Monday, March 14, 2005

Back Pain and Class Warfare

So my wife and I are both enduring some back pain today -- mine from sitting at the computer too much, my wife's from snowboarding for the first time this past weekend. Both of us have, in the past, made extensive use of the services of a local chiropractor. This fellow helped me tremendously my first year in this little town. A month after we moved here, I injured my back while throwing myself across a couch in a desperate, thoughtless attempt to kill our cat Herbert, and after several rounds of thrice-weekly visits, I was once again able to move around without screeching in agony. For the next year, I gratefully dropped by his office for regular "maintenance adjustments" and the occasional massage from a guy who sported the most cavernous chin divot I have ever seen, an awesome puncture that created a permanently-unshavable wad of fuzz half an inch below his lower lip. These were eminently decent people with whom I shared utterly nothing in common aside from a mutual interest in the alignment of my L4/5 and C2/3 vertebrae; the place was staffed largely by Mormons, three of whom out of four nationwide supported George W. Bush in the past two elections. When the office's annual Christmas letter arrived in our mailbox, it was larded with wholesome, reverential holiday clichés and updates on his son's efforts to banish heathen spirits from Maui and other lairs of tropical sin.

Like a lot of people who find out that I teach US history, my chiropractor tried repeatedly to engage me in conversations about military history and the nation's founders, which are two of the three predicatable default topics — the third one being the Civil War — preferred by ordinary shlubbos (mostly men) who enjoy the diarrhea-spray of mass-market historical writing. I spent as much time as possible deflecting these questions, mostly because I know little (and care even less) about military history, and because my approach to the founders is perhaps illuminated best by the student who creamed me on a course evaluation once for not sufficiently emphasizing their "greatness." It's all quite simple: I am suspicious of foundational moments and military campaigns alike because they invariably liquidate alternative possibilities for envisioning a decent and egalitarian world, and because we use atrocious words like "destiny" to validate and preserve those moments in amber. It is difficult, however, to say these sorts of things to people who are relentlessly cheerful about the direction of the universe, much less to large men whose job it is to pound your spine back to health. (Besides, many Mormons wear magic underpants, a fact that I could never get out of my head when we were speaking.) So we'd chat amiably and vaguely about World War II planes or the latest biography of John Adams, and that would be that.

For reasons that have nothing to do with religion or World War II, however, I stopped seeing the chiropractor sometime in the Spring of 2003, and I have yet to return. We have sworn off the care of this doctor because he used one of George W. Bush's abominable tax incentives to write off the Humvee he now uses to drive around town. Although Congress tightened the loophole in 2004, small business owners can still write off gigantic, useless vehicles to the tune of $25,000. As near as I can tell, my chiropractor purchased the Hummer while the cap was set at $100,000. This is, I remind you, a small town in Alaska. We have a mere 40 miles of roads and nothing to justify the purchase of a vehicle that symbolizes the worst hybrid of arrogant militarism, loathsome status-consumerism, and appalling disregard for the future of everything. In a place like this, at a time when the US is ready to drill pointlessly into the Arctic — all the while a war roils onward in the Persian Gulf — my former chiropractor toodles around in his magic underpants, flushing a shit-stream of tax savings downhill, his middle finger extended triumphantly from a vehicle that begs to be interpreted as an instrument of prosthetic masculinity.

Meantime, my back is curling into a mighty hump.