But the ascendant middle class, that second deck of professions, the landlord, the banker, the doctor, lawyer that represent middle class social and economic advancement, also represent, from the laborer’s point of view, the predatory class. Predatory for the simple reason that the poor and working classes need their vital services, yet a single hour of those services equals at least a full day of a worker’s paycheck. And one never gets off with a single hour of services. Right? The very things that fatten the middle class keep a workingman “dick down in the dirt,” as they say around here.

Reaching my people will mean that we lefties will have to let up on some of our pet issues, at least around them. Issues like Wal-Mart. Good old boys don’t hate Wal-Mart. All their lives they have been price gouged by the local small businesses. Then all’uva sudden Wal-Mart comes to town and they can buy things cheap. Who could be against that? Sure, Wal-Mart is the global equivalent of the company store, but so what? As for Wal-Mart’s low wages, they are no worse than what people have been getting for the last twenty-five years around here, so what’s the big deal anyway? Many working class folks are caught up in the materialism game. Much money wasted on fast cars, rental furniture, fast food, and video games. We need to educate kids about financial realities so that people can build futures rather than grasp at the cheap junk offered them by capitalist crap mongers.

But most of all working folks need an organized labor movement to represent them. Not the disorganized one we have that seems so determined to pull out a pistol and blow its own tit off. Get this: According to the AFL-CIO’s International Labor Communications Association, the future of organized labor depends upon, “championing the fight against racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, xenophobia, religious bias, and other forms of intolerance.” Uh, guys, the lesbians, the Unitarians, and the Wiccans are going to love it, but you’ve just alienated most of blue collar America. True, the working class is riddled with all those problems. But are you a church, or a workers’ union fighting for tangible things in workers’ lives? Are you too chickenshit to go after decent wages and health care? Whose side are these “labor communicators” on? The enemy is the rich capitalist class, not the dumb damned mook on the gut line at Tysons who bitches about Mexicans on the plucking belt.

Beyond that, the modern American laborer has never even learned to identify his own economic interests (remember, that takes education) so they never see the screw jobs coming. In a so-called free market economy, where he is supposedly able to bargain for his wage, he’s never really learned to identify his own economic self-interest. That’s why you can go into any small town bar and see some poor guy who’s just gotten stomped and doesn’t know what hit him or whom to blame. He barely knows it’s about politics. That’s why he can be sold on one scam after another. Deregulate electricity? Sure! Privatize Social Security? Why not? The bell rings, the bloodied mook returns to his corner where his “liberal” coach upbraids him for not recycling. We’re still on The Road to Wigan Pier all these years later.

One of the best times to exit a bar is just before a fight breaks out. Pootie is now haranguing David Kave, a nearly transparent-skinned ridge-runner from Albin, Virginia, a shabby village over toward the West Virginia line. He is a militia member and sports a white power tattoo, one known as the revolving resurrection cross, on his forearm. Like many rednecks his age, Dave swears he was a sniper in Vietnam. If every drunk who claimed to be a sniper in Nam had actually been one they could start their own country. He also smokes pot, goes to a strange 15-member church that meets in a doublewide and says he hears the voice of God. Poot belches back: “I wish ta hell the pot dealers would stay out of Albin, because every time you get stoned you think you are a badass!” (I might add that when the buzz wears off he returns to thinking he is Dale Earnhardt) “Hey, do you know where your pit bulls are tonight?” Pootie taunts. “Tearing up the ratty assed furniture in your doublewide out there in Albin-goddam-Virginia. That’s where!”

After the appropriate insults will come the challenge to fight. So I’d better start getting Poot out of here for the night. I give him the five open fingers signal, meaning time to leave in five minutes.

Minutes later Poot stands in the doorway with that “Lenny, tell me about the rabbits” look in his broad clueless jackolantern face, and I can’t help but smile. “It’s a good thing you waved, he says,” or “Dead Eye Dick over there woulda been in deep shit tonight.”

“So what the hell are you doing here sucking down that Budweiser calf slobber? You’re supposed to steer clear of this place.”

“Well after I saw you at the Gas ’n Grubs I got robbed at gunpoint on the nightshift. So the prosecutor needed me to identify the guy they arrested. I told him: ‘The robbery was traw-matic. Yessir, it has done shattered my memory, sir. But if my jail time was cut short I’ll bet that little wetback’s face would come back to me clear as day.’ Well, he hummed and he hawed a while, then he said he could prob’bly have me back on the street in 48 hours.’ ‘How’s your memory now?’ The prosecutor says. ‘Purty good,’ I tell him. ‘I can see that little bastard’s face like he was settin’ right there in your lap.’”

And that’s the way it always is for a workingman, isn’t it? Even when lady luck comes his way, even when she grants unexpected liberty, she does it at gunpoint at a convenience store. And I look across the smoky tavern at Dave’s tattoo and shudder to think what a crack shot hearing god’s own voice in his head might one day do in the name of his notion of liberty.


More of Joe’s essays can be read at www.joebageant.com


  1. If you could have seen the look on my face when I saw that book cover.
    Very cool.

  2. I kinda figured you’d seen the book before, so I hope it was a pleasant surprise. I haven’t been able to lay hands on a copy, yet, but I’m trying. All the best.

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About the Author

Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus and the master of www.joebageant.com, is one of America's most piercing social critics. He has been kind enough to allow La Cuadra to republish several of his essays and is threatening to come down and visit us at some point in the coming months. We plan to slay the fatted keg upon his arrival. We'll keep you posted.