Weather Report from Portland

I’ve been living baroquely lately, coming into the new year, the confused seasons out of control – fall to winter for now though here seemingly obvious. It’s cold and wet and dark out, the darkest days of the year, the longest nights, the hardest streets. The homeless are between a rock and a hard place. They are the meek inheriting the earth, for what that’s worth. A week ago, when it started to snow, we were exactly six months from the freak heat wave of late June when one day we reached an absurd 116 degrees. Where I came of age, the southwest side of Los Angeles County, near the beach at the north end of South Santa Monica Bay, South Bay, for short, the mostly small, originally factory lodging, houses, and our little corner house, were plotted between the oil refinery and sand dunes and ocean and the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and the sprawling airport and the growing aerospace industrial parks, while there were on the east side of our small town still strawberry fields, a few horses in stalls, and a railroad track from the east running behind our backyards through a curving dusty chasm, what the kids called Devil’s Path (or Devil’s Pass), a short cut along the tracks into town, that ended at a small depot near Main Street and Grand Avenue. But in spite of all the brouhaha surrounding us, the ocean nearby was the weather.

There were only two seasons in my childhood: summer, which was the school vacation season, and the school year, the months on either side of vacation. The weather had little to do with our sense of seasonality. The sky was close to blue, the water almost blue and hues of such, the yards and parks and baseball diamonds multi shades of green, the streets mostly clean. Of course there hung about our heads the gunbarrel-blue cake of atrocious smog, though not so much nearer the water, unless the Santa Ana winds were blowing, maybe for a week or so once or twice a year was all in those days. And June might have been the foggy season, but the breezes off the ocean usually pushed and cleaned as they blew east across the big basin, through the canyons up into the hills and up the long boulevards that ran east and west, and blew too through our house because there was always a window open (or broken) somewhere or a door might open or close any time of the day or night as we came and went to and fro through the blues and greens and sandy yellow days and well lit nights of Los Angeles and environs.

Why did humans leave Africa? If that’s what happened, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that our history, what little we can be sure of, might be a bit more compound-complex. In any case, I can’t answer that; I don’t even know why I left Los Angeles.

We live, it’s been suggested, but I don’t remember where I first saw or heard this, at the bottom of a sea of atmosphere (I googled the phrase just now and came up with about 30,000 results, so instead of quote marks, I’ve italicized it). But nothing like water, the rain, to wash out one’s punctuation marks.

Punctuated equilibrium suggests a paragraph whose flow of ideas is steady and stable, one thought logically following another in a gradual evolutionary movement that can be traced forward and backward and annotated. Sudden changes are more difficult to explain.

In Steve Martin’s movie “L. A. Story,” the main character is a television weatherman. But there is no weather in his Los Angeles, by which is meant change in weather. That is a paragraph without a main idea.

Locally, on the television news, consisting mostly of stable formatting, the studio news teams, that is, the players on camera, consist of an anchor, the sportscaster, and the weatherperson – the great American Triumphant (one pictures Benjamin Franklin flying his kite in a lightning storm, the on location camera crew shaking in their boots). The weatherpersons rarely seem to be given enough time to elaborate, as evidenced by their speed of speech. They sound like hawkers at an auction. The numbers and maps, highs and lows, radar of fronts, systems, and directions all whiz by, “put in motion,” and “hour by hour,” as they say, so quickly that as if to include the weather at all in the newscast seems to have been an afterthought. And the channels devoted to weather 24 by 7 are no different, everyone in a hurry to get out of the weather, whatever it is.

The newshour (or half hour, as our attention spans continue to wane) is not an essay, even though the principal parts may seem like paragraphs in some unified whole. The news relies on something new happening, but not even sudden changes in the fossil record can satisfy our quest to know, let alone understand, what’s going down.

Are we in the midst of a sudden change in the fossil record? Story at 11.

In a Frenzy

Why are the TV newscasters shouting, frantic, frenetic, in a frenzy, like callers at auctions, preachers at land’s end, the newsboy on the corner hawking papers: Extra, Extra, Read All About It! It now being this constant state of emergency, impossible to keep up with, put on loops. Truth be told, it’s torture. Truth be bold, it’s boring.

The news so quickly grows old, must keep it from petering out. So stories and comments on loops, ostinato. Even when the story seems about to change, the background keeps looping, looping around the talking head, the face masked in makeup, the expert, the one we might trust, still wearing a suit and tie, a dress, symbols of serious purpose, uniform press. On location, back to you, Jack, in the studio. Thank you, Jill.

“Oh, when there’s too much of nothing
No one has control” (Bob Dylan).

Usually, ahead of disaster, a catastrophe, people go on the run, head for the hills, or run down to the water, pick up and go, evacuate. Or shelter in place until it’s passed – the hurricane, tornado, earthquake, battle, swarms of locusts.

But this one’s different. We are told to stay in, and if we do go out, to keep our distance. There is no safety in numbers. On the contrary. We must go it alone. When has there been a more existential crisis? We must decide for ourselves what to do, what’s news.

News

Walking north up 69th on the way to Montavilla for an afternoon coffee, in the street at first, around my neighbor’s sidewalk repair project, barricades up while the newly poured cement dries. Then a short hello to the next neighbor out trying, with some difficulty, apparently, to start his gas lawnmower, yard work project of mid-December in progress. Next I came upon a five gallon bucket half full of water placed in the walkway to secure what appeared to be a tiny cement patch job. At the corner of 69th and Stark, I noticed the city fire hydrant replacement work is now complete, tools and materials cleared, the new hydrant standing like a shiny orange Christmas ornament, moved around the corner. Against the curb, a large steel plate remains to be picked up. I had just set out, the day cold but partially clear, with no wind to speak of, and already I had enough news to fill a paragraph.

What is news? Most of what passes for news these days is tabloid sensationalism, entertainment, ratings and sponsor influenced selections from a worldwide reservoir of orality and photographs depicting and commenting on current events, the more current, the better, the higher the octane the more promise the trending and the more seen the ads. Today’s news is a kind of pornography, never enough to truly satisfy, and therefore an addictive substance. Originally, pornography was simply writing about prostitutes, while news was simply new things previously unknown to an audience. Today’s news is a new pornography, stories about the risks of public exposure of joyless addictions, risky setups for personal attention and gain.

An important accoutrement used in today’s news is the public opinion poll. But how can the public have any kind of informed opinion if its only source of information is the news? Yet the news is saturated with what the latest polls show. Even the public broadcasting stations seem addicted to polls, in spite of how poorly polls used at the time had predicted the 2016 election results. And the current polls, acknowledged generally to have meaningful margins of error, don’t seem to be moving anywhere, plus or minus. Impotent, still, polls are the new foreplay of stories to come.

Down in Montavilla and now discover the food carts on Stark in front of the old Beets parking lot have vanished. Now that’s news. Story at eleven.

Untitled and Unfinished

The tall fall fires out west follow
the humongous hurricanes blowing
across the headline news, shooting
embers across the dance floor valley,
licking into the canyon columns
of textual innuendos of who
belongs here and who doesn’t.

The wind and rain and flickering
flames know no such distinctions.
All belong to the sky and forests,
to the ocean, mountains, and deserts,
to one another embracing bumper
to bumper against the noise unleashed
updating itself every second breath.

Some too old to dance seem left behind.
You can’t fight a hurricane like you can
a fire. The new news is the new normal,
seven by twenty-four and minute by
minute. Still, all we know of the missing
and the ones still on the road is that
they are missing and still on the road.

“Oh, God. Oh, Mother,” the Civil War
soldier cried as he burnt up. Why,
when a single bullet would have sufficed?
The trees are drying and the ground sinking.
Will all not sunk into the sea burn
into the sky? The caravans continue
heel to toe to higher and cooler ground.

And that’s the way it is.