Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Resource Management

Subtitle: "How to end world hunger and solve Peak Oil by subverting the dominant paradigm"

I write this to the sound of fireworks--strictly illegal outside July 1-4, but evidently available and deemed appropriate and acceptable for this occasion. Toss, terribly gun-shy, is curled around my ankles for reassurance. She would not come out for chores with me tonight.

I understand that laws banning open containers of alcoholic beverages on public streets and sidewalks have been suspended, as well. I understand that alcoholic beverages were poured from the rooftops downtown on Saturday night. Who knows what tonight will bring?

Law enforcement units from 5 jusrisdictions were on special detail here Saturday, and I presume tonight as well. Fire and Medical has had a large trailer labeled "Mass Casualty" parked near Station 1 downtown since Saturday afternoon; I've never seen it before for any occasion.

The nice pebble-embedded trash cans that blend into the streetscape downtown were methodically taken away and replaced with clusters of metal drums this afternoon by crews of city workers.

Helicopters ply the skies above this small midwestern city. Having previously lived near a major Army base, I associate the sounds of helicopters with preparations for battle...a sinister sound. But now I live far from those helicopters. These are different, peacetime whirlybirds. Perhaps news media, perhaps Life Flight taking trauma victims to larger facilities in nearby cities. Saturday, out doing the late barn check, I watched Life Flight go out from the airport near the farm twice; later I saw it head towards KC. A sobering occasion, always a cue for me to pause for a few moments of prayer for everyone affected by the tragedy. When Life Flight goes to work, lots of people are having a Very Bad Day, by definition.

I heard that an accomplished university vocal music ensemble was to give its annual formal spring concert on Sunday. When the piano tuner arrived for the morning rehearsal, no one was there. Later he learned that the program had had to be drastically changed, as well as the rehearsal schedule, because so many singers either had hangovers or had ruined their vocal cords from screaming on Saturday night.

Sunday morning I rode my bike downtown to see the wreckage. City workers, working on the Sabbath, were using leaf blowers to blow the trash from the sidewalks into the street, where I presume street sweepers would pick it up. Trash bags of bottles dotted the sidewalks. Homeless folks were trailing bags of aluminum cans, to cash in for their next smoke or bottle.

Where the watermelon stand will be in August, a T-shirt vendor set up camp for a week. Everywhere I went, nearly everyone was in uniform: a red or blue t-shirt, regardless of whatever else was under or over it. The writing on these flesh-and-blood billboards ranged from simply descriptive to utterly vulgar and frighteningly vicious.

Saturday afternoon, I was surprised to see a formerly homeless bus customer on my bus. He asked me to drop him at his old stop at the rural end of my route. He carried a heavy frame pack. "Yup, I'm camping out at my old spot for a few days, until Tuesday. Got all my supplies. Yeah, it's supposed to rain--that's ok. Got to get out of this crazy place until this is over. Man will I be glad when it's over."

All because some bored fellows looking for exercise decided to toss a ball into a peach basket many decades ago, and it got to be a habit. It turned out to be a good exercise: helped develop quick reflexes, teamwork, endurance, nimbleness, other desireable traits.

They started counting points. Then they started to compete for the highest score. They started forming teams, and competing for the best players to be on each team. They started distinguishing between "practice" and "games." They started scheduling their games. Bored people started to watch. People started to care who won and who lost. People started paying money to see their favorite teams play. People started gambling on the outcome, people started spending money--more and more of it--to influence the outcome by bribing players and paying experts to coach them. People built huge buildings to house these activities. People poured money into advertising and promotional items. People drove for miles in their SUVs and paid to park in muddy front yards in order to walk blocks to the over-crowded fieldhouse to watch the games and to scream their throats raw and to celebrate later by overindulging in poisonous, mind-altering, highly addictive substances.

I presume from the fireworks that the University of Kansas basketball team won the championship.

What if?

What if someone had dug a hole and planted a seed for exercise, instead of idly throwing a ball into an empty basket?

What if they gave points for growing the most (fill in the blank)?

How many acres could be farmed by hand, without fossil fuels, with the sheer human energy that goes into the years of rigorous daily practice by a single player?

How many hungry could that feed? Wouldn't that feel good? And everyone could have lots of exercise...and fun watching.

Think of the greenhouses that could replace the fieldhouse.

What if?

What if someone had pounded some boards together instead of idly throwing a ball into an empty basket?

What if they gave points for building the most homes for the elderly, the differently abled, the economically marginalized, the struggling young families?

How many homeless could that house? Wouldn't that feel good? And everyone could have lots of exercise...and fun watching.

Think of the neighborhoods that could replace the fieldhouse.

And maybe, just maybe, there wouldn't be a grieving family in an emergency room, victims of alcohol poisoning or a car wreck. Maybe, just maybe, the young musicians would have had a stunning performance. Maybe, just maybe, students wouldn't be hung over for their classes tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, there wouldn't be another city somewhere filled with anger and disappointment, instead of insane jubilation over, really, something not so very wonderful or earth-shattering after all.

THINK about what you do for fun, for exercise, for the sake of fighting boredom. Is it something that will make a better world? Is it a good use of resources, human and otherwise? Because people get into habits, and they are great imitators, and things have a way of getting out of hand, and you have no idea what trend you may be starting.

Pinwheel Farm started when Mom gave her 4-year-old some yarn to play with, to keep the bored kid from unraveling the sweater Mom was knitting. It hasn't progressed to reveling in the streets, but it certainly has become something no one ever imagined.

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