27 June 2009

Play: Home: Woodchuck

D___ and A___ tore off across the field with a single rock between them. The woodchuck was a good long ways out there, farther than you’d want to run carrying a rock built for two. But A___ or D___ had said, “Let’s get him,” for no real good reason except we’ve never needed a reason between the three of us to do much of anything. I stood there in the middle of a pre-plowing spring cornfield, the trees budding on all sides, the woods so thick and the sun so bright that I couldn’t see the world for the sky and the land, holding the box of white zinfandel and three plastic cups, yelling, “Kill that fucking rat.”

A woodchuck’s job is to keep himself between you and his hole. He’s always got a backdoor. Always. And he can move pretty damn fast when he’s getting chased by something. On the other hand, get him cornered, he’ll have your thumb faster than you can say, “I wished I’d a stayed home today.” D_ and A___ got up there and the woodchuck hadn’t run off. Rather it looked up at them, didn’t bare his teeth, didn’t hiss or peep, didn’t waddle off or scurry. They hesitated, looked each other in the eye, and didn’t have any reason to mash the woodchuck or even real desire. But, well, for Christsake, they set out across that field to chase something beyond themselves, something that by all rights should be elusive, and here it was. Without a word, the rock went above their heads and down on the woodchuck’s spine. His tail might have twitched a touch, but he had had it.

To this day, I wouldn’t mention this to them if I was you. By all rights the woodchuck should have hustled off to its hole, should never even have been threatened. But there it was. And D__ and A___ have to carry this around with them now, one more thing shoved deep in their guts that makes them, every once in a while, pound their fist on the steel and stone of their respective lives for, what you might say in looking at them, is no apparent reason.

19 June 2009

Work: Oil: Walk

D__ and I get hooked up with an oil-tank building crew over in Rouseville. They work all over the country, but the boys are back home to put some tanks in there just between Oil City and Titusville. Our crewchief D.R. picks his feet almost up to his knees when he walks, and that might look goofy at first, but he never stumbles or stoves his toe in a very busy workplace, and you might even laugh at the walk like he’s doing it just for your amusement, but you get the impression that he could probably rip your arm off and beat you over the head with it with an overzealous handshake. So you start to adopt the walk yourself and hope someday to be six-four with a mustache like a pushbroom and boots the size of Volkswagons.

D.R. tells how great it was working for Matrix in the seventies. He’d just started there and ended up in charge of a crew. His boss said to take the boys out and show them a good time on the company. D.R. bought the boys six bottles of liquor, three cases of beer, and called in a professional. D.R says, “So I’m supposed to account for every dime we spend. You should have seen the secretary’s face when I turn in my receipt and ask for reimbursement for eight blow jobs and two round-the-worlds.”

The reason I like D.R. right away is, well, just that: I’m afraid he might pat me on the back and my spleen will end up on the other side of Oil Creek in a pile of sawdust. Plus here’s this guy who is a local high school’s all-time leading scorer, the head of a fairly prestigious tank crew, a world traveler, and an all-around big boneshattering mother fucker, and if called upon, I imagine he could castrate me with a couple of simple sentences or just a look out of the corner of his eye.

16 June 2009

Palin and Letterman Miss the Point

Every joke is an attack: Freud said this (forgive me, academics, I know he isn’t in good favor, but he had his moments), and before Freud, Lott said this, and, if it isn’t obvious, it should be upon consideration. This is why it is not okay to make racist jokes or Polish jokes or West Virginia jokes or gay jokes in our house, because we don’t want people in our house to believe for even a second that there is room for viewing people of color, foreigners, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the alien, the other, as something less than ourselves. But that’s just in our house, so do what you want to do: it’s none of our business.

That said, I don’t know of too many people I think less highly of than Sarah Palin. She’s embarrassing. Really. We all know the bad things I want to say about her. But, for the sake of brevity, I’ll skip those things and just say this: she’s right. Even though she can’t articulate her way out of a yes-or-no question, it is not a stretch to make the connection between jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes and the ways in which we view people around us. And even if she’s taking this opportunity to get some good facebook, and is, ultimately, more of a problem for young women than a solution, Letterman was deadly wrong to make those jokes.

Even if he thought he was making jokes about Palin’s older daughter, rather than the fourteen-year old, one problem with the jokes is that in our culture it is still okay to laugh at the power structures that exist between men and women. Haha, the baseball playing man knocked up the young woman. ‘Knocked up’ – come on, can we give her some kind of agency? – but, more to the point, while the man in the joke receives zero negative attention in any form for having sex, the woman is the butt of the joke, under attack for having sex. The old sad double standard – stud/slut, man/woman. Highfives for the men, not-allowed-to-walk-at-your-graduation for the women. It’s not funny, and jokes which encourage or reinforce such double standards are deplorable (unless, of course, the joke teller is actively seeking to continue the oppression of half the world’s population, in which case, Good on you, buddy. Highfive).

In the meantime, nobody makes me laugh as often as David Letterman. I saw a photo of him giving a thumbs-up one time and I almost wet myself. By which I mean to suggest that I think he is very very funny. And I don’t expect him to rededicate his life to the pursuit of equality in joke telling – he is going to cross the line sometimes. But, and this is the thing Palin (I believe) doesn’t understand or really care that much about: this joke is indicative of the ways in which we (men and women) view women as somehow lesser than men. This joke and others like it are not responsible for, but are continuing to make it okay that women earn 80 cents on the dollar in equal positions to what men earn one year after college graduation. And 60 cents on the dollar five years down the road. All this despite the fact that women are graduating with higher grades than men at every level in every subject.

So, yes, I think Sarah Palin is dumber than crushed monkey turds, and, yes, I think David Letterman is HI-larious. But no, it’s not okay. It’s not okay. It’s not okay at all to go on in this fashion, and if it takes a regrettable human being such as Sarah Palin to bring this isolated incident [italics added to indicate sarcasm] to light, and if it takes a funny funny comedian such as David Letterman to issue a public, down-on-my-knees-type of apology, in order for us as a culture to start to try to view women as actually equal, rather than nominally equal, to men, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. And if the writer who wrote the joke has to lose the job for making an honest mistake, that’s what it takes. And if I get kicked out of the Hip, Liberal, Republicans-Are-So-Unreasonably-Lame Club (the HLRASULC), because I – and this hurts real bad – agree with Sarah Palin, well, that’s what it takes.