blowing like tumbleweed
Saturday, December 15 2001
When I lived in Los Angeles, my home was at 12121 Rochester Avenue, near the corner of Amherst and Rochester, a block diagonally northwest from the intersection of Bundy and Santa Monica in West LA. At the corner of Amherst and Santa Monica there was a hospice for the elderly, a place where humans would go to die. Unfortunately, they didn't leave heaps of ivory behind when they left.
Now that I live in Brooklyn, New York, there's a similar eldercare facility only a few doors from where I live. It's the tall building on Prospect Park West between Union and President Street. Every time I take Sally for a walk in Prospect Park, we have to walk past its automatic sliding glass doors. It's a much more dynamic place than the somber, medicinal death row near my old condo in Los Angeles. This Brooklyn hospice is an upscale, modern facility. Field trips are regularly scheduled for the residents and there are even events held for people who don't even live there; every few days the end of President Street is clogged with stampeding herds of Russian-speaking elderly being shepherded either into or out of buses.
But, like elephants compelled to the land of their dying, this is serious business and the elderly are really here to do one thing: to die. Usually the clearest evidence that one has passed on is the sudden appearance of perfectly good 70s-era furniture and other artifacts piled unceremoniously upon the sidewalk.
The elderly abandon plenty of other artifacts before their final possessions, of course. I hadn't thought much about it until the other day, when one of the employees at the facility mishandled a bag of used Depends®, the large diapers designed for people too old to control their basic biological functions. The bag of Depends® had been perched precariously atop a heap of other trash stacked way beyond the normal capacity of a wheeled dumpster on President Street. Something had happened and the bag had tumbled to the street and ruptured, immediately creating an attractive nuisance for the many dogs being walked up out of the Park Slope neighborhood and into the park. Sally, being a very normal dog in many respects, had lunged for this foul bag of diapers a number of times, but I'd had been alert and had managed to jerk her back just in time. Others, though, hadn't been as lucky. Judging from the presence of Depends® blowing like tumbleweed down Prospect Park West, it seems some dog walkers had led their dogs a hundred or more feet before noticing the horrid treasure they were carrying.
This brings to mind a joke that Gretchen and I developed a few weeks ago. It involved asking a question whose answer was "Depends®" - said in the manner of "Depends..." (As in "I don't have quite enough information to answer your question.") The idea is to answer with a double entendre, like that line in that one famous Offspring song "Self Esteem" that goes, "It's kind of hard when she's ready to go." For example, the question could be something like, "What should I buy if I develop a really bad case of explosive diarrhea and I'm about to go see a very engaging movie?"
Before falling asleep tonight, Gretchen and I had a rather long and involved discussion that began with the topic of the relationship between religion and the spread of civilization. We both agreed that there is a strong relationship between the tenets of Christianity and the success of Western Civilization, particularly industrial society. Under Christianity, the workers toil away under the delusion that their reward will come to them after they are dead. The political structure doesn't have to reward them on Earth or, indeed, reward them at all; this is left to supernatural forces. It's a bargain for the powers that be.
Interestingly, though, in the United States this reward structure is supplemented with another reward structure that promises demonstrable success here on Earth to those who choose to work extra hard. This form of reward gets as much press and promotion in our secular culture as the reward of Heaven ever received back during the height of the Christian swindle. But, as Gretchen was quick to point out, for most people the egalitarian rewards of capitalism are about as realistic as a Heaven paved with streets of gold. Still, people dream on, as deluded by the American Dream as they are by the promise of the PowerBall Lottery.
Gretchen noticed this particularly during her career as a union organizer. The nature and extent of the delusion became crystal clear when she made the switch from organizing jobs done mostly by black workers to those done mostly by whites. Among blacks, she noted, the American Dream was regarded with universal skepticism. They knew the dream wasn't really designed with them in mind and there didn't seem any point in struggling hard to achieve it. Consequently, they tended to have more of European view of work: it's a necessary evil that keeps a roof over one's head, but it's nothing to break one's back over.
Among whites in similar fields, though, Gretchen discovered a widespread delusion that if one worked extra hard and kissed plenty of ass, one could eventually scale the ladder and break into management. Gretchen could plainly see that most of these working-class white people didn't have the conversational or social skills to do anything of the sort, but there was no arguing with them. Unfortunately, there was no unionizing them either. They'd learned in school that making waves was no way to succeed in life.
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