The Loss of the Dog and Duck

Two nights ago I sat at the corner table, totally obscured except for the flickering TV-screen glow (the blue aura, crossing a red light that licks the tin ceiling, combined with dark forest-green walls, will remain an indelible image in my mind; so many nights I spent there, staring at the ceiling)—watching as if in slow motion the last hour or so of operation at the Dog and Duck Pub. I confess that I was actually crying by the end, after I paid my last tab on the last night and took a last look, fully realizing, despite all efforts to ward it off, that a place so integral to my passing of time—a place made sacred not by hierarchical writ but by the rites of common people (birthdays, happy hours, afternoons of pure daydreaming, celebrations and commiserations of sports, etc.)—would be gone forever.

In its place, we’re sure to get the same kind of architectural crimes against taste that currently mar our “landscape”—another big gray box, half-empty, mimicking similar big gray boxes that define so many every-towns across the nation. No place to reconnect with friends. No place to hear someone’s story. No place to mark the seasons. No place to sit quietly. No place for anything except consumption: spinning on the merry-go-round in the burgeoning rich-people’s playground.

As Paul Kingsnorth writes in Real England:

The things that make our towns, villages, cities and landscapes different, distinctive or special are being eroded, and replaced by things which would be familiar anywhere. It is happening all over the country ’ you can probably see at least one example of it from where you’re sitting right now. The same chains in every high street; the same bricks in every new housing estate; the same signs on every road; the same menu in every pub.

The meaning of England is different for everyone who lives in it. Its physical reality—its actual and emotional landscape—resonates at different frequencies for all of us. But whatever tone we hear, it is increasingly drowned out by the louder but flatter sound of landscapes being levelled, colour being drained and character being driven out by money and self-interest and over-development. Whether the real England, for you, is the local newsagent or the local church, the thatched cottage or the city terrace, the hardware store that clings on in your high street, the struggling street corner pub, the patch of overlooked waste ground, the chaotic street market, the hedgerows or the downlands, an old farm or an urban canal: you can be sure that if it is not sufficiently profitable or obedient, then it is not safe from the accelerating forces of homogenisation and control.

I celebrated my thirtieth birthday at the Dog and Duck (last picture below), and thanks to my girlfriend’s behind-the-scenes orchestration, I was visited by friends from here in Austin and by old friends from Baltimore and New York. All the bartenders came to have a piece of cake. We sang songs. Other friends were just in the area and stopped by (on my way to the pub two nights prior to its closing, I ran into three neighbors and friends, and we just stopped and chatted for a minute about this and that; how can that community be recreated, once obliterated?).

People will say it’s just business as usual, and obviously we face graver problems as a species than the relocation of a favorite pub. But its closing, and the fact that it was precipitated by our complete lack of control—they don’t own the property, and someone in some room, totally removed from our neighborhood, can irrevocably change everything about our lives in the blink of an eye—is emblematic of our impotence as “citizens” and of the inescapable logic of a death cult, hell-bent on squeezing all derivations—all enjoyment—out of what they see as nothing more than a Cartesian ATM. There’s no room for daydreaming (or for being able to get drunk in blocks of time without tasks) in our culture.

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