Saturday, August 27, 2011

On The Eve of Destruction: Food, Liberty, and Civil Rights

Hurricane Irene is supposed to pay Boston a visit come tomorrow. It seems there's a lot of hullabaloo about destruction. News reports always add an adjective before the characteristics of the storm: Irene begins its "destructive run." It "lashed" the North Carolina coast. It "pounded" shorelines. The Boston Herald today said, "The storm stands to bring a treacherous trifecta of nature’s forces: punishing winds, torrential rains and pounding waves along the coast." Not to mention some really bad alliteration.

It's going to be a big blow, no doubt. There's always the danger of the wind blowing down trees onto cars and houses, and knocking down power lines that could leave us without electricity for days. That means food spoils--you can lose hundreds of dollars that way--and things like showers become luxuries for some if their heating system depends on an electrical water pump.

I didn't want to buy into the whole hurricane fever. I looked around the house and it seemed we had pretty much whatever we needed. Worse comes to worse we'll either fire up the grill or a camp stove and live on pasta until things settle down. Still, I felt the pull to head to Stop 'n Shop. I grabbed my two bags and walked there. I like to generally walk. It's a way I can think about all the characters I have milling around in my head--both fictional and real. And think how they intersect and I think of interesting and evil things to put them through, the fictional ones at least.

And walking is the only way to really learn a city or a neighborhood. When I travel I love to wander the neighborhoods. And doing it in your own can be so illuminating. The Chinese here in Wollaston are doing a great job settling in. Every other house has some sort of garden in the yard. They don't grow something as useless as grass. Instead they grown their melons and vegetables. Their yards and gardens are so efficient. They're a combination of the practical and the decorative. Little paths wind through the vegetables. I saw a pipe sticking through a fence to drain the garden onto the sidewalk. Bamboo and other exotic plants are there for decoration. I think I saw more than a couple of dahlias taller than me. I looked down one driveway and saw an old woman sitting in her garage with a full kitchen at work. The shipyard and the quarries are long gone from Quincy. I know from talking to a few townies that they long for those days. They're like characters in a Tennessee Williams' play, longing for the days of the Old South, when things were genteel and there were Gentleman Callers.

I was expecting pandemonium at Stop 'n Shop, but the only signs that there was trouble were no carts inside the store and one of the scanner stands was out of order. It was crowded, but people were polite. It didn't seem any different than what could be any other Saturday. But the lack of carts, the crowd, the technology breakdown, and the sale on so many of the perishables told me that cracks were showing in the system, but it was still holding up. The world we live in, the way we have it set up, is so fragile. Just our food supply is in jeopardy every day, influenced by the price of gas and natural disasters. We've been watching the price of food go up in the past year. Just the other day Sue called me from the store, astonished that a red onion costs two dollars. An onion! The price of a gallon of milk is about four dollars now. We usually go to BJs for milk, eggs, and orange juice now, though today I bit the bullet and bought a dozen small eggs and a half-gallon of milk. We used to squeeze our own orange juice until the price of even juice oranges made that prohibitive. Last night I read a tweet from a reporter in Libya who said they were boiling eggs in the water from a flower vase. Imagine things getting to that point around here. Oh, that would never happen in the United States, people say. But the cracks are showing there, too. Being an insomniac gives me the opportunity to have a lot of waking hours to read, and last night I came upon this story on Al Jazeera. It's an opinion piece entitled, New York Becomes the Occupied Territories, and the writer explains how the NYPD is now working with the CIA to infiltrate the Muslim community in New York. "Simply put, if the intelligence that the NYPD intelligence unit is gathering is not useful to the judicial process, then it's not police work, it's spying. If Americans think being spied on by their government isn't such a big deal, they can talk to the millions of Arabs who've rebelled in good measures because of decades of such practices, or the citizens of former Communist countries in Eastern Europe. All of these governments also justified spying with the need to "protect" the state and citizens from potentially dangerous people. But it always ends the same way."

Anyway, it looks like we're on the eve of destruction on a few fronts, doesn't it.

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