Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Art of Ugliness, Part I

dillon nc

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published at The Fleming Foundation.

This piece appeared  in the second issue (1980) of the Southern Partisan, which Clyde Wilson and I (along with John Shelton Reed, Sam Francis, and Chris Kopff) had created.  I have corrected a number of errors–including the quotation from the film version of Gone with the Wind–made several small  verbal improvements, and added some bits of  material I have always used in conversation.  These major additions I have indicated by square brackets.

Last month I took a short drive through the midriff of the Carolinas—through Georgetown, Conway, Marion, Latta, and Dillon, right through the middle of Rowland and Pittsboro all the way to Chapel Hill.  The whole day, I could not help wondering why so many Southern towns had become so ugly.  Now, we all take for granted the strident squalor of New Jersey (at least that part of it you see from the Turnpike) and the sterile dulness of Ohio.  As the carpetbagger said of Scarlet O’Hara, “That’s one of them Georgia peaches.  Nothing like that in Ohio.”  But what is our excuse?

On my way to Chapel Hill, I always look forward to Marion.  I once spent an afternoon there, when the right wheel rolled off my Volkswagen beetle right down the middle of the tree-lined main street on a late Sunday afternoon, to the astonishment of three colored children, a genteel elderly couple taking a stroll after Sunday dinner, and seven startled dogs.

[Ringing in my ears, as I watched the horror unfold, were the last words I had heard from my auto mechanic Butch Varner, whom I had consulted about the advisability of driving the old bug to Chapel Hill, “Doctah Flemin’, the last thing you have to worry about is that rattle.  That wheel is not comin’ off!”  When I called Butch to ask him what he thought of the policeman’s offer of $50 to take the car off my hands, he did not waste a second on thinking it over: “If I was you, I’d take it.”

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