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sweeping up a life. March 13, 2009

Posted by Jordan in Books, Quotes.
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Excerpt from Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama – Chapter Thirteen, pages 249-251

 

“I’m telling you, man, the world is a place.”

“Say, the world is a place, huh.”

“That’s just what I’m saying.”

We were walking back to the car after dinner in Hyde Park, and Johnnie was in an expansive mood. He often got like this, especially after a good meal and wine. The first time I met him, when he was still working with a downtown civic group, he had started explaining the relationship between jazz and Eastern religion, then swerved into an analysis of black women’s behinds, before coming to a stop on the subject of Federal Reserve Bank policy. In such moments his eyes would grow wide; his voice would speed up; his round, bearded face would glow with a childlike wonder. That was part of the reason I’d hired Johnnie, I suppose, that curiosity of his, his appreciation of the absurd. He was a philosopher of the blues.

“I’ll give you an example,” Johnnie was saying to me now. “The other day, I’m headed for a meeting up in the State of Illinois Building. You know how it’s open in the middle, right . . . big atrium and all that. Well, the guy I’m supposed to be meeting with is late, so I’m just standing there looking down at the lobby from the twelfth floor, checking out the architecture, when all of a sudden this body flies past me. A suicide.”

“You didn’t tell me about that —”

“Yeah, well, shook me up pretty good. High up as I was, I could hear the body land like it was right there next to me. Terrible sound. Soon as it happened, these office workers rushed up to the guardrail to see what was going on. We’re all looking down, and sure enough the body’s lying there, all twisted and limp. People started screaming, covering their eyes. But the strange thing was, after people got through screaming, they’d go back to the railing to get a second look. Then they’d scream and cover their eyes all over again. Now why would they do that? Like, what do they expect the second time around? But see, folks are funny like that. We can’t help ourselves with that morbid shit. . . .

“Anyway, the cops come, they rope things off and take the body away. Then the building crew starts cleaning things up. Nothing special, you know — just a broom and a mop. Sweeping up a life. Whole thing’s cleaned up in maybe five minutes. Makes sense, I guess . . . I mean, it’s not like you need special equipment or suits or something. But it starts me thinking, How’s that gonna feel to be one of those janitors, mopping up somebody’s remains? Somebody’s got to do it, right? But how you gonna feel that night eating dinner?”

“Who was it that jumped?”

“That’s the other thing, Barack!” Johnnie took a drag from his cigarette and let the smoke roll from his mouth. “It was a young white girl, man, sixteen maybe, seventeen. One of these punk rock types, with blue hair and a ring through her nose. Afterward, I’m wondering what she was thinking about while she was riding up the elevator. I mean, folks musta been standing right next to her on the way up. Maybe they looked her over, decided she was a freak, and went back to thinking about their own business. You know, their promotion, or the Bulls game, or whatever. And the whole time this girl’s just standing there next to them with all that pain inside her. Got to be a lot of pain, doc, ’cause right before she jumps, you figure she looks down and knows that shit is gonna hurt.”

Johnnie stamped out his cigarette. “So that’s what I’m saying, Barack. Whole panorama of life out there. Crazy shit going on. You got to ask yourself, is this kinda stuff happening elsewhere? Is there any precedent for all this shit? You ever ask yourself that?”

“The world’s a place,” I repeated.

“See there! It’s serious, man.”

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