Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Matter of Time



Driving back from the Bay Area last Sunday, a funny , as in peculiar, thought hit me. It was smack in the big middle of the toughest part of the drive: the section between Vacaville and Redding. This is mostly agricultural flatland. Towns like Dunnigan, Artois, Winters, Corning, Red Bluff, Anderson, and Redding. I know I've forgotten some, but no matter, they are all very similar, hot dry, dusty, conservative, with the requisite gas stations, motels, and "restaurants." The choice is either the usual fast food suspects like KFC, McDonalds, Subway, with an Arbys or Carl's Jr. thrown in here and there. Occasionally there is a Bill and Kathy's restaurant, a Pilot truck stop, or an Indian casino, usually with feathers in the name.
As if traveling through these towns isn't torture enough, some folks there go out of their way to place grotesque billboards by the highway extolling their political beliefs. I'm used to the usual reminders that Christ died for my sins, and the blood spattered anti-abortion diatribes that rest under large Oak trees in this stretch of Northern California. But this time I was treated to something new. A real reminder of just how far we haven't come.
The sign read "Produce the Birth Certificate." We all know what this is about. "Birthers" are attempting to spread their manure in California's agricultural factories and fields. Then it hit me. What if it were the reverse. What if every time you had to drive through these rural desolation rows the messages foisted on you were quite different. "Produce the Health Care for Everyone" for a starter. Maybe we could put graphic pictures of clogged arteries next to all the fast food advertisements?
This isn't going to happen anytime soon, but every time I go to some outpost of civilization between major cities I notice that there are more people my age with my politics around every corner. It's just a matter of time.
II

A former colleague of mine used to have a poster in her classroom which read "Unless we read, we live but one tiny life." I think there was a picture of a young girl reading a book with a sparkling collection of images, archetypes, and colorful people swirling inside a thought bubble. I have always found this notion comforting...until...recently when I learned that a friend of mine has an 80 something mother who is an avid reader, but about as repressed, depressed, obsessed, a real mess...of a person as can be. This woman is the kind of person that sucks the energy out of the room. Her face, as bluesman Taj Mahal once sang, is "in a permanent frown." Her family is way too fucked up to mention in this brief space, and I do not want to write about hypocrites, racists, dsyfunctional, illiterate, ignorant, privileged, useless, pathetic, misanthropes. This woman apparently reads widely. What happened? Why the tiny life? I know, I know, maybe she has another life like most in her family. It doesn't seem possible in this case. Can a person read for a lifetime with no apparent positive impact? You tell me.

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