Most of us embrace nostalgia. We long for times past, for the warm pockets of memories with relatives and friends that time and distance separate us from, for the high points of our history that seem to make us at all worthwhile. Sometimes, though, the past has not gone away, but rather sits in rotten accumulation underneath our feet, and sooner or later, may remind us that the past isn’t as rosy as we like to think it was.

It is somewhat academic that the past is more reliable than the future. The past has already happened, and so is not subject to the same uncertain hypothetical predictions that plague the future. It is hard to take seriously the fearful proclamation that, “I’m worried that the world will end in the year 1960. It’s just a feeling I have. What with Khrushchev, and the Cubans and such.”
It’s an easy fix for the backwards worrier. You can tell them, “It won’t end in 1960 because it didn’t.” At which time they would say, “Thanks, that is a relief.”

There is one way the future is more reassuring than the past. There is potentially a lot less garbage in the future. The past is loaded with garbage, but we can clean it up for the generations to come. It’s a good way to think about it, and the best time to start cleaning up is right now. Never has there been a more solid (solid?) example of this than in the British sewer system underneath the Whitechapel district where a huge blob of grease and trash has formed to such a prodigious and filthy mass of discarded objects that it has been given a name.
Fatberg. It’s a terrific title. Much better than the Boris Johnson-berg, which my sources tell me was an early consideration. Even though it bears a bit of a resemblance to the ex-Mayor, and is slightly less smug, critics were wary of any direct association. Even British piles of garbage are somewhat quick to take offense.

Whoever came up with the name Fatberg should be knighted. Bestow on him or her the Order of the British Empire. In fact, I would invite that person over the pond to Decatur, Georgia to rename all the streets in my neighborhood. It’s an opportune time for it, because I live in the American South, and already there is talk of, not so much changing, but modifying all the streets named after the fathers of the Confederacy to satisfy the diverse public. Instead of Lee Street we now have Bruce Lee Street. Jefferson Davis Boulevard is now George and Weezie Jefferson Davis Boulevard, and Stonewall Jackson Road is now Stonewall Michael Jackson Road. I’m ready for the Fatberg Freeway.

Nostalgia is fun when it is a wispy memory. It is not so much fun when it is a huge, seething pile of ossified waste. The British sewer agency (or whoever) has deemed that the rotten mass is not “fit and proper,” a term that defines the acceptance or rejection of certain entities from British life. For the record, the ride-share service Uber has been deemed not fit and proper, as well as Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News empire. Fatberg is in fine company.

In a mission straight from a movie by Jerry Bruckheimer, a team of fat-busters have been dispatched to go underground and break up the huge pile of filth. The main problem is that London’s sewer grid is a narrow, outdated system. It was built hundreds of years ago to handle cholera, typhus and unwanted children from the gaslight era. Even Jack the Ripper avoided using it, declaring that some things were just too horrible to tolerate. The underground workers have been complaining about the horrendous stench. They feel as if they were tricked, blaming the job posting, which was a bit vague. “Experience history. Tour classical London. Must love antiques.”

Disposable diapers and sanitary wipes seem to be the main clumpy culprits. They were designed to break down, not build up. But as it happens, Britain is getting a whiff of the unintended consequences of innovation and population. Either that or the artist Banksy has put together his finest urban installation. Fatberg will eventually sell for $50 million.

It’s not all bad news. In fact, when some of the workers were cutting up pieces of the blob for display in the British Museum they happened upon a rare sonnet, never published, from the one and only William Shakespeare. It has been categorized as Sonnet 18.5.

“Shall I compare Fatberg to a summer’s day? Thou art more sickening and gross. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, as do they carry the stink of poop and decay. Often, too hot the eye of heaven shines, and often its gold complexion dimmed, but who cares, really, when the heat from that sun just makes everything worse, from that pile of Nature’s stink, untrimmed. But Fatberg’s eternal summer shall not fade, most likely because it is a solid block of shit. This stuff just doesn’t go away, so there is no need to write a poem about it. As sure as men have putrid air to breathe and have watery eyes to see. So surely, lives you, Fatberg, for you are the creation of our debris.”
Not bad.
More Alembics to come.
Dedicated to J.P. Donleavy

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