By Josh Magill
Do you ever look back at your life and wonder how you got there? I don’t very often, but sometimes it is a fun exercise to see how much you have grown and changed for the better throughout the years. More than ten years ago I was different and I’m sure we can all say that.
Back then I was an older college freshman at 25-years-old, attending Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, and living in a beat up old mobile home that gave back the sounds of field mice crawling in the walls at night. I had left the life of a rough warehouse worker that traveled the country putting together the insides of new Home Depots because I had met a beautiful young woman. She convinced me to chase my dream of college, so I had decided to study history, but changed to Journalism just six months into my studies. During my English 102 class we were asked to read an excerpt from a book published by one of the professors on campus, Mike Magnuson, called Lummox: The Evolution of Man.
So what is a lummox? The dictionary describes it as “a clumsy person.” Some regard them as stupid and oafish. In the excerpt, Magnuson goes into much more detail giving his vulgar definition of what he calls a true lummox. To some it is a distasteful description, so prepare yourself before reading the quoted excerpt below.
“He’s your guy’s guy, your man’s man, your guy-with-a-spare-tire guy, your guy whose clothes don’t fit quite the way they should. He drinks too much beer and likes…doing anything that keeps him from having to hang around with his girlfriend or wife or his children or anybody who is not a lummox like himself. He’s been known to stare at fine [women] when he sees [them] in public places. He’s been known to scratch himself at inappropriate times. And he leaves pizza boxes in the living room, drops his socks on the floor. He doesn’t give a crap about ironing his shirts or making his bed or changing his sheets. He farts and he belches without excusing himself, and he doesn’t put the toilet lid down or clean the crud from the toilet base once a week. He doesn’t even wash his hands after he pisses, if he bothers to go indoors in the first place.” (Borrowed with permission from “Lummox” pg.3)
So what do you think I did back then when this beautiful woman told me I was a lummox like Magnuson describes? I did what any true lummox of a man would do – I scratched myself and said, “Aw, Hell.”
She frowned and walked away, giving me the illusion I had lost any opportunity to get to know her. I was wrong. What I didn’t know was that she had plans to show me the true person I was and that the lummox described above does not have to be permanent.
A man can be either a lummox or a gentleman or even mystical. In reality, most men are a combination of these in some way. The truth is I’m not what Magnuson portrays completely and the beautiful woman, whom I married some months later, knew it before I did.
I’ve never been much of a drinker, but I could go for a Pepsi right now. As for “staring at fine lookin’ women…in public places,” doesn’t every man do that to a degree? Wait! I’m not saying it is right, but it happens. A single man will stare longer than a dating man and him more than a married man. Well, I had gotten married two days into that year, so I was at that shortest end of the ‘staring spectrum.’ Now, after many years of marriage and three children, one of which is a daughter, my wife says I don’t stare as much as quickly glance. But when I do stare, my wife nudges me and we smile at each other knowingly. A little game starts as I half-heartedly deny it, then change to apologizing and we move on.
Everything else, when it comes to being a Lummox, was exactly me. Most of it is obviously toned down since I got hitched to this beautiful woman. I don’t care about ironing or making the bed and I like hiding in the garage sometimes when my family gets too loud. I definitely have better hygiene habits.
I learned more about Magnuson after reading the entire book, finding out that it was a loose biography of sorts regarding his life. I was able to meet him after my English class teacher shared the essay I wrote about the excerpt with him and his creative writing class of graduate students. In the hallway of the stuffy English Department building, he explained that the book was definitely about changing, but also about embracing one’s self and who we really are unapologetically. His goal was to share that freedom and understanding in your life are important, but do it in funny way.
The book shares that women can be lummoxes too. Magnuson portrays them as a ‘Big Bertha’ type and I found that my wife is somewhat of a want-to-be lummox. She just allows herself to occasionally let loose from the standards of a sophisticated woman. You know – unladylike stuff. Most is only done in the privacy of our home, but it happens. She is also part of that crowd of women who find the common lummox unnecessary to today’s society. She attended college; therefore, she has that “certain type of education” Magnuson describes that sets them apart from an oafish lummox. So why does she tolerate me? I think she secretly envies the freedom of a true lummox and I’m not the only one that has changed over the years. Unknowingly, I helped her relax.
Lummox: The Evolution of Man lets you see some basic freedoms of man (or woman), yet at the same time he describes the pain or uncomfortable times of being so free. Not everyone lived in an elementary school like Magnuson, but hasn’t almost every true lummox (mostly male) lived in that dump of a place. I’ve probably lived in about five, so you could say that all my dumpy places add up to that one Mike lived in. It’s funny how all those crappy places seem to come equipped with the bizarre buddies that you wouldn’t hang out with unless you were a lummox. If you weren’t a lummox you’d probably feel sorry for them or repulsed by them, but no way in hell would you become their friend. I’ve got a few buddies like that.
In some ways I may even be that ‘whacked out’ buddy to someone else. True, my wife and I are married, but we’re friends first and foremost. She has this best friend, a gracious fellow that would not hang out with me except that I’m married to his best friend. In college, his clothes were always perfect, he was your thin type (no beer or Pepsi gut), he’s not really into sports and you’d never catch a gaseous whiff protruding from him. I’m that guy he’d tried to avoid his whole life. That guy that is ninety-five percent opposite of everything he wanted to be as a man. Oh well, I probably wouldn’t have hung out with him either. He’s cool though and we became cordial friends throughout the years as we grew to understand ourselves better.
Back in those days as I lumbered through Magnuson’s life with him and meeting him a couple more times, I wondered what it meant to have ‘a [sissy's] heart’ as he talks about in the book. Does that mean you’re afraid to get into a fight with any guy on the playground? Or even a girl, for that matter? I concluded that it meant you just have something passionate in your heart other than the mundane ways of a lummox. Mine is literature – I love to write. Nothing specific, just about anything will do as long as I can make something interesting out of it. I like bringing magic to someone’s life through words and yes, even flowery words. To write well you have to read well and a lot. Poetry has been an avenue I traveled down for many years and I started by reading my mother’s work. They were mostly love stories to my dad, but they stirred something inside me that I didn’t know I had – a genuine interest in something artful. I began writing my own poetry – stuff from my heart. The kind of gushy crap that makes people look into their souls, miss their lover, and even cry.
One time on a visit back to the folk’s house, just after I’d turned twenty-three, I showed some of these poems to my mother and sister. They laughed. “You didn’t write this,” they said to me. They said they knew me and what I had written wasn’t the person they knew.
“I did write it,” I screamed back at them.
They said that I must be lying because they knew I didn’t think like this. Maybe they were right, so I started writing more “manly” poetry – cowboy type poetry.
Two years later, after reading Magnuson’s book, I realized that they were right, as far as they knew. I also discovered that I had been right too. My heart and my outer portrayal of me were drastically different. I was both a lummox and a sissy. It just depended on where you were looking, the outside or the inside. It’s interesting though that I wouldn’t show my poetry to my dad. A man brought up during a time when the soul of a lummox was praised and perfected. Maybe I was afraid he’d disown me as a son, calling me a sissy boy or pansy, which has happened before when I didn’t show the toughness he expected of me.
I’m a little more comfortable with the blend of my two selves. I’ve ventured into showing others the words that I pen out for my pleasure. I’m not afraid to show my ‘sissy boy’ self to my dad or anyone else. That was made easier when I found out my dad secretly read and wrote his own poetry – cowboy stuff.
I’m also comfortable with the fact that I’m a lummox with a southern hick twist. Magnuson mentions that some want to kill off the lummox. This won’t ever happen. Why? Because each day the world spins, the basic natural lummox is still there and will be for all time, but as the book title alludes to … the evolution of life brings them to a better understanding.
© 2012 Josh Magill