workzine

Louis Bourgeois, 7/31/2011

Current Occupation: Executive Director of VOX PRESS.
Former Occupation: Instructor of English.
Contact Information: Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS, INC, a 501 (c) 3 avant-garde literary press. His memoir, The Gar Diaries, was nominated for the National Book Award in 2008. Bourgeois lives, writes, and edits in Oxford, Mississippi.

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A Story of Cans

(Or, Why I Hate the Middle Class)

My father and I picked up aluminum cans all over town one summer. He had a ’72 Mercury that looked worse than anything Robert Blake ever drove in Beretta. We drove around in this heap of a car all day until the back seat was overstuffed with cans to the roof.

I was twelve years old and not embarrassed about picking up the cans, even though I was constantly running into people I knew who looked astounded to see me doing such a thing. I knew my reputation at school, where I was considered a kind of child scholar, would eventually be damaged if the word spread I was harvesting other people’s throwaways, picking up aluminum cans on the shoulders of highways and roads, in national and state parks, in garbage bins of all colors and sizes, in barrooms and demi-whore houses, at car washes and seafood restaurants, etc. But I was with my father and he didn’t see any shame in what we were doing, so I didn’t either.

When I returned to school that August, everyone knew about the cans and I was shunned by my peers as well as my teachers, who were the very ones who fostered the notion that I was a child genius, un nouveau poèt extraordinaire, and all the rest. Apparently, everybody had seen me picking up cans with my bearded and tattered father, both of us working the lots of the worst places imaginable, at least to their narrow bourgeois minds.

The social denunciation by the community—this gross inequity, for what money we got selling the cans to the recycling plant to help me and my father stay alive that summer, since he had just been “laid off” from his job of eight years—maimed me for life. I admit it, I gave in to society and became genuinely embarrassed about the whole thing and embarrassed by my father, even if it wasn’t his fault that he had to sell cans to help pay the rent and buy food. I wasn’t old enough at the time to hold my own and stick by my working class ethics. Yes, I was humiliated by the fact that I had stooped so low as to pick up other people’s garbage for money, so much so that I have yet to fully recover even by the age of thirty-five, so that I’m still planning my revenge against this very middle class that caused me so much unnecessary shame.

I’m fully convinced I will prevail in the end.

1982

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