I met a lot of people in NC, and realized folks around here are a lot easier to open up than in new york. A lot more. After the festival closed last night, a group of us wandered back to the hotel and my favoritest buddy here and I kept going down for smokes and beer. It was 2:30 am and, while there was never more than 6 people at one time, between strangers there was some comraderie to the idea of being outside at night. People were actually bonding because of the music, but the music was just a medium for people to build a common ground that’ll break the ice, that’s what I saw.
I’m smoking with my new buddy – let’s call him R (R is a charming, analytical, former bartender, with good intentions who’s just real fucking cool) and we’ve been talking the shit for hours. This black guy who was talking with two obviously trashed light gals (pretty sure white) comes over and, the way he walked, I could tell he was a lil intoxicated, but also REALLY disciplined, cause his walk was a natural march – and I don’t mean that as a cliche. It was noticable cause he was strong, confident, and around 6’4 himself. He straight up marched.
He went “Excuse me, sir, may I please trouble you for a light?” And stands at attention – a perfect attention stance. I go sure, and smile, and then go “Hey, any chance you’re former military?”
And by golly, he is. Former deployed air force. Immediately he wants to know how I know, and R and I both laugh and point out he’s got the perfect attention stance and body language while he’s waiting to receive a response (he’s also built, clean cut, has the look. He exudes military man.) He keeps sharply going “SIR.” and almost request permission to respond. I tell him (sir-like) not to call me sir, cause I don’t deserve that (to me that means CO. I’m Eric. Call me Eric.) He formally apologizes as he’s “A little intoxicated and that he’s sorry sir” and I laugh and could tell that he’s got it in his blood. Now the gals are giggling too, and he smirks at himself and says he’s glad some habits just don’t go, and I agree. They make a comment about how he’s scaring two white guys, and before I tell them to get their eyes checked he goes “Hey he’s mixed!” and points to me (shouldn’t black and white people both be able to see that a black and white person is mixed? You’d think so, right? This says something about where we were, as does the dichotomy of black or white and wh was where when we were in town the night before) But I’ve been opening up people all night, its a good vibe all around, and I could see how fucking structured an environment this person’s gotten used to (and he looks to be hanging out with two dyed gals who’re talking on drunk) Folks I know who’ve gotten out have a hard time adjusting to normal civilian life. It’s the cliche. This is also something I wanna involve in the disjuncture world – this understanding of what it’s like to be trained to be a functional soldier more than a feeling human, and then be immersed in “freedom” and bills, and being told to go do what it takes to be happy, after being away for so long, and it’s much, much worse if you were deployed. So I go
“Hey, sorry if this is too personal but I’m really wondering how’re you finding civilian life after serving?”
And I’ve opened him up, cause he gets a pained look in his face. He reveals that he resents that most Americans take their freedoms for granted. I ask him to elaborate, and the first thing he does is pull his shirt down to reveal a fallen leaf village tattoo. I offer my hand immediately with a grin and reintroduce myself and point out that yes, i too have always admired the village of the falling leaf. R now thinks were both weirdos and now just starts listening. The air force guy goes into how its in this country that we can just don things like that as if whatever, i get him to elaborate further, and now I listen to a real dialogue. Its not about the fallen leaf suddenly, and now hes really open. He resents people who are at some bottom just making excuses while making things worse for everyone. He reveals what it’s like in some ways for him to be a black guy in South Carolina, and wear whats comfortable but be seen by so many people to be the N-word, and I know it’s something that’s really hurt him. I could be an asshole and analyze that impacted how much he treasures his wife, but I just think it’s fucking lovely he treasures his wife, (she was one of the two dye girls, and when I apologized for stealing him from the conversation they were having when she went up after 20 minutes, she was so warm about knowing that “he’ll always come back to her” and going upstairs to let me talk. She had a really loving tone.) This guy was definitely no stereotype.
Throughout, through and around all his discipline, I can tell his mind’s really thought about his life and that he’s sharing opinion based on life experience, and the way he does this, This is the opinion of a person who made their own damn opinion. I can tell by talking to him, he could’ve – COULD’VE been a great politician, but his life has been bogged with something hard. Now he’s got too much honest resentment to be a good one. He’s in an interracial relationship, starts showing me pictures of his family, and they’re obviously his world. He takes a LOT of shit for going out with her, knows the looks. And what scared me is how, this is America to him. And fuck the race issue – it was more of a in-house seperation and war that really pisses him off – and he used the word war. It’s very different in New York, so different than SC, but we’re still fucking stupid in terms of not doing good things with our freedoms, acting out, in-house fighting between politics and culture, and raising general tensions without seeing real value before doing things. But, it’s better there than the deep south, and this was my first encounter with someone like this from there.
He shows me a picture of his daughter and she looks like me and, it painful to hear that he expects that she’s going to get a lot of shit and not be treated as a person for this. It’s not like that everywhere, but it can be right outside your door. And I’m not thinking “move,” but just be aware on the actual limits of this culture’s box. I really hope I let him know that there are places in this country where you can shelter a growing human aware from that sort of bullshit. Im older i think, and have gotten by just fine.
And he had love for his family and those close, but a lot of resentment for how he see’s the American citizen within the world. I got the impression of someone who was cool, and trying, but also greatly unhappy.
It’s tough always to be boxed in. It’s tough to see someone who went through mandatory cultural sensitivity training as tailored to where he was deployed, yet feel that Americans need it to get along with Americans. Its tough to think that, if that’s how he feels his country is, that he might have to carve out a little niche and a box to hide from this negativity. That’s the picture I got.
We talked for like an hour, and even R had to excuse himself to go up. I wanted to hear this guy’s story, stayed, gave him my frank two cents on some things, and tried to offer what i’ve seen and point out he’s better off going towards incentives instead of away from aversive things (I said it much more coolly tho.) That America does have its incentives, but yes, we’re by and large, a very strange, new and sometimes ridiculous nation that could easily be rendered an international joke with the way we politick and self-absorb.
You know, I decided around the bush administration that it’s going to take some crazy shit to get me to go military cause I don’t really get to choose any side but team America, and there’re scary fingers on scary buttons about that. But, I’ve always felt like there’re still good ideological fights on American soil. Like being an ethical person who inspires anything at home – rare, but just suppose – you might be able to inspire more change than a single marine (This is not to equivocate a civ with soldiering, but civs can give soldiers a cause.) I remember when Marina tried to get me to consider moving to another country cause she could predict that the USA was turning into some collusion of hick and 1% politics and hated it or something, and I remember feeling something similar to this SC soldier’s urge to stay in SC even tho he’s aware there might be better places too (He’s got to be.)
Again, it sucks that I got the impression with the way this guy thought that he could’ve made a stunning politician, and I think he’s been surrounded by too much BS to be left with much of a chance, and his goals have changed. But, not engaging in stupidity, not going to your fucking college classes in pajamas so the soldier who’s taking college courses at 32 cause that’s their deal won’t resent being surrounded by 25 year old fucking kids who complain while not doing the reading – the kind of thing that doesn’t insult or demean the structure of America, it’s an idea i have a lot of respect for.
Anyway, living a dignified life, that contributes to a dignified structure, that contributes to a dignified culture, that’s a good fight too. Just don’t forget to respect that there are people out there who WANT to call you sir or ma’am. They want to fight for their self, home, and country. Do not make them resent it, and don’t just be someone who’s born into your circumstances and unwilling to improve things that you very well could improve just cause you feel like you’ve got an excuse – be worth fighting for. It’s patriotic, if you care about that.
I like my freedom. Lots.