Monday, January 9, 2012

Toxic Avenger no more

Monday, January 09, 2012

Almost a month since eye surgery I’ve almost become used to looking at the world along one side of my nose.
This is particularly true of the ride through the heart of Jersey City’s industrial section, some of which has become the foundation of Pavonia/Newport and the lead up to Exchange Place.
Few people on the train beside me during this stretch of railway realize that they are looking over a landscape made somewhat famous by the cult class “Toxic Avenger,” which was filmed here during the 1980s, prior to the wrecking ball that cleared out many of the old factories to make room for towers of glass – the new bedroom community to Wall Street now that the next generation rebelled against life in suburbia their parents found so appealing.
Underneath the rails we roll on is the foundation of modern America, the place upon which a nation’s was built before New York’s Robert Moses decided we needed to become a nation of clerks and highways, and began to destroy what people like Alexander Hamilton struggled so hard to build.
The concept of “made in America” largely went out of fashion when the union movement started, when workers demanded a piece of the vast profits manufacturers were making thanks to the American Civil War and the doing away with slavery that unfairly competed with the machines northern industrialist wanted to build.
Jersey City, its factories and its railroads, served as a hub for a new America, one which allowed us to win two world wars and turn the world into one vast consumer market, leaving a swath of contamination that generations would suffer through in cancer and other ailments.
Traveling through this landscape 25 years after the Toxic Avenger was filmed here, I marvel at the illusions, the wide, clean streets, and the bustle of activity, all residents dressed up as if adults.
Someone once complained that England had become a nation of clerks, and here, over the bones of the once powerful working class, this part of America has as well – pre planned by people like Moses, who foresaw this part of the planet as one filled with highways and high-rises, a Moses that led our people out of the dark ages of toxic plants and into the illusive glitter of tall towers and jobs on Wall Street.
This was the same Moses that convinced Washington DC to make the automobile the center or its transportation policies in the 1950s, thus plowing down farms and fields to make way for the highways.
This was the same Moses, who conspired with rubber companies to get rid of the very adequate trolley system that served Hudson County – an illegal activity as the courts later ruled, but not soon enough to rescue the tons of trolleys dumped into local waterways for use as landfill.
The fact that all these years later, we have rebuilt those trolleys after a fashion in the light rail seems ironic to me.
Here we are, a nation of clerks travel over the bones of our toxic past, looking to a less toxic future, but without clear vision, struggling to make sense of the changes that people like Moses made, and change these places back into landscapes that do more than serve as highways between this place and that.
Moses, of course, has his own stone tablets, detailing a promised land that existed beyond the heart of the city. People under his ten commandments were to work in, but not live in, the city centers, traveling from remote places like Dover and Old Bridge each day along highways he helped build.
But now, we see these children returning from the promised land, finding it empty and devoid, not toxic perhaps, but lacking the rich culture we abandoned when we abandoned the cities. Yet, in gutting the cities back then, in knocking down what once was, by dumping the trolleys into the waterways, we have largely gutted the very thing many of the next generation come back to find, and instead of a sprawling suburbia with green laws, we build a suburbia of tall towers, glittering in the light of the rising son, more convenient for it occupants to reach their desks and live their lives as clerks, but little more.

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