This blog will be dedicated to all things American, especially the absurd, strange and the inane. I am in no way an expert on our culture (yes, I am a proud American), but as I am coming up on 40 years living (mostly) in this country, I continue to be amazed at many of the subtle (and many not so subtle) nuances of our culture, and so I thought I would start a blog to record some of my thoughts as I come upon particularly strange examples of what makes us American.
Webster defines culture as "the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, social group; also, the characteristic features of every day existence shared by people in a place or time." Today’s focus will be on a particular social form, language with one word in particular: "Peckerwood." Today someone called me a "peckerwood" for the first time in my life.
The term "peckerwood" is a racial slur aimed at poor whites in the South, and, according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong!) originated in the 19th century with southern blacks who saw the blackbird as a symbol of themselves, and the loud, annoying woodpeckers as symbols of poor whites. I guess I can be loud an annoying, but I never thought of myself as a peckerwood.
I certainly wasn't offended by the slur. I was more concerned with the guys fist. He had it balled up and he was leaning out of the passenger window to get close enough to punch me in the face.
Here is what happened: My nine year old son and I were out picking up a part to fix the back passenger window of the van that my wife had put her hand through (another story for another blog.) We decided to stop at a convenience store for a couple of items, and I pulled in the first open spot in the parking lot and to my right was a very large and luxurious SUV.
I liked the song that was playing (Behind Blue Eyes, by The Who) and as we sat listening to it, two men came out of the store and started to get in the SUV. The one on the passenger side said a few things to me, but with the window was closed, and Roger Daltry was singing the part about "When my fist clenches, crack it open" (yes, I know, very apropos, but really, that was what was playing) so I couldn't hear him so I opened my window.
The guy told me very colorfully what he thought about me for parking so close to the SUV. That's when he used the term that is the focus of my blog. I looked down, and noticed that, yes the spaces were small, and that although I was a little over a foot from the line separating his parking space from mine, the SUV was almost on the line, which made it difficult for him to get in.
Here is where I made a mistake. Instead of simply apologizing, I told him that he was an idiot. I didn't use that word, exactly, but you get the picture. I pointed out that his car was almost over the line, and that if he had parked in his space he wouldn't have that problem. He said that he was no idiot, along with a number of profane words. I said, that yes, I was pretty sure that he was an idiot. He said, "yo mama's an idiot." (In this blog, I substitute the word idiot for another harsher word that I used. The two are virtually synonymous.)
For a moment I thought I was back in middle school. Before reason could stop me, I replied that his mama was an idiot. I feel bad about that, actually. I mean, I have never even met his mother Although my would-be assailant had insulted my mother, I was fairly certain that he had never met her, and so I didn't particularly take offense. He sure did, however take offense that I would repeat what he had just said and direct it towards his mother. That was the point where he leaned out of his car to get within reach of my face.
The driver (and I assume owner) of the SUV was clearly more mature than the two of us, because he put the car in reverse and left before his enraged passenger could strike me through my open window. Luckily for me.
I guess that's why I looked up the word "peckerwood" this evening on Wikipedia.