HDRA in tacktown
That is my new designation - how my tombstone should say I ended my days: High Density Residential Area, Tacoma, Washington. Yes, we are here, and it is really quite a bit better than I had imagined. Having spent the last 27 years on at least an acre, mostly with well and septic, I feel I have now come to the American Dream at last. Just finished a wonderful book by Joan Didion, Where I Am From, in which she dissects the arrival, and obvious implausibility, of the American Middle Class.
Bear with me a moment, finding her book on a shelf and having nothing else to read was a moment of serendipity. She talks mainly about California, but her thesis is applicable to all the communities where people have toys, be they boats, flat screens or Cuisinarts, and follow, or play, sports with a passion, and pursue the leisure life. Her focus is on how federal subsidies, mainly to industries like aerospace in SoCal, funded an entire middle class emerging from the sons and daughters of the dust bowl and the deep South after WWII. Money flowed and flowed, from all over the nation, to businesses and projects the feds deemed necessary and the wages were magnificent and the living was good. We do run into the wall of sustainability finally. Aerospace collapsed, as did many another government sponsored entity once vital to our national well-being, and the middle class began a decline. When you read that the working man now has less earning power than he did fifteen or twenty years ago you are simply seeing the withdrawal of federal dollars withering entire communities. Think about the closure of military bases and what happens to the local economy. It is a story of such enduring reach by now that we just skim past it and wonder where all those good paying jobs went. What happened to the explosion into the burbs? Did the Chinese eat it all up? No, the federal government began backing out of supporting a national lifestyle it had promised everyone but could not deliver on. The loud arguments we are currently hearing about government debt and the curtailment of services is really just the final gasp of the what we were all told we could have but now gradually realize we cannot. We realize this, if at all, drawn kicking and screaming from our previously cozy beneficence. It is painful, very painful. The entire country sits on the edge of this realization, and we have no idea where it goes from here. Sometimes I look at what is occurring and think to myself that we are witnessing history, but the truth is far harder - we are living it.
Since about 80% of us still aspire to that life, meaning we have decent incomes, it simply isn't clear to the majority of us what is happening. Perhaps retirees, like us, see it slightly more clearly as 'pension reform' is now on the lips of lawmakers everywhere. We are promised that these reforms will only impact those yet to retire. Well, we are sort of promised that....and the lobby to maintain Social Security is as fierce as a swarm of killer bees. We have, however, been promised much; it is not a cinch that any of those promises will hold.
Which brings us to Tacoma! It seems so very odd to have come here; it is like stepping into the heart of the hornet's nest. We now depend on a municipality to give us water and remove our waste, to see that we get groceries and gas in a timely fashion, to maintain the infrastructure. Some of these were things we did, to some degree, for ourselves, and now we lie within this social and economic net, dependent as babes for all our good and goods. It isn't as if we were previously really independent. You can raise chickens, but you go to the store for chicken feed. You can cook your eggs, but somebody is still sending you electricity to cook with. It's just that instead of backing away from the mess we have engaged it. We have moved into the laboratory where the truth will be revealed all the more quickly about where we as a society go. I am amazed to be here.
We like Tacoma. It is a mini Bay Area, as in S.F. and environs, at 30% power running in low gear. Hills over the water with a city on them, mixed neighborhoods, racial and cultural diversity, the cafes and coffee shops, lots of 'cultural' events. Even Zoe has taken to it and stopped talking about Seattle.
The house is great. I now have a personal plumber, which is possibly more expensive but obviously more useful than a personal trainer. (It should be like a law firm: Drips, Dribbles and Drains.) We have, so far, slid him about $500 and have the upstairs toilet sitting in a corner while we await the flooring people manana. They will roll in with calculators and clipboards and tapes and tell us how many square feet of damaged wood we must have replaced. I am sure it will not be cheap. Very odd having people come to the house and do work that I would have done myself only a couple of months ago. I ooze into the suburban mindset: I know nothing, I am able to fix nothing, I have no problem-solving left in me. Not quite true, but when it comes to functioning plumbing I have chosen to defer to Pat, who likes it - the plumbing that works, very much. My personal plumber is a professional ballet dancer who is taking some time off after 11 years with the Seattle Ballet - how cosmopolitan, you say...claro. Pat's childhood friend, who lives around the corner by coincidence, writes plays and her husband works in local theatre. Chic indeed. Get thee behind me Fucking Wilderness!!
A new washer and dryer are installed. The kitchen is unpacked and functioning. The other rooms less so. Many boxes remain stacked against walls awaiting further developments. The art pottery peers through cardboard cracks and wonders where all the shelves went. It will take me some time to make more. Having more people come in to do the roof is high on the list. And on 18 April I fly back to Maine to live in an empty house that needs paint and propping to look ready for sale.
The trip here was nothing less than grueling. Long days in a small car with 2 dogs and a cat. I was so spaced that several days after arrival I ran right into a car in the Costco parking lot. I was going very slow, the other guy almost spoke English and was quite amiable. Both cars were drivable. The exchange of info was sketchy; I am encouraging my insurance co. to track him down via his license plate and fix his car. He is Tula and had borrowed the car from Sergio.
“Heigh- ho the wind and the rain, and the rain it raineth every day.” Actually we had a clear day on Saturday; the sky was a pale enamel blue and wispy cumuli parted to reveal the great big mountain. No one uses umbrellas, when they come indoors they shake like dogs. I like this because I’ve never managed to own an umbrella for more than 3 days. So the weather isn’t going to be a problem.
Our trip across America was much as you might imagine such a trip would be in a small Honda with a surly cat and 2 boxers who were flatulent on a diet of Mickey D dollar menu cheeseburgers. Snow spat at us all along the edge of Erie, and we had a lot of rain in one of those rectangular states. We clenched our teeth and called each other “Sweetheart” a lot. It took 5 days with Don doing all of the driving. We wanted to get to Tacoma before our furniture. We arrived on a Monday morning; our worldly goods arrived on Friday. You can buy a blow-up bed at K-mart for $40.
I like the neighborhood, a mix of bungalows and small Victorians, some gone to hell, some well-tended, lots of nice walks. We’re two short blocks from 6th Avenue, ethnic chow, tattoo parlors, and coffee galore. O’Malley’s Irish Pub is on the corner. (On March 18th, the sidewalk in front thereof was literally carpeted with cigarette butts.) The buses that run along 6th Avenue connect with the world or at least with AMTRAK, SeaTac and the Emerald City. Groceries and other necessities are all within non-freeway driving distance.
We’re more than half unboxed. The kitchen and living-room are starting to make sense. The office- library-TV room is on today’s schedule. Our art pots will have to wait for Don to do some building in around the fireplace. The washer and dryer have arrived and are busy day and night. Zoe is building a nest in the basement with oriental rugs and scented candles, Rocky-the-Cat has decided to move in with her.
Seems like a long time since I wrote anyone so I will go ahead and post this without looking at it too closely. all of us ---