Shortly after I arrived at work this morning, word was posted to the newsires about Ken Lay's death. There was just the headline around 10:10 and someone announced it, and because of where I work, everyone was intrigued and wanted to know more. Before a cause of death had been posted, people were predicting suicide and others, heart failure. Around 10:30, more details were posted, citing a heart attack as the cause of death.
I didn't believe it, and it looks as if The New York Times also started to have doubts. By early afternoon, their posted story no longer listed a heart attack as the cause of death. Instead, it stated that the family had no comment at this time. Even if it was a heart attack, I bet that it was induced somehow.
That this happened on the day after the 4th of July, probably late in the evening after Lay had watched fireworks, seems too coincidental. Were it a plot device in a fiction, I would roll my eyes at the contrived nature of it, the hamfistedness of the author. Lay's meteoric rise to riches from the poverty of being the son of a small town preacher and his crashing descent and subsequent disgrace is a typical American mythology, perhaps the American mythology. Well, the mythology part is more typically stated as this ability to rise from nothing, to pull yourself up from your boot straps, but in literature and film, more often than not, there is that crushing fall that comes with the pursuit of riches. And I imagine that Lay, awaiting sentencing and knowing he was going to be in jail for life, decided to end things before that could happen.
And his story and what it symbolizes consumed much of my thought this afternoon. And I do feel sadness for him and for his family, that things got so out of hand, that he had to suffer this, but then I think of how many other people had to suffer because of him, of how many people lost all their retirement savings, of how many people were fucked by his deeds, and then, I feel a little less sad for him, but sad the same, perhaps even more sad because of how it seemed as if the fictions might be right, that the pursuit of riches has dire consequences, that the book will always have a sad denouement, characters in that last scene as the lights go down on the stage either broken and poor, dead in a pool, or buried in the ground with few people even showing up for their funeral.
Last night, I watched fireworks from a rooftop in Bushwick and thought of none of this, the effects of beer, bad hip hop, and the noise of dogs and firecrackers drowning out everything but a pleasant buzz and an awe at the work that must go into making fireworks explode in that color, in that shape, the skill required to make something that appeals to something so base in us. And base, not necessarily meant in a demeaning sense, but base in the sense that child, adult, everyone says Wow, and looks wide-eyed at this, happy at bright colors and flashes of light, the flash and then the boom. Lightening, thunder. Vision, sound. We like to see explosions, things whipped, suffering, and chaos. The spectacle of Lay on trial, and the attention we accord to the details of his death, more of this. Our love of shaming things together; Prynne with her scarlet A, and Lay as all that is wrong with Corporate America. This is one of those strings I was mentioning, one of many, and I find it all so fascinating, tell myself that I want to parse out what it means for you and I, what the message is, and more so, what it means for America - I tell myself this, but as was made evident last night, I do like to watch explosions and things flame out (as you do also) and so my interest may be not be as academic as I would like to believe.