Monday, September 01, 2008

We Are Alaska (And So Can You)

I asked a friend who worked the pipeline and has many contacts in Alaska what he made of the pregnancy of Mrs. Palin's daughter. I really had two questions: Is there a libertarian streak in avowedly conservative Alaskans that explains the family's equanimity -- but isn't there also a frontier tradition of beating the crap out of anyone who messes with your daughter? I kind of like the notion of slapping the punk around, but that's just me. I assume the courts would be on my side.

I was just curious. Dr. Tundra ought to know. But he responded with wider wisdom.

Re: a serious questionMichael,

I think I could have made some generalizations when I first got up there in 1965. But that Alaska lives only on TV. The place truly isn’t that much different anymore. Here’s what it was like. Follows is a bit taken from the book I was writing. I was living in a treehouse, off a dirt road we named Happy Road, 20 miles west of Fairbanks on Ester Dome. This is 1960s, 40 years ago.

* * *

By this time others had moved onto Happy Road. People came out to visit Charlie, Denny or me, saw the forest, the meadows, the wild flowers and thought, “Hell, I’ll build a cabin out here.” And they did. First, the men came, then their women, followed by dogs, and, a few years later, home-born kids.

Living in the woods in Alaska has been described as one guy in a 12 X 12 foot cabin with a wood stove, one moldy couch, three kerosene lamps and 2,500 paperback books, acquired, a dozen at a time, from the Salvation Army. This was a stereotype of the 1940s and 50s and it’s as true as any other.

But, by the mid to late 1960s and early 70s, there was a new breed of cabin rat living in the hills around Fairbanks. These inhabitants had several things in common. They were white, young (mid-20s to early 30s), and had attended, but never graduated from, college. A lot of New Yorkers, a lot of rust-belt émigrés, very few Californians.

Nobody stumbled onto Fairbanks, Alaska in those days. You were there for a reason. Remember, the tree house was built in 1969, well before the pipeline, indeed, Alaska had been a territory just ten years earlier. If you voluntarily moved to Fairbanks during those years it was understood that you were not cool. You were too skinny or too fat. Your butt was too big or your tits were too small. Your shoulders slumped, you had peculiar teeth, you wore thick glasses, your face looked funny, and most typical of all, you had the social skills of an autistic post office employee. Ordinary people looked at you and wanted to be somewhere else.

Cool people lived in San Francisco, Berkeley, Eugene, Manhattan, Madison, Cambridge, Boulder, Austin, Santa Fe and Key West. Cool people smoked dope, listened to Jimmy Hendricks, went to love-ins, wore tie-dye T-shirts, fucked hippie chicks, hippie dudes, or both. Newcomers arriving in Fairbanks had never been invited to a love-in, would be too frightened to go on their own, and if, by a hideous, once-in-a-lifetime series of impossible mistakes, found themselves at a hippie tribal gathering, music festival, commune, orgy or encounter group, would be too uncool to function.

Happily, the concept of cool/uncool did not exist in Fairbanks at the time, there was only getting through the winter, and, in this, these young pioneers performed quite well. Which brings us to the second reason, just as true as the first, why the genetically uncool traveled to Fairbanks. They came here, because here was the biggest, baddest, emptiest piece of real estate left under United States sovereignty. Do not be deceived, physical presentation and social skills count for less than nothing when it’s 50 below zero and you’re an hour’s walk from the nearest paved road. What counted was what they already had, physical courage and out-of-this-world stubbornness.

So, while Fairbanks city residents would kill for a power line, couldn’t wait to move into a one-story ranch-style house, with, get this, a goddamn lawn front and rear, applauded when Sears opened a catalogue storefront, wrote letters to the editor whining about when, oh when, would Fairbanks get a K-Mart or a McDonalds or a Denny’s, or, dare we say it, a May Company Department Store, outlanders arrived in ones and twos and threes to taste frontier, taste the real-deal before it was ruled and regulated by Safeway-shopping, dishwasher-owning, Rotary-Club-going, thinks-he’s-living-in-suburbia, motherfucking middle-class white boys, their slop-the-makeup-on wives and vile offspring.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Anonymous said...

Elitist snobbery for the middle class. Check. Obligatory bisexual note struck. Check. Weary, seen-it-all ironical tone. Check. Lemme guess: He teaches college somewhere. English department, I'd guess.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

This is so very ... inaccurate. Pray Dr. Tundra doesn't find out where you live. They say of Dr. Tundra that if he shoots you in the face, you stay down. Well, no, actually he says that bullets are for business but fists are for fun. Him and Birney: Even money. Even money.