Friday, November 26, 2004

“Your Redneck Past”

Choose from any number of magazines
Who do you want to be?
Billy Idol or Kool Moe Dee?

If you’re afraid they might discover your redneck past
There are a hundred ways to cover your redneck past
They’ll never send you home

The funny limbs that grow underground
That keep you from falling down
Don’t you think you’ll need them now?

Just find a place where no one knows of
Your redneck past
Yeah, you can easily dispose of your redneck past
You’ll show them all back home

Je suis American
Please cook my steak again
Je suis American
Je ne parle pas francais

Laws vary from state to state
Getcha some books on tape
Learn about holes in space

If you’re afraid they might discover
Your redneck past
There are a hundred ways to cover your redneck past
It’s good to be back home

From the full length CD by Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.

Ahhh, Thanksgiving time in Texarkana—a time when thousands of Generation X’ers and Y’ers descend back on the city they left seeking freedom—seeking in essence to disguise their redneck past. Like Ben Folds said, there are hundreds of ways to cover your redneck past and they are all on display here during this time of the season.

First, let’s establish the setting for this collection of vignettes. On Tuesday night, my friend, a man we will call “Luke”, arrived from North Carolina wanting to take in some of the culture he had left behind many years ago. “Luke” is the epitome of someone trying to cover up his redneck past. Raised in a trailer deep in the woods of East Texas by his grandfather—a shade tree mechanic who had murdered more than one man in his lifetime—“Luke” went off to college, got a job as a youth pastor and has since lived all over the US.

On Tuesday night, we decided to first start at the local shopping mall, thinking it would provide the best opportunity to possibly run into someone from our past. We made the walk from one end of the mall to the other and as we near the end we were approached by two ladies with clipboards. They asked if we would be interested in participating in a survey, involving watching a movie trailer and answering some brief questions. Normally, people would try it all costs to avoid these situations but we were feeling loose so we went with it. One of the young ladies proceeded to lead us down long, dark corridor, raising suspicion in myself and my friend.

We were relieved to find the mall office of some marketing firm and we were greeted by a receptionist who scribbled something on a small piece of paper and the two of us were lead to separate rooms. I could hear “Luke” carrying on with the individuals assembled in the office, doing his best to impress and entertain as always. We did our duty to the marketing firm and the staff begged us to “hang out” and “entertain” them for a bit longer.

We struck up a conversation with the receptionist—a lady I soon realized I had met previously. She impressed both of us with her ability to construct complete sentences and the absence of a harsh, East Texas accent.

“You guys don’t have that East Texas glow about you, you aren’t from here are you?”

Of course “Luke” made clear that he was from “Raliegh/Durham, North Carolina—a place of cultural refinement and diversity.”

“It’s so different in Chapel Hill…in Raliegh…in Durham…everywhere you look there is a college….in a college town…”

On and on, he used the same lines with anyone we met throughout the next few days. We soon learned that the receptionist was originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada—she was a “resident alien” who had lived in the US for almost 10 years with her mother. This created the perfect opportunity for us to discuss our disgust with the Bush administration and for some of the natives assembled to express their patriotism.

Somehow, we managed to get out of there after 2 hours of trying to convince the “rednecks” of the benefits of “universal healthcare” and trying to teach them the difference between “socialism” and “communism”. The receptionists background, looks and intelligence made her very appealing to both “Luke” and me and so we invited her to my house later for a “party.” The party never developed and the girl never showed, but the night was young.

Next, we hit a local casual dining restaurant that was managed by a good friend—this meant free food and drinks and possibly more women. We walked in and saw two young women sitting at the bar sipping on cocktails and decided to join them. “Luke” gains all sorts of confidence when in these parts and loves to charm women with his sardonic humor; I was more hungry than horny so focused more on the menu. “Luke” began a conversation with the two ladies as I listened in. He fed them the same lines about how he was from “Raliegh/ town visiting…there’s party at my friend’s apartment…” yada, yada, yada.

One of the girls asked me where she knew me from, I had no idea. She had a thick twang to her voice and talked about her fiancé who loved to hunt and fish and the proper techniques involved in “hiding” a deer. I noticed the other girl had no accent, which always perks my interest, so I began lightly flirt with her. The drinks kept on coming and the girls became more and more talkative. We learned that the one with no accent had grown up a military brat and spent the majority of her life in California. She moved to the area when her father decided to retire in Simms, a small community located about 20 miles outside of Texarkana.

Most of East Texas features a racial ratio of approximately 50 % caucasion, 40 % African-American, and 10% Hispanic. Simms is one of the few communities in the area that features an ethnic make-up of close to 100 % Caucasion and it had gained a notorious reputation for some definite racial elements. I began to discuss this fact with the Cali native and she told me how unsafe she felt, even as a white female, in that town. I learned that she was married, but very unhappy with her man, yet she refused to talk any further about it, only to say that she had been with him since she was 13.

We both realized this was going no where so “Luke” and I decided to look elsewhere. Next up, Fat Jacks—the ultimate in late night entertainment in Texarkana. We arrived and did the normal walk through of the establishment, searching for familiar faces. Outside, in the covered patio area, I found a good friend from the theater playing pool with two females. “Luke” joined in the game of pool as I talked to my friend, he let me know that a mutual friend was moving to Austin on Monday and having a going away party that night and that we should come. “Luke” was side-tracked by the young women so we stuck around for a bit. My friend informed me that girls were only 18; Luke, like myself, is 26.

My friend and I began to discuss the theater and how repressive the Texarkana theater was towards the theater, censoring almost every show that local companies tried to produce. My friend longs to leave this area as much as I do, but like me has yet to find the proper medium to do so. Actually, come to think of it, my friend and I attempt to hid our “redneck past” in much the same manner. You see, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I have a redneck past as well—everyone here does, and we all search for ways to hide and overcome it.

The pool game ended and we headed to my friends house. On the way over, I informed “Luke” that the girls would be “rolling” and that there would be “hard drugs” present. Now, I’m not a drug user but I have been around them since I was in college. “Luke”, on the other hand, attended a Christian college and has never really been exposed to anything but marijuana, so I tried to prepare him for what he would see.
“Cool. Just don’t let them know I’m a youth pastor. Let’s think of a job for me.”

We pulled up the house and noticed there were a ton of cars parked out front but no lights on. As we walked inside, we could hear the steady thud of trance music coming from the living room, still no lights. Upon entering the living room, we found a group of guys zoned out on the couch and DJ spinning in the middle. “Luke” had never seen such a set-up. My other friend told us to wait in the kitchen as he went from bedroom to bedroom searching for my friend that was moving. Instead we chose to follow him. Behind each locked door was a bedroom full of people either engaged in acts of free love or partaking in mind altering substances, but we could not find my friend.

So the three of us returned to the kitchen and had a beer. A blonde girl emerged from one of the bedrooms wearing hospital scrubs and a pacifier in her mouth. She poured a glass of orange juice and “Luke” and I began to talk to her. He leaned over to me and asked why she had the pacifier in her mouth and I had to describe to him the effects of “X”.

We realized there was no “real action” here and I had to work at 8:30 the next morning—it was nearing 2 A.M.—so we decided to leave.
The next night we went to a local hockey game. The radio station I work for gave me a couple of tickets, so “Luke” and I decided to check it out. We met another friend and his girlfriend at the game, but I managed to find the “VIP bar” towards the end of the 2nd period and stayed there for the remainder of the game. Gathered in the “VIP bar” were people from the front office and scouts and few of the players family members, but nothing terribly exciting. At least it wasn’t the normal East Texas/Southwest Arkansas crowd and they did have Grey Goose, so I was happy.

After the game, the four of us, “Luke”, our friend and his girlfriend, and I, went back out to Fat Jacks. Tonight, the place was packed—literally, shoulder to shoulder through the entire establishment, inside and on the patio. We saw a couple of people from we had gone to high school, but for the most part it was a sea of nameless faces—a sea of nameless faces that all looked the same.

You could easily spot people who belonged to the same sorority or fraternity, spot who went to the University of Texas, who went to A&M and who went to the University of Arkansas. A cheesy cover band provided the entertainment; they launched into a version of Pink Floyd’s, “Another Brick in the Wall.” Now, I usually despise Pink Floyd—a bunch of bloody posers if you ask me—but the song really fit the environment. The majority of the people gathered here would never amount to anything more than “yes man/woman”, as they continued to conform to the world with their dress, rhetoric, and actions, in essence becoming nothing more than “another brick in the wall.”

“Luke” began to talk with a blonde, wearing a duck hunting t-shirt and no make-up. I eventually learned that she was a professional bow hunter and was amazed that “Luke” continued to talk to her. He tried his best to get her to come back to my apartment but refused because she had to drive back to Genoa (another all white community in the area) to bake a cake.

We were sure that Thursday night, Thanksgiving night, would prove fruitful in our quest to run into old, high school friends. This time we started the night at Fat Jack’s, arriving at 7:30 P.M. The place was full of people in their 30’s and 40’s and an authentic, delta blues band took the stage on the patio. The temperature had dropped into the lower 40’s so “Luke” and I made our way towards the fire pit.

He began his “Raliegh/Durham” speech with a couple of ladies standing next to the fire and introduced me. Both of the girls were from Simms—remember Simms—and informed us that they normally drank a case of beer over the course of a night. One of the girls was 29, divorced with three kids—the oldest being 10, the youngest in kindergarten. From that point on I lost interest, but “Luke” continued on.

They invited us to join them at The Electric Cowboy, a real life honky tonk. Clay was driving so I had no choice but to join him. On the way to the “Cowboy”, I began to probe “Luke’s” mind for his motives for chasing these women who clearly weren’t his type.

“You know as well as I do, there are no women who our type around here, Josh. But it’s the rush of the game.”

Now, when I describe the “Cowboy” as a honky-tonk, that’s a little misleading, within the “Cowboy” there is another club, Bananas, that offers “Top 40” and “dance music” (in this area that means nothing but rap all night long). We went to high school with the bartender at Banana’s so I made my way to that part of the club to enjoy free drinks; “Luke” continued to chase the two girls from Fat Jack’s. After about an hour in Banana’s, I decided to go back in the “Cowboy” and find “Luke.” I found him sitting with the two girls and a group of their friends. Both “Luke” and I felt unsafe in those surroundings, so he ditched the girls and we returned to Banana’s.

Around 11 P.M., a group of people started arriving—beautiful women, dressed to impress. We started a conversation with a group of them, but soon I lost interest. I sat at a table near the dance floor and began to withdraw myself from the conversation and instead began to observe. I noticed another group of attractive, upper class, white college co-eds leaving the dance floor. They were stopped by a group of African-American males, which they quickly brushed aside. I found irony in the whole setting…these rich, white women…dancing to music made by African-Americans…yet they came from families that still held to the “plantation mindset.” Black people to them existed only for entertainment—they should spend tons of money on music, movies and sports featuring black stars—but yet wouldn’t hold a conversation with a group of black men waiting on the edge of the dance floor. Things really hadn’t changed since 1960 and these people…no matter how hard they tried…could not cover up their redneck past.