It is Saturday morning. I was fifty-one years old twenty-one days ago. Two days ago, I had been sober for twenty-three years.|
| ||Wednesday night I saw a dog run down on Peachtree Street. I saw him first caught and scrambling in the wheels of the car to our left, and he made it. Watch out, I said to my friend driving, and he braked, and we saw the animal stopped in front of our headlights, black and white, his dark dog eyes staring wild and frightened, and when he knew we were not running him down he started across the last lane and then an Atlanta fool going sixty miles an hour through Buckhead clipped the son of a bitch with his right front fender and I looked back to see headlights slowing behind us and the dog upended on the pavement, howling and howling. We drew alongside the white van that had hit him and I looked up. This particular fool was a Negro.|
In former times, no Negro would have dared to drive so fast down Peachtree Street. No white man, either. Now, we are all equal opportunity fools.
I do not know if the dog lived or died. He was not there when we drove back north again. I think, if he was lucky, someone put him to sleep. I think this and I see him upended, on his back, and I hear him howling, and I feel a deep sadness, which I attribute to my age. You never feel so responsible for something as you do when you waste it.
Later that night I called my high school English teacher. He talked about a mutual friend who has had the same maid for more than thirty years. Our friend is a liberal, and her maid is black, so our friend is a hypocrite, you see, and her company wears thin because she acts like its the Sixties, And, says my high school English teacher, I just want to tell her theyre over.
| ||Of course, the Sixties are not over or I would not be reminded repeatedly that the Sixties are over. The Forties are over, and one of the reasons I know they are is that no one ever tells me so.|
| ||But the divide between us today was struck in the Nineteen Sixties, and it was called, is called, Vietnam, and the people who stood on one side of that divide then are still on the same side of it, and the people on the other side are still there too.|
In Nineteen Sixty-Eight, the year I graduated from high school and dropped out of college and was classified 1A, my English teacher voted for Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon ran against Hubert Humphrey that year. Everyone said there was no difference between them, and Nixon had a secret plan for the war in Vietnam.
| ||But my English teacher said he voted for him, not because of the war, but because of connections. His family has connections and he voted for them.|
And later in the call, after the part about our liberal and her maid and the Sixties being over, he told me that he could not vote for the vice president of an adulterer, so he will vote for a drunk driver instead.
I did not want to argue about any of this. I did not want to talk about liberals or maids or adulterers or drunks. I could see the dog looking at me in the headlights. Trying to end it, I said, Well, the truth is, there hasnt been anybody running for president that I could believe in in my lifetime.
And he said, True.
| ||You can always end this sort of thing by faulting democracy itself.|
| ||But it was not true, it was just to end it. I believed there was a difference between Nixon and Humphrey, and I believe the dead boy-soldiers think so too, and I believed human rights were good foreign policy, domestic, too, and I voted twice for an adulterer. I am an adulterer myself, you know.|
| ||And I was for Mondale and Dukakis, too, even though I knew that|
| America is not ready for a president named Dukakis.|
|But in Nineteen Sixty-Seven the English teacher had held up before the class my paper on horizons, and had said, This is profound.|
No one had ever said such a thing. I felt embarrassed and I wanted to hear more and be more embarrassed, I wanted to be the center of attention without anyone looking at me, I wanted to be a star, I thought I would be all right if I could just be a star.
I still want to hear that, only this time I will not be embarrassed and if they all look, I will look back, and when I look back I will say, "I am not a star."
So that I have come a long way from that day, but I still feel a debt and a responsibility to him for saying to me, when no one else did, You are right about yourself. And: You are all right just the way you are.
And I do not like to argue with friends, and I do not like to argue with friends for no purpose. Which only makes me wonder why he brought all this up.
|So, what I want to say now is that there is a certain type of Southern male whose company, no matter how enjoyable, has always left me with a vague and ill-defined sense of distaste.|
| ||In the Eighteenth Century taste expressed morals.|
|And I have left this distaste ill-defined because a number of this type of Southern male have been what I would call friends of mine.|
|By which I mean to imply Not Close Friends, but friendly, warm and cordial and supportive. And I cannot imagine this type of Southern male being any other way, with any one.|
But close to no one, no man, and possessed of the faintest hint of something not even effeminate, just not-masculine. They remind me of what a cousin said once about women: they have no wilderness in them.
They are not gay, and they are not straight, and the two words have never been more precise than when thus negatively applied describing this certain type of Southern male.
| ||As the South itself is neither gay nor straight, but proceeds in all ways by a somber sort of closet-intoxicated indirection. If you think it otherwise, ask a Southerner to explain her relationship with her maid.|
They live on money from their connected families, inherited wealth, thats called, so that they have never actually have a job, though they have always worked, because work is good for you, because it builds the character issue.
|This certain type of Southern male is like Oscar Wilde without balls, or a woman with an extra, male set of genitals that she cannot appreciate or understand how to use. He will never marry. He will never take a lover. He would never scandalize anyone by loving you.|
| ||That is, they have never done monetarily recompensed work-for-hire according to criteria devised and applied by others to whom they are not connected, others who do not care about them at all, whom they must satisfy or GO HUNGRY, and possibly HOMELESS, like a dog in your headlights on the way to dinner on Peachtree Street.|
| ||So that this type of Southern male has always been essentially secure.|
|And this may explain his curious lack of generative powers and the complete absence of any offspring except for some personified metaphors such as myself, and many others, none knowing exactly what they are metaphors for.|
And this lack of children may also explain the acute sense of appreciation for the finer things in a certain type of Southern life that is possessed by this male.
| For children are hard on the china.|
|For this type of Southern male collects things. But not just any things. Shining, brass-studded, warm wood colored mahogany and walnut connected Eighteenth Century things. ANTEBELLUM THINGS. So that the houses and apartments of this certain type of Southern male always have a museum smell to them, the rich sweet scent of wax and warm soft yellow antique light burnishing the browns and golds and brass softly in the long fall harvest evenings.|
And in the center of it, on a shining table, a flower arrangement, white, green, and yellow.
Because this Southern male arranges flowers.
| ||Zen monks arrange flowers and drunks working at the Kroger florist, and my nieces and their mother, my sister.|
|But that is not the point. The flowers are not the point.|
The point of all these Eighteenth Century, antebellum, arranged, flower, things, is not the Eighteenth Century or the life that passed away in the wind of war, or the odor of flowers in a closed house, or the arrangement, or even the connections that bought the land and the house and the rest, and pay the maid, and provide more work, which builds the character issue. The point, the center of the flower that is the life of this certain type of Southern male, is the sensibility that creates it all, all around itself. And not even that. It is the exquisite preciousness of that appreciation for what Oscar Wilde so pathetically lamented the loss of in his long letter to dear dreadful Bosie: All my beautiful things!
But not the things, you see. This is important. This Southern male is not about his things. He is not a materialist.
He is about his feeling for his things.
As Dwight Eisenhower once said:
| ||Let me try to make this perfectly clear:|
|That most of all the certain type of Southern male is about the beauty of his own feeling for his collection of beautiful things.|
| ||A feeling which makes him feel beautiful.|
So that all these things are a vast everpresent mirror held up around him, like Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, or maybe The Lady from Shanghai, reflecting endlessly the mind, the soul, and half the face of this disungendered flower of Southern manhood as he gazes ceaselessly on the glittering shining golden dust that is himself.
(2 November 2000 - 15 September 2003 [3 November 2007])