It’s America’s birthday today. As bad as I am at keeping track of dates and days anymore, my neighbors would have reminded me; a trip through my neighborhood today revealed about every other house displaying a big American flag. Not only that, I received a few messages from various people and businesses saying things like “We’re closed today, have a happy 4th” etc. A few have comments along the lines of “Don’t forget to remember the meaning of this day and celebrate all the great American heroes who won our independence and those who continue to keep us free.”
There’s been a lot in the news lately about the meaning of “patriotism” as the latest batch of jackasses rally around their jackass-of-a-candidate and proclaim why theirs is so much more patriotic than the other one. There is also this expectation that all of use plebes are supposed to be all patriotic today too. “America, FUCK YEAH!”
I think what the bigshots really mean is, “Support the way we say things are, or you aren’t a patriot,” as they continue to slam us high and hard.
I don’t have an ounce of nationalistic pride in me, nor do I consider myself particularly patriotic. I realize I’m American simply by accident of birth. What’s so great and pride-inducing about that? I could just as easily cheer, “St. Pat’s hospital, FUCK YEAH!” I do love where I live, but it is as depicted in this quote by Cezanne: “Were it not that I am passionately fond of the contours of my country, I should not be here.” I love the land. The people? Not so much. At least the vast majority of them. Look at how close the polls have McCain and Obama. There are hordes of people who are utterly not getting it that McCain is part of a crew that has been totally sticking it to us for years and years. As for Obama, he’s part of a crew that isn’t a whole lot better, but at least they haven’t started any wars lately.
But today Americans will rally together for the party. We’re all ecstatic because we have the day off to get drunk and blow shit up; even better that it’s a weekend, which means more boozing and more blowing. We’ll gas up the SUVs, bitching about the price of gas (I swear, bragging about how much more it costs one guy to fill up over what it costs the other guy seems to be a new way for the crewcut-and-goattee crowd to feel macho these days; “$50? Sheeit, it cost me $78 t’other day!”), and drag the boat up to the lake to burn more gas. We’ll turn out in vast throngs to go to the mall parking lot, listen to some John Phillip Sousa, and watch the fireworks. We’ll hang our flags and feel self righteous about being Americans, God’s gift to ourselves and the rest of the world. Just like we rally together for the Super Bowl, or St. Patrick’s Day, or “Christmas shopping, FUCK YEAH!”
Last week I was in Chicago for the 3rd time in about 10 days. Twice while driving on my band’s tour (the hypocrisy in my rant, and the fact that we were out burning fuel and selling useless merch is not lost on me, trust me), and just the other day flying in for work. Especially from the air, the sprawl makes my stomach clench. And the traffic, as viewed from my 4th floor hotel window in a SW suburb around 5 – 6 PM. It is clear this entire way of living is sliding down the tubes, and no one really seems to be talking much about it — they are just waiting for a solution to magically appear. The audacity of hope, Mr. Obama? How about the audacity of truth! Truth is Americans need to rally together to make some changes in our lifestyle, and it’s going to hurt, but it needs to happen. Frankly, I don’t see that happening. This is a great article about that decline — declining cities, sprawl, rising foreclosures, shanty towns, you name it — that I found via a link on James Howard Kunstler’s website.
As for Kunstler: reading his book The Long Emergency is probably what has me so riled up lately anyway, but he makes great points; I’ve held off on reading it for just this very reason, but recently felt like I was being a dweeb if I just bury my head in the sand. I was reading it at dinner the other night (I confess; it was a Red Robin. It’s not like there are options other than chains when I am in sprawlsville, believe me). This is the exchange I had with the soft, pasty-faced kid responsible for the area I was sitting in:
Kid: What’s the book about?
Me: It’s basically about how we are running out of oil and how screwed we are as a result.
Kid: Wow, that sucks. It’s pretty crazy with what’s going on with gas prices lately too!
Me: Pretty much, yeah.
Kid: :pause: In the long run it talks about how everything will be okay though, doesn’t it?
Me: No, we’re pretty well fucked.
The building I was working in this past week was pretty new — the company is in the process of relocating there from an older facility, and there wasn’t a soul around except for some construction guys, me, and the contact person I was working with. I asked how far away this new building was from the old one, and how that would affect people’s commutes. He just shrugged and explained that most of their labor force lives in the area of the old location, many walk to work, and would not be making the move to the new facility; he also explained that it is in a real run-down neighborhood, as if that somehow makes it okay for them to pull these people’s jobs out from under them. He also said that a number of office staff are refusing to commute — it’s about 30 miles farther — so they would be replaced as well. Judging from the area around this building — light industrial sprawl for the most part, with the closest housing I saw just being brand new apartments and condos — I expect that anyone who works there is looking at a decent commute. No rail nearby, but who knows about other public transit. I’m sure that wasn’t even part of this company’s decision process. As gas prices continue to rise, it is like a weekly pay cut for the people who rely on their cars to get to work. It’s not a pretty picture, and it won’t get better any time soon.
My job definitely won’t survive these changes; I figure I have 3 – 5 years, at best, quite possibly less. Frankly, I don’t really care. I hope it lasts long enough to get my kid through high school. If I had any cajones I’d quit now, but I’d rather use the time — and the extra income — to help prepare for the next phase of The American Dream; I’ll quote Thoreau this time when I say, “Simplify, simplify.” Because I don’t think 2010 and beyond is going to be anything like we are used to, or anything like what Mr. Obama, or Mr. McCain, or any of those people, will do their best to keep us hoping, and spending, for. When the bottom drops all the way out, there are going to be a lot of people with some dumb-fucking-founded looks on their faces.
So happy birthday, Uncle Sam. Forgive me if I have a look on my face like I might have making the same wish to some sour crank having his 99th birthday or something; the look that says, “I wonder how many more times I’m going to have to tell this old bastard this?”