Rednecks, Savannah, Scotch, Manhattan

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The Concise Oxford English Dictionary says something like: An uneducated White living in the southern US, esp., one holding reactionary political views.

From Dictionary.com:

Main Entry: redĚneck
Pronunciation: 'red-"nek
Function: noun
Date: 1830
1 sometimes disparaging : a white member of the Southern rural laboring class
2 often disparaging : a person whose behavior and opinions are similar to those attributed to rednecks

Unhelpfully 'rednecks' takes you back to the main entry. So the opinions are never defined (unless you pay for access to the unabridged). Reasonable to think that those opinions aren't cosmopolitan.

A few entries back I used the phrase redneck sodomites as an esp. disparaging description of the large class of dull, conservative homos (whose days I hope have been enriched by the words of Rick Santorum). Matt, who identifies with the word redneck, demurred.

I hope I know Matt well enough to know he's not one of those silly folks waving the Confederate Flag trying to reclaim a glorious Southern Heritage. Having grown up in Savannah, GA I saw the southern heritage biz before it went big-time. Few things make me feel more impatient than a bunch of successful white men who want to get into the national sport of claiming to be picked on, marginalized, a minority as it were.

I can't argue with Matt. We all attach personal meaning to individual words. I've annoyed redwill about this to probably the limit of his patience. Idiolect, a personal vocabulary, is an irresistible pleasure. But you can't expect other people to recapitulate your experiences. In conversations with folks who haven't known you with, say, the informed intimacy Gordon knows me you've got to let the dictionary rule. A tendentious point I feel like an ass for having raised but now I can move on.

Not knowing Matt that well I have to write gingerly. "ů having come from the Ozark mountains of northern Arkansas--a wholly out-of-this-world existence," is Matt's summary of his early years. Certainly sounds like a redneck upbringing. However much he might fart, belch and drink beer (I see a floor littered with beer boxes here - you can probably track how well I pace my beer by the coherence of my journal entries) my guess would be that Matt's attachment to the word redneck isn't merely an issue of historical truth.

Surrounded by middling white-collar workers and pretentious folks who perhaps mock his thick Arkansas accent his redneck identity is a source of strength. Self-definition is strength. If you feel an outsider, apart from those about you the sources of who you are important parts of your arsenal for coping with the pedestrian people daily life is too well supplied with.

I didn't really want to write about Matt. I wanted to write about me.

A Manhattan skyline and a glass of scotch in my hand; I was no older than nine when that image was in my mind. Where could it have come from? I was the child of a man and woman who would forever hover between white-collar and white trash.

Sitting in the Avon Theater in downtown Savannah seeing a trailer for a Jack Lemmon movie, if it was How to Murder Your Wife I'd've been eleven. It seemed exotic, suggested something I wanted to know about. I never saw the movie. I did see Pillow Talk, I didn't understand the sex comedy but it has been a favorite movie for decades. A little boy in Savannah wanted to become a 'sophisticated' New Yorker.

(The movies were pretty, the homes, people, cars. They carried themselves with ease. But then, even though Anne Rice would spoil vampires, I certainly wanted to be like Christopher Lee's Dracula, separate, superior, preying on the ordinary people.)

As I grew up I became very mannered, I'd incline my head, open the door, give you my seat on the bus, ask strangers questions with affected apology. I doubt I knew I wanted to be a suave urbanite. As it imperceptibly shifted through the years I didn't know that I wanted to be an aristocrat or at least someone that Bertie Wooster would call strictly upper crust.

The urge to stand apart and above is commonplace for the bright and tender. Eventually it expresses itself in things like punk (prole as aristocracy) or insufferable prissiness.

My hometown has never forgotten that it was a founding colonial city. Back then, probably now, there was an abundance of pretensions to politesse and gentility. Through the years I've assumed that Savannah's special delusions had seeped into me. Maybe it was just images from movies. Or a mix. The honest recovery of so much of your past is a real pisser.

By my early teens I'd pretty much put myself in opposition to the billions of homo saps I shared the world with. Maybe I was smarter than most of the people around me, maybe I felt nothing in common with them but it was still just teen angst.

But I have to wonder about the nine-year-old boy with a glass of scotch. Thinking back I don't remember a feeling of what shrinks call alienation. Seemed like a routine early childhood.

While I've assumed the night my father knocked my mamma's teeth out was a definining moment in my life I've tended to think of it as a symbol of the estrangement from him, from masculinity that would ramify through my future.

That instant of demonic violence may have been the moment I first wanted to escape my life. I hate to being reduced to something so absurdly simple.

Since I'd still climb in bed and sleep between them my hate had yet to be born. But my earliest memories of Big Mack are of him being harsh to me. (Including the whipping that would give me a taste for S&M.) Mostly he was absent until my mid-teens when he seemed an intrusion.

Damn I'm still not getting to rednecks. The relatives who were southern poor were impoverished. Aside from lacking money their lives lacked beauty, intelligence and dignity. The same was true of the illiterates and half-wits in Savannah Gardens the housing project we lived in for a time.

Guess I'll never warm to the word redneck. But I do like honky-tonk and think Hank Williams (the first one, now there are three) one of the greatest of all 20th century popular musicians).

(This weblog is simulcast on Live Journal.)

Your feelings?

Please share your feelings about Rednecks, Savannah, Scotch, Manhattan.
Thanks,
Richard

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