Not the Messiah
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Not the Messiah

Like millions around the world, I was a tad disappointed on Inauguration Day. It was that downbeat speech, the man's refusal to assume the mantle of Messiah, or even flat-out promise me a better world. I had anticipated the announcement of a new era or at least a fiery dawn. I had expected a Google-Earth zoom out to global truths.

I watched the speech at a breakfast party with 15 hyper-educated friends. You might have laughed to see us stand during the oath. You might have laughed to hear us say, with wonder, " I never felt this way before in my life." But me, I was worried from the moment I saw the man walk into the sun. He looked troubled and distant and unwilling to redefine my life. I mean, he had the ear of the entire world and could have said… Well, I and my hyper-educated friends departed a teensy bit subdued.

A half hour later, I was in line at Trader Joe's, where a pony-tailed boy-man worked the register. He'd missed the speech, and eagerly asked me to describe it. I had to look into all that youthful, wide-eyed hope and explain that the speech had not been a global shout, and not the kickoff to, like, an epoch. As he scanned my carrot juice, I watched the boy-man's face sag, and become a moment older. " Don't worry," I said, " it was a magnificent event."

All day I watched grand images on TV, but by 10 pm I needed the support of a crowd, and I drove out to a party at a club called Fais Do Do on West Adams, a small joint with walls painted a distressed blood red. There I spotted my friend Roni who said, yes, " I've never felt like this before in my life." Onstage were King Cotton and his Ruff-Stock Outfit. King Cotton is a big, over-sixty guy with white hair who rasps out a loud, fast, hard-drinking, funky cowboy blues. He wore a giant silver crucifix over an American flag shirt. By 11:30, he'd brought out three pretty women dressed one in red, one in white, and one in blue, who he called " The Obama Mamas."

On the last song, the King took off his flag shirt to reveal an Obama tank top over a barrel chest. It was, you know, that stern Obama portrait, the multicolored messianic one, with the legend reading, " Rise like a lion." The singer's giant crucifix swung around our new president's face.

At length, King Cotton grabbed the mic and said, " I do think he's a kind of messiah, I really do. Don't you all feel excited? I feel it in my bones… I really believe he's gonna turn the whole world. I think he's gonna bring us all together, like it 'posed to be, you know, like it 'posed to be."

The blues singer seemed ready to abandon the blues: the warning and the longing, the pain and the promise of waiting.

And finally, I understood why the man had made that sober speech just the way he had made it. I even appreciated the speech. In fact, if the music hadn't been so loud, I would have stood up and said, " Hey, didn't you hear him this morning? He made it clear he's not the Messiah, not the Messiah at all."

At midnight the Urban Man walked out to his car and drove back up West Adams past shuttered laundromats and check-cashing joints and beat liquor stores. I thought of the houses stretching out behind those storefronts, and of all the people in all those houses dreaming of " how it 'posed to be."

Copyright ©2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.

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