Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Saturday, January 01, 2005
Never before have I watched Irwin Allen’s star-filled 1974 disaster epic Towering Inferno until this New Year’s Day on the horrible commercial-filled remnants of the AMC channel.

The campy 70’s schmaltz and entertainingly gruesome dead star hunting can only carry a tedious plot and phoned-in acting so far in this future world of 2005; I tuned out after Robert Wagner burst into flame as still scores of artificial fiber-clad golden age Hollywood glistened and emoted in the smoky gel light.
I can’t imagine I’m the first to note the spooky September 11th visual parallels in this film, however, a rather ordinary event I witnessed yesterday forces my mind to a more original if disheartening post tsunami idea.
Is our beloved but purposely corporate spoiled America the helplessly oblivious party on the 135th floor?
Yesterday, as snow melted in a 60-degree warm wave, I, finally, made a visit to the gym and performed a few errands.
The few local businesses I visited, veritable ghost towns since the Wednesday before Christmas, were swamped with cash-flush thawed customers.
Even within the gray foggy gloom of yesterday’s melt, shopkeepers were smiling, as were customers, that is, until I joined hundreds of others inundating an almost terminally crowded large local grocery.
Escaping the endlessly circling ranks of cars fruitlessly hunting convenient parking and my niggling doubts over the necessity of this particular grocery visit, I parked in a remote corner of the far-flung parking lot and entered the ranks of frustrated white upper middle class Protestant Christianity hunting bread and milk.
The store was a sight to behold.
Endless twisting lines at all of the 16+ check-outs and aisles jammed with carts and older ladies sporting rabbit collars, bubble hair and tag-along pissed-off husbands and/or elderly parents, for a moment, made me grateful there were just a few young mommies propelling those ungainly and huge child-friendly carts resembling trucks or airplanes.
The psychic tension was palpable and the socially maintained pretend Christianity was wearing dangerously thin.
Three, no four times I was nearly run over and I simply lost count of the times my cart was banged aside and my position in front of Product X usurped.
Several muttered, “My parents are with me,” as, I guess, righteous self-justification; after all, a lone single male shopper couldn’t really need that much food.
Once I had collected my items, I found the end of one particular twisty checkout line and took my place.
Here, so close to the exits and freedom, the high tension escalated.
A surprising number, spouting a perfunctory “Excuse me”, if anything, pushed through the lines as if in search of a fast-moving Express.
A half-hearted examination, to even a half-witted observer, would have revealed that the Express lane, too, was packed with folks having more than 12 items.
Near my line two women, a mother and overweight daughter in a store-acquired cart vehicle, panted heavily, tried to look pitiful and bitched at each other through clenched teeth instead of just simply getting into a line.
With bulging panic-stricken eyes and fat heavily jeweled fingers, the ladies’ small carts brimmed with frozen fruit pies, artificial dessert topping and other sweet/salty snacks.
This twosome wasn’t on a vital hunt for necessities and appeared to want a Deus ex Machina escape with their non-vital goodies.
The fellow immediately behind myself in line was, happily, sane and we chatted about the absurd panic and anger emanating from the packed and well-to-do representatives of local humanity.
The checkout line, while seemingly slow-moving at first, picked up speed and, thanks to one of my favorite checkers (the union rabble-rouser), I quickly exited the New Year’s Eve grocery hell.
The experience bothered me.
I kept thinking about the millions suffering through the unspeakable privations from the tsunami’s aftermath contrasted with the spoiled insensitivity witnessed from slight overcrowded disruptions at the grocery.
If a horror akin to the tsunami happened here would we survivors join in kinship or dissolve into covetous squabbles?
I sincerely hope we could join in harmony but I just don’t know for sure.
Thirty-one years later are we all just so many William Holden, Jennifer Jones, and Fred Astaire types dancing in the warming darkness of the Towering Inferno’s 153rd floor?

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