Posts Tagged ‘suburbia’

The Suburban Hearse

April 24, 2017

PBF Suburban Hearse

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Miss Glaciermelt leans into her powerpoint presentation, placing her index finger on a large grey square on the terrain view of an old human settlement.

“This large dead area was called a parking lot. It’s where the last generations of humans left their transportation machines when they interacted with shopping and activity centers.”

The teacher notices Cindy’s confused stare.

“Did you read the chapter 7 –The Suburban Hearse – of your Last Days of the Humans textbook, Cind?”

“I did,” Cindy replies. “But I still don’t get the connection between their suburban habitat and the word hearse. A hearse was a machine for moving dead bodies from one place to another many kilometers away. What does this have to do with the low-density sprawl that humans ended their time on Earth in?”

Miss Glaciermelt is glad Cindy has decided to take the second part of her Post-Human Extinction course. Nothing works better as a teaching tool than a live back-and-forth between teacher and student.

“Well, the most popular vehicles of the last years were called SUVs, and they were a lot like hearses in shape and size. Many of them were great for transporting dead humans, though they were originally used by single people for going from one characterless suburban location to another. Ironically, it was the use of these machines and all the fuels that they required that created the need for billions of hearses. The hearses of the last years of Humanity.”

Hearse imageMiss Glaciermelt fidgets with her computer and then plays a short movie-clip while talking over the narrator.

“Over there, two young human boys are driving bicycles that are much too small for them. This harms their knees. And there’s an obese jogger – another end-time human activity that destroyed body parts – knees, ankles and hips. And look at that chubby human mowing a lawn. Noise actually causes obesity but he probably doesn’t know that. Most humans didn’t know very much near the end of their species’ existence.”

Cindy: “Were humans doing all these dumb, harmful activities because of the obesity epidemics or because of the boredom? Or did their slave-like jobs make them clueless?”

Glaciermelt: “Well, it’s not really one reason. All of your reasons were contributing factors: boredom, obesity and lack of freedom. You’re really animated today, aren’t you?”

They both smile.

Cindy: “I noticed that in the footnotes, the narrator talks about – and I quote – ‘the braindead termite-people of the Suburban Shitscape.’ What does he mean by termites? They didn’t go extinct. We still have lots of termites.”

Glaciermelt: “No, termites didn’t go extinct. But I think he’s referring to the fact that humans were consuming the planet the way that termites will eventually kill the tree they live off of. And the word ‘shitscape’ refers to the low-quality and ugly surroundings that end-time humans lived in. The author also mentions that all their machines sounded like chainsaws: lawn-mowers, ski-doos, leaf-blowers, the power tools of weekend pagoda projects… suburbia was one massive chainsaw massacre.”

Cindy: “Maybe the noise and ugliness drove them crazy and they had nothing left to live for?”

Glaciermelt: “Let’s not speculate, Cindy. After all, we weren’t there ourselves.

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Red Maple Tree

March 26, 2012

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(dedicated to all parents)

When I was a teenage paper delivery boy, I only made a buck an hour because our suburb was so sprawled out. Built on top of once-productive farmland, the driveways and lawns were massive, though the homes were modest and poorly constructed. Overall, it was bleak and boring. The miniputt got burned down by stoned teens. The McDonalds had a four-fatality robbery.

Suburbia is a failed trend – and a bit of a scam – that children pay for even more than their commuter-parents who got sucked into it by fast-talking TV. In a full hour of walking across gigantic lawns guarded by bored, growling dogs, I make what an urban paperboy makes in 10 minutes with no dog terror.

But even with this tiny amount of money to play with, I manage to save $12 to buy a red maple tree from Botrop’s Tree Farm. At twelve hours of labor, it’s like buying a $280 tree with the salary I make today.

After asking permission, I carefully plant the little sapling next to the walkway of our house, taking care to water it just enough the first few weeks to give it a chance at a healthy life. The old man even came out of the house the first time I watered it to quickly nod his approval. He only appeared for a half minute, and he was actually on his way to the car to go golfing – but he still nodded, which is like gold to me. “My daddy nodded at me!” (note to future parents: remember to nod at your children. – it might be their only fond memory of you)

Fast-forward five years: While in my freshman year at the local college, my mother explains over dinner that crows are attacking her new vegetable garden, and that the red maple tree is blocking the view. For me, the lack of sound insulation in our house seems far more critical than crow surveillance. We’re all light sleepers, and it’s like living in a tent. When I mention this, it infuriates her.

Another life-quality diminishing feature of my suburban existence is getting to school. My mother and her sisters used to walk a few miles in snow to school, and now, I have to commute many times that distance – alone. She had it so good. No one in my environment wants to give me – a college type – a lift to college. A wise war-veteran neighbor even sees my sub-zero hitchhiking as a kind of life lesson: the value of a snotty education versus the value of owning a nice, comfy car. No one questions why the college is on a highway in the middle of nowhere. Maybe if they went to college, they would. (It infuriates everyone when I say this out loud instead of just thinking it)

A few days after Mom’s anti-tree hate speech, when I get home from hitchhiking from an exam, all the leaves have dried up and fallen off. I ask my mother what happened, and she slowly and guiltily explains: “Your father killed it with soapy, hot water.” When I ask her why, she shrugs and says she doesn’t know. Like he was an Apache and she was a cowboy: “It is his way.”

Funny thing is that the maple tree was still small enough to move and replant when he poisoned it. But I guess the temptation to kill things is too strong to resist in the burbs. Maybe it’s because all those proud, honor-driven suburban hunters have nothing legitimate left to kill and eat: all the wild game and wild land has already been pre-killed to make room for suburbia and the predators who mow its lawns.

My little contribution to the crass commercial warscape – the tiny red tree I bought with my paperboy money – is sacrificed to the mighty surveillance state, to a private panopticon with an above-ground pool and earwigs. A year from now, my mother will give up gardening when she realizes she doesn’t really care for it. And soon after that, I’ll move away from home.

Last I heard – that double-wide bungalow still has no sound insulation and I’m still the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

Theodore

September 7, 2010

Theodore

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We were a postwar family – both my parents were born just before WW2. And taking a page from the veterans of that massive war who came back damaged and in desperate search of social isolation, my parents relocated to a prefab suburb of trailer-quality bungalows on massive lots. “A place where you could throw a ball,” I heard a neighbor’s father say.

Our barracks was just like our neighbors’ barracks, and we’d all wait by our picture windows for our dads’ tanks to roll into the driveway at five-thirty each day. What else was there to do when you weren’t throwing a ball?

Our main enemies were the lawn weeds and insect infestations of the suburban cartoonscape. We heroically doused these parasitic insurgents with the latest army-issue biopoisons, when we weren’t chopping them up with the noisiest machines we could buy on credit at the hardware megastore.

The human animals in our house were all expected to maintain stiff upper lips because this is what helped the English-speaking good guys to win all their nasty wars against foreign evil. Sometimes this protruding lip turned into a snarl, and there were times when my mother reminded me of Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols.

Once our French-Canadian grandparents died, hugs and kisses in our Anglicized household were limited to X’s and O’s as a cutesy sign-off on personal letters. It was as if our parents were rationing affection to prepare us for real life, where “real life” meant World War Two and the hunt for Germano-Japanese scalp.

a remnant of ceremonial burial in post-war suburbia

Into this suburban military compound of emotional marasmus fell little sister Charlene. The baby of the family, she started out in life getting non-stop hugs and kisses from affection-starved older brothers and sisters like myself. But as she got older and less cute, all the sibling affection dried up in favor of sarcasm and psychological torture.

We honed the art of cold, distant personal relations while watching TV with our parents and interacting with the people in the identical bungalows around us who were watching the same shows.  Hugging became something nostalgic that nowadays, only actors do.

Instead of accepting our natural human vulnerability and neediness, we learned to be poker-faced schemers so that we’d win our own personal wars. Prepared by New York TV writers for the adult lives we would eventually drive to, we were then ready to face any Nazis or Soviets we might come across at the mall.

Charlene grew increasingly desperate for affection as she neared nine-years old, so my mother temporarily suspended the house-ban on pets and allowed her to get a small gerbil, “as long as you clean his cage and I don’t have to look at him.”

About two weeks after she brought Theodore home from the pet shop, Charlene woke up screaming because she had accidentally crushed him in her sleep.

When my mother came out of Charlene’s room that morning, I asked her what happened, and she looked at me with a firm gaze and said, “Theodore’s dead.” It was like getting bad news from the front from a concerned corporal.

That same day after school, my mother held a military funeral for Theodore in the back yard, and her and Charlene  –  the only attendees –  fashioned a cross out of sticks, and buried him about three inches deep in the chem-tech lawn.

She got a new gerbil a week later, and killed him exactly the same way. I later found out her M.O.: Late at night, the noise from the nocturnal rodent would wake her up. Vulnerable and semi-conscious, Charlene would then take the helpless creature out of his cage, and start to hug him very gently until she fell asleep …on top of him …silently crushing him to death.

By the fourth gerbil, there were no more tears shed, and the ceremonial burial was replaced by the sound of a toilet flushing and my mother saying, “so long, comrade.”

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Little Fella

August 14, 2010

Little Fella header

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The MacIsaac’s camper trailer is dark brown and white with chrome accents – the perfect color scheme for hiding dirt and mold. But I don’t think Kipper’s barking at mold. He barks at shadows all the time, but it’s overcast today and the shadow under the trailer isn’t really moving, so there must be something out there. Or maybe I’m just dazed from all the low-grade pot we’ve been smoking.

After about 10 minutes, when his buzz starts to recede, Billy goes outside to empty a few cat litter boxes – the MacIsaacs have 17 cats and six active cat litters in total – and I go outside with him just to check out why Kipper’s barking.

I crouch down. The smell of wet dirt under the trailer helps explain the soggy piece of toilet paper lying in the shadow. I can’t believe Kipper has been barking at an inanimate object for what seems like an hour.

But wait. That isn’t a piece of dirty toilet paper. It’s… oh my god. It’s a beige kitten that’s been abandoned by its mom! Why would a post-partum cat abandon its own little kitten? Don’t they need to feed their kittens just to ease the pain from the milk pressure? Isn’t this instinctive? Time freezes for a few seconds because I can’t process what I’m seeing in front of me.

I have to bend over to get a closer look, my heart-rate doubling as my mind focuses and my emotions go red hot. The kitten, like me, has round bulging eyes. But his little eyes won’t open for a few weeks – if they ever open at all. And though his eyes are closed shut and the kitten is silent, I can feel his fear – his deep and unrelenting fear.

I rush him into the house and wash the dirt and placenta off his shivering little body in the kitchen sink. He looks sort of homely and morbid: like an abandoned biology project. But he’s moving and warm – alive.

Not knowing what to give him to eat or drink, I wet a piece of paper towel with milk and let him lick it a bit, which he does. He starts to move in a way that demonstrates that he is, perhaps, willing to live, but only if someone helps him. If someone will just pick him up and do what they’re supposed to do naturally, this kitten just might survive – he just might want to survive.

camper trailer 2

An hour later, Billy’s mother gets home from her job at Zellers and I explain what happened. Having raised a few dozen kittens in her time, Mrs. MacIsaac puts my mind at ease as I leave their house to go home to my own – my teenage emotions forever changed.

Eventually, one of the other mother cats at the MacIsaac’s – one who had just had kittens of her own a week earlier – adopts Little Fella and he starts to feed regularly and often. Within a week, he’s as healthy looking as his older cousins whose eyes have already opened as they stumble outside their homemade kitten pen.

Little Fella is always a step behind these siblings, and his biological mother – who is the grandmother of the kittens he is nursing with – seems to have completely given up on mothering. She just paces around in circles meowing for a few weeks, and then calms down. Perhaps she was just too old or too frail after all the other kittens she’s had in her lifetime. Or maybe she had problems of her own when she was a kitten. I have no idea.

When Little Fella got older, he didn’t really act like other cats. His best friend was Samo, the neighbor’s Chihuahua, and Little Fella would always jump up on people and lick them on the face as if he was a dog himself. He rarely meowed, and seemed to love human beings and want to be loyal to them. He liked to chase cars with Samo and even wagged his tail when he saw his favorite people.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here for all cats: mistreat your kittens, and they might reject their own community. I mean, wouldn’t you do the same if your own community had left you to die?

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