Public Squalor

by Bruce Patterson, August 5, 2009

“And sadly enough, Capital is so fluid that a threat to any investment seems to be a threat to all investments. Therefore newspapers that represent sizable investments are tempted to shy off and shiver when in Congress… or City Hall… a man or a group threatens an investment in any kind of patent medicine, in any kind of holding company, misbranded food, railroad security, good or bad. It is no longer the advertiser who puts on the pressure. It is not even the boss who begins to quake. It is the whole middle and upper structure of society.”

— William Allen White, 1938

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There’s something the Piped Pipers forgot to tell us as they lured us toward of our own private consumer Nirvanas. Since there is nothing under the sun more pathetic than a solitary individual, to make the individual the beginning and end of all things is to abolish the concept by denying its essential nature. When individuals are so atomized that truth becomes whatever some fool, demagogue, lobbyist, gangster or political party wishes to make it; when marriages, families, and communities cannot be held together and nobody can stay put, or stop the ground from shifting under their feet, or raise a voice when wronged, what is left but fear and appetite? People nowadays have no say because, beyond their willingness to militantly defend what they perceive as their own private interests, they have nothing to say. “We” no longer has meaning because it doesn’t include us.

So it makes sense that the Federales should have more power in determining the fate of Anderson Valley than the people living here do. I’m not talking about the Big Picture, either. Although it is worth noting that living in the belly of a global empire ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. What I’m talking about is our utter helplessness right here and right now. For starters, take a look at that long-faced wooden firetrap defiling downtown Boonville. Drive through Boonville and you can’t miss it. For over a quarter of a century I’ve watched that slum rotting into the sidewalk Over the years Bruce, Mark and others have repeatedly complained about it in print. Yet still it remains. Since the derelict building is not just a foul eyesore but also a clear and present danger to the public—a virtual Molotov cocktail set to be thrown at the crowd of nearby wood framed houses and the people living within—the owner of that property should be considered Boonville’s Public Enemy Number One. He’s also Boonville’s most prominent and influential citizen since northbound tourists, who are often in a buying mood, just love getting welcomed to our fair metropolis by having that slimy slumlord mooning them with his rat infested garbage pit. Makes the tourists want to stop in Boonville and buy lunch.

So, what is this, Chicago? Whose palms are getting greased? How much money does it cost per month or year to earn the right to pose a lethal threat to sleeping children? Or maybe the slumlord gets away with it for religious reasons. If there are no human rights beyond property rights, then there is no community to consider. So the CSD, the fire chief, sheriff, building inspector, DA, Grand Jury, the Chamber of Commerce, the Grape Growers, the neighbors and passersby—everybody knows the slumlord has money and so he’s protected by God.

Now that Highway 128 through Boonville has been transformed from a backcountry road into a buzzing tourist corridor, low long will it before a child gets squished by a car speeding through town? How easy would it be to set “pedestrian crossing” signs into the center lines of Boonville’s crosswalks? How much money would it cost to install flashing yellow lights and digital speedometers like they have in Philo and other towns getting overrun with speeding traffic? It’d cost about as much as one square thumb of new highway bridge or one square rod of freshly planted grapes. Yet don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

Boonville wishes to become a tourist destination and yet anytime a tourist stops the first thing he or she is confronted with is doors with signs announcing, “No Public Restrooms.” And if the tourist asks the retail clerk where he or she might find one, as often as not they’re told there are none. This even though there are spacious public restrooms right there in the fairgrounds. There’s even a marquee that could be used to advertise “free public restrooms.” Now what cheaper and better way is there to throw out the welcome mat? The answer is that there is none.

If you were a community organizer arriving in a new town, the first thing you’d do was find out who has the money. Once you’d ascertained that then you’d know who was calling the shots and who you needed to deal with. Yet, in Boonville, even the merchants are helpless. To get access to the public restrooms they’re paying for they’d have to file the equivalent of an Environmental Impact Report. They’d probably have to hire lawyers and consultants, take out insurance, get bonded, piss in a bottle and Lord knows what else. So the merchants throw up their hands and they tack up their signs. Like with being forced by the Federales to maintain and account for saucers with shifting piles of worthless pennies, shooing away squirming, knock-kneed little girls is just another cost of doing business. It sure beats having to contend with what could be the Chinese Communist Party under Kafka.

When putting two and two together becomes an obstacle course; when removing a fly from your hair becomes a marathon; when getting any type of accounting is like pulling teeth out of a chicken, it’s worth wondering how folks came to be so helpless. Is it possible that when you lose your sense of The Commons you lose your common sense? Must molehills always become mountains and mountains molehills? The fundamental issue in Anderson Valley is the health of the creeks but, like with the rest of the natural environment, or “we,” the creeks have no chips in the game. So to speak of who is getting the water, how much, what for and at what cost is taboo. The water is public property that is being diverted to lawful private use and that’s final. While it would cost a pittance to restore the salmon and steelhead to their rightful places in the local creeks, nobody can bring themselves to even think about it seeing all of the unpleasantness it would cause. Yet, looked at from a positive standpoint, maybe our children having to grow up along depleted, poisoned, sterile creeks will be good for them. Like us, they won’t know what they’re missing. There are no Environmental Impact Reports for souls.

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