Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Two guys in my neighborhood bought land, lots of it, out in the country. One's moved out already. The other is going to slowly build the house, build the grounds. These guys aren't young guys. I guess I think of things like you get forty years of vigor. I've had a few years of vigor already, and I've only got about three or four decades of vigor left before I will start to get so slow. How long will any of us get to ramble around our countryside, ride tractors and plant trees? I watched someone retire, once, into this big house. It was their dream. They sold the house and got a smaller house because the big house was so much cleaning, so much working. We never get what we need when we need it. If you're twenty-four, vigorous, with decades of vigor to come, that's land your kids can spread out in, garden, run wild. When your kids are older, it's just you alone in the woods, with land you have to mow on a tractor. It's land that sits there, waiting for you to do something, and there's nothing to do but make work for yourself, or let it go wild. A smarter old guy I know, who keeps busy, has his family farm and they plant paper trees for a paper plant and they mostly leaves the acreage alone. He stays in the city, walks to a job he enjoys in his retirement near his little house, and keeps young by keeping busy. Out on the land, he occasionally oversees workers that come out after a while to take the trees for the paper company, the same as his dad did, and the same as his grandkids will do someday. One of those guys in my neighborhood doesn't seem to have kids that I've ever seen. The other did, and left his house for his yougnest son's care. This land he goes out to build and refashion in his own image, slowly, over time, well, I bet there will come a point where he can't keep up with it. The house he builds will be too big for his tired hands and legs. He will stop climbing the stairs, if there are any stairs. The tractor he uses to mow the grass down will be too much for him to clambor up on. The work will be too much. I suspect this because we all get there, to this place where the work of getting out of bed and dressing ourselves is hard because our body is falling down on the job. He will have to step away from it, then. Likely, he will try to do the same, and hand it to one of his sons, and from what I've seen they'll probably sell the land, and let their dad slip away into a condo, then an assisted-living facility, and a whole new entity will come to take the house, refashion it in their own image, tear down the landscape and replant everyting, mow the grass again. What was the point of all that time mowing grass? To what purpose was this idyll in the field, when the sons slip into the condo, themselves? There was a community here, trying to replicate itself, is what. There were people living here that tried to live the same sort of way, with the same systems. The system we're replicating is older than us, but it is a path of consumption and destruction, where we take too much and take too much and take it all away and take too much. How much vigor do our cities have? How long will we have it? What will happen to what us when we run out of vigor in the soil, and the water runs out and the dirt is hardpan and salted from so much build-up in the irrigation of shipped-in water? It used to be the kids rose up and filled the family properties. Estates expanded to be divided. Colonists devoured continents to build estates just like the ones that crowded them out of their home countries. There was only so much land. Hold the land. Manage it well. Pass it on to sons and daughters. Take the land from anyone that didn't deserve it. Excepting how we live here is not a way that can possibly last. The way we teach our children to live is built on the system that cleared the New World with illness and war and stole what wasn't ours to take. We don't do all of that Colonial stuff anymore, though. There's one difference. We surrender the land to the next generation by selling off the land, liquidating the assets into a cash cushion that moves through us in a wadded bubble. We live in the liquidity of the economy, then, not in the land itself. Our soil is our bank account, now, and our colonial estates. The rural dream these men go to - a dream that I share in my way - is a myth fashioned out of a history that is no longer our way. The land that used to be the foundation of generational wealth is this thing that people do in one phase of their retirement, their first house when they retire that's just so big - a dream house. What happens next is the time gets so long, and the fields so full of high grass, and the house so cluttered, and we shrink it all down. We shrink, too, our properties diminishing with our bodies until we are monks in a nursing home cell, chaste and praying in the darkness that we at least feel no pain. The book I am writing on spec, it is almost done, and it ends like this, following the pattern I see of the men around me, who expand and expand because the generations before us expanded and expanded, and then the tides shift inside of them. Vigor turns to glass and dust. We shrink, then. We shrink into the liquidity. It buys the medicine, the doctors' offices, the cleaning staff and nurses that dress us in the wee hours when we can't help but wake up, thirsty in the dark for a drink that never quenches. The true soil is invented, now, in economics. We have invented our own aether in which to return to dust. We are turning ourselves from flesh to steam. The next step is abandoning the expansion of life into property. Once this is beat out of us, as children watch their fathers and grandfathers and everyone doing this thing where they flee to the hills for a while and it gets sort of ridiculous, we'll stay in the cities, then. We'll stay and build our own soil in the air, itself, and invent our retirement palace there.

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