home of the scared
Wednesday, June 1 2005
datecode: Zero Five's June First
In the purely digital universe the result is the same whether I retype the entire datecode "050531" to make it into "050601" or I conserve what doesn't change between them and just overwrite "53" with "60." But somehow it feels more elegant to do the latter, and that's what I did. Since I just wrote about this feeling and placed it in the digital universe, the result technically isn't the same.
While I was walking the dogs in the woods to the southeast of the end of the farm road we encountered a porcupine. It was late morning and the sky was clear, both conditions not normally conducive to the presence of the prickly rodent. The neighbor dog Merlin (an Australian Shepherd) was with us at the time and it was his barking that alerted me to the situation. As I ran up to see what was the matter I saw, to my horror, that the porcupine was walking along the ground and Sally, apparently somewhat aware of the dangers, was nevertheless looking for an opening. "Noooooooo!" I shouted, but it was too late. By the time I got to her, Sally had been quilled lightly on the side of her mouth, yet she still hadn't lost interest in the porcupine, which had leisurely climbed to the top of a small hemlock. Happily, though, I was able to remove all the quills right there. Unfortunately I'd lost track of Merlin and couldn't see if he'd also been quilled. As for Eleanor, she'd obviously learned her porcupine lesson; she was giving this one enough room to safely accommodate a suicide bomber.
Later, back at the house, I called the downhill neighbor (not Merlin's owner, but his landlord's) to alert him to the possible presence of quills. Still later Gretchen found a single quill protruding from one of Sally's toes, though I was able to yank it out with a pair of needle nosed pliers.
explosions: the other day and the other week
I might be 37 years old, but there are parts of me that are operated entirely by an impish eight year old. This is particularly true when it comes to compelling forces like fire. Among the things I did the other day or the other week when I was in the process of cleaning my laboratory was burn a big pile of cardboard out in the fire pit in the yard. Once in the past I'd had the satisfaction of putting a depleted spray-foam ærosol can in the fire and, some minutes later, hearing it explode with the force of a small improvised explosive device. Take that, infidel! But this time I'd loaded the fire with three depleted foam cans. One of these wasn't actually depleted - it had been defective and hadn't produced any of its insulating foam. When the empty cans exploded they did so spectacularly, in one case throwing a piece of metal shrapnel 100 feet away into the driveway. But when that full motherfucker exploded, it temporarily covered the surrounding trees and grass with what looked like flaming napalm. For a few terrible seconds it was an apocalyptic sight to behold, though dampness from recent rains (and the foam's inherently fireproof nature) quickly extinguished the many tiny blazes. In the end the biggest problem was scraping the foam off all the surfaces it had landed upon, where it looked like Gypsy Moth egg masses.
I'd felt kind of stupid afterwards and had wondered what in my genome had possessed me to do something so transparently stupid and potentially dangerous. Would, at my age, my father have done something so juvenile (even if vaguely scientific)? It seemed unlikely.
Then again, I know I'm not the only reasonably-intelligent person in his thirties who does stupid destructive things for fun. My mustachioed friend from Tillson, for example, kept coming up with ideas for spectacularly destroying his old Subaru as an alternative to selling it. Telling, though, is the fact that he never actually did anything to it and now it's gathering moss and hornets' nests in his yard.
land of the stuck, home of the scared
As I was driving into town today to do some errands, I kept thinking about the sad, empty lives of the rootless upper middleclass in America. I'd read a fascinating article in the New York Times about Kathy Link, a harried soccer mom living a life of silent desperation in an anonymous upscale development in Alpharetta, Georgia. Between shuttling her kids to their disparate soccer classes, keeping up with the Jones, getting $200 streaks put in her hair, crawling through suburban gridlock in her SUV, and her Bible study class, she has no time to take in culture, have a career, or engage in any fulfilling pursuits. Since Kathy's husband, a Wacovia manager, is periodically relocated to different fringe cities throughout the country, she has no close friends, no sense of community, and no connection to the place she lives. Her ability to interact with her environment depends on her knowledge of the characteristics of national chains. Of course, even if Kathy wanted to patronize a local mom and pop store, it doesn't seem as if Alpharetta is home to any such things. A sane person in her position would say "this is absurd" and find a way to opt out. But no, she's a frog in a frying pan, and she's stuck. She's also afraid in a way that has served the Republicans well: the unknown, the internet, anything that might affect her kids. It's a very American condition, being stuck and afraid, and makes the expression "Land of the free, home of the brave," sound like some sort of ironic insight.
The extent to which we're stuck in ways we can't transcend was also driven home by the "Up" series (see yesterday's article). Of course, the "Up" folks are British, and nobody ever said Britain was the Land of the Free (though it's not Old Europe either).
Related to the issue of fear was an interesting book review I read in Salon later tonight. It was for Last Child in the Woods and concerned the growing alienation in this country between children and nature, and what the impact might be on our collective mental, social, and emotional health. Much of this alienation is related to fear by parents for their precious, precious children, of whom no one will think. There are so many scary things outside the manicured lawns of suburbia that could bring our children harm: bugs, snakes, skunks, spiders, stinging nettles, poisonous plants, porcupines, perverts, pornography, terrorists, secular humanists, and a general lack of supervision (i.e. the presence of that thing we're supposedly the Land Of). So when it comes time to play in nature, a well-regulated game of soccer on a prepared athletic field will have to do. When the hell did soccer get to be so American anyway?
Indian food in Tivoli
This evening Gretchen and I picked up Indian food to go at the Red Hook Curry House and from there we drove to coastal Tivoli, to a Victorian house within a stone's throw of the Hudson, and enjoyed the food with some new friends. Like us, they're a couple in which she's a poet and he's a computer programmer kind of guy. The difference is that they have three kids and she's a professor at Bard College. After dinner we walked down to the water to watch the sun set over the Catskills as wave upon wave of kayakers landed on the beach and Amtrak trains whizzed past on the nearby tracks at eighty miles per hour. Among the pebbles and broken bricks along the beach there were numerous iron artifacts from hundreds of years of continuous iron age settlement.
Interestingly, in our new friends' deep backyard there was plenty of poison ivy and stinging nettle, but absolutely no jewel weed at all. There was also the ruin of an ancient foundation that had recently been pillaged to make a stone wall. The parcel in the back had been bought by some asshole lawyer who had proceeded to clear a big grove of hundred year old hemlocks to get a better view of the distant Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge and a side effect of this is massive backyard flooding every time it rains.
On the drive back home, I kept muttering gibberish into the CB radio on channel 19, always ending with the clearly-pronounced word "Guantanamo." Why Guantanamo? I just want to keep the word in circulation, because it sums up so many things that are wrong with the American presidency. It infuriates me that they've decided to pursue an outlaw course and not do as the Supreme Court has commanded: give due process to the inmates at their Cuban prison camp.
I've been wondering what sort of constitutional crisis would ensue if the commanders at Guantanamo, suddenly struck with a desire to do what is right, decided to allow in lawyers, prisoners' family members, and the press in defiance of Bush policy. What if they threw their allegiance behind the Supreme Court (or the constitution) and ignored the illegal fascist decrees of the Chief Executive? I'm really hoping something like this happens over the course of the next four years or I'm going to go insane and, high atop the chapel tower of Liberty University, stuff the decapitated head of a security mom up the asshole of a NASCAR dad.
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