“Dirty” was one of his first introductions to how a freeborn boy could be wrong around people who had traded their freedom to choose for lip service allegiance to pop righteousness. The poop in his pants, the soil on his knees and the words he heard daddy say couldn’t all be dirty. People that found dirt always smelled like soap. So how come mother called aunt Donna, who took more baths than anyone in the world, a dirty minded woman?
These questions and observations led him to see that using the word dirty was a kind of unconscious code with which the righteous could recognize each other as allies in finding wrong with actions outside what one must assume they consider their unnaturally sanitary soap box. It no longer mattered whether the modified noun was excrement, soil, reputation, sanitation, sex, ethics, money, job, habit, thought or language in comparison to how clearly it defined the accusing speakers, who were, ironically enough, always describing other than them selves. Imagine that.
His own meaning for “dirty” formulated when he began to feel dirty himself. Finding himself attending class with students who bragged on the obituaries of murdered residents of Carver Village and powerless to find anyone to believe it, or if they knew, to join him in opposing it, he dropped out of his new Mississippi high school and joined the Marines, both to get away and to learn to be more effective in opposing such lynchings. But he felt dirty, leaving such a mess.
Experience over four years of direct contact with and obedience to the military code of justice did nothing to expiate this stain of helpless cowardice he felt. Indeed, it only showed him the immensity of institutionalized enactment of the same kinds of atrocities against people of color in neighborhoods called nations. He talked to veterans returning from the Korean conflict who were just as shot loose from consensus reality as returnees from any of the admitted wars his country wages. If they were fit enough to retain in the service they were often recognizable by fresh material in the shape of rank chevrons removed from otherwise salty uniform sleeves. Chevrons awarded for ferocity in combat granted on the spot in the field. Chevrons taken away for inability to fold up their prize winning talents like the weapons they used by courts-marshal at home. He felt even more helpless to reconcile the increasing examples of other such duplicity dressed in the same flag. Dirty war is a term used by his country to describe resistance to its clean ones.
Over the fifty years since he left the service he tried joining only one more group he thought actually wanted to make the world better. When the company finally announced the product he’d helped engineer to fruition over nine years, he expected he’d begin work on a new project. Instead he was given the task of taking the material, design and performance capacity of his reliable new product to the point that it would break down as soon after warranty as possible to reduce the cost of making something for which the price remained the same, need expensive repairs earlier and increase product turnover. The duplicitous facade was everywhere.
He made a choice between wallowing in the dirty for dominating profit, like oil refinery towns love that smell of money in the air, or feeling the healthy remove from the trough of filthy lucre in the wilderness where the dirtiest he gets forking compost, cleaning chicken roosts and planting seeds feels like the epitome of clean. The word dirty never comes to mind.