inanimate Darwinian fabric
Wednesday, June 4 2008
As I've grown older, I've lived long enough to see the process by which things age and deteriorate. This was never clearer than at my parents' house, where non-essential upkeep has been increasingly deferred. I've mentioned seeing copper wires there that wind has stretched nearly to the ground and erosion that, over the course of thirty years, eventually exposed the top of a concrete septic tank. Less dramatic has been the deterioration of things that I myself have built, but I've seen that too. Take "the Shaque" for example. It's a small insulated outbuilding at my parents' place that I built over the winter of 1990-1991 and it's where I spent the early 1990s. Over time it's lost a little paint here and there, but its galvanized steel roof is sound and there is no evidence of any sort of rot or foundation movement (it sits atop stacks of concrete blocks that sit in turn upon carefully-poured concrete footings).
Here in Hurley, there are many examples of things I've built, and a few of them are starting to age. The system of stick trails through the forest, though kept clear of fallen trees, are beginning to lose a small percentage of the sticks I carefully laid along their edges. These have been buried beneath leaves and eroded soil, and some have rotted away. The stone walls I have built have shifted from frost heave, though none have toppled over. Some of the steps on my stone walkways have loosened and taken to wobbling underfoot. I've mentioned how quickly black rubber hoses are destroyed by sunlight.
But the single fastest-aging of all my creations has been the concrete-and-stone paving over one of my driveway ditches, the one that runs diagonally from southwest to northeast, bringing runoff from the lawn west of the house and driveway to the main drainage pipe running parallel to (and rather close to) the house. I'd jackhammered this ditch only two years ago, and already the concrete-and-stone paving that covers it (and the four inch plastic pipe inside it) is heaved up and cracked into pieces. The other day I'd pealed up some of these concrete pieces and had a look at the PVC drainage pipe underneath them. I'd feared the worst, expecting it to be shattered from the pounding of cars driving across the broken concrete overhead. But the pipe had been in good shape, with only one crack about three inches in length. (I'd cut a sector of four inch pipe and glued this over the crack as a patch, a technique that had worked surprisingly well.)
Why had this paving broken up so quickly? Similar paving over the other ditches is in much better shape, even in the other ditch that gets driven over almost daily. I suspect the problem was that, in an effort to conserve materials, I'd made the concrete paving too thin. Combined with an intrusive winter water table and constant pounding from car tires, the concrete disintegrated.
Today I redid a twelve foot long section of the most damaged concrete paving over this ditch. This time I was careful to be generous with materials, having bought four eighty pound sacks of concrete (one of the cheapest materials I can think of on a per-pound basis). I'd also bought two different kinds of reinforcing iron: pieces of rebar and a heavy mesh. I cut the mesh to fit the ditch in two large overlapping pieces and pounded the ends into the ground on either side of the PVC pipe. I then pounded rebar stakes sideways into the walls of the ditch, leaving enough protruding to cantilever over the pipe and be thoroughly engulfed by the concrete when it came.
I ended up using 240 pounds of dry concrete for just that twelve feet of ditch. Having filled the ditch so completely, and what with the metal obstructions reaching up from the depths, the only rocks I could use to veneer it were the thinnest ones I had on hand.
I don't actually feel all that irritated by the chore of fixing something whose original construction had been inadequate. These things, I tell myself, are the unfit things, the weak places in the inanimate Darwinian fabric around me. All I have to do is fix these; meanwhile the tough things will live on maintenance-free. Eventually only tough things will remain.
This evening I watched live teevee so as to partake of the theatrical end of the Democratic primaries. For some reason John McCain had tried to horn in on the action by giving a speech to a Ruritan hall containing a couple of dozen white people near (but not in) New Orleans. Behind him, in yellow text on a green screen, was the co-opted slogan of his campaign, "Leadership You Can Believe In," repeated numerous times in the Orwellian style popularized by Dubya's handlers. I haven't had a lot of experience watching extended performances from McCain, so I let this be my first impression. Let's just say it was not a good one. Everything about his performance seemed either amateur, phony, or both; when he smiled spontaneously, it did nothing but undercut what he was saying. Most of the time, though, his smiles seemed to come as the results of stage directions on the teleprompter. Such smiles affected only his mouth, jerking back its corners just long enough to reveal whatever metal his molars are stuffed full of. Watching John McCain smile makes my mouth hurt. What McCain was actually saying, and surely it was inane, was beside the point.
The timing of the McCain speech was clearly designed to take advantage of interest in the close of the Democratic primaries, but in actual effect, the timing was utterly dunderheaded. McCain's speech was eventually pre-empted by the returns coming from the primaries and before long we were seeing a cheering crowd of 20,000 being addressed by Barack Obama in one of the best speeches of this campaign. Having seen this contrast, I have to say that McCain doesn't stand a chance. Seeing the two products on a store shelf, would a majority of Americans really reach for the splotchy cottage cheese? If McCain is even competitive in this election, America is much more fucked than I already believe it to be.
Somewhere in there was Hillary Clinton's end-of-the-campaign non-concession. It was actually a good speech, though it lacked the one crucial element necessary to undo the smarm and nastiness of her recent campaign.
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