Wednesday, March 26, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 28, Fri. 1978 7;55 PM

"Today was payday. Now I have $363 in savings. I bought 5 blank Certron cassettes. I have to record Spirit and Ram, McCartney on one of them for M-- A--. I recorded some of Mom's old records on one of the cassettes. Recorded a record Grandpa recorded for her. His voice is at the beginning of both sides of the record. He says, 'Hello S--. See how you like this record. I'm doing a lot of fooling around here trying to make a record.' Side 2: 'The other side wasn't very good, and this one'll probably be worse, but let's see how it goes.'

"I'm glad I have this one thing to remember Grandpa by. He died when I was young, and I can't remember a thing about him. He intrigues me for some reason. He was having some trouble with the machinery in spots while recording, getting some feedback or something. I can just imagine him in a recording studio in Charlotte, Michigan, messing around, trying to make a record. I wish I had known him. I wish he would have left something for me to help know him."

MANHOOD REDO: I'm not sure how I knew he was recording in Charlotte, Michigan; I have no idea where exactly Charlotte is in Michigan or how large. I might still have the cassette somewhere, but I can recall his voice without listening to it. He did not sound at all stern or gruff but instead gentle and quiet - a little like Mr. Rogers, sort of comforting and humble. You can tell in his introductory statements on each side of the record that he wasn't especially full of himself. Instead of conveying his mastery of the technology (a standard characteristic of traditional masculinity; how many men were making records for their daughters in the late 1930s or early 1940s?), he calls it "fooling around," and says it isn't "very good."

When I write that he "intrigues me for some reason," I did so because he is what I think of as one of the "ghost men" in my life who have shaped who I am and have served as an invisible role model - not that I could have or would have explained his presence in my life that way in 1978. I've only come to realize as I've gotten older that he was an inherited role model never tangibly present in my life but continually there in unspoken and often unrecognized ways that I still can't fully grasp. My mother, his daughter, speaks of him as gentle, loving, and nonviolent. He never spoke harshly of anyone. He represents for her a positive, caring model of manhood. I believe that the times when she has looked at a photo of him and told me how much I reminded her of him, she was not only associating me with his character and qualities, she was also ever so subtly nuturing the best of him in me.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 27, Thurs. 1978 8:10 PM

"I mailed the forms for readmission to [Texas] Tech [University] today. I hope they don't take too long in answering. Didn't get much writing done. Half a page. Mom interrupted me. Wanted me to take her to get a new state inspection sticker on her car. Then we had to go get Jennifer from track practice, then back over to get her car. It was almost 5 o'clock by the time we got home. I ate. Then, since I was being bomarded with little hints, like, 'You haven't mowed the front yard, Pat,' I mowed the front yard. Then I listened to some records (Nilsson and the Beatles). Then I ran. Another exciting and fulfilling day."

MANHOOD REDO: The above excerpt is kind of all over the place, so I'm going to focus on the first couple sentences about reapplying to Tech since I've thought a lot about school and masculinity. It took me a long time to think of myself as an academic, as a learner. Some people saw it before I did. The priest I wrote about earlier who was a close friend of the family told my mother he thought I would do something with my mind. There wasn't much indication of that through high school and on into the first couple years of college; I was the sort of student who when he had a book report due would read the first and last chapters and make up details as filler, hoping that the English teacher either hadn't read the book or had forgotten most of what he or she had read. While I wasn't one of the "bad boys" who sat in the back of the room disrupting the class, I wasn't exactly what you would call a model student. In English, when we were supposed to write a poem, I plagarized lyrics from a Beatles' song, "Doctor Robert," which one of the other students recognized. I worried he would turn me in.

I wrote in an earlier blog about my relationship with school but what I didn't get into were economic class issues and masculinity. My understanding is that the above descriptions would fairly accurately represent my father's relationship with school. He has told me he wasn't a serious student. He became an accountant almost by happenchance. On his walk to a factory job every morning he went by a two year business school and eventually thought he might as well try it, so he became a student and scraped by in the grade department, managing to graduate with a C average. I can't help but think that the poverty he experienced growing up in significant ways shaped his relationship with the educational system and my relationship with it. While he went on to become an excellent accountant in charge of accounting departments and provided his family with a comfortable middle class life, I'm certain I unknowingly harbored some historical residue tied to the lower economic position he occupied earlier in his life. If nothing else, neither he nor my mother could provide much in the way of concrete advice about or insight into college since neither of them had attended a four year institution of higher education. They definitely did everything they could to support my attending college, but I can't help but wonder if that connection with a working class background and the traditional masculine stereotypes that accompany it, almost sabotaged their efforts.

It wasn't until I reapplied to Tech after dropping out for two years following my sophomore year that my attitudes began to change. I've always found it ironic that I taught for eight years at George Washington University, the most expensive private university in the country, and not only would attending it as an undergraduate have been well beyond my economic means, they never would have let me in with my grades.

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 26, Wed. 1978

"T-- M-- was a new man on the dock who worked for about 3 or 4 days and then didn't show up after that. Just disappeared. He didn't have a phone. This was about 3 weeks ago. I forgot about him after that. Last night a large, husky man with a pot belly and a baseball cap on his head, drove up to the AJ [Avalanche Journal newspaper] in a wrecker. He was looking for T-- M--. He said T-- had written him a hot check. He also said T-- was on parole. He also said he had checked T--'s last 4 places of employment. All different social security numbers and all different addresses. T-- is on the run, I imagine. T-- had me totally fooled. I thought he was just a high school graduate who had been bumming around for 4 or 5 years, doing odd jobs. I must admit, I didn't entirely trust him. I'm getting to where I don't trust anyone anymore."

MANHOOD REDO: There's an exercise we do at Men Can Stop Rape called "Real Man" where we present a series of two popular male figures, like Batman and The Rock or Toby Keith and 50 Cent, then ask who the real man is. We come up with a long list of characteristics - rich, influential, powerful, violent, cut, and so on - associated with traditional masculinity and in the debrief talk about the performance aspects of manhood. With someone like T--, it's hard to believe that there's anything beyond the performance, although his actions might be more typically viewed as "real man gone bad." You could say there are the socially sanctioned performances of masculinity - "real men" as fiercely competitive, wealthy, and powerful. These men become idols of manhood. And then there are men like T--, who represent the "real man" outside the law, someone who refuses to follow the rules, a kind of outlaw renegade. I suppose someone like 50 Cent could be associated with this, but he becomes more sanctioned when he is transformed into an popular icon, subsumed within a consumerist industry and society.

I've done plenty of performing myself over the years. I'm sure I still do some now. And there's undoubtedly evidence of performing masculinity throughout the journal, even though it's supposedly a space to bare your inner most feelings. I'm thinking of some of my snide comments related to the women R-- and T-- were involved with (I think I left these passages out of any of the blog entries because the comments seemed disrespectful). Part of the performance is to always be one up, put yourself in a better position than the men you're around. I wasn't seeing anyone, and on top of that, I was insecure about my short term and long term prospects in the relationship department. When I write about the women R-- and T-- are seeing, I sound like I know everything there is to know about relationships. Even though I didn't know crap, the performance made me feel better, made me at least a little more secure in my masculinity. That and performances like it helped me to feel I could pass as a "real man."

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 24, Mon. 1978 8:55 PM

"I just have had an argument with the parents. They want me to go buy some toilet paper. Dad came into my room and said, 'I want you to go buy some toilet paper. We're out,' and handed me two dollars.

"'Now?' I asked.


"'But Mom just went to the store today. Why didn't she get some then?'

"'She forgot. And pull your car in behind your mother's when you come back. Don't leave it out in the street.'

"He left and I started thinking. Going in the store and just buying a package of toilet paper would look pretty ridiculous. I wasn't going to go buy toilet paper. Someone else could do it.

"I went to the living room and said to Mom, 'I'm not gonna go get toilet paper. M-- [my younger sister who was 14 at the time] can go in and get it.'

"'I'm not gonna get it,' M-- said.

"'Why don't you get it. You're the one that forgot it,' I said to Mom. She didn't answer.

"Mom knocked on my door a little later. 'Are you going to go get the toilet paper?'


"She stormed into her and Dad's room. 'I told you he wouldn't go and get it,' she yelled.

"I knew Dad would be at my door in a minute. Sure enough.

"'Are you going to go get the toilet paper?'

"'Dad, if it was anything else but toilet paper and so late at night.'

"'Oh, come on. I've went and gotten toilet paper many times. It's no big deal. Everyone uses it.'

"'When did you just go get toilet paper?'

"'Lots of times.' He went back to his room.

"I went out in the hall. 'If she'd start writing a list when she goes to the store, she wouldn't forget things like toilet paper.' I was ignored. 'It's not like we need it right away.'

"'We're out,' Dad said.

"'We've got some left.' I got some out of our bathroom and showed him about one-fourth of a roll.

"'That won't last the night,' he said.

"'I've got dirty hair. I'll have to go with dirty hair,' I said. No one listened.

I found my mother in the living room. 'You're the one that forgot it.'

'''Start acting your age,' she said. I thought I was. I guess I didn't know acting your age included going down to the store at eight-thirty pm to buy a package of toilet paper. I went back to my room.

"As Mom was walking past my room to her room, she said, 'Next time he needs anything, he can just forget about any help from us.' That means that if my car breaks down somewhere, I can neither depend on them for a ride, or ask them to help me work on the car, or ask for a loan. And all because of a roll of toilet paper.

"'No one else'll go get it either,' I said from my room. There was no answer."

MANHOOD REDO: This is another one of those embarrassing journal entries that I would have preferred to skip over but include because I suppose I can convince myself it's occasionally a good thing to be humbled by my younger self. I remembered this incident before reading it in the canary yellow legal pad, so it has some sort of lasting relevance. I can recall at the time how incensed I was and how I felt absolutely right in my decision not to go buy the toilet paper; I clearly wrote the entry in a way that indicates this. There's no doubt or uncertainty - only outrage and frustration. I felt I was being singled out as the oldest. No one else wanted to go to the store either, something I kept pointing out, to no effect.

Upon reading the entry now, one of the things that strikes me is my sense of masculine entitlement, especially towards my mother. I'm troubled that I felt I could say what I did, especially, "Why don't you go get it. You're the one who forgot it," and "If she'd start writing a list when she goes to the store, she wouldn't forget things like toilet paper." I'm apologizing now for this. Like many young males, I don't think I had much of a sense of all her responsibilities and probably took her work for granted. She never had a job outside the home while I was growing up, so in that sense she could easily be typecast as a woman of the 1950s, and yet she was never the Mrs. Cleaver type. Her own mother, my grandmother, wanted her to be the perfect little girl, but I suppose she rebeled against that in various ways all her life.

It also seems like I was also trying to align myself with my father against her. If I could just get him to see that she was being irrational, that she had failed in her responsibilities, then I wouldn't have to go get the toilet paper. Of course, he didn't cooperate.

What I can't remember and explain is exactly why the prospect of going to buy toilet paper at 8:30 pm that night was so uncomfortable. What did I think would happen? That a checker would see the toilet paper and consider me foul? That I would somehow become marked as unclean? What was going through my head?

Whatever it was, it seems to have disappeared. Thirty years later I'm known in some circles (those my wife tells the story in) as the guy who went to the store to buy condoms and cat litter.

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 23, Sun. 1978 8:15 PM

"I saw R-- at work last night. The [newspaper] bundles were piling up because there wasn't a pickup to put them in, and I was trying to straighten the ones that had fallen off the belt, so I turned around to see who was throwing them on the dock, and I'll be damned if it wasn't
R--. Surprised the shit out of me. He had just come up to get a paper. He wanted me to drop by. 'After work?' I asked.

"'Ok,' he said. Then, 'No, better blow it off. Drop by tomorrow.'

"'Ok, I'll drop by in the afternoon.'


"'Probably be around two or three o'clock.'

"'Ok. That's when I get up anyway.'

"'So long.'

"'We'll be seeing you.'

"I called him at 3 o'clock. He wasn't home. I called at 7 thirty. He wasn't home. He was a little drunk I think when I saw him at work last night. I wonder if he remembers."

MANHOOD REDO: This excerpt brings up alcohol for me, such an instrumental and traditional part of masculine identity. R-- was definitely a drinker and definitely someone who worked hard to adopt that "cool" bad boy image, unflappable, unshakable, no matter what the circumstances. He told me once (partly joking, but only partly) that he practiced staying cool so that if there were any loud noises, he wouldn't jerk. The two of us went to a bar on University Avenue for lunch before I had a history test and downed a pitcher of beer, maybe more. I ended up taking the test drunk, a story I told more than once, not only because I managed to score a B but also because it established my manhood credentials.

I didn't start drinking until I was 18 - the legal age in Texas in the mid-1970s. Initially, I found the taste of beer unappealing, but it grew on me quite a bit. My first drunk was with a group of high school classmates during spring break my senior year. The five of us drove around the city downing beers until we decided to go streaking - popular at the time - in front of one of the girls' dorms on the Texas Tech University campus. The driver wouldn't get out of the car; said he had a cold. But the rest of us in various stages of undress - I had my socks and glasses on - ran around in circles, leaping and whooping, waiting for some of the coeds to come out. Of course, they were all gone, which we knew.

I have more drinking stories I could tell, but I'm going to stop here since I don't want to go too far in the direction of proving my manhood through alcohol. I'm not opposed to beer; I like it as much as the next guy. I don't want it to be my primary method of bonding with other guys, though, and I don't want it to define my identity. I can go without it; in fact, I went without it for over twenty years after I developed Type II diabetes. When I was diagnosed at the age of 28, I kept trying to drink the way I had been and it made me feel like crap, so I stopped. I've only recently started drinking beer again, but in moderation - one a day, if that.