Monday, May 16, 2005

Talking Heads - (Nothing But) Flowers

I hate needles. I can watch footage of the Bikini Atoll nuclear test with morbid fascination, or laugh my way through Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, but the second that slim cylindric villain appears onscreen, I convulse and squeal like a kicked puppy. I could never stand to watch myself get vaccinated; I always turned away so that the sting would come as a surprise.

Most people are frightened by the Unknown. Not me. If I was, then I'd probably beat up meteorologists if their prediction of mostly-sunny turned into a torrential downpour - which seems a bit foolish, wouldn't you agree? No, what terrifies me isn't the vague threat of an incalculable variable. It's the known quantity, the Inevitable. Taxes, the passage of time, the slow slide towards incontinence, "when the money runs out"... these are what keep me awake at night, not childish nightmares of al-Qaeda boogie-men or earthquakes. Enough of my life has transitory and improvised that I know negociating for stability is futile. What scares the shit out of me is that there exist certain things that are non-negociable, like the tear of the needle through skin.

Last night, I read an interview on with author James Howard Kuntsler. In his latest book, The Long Emergency, Kuntsler describes the bottom rusting out of the American dream as oil vanishes from the soil. The West's infrastructure - both physical and societal - will not be able to support its own weight, creating a future where "we're better off learning how to operate a horse-drawn plow than becoming a P.R. executive." Needless to say, a lot of kicking and screaming will be involved in the weaning off oil. "Americans," says Kuntsler, "will vote for cornpone Nazis before they will give up their entitlements to a McHouse and a McCar."

The collapse of the American economic empire - even the whole of modern civlization - has been predicted since we first crawled out of the Dark Ages, by everyone from Nostradamus to David Koresh. But there's no sane reason to think it won't happen. Though Kuntsler cracks his knuckles in conversation, he's not some academic thug trying to beat some truth into his thesis. He's the latest in a long line of scholars, critics, journalists, activists, and philosophers who are watching a convergence of very bad luck for the United States.

And that scares the shit out of me, because I have no sane reason to think it won't happen.

From the eye-for-an-eye foreign policy to the drained oil fields, from the subordination of an import-based economy to China's ascent, all signs point to a future closer to the dust-bowl gothic of The American Astronaut than the glossy cities in the sky of Spielberg & Lucas, or even the technodystopias of Blade Runner & The Matrix. Tyler Durden wouldn't have to bomb credit card companies to see his atavist dreams come true; all he'd have to do is wait for the oil to run out.

As I imagined wandering barefoot and sunburnt down the crumbling remnants of I-70, some lyrics wafted through my mind:

I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries
This was a discount store,
Now it's turned into a cornfield
Don't leave me stranded here
I can't get used to this lifestyle

I've decided that David Byrne prophesied every stage of my life in song. I'm currently living somewhere between "Cities" and "Life During Wartime", as I seek out an urban niche while nervously anticipating stability's falling stock on the modern market. One day, perhaps my wife & I will stand like the "two fools in love" in the rural reality of "Nothing But Flowers", only wishing we had a lawnmower.

NOTE: Geocities is giving me shit about how my files are stored, so the link takes you to a dummy page a set up, from which you can download the song. Just look for the link on the left. Cheers.

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