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Thursday, September 08, 2005

IN THE FACE OF A NATIONAL TRAGEDY

Over the past week, our nation has seen a tragedy that strains the boundaries of human imagination. The toll in human lives, property, and misery may never fully be known. When hurricane Katrina closed in on the gulf coast, all reporters at our station started working 12-15 hours a day, seven days a week.

Soon, refugees from the storm began arriving in Texarkana, and it was my job to talk to them. Invariably, these people would ask me the same question, “How are you?” The truthful answer to that question is, “I’m tired and I’m hungry. I haven’t had a day off in a week, and I don’t know when I’ll ever get my life back.”

Of course, I don’t say that. You can’t really say that to a person who just lost their home, job, and everything they own. Clearly they’d trade places with you in a heartbeat, even with your insane work schedule. So instead I shrug weakly and say, “I guess I’m OK.”

When the September 11th attacks happened, I was performing with a sketch comedy troupe in Los Angeles. In the weeks that followed, nobody wanted to take the stage at comedy clubs. People started asking that tortured question, “When can we laugh again?”

(The answer turned out to be, “When ‘Zoolander’ is released,” but that’s another subject.)

Now that it’s clear this disaster and its aftermath will be with us for months, perhaps even years, another cry is heard, “When can we whine again?”

Clearly not yet. In a town overrun with Katrina refugees, whining about anything seems inappropriate and undignified. But check his out:

I’m at Wendy’s last week and I order some fries. I’m presented with a cold, flaccid pile of potatoes utterly unfit for human consumption. I dump them out on my tray and paw through them hoping at least a few are crispy and perhaps a little warm. No luck. I dump the fries back into their container, present them to the cashier, and request a fresh order of fries. The cashier shrugs, takes my cup of fries, AND DUMPS THEM BACK INTO THE PILE OF UNSOLD FRIES! I WAS JUST TOUCHING THEM! NOW THEY’RE GOING TO SELL THEM TO SOMEBODY ELSE! IT’S EASILY THE MOST DISGUSTING THING I’VE SEEN IN A RESTAURANT, AND I’VE DINED IN KOREA BEFORE!

But wait. That guy at the next table, he was one of the people evacuated from the Superdome. People there would have done just about anything for a cup of soggy fries last week. Well, I guess I won’t fill out that comment card and try to get that no-good cashier fired. It’s no big deal, really. I guess.

But here’s another thing, those ants that I wrote about last week, they’ve gotten more aggressive. Despite an aggressive campaign of spraying deadly chemicals around the house, taunting the ants at every turn, and leaving stacks of anti-ant literature around the home, the insects are still under the misapprehension that they are welcome in our home. Last Saturday they even defiled A PERFECTLY FRESH PILE OF CLEAN LAUNDRY! CAN YOU IMAGINE SUCH A THING? YOU DO A LOAD OF LAUNDRY, PUT IT IN A BASKET, LEAVE TO DO SOME SHOPPING, THEN RETURN TO FIND THEM COVERED IN ANTS! MY SKIN CRAWLS AT THE VERY THOUGHT OF IT!

But, well, that guy you interviewed today has no home at all. He slept on the streets and has insect bites all over him from the exposure. OK, I’ll shut up.

But it’s not easy. Whining is second nature to me, and probably to you, too. Also, there is comfort in the petty and mundane. Last spring, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill prohibiting sexy cheerleading. (Take comfort, sexy cheerleaders; the bill was killed in the Senate.) When I heard news of the bill, I took courage. Clearly, the state had figured out how to fix their school finance problem, pay for mass transportation, and deal with a growing water shortage. How else could they find time to debate the merits of sexy cheerleading?

It turns out they didn’t fix all those other things, but I’m going to gloss over that because it ruins my point.

When we whine about our jobs, or our homes, or our expanding waistlines, it silently points out the fact that we actually do have jobs, and homes, and enough food to expand a waistline.

So we must dare to whine again soon if we are to recover from the tragedy that has us in its grips. We must elevate pet peeves to a level of national importance. We must find the juvenile, the impertinent, and the daffy, then magnify it.

Unless we do, the terrorists have already won.

Oh wait wrong tragedy…

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