At Townhall, on The Corner, in certain folks' Rants, I've heard a lot about red state, conservative moral values. And you know what? I call bullshit.
By my junior year I had long left Richmond (which has its own problems: people, you can only blame COINTELPRO and the CIA for so long...But I digress), and was attending high school in a little farming community in Northern California. Now, remember those Nov. 2004 electoral maps, how the red and blue areas corresponded roughly to the split between union-sympathetic and confederate-sympathetic states? Remember how California was blue, correspondant with how it had sided with the union back in the 19th century? Well, this high school was in a county that had voted with the South. Yeah, this area is that red: Parents thought nothing of letting their students wear minstrel-show blackface to a homecoming event, there was no question that Bill Clinton was a hair short of being Joe Stalin himself, and Cadillac-drivin' welfare queens, penis-shrivelling feminists and greasy, duplicitous sand niggers rode the massive crests of the imagination of all-knowing, all corpulent Rush Limbaugh, king of the AM waves, right into your goddamned F-150. Welcome to Bobo's utopia.
So it's my junior year, and the whole school -- about 120 students -- have been called into the library, the largest room in the main building, to meet a guest speaker. He was a fit, normal-looking young man -- 19, I believe -- dressed in what I then termed Sacramento chic: baseball cap, Johnson t-shirt, jam shorts and sandals with socks. He could have been the boy you see every day walking into Wal-Mart hand-in-hand with his poodle-permed, Guess-clad girlfriend.
He was HIV positive.
His story was that he had contracted it by having unprotected sex at age 14 with a neighboring housewife. Six students, myself included, sat at his feet, listening to him, asking him questions: "What kind of medications do you take? Can you date? How do you deal with discrimination? Blah, blah, blah?" Six of us sat about a foot from him, and could actually look him in the eye.
Six of us. The rest of the students had lined themselves up one student deep along the furthest three walls, arms folded in front of them and silent as the grave. Their cold, harsh eyes gleamed at him, stared him down like he was a cross between a rattlesnake, Pol Pot and a petrie dish full of staph.
This behavior was not borne of some higher, more noble, values-driven character. These kids damn well knew better, and just wanted to act ignant. You read me right: "ignant," not "ignorant." Those of you who matter get the distinction. 'Cos the Lord knows you can't do His work properly without being an asshole about it.
In fact, I'm sure many of my former schoolmates look back on this little interlude, if they haven't repressed the memory, as a moment they're ashamed of, and wish they had acted differently. Most, however do not. One in particular recently asked me, when that moment was brought up in a drunken conversation, "So, you think the little faggot's died yet?"
And it's not exactly as though I'm proud of my behavior during that assembly. I was just raised differently. In addition to knowing, just as well as my ignant school-chums knew, that I wasn't going to catch AIDS from that young man's nervous red face, or his stutter, or his fidgeting fingers, I was raised to respect someone with real values, with real character. Specifically, someone who at so young an age, a man destined not to see his 30th birthday, was willing to go public, and take the lessons he had fairly or unfairly learned, and impress them on those who needed them: the varsity football heavies who laughed about having to shave their pubes when they caught crabs from the town slut, the pinched-faced, parochial girls who somehow -- gasp! -- turned up pregnant before graduation.
I just wasn't afraid when there was no need to be, and I had been raised to recognize and to show respect and give quarter to those with real moral strength, with real courage. That's all.
So ashes to ashes, let's put this myth of the wise-because-they're-unschooled, red-value, salt-o-the-earth, right-thinking good rural and exurban folk in the cold, wormy ground, right the fuck now. The species, as Republican jabbering-heads have described it, does not exist, full stop.
Okay, maybe that was a bit depressing. So to cheer you up here's my playlist for this morning, before I go see if the roses need watering:
"Happy Boy" -- Beat Farmer
"The Libertine" -- Patrick Wolf
"Lucky Charms" -- Moldy Peaches
"Teenage Goo-Goo-Muck" -- The Cramps
"TKO" -- Le Tigre
"Ladyflash" -- The Go! Team
"Tide Is High" -- Blondie
hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba