The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Culture Shock In New England

 Lest I lose you, dear reader, for going away and astray, here's the latest on the psycho squirrel of Prospect Park  and also in neighborhood news the scaffolding on Lincoln Road has finally come down from the Tom Anderson building - after nearly 4 long years. A certain prophetic gentleman whom I've tagged Nostrandamus has noted the bizarrely institutional look to the lobby of the Flatbush entrance, leading us to wonder if half the building might end up being used to house homeless folks? Were it to be so, the term "poor door" would be very much apt. Now on to the middle-aged musing...

It happens every year, with alarming regularity now. 12 years n a row to be precise. The Q pulls up stakes and heads for the hills of Western Massachusetts, to the home of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), now the single biggest museum in the country having nearly doubled in size this past year alone. It's a remarkable place, full of twists and turns and surprises at every twist and turn. Most all exhibits (save the Sol LeWitt) switch-out each year, so it's never the same. I'm ostensibly working for these two weeks, though my job seems constantly shifting and now that I'm Social Media voice I find that I'm stuck in a persona of my own making, a voice much more optimistic and utopian than the one I betray here, so I'm never entirely comfortable even in the acres of air conditioning. Such are the angsty travails of the middle-aged, middle-class, liberal arts educated white man left-leaning "cool" dad. I'd like to think I'm archetypical rather than stereotypical, and that my sense of humor distances myself from the crowd, but even my sense of humor was honed in the same DLetterman/SSilverman/LCK/LDavid/Coco stew as the rest of them, so truly there's nothing original about me at this point, not even the dogged Doubting Thomas Devil's Advocate (DTDA) air of superiority that permeates every breathing thought. I could just off myself now and save the world another mansplainer, but I want to stick around and see how this Trump thing plays out and I really do love hanging out with the family and traveling and watching the world through kids' eyes and helping the occasional fellow drunk get back on his feet. That's not to say I'm depressed. Quite the opposite. Know thyself, and you might just save yourself, since acceptance is the key, and ice cream alone is worth the price of admission to this sorry catastrophe we call modernity.

As I was saying it happens to me every damn year, all through my 40's. As soon as I leave the Bronx, and this time it was just me with the girls heading through lyme-riddled Connecticut, stopping off at friends for a dip in a refreshing private pool the comfort of which most New Yorkers will never enjoy, then on to the Berkshire hills and a bit of soft-serve from one of those ma & pa ice cream and fried clams places that stink up every northeastern town worth its Main Street and Village Green. Why clams and lobster roll anyway? We're four hours from the ocean and sorry folks it's comin' outa the freezer in a bag. Soft serve, that genuinely innovative product that launched a thousand Mr. Softy's, is a true economic leveler, as only the haughtiest of the haughty of gourmands (or lactose intolerant) could refuse its tongue-chilling goodness next to godliness. Like at interstate rest areas, the rich and poor find themselves cone-to-cone with one another, odd benchfellows to be sure, and of every political and philosophic bent to boot. Preppies and yokels, Trumpers and Bern-feelers, architects and grease monkeys, meth-heads and potheads, the Farmer and Cowman CAN be friends, and black and white rest in equal proportion and integrated on a wafer cone in a twisty confection.  Not racial black and white of course - there are precious few folks of African descent here. There is absolutely no reason why one SHOULD mix vanilla and chocolate on a cone anyway - it's like mixing coke with mr. pibb - because you really can't distinguish the flavors when they're mixed up that way, but it looks cool and you suspend disbelief even as your licking something neither chocolate nor vanilla but rather Chilla, as my girls and I call it.

Out here in rural America, even BLUE state rural America, you're once again reminded that the country is WAY white and WAY un-NYC, or as Todd from Bovina likes to say "I'd rather take a beating than spend an hour in New York," and btw he lives just three hours away. When you talk to people out here, up here, down there, you start to remember that most of America doesn't relate to the multi-culti progressive zeitgeist nor necessarily have much interest at all in the ways of the nation beyond immediate needs and concerns. Oh, people get worked up like they always have, but until the policies of State hit home, it's just so much hot air. It has always been thus - politics is always local, except on the Huffington Post (or as I like to call it "The Hourly Outrage," since that's about how often they update their absurdly huge headline). Since the founding of the Republic there's always been a sizable contingent that despises centralized national authority and can't fathom why they must pay for things they don't need out of their hard-earned (and sometimes not-so-hard-earned) dollars. Trust me you needn't argue against that line of thinking; I'm with you. It's just not hard to imagine the other side, that's all, when you're away from the dense urban group-think.

Now, as a card-carrying liberal-arts-cool-dad I wish that rural America DID care more about leveling the playing field not just at home but worldwide, since for some reason it was ingrained in me that to be a good citizen of the earth one must worry about famine across the sea and justice for folks who don't look or sound like me. But every once in awhile I'm reminded that the primary concern of every species is procreation and rearing of young, and once fed and clothed and sheltered you could probably be forgiven for thinking the rest is none of your goddamn business. This is a morally bereft legitimate way of looking at the world, and it's one of the reasons I'm surprised that DIY Libertarianism hasn't become a more major political force on its own, rather than being usurped by the GOP as part of its Confederacy of Dunces. To the "farmer stock" of my grandparents' era it wasn't even really an option to imagine otherwise; like the Ingalls fambly you set out on your own and worked hard and did with what you had. In a dire emergency you availed yourself of good ol' Christian charity. I recall my grandfather, a Republican from IL (which, I might add proudly was true of our greatest President) saying that the worst business that government can be in is the charity business, because it creates an unholy alliance between a political party and an underclass, one that can be manipulated at will by the wielding of carrots and sticks. I cede that very point to the man, though his world was pretty small and couldn't fathom the true depravity of a post-slavery post-industrial hyper-capitalist hyper-specialized mostly-urbanized mostly-demoralized society of wildly unequals.

From the Department of Duh it's worth remembering that the Wars and Great Depression changed America, and there was finally a political will to take action, BIG action, on a national scale, and to pay for it with taxes. Suddenly a wildly rich country, the U.S.A. could really pay for stuff like massive infrastructure projects and more generous welfare and even single payer healthcare for the poor and old, and progressives could now imagine a country with a solid judicial that could try to spread things more evenly and take care of its most vulnerable, and best of all (here's where my liberal heart turns cynical) create a reliable base of support for its ideology. I would argue that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who worked hardest to manipulate the electorate to their advantage. They had the brains and the media on their side, and from JFK to the assassination of Bobby and Martin it looked like nothing could stop them. The youth were digging it, some major churches were on board, the Vietnam War didn't help the conservative anti-commie cause, and Medicare and Medicaid helped ensure a base of support for progressive politics into the foreseeable future. And then...bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. An over-reach by the Left? Too much talk of revolution? Or just plain ol' fear striking the heart of the breadbasket? The country's lurch to the right started with Nixon and but for a brief hiccup caused by his paranoia, the rightward march held steady through the late '80s. The wars of these years set the stage for a new all-out negative political terrain that frankly wasn't that different from the old except in its 24-7 intensity. The energy and urgency on the Left had dissipated and the right was now promising something equal in sway to entitlements - tax cuts, unpaid for of course and with dramatic consequences to the national budget and the poor and to the rates of incarceration particularly against young men who were NEVER gonna vote for Republicans anyway.

And really when it gets down to it...aren't tax cuts and health care both entitlements, to appease the two bases? Were it not for those pesky problems of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, well, it wouldn't be hard to fathom the need to argue those philosophic questions with civility and humility. We're being thrown bones really, to keep us in line, and it works astoundingly well for the wealthy who can hardly contain their glee when the revolution is put off for another generation.

The Trump phenomenon feels personal because that's how it's sold. You, dear liberal, are the enemy, and the current administration won't let you forget it. Your politics are elite and patronizing. You claim moral high-ground even as you take care of your own just as fiercely as any right-winger. You just do it while voicing the dying language of the Left, though there's not much revolution left in you. When you see people truly taking to the streets - whether Occupiers or Black Lives Matter or even the fiercest Bernie Bros, you feel a bit of glee but you don't join in. You're staring at your phone hoping things will go your way in the next news cycle, acknowledging but not participating, secretly hoping that things don't get TOO out of hand, because, after all, at your core, you are a Homo Sapien, a creature like any creature, primarily concerned with pro-creation, the procurement of food and shelter, and the safety and nurturing of your young. They might label you Entitled, and you might feel a pang of regret, but somewhere in your very skeleton your DNA is cheering.

You are a hairless ape with aspirations of grandeur. You are a hairy lizard making decisions based on fear. You are a hilarious mistake of evolution that might just extinguish your lineage in pursuit of what exactly? Art? Comfort? Power?

You are pathetic. And I love you, just as I'm pathetic and love myself to the degree I don't off myself, take pleasure in my young, and seek to illuminate not just my own struggle but the neighborhood, city, country and planet. There. That's all it is, dimly illuminated, with no coherent meaning or spiritual enlightenment to be gained, though you and I will vainly try like Sisyphus to achieve something, and even the greatest of you will descend like Icarus after touching the sun just enough to write a poem or song about it. And you might get a statue and a paragraph on the world wide digital magazine under History of the Human Race, but that sun will ultimately burn out your eyes and scorch your home and those wings were cheap plastic anyway.

To paraphrase this Post, as the Great Lorax once sayeth, UNLESS...


MikeF said...

that was a lot of typing.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Couldn't finish it...It was depressing...and it's a lot to take in at once!

Anonymous said...

You are a hairless ape with aspirations of grandeur. You are a hairy lizard making decisions based on fear. You are a hilarious mistake of evolution that might just extinguish your lineage in pursuit of what exactly? Art? Comfort? Power?

I dunno. I get the feeling a vacationer sat through a summer stock performance of Eugene O'Neill's "The Hairy Ape" while up in the Berkshires.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

hilarious! I meant to go see it in NYC but it was sold out - yet another luxury problem. I am going to see Halley Ffeiffer's play at Williamstown Theater Festival. How cozy and NPR is THAT? Top it baby! Maybe I'll see Robert Fucking Siegel there! Or better yet, Corey Flinthoff!

Actually it was Captain Beefheart's "Apesma" bit at the end of a record that pointed me on this tangent. And a BBC show called "Walking With Cavemen." But same shit, different channel...

Anonymous said...

This post could be distributed as The Hand-Wringer's Manifesto