Sunday, February 14, 2016

A reading from John Steinbeck

From The Grapes of Wrath:

"Well, if you truly wanta know, I'm a fella that's asked questions an' giver her some thought.  She's a nice country.  But she was stole a long time ago.  You git acrost the desert an' come into the country aroun' Bakersfield.  An' you never seen such purty country -- all orchards an' grapes, purtiest country you ever seen.  An' you'll pass lan' flat an' fine with water thirty feet down, and that lan's layin' fallow.  But you can't have none of that lan'.  That's a Lan' and Cattle Company.  And if they don't want ta work her, she ain't gonna git worked.  You go in there an' plant you a little corn, an' you'll go to jail!"
"Good lan', you say? An' they ain't workin' her?"
Yes, sir.  Good lan' an' they ain't!  Well, sir, that'll get you a little mad, but you ain't seen nothin'.  People gonna have a look in their eye.  They gonna look at you an' their face says, 'I don't like you, you son-of-a-bitch.'  Gonna be deputy sheriffs an' they'll push you aroun'.  You camp on the roadside, an' they'll move you on.  You gonna see in people's face how they hate you.  An' I'll tell you somepin.  They hate you 'cause they're scairt.  They know a hungry fella gonna get food even if he got to take it.  They know that fallow lan's a sin an' somebody' gonna take it.
What the hell!  You never been called 'Okie' yet."
Tom said, "Okie?  What's that?"
"Well, Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma.  Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch.  Okie means you're scum.  Don't mean nothing itself, it's the way they say it.  But I can't tell you nothin'.  You got to go there.  I hear there's three hundred thousan' of our people there -- an' livin' like hogs, 'cause ever'thing in California is owned.  They ain't nothin' left.  And them people that owns it is gonna hang on to it if they gotta kill ever'body in the worl' to do it.  An they're scairt, an' that makes 'em mad.  You got to see it.  You got to hear it.  Purtiest goddamn country you ever seen, but they ain't nice to you, them folks.  They're so scairt an' worried they ain't even nice to each other."

Company guard during a coal miner's strike, Birmingham, AL, 1930s, photograph by Walker Evans

Dorothea Lange, Florence Thompson and Her Children, California, 1935

Something that seems straight out of the pages of Steinbeck, homeless encampments that are self-governing communities with close neighbors who watch out for each other, from The Atlantic.

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