MATERIAL WORLD: Stranger In an Even Stranger Land

While the rest of the planet is gearing up for the new millennium, I'm only just beginning to ease my way into this one. Fresh from the far outer reaches of civilization, a backwater so remote that the Amish considered us too simple, the mind-boggling possibility of meatballs subs, falafel rollups and General Po's Chicken delivered at the touch of a Touch Tone is still beyond my comprehension.The wonders of the post-industrial age are an abiding mystery. I have, for instance, just learned of the existence of something called a water bill, a sum I am required to submit to the municipality for the pleasure of imbibing "acceptable" levels of lead, copper, cryptosporidia, and bromodicloromethane, all suspended in a sparkling drink which tastes suspiciously like a swimming pool. A nifty instructional booklet that accompanied my bill indicates that the water is not to be consumed if I am too young, too old, or if my immune system is compromised. The good news is that "all drinking water, including bottled water may be reasonably expected to contain at least small amounts of contaminants...(which) does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk." Evian, anyone?I am also required to pay for the privilege of flushing my troubles down the drain and not having to deal with the consequences. Even worse, people here in town save up their garbage for a whole week until it putrefies, instead of driving it to the dump every other day. Which may account for the existence of vermin unheard of back in the woods. Any recyclable material larger than two square feet needs to be pummeled and bludgeoned into an an acceptable size before disposal, and I am still awaiting the possibility of being billed for breathable air, allergens, toxic fumes, and encephalitic mosquitoes at no extra charge.When I was living in a place so sparsely inhabited that the cable company refused to provide service, news of the outside world was intermittent at best. Television reception depended upon the vagaries of the weather, and the density of the foliage between our town and the far distant transmittors. Many's the time we had to climb to the roof and reposition the antenna, just to pick up a rerun of Star Trek, a very special episode of "Blossom," or a "This Is Only A Test" Emergency Evacuation Drill.The TV Guide was never considered a compendium of options, but merely a wish list of unavailable fantasies. Not a single one of us ever qualified as a Nielsen household, because our program selections were based less on content than on the clarity of the picture. Parabolic waves of interference came from everything, passing planes to police radio transmissions, squawking cell phones to irregularly scheduled power surges, and Dan Rather might suddenly morph into Pamela Anderson Lee right in the middle of a deadly serious standup from Beirut. So the current demographic trend that gears programming to the taste of the average 14 year old, seems to be a skewed sampling. It ignores a significant segment of the population which would prefer "Action," "Oz," or "EZ Streets." Except we can't get that from here.Without the wonders of electronic transmission, we townsfolk were usually forced to rely upon each other for entertainment, finding solace in taffy pulls, animal husbandry, and a continuous loop of gastronointestinally challenging Ham and Bean, Frank and Bean, and Macaroni and Bean Saturday night socials at the Veterans' Hall. While speculating about the neighbors was the mainstay of the cultural calendar, special events such as Yard Sales, Tag Sales, and Garage Sales provided us the unique opportunity to conduct archeological digs in the debris usually hidden behind closed closet doors.The thing I was most anxious to leave behind has followed me here. This time of the quadrennial cycle in the hinterlands, right when we were bobbing for apples, carving giant pumpkins, and gearing up for bragging rights in the annual New England foliage wars, we would be besieged by motorcades of Lincoln Town Cars. They would pull up at the Town Hall and the General Store, disgorging phalanxes of guys in bespoke suits, whose shiny loafers have never before encountered manure. These merry fellows would force red, white and blue buttons, policy statements, 8 by 10 glossies, and other instantly recycled materials upon us, and ask us if we were better off today than we were four years ago. Now that I've finally got cable, they're still unavoidable. I get to see them on 98 stations and pay for the privilege.

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