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Saturday, 19 July 2014

On Model Manliness

I saw a construction crew, contracted for the company for which I work. They were the kind of people one would stereotype as construction worker material. Rough and rowdy, one of them was wearing the misnamed Ten-Gallon Hat, while the others used obscene language, shouted at the top of their lungs. It was like watching a jungle, as wannabe alphas fought for dominance over anyone who happened to wander into their concrete shattered domain.

And that is the proper world for a man, so many have told and recommended to me. That is real man's work.


Working with the mentally and physically ill, we are not always the most civil and proper. We work under stress, end our days feeling that we largely accomplished nothing, and as a means of relief often turn to gallows humor. As it often goes, if you can't laugh in the face of death, whose, then, can you laugh in?

Though it is not the most physically demanding (and what job is nowadays?) it is still taxing and tiring.

Yet, as the perception goes, my work (for men, anyway) is less admirable than others. Construction is where I should be, or in the auto industry, because if I'm not doing something with my hands, or breaking my back (with a hammer in hand, not a weak man that needs to set in his bed) than I am not living up to my manly potential.

This, I think, is another of those North and South, water and dry-land, divides that seem to be at the core of Michiganders and their perception of work and place and life in general.

In the south, a man isn't a man unless he's out breaking his back to bring home the bacon. That is a real man, and a real man is more worthy, more trustworthy, and somehow all around better than those phonies that answer phones or work in law. Smarts breeds distrust. Smart people are also lazy if you're from the southern end. 

When you travel north, a real man is someone who worked his way out of the back breaking, and is now riding the waves of his "well deserved" success. A teacher need not apply, for a man who is a teacher is not ambitious enough. Lawyers get the pass, especially if they hold a fancy public office, or know how to dodge small business taxes. Business men and auto industry white-collar are gold.


I think that we are still caught linking Man with Muscle and Money, no matter how much we don't want to admit it. But the facts are facts. A guy with a shovel is no more or less a man than the guy wheeling a poor old man into a hospital. Base pay does not make a man. Neither does bicep size.

That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table, learning how to stand and write at the same time.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Papa Returns

It was announced that there is going to be another movie next year starring ole Papa--Ernest Hemingway. Not another magical bout into the past a la Midnight in Paris or an adaptation of one of his books, which has always been very close to memoir rather than outright fiction, Papa is a tale of a time in Hemingway's life when he had befriended a young journalist in Cuba. The entire movie is being shot in Cuba, which is a fact that seems to have eclipsed the very basics of the movie itself.

I remain ambivalent about movies about writers. Capote was an excellent look at the man during some of the most interesting years of his career as a novelist and reporter.  On the other hand, The Rum Diary was a messy (at times indulgent) farce, hiding Hunter S. Thompson and his beliefs behind a supposed work of "fiction" and said little or nothing by the time the credits rolled.

My problem is that sometimes the writers tend to not be nearly as interesting as their personas lead us to believe. In the case of Truman Capote, he was an icon, whose social candor was second to none, and whose life was as interesting as he wrote it to be. In Thompson's case--and I am a big fan of his work--he was by-in-large an overly exposed drug addict, and his work suffered for it. His landmark book, Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail '72, chronicled his drug addiction as much as it followed Nixon and Humphrey. And as great as it was to read the insights he had on the candidates of '72, it was equally sad to see his work fall apart because of his numerous addictions. His life, unlike Capote's, can be largely summed up as a man who wrote well for a while but was very inconsistent.

Whether Papa Hemingway is interesting enough to warrant a movie dedicated, not to his life, but to a specific moment closer to the end than the beginning remains to be seen. I suppose that 2015 is just around the corner now anyway.

That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table, getting ready to "pen" the next great American novel--then maybe a bar fight.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

People in a Strange Place

Apartments are mostly the same. No matter how many you have been to, the creeping sensation of corporate sameness is never far away. The walls will always be white--or off-white, but who can really tell the difference? The carpet is nice but not too nice. And the layout will vary little. With two bedrooms and the obligatory kitchen, the only great surprise will be whether or not there is a hallway.

Yet, like a Woody Allen protagonist, when in another's apartment for a prolonged period of time--even if I had been there repeatedly on other, shorter occasions--I grow uneasy and neurotic. I take to pacing, or following Melissa from room to room, like a lost puppy or a shadow. In every corner I think of how my stuff would fit in the space; where might my "work" area (e.g. my typewriters and pens and pencils) be?

"Will you stop following me?" Melissa asks, as she moved about the kitchen barely large enough to warrant steps between the sink and stove, even when cooking.

"I can't! I don't know what to do." I look around the apartment. 
"I don't know what to do in here."

"Don't do anything. Just relax."

"I can't! I need my stuff. I've got nothing here."

I have people, though, of a very precious nature. There is Melissa my fiance and Zander my son. He is off in the other room cuddling with a stuffed toy. But we are still people in a strange place, when we long to be in a home.