8.24.2010

Yankees, Southerners, And Feeling Smug For Being Stupid

I sometimes get weird looks or comments from my "Yankee" friends when I discuss things that happen in everyday life here in the suburban south.

For instance, I was discussing with my editor Buck Wolf a story about a woman who had to kill a rattlesnake on her front porch. He felt this was a perfect "Joe Peacock" story, given my predilection to covering out-of-the-ordinary, slice of life events, such as a dog eating $58 dollars, defecating the bills, and having them returned to the owner.

I asked him, "Do you REALLY want me to cover that? It's not really news."  He asked why I felt that way. I explained that I kill between four and eight snakes each summer at my house.

Buck lives in New York. This information disturbed him. "I'm basically starting to think that True Blood is an accurate depiction of everyday life in the South," he quipped. To which I responded, "I can skin a buck and run a trot line." He feels that we Southerners need to file a class-action lawsuit against Toby Keith.

I explained that there's a lot of skills you learn as a kid playing in the woods. I learned to hunt when I was 10 years old, the year my mother married my father. I don't like to hunt, and to date, have successfully bagged only one trophy: the engine block of my father's Ford F-150. But I spent enough time on the range with both a rifle and a bow to not only safely handle them, but use them to bring down an animal if I need to.

This, to me, is normal everyday life for a boy in the South. Most of the guys I know who were born and/or raised here know how to load, unload, clean and handle a 30.06, and almost all of those know how to handle a handgun. The vast majority also know how to properly field dress a deer.

The vast majority of "city folk" I've met with whom I've had this discussion look straight down the barrel of their nose at me when I discuss this. It's as if they're actually feeling superior for not having this knowledge. It's the same attitude that slick-type businessmen who own a Lexus have with the auto mechanic. Now, I'm not saying that Buck in particular feels smug or superior to me, but he -- like most if not every New Yorker I've ever met or talked with -- simply cannot conceive having to know anything about tending to land and killing an animal. And even if they could, why would they? That's what the deli is for.

Now, Buck's a damn good guy and is no slouch when it comes to the outdoors. However, his complete inexperience with typical Southern life reminds me of other people I have met in my life who aren't so worldly. Some of them have outright stated their superiority to those who know how to do things like hunt, fish and work on a car, simply because they have more important things to do and know.

Fuck that.

The concept that someone would feel smug for NOT knowing how to do something drives me absolutely insane. Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm absolutely insatiable when it comes to information and knowledge. I actually want to know how to do anything and everything the mechanic knows how to do with my car. I recognize that it takes a lifetime of dedicated pursuit to attain those skills, which is why I never actually went after being a mechanic myself. But I know how to change a tire, change my oil, replace my brakes, troubleshoot the more basic engine issues, etc. Every new car I get, I go down the list and learn how to do each of those things on that vehicle.

The same goes with computers, my mobile phone, cooking, repairing my bicycle... I don't understand why people DON'T want to know how all that stuff works. How can you exist knowing you're dependent on someone to handle the most basic of issues with the stuff you rely on? What, you might get your hands dirty? So what, that's what soap is for.

The concept that mechanical aptitude is for lesser beings is retarded. If anything, most of the "knowledge workers" I know are actually conceptualists with absolutely no basis in reality, because they've never worked with anything physical. I can point to several Information Architects / User Experience "experts" whom I like but don't respect because, time and again, they design interfaces that are completely at odds with how people actually work with an application. A designer who lacks physical experience is pretty damn useless.

I feel the same way about lawmakers who are never on the "wrong" end of the laws they create, marketers who haven't ever once had a conversation -- REAL conversation -- with someone in the "target demographic" they're campaigning to, Sunday afternoon quarterbacks who haven't once felt a chinstrap chafe their bottom lip, and so on. You might possess a conceptual grasp on the mechanics of the thing, but you haven't a clue how it actually works.

And yeah, here in the South, when you tend to your own flower bed, you learn how to trap a snake's head with a stick until you can slice the sucker off with a trowel. You also learn to bury the head before you do anything else, lest you forget and stumble across it three hours later where it clamps down on the blade of your palm. It's either that or you hire it out... And that's pretty stupid, since tending to the flower bed is a lot of fun.

I can patch a sliced finger with super glue, fashion a tourniquet with duct tape, blow the fuel out of the spark line of a flooded lawn mower, sharpen a knife on a whet stone, catch a fish with my homemade tackle and wild bait, and handle myself in a fist fight. I carry a Bic lighter, a Leatherman (well, SOG) and a first aid kit in every bag I own.

I also voted for Obama in the last election, and Libertarian (Harry Brown) in every election prior to that. I hate country music. I hate racists. I read. I write books with subtitles that don't start with "Why The Liberal Elite Are..." I contribute to jQuery plugin libraries, design ad and marketing campaigns for major brands, and can out-argue you about comics, film and anime.

Stereotypes suck. Crave learning, even if it requires getting your hands dirty.