The small-town population is an estimated 30,000 to 36,000. Whether this estimate is close or entirely opposite to the average small-town status quo that you’re familiar with, the alienation that you will experience as the outsider, living outside of the realm of the status quo, is certain. In this sense, the outsider is a person who doesn’t adopt the cultural norms of the given small town.
I hope that anyone who lives/lived or was born in a predominantly conservative small town can relate to this narrative. However, this narrative, which is a continuation of the Fat Jacks narrative, focuses on Texarkana. I mainly use the word “small-town” as an adjective to describe the conservative sociological structure that largely permeates Texarkana, but also to indicate its small population in comparison to major metropolitan cities.
If we separate the political connotation from the word “conservative” then what is left is its general meaning when used to describe a person, “not liking or accepting changes or new ideas”. The outsider is one who challenges given absolutes and openly invites change, veering from a conventionally structured lifestyle. Agnosticism, atheism, liberalism, anarchism, leftism, for example, are not normative belief systems here. If you’re gay, of color, if you’re liberal, if you don’t go to church almost every Sunday, then you get the point— you’re not part of the norm. This is me as your narrator: I’m a biracial lesbian who believes in egalitarianism. I was born in Germany. I consider myself a moderate leftist and agnostic. Whether you’re a painter, dancer, stylist, musician, writer or thinker, delving into existentialism or illustrating something taboo, strange and unorthodox through your work, in comparison to the small-town sociological structure, you are the outsider. I welcome you to this piece as the outsider.
Note that this is not to patronize those who are fond of their small town culture and customs. This is, again, another narrative.
The bars that I frequent in Texarkana bring in a variety of people. They are women and men, often in their late 40s and 50s and other times, they’re a pool of 20-somethings, and 30-somethings who play much like the 20-somethings. A few of us conglomerate here and then stick out like sore thumps. My attire can be a thrown together mesh of punk and street wear. My leather jacket screams anarchy like, “I don’t give a fuck”, all sort of balanced by blue Puma platforms that tone things down with a slight hint of femininity. I usually just wear a bunch of black.
The outsiders wear grungy boots, Vans, Nike SBs, Converses, Doc Martens, leather, flannels, windbreakers, slouched/slanted beanies and toboggans, bandanas, caps, dark lipstick, choker necklaces, lace, big beards, trimmed beards, big buns, small buns, dreadlocks, and fresh cuts. Some are black. Some are white. Some are Asian. Some are Hispanic. And some are rainbows. Some draw. Some paint. Some play acoustic and sing. Some shred on the electric. Some shred on skateboards. Some write. Some cut. Some do manual labor. Some are white-collar workers. The common denominator for this group of outsiders is the atypical school of thought that they align with.
Fat Jacks Continued…
The coming and going drunks create a mellow bar atmosphere, livening it up with newfound enthusiasm. We are now accustomed to the clouds of smoke hovering over us like incubator lights.
Two guys come to join our table. They know my best friend. We greet each other, awkwardly smile at each other, look around, trying to forget about the jukebox upheaval, and then stare into space until someone finally breaks the silence.
I’ll give one of the newcomers at our table a pseudonym, Tony.
Tony fidgets with his bottle of Budweiser, spinning it, tapping it. “I’m not gonna lie…. I voted for Trump,” he says, hesitantly. “I just don’t like that Hillary is trying to control our guns.” He’s a tall, hefty figure with a golden goatee.
His cousin is mostly quiet, listening and speculating. He says a few things here and there, mainly adding a lighthearted comment to the conversation.
The clouds of smoke protrude forward, activating the incubator lights, breeding conversation topics destined for either a nuclear war or a cold war, or producing the far-fetched: a peace treaty.
With lips pressed, I say, “But it’s not really gun control. It’s more so regulation.”
He looks at me with skeptical eyes, but simultaneously nods his head to assure me that he’s listening.
My friend Jase interjects, explaining that gerrymandering and redistricting, unfairly, influence the outcomes of elections and thus, sometimes unfairly, set the bar for future legislation.
Tony skips a few levels, and dives 1,000 feet deep. “I’m proud of my heritage. People don’t realize if the South would’ve won the Civil War, the Confederate Flag would be the American Flag. I’m proud that my ancestors fought for our rights.”
“You do realize what the south was fighting for, right?” I answer my own question: “segregation [and sustained slavery].”
I tell him that his white ancestors’ rights weren’t under attack, that their freedom was never taken away and that their prosperity was built off the backs of enslaved, oppressed blacks.
“I love all people, doesn’t matter black, Latino, Asian.” Tony takes another swig of beer. “I have black friends. They’re always talking about racism, but it’s over.”
“So… Essentially… were all equal?” I ask.
Everyone shakes their heads, responding in synch, “That’s not true.”
I tell him that racial inequality, for example, exists in education, explaining that one living in a disadvantaged black neighborhood has limited access to stable and fruitful education.
We’re another 1,000 feet deep. The majority of us are realists in regard to religion and, at large, lean on pragmatism, but Tony strongly believes in the supernatural, otherworldly. These polar opposites create a conversation fueled with heated passion, empathy, and, of course, much disagreement.
“It was impossible for the story of Noah’s Ark to exist according to the laws of science,” Jase says.
Tony gives an offset smile.
He later explains that his pain and grievances caused him to self-destruct, and then he became a firm believer.
“I used to drink everyday, but I got better because of God.”
“Give yourself some credit. You don’t think that was you doing that?” asks Cassie.
Jase smiles and says, “That’s because you made better choices.”
“I don’t know.” Tony looks at Jase and Cassie, returning a doubtful smile. “It’s hard for me to say that.” He hints that if he takes credit for his rejuvenation, he feels he’s going against God.
I tell him that theology schools often teach aspiring pastors to feast on the congregants’ pain, even going as far as teaching students to exaggerate testimonies to create a real “wow” experience.
We drink more alcohol to rid the tension and discomfort, the discomfort that is responsible for the built walls. But the empty glasses of whiskey and beer subject us to vulnerability, as we more freely articulate our thoughts. The chain-smoking is just an added luxury when it’s time to be silent and listen. The conversation went on like this, sometimes getting more heated before mellowing out.
Who would’ve thought that three people with the perspectives of outsiders could carry on a two-hour conversation with two guys tied to conservative, small-town beliefs? At the end of the rap, we all exchange a round of hand shakes and hugs, even inviting them to hangout with us at our next stop.
Though nothing was fundamentally accomplished, we can say that five people, of different races, religions and political affiliations, having this sort of discussion over beer and whiskey in a bar in a small town, without any physical confrontation or name calling, is somewhat of an accomplishment.
This isn’t always the result, so I’m not encouraging folks to start a political and religious debate every time they’re visiting the bar, but sometimes all the stars align, and the space unicorns give you the green for go.