Friday, November 23, 2007

leaving arizona

today there was a young guy scrubbing down the front of the stoves in our kitchen at the retirement home. i had seen him playing bingo with alzheimer's sufferers a couple of days ago. as he scrubbed away i asked him what brought him to volunteer here. his answer was unexpected. he raised his loose mop of hair and said, "I got fined 24 hours of community service for drunk driving."

it turned out he had dreamed for a long time of going to arizona state university and living the rest of his life there. he had visited resorts in the mountains, and fallen in love with the state's natural beauty. he had looked forward to partying as well. three months after going out there with high hopes for his first year, he was back, deeply disillusioned. "when i woke up in the hospital trying to rip out the IV in my arm because i was so messed up by the drug, i knew i had better get out or i'd end up dead," he said. someone had slipped a "roofie," or a date rape drug, in his drink at a fraternity party.

what scared him was the sense of danger on all sides: from homeless vagrants on the streets of tempe, to untrustworthy fraternity brothers, to brutal police. the wild partying stimulated wide public support for iron-fisted measures in response. "if you run from a cop, he will beat you down," he said, admitting nostalgia for the madison police. when i told him i had gotten a ticket for jay walking in tempe 15 years ago, he nodded his head, saying it was like that before, too. possession of pot is counted as a felony, he said. and the new university president was cracking down on fraternities, driving them off campus so as to limit liability.

it sounded like a nightmare to me. all his non-arizona friends out there had decided not to stay enrolled. a clash of a demagogic police state and a mindless pursuit of inebriation, on a mass scale. the phoenix area is home to sherrif joe arpaio, who wins election after election by promising to demean and break down offenders with pink prison garb and work camps.

what can one expect from a society growing economically, but totally cut off from the natural environment? there is an aggressiveness inherent in the political atmosphere there, an aggressiveness that comes from the system of wealth creation, which is based on relentless erasure of nature. wealth there is a mean train that leers at you and warns you to stay the hell out of its way -- or else. arizona scares me. if it is that mean when its train is chugging loud and strong, think how mean it will be if and when the housing market crashes!

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