J. Williams

I was walking down the street in a gentrified downtown neighborhood and ran into a local power broker, a man who exudes a quality known in Russian as poshlost, that is, sleek vulgarity pretentiously masking vacuous conformity, standing in front of his newly built townhouse, which, the times being as they are, resembled a bunker more than a home. "Your new house is interesting," I said to him.

"Why thank you, boy," he replied with a boom. "It is the latest in security-minded construction. The yard is safeguarded by an electromagnetic security perimeter, and the Tudor-style Kevlar door has a retinal recognition access system. Inside, we are protected by the latest in biochemical, nuclear, fire, carbon monoxide and motion sensors; anthrax, smallpox and bubonic plague treatment systems; and a generalized untoward smell - flatulence, halitosis, the odors of servants - filtration system. Should some unforeseen circumstance arise and all our safeguards are defeated, we have a panic room, just like you see in the movies. It is stocked with espresso and sushi rations, and has a pipeline that feeds from two wells - one liquified Prozac, one liquified Xanax - which are beneath the home."

"This is all very impressive. The height of contemporary urban living," I said.

"One must be kept safe from the wrong kind of people, if you know what I mean. Come, boy, let me show you the inside," he said.

Once inside, I looked out the front window to the empty sidewalk where we had been standing and was startled to see stereotypical urban images: young black street toughs, Italian-American teens singing doo-wop under a streetlight, Latinos driving by in a lowrider, a prostitute adjusting her garter, babies in diapers playing with chewed thrift store toys, crouching men playing dice, an old ice cream truck with a giant cracked fiberglass cone mounted on its roof, a fellow selling stolen watches, two lovers kissing.

"What"s going on out there? Where did all that come from so suddenly?" I asked in surprise.

"That"s our urban hologram. You see, we can look out our window and get the thrills of living in a vibrant, dangerous urban American setting, although, of course, we do not - we live in a sanitized zone."

Rachel the cultural anthropologist has commented on this phenomenon - the "culture of as-if," I thought to myself.

"The height of contemporary urban living," I said again, sadly.

"Thank you, boy," he said, rolling his mustaches between his fingers. "Whether it be the urban poor or terrorists, we shall not be defeated by the dark forces that seek to undermine our American way of life! Now if you will pardon me, I must go give a speech at an Ashcroft Youth rally."


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