Of course I went to Washington this weekend. So did millions of other Americans who descended like flies onto the Mall and areas surrounding the Lincoln Memorial. Years from now, if anyone asks me where I was at the start of the 2009 Australian Open, I can honestly say that I was watching what $150. million misspent dollars looks like. Because honestly, I think it’s all an unseemly and distasteful waste.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am as proud of Barack Obama as the next person. Perhaps even more so. And I am all for us having a national party to celebrate our tremendous achievement. Because really, this is not about Barack Obama but about us, and about how far we have come even if we still have even further to go. Mr. Obama is merely a symbol of our hope and trust and desire for change. We the people have invested that in him, having had our collective hearts broken many times over during the past eight years. We are hungry for the healing. Barack is the new boyfriend who will wipe our tears away and persuade us to believe in love and truth and the fundamental goodness of people again.
And when he was busy spending a gazillion dollars to romance us, I did not mind, because the money had been donated to him by his many lovers and it was his to do with as he wished. But once elected, any money that he spends is now mine. And I would have liked to see that his first message to America, his diverse harem of many hues, was that this is a time to conserve.
Of course many economists will disagree with me and argue correctly that it is in part our current desire to be thrifty that has contributed to us remaining in this economic stalemate. Americans have been refusing to spend. Credit markets have remained frozen because banks no longer trust us with our money. Glaciers of bad debt will continue to float under the surface for years to come. So perhaps this is Mr. Obama’s way of kick starting the economy -- by throwing himself a grand fete.
And yes I am glad that I was in the thick of it. I forgot my camera home so I can’t show you pictures of the millions of us shouting and jumping and laughing in front of the Lincoln Memorial as creaky old Pete Seeger called out the lines to “This Land is My Land”, encouraging us to sing along. It was a sweet touching moment, as he continued to call and we proceeded to answer, all of us giddy with love and hope.
I turned to a friend of mine and asked her if the singers and other presenters had donated their services. She didn’t know. But in this crowd of friendly happy people, another woman overheard my question and replied that no, they had all been paid, and that she had heard that Queen Beyonce was the most expensive of all. No she did not call her a Queen; that’s just my irritation piercing through. I can barely contain it.
Because you see, Barack Obama has decided to re-position Martin Luther King’s holiday and make it a day of service. I am down with that. I think it’s a terrific idea. I never understood why Sarah Palin thought she could help McCain win an election by making sneering comments about community organizers. What a stupid woman and what a low moment in her repeated demonstrations of her stupidity. I am all for infusing a spirit of community into how we live our lives. I went to a new Church a few weeks ago and when it came time to give each other the sign of peace, all these strangers around me had no choice but to shake my hand. But I felt no more a part of that Church after the experience. I was still an outsider, a newcomer who did not know a single person there. Yes, I am all for us trying to find new ways to break down barriers and get truly connected with each other.
And what better way for Mr. Obama to have sent that message than to persuade all of these highfalutin’ stars that donating their time and talent to his inaugural events would send the message to America that even they too were willing to serve for the greater cause. Sure the resulting show may have been a giant, choppy, disorganized mess. Half of the performers may not even have shown up, Queen Beyonce included. I would have lived with the resulting mess. And when it eventually came out publicly who had elected not to participate because of not being paid, I would have had a better idea of whose CDs I would be buying in the future or whose movies I would be supporting.
So after the stranger in the crowd -- my new best friend, it was that kind of weekend -- told me that she had heard that all of the performers had been paid, my mood soured. For this I missed the opening rounds of the Australian Open? For this I missed seeing my sweetheart Fabrice Santoro spank the ass off Juan Carlos Ferrero? For this I missed seeing Drama Queen, healthy as a fricking horse, flogging the crap out of some unknown Austrian? For this I missed an apparently epic struggle between Gilles Muller and Feliciano Lopez, with Muller finally prevailing 16-14 in the fifth set? That’s a match I would have liked to see.
Instead I was busy jumping and waving with the best of them as Bono dared to call for the recognition of both Israel and Palestine as independent nation states, Bono as always choosing the wrong moment to make the right statement. I was busy dancing along as Usher and Stevie Wonder sang the hell out of one of Stevie’s classics. I got frightened for a moment as Stevie sprang up and started dancing too. It always scares me when Stevie does things that few blind people dare to do.
I am sure that some of the performers probably needed help making it to Washington. I’m certain that some needed help paying their hotel bills and affording food. But Queen Beyonce is not one of them. The woman is rich as dirt. And I almost wish I had not known that she had been compensated. I was already somewhat irritated with her that she had announced gloatingly that she was going to be singing the first song at the inaugural ball. Her proclivity for egomaniacal self-promotion borders on the disgusting. But to find out that she got paid on top of all that is just too much. The whole thing left such a sour taste in my mouth that when she closed the show with an admittedly beautiful rendition of “My Country 'Tis of Thee”, I found myself thinking that it was too bad that Whitney Houston became a crackhead because really, this should have been her moment.
I am however pleased to hear that Mr. Obama will be keeping his Blackberry and his website. I need to log on and send him a message reminding him of what community service is supposed to look like because apparently he's already forgotten. It is the very opposite of messianic self-indulgence. It is the antithesis of wasteful spending of my hard-earned dollars. It is anathema to hanging out with overpaid jack-and-jill-asses trying to become part of the new in crowd. Apparently I need to remind him of that.