During the Reagan years I remember a news report stating that Casper, Wyoming had the highest suicide rate in the United States. And they were mostly women.
Long winters and cabin fever.
Even though that was before computers; email, Facebook, cell phones, texting, still, there was electricity with telephones, television, lights, heat, hot coffee, whiskey, books. So, what pushed these girls over? I had always believed electricity was a lifeline for humanity. Still do, but…
Sitting here in the dark, with a Mini-Mag in my mouth, trying to see to write, it sets my mind to wondering just what are our most important minimum things?
As a cure to the empty-soul blues, maybe electricity isn’t all I had hyped it up to be. In Wyoming, not that long ago really, just 30 years, and not that long past when the first electrical wires were strung there in the first place, just 50 years earlier, it already couldn’t prevent deep depression among some people locked indoors for long wintry periods. People had already forgotten how to amuse themselves.
Or, there had to be other factors, and of course, sitting here in the dark with a flashlight in my mouth I tend to think about what those things might be.
Saturday night, August 27, the rain is moving sideways, the wind blowing through the trees sounding like jets landing at Idlewild. As promised, I greeted this storm on my back deck underneath an enormous elm. I was in my best GoreTex raingear with a styrofoam jug filled with fine Bombay and Schweppes, and a little MP3 playing, yep, you guessed it, Vivaldi, not Foreigner. I kicked back in a white plastic chair I rescued from the earthquake last week, propped my feet up on the rails of the deck and watched those trees sway to V’s Concerto for Two Violins.
I love storms with a soundtrack.
The lights are out. So is the A/C, which takes this house back to exactly what every rainstorm that ever crossed the Staked Plains was like in the 1800s. I’m a pioneer again. Man has lived all but about a hundred years of his existence in the dark, his path lit only by the position of the sun by day, and his ability to harness fire by night.
But two hours later, dried off, I’m feeling sort of inconvenienced. I can’t turn on the stove, I can’t microwave a thing, so it’s peanut butter and jelly on hamburger buns for dessert. Shortly I’m complaining, how long do we have to endure this out(r)age?
In just three short hours I’ve gone from being a joyrider on one of Nature’s magnificent displays to one of its sullen victims.
Not all of us think the same things are inconvenient. What we do know is that inconvenience isn’t asked for, hence the name. It isn’t invited in. It’s a thing imposed on us. And a prolonged inconvenience can settle into a kind of hollow-eyed resignation, which gives rise to depression, then that overdose of whatever’s handy in the medicine cabinet in Casper. Those gals in Wyoming were missing much more than just sunlight.
Most of my life I’ve actually sought out what these next few days will bring to my house…bedtime at dark, awake before daybreak, foraging for food or ice, and generally trying to deal with the loss of my habits. I get to join my forbears.
By the time I was 13 I was spending 20-30 days a summer in the mountains, usually with a pard, sharing a tent, eating pork and beans, eggs n’bacon, over an open fire, swapping stories, learning all kinds of valuable skills.
By the time I was 3o my idea of recreation was cemented in the wilderness. From daylight to mid-afternoon we’d make tracks, up, down, sideways, across steep mountain terrain, stopping only to take a drink, refill canteens or grab a granola bar. By mid afternoon, finding a spot near water, we proceeded to make camp, cut wood, bear/animal-proof our provisions, then settle down for a hot meal and small talk, until about 8 (it gets late early in the mountains) when we’d turn in to start the whole process over again before daybreak the next morning.
I could do that for a week and never once look at my watch. It was solitary, yet never an imposed solitude. I’ve spent days in the wilderness with men and probably not say more than 10-15 full sentences the whole time. In various parts of the world, no one but me spoke English anyway. We smiled and gestured a lot. Grunts and nods are universal.
I always liked that kind of life, and missed it more than my left shoe, until I found it. Most Americans come from a long line of solitude, which is what bothered me most about those ladies of Casper.
But at some point the novelty wears off, even mine. You can volunteer to live like a pioneer for a year, but when it barges in uninvited, it’s lucky if I give it more than a week. Then the disposition turns nasty. We’ll see. The longest I ever played Yahtze was two hours.
When you come to think of it, few of our western archetypes were cut out for the solitary, lonely life either. Their life was hard, tedious, dark and cold but almost everyone seeks regular doses of human companionship. Talk. Music. Light. Cowboys, prospectors, pioneers, even most fur trappers worked their beaver alongside other men, all in hopes of a reward. Trappers would sleep on the ground for 8 months, then 3 in winter quarters, just so, for one month they could rendezvous, where they’d bring their beaver in to sell and get together with all the other trappers, get drunk, chase loose Indian women, hoorah and play like kids (most never lived to see thirty, notwithstanding their garb)…
before heading back to the wilderness for another 11 month tour… just like a Marine corporal in Iraq and Afghanistan…who also were volunteers.
The dark and aloneness aren’t natural for people, not even in a monastery or convent.
And this is where this tale turns political; for there is a point to these reminiscences…a contemporary point about things to come, maybe.
Life in the Dark
I spent the winter of 1991-1992 in the USSR; Russia and Ukraine. I watched the hammer and sickle come down. A Russian told me I gained “great face” by willing to spend a winter there.
That far north, with skies choked with pollution, the country was shrouded in semi-darkness all day long, full darkness at night, and it hung over the country like a pall. I never saw the sun once in 87 days.
I had an office in a bank, and lived in an apartment five subway stops from the center of the city, in one of their Projects. I spent as little time there as possible.
It was about 900 sq ft, standard issue for a family of four, with a bedroom, a living room/dining-room (i.e, coffee table) which doubled as a bedroom for the kids, and a kitchen the same size of a bathroom off the master bedroom in most American homes…with a tiny stove and fridge, on linoleum floors, which I’m sure the Russkies pirated from Armstrong. There was also a tiled toilet the size of a mens room stall at the airport, where the owner had installed an open shower with no curtain, just a floor drain. In three months, there was only hot water three-times so I never used it. Aside from trips out of town, I took whore-baths my entire stay in Russia so used up lots of cologne (Eau d’Volga)…just like every other Russian national. Since Russian elevators only held four, that trip down four flights always smelled like a Shriners convention.
In the kitchen, near the ceiling was hung a small transistor radio which you could never turn off, only down. Depending on the time of day it blared out going-to-work music, working-for-the man music, plus little Marxist slogans to help inspire the workers, “Lenin died for your sins”, stuff like that. So it would figure that the family would spend all their time at the opposite end of the apartment, where you could find a well-stocked library, a TV which could pick up the bandit Channel One (some days, and never on the same bandwidth any two days running) where you could hear what J R Ewing talked like in Russian.
Like American pioneers who had to provide their own amusements, every Russian could play at least two musical instruments, the guitar and piano most popular. (The piano was the most saved-up-for item in Russia, even before cars. It usually took seven years to buy one.) They actually enjoyed sitting around and singing, and would sing for a guest the same as you might show slides of your trip to Hawaii. One of the most memorable nights in my entire life was to sit in a dark apartment of a Moldavian with his black-eyed gypsy wife, a guest of their son who was my translator, and listen to him sing Moldavian ballads…he serenaded me…while his wife’s danced to the guitar with her eyes. If I ever did this at your house you’d think I was queer (not that that’s a bad thing), but in Russia it was “norMal” to sing for your guests, and for your guests to sing back, which I often did.(I thought everyone knew “Buffalo Gals”).
My apartment was lit by what I assumed were 2watt bulbs for they cast only a hint of dull light. I’ve been in better-lit opium dens. With only two small windows there was an aspect of being in jail, with long shadows the moment you stepped away from any direct light.
More than the babes of Casper, the Russias were perpetually in the dark in the winter, and this was the most depressing thing about the place, for between the choking, polluting skies outside, and the 2w Sylvanias inside, you had to pay, as in a well lit restaurant, just to check to see if you had borscht dribblings on your tie.
But this was perestroika, and things were actually much better than only a couple of years before, I was reminded. For instance, you could find, outside the subway station, people who laid goods out to sell, like a flea market. This was unheard of during Brezhnev. One gnarly guy
was always there with a hatchet, and would chop off a portion of the shanks of a pig or calf, and people always snatched this right up, wrapped in brown paper and hurried home straightaway, as this was “great progress” over the state-run shops downtown where there were either long lines or empty shelves. “Iz great advancement in Ryuusha” i.e. just like small town America circa 1830.
But once I also saw a man selling burned out light bulbs, cost: a Commie dime (10 stotinki, worth about 1/10th of a penny). I asked why he would do this. It was explained the buyer would take it to work and replace it for a bulb that worked. Light bulbs were unavailable in stores, which explained the mystery of my single 2w bulb.
This part I understood. What I never understood, though, was why a man would sit in sub-zero-temperatures selling anything for a goddamn penny.
Only then do you become humble at being American.
Coffee, which I love, was sold in small 100g tins, but as beans, which had to be wrapped in cloth and pulverized with a hammer, then placed onto gauze (a substitute for a coffee filter) which you then would hold over a tea pot, where you would pour boiling water over it.
Voila! 2 small demitasse cups. Total preparation time: 45 minutes, a two-man operation. It was a luxury held back only for special guests, and I was honored to hold the gauze.
But hell, illegals, thirty days off the cattle truck, won’t put up with that kind of crap. They’re in and out of Seven-Eleven in 3 minutes. With fajitas.
Yes, there’s a point to this.
I wasn’t in Russia long before I thought how nice it would be if every American, aged 16-40, could spend two weeks there, in winter, a reality boot camp so to speak, just to let them know that everywhere in the world, except a very few places, everything is scarce, including light, hot water, clean water, ice, or simply going to the fridge and grabbing a slice of bread and cheese…where every meal required hours of advanced planning and foraging, just like those pioneers who lived on the Plains. Survival was still a full 8 hour-a-day job in the Soviet Union, despite all the things the state provided, such as a job and a warm hovel.
I suspect…no, I know…the suicide rates were much higher in the Soviet empire than in Wyoming. But not because of cold dark nights watching news reels of happy apple growers in Chernobyl.
And I also know, although no one ever kept count then, that the suicide rate was much higher on the Great Plains in the 1800’s. A lot of pioneer got a lot more than they bargained for by moving West looking for good land and a home. Despair has been in the American valise from the first day anyone set foot here, for everyone came here from some other place, leaving something behind. It’s how we’re wired.
But we need to speak to the new seekers of the dark, who are, I think, more afraid of it than they let on, or even know.
The Russians lived in the dark, as I just described, but not in the darkness because of it. They just did without, but it was a without they had always known. They didn’t know you could actually hold both arms out and do a full turn in a toilet. In some ways the austerity kept them animated and alive, for foraging for food eight hours a day is both mentally and physically demanding.
Dostoevsky knew the real Russian darkness well, a darkness of the soul. They lived in a society in which people were without worth, and reminded of it daily. The Soviet Union bragged of 100% employment, but in truth 50% were employed at being unemployed, having to show up to a certain place, and a certain time, and just doing nothing. I only wish we treated our most violent criminals as well as the Imperial Communists treated their citizens.
It was this pretense of humanity that drove Russians to drink and frequent suicide. Russian drinking was not the party drinking of conviviality, nor the melancholic drinking of fond remembrance or the private enjoyment of a good storm in your finest Gore Tex raingear. They drank to end the day and many eventually discovered the best way to do that is not wake up.
I go into the dark because I seek it out. By that fact alone I am still its master. The Left’s is not. The Left lives is darkness thinking they love the dark, only they have never met it or have any inkling of its power. Most of all, they have no idea where they fit into the dark they want to help descend on America.
Communism, not Wyoming, teaches us of this dark.
Our most Important Minimum Things
The Russian people taught me what’s important; self-worth, to be human.
Thinking back to those women of Wyoming, I’d say, besides a sense of self, human companionship trumps electricity as that major thing that keeps people alive.
Kurt Cobain (who I still have never heard sing one syllable) taught me this: Kids kill themselves today not because they don’t fear death, but because they don’t think it is real. They think all life is a series of mulligans (do-overs).
The Left’s youth embraces a darkness, which like death, they also don’t think is real. In their make-believe world they think they can live in the dark yet hold onto all their minimum things; friends, social networks, email, texting, cell phones, while screaming for a system of government that will plunge the rest of the world live into a 2w life of semi-darkness…never knowing it will plunge them into the same real darkness as well.
For our youth today, companionship and electricity are inextricably linked, thru social media and cell phones, even as these, dear, are all electricity-based. 90% of kids’ social intercourse is now electrical, yet they want to shut it down.
Is this stupidity (a rhetorical question) or do they actually believe they will be among the Select who will be allowed, like the Soviet nomenklatura, to live outside and in the light. It’s simple math. The Mother Ship can only hold a few people. And it doesn’t need eager-beaver worker bees. They already will have 200 million un-eager ones anyway. One Walmart in Newark could sell all the cell phones that could ever be needed on the Mother Ship.
The mathematic logic of the current “Oil and Coal Elimination Plan” is so out of phase with reality as to reveal where it is really going; a dictatorship of an elite who will keep their oil and coal, thank you. But only just enough. It doesn’t include dopey kids with cellphone fetishes.
Today’s kids need to be shown they don’t get a ticket on the Mother Ship. If they actually believe what Cobain tried to teach – that they can still live by dying in the dark, they are wrong.