Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Normal Town

I used to live in Normaltown. In fact, I lived on Normal Avenue, in a house that dated from the 19th century and was owned by a woman whose avarice was the only quality that exceeded her vanity. She bilked me out of about a thousand dollars in rent, in the end, and I endured much there. Normaltown meant having half the floor devoted to a woman who got her 12 year old son only when his father was in prison, so I kept hoping that he would go straight. This child loved to roll a skateboard across the wooden porch in front to make my dog bark, and he would pound on my front window, when he thought I wasn't home, to torture my dog. It meant a cranky man upstairs who could only have downward thrusting sex with his old lady.

We should not dwell too often among the normal, for they are a nasty group, as I learned. They were, however, peppered with generations that sported faces of normality past. There was a grandmother nearby who was called Goody. Her grandchildren were famous, and she was sweet -- adopting neighborhood strays. I cannot imagine her having to confront the blind, indifferent killer of AIDS when it struck down one of her beloveds, and I do not wish to.

The letter carrier violated the Sabbath?
 My colleagues there, in Athens, were pretty normal, too. They were a collation rather than collection of hipsters and haircuts that could be cowed fairly easily, but they drove down knowledge as if it were a secret lover or a conquest. Honestly, I had a feeling that at any moment one of them would give another a swirlie. Nevertheless, they had wit enough, betimes, especially in service to cruelty. They were, as I say, collated, as they were each indexed, marked at the corners and arrayed orthogonally. Each had feet planted against the root of the middle class, and the attitudes and angles each particular one assumed from that base simply made a fuzzy orange.

Beside a cliff made of kudzu, or an ocean wave of kudzu stopped for a moment while you're looking, only to crash over house, road, car, and stream as soon as you look away, inflicts a sort of reality on the landscape. REM's first album had come out, and people around the country were wondering what the vines on the back of "Murmur" were. Whatever the intention of the band or art director on the album, the effect I got of the design was that there was a suffocation in the South. All during that time, I agreed with the theme. It was a very Harry Crews point of view -- this idea that something essential, or essentially wicked, was being starved of breath beneath what was quaintly termed southern culture. It was fashionable to wonder what southern culture would be in a few years, too, since we were already hip to the K-Marting of our land and the malls of the city. I regard such talk as blather now.

What I was feeling, anyway, was intimidation. The bigness of the inexorable is always present. It is never easy to shake, either. If the kudzu doesn't shake your confidence, then the river might. The small thing that, unattended, takes on its own way and dwarfs all your work is real in a way that eternal law is real.

I was also feeling the smallness of Normaltown. The expectation that of course you would scam your renters, if you could was normal. I knew it then, and the years have simply increased the font. In the Bronx, the buffet steakhouses had plaques up with lists of rules about how far away people had to stand from one another, how many pockets could be on their coats, etc., all because a buffet was of course a thing to scam. The phone company has online bill paying, of course so that they could close all their regional offices and make the mailed-in bills due at offices as far from the customer as possible so as to increase late fees. They made the online bill pay instructions small and hard to follow of course to trip up older customers because it's normal to maximize "profits" in late fees.

What's WRONG with me, if I don't learn to rip off every company I can? I should sign up for the free six months and then change to the next company after that. It's normal.

I am not better than the normal. In fact, their cars are not broken and dangerous. They do not worry about surviving until tomorrow for the paycheck as much as I do. I may be too smart to have an adjustable rate mortgage, but I also have no mortgage at all. My decade of not having to worry about every day's totals has never come, and it never will, because I do not have the normal preoccupation every day of finding a way to screw up and over. It is not normal to wake up and hear grinding from a disappeared ball joint.

I do not like Normaltown and its mania. When we were short of money recently, I sold my 24k gold class ring. I needed $100, and so I asked for it. The pawn broker agreed in a flash. Gold fixed at $1,800 an ounce. How weird was I being? Well, to even blame myself for not having gotten the maximum is to admit that I was seeking a profit, that I was buying and selling and that the trafficking in misery and memory is legitimate. I do not. I do not accept that normal.

I wish, before I had moved away, that I had planted kudzu in the backyard.