The test community for this study is a small town in south central Pennsylvania named Gettysburg. I am not sure who Mr. Getty was, although I am certain that you don’t much care who he was one way or the other. He may have been a man of some importance, or this may be just a way of sucking up to a rich guy. This sort of thing is not unheard of, naturally; it happened here in our happy little burg. The wise council of solons that governed our civic existence then induced the owner of a paper mill to move here, offering all the usual bribes, tax concessions, and the untouched bodies of their virgin daughters that came with such an exercise in the 19th century. The paper mill owner went along with the deal, but only if the city council renamed the city after his company, thereby cementing the relationship between the private and public sectors into a harmonious whole. The city council, who were running out of bribes, tax concessions, and suitable daughters at that point, agreed to the terms and, after a long fight with the county, the state, and the United States Post Office, changed the name of our happy little burg from its previous, somewhat poetic Indian name, to its current dull and prosaic one. What’s worse, of course, is that the paper mill owner, having taken the bribes, spent the tax money, and rendered all the suitable daughters in the neighborhood unsuitable for marriage in polite society, promptly took off for parts unknown with all of his hard-earned swag and the mayor’s wife, leaving his own wife and three children and several more on the way, although this did not become obvious until a few months later, as well as a raft of unpaid hotel bills, to add insult to injury. Having gone through the trouble of changing the name, the city council decided that the new name was the least of their troubles and decided to leave the name as it was; changing the name back was just too much trouble for these men to contemplate at the time.
Now, to study any test population in its native habitat, one must get there; I did this using Korean ground transportation, i.e., my brother’s Hyundai Sonata, complete with the brother to drive said vehicle. This leads, inevitably, I think, to New Jersey, a place critics malign as a matter of course, and often without much justification. The Garden State is a beautiful place, filled with small traffic signs that the unsuspecting out of state motorist couldn’t possibly read while doing the speed limit without screwing binoculars into his eyeballs all the way from the Delaware to the Hudson, and pols who think that because they don’t have to obey the laws they inflict on everyone else in the state they don’t have to obey the laws of physics, either. Still, New Jersey, Benjamin Franklin liked to remind people, was a valley of moderation between two mountains of arrogance, and is (or was) the home of Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Thomas Edison, Bruce Springsteen, the United States Equestrian Team, and the Shakespeare Company of New Jersey, a troupe renowned for its vigorous avant-garde interpretations of the Bard’s works:
“To be, or not to fucking be,
That is the fucking question.
Whether ‘tis fucking nobler in the fucking mind to suffer the fucking slings and arrows of outrageous fucking fortune
Or to take fortune’s fucking arms
And fucking twist them around his fucking back until this lousy fuck’s fucking eyeballs fucking bust out of his fucking head
Like overdone fucking ravioli…”
Clearly, the text gains in pithiness what it loses in poetic and philosophical intensity. However, as there was no time for this sort of foray into postmodernist Shakespeare, we did not stay to catch the matinee; Pennsylvania awaited us.
My mother was not sanguine about our going to such a strange and far-off place. Mom is one of those Irish people who got off the boat in the Vampire State back in the 1950’s and never really moved any farther inland than our happy little burg. For her, New York is America and any portion of this our Great Republic where you cannot see the Hudson River on a daily basis is a suspect place awash in lions, tigers, savage Indians, and equally savage Protestants. She knows that Pennsyltucky exists; the Mets have to play the Phillies and the Pirates during baseball season, after all, but baseball players are millionaires paid to take ungodly risks and her sons are not, so before we went Mom doused us with holy water and we recited an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and an Act of Contrition so as to ask for the blessings and protection of the Almighty on our hazardous journey.
Our hazardous journey would not be so hazardous if Gettysburg was located somewhere convenient, as, for example, the town of Matamoros is. I could drive back and forth to Matamoros every day to conduct research if I ever felt the need to, and with gas back at $3.00 a gallon I would almost never feed the need to do something like this. Unfortunately, Gettysburg does not border New York; it borders Maryland, necessitating a much longer drive than I ordinarily like to make. Sociology, however, is a hard science, and those of us who labor in its vineyards must constantly provide our master with the raw data that sociologists, pundits, and bloggers need to prognosticate about the future of modern American society. Almost all of these prognostications will be too wrong for words, given, as they will be, overtaken by events that none of us could have predicted in a million years, despite the tons of data we’ve got stashed in our computers. You just can’t predict a guy like Bucky Dent, you know.
And then we came to Gettysburg, of which more anon.