Friday, July 02, 2004

Initial Impressions, Part Deux...
The second installment of my new feature, which relates the trials and tribulations of a confused Yankee in the land of Tara. I'm finding that I'm spending entirely too much time on this stuff, and not enough on finding my way around, but you take the good with the bad.

Observations of the South:
1. Tobacco juice - the expulsion of tobacco juice is perhaps the most disgusting act that can be committed by human being. That having been said, I have not passed a single day in the last month where someone had not expectorated tobacco juice in my vicinity. What makes this habit so digusting (and I admit, I smoke, for Christ's sake!) is both the sight and the sound. Imagine, if you will, a sickly-brown stream of mixed saliva and tobacco being expelled at high speed. It remains, alternately, in either a liquid stream or a semi-solid, stringy mass, seemingly defying gravity before it careens into the ground with a sickening "splush" sound. To add horror to this scene, try to imagine the sound made prior to the actual expulsion, as said fluid is forced between front teeth (or since a good many Southerners lack adequate dental care) swished around the mouth before it's squeezed out between pursed lips. Individually, this is nauseating. I've seen it done in concert as seveal men at a time engage in the communal act of spitting tobacco juice in a choreographed ballet. I have almost lost my breakfast on more than one occasion.
2. Black Women - Southern black women, seem to me as a white male, somewhat more attractive than their Northern counterparts. I have not figured out, yet, if this is due to any actual differences in relative beauty or merely just a relaxation of the attitude. All in all, I would say that southern black females are, at least, definately more approachable than northern ones. This is a bonus for a single male, not only because more women are potentially available, but also in terms of variety, which we all know, is the spice of life.
3. Southern white females - come in two varieties. They are either drop dead gorgeous or a frumpy, dour, downtrodden lot, that has been beaten down by life (or more often, the men in her life). The first kind seem to come from a higher socio-economic class, and break down into either the "Good marriage material" sort or the "Madonna/Whore" category. The second variety appear to take every opportunity they can get to either become slovenly drunk or to work themselves up to full rut. I cannot claim any true scientific research in this area, but I will continue my work in this regard and let you know. What I can say for sure, is that I have been told several times that "Yankee" men are prized commodities -- we at least know how to treat a lady. Even when she ain't one (wink, wink).
4. The Urban Patois - not expecting too much difference here, I cannot say I was not suprised to find virtually none at all. Very often being the only white man on a bus, gives one the opportunity afforded by ostracism to clearly listen to what is going on. The major differences seem to be in pronunciation: "Mutha-fucker" becomes "muth-fucker", "Nigga" becomes "Nigrah" (although I have heard "nigga" used as well), "bitch" becomes "bi-atch". Not only has the language remained constant, but also the subject matter: petty squabbles over men, petty squabbles over "props", guns, Malt liquor, rap music, racism (real and perceived). All of it is delivered in a muffled/machine-gun stacatto which requires an interpreter to figure out, and the above-mentioned curses used as any part of speech, and often, as punctuation. Since most of this banter comes from those wearing fast-food service uniforms, perhaps I'm not hanging out in the right circles. More on this as I risk life and limb to discover more.
5. Southern Men - I have to admit having limited experience in this area (I haven't met too many southern men yet), and can claim no scietific representation of the population. However, there are three varieties that I have seen so far: redneck, gentleman and asshole. A redneck is just what he says he is; he's country, and damn proud of it. He's a simple sort, which fits perfectly with his limited world-view, which revolves around NASCAR, hunting dogs, beer and BBQ. His overiding virtue is his ability to tell you what's on his mind, whether you are interested or not, whether or not it even makes sense, or even, if he completes an actual sentence.
The Southern Gentleman is just that, and typically comes from a higher socio-economic stratum. Most of the professionals I have met thus far fall into this category, and there is no distinction based on race, either. His exalted virtue is that you can dress him up and take him out without danger of having tobacco juice sprayed at you. The final variety, the asshole, can usually be found in the same way one finds trouble: don't go looking for it, it will find you. He's often proud of the fact that he's served time and can be found in redneck bars (where he's top dog) or gas stations, provided there are no other true minorites to take his job. His overriding virtue is his ability to lose his temper at the drop of a hat. One can usually evoke this display by saying something to him that he doesn't understand, i.e., using words with more than four letters and possibly two syllables. He differs from his northern counterpart i that he typically has a rebel flag, gun rack and deer antlers on his truck.
6. Religion - to date I have spotted two, count 'em, Catholic churches in Charlotte. I have also seen exactly one synagoge.
From what I have been able to infer, this makes Charlotte extraordinarily cosmopolitan in realtion to most locales south of Vriginia. The vast majority of the houses of worship are baptist, methodist, presbyterian and other Christian denominations which probably handle snakes and faith heal for donations. However, I have found Charlotteans to be a very devout group of people, which probably explains their courtesy and forebearance. An interesting aside, it is not uncommon to find police at major intersections on Sunday mornings, directing traffic in, out and around places of worship.
7. Politics - I still cannot get one person to explain to me how city government works here, probably because the people I'm asking have not clue one. As for issues, most southerners will take great pride in telling you they are for "this" or against "that" without any attempt at explanation as to how they formed their opinion. Asking why very often results in the subject's head spinning at high revolutions just before it falls off his/her neck. I haven't met one, solitary soul (face to face) that can adequately describe their politics to me -- it's a mixed and matched set of often contradictory concepts: socially conservative, economically liberal. There is, however, a well-developed sense of outright hatred for big business and crusading zeal for the rights of the workig man/woman. This is often based on logic and religious belief, and it's refreshing to hear, rather than the recylced commie propaganda I'm used to. If you really want to know the state of political thought here, just remember that John Edwards is a Senator for this state, and he's the perfect dipstick for measuring the depth of the surface. If you can understand THAT sentence without stopping to think, you know what I mean.

Still, my quality of life has tremendously increased, and I haven't yet found a reason to regret my move.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The IS that AIN'T...
An interesting conversation came up recently. I was speaking with one of my former cronies back in New York, a gentleman I used to work with, and the subject of racism came up. The man in question was (once again) railing about the unfairness of corporate life, as he was passed over for promotion (again). He associated this slight to the color of his skin.

Now, I have known the man for near on 10 years, and in fact, he used to work for me. I can tell you this: if he got passed over yet again, it had nothing to do with his skin color. I wrote this man's performance reviews for many years and I can assure you that his lack of upward mobility had nothing to do with his melanin quotient. I can almost quote, word for word, the things I used to put in his reviews. Phrases such as "excessive lateness", "often fails to follow up", "does not submit required progress reports", "lacks initiative" could almost be used as punctuation marks. In fact, he had some reviews that were so bad, that I'm surprised that no one told me to fire him (I wouldn't -- for all his faults he was a good guy, and does try when you light a fire under his behind...until next time). In fact, he was specifically NOT fired because of the color of his skin (the company had been wracked with discrimination suits and was reluctant to create more).

In fact, this man very often agreed with everything I wrote on these reviews, very often just signed them without wanting to discuss anything on there. He accepted what was written as true and just acquiesced. Not once did I hear him complain about a damn thing. So, if my initial hunch is correct, and he's been passed over because he's a borderline worker, where did this racism thing come from?

I have an idea, not very scientific, but it sorta-kinda makes sense.

We're talking about a person that was raised in the late 60's and early 70's and who was fed a steady diet of grievance. The black man in America, despite a Civil War, constitutional amendments, 8 tons of legislation and 150 years of progress, was still treated by the white power structure (i.e. DA MAN) the way he was in 1800. The only difference is that we became much more patronizing and solicitous. Therefore, people have been trained to see racism even when it's not there, and in fact, very often consider the abscense of overt racism, as a sign that racism is omnipresent, but just not expressed. People now "sense" racism by telepathy, even when it's non-existant. The antennae are tuned to something that ain't there. Sort of like NASA making galactic phone calls and hoping the next block of static they receive might be E.T. trying to order a pizza.

The conditioning is complete. Hear the "N" word? React like you've just been stabbed. Don't hear the "N" word? No problem, someone is bound to say it...someday...maybe soon...maybe not...Possibly tomorrow...Hell, they're THINKING it anyway! The expectation that the dreaded epithet will be hurled leaves one waiting for the other shoe to drop constantly. That's one reason we seem to have grown an entire crop of people who just LIVE to be offended by even the most innocuous of comments or situations. That extreme type of person can take anything out of context, pass it through the torture chamber that passes for his/her brain, and when it comes back out, mangled, folded, spindled and mutilated, somehow equates "Wow, this is really good coffee!" with "Go pick me a bale of cotton, boy!" The Ubuiquitous lawsuit soon follows, complete with the words "hostile enviornment", "extreme emotional duress", etc. They've been conditioned to be insulted and offended, and so they invent things to be insulted and offended about.

Even when the person is not an extremist (like the man in question) the conditioning is still evident. "I didn't get this, even though I KNOW I have shortcomings, but I should have had it DESPITE those shortcomings, because whitey owes me. The fact that I don't must be because of racism." In other words, you should have had something for nothing and you're pissed that you didn't receive it? And because you didn't get whatever it was, it's because the "system" is against you? Even when you KNOW you don't deserve it?

I found that concept seriously distrubing. My friend found it funny..He giggled...People do that when they've been caught red-handed in intellectual dishonesty.

Monday, June 28, 2004

The Internet Revolution...
I did mean to write about this sooner, but circumstances beyond my control prevented me from doing so. I will make amends as best as I can.

Almost 10 years ago, with the emergence of the internet as a seemingly viable consumer service, we were harangued,
ad-nasuem , that this was a technology that would literally revolutionize life as we knew it. No longer would people have to stand in lines at the bank or local department store: the internet would let us bank and shop from home. We would no longer need a Post Office; the internet would give us e-mail. Education would be revoutionized; people would be able to learn a home and have access to all the great libraries and universities of the world.

In practice, none of this has, thus far, come to pass. The internet has not made life a great deal easier, nor more convenient. One only has to enter a local store to see this.
The commercial implications of the internet have still to be worked out: security, return policies and proceedures, etc.
The internet has not brought the world to anyone's doorstep, instead, it has brought us a terrifying, and often comic, new view of humanity.

I was thinking about this while I was waiting for my computer to be delivered with the rest of my household goods when I moved. I remember thinking about how isolated I felt without my computer, even though I'm perfectly capable of leaving the house and have a telephone and television. The "need" to chat online was quite literally real, almost as if I was hooked on heroin, without the nasty side effects.

I began to consider seriously why this was,and I came t the conclusion that it's because the internet brings humanity to your door, warts and all.

Since I've been online, I have seen many varieties of the human animal; morons, sexual deviants, online-lesbians, religious fanatics, the love lorn, the lonely, the timid, the crass, the boring, the illiterate. I've seen people carry on conversations that would have seen them ejected from civil society and perhaps arrested. I've been solicited for sex and received more porn than any human being could possibly hope for in even his most depraved moments. What the internet has brought me, personally, is a view of humanity that would be quite disgusting if it weren't so damn funny.

Where else could you learn the intimate details of anonymous individual's lives, except in a chat room (besides a confessional)? Can you think of another circumstance under which people will take advantage of anonymity to do and say things that they normally wouldn't have the guts for in real life? I can't think of anyplace else one can go, 24/7/365, and find people of all stripes, yakking about nonsense and the little odds and ends of their daily lives openly, and often crudely.

I have a few favorite species of humanity that I like to watch online. There is the "Internet beggar"; this individual is always earnestly seeking something that willmake his/her life complete. It usually revolves around sex or money. There is the "online lesbian"; a typically straight-laced woman that feels compelled to act like a deviant behind the aegis of a computer and modem. There is the "Internet crusader"; usually a male, this sort of person will get online and tell you exactly what is wrong with the world while he has a captive audience. In real life, he's probably brow-beaten by his boss, wife and children and close to a nervous breakdown.
The "attention getters" abound: these are folks that will say anything solely for shock value and the response they get. Suicide threats, sexual innuendo, foul language, scattalogical humor, et. al., are this person's stock in trade. The more outrageous, the bigger the response and the greater the temptation to be ever more outrageous. Finally, we have the "internet racist", a person who takes the opportunity to hide behind the screen to hurl all sorts of vicious invective, knowing full well that no one will ever find him. His rants are not solely limited to race or creed, either. Homosexuals, the disabled, etc., are all fair game.

Now, everyone has the right to free speech and association, and there is no law against telling a woman online that you are the next best thing to Brad Pitt when you really couldn't even be Brad Armpit. The internet gives people a freedom that normally they wouldn't have -- there is no responsibility attached to online life. Any fantasy, any illusion, you wish to spin and disseminate, is right there in your imagination, ready to be transformed into a pseudo-reality by your keyboard and a chat room. The ugly become monstrously gorgeous. The frightened become extraordinarily brave. The quiet get their chance to roar.

So, what did I miss really? I missed being a part of it. For while the internet may ultimately be nothing more than a silly way to kill time, it certainly does have it's interesting parts. Humanity is on display here and it entails everything that we enjoy: comedy, horror, information, drama, confrontation, competition and a host of other things, in a ready-to-use, user friendly format. Maybe one day we will be able to sit on our exalted behinds and have groceries delivered via internet, but in the meantime, one has to occupy one's time the best one can.
The Politics of the "F" word...
A recent tempest in a teacup has arisen as of late over Dick Cheney's use of the "F" word. Cheney, it seems, did something that was long overdue, and told Sen. Patrick Leahy (Communist-France) to shut the fuck up. Leahy, being little more than an old lady in a man's suit, took offense, and is carrying on like a welfare receipient who's been told to get a job.

Such vile language! How hypocritical of an administration that said it would "change the tone" in Washington! How crude these Philistine Republicans can be, with their filthy language and their tax cuts!

I remind you of a few things:

1. Leahy is an giant ass amongst a sea of asses. I've watched the man talk out of both sides of his mouth AND his rectum at the same time for many years. He's crucified everyone from Bob Packwood to Clarence Thomas and beyond, and pretends he does so from principle rather than politics. He's a petty little rabble-rouser and anal retentive, to boot. He hides behind the label of "independant" because to tell the truth and call himself a communist would get him lynched.If anyone ever wants to see how the democratic party really operates, I suggest you watch Leahy, Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer smear and tag team a judicial nominee on C-Span. Not only did Leahy deserve to get cursed at, Cheney should have bitch-slapped him for good measure.

2. John Kerry causually throws out curses whenever it suits his needs. He can say "G.W. Bush fucked up the war on terror" in Rolling Stone, or call a Secret Service agent that made him look foolinsh on the slopes a son-of-a-bitch. And instead of being called rude and crass, Kerry's defenders will tell you that his language is merely a side-effect of the man's "passion". In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that Kerry can occasionally curse, I doubt most people could find anything resembling another human quality about him.

3. Bill Clinton, at this moment, is hawking a book who's main selling point is the "F" word. If it weren't for the fact that anyone who is actually reading this book really wants to read about Monica Lewinsky, it would sit in remainder bins and trash heaps all across the country. Everyone wants the salacious details of how he fucked Monica with a cigar. The rest of the book is filler, and probably not even suitable for wrapping fish.

Dick Cheney using the "F" word was long overdue. When the bush administration "changed the tone in Washington" what that really amounted to was democrats become even more shrill, even more petty and everyone of them hopping around on one foot like a schoolboy bursting for a pee, ready to point fingers at the slightest provocation. Not only should Leahy and his ilk shut the fuck up, perhaps they should start making an attempt to do their jobs -- maybe then they would have a reason to be insulted when the opposition belittles them. You could at least have sympathy for them if they were making an honest effort.