WHO ON EARTH STEALS A GARBAGE CAN? Honestly, I'm absolutely
stunned by this. A couple of weeks ago, my buddy Scott and I headed out
for lunch, and on the way, I stacked the now-empty garbage can, put out
at the kerb that morning, by our front path, with the lid on the up-ended
bottom. A couple of hours later, I came back home -- no garbage can.
No garbage can on the porch, or out on the deck, where
K. would put it if she came home. Nothing in the backyard, or in the coach
house. Nothing, nowhere -- gone, gone, gone. Who the hell would steal a
skanky, foul-smelling old Rubbermaid™ garbage can with raccoon gnawings
on the handle and a residue of cat litter caked on the bottom? What kind
of moron trawls through a residential street looking for just the perfect
skanky garbage can -- with lid, of course -- to haul home through said
streets to his skanky thieves' den? What is the world coming to?
I happen to believe that civic order -- the basic glue
that holds civilization together -- is based on little unwritten rules
like, for instance, "Don't steal your neighbour's skanky garbage can."
The ten commandments are, among other things, a pretty nice summary of
the essence of civic order, a decent prescription for keeping a society
in working order, government ticking along with some semblance of efficiency,
business capably turning labour into goods with minimum friction, and the
overall polity facing the world clear-eyed and pink-cheeked. If you want
to try and imagine your life without these basics, just move to Russia,
(Isn't it fascinating that this statement, once the province
of right-wing red-baiters in the days of the cold war, is now a simple
statement of truth. Communist Russia might have been a state tyranny with
precious little consumer choice or career options, but the civic polity
was maintained, desperately. The fall of communism has had one major side-effect,
which is to make Russia resemble the impoverished, kleptocratic nightmare
painted by anti-communists for decades. And now those people will tell
you it's an improvement. One thing that should be obvious by now is that
consumer capitalism doesn't work without a stable civic society -- something
to think about the next time a candidate for office tries to sell you on
the wisdom of dismantling, or reducing funding to, those structures that
maintain the polity, like basic welfare programs, health care, education
and municipal services.)
So we go out and buy a new garbage can. Now paranoid --
the state of mind that indicates an unstable polity -- I wait for the garbagemen
to come by and empty it, but before I can make it downstairs to take it
back in, some upstanding citizen deposits a little knotted plastic bag,
heavy with dog turd, in our new can.
Okay, so everyone wants to cheat a little. Obviously,
solid citizen is good enough to pick up after his pooch, but uncomfortable
enough with the whole process that he wants to ditch his bag of turd as
soon as possible. We all try to pay as little tax as possible, get a free
ride every now and then, and I'm certain few of us complain when we find
a quarter in the change return slot of a payphone, or a couple of twenties
in the bank machine, left behind by some harassed, absentminded individual.
(It's happened to me -- $200 in twenties, in fact, and I spent it right
away. I can only manage the faintest guilt about this, two years later.)
We all cheat, and most of us justify our cheating by imagining
that, somewhere, everywhere, someone with a lot more power and influence
is cheating, and we're mostly right. In everything from petty crime to
organized crime, from nepotism to political corruption, we have more than
enough evidence that the cheating goes on, and the only thing preventing
it from utterly corroding our society is the fact that we don't rob our
neighbours, sneak onto the subway, vandalize our own neighbourhood or add
to the ambient social tension by acting out, en masse, our tension, rage
and despair in public with an orgy of assault, theft and murder.
Toronto is a classic example of a city run by a corrupt
administration, but one that understands that a sufficient level of stability
has to be maintained in order for the citizenry to go happily about their
business without worrying too much about where their tax money is going.
The city is clean, quiet, and increasingly ugly, but since few people notice
the last detail, the first two carry the day. The lack of sufficient subways,
the free had developers are given to guide the city's growth, the utter
lack of coherent city planning -- mere nuisances, it seems, provided that
the taps run clean water and the lights stay on, and the imperative of
commerce runs without a hiccup. The polity is maintained.
I wish I had some kind of prescription for improvement,
but I just happen to believe that it's probably not possible. As long as
the worst thing I have to worry about is a stolen garbage can, then my
problems are pretty minor. It's far from perfect here, but I'm certain
millions of people would like to have my problems, my apartment, my relationship,
my elected officials, my lifestyle and the longing and ambition that makes
me hope that all this will change.
That's my rant for the day, I suppose. I have, after two
years of this diary, revealed myself to be a classic, disillusioned Liberal.
So shoot me.