Monday, August 13, 2007

A Regular Guy


By Richard E. Noble

Many, many years ago I was watching the Bill Cosby Show. As Most of you probably remember “The Bill Cosby” show was a situation comedy. Mr. Huckstable (Cosby) was a successful Doctor - a pediatrician - and his wife was a successful lawyer. This was a great show; one of the funniest shows ever - and with a message.
This show was clearly designed to influence and promote a positive black image in America - an upscale image. At the time “The Jeffersons” and their “movin’ on up and finally getting a piece of the pie” was the prevailing image. The Jefferson’s was a step or two above Amos and Andy and Cosby was - to most white Americans - a fantasy.
Today we see black lawyers and doctors everywhere but back in those “good old days” I would guess that most white Americans never saw a black lawyer or Doctor in their entire life. Not only hadn’t they ever seen either - they probably believed that such a possibility was genetically impossible. Even as late as the 1950’s and 1960’s there were books being written about the genetic inequalities of Backs. They were slightly more sophisticated than those written before the Civil War and the Reconstruction period but the message was the same - “they weren’t created that way”.
But Cosby and his bright and attractive TV wife made it all very believable - except to a few guys who were still peeking out from under white bed sheets and burning crosses out in the woods.
I loved the show and watched it every week. But of all the episodes there is only one that I remember to this day. I have been mulling it over now in my mind for twenty or thirty years it seems.
The plot of the episode was about when his teenage boy decides that he is going to drop out of high school or not go to college. He explains to his dad that he just wants to become a “regular guy”.
Cosby then proceeds to confront the young man with the perils of attempting to live a life in this modern day America as a “regular guy”. He lays the whole thing out for junior in plain and simple economics. And he proceeds to demonstrate that the young man could not even afford to live as he now lives in his parent’s home with the amenities provided there on the salary of a “regular guy”. He could not have the tapes and the music; he couldn’t have the nice clothes; he couldn’t live in a home of his own; he couldn’t drive a late model car; he couldn’t eat out in restaurants; he would never be able to have any of the things that he had already learned to enjoy and take for granted.
Even though I am one of those regular guys and have been a regular guy all my life, I supported the message that Mr. Huckstable was providing to his naive child. I was not only a regular guy myself but I was the son of a regular guy who was also the son of another regular guy. We all lived in regular apartments in regular neighborhoods. We wore regular clothes (sometimes irregular clothes). We ate regular food and did regular things. I hung out with the regular children of other regular people. And for the rest of my life I worked at a regular job next to hundreds and thousand and millions of other regular working stiffs. My own dad warned me about becoming a regular guy like himself - but that was different from Mr. Cosby, a non-regular guy, giving what appeared to be similar advise.
My father didn’t want me to grow up to be a “regular guy” either. He wanted me to become somebody - somebody like the person he always wanted to become but didn’t or couldn’t. But nevertheless I became a regular guy. I was never ashamed of it. I always wished that I could have done better but that’s how it goes. We all can’t become “somebody”.
My problem with that Cosby episode was that Mr. Huckstable did the job of putting down “the regular guy” a little too well. I felt that being a regular guy in Mr. Huckstable’s eyes was something not only disgraceful, foolish and silly but just plain stupid.
A regular guy was a laughable moron. He was more than stupid - he might even be considered disgraceful or shameful. It is the lot in life put aside for those who don’t care; who don’t try; who are lacking in intelligence and ambition. It is the American version of the old Indian “untouchable” class. I felt like the “regular guys” were no longer the G I Joe’s or the Bill and Andy of the World War II era - the guys who won the war. They were no longer the tough rugged guys that Bill Maldon and Ernie Pyle wrote about and immortalized in their books and cartoon strips. Can you imagine an army with no privates or enlisted men and only Pattons and Macarthur’s - my god! The “regular guy” to Mr. Huckstable seemed to me to be the new neutral colored Amos and Andy - us regular guys were all a sad and sorry joke.
We were no longer the Paul Bunyons who cleared the forests; we were no longer the Casey Joneses who drove the steam engines; we were no longer the John Henry’s who were the steel drivin’ men who laid the railroad tracks across America; we were no longer those heroic but pitiable strong men that toted that barge and lifted that bail and got a little drunk and, yes, even landed in jail. We weren’t even the vagabond propagators like Johnny Appleseed and the Zippidy Dudahs who skipped and laughed our way through life with wise tales about common folks and common things. And what about those romantic hoboes who road the rails and fought for the rights of “regular guys” to earn a regular living? We weren’t even Rosie the Riveter - a female regular guy.
What about Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and Daniel Boone - weren’t they regular guys who just went off “wrastled” the bears and settled the west? What happened to “the Waltons” and “I Remember Mama” - with Papa and his industrial lunch pail? That wise old Papa who spoke in broken English and was the hero of his regular children who lived in their little rented apartment.
But you know even in the new Global economic world 80% of the workers in our society are still regular non-college graduates doing regular jobs for regular wages. For every supervisor there are a hundred to be supervised; for every plant manager there are a thousand plant nobodies; for every oil company executive there are a million mom and pop gas station operators; for every gated community there are a thousand middle-class neighborhoods and a hundred slum neighborhoods.
For most “regular guys” becoming a regular guy was not a preferred choice or even a matter of choice. It just happened. Not too many regular guys sat down with an advisor and chose “regular guy” out of a vocational handbook. For that matter nobody said that they would prefer to be born in a slum or to abusive parents or into poverty. Despite all the Horatio Alger hype these days, the majority of regular people come from other regular people and will remain regular people all their lives.
Most poor and average regular guys work very hard all their lives just trying to maintain that status. There will never be a shortage of regular guys and regular people and even if you educate all the children of the world and make them all qualified to be physicists all that will do is upgrade the intellectual caliber of dishwashers, and truck drivers and garbage men. As long as the world has a majority of regular jobs that must be done there will have to be a supply of regular guys to do them.
All the “wise men” and the Best and Brightest should be very thankful for all of us regular guys because if we were all as bright and wise as they, most of those folks would all probably have to settle for being “regular guys” just like us. Wouldn’t that be a shame?