Tuesday, March 10, 2009

SUBTERRANEAN MUCK

The Embodiment
Of America’s
Emerging Cultural Wealth





When does a municipal sewer system become something much larger than a complex series of interconnected pipes?

That sewer system becomes something much larger the moment the joints connecting those pipes rust and fall apart. That sewer system becomes much larger the moment a municipality realizes that what was intended to go through the pipe is no longer capable of reaching its final destination. That sewer system becomes much larger when along with rusting connections and rusting pipes, the final destination of those pipes along with the sewerage contained within them has a greater financial value when it is dealt with in an entirely different manner.

As sewer systems have not over the course our constantly evolving human experience been directly associated with the cultural enrichment of a society, they are in their quiet subterranean existence today as they have been throughout the history of mankind, highly representative of either the sustained growth of an industrial empire or its eventual demise. While flushing toilets may not on the surface be considered as an integral part of America’s emerging culture wealth, the fact of the matter remains that until we as a nation realize and capitalize on the full potential of what is actually being flushed, there is the very real possibility that we ourselves along with the potential of that new wealth will be flushed as well.

While it has become quite clear all aspects of the subterranean infrastructure that has for many decades sustained our above ground lifestyle quite nicely is now unsustainable to itself, unfortunately, the discussion of replacing sewer systems isn’t quite as glamorous or politically correct as going to the ladies room at the local opera house. None the less, our sewers are crumbling and as they are, so to is our capacity to afford the designer toilets found in designer opera houses both of which sit atop our crumbling sewer pipes. Having said this, the question becomes, what will it take to elevate our discussion of sewer systems to the level of discussion normally reserved for a Renoir painting? Do we at the onset of a remarkably dynamic 21st century have the responsibility to view our potential to create new sewer systems as a clear social responsibility? In doing so, do we as well have the capacity to view them as progressive expressions of 21st century industrial art?

When you think about the above questions for awhile and in doing so realize that everything mechanical that has been installed above those decaying pipes has for decades been elevated to a high form of bathroom industrial art, why not address the pipes below that bathroom in the same fashion? When you think about all we have learned about what has gone into these pipes for decades and in doing so invented ways to recycle what goes in before it does, the fact remains pipes are still not only needed but sewerage contained within them has clearly become a commodity that due to the poor condition of those pipes, very few municipalities can benefit financially from. As municipalities do not have the financial means to retrieve and recycle this potentially golden harvest of subterranean organic waste and as a broad spectrum of technologically evolved industries do manufacture the equipment to assure that such harvesting becomes both viable and profitable, one has to ask, have we spent too many years in the opera house with our heads held high above designer toilets or have we spent too many years with our overly elevated designer heads stuck in those toilets?

The only reason I am bringing this up is that on occasion, not only do I take in an opera but I also use the toilet. As I am a builder who has like so many other builders over the course of decades worked with municipalities and in particular building inspectors who work for those municipalities, all of us today are broke and out of work. In the same breath, I have worked with manufacturers of plumbing fixtures to assure that my clients functional and artist tendencies have been met when designing and building bathrooms. Unfortunately today and in as much as we within the context of living in a 20th century economy have more or less maintained a decent income, beyond the final closure of a toilet seat, beyond the final inspection of the bathroom plumbing fixture manufacturer’s are as broke as building inspectors, municipalities and building contractors.

So what’s the deal? What is preventing the emergence of our potential 21st century cultural expression of advanced industrial art from actually emerging?

Ancient building codes anchored in nothing other than an equally ancient disrespect for the brilliance of ordinary plumbers is the answer. Due to the overly elevated egos of investment bankers and venture capitalists who don’t respond to an industrial concept unless that concept can be manufactured and placed upon a retail shelf, mining the organic waste that sits in America’s crumbling sewer lines is simply not cool. As such mining actually takes a little bit more time than the ordinary man spends sitting on a designer toilet, investment bankers and venture capitalists along with their equally redundant political counterparts are pathetically ordinary men. Thinking that the mining of organic human waste can be as profitable as drilling for Saudi Arabian oil, they collectively wait for the right moment to flush the toilet that is killing our economy in hopes that in doing so, they will become the 19th century Rockefellers of our 21st century economy.

Beyond their collective grasp however is the fact that there are many subterranean sewer lines and all of those sewer lines within the context of our 21st century industrial blueprint have vastly different inlets and outlets attached to vastly different investment portfolios. There are the sewer lines that redirect rainwater. There are the sewer lines that redirect waste form the sinks of American kitchens. There are the sewer lines that redirect the waste from American laundry rooms. There are the sewer lines that redirect the wastewater from American washbasins and bathtubs as there are of course the sewer lines that redirect the waste from American toilets. When one really thinks about sewer lines and one as well really thinks about the scope of public education that must be brought forward before such sewer lines can be profitable, one also has to wonder just when the last time investment bankers and venture capitalists sat down with building inspectors and tradesmen in the privacy of their own bathrooms.

In as much as we in America are dealing with an economic scenario that is collectively brutalizing each of us in precisely the same manner. In as much as new economic opportunity abounds and all of that opportunity is benchmarked by a sadly selfish sense of excitement laced with needless anxiety, I for one simply want to know that the water that I use to drain my organic vegetables at my kitchen sink can with the aid of technologically advanced and monitored pipes, be recycled to water the garden that grew the vegetables in the first place. If that technology was actually in place and as I’m certain that such water flow must be regulated and monitored, I would find great comfort in the fact that the folks who do monitor that flow hired me to build their kitchens and their gardens in the first place.

If I were to design and build their kitchens and gardens, I would undoubtedly design and manufacture a host of products that would serve to accessorize those technologically advanced and monitored pipes and in doing so, find equal comfort in the fact that the folks who manufactured the system and its accessories were working and making money in just the same manner as myself. In turn, I would find even greater comfort in the fact that my municipal tax dollars were clearly being diverted to foster the growth of the subterranean economy that today quite unfortunately still lies far beneath my designer toilet seat in pipes that should have been replaced a long time ago.


The Blue Collar Industrialist


M. Patrick Dahlke

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