social Distortion


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