I went through a strange stage in my 20′s.
It wasn’t sexual or perverse, or even dangerous. It was definitely not expensive.
I really, really, really, became absorbed in the imagery and cultural mythology of the American South.
It began, for me, in a college American history course. General Ed crap that caught my eye which is what General Ed is designed to do, I suppose, and I took it and ran.
The Civil War was the draw and I was spellbound by stories and Brady-ian images of the 19th Century national family feud which ripped this country apart at the seams. Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant and Stonewall Jackson…there was a riveting and long-dead cast of tragic, glorious characters and faint photographic faces. Lore of deadly, blood-washed battles. The nuanced and horrific tales of a dastardly war and its relentless gutting of the young nation.
Of course, it followed that I also took great interest in the unfolding cultural phenomena that was the American South. The Reconstruction, slavery, the deeply imbued racism that still stirs in Dixie’s hornet nest, and the legendary geographical culture that has found itself on the receiving end of an anathema from the “sophisticated” urban mentalities of the modern clerisy coastal class.
I even took great interest in Southern literature. Most of the greatest American literature found its roots in the South. The South was a land of stories and endless tragedy.
It was America without American sensibilities.
I loved it!
For a period in my 20′s, I read and studied everything Southern. I fancied myself a Southerner at heart. I even bought a ridiculous belt that was stamped its entire length with distressed, multicolored indentations of the Confederate flag. In 1985, this didn’t seem such a big deal. Now, that flag represents everything that must be quelled and defeated by the same coastal class that delights in denigrating the South while simultaneously appeasing and soothing the delicate sensibilities of a society that demands bland subjugation to avoidance of all conflict.
Perhaps this is why I found such communion with the South.
A little ol’ Mexican boy from East Los Angeles…what the hell could he possibly care about Dixie?
I fell for the languid, soulful entropy of a land that was steeped in its own ill-fated rules of death.
I admired the South’s pitiless acceleration toward the pursuit of a triumph that could never live in the face of Eastern, global elites, a moneyed class that would forever subvert this nation’s free will to the expediencies of profit and avarice and nepotistic pretensions.
My Southern fixation had nothing to do with wars or slavery or mint juleps. It had everything to do with that aggravating sense of manipulated alienation.
In 1984, I took my 1974 Ford Maverick up to about 105 mph on the northbound Glendale freeway here in Los Angeles. That piece of crap had no business going over 60, much less triple digits. An LAPD patrol car chased my ass down. LAPD never makes freeway traffic stops. I pulled over and the cop walked up and asked me if I knew how fast I was going, and for my car registration. I leaned over to pull it from my glove compartment and my concert jersey (not sure the band) rode up and my Confederate belt was exposed and I wondered at the time what this White LAPD cop could possibly have made of a mustachioed Mexican kid driving 100 in such an old clunker with such a ridiculous belt. I apologized and owed up to what I did. “Yeah, I was driving too fast, sorry,” and handed him the paper. Once everything was run and cleared, he told me to drive carefully and let me go without writing me a ticket.
I’m convinced he let me go because of that belt. Not because he felt a kinship or anything stupid like that. It wasn’t a Southern thing, at all. It was probably for embarrassment, the sort I feel when recalling this story.