Sunday, July 17, 2005

Eating for Two by The River

I was on the Gold Line yesterday coming from Union station when I looked up from the book I was reading and noticed this young couple sitting across the car from me. The girl was a pregnant teenager and -- based on the constellation of acne scars on his face -- her bespectacled boyfriend wasn't much older than she was. It was obvious that both of them were still in high school, maybe in their junior year. They held hands and stared into the depths of each other's eyes as if life itself depended on it, sometimes whisperiing into each other's ear, sometimes cuddling in that lock of love which shuts out everything else except whomever's gripped within it which projected an "us against the world" aura that anyone who's ever been young and gobsmacked by cupid's bow could spot from a mile away.

As the train continued to pull north -- I couldn't help but feel for them...oh, the many twists in the road ahead of these two. The girl reminded me of that 10,000 Maniacs tune "Eat for Two"and her baby-daddy (no rings on their fingers yet) invoked images of what the protagonist in Bruce Springsteen's "The River" was going through in the middle of the song -- at around the time that he and his girlfriend had to get hitched when "Mary" got, that was all she wrote. One could see through the buttoned-down sides of the farmer johns that the young woman wore that she was probably in the middle of her second trimester; her stomach wasn't huge yet but she was a small girl and he was still working on a caterpillar of peach fuzz. I wondered if they were ready, about the way many have been culturally coerced into thinking that the right time to "get pregnant" isn't until at least our mid 30's -- after our respective careers were well underway, if we held to society's "master plan" and if we started a family before that, we'd be asking for a world of hurt. Where did this idea come from?

In any other time in human history, this "girl" would've been a woman -- and the further back in our evolutionary past that we go, the younger the culturally acceptable age of child-bearing woman gets. While considering the latter on the subway, it jogged my memory of Jane M. Auel's fictional Earth's Children series which followed the life of a pre-historic heroine named Ayla which began with the book Clan of the Cave Bear -- it was adapted into a B-grade Movie back in the 80's. As the first installment held, the orphaned Ayla, a homo sapien, was adopted by a tribe of homo neanderthali (Neanderthals) and the storyline follows her through the travails of trying to fit in where she wasn't really meant to and surviving, against all odds...

The last struck a chord in me when I read it years ago and although it was set in a fictional past thousands of years ago, the foundation of the novel was built on current themes of racial separation. The thrust of the whole series was the young woman's will to survive in a cruel environment and how she did it by coming to terms with the realities of her surrounding while working with what she could control. I hoped that the kids on the train were made of stern stuff, for both their and that baby's sake. These two were far from any suburban backdrop -- she was Mexican, he was black and I guess their kid would be considered "Blaxican" as they say out here. Though their offspring couldn't be considered a genetic anomaly these days, he/ she would definitely be considered one who lives "between the lines of race" that many have had trouble traversing unscathed in the past...

Last week, coincidentally, I shot over to the library and went around the horn in the new books section and found two great books that are, coincidentally, relevant to the above. The first is called The Race Myth by Professor Joseph L. Graves which points a scientific lense at the whole concept of race and reveals it for what it is: an outmoded ideology/ social construct created by a handful of people who knew better but went along with it for varied and (mostly) unsavory reasons. The second tome is a novel called The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, a recollection of one man's journey with his common-law wife to the "end of the world" (or the remote South Pacific island of Tarawa nestled in the Republic of Kiribati, as it were) -- where he finds that his halcyon images of Tiki torch l'u'aus and laid back island life are figments of a mind unwittingly warped by too much TV and Robinson Crusoe yarns...

Professor Graves, an evolutionary biologist, plainly states his case with appendices, charts and references that span scientific journals, news articles and text books -- which I expected from an educator. But then he does something that I didn't see coming: he then melds all of his statistical findings with examples from critical moments in the ever-changing American zeitgeist to drive his case home, sometimes bouncing from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species to Alex Haley's roots to explaining the possible combination of chromosome arrangements that the union of one human egg and a sperm can create during the fertilization process -- 8,388,608 before you ask. Graves sort of retreads where Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie went with African Exodus at times but he also goes in some newer directions making the newer book, the anti-thesis of The Bell Curve, a compelling read...

Troost's outing, on the other hand, is a hilarious recollection of how an MFA does not necessarily mean that you know everything, especially about the world of politics, race and how they apply to everyday joes in American/ European society and in those that are less known. I'm reading them both at the same time -- when the first starts getting heavy, I pick up the latter, lighter faire to balance it out which makes me circle back the kids on the train. When I observed the way these two youth were interacting with each other, it was apparent that they were quite taken with one another; it seemed as if they were in on some juicy secret that nobody else on the train was privy to which warms the spirit -- in my book optimism trumps societal/ cultural pressures when you're standing for what you believe in but that's not the whole ball of wax, either. In "Myth", Professor Graves wrote "...we slide closer toward hell on a road paved with our racial misconceptions. We will continue to pay until we reject the notion that there are biological races in the human species, and that race determines an individual's worth." I think those youth on the train were taking a path less travelled by and for that, although they 'll never know it, they get buckets of dap from yours truly...I hope they can weather the storms that will, no doubt, come their way in life but maybe, like with that prodigy kid in the Oracle's living room on Matrix who could bend the spoons with his mind: there is no storm...Laters...

The River

I come from down in the valley where, mister, when you're young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school when she was just seventeen
We'd ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

We'd go down to the river
And into the river we'd dive
Oh down to the river we'd ride

Then I got Mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse and the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river we'd dive
Oh down to the river we did ride
I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain't been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don't remember
Mary acts like she don't care

But I remember us riding in my brother's car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I'd lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she'd take
Now those memories come back to haunt me -- they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse -- that sends me down to the river?
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

*Bruce Springsteen, 1982


Blogger Elenamary said...

You might like the book, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice To All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex.

4:38 AM, July 20, 2005  

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