After a couple of weeks of some serious Schlagbytes, I thought this week’s would be a happy reprieve. We were vacationing on the lovely island of Catalina, twenty miles off the Southern California coast; it is America’s only equivalent to a Mediterranean island. The little town of Avalon, Catalina’s main harbor and capital, restricts automobiles, so people walk everywhere or ride around in golf carts. We explored, sailed around the island, fished, hiked, and ate well.
One afternoon we were guests at the world-famous Tuna Club. The Club, arguably the most famous deep-sea fisherman’s exclusive paradise on earth, is a bastion of privilege and male supremacy. When Avalon elected its first female mayor, she addressed the club, but only after she was escorted in through the back door. A guest told my wife that there were sleeping rooms upstairs, and added with a wink, that no wife was allowed up there.
I loved the ambience, which my wife, of course, viewed as additional evidence of my inherent male piggishness. The trophy room cabinets were filled with old rods and reels. I sat in an old fishing chair and looked at the huge, mounted marlin, swordfish, sailfish, and tuna. There were trophies of every description, and lots of testimonials and photographs. You didn’t have to guess the politics of this place. When I went to the men’s room, mounted between two urinals was a letter from President Bill Clinton honoring the club on their 100 anniversary (Clinton may be the only leader in the world so honored).
Photographs of Presidents, Prime Ministers, Generals, foreign royalty, captains of industry, and Hollywood stars, were in abundance. You had to be blind not to notice that there wasn’t a single black face. This awareness would have undoubtedly dissipated, if not for the fact that the day after we returned, we watched the destruction of the city of New Orleans. In the hundreds of images of those thousands of survivors, I didn’t see a single white face. Where were they?
The people who didn’t get out, lived in the lowest parts of the city. New Orleans is below sea level, and the poverty escalates the deeper below sea level you get. The Ninth Ward is the lowest point in the city, and it is almost entirely black and poor. The citizenry in the higher elevations, those with cars, access to information and escape routes, got out. Does this breed resentment? You bet it does, and when you’re at the bottom of the pond you’ll do almost anything to survive, some will steal, a few may kill.
We are all horrified at the looting, rape, murder and mayhem; we are dismayed that many policemen resigned from the force, rather than face the angry mobs. Where was the Louisiana National Guard which was created for this purpose? Most of them are in Iraq, told they are fighting for freedom which includes saving oil supplies and stabilizing the market. Many of those guardsmen are Black Americans. Where do you suppose they’d rather be fighting for freedom and democracy? The escalating disparity between the haves and have-nots is escalating in this nation, and people are resentful and angry.
When I looked at the photographs, and saw the desperation in the survivors, I felt ashamed of my privilege. Sitting in Zane Gray’s chair, sipping bourbon, and imagining what it would be like to land a 1000-lb. fish, didn’t feel as good when I knew that no black man from the Ninth Ward will likely be sitting there.