Saturday, October 25, 2008

Webster Groves is leaving the Republican Party--Bush's Legacy

"The Queen of the Suburbs."

Even City Hall looks straight out of Central Casting.

Webster Groves Who?

Welcome to my hometown. It is so singularly itself that in 1966 , CBS did a documentary called, "16 in Webster Groves." It was the year we moved to a modest American Dream on a teacher's salary, and I was nine years old. I had my own bedroom for the first time, it was pink, there was satin involved. Frankly, I couldn't wait to be sixteen in Webster Groves.

The community was pained by the documentary. They were outraged at the way their children had been depicted as superficial , culturally incoherent, avaricious, small-minded, racist and perhaps most disturbing, way down deep, the kids were shallow. No angst aside from growing up and being just like their folks.

Those kiddoes didn't "show" well, it turned out. It took a few years for existential angst to hit the 63119. Most of that original crew have grown up to be just like anyone: just as out to lunch, image obsessed and dysfunctional or not.

But having been bred by Republicans, and disciplined by authoritarians, lines were toed and bales were lifted with frightening regularity--while they were being watched, of course, and that was a lot less often than kids get watched today. Benign neglect is the best kind. Their parents never, ever, ever knew. And never knew they never knew.

Surrounded by beauty.

These children were the me-generation whose every whim was attended to strictly. They were rotten to the core when given a chance, and to this day, need little encouragement to wax incessantly about their teen years. A recent study showed our teen years retain more permanence in our memories than other times of life, and St. Louis has been on to that for a long time.

St. Louis is the place where locals size you up socially by asking where you went to high school. In the 314 area code, "hoosier" is an insulting term for a redneck lowlife. Who knew anything about Indiana?

We eat Imo's Pizza, Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard and toasted ravioli. Add a few beloved teams, the high school question, rinse and repeat. That's St. Louis. Webster Groves is mostly an scenic place to live the St. Louis life. We're as hoosier as anybody, but we know enough to hide it.

Webster has always been a Republican stronghold, and as a child whose parents campaigned for McCarthy in '68, I honed debating skills that serve me to this day. But it was a place whose society was essentially stable, the "fundamentals" were good, and some things still hadn't been questioned. CBS was disappointed to learn these kids just wanted to grow up and be rich.

These were WASPish, country-club white folks who said they loved Sammy Davis Jr., Charlotte Peters, cocktails and foursomes of bridge at Algonquin until they died of cirrhosis of the liver still smelling like Patou's Joy.

Block after block of well-kept gardens and fresh paint, but the families inside are just as screwy as everybody's, many are terrible housekeepers with terrible animals. One I know for sure is full of dirty diapers from their diaper service. But from the outside, it's all good. They just consider appearances important.

Within a short time, though, things changed out there where people could see it. Their kids grew their bangs out until they covered eyes and caused arguments. My best friend had sex at 13. I had purple microdot at 13. If only CBS had come back during MY adolescence. Stories would be told.

Change was everywhere. Webster College went from all girls and nuns to a make-your-own-gravy tangle of coed sex, chemical experimentation and protest. There was little bathing and less shaving. And that's how they liked it.

The area's earliest and most famous head shop opened up just down the street in Old Orchard. The Spectrum was a magnet for the entire counter culture in the bi-state area. I still can't smell patchouli without thinking of those psychedelic black light posters I never had money to buy.

My childhood neighbor up the street, Edna Maude, (of course we still believe in family names), spearheaded a group mural, painted by hippies and freaks, on the parking lot side of the local Velvet Freeze. She and her husband have since made their fortune selling tanning beds. They're also evangelical right wingers, which causes Edna Maude's parents no end of pain. No matter what you do, sometimes it isn't enough.

The high school had a courtyard for smoking and we did. We inhaled. Prodigiously.

I give you this background to provide context for the sea change taking place right here in Skippy Groves. Our local free paper, The Webster-Kirkwood Times, has an energetic corps of articulate letter writers. I've made my living by writing, yet have submitted many lovely letters that went unpublished because the competition was better. In fact, the paper devotes two whole spreads to letters to the editor every week.

Last week's Webster-Kirkwood Times printed not one endorsement for McCain, because none had been received.

Around town, Obama signs outnumber McCain's at least 2:1. I don't know anyone voting for McCain, which is my privilege at my age, but still.

I guess we can thank George W. Bush for that. What a perfectly tortured back-handed legacy to be responsible for having delivered our forlorn country. It's been pillaged of its soul, without posse comitatus, without habeus corpus, without Geneva Conventions, owner of two intractable wars, our bankrupt, spy-infested union has been war mongered and privately profiteered past recognition. We misunderestimated George.

And now, as it looks hopeful that Obama will win the presidency, we hear him cautioning us that it won't be easy. It will take time. It will take all of us.

Nice trick they've pulled on us, return the mangled remains of the body politic to the opposition party, then you can blame them for not fixing it quickly enough, or in the right fashion, or anything they think up. Their time in the shadows will no doubt be spent gaining strength like Voldemort. If our coffers are ever full again, they'll be back. Had he set out to ruin a country, he couldn't have done a better job because he's as incompetent as buttered toast.

This has become so obvious that lifelong Republicans are voting for Obama. One thing Webster schools taught well was Constitution.

A dear friend, from a long line of classy Republicans, made the comment in 2003 that if W invaded Iraq, we'd never elect another Republican president.

I'm just sayin'.


Annie Bird said...

It's interesting that you mention that YOUR largely Republican neighborhood has swayed to the left for this election, and that the Obama signs outnumber the McCain signs 2 to 1. The Republican county I'M from has more Obama signs than I expected, which is gratifying to see, but there's still a great deal of opposition to Democrats just because. In my younger daughter's enrichment class, one student said, "If we elect Obama, it will be like electing Hitler." WHA????? The teacher pounced on him and said, "There is NO way that Obama is going to kill 6 million Jews, so what are you basing this on?" to which the student replied, "Well, Hitler always gave what the people wanted, and so will Obama." Ooh, ick, this is just a revolting commentary. Other comments from some of my own students are that you shouldn't vote for Obama because he hates hunters and wants to get rid of all the guns. (Huh??) And, finally, my husband who works with blue-collar carpenters is sick and tired of political discussions at work, because a lot of his coworkers are complaining about Obama-the-N-word becoming the most powerful man in America. Gross. So, although I don't have an Obama sign in my yard, I was really proud when my oldest child tacked an Obama pin to her purse and wore it to school, and my 10-year-old son stoutly defended his views when his best friend said, "Democrats are stupid." My boy responded heatedly, "Oh, yeah? Was FDR stupid? What about JFK? Huh?" Of course, to his friend, my son was just spouting letters of the alphabet. (My kids are more informed than the majority of their peers.) We are subtle Democrats, my family, but we don't apologize for being right.

Jill Draper said...

Kevin mailed this comment to me because he couldn't get Blogspot to work for him:

This is great. I loved reading it, Jill.

I have a completely different perspective. We moved to Webster in 2001 and I felt it was a very progressive place -- comfortably so (we came from Calif.). When I started to learn it's voting history, however, I was pretty surprised. That's why I got involved in local polics (and got to meet Jill, among many others).

On my LONG street in Webster, just one house with McCain sign. They have four ... but just one house!

I look forward to my children growing up in a (now) Democratic district.

--Kevin Mitchell

Jill Draper said...

Annie, I just love that the kids are standing firm in the face of that flurry of misinformation. They're hope embodied.