My new job has started.
I'm working for a landscaper Charlie is friends with. I'm basically a grunt--so far, I've moved plants from one end of the nursery to another, cleaned out a couple of clients' flower beds, and watched training videos on the safe application of herbicide. Not that they use a lot of herbicide, here. Most of the plants we work with are native, and some of the clients even have us doing the kind of naturalistic landscaping Charlie talks about. The owner, Fred, is about Charlie's age, but outwardly friendlier and more energetic. I appreciate his flexibility about my schedule, though of course I'm not the first of Charlie's students to work here.
I like the work. I get to be outside and get my hands in the dirt, and I get to talk to people who aren't part of the school--which is strange. Fred, of course, knows all about the school, but most of the other workers don't and of course they can't because the nature of the school is secret. It has to be for the entrance exam to work. They know I'm a student and they sometimes ask questions, but I know how to talk about the school as if it were an ordinary liberal arts program, so that isn't a problem. The difficulty is that all of my life revolves around the school. I have nothing else to talk about. So I do more listening than talking when I'm at work, and that is fine by me.
It's interesting, I have so little in common with these people culturally--I don't even get half their jokes--but we share this focus on naturalistic landscaping, something I don't have in common with most people on campus. It's neat.
I think I'm going to learn a lot here.
The hours are long--each workday is ten hours, though I do half-days sometimes. Since I have to bike to and from a pick-up point in town, to catch my carpool, I'm off-campus for twelve hours or more, sometimes. I'll get about twenty hours per week, about two hundred dollars, before taxes. Not much, but it will cover my room and board fees.
It's strange how open-ended my schedule is this semester. I only have two classes, which means I basically have two days off (which is when I go to work). Some weeks I have three days off, because Wednesday is a make-up day. It's not that I don't have plenty to do, it's that I have a lot of freedom to decide when to do it.
So, I decided to go to one Callaloo, this week. It's Kit's open-mike party, except that there's no microphone. I usually don't go because I don't perform myself and because I'm usually busy, but I've never regretted going when I actually went.
Kit usually does something and I love watching her, and the other acts are interesting and occasionally really good. Sometimes people perform who have no talent whatever, but that's ok, too. The idea is to have fun.
Anyway, this week one of the performers was Eddie, who I've talked about a little before. I don't know him real well, though he's said he's going to join the Reiki group, so I'll probably get to know him better then. He sings well and has a good stage presence but doesn't play an instrument. So he arranged a back-up band and did this fun little concert of three songs--two Elvis songs and one by Jimmy Buffet.
The Buffet song was "Pencil-thin Mustache," which I'd never heard before, or at least never noticed. I've looked up the lyrics, and it's about wishing one were inside an Errol Flynn movie or something.
Now they're making movies in old black and white
Happy endings where nobody fights.
So if you find yourself in that nostalgic rage
Better jump right up and show your age.
I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache
The Boston Blackie kind.
A two-toned Ricky Ricardo jacket
and an autographed of Andy Devine.
And so on.
But with Eddie singing it, the whole song took on a new and different cast. Eddie is transgendered, so while he can grow a mustache now (he doesn't), there must once have been a time in his life when he couldn't but dearly wished he could. From that perspective, the bridge of the song was especially poignant:
Oh, I could be anyone I wanted to be
maybe suave Errol Flynn or the Sheik of Araby
If I only had a pencil-thin mustache
Then I could do some cruising too.
But the thing is, Eddie isn't really "out" as a transman. We in the Turtle Dorm know, because we shower with him and he looks a little different (I'm not going to go into any more detail than that), but it's not something he wants people to talk about freely. He'd rather people assume that he always was male, because from his perspective he always was.
So some people in the audience knew the subtext and some clearly didn't. Did Eddie himself mean the song as a comment on gender? I'm sure he did. I'm sure he was playing with the audience.
Eddie does that. He plays with expectations, with perceptions. He deliberately trips people up, sometimes for political reasons, sometimes, as far as I can tell, just for fun. He's a little like Allen in that way, but less intellectual, and I don't think they've really connected with each other much.
He reminds me of Ebony in that way, that tension between the desire, on the one hand, to be understood in a straight-forward way (in Ebony's case, as sighted, in Eddie's case, as male, without any asterisks or modifiers) and on the other hand, this need to play with and deconstruct expectations.
And he also reminds me of Security Joe--not because they are alike, but because they are so different.
Yes, they are both transmen, but Security Joe is entirely out. He does not talk about personal issues very often, at least not with students, but his status is common knowledge on campus. He is fine with anybody and everybody knowing. At the same time, he does not play with identity, the way Eddie does. He has no interest in deconstructing cultural concepts or exploring philosophical ideas. He he just wants to do his job well.
I'm kind of fascinated by all of this. You hear a word, like blind or transgendered or gay or, for that matter, witch--and you think you know what it means, what it says about a person, and you really don't.
You can't get to know someone until you get to know them.