My personal theory of how to make everything right with the world: Make sure everything at your house is just fine. When that’s done, get your yard together. Work outward in concentric circles until you tackle all the problems on your block, your neighborhood, and so on. If everybody were to follow these simple rules, the world would be just swell, starting tomorrow.
At my house, I’m in charge of the hardware. I take my duties seriously, and I study hard. And I’ve learned that bad hardware can screw up the whole society. Really. Take for instance the attached garage, complete with automatic door opener/closer. For all their convenience, these things are the work of the devil, and they’re a big part of What’s Wrong With America.
Trace it back. Not long ago, this society was the world’s alpha silverback gorilla, tooling around in a three-ton chrome-finned car, smoking real Cuban cigars, and teaching men how to pee neatly in airless space. Then garages started getting grafted onto houses, and we turned into such weenies that we couldn’t work up the nerve to walk from the garage to the house with a few grocery bags; suddenly we were even too delicate to get out of the car to open the garage door.
It’s not just that we got all lazy and self-doubting, which is bad enough by itself. The worst thing is that garagesand those durn automatic doorssevered the connections among neighbors. Time was, people drove their cars up to the front of the house, or they parked ’em under a porte cochere (French for carport) in full view of the street and the neighbors. These Americans strode proudly up to their front doors, instead of skulking in like a bunch of egg-stealing weasels. A fair amount of the time, folks would encounter a neighbor or two somewhere between the car and the front porch, and they’d do a little civilized bonding, right there in front of the house, where everybody could see ’em. If somebody came home drunk, disorderly or disheveled, all the neighbors found out about it in real time. Stuff like this made America great.
Garages and auto-doors started us down a long stretch of bad road that’s still loosening the bolts in America’s undercarriage. A particularly heinous example: the deadman switch on the lawn mowers. Time was, a lawn mower would run all by itself, even if you walked away from it. I liked this feature, because my early lawn mowers, like my early cars, wouldn’t always start back up after I’d turned them off. But a day came when the government forced each and every lawn mower manufacturer to install a deadman switch, which would turn the lawn mower off when the operator let go of the handle. They did this because people were sticking their hands and feet into the whirling blades.
Now, I feel sorry for people with lawn mower injuries. I really do. But in all my life, during which I have known some seriously dysfunctional humans, I’ve known only one who had flesh-to-blade lawn mower contact. Neighbor Poole sliced off a couple of toes, and this was back when they wouldn’t even try to sew them back on. Believe me when I tell you, this puddin’ head was going to end up missing some body parts sooner or later.
But now, because of people like Poole, we’ve got citizens walking around thinking they don’t need to be careful. There are people who think it’s somebody else’s job to keep them from falling off ladders, burning themselves with coffee, or choking on a wad of chewing gum. Have you heard the smokers who say the tobacco companies ought to develop a cigarette that they could quit smoking? Hey, you could do that for yourself. Wrap a Zig-Zag paper around some of that shredded rubber mulch. We’ve got to destroy it somehow, because it won’t rot, which is what mulch is supposed to do. See how easy it is to get things all screwed up?
Try it my way for a while: Pay no mind to CNN. Throw away section one of the paper, go straight to local news, then check the sports and comics. Fix everything at your house, so it all works perfectly and doesn’t bother anybody else. Take care of the people who live at your house, and as long as the neighbors aren’t throwing anything over the fence, treat ’em nice.
Walter Jowers can be reached at Walter.Jowers@nashville.com.