Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What Does Nihilism Mean to You?

Location: Downtown West, Minneapolis, MN, USA
I took a lunch break today, leaving my building to cross 1st Ave N. Because of the Twins game and in preparation of the Aquatennial Parade, Downtown West is thick with pedestrian traffic, as well as the one-driver-per-vehicle, anti-carpool phenomenon that characterizes our fine city. To direct traffic, police had been stationed at certain intersections to supplement or override the traffic lights. When traffic reaches a certain density, traffic lights mean less and less and motorists drive through any intersection they please.

A bit further than that and even an in-the-flesh cop means nothing to motorists. The officers at any intersection were waving their hands, blowing their whistles, and drivers were still plowing through red lights, still turning and crossing whenever they wanted to, one after the other as though the cop were gesturing exactly the opposite of what he was doing.

When I reached my wife's building there was a large dais in the commons. On the left (as you faced it) was a chorus of elderly men and women dressed in what looked like Naval Officers' uniforms but were in fact fake costumes with "Minneapolis Aquatennial" stitched on the left sleeve. What the hell does Aquatennial mean, anyway? "Aqua" is Greek for water and "-ennial" is Latin for year. They mashed up two unrelated etymologies, inserted a T for no reason, and created "water year."

But there was a dais, there was a senior chorus, and there were rows of folding chairs. In the front row on the right side were several women in their late-teens or early 20s. They wore sparkly dresses with a white shoulder sash proclaiming "Miss [town of origin]" and tiaras. The audience was some people who'd wandered by and sat down to watch but primarily comprised of teams of adults who served as support and handlers for each of the young women.

Two young women took turns yapping ephemeral, nasal comments into a microphone about what this "celebration" meant, and therefore I have no idea what was going on. Rasmussen College was involved somehow, indicated by a small banner on the side of the stage.

Five hundred penguins starved to death for unknown reasons and washed ashore in Brazil. One thousand head of cattle died in Kansas, succumbing to a heat wave. Three years ago, Al Gore and the IPCC won a Nobel Peace Prize for studying climate change and outlining how to rectify or prepare for it, and to this day people are still deeply in denial. BP's oil spill covers 2,700 square miles and China's oil spill is just getting started at 165 square miles, and the world refuses to cut back on petroleum products, refuses to cut back on gasoline usage.

And our fair city feels the most appropriate action is to mangle our language and host yet another "pretty girl" contest.

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