Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Just saw the woman who gave me the worst news I've ever received in my life. Pushing her grocery cart through the store. I passed by her once and swung back around to look at her again. She looked so familiar and yet I couldn't quite place her. She passed me in the baby food aisle then turned her cart around maneuvering it between me and an elderly gentleman who was contemplating the cereal. Looking at a jar of Pumpkin pie puree, it came to me. We passed each other in the frozen food section. And again in dairy, in produce, in cheese, in meat and in bread. And each time my stomach turned over and my knees felt weak. I couldn't stop looking at her face.

Because what never occurred to me before is this: what it must be like for you. To deliver such news over and over again. To say those words so many times, so many times that you'd never remember all the faces of the people you'd delivered it to. Words so devastating that if any of its receivers passed you in the grocery store and remembered you, they'd pretend you didn't exist. Would wish you did not. What conversation is to be made?

Oh, it's you. Remember when you...made that little call...quite a time wasn't it?

What must it be like to be you? You whose job it was to bring the news, to make the call, to hear the sobs on the other end of the line, to say the I'm sorrys, the no one likes to hear such newses. You who've said the same words so many times that I could hardly think you'd still mean it - the I'm sorry. The calm voice cool with professional distance and sincerity tinged with the absolute impossibility of the outcome of your news being anything other than what it was. The sentence irrevocable. It was you who said the words, so powerful - no incantation could be stronger, more life altering. So powerful, that even now, 7 years after, the sight of you makes the blood automatically drain from my body and I feel like collapsing on the floor. Over and over. Baby food, frozen food, dairy, produce, cheese, meat, bread.

Checkout. Checkout. Checkout.

This falling down inside as I remember that moment on the phone. And the realization that it is only that very moment that I share in common with the person who heard those words as they exited your mouth. That the person who heard those words was washed away by them never to surface again. Such are the effects of time travel.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

Was it ever. A calamitous, completely avoidable environmental disaster of biblical proportions perpetrated by Washington and executed by scoundrels and idealists alike. Steinbeck does not even come close to conveying the horror of the dustbowl. This is page after page of misery and ever-deepening despair. You have to admire those who stuck it out. Egan's prose is a bit boiler-plate, but he gets the story and does a fine job of connecting how politically driven it was. Want to see the origins of our environmental and farm policies? They start here.