Birthday Card

SUBHEAD: The distant roar you hear today is neither Nascar nor Niagara. It's the sound of institutions crashing.  

By James Kunstler on 4 July 2011 for - 

Image above: From (

Do you, too, sense the dread abiding in our annual celebration of national wonderfulness? Outside today's barbeque bubble the dark shapes of wild events loom, exciting primal fears of unresolved woe and travail. Yesterday, I saw a man on a back street of a small town with spider webs tattooed on his elbows and a screaming skull on the back of his neck. America, meet your new normal: a citizenry of exterminating angels.

Our political exertions mean nothing to them. They think Ronald Reagan was the offspring of John Wayne and Minnie Mouse and the House of representatives is a reality TV show about home improvement. Once they are on the loose, even Rush Limbaugh and other like-minded jingo creeps of the airwaves will despair.

Old Allen Ginsburg got it right fifty years ago: "America, go fuck yourself with your atom bomb," he said. Even back then, in the age of purple people eaters and the weird neutered figure of Ozzie Nelson lurking in kitchen with nothing to do but drink endless cups of coffee, all was not so well.

Freedom to cruise for burgers turned out to be a pretty trashy thing, considering all the blood and sacrifice that preceded those days of fun in the California sunshine. Look at California now: Nathanial West Meets Aztlan (coming soon on home video). Who put that locust in my burrito?

Do you ever wonder what Mr. Jefferson would think looking around Virginia today? All those farms of his sturdy yeomanry turned to tract McHousing for lobbyists from pharmaceutical industry; the Beltway traffic at Tysons Corner; the Richmond International Speedway. 
I'd like to take ole Tom to Nascar on the Fourth of July to meet the futurity of 1776, put him on a seat right behind the crash barrier, stick a long-neck in his left hand, a cheese-steak in the other, and one of those hats crafted of flattened beer cans on his philosophy-filled noggin.

What would he make of the celebrity drivers in their logo-covered jumpsuits, not to mention the activity to which they dedicate their youthful energies: roaring around an oval circuit in flame-spewing carriages. 
There was no analog for this is Tom's time, except perhaps the alter-pieces of Hieronymus Bosch - and there was no color lithography in those days, so he may well never have actually seen that particular depiction of hell.

I'm sure the speedway spectacle would drive him batshit. Five minutes into a Sprint Cup heat, Tom runs shrieking to the piers of Norfolk in search of a passage to France....

Science knows: not all experiments come out the way you expect. Here you have the North American continent, filled with untold natural riches, splendid waterways, six feet of loam on the trackless prairie, timber galore, gold, silver, borax, buffalo, passenger pigeons innumerable darkening the skies! All in all, a pretty high-percentage deal.

And it took only a couple of hundred years to turn it into a set of interconnected parking facilities, that is, to fuck it up royally (even though we are officially opposed to royalty). Too bad none of the Founding Fathers was a traffic engineer. He might have advised against recent developments.

And now the experiment is foundering. It's been nice not thinking about it so much for a day or two. I spent one afternoon canoeing down a local trout stream called the Battenkill.

Even this will be impossible in a few years, because you need a couple of cars to do it - one at the put-in and one at the take-out. So it is not that far removed from Nascar, really. And the darn canoe itself is made of some rubberoid petroleum derivative So shame on me.

All I can say is they weren't selling cheese steaks and beer can hats along the bank and the ospreys do not wear the Budweiser logo on their under-wings. It was shockingly beautiful along the river.

I thought about all the people battling their way hopelessly on the I-30 freeway through Dallas, or the I-405 in L.A., or the I-85 in Atlanta and almost squeezed out a few crocodile tears for them. When "this sucker goes down," in the immortal words of a recent former president, we'll all fall pretty hard, wherever we may live. I wish I knew what the hell we are really celebrating today.

Surely many in this nation see an approach to an abyss. I wish we could get our heads together before it gets here or we get there. There is so much to do besides what we are busy doing now, keeping a set of stupid rackets spinning just because they are our rackets and we're used to them.

Among other things, in case you haven't noticed, money is going extinct. The distant roar you hear today is neither Nascar nor Niagara. It's the sound of institutions crashing. I guess, like Scarlett O'Hara, we'll think about it tomorrow. Happy Fourth of July everybody. Happy birthday, America.

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