Last night, I was at a bookstore in Fresno. The pretty young lady behind the counter yawned, and I asked her if she was tired, and she said, "Yes, I am working two jobs; school ain't cheap."
I told her that I once had three jobs to pay for school and she should just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and before she knew it; this part of her life would be over. She smiled and wished me a very nice evening.
On the way to my car, I started thinking about those days, and I realized that I had accomplished a great thing and should be proud of myself. I didn't believe that I had pulled it off until I picked up the program in my seat and saw my name. Thing was, I never exulted in it; I just felt like crying.
Me being a naturally curious son-of-a-gun, that realization caused me think about why I couldn't celebrate. Most people I know would have painted their ass red and ran screaming down main street if they had done something like that.
I used to keep a picture on refrigerator from when one of my basketball teams had won a valley championship, and all the girls were screaming with joy, and I was staring at the camera with a sad look thinking that I was already on the clock for the next season. Well that, and I was having issues with my wife.
I traced this somewhat sour disposition back to my growing up on the south side of Corcoran. Although I was one of the first born Californians in my family, you just didn't get to join the fucking club; you had to be brought up to par first. Everything about those first days of schooling was about washing the Okie out of us and making us into "better people" and though they might not have said it out loud it was exactly what they were doing. I was very fortunate in that the six lady teachers I had were all beautiful and caring women.
The word Okie was used as a pejorative back then. It meant "not as good". I understand completely that many, many, more people had it much, much worse and were far more marginalized than I, but I'm not talking about social injustice here; I am talking about how things affected me personally.
I also realize that most of people I ran across daily never acted overtly to hurt me in anyway shape or form. They were just trying to figure their own way out of their own mess. My problems and my perceptions have always been self created, and I fully embrace that truth. But once I set the stage, the characters in my drama always seemed to know their lines.
And I'm not seeking apologies, complements, or any kind of way-to go or that-a-boy, I just want to make a point about how life will always give you the material to build, whether you build a mansion, a church, a prison, or a small clapboard house on the south side of nowhere.
I been thinking a lot about The Grapes of Wrath lately. The great book and movie of the same name were something we always clung to as the story of our people's hopes and dreams, but recently I've noticed something else. When I was thinking about the conversations that I listened in on between my father and his siblings and other people from back east, I noticed that not one of them ever sounded as preachy as Tom Joad's last speech in the movie (Steinbeck was criticized for it, and justly so).
Okies weren't like that. That sounded a lot more like what a East Coast liberal wanted an Okie to sound like, and how they wanted them to act, and somewhat ironically, it sounded like how the Baptist preacher in our church back then wanted the members of his flock to act as well, broken down, oppressed, and compliant.
Steinbeck, who was born in Salinas and educated at Stanford University, knew an awful lot of lefties and belonged to a lot of suspect organizations including the League of American Writers, a communist organization which he joined in 1935. He signed a letter in support of the Soviet Invasion of Finland in 1939. Both actions put him in league with Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader and one of the greatest mass murderers in history.
He later offered his services to the CIA which may or may not have been an act of expiation, and he also supported Lyndon's Johnson's war in Vietnam which suggests that he came to a better understanding the threat of Soviet style communism.
There's a book written by George Orwell called the The Road to Wigan Pier. The first half of the book depicted the pitiful plight of factory workers in the north of England prior to the war. English liberals loved this part of the book. In the second part, however, Orwell turned an honest and very critical eye toward the Left itself and listed several reasons why the workers and people of the lower classes, who desperately needed help, did not really like the people who offered it.
The book said something to the effect that the two social classes, the stolid upper middle classes and the lower class poor, had no real love for each other. In fact, they often hated the very sight of each other.
This put me in mind of what is going on in this country now. Modern do-gooders love to exclaim that they love the poor more than life itself and seek only to better the plight of the masses. Yet, they always reveal their true feelings when the lower social classes don't want to go along with their carefully and often callously constructed planning, then they address them like recalcitrant and uneducated children.
"They are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic - you
name it. A basket of deplorables."
"Just went to a Southern Virginia Walmart. I could smell the
This only shows that the points that Orwell listed are still valid. Many of his close friends and supporters begged him to remove the second part of the book, but he refused. The fact that these points are still true are a sad reflection on our society, both because the economic and social factors that produced them haven't ever been resolved, and also the fact that the do-gooders who seek to solve these problems still often seem to be more in love with the sound of their voices extolling their own virtues and perceived moral superiority than they are with the people who actually need the help.
Most, usually their rank and file, have good intentions too, but history has proven that good intentions and rigid belief systems about how those intentions should be implemented are a often a deadly mix.
New Jerseyan, Bruce Springsteen, the Boss, recently admitted that he wrote the songs for The Ghost of Tom Joad before he had even read the book, preferring, I guess, to write about the character from what he had learned in the streets of New Jersey.
The problem is that Tom Joad never existed in the first place; he was a fiction in the mind of a do-gooder, someone who wanted to help but did not understand that the people of the Dustbowl Diaspora didn't need Saints as much as they needed jobs, and that they do in fact smell from time to time because they are fucking working and not arguing over semantics in a coffee shop.
The character of Ma Joad, on the other hand, knew her people well, the cockroaches who would one day bring forth doctors, teachers, engineers, builders, and mechanics just as they had in Oklahoma before the Wall Street types on the East Coast screwed things up for everybody. All they needed was an opportunity, not a movement.
I acknowledge the role that government had in creating my accomplishment, in building the university and schools I attended, and in putting the white line on the road side of highways 99 and 43, so that I could guide myself in the fog. But it was me that put in the real work and me who sacrificed a shitload of family time to raise myself up, and I should always be proud of that singular fact because it both commemorates and celebrates my Okie roots.
But I don't need to hear someone pontificate about it like Henry Fonda (that's who was really talking in that scene), and I don't need to hear someone from New Jersey sing about it either.
New Jersey? Imagine that.