Dear glarey woman in the Hummer, thinking…
“Don’t judge me for driving a Hummer, you ersatz-hippy green-ennial type!”
I was judging you, but not for the reason you think.
Written while listening to ROCKISDEAD by Dorothy
People often respond to me as if I’m about to sermonize on flower-power sort of semi-philosophic obscure meditations. Probably, in part, because I have a history of doing exactly that. Which explains why people who know me expect me to occasionally talk about “the souls of trees” and things like that. It doesn’t, however, do anything to explain why people who’ve never met me take one look at me and think to themselves, “Flower child.” I can see it in their eyes, the way they look at my long hair and thrift-store style clothing and semi-vacant expression. They seem to be bracing themselves against a rant about how their brand of shoes kills whales.
It bothers me, although not for the reasons that might be obvious.
It represents a deep-seated misapprehension of what I’ve just started thinking of as the ersatz-hippy green-ennial subculture…
You know the type. They look like they spend a lot of time on the beach even if they live in Colorado, they’re always smiling while assuring you that “it’s just a plant/vapor/a natural substance,” and they can tell you exactly where to get the good meditation crystals and where all the donation centers are. The tattoos with stories behind them and the piercings in unexpected places are optional add-ons, but it never hurts to show your counter-culture-clan colors. Their stories about Burning Man — either the ones stemming from their experiences or their plans — will make you feel like an uninteresting drone, and everything they have to say about bees will make you feel like the ultimate world-killing robo-Nazi, and what they have to say about the human psyche will probably make you feel uncomfortable.
You know the type.
Not, of course, to be confused with the millennial green techno-hipsters…
Those guys and dolls whose beautiful skin and hair are a combination of veganism and products you can’t afford and never heard of that all smell faintly of potpourri and dew. They wear shades of grey, and you have no idea what to call that…sweater…cardigan…thing… But it looks comfy! And no, you don’t want to hear about the new cardi-yoga meditation clinic they just joined, but they’re so unassuming about it that you never mention it to them. Their top-o’-the-line gear constantly bingle-lingles, warning them that they just made another three cents with their most recent start-up venture — redistributing old garden hoses around Portland. They never look at their phone while sharing tiny and too-bitter cappuccinos with you, but they didn’t turn it off when they set it on that saucer either.
Your Friends @ Medium, in other words. Those people, God love ’em, build our future.
Nor, indeed, to be confused to the Modern Ur-Hipster…
That now all-too-and-ironically common breed of counter-culture that’s become so prevailingly bad-mustache wearing that it’s become passe to even say that they’ve become passe. Thanks to them, we’ve rediscovered second-hand goods and facial hair and experimentation. You know how it’s cool to wear that shapeless dress that just makes you smile? You can thank that guy in the combat boots and the too-small-Osh-Kosh-B’gosh overalls and beard that’s bigger than his head for that. Glad you now know where that cute little place in that neighborhood is? That purple-haired woman whose tattoos remind you of something you read who is herself reading Balzac over wheat-grass juice…she found the place first. You have her network to thank for it.
Although she never goes there anymore.
That — none of that (all of that? one of them) — is not the reason it bothers me that Hummer-driving Lady judged me for judging her. That’s all okay, but it’s not what bothered me.
“Counter Culture” is “Mainstream” and “Mainstream” is still “Unhip”
It’s a vicious cycle. Or a viscous one, if you’re bad at spelling or into gelatin.
(Ooh, good sub-header. Where are you going with this one, brain-space?)
Has this ever happened to you? The amount it’s happened to me makes me think it’s a common occurrence:
You’re standing in the alley behind the only hip gay dance club in town — and, lord, it’s a relief to have found it — wishing you’d worn a different pair of combat boots, when a Chadzilla-type bro approaches you with a smile. He’s exactly what you think: shapeless hair cut, cargo-khaki-shorts, polo shirt in a boring pattern. He looks uncomfy with his surroundings, which I totally understand. I’d feel uncomfy if I suddenly found myself at a frat party. In an act of basic humanity, you do the only kind thing: try keep your “this is my bubble — do not defile it!” look from distorting your face too much. He doesn’t seem to notice, and holds out a hand to you, grinning, and says…
“It is such a relief to see a fellow metal head here!”
Ever happen to you? Happens to me all the time.
That bothers me too.
For the same exact reason that it bothers me when people get embarrassed when they accidentally call me “ma’am.”
That makes me sort of sad in the same way that both of the last two girls I’ve dated said that they thought I was a “player,” but then they got to know me.
I haven’t given the reason, keen-eyed-reader. No. Not yet.
There’s a thread here, Hummer-driving Lady, that explains why I do judge you, but not for the reason you think.
You might think by looking at me that I’m the kind who’ll snap-judge your Hummer-driving self as an NRA card-carrying member of the “Africa is a really just a really big zoo these days, right?” type who equates Alaska with oil production and doesn’t care to know what a herald moth is. “Fuck you, ersatz hippy,” you might be thinking. You might, Hummer-driving Lady, at this moment, be telling your coworkers that I gave you a dirty look while I passed your slow parking job.
(That’s just how my face is shaped. If there’s a male equivalent to resting bitch face, I don’t have it, but I have something similar.)
What you don’t know is the story I have in the back of my memory about Jessica. She had a deep-seated fear of dying in a car accident. I think she’d been in a bad one at some point. Not sure. She had to drive long distances for school and work, though. Her family helped her get a huge truck, because the height and the sturdiness allowed her to feel secure enough to drive without having anxiety attacks.
Which doesn’t mean that everyone feels more secure in larger cars. I know I don’t. I prefer my cars zippy and maneuverable. But it does mean that there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about people. Just because you like to drive a hummer does not mean that you’re eager to speed the implosion of Earth, and that’s the only thing that’s true about you. Maybe you are. That would be interesting. But I don’t know you, Hummer-driving Lady. I won’t assume that’s true about you. Maybe you go antiquing a lot and you need the extra-large car because you like large furniture. That’s cool. Antiquing is good.
I am judging you still, but not for that.
How I’m judging you has to do with the café in my building…
The company where I work recently re-located to a new building. The new building has this little deli/café on the ground floor. Sandwiches and coffee and things.
It’s a charming little place. It’s a small business. Apparently the extremely pleasant couple who run the place lease the space from the building and run their little café.
It’s got all the charming details that a small business ought to have: vague design aesthetic, home-made feeling food, slightly ratty edges on things like they’re maintained by a person rather than to “company standards.” You can, in short, see that people are in charge of it, not a corporation.
As opposed to…
Across the parking lot from our new building, there’s a slick-as-slick stuff Hyatt Regency hotel. You can smell the expensive and tasteless cologne of the traveling executives from across the parking lot, it’s that middle-posh a place. It’s the kind of hotel you walk into and then think the words, “This place is nice,” but it’s not quite nice enough for you to say them. Nice jeans and a button-down kind of place.
Well, the Hyatt Regency has a little café too. Theirs has a name: Perks. That’s how you can tell it’s not only posh, it’s also chic.
I don’t know whether their little café is a small business like the café in my building. I do know, from going in there, that their aesthetic is held to a different standard than the café in my building. It’s tidier, it’s cleaner-cut, it’s more…I don’t know, professional is the right word, but there’s no good image conjured by it.
The way they present fruit provides a good contrast.
The café in my building has a fruit bowl full of slightly-too-old or slightly-under-ripe apples, bananas, and oranges. It’s the kind of bowl of fruit you’d expect at a cafeteria or in your own house. Just a bowl of fruit.
Over at the Hyatt Regency, all their apples and oranges and things are individually wrapped in brown paper.
The difference in the impression you get from our café versus the one in the Hyatt Regency is similar to the different impressions you get from buying your car from a used car lot versus getting a new car from a dealership: It’s the same product, but with one of them you’ve got a nagging doubt that it might not be quite right.
That being the case, the following comment made by my coworkers makes perfect sense:
“Have you tried the café over in the Hyatt Regency? Yeah, they have good coffee. Much better than the stuff in our building.”
Fairly reasonable, logical thing to say about the used-car lot café experience versus the posh, chic, new-and-professional experience.
So you’d think.
It’s actually a consummately ignorant and bigoted thing to say, bespeaking a cultural tendency of closed-minded prejudice engendered by a generation convinced that presentation is everything.
Evidenced by one objective fact:
The café in our building and the Hyatt Regency across the parking lot both brew Starbucks.
Which they both display clearly at the bottom of their menus. Starbucks has an easy-to-use wholesaler package for little cafés, like the one in my building, that includes a lot of equipment and advertising materials. A lot of little cafés in the world buy into the deal because they get a lot of the branding and equipment along with it. You can get a package deal that includes a Starbucks espresso machine thingy and regularly-replenished coffee supplies and so on.
Taking half a second longer for environmental awareness would…well, not change much, except maybe save a few of my coworkers a half mile walk, and maybe make the little café in my building a few extra bucks.
Mainly, and on a personal level, it would give me more hope for the species if, instead of a comment about the Pikes Place Roast tasting different half a mile away, I had heard someone say,
“The coffee’s the same. But the café over there has a pretty good aesthetic, if you’re into that.”
I don’t get annoyed by a lot, Hummer-driving Lady…
This does annoy me.
I know that you didn’t fail to observe that both cafés commit the lack-of-imagination called Starbucks. That’s not what you did. I know that you didn’t mistake my “dealing with nerves…friends with everyone! Keep ’em at arms length though…” attitude for being a player. I don’t know that your double-take wasn’t because you weren’t sure whether I’m a woman, but I don’t think so. You didn’t assume I like Dethklok (I don’t), nor did you wonder why I’m so rude about Mumford & Sons, nor did you seem to assume that I am familiar with the Bern School, nor did you necessarily seem to assume I’d whip out my vaping thingy — what are the thingies called? — and blow “vapors” at you.
But you did give me a look. And your look said, in loud tones:
“I can see you judging me, ersatz-hippy guy. You look exactly the type, with your long hair and thrift-store jeans and counter-culture boots. You think that I’m ruining the planet by driving this huge and gas-guzzling box-on-wheels. You think I hate humanity and that I’m an angry hunter. Well go back to your vegan cottage cheese and meditation and leave me alone. It’s my life to live. You are a judgmental judger.”
Well, no. No, I wasn’t thinking that. But, since you bring it up, I was judging you. I started out by judging your parking job. I judged it was intelligent how you always back into that spot across from the up-ramp, give yourself extra clearance when you leave. The turning radius on that thing can’t be delicate.
Since you’re asking, I judged you for something else too. See, in the context, I do look a bit like the ersatz-hippy type. I do wear thrift-store clothes, and I do love my boots. My hair is long, my jewelry various, and I drive the beatingest beater you’ll ever see. Very much a new-age ersatz-hippy’s car, covered in rust, duffle bag with a change of clothes obvious in the back seat, books of poetry visible through the windows. From the clues, I might see the clues to suggest “ersatz-hippy type on the way” if I saw me too.
All I know about you is that you drive a Hummer, and all I know about Hummers is that they’re large and ridiculous. That’s the context I saw you, Hummer-driving Lady.
That’s not a hugely damning context, though, Hummer-driving Lady. There’s all kinds of reasons you might drive a Hummer, all kinds of lifestyle choices that would justify it. Or maybe you just like them, and that’s your one vice. I don’t know. I don’t know you. I only know you drive a large and ridiculous car. You probably know it’s large and ridiculous. That’s probably one of the things you find charming about it.
It isn’t my place, Hummer-driving Lady, to tell you that your life might be a happier one if you didn’t judge me for looking like the type of person who’d spray ketchup all over your Hummer and scream about moose death statistics, or something. I wouldn’t do that.
(Not unless I had your permission and a good artistic justification.)
I’m not occupying such a noble place that I can tell you how to live.
I am occupying exactly the kind of place where I can feel annoyed about living in a world that’s bred a species who, by and large, seem eager to trick themselves into judging that one of two identical cups of coffee is superior based on the aesthetics of the context. That I can say.
I’m not judging you for driving a Hummer, Hummer-driving Lady.
I’m judging your species — myself included — for ignorant prejudice.
Any youse guys spend time wondering where’s the source of bigotry? Ever felt like you must belong to the “counter-counter-counter” culture and wondered what that meant? Ever forgot to use a good subheading in a story and decided to leave it anyway? Tell me all.
Cleverer than he appears, but not quite so clever as he thinks, Oliver arranges words into pleasing orders, sometimes on purpose. He plans to be reckoned by future historians the David Bowie of Novelists, but expects to be reckoned the Pepe the King Prawn of twitter trolls.
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