Monday, March 24, 2008

Infant Mortality in the State of Georgia: Something You May Not Know

So, our hostess Allison took us to one of her preferred laid-back watering holes this evening, the Mellow Mushroom. The Mellow Mushroom is not, as you may have hypothesized, a club where guys with dreads dance badly to a guy wearing a Phish T-shirt covering "Redemption Song." It is indeed hippy-themed, but is in actuality a clean, aggressively well-lit fast food pizza joint with a decent little bar. I spent the greater part of my visit squinting at the captions on CNN during Larry King Live and what is it, Anderson Cooper 360°, and James Carville looking more like one of Steadman's caricatures of HST than Johnny Depp, or Hunter himself for that matter, ever could, and Carville is repeating the same phrase over and over, about how he said something, and found a colorful way of saying it, and he's glad he said it, and he'd say it again. And meanwhile, these guys at the bar, Bear and Bubba (these are indeed the names I was given), kind of ex-hippy good old boy types, are totally faced and just rambling on at us about all kinds of stuff, traveling when they were young, having five kids, saying the kind of scary-true things that drunks can sometimes say without stopping smiling, and without pausing before the next subject, and me, I have a half a chicken (fried, mind you) in my stomach, with mac & cheese and hoppin' john working, and I am having a hard time (what with James Carville, who also looks like Skeletor with a funny accent) focusing on anything, and then the President is on the TV with an Easter Bunny, and Bubba says how he'd like to have that on a T-shirt. My lady agreed with him, and then Bubba started telling us about the baby and the sheet-rock bucket.

The baby in the sheet-rock bucket. I know you're all wondering how I was going to tie in the title of this post with it's content, and well, here it comes. See, this was an image that Bubba thought would make a great T-shirt. Now, I'm still busy trying to figure out what the hell James Carville is markedly not apologizing for, so I hear the beginning of this in fragments and I don't think I understand it. Surely he didn't just say that a baby in a sheet-rock bucket would make a great T-shirt, right? That makes no sense! What the hell is a sheet-rock bucket anyway? I'm imagining some bizarre baptismal formed from four gypsum panels plastered together, something like that. While I'm coping with this, Bubba is not stopping. He's saying about how you know, if the baby falls in the sheet-rock bucket, well, throw the parents in too. And how it would be simple to make it safer for babies, just make 5-gallon buckets narrower and taller, that way babies couldn't fall in. Get OSHA on it. And rmember, he is repeating the phrase "baby in a sheet-rock bucket" over and over again, and I am starting to get the idea here, that the kind of white plastic five-gallon buckets that you might use in patching sheet-rock are conceivably a danger to small infants, who might fall in head first (he specifies that). I don't know if he means headfirst and drown in some kind of liquid, whether plaster (it's plaster, right? Sheet rock is more or less sheets of plaster, right?) or whatever else may be in the bucket, and how it's a statement about "Darnwism" (note: I am preserving the idiosyncratic pronunciation in the service of atmospheric verisimilitude, not to make Bubba sound like a dumb hick. He was indeed a self-proclaimed redneck, but he certainly seemed to be a rather intelligent man, perhaps a few sheets further to the wind than is beneficial for the purposes of clarity in discourse), it's like culling. And by this point I'm sort of starting to get it, how there would be a white 5-gallon bucket on the front, with a diapered hindquarters poking out of the top (and I confess, I kind of want this shirt right now), with the parents being similarly immersed on the verso.

This is an interesting diptych in many ways. It can be seen as a metaphor for the responsibility of parents for the pitfalls that their children encounter, or for the need for them to face said responsibility. It's certainly a powerful image, and I expect to see it on the cover of a 'zine in the near future. What strikes me most, however, is the resonance that it seemed to have for Bubba. Did this happen to someone he knew? Or did it happen to someone, and he heard about it, and the failure of the parents to prevent this gristly end for their child stuck with him at such a deep level that he goes of on it at great length at the slightest provocation, often in bars, sometimes involving ironically humorous T-shirts. Or is this such a common factor in infant fatalities in Georgia as to be a good target for the shaming power of such T-shirts? I'd think that the rest of the country would have heard about it by now, don't you? Now, don't get me wrong dead babies really aren't funny (yes I do know why; it was stapled to the chicken), but the sheer delirious absurdity of the repeated phrase "baby in a sheet-rock bucket," repeated in an ostinato polyphony with Carville's as-often-repeated "I was quoted accurately and in context, and I was glad to give the quote and I was glad I gave it. I’m not apologizing, I’m not resigning, I’m not doing anything," created this shimmering, hilarious fabric with all of the hypnotic complexity of a Steve Reich composition. Ah, it was a hoot. Thank you, Bubba. Thank you Atlanta.

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