Outside My Window

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Outside my window: a gray day in Ann Arbor. Two cops—in shorts, on bicycles—glide by. A roiling sea of blue and gold middle-aged bodies ambling onward, purposefully. A sign on my front porch: “Reserved Parking Only.” A navy mini-van vomits forth a pot-bellied man with a silly grin. He wears a navy driving cap, a yellow sweater, and he crazily shakes hands with everyone around him. “Greg, ya want some soup?”

It’s football Saturday at the University of Michigan. I live in a house near the stadium, and my landlords rent out my driveway and backyard to alumni as a parking lot. Wait, it gets stranger. The same folks have parked here for ten years, so they’re all buddies by this time. They bellow amiably at each other, on, and on, and on, shit-faced. There are even permanent name tags on the chain link fence surrounding the lawn, marking each family’s personal season-parking space. And—the piece de resistance—a port-a-john (the company’s motto: “Best in the field”) has been installed next to the storage shed where I keep my bicycle. Every morning I thread my bike past this portable privy before making my way to campus. And every other Saturday morning I awake to peer out my window at fifty strangers occupying my backyard as intimately as if it were their own living room. My bedroom windows don’t have any blinds yet, making them visible to me, and I to them.


So I pretend I’m a performance artist playing a baroque parody: a scholar living in a fishbowl. Sitting at my desk reading, typing, fixing a snack, listening to Miles on the radio, looking anguished, peering at my musty volume through wire glasses. Foucault. I hold my head, furrow my brow. Scratch madly at my goatee’d chin. I pull at my hair. Scribble cryptic notes on the first scrap of paper I grab—my phone bill—a meditation on the capillary, rhizomatic technologies of power/knowledge. Those folks outside? They’ve paid to drink beer, eat fried chicken, and watch me, a rare perfect specimen. I’m realizing that I haven’t fetched the New York Times from my front porch yet. I venture forth. Past the port-a-potty. Past the Tauruses, the Caravans, the Mercuries. Past the Igloo Coolers. Past a forest of vaguely differentiated grunting forms. My public.

The superstitious Wolverine clan recklessly consume the fruits of months of tiring agricultural labor (to appease the voracious gods?).

Bumping into one, I find myself face to face with another. He startles. I try to put him at ease. “Tell me, my good man,” I query. “For you at least, is ‘football’—as a discursive formation—better explained by the (admittedly problematic) notion of the Paris Marxists of an ‘ideological state apparatus’ interpellating individuals as subjects by occluding, in the relatively autonomous sphere of ‘culture,’ the possibility of recognizing the determination in the last instance of all subjectivity by the sphere of material production—or, if you’d rather, do you find it more congruent with the paradigms of a more affirmative American cultural criticism—personified by, say, a John Fiske—which would see it as a contested site where intextuated bodies in fact resist, or at least negotiate, that interpellation-in-ideology by identifying with the jouissance of the grotesque Rabelaisian bodies of the players?” However, rather than relaxing him, my neighborly small talk in fact sends him into spasms of confused panic. Another approach seems called for. “Go Blue!” I venture, cheerfully, and his ashen face returns to its former ruddy glow, his mouth forms a grin, he begins panting as if a dog, and waves a pennant, flaccidly, as I retreat back into my fishbowl to enjoy the Times book review section. Ah, yes. The new de Sade biography, reviewed, favorably.


Perhaps, rather, I fancy myself an anthropologist who’s stumbled upon a nomadic tribe in the midst of their sacred potlatch ritual (or “tailgate,” as the clans in this region call it). I hide myself out of view with my field notebook. Peoples of this culture, it is noted in the literature, often refer to themselves with the names of all-but-extinct animals formerly indigenous to their roving areas. Badgers. Hoosiers. Jayhawks. Gophers. Nittany Lions. Buckeyes. Note how the superstitious Wolverine clan recklessly consume the fruits of months of tiring agricultural labor (to appease the voracious gods?)—“Fried chicken,” “potato salad,” “coleslaw,” “beer.” How to account for their irrational, seemingly anti-functional gluttony? By reference to Durkheimian theories of ritual which posit that such exquisite undoings of the rational order in fact serve to re-integrate the functional equilibrium of the society itself? Yes, I think so. The social order is projected onto the celestial order: in Wolverine terms, they must produce scarcity to humble themselves before the gods to whom they owe their existence. The gods properly sated, they migrate on, in packs, cloaked in sacred vestments of blue and gold, stupidly, inexorably, on towards the “game.” At precisely one o’clock, what had been the site of a din of sacred activity becomes utterly abandoned, as the celebrants wander away in unison. What does this mean? I retreat to my field-tent to bang out a grant proposal.


Or more fun: I imagine I’m a zookeeper in my little office in my little zoo house in the middle of the zoo—ensconced in the very heart of the ferocious alumni pen. “But ma! They’re sooo cute!” I imagine the visitors chirping. “Can I have one to keep?” I wouldn’t advise it, little girl. If you keep them well-fed, sure, they usually don’t bite. But what about that fucking annoying mating call? The scourge of the animal kingdom. Bellowed forth from the heart of their ample guts: “GO-O-O BLOOOO! GO-O-O BLOOO!” For me, it’s a minor occupational hazard, more than compensated for by the pleasure their frisky antics afford. But their bleating is quite more than the average person could handle, day in, day out, I reckon.

Watch them amuse themselves dumbly tossing around a brown leather ovuloid! (When they misbehave I have to take it away.) Feeding time: throw them a beer, watch them suck it down, greedily, gratefully, eyes flashing. See them bray mindlessly about “the game.” Cute! Life among the upper midwestern alumnia idioticus. Sometimes, I reflect, they almost seem, well, human. I suspend reverie, however, and attend to the task at hand. My report to the head zookeeper is due tomorrow. The forty-two year old male, the one we’ve named “Kielkowski,” has been pissing on the rim of the port-a-potty again. I have to decide whether to put him to sleep or not. The females of the species have been known to maul similar offenders to death; we’d rather avoid unnecessary bloodshed. I pick up the phone, ring a colleague of mine in Indiana at the South Bend Zoo for some friendly advice.


Or: I trade my scholar’s black turtleneck, my colonialist anthropologist’s pith helmet, my zookeeper’s jumpsuit for the hunter’s blaze-orange vest. Open season on the yellow bellied, blue-billed Michigander. Will I bag my limit this year? My decoys are in order. Ed’s Outdoorsman’s Paradise had a two-for-one on these fantastic hand-made signs: “Parking: $5. E-Z in, E-Z out!” Smudged just right—you’d never guess from a distance they were fake. Igloo coolers, stuffed overflowing with bait: fried chicken, coleslaw, beer. A lot of the fellas are using this new stuff this year, “sushi,” they say it draws ‘em like flies. But I’m not buying, hey, what worked for my grand-dad, it’ll work for me, eh? But that don’t mean I ain’t meticulous: last season I was lazy, but this year I’m going all the way. Went over by Ed’s, got me the top-of-the-line ‘gander trap: the “port-a-john!” “Best in the field”—heh, heh, heh.

Yep, here I am, up in my tree stand, camouflaged like they think I’m a student, see? Got the Macintosh, the Foucault, right? I’m playing R.E.M. on the stereo, scattered some dirty flannel shirts on the ground, like I say, went all out this year—did I mention I got one of those eco-coffee mugs hanging from my knapsack out by the windbreak? The fake goatee? Heh, heh, heh.

Faintly, in the distance: “Go-o-o bloooo … go-o-o bloo …”

Shhh. They be coming by round ‘bout now, hear ‘em—just over the horizon they’re comin’, all bunched up like that, like they do, heh heh, right, just wait a little, just a little, don’t let em see … now get ‘em in your sights there, slowly! … slowly … shhh, make your first shot count, ain’t gonna get much more than that … NOW!

“CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!”

“GO-O-O BLOOOO! GO-O-O BLOOO! EROOO ERooooO!!! ERooooO!!!!”

A sickening bellow. Now rising, now falling, now fading, fading off into the distance, and—pay dirt! Looks like I’m gonna be strapping one across the hood this year, aina? … no taste in the world like fresh ‘gander … heh, heh, heh.


Outside my window: a gray day in Ann Arbor. A town of 100,000. A stadium that holds 100,000. Game time. No one’s about; the streets are ghostly, deserted. A cop—in shorts, on a bicycle—glides by. I amble onward, purposefully, towards the library, whistling, savoring the quiet. I strain my ears. In the distance, dispersed by an icy wind: “go-o-o blooooo! go-o-o blooo …”

Rick Perlstein is a contributing editor of The Baffler and author of Nixonland and other books.

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