Most of us live in some terrible iteration of America (and if you don’t, just wait a while). This is about mine.
Long Island is one of the temples of mid-20th century whiteness, established as a suburb back when men were men, women were shutting the fuck up, and children were incipient communists.
I’ve heard lots of places lay claim to being the most segregated in the country. Depending on the metric they might all qualify, but Long Island definitely has received some sort of medal in the racism olympics. Our realtors are dedicated to steering people into the correct neighborhood. Those pesky redlines might be gone (or at least you’d think so) but those real estate agents like their teeth to be as white as their census tracts. Smarter people than I have written plenty of things about the long, bleached and blanched history of this place. I can’t do it justice.
It’s a place where baby boomer opulence built on defense industry jobs and housing boom speculation have created an illusion of opulence and it might be the case that the illusion itself provides some cover to the less well-heeled. Any awareness that the middle class has of their lessors deriving some benefit from the speculative value of their houses is met with paroxysms of fury. Whenever faced with the possibility of someone unlike them deriving ancillary benefits comes up there’s a sort of standard response: “I want a killer lacrosse team, not a chance of upward mobility for some black kid. Don’t feed the squirrels!”
There’s an interesting thing happening in terms of class here. A lot of it is subterranean, like, physically. The economically precarious rent basement apartments and live below the footsteps and barking dogs of the middle class. It might be a galling and belittling situation but it’s better than sleeping in the woods. Tick borne illnesses are rampant here. And few cars have a backseat with enough legroom for sleeping. 33% of Nassau and Suffolk County households are considered Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (which give this miserable statistical category a cool acronym, that being ALICE), meaning that they have to choose between rent and utilities, or medical care, or food.
It’s a place that has perfected the obscuring of poverty. All the people driving Amazon trucks, cutting grass and burning themselves on fast food deep fryers can live where they please, as long as (please, please) they don’t do it in our line of sight. So they, (or we I suppose) live with relatives, or on a roulette wheel of couches and cross our fingers that we don’t rub our benefactors the wrong way.
And there are so many places where the children of the prior generation spin their wheels in their parents’ houses, saved from homelessness by the leavings of the prior generation’s class deal. We go nowhere and try not to register the guilt that we feel at being rescued from our own economic uselessness while so many other people are gasping for air after 80 hours of employment at Dunkin’ Donuts.
It’s a place born of a particular strategy of class war. The suburban developers of the 1950’s offered the white working class an opportunity to avoid talking to other human beings most of the time and they jumped on it. No more walking through society and encountering social problems that you are implicated in. No more subway. No more neighbors across the hall. The suburb was a place to prosper or suffer, mostly both, while the rest of humanity ate shit. William Levitt famously stated that “No man who owns his own house and lot can be a communist. He has too much to do.” He was right. This is a ‘stay off of my fucking lawn’ kind of place.
It’s a place of rigid conformity. It’s visible in the landscape. Zoning laws, lending practices, building codes… they’re all there stating in legalese that things are going to look the same, and if they miss anything then the passive aggression of neighbors will fill in the gap.
It’s a shithole, is what I’m trying to get across. Prohibitive real estate costs in two counties of sprawling suburb guarantee that anything interesting will also be ephemeral. If young people can afford to leave they do. Clearly I don’t like it, and by inference, I can’t afford to leave. I try to make the best of it. I pursue my little interests and aside from an occasional six-year old companion I pursue them on my own.
The landscape here has been destroyed threefold. Terrible Englishmen arrived here and replaced the survival strategies of the Algonquin speaking people of the landmass with shitty market oriented farming. Those fields turned towards intensive monocropping and orcharding and by the 2000’s even these things were gone, replaced by sod farms. Long Islanders apparently prefer to purchase grass that’s been beaten into submission and then resurrected with a ton of nitrogen and Roundup. If grass could join the Proud Boys this grass would.
Fishing and whaling for trade started a depletion that has resulted in the near extirpation of all marine mammals and many species of fish. I have pictures of a shitty uncle dumping a fifty gallon garbage pail full of bluefish onto my grandfather’s front lawn. It wasn’t enough to pointlessly slaughter these fish, they needed to be insulted, and this insult needed to be photographed.
I don’t know if there’s a thing one could call old growth here. I doubt it. All the trees got cut down before the Revolutionary War to build ships that would carry people who didn’t want to go places to places that didn’t want them. Or to fire cannons at those places.
Anything that was left has, for the most part, been destroyed by suburban development. There are sad little patches of woods, and the sad little deer live there and return there to die after a hazardous trip across the road. People here drive very fast, desperate to hurry up and wait- at the next light, at the drive thru, at work or home, just waiting to die. It’s not their fault they’re awful, but they do raise questions as to whether some localized plague would be a bad thing.
Apparently the truly wealthy hang out here in the Summer, but they mostly travel by helicopter, far above the heads of the pathetic taxpayers who aspire to be like them.
A thing I do with my time here is forage for mushrooms. You wouldn’t think that this would be a good place for that but it is. There are caveats to be made- It’s rare to find any of the high dollar species. For instance, the only yellow chanterelle I’ve found was solitary, growing out of someone’s front yard plantings. When I went to pick it a woman told me from her second story window that she would call the police if I didn’t- wait for it- get off her fucking lawn.
But in terms of other things it’s pretty fucking great. Like more than a family could eat, give away, and sell, at least when it comes to ‘Chicken of the Woods” (of which there are at least 3 distinct species growing here).
I have many questions about this. Science questions. Science questions that will likely never be answered because I’m not a scientist and I would be surprised if there are many trained mycologists that are very interested in 1) being in this terrible place and 2) waiting at some mushmouth’s front door, observed by one of the many devices that suburbanites use to protect themselves from those who would dare to take their most recent ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ wall hanging off of their porch, for permission to take an organism that they despise off of their oak tree.
My impressions about the abundance of the species in this genus (Laetiporous, if you’re interested) might be faulty, which is interesting in and of itself. While organisms that grow in the woods require one to look for them relatively aimlessly (and yes, this is a huge oversimplification), suburbia creates transects. We drive to the same places all the time and a lack of any obscuring trees makes it fairly easy to spot a bright orange thing on the ground. So, maybe they’re growing everywhere all the time but my ability to see them leads me to a false assumption about prevalence. The same bias might be inherent in my observations of unbearable assholes.
But if this first assumption is true, then my untestable hypotheses are as follows:
This is a place where the preferred substrate of these fungus, that being oak, proliferate. This in itself is a good enough reason to explain the prevalence of these mushrooms, but with that said, they still seem to grow in greater abundance next to roadways. Again, it could be a bias. I don’t walk in the woods as frequently as I drive to somewhere pointless.
If it’s a yes, that they do appear more frequently along roadways, then what explains this? I have thoughts. A forest is a windbreak. Moving air, so kind to fungal pathogens, doesn’t have the ability to penetrate to the same extent that it does in a place where trees serve as ornamentation. Maybe it is by virtue of exposure to air from these breezeways that host trees are exposed to both more spore and more Billy Joel. And who knows? Maybe Billy Joel piping out of car windows has depleted these trees of their will to live to the point where they’re more susceptible to infection.
It could be the case that these trees are less healthy. I’m not sure. This would be another research question that would require methods that I don’t know and couldn’t execute if I did. There’s enough drunk driving happening that people might just be banging into these oaks frequently enough that they’re more exposed to infection.
Or perhaps the waves of suburban development that have occurred create cohorts of trees that are all roughly the same age, and at this homogenous age they become more susceptible to infection. Maybe these are all baby boom trees that aren’t able to obsessively extend their lives past the sell-by like people do.
I will continue to want answers to these questions with absolutely no ability to answer them. As well, I will continue to eat things that have likely been doused in Roundup, next to roads where the weaponized dog turds and wasted food of suburbia turns to dust and blankets the most scrubbed down people I can imagine.