Tag Archives: cultural values

My Mother Made Me a Commie

My mother and I watched lots of old movies in the 1950s on a tiny TV screen in our tiny winterized screened in breezeway.  My mother knew all the supporting players by name.  Her own sisters had been MGM contract players.  She was never political and always voted Republican except for George McGovern.  But without her knowing it, the movies we watched left a deep impression on me.  They reinforced the idea of “getting in other people’s shoes whether they were worn out with holes in the bottom or velvet ones studded with pearls. I could feel for the “down and out” while coveting the lacy ball gowns, crystal goblets, and fox furs. It nurtured my love of contradiction that persists to this day.

The economist, Milton Friedman, was right in one respect. He once said, “When a crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas lying around.” This statement became the basis for Naomi Klein’s frightening book “The Shock Doctrine.” In it, she chronicles the ways his followers jammed his free market ideas down the throats of citizens in various countries when a crisis, man made or natural, occurred. Some of the ideas lying around during the 1930s and 1940s that produced movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) were often anti-capitalist, labor friendly and surprisingly saturated with feminism.  I watched “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” (1947) this past Christmas. It’s about a hobo who occupies (YES, Occupies!) a rich man’s mansion every winter when the rich guy goes to his winter home in Virginia.   The hobo wears his clothes, smokes his cigars, and drinks his wine. Year after year nobody noticed anything awry.

One day on his daily stroll through Central Park. The hobo happens upon a homeless WWII vet (YES, veterans are always treated like crap even after [1]“the good war”.) Against his better judgment the hobo takes in the veteran. The daughter of the rich man runs away from her snooty college and decides to hide in her father’s mansion. She overhears the hobo confessing that he’s a hobo to the vet. She decides to pretend to be poor so she can stay there too and cuz the Vet is cute. Turns out that the vet has a bunch of ex GI buddies and their wives and kids who also need housing, so, somewhat reluctantly, the hobo takes in all of them. The vet and his buddies then hatch a plan to purchase an army barracks and turn it into communal housing. Well there are many more complications when the rich man (who started out poor) comes back to New York to look for his missing daughter. When they finally meet, the spunky girl confronts her father. She tells him that she doesn’t understand why they should have big empty houses when there are people who need them. Then she convinces him to disguise himself as a bum and join the merry band of people inhabiting his mansion. And soon her divorced socialite mother joins up disguised as a poor cook.

Other movies of that era also have spunky females like Barbara Stanwyck in “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) who writes a Martha Stewart-like column in a NY newspaper about her Connecticut stately farm. Truth is she’s a poorly paid journalist who lives in a one bedroom flat in NYC.  “Holiday Affair” (1949) is about a war widow raising her son and trying to find a good father while trying to maintain her dignity and independence. “My Man Godfrey” (1936) is my favorite film. Filmed at the height of the Depression, it opens with a bunch of rich people going on a scavenger hunt. One of the “items” they must find is a “forgotten man”. So they go to where all the homeless are shacked up tin order to find one. And audiences loved these stories of people struggling together in an often dog eat dog world. They still do if given the chance. “The Devil Wears Prada” is in this tradition, but not quite as subversive as the old movies.

Besides giving people work on sewer systems and dams in the 1930s, the WPA funded writers, artists and photographers. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another WPA type deal in order to have writers and artists come up with other ideas.  Margaret Thatcher once famously said about financial capitalism  aka Milton Friedman’s“free market” that “there is no alternative,” referred to as TINA.  But there must be.  There were other ideas not so very long ago.  Time to dig them up and repot them.  We need to  “imagine” a better world that we can actually Occupy rather than watch on the TV.  I was lucky to watch old movies with my mother.  No, she didn’t make me a Commie, but she did help make me a Contrarian.

[1] “The Good War” was the name of the 1985 book by Studs Terkel. It is composed of first hand accounts of veterans of World War II.

Montana Lingo, Dos and Donts

Angus Thinking About Being Gnarly

A Few Tips if You Are Coming to Montana or just reading this Blog:

Montana  is where an “outfit” is something you drive, not wear;  where “gant” means hungry and not a well-known shirt maker;  where a #2 Mexican Drag Line is a shovel and not second-string Carmen Miranda impersonators and “Casting a Cow”  means tying her down on the ground rather than getting her a good part in “City Slickers  IV”.

1. Locals don’t use  “pissy” as in “Boy was he pissy this morning!”  Instead they use  “gnarly”, “owly”, “snaky”, “high-headed” or  “on the prod”.   I definitely get  “owly” (wide eyed)  when I talk politics.  I start pawing the ground and rearing my head just like one of my cows.  My husband then usually herds  me out of the room before I “take somebody”.

2. Cowboy Up” is a much used term for a kind of stoicism that at its best is about “making do”.  It means “get on with it” instead of standing around whining.  The hay has to be cut, the cows need to be fed, and whenever something breaks, you just fix it.  The flip side of this Cowboy way is to not go to a doctor until there is a bone sticking out of your pants leg.  The term also comes in handy for a rancher whenever his wife needs something done around the house.
Maven:   “Honey, the plumbing just broke.
Mike: “Oh, Cowboy up .   Just use the bushes.”

2a.  Other “up” words include “prove up” which means that you’ve proven that you’re OK by wrestling a calf to the ground without getting shit all over the back of your jeans.  You have to “prove up” almost every year with increasingly difficult tasks like keeping a smile on your face while trying to choke down some chewy soggy fried calves’ nuts.  (I prefer mine sauteed in a little white wine and served with a shallot saffron cream sauce. Yum.)

3.  “Nice speakin’ atcha” is used instead of “Goodbye”

4. Most people in the country have no addresses but  live on or near a creek (pronounced “crik”) which can be upper or lower or east or west.  Gets a bit confusing at  times.  “Turn left where Upper Deer Creek joins Lower Otter;  a ways past  East Porcupine on the way to the West Beaver.”   Try that after 3 Margaritas!

5.  You’ll rarely see anyone walking down the street in town. ( “Why walk when you can ride?” ).  So you’ll see someone in Big Timber,  for  example, get into the car at the Post Office,  drive a half a block down,  park and get out to go into the Ben Franklin.  Then, if they have to go to Cole Drug which is kitty corner to where they are , they will need  to jump in the car, turn right  on 2nd Street and then circle round the block in order to park in the right direction in front of the drug store.

8.While driving,  put your  index finger even with your nose and then give a slight point away from your face when a familiar “outfit” goes by or even if you don’t know who the hell it was.  This custom comes from tipping one’s hat to say “Howdy”.

9. Never tap a cowboy on his shoulder from behind, he’s libel to turn and deck you.
Be especially careful during Rodeo Week.  And never, never touch his hat.

9a. Never call a rancher’s spread, a farm.  Farmers live east and north of here.

9b.  Remember;  the bigger the hat, the smaller the…. spread.

10. Montanans are generally some of the most independent people one can meet  in the good old USA.   On the plus side, they won’t bother you much and on the minus side it can make them a bit ornery.  Discuss politics and wear wolf T-Shirts at your peril.

11.  Bunny Huggers are much reviled by locals.  They are assumed to be mostly from
California or occasionally from out East (which my husband says is anywhere east of Miles City, Montana).  They are seen as responsible for wolves in Yellowstone, high property values, lines at supermarkets, shorts on people who shouldn’t wear them, floods, droughts (pronounced drouth here)  and pestilence.

11.  Be prepared to be considered a g.d bunny hugger a.k.a. g.d. tree hugger a.k.a
g.d Californian until  you exchange a beer or two.  Then you’ll be deemed a “nice fella or gal” even if you are a g.d. bunny-tree-huggin-Californian.

A final word of advice:  Don’t try to fit in.    It just won’t work.  Enjoy the differences just like you would in  any foreign country like Italy  or Taiwan.    Just like anywhere else people are pretty much bunched into three categories;  the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  And just like in that movie by Clint, goodness   is not easy to recognize   right  off the bat or hat, so to speak (although I still believe that hairdo can be  an indicator of wholeness and well-being and I am beginning to think that the simpler the “do”, the happier the person).    So respect the local customs and enjoy a return to the kick of cholesterol.

So, that’ll do ‘er.  It won’t be a bad-type-deal at all havin’ you here.  Yoooooou Betcha!

Old Outhouse on the Ranch