This piece appeared in Best of Writing4All 2010 by an Irish publishing company and also in Death Zone and Other Stories by Pantoum Press in 2011.
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Stereotypes are funny to me. For example, I live in Texas and have all my life. Immediately, stereotypes for Texan come to mind. Programmed ideals of a cowboy hat-wearing, gun-toting, oil-well drillin’, spur-janglin’ fellow, riding the range, herding cattle and doing sing-alongs around the campfire like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or some other archetypical cowboy are envisioned.
I do not own a pair of cowboy boots or a cowboy hat. Jeans, polo shirt and loafers are common attire for me. I do not ride a horse on the range. I drive a Nissan Altima in rush hour traffic every day. I don’t own a gun or oil wells. I live in a suburb. I work in an office building. I shop at regular stores like almost everyone else who lives in Texas, but there are some exceptions. The few. The proud. The Redneck.
Redneck is not so much a choice as it is a birthright, and it is a badge that is worn with pride by its members. I won’t go into all the details of stereotypes for Redneck, but they include wife-beater t-shirts, pickup trucks and living in trailers. Some of that is true and some isn’t, but the really colorful thing about Rednecks is the way they talk; the colloquialisms used are imaginative and even genius, in their own inelegant way.
It don’t take a big man to carry a little grudge.
Never try to teach a pig to dance. You’ll just waste your time and annoy the pig.
Tell me what you need and I’ll tell you how to get along without it.
Now, I have some Redneck in my heritage. My father’s side of the family was hopelessly Redneck, and so I grew up listening to these amusing sayings and hick-philosophy. I can remember several conversations with my grandfather.
“I can tell you a thing or two about a thing or two.”
“What can you tell me, Grandpa?”
“Oh, a thing or two.”
“Oh, something about a thing or two.”
I was less than enlightened by these conversations. To say a girl was prettier than a mess of fried catfish was a compliment? Really. In time, I stopped asking for explanations and just accepted it. I grew up, despite all predictions and threats during my childhood that I would be wupt within a frog’s hair of livin’, I attained adulthood, and eventually took a job working with computers. This was a distance and then some from my mostly blue-collar family. Oh, they were proud of my ability to earn a living, but perplexed as to why I was not hanging around much, and when I did, I was quick to find an excuse to leave.
He ran off like his feet were on fire and his butt was catchin’.
There was a reason I wanted to limit my exposure to them, but it wasn’t a reason I could expect them to understand. I wasn’t ashamed of them. I was just ‘in training’. I did technical support for a computer company and talked on the phone all day long. I talked to professionals and educated people from all over the country. Speaking Redneck in a hick-twang was a disability, and I was training myself to speak as evenly mid-western as I could. No Redneck, no colorful metaphors, no wise-ass sayings. Part of this training meant limiting exposure to people who spoke that way. As my career advanced, I found myself doing training and speaking in front of groups of people, and my adopted mid-west accent served me well. Most of the time, it served me well.
Last week, one of my engineers called me for help. He was working with a customer who had apparently picked up a very damaging computer virus on his server. It had caused cross-linked files and a number of other issues which rendered the machine unusable. My engineer is in India, and has been politely trying to explain to the customer that he’s looking at a full reinstall if he did not have a good backup to restore. Basically, there was no salvaging the operating system.
“Sir, he is having a server which does not work. He is very obstinate. I told him we must reinstall.”
“What did he say?”
“He is not ready to agree, Sir.”
“Ok, let me talk to him.”
As soon as I had the customer on the line and heard him speak, I had flashbacks to my redneck upbringing. I checked the phone number and the area code was familiar to me – Dallas.
“Your boy here, he’s tellin’ me he can’t fix my computer so I want someone who can! He’s just dumber than a box of rocks! He’s out like a fat kid in dodge ball! No offense.”
No offense? As if saying that makes it alright to be rude. I blow it off and let him talk for a while. Everything he is saying is emotional; how frustrating it’s been having the machine down, having to call technical support, having the engineer ‘waste his time’ trying to fix it and then being told it couldn’t be fixed. I empathized. I am sorry the experience has been so exasperating. Still, I have to hit him with the bad news, and my Redneck past bubbled up.
“I don’t want to lead you around by the horns and you’ve spent enough time on this as is. The server is snake-bit.” I paused to see the reaction.
‘Snake-bit’ is just a Redneck way to say there was no saving it. I guess it goes back to having your horse bitten by a rattlesnake; there was no way to get the poison out.
“Snake-bit,” He repeated the words back to me and I immediately recognized that we had an understanding. I went through the things that the engineer had done on the case, and the findings in the reports. I spoke with him about the value of backups. He concurred, and I put him back on the phone with my engineer who proceeded to help him save his recoverable data and reinstall.
As I sat there in my cubicle another saying occurred to me. You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
So true, and I was about as sharp as a cue ball for thinking otherwise.