Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Squirrels at Rittenhouse

Rittenhouse Square is a pleasant little park of grass, trees, sidewalks and park benches set in Center City Philadelphia. The square is surrounded on all sides by towers of condos inhabited by the wealthy. Yet all kinds of people hang out at the square.

You used to see a lot of squirrels in the park. Bold squirrels. Assertive squirrels. They'd jump right onto your park bench to beg for one of those peanuts you hand in your hand! Heavens.

The squirrels weren't asking for a whole lot. Squirrels have to live also. Besides, I'd bet that squirrels inhabited that landscape before refined mankind came around.

Lately, I've seen no squirrels in Rittenhouse Square. Not a one of them.

Can we surmise that squirrels became irritating to the rich gentry who live around the square, and that the exterminators were called?

The irony is that you can bet that these very same gentry are animal lovers. No doubt they donate tax-deductible money to a variety of animal causes, from wolves in Colorado to elephants in Africa. They love animals, these good liberal people. As long as those animals aren't in their own backyard.

You can choose the analogy you want. A hundred are out there. Prosperous liberal people move in somewhere and take ownership, bringing with them their rules of cleanliness and order.

I prefer to use the analogy of what's happened to American literature. We see not populists, but pseudo-populists. Elitists with a populist pose. The authentic voice has been displaced. After a time, the very existence of the authentic voice becomes intolerable.

The Underground Literary Alliance was treated like bothersome squirrels by the literary establishment. Yes, the fine Members of the Club are all "progressives," "social democrats," and the like-- they'll tell you so themselves-- but our grubby hungry presence just became, well, intolerable! Call the exterminators.

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