Over the course of the past year, my wife and I have had the opportunity on two separate occasions to drive across this damaged nation from Michigan to California and back.
We generally stick to the meandering highways and byways that crisscrossed the land before the invention of the Dwight D. Eisenhower interstate system. The gleaming strip of concrete that allows the typical American to bypass the quaint countryside for the preferable 80 mph, caffeinated, DVD in the headrests—gotta get to Grandmas so we can get home because I have to go to yoga—fast lane. When was the last time we slowed down and looked at the country we live in? My point exactly… we haven’t… no one does. We are so obsessed with the pace that we accomplish even the most meager of tasks (your triple macchiato from Starbucks that you had to wait five extra minutes to get) that we have forgotten what it is like to be part of a greater society.
During my cross-country exploitations, I started to notice more acutely, the soft, often-times seedy underbelly of our country; almost as if someone didn’t want us to see what was happening to rural America. Excuse me sir, it’s better if you keep your eyes on the road…oh look… a McDonald’s at every fucking exit on the shiny super-highway. Small towns, powerless against corporate conglomerates exploiting every raw material, suckling at the giant’s teat so they too can get a piece of the American (soon to be Chinese) pie. People struggle, looking for some miracle that never happens. Small towns, so far off the beaten path that no one will notice or care if we take all your clean water, cut down all your timber and drill into the Earth until nothing comes out. Roads and bridges are desperately in need of repair from the heavy industry that has warped and cracked them. Just truck after truck after truck, hauling away what was once precious. Stacks upon stacks and acre upon acre of freshly cut timber falling with no end in sight. “Are we really using all of that?” I asked my wife. She shrugged.
For every wide open plain or towering tree that rises before use, we are inevitably greeted around the next bend by the grotesque and overpowering stench of a gigantic corporate stock yard; thousands of cattle, living on top of one another and on top of their own feces. “Is that where our meat comes from?” My wife asked. I nodded. I cringed. Next day on the radio, reports of “pink slime” trickle in from every station. Does it ever stop?
Frustrated. Exacerbated. I turn the radio down and look out the window. Where will it stop? When will “We The People” stop taking it on the chin? At what point do we say, “Enough is enough.”
We have become a complacent society; we feed off each other like vultures on carrion. We see the next-door neighbor put out on the street and we think, “better him than me.” We shut and lock our doors, close the blinds tightly as to prevent the “affliction” and “disease” of the jobless and poor from creeping into our own homes; we are powerless to stop it. Instead of reaching out a hand we turn away in disgust. We pray to whatever deity we believe in that week to “please make sure I get’s mine.” What exactly is “mine” anyway and at what point did getting “mine” take precedent over ours? I think it happened right about the time “The Situation” told “Snooki” to get the “fuck outta his face or he was gonna punch her in the twat.” Brilliant.
The American society has been reduced to the shallowest of human emotions: greed. Our politicians revel in it daily as their concern for our well being creeps further and further from their minds, as they argue over party line minutia, while lining their coffers with handouts from lobbyist and taxpayer dollars. Fleeced, I believe is the proper term. Driving through oil fields in Nevada, natural gas wells in Utah, casinos in every other state, I feel more and more fleeced. Open 24 hours. Blinking, bright, opulence in the dark, beckoning the weak inside to gamble away the few dollars they have on hope—hope provided by the false prophet of a slot machine.
Walmart, Target, Super Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club; we depend on the giant. Ten plastic cups for a dollar, a palette of maple syrup, ten gallons of milk, big double box of cereal and oh!, don’t forget the ten-cent discount you get at the gas pump when you use your rewards card. Do you have a rewards card? No… well I can sign you up now…just give me your email address. Would you like to apply for a Target Visa? You’ll save an extra ten percent today. No… fuck no. I don’t need ten gallons of milk, a rewards card or an extra ten percent off anything.
Yet the giant chugs along destroying everything in its path. The villagers are useless to stop it because they are the ones who created it, fed it and invited it in to stay. It watches you. It listens to you from the cell phone towers that dot the horizon, even if they are shaped like friendly pine trees. The giant craves the attention, “more, more!” it cries, “give me more.” I need to take up as much space as possible, talk as loud as I can on my phone, ignore my children and text on my phone while my husband sits across the dinner table from me and does the exact same thing. Oh shit. The giant is U.S.
So now what? I only ask because I don’t know the answer. Is there a David for our Goliath, a Beowulf to beat down the Grendel, an Odysseus to slay the Cyclops? I believe there is, but we need look no further than our own selves. The observations made in this editorial are not works of fiction. They did not manifest themselves after a bad serving of clams or invade my nightly musings whilst I slept. I have seen all of these bemusements happen, right in front of me, over and over again. Some might ask, “Why don’t you do something instead of writing a snarky column pointing out our flaws?”
I will. I will do something to stifle my giant. Maybe it starts with a simple “please” or “thank you.” Maybe, it starts with a smile or friendly conversation with the guy next door. I don’t know. I haven’t figured that part out yet, but I do know that something has to change.