Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It
This weekís cartoon is based on a tangential rant from last weekís artistís statement. I was holed up at my friend Jimís house for a couple days last week while his wife was at a librarianís conference, during which time we watched an entire season of "Arrested Development" and ate a bucket of KFC. On Wednesday or Thursday I began my usual preliminary fretting and bitching about having to draw a cartoon, and he said, "You should draw the Scum Belt. Seems obvious." I said, "Okay." Fine. Whatever. These days I just do whatever cartoon anyone tells me to. We went on a bike ride and thought up funny things to draw.
Jim and I both immediately knew that "You ainít from around here, are you?" should be the Scum Beltís motto. Itís something thatís been said to both of us on more than one occasion in Cecil County. Itís not necessarily hostile (though it definitely isnít friendly); just the same kind of sheltered, provincial wariness about Outsiders that you see in the less visited parts of China. The thing that kind of rankles is, I am from Around There; I watched Nixonís resignation speech in the same cabin where Iím living now. But of course this isnít what they really mean. What they mean is, I didnít go to their high school; I appear to have gone to college; I donít talk like them or look like them.
There really is a certain distinctive look Around Here, which must have to do at least partly with a small and somewhat stagnant gene pool. "Natives in Traditional Dress" is the first time Iíve ever been able to capture the distinctive Cecil County features; the mean, squinting eyes, lower lip and jaw pushed forward in a sort of pugnacious pout. This is not to say that everyone in Cecil County looks like this, but itís definitely a type, as distinctive to its area as the Gallic nose. (You see the same face in South Baltimore.) This drawing was copied directly from a photo in a local publication called "The Barhopper," in a two-page spread of shots taken at the Southern Rock Wood Stock [sic], each of which is a portrait worthy of Diane Arbus.
A few hundred yards offshore from my house is a sandbar where every weekend dozens of powerboaters and jetskiers congregate to do nothing--they just park out there and drink Coors Light all day in the sun, like bored teens in an inland town cruising Main Street on Saturday night. Later on in the summer an invasive species of seagrass (what Jim calls "the Beard of the Bay") grows into a Sargasso and keeps the jetskis out of my little cove, but this time of year they still occasionally make noisy forays back here to do the aquatic equivalent of a few doughnuts in the cove before roaring out again. Often I have fantasized about trying to knock the riders off by hitting them in the heads with a potato cannon, or some more conventional firearm.
And yes I have often seen not only motorized wheelchairs but mothers pushing strollers, whole families, and single slumped men, all on foot and carrying drooping plastic bags full of groceries or booze, on the shoulder of Route 40. It has always seemed to me like the lowest point of degradation to which a human being could sink to find himself walking along the shoulder of Route 40. I myself have been such a man, when my car has broken down (a misfortune to which I am particularly susceptible). It is the worst. Other things I have seen on the shoulder of Route 40 include: an old Polish man bicycling around the world in sagging jockey shorts who asked me for souvenir quarter; a black man retracing the route of the Underground railroad on foot who wondered whether there was any foot bridge over the Susquehannah (there isnít); and a man dressed as Jesus Christ, in shining white robes, hauling a big wooden cross over his shoulder, who asked me where he could find a laundromat.
I believe that in a previous artistís statement I mentioned my involuntary admiration for the man whose Confederate flag display is depicted here. He lives beside I-95, just north of the Millard Tydings Bridge over the Susquehannah and south of the Perryville exit. For a while he flew the Confederate Flag from a pole in his lawn, proclaiming to all travelers on the Eastern Seaboard that we, the people of Cecil County, remain proud supporters of the other, morally wrong, and losing side in the Civil War. This was not the part I admired. What impressed me against my will was when, presumably in response to some request or petition to remove the flag, he either rented or purchased a cherry picker in order to elevate the flag to an even more defiantly conspicuous height. All politics aside, there is something youíve got to respect about that kind of committed cussedness.
The Muffler Man depicted here is located at Lynchís Super Service, on Route 40 in Havre de Grace. The Muffler Man used to be a plain old cowboy when I was a kid, with a white shirt and brown pants, but in 1991 he was repainted in desert camos to Support Our Troops in the first Gulf War (remember that one, the little short one where we won?). His giant cowboy hat (which kept blowing off in heavy winds, threatening life and property) is still kept in the garage. It was almost as difficult to accurately draw his demented and frightening expression as to capture the unwholesome mix of recessive traits that comprise the Cecil County phenotype. For the record, the owner of Lynchís is a friendly guy and competent mechanic and no complaint against him or his business is implied by the inclusion of this image. Itís just a weird and scary idol that looms smiling menacingly over the ruin of Route 40, our own shoddy local T.J. Eckelburg.
"Moments," for those not keeping up on this sort of thing, was the #1 hit on the Country charts the week I drew this cartoon. I looked it up.