CULTIVATING LIBERALISM
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L'Infame: Buddying Up to Bashing
Brokeback Wal-Mart

I was standing in a cashier’s line at Wal-Mart the other day, my arms full of cars and trucks for my son, who was about to turn 2. Out of nowhere, a man thinner than a toothpick but weathered by at least six Republican administrations struck up a conversation. I don’t know what made him think we could buddy up. He couldn’t possibly have been encouraged by the giddiness of the season (it was just before Christmas). Wal-Mart’s fluorescence ensures that all giddiness is disemboweled from all occasions and all entrants. Something else was urging him on, something compulsive. He asked me if I’d seen “Brokeback Mountain.” I wasn’t quite sure what he was asking. My familiarity with the movie’s theme at the time hadn’t yet connected with its title. He clarified it for me, saying something about two cowboys in Wyoming humping something other than horses. No, I told him, I hadn’t had the chance yet.

Again, I don’t know what urged him on, or what gave him the notion we were on the same gay-bashing wavelength. Maybe the Wal-Mart surroundings induce customers into a trans-Southern trance of mob prejudices, as in contemporary-vintage Baptist congregations. But the toothpick started coursing (and cursing) of the disgust of the thing, his face contorting along in agony, well-practiced, I imagined, from having had a lifetime of agonies to share with strangers. Funny, I told him as I pointed to my son, who was a few aisles over (I’d asked my daughter to keep him from seeing his presents), “my 2-year-old son is gay.”

From the Wyoming-white look on his face, the toothpick might as well have witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Bush into a flaming liberal. “And I’m gay on odd-numbered days.” He did not, amazingly, shut up. An imbecile’s impulse to backtrack is always stronger than the sense of recognizing the absurdity of things said (his and mine) and letting the irony of the moment serve as cover for a face-saving silence. So he shoveled his hole deeper. He obliged with the rhetorical supremacy of nothing-wrong-with-what-other-people-do comments. Then he started crapping metaphors along the lines of how he wouldn’t be caught dead playing in someone’s backyard. I asked him if he’d seen the movie. But that’s like asking a dogmatic Christian if he’s ever read the Bible. It was, thankfully, time to pay. I wished him Merry Christmas and went off to join my lesbian wife.

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