A friend says he doesn’t like to visit the town he knew as a boy because everyone is old. On Main Street, faces bring to mind parents of classmates who, like me, might have moved away. When we see each other, we probably think of mothers or fathers, and then wonder, later, maybe he or she was us.
A giant air-conditioning unit strikes up the band, tuning a D and holding it like a long-winded diva. Now and then a gust blows the D elsewhere, leaving a low rumbling accompaniment. When I first heard this, I wondered where the nearest train tracks could be. A week ago I attended a solar workshop in an engineering classroom at Virginia Tech, where persistent HVAC humming threatened to out-talk the speakers. In some ways, we are very advanced, yet we have replaced the drums of ancestors with noises we can't control.
Lunch includes a super-sized chicken nugget, canned asparagus, congealed pudding speckled with cinnamon to give it a little flavor, and a white substance spotted with blueberries. I expect criticism of the chef. Instead, someone speaks what is to become a daily refrain, “They hire such fat ones here.” Fifty years ago I heard Thumper say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all."
I run on the local university’s track, smooth, forgiving and good for training my legs into five-fingered Vibrams. Each time around a Monsanto sign and its slogan, “Imagine,” greets me. I try to imagine a world without Monsanto. Does it ever imagine a world without us?
Perhaps we have paid too much attention to Thumper. We heed the commandments, “You deserve a break today” and “You can’t eat just one.” We don't object, we don't question, we take a break, and we eat two, over and over again. Running like lemmings at a cliff, we hesitate to listen to the frankness of elders and ancient drums.
This may be exactly what the vested interests who spend billions urging us not to put on the brakes want. On the other hand, I like to think even Monsanto would change its tune if customers demanded what they wanted. Until we decide to consciously choose our desires, the dictator of commercial advertising may or not remain benevolent.
I follow my tracks in thick, dewy grass back to the patio of my mother’s apartment, slide the screen door open, and press down on the latch. It doesn’t move. For the second time in two days, I must find a “companion,” the retirement complex equivalent of a WalMart “associate" or other “stakeholder.” Wells Fargo has no branches; they are “stores.” We have filed "flight attendants" and "secretaries" with typewriters and record players.
I’ll carry the key. When I lived here, we didn’t lock our doors unless we were leaving on vacation (to places like southwest Virginia). Any thieves reading this, help me out. First question: When I lived in cities and worried about crooks and muggings, I felt safe on rainy nights, figuring the water created too much work and kept them away. Was I wrong?
Next question: Let's say you've driven up a lane or forest road to your next target. My assumption is, having gone this far, with no neighbors in easy hearing distance, you'd break in, leaving a door or window to repair. An unlocked entryway would make everyone's life easier. Am I wrong?
"Back to Thumper," says Virginia. "Sometimes he makes sense, others not. Movers and shakers would agree."
(To be continued)