GEMINI JIVE • The Homeland Security Grinch Who Stole ChanKwanChrisSolMas?December 23, 2008
My late parents were married on Christmas Eve, so that might have made me the Baby Jesus — but I’m not. Instead, as an adult-onset orphan, I get to reconstitute my own family. I can actually pick who I prefer to spend holidays with. Which means dear friends near and far, many of them scattered to the Four Winds.
You must have seen recent headlines like this one from Metro, the global newspaper: “FINALLY A GOOD EXCUSE TO AVOID YOUR CRAZY FAMILY; ECONOMIC WOES CUTTING HOLIDAY TRAVELING DOWN TO SIZE.”
To me, traveling’s easy– staying home’s hard. Typically, the exotic and unfamiliar trump the mundane and routine. You have to work really hard at tolerating everyday reality. I mean, without consuming tons of booze or pills or chocolate.
Community really helps. So do, um, cats.
So I’m walking across center city Philadelphia on a pleasant recent Saturday evening, headed for a dear friend’s party. I’m feeling mellow, in the village-y part of downtown away from the commercial bustle of skyscrapers and office buildings. It’s true, Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. I’m admiring block after block of historic, seasonally-decorated red-brick row-houses. They do have their charm.
Suddenly, as I enter a nearby neighborhood of shops and cafes known as Antiques Row, I begin noticing how nearly every street corner, not just mine, has been inexplicably ruined by unfinished excavations, piles of dirt and chunks of broken concrete obstructing sidewalks, huge holes dug up and blocked off with those annoying oversized ugly orange-and-white plastic traffic markers big as barrels — looking like they’ve bred overnight and multiplied exponentially, harbingers of an alien civilization — completely destroying the village-y feel.
Maybe I need to get out more.
Little do I know. When I arrive at my destination , a celebration of the Solstice at the home of the congenial litterateur “Freemantle McGonigle,” not his real name, his guests are abuzz about huge, refrigerator-sized brown metal monoliths being installed all over center city — apparently at the behest of, yes, Homeland Security.
Supposedly the Feds fronted $12 million to already cash-strapped Philadelphia for “digitizing its traffic-light system,” which really means facilitating eventual installation of surveillance cameras on our city streets. Already, what skeeved-out Philadelphia Inquirer architecture columnist Inga Saffron has labeled these “brown behemoths” are cropping up on downtown sidewalks, blocking store windows, interfering with walkways, obstructing residences, obliterating the view, totally out of scale with these colonial-style neighborhoods of row-houses and small shops.
How can they do this to us without even asking? Silly me, I thought this was a democracy. Can’t we control anything they do to us?
But there’s a literal punch-line to all this insanity: Ms. Saffron also notes fiscally challenged Philly can’t even afford the software to put the system into operation! Despite the Mayor closing libraries to help balance the way-outta-whack municipal budget. Nice move, dude! Just what we need, less libraries, more weapons!
In Stanley Kubrick’s visionary 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” remember the paradox of those towering monoliths?
“At the dawn of man,” according to IMDB, “a primitive tribe lives by hunting and gathering in a desert. The tribe discovers a black monolith, which they approach and examine. The implication is that the monolith is of extraterrestrial origin, and it imparts the knowledge of tools on members of the tribe. After the discovery, one of the tribe members scavenges a bone from a pile and uses it as a club, discovering the first tool. This tool is used to hunt, and eventually as a weapon to kill a member of a rival tribe…”
And we’re off to the races!
From here, it looks like American civilization as we know it, maybe even poor, battered Planet Earth, is actually hurtling, or is that inexorably lurching, toward the much-trumpeted 2012 end-of-the-world conclusion of the Mayan Calendar, and right on schedule at that. Are you ready? No whining, slobbering, or grumbling allowed. How will it play out? Probably with a huge computer-generated electronica fanfare, threats of nuke-you-lar Armageddon from China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, Mexico, Venezuela, California, and France, then last-minute help from Friends in High Interplanetary Places.
You’re thinking maybe I haven’t had my morning Cymbalta yet– or yours?
Normally I’m pretty upbeat , but lately I’m just a leetle worried. Surely these are excessively exciting times for the Pseudo-Punditocracy, our self-proclaimed word-warrior class of e-prophets-without-portfolios. Which can be a simultaneous blessing and a curse.
I’m trying to imagine the actual Doom Scenario, or at least what kind of even-more-monstrous culture this battered country of ours will morph into –but all I can come up with is the luridly trite intersection of “The Invasion” meets “Road Warriors” meets “Wonder Boys” meets “War, Inc.,” hold the mustard.
There’s always hope, right? Visionary musician/proprietor of Germ Bookstore David E. Williams emails me, just in time to recapture our positivity: “I don’t ever place much in date-based theories of apocalypse, especially when they come from cultures that don’t even survive the printing of their own calendar onto paper.”
© Copyright 2008 ML Polak/All Rights Reserved. DO NOT reproduce or disseminate in ANY form via any medium under penalty of beheading. Yes, you can link to me. But that’s it. Contact author for syndication rates and tell your local newspaper editor they need to run this column before actual newspapers go extinct like the dodo, the auk, the bison, and real men.
ML Polak — it’s not a pen-name, it’s a real person! — is an award-winning Philadelphia-based journalist, screenwriter, essayist, novelist, editor, spoken-word artist, performance poet, workshop leader, lecturer, cat-and-dog companion, Reiki channel, and occasional radio personality. With architect Benjamin Nia, she completed a short documentary film about the threatened demolition of a historic neighborhood, “MY HOMETOWN: Preservation or Development?” on DVD. She is the author of several books including the collection of literary profiles, “The Writer as Celebrity: Intimate Interviews,” and her latest volume of poetry, “The Bologna Sandwich and Other Poems of LOVE and Indigestion.” Her books can be ordered by contacting her directly via email: Langwidge(at)aol.com