State of the Union, at the Library

January 2016

Since it was Obama’s last State of the Union address, I went to the downtown public library last night to watch it on the big screen with my fellow citizens. I live-tweeted the address by scribbling on a legal pad which I then jammed into my shoulder bag.

A cadaverous white man to my right has feet up on the seat in front of him and keeps muttering “You creep! You weren’t invited! No one wants you here!” Not sure who he is talking to.

When Obama comes in, the room claps heartily, and it’s fun to feel like we are there. Biden looks so proud of Obama.

It’s fun to see this just for Michelle’s yellow dress, Ruth Bader Ginsberg hugging Obama with her bird arms, Elena Kagen looking pretty when she smiles, and Sonia Sotomayor’s big dangling disc earrings.

The guy who was muttering about creeps sits up straight and takes his hat off when Obama appears on the screen. He seems ready to behave himself now.

Obama mentions the economic recovery and a beefy bearded white guy to my left says “Recovery? What recovery? Who recovered?” He sees me looking over at him and says “Did YOU recover??”

Obama says “…incredible things we can do together” and a man clutching a sleeping bag shouts “ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION!!!”

Titters in the room at Marco Rubio’s face. Not sure why, but I get it.

There are clapping types in the room, and non-clapping types. Possibly not an indication of actual relative affection for Obama.

Obama says “…longest stretch of job creation…” and someone behind me shouts “for THEM, not for US.”

People are floating in and out. The elderly, teenagers, homeless people. A lot of people seem to have luggage. The children’s librarian leans in the doorway, looking blonde and willowy as she gazes up at the screen — but this isn’t a very white crowd.

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden share some kind of moment as Obama says we can cut red tape.

Bernie Sanders appears on screen — whistles in the room!!

Huge applause line for the room: “Food-stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis.”

Comparing sputnik to climate change gets a chuckle from me and a couple of white guys who are that special brand of Seattle white collar, possibly may have just emerged from 3-day hike in the woods.

“Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley” — if only this were the sort of speech where Obama could really lift-off and take flight.

“Joe is in charge of Mission Control” — we can haz cancer cure?! Original muttering guy remains quiet and respectful.

Biggest laugh so far: the Joint Chiefs of Staff laboring stiffly to their feet as they simultaneously realize they’re going to have to stand up, even though they don’t feel like standing up.

Talking about terrorists now. “We have to take them out” gets a gospel-style “Oh yes” in the room.

Mad bearded white guy yells “Didn’t we CREATE Isis, Obama? We did!” I hate that he has a point.

Mad white guy says “Sorry you guys, sorry, sorry”

Everyone seems either bored or uncomfortable during this long middle east section. The person I’d identified as the heartiest clapper in the room has become involved with a package of goldfish crackers.

Still talking about ISIL, and mad white guys says “There’s a whole lot of coercion going on!” Slim regretful library employee pads up the aisle and gently asks him to be quiet.

Native American guy in safety orange wanders in and he and the mad white guy greet each other like old associates but don’t sit next to each other.

Mad white guy claps with great enthusiasm at the line about stopping Ebola in West Africa, as if to show that he’s cooperating now, and not just hate-watching, and also that stopping Ebola rules.

General coming and going continues. A skinny black kid in red track pants and gold chains saunters out as an old white guy in a giant sweatshirt and black watch cap wobbles in.

Obama’s talking about leadership and international order as another guy gets up and walks out, throwing a black-power fist in the air in case anyone’s watching.

Obama uses the Pope to bash Trump and says “We the people.” A black man with an afro shaped like a pompadour has laid his things out carefully on the table near where the children’s librarian leans. He is rearranging items from bag to bag, and because he’s right down in front of us, it feels like a performance.

In the room, a woman fans herself with a big gold Japanese fan. On the screen, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, looks small and gnomelike peering over Michele Obama’s shoulder.

Obama says something about people getting discouraged and thinking “the system is rigged” and the man directly behind me, who had been quiet the whole time, leaned forward and said calmly in a deep bass voice, “IT IS.”

The room comes back to life a bit and gives a big hearty clap for “Each of us is only here because somebody somewhere stood up for us.”

Obama wraps up by talking a lot about good and decency, but his optimistic words are falling flat in this crowd. Maybe it’s just more of a stump speech and he’ll be more inspiring again under different circumstances. Or maybe it’s just hard to be sanguine about things working out just fine when you’re in a crowd with a large homeless component.

A parting note near the end, something to hold on to, something we can really feel good about as we head back out to our bus stops in the rain: Edith Childs’ glittering and substantial hat.

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