American Contrast

Imagine this American contrast: you are driving along a commercial boulevard. A stop light turns red. You stop. You look right and observe an encampment: tents, cars, trucks, RVs and hovels made of plywood and pallets. Every domicile is duct taped or tarped in some manner. The duct tape and tarps resemble all the colors of the rainbow. You observe trash strewn everywhere in and around the encampment. You see trash piled badly here and there and wonder if trash were piled neatly it would make a difference. You decide, yes, it would.

You see people dressed in bizarre attire milling in and around the encampment. Some kind of fashion? (You stole that line from Mick Jaggar.)

In a way, the scene is much like an art installation depicting a mangled slice of the new American dystopia, an installation conceived and constructed by the Master of Disaster Art—America the unbeautiful. There are even unpaid performance artists playing their part.

But you reconsider this art installation notion. It is a bad one. This is an installation of indifferent and debased human mayhem constructed—not perpetrated—by a monster.

You see a plush recliner sitting atop a pallet atop a hill of trash. It looks like a throne up there. Below is a man blow torching something for breakfast on a barbecue.

Then you look away. The light is still red. It’s a long light.

You look left and observe a brand new three storey building of gleaming glass and metal. It is landscaped. It has a parking lot. The parking lot is landscaped. The building appears as a medical care facility healing the sick for profit. It is not. It is a storage complex. What a masquerade! You read a sign advertising heated units, a free month’s rent on a yearlong lease, security, and a staffer on duty in a lobby. You didn’t know storage units had lobbies. You look at the complex. It has water, electricity, restrooms and a wireless connection.

The light turns green, but you hesitate for a second. You are trying to formulate an equation that somehow satisfies the rule of American social and political math that presents such a contrast.