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As the world burns

BY DEAN TREFTZ | APRIL 20, 2009 7:30 AM

All right, it’s April; where are my tornadoes?

As a Midwesterner, I feel like it’s my right to cower in some basement and with a guilty excitement wonder what it must be like in that trailer park a mile away. Hell, I’ll even take a dangerous thunderstorm for now.

One of my fondest memories is of hastily throwing the family tent and camping gear into the minivan and watching my dad weigh the laws of self- and familial-preservation and those of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. I secretly loved taking the kitchen TV down to the laundry room to watch giddy weathermen point at big blobs of red — and if I was lucky, purple — fringed with some more prosaic green.

There was something so vibrant in the potential chaos. The regular rhythms of life, with all of its chores, banalities, and routines, were superseded by winds and water completely out of our control.

I really liked imagining the settlers of the Midwest crouched in wooden houses that barely broke up the land that had long been sculpted by the fickle, mid-continental winds. It must have been harder for them to think they had control.

I know that these memories occurred during storms that likely ended or at least ruined several people’s lives. Logically, this joie de destruction is morally reprehensible and completely irrational, but let’s leave logic out of this one, OK?

Also, I’d like to point out that whenever the focus of my attention is on individuals instead of a city/region, my devastation fetish disappears (though if it didn’t, do you think I’d admit that here?)

This meteorological rubbernecking, of course, transfers over to all walks of life.

For example: I want Chrysler and GM to fail. I could make all sorts of arguments on why we shouldn’t keep propping up failing companies because we think people with American high-school diplomas should make a lot more money than people coming through the Mexican, Japanese, or Chinese education systems, but the truth is that there’s a part of me that just wants to see these supposed pillars of our economy crumble.

I know that there’s a part of you that feels a little more alive when hearing about the Dow plunge further than anyone thought possible. If not that, then there must have been a voice silently cursing when last year’s floodwaters finally stopped rising.

Seeing that dirty water slowly ignore all the things we did to keep it at bay exposed all the safety nets we put up for our collective sanity. On a homeowner level, it was sad and scary, but looking at the entire city, I was exhilarated.

Maybe this is just a rebellion against logic. It could be just another side effect of the finally ending extended adolescence of modern middle class America.

Either way, the problem isn’t having these feelings, it’s losing them.

Watching ambulances go by doesn’t deliver the thrill it used to. Instead of “bright lights, loud noises,” the sight inspires a slight (but growing) pit of the stomach unease. My feeling of loss is selfish and privileged in its lateness, but it’s one that everyone has to go through in one way or another.

After I graduate in a couple of weeks, I’m sure unemployment or something like it will beat the enjoyment of a nose-diving economy out of me. If I end up buying a house someday, insurance rates will undoubtedly siphon most of my storm lust.

But for now I’m going to greedily keep enjoying that voice rooting against order, equity, progress, credit, safety, 401(k)s, etc., etc.


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