Over at our parents house I looked out the kitchen window to the expanse of concrete patio in the back; expanse as it once served as a basketball half-court during the boys’ younger days. Out there next to the round, glass-topped, umbrella covered table in a row sat two of my brothers, my brother-in-law and our father. I would call this a testosterone-driven event. There they sat side by side so as not to face one another, facing the back of the house, rather than the expanse of the generous back yard and its suburban garden splendor. All four had their legs crossed in that manly way; same leg. It was so obviously regimented I found it difficult to believe they were unaware, yet at the same time it made perfect sense to me knowing them as I do.
So, I took it upon myself to join them. I use the word “join” with an air of sarcasm, as I had not then nor ever had any intention to join any of them in anything. I just couldn’t resist pulling the remaining chair from the table and placing it exactly in the center of their line, across from them and facing them. I did this demonstrating the appropriate deftness in handling the chair that should satisfy even the most macho of onlookers. I sat down with both feet firmly on the concrete, leaned forward, my forearms on my knees and said, “Hi.”
Each of them in turn mumbled “Hi,” back to me in a low, rumbling sort of voice one would not have heard had one been standing but about five or six feet further away. And, they said no more. So, I sat there looking at them one at a time directly in their faces. They continued to stare blankly before them at what was literally a brick wall. After sitting this way for about three minutes, I stood up, replaced my chair under the table where I’d found it, then said, “Bye.”
They each said, “Bye,” in turn and I stood there and looked each one in his face as he said it, then I turned and went into the house to ask our mother how she was and how things were going. I didn’t say anything to her about what had just happened, as the amount of words it would take to describe (as you can plainly see above) didn’t seem worth the effort it would take to say considering what it was I would be describing. I did, however, take a moment to peek at them once again out the kitchen window. There they sat in exactly the same positions as before. There is a lot which can be divined from this scene.
Some background might be in order. None of the four went to school past high school, but for taking courses having specifically to do with some sort of specialty such as electronics or carpentry. None of the four read any periodicals, and only our father was a regular reader of a newspaper (this being the town daily comprised largely of wire service stories.) If you asked any of the four had they read any good books lately you would receive as a response anything ranging from a blank look to a sneering chuckle. However, you would not receive any answer comprised of words, such as, “Yes,” or “No.” The intent being to make the questioner feel stupid for having asked. The answer of course would be, “No.” None of the four would have read a good book unless they were forced to many years before in school.
I once heard my youngest brother boast that he’d only read one book in his life. I assumed part of the grin he sported as he said it had to do with baiting anyone to ask which book that was. I didn’t ask. It didn’t seem at the time anyone who’d made it a point to read no more than one book was equipped to strategically select an astoundingly interesting book. What run-of-the-mill escape fiction he’d selected I just didn’t want to know. (Some memories it’s preferable to not have haunt you the rest of your life.) I do recall the brother a year younger than me reading Watership Down, by Richard Adams, London 1972.* That would mean he would have been 16 years old at the time, reading what is considered a children’s book. Though, I also recall seeing him read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great And Small which came out that same year and him suddenly having the ambition to become a veterinarian. I can’t recall seeing him read anything else but those two. He may have, and if he had, I’m just unaware. And, he never became a vet of either sort.
I recall our father reading Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, at the time when those two magazines were quite . . . popular. Other than those, I don’t recall seeing him read anything unless it directly related to some technical issue with which he was concerned, and even those very seldom. My brother-in-law I didn’t know much about. By the same token he knew very little about me. I was his sons’ uncle, however that wasn’t enough impetus to provoke any interest on his part. He was a typical southern boy my sister met in a halfway house where the two of them resided when they each got out of state prison after doing a stretch for drug-related crimes. And, in relating the background it seems some of the situation becomes obvious.
What has always disturbed me about this rogue’s gallery is they all vote, which is their right. Leading up to these votes they like to hold forth on whatever issue is being considered, and when holding forth they expect the respect and consideration due to someone knowledgeable on the particular subject in question. Unfortunately for them, as well as for the people having to live with the results of these multifarious votes, they didn’t in actuality know all that much about any of those subjects, and not near as much as they thought they did. To ascertain this one had only to consider the authority with which they thought they spoke. This they were more than happy to convey in an assertively confident voice; one with those everybody knows overtones, and no one can dispute this undertones.
The unmistakable impression I got that evening on the patio was, “We’re all men here, and as men it’s not necessary for us to communicate with one another for we’re assured we are in agreement on everything of any significance, and if you don’t agree with us, you can’t possibly know what you’re talking about anyway, so it’s pointless to even talk to you unless you’re a special case who requires he be spoken to, which then doubly assures we will not speak to you as this would be an effeminate trait and we couldn’t possibly countenance that.” The majority ruling, and I being the one before their four, it would have been out of place to challenge them on this set of points. They, of course, established these points as unassailable anyway, rendering it pointless to call them out. Though I was there among literally my brothers and an elder, I felt I was an unwanted intruder. The only reason I could sense for this was the idea I was the sort of person who would think, and they weren’t having any of that.
It would be an immeasurable comfort to me if I were just being bombastic, and exaggerating for the sake of effect. For, these are people upon whom one is supposed to be able to rely should times become rough. However, they seem more like the types who would turn you over to their ideologue brethren before they’d acknowledge a blood tie; their loyalties being with their own convoluted understandings of the topical issues of moment and not any generational heritage. The loss of this heritage, ironically, is among their many complaints, by the way. They see it’s gone. They just hold themselves blameless in its disappearance. The loss of such things as these they categorically ascribe to liberals; a group of people who are defined in very elastic terms, depending upon what is being discussed. These liberals are their catchall boogie men. If anything runs counter to their preferences then there must be some liberal behind it.
Then of course an examination of the men on the patio would not be complete by covering alone the lack of edification, and it’s accompanying lack of conversational skills. An apparent lack of gender confidence is present as well. It seems extraordinary efforts at conformity including the submerging of any traits readable as individual, are expected of oneself and required of others.
*Oddly enough that was the same year I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as well as Hermann Hesse’s Beneath the Wheel, Demian and Siddhartha, and Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. Frederick Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal and his Odessa Files were both best sellers that year. Jonathon Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach)happened to come out that year, too. 1972 was a surprisingly good year for fiction, as it turns out.
The Men On The Patio