Weather: Clear, sunny, pretty still, turning gray and cool.
Time frame: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Number of people: 22 stoppers, 7 walkbys
Pages of notes: 10 (fewer people-watching notes, this time)
Number of hecklers: 0!
People who read the sign out loud in an incredulous, wondering, suspicious or amused voice, without stopping to talk: 14
People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 5
People who asked for, and received, permission to take a picture: 1
People who took a picture without permission: 2
People who asked for, and received, permission to hug me: 1
Money raised for South Kingstown Land Trust: $8.63
Fair foods consumed: None
Best non-booth times today: It’s a tie!
1: Chatted with a woman in a power chair about Bubba, her service pug, who was riding around with her. He helps her monitor her blood sugar (I’m not sure how and would appreciate input from readers, if any of you know — can he smell it?).
2: Saw a real-life junior Miles Morales walking with his dad: a 5-year-old Black boy with a Spider-Man mask painted on.
This was the day I started keeping systematic track of people who read the sign out loud but didn’t come up to talk to me, something that hasn’t happened in other booth places / times.
Themes of the day: State government, beaches and coastal erosion, and something there’s probably a phrase for — global racism? displacement racism? provincial racism? (like, “Those people over there in that other country, they’re the ones with the problems”) — as well as plain old regional provincialism and its relationship with feeling personally responsible for a place.
Relatedly: I don’t fact-check the things people tell me before posting them here, though if in the conversation they say something I know to be untrue, I’ll say so to them (or ask a question). Many of this day’s conversations reminded me that in this work’s next incarnation I will have a lot of looking-up to do.
My parents are getting older and I don’t want to watch them deteriorate. I work with the elderly, so I know what to look for. I look at people and I think, “You’re probably gonna get this disease, or this disease.” My residents’ children sometimes say to me, “I’m the mother now,” but the residents will also say, “My mom’s picking me up.” Sometimes they’re cool with it, sometimes it’s tough — the ones who are more with it will catch themselves, like, “I mean my daughter, my daughter.” … The Scituate Reservoir, you never see water like that, pristine, without beach homes. There are eagles there — some of my residents’ families live there and they’ve seen them.
[These three came up together.]
Person 1: Rhode Island is the most corrupt state. You can see it in loss of jobs, crime increasing, politicians doing whatever they want.
What would you like to see them doing that they’re not doing?
Person 1: Taking care of other people instead of worrying about themselves. Cianci always took care of his people. There were summer jobs for kids, enough police, a lower crime rate — he made sure people were taken care of. I moved away 17 years ago, and I moved back about a year ago. I’m retired, and now I’m kind of stuck here. I can’t afford to move. As far as environment goes, we have the dirtiest beaches — the DEM is responsible for that — and the water itself, I wouldn’t even go swimming anymore.
Person 2: I think there should be a limit, like a capacity at every beach. Nowadays you’re on top of each other. And people are like burying beer cans, cigarette butts in the sand. It’s not gonna disappear!
Person 1: I’m a smoker and I agree.
Person 2: Your child’s diaper is not biodegradable! There needs to be some committee, or some type of preservation control.
Person 3: Nobody wants government control. It should be volunteers that do it.
Person 2: If you think about where a beach is, there’s all kinds of attractions, because the town’s trying to make money. People in the city have to get past that. I work at a [REDACTED], and the owner will go around on his golf cart outside, picking up trash. He could ask the people who work for him to do it, but he does it himself to show it’s important, with his little cigar hanging out of his mouth. People think, I pay taxes, so someone else should do it. But it’s our house. I pay my taxes on my house but I still take care of it. Everyone should be responsible.
Daughter: So global warming?
Mother: It’s why we have hurricanes in July instead of —
Daughter: Yeah, it does worry me.
Options for health insurance. I would like to quit my job and create my own work. But starting something is a risk anyway, and I don’t want to put her [indicates small daughter] at risk too.
Why do you want to start your own business?
Freedom. I get a stifled feeling if I don’t express myself. I don’t want to teach her that you have to be stifled in order to survive. At my current job there’s a lack of expression, a lack of integrity. The way the business is run is hypocritical. I wouldn’t run it this way. It’s broken.
I’ve been here for 20 years, and RI is not welcoming to outsiders. When I visited North Carolina there were flowers, there was landscaping — here, the welcome center’s closed.
Who do you feel is being made unwelcome?
New businesses. My middle daughter moved out of Rhode Island because she couldn’t find work.
I live in Pawcatuck [CT], and living on the beaches you saw it happen with the storm. In Westerly [where she works] I think people are aware. They saw it happen after the superstorm, and it’ll probably happen again. They put in tons of sand, but where’s it gonna go if there’s another storm? Into the ocean, is where.
Daughter: I see pictures of flooding and it makes me anxious. And also about this firefly study — did you hear about this? They did this study with kids catching fireflies and they found out that every year there’s less fireflies. My boyfriend says, “What do you expect, it’s happening …” Not being surprised is part of the bigger context. I feel awful about Bangladesh and other countries with less infrastructure and high population density where there’s been flooding.
Father: Over time, populations change because they’re forced to change. Where there isn’t water, people will stop living there. Maybe there won’t be a lot of new large construction — sort of a status quo. You know, the world population is almost flat right now, 3.1 per family, which is just about replacement rate, other than in sub-Saharan Africa, where they’re really in trouble … California is in big trouble.
Daughter: It’s getting difficult to grow corn in the Midwest. There’s a really short planting season and if that slips, it doesn’t get established, and then it can hardly make it. It seems like it’s exacerbating other issues that need more thought, like a lot of people are like, “We’ll just use GMO corn!”
Father: Part of the problem is quantifying results. In California, they’ve been asking people to reduce their water use voluntarily and the reduction was less than 20%. Some even increased. Now they’re relying on people to turn in their neighbors. But unless they can measure the aquifer, using less water becomes just a sign of virtue — which does motivate some people, but it needs to be shown that this is about more than just being a good person, like the equivalent of overseas relief, where they make the results more vivid. I’d like to know what a ton of carbon looks like. Even growing food, importing food, uses carbon.
Daughter: 90% of Rhode Island’s electricity comes from natural gas.
Father: It still kills me that I put this stuff [gas] in my car and a week later it’s gone.
What she loves about RI: The little grove in the woods near where she lives. You have to take old deer trails to get to it. It’s beautiful.
Him: Making a living, especially with the excessive tax rate in Rhode Island. And what are they using it for?
What would you like to see the state spend tax money on?
Him: It’s not what they’re spending it on, it’s —
Her: Roads, how about roads?
Him: But it’s not that, they’re spending let’s say $2000 on roads when they should be spending $400. They’re not checking if they’re getting value for money — Oop! Time’s up! I can’t stand this much longer.
[These two came up together.]
Person 1: I would just like to draw a big circle around South County [on the map]. Narragansett Pond, where our boat is — I would really like to see that cleaned up.
Person 2: There’s a line in RI, and when you cross that line there’s a change in mentality. More relaxed, friendlier. I’ve lived here for over 25 years, and I’ve seen more of northern RI become interested in what we have down here. There’s a certain modicum of resentment. There’s more of a city rush, people are rushed, they don’t know where they’re going.
Person 1: I’ve seen more accidents with people from northern RI.
So like … if you could snap your fingers and make them all go away, would you?
Person 1: I would just make them care more.
Person 2: They don’t have to go away.
Person 1: [They think] “It’s not our area, we don’t care” — yeah, but it is. They’re not always here, they’re not always dealing with it.
Person 2: They don’t care here, but they don’t care there either — it’s all about ourselves.
How do people escape that attitude of not caring, down here? Why do you think people down here care?
Person 2: Open spaces.
Person 1: There’s more oxygen down here. Literally, you can breathe.
Person 2: There’s grass and trees. I don’t want my neighbors on top of me. They keep stuffing in houses and stores … I used to own a house just up the street. The fair has evolved into this larger thing, with people from other parts of the state.
Person 1: They’re being bussed in.
Person 2: I’m glad that they come to enjoy it. I’ve gotten to my point in life where I used to try to make change, and now I try to write the wave.
Person 1: I can’t try to change the world, I can only do what I can do. I save plants, I saved a bird that was hurt at work. If everyone only did one thing — but they think their decisions don’t matter.
What he loves about Narragansett Beach: Sunning and swimming, getting so hot you have to go in the water, then getting out and warming up again, and doing that all day.
There’s concerns, not worries.
For me those are the same.
I see Beach Pond’s on here [the map]. That’s all polluted now. Do you know why?
Someone told me it was from fertilizer runoff, making the algae grow.
Oh, so it’s algae bloom from nitrates, not bacteria?
I think so.
People are destroying it because it’s not important to them. There’s not gonna be four seasons, it’s gonna be too hot for animals to live, for people to live. You’ll have to stay inside 24 hours a day for the A/C, and what about when there’s a power outage?
There’s a lot of new species this year
moving jaws along the vein
reading essays about the Futurists
making a real show of it
in their festival gear pierced with many wounds
what makes this dream different in number
or numbered in favor of a code
encrypted by day and plotted by night
the comfort a lot of people feel
till their teeth split or whatever
it might be breaking down
whatever they use to cut through the cuticle
of waiting they devour
I’ve just moved back home
I was living but I had to leave
I was told that all I could do
but who told you who wants to know
I want to know who’s looking at me and why
I care and how it became my want
that weighed on what was eaten or cut through
or carried away into a cooling evening like my timing
was of import like that was very wise of me
having to be the one to do a lick of work
on the side of the ice lick with blades in it
View from the booth: