I thought a few weeks ago about going to Little Rock when I was a kid, where, in that era before alcohol could be sold in restaurants, the cafe du monde chic (or however the grammar would conjugate) was Frankie's Cafeteria. The serving line at that cafeteria rivalled the food of a linen napkin four star restaurant today. I remember vividly how the home-made rolls tasted, but what catches my eye this fine dawn is the way in which they served giant fried Gulf prawns. Each prawn was virtually a meal unto itself, sitting on a small dessert plate. The prawn came in almost a circular size. It was the antithesis of the shrimp truck--this was shellfish respectability personified.
When I was a kid, in Gurdon, Arkansas, the worst sin one could commit was being "stuck up". To show that one perceived any class distinction between one person and another was the worst sin imaginable. As in any town, I grew up with the children of wealthy, store-owning, land-owning folks and with the children of "pulpwood cutters" so poor that the children were not well-taken care of at all, and had siblings in prison. But in all but extreme lapse, "we" (as a schoolyard society) looked down the most on people who looked down on other people. Sometimes, true, the term "stuck up" was used to describe anyone different or unique. But often it served a useful purpose of enforcing humility on people who might otherwise be tempted to crow about material things.
I've come to trust over time this version of "small town middle class morality".
"Middle class morality" takes its hits over time. Some folks imagine that small town provincialism inevitably leads to stifled people. But in my experience, folks who live in towns they believe they are supposed to inhabit for life are some of the least stifled people. I think that the sense of dispossession that some of us feel is the longing that we fit into those lives that others seem to fit so effortlessly.
As an aside, I've always been particularly intrigued by the notion that some have that social liberation is achieved only in the anonymous city. I do know and sometimes enjoy that "I'm in Los Angeles and nobody cares what I do" feeling that
urban life can bring. But I can think of many instances in which people whose lives involved very culturally diverse choices who were easily folded into small town life. I get wary of people who use their silver bullet to shoot their own roots.
I get amused when folks find small town folks "repressed", because in the main, the folks among whom I grew up were the least "repressed" people I could imagine--whether in church on Sunday morning, or in Heaven on Saturday night.
In life, though, I find that it's just so human and understandable to try to sort people. I will forego, if you don't mind, the conventional diatribe about the outlook of dualism that should flow from my electronic pen right about now. My enemy is not really "dualism" (whatever that means--it often seems to change meanings, depending on the debater). Dualism, in fact, serves its purpose for me as one more way of defining the social construct.
But the sorting of people into "shrimp truck" and "fancy prawn" does get old. I miss what I call the "hi, how are yew doin'?" with which I grew up. I mean by this the casual friendship bonds that just being part of a community involved. I remember that story from Mormon history when the locusts ravaged Utah until God (or climactic conditions, or the availability of tasty locust, if there is really any difference) brought seagulls to eat them. Loneliness is just such a pestilential locust.
I don't think that the problem is that people are more misfit than once they were. I grew up with amazingly misfit people who nonetheless by and large got along well together. There were feuds and asynchronies and enmities, of course. But they played out in a culture fabric in which people largely dealt with each other as community members, starting from a common bond.
LiveJournal is, of course, everything I like about a small town. Lately I think I should meet more of my LJ friends, although the nice thing about LJ is that on some levels meetings are irrelevant. As I suspect is the case for most folks, my LJ friends list is much more diverse than my off line acquaintances.
I do not mean to divert into a paean to LJ, though. I'm instead thinking of how when I drive over by Lake Lavon, I pass huge tracts of land with manufactured homes on large lots. When I drive on the road into Garland, I pass numerous tract homes with faded brick facades, built at 1200 square feet,whereas today people prefer 2000+ square feet. I think how I bring attitudes to the way people live, and the mistakes people make, and the choices people choose. I want to purge myself of the inclination to make judgments about things not worthy of judgment.
I think tonight of an evening with candles and interconnection, long ago. My gifts in writing, if any, do not really run to effective description of transportive evenings, so I'll let the imagination create a story where I provide only a little grist. You know, once you get the idea of longing and eye contact and and mutual comfort and half-light, you almost have the whole picture, anyway. But the thing that puzzles me is how judgmental I was when, years later, I learned that the person with whom I used to be involved had made a radically bad subsequent romantic choice. With hindsight, the personal hell to which she consigned herself fit a pattern about which I should have been compassionate. But it seemed to me to be turning down the prawns and buying off the shrimp truck. I don't mean that she turned me down, as I was the one who broke off that relationship. I mean instead that she chose someone her common sense would tell her was wrong. But people often ignore their common sense in matters of the heart. People get so lonely.
The puzzling part, though, is that I would "look down" on her a bit for such a foolish choice. Who was I to disparage someone for falling into a pattern with the "wrong" man? Who appointed me prawn-master? I've made my own bad choices. Other forms of disdain also irritate me. My genealogy is one of dirt farmers and railroad folks. I have no social status from which to peer down on anyone else.
Maybe in life I want to learn not to be "stuck up". I am not saying I want to be entirely non-judgmental. Scriptural injunctions notwithstanding, I am going to be judgmental about soldiers who mug for cameras while humiliating prisoners. I am going to be judgmental about people who have toddlers and then neglect them. I am going to be judgmental about a social service system that can have thousands of kids in foster care, and thousands of folks who might adopt them, but can't seem to link up one with the other in a timely way. I might even be judgmental about people who spam me with e mail ads saying "I have redesigned your website", as if I had asked them to do so.
But I want to be less judgmental about where people live, and how they look, and the non-corrosive choices they make. I want to be a bit more "how are you doing?" and a bit less "I feel isolated".
Maybe that's why I rather want to meet more of my LJ friends. I do not subscribe to the notion that life all takes place in a monitor in my home at dawn.
I also want to buy from the shrimp truck, and buy the fancy golden prawns. I just never want to be "stuck up" again.