Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Urinetown


It's a hard, cold, tumble of a journey
Worthy of a gurney, a bumble down
A slapped face, smacked with a mace
Certain to debase is our stumble down
It's a path that leads you only one place
Horrible to retrace, a crumble down
A hard, cold, tumble of a tourney
Jumble of a journey to Urinetown
("Cop Song" from the musical, Urinetown)

When I was a desert rat in the mid 70's to about 1981, I was too young, stupid, and stoned to know of concepts such as dystopia. But I was living in it, and knew it viscerally. If someone I had respected (and there were very, very, few such people back then) had explained the idea to me, I probably would've said, "Sounds like this fucking town." Although I probably would've pronounced the word 'fucking' as 'fuggin'." 

But I digress. Yes, Palm Desert, which indeed was a glorified truck stop back then, was dystopic. And in fact, I believe it's become even worse today. I was there in December of 2009, and made my observations first hand. It conjured, to me, most apropos, thoughts of the musical Urinetown.

First of all, the town is filled with cops. They're everywhere, on the beat, I've never seen a small town with so many cops. This is already an unnerving thing, because when you think about it, who are they after? It's not as if the town is like Detroit. It's not even close to apocalyptic desolation. It thrives with plastic strip malls, shopping malls, restaurants, boutiques, banks, and so on, with golf courses galore. The streets are nicely paved, grass everywhere is perfectly mowed and watered, the palm trees are cosmetically trimmed to perfection, gated communities and golf courses look ritzy as ever.

So the police are there to monitor the undesirables. The undesirables are: poor folk and poor teenagers. And there are parts of town to which certain ethnic folk and underdressed young folk can go, and risk getting stopped and questioned. Unless they're wearing the correct deserty, southwest attire. You'll never see the homeless in Palm Desert. Maybe the second-homeless, the economy tanking and all, but no, not the homeless. They couldn't live in that horrendous, hellish heat anyway. It's not a place for human habitation (unless you are indigent, ancestrally speaking), but it's an artificially sustained environment, with air conditioning and piped-in water.

In terms of feng shui, it is good for residential neighborhoods to have sidewalks.  Though Palm Desert is not the only place that has the no-sidewalk problem, I believe having no sidewalk, as minor as it seems, is a tipping-point for an alienated, dystopic social environment.  People walk, they don't just drive cars.  Walking in one's own neighborhood is a given, people enjoy walks as leisure and healthy well-being, it's a way of feeling the ground under one's feet, of feeling at home in one's environment.  But there are places which have no sidewalks, except in strip-mall areas and storefronts.  This is commercialism only, and not a matter of accommodating human well-being.  Sidewalks.  If your house meets the road and there is no place for you to walk, think about it.  You have to walk with cars.  Something is not right.  This kind of thing is also discussed in the seminal work A Pattern Language.  And Palm Desert is mostly like that.  And don't you dare step or lie on that freshly mowed lawn on public property, you could get into trouble with the police (I saw a man who was lying on the grass in front of the community college getting harassed by a cop)!

Sure, there are places far more fucked up than Palm Desert, places that are apocalyptic hell on earth. But there are dimensions of hells, and some places are hell just by sheer virtue of Sartrean mauvais foi, by sheer torpor, subtle to overt oppression, atmosphere, environment, and socioeconomics combined. Some places are hell by being a Reptilian dwelling-place that is all facade.

An anecdote.  There was a severe drought in SoCal in the early 80's, and the San Jacinto Mountains went on fire.  Other areas in the distance were also burning, and ashes were everywhere, which lasted for days.  Standing in Palm Desert and looking all around, the place looked like something out of Dante's Inferno or a Hieronymus Bosch painting.  But at night, the weatherman would give the rundown of forecasts (while mountain silhouettes looked like volcanoes if at all they could be seen past the smoke), and would say, "It'll be another beautiful day tomorrow."  The reference was to the fact that they weren't expecting clouds or rain, because the artificial folk of Urinetown only liked sunshine, and nothing but. 

In the new process of remaking the human world for sustenance and well being, perhaps there are assumed perspectives that need revaluation.