"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It’s Hard Being A Liberal

Billy Briles’ mother said that he had inherited his uncle Elmer’s genes, because no matter how much she and her husband tried to channel Billy’s considerable energies and intelligence into right and worthy causes, he always fell off the rails.  No amount of coaxing, cajoling, or serious late-night man-to-man talks could right Billy’s ship.  He had absolutely no interest in helping others, giving back to the community, or taking up his custodial duties as caretaker of the world’s resources.

Billy, in the eyes of his parents, had not a caring, concerned, or progressive bone in his body.  In fact, although they hated to admit it, he was perversely conservative.  Once they caught him about to electrocute a frog with a model train transformer that he had found in the basement of an old hobby shop about to be demolished.  He claimed that the electrocution was part of a science experiment.  Apparently the nervous system of amphibians was particularly responsive to the stimulation of the weak force, and current could be made to flow through animal synapses, through an electronic system of conductors and on-off regulators, and back into the frog in a continuous living-inorganic loop.

His mother, happy that Billy was taking his studies seriously, overlooked the torture of the poor frog, and vowed that she would redouble her efforts at the Animal Rescue League and increase her contributions to the Environmental Defense Fund.  Billy had no real excuse for catapulting small-gauge ball bearings into a bush full of robins except that he wanted to kill them, but his explanation had his still adoring mother wondering.  He was interested in the interface between classic Newtonian physics and computer mapping, he said.  Input, output, trajectory, and kill ratios would be carefully measured to assess performance.  His mother had to admit that his slingshot, made out of surgical tubing, and calibrated using simple GPS settings was ingenious, and once again gave Billy a bye.

Billy did well in high school, but turned down more prestigious Northern universities to go to Okaloochee State in North Arkansas. Okaloochee was far less expensive than Oberlin or Reed, his parents’ first choices, and he could live with his Uncle Elmer.

Billy and Elmer were like two peas in a pod.  Elmer taught his nephew how to hunt and fish, scale and skin, drink, chew tobacco, and chase local pussy.  It was a clear case of nature over nurture.  There was no way that the son of George and Elizabeth Briles should ever have turned out to be the redneck cracker he was becoming.  “I told you”, Elizabeth said to her husband. “There’s nothing we could have done. Thanks to Mendel and Darwin, our boy got far more of your brother Elmer than he got of us”. He and his brother Elmer had indeed gotten a good dose of swamp rat from Granddaddy Filbert’s spunk; and although he hated to admit it, Elmer got all the fun out of Filbert’s DNA.

Elmer was not a thoughtful or considerate sportsman. He let the bigmouths flip and flop around on the bottom of the bass boat gasping for air until they asphyxiated.  He never bothered with a clean shot to the head of a buck in deer season, but just unloaded an automatic clip into him.  He and Billy had independently learned the same lesson: If you fire enough projectiles at a living target, one of them is bound to hit home.  After a few outings he had enough ragged, deer flesh hanging in the meat locker in Aynes to last him through the winter, so after that he hunted for the sheer pleasure of the kill.  

Elmer had been married twice – to women from ‘the housecoat and curler set’ – but tired of marriage, settled into an easy life of ‘paid poontang and loose chone’, black or white, he didn’t care, sometimes one of each.  He worked odd jobs around Aynes, made enough to to pay off his trailer and the electric, showed up at the Adventist Hospital whenever he had a medical problem, never thought twice about running up the bill on someone else’s tab, and spent his money on ‘me, myself, and I’.  

Elmer, like most of the Briles – especially Billy – was not stupid.  He knew that this overall-and-squirrel-meat life was choice not misfortune; and the last place he ever wanted to be was in Bethesda, Maryland with his sanctimonious brother. Up in the mountains he was his own man. He carried guns, chewed tobacco, got drunk, and ate cracker slice. 

Elmer and his brother George were as different as any two branches cut from the same oak could be. George was a committed ‘progressive’, passionate about saving the planet, improving the lot of women, stopping child abuse, eliminating racial injustice, promoting gay rights, and working for world peace.  He was a 24/7 liberal, saw all these separate and diverse issues conflated into one, large, desperate world problem.  There were links between animal cruelty and the death penalty; between the snail darter and rapacious corporations; between capitalist greed and testosterone-fueled male ambition; between clean air, school gardens, and early childhood education.

His liberal on-off switch was never in the ‘off’ position.  He was alert to any offensive innuendo in speech, any casual remark that demeaned women or showed any doubt about global warming.  He was quick to defend any and all black men or promote the queerest combination to come out of the LGBT community.  He attended all women’s conferences and stood in solidarity with his sisters.  He marched on Washington, Wall Street, and the North Dakota fracking fields. He quoted Martin Luther Kind, Susan B. Anthony, and the Dalai Lama.  He was tireless, devoted, and unfailing in his charity and conviction.

He also had no fun whatsoever.  His progressivism had absolutely no give. No liberal hair could be out of place.  His progressive comb and brush had to be placed neatly together on the dresser.  He asked his wife permission to have sex, touched her only gently on her breasts, inserted his member with the greatest of care, and stifled his orgasm so not to interrupt hers.

The problem with all this was – unbeknownst to George – that his wife was screwing around like Lady Godiva. She got rough sex from Jason, 3-hr. sex from William, a little S&M from Henry the mechanic who used timing belts as flogging whips.  George had so bought into the women’s rights thing, that he felt that it was not his place to call out his wife for her multiple infidelities.  “It’s her right to fulfill herself sexually”, he shared with a colleague. “It’s not my place to hold her back”.

Billy Briles eventually had enough of Uncle Elmer.  He loved all the coon-hunting and hanging out, but was restless up in the hills and bored at Okaloochee State.  His parents were glad to see that he straightened himself out on his own, a tribute to his early childhood development and the conquest of will over biological imperatives. 

Their satisfaction was short-lived however, for not only did Billy reform, but did so with a vengeance. He had learned how to cadge and cheat from Uncle Elmer, but his sense of invincibility and the conviction that he possessed an insuperable will, were the real reasons for his quick and surefooted rise in the corporate world.  He had no use for conventional morality, and rebelled against those who used it as a cover for their own mediocrity.  He would rise above the herd, lead and dominate them, and ride them on a never-ending trail of success.

He dismissed his father as a spineless, feminized wuss who had bought into every lame, idealistic progressive dream ever concocted.  His own heroes were Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), Richard III, and Genghis Khan. He became a corporate raider and insatiable Lothario like the fictional Bateman, bought and sold companies like Leo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Gordon Gecko, loved and left hundreds of women, and became as wealthy as Croesus.  He owned properties in New York, St. Tropez, and Gstaad, gambled, lost, and won millions at Monte Carlo. He owned buildings, planes, and entire waterfronts.

There is no comeuppance in the tale of Billy Briles.  He was perfect. His life was charmed, and he deserved every privilege, benefit, and bedtime story he got.  He was a member of the One Percent, and he luxuriated in its bounty.

His father, on the other hand, was dog-collared and taken advantage of by one woman after another – Grace Letelier, the Executive Secretary of the Bethesda Chapter of NOW, berated him in public for his failure to stand up for a transgendered woman/man who was applying for the position of Associate Rector of the United Church of Christ. He was dunned out of the Women Teachers of Maryland meeting for failing to support their boycott of the abusive and retrograde male principal of the Gaithersburg High School.  .

George Briles came home knackered from the office in the evening having been hammered by his female boss and intimidated by the young women associates in his division.  He ran the gantlet set up by his hectoring wife, and finally retreated to his study to make calls for Clean Water and Clean Air.

There is no resolution to the story of the Briles family nor any need for one.  Elizabeth Briles continued her sexual escapades, happy and liberated until she was taken off by breast cancer at 62.  Elmer Briles lived off of the state, Arkansas women, and his mountain buddies and carried on to a ripe old age.  Billy Briles never had a moment’s doubt, a setback from which he didn’t learn, or any obstacle in his path to complete, unalloyed success and happiness. And poor George Briles labored away like Cesar Chavez in liberal vineyards from Pine Ridge to Detroit until he died in his traces.  He was known in progressive circles everywhere.  George hadn’t just talked a good talk, he was on the front lines, in the trenches getting dirty – spattered with the mud thrown up by the horses of storm troopers on the National Mall, bejeweled with the shattered glass of ceilings broken in corporate boardrooms, and black and blue from police truncheons outside of Indian Point and Connecticut Yankee nuclear power stations.

He never had a day of fun till the day he died.  Never one laugh at someone else’s expense, not one off-color joke, not one food fight.  As he saw the noose of conservatism tightening around so many features of American life, his boycotts became imprisoning.  He couldn’t travel below the Mason-Dixon Line because of the rabid racism and residual slavery that still existed there.  He had so divested himself of tainted investments that he barely got by on his meager savings account interest; and even then he was forced to switch banks monthly as one after the other was called out for investments in coal, African ivory, or blood diamonds.  In his very old age what little money he had left was under the mattress in greenbacks  Although he felt guilty handling the money that had passed through the hands of greedy capitalists, union-busters, and robber barons, he knew that he had to live.  Every week shoppers at the local IGA snickered as he counted pennies and helped the checker fill his tattered cloth shopping bag.

George lost touch with his son, Billy, and with it all hopes of a prodigal return. Friends still sent him clippings of Billy at social affairs, ribbon-cuttings, and Caribbean resorts; but he just glanced and tossed. 

There is no moral to this story, except that there is truth to the American Dream, or that you can labor for your entire life for others and then be forgotten once you are pushing up daisies.  Or that living an untamed, wild existence regardless how smarmy and low-class it may seem is really the way to go – have fun on this short shuffle around this mortal coil.  Or get it while you can. Hedonism feels good and no time is wasted checking out sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll for their free-range credentials.

Maybe the only moral of the story is ‘Liberals Have No Fun’; but everyone knows that, and we don’t have to learn it from the Brileses.

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