People always mean well
“People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, oh, so very delicately.”
Norman Bates said that in Psycho. He said it in the parlor scene as Marion nibbled on sandwiches, taxidermy looming, and politely suggested that Norman put his mother in the madhouse. We watched it the other night, streamed it on netflix (I always said I was never going to be one of those people who put a television in their bedroom, but here we are logging countless hours on the macbook in bed watching movies). It’s a great film. Lots of long, jarring shots: Marion’s face on the bathroom floor, Norman’s neck and chin above the guest register. Norman’s observation embodies its sentiment. It’s an ornate and delicate articulation (I have no idea how he managed to deliver it without sounding goofy) that condemns harshly. It conjures an image of people as senseless fowl clucking and pecking away. And given Norman’s hobby and parlor full of stuffed birds, it presages pretty clearly that all these well meaning people, the clucking chickens, are heading for slaughter. These people. It’s a potent bit of misanthropy. And Anthony Perkins delivers it so well that it actually becomes an attractive sentiment. It reminds me of a sentiment delivered by Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. “I can’t keep doing this on my own with these…people.” It’s another great line, delivered so well that you can’t help but get behind it, that leaves very little to doubt about its ultimate expression. By the time it’s realized in Plainview’s personal bowling alley at the end of the movie, you’re all but rooting for that pin to drop on Eli’s head.
On September 21st, my daughter broke both her legs when she tried to climb up a tombstone in the cemetery by our house. The stone toppled and she suffered bilateral tibial fractures that put her in casts for about seven weeks. I was working full time and taking three graduate courses in education when it happened and I decided, immediately, that something had to go. So I quit my job to take care of her while taking my classes.
I’ve had plenty of awkward conversations since that moment. Not about my daughter breaking her legs. Those have all been straight forward. People are horrified and sympathetic, in very short order. But when I tell them that I quit my job, that’s when the clucking usually begins. A father of two with a mortgage quits his job in this recession, that’s interesting. One thing I’ve noticed is that people stand very little chance of masking their feelings no matter how delicately they put their thoughts.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that the reactions cut differently depending on generation. People my age, who’ve seen at least a dozen jobs and felt apparent little love for any of them, all came back with with an emphatic ‘meh’ or a jealous confession of a desire to do the same thing. The boomers are the real cluckers, they say a few polite things but all of them look at me like I’m insane. People who saw or lived within shouting distance of the great depression seem to harbor a very real concern that my children may starve. One very charming lady at a neighborhood girl’s birthday party offered us canned beans from her basement when my wife told her that I had quit my job. It’s an interesting, if flimsy, generational core sample of our evolving ideas about work.
All and all, it’s been a great three months concentrating on my family and school and myself. It’s been a wonderful exercise of my priorities and good opportunity to work on my perspective.