Southern Cultures 7.2 (2001) 98-108
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Call Me a Pogophile and We'll Take It Outside
My buddy Floyd is a native of Wisconsin. He's half Minnesotan and half Wisconsinite, which makes him half German and half Norwegian and about six-feet nine-inches of Aryan genetics. It's impossible not to attract attention when traveling with Floyd. I'm going to have a T-shirt made for him that preempts the two questions that he's asked wherever he goes: [End Page 98]
No, I've never played basketball on a team.
Six foot nine.
Although Floyd sticks out like a miniskirt in a Methodist church, it never occurred to me that he might be out of his natural element in a place as common as a Carolina gas station. We found ourselves at one en route to the Okefenokee Swamp, and I noticed that he seemed a little nervous for reasons not apparent to me. The cash register line was orderly and quiet, although the clientele might have looked the slightest bit surly. I should have known then that I was taking a friend on something more than a field trip.
I can't say I'm above putting people in situations just to see what they'll do, in the tradition of such passed-over trailblazers as Stanley Milgram. Floyd was certainly a stranger in a strange land. A flashing sign out front proclaimed, confidently and simply, GOOD FOOD. If there had been any doubt that Floyd stood on the margins of a savage frontier, it was erased when he saw the standard NO SHOES NO SHIRT NO SERVICE. Below this placard someone had added no guns. And at the very bottom of the door there was an afterthought perhaps addressed to the insect passer-by or the incidentally prone: NO LOITERING.
I suppose that it is a bit strange to live in a place in the Western world where people must be reminded to wear clothes in public and to check their instruments of death at the door. Personally, I thought the signs were a little pushy, especially absent a PLEASE. But Floyd was entranced. His nose quivered at the biscuit counter; it curled before the live bait well. He seemed tuned in to a netherworld of signs and divinations in a sight as commonplace in the South as a miniskirt in an Episcopal church.
That's the advantage of taking experimentees along on a trip: they will invariably spot the details in the mundane. I once asked Scottish exchange students who had spent some time in Carolina what they thought of Yankees. They quite accurately identified some of the distinguishing nuances, and one of them described northerners as generally "excitable." Perfect. If Floyd found the Gas-N-Git so exciting, I couldn't wait to see what he thought of the swamp that had birthed Georgia's "Official State Possum" by fiat of the General Assembly.
I knew that cartoonist Walt Kelly's Pogo was Georgia's state possum thanks to In-Depth Research conducted before the trip, that is to say, some Internet surfing. I soon discovered that the Internet is so littered with Info-crap that when I initially misspelled "Okeefenokee," I had quite a few hits on the search engine. (The quality of these pages was about what you'd expect from the people who got the name wrong; one particularly imaginative page suggested that manatees were regular park denizens.) When I finally did unearth some credible guidebook stuff, it started out as these tracts usually do: "Ever since man crawled out of a cave and put flint to a dinosaur's butt, he has been trying to tame the INCREDIBLE VAST [End Page 99] DARK SNAKE-INFESTED WILDERNESS that is the . . ." etc. etc. It was full of the darkly suggestive language that is attached to any place in America that has less than two McDonald's: "brooding wilderness," "poisonous snakes" (the swamp is home to five flavors), "pit toilets," and, naturally, "Indians."