Saturday, December 4, 2010

Style is the Man Himself


Just a short post while I try to organize in my mind how to put my actual memories of the 1960s into perspective.
Today on BookTV there was an interview from a decade ago by Brian Lamb with a Harvard sociologist named Putnam; the book was called Bowling Alone.  It was the one that spent some time deploring kids with their own TVs in their own bedrooms; we were spared his deploring video games or Facebook.
A quarter century ago I bought a house just big enough to hold a lot of books and records (CDs were just beginning) and me, one of hundreds built when Humble, which became Exxon, opened its Baton Rouge refinery, which came on a railway flat car pre-cut and complete with windows and doors, in two lengths, 40' and 60'.  Now found from here to Missouri, at least, these are called modified double shotguns, and they are now about 80 years old.  They account for about half of what was here the town's first subdivision, which now is practically downtown: it is near the Capitol, the central high school, then new, the LSU campus, then nearly new, and downtown itself, full of lawyers' offices and the like.  Today it is full of LSU employees, young lawyers, paralegals, dental assistants (dentists live in subdivisions), school teachers, social workers, and such.  It has trees, sidewalks (with grass parkways separating them from the curbs and gutters and pavement), alleys; the lots are small, except on the corners where the large houses were built (see attached above).  It is well loved.  I came here because I like such houses, I could afford one of them and pay off the mortgage promptly, and because I trust my neighbors more than I trust Nature.  Though a couple of hurricanes blew down most of the pecan and red oak trees and even some of the crêpe myrtles, the oldest ones, we know that this neighborhood has never flooded, not even in 1927, and we like having our neighbors within hailing distance for easy sharing of flashlights, candles, matches, and more sometimes, in case of a storm; we don't mind hearing that half the block is having a party after (for example) a winning football game.  When the house next door has children we actually like hearing their play indoors when it's raining and regard the sound of screen doors closed by a spring as urban music.  Yet we are well enough separated that we have privacy as well.  Some of my academic colleagues regarded my choice of housing as unworthy of a professor, but I was a professor without a partner, paying my own way, and, as I said, while admitting the convenience of what This Old House on PBS does to an old house, I like a house that I can do as I please with.  So do most of my neighbors, evidently; this is a far from depressed neighborhood, but I wouldn't call it slick.
So how can I object to Mr. Putnam who wrote Bowling Alone?  Because he preached at Brian Lamb for a whole hour in his Social Studies dialect and all unleavened by humor of even the gentlest kind (it was OK for Fred Rogers to preach).  Here we are on the outskirts of downtown Baton Rouge, taking for granted and unself-consciously practicing all sorts of nice things, like watching out for one another without being nosy.  And here's Mr. Putnam wanting to make a program out of simple decency.  I mean, if one of my neighbors had to send one of her boys to Boys' Town, I don't think, and if I did think it I wouldn't have said so or hinted at saying so, that it's her own fault for letting him have a TV in his own bedroom, or anything like that.  Nor would she to me.
I mean, we're awfully middle-class here, in fact we're salt of the earth (but it's not nice to brag about it).
Anything we join, we join just because we want to.
And as for solitude: let us remember that in the 1950s articles were written bemoaning our children's having too little time by themselves, to learn to furnish their own minds, as we saw English children, for example, doing and as Victorian versifiers celebrated, sitting with a fishing line on a stick without expecting actually to catch anything, Robert Louis Stevenson fashion.  Already in 2010, Mr. Putnam begins to sound dated, but he was a boring thinker to begin with (IMHO).