Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Brief Apology to all Southerners

I seem to have riled people unneccessarily with my last post, including two commenters I love very dearly, so let me add a few caveats.

1.) The chief virtues of the South include a relaxed mode of life and really really balmy weather. When I first moved to Tallahassee from Kansas City I was thrilled every day I walked around campus. "How ingenious!" I thought. "Someone actually went and invented a room-temperature city!" There were certain particularly sweet days where the grass looked so inviting it took all my strength not to simply pitch forward and fall asleep. (I didn't, though; everyone warned me about chiggers.) Southern charm is more voluble than the sun-blasted taciturnity of the Southwest. Every student I ever had from Florida outside Tallahassee---it didn't seem to matter if they were from Miami or little ol' Denton---commented on how friendly everyone was in Tallahassee, and Atlanta's the only city I've ever been in where, trapped as an out-of-town moron in the wrong lane during the height of backed-up rush-hour traffic, three lanes of cars, seeing my distress, quietly paused to let me pass through without anyone so much as honking for my idiocy. These things deserve to be mentioned, and I'll add them accordingly.

2.) Having said that, it's also true that one of the things that I'm trying to mock---and I guess it's currently befogged by all my anti-Confederate irritation---is that I'm terrible at relaxing. It's not the South; it's me. I simply don't do the outdoors. I hate boats and fishing because I don't like killing things and boats are usually kind of wet, and once you're out on them it's often too windy and/or grimy to read a book. I went to a swimming hole once, and though I could sort of understand why my friends liked it---though it was very murky and we left when someone saw a cottonmouth---I kept thinking, "Now what do we do?" If I swim, I get wet and dirty and I smell funny until I get to a shower. If I don't swim, I sit in the sun, which no one from the desert is wholly comfortable doing. Do we just loll? How do we know when we're done? Are there any books around? It's the same reason I've never enjoyed being high.

In fact, I guess what I'm saying is I never experienced the South unless I was accompanied by people who, unlike me, were also comfortable being stoned. Perhaps I should have chosen antsier companions.

3.) Also, please bear in mind that the context of the book, I'm explaining why I'm not "capturing the South" in a situation where I'm literally spending one day in every major city along I-10. You don't soak in culture subtly in such a situation; you snatch what you can. And that means that, while driving through the South, I couldn't possibly have stopped at a swimming hole or gone out on a canoe, even if that was the kind of thing I was inclined to do. My options in terms of describing Southern culture tended to be limited to "that hellfire church sign I just passed" and "more gas-station Confederate shit I'd rather not buy."

4.) Having said that, as a person coming from outside, I tend to gauge places based on their human rights situation, and there's no question that I can neither ignore nor forgive the fact that the South is more racist than the rest of the country, and it's not only less educated (in Chapter One, I discovered online that by driving along I-10 I was driving through eight of the bottom ten least-educated states in the nation, not counting California and---to my pleasant surprise--- Texas), but it's a willful ignorance, which is why it's called "The Bible Belt." And as a teacher, willful ignorance is the thing I can least forgive. Threaten to take away evolution, women's choice, and gay rights, and you've lost my sympathy, no matter how much you may ply me with sweet potato pie. (And you simply irritate me further if, when I search for entertainment, you offer me Larry the Cable Guy.)

But I don't want you to think I drove through half the country gritting my teeth and hating everything. My approach was simply to avoid talking about The South as a whole, because I really can't do it without getting a touch of acid stomach. For example, in the book, it becomes quite clear that I love St. Augustine, and I love New Orleans, and I'm somewhat fond of Pensacola, and I'm flat-out crazy for Mobile. (And Lafayette was so not my thing that it didn't even make the cut.) But I never attributed any of the things I love about those cities to any overarching "Southern" style. (Nor did I blame "Southernism" for Jacksonville or Biloxi, which I didn't care for, and which again I judged on their individual quickly-assimilated merits.)

I guess what I'm saying is that I love individual Southerners, I love certain Southern cities, and I admire certain aspects of the South; but the South as a whole entity is so problematic for me that, for the purposes of the book, I simply wished it away with prejudice. But I'm glad y'all Southerners spoke up, because the paragraphs I wrote really were more snide and unjust than I like to be. I promise I'll fix it up. Sorry.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, that was an apology!? So are you saying you love most northerners, most northern states and most aspects of the north. Let me ask you this; while on your trip how many people afforded you a nice smile, a quick nod and a friendly hello (howdy)? If they didn’t, it could only be because you weren’t looking at them when they did.

My experiences with the north and west have been lacking to say the least. The cab driver in NYC took us for a ride to say the least, we got a $300+ ticket for running a red light in LA that involved no cop, rather a camera taking our picture and then mailing us the ticket. Arizona was actually okay because the cop who gave us a ticket for speeding gave us the bare minimum punishment. Yeah him! Oregon was probably the best northern state I’ve been in, probably due to the fact that we were in smaller cities, without all of the usual big city rush.

As for the racism, you may be right about some southern states, but Florida doesn’t really fit that bill. Florida probably has as many minorities as not. Heck in some of the cities (Miami) the ATM says press 1 for Spanish. Can’t get much more diverse than that. Maybe the north isn’t as racist but that could be partially due to the fact that they are areas that are predominately white. Ben grew up in Oregon and swears the only place he ever saw a black family was on TV. Not one black child went to his school or even lived in the area. It’s easy to say they aren’t racist because they never had the chance to be.

Every place has its goods and bads. Some people like the simple life, swinging on the porch swing and muddin in their big trucks, while others enjoy the hustle and bustle and keeping to themselves. People are different. People believe in different things. You say you don’t like the south partly because of the racism, yet you have no problem showing your prejudices against us. Shame, Shame!

By the way Dave, I still love you even though you are so wrong about this!!!

4/12/2006 11:08 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

I could quibble with a few of your points, but you're right: I'm basically biased against the South for reasons of my own upbringing (I prefer the Southwest by climate and blue states by politics) and my biology (as an ADD person, I just love big cities, and as an inveterate nerd, I hate the outdoors). If I was going to convert, I would have done it by now. Instead, I fled to Manhattan.

Anyway, I love you too and thanks for overlooking my flaws. :)

4/12/2006 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give me a break on all that smiling crap--I know how Southerners love to applaud their hospitality, but jeez.

4/13/2006 12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't like the outdoors, you're in the right city now!

4/14/2006 12:59 AM  

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