Symbolical Grotesque in Local Current Events

Dylan Cashman

In this piece I looked at what Landow calls "an apparently insignificant event" and attempt to transform it into "a grotesque emblem." I often find that I glaze over horrific events when reading the paper, so I wanted to take a story that occurred close to my home and portray it as a grotesque symbol that I could relate to more. I found this story from the website for my local newspaper, The Journal News.

Man, 26, killed on the Sprain

By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy and Terence Corcoran, The Journal News March 31, 2008

Haxhaj's vehicle was found past the guard rail off of the Sprain Brook Parkway early this morning GREENBURGH - A 26-year-old Lake Peekskill man died yesterday morning after his car flipped over a guardrail and rolled down an embankment off the Sprain Brook Parkway, state police said.

The 9:40 a.m. crash happened about a half-mile south of the Route 100C exit in Greenburgh in the southbound lanes, police said.

Shkemo Haxhaj was driving a burgundy BMW at a high rate of speed, said Trooper Shronda M. Griffith of the state police.

Haxhaj's 18-year-old brother, Durim, was in the passenger seat. He was unhurt, Griffith said.

The police were alerted to the accident by passing drivers, and the southbound lanes were temporarily shut down.

Raymond Kelly, a resident of the town of Poughkeepsie, was heading south on the Sprain with his wife and two children when Haxhaj apparently passed him by.

"My wife saw them, I didn't see them, then I saw all the traffic started slowing and I saw some debris in the road," Kelly said last night. "I didn't know what it was, but my wife said that a car went over the guardrail."

Kelly, 39, said he pulled over and ran down to the BMW. He said he could tell the driver, Haxhajm, was dead, but saw that the passenger was blinking his eyes.

"He was dazed and he looked like he was bleeding from the back of the head. I opened the back door, propped my hands under his head and held him up. We spoke and I asked him if he believed in God and we said a prayer. I kept trying to talk to him."

Kelly said a person he knew came by, so he had that person call Durim Haxhaj's sister for him and he waited until police arrived.

"I'm still kind of shocked," Kelly said last night. "I guess the lesson here is that you can't be in too much of a rush."

A spokeswoman for the Westchester County Medical Examiner's Office said Shkemo Haxhaj died of head and internal injuries.

No one answered the door yesterday evening at his home on Hanson Street in Lake Peekskill, a maroon house on a corner lot.

The following is my own dramatization of the story of the remaining brother, Durim:

Durim Haxhaj was not a fully-developed man, only beginning to appreciate the complexities and complications of adulthood at the callow age of 18, when he met God and Death in close proximity. Driving recklessly down the well-traversed, familiar highway, his brother Shkemo lost control of the car, and the two siblings found themselves lofting over the guardrail. In the infinitely-spaced moment before impact, they must have scrambled to make sense of their imminent future. Shkemo died upon impact. Durim did not.

As he awakened from the immediate shock of the jostling, he must have first imagined the magnitude of his luck at being alive. Was he alive? And in the mixed relief that comes with barely escaping death, he looked and saw. We can imagine how death of his brother must have knocked him out, hit him like a swift physical blow, like a parent discovering his infant had not survived birth, or a father who has lost his son to War, as if life has literally been stolen away. In shock he could not leave the scene to get help. A passerby rushed upon the scene, and spoke to Durim about God. A religious man, Durim must have questioned the personal relationship he believed in with God. The depth of this questioning could be infinite; a brother torn away from a brother, with no more warning than a suicide bombing in Karbala.

I also found this article from the same source, and found that it was a good example of a journalist flirting with the grotesque to accentuate the tragedy of the life of Dith Pran, a translator from Cambodia. I edited it down to those passages I felt were most important to understanding the grotesque of the article.

Cambodian 'Killing Fields' survivor Dith Pran dies

By RICHARD PYLE Associated Press Writer March 30, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose harrowing tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film "The Killing Fields," died Sunday, colleague Sydney Schanberg said.


The regime of Pol Pot, bent on turning Cambodia back into a strictly agrarian society, and his Communist zealots were blamed for the deaths of nearly 2 million of Cambodia's 7 million people.

"That was the phrase he used from the very first day, during our wondrous reunion in the refugee camp," Schanberg said later.

With thousands being executed simply for manifesting signs of intellect or Western influence — even wearing glasses or wristwatches Dith survived by masquerading as an uneducated peasant, toiling in the fields and subsisting on as little as a mouthful of rice a day, and whatever small animals he could catch.


Dith recalled in a 2003 article for the Times what it was like to watch U.S. planes attacking enemy targets.

"If you didn't think about the danger, it looked like a performance," he said. "It was beautiful, like fireworks. War is beautiful if you don't get killed. But because you know it's going to kill, it's no longer beautiful."

Yee recalled an incident early in Dith's new career as a photojournalist when, after working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, he was robbed at gunpoint of all his camera equipment at the back door of his apartment.


"He survived everything in Cambodia and he survived that too," she said, adding, "He never had to work the night shift again."

Dith spoke and wrote often about his wartime experience and remained an outspoken critic of the Khmer Rouge regime.

When Pol Pot died in 1998, Dith said he was saddened that the dictator was never held accountable for the genocide.

"The Jewish people's search for justice did not end with the death of Hitler and the Cambodian people's search for justice doesn't end with Pol Pot," he said. Dith's survivors include his companion, Bette Parslow; his former wife, Meoun Ser Dith; a sister, Samproeuth Dith Nop; sons Titony, Titonath and Titonel; daughter Hemkarey Dith Tan; six grandchildren including a boy named Sydney; and two step-grandchildren.

Dith's three brothers were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

[AP News Research Center contributed to this report.]

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