Tuesday, March 29, 2011

bageant moves on...,

JoeBageant | Joe lived awhile down the lake. We would visit him of an afternoon, Vi and I, and find him, a bear of a man, bearded mountain Buddha, writing on the porch of his one-room place in Ajijic. Always he wore his old fishing vest, in which I suspect he was born, and sometimes he carried a small laptop in one of its pockets. Usually we adjourned to the living room, which was also the bedroom, dining room, and salon. He would fetch bottles of local red, or make the jalapeƱo martinis he invented -- there was a bit of mad chemist in him -- and we would talk for hours of art, music, the news, politics, and people. Especially people. Sometimes he grabbed one of the guitars from the wall and sang blues, at which he was good. I guess growing up dirt poor in West Virginia puts that kind of music in you.

Joe could fool you. He talked slow and Southern, lacked pretensions, and you could talk to him for weeks without realizing how very damned smart he was.
 One day we dropped in and he said he had just found that he had cancer. It went fast. He died Saturday.

Most who have heard of him have done so through his books, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, and Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. Deer Hunting is a curious work, a sleeper, that you can read the first time without noticing that it deserves a high place in American letters. He tells of that huge class of unnoticed people in America, the white underclass of a thousand small towns and countryscapes, of Winchester, Virginia where he lived and by implication to Waldorf, Maryland and King George, Virginia and, well, all over the Carolinas and the Cumberland Plateau and … everywhere. America thinks it is a middle-class country. It isn’t. Joe knew.

You wouldn’t see it at first as sociology. Sociology is supposed to be written in drab, repetitive, half-literate, numbingly narcotic prose that would make an anvil beg for mercy. Joe was more Twain. Never eat cocktail weenies out of the urinal, he said, no matter how high the betting gets, while talking of people working whole lives in jobs without benefits or retirement and generally getting screwed. He had no patience for smug commentators in Washington who talked at half a million bucks a year of how America was a land of opportunity if only you worked hard. It isn’t. He knew it. So did I, having grown up in rural King George County, Virginia, where the same people lived. He was exactly right. Fist tap Dale.

1 comments:

nanakwame said...

Thanks for years of honesty - Joe - We have forgotten how to play

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