During the last election I was in public. It was an exhausting end to a sad campaign. I felt that nobody wanted to hear news or politics so I had the radio playing some light, old music.
I saw a huge man come in. He had his hair in a sort of mohawk. His black T-shirt was emblazoned with a fluorescent green skull. Several piercings. His visible arms and neck had extensive and old tattoos. He came up to me. The radio was playing George Benson’s Masquerade. This man walked up to me and said, ‘Dave, you listen to some twisted sh—-.’ He seemed intimidated.
I don’t seem to fit in my native culture. I never really did, but the fit is getting worse. We seem to be in a culture of death. [ The church in which I was raised was so sissyish that we didn’t have crucifixes, just crosses. Some of the Catholic statues with open wounds and visible hearts disturbed me. The sight of Santa De Muerte in Los Angeles seemed even more foreign.] Many of those around me have tattoos exhibiting skeletons and skulls. Hoodies that when zipped up cover the face and show a skeleton with eye holes on the eyes of the skull. Death’s-head jewelry. People who equate being tough with dressing the part and a need to demonstrate their rebel status with painful and permanent conformity. When I was young and learned of the Third Reich we were shown the death imagery which had taken over their society, and were told that this was a sign of a sick culture. It was contrasted to the American iconography of the same time. At the time it was a persuasive argument. Now I find myself in a more extreme culture of death here in America.
One may infer that I am cowardly. One would be mistaken. A while ago after I foiled an armed robbery the County attorney asked to talk to me. It seems that I appeared so calm during the robbery that I did not appear threatened. He could not charge the robber with some aspect of the crime if I was not in fear of my life. I had to assure him that, indeed, I was affected by the revolver aimed at my eyes. I just wasn’t stupid enough to panic and run in circles with my hands in the air. My cultural beliefs are a less emotional, more pragmatic nature. To wit, I’ll be damned it an opponent’s battle plan survives contact with me, and I won’t induce predatory behavior by acting as prey. I think this cultural conditioning came through my family, but some may have been programmed by literature. Definitely some of the words to express it came from my reading.
I didn’t fit in the previous phase of my native culture either, but I had more sympathy. Acquaintances and relatives of the cowboy persuasion with practical clothing, indifference to others’ opinions, and a belief that their actions would demonstrate their qualities. I’ve never been a follower of the romance of the American West because I’m too familiar with it. I am not fit for the brawling, drinking, and lack of foresight, but it has manifold virtues as well.
I hear urban people speaking in awe of those spiritual ‘Native Peoples’ who are in touch with nature. Well, first, they mean indigenous or First Nations. And second, to define a people in such imaginary terms is racism to the highest degree. Much like old feminists referred to about putting women on a pedestal. A positive stereotype still denies the humanity of the group. The Cheyenne, to take an example, are not exclusively spiritual or profane. The major difference is a substrate of an old tough, survival based culture. Those who most resemble them are the Cowboy culture. There stands an irony for Urban observers and a truism for eyewitnesses.
The other cultures I grew up with were the railroad people, the oil people, and the farmers. [ Around here a great number of the farmers are a sort of German. Not like you see in war movies, but religious people to whom beer and labor are sacraments.] They all represented productivity, creation. Continuity with their distant relatives. They were not the sort of consumerist wastrels that seem to be populating the cultural consciousness of today.
When I was young I felt that cultures would be territorial as I imagined nations were. I thought if I traveled I would find a people with whom I belonged. I still hope that to be true, but I don’t believe it. The only, poor answer I have is the end of Candide. Let us cultivate our own gardens were we stand.