Alternate Histories: 6/7, 4/24

6/7/14

When the world ends, there isn’t anything you’re gonna do. I don’t dwell on it like that, but I do think about it. What are you gonna do, walk around with masks on? There’s gotta be airflow from somewhere! But I mean, what are you really gonna do? The most important thing is air. You gonna make filters? You can’t even drink the water. The water supplies, the machines, ain’t nobody gonna filter the water. People are starting to be like, “We’re gonna kill him and drink his blood, we’re thirsty.” If I get a toothache, who’s gonna pull my tooth? If I get these plastic boobs, one pop, who’s gonna be my doctor? And medical — there’s certain people that depend on insulin, what are they gonna do? They’re just gonna die, there’s no two ways about it. Like me, I’m insulin dependent. The biggest thing is air … “Close your eyes and we’ll pretend that’s not [BB] we eatin’.” There’s gonna be the eaters and the — eaters and the entrees. I’ll be a good entree. One leg alone will feed five families. That lady over there, she’ll be a good meal.

*

4/24/15

About 18 years later, BB died.

Before she died, she and her nieces had talked about what she wanted them to do with her corpse. They had walked and wheeled out together to sit in the groveyards. They’d looked at pictures of the raptor platforms, though most of them were too far away from where the family lived. And they’d gone to the rendering house when a niece’s friend died.

When BB died, her nieces and their neighbors washed her and wrapped her in a sheet, singing to her. When the songs were over, what they held was no longer BB, but a corpse. Corpses are strange, and it is fearful to make them useful, but when BB was alive, no one made use of her body and mind.

BB’s nieces brought the corpse to the rendering house and helped to cut it into pieces that humans could eat. The bones they would grind up and pour into the ocean in a year. They cooked and ate the pieces of the corpse, a little each day, during that year. After they poured the dust of the bones into the ocean, they could talk to BB again, and they often did, telling her what the grandnephews, who were alive, were doing and how BB’s old friend, who was alive, was just as rude as ever.

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BONUS MATERIAL: Songs of the Washington County Fair Mainstage and PA

About halfway through my second day at the fair, I texted a friend who’s a former music critic, “Is there such a thing as butt-country? Like butt-rock, but country?”*

I am not allergic to twang. Further, many of the live performers at the fair’s mainstage, on which my booth looked out, were energetic and expert, and the fairgoers seemed to be having a really good time. Three girlfriends in little shorts and curly cowboy hats did a strut-walk in unison. A woman with Down Syndrome and a woman without it did the kind of dance where you swing your partner. A little kid did a butt-dance (it’s the dance where you stick your butt out as far as you can)**, a good look on dancers of any age. 

That said, there just isn’t any reason, for an energetic and expert songwriter to rhyme “hurt you” with “desert you.”***

By the end of the second day, I knew that the real challenge was going to come not from the live performers but from the recorded soundtrack to the fair that came over the PA system. I heard each of these songs, and several more that I couldn’t identify by searching but would have a severe systemic reaction if I ever heard again, at least 15 times in five days and some of them four or five times in a given day.

 

Alan Jackson, “Mercury Blues” 

Rhonda Vincent, “Bluegrass Express

Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was

A woman covering the Osborne Brothers’ “Rocky Top

 

At the beginning of Day 2, when passersby were sparse, I entertained myself by writing down lyrics that seemed relevant to the project, and here they are (they played a lot of Traveling Wilburys on Day 2 for some reason):

“I am a man of constant sorrow.” 

“I’m so tired of being lonely / I still have some love to give / Won’t you show me that you really care

Congratulations / For bringing me down”

“And when the rain came down I was nearly drowned / I barely knew the shape I was in”

“We are stronger together / than we could ever be alone” (no idea what this one is)

 

Postscript: I listened to M.I.A.’s Arular AND My Gay Banjo’s Country Boys in the City in the car on the way home.

 

*Results, thus far, are inconclusive.

**Marlys invented it. I tried to find an image of the strip in which she does it, but could not.

***I work with beginning writers. Though I try to wean them away from cliches and catchphrases, I’m not mean about it: we use the vocabulary that we know is available to us. Part of the reason I started this project was to increase people’s access, including my own, to vocabulary for talking about climate change and its present and projected effects, because we tend to reach for what’s closest, what we’ve heard before, until we know there’s something more precise, more moving, more pleasing to hear; until we’ve heard lots of those things and know what moves and pleases us, what lands, like a fly, right on the meat of the meaning we want. Especially with regard to grammar, I’m less of a prescriptivist than I’ve ever been: in teaching and in talking, I favor the clear, the evocative, the communicative and, where it’s possible, the inventive, the fun, and the surprising.

But if you write and perform songs for a living, you’ve probably heard lots of songs, and thought for more than one second about how to put words together, and you can probably come up with something that’s more inventive, fun and surprising than rhyming “hurt you” and “desert you,” and I’m still enough of a prescriptivist to say I think you should.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 20 (Last Kennedy Plaza Day)

Weather: First hot (but not blistering) day, nice in the shade

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who took a picture without permission: 2, friends with each other

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 2

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.45

 

Observations:

At least two people, when I told them today was my last day in KP, responded with some form of, “Why? You should come back!”

As I was setting up, SSI drag guy came up to say, “I got my check!” I was so pleased. He said, “Next time I’ll bring you a chair, I make these little chairs out of clothespins. No glue, no glue, I make ’em, I stain ’em, they’re beautiful.” The making of things was a theme today — one person said if he had his portfolio of drawings there he would give them to me, another person wants to write her autobiography.

Other themes today: religion (there was an outdoor church service and food giveaway — people were singing “In the Everlasting Arms”) and conspiracy theories, also a big feature yesterday. I did start getting a little impatient with people who mentioned the Illuminati.

At least three people who are avowedly in a bad way have come back — sometimes the following day — to put money in the donation jar. 

*

Some conversations: 

I definitely think about it all the time. When I was a kid the winters were cold. Now it gets hotter and hotter every winter. I myself am a conspiracy theory kinda guy — I don’t think this is a conspiracy, I just think of things that way. Yeah, I think about global warming a lot.

*

Icecaps melting and flooding everywhere. Skin cancer because of holes in the ozone layer. And all the various forms of wildlife that are going extinct because of climate change.

Do you talk to other people about this?

I don’t think I meet people who aren’t on the same page about this. The people I know accept it as a serious issue. It’s strange about America, there are so many people that are unaware that it’s an issue. The corporations that control the media — the left-wing media is a myth, it’s all corporations — it’s quite pathetic, we make decisions on the information we’re given. I don’t know how you stop the corporate media, the root problem is getting them to stop only saying what’s on their agenda. 

*

I’m anxious about a lot of things right now. The climate isn’t at the top of my list, but it should be. I have a lot of things going on in my life right now. I just moved into an apartment for the first time in my life. I went from my parents to– [Her phone rings and she answers it, then resumes talking with me.] I’m empty nesting, my kids moved out. Just a lot of things. I had to be hospitalized — every bone in my body hurt. They discharged me with a diagnosis of depression and adjustment disorder. I’m getting my license back after 18 years.

That’s great, a little more mobility. 

Independence.

*

I don’t know if I have specific anxieties. I had four when I heard you were starting this, but I forgot them. I have a climate anxiety story: when I was in high school I had a friend whose sister was the resident goth — she had a girlfriend and they would put collars on each other and walk each other around. We weren’t close. I ran into this guy when I was working at [redacted], and … he started telling me that in the meantime, his sister had decided she didn’t like women got married to some kind of secret military somebody, and apparently his job was preparing for the climate wars. In 10 years they thought things would change enough that there would be a civil war for resources. He had theories about geographical divisions. That was more than 10 years ago, and I don’t really wonder if any of it was true. But I wonder how many people are thinking about crazy stuff like that.

Do you?

Sometimes. 

*

[This person talked very fast, and I didn’t get everything they said.]

If I move somewhere, like in the mountains, I think about what if those volcanoes blow up and lava comes down. Now I’m in the Ocean State, we’re probably gonna die by drowning. What’s the possible way we’re gonna be taken out? My last apartment — I always accumulate. My last landlord stole everything in my apartment, right down to the cat. I had enough food to feed the whole block, at least for a couple weeks. I’m sorry but I’d rather die up here, up top. I don’t want to die underground. When the world ends, there isn’t anything you’re gonna do. I don’t dwell on it like that, but I do think about it. What are you gonna do, walk around with masks on? There’s gotta be airflow from somewhere! But I mean, what are you really gonna do? The most important thing is air. You gonna make filters? You can’t even drink the water. The water supplies, the machines, ain’t nobody gonna filter the water. People are starting to be like, “We’re gonna kill him and drink his blood, we’re thirsty.” If I get a toothache, who’s gonna pull my tooth? If I get these plastic boobs, one pop, who’s gonna be my doctor? And medical — there’s certain people that depend on insulin, what are they gonna do? They’re just gonna die, there’s no two ways about it … There’s gonna be the eaters and the — eaters and the entrees.  “Close your eyes and we’ll pretend that’s not [her] we eatin’.” I’ll be a good entree. One leg alone will feed five families. That lady over there, she’ll be a good meal.

*

[I didn’t have time to write a poem on site today, so here’s one from another day this week.]

Today’s poem: 

I said to James I wish

I could transform into

a sunburst of energy

pictured it yellow

and orange and beyond praise

a chemical swagger

something my own size I

could undergo

a tremendous conversion

at first to convince but then

I thought to be fed upon

to power everyone

someone whose head is down

could already be mourning

we don’t know

the names of the dead

that they use for themselves

they could be glowing

on a tiny charged screen

leaving their green traces

charred into what if you look

at them for a long time light

your neck a slope

your face a burial