Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Signs of the Apocalypse--Survival in Suburbia

Well, it’s been a quiet week in Spring, Texas, my home town, out on the edge of the Megalopolis. The whether started out a warm and humid Indian Summer, and later there was delightful, dry and cool, fall weather. Oh, and in between there was a natural disaster that caused a billion dollars of damage and still has over a million people without electric power.

So, it was sort of like a judgment day sandwich. A nice warm piece of summer bread on top, a hearty piece of autumn bread on the bottom, all surrounding a heaping serving of nature’s wrath.

Mmmmmm. Tasty.

Now, 11 days on, with no air conditioning in sight, the daytime temperatures are in the upper 80s with humidity to match. Our little corner of suburbia has become some anthropologist’s bizarre Petri dish.

Looking around the cul de sacs, an acute researcher could observe what happens when the suburbs return to the “state of nature,” that time before organized governments or society where the noble savage emerged from the forest and made a social compact with his brethren not to kill and eat each other in exchange for cooperation for mutual survival and the propagation of the species. So, too, the researcher could notice how these pre-societal family progenitors engage in behavior calculated to demonstrate their social dominance or mating potential.

Mostly this has to do with horsepower, and actually one has a sneaking suspicion that these displays have more to do with “compensating.” Just think “Hummer driver.” Read on and you’ll start to get the picture.

You see, when a McMansion becomes a dark, un-air-conditioned box with no workable electronics, one must fill the entertainment gap and maintain one’s social status in some fashion. Thus, the circle on which we live went from the silence after the storm through a crescendo of internal combustion engines. Now, there is a steady hum as generators.

But in this suburban, American, Petri dish, it hardly suffices to have a mini-generator merely to run the refrigerator, providing only the necessity of food to go along with water and shelter. No, once the social compact has been entered, and we have refrained from attempting to destroy our neighbors, we must nevertheless compete with them. Thus, the corpulent, cubicle dwellers of Magnolia Way have become overnight experts on the engineering limitations and features of power generators.

At minimum, an American, suburban generator must be capable of running the refrigerator, some fans, a couple lamps, and most importantly, the flat screen television, whose glow must and will be seen from the street--a beacon to principle that life depends not only on food, shelter and water, but also on entertainment. The cry might well go up, “Give me Leno, HBO and late night Skin-e-max or give me death.”

But the perceptive sociological observer would note that merely having a few lights on inside the house is insufficient plumage for certain of the species to establish their place within the social hierarchy. Who knows what type of generating capacity is necessary to have one’s house awash and ablaze in light sufficient to hold a party and crank up the music in apparent ignorance of the fact that your neighbors all have their windows open. Or maybe they wanted everyone to hear their music, hmmm? And is this a bigger statement of social dominance than pulling an RV into your driveway and living in air conditioned comfort, albeit in fewer square feet than the party house?

Of course, I grew up Baptist, Calvinistic and Puritanical before fundamentalism was cool. And folks like us are conspicuous in our plainness and proud of our humility. We believe in conspicuous non-consumption. We drive 10 year old Toyotas, even if we could afford new Hummers. We save our money and pay off our credit cards. We have no mortgage crisis, because we bought less house than the bank want to lend us money for. We buy suits off the rack, and used race wheels.

OK, maybe race wheels is a bad example.

Add to this that I descend from stock whose Native American progenitor refused to enroll with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and refused to take handouts lest he become beholden to the government and less human as a consequence. (True story. I come by my conservative nature genetically). We moved one step ahead of civilization for decades on end, living on the frontier and making our own way. We are the self-reliant few who made the Monroe doctrine a reality--conquering the prairies, taming the west, pushing America’s manifest destiny from sea to shining sea.

Yeah, that was us, recent Euro-trash immigrants. You can thank me later.

People like this have no need of assistance, government or otherwise, nor of creature comforts unnecessary to subsistence and survival. We can live for weeks on end in the dark, create fire with flint and steel, boil water, consume non-perishable food, and jeer in quiet, self-satisfaction at the softness of our pasty, suburban neighbors while gripping our firearms in the darkened recesses of our homes.

But did I mention that Mrs. Greyhound and ‘Pounce arrived home on Monday? And did I mention that our weather gods have once again reminded us that this is Houston, and so one must always be coated with a salty layer of slime while drops of sweat trickle down your backbone and over your belly? And did I mention that Mrs. and ‘Pounce spent one (only one) sticky night with no fans and no ac on Monday? And did I mention that, low these 12 days after the storm, F-ING CENTERPOINT has not managed to get the power restored in a neighborhood with very few downed trees and NO OVERHEAD POWER LINES? And did I mention that one of Mrs. Greyhound’s friend had her power restored, and no longer has need of the gigantic, ultra-smoothe, Subaru generator that powered essentials in three houses in their neighborhood?

Twenty-four hours after Mrs. Greyhound’s return, we had a giant, Subaru generator humming on our back porch. To my Native American forefathers, this, undoubtedly, is a sign of the apocalypse.

Gosh that fan felt good last night.

Well, that's the News from Spring, Texas, where all the schools are exemplary, all the food is fast, and all the commutes are below average.


Flatman said...

OMG. I loved that last line.

Glad you can feel the cool breeze of a fan now, brother. Hope you get the juice back on soon. Until then, this can of soup is for YOU!

IronJenny said...

I loved the picture of the alligator walking across the street...
Y'all can come up here til the power comes back on!


As always...your commentary is biting and yet so damn clever. You should really think about becoming a lawyer or something...

SWTrigal said...

This is like a novel-I can't wait to read the next chapter! Unfortunately it is your realy life..glad you hear you have a generator finally and hope the electric company comes out of hiding soon!

Bigun said...

I think it was....13 days ago...the M-Dot Bigun poisoned your ear with whispers of diesel-fired generators creating immunity from power company incompetancies.

Yea....I told ya so. Now post a guard round the clock..generators are easy to steal.

CoachLiz said...

Loved the Montgomery Home Companion edition.