My parents were divorced when I was five years old, and my mom continued to raise me and my older sister on her own. She moved us from rural Indiana to the suburbs of Chicago. She was never satisfied staying in the same place for very long, so we would move from apartment to apartment on a yearly basis. Every place we moved to was more rundown and gang-infested than the last. Nevertheless, we were in the suburbs, and weren't as unfortunate as most other single-parent families. My mom was pretty good at scoping out the safe areas of towns, so she knew which neighborhoods were too dangerous to sit at a stoplight with the car door unlocked.
There was one town my mom had to drive through fairly often that was pretty dangerous. It was a low-income suburb; graffiti on the shop walls and gangs of angry kids hanging out in alleyways. The only unusual thing about this town was a shopping center we used to drive past about once a week. It was a typical strip mall: grocery stores, greeting card shops, etc. The only things that set it apart from other shopping centers were the works of art displayed all around the place. There were sculptures and statues displayed on the shop sidewalks, mostly created and contributed by local college students. On one outside wall were the remaining parts of an old yellow Mustang.
The most popular works of art were displayed in the parking lot. In the middle of the lot were about half a dozen cars stacked on top of each other, impaled through their middles with a giant metal spike. My favorite piece of art was near the entrance to the parking lot. It was a giant pile of garbage in the shape of America. My mom was really enthusiastic about showing it to us for the first time. We all got out of the car and went up close to it, marvelling at the incredible amount of objects that were actually in the sculpture. There were old toasters, Pepsi cans, pieces of old furniture and broken TVs; and it was all stuck together and molded into the shape of the country I grew up in. From then on, it was a source of weekly excitement for me. For some reason it made me really happy that someone had gotten this unique artistic vision, and had been allowed to display it publicly.
We moved away from that area after a couple years and I stopped seeing the sculptures so often. My mother and I had to make a detour one day a few years ago, and ended up driving past that shopping center again. I was shocked to see that the trash sculpture was gone! My mother said she'd heard that the residents of the town were complaining: the artwork was unpatriotic and made their town look filthy. Enough people complained about it that it was eventually torn down.
I was very upset by this, and imagined that the artist would have been as well. I could understand why more conservative and patriotic people would be upset by the sculpture, because it represents an opinion of America that not all Americans share. However, I know that the artist probably lived in neighborhoods very much like the ones that I'd grown up in. He was probably fed up with his country, and angry that some people work harder than others but are paid a much smaller salary. Since I've lived in those situations and seen my mother work three jobs just to feed her daughters, I can understand why a man might get it into his head that the country he's living in is made of garbage. I can imagine him collecting pieces of junk for months, probably going so far as to rummage through dumpsters and ask friends and relatives for their old soda cans. His neighbors probably peered through their curtains on garbage day, shaking their heads because he was at it again. It isn't just the physical piece of art that should have been considered. It's the amount of time and imagination he put into it. Sure it was an ugly pile of garbage, but the dream and the vision behind it were what made it beautiful. If that's not America, I don't know what is.