January 31, 2009

Where we were when Obama took the Oath

I was in my office. It was lunch time, so almost everyone was gone. Some of my coworkers had gone to Burger King. At first I thought that they probably hadn't thought about watching it, but later I realized that they have TVs at Burger King, so they watched it after all. I hadn't really planned to go anywhere special, so I decided to watch it where I was. Nobody really talked about it when everybody got back, though. That surprised me, because usually the managers here talk about politics during lunch, but I think they'd probably already covered all the Obama topics a while ago. Around 3 p.m., someone made a comment about the verbal gaffe between Roberts and Obama, but that was it.

Shortly before noon, I started flipping through the list of websites and networks broadcasting the inauguration online. The first six I tried just said "Buffering..." and never loaded. Finally, I found one that worked, although the image quality was pretty bad, and it skipped sometimes. I watched the swearing-in, and when that was over, I read some other stuff while I listened to the rest of the main inauguration program. As soon as all the essentials were over, I closed the tab and got back to work.

Tony Gonzalez
I may be a proud member of the He-Man Woman Haters Club, but I spent the Inauguration hour 1) At an all-girl's college with more than 100 women and five men and 2) feeling floaty and tingling and emotional, but stubborn: like during a mediocre movie that nevertheless raises goosebumps in a heroic concluding scene.

Snapping photographs was technically challenging in the dimly lit auditorium, but as everyone watched the big screen, it made for candid subjects (and one girl wearing an Obama yard sign across her chest). I didn't know what to look for or what to write, so I just jotted notes about everything. When, exactly, the women reacted to events playing out on screen; which ones snapped photos of the screen; the TV news guy trying to ready his shots. It was a prime time to observe and have an excuse to write grafs and grafs of description. But I knew it would be hard to describe the feeling inside. Later, I would write:
For some people, it was the idea of a “patchwork heritage” that made a tingling sensation rise inside them — a literally uplifting feeling — Tuesday during President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. For others it was ...
I don't know if it was the moment or the women, but I kept swallowing what seemed to be rising tears. The first person I saw crying was a white woman, a senior from Pennsylvania, who was sitting alone with one leg crossed over the other and her chin in her hand. A tear streak ran down her right cheek. She was wide-eyed and looked ... saintly. Like she'd just learned something or had come to some resolution that she was sure she could follow that would just make things better.

I talked to her later, then listened to some professors discuss the speeches. Then I walked from the campus, checked my watch, and thought about deadline. I knew that all other news was irrelevant for the pending edition. So I made awkward inquiries about wifi and pizza slices at a pizza place before spreading wide the day's Washington Post in a booth. And I ate most of an entire General Tsao's pizza, although it could have fed two. Then I did something for the first time ever: despite eating alone, I ordered two beers.

Then I walked past the courthouse, thinking the feeling of brotherly love in the air might actually change how people treat one another. I drove home, wrote some more:
Besides the anticipated moments to cheer and rise, perhaps the biggest laugh of the day came when Obama was caught on camera delivering a signature wink; or when he stumbled over the oath. “I guess his heart was racing,” said Kenisha Commander, a Baltimore freshman. “It made you want to cry."
K. Jan Harvey
I was sitting in the dimly lit lobby of my apartment complex with my laptop plugged in among the phycus plants. Behind me, the TV was very loud. The faces on the TV seemed happy when I walked in. Then someone said inauguration. My newly wedded wife made pretense of some foreknowledge of the event. Everyone knows Obama's being inaugurated today. Everyone knows the molecular structure of your cuticles. We were sitting side by side. Her seventeen-inch laptop screen dwarfed my ten-inch Acer. I turned around once to face the TV when Aretha Franklin sang. I look forward to the election of the first American one-armed president.

I was in a morphology seminar during the inauguration.

Chase Purdy
Watching the inauguration at Hillsdale College boiled down to just about what you'd expect, if you're at all aware of the school's reputation.

The man is a democrat and the nation's first black president. His middle name is different.

So when Barack Obama stood up to be sworn in, the students watching at Hillsdale College wretched on the inside, just a bit. You could see it in some of their mean, plaster-on smiling faces. They laughed at his different middle name. A professor chuckled in the knick of time; right after the president and chief justice stumbled over their lines, but right before the crowd burst.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!," they yelled. You could hear it from the other side of the building. You could even hear it bouncing in the stairwell.

Let any question about the matter be answered now: No, many people at Hillsdale College did not respect the tradition of the moment. And no, nobody seemed to find the stumble humanizing. Instead they hissed.

The speech began. Everyone listened closely.

"Oh that's just not true," one girl said to her friend. "You see how the socialists just bend the truth?"

I turned around and gave a frosty stare.

One Mississippi.

Two Mississippi.

Three Mississippi.

I turned back around, but even in the corner of my eye I could tell she gave her friend a nasty look that said, "Look at that asshole." Still, she didn't pipe up again.

It'd be a fib to pretend I didn't play my part. Politics don't interest me much, but I still nodded my head during the speech. Forged an adoring smile. I'd like to think one political science professor caught my watering left eye, perfectly timed to an exhalation of the speech. But I'd also be lying if I didn't admit to being swept up in the moment. One line actually did get to me, whether it was the content of what was said, or how he said it: "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

When the speech ended, almost everyone dispersed. Funny though, nobody really talked, and I remember a lot of people looking at the floor as they walked to their next class.

I missed almost all of what is probably the most important political event of my generation.

I woke up late that Thursday Tuesday and, as I was getting ready for work, remembered that it was happening. So I turned it on the MSNBC (the first channel I could find).

They were showing our president leaving the podium. I didn't hear any of the speech. I kicked myself. I did, however, hear Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann blabbering on about something. I hit the mute button to watch the pictures. I felt angry that I had missed the beef of it, but I knew I could find it online.

At work, our news editor (obviously) wanted to put inauguration coverage on page 1. The problem? A year or two ago, our previous publisher decided not to pay for the full AP coverage. When the regime changed, we forgot to upgrade. Thus, we only get regional stuff from the lower Midwest. This means no political stories from Washington unless they concern Missouri politicians.

She was able to compile a story on her own, but she, too, missed the speech. I think she was covering county commission or something.

I regret not hearing the thing as it was spoken. I don't agree with a lot of Obama's policies, but I feel cheated. Like the Kennedy assassination for our parents, this is our generation's defining moment. All that change and hope rhetoric, I tend to think most of it is bull. But a black man became our president. Could anyone have fathomed this even 10 years ago?

I regret missing the meat of it, because now the only answer I have to "Where were you when Obama was sworn in?" my only answer will be, "I didn't see it. But I saw Rachel Maddow analyzing it."

And who wouldn't be embarrassed by that?

I didn't watch the inauguration. I was busy listening to Animal Collective. . . who are fucking amazing. And when I use the word "fuck" to describe the degree to which they are amazing, I don't mean it flippantly or lightly. It's not like someone saying "Chimpanzees? Yeah they are pretty fucking cool, with all the body strength, agility, and natural monkey coolness." It's more than that. It's like a friend dares you to bend a spoon with your mind. You think it's probably impossible if not totally pointless to do, but you attempt it anyway because it's a Saturday and you don't have any immediate responsibilities that demand your attention. So you glare at the spoon for maybe a solid minute, beginning to focus with what becomes a furious sort of intent. Your friend stands there unimpressed because he's probably an asshole who just threw out the whole spoon bending thing so you can be distracted and he could steal a pop-tart from you. (Your family prides itself on its storage and maintenance of all different flavors of pop tarts in equal amounts, so the pilfering of any form of a microwaveable pastry is nothing less than an atrocity to them.) In any case, as he sneaks pop tarts into his lame scenester hoodie and you stand drenched in sweat attempting to mangle a utensil with brain waves, Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes comes in riding on a giraffe from the back patio (see Coquelicot's "Butterscotching Mr. Lynn"). Your scenester friend, of course knowing who this strange figure is, momentarily recovers from being awestruck and begins to let out a breathy and hushed "Hissing Fauna was beautiful. . ." Unfortunately, the domesticated but opinionated giraffe has strong beliefs about both plaid and pastry theft, and swiftly kicks him in the penis halfway through his compliment to the songwriter. Messiuer Barnes informs you that he was in the neighborhood, and while creating synth-pop with obvious hooks, but less obvious hints at darker emotional undercurrents of his personal life, sensed your attempt at bending a spoon with your mental abilities. He regretted to inform you that such a thing can't be done, noting that philosophically, a dualist perception of reality would render the physical and mental components of reality as related but totally separate, and that even the most intense and potent mental exertion would not be able to manifest a physical result as you wished it to. He then belts out an alto-range "Let us exit, my beast chaffeur!" and they remove themselves from your premises. Emotionally beaten, you place the spoon back in the drawer, realizing that you have a hankering for lasagna and a spoon simply isn't the appropriate piece of silverware for that purpose. However, as you reach for a fork and knife, you let out an uncontrollable "Oh my holy fuck."

The row of forks in the drawer is mangled to shit.

. . .Oh, and I just hope Obama doesn't mess up the country too much.

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Blogger Maria Servold said...

i was standing next to chase.

February 1, 2009 at 2:58 PM 
Blogger Tony said...

I also remember wishing I could be with Katie, who was back at the office, and who ended up watching a computer streaming version with co-workers.

Seems most of us were rather alone -- except for Chase + Maria.

February 1, 2009 at 8:12 PM 
Blogger Naomi said...

I was with 20-odd sixth graders. Each was supposed to be filling out "My 2009 Inauguration Memory Packet." I was instrumental in their recording major issues the president addressed in his speech.

They didn't know who Aretha Franklin was.

February 2, 2009 at 3:55 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I made up for my mundane inauguration day experience by exit polling in Jackson, Michigan, on the day of the election.

February 2, 2009 at 4:56 PM 

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