Michael considers this one of my major character flaws: I like to have dinner parties because I like mixing people and ideas over food, and the voyeuristic side of me likes to see what will happen*.
My friend Teresa says that it’s like this: some people really like prunes. Other people despise prunes so much that they can’t see anything past their disgust with the plate of prunes, and can’t think of anything beyond hoping the prunes will leave the table just as soon as absolutely possible.
She says the first group of people likes the prunes and would like other people to know why prunes are great, but that the second group won’t ever get past the prune revulsion to even entertain the possibility that some prunes are good for some people in some circumstances. I think, in the context of our conversation that day, that she meant I was a prune-lover (or at least someone who could see the value of prunes, but can also understand that some people don’t like them—in much the same way that I don’t like hotdogs), but that the prune-haters would only ever feel comfortable in a prune-free environment with other prune-haters.
In the utter ebullience of my figurative prune love, I like to trade prune recipes, try new prune concoctions, eat flavoured prunes, share pruning tips, plant prune pits in hopes of growing prune trees, try snipped prunes and baked prunes and stuffed prunes, consult the prunes about my future (no wait, those are runes). And I have friends who like prunes, and friends who don’t.
I think this was Teresa’s point – my sociological, voyeuristic tendency to want to mix the prune lovers with the prune haters and to forge bonds between people based on other, less prune-y subjects – and its negative effect on the folks whose stomaches just turn at the thought of the plate of prunes – they who wish every prune would simply vanish from the known universe. I think her point was that my hopes of creating a paradigm shift for the prune haters – perhaps not to eating or liking the prunes, but to being able to tolerate their existence – is for naught. That there is no changing the prune haters hearts, no softening them to having the prunes – or the prune-lovers grace the common table.
I called Teresa to ask about the prunes. I didn’t have it quite right. Apparently, the bowl of prunes are the people at the table of a certain personality type, and I’m the person who likes all manner of prunes, but other people can’t stand the prune-y people, and just want to leave, or want the bowl of prunes to leave. I really liked my wrong interpretation better. Teresa’s liable to agree with me on that, but I don’t want to put words into her mouth.
Michael says he’s not sure about the whole prune analogy to begin with. He doesn’t have any particularly strong feelings for or against prunes. He says maybe the analogy ought to be neo-Nazi skinheads, or some grouping that people have a strong allegiance or revulsion to.
That would make rewriting the fourth paragraph rather interesting:
“In the utter ebullience of my figurative neo-Nazi love, I like to trade skinhead recipes, try new Aryan concoctions, eat flavoured Nazis, share White Power tips, plant racially divided subdivisions in hopes of growing all white suburbs, try snipped skinheads and baked skinheads and stuffed skinheads, consult the KKK about my future. . . . And I have friends who like skinheads, and friends who don’t.”
Actually, I don’t think I have any friends who like skinheads, or any friends who are skinheads in philosophy (though I know and love lots of bald white guys). Some years ago, Michael came back from Spokane (where he was working), to Raleigh (where we were living), and asked if I “wanted to buy the Aryan Nation compound in North Idaho?”
Was I sure? It was up for a really sweet price.
Yes, I was sure. I looked around the living room: three guys from Burundi, our friend from Hong Kong, my blonde daughter, and my balding, blond husband and brother — we lived in the most racially diverse neighborhood in the city of Raleigh. No, I was pretty damn sure I didn’t want to buy an Aryan Nation compound, however good a deal it happened to be.
As fate would have it, the Aryan Nation lost the compound, and the new owner has some pretty grand plans:
Just weeks after Mr. Butler was forced by the courts to turn over the compound to a mother and son who were beaten by young Aryan Nations members there, an Internet millionaire said today that he had bought it from the victims.
With their blessing and that of Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and other state and local leaders, he said, he planned to dedicate the compound as an education and conference center for human-rights issues.
How cool is that?
I confess a fascination with people who hold views counter to my own . . . even ones I consider petty and ignorant. We had a downstairs neighbor once in New York who probably would have felt right at home at the Aryan Nations compound. He had this chip on his shoulder the size of a log, and had been told, by some equally ignorant high school guidance counselor in the late 90s, that he’d qualify for money for college if only he weren’t a white boy. Whatever. His town demographics as of the 2000 census: 448 people: 98.88% White, 0.45% African American, 0.22% Native American, 0.22% Asian, and 0.22% from two or more races. There were no Hispanics or Latinos.
He didn’t qualify because he had a poor academic record. He was in the first batch of students for whom the college created remedial coursework, so they could get into and attend the college. He’d graduated ill-prepared to take on standard college coursework, and it was the school’s first foray into allowing students who were poorly educated to attend. I don’t think he ever saw the parallel, or the irony.
We invited him (and his wife – what kind of woman** is attracted to and marries this kind of guy?) to dinner . . . the first of many dinners that gave Michael pause about my social skills. I’d say hope springs eternal, but it might just be a masochistic streak of mine. It was a less-than-satisfying evening that ended with the relationship being no more neighborly than it started out. (To wit: when I was in my second trimester with Farmergirl and he decided to pickle, downstairs from us, indoors, for three weeks. I lost 8lbs and very nearly moved in with my brother who lived 45 minutes away . . . he just laughed when I offered to loan him my camp stove so he could proceed outdoors. I don’t know if they’re still married, but I have always supposed that it ended over this kind of thing before the birth of their first child). Of course, being the kind of woman** who would be attracted this kind of man to begin with . . . she probably figures this is what marriage is, and that she doesn’t deserve any better.
I’m pretty sure that’s he’s the only white supremacist who’s been invited to dine with us.
I am pretty sure Teresa would not like a dinner party with that skinhead prune. That is the drawback of prunes: ingest too many in too short and interval, and you’ll end up sitting in a pile of shit.
*This is not, as it happens, an entirely voyeuristic issue on my part. While Michael would only have parties of people he felt would get along really well, I’m never really sure who will hit it off or not. I would be a terrible matchmaker for this reason: there are almost zero couples in long-term marriages that I would introduce to each other if I happened to know them separately. Including my own parents. In general, it befuddles me that everyone can’t just get along, because I like (and pretty much get along with) nearly everyone, so think it’s always in the back of my mind that everyone else would, too. And while I like everyone to get along, I do find it really interesting when they don’t . . . and that’s the voyeuristic-flawed-character part Michael takes issue with.
Frankly, I think I have bigger character flaws. Like my perverse practice during the first snowfall of the year in Spokane. I get up really early, turn on the early morning news, and watch the following interaction from on the hill that is the south side of the city:
News Anchor: And now we’ll turn to Bob, who’s standing on the south hill. How’s the traffic, Bob?
Bob: Well, Sharon, I’m standing here with Frank, a truck driver from North Dakota, whose truck slid into the snow bank. Three cars have slid into and hit him while we’ve been standing here, and he’s trying desperately to get his chains on, so he can get on I-90 and get out of town. He’s got three wheels of his semi don—and here comes an SUV– the drivers breaking [Bob flinches]–and OUCH! That’s four cars that have hit Frank’s truck. Back to you, Sharon.
News Anchor: Thanks, Bob. It sure looks cold out there. In other news, one of the Olson Twins . . .
This same scene transpires on every local news station, on every arterial coming down the south hill, for the rest of the morning. Frank’s averaged 5 cars running into him by the time I’ve made coffee. It’s my perverse first-morning-of-winter-snow tradition. If he’s going to fault my character, I think it should be for this.
** In this case, I’d describe her as mousy, demure, and fundangelical. Our college attracted many women looking for an “M-R-S degree.” I can’t tell you how many couples married during their junior year . . . either to have the sex they’d delayed having, or to assuage the guilt over the sex they had been having. (And I can’t tell you how many of those marriages ended in divorce within a few short years – often after the couple had one or more children – far more than you’d suspect coming out of the evangelical subculture. Of course, no one talks about that . . . not around the college, and never in the “marriage course” the local church put on. We were asked to be on the couple panel discussion for that class. Once. I don’t think they thought, as the token “young marrieds” that we’d be as brutally honest as we were about the kinds of things we thought folks should think about before getting married. (For example, we recommended against getting married before having all the education each person in the relationship wanted to finish. It’s far more difficult to go to school and be married than it is to attend graduate school as a single person. And it’s even more difficult after you add kidlets into the equation)).