I have to tell you about Summer Burkes, an old friend and one of my favorite people on the planet. English majors, life coaches and screenwriters talk endlessly of “being an individual”, but hardly anyone in America is brave enough to actually do it. One glaring exception is Summer, who has now lived enough lives at the tender age of thirtysomething to fill several graphic novels.
In Chapel Hill, she was the “Summer” behind (in my opinion) Ben Folds Five’s best song “Where’s Summer B?” as well as being the inspiration for their biggest hit “Brick”, which played endlessly as she traveled the world, initially unaware of its existence. She moved to the Mission in San Francisco in the late ’90s and was, for a time, the Bay Guardian’s best writer. Then she toured the country with the performance-art-bike-showCyclecide, injuring herself so badly that she came to my wedding aided by a cane.
upstate NY, Aug ’03
Just as I thought she might disappear into a maelstrom of clowns, alcohol and ACLs, she suddenly moved to New Orleans right after Katrina hit. My love for the place is something I’ve droned on about many times, but spontaneously picking up and moving down there takes a bravery I no longer possess. And just as she threw herself into a place still reverberating with loss and devastation, she found herself at the epicenter of the worst manmade environmental disaster in history.
Only Summer would then gravitate even farther south, onto Grand Isle, Louisiana, the place where oil now saturates the coast, the sheets of viscous liquid now falling everywhere as black rain. And sure enough, she lands on the cover of USA Today, and again on the Boston Globe’s “Big Picture” site shown at the top of this entry.
One of the many curses of the 24-hour cable news cycle is the inability of any journalist to keep the public focused on anything for long, and until the next horrifying event in the Gulf, a jaded electorate’s eyes are starting to glass over. But if you believe some scientists, that event is nigh; we might be en route to a methane-triggered tsunami that could destroy the entire Gulf Coast, that the sea floor is irreparably damaged and needs a nuke to stop the collapse, and that the oil will gush unabated for decades. There’s also plenty of people saying none of that will happen, but one truth remains obvious: it’s fucking historical devastation.
Having spent the post-9/11 months in a PTSD non-functional anxiety haze, I know first-hand the feeling of undeniable dread, and that’s the world Summer is living in right now. Currently her blog is a first-hand account of the descent into that dark place, and it is required reading. Since our last email, she has actually evacuated from her home and is heading west, mostly because the Corexit dispersant that BP is spraying all over southern Louisiana was making her staggeringly sick (she ain’t the only one).
Summer is many things: cranky, brazen, judgmental, but she’s also unbelievably intuitive, and the last ten years have not been lost on her. When the Man said there was no Gulf War Syndrome, he was LYING. When they said the air was safe at Ground Zero in Manhattan, they were LYING. And when they say Corexit is harmless, they are sterilizing your ovaries and FUCKING LYING. This is not tinfoil-hat looniness, it’s the math.
Either way, Summer remains the person I want on my side, apocalypse or no. I want my daughter to take ass-kicking lessons from her. I wish a clean wind at her back as she takes a much-needed break from the darkness currently bubbling endlessly from our nation’s underbelly.
found this last week on a roll of film taken in early 1999 – click for bigger