Thursday, March 31, 2011

In Praise of Manboys

Because Bob's kitchen and beyond is currently gutted, being cleared of its lead paint, and otherwise off-limits, he cannot access his CD collection in the basement. If he could, he intended to post Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul's song, "Men Without Women," to go with the post. He hopes to continue post music at some point in the near future.

It is no great revelation to point out, as popular culture has done for decades, that our society is full of men who refuse to grow up in one way or another. But it may be a bit of a surprise to realize that I am one.

Not that, as someone who has taken a "mancation" to New Orleans for the better part of the past ten years should be at all surprised to discover his own boyishness. But, as the famous writer once said (I'm updating the English), "The life so short, the craft so long to learn."

Now, at the risk of glossing over the subject, I'm going to summarize those trips fairly quickly--drinking, gambling, overeating, oogling, bead-soliciting, sports watching, women watching, sex joking, fart joking, gay joking (about sharing a bed with another man), carousing, karaokeing, spending, public urinating, boasting, sarcasticing, batchelorette-party crashing, bragging, jukeboxing, masturbating-joking, strutting, risqueing, lawbreaking (real or imagined), bow-necking, and probably some other equally-long list of related gerunds.

In fact, I was sitting in a bar in New Orleans with a former student and his girlfriend (hopefully, soon fiancee) having a few beers with them when the boyman's parents and sister came into the bar. I had met them years ago when he was a student and they remembered me and we greeted each other and they knew their son had been drinking all day, so as they passed on through, they cautioned him, "Be careful." And then his mother looked at me. "You be careful, too," she said.

That's when you know that you are a manboy.

But all of that serves as an admission. Yes, I am a manboy. Tell me something that I won't acknowledge with a little prodding.

What I hope to do, though, is to offer an impassioned defense of this phenomenon. Manboying is good. Manboying is productive. Manboying is essential.

Today's man is a heavily-controlled creature. His boss owns him, the days of a participative work environment having long since passed in favor of the tight reins of economic fiscality. His parent or parents still want to see him as a son who will react positively to all of the advice that they have to offer about child-rearing, investing, relationship-managing, and any other life lessons that haven't quite taken hold yet. His wife lives in the fear that if he gets too far off the leash, he will implode in some significant way, endangering both family and future.

And so, if he can get off into an environment that is relatively-safe but with a lot of freedoms for just a few days where he can just be one of the boys, that is an effective carrot to dangle in front of him to keep him in line much of the rest of the year. And when he gets to that few-day escape, society expects the worst of him. Those close to him really don't want to know what goes on. If it's true that "what happens in the French Quarter stays in the French Quarter," then the real reason is because no one is asking. When he leaves town, the responsible safety net around him takes a collective deep breath and can only fully exhale when he returns to the fold safe and sound.

But that misunderstands the purpose of such a trip. All of those behaviors I listed up above, for the most part, are minor, occasional, sometimes only-happened-once aspects of such a trip. They are not the focus. They are not sources of danger or risk in any significant way. Yeah, one of our ranks almost got kicked in the head by a police horse, one regularly embarassses himself on the karaoke stage, one tends to drop a couple of hundred dollars in the casino each trip, one likes the cheap drinks in the Chart Room, but so what?

What really happens, what really makes a manboy trip so productive is that the men involved compare notes. They spend perhaps 80% of such a trip doing exactly that. Men need to debrief with each other about work (theirs and others), about marriage, about children or career paths, about, in the broadest sense, what is working and isn't working in their lives. While those on the outside think that their men are off doing things that they need to turn a blind eye (or several) to, in fact, their men are rejuvenating themselves for nothing more than a return to the fold. With nothing to hunt, with nothing to gather, they are simply out in the "wilderness" reminding themselves of what is there as a rev up for domesticity. And so, manboying is essential.

Sure, when he gets back, your man may be a little coarser, may drive a little faster, may go to the fridge for one more beer than he usually has, but those are just leftovers. If anything, as this last trip demonstrated, men disappoint each other more than anything else. They arrive in the Emerald City with grand visions of debauchery and end up (for the most part) in bed before midnight, bloated on beer or po-boys or maybe just freedom. They can't gorge on too much of it before their bodies shut down.

Or, depending on their ages, they may reach that crystalline moment when they realize, hey, I'm the oldest person in this bar or hey, this song I'm singing is older than most of the people in this room. Or, hey, it will be nice go to bed a little early and sleep in as long as I want and maybe eat something tomorrow that someone might tell me I shouldn't be eating, but this one time I can enjoy it guilt free. Is that rebellion?

I know nothing of women trips. I only know that my wife went on one and really didn't like it. But I can only hope that, in their perfect state, they accomplish the same things our manboy trips do--allow us to talk way more about doing than what we'd actually ever do, enable us to talk safely about sensitive issues, push us to step only tentatively and slightly across whatever lines we might have drawn for ourselves. And go to Krystal at midnight for a double cheese Krystal and a Chili-Cheese Pup, if we so desire. Somehow, that's living.

See you next year, boys. I hope. Or men.


Greg said...

I think part of the Manboy phenomenon stems from the fact that many men meet their women at the time in the man's life where they get really "good" at that boy-ish stage.

For example, when I met my lady I had only spent about a year living on my own sharing a crappy apartment with another dude, drinking High Life most nights of the week, staying up until 4 a.m. playing video games, randomly heading to the laundromat or Waffle House at 2 a.m.

So when we started getting serious I put all of that on hold. I miss it in a weird way. I guess that's what the Mancation is for, though!

Also, I hope my mom didn't get to you. She's crazy. Like actually crazy. She claimed to have gotten drunk off of Banana's Foster the previous day, which I'm sure you realize isn't possible.

But that's also why I agree to go on vacations with her.

Billy said...

Thank you for your gerund-filled summary of our annual exploits. It is precisely this kind of unflinching and uncomfortable and funny forthrightness that forces me to like you.

Now the question is: Who's gonna be the one to tell John that the whole karaoke thing is played out and that he's just embarrassing himself when he gets up there?

I actually thought this year was a transition year of sorts, and that we're finding a new but plenty-enjoyable groove to match our evolving immaturity.

Thom Anon said...

For further footnotes re: Mancation, please see also Faulkner's "Go Down Moses" wherein the hunting trip is repeatedly explored as zone of male introspection and escape, among other things.


John said...

Billy, you're funny about the karaoke IF! It's really hard to imagine another city as fun to cut loose in as NO and impossible to think of better manboys to eat po-boys with than you guys.

Bob said...

@John: Eat po-boys???????????????

TommyD said...

Billy, they owned the parade. Nuff said.

cewitail said...

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