Maryland is a very small state. And since I don’t get to travel too often, after a while I start feeling stifled. Smothered. Stagnant. Just downright stuck. My usual cure is to turn on the Discovery channel and dial up a program about someplace fabulous – Egypt, India, Africa, the rainforest. Exotic places I’d love to visit but can’t because farm hands don’t exactly make top dollar. But recently, my fiance, in a rare moment of thriftiness, cancelled our subscription to every educational channel in our cable plan – Discovery, Animal Planet, NatGeo, History, you name it. (He kept only the “essentials,” which are of course sports and movie channels.) Since winter means a a big slow down at the farm, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with my couch (you can only walk a dog for so long before even he gives up on you) with no NatGeo to keep me from drowning in the same Maryland air I’ve been breathing for 25 years. I’ve therefore turned to my bookshelf, which looks far less full that it did before I was staring down two to three months of winter boredom.
Travel memoirs, I’ve found, are a great alternative to NatGeo. I recently finished reading one called Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen. It’s both amusing and enlightening; his adventures in the rainforest are bold and brave, and his encounters with the native Penan people shed a bright light on how far from the earth modern civilization has roamed. One quote from his memoir stuck with me, buzzing around my mind until I acknowledged its presence. It’s a perfect encapsulation of American culture in all its consumerist glory:
I wandered over to the small corrugated metal mission warehouse next to the landing strip. I was curious to see what things were essential to village life in the area. I expected medicines and tools, perhaps educational material. I stood with my hands and face pressed against the wire-mesh window, peering into the dim interior. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see the vital mission supplies that Ian had referred to. I listed them in my journal. There were Eveready flashlight batteries, Roma and Ayam brand tea biscuits, Baru Baru laundry soap, Tancho lavender-scented hair pomade, souvenir-quality headhunting knives from the coast, Jackson Super Milk Toffee Sweets, Super Bubblegum, linoleum, white sugar, tins of instant chicken noodle soup, infant formulas from Switzerland, soft drinks, Bliss Peppermints (“Sweetens the breath”), and wind-up plastic penguins from Hong Kong. It was all neatly arranged in colorful cardboard boxes. Looking into that storeroom, I caught a glimpse of my own culture. The taste of chocolate lingered in my mouth, and I could feel my roots.
Sugar, unnecessary personal care products, poor-quality products. Hello, natives, welcome to America. Please, let us share our culture with you.
Cliche as the name has become, America is mostly definitely the “Fast Food Nation.” We want what we want, frivolous as it is, and we want it now. We want two cars, we want to change our hair color every few weeks, we want new clothes for every season, we want this and that knick knack to fill up our shelves, we want to go out to eat several times a week, our children want every Barbie or video game at the toy store, we want the latest home workout equipment so we can pretend to be healthy without ever leaving our homes. And then we want to throw it all away when the new latest craze come along. Remember Furbies? Tickle-me-Elmo? Do your children still play with them? Do you still use those Shake Weights that were supposed to magically transform your body into Carmen Diaz?
Wake up and smell the landfills, folks. America is the nation of trash, of useless, single-serve commodities. The NY Times places America at the top of the list of trash-producers. Maybe it’s time to curb the consumerism a bit. Recycling is lovely, too.