Ali G. once got Christie Todd Whitman to recite this bit of poetry in her capacity as an EPA administrator, and coming from her under his tutelage it was indeed poetic. Ali G. was one of the few public figures not only to discern but also to successfully apply the truly proper ways to approach self-important members of the White community. Although Whitman was always fairly down-to-earth for a daughter of the New Jersey Hunt Country, her gracious submission to a shitty Anglo-Jamaican rap number and a spurious but actually pertinent question about the possibility that whale shit pollutes the ocean was a rare opportunity to demonstrate that she wasn’t just another high hat from the upcountry. As I’ve said about the LCDS community, the Hunt Country is full of people who would benefit greatly from a reminder that they, too, are of the flesh, and Ash Wednesday, even for those who fancy themselves devout Catholics, just doesn’t get the job done like bullshit about whale shit. Whitman handled the whale dookie question about as well as anyone would, with a succinct comment to the effect that even though whales take huge dumps, the ocean is really yuge. The biggest. Elegant.
I can’t count the number of self-important upper-crust types from back east (including a Southerner here and there) who would have responded to a question like that with Giuliani-at-the-Al-Smith-Dinner levels of petulance and ill humor. American customs outside the strongly Millington for Sheriff parts of the South don’t encourage the address of these shitheads as m’lord or m’lady, so maybe all they have left to cling to so bitterly is their prissy, gratuitous, self-aggrandizing sense of high manners. This is why Americans didn’t start addressing the adult Jeff Sessions as “boy” nearly soon enough, and why if we are indeed a society that believes in second chances, we should start right now. That should fit neatly into our national treasury of conversion stories: “I was near thirty-five when I was convicted in my heart that it was wrong to call a neotenous, bigoted creep with planter pretensions ‘colonel’ or even ‘sir,’ as a fellow might address a peaceable sharecropper when passing him on the street.” It doesn’t because, well, Millington, what’s your twenty? The Attorney General is throwing furniture again. Rundel, grab your net; this one’s gonna be slimy.
One local elite from back east (Appalachian/fringe Midwest rust belt, really) who didn’t have his head all the way up his own ass on the maintenance of the social order was a college buddy with an almost Churchillian eloquence and an exceptionally bad case of the family eccentricity. Some friends once took him out to a strip club for his birthday, where the chorus line serenaded him with the go shorty birthday song (I have reasons for not frequenting these establishments) and a stripper pointed at her crotch and told him, “This is where babies come from, bitch!” (I have additional reasons). As my buddy related the story, “‘Excuse me?’ And she repeated, ‘This is where babies come from, BITCH!’ Yes, so I had been told; thank you for confirming my suspicions.” This dude has lately taken to haplessly trying to wine and dine amateur girls of loosely his class at fancy dinner joints on the Main Line, using comingled personal and parental allowance funds. The fair ladies in question routinely cancel on him but he doesn’t have the heart to call the restaurants and cancel his dinner reservations, so he calls the Insurance Schmuck over for a mandate instead. Heh. I think I spelled that correctly after all. He’d do better to hire sex workers, but given his experience with strippers, I can’t entirely blame him for thinking that they’re just about as insane as his family and friends.
I slept in my car last night and haven’t changed my clothes yet. I say “my car” because this week is the first in something like eighteen that I’ve had a car of my own. Super Civic’s replacement is a 2010 Focus from one of the shabbier but more reputable car lots in Merced. It had 89,600 on the odometer when I bought it, it runs nicely and handles very nicely, and I’ve gotten it up to 42 mpg on the highway. I paid a bit over $8,400 in all after the DMV and its state entourage took their pound of flesh. Why the fuck am I talking about my car all of a sudden? That’s a fair question, but it’s more relevant than it may look at first glance. My old highbrow crowd back east wouldn’t be caught dead with title to a used Focus. I’m not sure I’ll be caught live with it, either, since I bought the car on something of an impulse and had the paperwork mailed to my old address in Rancho, meaning that I may have to threaten management with legal action to successfully take delivery of my own US Mail. I lives here; can I come in and get that stuff and immediately leave again? The latest bit of middle-class shiznit that I’m lusting after is a PO Box at Fort Sutter. If one is available, six months’ rent will probably cost less than dinner with or (presumably) without the latest flaky chick in some Second Empire-ass Addams Family mansion in Radnor or some shit.
This weekend, I’m driving from Merced to Crescent City to at least start cleaning out my second storage unit. I had no desire to drive half the length and width of California during a total closure of 101 at the Mendocino-Humboldt county line due to a massive landslide; 101 in Northern Humboldt and Del Norte and 299 over from Redding are undergoing their own emergency debris removals, too. It’s a pain in the ass, but qualifying for a rental car without a credit card is even worse. I’ve finally been approved for one with my parents as cosigners, but the physical card is still either in production or in the mail to their house. Just as a matter of environmental principle I don’t like putting ultra-high mileage on cars when I could take public transportation part or all of the way instead, but in this case the perfect (someone else directly using the skies as a tailpipe sewer instead) is the enemy of the good (finally clearing out the storage unit and no longer paying $44 a month, increasing in June to $50, to rent the damn thing).
A great many of the middle and upper classes in this country don’t make the least effort. Some of these pretend to care about the environment, even deeply and passionately so. I find it impossible to decide whether the greenwashing hypocrites or the climate change deniers are ultimately worse. There’s no objective truth to any of their stances. One side is captivated by its own ritual fealty to science and the purchase of a dizzying variety of Veblen goods featuring state-of-the-art energy-saving technologies. In its zeal to save the earth (sic), this side promotes outright frauds, notably including carbon offsets in which someone is allegedly hired out of the kampong to plant endemic seedlings on the ruins of an abandoned palm oil plantation, totally sucking up all the carbon dioxide emitted by one’s flights to Costa Rica, because everyone knows that Indonesian business concerns have never engaged in corrupt practices and can reliably be remote-audited from Falls Church. The other side indignantly denies over a century of reputable hard science (the actual science, not the Nye/Tyson metascience for mass audiences, which one fucking loves in the name of science that one hardly understands), calling it an elaborate conspiracy and hoax, because admitting that, yeah, burning millennia worth of sequestered carbon and releasing it into the atmosphere with no meaningful recapture process might destabilize climates in unpredictable ways, would get in the way of the full enjoyment of crew cab pickups and dirt bikes and shit. Yeah, that was unwieldy, but you can republish it with your own editing if it’s that important to you.
It’s hard to believe that either side believes its own talking points. If they’re serious, they have to be nuts. This says some extremely bad things about our national leadership, but it should come as no surprise. Of all the poster children the climate change activist movement could have promoted, why the fuck did it ever tolerate Al Gore? Uh, yeah, we all need to have fewer children and drive less, so here’s a guy who has four kids, flies all over hell every week lecturing grandees about climate change, and lives in a mansion the size of a small warehouse. The denialist side is represented by equally ridiculous shitheads who effectively argue that there’s no way they’d get sickened or killed if a Peterbilt’s exhaust pipe were hooked up to their home HVAC systems. Okay, then, I’m sure James Inhofe won’t object to my rolling a dumpster full of yard debris, cow pies, and spent batteries into his living room and setting it on fire with a liberal dose of lighter fluid. Oh, he’d object to the liberalism? Good to know.
The sanctimony from both sides is over the top. The denialists use kooky interpretations of some of the most dubious passages in the Bible to bolster their nonsense: it doesn’t matter because Jesus is coming back soon anyway (gaudeamus igitur for the Junior Anti-Sex League) (alternately, let’s have this man we revere clean up after us like we’re toddlers who just dumped Costco bulk scrambled eggs all over the carpet), the Book of Genesis is a math textbook, there was only ever one Flood, ad nauseam. The climate change promoters (construe as you wish) smugly quote passages from a Bible that a great many of them avowedly disbelieve, their point being that their opponents are piss-poor stewards of God’s creation. They’re right in exactly the same way that Rob Ford would have been right to warn Amy Winehouse about the dangers of hard liquor and cocaine. No, that isn’t quite it; they’re right in the same way that the mayor would have been right to call the cabbie’s daughter a dirty drunken crack slut.
Of course, the worst side effects of this orgy of consumption fall on the poor. It falls onto Waffle House waitresses living in falling-down two-bedroom ranch houses in a neighborhood between the freeway and the refinery where raw sewage backs up into the streets every time it rains and everyone has cancer by the age of thirty. The political class in this country does not live in such neighborhoods, and it does not socialize with their residents. The local elites in the same counties don’t socialize with or listen to these poors, either, although they make a lot of noise about speaking on behalf of all salt-of-the-earth American Christians.
Earth Day, then, is one of our national gifts as a post-Lenten society. If ever there was a spirit of voluntary, thoughtful asceticism in the US mainstream, it was nowhere to be found by my time. Self-denial is left to the desperately poor, for whom it is a matter of survival. It isn’t really so much self-denial, then, as other-denial. New Orleans celebrates the hell out of Mardi Gras, generally on a schedule independent of the parallel liturgical schedule of the Roman Catholic Church (hence New Orleans, not New Amsterdam or New York). Lent, one assumes, is neither big nor easy, and in truth, for those who observe it, or who try from time to time, it can be plenty long and hard. It certainly doesn’t fit marketing schedules as well as Fat Tuesday, the late winter feast, followed by Easter, the early spring feast.
We postmodern can add Earth Day, which isn’t formally a feast but is a perfectly serviceable Easter proxy for the unbelieving and the unobservant, a celebration perfectly consistent with Crystal Harris’s calendar of fun stuff. For the lucky among us, every day is Earth Day. For the unlucky, it’s Ash Wednesday and Good Friday all goddamn year long. One class does nothing but feast; another does nothing but fast. Any prudent person with even the dimmest sense of vaguely paranormal power would expect some form of damnation as a consequence for this arrangement. In the fogs of the not too distant past, we had a springtime feast to recover from a winter of privation and quiescence (verging on hibernation in many villages) and to replenish our energy for a summer of hard, hard work; in our own time, we have Picnic Day.
We are alienated from everything. Statistics show US Catholics taking more communion and less confession; one guess as to which one is a free snack. I don’t mean to write a Second Book of Isaiah about how we’re all just a bunch of vicious shitheads, or maybe I do. The story of a rich man, a camel, and the eye of a needle comes to mind. If I were one, I’d use my discretionary income to buy Steely Dan deep tracks on vinyl, not Fiddler on the Fucking Roof. I’d have to buy the record player, too, and housing close enough to proper shack size to safely house it. And myself. I’m in way the hell better socioeconomic shape than tens of millions of Americans, but I’ve still spent most of my adulthood surrounded by frightening low-class chaos that threatens to consume me.
Is it any wonder that an haute bourgeoisie that refuses to observe the common fasts also refuses to listen to the poor when they speak? I’m relieved whenever I can get a word in edgewise about the chaos I’ve seen and lived. I’m relieved whenever I can get my White People to take a break from their fun stuff and listen to real stuff that is unfun. A Hugh Hefner bimbo of the quarter is as fitting a herald of our times as anyone. That’s about as serious and mature as we seem to be. As I’ve said before, adulting is hard, but like Kajieme Powell, I’m taking a stab at it. Lord have mercy on us, because that last sentence was more mature than a number of entire American political movements. At least it wasn’t about Harry Potter, and I can’t say that about the Democratic Party.
Calling the United States a Protestant nation is a slur upon Protestantism. Calling us a Christian nation is a Piss Christ slur upon all of Christianity. The best I can say is that we’re at a really, really bad developmental stage that we refuse to recognize and can’t be bothered to transcend. The Benedict Option is about a lot more than two groups of assholes having a court fight over whether one of them will be forced to bake the wedding cake for the other. That’s just more national immaturity and petulance. I guess I have more common cause with Rod Dreher than you or he might think, at least when he isn’t bitching about Ariel Castro’s suicide as a failure of Orthodox penance. I’m living a more Lenten life this Easter afternoon just because I haven’t yet gotten around to food today than I find entire neighborhoods and congregations living during Lent, and that’s sad, because I suck at Lent. It means, I suspect, that many of us are fundamentally alienated from ourselves, just as we are alienated from our neighbors and our natural surroundings.
We live unbalanced, disordered lives. We keep the absolving forms of confession and indulgence in our carbon offsets, but we scrap whatever true repentance these old forms once inspired in us. It’s only fun stuff if we get automatic forgiveness and don’t have to change anything, after all. It isn’t as much fun to be an equal to the underclass on Yolobus as it is to lord it over an ever so slightly higher class of Help on Uber, where every day is Jeeves Fetch the Car Day. Judging from RT ridership stats and the cell phone lot at the Sacramento Airport last night, Sacramentans love them some Lyft. The airport put out a low-capacity portapotty at the cell phone lot for the jitney army. It’s always nice to see a government that spent a couple billion dollars on airport terminal expansion and a new basketball arena set up the conditions for a crowd-sourced Pot-o-Shit Friend situation on public property.
Environmentalism and social justice my fat white ass.