Monday, March 19, 2012

The Wisdom of Children

Down the sidewalk, a little boy held his mother's hand and pointed up at the store window and asked,"Mommy, where do all the mannequins go?"
She paused and her eyebrows crossed. "Them?" She pointed at the window.
I raised my hand slightly. "Ma'am, I -" But she pulled him away from me. I really think I could have helped her out. I had been wondering the same thing earlier that day, after noticing that nobody in this city was making eye contact.
You see, there is this landform in North America called The Landfill. It's everywhere, ubiquitous, like landslides, sand dunes, floodplains. The largest such formation known is 2200 acres, in Fresh Kills, New York, but most are less than one acre. They are most often associated with sand or gravel deposits but may be found in quarries and abandoned shipping canals. A great many of the small landfills tend to arise in the rear of residential properties in a shallow ravine hidden by woods. Recently a theory has been advanced that most urban landscapes are actually large landfill provinces, or "Megalandfills", a term coined by Groveland University geophysicist L. Melton Harbinginer in a paper published in 1997 in Waste Street Journal. If true, then the largest Landfill on earth is well over 5.5 million acres, some 2525 times larger than the formation at Fresh Kills. This discovery has led to a new discipline in the field of restoration ecology called Landfill Conservation and Management or LCM for short. Groveland leads the way, producing hundreds of graduates of the Ecology Program that serve on collaborative multi-tiered strategic goal-oriented integrated resource and structure planning committees (CMTSGOIRSPC) in major urban zones across North America. Recently, Europe has shown interest in this model and have incorporated the curriculum in universities in Germany and Austria. The LCM movement has already seen some impressive results, being credited with the preservation of dozens of imperiled urban landfills in the Western Hemisphere. Carefully selected, these protected sites contain a broad diversity of the unique and significant environmental characteristics inherent in urban landforms, characteristics including disenfranchisement, abandonment, structural decay, waste hardening, community fragmentation, maintenance glut, gentrification, desolation, criminality, depersonalization, and air and water degradation. Oh, and stress.
I am having a hard time typing right now because my left eyelid is ticking like crazy.
Megalandfill Theory is supported by three lines of evidence: 1) The landfill debris field deposition has been episodic, occurring in spasms over the course of several hundred years, 2) The landfills occur over a thin and unstable structural base, and 3) The fragile base leads to an increasingly fractured infrastructure that releases tremendous amounts of toxic gasses, foremost of which are hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and chlorinated carbons. Normally these provinces are biologically dead zones and most are in an expansive phase, invading surrounding landscapes by producing synthetic allelotoxins that inhibit the growth, reproduction and survival of biota in the invaded landscape. Exceptions are found in several urban zones along the eastern seaboard that have robust and broad-scale populations of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms. These exceptions have been cited by critics of the expansive phase theory as evidence that the dead zones are actually in contraction. Hence, a captive breeding program of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms is being developed with the goal of inoculating 25 major urban areas in North America by the year 2020. Progress is well underway.
Well, the mother set her son up straight and looked him in the eye. I could see that she didn't know what to say to her little son, so she just said, "The garbage man takes him away." And so the boy started to cry. "If you don't keep quiet, he will come for you too." And he cried louder and she whisked him down the street, his feet dragging behind him.
Ah, parenting. Let me in there and show this kid the meaning of life. Here's what I would say: I would tell that child that a Landfill, why son, that's a term, a euphemism really, meaning "Your neighbor's yard where you dump your trash." See, kid, these things are found everywhere - everyone dumps his trash in his neighbor's yard. It has become a civil right, an inalienable, self-evident, inborn property of the individual, and by the way you are behaving son, you well know that the individual is the Supreme Being. So go ahead, indulge yourself. My house is your house? No, it's better than that: Everybody's house is your house and you just handed us eviction papers.
That's a fact: Any child today is well aware of the meaning of Property Rights. Don't let that cherubic face fool you. This they can understand. Landfills are produced directly and indirectly; toss it out the window of a speeding car, overboard into the ocean, or wash your hands of the deed by hiring some palooka wearing a hazardous materials suit to take your sealed containers from the curbside and transport them to some big hole in the ground that glows with the Will-O-The-Wisp at night. High school kids park there cars there at night and drink by the light. The girls think it is romantic. See, if that kid was around I would tell him that the only reason people dig holes is to fill them; we create headaches so we can sell aspirin; isn't that what they mean by recycling nowadays? I'm pretty sure. Remember, that child knows that the ditch, the ocean, the big hole, it's all his property. It is manifestly plain to himself just as clear as he is a boy. I think one of his lawyers just called and said that if land were yours, you would have a deed. And what's it matter anyhow, they put a lien on everything you own.
Something else every kid knows is Magical Forces. Listen to his explanations for some of the mysteries of life: If it is raining at his house it is raining all over the earth. If you repeat something enough times it comes true. If you say something loud enough you are right. If you close your eyes the monster goes away. If you forget something it never existed. This latter one is actually the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics, something Isaac Newton discovered when he was old, daft, and penniless, languishing in an alley off Jermyn Street in London: Matter is destroyed when we delete it from our memory. Thus, forget it and we can believe with all sincerity that it never existed in the first place. Thus, we gain absolution from guilt, absence of responsibility, knowledge of nothing - ah, true freedom, the life of a child!
This confounded twitch. I can hardly see the typewriter.
So give him the answers, lady. Steer him right. Who hasn't wondered what becomes of the storefront mannequins when they get old and feeble? I mean, every decade sees a different style, a different species of mannequin. First they were made of wood, carved by tradesmen in the Mannequin Guild. Then the plaster version was introduced, fashioned in molds by artisans in Europe. These were the ones I knew as a young child. There was an explosion of these during the great post-war economic metastasis, filling in shops, stores and malls, like a wave of immigrants fleeing famine. Most were chipped from handling, exposing the white subdural space. The men had blonde, cornrow hair, sort of like those old Soviet Propaganda posters. Mannequin Factory Workers Unite! The women were all bald, but so were all the women in the neighborhood I grew up in, so it was nothing strange.
Later, they introduced plastic versions, mass produced on assembly lines in three-story, red brick factory buildings with broken windows set along stagnant, algae-choked waterways filled with old refrigerators, tires, dead fish, and iridescent blue foam. These looked like giant Barbie Dolls. But then, Barbie Dolls looked like miniature mannequins, so I don't know which came first. I can hear the child blurt out, "Both! It's convergent development."
That is so cute.
Lately, they are still made of plastic but are chromed and are missing limbs, even headless. Sort of like medieval armor, like a Brigandine. This is our cue, fellow worker/consumers; don't be left behind. It could be that next year's Paris Fashion Shows will feature chain mail. Yes, the Great Helm makes a return, and the Cuirass and Vambrace and Greave. Urban armor, for the world of full-contact business. Shop competitively, shop in security.
Any child also knows about Natural Selection. He would assert that the mannequins had families and that the children grow up to have mannequins of their own. So, it logically follows that the unregulated market forces that bring economic growth would ensure that the children would be more prosperous than their parents. A fitter form. In which case, it is a natural progression, an improvement for the species to ascend from wood to plaster to plastic to chrome, from fully-limbed mannequins to limbless ones. The appendages outlived their usefulness, and they atrophied through disuse until all that remained were tiny vestiges embedded deep within the torso. Like whales, the modern mannequin does not need to walk or climb trees. Like, yes, like office workers, hands numbed by repetitive typing and filing motions, moving around on wheeled office chairs, rolling from the file cabinet to the wastebasket, back and forth, back and forth for eight hours a day, sitting in meetings to talk about meetings, sitting in taxis, stalled in traffic, standing motionless on elevators staring vacantly at the mirrored walls, avoiding eye contact, even with themselves.
Huh.
Now the left side of my face is twitching.
Why is it that, with the profusion of mannequins, decades of rigorous archaeological excavations in the urban landfill strata have failed to produce more than a few fragmentary remains of the species? Why is there a near total absence of mannequins in landfills? Where are the transition species, with diminished cranial size, mixtures of plaster and wood, arms without hands? Archaeologists are "shocked at the silence of the fossil record" and "yawning gaps in the sequence" and so are we. What few discoveries they have made are fragmentary and inconclusive and subject of heated debates. Where did they all go? Habeus corpus; show me the body.
This is where the child starts to cry again. And my master parenting skills are on display. I stoop down and look him in the eye. I pour a little honey on the words and say it sweetly: "Now don't cry, I am just being a little sarcastic, boy," but he doesn't know that word yet. "Aah, you see kid, sarcasm, it's a defense mechanism, a quasi-dissociative response to the grim reality, the sardonic truth that the odds one faces in life are ultimately insurmountable, you can't beat them, I mean, the reality is, little man, it only gets worse. So face it: This is the best day of the rest of your life - " and he rears back and and socks me in the eye.
I watch him running down the sidewalk with my good eye. Impressive. The kid knows about denial too.

1 comment:

E. Wineman said...

I have heard that when one travels south into Costa Rica, one crosses a magic line on the border where the trash vanishes! Judging from what you've written though, the refuse reappears in South America. My condolences...we are in the same boat. I have not yet seen a human corpse along the highway here, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.