Thursday, October 12, 2006

Neighboring Tribes

There lives not three good men unhanged in England, and one of them is fat, and grows old.

Woke this morning full of anxiety about whether, when we reach week three, and are supposed to be giving two massages and receiving one each week, anyone will want
to trade with me. It is a very juvenile-feeling anxiety -- like wondering if anyone will date you in highschool -- which jumbles up particularly disagreeably with the fact that in this case my chief insecurity is that, in this context, I am so old. In both my classes I am by far the oldest student. Quite old enough to be the father of most of them. The young women in my classes are careful not to encourage me -- perfectly civil, but avoiding much eye contact and staying very neutral. Which of course is precisely how I would behave, if I were them, but that doesn't make it less nettling.

The young men, on the other hand, do not seem cautious this way. Altogether the young men surprise and please me. There are a lot of men in my classes -- two thirds in my Massage I class, and half in my Kinesiology class -- and they are comfortable in their bodies and comfortable with touch in a way that I think would have been rare, or even impossible, when I was their age. Some of them of course, like me, were raised in the cultural far-left, children of flower-children. But some are just ordinary working-class guys, who grew up in Tigard or Salem, guys who like to watch football and tinker with their cars on the weekend. Mostly it seems their wives or girlfriends have encouraged them to do this, told them they had a gift for it. Thirty years ago this sort of man wouldn't even have considered it. Now here they are, practicing bilateral tree strokes and shingling on other men with no more fuss about it than the mild acknowledgement that "it's a little weird to do this on guys." It's not a big deal.

Working class. One thing this experience is bringing forcibly home to me is how very segregated my school and work environments have been. In my work life, for years, the only hint I have that there even are working-class people have been the barely visible trace presences -- the crews of dour Hispanic landscapers, the young women with long blond braids who silently appeared to water the plants, the cleaning crews of smiling, but again silent, Hispanic women who showed up and cleaned around you if you were working late. In that environment it was easy to fall into thinking that everybody goes to college and sends their kids to a private school.

These people -- these young men, in particular -- have a sort of openness about them. After the rather pinched and self-conscious academics and software engineers I've grown accustomed to they're lovely to be around -- perfectly willing to make mistakes and be corrected, and full of an oddly old-fashioned gallantry toward the women. No doubt a proportion of them are jerks, but there's something touching about how anxious they are to make sure the women's privacy is respected when they're undressing to get on the table, how careful they are with the draping. Many of them are very big, burly men, and they carry it very gently and -- what? Almost apologetically.

This is not my tribe either. But it's a nice one to visit.

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