Pre- and Post-Modern
I am writing tonight in Palo Alto after walking among nondescript 1,500 square-foot cottages of seventy-year vintage that sell for about $1.5-2 million and would go in a similar tree-shaded district in Fresno or Merced for about $100,000. Apparently, these coastal Californians want to be near Stanford and big money in Silicon Valley. They also must like the fact that they are safe to jog or ride bikes in skimpy attire and the general notion that there is “culture” here amid mild weather. I suppose when a car pulls out in front of you and hits your bumper on University Avenue, the driver has a license, registration, and insurance — and this is worth the extra million to live here. My young fellow apartment residents like to jog in swimming suits; they would last one nanosecond doing that on De Wolf Avenue outside Selma.
Meanwhile, 200 miles and a world away, here are some of the concerns recently in the Valley. There is now an epidemic of theft from tarped homes undergoing fumigation. Apparently as professionals tent over homes infested with termites, gangs move into the temporarily abandoned houses to burrow under the tarps and loot the premises — convinced that the dangers of lingering poisonous gas are outweighed by the chance of easy loot. Who sues whom when the gangbanger prying into the closet is found gassed ? When I get termites, I spot treat myself with drill and canisters; even the professional services warn that they can kill off natural pests, but not keep out human ones.
No one in the Central Valley believes that they can stop the epidemic of looting copper wire. I know the local Masonic Hall is not the Parthenon, but you get the picture of our modern Turks prying off the lead seals of the building clamps of classical temples.
Protection is found only in self-help. To stop the Road Warriors from stripping the copper cable from your pump or the community’s street lights, civilization is encouraged to put in a video camera, more lighting, more encasement, a wire protective mesh — all based on the premise that the authorities cannot stop the thieves and your livelihood is predicated on the ingenuity of your own counter-terrorism protocols. But the thief is always the wiser: he calculates the cost of anti-theft measures, as well as the state’s bill in arresting, trying, and rehabilitating him, and so wagers that it is cheaper for all of us to let him be and just clean up his mess.
In around 1960, rural California embraced modern civilization. By that I mean both in the trivial and fundamental sense. Rural dogs were usually vaccinated and licensed — and so monitored. Homes were subject to building codes and zoning laws; gone were the privies and lean-tos. Streets were not just paved, but well-paved. My own avenue was in far better shape in 1965 than it is now. Mosquito abatement districts regularly sprayed stagnant water ponds to ensure infectious disease remained a thing of our early-20th-century past. Now they merely warn us with West Nile Virus alerts. Ubiquitous “dumps” dotted the landscape, some of them private, ensuring, along with the general code of shame, that city-dwellers did not cast out their old mattresses or baby carriages along the side of the road. It seems the more environmental regulations, the scarcer the dumps and the more trash that litters roads and private property.
I walk each night around the farm. What is the weirdest find? A nearby alleyway has become a dumping place for the rotting corpses of fighting dogs. Each evening or so, a dead dog (pit bulls, Queensland terriers) with a rope and plenty of wounds is thrown up on the high bank. The coyotes make short work of the remains. Scattered about are several skeletons with ropes still around their necks. I suppose that at about 2 a.m. the organizers of dog fights drive in and cast out the evenings’ losers. I have never seen such a thing in 58 years (although finding plastic bags with dead kittens in the trash outside my vineyard was a close second). Where is PETA when you need them? Is not the epidemic of dog- and cock-fighting in central California a concern of theirs? (Is berating in Berkeley a corporation over meat-packing a bit more glamorous than running an education awareness program about animal fights in Parlier?)