Editor’s note: William Dunk is an international business consultant based in Chapel Hill.
CHAPEL HILL -The Polish expatriate Jerzy Kosinski, who slipped into America to become the darling of the Easthampton set and who conjured up a fake persona that everyone fell for, sort of authored a novel (he had a stable of writers) called “Being There” in 197l that later became a movie in 1979 of the same name.
It starred Peter Sellers, who much identified with the role and really was the force who pushed this cinema project to completion. It is about a chap who, in fact, is never here and was never there, somebody who only knows television and gardening, and is never really in harmony with the wide, wide world. In fact, both Kosinski and Sellers were displaced people who were never at home on this planet, charming on stage but very alien at every moment. The troubled Kosinski ended life a suicide in 1991, age 58. Sellers checked out at 55.
Just Passing Through
They’re simply concentrated examples of what’s happened to people across these United States and throughout much of the developed world. Everywhere communities are built that are cookie-cutter towns much like a 1,000 other suburbs across the continent inhabited by virtual people perpetually in flight who dangle at the end of the global supply chain.
The streets, for instance, often have the same names in new town after new town, borrowed, for instance, from the signposts of a slew of Eastern colleges such as Yale, Harvard, and Amherst, which are the unlikely appellations on street signs in Dallas’s Highland Park.
The shopping centers are called Northpoint and Southpoint; the schools are Riverside or Edgemont…guaranteeing that their communities will mirror the sameness of places you’ve been to or are heading towards. In our architecture, amenities, and shibboleths, we are at pains to be from nowhere and everywhere. We’ve been malled.
Newbies Versus the Hawks
In fact, new denizens will go to great lengths to make sure localisms don’t survive. This week we read that the occupants of a New York co-op at 927 Fifth Avenue forcibly drove away magnificent hawks named Pale Male and his girl friend Lola who had perched on a cornice of their building. Only reluctantly have they agreed to allow a restoration of the nests. The buildings occupants are demi-stars and fast-buck financiers who hail from other parts, not the types who celebrate the rare hawk in their midst.
Much in the same manner, new residents of the suburbs tear down 50-year old trees that formerly made their land something special.
Sense of Place
Once in a rare while we come upon the singular man or woman endowed with a sense of place. Such is Robert Mix, who spent a slew of years teaching in Ecuador and who also recorded the breadth of detail he learned about that country. (See www.verlang.com/cmcv005.htm ) Since, he has returned to the States (he originally hailed from San Jose if we have it right) and is the eminence behind a website that every San Franciscan and every visitor to the Bay Area should visit at length.
It’s called Vernacular Language North (www.verlang.com ). It gives you a full tour of the architects who made the San Francisco area charming before it turned into a shopping mall, including Bernard Maybeck, with whom we are particularly acquainted, but also Julia Morgan who fashioned Hearst Castle and other imaginative creations. Maybeck once appeared before the Berkeley city government in defense of a tree in the middle of the street, which, as he said, was a “noble and thrifty tree” deserving of a very long life. It will also link you to museums, galleries, and restaurants to which the discriminating traveler will want to pay heed.
A timeline on the site gives you a wonderful quick history of the Bay Area, skipping back a few centuries. To our bemusement, he also has a section showing offbeat bumper stickers he has seen since 2001 while driving and walking around the city. He provides you with a perfect escape from transience and the ephemeral, which are the essence of California itself.
Metaphysical Bumper Stickers
We recently prevailed on Mr. Mix (we keep wanting to call him Tom Mix after the famous cowboy actor) to mix a cocktail of the metaphysical bumper stickers we would offer the world if we should decide to go into the aphorism business. Here are a few he suggests that might amuse you:
What will yesterday be tomorrow? (Today will be yesterday tomorrow.) (Tomorrow will be today tomorrow.)
Tomorrow has been canceled due to lack of interest.
We’re all here because we’re not all there.
We expand by shrinking.
More is in vain when less will serve.
Twenty is plenty in sconset.
The truest things are true because they can’t be true.
Avoid insanity; enjoy every minute of it.
Extremes are equally pernicious.
Innovation is always less likely than impossible.
It’s never about what it’s about.
I’d rather be here now.
My karma ran over my dogma.
We will call this Mr. Mix’s 2005 gift to you, and it’s guaranteed not to put any weight on your frame or to overburden your mind.
We think Mr. Mix reminds us to be very much present in and part of the place where we are, savoring its individuality, celebrating its history, and enriching its mosaic. Why be a “resident alien,” to quote from our favorite list of oxymorons, which also includes such chestnuts as “sanitary landfill” and “Microsoft Works.”
How, we must ask, do we take ownership of where we are now and let it possess us?
Such strong local attachment, we would suggest, generates true environmental passion and a willingness to rebuild an infrastructure that is rotted in many areas of the country. Further, it is very much in the interest of localities to assert differences that separate their economies from the one-size-fits-all global economy that washes away local jobs and local businesses.
To learn more about William Dunk Partners, visit: www.globalprovince.com/williamdunkpartners.htm