There is a lot of snot and malice about rednecks on the internet. Most of it comes from such cornflowers and honeysuckles as college professors, other witless suburban nonentities, and assorted twits in cities. By “redneck,” these bundles of intellectual lingerie seem to mean anyone without a college degree who can hang a door or lube his car.
One of them, some sort of biochemical rascal, figured that rednecks were examples of poor evolutionary fitness — compared, I guess, to him. Now, that’s a stretch.
Tell you about rednecks. They’re probably the only people in the whole country that ain’t unfit. What used to be Davy Crockett’s country today is full mostly of folk who can’t do anything for themselves. They call someone else to fix the plumbing, shoot the burglar, gap their plugs, build their houses, get their kids off drugs. If the cat dies they need a pet-loss grief-management counselor. From a redneck’s point of view, the United States is turning fast into people like those nasty white grubs that nekkid savages in New Guinea eat, only with legs.
I know the breed — rednecks, not grubs. I grew up with them, in King George County, Virginia, and in Athens, Alabama in 1957. Back then I thought I was Huck Finn. I may have been right. Certainly the evidence favored the proposition. I’d run through the woods like a Southern Mowgli with a slingshot and later got drunk with the country boys in high school and drove like three damn fools, buy one and get two free. We hunted, and crabbed in the Potomac, and such like. We called people from Massachusetts “Damyanks,” or “targets.”
Now, the people in KG were either farmers or fishermen. They could build a crab boat from scratch. Try it. What they were, really, was versatile. They’d snatch an old engine from a junkyard Chevy and rebuild it, convert it to marine, and mount it in the boat. They changed their own transmissions, replaced clutch plates, wired the barns they built. They could run a farm, keep old tractors going, blast a stump, raise hogs and slaughter them. They knew guns, and had them. They could hunt, shoot, and fish. They were tough, cut cordwood and split logs and dug foundations. If they wanted a wall, they laid the brick. If something broke, they fixed it.
Maybe they came up a little short on iambic pentameter. Didn’t seem to hurt’em none.
Now, if an asteroid hit Boston, which would be a good idea, and all the International Safeways and designer-cheese stores went tits-up, and the repair shops and gas stations that do things for all that human okra up there that needs someone else to water it, and if people had to take care of themselves like grownups…how long do you think the English department at Cornell would last?
Too long, yes. Maybe minutes. Think of it: Five hundred BMWs descending on the drug stores, people squealing and clawing and snatching out eyeballs to steal the last Prozac. Why, they couldn’t live without sour white wine not nearly as good as Ripple and those cheeses with names like Chartreuse. A week later they’d be eating their lawns. (I don’t oppose this, understand. I’d sell tickets.)
People in the country wouldn’t blink. They might wonder how to start an asteroid so they could get Washington too.
If some upscale flowerbed like Fairfax County outside DC ever had to deal with hard times, it would the best show since Aunt Sally sat on that ant nest. It isn’t just that they can’t do anything. They can’t even think about doing anything. I mean, suppose that after the asteroid hit the cops had other things to do, like look after their families, and a larcenous parasitic lawyer encountered some Diversity with a knife in its hand and an itch for his television or daughters, what would he do? Get extra therapy? Hit him with a rubber stamp? Say, “Can’t we talk about this?”
Now, in the country, people had a slightly less lenient attitude toward having their homes invaded. Nobody ever shot anybody, much anyway. People didn’t think it was civilized. They did have dogs and shotguns and rifles. Further, they had the backbone to use them if the need arose. Which is why it didn’t.
Now, I reckon professors are pretty smart. After all they’re picked for it — except in departments whose names end in “Studies,” and Departments of Education, where they’re picked for being stupid. And in some other departments, if brains were oil, the inmates would be about a quart low: Anthropology, psychology, sociology, cosmetology science. The really smart ones — there must be a couple of dozen — might be able to handle an asteroid strike.
But I doubt it. The dinosaurs didn’t. What happens is, most people grow up helpless in some suburb. It isn’t their fault. They have to wear helmets and life-preservers to walk around the block and probably adult diapers and if they are boys they like as not get estrogen injections so they won’t be. They can’t wrestle or play dodge ball because it’s violent. They can’t play Cowboys and Engines because it’s insensitive. Then they get a job in some office fiddling with forms. And that’s all they do. Ever.
A redneck has a life, lots of times anyway. A buddy of mine grew up in a tough section of a Yankee city, where the deciding factor in a philosophical discussion was a good right hook. He went to Viet Nam for a couple of tours in spec ops, spent ten years in the fishing fleets of Alaska, and retired as a fireman-EMT. He knows motorcycles, scuba, and NASCAR.
A man like that has some depth to him. He knows what life is. He has seen it. You can talk to him about the street trades — cops, fire, paramedics — and he knows what happens. He knows Nana Plaza and small boats in cold oceans and Saigon in the bad times. You don’t get that with a biochemist, master of aldehydes. A perfesser is like one of those polished jewels of the British upper classes, except bright, and pig-ignorant of the world. I mean, if you spend ten years in labs to get your meal ticket, you don’t have time to amount to much.
Of course you might cure cancer. And I guess penicillin is pretty good stuff. Maybe everybody’s got some virtue, even professors. They still can’t cure an asteroid.
My cousin Tony, left, of Farmville, Virginia, a driver for Team 20 Racing, which made old tore-up Triumphs go faster than they had any business going. This was actually a nice magazine photo till it got scanned. Tony, a college grad, is what you might call a redneck by choice, which shows he’s got his priorities straight.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.