Two Steps Backward, One Forward

As an aging curmudgeon, it is practically my duty to decry the post-modern world and to maintain that everything was better then. Whichever “then” seems charming in the rose-colored and forgetful glow of nostalgia.

Some things are certainly worse. The leaf blower is clearly the work of the devil, along with its fellow demonic creations –lawnmowers, weed whackers, chainsaws. This time of year, it is almost impossible to find a place free of the din.

I live on what appears to be a quiet, leafy street. Fat chance. I mosey out to my back porch book in hand to sit, as the Bible promises, under my vine and fig tree and enjoy a calm, unhurried, contemplative read. But no.

From 20 yards away comes the whine and clatter and growl of the neighbor’s lawn mower in full cry as he beats the back forty into submission. Rather than try to wait out the storm, which experience has taught can be never ending, I shift my ground to the front porch. As if on cue, hired hands appear in truck and trailer. Off drives an industrial strength riding mower belching blue smoke. Next come the higher pitches of whacker and blower.

Take a walk down the street and it is more of the same. It is like attending a multi-stage heavy metal music festival. Different lawn care cacophonies emerge from each yard I pass. Remember when gardening was regarded, like angling, as an activity of quiet repose and contemplation. No more. Now it’s about as restful as an afternoon in a foundry. Instead of the homely trowel, the garden enthusiast is likely to be perched atop a backhoe.

Finally declaring unconditional surrender, I go off to dine at the neighborhood sushi joint at the strip mall, but even there the noise pollution follows me. On the sidewalks outside the stores, Muzak. They don’t even wait for you to get inside anymore to begin the aural assault.

Blaise Pascal said all men’s miseries came from not being able to sit quietly in a room. He meant we are fidgety with the need to be doing something when we’d be better off doing nothing. Or at least pausing to think before acting. But that was then, now we are unable to sit quietly in a room not because we are restless but because the world won’t let us. It won’t shut up.Try to find a quiet room.

However, I did find some progress to celebrate at the sushi restaurant where incongruous Motown accompanied the yakisoba. As I looked around I realized I was surrounded by middle-aged blue collar guys, of the sort likely to go back to whacking weeds after their California Roll, along with the kind of ladies who lunch who employ them. And it occurred to me that probably less than 10 percent of their fathers ever ate a piece of sushi in their lives, or a fish taco for that matter. Now it’s normal.

America’s palate used to be pretty darn narrow, meat and potatoes, macaroni and cheese. The only more dramatic change may be the almost complete flip-flop on gay rights. In less than a decade the idea of gay marriage has gone from the work of Beelzebub to ho-hum for about 60 percent of the people.

So things do change for the better, once in awhile. The arc of history does bend toward justice, and toward more varied and interesting lunches. I feel optimistic until I recall that Ted Cruz is a senator. A United States Senator. But maybe the arc just hasn’t got to Texas yet. All I can say is: Penelope Cruz for President.

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