Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ruminations From McHenry County # 3

Down but Not Out in Crystal Lake, Illinois

July 2010

The heat-wave hit the town like a case of raging hormones. Scratch that. The heat-wave settled over the carefree, manicured lawns and everybody slowed down. Even the crickets stopped chirping. Just heat, heavy and suffocating, I am sitting in my den with a fan blowing and the air-conditioner humming in the other room. The bottle of Land Shark lager is wet with perspiration after being plucked from the refrigerator. The full moon has finally waned and the lycanthropes have settled down, too. But its still weird out there. I call it the Year of the Weird. Bad is popular. People have given up, caved in, fallen apart. The old-timers sit on their porches at twilight drinking cold beer under the shadowed eaves of homes built in the 1930s...

Crystal Lake, Illinois, Population 42,142, is a big town pretending to be a small town. The unemployment office is unusually busy, as one would expect. Although the recession has yet to recede the restaurant industry has picked up in the past year. But there are a growing number of empty storefronts. These little strip-mall clip joints advertising CASH FOR GOLD are where the desperate come to sell heirlooms and memories for a pocketful of change as their lives swirl down the toilet are as lucrative establishments as one can find perched here on the precipice of the Fox River Valley.

Maps are places where we trace our journeys with lines and dream of our destinations. These red lines and thin blue lines converge at the black dot and give us the names of Illinois towns: Leaf River, Johnsburg, Troy Grove, Island Lake, Libertyville, Crystal Lake. I landed in Crystal Lake over sixteen years ago. It’s a good town as far as towns go. Taxes are going up as property values go down and the imbecilic politicians smile for the cameras. But outside of that there are some nice people here and some neighborhoods forever as gentle as summer.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did

- E. E. Cummings, 50 Poems (1940)

But it’s the Year of the Weird. I seem to encounter oddballs at every corner. The disenfranchised newly unemployed, rank and file regiments of anti-social dingbats marching to the beat of a drummer with no rhythm. In the Wal-Mart a middle-aged man tells me (this, in the liquor aisle) “Goddamn liberals destroyed this country!” I don’t argue with him. He looks frayed, on the edge. He’s wearing a polyester suit-coat on a day when the heat index soars to 104 degrees. His shoes are polished. “The Lord will punish them all!” he says. Another convert to the Vengeful God franchise. “It’s all gonna come down soon.” He tells me. “This can’t last, no sir! People can’t take it. There’s gonna be pain and suffering, you mark my words!” I’m trying to get away so I ask him, “Hey, pal, what aisle are the bagels in?” He blinks three times and points a tobacco stained finger and I make a hasty exit.
The weirdness is everywhere. It certainly permeates the Internet. I get strange notes and hate-filled paragraphs sent via my website. Errol Flynn fans, special interest groups, goofballs and other degenerates. The Internet provides the masses an opportunity to reach a wide audience instantly, and its gone to their heads. Every geek with a computer is busy hacking out his opinion. Where once film reviews offered legitimate critiques and intelligent assessments on the art of filmmaking, today the critiques have been replaced by hate-filled rants which today’s semi-literate baby-booming dumb-shit mistakenly believes makes them look cute. This trend is at epidemic level. What we call “western culture” has degenerated into a miasma of hatred. For example, if I mention the Dalai Lama I get nasty-grams from the anti-Dalai Lama groups; if I mention my fondness for L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp stories I get lambasted by the anti-Scientology groups; if I mention Thomas Merton I get crucified by the anti-Christian groups; if I mention Alan Watts I get snubbed by the anti-know yourself groups or whatever the fuck they call themselves. If I tell people how much I enjoy the R. B. Blakney translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Té Ching I hear from dozens of people citing what they believe is a better translation and who enjoy telling me what a low-class blue collar fool I am to read such “so out-of-fashion” literature. If I tell people I enjoy writing and reading poetry they think I’m gay because to them the word “poetry” epitomizes something feminine. The monkeys never read Charles Bukowski.

We would rather buy a bad toothpaste that is well advertised than a good one that is not advertised at all. Most Americans wouldn’t be seen dead in a car their neighbors had never heard of.
                        - Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island,   page 193.
The Year of the Weird...Watching celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods self-destruct in public is a national past-time. We have no right to criticize the Romans for feeding the Christians to the lions or for training gladiators to bash each others brains out with spiked clubs. It’s goddamn refreshing to watch the blood flow. Discontentment simmers just below the surface of this idyllic setting. The politicians in Washington (on both sides) continue their efforts to destroy the last vestiges of intelligent governing, and Americans continue to tolerate them if not praise them. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, McHenry County bakes in the heat of the noonday sun.
I take a bike ride across town because Crystal Lake has an outstanding Park District and I enjoy riding. The Three Oaks Recreational Area with its blue lake is another option for sunbathers, swimmers, boaters and anglers. It’s one of my favorite places in town along with the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Twice Told Tales, and the Williams Street Public House, which, incidentally, has the best burgers in McHenry County.

If you’ve read this far down the blog’s page (which, according to latest research, is unlikely. Nine out of ten blog followers rarely use the scroll bar) you might think I’m depressed. But I’m not. These harsh observations are part and parcel to the act of Creativity.
From my perspective I thought things were going well. Could be they are. People sure have good reasons to be unhappy, but what about all of the reasons we have to grateful? We'll talk about those in a future post.

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