Thursday, July 30, 2009

Heel America (part one)

Alaska "governor" Sarah Palin has resigned. William "Wrong Way" Kristol had praised her last year as a vice presidential pick for John McCain precisely because she represented both "energy" and "Real America." This latter theme is something that Mrs. Palin was eager to promote. She was consistent in telling all who followed her that she was "real" in a way that other candidates for office were not.

Now, there are all sorts of questions that arise from this.

One is George Chapman's statement from 1612, "Ignorance is the mother of admiration." The more we know about anyone, the less we admire that person, and Sarah Palin was completely unknown -- a set of cheekbones onto which we could paint the cosmetics of our own political desires. All of us who had been snubbed by the junior high school Pom-Pom, either for a date or friendship, could project our nastiness, and all of us who wished still to cuddle up to that same bundle of confetti on a string could do so again. Was that all that Palin was? Was she just Dan Quayle in drag?

I think, instead, of something Swift said in one of his sermons: "The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable; for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit." Sarah Palin was a happy woman, a "pitbull in lipstick" and a "hockey mom" and a "small town mayor," and, most of all, a success story from real America.

Long before I moved (back) to "real America," I knew what it was. Long before I moved to a very small micro-town, I knew what it meant. I knew what it was to survive and thrive in one. It is not quite the same thing as surviving and thriving in high school, although my suburban high school in a major city had more students in it than my current "city" does citizens, but it means that rules and conditions that apply nationally are simply in abeyance, and, in their place, a different set of expectations and demands function. These are not, Republican rhetoric designed to pander to its only voters notwithstanding, better or more "real" than other expectations and demands, and they are certainly not more sincere. They have only one claim to greater "reality," and that is a greater realpolitik to them, a thinner margin between personal greed and political gain.

The "real America" or "real American town" is always in economic crisis. Whether there is a recession or not, but more when there is, it has trouble with unemployment. Its "underclass" is not abstract, not dislocated, not in a vague "other" place. The unemployed and underclass are visible every day, wandering through town, and the Section Eight housing is a major feature of city architecture. The town usually worries about "the plant." It may be "the textile mill" or "the bag plant" or "the control" maker, but there is a single monocultural employer that will dominate and overshadow the town's economy. Similarly, a single merchant will overshadow the retail opportunities for the town (usually Wal*Mart).

Towspeople will not congregate at "the mall," and "mall culture" and such talk as that is as foreign to them as talk of sushi bars. Instead, whether it's Bill's Dollar Store or K-Mart or Rite Aid or Wal*Mart, there is a single general store that will expand to take in most of the retail activity of the town, and it will have virtual monopoly power. Grocery stores will be scarce. Usually, there will be two. One will be general, and the other will be low cost, with a featured section for immigrant cuisine (brands known south of the U.S. border, with packaging written in Spanish). There will almost inevitably be a crisis of empty store fronts. If the empty store fronts are not the vacated downtown, they will be the evacuated Wal*Mart, and they will prove impossible to rent, long term. Agriculture will take place around the town, and so the city's population will never reflect the actual economic residents. Fast food restaurants will proliferate, with perhaps two or three older restaurants barely surviving on slim margins. The population will flange out, with old and young, but little in between. Children and elderly will outnumber mid-life adults, and so there will be a constant tax crisis for schools and social services and therefore a constant need for state and federal assistance in these places where state and federal agencies can least find the population. There will be community colleges and technical schools, but universities and four-year institutions will constitute "going away" and going into debt, and therefore they can only exist as online degrees or for the children of the upper class. As a result, the independent businesses that really boom are loan and medical supply businesses.

The disparity between upper and lower classes is personal, not abstract. It is encoded in families, in names, in street and place marks, and in attitudes. "Fallen" families do not get respected the way that Emily Grierson did, at least not since the 1960's. Rising families do not have to endow public works and make the Snopes municipal building, or the Tweed City Hall. Instead, the signifiers are more dynamic, as the fortunes are, and more affected.

Open the door to the homes of the real America, and you will find satellite televisions and Internet connections, and these are, in my estimation, the only actual changes and erosions in what had been a petrified forest of certitude and cultural ideolect. Inside, you will see the women decorating in Martha Stewart's imagineered New England style, or Paula Deen's reclaimed South, or a neo-native Southwestern, or a clumsily distilled and purified northern immigrant cute, but it will be as expensive as anything could be, and it will be practiced as a debutante's bow or a best man's toast.

Go out the back door, and you will find the disturbed soil of acres of all-terrain vehicle tracks or vainglorious gardening. The men will have thrown themselves outward in a jovial, lite-beer, back strain and hoed or roto-tilled or chain sawed or fenced or shot, and land will be desired or damned for its recalcitrance or promise.

This is the town, the village, the dimple.

When you who live in cities look at a map of your state, or when you who live in other nations look at the United States, you will focus on the centers and then see shaded areas inside the lines, as if cartographers had too much color and too little data. Within that big box of "state," you will know of things -- Chicago, Raleigh, Kansas City, Mobile -- and then you will, if you are bothered enough, notice all of these freckles on the surface of the plain. They have unimaginative or improbably hallucinatory names, and they do not appear at regular intervals. No one lives there. For all the evidence you have, sitting in an apartment or flat, these are mere accidents of penmanship at the map companies. When the elections occur, you hear about them, and you hear that all of these divots on the surface of the nation have only one opinion, one mood, one thought, and that is resentment toward the people who ignore them.

Well, I'm here, here in "Real America," as Sarah Palin puts it. I will take two more posts to talk about it, to be your spy, to report on it as a fact and artifact, and I'd like to tell you why, of all the things the world may or may not need, a politician from Real America is the one thing we need least.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stray Marks

Reader, I have spared you many images. It isn't the subject of my post today that I need to protect you from, but the environment that it prefers.
For now, let's say that's rice.

"This man is fortunate who can get for himself
praise and good will;
very difficult it is when a man lays claim
to what is in another's heart." -- "Sayings of the High One" 8, Poetic Edda
Now that Summer is icummen in, we are plagued with stray animals. The problem with the strays can be laid upon our municipal authorities, upon our culture, upon the animals themselves, and upon our selves.

Oh, I know how it is. Every child wants a young one. Who isn't broken-hearted when he sees a little pupae wriggling in decomposing flesh? The kids all demand that the parents adopt, and all the little pupae are cute, their cute spots on their trunks as they squirm through a wound or the corpse of an opossum on the side of the road. However, adopting a maggot is serious business.

Soon, that cute little larva "dies," and then the children lose interest. If only it were true. Instead, Wiggy, your pet maggot, has just gone into metamorphose, and it will come out a fly, a fly that you do not want to feed and train. Just thirty-six hours after emerging, the no-longer-cute pets are breeding. This is why we have such strays clouding the skies.

It is important to spay or neuter your housefly as soon as it emerges from its chrysalis, if you want to control the population.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


My long time readers, who were pleased to hear, in my last post, that I live, will be even more pleased to read that I have at long last settled the important issue of how to die.

You will all, of course, know that the injustice of funerary architecture these machine-made days is an evil that afflicts all of us, from paupers to titans of industry and decidering. After all, everyone gets at least a little concerned about how one will be remembered. For me, the question has been what sort of outward mark one makes. Oh, there is the mound of earth one displaces when freshly interred, but, once that swelling does down, what mark on the landscape is left? Once, the pauper hated poverty for fear of the potter's field, as dying without a proper grave was somehow sinful to the living and the society. On the other hand, rich folks planned ahead, and some of them really planned ahead. That has always been the key. If you want people to remember you, you need to plan ahead.

What can I do, though?

I'm in my 40's, and I'm poor. I have not purchased a plot, although I'm told there is "room" for me in places in various pieces of ground in the sandy soil soon to be covered by ocean, thanks to SUV's and bovine gastritis. Besides, the reason most everyone has only a slab with birth, death, and "a nice person" for a memorial is that no one has the time to plan, even if a person has the inclination and the mental capacity to dwell on the great null point. (Try thinking about unbeing. No, really. Don't try to think about heaven or floating as a ghost or sleeping. Try thinking like your body, as just not. Can't do it, can you? I believe in the afterlife, but even there, it's kind of complicated with particular and general judgment. Now, keep thinking about it for a long enough time to do something about it. That's fortitude.)

Well, it has taken me all of these decades to finally realize that the industrialized, inhuman, inhumane, world we live in is my ally, not my enemy, in being memorialized. I cannot find the news release now, as it was really just one of those headline grabbing alarms from two years ago or so, but the FDA reported some time ago that humans are unsafe to eat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that, what with how many pills and powders and cremes and supplements humans ingest, apply, inject, and wear, humans, if they ever were to be meat, would be hazardous.

Too bad for the would-be cannibals (yes, of course there are some). Still, it makes one sad, and then it makes one sadder, and then it lights up the old 40-watt bulb.

I have a plan, and you can join in. I plan to eat as many hotdogs as I can stomach and stomach as many fried cheese sticks, Jimmy Dean sausages, Vienna sausages, "creme"-filled confections, and "ice-milk" and "sugar free" and "fat free" and "fat substitute" and "butter substitute" and "jumbo" sized miniature food items as I can. I intend to take medications for every ailment the television convinces me I have. I feel fatigued, and the television says that's a symptom of all sorts of things. I have PMS, PMDD, PTSD, depression, shyness, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and Legionnaire's disease. I feel fine, so I have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder, and erectile dysfunction. I think I peed too often, or not enough, so I need to medicate, and I'm sure my stool is all wrong for a man of my dignity. I'm too fat in the wrong places, too soft and too hard.

I plan to operate microwave ovens while talking on the cell phone, while I work on my laptop, with the batteries gently warming my testicles. I plan to breathe deeply as I fuel my car. I will be sure to keep my air conditioning and central heat going at the same time. I want the temperature to be exactly 70 degrees. I will put fluorescent bulbs everywhere.

My plan is simple.

I will turn my body into a toxic waste.

When I die, my grave will become a Superfund site. I cannot hope to put up a mauseleum for myself. I cannot afford a tomb. I cannot have anything that will mark me or indicate my personality. Nothing will show even the next day's visitor any sign of who I was. However, when the whole cemetery gets roped off and men in HazMat suits have to remove 4' of topsoil just to deal with my rotten, rotting corpse, I'll have made my memorial.