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Forever Amber

     Amber is not indifferent.  She’s just numb.  Listen to her convention commentary in her own voice.

     People ask me continually about the radio talk show legend, the ferociously articulate caller who tangled on the air with the best (including Gore Vidal, Camille Paglia, William Safire, William F. Buckley and Harold Bloom) and bested them all. “How’s Amber?” people want to know.  “What is she thinking? Are you in touch?” 

     Well, we are ever in touch, and she is ever her indomitable, industrious, provocative self. 

     This summer she is reading Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad, “the ultimate tale of war and consequences,” and scheming to hand the book directly to Donald Rumsfeld.  

     She is appalled by the machine guns in the hands of the SWAT teams on the Boston transit system during convention week.  “I’m scared stiff,” she says.  For want of identity papers, she says, “I feel like a criminal,” though her only crime is to have been orphaned in Boston 20 years ago, at the age of 11.   So she does not advertise herself, but she could be the smallish brown-skinned beauty sitting next to you, with a backpack, on the subway. 

     Amber typifies for me a sort of uninvited guest at the American feast.  She is the “other” in our midst.  She studies this country with an unrequited fascination.

     This summer, however, she is part of the core audience for politics that has tuned out our hometown Democratic convention. 

     She is furious that the Democrats assembled in Boston this week never mention their grand-daddy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

     Months ago Amber told me she hoped the Democrats didn’t win the 2004 election, because they shouldn’t have to clean up George Bush’s mess.  Four more years at this rate, I said, and the country could be unrecognizable.  She said: “Chris, it is unrecognizable.” 

     Amber is unreconciled to the “coup d’etat” of 2000 and the government that cheapened civil liberties and “took us into a war.. that John Kerry voted for.”   

     In a Caribbean grade-school Amber feasted on American heroes like Patrick Henry and slogans like “Give me liberty or give me death!”

     “I’m one of those strange creatures who came to this country from somewhere else, who still believes in those American ideals and who couldn’t believe the U.N. and Jimmy Carter weren’t flying into Florida [in 2000] and declaring this an invalid election–’cause I certainly would have wanted the United States to be calling an election like that in my country invalid.  You think of me as a negative–I think of me as a positive person.  I positively and passionately and with every fiber of my being believe in this country and what it stands for–and I haven’t seen that for years now.”

     But that’s not quite true either.  She says she has fallen in love this summer with New York City–the brilliant shower of accents, colors, voices.  It’s a $10 trip on the Chinatown bus.  And she has wept for the scar of 9.11.  “What scares me,” she says, “is that we’re creating a hundred more 9.11s.  That’s what keeps me awake every night.”

     Amber speaks for herself here.  She may even speak for you.

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