You’d Need a Man to Do That

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / Boyhood /

English Diction, Long Island Lexicon, Uncle Idiolect

Late 1940’s: @ K. 2000 09 20

The ceiling in the breakfast nook was leaking. It’s not that water was pouring on our heads; just that you could see the plaster in the corner all wet and bulgy. My mother hires “family” to fix it. Uncle Ernie is very grateful for the work and takes the train out from Brooklyn or somewhere. My mother comes home. Ernie stands shuffling by his work. The breakfast nook looked like kids had gotten in there with no budget on PlayDough and turned the formerly smooth walls and three-right-angled corner into a stuccoed cave. From my present perspective I realize that we also had no idea whether or not it still leaked.

My mother’s open mouth works silently like a fish. Finally she blurts her objections: from which we can see (in hindsight) that my mother wanted the house re-engineered and restored for $12.

Ernie stands there, tufts of gray hair and green snot sticking out of his nose. The unspeakable walrus speaks:

Oh, you’d need a man to do that.

(I stand there, agape: Well, what the H are you?!)

Context: Several:

Mainly I tell the story so I have it somewhere when I want to refer to it from several directories and files: principally as an example of unrepentant, unembarrassed incompetence standing by its work and demanding its pay and a pension. I have subsequently found Uncle Ernie everywhere: in school, university, church, government, law … I go to the local community college, hoping against hope to find help with Macroinformation. A long list of “doctors” say in effect: Oh, you’d need a scholar for that: this is a teaching institution. Do they know the scholars in the field in which they have a doctorate? Not on your life. They use text written by educators, other morons with Ph.D.s. No non state-issued materials or references in sight. (This is the same “college” where the head of the “science” department had never heard of Wittgenstein! where the only complete set of Shakespeare in the library hadn’t had all its pages cut since publication in 1898.

I also tell the story as an illustration of my mother playing both sides of the fence. She wanted good work but she wanted it cheap; she also wanted to help out old hard-luck Uncle Ernie.

I tell it further to report my joy at meeting another, hitherto unknown, relative: how could I have an uncle and not have met him by age ten? (Of course I was familiar with my grade school friend Lennie’s finding a different, never-before-heard-of “uncle” in his mother’s bed every morning. But this uncle went back to Brooklyn by the evening train, my mother having promised him a couple of bucks work and his train fare.

I also tell it to stick us in medias res: in the midst of the ludicrous finances of my childhood.

2012 10 27 Restoring K., even unimportant stories like this one (’cause it’s linked in others), I have another perspective:

Cultural Conservatives

Rockville Centre in the 1940s looked in hindsight like it was cast by Hollywood to look American modern, American white. Jesus, were we white! affluent (in appearance at least), etc. Our close relatives, second or third generation German immigrant though, if they ventured from Brooklyn, looked like something Victorian, or at least Edwardian, stuck into F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ernie looked like the lower class in DH Lawrence: someone to despise and abuse. The women were all decked in black with high button shoes. I remember photographs of Dad’s aunts and things driving to California for a vacation: there’s Victoria and retinue among the redwoods, there are the sensible maids, all dressed for upstairs.

But how progressive, how twentieth-century-modern was that? driving to California! in 1920! The roads were only just built. No body yet had macadam over-burn.

Stories by Age

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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