Tuesday, I had an opportunity to sit for a good long spell in a desolate, Nowheresville parking lot on Leesburg, Virginia's south end. The lot was shared by a plumbing-supply shop and a gas station, and the only comfortable spot to sit was atop a pile of gravel under a tree.
Luckily, I had a brand-spanking-fresh copy of Joe Bageant's new book, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, to occupy my time. I was only a couple of pages into it, Joe's lucid, funny, and immeasurably passionate voice beginning to convince me once again that I'm not insane for thinking that the United States is headed for Fecal Matter Creek in a leaky Rubbermaid shitbucket from Winchester.
(Well, first, I checked to see if my name was in the Acknowledgments, as Joe'd promised it would be -- a-yep, right there, listed along with King of Zembla as a "plain intelligent and aware soul out there on the Net who took the time to connect with a curmudgeon writer because, well, similar minds run in the same gutter," stroke stroke...)
I am lucky enough to have Joe's home number in my cellphone contacts. I don't bug him much, just the occasional howdy when he's not in Belize fomenting class warfare. But I decided there on Page Two, somewhere around "[Winchester, Va.] is solidly fundamentalist Christian and conservative, steeped in the gloomy ultra-Protestant notion that man is an evil, worthless thing from birth and goes downhill from there," that Joe needed a good bothering at exactly that minute.
My luck was working. Joe was home, between publicity interviews for the book, and glad to hear from me. We chewed the fat for a bit (excellent fat, fresh-killed venison), talking of this and that.
The plumbing-supply shop door opened, and a man stepped out who could easily be one of Joe's working-poor subjects. Huge proletarian mustache, plastic gimme cap crowning wispy gray hair, hollow alcoholic's eyes, working-stiff clothes greasy with plumber's putty and machine oil. He took me in, long-haired yuppie in a white polo shirt and Frye boots (forgot the pants that day), and then he cracked a smile when he saw the book I was holding.
"Deer Hunting with Jesus! I like the idea!" he said with a phlegmy laugh. I smiled back, unable to come up with any rejoinder, whipsawed by the whistlingly weird circumstance of being on the phone with the author of that ironic title at that exact moment. Thinking back, I couldn't tell if the guy got the joke, or whether he was interpreting it literally as a religious deerstalker's guide. I have seen weirder things on the shelves at my local market. Well, see, there you go.
Kwitcher self-satisfied namedropping, you social-climbing cocksucker, how's the book?
If you're familiar with Joe's online essays, you'll know. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry. The subject is America's working poor, the "mutt people," the people who cause liberals to shake their heads in frustration and bewilderment because they so constantly and consistently vote against their own economic and political interests. Joe explains why this is, through a whole slew of real-life examples from his home town of Winchester. Their stories are both heartbreaking and viciously, ironically funny.
Just about every page evinces a righteous "right on!" Here's one of my favorite passages so far:
"The people" like cheap gas. They like chasing post-Thanksgiving Day Christmas sales. And if fascism comes, they will like that too if the cost of gas isn't too high and Comcast comes through with a twenty-four-hour NFL channel.The book is full of these powerful passages, genuine anger that dates back to a time when the Left actually stood for poor people, rather than aggrieved interest groups. This is what Joe drives at again and again: Liberalism must make itself stand for these people again, must defend their interests, and not, as I've seen time and time again among the very people I know, dismiss them as booger-eatin' sister-fuckers.
That is the American hologram. That is the peculiar illusion we live within, the illusion that holds us together, makes us alike, yet tells each of us that we are unique. And it will remain in force until the whole shiteree comes down around our heads. Working people do not deny reality. They create it from the depths of their perverse ignorance, even as the so-called left speaks in non-sequiturs and wonders why it cannot gain any political traction. Meanwhile, for the people, it is football and NASCAR and a republic free from married queers and trigger locks on guns. That's what they voted for -- an armed and moral republic. And that's what we get when we stand by and watch the humanity get hammered out of our fellow citizens, letting them be worked cheap and farmed like a human crop for profit.