Saturday, September 20, 2008

Of Protest Stupidity, Libraries as Community Relief, & Other Electricity-Free Tales

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- He fidgets with the brim of his ball cap. He's already readjusted his oversize basketball shorts four times in just over five minutes.

Homeboy finally settles into his carefully maintained slovenly student image after staring at his reflection in the storefront, adjusting his shirt one final time.

It's Thursday night, after all, and he's just explained that this is his regular Young Honey night - a weekly occurrence where he and his friends prowl the Uptown Oxford bars in search of something underage and naive, some poor, dumb, first- or second-year girl to buy drinks for and go home with.

Only after he looks perfect does he continue his drunken explanation of the Great Local U. Blackout Riot of 2008, quite possibly one of the dumbest student protests to ever grace a college campus.

"Fuck the police! They weren't gonna use fucking tear gas. This is ____ University we're talking about. It's not like we were blocking an interstate or anything."

Well, actually, the protesters managed to block off U.S. 27, the only major highway into or out of Oxford, smack dab in the middle of cleanup and relief efforts for a storm-ravaged area. And those cops homeboy's so adamant about fucking? Six agencies responded, all from areas equally impacted by a blackout that encompassed, at one point, more than one million people in Ohio alone.

All because anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 Local U. students decided Monday night to protest the university's decision to reopen campus after it became apparent that Duke Energy would be able to restore power to most buildings by early Tuesday morning.

The protest was held in front of the university president's house. Funny thing. The president wasn't home at the time. The protesters spent more than five hours chanting in front of an empty house.

And according to various sources, at one point, those police officers had canisters out and ready to go. Thankfully, things were mostly controllable, and only a few folks had to be maced or arrested.

"So what do you think the protest accomplished? Obviously, the university still held classes. Do you think this was something meaningful, or just what the local media's been calling it - spoiled rich kids whining while others are suffering in the Gulf?"

He tugs at his crumpled shirt once more and nods his chin towards a very pretty, yet not-too-intelligent looking blonde girl in a black cocktail dress. He changes the subject for a moment. The blonde, he says, gives amazing blowjobs. And she likes being fucked without a condom.

"Look, man, I've gotta go. Pussy calls. But, yeah, it was fucking stupid. We were bored. I just went because I wanted classes canceled so we could have another Blackout party..."

And with that, Homeboy wanders off into the night. I click my recorder off. It's been a while since I've tried to write as a reporter. Forgot how hard good quotes are to get. This is the umpteeth We were bored excuse for attending Monday night's protest I've heard in four days.

Yep. Some college students stage protests over things like war, poverty, and other human woes. Here? Off-campus students protest having to go to class. Because they're bored.

It's only nine o'clock at night, and, suddenly, I need a drink. It's been a while, too, since I've been so ashamed to have wasted a perfectly good interview on a completely worthless human being.

* * * *

Last weekend, the remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through the Miami Valley like the wake of an atomic bomb, with wind gusts nearing 75 miles per hour shredding trees, ripping apart roofs, and turning the Tri-State's power grid into an electric version of Swiss cheese.

It's taken the better part of the week to get power back to most of the region. As I write, there are still several thousand homes still without electricity. The grocery stores and restaurants are still restocking, still reeling from having to pitch millions in spoiled food. At one point, too, the major outlets had employees stand guard over dumpsters full of rotten meat to prevent the panicked from diving for a nauseating, bacteria-ridden dinner.

The Cincinnati metro area, Hamilton and Butler counties, were hit the hardest. Fortunately for most folks, the various municipal water supplies remained mostly intact and unpolluted. The ability to shit, shower, and shave, even in pitch black darkness, was still available to most.

* * * *

My power went out Sunday afternoon, at just past two o'clock. The lights flickered back to life sometime late Thursday afternoon. My only storm damage was to a window in my living room - a gust literally pushed in a 20-pound sliding section, right over the flashing. Luckily, it didn't break when it collapsed - a pile of laundry broke the fall.

In all, I ended up pitching approximately $200 in food from my fridge. I was fortunate, as a bachelor. I know families, poor families, that had to pitch thousands in deep-freezer stock, people who are having to figure out how to suddenly feed children with what's left of increasingly devalued paychecks.

While it wasn't what I'd call luxurious to spend five days without electricity, without the ability to cook my own food or take a hot bath on demand, it wasn't all that bad. With natural disasters, well, basic things, matters of survival, tend to trump one's often petty desires for life's creature comforts.

Hell, I was just grateful for the ability to take a shit and to still have the toilet flush. And the fact that I'd, for some reason, happened to restring the ol' acoustic guitar last month. Amazing the things one appreciates at trying times.

Sure, I'll probably not want to eat another handful of trail mix or cold can of beans for a while, but, well, I was able (actually, required, as per my job function) to make it into work, to help keep my library's physical plant running with minimal resources and, at times, minimal staffing.

At one point, we were the only facility within 30 miles with working Internet access, live electrical outlets, and enough generator-heated water in the tanks to allow for thousands of hot shaves and sink-basin baths. We had thousands of community members spread out over four very packed levels. With only a handful of staff able to help them all out.

Hell, I managed to stop a major structural fire in my system's main library (a faulty emergency generator burned up), inspect all other facilities for storm damage, and, yes, even answer in excess of 250 reference questions over the course of one twelve-hour shift.

Fun week. I managed to rack up 60 hours on the job. If I were hourly, wow, that's be enough overtime to pay off a couple of credit cards...

* * * *

Actually, now that I think about it, I worked my way through that nasty-ass blackout. Most people in this town did. Including, yes, those fucking cops who worked right through that stupid protest in front of an empty university president's house.

A couple of those officers were the first on the scene of my generator fire and are currently on my I'm So Fucking Picking Up This Round list.

And that university president, too. He was doing his job during the storm's aftermath. I've seen that guy around town at more random hours of the day than I think I've ever seen any university administrator, ever. He's been talking to students and faculty, meeting with officials, shaking hands and patting shoulders and listening to complaints.

Right now, as people in Texas clean up from Ike, as other communities clean up from their hurricanes and natural disasters this summer, there's literally hundreds of thousands of folks who've been taking cold showers in the morning, dressing in last week's dirty laundry, and praying to all that is holy that they have enough gas to get to work and to provide needed services in an emergency.

But I guess that was too hard for some people. You know. Guys like Homeboy. While others are rebuilding, recovering, and getting by, he's still upset that he couldn't get in one more Blackout Party in an attempt to get his pecker wet.

And the gall of Homeboy's university, HIS future alma mater, asking someone of his obvious importance to actually do his job, to cowboy the fuck up and roll with the challenges life and Mother Nature sometimes throw our way.

In all fairness, there really weren't thousands of rioters blocking traffic and causing mayhem in this town Monday night, during the largest blackout in Ohio history. There were a few hundred actual, mostly intoxicated, agitators.

The rest were just observers, with nothing else to do. They stopped by to watch the freaks make idiots of themselves. There have only been a handful of such large protests in the university's two-hundred year history. Protesting anything is as foreign to Oxford Fucking Ohio as a burning candle at the bottom of the ocean.

Hell, I stopped by after work for a few moments myself, just to watch the shitshow.

I would've stuck around longer, but, well, I'd been actually helping to get this town back on its feet again and was fucking exhausted.

Forgive me for being to fucking tired to stick around, kids.

* * * *

So it's 9:30 Thursday night. I've just killed off two shots of Jack Daniels in a bar I normally avoid like the Plague.

It's been of fucking horrendous week, my friends, if I'm drinking straight Jack. By that point, I'd made up my mind that I was going to attend a local open mic night later in the evening and attempt to black myself out, for a change.

Rather than go home to finish disinfecting the old freezer and add another layer of caulk to my contractor-perfect window repair, I decide to walk off the sudden rush of booze, prep myself psychologically for the sweet relief that is to come when I return home to take my first near-scalding hot shower in five days.

I'm half an hour removed from trying my hand as an actual serious, topical writer. It's been years since I've whipped out the ol' Sony recorder, shoved it into random people's faces, gone hunting for soundbites and insights. I toss the damned thing into the cab of my truck, pissed that, well, I've only managed to document every negative stereotype of Local U. students, in their own words.

Trust me. There are thousands of stories like Homeboy's in this town.

Tales of spoiled girls who flooded the town's hotel rooms the moment their power was restored because, ugh, they couldn't do their hair in the dark and, OMG, who threw tantrums that the cable, yes, was still out in suites paid for with Daddy's credit card. Stories of undergrads in expensive cocktail dresses walking down the middle of black streets, drunk and blocking traffic.

One kid told me he was looking into filing lawsuits because he was unable to watch the Bengals game on TV Sunday night; another guy shared a supposedly heartbreaking experience - he had to forfeit money on an online gambling site because the power went out in the middle of a poker hand.

Tragic, isn't it?

* * * *

So I walked the streets and avenues of this town, the undergrad neighborhoods, trying to forget the whole thing. Why beat a dead, preppy, spoiled horse?

And then, at one house, a group of young women - library regulars - waved and hollered my way. I'd seen the trio numerous times over the course of the week, probably logged more than a few hours helping them individually answer reference questions.

They'd logged almost as many hours in my library as I had, charging laptops and cell phones and iPods, surfing the web for outage updates and news headlines. From the looks of it, the porch lights and all, their power had just been restored, too.

The group sat in folding chairs, a case of beer between them. An acoustic guitar rested against the porch railing. Each had a can of beer tucked in her crotch and a book - library books - laid across her knees.

I walk up to the porch just as one of the girls blurted out something like

"Bet you're gonna write about how FUCKED UP this week's been, huh?"

All three grinned. One girl handed me a beer. Natty Light. Shittiest beer known to man. But, well, it was cold.

Blog readers. Not once, all week, had a single one of them mentioned why they'd actually sought me out for my help with various projects. Hell, I'm not a reference librarian. It never occured to me that, well...

Sneaky devils, sometimes, these sorority girls.

I asked the group, as nonchalantly as I could, as if, yeah, I'm really some blogebrity or something, if they had any ideas on where to start documenting the Great Blackout of 2008.

We chatted for a bit and, well, they readily admitted that they had no idea where to start.

But they did, however, know how whatever I wrote should end.

* * * *

"Look, we're not all as stupid and bratty as those rioters. Fuck those bitches. A lot of people work really hard to make college what it is for all of us...."

"I mean, we're still here, right? And we're still sexy, smart, and sure look good for surviving a hurricane in Ohio...I mean, c'mon, we're hot and we survived the blackout, right...?"

"... And make sure you put in something about how all these whiny babies, like, need to grow the fuck up..."

"...And, oooh! Make sure you say how lucky we are to, like, still have places to live, you know? And, like, feel blessed because we're still alive to actually drink beer and still have a school to go to..."

Reminded me of my reporter days, actually. Back in the newspaper business. Fuck voice recorders. Always ended up with better source material writing things out, using things like cardboard from cases of beer...

- # # # -


Anonymous said...

That's pretty much what my summer was like. Oh, BTW, I'll be near Oxford next month... If I have time would you be interested in a drink (or 2)? I've never been to Ohio before.

Theta 4Ever said...

FUCK YEA! We made a blog! Remember man we of the Greek community love you and you're too nice a guy in person seriously.

And if you get lonely casey would so hook up with you :-P

cooper said...

Jason, I rarely have time to comment any more but I can see your fan base is still solid - oh yeah greeks.

I read you always though, as there is so little to read worthwhile out there.

You're in my movie. Stop by and check out the shabby chic, cheezy but with love, piece of work when you can.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Sort of puts things in perspective. Here in ye old Tyler, TX, things were not too bad. I lost power for a day, and while it did get warm (it is Texas), not too bad overall. And for that, I am thankful; no one got hurt in my neighborhood. I grew up in the Caribbean, and I actually know what hurricanes do. I did catch up on my reading for one.

Anyhow, poor homeboy needs to learn a lesson or two more about life it seems.

Best, and keep on blogging.

EsotericWombat said...

Often when I read one of these stories I console myself with the hope that these insipid fucks are going to live to be deeply ashamed of having done and said the things that wind up in this space.

But lord. It sounds like that may just be too much to hope for.

Good on you for going the extra mile, and for documenting it here.

King Cellar Dweller said...

Hey thanks for the help last week even if you had to kick me out twice haha. no hard feelings k? yea the protest was stupid shit. i went up for a bit but then saw some idiot start yelling at the cops about obama or something. thanks for doing up both sides. you write better than most about the many facets of life here. and all those people who said they didn't know the library was open? yea, well when i drove by and saw the fucking LIGHTS ON monday i duh figured it out.

hope you didn't get in trouble for cussing out that guy with the soccer ball. i got ya back.