Long discursive yammer on US. Was: Cell phones of death!

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From: Antoun Nabhan (antoun@arrayex.com)
Date: Sat Dec 16 2000 - 08:00:55 PST

At 07:04 AM 12/12/00 -0800, Joseph S. Barrera III wrote:
>Out here, in the U.S., we have entire states
>the size of your country that are filled with
>nothing but cows and corn. And in those open

Cows and corn if you're lucky. I was just in Arizona, where the flora
consist of things that in the Midwest we would refer to as "kindling," plus
a lot of cute-looking but prickly Saguaro cactuses. And the fauna seemed to
be mostly scorpions, snakes, and some mangy, angry, biting canine things -
Wiley E. Coyote, sans Road Runner and sense of humor. I was advised that
camping under the Western stars wasn't as good an idea as it seemed to be
in the movies.

In that context, a .22 looks like a pretty good idea, and a .308 may be
better still.

America is a whole lot bigger, wilder, and more interesting than its
literary classes tend to believe. It's really several different distinct
countries stitched together, the United, But Barely, States of America.
Federalism isn't just a quaint legal concept but an honest attempt to deal
with something that us jet-setting 20th century kids seem to forget (all
airports are more or less the same, except maybe for Memphis, which has
that great barbecue joint in the American terminal, and Logan, which is a
bigger pain in the ass than any other) but which for most US residents is
still true: Americans differ widely in the kinds of problems they encounter
and the kind of government they need.

Many of my peers fancy themselves well-equipped to stand astride public
opinion and lead it, shape it, or force it into shape, but they've been
raised and educated in urban centers, never driven the back roads, and have
a sadly shriveled view of what their country is all about. To them, America
is just like everywhere else because being in London feels a lot like being
in New York City and being in Paris feels a lot like Washington, D.C.

Venture west of the Hudson, or more than 20 miles from whatever urban
airport you landed at, and America is a whole new ballgame, pal. It's not
just big, its enormous, and it ranges from stunningly monotonous and empty,
like Nebraska, to stunningly beautiful and empty, like Colorado. Look at a
map sometime - the U.S. goverment has devoted most of Nevada to being shot
up and blown up, and for the most part nobody noticed it was gone.

People get weird out in those less-populated zones. They start thinking
that sawing the back off an old Impala wagon is less effort and more fun
than driving into the next town to haggle over a new truck. They start
thinking that mobile homes that don't go anywhere are a hell of a lot
better than sharing an apartment wall with the angry drunk next door. That
populating your yard with big, glowing, translucent plastic Jesuses is a
great way to celebrate the Christmas holiday, and that the odd resemblence
between Kris Kristofferson and Jesus Christ might not be all that
coincidental. Many of them think the Jerry Springer show is real.

But if you need some JB Weld to fix your radiator, or you're short a few
and need gas or a lift or a burger or a joint, most people are pretty
willing to hook you up. And if your taste in music runs to Bjork instead of
Kris Kristofferson, well, hey, two meth-snorting tweakers with bad hair
must have something in common. Most Americans can't get the New York Times,
and are no better at naming foreign leaders than their new President, but
they're linear in the own way, and (mostly) honest, kind, and friendly.
They tend to laugh.

That's a lot more than I can say for most politicians I've met, and that's
a helluva lot more than I can say for most passionate activists I've met -
even those whose causes I've agreed with and supported.

But it's the politicians and activists that seem to have their hands on the
steering wheel. Something important gets lost when those people run the
public discourse, and if they have their way, eventually we'll reach a
point where the Coke-swilling K-mart shoppers that actually make this
country happen have been squelched, screwed, and snapped down so often that
only media culture is left.

But maybe we can get the scorpions, snakes, and coyotes to explain America
to them.

Procrastinating again,

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