Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Last American Man

or maybe the next to last.

“Living on the road my friend, is gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron,
Your breath as hard as kerosene.
You weren't your mama's only boy, but her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye,
And sank into your dreams.
Poncho was a bandit boys, his horse was fast as polished steel
He wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel.”

When I heard these lines from the Townes VanZandt tune Poncho & Lefty after I’d finished the Elizabeth Gilbert book about Eustace Conway I thought, hmmm, those lines could be about him. Too early to tell whether the next couplet (about no one hearing his dying words) will be as true or not.

When Eustace showed up in NYC in his buckskins, he was called Daniel-f*cking-Boone. My mother used to say to us, “I don’t know why in the world you all want to live that Daniel Boone life.” You could say I felt a connection.

I guess if I just got down to it, I’d say that you have to read this book. Really. But it is complicated for me because the author is a bigot at the beginning of the book and that horribly irritates me. Examples? She describes Eustace’s neighbors as the “aptly named Hicks clan” and goes through this thing about red necks in SW Virginia not knowing where Maine is when clearly it is that they do not give a sh*t about a man walking from Maine but do care about a man walking to Georgia. I’ve read her other work and she does not engage in such bigotry about Italians, Indians, Balinese, the poverty stricken or uneducated of any area, hell, not even her fairly hated ex-husband . . . just about hillbillies. I am so sick of it being ok to malign hillbillies. Hillbillies are the very last niggers, or at least we are the very last people you can cop derogatory attitudes toward and still be pc and "inclusive". Then too, there are some simple mistakes that irritate me because they show her ignorance in ways that Eustace would understand -- a passive solar office building with room for two work spaces could not possibly be 20 sq. feet (this is like checking out in the supermarket with 3 items that sell for $1/each and the total coming to $13 and you not noticing that something didn’t add up right) but must be 20 feet square. Or that Eustace’s horse is not a Standard Breed but a Standardbred.

So there’s that. Which pretty much disappears after the first one-third of the book. But then in the last one-third of the book she takes on the doctor/counselor role to diagnose our beloved Eustace, to tell us what is wrong with him, when frankly what is wrong with his is just as obvious from his story as what is so right about him. Just tell his goddamn story already.

But, if you can read this book and get past the author, well, Mr. Eustace Conway is a character, a most admirable character. Both perfect and perfectly flawed.

What I really admire about Eustace is that he lives with reality. The author says he’s the only person she knows who doesn’t live in metaphor but is the real deal. Yeah, that. Nature doesn’t say, “let’s reach an agreement here.” With nature, it really is, lots of times, one way or the other. You screw up, you pay the price. I totally get Eustace’s hard-ass-ness. Because nature, and life really, is hard-ass. But life is also forgiving -- like the bread is edible even if it isn’t perfect and at least as this author portrays him, he doesn’t quite get that. You don’t want to try to fillet a squirrel but, you know, maybe you can relax on some of the other stuff.

And maybe there is some problem in talking more about your life than you live it. But considering that most people don’t even have a life, considering that most people pay lip service to tons of things without really living any of it, considering that people are not human if they are not in touch with the earth, I think Eustace’s life says quite a lot.

I am also amused that he seems to have quite the following who don’t like him. That in itself is a testament that he actually stands for something.


Anonymous said...

Just an observation.

I've noticed on other posts your
sensitivity to your locale and it's

Let me assure you while all hill-billies may? BE hick not all hick
are from hills or billies if ya
get my meaning.
I'm from northern Minnesota.farms
towns,woods full of HICKS at least thats what I'm told and told and,you get the picture.I guess were Cold billies,OR.You pick one.
I can sympathize,did you ever see
the movie Fargo.Did it seem to you
that everybody from N. Minn. had
that sing songie lilt in der voice
EVEN the oriental guy!!!! Well you
probably never noticed.Well I was
While I don't believe you can call
derision of hillfolk true die in the wool bigotry don't you think its more classist.Maybe
snobishness.In my mind bigotry denotes an certain antimosity Most often I think silly generalizations are based on ignorance.Although I believe accent
plays a part in appalachia.
EX:In Minn.Finnish Folks or finlanders as there called her.Polish jokes are
all finnish jokes here.
Why you might ask.Here's the best
explaination I ever heard.
When there forfathers
came to this part of the country
None of those smart swedes and norvige could understand then.Soo
by gum you stupid.I must admit I have amused myself at some of my finn friends expense.
FYI=Black jokes were Indian (native

Also just because you heard it before doesn't mean it's PC.
Just remember the difference between genius and stupidity.
Genius has its limit.

I'm just say'in

Friend who enjoys your stuff

CG said...

you may well be entirely correct. I do have my prickles. And I rather respect the "hicks" no matter the flatness of the locale -- a good friend once said the culture of southern Louisiana was a lock like the coalfields and his theory was it was because the communities were small, the subsistence meager, etc -- that there were things in common because of the locale but those things didn't necessarily look the same.

Now, as to classicism, yeah, I think when the friend I graduated form high school with who was from a place called Hoot Owl Holler starts talking about people from WV as incest cases, well, that's purely him being classist (and yes, I did say, and I quote, "well, that's a really nasty thing to say." But I don't give that much leeway to everyone.