Hi. It’s me again. I hope you’re enjoying this relentless summer heat (I’m writing this before the heat comes, btw, just betting it’ll be relentless). Do you remember our winter? Kind of crummy, wasn’t it? Everyone loves a good snow-in. It allows you to brag to your California friends about the beautiful walk you took to the bodega before the plows came down your street and paved the sidewalk with a perfect coat of dog crap. Yet sadly, that beautiful snowfall didn’t happen for us this year. And now, the heat. Horrible, snowy winters seem easier to endure than record-setting, sweltering summers. Sure, we worry about the less fortunate among us in either extreme, but with the heat there’s another element at stake. Our sanity. Heat makes you go c-c-c-c-crazy.
Ooooh, if there was some literary award for smooth transition in hypocritical advice columns (the Hippies?) I would have to take a break here and accept it. Read the letter and see what I mean.
With every hot day that passes, I feel like I’m falling further and further into the abyss. I’ve been aware of climate change for over 20 years and at this point despair is the prevailing feeling I experience in my day-to-day existence. The stifling heat is a constant reminder of what we are doing to our planet and all the creatures who live on it. It all seems hopeless. No amount of publicity, no well-produced documentary, no plain-speaking scientist on a late night talk show can wake us up from our arrogant ignorance. I wish I could assume a state of resignation —that I could “que sera, sera” the whole situation and go on a cruise with my loved ones. But alas, that’s not my temperament. Instead, at night I secretly pray for all of us to be destroyed by a plague. I don’t want it to be too painful, mind you, I’m no sadist, but I’m so disgusted with modern civilization and I see no other solution.
Now, I’m willing to deal with my own crippling state of mind—but there’s an issue: that cruise I just mentioned. My parents, the kindest, sweetest people on the planet, have been married for 50 years and are taking my entire family, grandchildren included, on a 10-day cruise to the Virgin Islands. As you can imagine, I feel like I am being sent to my own personal Hell. I really do enjoy spending time with my family, but a cruise typifies all that is wrong with humanity: the wasteful buffets, the massive expenditure of fuel and the dumping of toxic run-off while we’re all barefoot, carefree and doing the limbo on the Lido deck. It’s too much for me to bear. But it’s equally too much for me to bear disappointing my parents who are over the moon at the thought of this floating celebration. Please, tell me what to do. I’m in agony over this. Oh, and one thing you should know. I’m an alcoholic and former pill addict. Please don’t tell me to just hold my nose and stay close to the bar the whole time. That would be dangerous for my health.
Becky from South Slope
Becky? Really? That’s your name? How can you be so dark with a name like Becky? I was certain your name would be Marta, Genevieve or William. But it’s Becky. That’s adorable!
So, bummer about the addiction issue because you called it, I would’ve suggested you to sidle up to dull the reality that you were complicit in supporting this high seas carbon spewing adventure. I would have further suggested the Dirty Martini as the perfect hypocrite’s blues buster. I have to admit, I never really considered the environmental impact of the cruise ship until yesterday, when I happened to choose the most recent EPA Cruise Discharge Assessment Report as my bathroom reading. You were right, Becky! What a toxic nightmare! On the average, the boats generate 21,000 gallons of sewage and 170,000 gallons of graywater a day. Graywater is the wastewater that drains from sinks, showers, and laundry machines so you can imagine the crap thats in it (detergents, oil, grease, and food waste as well as oxygen-depleting nutrients and various pathogens). I couldn’t find any numbers on how much food is thrown out or what the methane emissions are after Fiesta Mexicana night but I did find some surprising news. The Bush administration along with our friends in Canada created an emission reduction plan which requires the use of lighter fuel for all large vessels by 2015. The cargo industry is complying. The cruise industry? Not so much. Their lobbyists are putting pressure on lawmakers to allow them to stick with the same heavy fuel they’ve been using even though the EPA estimates that when the emission reduction plan is fully implemented 31,000 premature deaths per year will be prevented. Hmmmm. Methinks something about the plan must eat into the cruise industry’s profits. Insert sound of my blood boiling here.
Sorry about all that. I don’t think that research helped you with your problem. But because I’m a self-aware hypocrite, I like to know my facts so I can sense the exact way I’m acting contrary to my strong belief system. Back to your problem. The way I see it you have two options. 1. You don’t go. 2. You go. Let’s discuss option one.
No one can force you onto the boat (unless you are Jack Bauer who was bound and gagged and thrown onto a cargo ship headed for China at the end of the fifth season of 24). If you decide not to go, I suggest you write a very thoughtful letter to your parents thanking them for such a generous gift while also explaining to them that going on a cruise would be against every principle you have. Then suggest another way to celebrate the joyous occasion with them. Here are some possibilities: A local bird-watching excursion with a catered picnic lunch; a stargazing party with a quasi-notable astronomer from the nearby community college; a Who Dun It?™ murder mystery night aboard a working antique train. The suggestions must be able to generate a lot of excitement so tailor them to your parents’ interests. Then, via telephone, you must briefly explain to your brothers/sisters your reasons for staying behind and then quickly offer to watch their beloved dog/cat/plant. Your siblings have known you all your life. Chances are, it won’t come as too much of a surprise that you’re boycotting the cruise and ruining everything. Be prepared for some fallout in the form of a good lecture from your older sister including the following words: selfish, selfishness and selfish-ability.
Option #2. You go. This is only an option if you promise to shut the hell up about anything regarding an ecological nightmare. Once you set foot on that boat you owe it to everyone around you to keep your doom and gloom on lockdown. You don’t have to overdo it and vow to become shuffleboard champion, just be there. Haven’t you ever been to a wedding that you thought was a horrible mistake? Of course you have because most of them are. So you know that you sit there and make a toast and drink the wine and go back to your hotel and pour out your reservations about the couple to the bartender there. Arg! I just remembered you have problems with alcohol! Forgive me.
Think on this. Love heals all. Your parents obviously love each other very much. With that love encircling them, they created a family of wonderful thoughtful people, yourself included, who know love and seek it in their own lives. This trip is to honor the love that you all share. If you leave on that boat with your family, you need to keep the kernel of this in your mind at all times. You are a very caring and sensitive person. Your parents had a hand in this. You can thank them for this by being there. Here’s a handy mantra: “I am here because of love. Love can heal the world.” If that is too soft for you, then just imagine that cruises are actually that painless global plague you were wishing for, and the good Lord has graced you with a close up view as he/she slowly wipes us out.
Whatever you decide, follow through with your decision and try to minimize your decision’s impact on others. I never do that. But you should.
Now, Becky, forgive me, I can’t help but think about what your life will be like after the cruise or non-cruise. See, you’re clearly not in a happy place. But you could be. I’m not suggesting you deny the sad reality out there but I am wondering if there’s any way you could make a major change. Is it possible for you to leave your life in Park Slope and go work for clean air and water? Many of us have kids and mortgages and the need for insurance but if you don’t, get out of town and live out our fantasies. Quit your job, give up your apartment and help with the effort to heal the horrific amount of damage that we’re doing to this beautiful world of ours. You’ll know more about the situation and be part of the solution. No doubt you’ll sleep better and your personality will be once again aligned with your adorable name. And nobody, not even your ignorant parents, would ever suggest that you go on a cruise ever again.
As far as the problem with no one listening to the cries of our planet, I’m closing this with a quote from David Abrams, philosopher, ecologist and performance artist. He was also the resident magician at Alice’s Restaurant back in the day. Wise man. Here are his thoughts on how to wake us up:
I don’t think there is a way for those who work in service to the earth — for environmentalists, ecologists — to really woo our culture back into a reciprocal or sustainable relation with the land until we draw folds back to our senses, because our sensing bodies are our direct contact with the rest of the natural world. It is not by being abstract intellects that we are going to fall in love again with the rest of nature. It’s by beginning to honor and value our direct sensory experience: the tastes and smells in the air, the feel of the wind as it caresses the skin, the feel of the ground under our feet as we walk upon it. And how much easier it is to feel that ground if you allow yourself to sense that the ground itself is feeling your steps as you walk upon it.
from The Spell of the Sensuous
Speaking of feeling, I’m feeling sick. My six-year-old coughed in my eye 31 hours ago and Voila! I’m achy, runny, stuffy, and crabby. So, I’m only answering one letter today. Why don’t you take it easy today, too? Go to the park and drink a lemonade under the prettiest tree you can find. Feel the earth under your tush. It’s definitely feeling you. See you next time.
Read more about the EPA report here:
And about the reduced emission plan here: