Babbit redux

RANGE: Although he is named for that magnificent urban center in the “Show-me” State, the Spirit does not confine his operations to its environs but wanders the heartland of this great nation, from the Grain Belt to the Sun Belt, from the Bible Belt to the Gun Belt—wherever in this great nation a man is suddenly, mysteriously motivated to tighten his belt, knock back a couple of belts, and belt the wife and kids around for a while.
HABITS: The dauntless Charles Lindbergh, in a craft named after this creature, flew solo to France, took a look around, beheld the splendors of ancient culture and gay Paree, went back home, and declared himself an isolationist. That’s the Spirit of St. Louis at work for you, fellah. Much otherwise inexplicable American behavior is the work of this “Anima Within,” a direct descendant of the “Spirit of ’76.” It is the Spirit of St. Louis who inspires us to approve in practice what we deplore in theory and to accuse all who do otherwise of being hypocrites … to celebrate with bands and bunting a previous (successful) revolution in politics and morality, while jailing, or at least ostracizing, anyone advocating political or moral change in the present. Operating by such subtle means as Saturday Evening Post covers, soda pop commercials, and Walt Disney movies, the Spirit of St. Louis has tattooed upon the national imagination a vision of green lawns, white picket fences, Pop’s malt shop, cute little dogs named Spot, calico bonnets, freckled, pigtailed happy apple pies and smiling porters—who knew their place— helping us aboard.
HISTORY: The city after which the Spirit is named is, in turn, named in honor of a French King, famous for his piety and successful slaughter of foreigners. There is no adequate English translation for the French word “chauvinism,” but we all know what it means, don’t we? In La Belle France, to this day, all citizens, from the most decadent aristocrat to the dirtiest Marseilles gutter waif, aspire to the condition of being middle-class. This lust, to rest smug, snug, and secure behind a barricade of ill-gotten and tasteless material possessions, was spread to the American Midwest by the sharpdealing, gravy-grasping, butter-hoarding Spirit of St. Louis.
SPOTTER’S TIPS: Listen for the sounds of the Spirit of St. Louis, abroad in the small town night: the rustic creak of crickets; the domestic rustle of Shake’n’Bake; a universal murmur of agreement with the troglodyte tv talk show host; the consoling sizzle of bugs immolating themselves on backyard insect ionizers; the discreet (weekly) flushing of the toilet; the decisive snap of shutting pocketbooks; the righteous whack of a razor strop across a naughty toddler’s bottom; the secure clatter and clang of dead bolts and chains securing screen doors; the slam of windows; the hum of humidifiers; the chaste smack of perfunctory marital kisses—then silence, save for the dim and distant sound of something, somewhere, being smothered.


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