Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I Write From an Unnammable Destination

You may have wondered where I was. I did too. I was in that soul shriveling portion of the slab 'o beef we call the U.S.A. that looks either like a tit that 's been in a wringer or a shriveled bull's pizzle. Take your pick. I'll wait while you swallow your gorge. Yes, I was visiting Mr. Aimai's parents in noplace beach florida. I've lived in a lot of places--Cambridge, New Haven, Kathmandu, Eastern Nepal, Chicago, Amherst, and Berkeley and of all those places Florida is the only one that forces me to ejaculate, like a corpse's death rattle what in g-d's name is life for? Every year around this time I go from gritting my teeth and murmering "I'm sure it will be nice to be someplace warm" to shrinking back in horror and crying out "what *is* this place? who thought this would be a good idea?" as we career from one strip mall to another, past serried ranks of palm trees and high walls segregating acres of old folks from the street and from anyone not in their demographic.

We are on the annual pilgrimage known as "the kids are here" week in the old people ranch known as Florida. It can have its risible moments--my daughters are young and cute and we often experience gratifying moments of drive by grandma'ing such as yesterday's incident in the line at a huge superstore. I'm standing next to the younger one who is self dressed to the nines in a cherry sundress with matching hat. Elderly woman brushes past us without making eye contact and, without breaking stride or even opening her lips, shoots out under her breath "she's so cute! look at that outfit! she's adorable!" and then, like a top spy making a hidden drop, she's past us and on to the next such non interaction.
I, of course, am engaged in the classic life and death struggle with grandma mr. aimai over pretty much everything. I won't get into that. At least we agree politically. Because we are at daggers drawing over everything else. This is truly the land of the undead, or the waiting room for the soon to be dead. There are lots of great reasons people retire down here--low cost of living, lots of friends and similarly situated elders that you can take classes with, go to ballet performances with, and generally enjoy yourself with. I get that, I do. But why does it have to take place in these utterly souless, endlessly iterated, bungalows in this faux countryside? Florida, if you haven't been there, has almost no public space and certainly no walking space. In keeping with this, all social interactions are manufactured ones. Desperate to entertain the kiddies we took them to *see chocolate being poured into molds* at a chocolate factory. Then to "pick strawberries" at a place so ersatz that you park in a strip mall and walk through the door of a tiny shop full of expensive stuff and out the back to a strawberry picking theme park in which the strawberries cascade down five foot high planters and you "pick" them with teeny tiny clippers. The faux quality suits my MIL down to the ground. Having picked five pounds of unripe berries she is so terrified of fresh produce that she leaves them out to rot for two days thinking they will ripen. "Well," she says, when she discovers her mistake "at least we won't be put to the pain of making jam with them." "Or the pleasure" my youngest shoots back, having grasped something her grandmother has not which is that doing things is more fun than not doing things.

My in laws have chosen, from among a limited set of choices, the life of the alterkocker in a car driving from one mid priced chain restaurant to another (the food is terrible, but they give you a free salad!) and from one over air conditioned space to another. Outside is a carefully pruned landscape stripped of flowers and beauty (because the HOA won't approve individual gardens) and too hot for ordinary northerners to stand. Inside is an endless, sere, identical set of plastic interiors chilled until the mold and bugs of the exterior have been driven out. Contact with others is kept to a minimum. Contact with real life, too--we eat off paper plates the entire time we are there so that clean up consists of throwing things out. The horror of this waiting room for hell really can't be overstated. I retreated to my room to check the internets and discovered that the whole issue of suburban purgatory was being thrashed out over at Alicublog where Roy likes to pretend he's merely snarking but his commenters bring da noise with furious insights into things like the geography of nowhere and fear of the other.