We drove the long and dismal trip from Washington DC to Amherst, Massachusetts on Monday, August 20. It was overcast and rainy, matching our moods. It had been a long and difficult ninety days on the road promoting my book. I wondered if it had been worth it. True, the book has done well in terms of new books published by a small and left-wing press like Monthly Review. There has been a second printing, just five months after publication. And the book is in stores no Monthly Review book has ever been and noted in sections of newspapers probably very few books by a radical have ever been noticed. But still, a book like this should have a much wider audience. Unfortunately, it is really not possible to reach such an audience absent the greatest good luck. So, you have to ask yourself – what was the point of it all? Ego gratification? Yes, there was a lot of that. But that doesn’t last long or make you happy either. The hope that you will get a few people to think more critically about their country and the environment? Maybe, but more than a few are needed to bring about any kind of meaningful change.
After nine hours, we reached the apartment complex where we would live for the next five months. It was a nice enough looking compound, lots of trees and greenery, very close to town and the university where I would teach. (I was also thinking about why I had decided to teach again. I couldn’t come up with an answer except that I would accumulate some money and maybe we could put this to good use later. I certainly had no feelings of joy that I would be in front of lots of students again. Just like my book will make a few people think, so too will my teaching. But so what? As Marx said, this entire society bears down upon our breasts like an incubus. Most of us are crushed and will be into the foreseeable future). We parked the car; I found the key in a storage shed under some pots; and we opened the door.
Words cannot adequately describe our dashed expectations. The place was a mess: dirty, cluttered with junk, not an eye-pleasing thing in sight. The living room couch and love seat were ancient, badly worn, and could not be sat on. There was a board under the dirty cushions of each, making them as hard a church pew. When I removed the boards and sat down, I sank to the floor. And things got worse after that. I won’t bore you with the details except to say that we called the landlord and managed to get a few things done. Hopefully we’ll get more done this next week, and the place will be barely liveable. I almost walked away from the whole mess and would have had I been alone. It is going to be very difficult to teach and live here. At least we are conveniently located, near school and town and grocery stores and the like. We’ll have to make do and vent our anger by planning our future.
Landlords are, for the most part, a particularly vicious lot. They act like they are doing you the favor by renting a place to you and they demand all sorts of information about you. However, when all is said and done, caveat emptor. But then what can you expect in a society where private property is king, and the mere ownership of it conveys all sorts of rights and marks the owner as a specially placed person. Those without property, on the other hand, get what they deserve, a thorough thrashing! Righteous historians and social commentators ask why Chinese peasants injured and killed so many landlords after the 1949 revolution. Such violence! I think to myself, why didn’t they kill more. Of course, we are not propertyless. And we won’t ever kill anyone. But if I were king, landlords would have to go before a special renters’ court and prove themselves worthy of staying out of prison. To make matters worse, the treatment of renters helps fuel the pipedream of home ownership, where you trade one set of predators for another.