By Calvin Palmer
“Tear down this wall!” President Ronald Reagan instructed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a 1987 speech during a visit to Berlin. Some Americans seem to have a thing about walls.
Out and about in Savannah at the weekend, I happened to lean against a wall that encased steps to the front door of a house in the historic district.
My wife and I had been walking for about an hour and, as she stopped to take a photograph of something that caught her attention, I thought I would take the weight off my legs for a moment.
Suddenly, from up on high, a whining voice asked me not to lean against the wall.
I took a step back to look up at who was issuing this ludicrous request and was confronted by a man in his late thirties leaning over the rail at the top of the steps. He was rather prissy-looking and reminded me of the Kevin Spacey character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
“Are you serious?” I asked incredulously.
Had this wall been adorned with Renaissance stucco paintings, I could have understood his concern. And had it been so, I would have been the last person in the world to lean against it. This wall, his wall, was rendered with cement, painted in a muted ochre color. It was anything but fragile.
The man said nothing. His ferret face simply looked at me with a blank expression.
“Are you serious?” I enquired again.
“I like your accent,” he replied, “Chelsea College of Art.”
His response struck me as somewhat supercilious, although it could have been an attempt to extend the olive branch, as he had obviously grasped that I was English and a visitor to his city.
But by this time, thanks to his preposterous rebuke, I was in tree-shredding mode; leaves and wood figuratively flew everywhere as I fired back.
“I have traveled on three continents and have never, ever, been reprimanded for leaning against a wall. Whatever happened to America, the land of the free? This is more like a Nazi regime.
“The Nazis were in southern Germany,” he said.
Like I needed a history lesson from this buffoon.
“Yeah, and this is the southern United States, where some have the same mentality. Where’s your swastika?”
I did not wait for his reply. I do not suffer fools gladly, I never have. I crossed the road to rejoin my wife and he mumbled something.
“Just admit you are a fascist,” I barked and continued on my way wondering whatever happened to Southern charm and hospitality.
Needless to say, it was to be found everywhere in the delightful city of Savannah, except for this one particular enclave.
A Pink Floyd song, slightly modified, aptly describe the Southern “sophisticate” I encountered: “All in all, you’re just another prick on the wall.”