Daily Archives: June 22, 2004

Maine Line

OK OK, so I’m not the most organized guy in the world, so sue me. But at least I saved the best for last.

And I did, too. I stumbled across this blog last week sometime when I was looking for the old Maine Progressive Worker’s Party (don’t ask) and was immediately hooked. Maine Line (I know, bad title) is brand new–only a couple of weeks old–and written by a guy in north-central Maine named Emmett who says it’s a summer project for his creative writing class. It’s a public blog, though, either because he didn’t know how to make it private or because he didn’t give a damn if it was or not. I’m guessing the latter because that’s what kind of guy he is.

Emmett is in his 30’s and just decided to go back to school (an inheritance made it possible).

See, Aunt Flo allowed for 5 years to get my degree (she knew how slow I am, she used to say, “Emmett–” that’s my name– “Emmett, you got a mouth like a rusty gate hinge, always swingin’ back and forth, back and forth, despite all efforts to keep it shut, but for all the yappin’ you do, you ain’t got a helluva lot to say that’s worth stayin’ awake long enough to hear it. You got a underdeveloped mind, boy, like a green tomato, and while green tomatoes is good for cannin’ piccalilli, it’s useless on a growed man.” She talked like that, my Aunt Flo did, and I’m not saying she was wrong. She was a smart old fart, my Aunt Flo)….

In true Maine style, since the inheritance allowed $15K/yr for school tuition, he signed up with an online university (he doesn’t say which one) for $5K/yr and he’s living off the rest as a sort of semi-permanent paid vacation, though it seems he has to buy books for his classes. Here he is on re-reading The Great Gatsby for his English class.

I had to read The Great Gatsby in school and I thought that had to be just about one of the dumbest books I ever read in my life, and what was the big deal with the damn lamp on the dock? Hell, every dock has some kinda light because otherwise you’ll smack your boat right into the damn thing at night because you can’t see what you’re doing. I was kinda literal when I was in high school, I guess, like them people in church who think Jonah actually got swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it. I’ve seen whales, brother, up close, and if that ain’t the grandaddy of all fish stories, I don’t know what is. You go down a whale’s gullet, you’re gonna last about long enough to think, “Damn, I’m in a whale’s gullet,” and that’ll be it for you, pal. But this time, I don’t know, it made more sense to me. Like the light meant more than it was just a light. Something. I wasn’t sure what but it seemed like that light stood in for everything he ever wanted, everything he ever dreamed about when he was hustling the streets for the mooch to buy his way into “society”. I know about that dream, we all have it when we’re young, and the poorer you are the bigger that dream gets.

The whole blog is like that, a mix of intentional–and unintentional–jokes and the first stirrings of legitimate thought. He explains why he took up his aunt’s offer this way:

[A] few years ago when we had the funeral for Mike Bonin when that oak shivereed right up the middle and fell on him before he knew what hit him, I said to myself then, “Emmett, you’re not going out that way. Better crushed like a bug by a semi on the state highway or drowned in a river like a bagful of cats than to have some damn tree land on top of you and smash your skull like a watermelon or have some damn saw go apeshit and whack both of your legs off at the knee.” I said that to myself and I meant it. You would too if you seen what that damn tree did to Mike. Brains look like a sort of sick gray jelly when they get spread all over a hillside, gray jelly splattered with red sauce. Did you know that? No sir, don’t wanna go that way. I got plans, and living past my 40th birthday (which ain’t that far off, now I come to think of it) is a big part of them.

So he’s struggling, like a lot of us, to escape the life he was born into by taking a chance on something better. In the meantime, under instructions from his writing teacher, he writes discursively about his life and the people around him and the town he lives in.

# On a newcomer’s disastrous encolunter with a bear:

Peter went to dancing around and waving his arms and yelling, “Shoo! Shoo!” in this really high voice like a girl (which for some reason he thought would be more terrifying to the bear than his usual voice which is kind of squeaky and cracks like a thunderbolt every once in a while; I told him, “No, Pete, you should have stuck with your regular voice,” but he didn’t think that was funny), that bear just sort of cocked its head at him and narrowed its eyes and if I’d been there I would have known what it was thinking, it was thinking, “It’s true I just had breakfast but at some point I’m gonna be wanting lunch.”

Sometimes I think they oughta make people like Pete take a test before they let them live someplace like Wilbur. Seems like the least they could do.

# On the time the Postmistress lost the mail:

[I]t was three weeks before them circulars got delivered, by which time the sales they advertised was over and Amy had to listen to a lot of bellyaching from people who were sore that they missed getting their permanent waves at 12% off. Mrs. Pinkerman wanted Amy to pay her the difference right out of her own pocket but Amy says it was a “act of god” that she lost that key and she didn’t consider herself financially responsible for god’s goofing around. Of course the other thing Andy [Amy’s husband–M] says about her is she’s as tight with a dime as she is with a dollar and she’s as tight with a dollar as a virgin clutching her panties on Prom Night. That’s tight.

# On school:

What school was, school was like this jail where you had to go even when you hadn’t done nothing wrong, that’s what I never got about it. “Well”, the grown-ups would say, “it’s for your own good.” Which is exactly the same damn thing they said when they whipped you for forgetting to take the trash down to the road or skipping school. And that’s another thing–skipping school. I used to skip, and what’d they do? They’d suspend me–give me three days off from school. That never made no sense to me at all and still don’t. One time I said that to the Principal, Mr. Leduc (The Duck, we used to call him behind his back), I said, “Mr. Leduc, I don’t get this. I skipped school so as punishment you’re gonna order me to skip more school?” That got him mad….

I have to admit, I love this thing. It has a charming retro quality about it that reminds me of all the people I grew up with in New Hampshire, and there’s something about the way he keeps forgetting what he was saying and goes off on these long, pointless tangents that’s as familiar as the smell of my mother’s home-made bread in the oven. I grew up with these guys, and that’s just what they sound like, and that’s just how they think. It’s like being home again, in all its comfortable isolation from the rest of the world and its in-bred attitudes, not all of which are either funny or positive (his father was a drunk, and from the sound of it, a mean drunk).

There’s no telling how long this thing will last, maybe for the summer, maybe until he gets bored with it, so I’d get over there before it disappears. If you’ve ever lived in rural NE, you’ll recognize it immediately; if you haven’t, you’ll get a real taste of what it used to be like–and still is, I guess, if you go far enough north. But whether you have or haven’t, this is a fun read.

Really Bad News for Bush

The Bush/Rove campaign machine has targeted–and is relying heavily–on the fundamentalist evangelical vote coming out heavy in November and voting for them as a block, but this week the National Association of Evangelicals punched a hole in that assumption by endorsing govt’s responsibility in caring for the poor and in being an environmental steward, and suggested strongly that evangelicals shouldn’t be so knee-jerk about their political commitments.

Steeped in biblical morality and evangelical scholarship, the framework for public engagement could change how the estimated 30 million evangelicals in this country are viewed by liberals and conservatives alike.It affirms a religiously based commitment to government protections for the poor, the sick and disabled, including fair wages, healthcare, nutrition and education. It declares that Christians have a “sacred responsibility” to protect the environment.

But it also hews closely to a traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of families, opposition to homosexual marriage and “social evils” such as alcohol, drugs, abortion and the use of human embryos for stem-cell research. It reaffirms a commitment to religious freedom at home and abroad.

In the midst of a presidential election year, war and terrorism, the framework says Christians in their devotion to country “must be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism.” In domestic politics, evangelicals “must guard against over-identifying Christian social goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature.”

“This is a maturing of the evangelical public mind,” said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, one of the nation’s principal evangelical schools. “Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party — and that’s been traditionally the Republicans — it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful.”

This could have enormous consequences between now and November, no doubt, but even more important in my mind is its recognition and rejection of the Christian theocratic movement that has been using many of these evangelical churches as launching pads–a workable power-base–in their efforts to force America to become a Christian nation with a Christian govt run by Christian ministers using Biblical law rather than the Constitution.

Christian Reconstructionists long ago wrote off the mainstream Protestant sects, but they assumed–and acted as if–evangelicals would support them without much thinking about it. Two of the strongest Christian theocrats with the largest followings–Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–have been insisting for years that evangelicals were in agreement with them and that they represented the entire movement. It must have been a shock to discover that their encroachment on mainstream evangelical territory had been denounced by the very people they claim to represent.

One of the NAE’s most heartening statements is aimed directly at the Robertson/Falwell/Randall Terry end of the spectrum.

[U]nder the new public engagement framework, evangelicals may find themselves sometimes at odds with political allies in the culture wars that have buffeted the country for two decades. Genuflecting to political realism, the new framework calls on evangelicals to seek to work with whom they disagree in common cause. The framework also recognizes that in the give and take of political compromise, they may frequently have to settle for “half a loaf.”

This is an explicit rejection of the growing radical right-wing Christian policy of refusing even to talk to its opposition on the grounds that anyone who disagrees with them is the spawn of Satan promoting his agenda and can therefore have nothing to say that a god-fearing Christian should listen to. While Falwell has at least ‘genuflected’ toward the need to ‘open a dialogue’ with the Enemy, though he avoids doing it himself, Robertson and his ilk have consistently denounced those who would compromise their definition of ‘Christian values’, and their views have been gaining political ground. Tom DeLay, who never loses an opportunity to expound on his born-again evangelical roots, has used the House rules to bar Democrats from House conferences and done everything else he can think of to make them so marginal as to be irrelevant to the governing process. As a practicing evangelical, he would now have to revise that strategy and start consulting them on upcoming bills and otherwise treating them as actual members of the House of Representatives. (Don’t hold your breath ’til he does it, though.)

This is the most encouraging sign I’ve seen in years that, as a core group, the evangelicals are not going to allow themselves to continue to be used as CR cannon-fodder without at least discussing if that’s how they want to end up. It’s even more encouraging that they have reaffirmed the Sermon on the Mount–the basis for traditional Christian attitudes toward society’s weak links–as a ‘core Christian value’ and explicitly identified the environment as a Chrsitian concern, something that’s been missing the last twenty years or so.

It’s equally encouraging that nowhere in this document will you find the power of corporations as surrogates of god affirmed–or even mentioned.