- Category: Opinion
- Written by Jim Dee
Before we bought our home in 1998, the former owner walked us through the place. He apologized for never having updated some of the older fixtures and windows. I'm not sure whether we said anything at the time, but no apology was necessary; in our minds, he was apologizing for failing to remove every remaining bit of charm from the place.
In fact, we probably wouldn't have liked the place so much if it weren't for the vintage fixtures, the stained and leaded glass windows, the red brass hardware, the hardwood floors, etc. Had the man another six months to fuck it all up, I've no doubt all of the original fixtures would have been replaced with ultra-cheap, generic trash. But he didn't, and we purchased the home.
The house used to sit along a beautiful red brick street. You don't see many of those anymore; the charm was undeniable. However, a few years ago, our local government decided to pave over it with asphalt. (The logic is akin to: Why spend $10 rewiring some old highly fragile Tiffany lamp when you can get a brand new plastic one at Wal Mart for the same $10?)
I tried to stop the asphalt project -- even had all of my neighbors sign a petition stating that we'd rather stick with our trusty red brick. It was all very Arthur Dent of me (for any Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans out there).
All but two signed. One was an old lady* who said, "Patrick, you can't fight city hall." She also expressed fear at associating her name with any kind of "resistance" (as if our borough council were the friggin' Gestapo scouring the French countryside for anti-German sentiment). Another was an even older lady who I'd recently called a "fucking bitch" at top volume (which, despite my regular obnoxious writing here, is well out of character for me) after an unfortunate incident involving a large spinach-alfredo pizza. (But that's another story.)
Everyone else signed. We LIKED the charming red brick, the sense of history, the echoes of laborers who originally paved the street in this way, the way grasses would spring up between the cracks each year, the awe over craftsmanship that had by then stood the test of time for eight decades, and the way the slightly bumpy bricks demanded that vehicles slow down through our neighborhood (that last point being especially comforting for any families with kids). So, why fuck it up?
Anyway, I delivered the original petition to the public works department, along with at least 50 pages of attached arguments from historical preservation web sites extolling the historical, aesthetic, and even economical virtues of brick streets. You'd be surprised at how many articles I found about other communities where the people who actually CARE about historical preservation are battling the IDIOTS that are somehow always in charge of city councils.
They ignored it. El-Fucko Paving showed a few months later and coated the whole place with several inches of sticky, smelly, drag-the-shit-into-your-house-on-your-shoes jet-black asphalt.
Why'd the city council opt for pavement? Well, in their distorted version of "progress," patching holes in the street is "easier" using asphalt than having to lay a few bricks every now and then. Bricks are "heavy," and some girly man might throw out his weak little back. Lazy fucks ...
Which brings me to today's point, which may seem surprising to some. See, I'm NOT criticizing asphalt, nor "progress," nor technology. Like plastic, ten-dollar lamps from Wal Mart, asphalt has its proper place in the world. I understand that much. Instead, I'm criticizing the mis-application of these things, the distortion of a once-noble work-ethic, the tendency of humans to fix what isn't broken, the tendency of humans to become lazy and overly dependent upon technology rather than leveraging it to do even greater things than were ever before possible.
In a sense, I'm also proclaiming the death of the original blue collar worker. Truly hard working people are a rarity in our society; we're now workaphobic. I've seen these people up close ... Today's "blue collar" workers are, at least where I live, generally fat fucks who stand around puffing Marlboros and downing McGriddles faster than you can look up "coronary bypass surgery" on Wikipedia. It's an insult to call them blue collar -- an insult to the ones who built this country the right way the first time around (well, except for all that asbestos and lead-based paint -- but the old-timers didn't know that stuff was hazardous at the time, so I'll cut them some slack).
The picture at the top of my entry shows Indian Jim Brown (second from the left) -- motherfucker could lay 67,000 bricks in seven hours and could work faster than 8 other men could supply him with bricks. 67,000!! I guarantee that's 200x more bricks than anyone ever had to replace at one time during any repair on my street prior to the whole asphalt debacle.
Look, I realize there are iron workers out there who build skyscrapers, jack-hammer operators, day laborers, plumbers who put in elbow grease when it's called for, etc. I'm not talking about those precious few still unafraid to break a sweat. (And, God knows my job's not physically demanding.) I just want to know: When did our blue collar set start really packing on the pounds? Especially here in Pittsburgh, once home to a pugnacious class of tough bastards who churned out raw steel that built half the country. When did we turn into people who'd rather sit on our fat asses for two days running machines that pave an entire street rather than having to re-lay a few bricks by hand every now and again? (The name "Pittsburgh Steelers" doesn't mean shit anymore ... Trust me on that one.)
What's worse, I'm certain this is but one symptom of a much greater problem -- something that's frighteningly wrong with the world today. Anyone agree with me?
* Just as a footnote: That lady, though a royal pain in my ass, has at least proven inspirational in other areas of my life. In my fiction writing, I allow a few characters to pop up in various, otherwise unrelated works. This particular lady was the inspiration for "Mrs. Pipistrello" who first appears in my NaNoWriMo novella, "Pirates of Pamlico Sound" (available for download along the right side of my blog). In real life, this woman's Italian. The word pipistrello is Italian for bat, (as in, she's an old bat). I've brought Mrs. Pipistrello back for a new novel I'm working on. More on that much later ...