Monday, January 21, 2013

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I have this elderly friend--I'll call her Gladys--who is 90. Back when she was a spry 78, she worked for us for a time as a baby nurse right after our youngest was born, and I will love her forever if for no other reason than the memory of the love she lavished on my little girl. Gladys was with us until it was painfully apparent that she could not meet the needs of a growing toddler, and we have stayed in touch ever since. She lives alone, on Social Security, with her cat, who I will call Big Bastard.

The Lord broke the mold when he made Big Bastard. His feet are the size of our beagle's paws, he could make three of any ordinary house cat, and when he settles down on the braided rug in Glady's living room, he looks like a lion, surveying his kingdom on the veldt. He is a Maine Coon, and like most Maine Coons he is a long-hair, which would make him hard to groom even if he were a small kitty, which he is not. Consequently, Big Bastard needs to go to a groomer's---and this is where this ordeal begins.

Before Christmas, I called the local Petsmart and said I had this monster cat who needed to come in. Somebody who didn't know what they were talking about told me it could be handled on a walk-in basis. So one morning I load up the cat carrier, drive to Glady's house, install her in the front seat and BB in the back seat, and off we go to Petsmart--only to be told that we'd have to come back because the cat groomer wasn't in until 3 p.m. Ooookay. So last week, we made Try #2. This time I made an appointment, and showed up at Gladys's house with the cat carrier and, on my way in with this large item, I managed to break a glass pane in the bottom part of her metal exterior door. "I'll fix it later," I tell Gladys, and we spend the next 15 minutes cornering Big Bastard, who by now has figured out what this is all about, and cramming His Nibs into the carrier. Grooming accomplished--you could have knitted three afghans with what they shaved off that cat--I dropped off Gladys and BB and headed to Home Depot. Did they sell replacement panels for metal exterior doors? No, they did not. I could, however, buy a whole new door, for a mere $100.

Not doing that. So I do some online searching, which doesn't turn up what I want, and a couple of days later, I head out to a local salvage place, thinking I will get this little chore done lickety split, and one of Bowie's Finest gives me a friendly wave on my way. How nice of that sweet police officer! I think, just before it dawns on me that he has a speed camera and he is not waving to be friendly. I get a warning for doing 45 in a 30 mph zone--the guy he'd pulled over just before me, he said, was going 90--and I am informed that I can a) pay the fine and get one point on my license or b) go down to the county courthouse and tell the judge in person how really, really sorry I am, and I will get no points and probably a $6 fine or something. Wonderful. So I continue on my way to the salvage place and find a replacement door for $25, just as I knew I would, and get all ready to pay for it and take it home....when I see a sign saying, "Customers load their own merchandise." Well, I can't pick up this door; it's heavy, and I've got back and neck problems already. So I put a hold on it and come home, only to find the phone is ringing and Gladys is on the other end saying she just talked to a guy at Home Depot and he swore to her that he can put glass in that thing for $50 and would I please just go over there and get it taken care of. (She is being antsy and a little anxious, as 90-year-old ladies who live alone tend to be.)

Okay. So the next day, which would be Saturday, I get in the car AGAIN with this blasted metal frame with the jagged glass stuck in it and go to Home Depot, and just as I suspected, the people in the door department give me this fish-eyed look that says, "Whaaaat?" when I explain my mission. Nope, they do not do glass replacement. Nope, they never talked to any old lady. What I should do, they say, it take this thing down to a place about five miles down the road, because they will have what I want. I start to ask why they didn't tell me this the FIRST time I was there, but whatever. Back to the car. Head up the road to look for this place, and wander around for 15 minutes because it's in a strip mall that is hardly visible from the main road--but at last, at LAST I find it. I pull in, go to the back and get my metal frame with the jagged glass still in it, march up to the door of this place and---it's closed. On a SATURDAY, which is the day you might expect a lot of people to be running errands of this nature. It closed at noon, approximately 30 minutes before I got there. At this point, I get back in the car, roll up the windows, and scream.

So let us review: two trips to Petsmart, two trips to Home Depot, one hour of Internet sleuthing, five or six phone calls, one speeding ticket, one trip to a salvage store, one prospective trip to see the folks at the county courthouse and one expedition to a glass replacement store that for some mysterious reason is not open on Saturday afternoons. And I still have this godddamn metal frame with the jagged glass in the back of my car. And the phone is ringing. I'm pretty sure it's Gladys.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The New Old Civil War

Andrew O'Hehir over at Salon thinks that the South has risen again, like a zombie from the grave: 

"Even though it’s a truism of American public discourse that the Civil War never ended, it’s also literally true. We’re still reaping the whirlwind from that long-ago conflict, and now we face a new Civil War, one focused on divisive political issues of the 21st century – most notably the rights and liberties of women and LGBT people – but rooted in toxic rhetoric and ideas inherited from the 19th century....Our new Civil War is infused with the undead spirit of the old one and waged by a rebellious neo-Confederacy rooted in the states of the Old South, but its influence can be felt, as with the pro-slavery forces of the 1860s, in every part of the country."

Well, yeah. And it's also true that the forces of the 21st century culture wars shape up along lines that bear more than a vague similarity to the Rebel-Yankee lines of 150 years ago, and that some of the issues--states' rights, generalized resistance to Washington, claims of a special relationship with the Almighty--are the same. 

So far, so good. But where Mr. O'Hehir loses me is when he lets fly the standard accusation that liberals of my ilk always dredge up: that what conservatives are all about is finding a convenient rationale for bigotry. Bigotry, like poverty, will always be with us--but just as racism was never the sum total of all things Southern, even in the 19th century, bigotry is not the sum total of all things Southern/conservative today. 

What I see going on is a war between two ways of thinking about society. One is communitarian. Its highest values are economic justice and a particular type of personal autonomy: not freedom from them gol-durned bureaucrats in Washington, but freedom from sanctimonious judgments from the neighbors. The other is an authoritarian, deeply religious and class-based, and its highest values are social order and freedom from government restrictions. I grew up in a Southern culture steeped in the latter tradition, and instinctively migrated to the former once I was old enough to draw my own conclusions about things. 

But here's a funny thing: the culture I knew growing up was deeply communitarian in a lot of ways--far more neighborly and friendly than life in these so-called enclaves of liberal tolerance I live in today--and the liberal tradition I count myself a member of today is every bit as bigoted about conservatives in general, and Southerners in particular, as any Klansman of old. The comments to O'Hehir's piece start out this way: "The South is so screwed in the head...." and end with this: "There is something wrong down here." No, I'd say there's something wrong all over.