I went to the Farm Toy Show in Verona today. It's a collection of collectors packed with their merchandise into a high school gymnasium and not limited to farm toys. It's really pretty expansive and includes Hot Wheels, baseball cards, beanie babies, Elvis, and sundry Americana. While it was exciting that my son came in second place for his age bracket in the pedal-tractor pull, I guess I never really critically noticed events like this.
First, it's interesting as a form of play and that has its own merits. However, it occurred to me as I stood there that there was something both alarming and wonderful about the spectacle. I head Snyder's words, "America -- your stupidity. I could almost love you again." Everyone had their own collection of things: big metal 1940s trucks, tiny plastic tractors, tables covered with astro turf and sets of mini-houses and dairy barns. It was as communal as it was individual. Folks cared about their neighbors and talked to us not to make one more sale, but to hear our story or connect with us as people instead of customers. Even the hipsters in Madison -- who have perfected the art of converting chit chat into greenbacks -- have the air of superficial interest. In the gym, though, were those seventy year olds who knew the pleasure of getting to know another human being, sharing together a brief moment of a long life.
Second, the resources: we're on the verge of war with Iran, already at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and involved in military strategy, skirmishes, support, or occupation in countless other places. Most of this is under the stated goal of "spreading democracy," and it's certainly part of the unstated goal of making the world safe for business. Yet, the plastic, the money, the time people spend looking at *things.* I can imagine their homes: a room or rooms formerly occupied by sons and daughters, the basement loaded with boxes and the table top scenes, living rooms adorned with china hutches and porcelain dolls. This is what people do to occupy their time, to stave off boredom, to connect.
So, the desire here -- the desire to connect, the desire to fight loneliness, the desire to not die alone. The gregarious American -- sublime? pathetic? a menace? Is this even just "American"?
Have we moved away from the frontier American who longed for the open plains, the miles between him and his neighbor, the lover of space? Has the frontiersman taken over the living room and in the name of conquest and commensurability tried to halt the space between him and his family?