We watched the 2005 version of "Pride and Prejudice" last night. I think I've mentioned my inadequate (read: typical) government-school education before; it should come as no surprise that I've never read the book. I had no inkling, therefore, what would happen. And I have a confession to make.
I loved it. Loved. It.
I was on pins and needles most of the movie, beside myself with fear that everything would work out for everyone but poor Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy, that the movie would end with them stealing furtive, longing glances across a ballroom, forever disunited by their own stubbornness and the pressures of a class-conscious society. By the time they finally kissed I was well-nigh aching for it to happen.
All of this raises a disturbing question: am I really a chick?
I'm shaken. My whole worldview is now called into question. Will I have to start watching French films? Are long evenings of eating peanut M&M's and sharing our feelings in store for me and the missus? Sweet mother of pearl, will I start getting pedicures and worrying about water retention?
My head is spinning. And yet my mind keeps returning to the notion that I ought to go to Amazon.com to check on the price of the DVD. Father's Day is just a day away, after all, and I deserve something nice.
I've been thinking about tribes, and how we all belong to them, and how sometimes the most important part of membership is that others not be members. Our neighborhood is like that, governed by a clique of sour old women and sprinkled with people who have country club written all over their well-tanned faces, and there sits our family feeling small and out of place. We've decided we don't like our neighborhood one bit, not its self-important association meetings nor its overindulged teenagers nor the instinct of its residents to be so, well, unneighborly.
Which is strange, because I've only recently decided to keep a ridiculous-looking flagpole in our front yard because a friend pointed out that I can fly a "Don't Tread On Me" flag. That's how tribal thinking works: I don't want to be in their mean-spirited little tribe, yet I resent not being welcomed.
I've resigned from some tribes in the past couple of years. First I left the Republicans, which, let's face it, was never going to work out anyway. I had only been a member of their tribe because the alternatives were so laughable, but I realized one evening, as I sat through an excruciatingly insipid speech by a senior member of the Bush Administration, that sometimes being in a tribe carries a moral connotation, in the sense that we lend our sanction to those with whom which we choose to associate. If this was the best my tribe had to offer, I decided, then I shall be finished with them.
Actually, it was more visceral than that -- I simply couldn't stomach the thought of anyone believing that I throw myself in with the likes of that woman whose mouth seemed to spew banalities and half-truths so effortlessly. The falling out had begun years before, and perhaps it's unfair to lay it entirely at her feet; I'd interacted with enough Republicans in Washington, D.C. to realize that they have no advantage over their opponents in character, principle, honor, or even economic common sense.
And now they race headlong into fall elections looking every bit as venal and arrogant as did the Democrats in the early 1990's, and all I can think is what I thought in 1994: good riddance.
Then there is the N.R.A., which I had joined in an ill-considered moment of enthusiasm following a handgun course at their national headquarters, an action I've never quite understood, because the course itself was largely useless and the majority of instructors profoundly taken with their own skill and cleverness. But I joined nonetheless, and thereby became entitled to a bumper sticker, a magazine, and approximately one million shrill mail solicitations.
They called me a couple of months ago, to ask how I would feel if the U.N. took away my guns. This is like asking someone in Michigan if he's worried about the Canadians invading.
I understand why they do this: the fundraising statistics suggest that, as a member, I am likely to get so riled by the thought of blue-helmeted, dark-skinned people parachuting, Red Dawn-like, onto the plains to seize my Smith & Wesson that I will write a check to help cover Wayne LaPierre's considerable salary. Sadly for the young lady on the other end of the line, however, statistics are not always reliable predictors of individual behavior, which in my case entailed laughing and saying, "No really, who is this? Aunt Debbie, is that you?"
Once we established that the poor child was in fact calling on behalf of the National Rifle Association, I explained to her that I've never been troubled by the whole black helicopters coming to take over America thing. She was prepared with a sophisticated rebuttal, but unfortunately we were cut off when I put the phone back in its cradle.
I'm still in the tribe of people who believe a well-armed populace is the only ultimately effective form of congressional term limit. But I am no longer in the N.R.A. tribe. I mean, really. The U.N.? Has anyone, anywhere, ever been disarmed by these people? The U.N. couldn't break up a slap fight at a Josh Groban concert, and yet the leaders of my former tribe decide to sic their summer interns on the rest of us with that canard. Again, to be a member of the tribe is to lend its leaders sanction, and up with this crap a thinking man cannot put.
There are other tribes I've drifted from, mostly cliques, tribes within tribes, circles of friends or acquaintances that I've let myself float away from, which is as easy as letting go. Some of these I regret, others not.
I wonder if something in me is broken, if there is a gene that predisposes us to tribal affiliations but which is bent over backward in my blood, so that I recoil from groups. I suppose there is no point in wondering. In the end there are only the two tribes that matter to me: the scattered tribe of simpatico people, those friends you can travel with in silence and know that it is okay, the ones who understand what funny is and is not, the ones you know in the first moments of meeting, but who are so rare and so rarely in the same place; and most important, my tribe of five, huddled together on our little patch of splendor in the Kansas plains. When I think about my family sprawled about me in our big bed on a Saturday morning, wallowing and giggling and thinking about pancakes for breakfast, I can't understand why anyone would give a fig for the rest of it.
Which is more proof, as if any of us needed it, that I'm not cut out to be a member in the other tribes. And that's okay by me.
I've returned home from a trip and the wife is in the kitchen, neither barefoot nor pregnant, mind you, but it's a pleasing sight nonetheless. She gives me a wife-type greeting that you need not concern yourself with further. Suddenly there is a screech at our knees. It is Isaac, and he is pulling at his mother's leg to separate her from the object of his affection in order to stretch his arms up at me and get on tippy-toes in the universal child language that means: pick me up, now.
And what is he screeching? "Mine! Mine!! MINE!!!"
It's nice to be coveted. I have no idea why this baby loves me more than all my other babies -- combined, no less -- did at that age. But it's nice.
Or perhaps he just doesn't want any younger siblings.
It was our first family bike ride: me leading with Isaac in a seat behind me, Caleb close on my rear tire, Eli in third, and the wife occupying a spot at the end, from which vantage point she could bark at Eli to stop looking at his wheels to see how fast they are turning, or alert me to any attempts by the baby to free himself from the seat or sling his helmet into traffic.
"Why doesn't Dad have a helmet? Dad, you should wear a helmet."
"Those with substantial life and long-term disability insurance can elect not to wear a helmet."
"Mommy, Dad isn't wearing a helmet."
"Your father makes the rules."
Don't think I won't be using that against her later.
We're off, on a three-mile ride to the ice cream shop. We live in Kansas so it's just a shop, not a shoppe. We ride on sidewalks the entire way and I worry that a tractor-trailer will careen off the road and hit them or that Eli will see a butterfly and pedal into the street or a dog will attack or a part will fall from an airplane and land on someone because that's what I do, all day long as well as in my dreams; I worry about them.
Sometimes I soothe the worrying place by imagining someone trying to snatch my child or attack my family at home, only they don't account for that part of me that has absolutely no problem killing someone, and I choreograph in my head exactly how the fight would go and always the bad people end up a bloody broken mess and exceedingly dead. I tell myself that mental preparation is half the fight. I think I make myself crazier when I do this. It really helps me knock out the last mile of a run, however.
Miraculously we all arrive at the ice cream shop unharmed, sweating, happy, proud. The wife and two littlest are red-faced, being creamy-colored little people, whereas Caleb and I glow with a tanned, manly sheen. We park our bikes and the wife insists on locking them all together with one of those stretchy metal cords, even though we are at an ice cream shop in Kansas. The children are hopping and telling me what flavors they want, and how it absolutely must be in a cone and not a little kid's cup and how it won't be any good if there isn't a cherry on top, and I put my hand in my pocket and realize that it is empty.
I look at the wife. "Did you bring any money?"
This is my way of sharing the blame. She has no money either. She never has money. That is how I keep her from leaving me. So far it has worked, though now we are in a predicament. I break the news to the munchkins, and I see in their little faces the realization that their father is a profound disappointment, not to mention a very poor planner. Now it is all out in the open, the fact that I am a big fat stupid loser. I knew they would find out eventually, but you're never prepared when the dread moment arrives.
Then I have an idea, involving reckless speed and a pickup truck. While the wife takes the two oldest inside to look pitiful and beg for ice water, Isaac and I race back home. On the way I teach him the word "Whee-e-e-e-e." We are very fast, despite the fact that he weighs as much as Refrigerator Perry and is wearing a bulbous bumblebee-themed helmet. Soon we are rolling into parking lot in my truck, and Daddy is again the hero, or at least the guy with the wallet to whom you have to be nice if you want ice cream.
Later we load bikes in the back and pile babies into the cab, sweaty and sticky and smiling, and I think to myself: wouldn't it be nice if every mistake could be redeemed so easily?