Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cabbages and Kings

We got back from our visit with the old vet last night to notice that the dish box's red light was on. One of us had set it to record something or other. I'd been thinking I'd watch the UNC basketball game, an early-season contest with Indiana, once and famously coached by the excitable Bobby Knight, who threw a chair across the court one night after a call went awry. Knight, of course, was a notable Trump supporter and will surely get a job if he wants one in the Ministry of Sport. Bobby Knight, Sports Czar. Has a fine ring to it. Knight can use the money no doubt.

What was being recorded was Ross McElwee's 1986 documentary, "Sherman's March." I decided to just watch that, since I couldn't change the channel anyways without losing the recording. The film has aged well, 30 years in. There is no better portrait of life in the middle-class, white South in the middle of the Reagan era. Like Almondovar, McElwee tells his story almost exclusively through women. Like Homer, he carries us from island episode to island episode, and returns in the end to whence he began. The islands in this case are cultural, not literal. Except for one of them, which is both. The various women he encounters all have their various stories. Some turn out to be religious, others muddled in various stages of romance with various people, sometimes including McElwee. There is a great deal of very particular life. It isn't hard to imagine several of the people in the film voting for Trump for their own personal reasons. There are a few who likely did not vote for Trump, again, for their own reasons. Everyone has their reasons.

When we were driving down the driveway I had the thought that we are, all us ordinary people living our lives, now chum in the water. A lot of the chum voted for the sharks. They thought, perhaps, that sharks being big, impressive animals, there would be some sort of trade off, perhaps gratitude for protection. Some of us chum didn't think that was a good idea. We didn't vote for the sharks. We're all, now, chum in the water.

Lewis Carroll wrote a poem about this over a century ago, this ghastly predicament. Here it is:

"The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done —
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun."

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
If this were only cleared away,'
They said, it would be grand!'

If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,' the Walrus said,
That they could get it clear?'
I doubt it,' said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!'
The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.'

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

The time has come,' the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.'

But wait a bit,' the Oysters cried,
Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!'
No hurry!' said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said,
Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed —
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.'

But not on us!' the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!'
The night is fine,' the Walrus said.
Do you admire the view?

It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
I've had to ask you twice!'

It seems a shame,' the Walrus said,
To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
The butter's spread too thick!'

I weep for you,' the Walrus said:
I deeply sympathize.'
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one."

I'm reminded of the jocular survivalists who make a fairly brief appearance in "Sherman's March." Some guys who look like middle-aged car salesmen have bought some land up in the NC foothills. They're building a redoubt. One of them says, "we just want the government to LEAVE US ALONE." They've stocked up on food, water, and dynamite. At the end of the section on them they're shooting sticks of dynamite, set up on targets a safe distance away, from the comfort of their porch. They have rifles with scopes. They look like old-fashioned hunting rifles. At least there aren't any AR-47s. The spirit of the NRA is there, but not the obscene proliferation of subsequent years. We hadn't even arrived, in 1986, at the First Gulf War. Nobody had heard of Iran-Contra.

I saw this morning that charter airlines are expecting to do big government business in 2017 transporting the undocumented. It is also expected that private prison corporations will experience a big up-tick in business. Oddly, I was hard at work on a stone profile for a fireplace in the home of one of the women in McElwee's film on the morning of 9/11. There was a guy doing tile work in the bathroom upstairs, we were the only two people in the house. Every few minutes there would be new, shocking information coming in on the radio, and we'd yell to each other about it. Finally, after the last plane had hit, we just decided to hang it up and go home. It was too distracting.

The photo at the top of this post is from a wall I built back in the late '80s as the entrance to a development in Carrboro, NC, called Morgan Glen. The development was the project of the son of Charleen Swansea, who also appears in McElwee's film. The wall has weathered nicely over the years since, and I enjoy seeing it if I drive that way home.

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