When I recently returned to Alabama, for sad reasons, my boss--whose parents survived the concentration camps of WWII--emailed me her concern for my safety.
"I'm from there," I emailed back. "As long as I avoid politics, religion, and sports, I'll be okay."
"Do not," she emailed back, "go into a shower unless someone else has gone in first."
Granted, the south is scary for people who have not lived in the south, or are passing through the south, or are adjacent to the south, or lived through the 1950s and '60s... or any decade, really, since the 1500s.
In general, the south is pretty terrifying. It is stuck in time. It is stuck in place. It is, however, safe to shower there. And frequent showers are required. So far, Alabama saves the pesticide for lawns. The showers are mostly safe. The lawns are terrifying.
I'm of two minds about the south: charitable, and nuking it from space. Most people feel the same about their home, no matter where they came from. I once met a young woman from Iceland who confessed she wouldn't be upset if a volcano blew the whole place up, and I thought, 'But Iceland is kind of awesome.' Hell, I once met a guy from Denmark who told me if he heard one more Hamlet joke he'd deliver a 5000 word soliloquy on Danish history, "And I'll begin it with 'To be or shut the fuck up.'"
The thing about the south is that it is always on the wrong side of history. I dunno why, but it is. Race? Yeah, the south has issues with race. Most of the US has issues with race. We're a melting pot that doesn't melt well. Most of the great race riots took place in areas beyond the Deep South. Still though, we're left with Bull Connor and fire hoses. We don't have true riots in the south because we have an emphasis on containment, and our aw, shucks demeanor makes even the occasional Evrett Till murder seem like an oversight.
Which it wasn't.
A few nights ago, I had a conversation with my dad. Both he and I were taking out our dogs for walks. I was up north in NYC, and he was down south in AL. And he was discussing a run-in he'd had with a professional competitor. "I mentioned you, and your partner, and how you were living in New York," Dad said--calling Greg my partner rather than my husband, but in a respectful way. "When I said that about you, his [the professional competitor's] face lit up. His son is also up there! And his daughter is a lesbian too."
"Wow. He hit the jackpot."
"And so we just talked. Just talked. He told me he was three months into recovery for alcoholism when his son told him he was gay. And I was like, yep, been there. And so many people down here are just ignorant. They just, 95% are just angry about shit they don't even get."
Waffles, my dog, sniffed my leg. I was sitting on a bench, and there was a light breeze, and Waf's cold nose against my calf startled me. And Dad, walking his own dog, suddenly yelled into the phone: "Not right there!"
"Snickers try to take an errant piss?" I asked.
"They just don't get anything," Dad responded.
I was watching the red lights at 213th Street cycle from red to yellow to green, and I was watching the walk signs move from "Walk" to "Holy shit you're gonna die if you cross." And the breeze. And Waffles, using his nose to poke me into a continuance on our short journey.
|Dad and me and Alex taking the picture.|
"That's what we talked about. It was, Marc, like the world opened up. I talked to [the professional competitor] and we connected."
"Which is all you have to do. You talk to someone, and you realize there's not much of a difference between you."
Waf tugged on his leash. Hard.
"Snickers," Dad said, in a muffled volume. "Come on."
"There's always differences. Just... all you need to do is talk." I said this as Waf, tired of hanging around a sidewalk bench and unable to comprehend human language, dragged me three blocks toward a church.
"Dad? Sorry. I gotta go. Waf has a destination and I can either talk or pass out keeping up."
"Ok, son. Love to you and Greg."
"Same to you and Marilyn."
|Mom and Ronnie|
You just need to listen a bit, and when you speak back, speak in a way they understand.
Also, avoid conversations about 'Gone with the Wind.' Ye gods, the references to the KKK do not land well.