The sinkhole that destroyed the town where Mike Schaff was set to retire comes to symbolize the way that environmental devastation swallows up people’s communities, livelihoods, and memories. Schaff was excited to retire in Bayou Corne because it would finally let him live on the water, like he did in his childhood, among a tight-knit community of neighbors, but the sinkhole ruins his dreams. The sinkhole—caused by irresponsible oil drilling—made his new home so dangerous to live in that he worried that striking a match would cause an explosion, his wife leaves town, and his grandchildren cannot visit. The sinkhole destroyed many of his neighbors’ homes, as well, and led them to disperse throughout the region, scattering Schaff’s newfound community. And Texas Brine, the oil company responsible for the sinkhole, was incredibly slow to compensate the disaster victims, while the state did nothing to help them relocate. Schaff stays in his new home out of a sense of nostalgia for the ideal community he had briefly found, but oil companies and the state intentionally bury the memory of a similar sinkhole accident at nearby Lake Peigneur by producing a film that shifted the blame and marketing the site as a tourist attraction. Like many of Hochschild’s “strangers,” Schaff holds onto his memories of the place he lost, despite the structural amnesia imposed by the alliance between Jindal’s state and big oil.
The Bayou Corne Sinkhole Quotes in Strangers in Their Own Land
“We need Mikes.” Don't be a Cowboy in enduring pollution, he seemed to say. Be a Cowboy fighting it.
The “federal government” filled a mental space in Mike's mind—and the minds of all those on the right I came to know—associated with a financial sinkhole.