Eshu’s blues: “Can you defend yourself?”

by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez

The social disintegration endemic to late capitalism in America reaches new lows in the current meltdown. The purposely de-skilled classes turn on each other, as the "social Darwinist ethos carries the day." A young woman acquaintance of the author is informed that self-defense capability is part of the job description on temporary employment assignments. Folks are snapping.  "There's just something about being treated like expendable products on the shelf that makes a lot of people full-blown batshit crazy in short time." Everybody is going bust. But "Obama thinks he has the money to fight wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan." 

Eshu's blues: "Can you defend yourself?"

by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez

"There's just something about being treated like expendable products on the shelf that makes a lot of people full-blown batshit crazy in short time."

I live in White Center, which is on the southwest border of Seattle City limits. Life in White Center has been dicey for a long time, the old joke about the area is that "it ain't so white and it ain't so centered."   Originally, it was a farming community with the first major trolley stops out of Seattle on the South side of the town, it was also a hub for goods brought across Puget Sound by boat.  The rats that sometimes travelled alongside items brought off of the larger vessels lent the community its nickname "Rat City."  The neighborhood boomed briefly with the Boeing Company's fortunes during the 1940s through the 1960s, but it has succumbed in the decades since to a sporadic pattern of retail havens and mini-malls.  Today, the usual entrepreneurial efforts appear in spotty patterns alongside both sides of White Center's main drag, 16th Ave SW.  Teriyaki joints, bars, SE Asian produce stands, dollar outlets, porn shops, beauty parlors and a Tacqueria van with an outdoors shelter are the main businesses.  Street traffic during the day is made up of exhausted people who chain smoke cigs out in front of the ubiquitous taverns and at night, the gangs, the crystal meth junkies and the prostitutes come out.  

Young people slice and dice each other often in White Center.  A small gang war has broken out between black and Mexican gangs, and South Sea Island youth are wild card players anywhere within that mix.  My wife and I bought a small house in the area five years ago and have seen or heard of many times more carnage between kids in that amount of time then I saw or heard in the five years I lived on 162nd Street and Riverside in New York City.  Washington Heights, according to the hype of the day, was supposed to have been one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in New York, but the wannabe thugs around here are anxious to apply. Gang bangers in the northwest seem to have this driving need to prove they are as "hard" as their cohorts in East St. Loo and South Philadelphia, so the bottom falls out of gang peace consistently.

"Gang bangers in the northwest seem to have this driving need to prove they are as "hard" as their cohorts in East St. Loo and South Philadelphia."

One of my students in the area is Marleney T., who is 19 years old and about five academic credits shy of what she'll need to graduate by spring.  That goal seems more remote with her recent marriage to a young man who's up here from Mexico without permission.  Mario was laid off last week and employment prospects are dim, given his immigration status, so she's thinking about dropping out of school.  Like many of the young women that end up looking for work around here, she thought for a time about becoming an exotic dancer because it's lucrative as crap work goes, but health problems  have precluded even this wretched option.  Her wisdom teeth are coming in, and no community clinic in the area at this time will see her without some sort of payment or insurance, which she doesn't have.  So she'll walk around with her face swollen up like a beach ball for awhile until someone somewhere relents, or until the teeth impact or rot in her head, whichever comes first.  No big deal, lots of people go through life with a mouth full of dental abscesses.  It builds character.

This week, Marleney made her way down to Labor Ready, which is the fallback temp agency for working class kids in this part of town. In filing her application at Labor Ready, she was asked by the shift manager there "if she knew how to defend herself, to fight."  Marleney, understandably a little taken aback by the question, replied that she was just trying to find some work in the warehouses.  The Labor Ready manager told her that there were "a bunch of tough ladies" in some of their work locations, and since they couldn't provide security for their workforce off shift, that she'd probably have to know how to fight, being a woman and all.  So snap goes the last thread. The social Darwinist ethos carries the day. 

"Most of us learn to sublimate the rage and defensive posture in one way or another."

But does she know how to defend herself?  As well as anyone does, I reckon.  She comes from a pretty nutty family situation she had to tear herself loose from when she was fifteen.   Marleney had to defend herself from two abusive parents who were themselves caught up in the systematic abuse that follows the lives of the working poor in this country.  There's just something about being treated like expendable products on the shelf that makes a lot of people full-blown batshit crazy in short time, and it's an unfortunate fact that many of these people pass this abuse onto their children.  I'm not certain if the pattern is actually one of feeding their children Popeye's Fried Chicken for breakfast, as a certain highly esteemed political figure charges, but I do know that when a family has been de-skilled enough and poor enough long enough, they have a tendency to raise their children to believe that they're "too dark," or "ugly" some other way, or brainless, or void of talent.  Some of you who came up in this kind of household will know what I'm talking about.  If we're lucky, time and maybe therapy heal us up, but most of us learn to sublimate the rage and defensive posture in one way or another.  A few of us wind up writing variations on rants like this one. 

So yeah, Marleney can defend herself, to fight.  She defended herself right out onto the street when she was fifteen, and chose to take rescue from young people who were still walking around smelling their own pee, but who were dangerous all the same, and lots of these kids, between the ages of 12 and 17, maraud to this very day on the streets of downtown Seattle.  Every once in awhile, a resident of the luxury towers that have been built to replace the residential housing and single room occupancy that used to be available downtown find themselves caught  in a gaggle of these crazy young street mercenaries and gets pretty badly mauled.   The media will go nuts because one of the best and brightest will occasionally become a victim of the social cretinism we in this country call prosperity, but then the old denial game goes on.   As The Man said last week, "we're not going to apologize for our way of life."  So everybody needs to learn how to defend themselves, like Marleney T. has.  And that's good.  For, as that disillusioned Reaganite Paul Craig Roberts pointed out this week on the Counterpunch website:

"All the Obama regime sees is a credit problem.  But the crisis goes far beyond banks' bad investments.  The United States is busted.  Many of the state governments are busted.  Homeowners are busted.  Consumers are busted.  Jobs are busted.  Companies are busted.  And Obama thinks he has the money to fight wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan." 

Now, with all apologies due to former Reagan Administration Assistant Treasury Secretary Roberts, the sad fact is that all the national government has done this last few years is follow Reaganite logic to its most absurd extremes.  Things are working well along the lines of Reagan's "supply side economics," which habitually goes towards credit chaos because it cannot take in the fact that dollars remain only a single representation of actual production/ wealth.  The system has always functioned on the principal of building fortunes via the use of someone else's money, and very often money people don't really have.  Even now, all these buzzards are thinking about is how to cash in.  Efficiency in supply-side economics  is conservation of dollars in the pockets of those who have dollars and extension of credit markets to facilitate the waste of oceans of human potential, resource, and time.  If people aren't chasing and jetting and strafing around to keep up a surplus supply of vanity items we don't really need, we're not being efficient. And the rest of the world, according to the Reaganite model, needs to do as we in the U.S are doing.  Obama is only doing as his mentors of the Chicago School have taught him to do, which is to use public governance to enrich that tiny minority which benefits from predatory overgrowth of the consumer system, or the bludgeoning of the masses into defining our lives as the sum total of what we own.  And we're not apologizing for our way of life, said Master O.

"Obama is only doing as his mentors of the Chicago School have taught him to do."

Thus, as unsettling as the question posed to Marleney T. at Labor Ready was, at the very least, it's germane.  Can you defend yourselfDo you know how to fight?  It's going to be a pretty tough go-round for working folks for awhile, thanks to the Obamites, who for some strange reason believe a fighting strategy for change will be built by the people Obama has surrounded himself with, that is, people who've never had to worry about whether the heat is going to come on when they throw a switch.  Obamians will tell you in one breath that it's far too early to criticize Obama, and many will tell you in the next breath that they're going to work for his re-election four years from now.  But "it's too early to criticize him now."  "Give him a chance."  Give Robert Gates a chance to kill more Iraqi children.  Offer Richard Holbrooke a shot at smoking more Pakistani elders.  Let Arne Duncan turn the public schools into military academies and bingo parlors.  And by all means, allow the megalomania of the Clinton machine full sway in the State Department.  

If that's what they call "pushing Obama," I've seen more productive effort from Dung beetles.  And Dung beetles, at least, are conscious of which substance it is they are actually pushing.

BAR columnist michael hureaux is a writer, musician and teacher who lives in southwest Seattle, Washington.  He is a longtime contributor to small and alternative presses around the country and performs his work frequently. Email to: [email protected]