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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Suburbanity and the Future

I spent my birthday being suburban. I woke up, drove my Camry to drop my wife at work in her office building, and then went to breakfast at IHOP where I sat Erin in a plastic high chair and watched her stain her dress with blueberries that had probably never seen a shady forest. We followed that up with a nap, because I tire easily at the corner of Maple and Chestnut.

.............In War and Peace, when asked why he is going to war, Prince Andrei replies: "I'm going because this life I am leading here--this life is--not to my taste." .......................

After naptime we went to Target, because I needed some cargo shorts. The shorts I was wearing had holes through both pockets and I carry a lot of the suburbs with me: car keys, a digital camera, a Blackberry, a leather wallet that I bought at the mall. I usually put my keys in my right pocket, close the doors and walk away while clicking the clicker that will either alert me that my vehicle is secure in the parking lot formerly known as paradise, or that my doors are open and need to be closed before being locked. I needed new cargo shorts because I was tired of putting my keys in my left pocket; they kept falling through the right one.

I bought three nearly identical pairs of shorts, the only difference between them being one of shade, not colour.

..................and they're all made out of ticky tacky................

Then we drove to the mall, because Target wasn't big enough for us to spread ourselves out in.

We dined at Beni Hana, where we made faces at Erin while the chef-ertainment put on a show in the toughest house around. She smiled at him a few times.

The most significant scene in Wall-E, I think, is the one where the floating indolents change their outfits from red to blue, with the push of a button and without hesitation. This false choice, so important to them, allows them to satisfy the human need to navigate forks without risking the consequences of a real choice, one with consequences. Their condition, and the condition of the planet they flee, is a result of these simulations of choice.

.........I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.....

The human brain is a big prediction generator. Over time it develops archetypes, patterns of learned and created reality that it uses to see into the future. Our human curiosity is more than anything else a drive to feed the prediction machine. Because if we can feed the prediction machine it can help keep us safe, and keep our genes safe, to spread out and populate. Our brains run little simulations of the world and its events, micro-seconds ahead.

The suburbs are a simulation, and within this simulation we are safe, and our genes are safe, and we can make choices without consequences.

.....................Not with a______, but a whimper....................

Our sun is dying.

"When it gets too hot here," says the man on The National Geographic Channel, "we have two choices: to adapt to life here or to move on."

"Or die," says Emily.

"That's really morbid," says I.

"I've never thought that human beings would always be around," she explains.

"I have."

........................Soylent Green is people.............................

The suburbs, and the people living in the suburbs making their simulated choices, are a resource.

Technology, sufficiently advanced, looks like magic.

Technology, the manipulation of the pure stuff of the universe, can help us in our daily individual lives. It can also be the cause of our soul-death. What happens when we are constantly connected to everyone else through our Blue-tooth brainchips? Individuality dies, and there are no more creations from individual genius. Souls are individual expressions of the stuff of the universe. When people can communicate in the same way that the two hemispheres of our prediction-machine brains can, then there is just one person, made up of tiny little resources. People the size of neurons.

But will the technology inspired by, funded by, demanded by, the suburbanite help the population achieve escape velocity and carry on, out there? Or does it take individual genius to leap into space?

Does soul-death ensure the safety of our genes?

.............That's my daughter in the water, everything she owns I bought her.................

My genes are sleeping in the other room. She doesn't know that the sun is dying. But she loves Target, she smiled at the chef-ertainer, and she has blueberries all over her dress.

I will keep her safe, here in the simulation, and I will hope that doing so also helps us achieve escape velocity.

I will hold the soul death at bay through deliberate choices, wherever those choices are available to me in my simulation.

But my first choice has to be to embrace the simulation. Because if all I do is tolerate it, then I am one of the pseudo-humans in Wall-E, carried along on my hover chair and never noticing that I have no choices left.

I love the show Weeds. And The Olive Garden

.........You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around; that's what it's all about..........

As we left the Target and returned to our car, we saw that the driver's side door was open and there was a security guard standing near by. We approached, and he asked me if the grey Camry was mine. "Yes. How long has the door been open?"

"The whole time," he replied.

My shorts had a hole in the right pocket, so I put my keys in my left pocket when I got out of the car. I pulled Erin out of the back seat and she was so excited to see the Target logo that she practically hopped out of my arms to race over to the giant red concrete spheres. I let her lead me away.

Completely forgetting that I hadn't closed my door.

And because I had put my keys in my left pocket I hadn't felt them when I put my hand in my right pocket, my habit. And so I hadn't pressed the 'lock' button, and the car had not beeped at me to say that the doors weren't all closed.

It's a good thing I have new shorts from Target now, or else the next time this happened someone could have stolen my iPod.


Don't worry if this is confusing. I don't understand it myself. I'm just feeling very suburban today and trying to feel better about it.


MereCat said...

There's nothing wrong with being suburban. Surviving to live another day is winning according to the planet. And getting to enjoy it a little with IHOP and Target and Camrys catapults this from simply winning to winning with a little spike of the ball.

mamatulip said...

I can think of worse ways to spend one's birthday.

Happy birthday. :)

heather said...

Love that song, "Daughter." I used to sing it and hope the little baby I was pregnant with was a girl. Peter Blegvad writes some beautiful lyrics (but I like the Loudon Wainwright III version better).

califmom said...

Tonight I will be feeding my children Meals in a Cup a la Wall-E. We're having smoothies, albeit organic ones. Still, I feel ya.

Ali said...

what the fuck ever.
we don't even have a target in Canada...way to rub that in, Backpacking Dad....hahaha.

Her Bad Mother said...

Dude. One day we can talk about Rousseau's understanding of the bourgeois and how that relates to 21st century urban and suburban life (with a side of Tolstoy). (My take? That contemporary suburban life to Rousseau and Tolstoy would be akin, in many of the most important respects, to their rural idylls. I need a martini or two to get onto my professor schtick, though. So.)

Happy birthday.

justlori2day said...

I think I need to tap into my former suburban persona, because I got it on many levels and then got sentimental. But then you had me at Target and all was good again!

Happy Birthday!

THopgood said...

Happy birthday!

I secretly wish that Target would allow adult birthday partys complete with target helium balloons and icees. I want to play pin the arrow on the target and lounge in the outdoor patio set department with a martini in one hand and a Target walkie-talkie in the other.

CaraBee said...

I love Olive Garden, too, albeit somewhat shamefully. There's something about those endless breadsticks and salads that gets me every time. (sigh)

Swirl Girl said...

such a philosophical post today B-day boy. At the ripe old age of 31, yours is not to ponder the meaning of suburbia - yours is to live it.

Christy said...

I have had a lot of those days lately...not feeling so great about suburbia and my mini make some very interesting points. Maybe embracing my own distaste is the best thing to do?

Very deep--love it!

Tess said...

IHOP and Target- Suburbia heaven...

Loralee Choate said...

I have to agree with Ali. Sure there are Targets where I live but they are over an HOUR away, so I might as well BE in Canada as often as I get to enjoy its lovliness.


Mommy Melee said...

I was in Cincinnati a few years ago visiting my best friend. My husband I followed her to this crazy loft apartment where her ex-boyfriend still lived. It was... painfully hip. I'd never been somewhere so cool.

Then the guy started talking to this other chick there about idiots wearing birkenstocks (I had the on) and driving Volvos (my husband drove a '92 Volvo) and having families and being cookie cutter and ugh.

I think you're onto something as far as being conscious of your situation goes. Our adventures aren't always the adventures of those who are living urban, hip lifestyles. But there's something to be said for every adventure I share through my son's eyes.

I'm afraid to drive a minivan. But I drive a station wagon. I love Weeds although I think Season 4 has kind of jumped the shark. I dunno.

We are what we are. I liked this post.

reneedesigns said...

If loving Target is wrong, well then that is too damn bad.

I too live in the suburbs but the bad part, we call it ghetto suburban. Some how it makes me feel better. Sad, I know.

attiton said...

Dude, what precisely are you going back to school to study again? Seriously, inquiring minds want to know/not stalk your blog archives.

Among other things, colour? Colour? Superfluous voeowelles can get you banned from some schools...

Using the words "simulacrum," "narrative" and "gestalt," on the other hand, can earn you a Ph-freakin-D.

Amelia Sprout said...

Hehe. You said colour... queen's English indeed...

Great advantage of living in the home of the Target, they are everywhere. Including dead center of the city. Have they imported Super Target there yet? Mmm... super Target.

Backpacking Dad said...

merecat: I don't know about nothing wrong with it. But I think it hasn't earned the nausea I feel about it sometimes. :}

mamatulip: me too. At least it wasn't snowing. Thanks! :}

heather: I had it on permanent repeat for the first three days after I bought it. It says a lot of true things about my little girl.

califmom: During Wall-E I had to stop drinking my very large soda. I just couldn't take it. Organic smoothies sound awesome.

ali: You sucker Canadiens. (P.S. that "colour" was for all of you :} )

her bad mother: I love it when you get all academic up in here. And that you come out swinging. Makes me feel smart.

justlori2day: to feel suburban one need only watch Weeds.

thopgood: I know someone who had a birthday party at Target. I don't know if Target knew about it though.

carabee: Unfortunately I'm full of Beni-hana leftovers, so the thought of all those breadsticks just makes me feel ill. I love them when I'm hungry, though.

swirl girl: I'll do my best :}

christy: I don't know about "best". "necessary"? I just don't like walking around like some Sartrean protagonist feeling nauseous about everything I see.

tess: don't forget the mall. There was a Sharper Image that had been bought out by a liquidation company and everything was 40% off.

loralee: no ganging up on me, you two.

mommy melee: Ack! Don't tell me about season 4! I'm only on 2. :} And yeah, vicariousness is worth something.

reneedesigns: I love "ghetto suburban". Is there a run down Chuck E Cheese?

attiton: I'll never tell. Oh, hell. Philosophy. It's philosophy. But 16th and 17th century philosophy, not this stuff. This stuff is a hobby. Or a necessity. I don't know which. I won't be writing anything professional about the suburbs :}

amelia sprout: I've heard of Super Target. But seeing as I already spend all of my non-rent, non-mortgage income at regular Target I'm afraid of Super Target. I'd have to go into debt. Um. More debt.

PAPA said...

That's so funny, I've also written about Target shorts:
I plan to wear them to Blogher and show off my rocket calves..
Look forward to meeting you.
p.s. i got all the way to 433 in war and peace then quit...i have to start all over!

attiton said...

{nods knowingly}

sean said...

new job necessitates dabbling in suburbia for my first time in nearly 20 years ... Having some culture shock. Reading this helps me understand a little better. :)

Mrs. A. said...

It sucks, doesn't it? The Tolstoy, Thoreau, and Eliot is all well and good, but when one begins to use inevitably precious moments with one's child to romanticize suburbia... there's a problem. Your problem, not mine. Mine is merely your use of ellipses, if your endless dots deserve that name. What were you thinking? Ellipses are the new quotation marks, like pink is the new black?

Backpacking Dad said...

papa: Ah, the calves. I too am flashing some pretty mean calves right now. We'll have a calve off.

sean: ah. that's too bad. it's all made out of ticky tacky.

mrs. a: romanticizing? did I romanticize, or decry and surrender? Also, I wasn't really using them as ellipses so much as page breaks. But it's nice that you care. Shouldn't you be asleep?

for a different kind of girl said...

I've never imagined a time when humans wouldn't be around. I can't even fathom it. I just like to assume it will be the same, quasi-tidy environmnent it is now, and people with my gene's swirling in them will be occupying it. I realize that there may be more neon and people and Starbucks and Targets, but so be it, because dammit, frappaccinos are hella fantastic, and I've scored big time on Target clearance. Suburbs good. Plain and simple.

Izzy said...

It's so rare to see anyone in the parent blogging community comment on suburbia. It is a simulation and as a child of suburban master-planed communities, I'm totally qualified to say that AND be critical of them. They serve their purpose but my God, how many times have I wondered "Is this all there is?"

Happy (belated?) birthday. Enjoy your new shorts.

(PS what are your thoughts on the new season of WEEDS? I'm on the fence. I think I actually liked it better when they were in the ticky tacky master-planned burbs)

Badass Geek said...

If you're trying to feel better about feeling suburban, then I suppose I should try to make myself feel better about being a hermit. Because seriously? Multiple days pass before I leave the house sometimes.

Heather said...

You should learn how to sew, then you could have mended your shorts pocket, negating the trip to target to spend more money on consumer goods.

Christy said...

A response to your response: Yeah, I get that--necessary is a better way to put it. :)

MadWoman said...

I'm still reeling from the fact that you just mentioned Tar-jay numerous times in your post without once apologizing for the lack of sensitivity towards us Canucks who do not get to experience the joy of Target shopping.

Sounds to me like you had a pretty decent, albeit suburban, birthday. Cargo shorts and cars protected by bored security guards after a yummy breakfast at iHop?? Sign me up baby!

Mandy said...

Um, so you leave your car unlocked in Vancouver and the entire thing is stripped down to the bolts when you get back. We got a mean drug problem out here.

Sounds like a pretty good birthday to me. We don't even have Target up here.

moonspun said...

I grew up in the suburbs...and now live rurally. There isn't one single Target in Vermont! NOT ONE! It's the biggest thing I miss (besides people) from Massachusetts. Shopping online doesn't cut it.
It was a meandering and though provoking post...and happy birthday.

Carolyn...Online said...

Dude, that part of suburbia that doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Anonymous said...

I'm so Suburban I drive one. This was very honest. I enjoyed it.

Kristen said...

Don't worry about a thing...the cylons are going to save us all...oh, and Thoreau might have lived alone in the woods, but he still mooched off other people...A LOT.

Happy belated birthday!

Aunt Becky said...

Yeah, see, I'm suburban and I'm damn proud of it. I've been a city-dweller, and you know what? TAKING A KID TO THE GROCERY STORE IN THE CITY IS A JOKE.

God Bless Suburbia.

Brittany said...

I hear you. Suburbia messes with your head, and confuses your values with illusions of contentment.

Plus, I have 5 pairs of khaki shorts, and the only difference is if there are any buttons on the pockets.

AMR said...

What a ridiculously cool post. Truly terrific writing, it captured for me the essence of my main street -- that of Target and Costco, Kohls and Home Depot, of a cool Mexican place that should do more business but doesn't b/c it is in a strip mall and people hate strip malls because they always have tobacco and comic book shops, and of traffic. Lots and lots of traffic.

Just awesome. Best read of the day (and that's topping a funny George Will article on beer . . . and I love beer).

Rich C. said...

I know where you're coming from. We live on the edge of suburbia; just close enough that it only takes ten minutes to get to Target but far enough away that I can look out my window and watch the horses trot around at the nearby farm. I grew up in the suburbs while my wife was lucky enough to blossom out here amongst the trees and farms. I feel more human here and am glad I can give my daughter the opportunity to experience both worlds while she grows.

Excellent writing by the way; I'll definitely have to visit again.

Don Mills Diva said...

I absolutely loved this post.
Having said that, isn't it self-indulgent of us (because I do it too) to contemplate whether our lives are too suburban? I mean, what a luxury really...probably about 3 billion people would cut off their right arm in order to have a chance at embracing our livestyles...

Kat said...

Dude, you live in the wrong suburbia. Mine has roads that lead into the city and when you miss it, you can get in your car or on a bus and go there.

I don't miss it often. I grew up in the inner city. I work in the heart of a huge city. I'll take suburbia, for living in, any day.

TLC said...


You probably won't see this with all the comments you get, and it is pretty silly, but I had to do it, so I thought I would pass it on to you, as well. (seeing as how I am not a sexist, and dads need to get in on it, too.)
You have been tagged! Sorry, in advance...
Send Chocolate Got You!


Sandie Law said...

Sad and inspiring all at the same time.

Oh, I love the Olive Garden too.

Backpacking Dad said...

FADKOG: and there may be more neon people, because the future glows.

izzy: aaaaahhhhh don't give away anything! I only just finished season 2!

badass geek: me too, dude. at least in my head.

heather: ah, but I know how to sew :} I sew baby dolls back together. But really the pockets in those shorts were not good for the kinds of things I need to carry; they weren't cargo shorts. I didn't replace them and throw them away, I just upgraded :}

madwoman: I'm really impressed by how much my Canadian brethren and sistren seem to love Target :}

mandy: It's amazing how bad the drug problem can get when the police are only allowed to give you a slightly dirty look for blazing up on the corner. I've never been to a city where the cops were so lenient and also so reviled. Downtown was nice :}

moonspun: I really like Vermont. It's the greenest damn place I've ever been. But my I've gone to Burlington four times for my mother's surgeries and I don't think I can ever go to Vermont again.

carolyn: That's why I can do so many pushups :}

kd: the only honestly named SUV.

kristen: but I have to wait on the cylons for another 6 months. Damn SciFi channel.

aunt becky: seriously, dude.

brittany: word.

amr: Cool, I beat out beer. Now I just have to beat out hockey and Star Wars and I'll have surpassed all of my loves :}

rich c.: even though there are trees all around me here I really miss the trees that aren't on streets named after them.

don mills diva: absolutely. Just like liberal democracies are the only ones with the luxury of questioning their marginal values.

kat: well, we have SF right down the road, but it's not the city that I miss, it's the country. Around here there are no trees in the country. Just brown hills. So it's hardly worth visiting, much less living in. I can't win.

tlc: I read every comment :} I'll see if I can work up a meme post. Perhaps. I haven't had a good track record with them.

sandie law: seriously. The Tour of Italy is like a big suburban hug for my belly.

Redneck Mommy said...

There are no Targets up here where I live. Hmmm. I wonder what the magic of le Tar-get is???

bananas said...

i loooooove target. and maybe it's my wine, but this post has me confused. but in a good way.

Dto3 said...

If only you'd have been driving a hybrid - then you'd have been in the 'hood! Happy Belated!

Missy said...

Great post. A little random :) but good times.

peachy said...

epic post. i found your blog via citizen of the month. this post really hits me...the suburbs are definitely a bizzare creation...not sure i could stomach it myself

Backpacking Dad said...

Redneck Mommy: it's the balls. the big red balls.

bananas: the wine. this post was completely straightforward. :}

dto3: you can really sneak up on the Mexican drug dealers in a hybrid and execute rockin' drive-by's

missy: random? It makes total sense. Absolutely linear! :}

peachy: it's like boiling a frog.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing necessarily WRONG with the suburbs, ..but I've always gotten this sort of sick, anxious feeling there. Especiallyt the neighborhoods that are built all at once with the repeating blueprint every 3rd's like some maze designed to trap out of towners. I'm more comfortable in a small town. Maybe it's the character?'s good for you. said...

I've had those suburban days as's a fact of life in No. Va. Good the quotes. (Target is my family's crack as's great to live in an area with so many choices: Regular, Greatland, or Super today?)

Whit said...

You're modest and this is your best post. Fantastic.

....Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone