Arizona: Where The Shadows Lie!
The title of this post is one of many tourism slogans I dreamed up after visiting there a few years ago. I seem to recall ‘Phoenix! You Probably Won’t Get Stabbed Too Much!’ and ‘Phoenix! Heaven’s Dark Reflection!’ but the rest elude me now. The place made quite an impression on me. I was charmed by terrific people, staggered by natural beauty, and appalled by living conditions. Seriously, Phoenix is not so much a city as Thunderdome with lax zoning, insufficient social services, and a demented sadist keeping the peace. My mental geography was formed in a rationally designed city like no other; Phoenix is a haphazardly strewn collection of strip clubs and strip malls baking in the desert. A handful of blocks from ‘downtown’ I saw scenes from the third world. I don’t know what the solutions are for Arizona, but I haven’t heard anyone who does. It’s not that these problems are actually intractable but that the realities are larger than any solutions thus far imagined. The recent legislation that has caused so much fuss is an excellent example of how woefully limited the imaginations of the solution makers are.
Sarah Palin blew through town the other day and among other things she shot her mouth off about a local high school canceling a sports team traveling to Arizona next December for a tournament. While I’m not sure if the school is making the right decision, it’s their decision to make, and according to the reasons the school put forth it doesn’t seem like they’re being completely absurd. Besides, it was a trip on next years schedule, which makes it a hypothetical thing to begin with. It’s not like the girls were standing there with their bags packed and a hippie with a lawyer took their basketball and slashed the bus tires, regardless of what Rush Limbaugh says.
One of the complaints being made is that the school district shouldn’t be making political statements; yet politicians whimsically play with school districts. Even as the right wing claims the new Arizona law isn’t about race, Arizona has just passed a law aimed at a single district’s ethnic studies program. The language of the bill is nauseatingly ironic, banning classes that teach ‘resentment’ of another race or ‘ethnic solidarity’, considering that this is the state that was the last holdout in recognizing Dr King’s birthday as a national holiday. It certainly can’t be interpreted as an attempt to right that wrong.
As part of my duties at the Clown Factory I sometimes entertain guests from all kinds of places. Today I took a group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie. Over breakfast after announcing our destination, I overheard a young woman of African ancestry, upon her face a moue, say to her escort (whom I believed was her older sister, but could not be entirely sure) ‘slavery was worse’. Her sister gasped and gave her a little swat, whereupon she blushed. Though silence is not usually my thing, I figured that the Museum would state it’s case far more eloquently than I ever could, and the tears on her face later that morning proved me right. It was a lovely day and I took everyone to Old Orchard to have lunch and do some shopping. Four of my charges for the day were Spanish speakers who all spoke different Spanishes as they were from different homelands, but when we stood together in one of the train cars that held prisoners bound for the camps we all felt the same horror. The drive to the museum had been quiet, with everyone buried in screens of one kind or another while I drove, but for the rest of the day everyone was engaged in lively conversation and bright laughter. Over lunch I asked the young lady if her mind had changed since breakfast and she smiled and blushed and we had an interesting talk about the relative nature of suffering and how death is death and murder is murder, and how a crime against humanity is a crime against us all. We talked about Arizona, Greece, and the Gulf and the problems we are facing in this new century (and then there’s Bangkok). The strains upon our resources and economies are only going to increase before they are relieved, and we still have no real idea as to how we are going to relieve these stresses. There is a new nationalism sweeping through the world and as scarcity gets worse patience and peace are going to be harder to keep. Still, I feel optimistic. The future has a way of being surprising; Anne Frank could not have imagined the people who were reading her diary today.