I have received a lot of requests for extracts from Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America
Here is the first, chosen from near the middle of the book. More will follow at regular intervals.
MY NEGOTIATION TO MEET EUSTACE CONWAY, THE LAST AMERICAN MAN
To meet Eustace I first had to go through Desiree, a curvaceous, dark-haired Coloradan with pouty lips and smoldering eyes. She had spent a few years “traveling and camping” before arriving to live at Turtle Island Preserve. “That was when I learned the delights of a cold shower,” she told me. I was very curious about their arrangement. Was she Eustace’s personal assistant and gatekeeper, or his girlfriend as well? And if she had a sexual relationship with the Last American Man, was she his only girlfriend or just his main girlfriend, merely one of many? These were questions to be left until I got to know her better.
We were sitting facing each other in the café of the Earth Fare grocery store in Boone, the big town closest to Turtle Island Preserve. It is easily the best grocery store I’ve found in all my time in the United States, a smaller version of Whole Foods, run by kinder people. The food is exemplary, and the prices are reasonable, especially on the bargain shelf, which is restocked hourly. The prices in the café are the same as in the store, and it has free Wi-Fi and excellent bathrooms. No wonder the entire off-the-grid population around Boone uses the place as a clubroom.
I had been e-mailing away on my laptop until Desiree turned up and slid onto the bench opposite me. I explained my mission, and she said that Eustace was very busy at the moment; I could ask her any questions I might have. My first was whether he really does believe that we are witnessing the death of masculinity in modern America. She quoted from one of his favorite books, The Sibling Society, which she admitted is “a bit dry.” Eustace agrees with its basic analysis that “instead of an ambition to grow up and mature and reach the status of an elder, we are much more directed, these days, into being youthful and immature and unaccountable, careless and selfish.” He also agreed with Dr. Seuss, that “America is a society of obsolete children.”
To me this seemed to be more about a decline in wisdom rather than masculinity, but I began to see what Desiree was getting at. “Eustace sees full-blown masculinity rarely coming to fruition,” she went on. “It’s becoming harder to find role models, elders, hunters, really masculine men.” So are men becoming wimps? “It’s not that they are all wimps,” she said, now relishing her role as the voice of Eustace. “It’s that they stay boys.” She ended with a defiant stare, almost a challenge to me to prove that I am not one of these lady-boy kidults infesting America. I tried to look solemn and wise, and took my own voice down an octave or two. “Do the multitudes who come to Turtle Island to learn building, bushcraft, and land-husbandry skills include any real men?” I asked with a growl.
The answer was that it is all too rare, especially among the self-selecting group that visits the preserve. Presumably it’s an awareness of their shortcomings that leads them to seek help from Eustace. Apparently “as soon as the boys get a splinter, everything stops while they get a Band-Aid. Nine times out of ten,” Desiree said, “Eustace will choose the strongest females in the group to work closely with him.” I bet he does, I thought to myself. This seemed to be the appropriate moment to raise the issue of Eustace’s continuing attractiveness to the opposite sex. Desiree reported that there is “still a steady interest from women, who phone to ask, ‘Does he have a girlfriend? Is he married?’ I just pass the messages on to him,” she said casually, in a way that left me unable to tell whether she couldn’t give a damn or whether she filters the messages first, perhaps subtly changing the phone numbers or discarding the ones that seem too enticing.
“And is he still attractive to women?” I asked, throwing caution to the wind. “The body is just the image that reflects the attitude,” Desiree replied elliptically. “He doesn’t like sugar or get excessive on snacks.” As I pondered that one, I was delighted to hear Desiree invite me for breakfast the following morning. I thought that any further questions about his sexuality had better wait until I had at least met the Last American Man himself.
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