Monday, July 31, 2006

Inner Redneck Wars

Lately, I have observed the following: When surrounded by hard-core hippies, I feel like a redneck. When shoulder-to-shoulder with hard-core rednecks, I feel like a hippie. I'm a spy in my own country.

Exhibit A: Last summer, I visited a childhood friend on her ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She hosted a huge BBQ and invited many friends, a large proportion of them being Secret Service agents for VP Darth Cheney. Seems he needs a federal entourage when he goes fishing and hunting in the area. So, there I am, wearing my boots and my cowgirl hat and by all appearances, I am one of them. They start talking shop – where Dick hunts, his favorite fishing spot, his daily habits, etc. I nod, laugh, drink beer and think to myself, 'Wow, if they only knew the depth of my hatred for this man. Just one quick background check and these stories would cease.'

Occasionally, I take a step back and see that I'm a walking (and often napping) contradiction. I am a sucker for all things steeped in Western culture – cowboys, horses, Native Americans, cacti, guns, campfires, leather, dirt and most country music that does NOT come out of Nashville. (Honestly, I could not pick Tim McGraw/Faith Hill out of a line-up – all I know is that they seem to be King and Queen of the McCountry Prom – light years away from Willie, Johnny, Merle and Ramblin' Jack.) Years ago, a staunch New Yorker I dated once told me, "You seem very … very … Western." Coming from a life-long Manhattan-ite, it sounded derisive but I now believe he was observing something so obvious, I hadn't yet recognized it.

I pondered this last Saturday morning while listening to Red Red Meat sing "Redneck Inside of Me." I then reached for the Emmylou shrine atop the TV and grabbed my cowgirl hat, once again. I was heading north to Cheyenne, Wyoming to attend one of the nation's oldest and most beloved rodeos, Frontier Days, known as 'the Daddy of 'em all' or more simply, as 'the Daddy.' I was so excited, like a five-year-old on Christmas morning.

Walking through the dusty parking lot, we passed trucks and SUVs sporting telltale bumper stickers: 'Bush/Cheney '04,' 'W,' 'United We Stand', 'These Colors Don't Run' and lots of magnetic yellow 'We Support Our Troops' ribbon decals – the most hypocritical of all. They always seem to be plastered on the biggest gas guzzlers as if to say, "My car runs jist great on yer blood, thanks, ya'll! Keep it coming, that'll git 'er done!"

Okay, this is what I'm getting at. As much as I love to consume the 'redneck' culture, I cannot stomach the politics, not even a little. On the other hand, I abhor liberal whinings that have given the Bushies power to begin with. Watching the calf roping event at the rodeo, a friend commented that she felt sorry for the cow. I felt compelled to point out that she possessed no such sympathy when hungrily downing beef brisket 20 minutes prior. This is what is annoying about liberals – caring only when convenient.

Anyone who knows me well knows of my longstanding crush on Teddy Roosevelt (that's me with a look-a-like at the SASS 'End of Trails.') The Edmund Morris biographies fueled the fire but of course, it was that famous quote, "I never would have been President had it not been for my experiences in North Dakota," that truly won me over. Of course, the lively TR action figure given to me by my equally grumpy pal, Fang, keeps the daily love alive. Let's put it this way, when I joined the burlesque dance troupe, The Devil-ettes, and needed to pick a character name, there was no question … The Rough Rider. ("Oh, you mean like the condom?" the girls asked, hopefully.)

TR is responsible for a big chunk of my American pride; he represents an era when leaders said what they meant, meant what they said and didn't pander to anyone – not even the American public. No matter that he was born in New York, TR is my favorite cowboy and harkens to a time not only when the nation's leaders had experience on the battlefield but they had good aim. They did not do coke and blow off their military obligations, nor did they mistake their best friends for quail. The lying pansies currently running the country and stewing the cauldron of WWIII make me bitter about the timing of my own birth.

Sadly, I've come no closer to answering my own question here and the self-inquiries only mount: How can I love cowboys and loathe the drawling Texan in office? How can I admire the confident, kick-ass attitude of the West and find shame in America's international behavior? How can I long for a fancy revolver while crying over violence on the battlefield? How can I long to jump into the cast of "Deadwood" all the while knowing the era was pure hell for women? Certainly, I am not the only one of my kind. At the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park, I recall taking great comfort in watching country singer John Prine angrily state in his own twang, "Let me be clear: This man does NOT speak for all Texans." This, of course, was many years before any Dixie Chick made a peep.

As a global traveler, I am always aware how young my country is – like a young Marine, pumped up and ready to kick some ass, unaware that thousands of civilizations have come and gone, conquered, been conquered and risen again before we were even born. No clue and worse, no interest. Who cares if the Arabs invented math, fer chrissakes, let's kick some ass!!!!!

I feel this familiar rage rise within me at the rodeo when I come across a massive U.S. Army recruitment stand, snug between the Budweiser Clydesdales and the Harley Davidson exhibit. Folks are standing in line and I see a girl, perhaps 12, filling out a form, giving her address to receive info about how best to serve her country. I have to approach the stand and just take in the smell of what it must be like not to care, not to wonder why we are at war, not to question the insecure minds of men who have never faced opposition, let alone battle.

I just stood there, trying to get a sense of what was going through their minds as they willingly handed over their futures to the whims of madmen. I fantasized about defacing the sign: "Needed! Fresh Meat! We're quickly running through our nation's best and brightest but you'll do!" One of the recruiters caught my stink eye and saw immediately, I wasn't going to be filling out any forms that day. He glared at me and I glared back. For once, despite my boots and hat, my cover was blown.

Perhaps that is my problem – wanting all the icons of my Western dream without the nightmare it creates. Perhaps I'll adopt a new policy: Less anger, more buckskin.


Fang Bastardson said...

If I had known the Arabs invented math, I not only would have supported the Iraq invasion, I would have flown to downtown Baghdad at the start of the war to join the locals in throwing rose petals at our troops' feet!


Shmeder said...

So, cowboys are rednecks?

Howard said...

That was beautiful.

BTW, I like to call what you're doing 'cowboy drag'. :)

Jeff Mather said...

As a former mathematician and Wyomingite, I could be flogged for not commenting.

The Arabs did not invent math, but a Persian did write the book on algebra. Don't know whether that dissuades you from wanting a piece of the Iraqi action, Fang. The mathematically inclined may wish to read more about famous Babylonian math guys.

But that really has nothing to do with cowboys. One thing I learned quickly in Wyoming is the difference between cowboys and ranchers. The latter group is much easier to like, as they are less inclined to get drunk and chase you around town in a pickup truck in the middle of the night, less likely to get drunk and pick a fight in a bar, probably a bit more socialized, and more likely to have considered what life might hold beyond high school.

I'm not sure cowboys are rednecks, but they're more so than ranchers. For some reason, though, people like the bad boy. They're the white version of the noble savage: romantic, dangerous, bound to a particularly rough code of ethics. Blah, blah, blah.

Have you seen the German cowboy and Indian reenactors? Now that's wierd.

ClizBiz said...

I stand corrected on the Arabian math front. Thank god someone is fact-checking me ...

You're right about the bad boy image - been trying to shake that habit for years. Perhaps it's the same reason men are often attracted to crazy women? No chance of stability.