It's the beginning of the weekend and I'm not feeling too good -- I've been out driving around Jersey along with tens of thousands of others in the unnatural heat. Up here it's eighty-two, we've gone from longjohns to gym shorts in a week, and the air is practically congealing. Coming down Breakneck Road you can't see the farms in the valley, it's all a shimmery brown haze. Wasn't it silver-tongued Lowell who wrote, "a savage servility slides by on grease" referring to the cars in Boston? That was fifty years ago. Blow your nose today and you still gonna fill your Kleenex with black snot.
This is my home. Jersey's got corners and pockets of subtle beauty worth fighting for, but there's extraordinary ugliness here too, and when you're crawling along in traffic, it's the ugliness you see. Think of the commercial strip along Route 17 from Rutherford to Ramsey, Route 3 from Secaucus to Clifton, Route 46 from the Palisades to Parsippany, Route 23 from Cedar Grove to Butler, or Route 22 from Hillside to Somerville. Or Routes 1 & 9, 35, 18, or 21. Hell, write your own numbered highway down -- everybody here's got a strip of ugliness nearby.
If our descendants are still alive five hundred years from now what will they make of our ruined civilization? Heh-heh, those funny Americans -- they did build a lot of roads, didn't they? And what will they think of these cheap storefronts and vast parking lots? These billboards and over-full dumpsters? These barren, dynamited hillsides that turn to mud in the rain? These Big Boxes with nothing in them except come-ons to waste money, these tacky developments with their sewerage problems and cul-de-sacs, these bankrupt auto dealerships still flying their huge American flags? Those funny Americans. What will they make of our effin pornography?
I think to myself, be charitable, this guy sitting dumbly in his air-conditioned Maxima with its custom wheels and tinted glass is my neighbor. He floors it when the light turns green. Put the pedal to the metal and smell that rubber burn, dickie. A black Tahoe goes by oozing hostility and fear through its 12-inch bass speakers. Thump thump a-thump. The driver keeps poking at some kind of stuffed animal he's got hanging from the rear view mirror. Thump thump a-thump. He's my neighbor too. And that girl driving a Dodge Neon with a bad muffler. I see her turn around and smack her baby crying in the back-seat. When she sees me looking at her, she shows teeth and gives me the finger. Greetings neighbor.
I've been reading The Bridge At the Edge of the World by James Gustave Speth. He's had enough of the Religion of Growth, too. And he's no rampaging monkey-wrencher, he's dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale, a smart guy who knows how to marshal facts and construct an argument longer than a blog entry. He's thinking, it's time to put aside the incremental approach to environmental activism and shoot for fundamental change in the way we live. His case is strong, I believe it to be true and his recommendations are sound.
But there's more to it than global warming, increasing toxicity, species decline and resource depletion. There's the ugliness too. This infectious soul-killing ugliness that you see wherever the Free Market Boys build cheap shite, fob it off as quality work, take the money and run. This ugliness that starts with the big lie -- "things are gonna make you happy" -- and the bad attitude -- "I don't give a crap what kind of world my kids inherit. Let them deal with it."
Quist used to tell me, "Why get mad at other peoples' mistakes, don't you make enough of your own? Mind your business, poot." I thought to myself, yeah, it sounds right, god knows I got plenty to answer for. But what happens when their mistakes start destroying my home? What happens when their ugly mistakes get pushed onto me?