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March 23, 2009
In between the various short nonfiction pieces I'm working on, I've been taking small chunks of Squatters' Speakeasy to my writers' group. Group members think the Caretaker is a promising narrator, but one person had an emphatically negative reaction to Whitman George Whipple (whose name may change to avoid conflation with the "don't squeeze the Charmin" guy of yesteryear), aka Whit Whippersnapper, the hotshot 30-something editor of the Martha's Vineyard News Beacon: "He's a parody," this person said. "Nobody is going to believe him."
Set aside for the moment the fact that I-the-author is a bit disconcerted by how much I identify with and even like this guy, whose personal pantheon includes Milton Friedman and who espouses neo-Reagonomics. What Whit and I have in common is a certain, ahem, lack of respect for affluent Vineyard liberals. He calls them "muddleheads." I am more circumspect because I've lived here longer and am 20 years older than Whit, and also because Phil Ochs's "There but for Fortune" surfaces frequently on my mental soundtrack. Like demographically I have an awful lot in common with these people. If I had a different past and more money, I'd probably be one of them. Whit is a lightning rod. He says stuff I don't dare to, but I still get to watch the fireworks.
Anyway, I'm recounting the incident not because I want to go on about Whit, or about Squatters. I'm recounting it because my first reaction was that realistic characters should not be parodies; parodies are ipso facto unbelievable, right? Real people aren't parodies?
Well, a week ago some friends of my neighbors came to visit, and I happened to meet them in the driveway. They were a male-and-female couple, probably in their late thirties. Their physical resemblance to each other was enhanced by their hair, which was short, dyed to the same not-quite-natural dark blond, and moussed into genteel spikes. They had recently been bowling -- off-island, of course; the still-lamented Spinnaker Lanes closed years ago. "It's a different world over there," said Ms. Mousse. She was especially horrified by the bumper stickers she saw in the bowling alley's parking lot. They all had to do with guns: "Protected by Smith & Wesson" and the like. She glanced around and her gaze fell on Uhura Mazda's rear bumper, specifically the "Horses Are My Therapy" sticker on the right-hand side. It became Exhibit A for the prosecution: evidence that our bumper stickers are so much nicer than theirs.
Ms. Mousse didn't notice, or maybe didn't want to register, the sticker on the left side of Uhura's rear bumper: "Your silence will not protect you," it says. Underneath is the name of the author: Audre Lorde. I didn't say that I frequently fantasize a cannon rising from Uhura's bed to take aim at any idiot who comes within two truck lengths of her rear bumper at, say, 45 miles per hour. It's not that I'm above throwing oil on troubled waters; it's that both Ms. and Mr. Mousse were such parodies that disconcerting them was too much like baiting chained bears and therefore unworthy of anyone committed to social justice.
So on Saturday, I finished my midday horse-sitting chores and continued into town, where I needed some stuff from EduComp. The car behind me also pulled into the EduComp parking lot and stopped behind me, without pulling into a parking space. Unusual behavior. I got out of my truck and paused. The woman behind the wheel rolled down her window and asked where I'd got my "Your silence will not protect you" bumper sticker. I got that bumper sticker long before I got Uhura, but old Tesah Toyota didn't have any more room for stickers so it languished for several years. "I'm not sure," I said. "It was quite a while ago. I think I got it at Room of One's Own, the feminist bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin."
She said she wanted one and was hoping I had some with me. I said Audre Lorde had been a hero of mine for a very long time and that I'd just finished reading a biography of her, Warrior Poet, by Alexis De Veaux. The woman quoted some Audre back at me. I was impressed. I'll wager Ms. Mousse couldn't have pulled that off. I doubt Ms. Mousse has ever heard of Audre Lorde. I said I thought that either the Northern Sun or the Syracuse Cultural Workers catalogues listed the stickers. The woman took that in, then asked what I thought of her bumper stickers.
I went round to the back of her car (can't remember model -- my recollection is Subaru wagon or something similar) and looked. There were a couple of small ones, and "The real revolution will be love."
These stickers are all over the place. White type on a strong brick-red background. I've been arguing with them for several months now, like "Oh yeah? And what do you mean by 'love' exactly?" and "Isn't that a typical affluent Vineyard liberal approach to things?" Quite a few years ago, these "Grace Happens" bumper stickers blossomed all over the place. The graphics were airy-fairy pastel flowers and the words were in a weedy-looking font. I hated them. When Marx talked about religion being an opiate of the people, this is the kind of shit he was talking about. New Age fucking garbage.
"The real revolution will be love"? Right. When the male half of the population seems convinced that love = sex? I so don't buy it.
Well. It turns out the woman in the Subaru is the creator of these bumper stickers. Her name is Kimberly Rome. And I liked her. She wasn't a parody at all. So I said, "Your bumper stickers are all over the place, but I've gotta say, I'm ambivalent. My gut reaction is that it's saying that it's all about individual solutions." So we went back and forth in a friendly sort of way, and she finally said, "It's all about community."
Did I say I'm a total sucker for the "C-word"? So she asked if I wanted one, and would I put it on my truck? I said yeah, a little tentatively, but I got a "The real revolution will be love" bumper sticker.
I said my first novel had come out this winter and community was pretty much what it was about. I pointed to the two "Read Mud?" stickers right and left on the back windows of Uhura's cab. "Is that the name of your novel?" she asked. "Mud?"
"The Mud of the Place," said I. "It's got its own website: www.themudoftheplace.com. There's more about it there."
She took that all in, then we exchanged names. I headed toward EduComp's back entrance. She drove off.
Her bumper sticker is on my work-side table. I'm still thinking about it.