Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Images of the Surreal Past

Over a lifetime, we witness a few events that leave us slackjawed, captivated, astonished. During such times, these occurences take up much of our thoughts, a lot of our time, and most of our focus. Some are immediate, some last hours, some last days, weeks, months or longer. While we all have our personal ordeals, here, for the purposes of this post, I'm talking more regarding historical surreal events that have happened in our lifetimes. As individuals born in different times, different places, we'll have our own angles on what constitutes an "unreal" reality. I suppose it's my nature, but most of my remembrances of such events are the nightmarish ones. It's why news is news, I suppose. The 9-11 image that I placed atop the post is one of the latest ones for me. The tsunami about three or four years back was another event this new millenium. Actually, one of these episodes of which I'm speaking broke the new century. Remember the hanging chads in Florida in the 2000 election? Hard to forget, huh? I remember day after day watching the television for the political spin, and the counts and recounts, wondering what the heck had happened to our system of government.

One has to be a certain age and experience enough of this thing called life, I think, to let these experiences become so meaningful. Maybe I'm wrong. The first one I can remember for myself was the death of Elvis Presley - and this wasn't so much for me as it was for my parents. Older people may well remember the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, and then his brother, probably the Munich Olymics - I'm sure those would be on my list if I was living and old enough back then. However, I certainly remember night after night watching 20/20 and the news cover Elvis and then hearing "Dr. Nick", who had some e'splainin' to do. My parents LOVED E.P., and we had several of his vinyl albums and cassette tapes at that point. For me, with all the Vicki Carr, Paul Anka, and Tom Jones my parents were listening to, Elvis was always a welcome respite. And then he was gone.

The single event that has affected me most - as in, I had nightmares over it when I was a young teen - was the Jim Jones' People Temple massacre in Guyana. After seeing it unfold on the news, hearing people at my church talking about it, and then seeing the horrid pictures in the Time Magazine that I fetched out of the mail, that one kept me on edge for weeks. Despite my fear of everything that had happened, for whatever reason I thirsted for more and more knowledge. I think it was the cult aspect, and it was the first time I had heard of such. It wasn't the last time, obviously, but this was the most indelible image for me.

The next event I remember pretty well was the Son of Sam killings by David Berkowitz. That was followed by the Iran hostage situation, which lasted quite a long time. Maybe I was a little slow on the up and up, maybe I was a bit sheltered, but this was the first time I remember learning about the Middle East and all the dissension there. As a kid, I always thought of America as the greatest country, and then, being naive, figured everyone else in the world did, too. Quite an initiation to the contrary. Ayatollah Khomeini, the takeover of the U.S. Embassy, and the hostages taken mixed in with an America where long lines at the pump, a Cold War, dwindling hope in the country, and with a President that didn't know how to handle any of this chaos. Enter Ronald Reagan.

Supreme Court nominations, especially conservative nominations, have seemed to divide the country. Speaking of Reagan, his nomination of Robert Bork set off a huge political clash and one that went public. Pressure groups, both conservative and liberals, had pumped plenty of funds into the "fight game" rhetoric prior to the confirmation hearings of Judge Bork. Democratic senators took the offense and a few prominent ones had spilled the beans beforehand that they would vote against Bork's nomination for Supreme Court justice. That backlash resonated with many Americans, and while Bork went down swinging, he went down alone, with the White House that had pledged to support him beforehand, now nowhere to be found.

A long time ago, I remember my dad reading Black Sunday, a novel by Thomas Harris (who also wrote the Silence of the Lambs and the Hannibal Lecter series). In that, sort of like the 24 hours at the Munich Olympiad, a blimp runs into the stadium hosting the Super Bowl due to terrorist activity. While no terrorists were involved, a similar event took place in 1989. During the third game of the Major League Baseball World Series -- coined the Battle of the Bay as it featured Oakland and San Francisco teams -- the Loma Prieta earthquake hit, registering 6.9 (7.1 surface-wave magnitude) on the Richter, during warm-ups for the clash. I still remember hearing Al Michaels stuttering about the earthquake. For ten days, the World Series was postponed. In the Iraq crises, NFL football games were postponed, but aside from Munich, I can't remember a more riveting sports stoppage.

Robert Bork's wasn't the only Supreme Court nomination to have its share of calamity. In 1991, George H.W. Bush's nomination of conservative Clarence Thomas, after celebrated liberal Thurgood Marshall retired from the bench, brought another round of pressure groups trying to upend the nomination. And with that, the bizarre circumstance of Anita Hill testifying before the Judicial Committee regarding her personal, as alleged, sexual harrasment by Judge Thomas, and then Thomas' firy counter. The proceedings were a spectacle that brought about one of the funniest SNL skits that was ever acted, but for Thomas and Hill, there was nothing humorous, whatsoever.

The last image I'll post is that of the Iraq conflict, the Shock and Awe offensive. I'm not a veteran, so these were the closest images of war I'd ever seen. I spoke with a parent on one of the baseball teams that I coached, and he had lived and worked over in Saudi Arabia when Saddam Hussein was firing Scud missiles that direction. He talked about the evacuations and how no one could work -- most folks just drank -- and some of the fear involved. I can't even begin to imagine. Personally, I'd prefer to never see anything like that again, but reality being what it is, I most likely will.
Catastrophic events, nightmarish occurences, calamities, bizarre politics... probably not the trip down memory lane you'd want to read about, and certainly not one you'll often find here in The Realm of Possibility. Apologies, I suppose, but lately I've just been thinking of all these types of events, and how they seem to be cyclical every few years. Not that I'm waiting for the boot to drop -- sorry to be so cynical.
What indelible images of the past do you have? I know I've missed a few what with space shuttles exploding and genocides on different continents and volcanoes erupting. Points given for any happy ones. Many, many points. I think I could use a coke and a smile now.


Milly said...

The Vietnam War will forever be embedded in my mind. I remember watching TV and wonder why we were there. I remember seeing the men coming off the planes so dead some alive. I remember those bracelets and peace signs. Now as I talk with the veterans I have a more tender heart for those boys that risked their young lives for this country. Agent Orange has left one of the men that I love to talk with in pain. Too bad a lot of the data is gone.
The Oklahoma City bombing was devastating for Oklahoma. My phone started ringing shortly from friends and family wondering where my brother was. I managed to get through to his secretary in OKC. Thank God all members of his office were accounted for. I’ll forever remember standing outside watching it rain thinking “God no they haven’t found them all and the rain will make it harder.” Reason told me it was too late.

The Space Shuttle makes me angry. Only hours before it was argued that the rings were in danger. They never told the astronauts of the dangers. They could have stopped the Challenger disaster and didn’t. So sad.

Richard Nixon
Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs
Gas Wars
Gas Lines
The Strawberry Statements
Playing outside in your front yard
The yellow smile

Hands across America.
For those who know my face book Up With People. One of my friends was with them. He left me for them.
The war correspondent being shot and the press showing it over and over again. My cousin and I stood shocked with tears in our eyes. I still see that image of the man falling.

So many good things and so many bad.

Rich said...

Don't know how I forgot the Oklahoma City bombing, and yeah, I was really young so I don't remember, but the Watergate scandal, I'm sure, would register for any American old enough.

And lest I forget, though I was young then, too, the Miami Dolphins '72-'73 undefeated season -- the only such ever in the Super Bowl era of the National Football League. Hurray!!! (Although, I've got to say, it's been a loooooooooong time since those good ol' Dolphin days.)

And the Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs brings the Geico caveman commercial to mind where the caveman is playing Billie Jean, and he tells her "Scoreboard", and she's beating him 6-0, 6-0, 5-0, before he recognizes all the Geico sponsorships, and then says, "Oh! I get it. I quit -- but I get it." Hilarious.

DugALug said...

Here are a couple for me,

> Reagan Being Shot. (Standing at that hospital window with the thumbs up)

> Reagan calling for the communists to 'tear down this wall!'

> the Fall of the Berlin wall

> The Iranian Hostages. The loss of our troups trying to free those hostages.

> The shelling of Palestinian camps from King Husean of Jordan

> The Chinese Gymnast who had that broken foot, but did the rings anyway so the Chinese could win a Gold.

Plenty more, but these strike my mind quickly.

Anonymous said...

And Tieneman (sp?) square. The reports of all those protesters killed turned my stomach.


Rich said...

Tiananmen Square is a great example, Wanda. My brother had a book with that famous picture on the cover with the guy about to get run over by the tank. Definitely surreal.

Rich said...

Also, Doug -- really, really good ones. The Berlin Wall coming down was a worldwide Event with a capital E.

And you mentioning the Chinese gymnast reminded me of when Kerri Strug landed her vault jump on the ankle she had just sprained (it could have been broken, I can't remember) to help the U.S. women gymansts claim gold over the Russian ladies. Gutsy and memorable.

Milly said...

The OK City bombing was over shadowed by the terror on America. We in Oklahoma hold it in our hearts.

That morning my phone rang several times each of them almost the same. Are you alright? Where is your brother? He’s a lobbyist so a government building being blown up freak us all out. I knew guys who cooked for those looking for bodies. I knew nurses who were tending to those still holding on to life. The images of the dead child being held by the firefighter were haunting. My son was about the same age and seemed to be built about the same. It could have been my child. I sat in a restaurant with the parents of that child, holding back tears.

Billie Jean King winning has a better memory. Making a bet on it not a good idea. It hit the press when the man I knew had to wear a dress and play tennis with my friend.

Yep I’m old and remember old stuff. 48 this year.

The old days! Gas was 15 cents a gallon and they pumped it for you, cleaned your windshield, and checked under the hood. Sometimes they’d give you a glass or something. 25 cents got you a soda, a candy bar, and penny candy and I’m old.

Diabolical Genius said...

{Cue Hitchcock music}

And here is this for your consideration:

-Moon Landings
-Reggie's 3 homer game in the Series
-Watching the Shuttle fly overhead on the back of a plane
-Standing in line to get the new soft drink called Mello Yello
-Bruce Jenner's decathalon in Montreal
-Oliver North hearings
-Charles and Di wedding
-Walt letting everyone into Disney World
-Sid Bream's slide home
-Star Wars release
-Rubik's cube
-Lorenzo Charles' dunk
-Walter Cronkite's retirement announcement
-Reagan/Carter/Anderson race
-Being at Watergate Hotel just after the scandal broke
-Getting cable TV
-Roots miniseries
-Time magazine showing Bell Telephone breakup

Surreal or not, these were standout events in my life.