Saturday, April 16, 2011


Bitter cold today, snow on the ground in the morning and a stiff, relentless wind. I'm caved up in my room with the electric space heater, though I spent the morning antiquing at the state fairgrounds, with my friends Keith and Steve. I wandered around the tightly packed Grandstand, thinking for a while that I just don't care that much about things. That was, until I came across a booth with Kuan Yin in a striking pose, Siddhartha in the lotus position, several other curious figures impressively postured, three exceptionally well done African masks, one from Ivory Coast, and a first-century Roman Legion arrowhead. That last put me there, for a moment. Later I came across a remarkably well balanced Penobscot war club made from a root, a fearsome weapon, which I could make for nothing but an afternoon outside, which was offered to me for $700. In that same booth I nearly knocked over a not so authentic cradleboard, picking up a hatchet.

Knives, and toy and real guns, all over the place. Keith was pawing through the antique toy handguns in one booth, and the old man who owned the booth worked himself up to the point that he accused Keith afterward of stealing one of a set of replica six-gun revolvers, cap guns. When I asked his partner about it, a woman with the grayest eyes I have ever seen, she said, "This place hasn't been bad, but we were just in Chicago, and oh my god..." I noticed that wherever guns or knives were sold, the booth owners were the most suspicious, the least open and friendly. I don't think they were suspicious of people using the weapons, moreso of people stealing them. In fact, the mood wasn't very friendly generally, but that may be because it was so damn cold and breezy in that concrete, unheated indoor space.

At least half the vendors opted for the cheaper freedom of the outside venue, which would have been great, last weekend when it was sixty-five and sunny. We asked one guy about his lawn art, but he didn't seem to care about the price any more than he cared about where the art came from. Steve was lucky, finding his twentieth copy of a 1970's Six-Million Dollar Man board game, a Bionic Woman board game, a Milwaukee Brewers mug (for the woman he has some interest in) and a Mattell electronic soccer game from the early eighties, still in the box. These things remind him of what seems to have been a happy childhood, with a good father who sometimes took him to baseball card shows at the Thunderbird Motel, out by the old Met Stadium (where the retail vortex of the Americas, Mall of America, is now), before baseball cards were mass produced, and trading in memorabilia became a viable living for many people, and the price of everything soared.

My veggie starts are inside, in their trays in the kitchen; the temporary greenhouse I built for them isn't much good when it's forty degrees and windy. It has held up well though, which I wasn't sure it would, as the sides are covered by one-mil poly. It was all I had, and I was sure it would rip out with a wind, but it's been windy several days and nights and it hasn't. It has stayed about 85 degrees inside, on sunny days the last two weeks, which have been many, and the tomato starts doubled in size one warm day last week. They are practically dormant now.

I was at my sisters the other day, where I was fortunate to watch a PBS companion piece to Michael Pollan's book, The Botany of Desire. Four short histories, on the apple, the tulip, the potato, and Cannabis sativa; it's one of the more enjoyable books I've read in recent years. Watching the film, I was struck once again by modern potato production, and the monocultures favored by the industrial method. Monocultures, which are exquisitely vulnerable, which our food supply is almost entirely dependent upon. Thinking about the children sleeping in the house at the time, I couldn't help but be reminded how entirely unprepared we are for the collapse of the potato, corn or soybean crop, and how my nation at this point seems more concerned about giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans than it cares about feeding people.

There is a debate going on in America related to the debt, about lowering Health Care costs. The single greatest cost-cutting option, being the one that we will not even consider. Namely, ending agricultural subsidies, and especially those to the likes of Cargill, one of the most secretive, largest privately held companies in America, its headquarters near here in a Minneapolis suburb. Cargill's profit has soared to almost ridiculous heights this last year, in large part due to tens of billions of dollars of government subsidies for corn and soybeans, and directly to Cargill. We are not ever likely to cut those subsidies: one, because they're incredibly lucrative for big agri-business; two, because cheap corn keeps people fat and sickly and mal-content, which is incredibly lucrative for the Health Care industry; and three, because cutting subsidies would raise prices for nearly all processed food in America, and that is the one thing the people are most likely to revolt about. So we will likely continue monocultural industrial agriculture, with the use of vast amounts of poisons, and the dramatic soil loss inherent to it, until monocultural industrial agriculture crashes, and famine ensues. Even then, I wonder if our government will cut weapons spending.

Yesterday I tried to pay my electric bill online. I was at the coffee shop, and I had forgotten to bring my phone. This was after I put $38 on my Netspend Master card, which cost me $3.95, which pissed me off because I put $28 on the card earlier this week, for the internet, which also cost me $3.95. I use a Netspend Mastercard because I can't have a checking or savings account because US Bank charged my $800 on $80 of overdrafts, and sold the debt to a creditor. Xcel energy uses a financial services company, NCO, for its online bill pay service. I assumed I would be able to access my account with my address, or my phone number, and the last four digits of my social security number (what will happen to our social security number when they gut social security?), but I needed my account number, which was in the same place as my phone. It was suggested, condescendingly, on the NCO website, that "if you don't have your Xcel Energy account number available, please try back when you do." I'm sorry, I thought, if I'm being irresponsible. I only wanted to pay my ****ing bill!

Back home, where I didn't really want to be because it was 50 degrees in my house because I let the gas bill lapse, I called Xcel. I was informed that the minimum payment, which I had been told, earlier this week, would be $52.xx, was in fact $53.xx, which, with the $2 Netspend Mastercard transaction fee, and the $4.85 NCO financial services convenience fee that I didn't know about, would be more than the $56 and change I had on the Netspend Mastercard. Thankfully, Xcel is not going to shut off my electrical, as long as I pay $60, plus the $2 and $4.85 fees, on Monday. I hope to make a few dollars this weekend helping Keith with a fence in his backyard.

Rudolf Steiner suggests that this situation I'm confronted with is related to a lesson I'm meant to learn in this life, which I chose, or was chosen for me, in the time between this and my last life. I have no question, I have brought this on myself, with the choices I have made in this life. I tend to think of this world as a wonderful and beautiful and mysterious place, and yet nearly every time I have to deal with corporate or government institutional energy, I want to tear the world to pieces. Everything is backward, upside down, where even the ending of a corporate subsidy is deemed a tax increase; when we are laying off teachers and giving 0% interest loans and tax cuts and outright free cash to the wealthiest among us; when we rage at each other about $38 billion in reductions to services for the poor, while the $78 billion in suggested military cuts by the Secretary of Defense are completely ignored; when we act as if people are better people, the more material and financial wealth they gather and horde.

I think about the little boy I was, growing up on the shore of a lake, across the road from a woods, down the road from a creek where I hunted frogs and snakes and turtles, mostly alone. How that little boy has become a man, living in the city alone, with a big garden, plans to gather much food, plans to build greenhouses and cisterns and plant fruit trees, hanging on to this life by pocket change, by the good grace of family, friends and neighbors, and faith, that this is a spiritual life, and another life will follow this.

What lesson are we to learn, hanging on as we are by our monocultures, by our faith in industrial processes and an economic model entirely contrary to nature, our faith in men like sky gods, to lead us, to treat us well?

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