Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be, Who Think You Need to Be, and Who You Think You Are.
I drove home from Norfolk on Thursday. Between Philadelphia and New York I took the Jersey turnpike, and I remembered that back when my best friend used to live in Northern New Jersey, and my family used to go visit his family for the weekend and then we’d be coming home late Sunday night and realize we didn’t have cash for the tolls so we’d have to stop at a turnpike rest area and while my wife would go in and hit a cash machine I’d get cruised.
This is something that happens in rest areas on the Jersey Turnpike, and the Garden State Parkway too. If you are a man, sitting in the driver’s seat of your car while it’s parked at one of these rest areas late at night, before too long another man will walk by your car and his body language will communicate interest. If you happen to be me, the person outside your car will look more or less like you, which is to say he will be a middle-aged “straight-looking” white man who you saw carrying his wife and children’s coats at the IKEA earlier that day. You will toss your head in the direction of the back seat where your two children are sleeping, and you will see the body language of interest turn to the body language of some combination of surprise/embarrassment/disinterest, and then your would-be anonymous sex partner will disappear into the shadows.
A couple of years ago my uncle’s wife died. Well not actually his wife, his ex-wife. They were married and then divorced before I was born, and despite my close relationship with my uncle, I did not even know of her existence until I was about 20. She and my uncle had remained friends thoughout her life, she outlived her husband, and it fell to him to dispose of her estate.
I take it from this that they were very good friends, or at least very simpatico that they remained this intimate for the nearly 50 years after their divorce, and I suppose that would (at least partially) explain why they ever married to begin with. You see my uncle is gay, and from my conversations with him I understand that he’s always known he way gay, except that when my uncle was a young man, being gay was impossible.
One of the things I’ve learned by giving up my profession as a filmmaker and photographer and taking up work as a merchant mariner is that it’s not uncommon for people who regard themselves as being from an upper social strata to treat those they regard as being from a lower social strata with something less than politeness.
What I mean is that when I was David Ryan the filmmaker I was (almost) never treated as anything other than a peer by anyone I encountered in almost any social situation. I was afforded respect and even sometimes a certain degree of deference and/or admiration, even by those who were better heeled or better educated or both. People think artists are special.
As Captain Ryan I am I am find I am more likely to encounter both respect, from people impressed by the whole boat-builder/sailboat captain thing; and condescension, from those (I’m guessing) who regard what I do as being “working class” or a likely predictor that I am not as (take your pick) as well educated/affluent/sophisticated as they are.
Yes, I know. This all sounds unbecomingly naive on my part, something akin to a white person finding out they get treated differently and better than black people. I can offer no defense, except to say that until very recently the path my life has taken insulated me from these sorts of things.
I have written before that as much as I enjoyed Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft in pieces, I liked it less in whole, and that my wife (who’s experience of class is somewhat different from mine) outright hated it. I think I understand her and my antipathy a little better now.
What I would say based on my experiences in the two years since I read Shop Class is that if I found myself irritated by Crawford’s book it was because I felt like he wanted to enjoy the rootsy glamour of being a vintage motorcycle mechanic, while still being afforded the deference afforded a college professor; that he wanted to be a thinking man’s Paul Teutul so to speak; that he wanted to wear the brown jacket of working class guy without giving up his white collar privilege.
I am less irritated by this now because what I’ve now seen first hand is that it’s not uncommon for college professors to treat motorcycle mechanics rather shabbily.
Just before we took Mon Tiki to Norfolk I was in TJ Max and I saw a Columbia jacket with a zip out fleece sweater. It was $60 so I bought it. When I got home I saw my chandler was having a close-out in an Imperial PFD/jacket all-in-one. It was $60 so I bought it too. Wednesday morning, when I shot the footage for that short film I posted previously I was wearing both because it was very very cold.
And when I got home from Norfolk, I took my Carhart jacket, the one I was wearing when I was on the Mon Tiki at the height of Hurricane Sandy, the one I bought 10 years ago at the Sears around the corner from my wife’s childhood home in Flatbush, the one with the broken zipper and frayed cuffs, I took it out of the front hall closet and put it in the garbage.