Fireworks, a Moving Van and Metro-Survivalists

We went to the July 4th fire­works on the Charles Riv­er for the last time. Maybe it was my thoughts about our upcom­ing exo­dus and the descent of pub­lic life in the US to a crass cor­po­rate-spon­sored mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty, or per­haps it was just a deci­sion by some tacky TV pro­duc­er, but this year Boston’s fire­works show was marred by an obnox­ious World-Wide Wrestling-style announc­er over the speak­ers along the river­bank that the ‘BOSTON POPS FIREWORKS SPECTACULAR COMING TO YOU FROM BOOSTOOON, WILL BE RIGHT BACK AFTER THESE MESSAGES…’ At any rate, the last of our year­ly July 4th fire­works shows end­ed with a bang as well as a whim­per (at least in terms of a plea for good taste). I remem­ber past years that were big­ger, bet­ter, and more excit­ing, and were cer­tain­ly devoid of crass announc­ers that made you feel like you were at a Mon­ster Truck Ral­ly. All in all, our last night in our town was loud, col­or­ful, and def­i­nite­ly ‘Amer­i­can’ in all sens­es (good and bad) of the word.

The mov­ing van showed up the next morn­ing at around 9:30. There were three guys, with one of them clear­ly the leader (no, he did­n’t have a hair­cut like Moe Howard, thank good­ness). The whole emp­ty­ing out of our pos­ses­sions took about 4 hours, includ­ing the pack­ing of all of our dish­es, glass­es and art. I hope we don’t get too many casualties.

As for the bed (men­tioned in an ear­li­er post­ing), we drained it, dis­as­sem­bled it, and dragged the pieces out to the curb (with the help of the mov­ing guys) with a sign that read: “Free Waterbed”. We went inside our now emp­ty house, swept (or to be more accu­rate, swiffed) the stair­ways and ground floor, and took show­ers, since it was pret­ty hot. We then decid­ed to get some lunch at a near­by restau­rant before we left town. On our way out the door, we noticed that the bed was already gone. Esti­mat­ed elapsed time: 20 min­utes. In fact, we saw two guys in the Dante Alighieri park­ing lot load­ing the bed on top of their car. They had tak­en every­thing except the bag. Our neigh­bor not­ed that since it was now just a bag, it real­ly was just trash and should be tak­en out a few days lat­er, so we began to drag it back into our back yard with the rest of our trash that was to be tak­en care of by neigh­bors and our real­tor. As we were doing this, the bag sprung a leak and water gushed all over the pave­ment. The fif­teen-year esti­mat­ed life-span of our waterbed bag was indeed exact­ly fif­teen years, and lucky for us, it expired on sched­ule, on the pave­ment rather than our third floor bedroom.

We drove out of town, stop­ping first at the cable com­pa­ny to drop off our cable modem. The dri­ve to Rox­bury Con­necti­cut was hot, but went by quick­ly. We spent a pleas­ant evening with my friends Rob and Lau­ra in the coun­try, and then con­tin­ued on to Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jer­sey, were we had din­ner, saw a movie, and stayed in the guest-room of my cousins. Final­ly, after traf­fic-filled, but rel­a­tive­ly smooth trip down the New Jer­sey Turn­pike and a bit more of Route 95, we arrived here at my par­en­t’s house in Bal­ti­more. Today we dropped the car off with a young woman who we met back in Con­necti­cut through my friends there, in George­town, DC. All con­tin­ues to go well and on sched­ule. We are def­i­nite­ly on our way.

Beyond the Day-to-day
I’m still excit­ed to be start­ing a new chap­ter, but I’m also sad to leave so many good things behind: Friends, col­leagues, and beau­ti­ful places (some in the city, some in the coun­try). As I was lis­ten­ing to the old chest­nuts peo­ple sang on July 4th like ‘This Land is Your Land’ and ‘Amer­i­ca the Beau­ti­ful’, I thought for a moment or two what it will be like to remem­ber those as some­one who left them behind.

I’ve often talked about how this coun­try is not the coun­try that I grew up in. Where to begin with so many small things that add up to so much? The coun­try I grew up in was ‘The Good Guys’. Amer­i­ca was admired, and per­haps even envied by the rest of the world (I remem­ber how fun­ny it was that oth­er coun­tries, like those in east­ern Europe were so anx­ious to get blue jeans). I was con­stant­ly impressed by the sto­ries about Franklin, Jef­fer­son, Lin­coln, Roo­sevelt and JFK. Few lead­ers of oth­er coun­tries, with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of Ghan­di (as you might be able to tell from the quotes of him that I like to mem­o­rize), impressed me as much as those guys. I was proud of all the doc­u­ments that guar­an­teed free­dom of speech and the press. I was able to think thoughts like ‘That would nev­er hap­pen here’, unlike these days. I remem­ber how we thought that the sky was the lim­it, that opti­mism and entre­pre­neur­ial zeal would win every­body over, and gee-whiz, we’d all end up rich, but help each oth­er out on the way. Debt, like body fat, was some­thing we did­n’t accu­mu­late in huge quan­ti­ties, and although we did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly do the right thing every time about the envi­ron­ment, we were get­ting a lit­tle bet­ter and one of these day’s we’d fix it — just give the sci­en­tists time to work it out. Maybe I’m over­stat­ing, but As Don­ald Fagen put it his song I.G.Y (which stood for Inter­na­tion­al Geo­phys­i­cal Year):

Stand­ing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream’s in sight
You’ve got to admit it
At this point in time that it’s clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Under­sea by rail
Nine­ty min­utes from New York to Paris
Well by sev­en­ty-six we’ll be A.O.K.

What a beau­ti­ful world this will be
What a glo­ri­ous time to be free

Get your tick­et to that wheel in space
While there’s time
The fix is in
You’ll be a wit­ness to that game of chance in the sky
You know we’ve got to win
Here at home we’ll play in the city
Pow­ered by the sun
Per­fect weath­er for a stream­lined world
There’ll be span­dex jack­ets one for everyone

What a beau­ti­ful world this will be
What a glo­ri­ous time to be free

On that train all graphite and glitter
Under­sea by rail
Nine­ty min­utes from New York to Paris
(More leisure for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Pro­grammed by fel­lows with com­pas­sion and vision
We’ll be clean when their work is done
We’ll be eter­nal­ly free yes and eter­nal­ly young

What a beau­ti­ful world this will be
What a glo­ri­ous time to be free

How has this changed? Well, it’s not only about hat­ing (yes, I must admit it, I hate) the man who sits in the Oval Office, as well as the craven Vice Pres­i­dent. It’s not only about how the coun­try is cloud­ed over with signs that read ‘Call 311 for sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty’ and TV Net­works that spew polit­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da that Prav­da would have been hap­py to print or broad­cast. It’s not only about more home­less on the street with no atten­tion paid to their plight, or the fact that chil­dren no longer learn music or art in many pub­lic schools, or that peo­ple seem to think that a mag­net­ic rib­bon on their gaso­line-gulp­ing SUV con­sti­tutes sup­port for the troops in a war that just goes on and on as far as the eye can see. It’s not only the grow­ing cul­ti­va­tion of reli­gious fanat­ics, both here (the Chris­tians) and abroad (the Mus­lims). It’s not only the fact that athe­ists are not even con­sid­ered cit­i­zens and sci­en­tists are seen once again as heretics for teach­ing the facts of evo­lu­tion. As far as I look on the hori­zon, I see decline for the US, social­ly, polit­i­cal­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, eco­nom­i­cal­ly, and philo­soph­i­cal­ly, and that sad­dens me more.

At the end of the movie ‘Three Days of the Con­dor’, Max von Sydow, the Swiss hit man, sug­gests to Robert Red­ford that he should move to Europe because if he stays in the US, soon­er or lat­er he’ll get mur­dered. Red­ford says that he can’t, that he’d miss Amer­i­ca too much. I won­der how that line would be inter­pret­ed in a movie today?

My friend Rob said that he thought of me as a new sta­tis­tic: a Metro-Sur­vival­ist. Instead of stock­ing a cave in the moun­tains with bot­tled water, food and firearms, I flee to a city of more oppor­tu­ni­ties (or at least one that does­n’t seem to be on this down­ward slope). I point­ed out that this was often what led immi­grants to coun­tries for years, pota­to famine or what­ev­er else led to the move, so this real­ly isn’t any­thing new. What is new is that now it’s an Amer­i­can seek­ing his for­tune in anoth­er coun­try that just might be bet­ter, and that is the sad­dest thing of all.

Why I Don’t Celebrate Valentines Day

OK. I want to get this out of the way before it hits tomor­row, but I strong­ly dis­like Valen­tines Day. Note that I don’t say ‘hate’. Hate implies some unspo­ken issue that forces strong emo­tions to the sur­face. When a teen boy or girl says they ‘hate’ some­one or some­thing, it’s usu­al­ly because they have a strong attrac­tion to it (either neg­a­tive or pos­i­tive). That’s not the case here, as I don’t have vio­lent reac­tions to Feb­ru­ary 14th, but rather am irri­tat­ed by what peo­ple have made of it, and I pre­fer to not par­tic­i­pate, thank you.

There are some obvi­ous rea­sons for my antipa­thy, such as the fact that the hol­i­day is more or less pro­mot­ed entire­ly by the Greet­ing Card and oth­er relat­ed indus­tries (as well as Con­fec­tion­ers, Hotels, Restau­rants, and Liquor Stores). I also don’t like the idea of ever fol­low­ing the herd, just on prin­ci­ple. But my biggest rea­son for dis­lik­ing Valen­tine’s Day is that it’s an oxy­moron. To me, the whole point of roman­tic love is is that it’s spon­ta­neous. You don’t pick a date to be roman­tic; it just hap­pens. An angle of the light, an oppor­tu­ni­ty to be naughty, a cel­e­bra­tion that turns into some­thing else, a good-bye that turns pas­sion­ate; It’s not a planned event on the cal­en­dar: On Feb­ru­ary 14th plan to be roman­tic. That’s ridicu­lous. You might as well say On March 2nd get curi­ous or On August 8th become bored.I also dis­like the pres­sure by peers (or the news­pa­pers or tele­vi­sion) to be roman­tic: If you aren’t on act­ing roman­tic on Valen­tine’s Day, you are either to be pitied or lec­tured to. If you don’t go through the motions, they say, you’re only miss­ing out on the fun. Your part­ner may say that he or she under­stands, but they’re real­ly secret­ly dis­ap­point­ed in you, year in and year out. Or worst of all, you have deep emo­tion­al fail­ings in the romance depart­ment if you can’t turn it on and off like a Via­gra-pow­ered light switch.
I may be exag­ger­at­ing the whole pres­sure and expec­ta­tions thing a bit; most of my friends and fam­i­ly (includ­ing my sig­nif­i­cant oth­er) accept my Valen­tine Scrooge role as a charm­ing foible, like those peo­ple who get upset about Thanks­giv­ing or rail about the com­mer­cial excess­es of our mod­ern-day Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions (which do indeed dwarf the pro­mo­tion of flow­ers and choco­lates that the world of com­merce has imposed on this hol­i­day). Come to think of it, Jews prob­a­bly should­n’t have to feel com­pelled to cel­e­brate this hol­i­day any­way; it’s a Saint, after all, who’s name is being invoked.

Who knows, maybe some Valen­tine’s Eve I’ll be vis­it­ed by the three Dick­en­sian ghosts of Valen­tine’s Day Past, Present and Future, and we’ll all have a great orgy (com­plete with lace, choco­late and show­ers of rose petals) that con­vinces me of the error of my ways and makes me vow to pur­sue the bless­ings of Valen­tine’s Day the whole year round.
I’m not bet­ting on it.