Lying to Ourselves About the Good Old Days

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CommonDreams.org

Lying to Ourselves About the Good Old Days

BROOKLYN — A popular right-wing fantasy-bite now winging virally around the World Wide Web is a snatch of phony nostalgia called “The Green Thing”.

You could look it up. Everywhere. 

This gem came my way via my right-wing friend John, who — like most of my right-wing friends — asserts that he’s not right-wing or even (God forbid) Republican. He insists he’s “independent.” However, John’s “independence” emerges — in practice — as a visceral hostility toward all forms, all levels and all actions of any legally elected government. He’s actually sort of a casual nihilist — which puts him smack-dab in the mainstream of current Republican eschatology.

But never mind. John’s a great guy. If only because he feeds me these wonderful, whacked-out tracts from the paranoid wards of Wingnut World.

The point of “The Green Thing,” a gently nostalgic dig at any sort of communitarian efforts to reduce pollution and protect the earth, is that in some halcyon “good old days” — during which, as far as I can tell, I was alive — environmental protection (“the green thing”) just sort of happened all over the place. It popped up naturally — as the offspring of what Dick Cheney calls “personal virtue.”

I’ve already digressed about John, but I have to wander again, because the lead purveyor of “The Green Thing” is “Miss Cellania” (I know! Isn’t that just adorable?), who’s depicted on her website (http://bit.ly/g6BQOk) as blond, housewifely (child on lap) and 30-ish. Which means I’m roughly twice her age — old enough to actual HAVE the memories for which she’s taking credit but is too young to have ever experienced.

For instance, who remembers chamber pots? I do, but I’ll wager that Miss Cellania wouldn’t recognize one if I dipped into it and ladled her up a nice bowl of gazpacho.

The “Green Thing” premise, aimed at “smart aleck young persons” who think they invented environmentalism, is that once, not long ago, we all swept our own doorways, thus rendering the whole word clean and green, with no government interference.

For instance, according to “The Green Thing,” there was a time before escalators, when folks preferred stairs — loved ‘em and ran up ‘em. But now, with escalators everywhere, millions of American kids don’t even know what a stair looks like. No wonder we never see a kid bouncing a spaldeen off a stoop. “Daddy, what’s a stoop?”

Miss Cellania, what’s a spaldeen?

Also, things were so much nicer before appliances. I remember how joyously my grandma, Annie, greeted laundry days (three times a week). She would spend the morning (a song on her lips) in the cellar, scrubbing clothes by hand, running them through a wringer and humping 40 pounds of wet laundry outdoors. She reveled in the caprice of Wisconsin weather — horizontal sleet, 90-degree heat, subzero cold, sparrows crapping on her clean sheets — whoopee. Mother Nature was Annie’s BFF!

By the way, Miss Cellania, how many clothespins can you fit in your mouth?

In the good old days, we also loved hand lawnmowers — none of your sissy motorized jobs. Except… wait! Just a goddamn minute here! Archie, my grandpa, bought his first Sears power mower 60 years ago. Because the patron saint of hand mowers was Sisyphus. Because nobody, until “The Green Thing,” ever had a kind word for hand mowers. Until power mowers, people either didn’t bother keeping a lawn — or they hired a dumb kid, or a really hard-up hobo to cut the grass. The hobo usually died.

Those good old days — whenever they were — were allegedly better because we had “deposit bottles” for soft drinks and such. But then, we — callous consumers — heartlessly forsook that rustic, spontaneous, capitalist recycling regimen.

Except we didn’t. We just did what we were told. In those days, every town had bottling plants. In Tomah, with fewer than 5,000 people, we had two. Neither survived the corporate wisdom of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Seven-Up, who decided they could make more money by closing all those local bottlers, firing all those local breadwinners, shifting to plastic and centralizing the bottle operation far far away — like in Mexico.

Don’t blame us, Miss Cellania. We didn’t make this choice. Big Business did.

Here’s a good one! The good old days apparently featured people strolling, on foot, to the grocery store and carrying their milk and beer, canned hams and watermelons, and 50-pound bags of Purina Dog Chow home in big brown bags, without need of a car.

Say what? We did what? When?

Back to 1955. Tomah had five slightly-less-than-super markets: The A&P, the Red Owl, Cram’s, Shutter’s and Burnstad’s, all located more or less on the main drag, which put them about six blocks from your average house. The closest corner store to my grandparents was Woodliff’s, over at Cady and Elm. Grandma Annie never once in her life considered the folly of shlepping six blocks over to Woodliff’s, then returning with 20 pounds of groceries in her bony old arms. She either called up Betty Woodliff and gave her an order (later delivered by Betty’s husband Mose), or she waited ‘til Archie got home and sent him, in the Ford, to the store. (He didn’t mind. He loved driving.)

Note to Miss Cellania: Sane Americans have never, ever, walked to the grocery store — for one simple reason. Groceries are heavy. Before the Ford, there were horses; there were buggies. You can see them in John Wayne movies!

Today, although larger, Tomah has two supermarkets. Both are way out on the highway, each surrounded by a 40-acre parking lot. The reason everyone in town now MUST burn two bucks’ worth of BP’s gas just to get a pound of butter at the store has nothing to do with generational sloth or personal virtue. It has to do with Wal-Mart.

We didn’t make this choice. Big Business did.

It has become a cottage industry among America’s reactionaries to lie about matters like health care and birthplaces, debt and taxes, war and heroism, and other such trivia.

But now, in saccharine reminiscences and homespun anecdotes that circulate the right-wing Web, they’re lying about memories — lying about their own lives.

And they’re believing themselves.

David Benjamin

David Benjamin is a novelist and journalist who splits his time between Paris and Madison, Wis. His novel, a "noir comedy" entitled Three's a Crowd, has just been released by Event Horizon Press. His previous books include, The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked and SUMO: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport. He blogs at http://benjaminsmess.blogspot.com/.

 

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