Monday, March 5, 2007

The way back from the movie was a bit of a drive, winding over hills and through dells to our small-town homes.

Zeke heaved a sigh as we left the outskirts of Manassas, away from the slow pace of the sleepy college town’s sparse traffic and onto the two-land rural highway. Motoring by fields and fences, I chuckled as we passed a cow moving its head back and forth slowly between two strands of barbed wire, head twisted to one side, methodically scratching an itch with the available tool.

Zeke caught the scene out of the corner of his eye. “Sons of bitches,” he growled at no one in particular, “nobody minds the poor animals and that one will probably be caught in that fence ‘til some time next week. God. Sometimes people are so goddam stupid.”

We’d been over this sort of thing before. Many times before. Neither of us were native to the area, and neither of us was a born-and-bred country boy by any stretch. Nevertheless, Zeke was seldom of the mind to discuss perspective and frame of reference while in this mood. Since he had decided that he and his wife were just going to get the hell out of here, pretty much everything about rural Sanpaul valley “sucked.”

It hadn’t always been this way, though. Zeke had earnestly tried to acclimatize himself to small town life, going so far to learn how to fire several types of gun both long and short, the joys of carrying a pocketknife, and even turning the sod in his yard to enable the growth of the soil nourish his small family. But he felt that the rough spade that was turning his life’s soul was unjust and unfair, leaving him to labor among unappreciative bumpkins who spurned his efforts at sharing his own erudite and more enlightened ways.

“I know you've been stonewalled by an entire class.” began Zeke, breaking my silent chain of reasoning. “I mean, it’s worse when your associates treat you that way. Do you ever feel like everyone acts like they know something you don’t? A couple of them have come forward in the last week to at least acknowledge that I am being screwed by the administration and they’ve finally come to the conclusion that there’s no justice or equity in my remaining an adjunct to this day still.”

Zeke was an part-time teacher at Woodruff College and I an English teacher of at-risk youth. I remember thinking that his comment about resistant students and unappreciative administration or co-workers was mind-bendingly ironic to a teacher of perpetually under served ‘troubled’ youth.

“Of course. You’ve heard me gripe about that kind of thing many more times than is needful.”

“If you were an active church-going Mormon, you know that the administration would at least have a different attitude toward you,” he responded.

‘I don’t know about that, Zeke. I’m afraid I just haven’t played the game very well. The rift between the administration and me is about more than just religion.”

“Hm,” was his simple reply. He wasn’t convinced, nor was my situation truly the same as his own.

And he had reason. Zeke had been passed over for promotion to associate or full professor at least three times in two years of dedicated teaching. He blamed it on an ‘ignorant Mormon holier-than-thou mentality of exclusion,’ though I suspected that there was a bit more to their brand of ignorance.

As we rounded turns and passed fields of big-tooth sage, the sun settled further behind the mountains west of the valley. In the gloaming amber light, the cold of winter seemed a little less threatening, more a silent benediction on the day and a promise of the eventual return of the coming spring’s growth.

Zeke had a different spin on the day’s fading glow. “Sometimes, when the sun goes down, I just don’t understand how people can stay here year-round, let alone for their whole lives. Really, things are happening in other places, just barely beginning for the evening, while here people are just hunkering down for the long night to come… it’s a sad metaphor for the mentality of this county. You know, in many ways Lina and I aren’t even here anymore. We’ve moved on.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that at the moment. Next to the road, shadowy junipers slid by as the eastern sky darkened.

“Yeah.” That’s all I could think of. I understood, I really did.

We were almost home. As we approached the turn to his rented house, we exchanged the pleasantries that keep comrades together while time and place keep them close, laughing genuinely at this and slapping each other’s backs at that. But in the end, Zeke went into his house, and I continued on a little way to mine.

1 comment:

Lost Coyote said...

I’ve read this like three times now and I’m struck by the inferences and thought this simple conversation congers up. It’s pretty cool.