Archive for December, 2011

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  • December 28th, 2011

Muleheaded

            A mule looks like a horse that God had fun with…but there’s more to equine-ness than beauty.  Mules are either smarter than horses or instinctively more adaptable.  That’s why they use mules to carry tourists out of the depths of the Grand Canyon and not horses.

            The trails are steep and narrow and the penalty for making a mistake is a fall that even if Humpty Dumpty had been made from tempered steel he still would have wound up in pieces.

            “A mule will never walk off the edge,” said our wrangler.  “A horse might.  On the other hand, make sure the mule faces out over the edge.  They like to see the scenery.  If you face him toward the inside he just might back off the edge.”

            All this was as reassuring as hearing, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you,” for someone with acrophobia—me, for example.   Riding a mule from the floor of the Canyon to the top was a seven hour communication between “dumb” beast and Man.  Of the two the beast was far more self-assured and intelligent.

            But after those seven hours of unremitting terror, the mule and I parted company, each with a sigh of relief, at the top of Bright Angel Trail—the mule to transport supplies down to Phantom Ranch, me to do my best to stay on level ground forevermore.

            Still, it was a connection of historic significance since I am a Missourian where the mule is as revered as, say, a Texas longhorn steer or a South Dakota pheasant.  You can’t grow up in the Show- Me State without feeling a parochial empathy with this hybrid cross between a horse and a donkey.  The Missouri mule is as familiar an American icon as Idaho potatoes or Georgia peaches.  Just harder to get along with. 

In some ways, Missouri never has outgrown its mule image.  My property tax form still asks me to list my Asses and Jennets (it also asks me to list my automobiles, so there is some concession to the 21st century).  It has been the official State Animal since 1995. 

Although Missouri and mules are like Bugs Bunny and carrots, the fact is Texas historically was a much more productive mule state.  My Grand Canyon  mule probably came from Tennessee (the existing mule string largely is from that state) and whoever named her Streak has a sense of humor that should be featured on the Grand Ole Opry.  She made the proverbial molasses in January look like mercury.

       There have to be reasons precipitous trail riders prefer mules to horses, none of which is physical beauty.  A mule is not ugly, but neither is it My Friend Flicka.  Heroic creatures tend to be horses and collies, not mules.  When they cast a clown creature, it was Francis, a mule.  On the other hand, Black Beauty could not have carried on a decent conversation the best day she ever saw, while Francis was as much fun to talk to as Jay Leno.

            As most everyone who has even a hazy notion of genetics knows, a mule is a hybrid animal, a cross between a female horse (mare) and a male donkey (cross a stallion with a female donkey and you get a hinny).  The result is a creature with a horselike body, but a donkey face…and one that is almost always sterile.  The difference is chromosomal—donkeys have 62 chromosomes and horses 64.  This does not matter to the two in moments of love, but is reproductively a turn-off.  The only sure way to get more mules is by crossbreeding horses and donkeys, but the occasional mule has more on his mind than his next bale of hay and the equipment to do something about it for reasons that escape any but a dedicated geneticist..

            The men’s athletic teams of Central Missouri State University are the Mules and the woman’s teams are the Jennies.  How being symbolized by sterile animals affects the self-esteem of hormonally-charged teenagers is anyone’s guess.

It’s no surprise that mules historically were cherished above horses.  They are superior in just about everything but looks: endurance, intelligence, skin toughness, sure-footedness, harder hooves and even temperament.  A horse can run faster, not a requirement on a narrow Grand Canyon trail with a thousand-foot dropoff a hoof-width away.

            It may pain groupies of King Arthur and his noble knights to discover that, rather than riding noble steeds of the horse persuasion, knights of the era preferred mules because they are bigger and stronger than horses and it takes a big animal to tote a fully-clad knight (up to 70 extra pounds).

            Fortunately for two portly members of our rafting party, the two biggest mules happened to be at Phantom Ranch when we were ready to climb out of the Canyon.  Each rider weighed considerably more than the allowed maximum of 220 pounds.  “We can’t take you,” the wrangler said. 

            One of the two had heart problems and the other was still recovering from a hip replacement.  “How will we get out?” one asked, his voice a bit quavery.  The wrangler shrugged.  “You can walk,” she said.  “Or hire a helicopter.”

            Helicopter taxi service costs about as much as the helicopter and hiking was out of the question.  There was some intense negotiation, involving groveling, and finally the wrangler took pity on the two and said, “Nip and Tuck are down here and I suppose you can ride them out.”

            Nip and Tuck were burly mules, like seeing Charles Barkley and Karl Malone shoulder to shoulder.  Contrarily, the wrangler was riding a small, sprightly mule and she brought a bit of home to me when she explained it was a Missouri jumping mule. 

            That’s not a breed; it’s an attribute.  Missourians have developed a strain of mules to ride to hounds, usually after coyotes which tend to go long distances in straight lines.  Long distances in Missouri inevitably means barbed wire fences to cross and the riders have trained their athletic mules to jump over the barriers.

            It’s not like a steeplechase with horses.  Instead the rider dismounts, drapes a protective cover over the top wire, and the mule obediently leaps the fence, the rider crosses, remounts and off they go.

            So far there is no mule event to rival Olympic equestrian events dedicated to horses and their riders, or England’s famed steeplechases.  There have been various Olympic events for horses over the years, including jumping and dressage (the judging of horses on various gaits).  The average mule probably would consider a jumping course a massive waste of time and simply refuse to jump over barriers when it could go around them and as for dressage, the typical mule has only one gait—its own, depending on circumstance, not the rider’s inclination.

            However some modern mules have been bred to compete in hunter/jumper competition and dressage and, according to Wikepedia which is sometimes suspect some formerly exclusive horse shows are accepting mules in competition.

            Our Grand Canyon mules placidly began their long journey to the top and after a night under the stars, would do it in reverse, carrying a load of supplies down.  Day after day the same routine—there possibly are more rewarding careers than being a Grand Canyon mule. 

            But there is the incomparable scenery of the Canyon.  The mules would pause from time to time to gaze benignly over a million acres of wonderland, always facing out which meant that the acrophobic rider also was gazing over a bottomless pit.  It did not help my equanimity when I glanced down and saw a mule hoof so close to the edge that it was nudging pebbles into the abyss.

            “We’ve never had a mule walk off the edge yet,” said the wrangler.  “But there’s always the chance they could back off—so keep them faced out.”

            There is a probably true, possibly apocryphal story about a mule-mounted cannon designed for use in World War One.  So the story goes the mule panicked, bolted and somehow stepped on the lanyard, firing the 37 mm howitzer.  The recoil toppled the mule into a nearby river.  More likely is that the gun, which actually did exist, was merely carried by the mule, but detached to fire.  Think of a poor mule with a howitzer going off between its long ears!

            Another wartime mule story was about air drops of the animals by parachute to partisans fighting the Japanese in the China-Burma Theater.  Chances are this also is an inflated story if not an outright howler since no self-respecting mule would let itself be loaded onto a plane, then be booted out many hundreds of feet in the air.

            But a true story involves the transport of nearly 400 mules by glider in the China-Burma Theater in 1944.  The story is that the mules were three abreast, facing forward, and a soldier was stationed at their heads with a rifle and orders to shoot all three if they began to buck and kick.  The troop carrier group responsible for the mule lift got a unit citation for the mule taxi service and its other cargo carrying—more than 6,000 flights..

            There are two mule jokes, both so venerable as to have white beards.  One involves a fellow who bought a mule for $100, but it died before he picked it up.  “Load it up,” he told the seller.  “What are you going to do with a dead mule?” asks the first fellow.  “Raffle it off,” says the buyer.  “You can’t raffle off a dead mule,” says the first.  “Sure I can,” says the second.  “I just won’t tell anyone it’s dead.”

            They meet a week later and the first farmer says, “What happened with the dead mule?”  “Raffled him off and sold 500 tickets at $2 each.”  “Didn’t anyone complain?” asks the first farmer.  “Only the guy who won and I gave him his money back.”

            The other joke says you can talk kindly to a mule, but first whack him across the brow with a two-by-four “to get his attention” and then you can whisper in his ear.

            By the way, there are no best-selling books or box office smash movies titled “The Mule Whisperer.”  Rodney Dangerfield had nothing on the mule.

            It don’t get no respect either.

-30-

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  • Blog
  • December 20th, 2011

A Christmas Present

 

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT

            “Merry Christmas!” Harvey Mirella muttered to himself, his mood as bleak as the cold moonlight filtering through the snow-shrouded pines.  The headlights dipped and dug at the snowbanks, briefly trapped a snowshoe hare faintly outlined by its shadow–white on white.

            It was Christmas Eve and Harvey was on his way to the county seat to get his son out of jail in time for the boy’s 18th birthday.

            His wife was in tears at home, her tattered face incongruous amid the glitter of the Christmas decorations.  The boy, Brad, was a late child, born on Christmas morning, when Harvey was 40 years old. 

            Harvey Mirella impatient with the boy, who always had seemed clumsy and slow, unable to fit in.  The boy was dreamy, intent on aimless study of leaves and grass, not books.  Harvey didn’t see how Brad could make it in real with life and this bitter Christmas Eve mission was proof of that. 

            Harvey hated his resentment, but he had been right about the kid—bad seed or some chemical insufficiency.  Some thing.  Sheriff calling at near midnight to tell him his kid had been caught breaking and entering. 

            Harvey gritted his teeth, anger heating his face.  Once he had felt blessed with a Christmas baby.  Not now.  Just another punk juvenile delinquent.  His juvenile delinquent.

            Brad had been sitting in a pickup and was fumbling for the keys when the police car pulled alongside.  The town marshal flashed his light on Brad’s white face, knew with a cop’s certain instinct that there was more here than a kid out with a six pack.  He motioned for Brad to roll down the window, his breath fogging in the cold Wisconsin night. 

            “What’s goin’ on here?” he asked.

            He could smell the beer, but the acrid stink of fear was just as strong.  Brad started telling him some story about getting stuck and trying to get out, volunteering much more information than he’d asked for–a certain sign the kid was hiding something.  He made Brad get out, noticed he weaved from the beer.  He flashed the light inside the truck cab, saw unopened candy bars, packages of potato chips and other snacks. 

            It didn’t take much deduction to associate the broken window of the gas station with the items in the truck and with the terrified youngster.  Punk kid, the marshal thought sourly, comparing Brad with his own boy who had starred for the high school basketball team and then had been killed in Viet Nam.             

            The center custodian was a gentle person, who had survived his own wild childhood. 

            “Punk kid breaking into a gas station,” the marshal said.  He pushed the boy, now numb with fatigue and dread, none too gently into the detention center.  “Sit down!” he commanded roughly.  Brad collapsed into a hard chair in the small entry area, his face white and frightened.

            The marshal and the custodian went back into a cramped office.  The custodian, who knew what had happened to the marshal’s son, said, “Don’t be too hard on him, eh?  It’s not the end of the world.  He’s pretty scared.”

            “He oughta be,” the marshal said.  “If he was a year older, he’d be lookin’ at prison.  Probably get off with a pat on the back and the next time he’ll be carryin’ a gun.”

            “Naah, I don’t think so,” the custodian said.  “Not a criminal, no.  Scared kid got some beer and did something dumb.  Probably never do anything wrong again.  Didn’t you ever do something wrong and not get caught?”

            “Not like this,” the marshal said.

            Harvey passed the city limit sign.  He knew where the juvenile attention center was.  “Juvenile attention!”  What a laugh!  Like they were doing the kids some favor.  Why not call it what it was.  A jail, a lockup for punk kids.  Like Brad.

            Harvey parked the car behind the attention center,  He felt old and tired. 

            His wife had been asleep when the phone rang, her dream one of danger and fear.  Later she wondered if the fright of her dream began on the first ring of the phone or if she actually had experienced a premonition.  She threw back the covers, raced into the hall to answer the persistent ringing phone, her eyes wide, but her mind still trying to shed the confusion of sleep. 

            “Yes!” she said.  The news made her go numb with shock.  Her lips were stiff, asking meaningless questions.  

            The official voice was patient, dispassionate.  He’d broken bad news–far worse than this–to many a parent and it always was the same.  Shock, fright, outrage sometimes from the fathers, poorly-thought- out questions, sometimes self-recrimination.                        

            She put down the phone, her mind a jumble of frightened-bird thoughts, fluttering in confusion.   Nothing like this ever had happened.  She knew she shouldn’t have let him go out on Christmas Eve.  He belonged at home, with his family.  But he had promised to be home early.  “You can’t keep them locked in the cradle until they’re grown,” she told Harvey as he growled and finally gave in.

            She leaned weakly against the wall.  She had to tell Harvey.  He had heard the phone ring, but not until she’d already moved to answer it.  He’d been tired from a long day at the Cozy Cup, the cafe he ran downtown in Birch Lake, and was heavily asleep when the call came.  He’d lost his sense of time and missed the note of alarm in his wife’s voice, heard only the murmur of the conversation.

            Then she switched on the bedroom light and he knew something terrible had happened from her face, pitted by desolation.  “That was the Sheriff’s office.  They say Brad broke into a filling station and stole some things.”  He shouted foolish questions at her, groaned with misery.  How he hated what the boy had done to him.

            Brad was was sick and confused.  The beer had worn off, leaving him only a dull headache, a leaden fatigue.  He knew what would happen when his folks found out about this.  He hated himself, hated them for being there to receive and hurt and condemn. 

            “Common sense!” his father had shouted, the last time he’d been in a scrape–nothing major; he’d gotten some beer and drunk it and driven to see his girl friend and on the way he ran in the ditch and split his lip.

            “Common sense!  You don’t have a lick of it!  What makes you do such things!”

            He didn’t know.  If he knew he wouldn’t do them.  The beer eased the ache that always was there, a part of him.  He was as good as anybody, as big as the biggest.  He could cope with anything.  He could be happy.  He drank beer with the guys and told jokes and everyone laughed and he felt warm and wanted.       “Hey, man, what you in for?”  It was some scuzzy kid, looked about half-wired. 

            Brad shrugged.

            “I got caught in possession,” the scuzzy kid said.  “You deal?”

            “I don’t do drugs,” Brad said. 

            “Hey, man, you smell like a brewery,” the scuzzy kid said.  “They say alcohol’s a drug, you dig?”

            “What’s gonna happen now?” Brad asked. 

            “Ah, you probably get off with a kiss on the ear,” the kid said.  “What you get picked up for–droppin’ a six pack?”

            “Breaking into a filling station,” Brad said.

            “Hey, wow!” said the scuzzy one with respect.  “That’s heavy, man!  They probably gonna stick you away for a hundred years!” 

            Brad looked at him with fright.  He realized he had been counting on his father to get it all straightened out so could all go home where it was warm and familiar and it would be another bad memory. 

            He felt his punishment was in the terror of getting caught and dragged behind bars.  That this desolation could be more permanent hadn’t occurred to him. 

            The marshal, noting that the punk kid was only minutes away from being an adult, growled, “You better enjoy this luck, kid.  It’s about run out.  Next time I see you here, you ain’t gonna be a minor.”

            After Harvey had signed the paperwork, the marshal said, “You can have him.  He’ll probably get a slap on the wrist pinky and a kiss from the juvenile judge.”  The marshal looked at Harvey as if measuring how much of Brad’s guilt could be assigned to his parent.

            Harvey was stiff with his anger.  He moved jerkily across the parking lot to the car. He slammed the door on his side, making no effort to help his son.  Brad barely got the door closed before Harvey stepped on the gas, shooting forward, the tires spinning briefly on the snowpacked parking lot.

            Harvey thought of a dozen bitter questions, rejected them all, finally shouted, “Why!”  He pounded on the steering wheel.  “Why!”  He glared at the silent boy beside him.  “I wish you’d been born a girl,” he muttered sourly.

            Brad looked out the window at the bright winter night.  “I wish I hadn’t been born at all,” he said softly. 

            Harvey realized Christmas music still was playing on the car radio.  “Thanks for the Christmas present,” he said sarcastically.  He looked at the boy in the wash of moonlight through the windshield and saw tears glistening on Brad’s face.

            Once they had watched the flare of northern lights when Brad was six years old and he saw tears on the little boy’s face—tears of helpless joy.  His heart had swelled so filled with love that he thought he would burst.  But that was then. 

            It was after midnight.  Brad was an adult in the eyes of the law, now, a year older…and it was Christmas day. 

            Harvey felt the tire blow, a sagging and sudden thumping.  He immediately slowed and let the car drift to the roadside.  It crunched to a halt in the softer snow.  Another frustration, but Harvey realized he was drained of anger.  He knew only a cloying fatigue. 

            “You could maybe help out a little bit,” he said tartly, looking at the boy.  The Christmas music was clear in the suddenly silent night.  “Change the tire.  Do something constructive for once in your worthless life.”

            Brad nodded, his head down.  He opened the door, felt the sharp bite of the cold, and stepped into the snow, his boot crunching.

            Harvey unlocked the trunk.  He stood back, watching the boy.  Brad wrestled the spare tire out, the cold on the metal and rubber numbing his hands.  He shivered, put his hands under his armpits to warm.  “Come on!” Harvey said.  “We haven’t got all night!”  Brad felt a flare of anger, but it died quickly.  He tried to make his stiffening hands work with the icy tools.

            The lights blinded both of them and they squinted awkwardly into the glare.  Where had the pickup come from?  They’d heard nothing.  “So, you got dem flat?”  The voice was rich with a meaty Svenski accent.  The pickup truck’s door creaked and clunked as the man got out.  Probably some Scandahoovian potato farmer heading home full of Christmas beer.

            The figure was indistinct in the haze of the truck lights.  Harvey glimpsed overalls, broad, powerful peasant hands. 

            “Looks like dat boy’s doin’ all right,” said the farmer.  Harvey looked at Brad struggling with the heavy tire and felt unfamiliar compassion.  The car radio was playing “Silent Night.”  For all its familiarity, it fit the calm quiet of the cold winter night. 

            Harvey remembered, with a sudden ache in his throat, other Christmases when Brad was little and innocent, a chubby baby. 

            “So, den, you need some help?” the Svenski asked?

            “Thanks for stopping,” Harvey said.  “I guess we’ll get goin’ all right.”

            “Everything gonna be all right,” said the farmer.  “Dis is Christmas, sure.  Dem troubles we got, dey ain’t nuttin.”

            “Maybe not for you,” Harvey growled. 

            “For me most of all,” the man said.  “You know dis is the time ven God’s son vas born?  I been lookin’ at dat fine boy you got and tink ain’t it nice to have a son.”

            “They’re trouble,” Harvey said, the dull ache of his anger pulsing again.

            “Dey’re joy too, you gif ’em a chance,,” the farmer said.  “Look, dem northern lights is comin, you betcha!” 

            Harvey looked to the north, where the farmer pointed.  There was Nothing but a lacework of stars.  Brad finished with the tire and straightened.  Harvey started to turn toward the farmer to say he saw nothing when the first flare lit the horizon. 

            The northern sky pulsed with light.  In seconds the entire sky filled with veils of surging light, throbbing with a fierce majesty.  , The northern lights strode from horizon to horizon like a parade of angels.  There were shimmering robes of pearly light, fountains of fire.  They swelled and bloomed soundlessly.  They were so immense, so grand that neither he nor Brad felt the cold, though there was no heat in the lights.        As abruptly as they had come, the lights ebbed.  They faded to a dull fire on the horizon and the winter stars shone again.

            Harvey found he was weeping. 

            The farmer had vanished.  How had the old guy known the lights would flare?  Who was he?  Harvey turned to the boy who was pale-faced in the moonlight.

            The boy, now a man, yet also was the six-year-old, wet-eyed with wonder. “Brad…” He didn’t know what to say.  He held out his arms to his son and Brad stepped into them.  Wordlessly they held each other. 

            “Brad, I love you,” Harvey said.  “I always have.” 

            “I love you too, Dad,” Brad said.  “I always have.

            In silence they headed toward Birch Lake and Christmas morning.              -30-

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  • December 13th, 2011

Beginnings

By Joel M. Vance
            September…I was born in September.  Got married in September.    It’s a month of beginnings.    Hunting season is beginning.  Doves are at the cornstubble and ragweed.  Already we’ve had a cold rain and a chilly night that sent many of them south.           

            Beginnings…ducks are uneasily eying the morning’s skim ice on the prairie potholes.  White-tailed bucks are glaring at young pine trees, as if they were rival lovers.  Velvet itches and throbs and innocent pines suffer.
           

                  Some of the pine trees are mine.  They are gnarled and scarred and some are dead, because of a ghost buck that comes in the night and jousts with them.  This has been going on for 20 years.  I doubt the same buck has slashed at my pine trees with bloody tines for 20 years.  The original passed on his wary genes.  I’ve never seen any of these phantom bucks.  Heard one once in the pre-dawn still of the darkest night ever.  He was no more than 20 yards from my stand and I sensed more than heard him.  Then he did the same to me–sensed more than heard–and snorted loudly.  When dawn came, the young pines bore fresh wounds, but the buck was gone.

            Many beginnings with this buck and his offspring, but no endings.  Yet.
            Young grouse are thinking about a life on their own, no more of this familial squabbling.  Quail are huddling up, tail to tail, fluffing their feathers as the nights cool and winter gets set to trim a few of them out of the covey.  Rabbits and doves and squirrels have just about given up procreating for a while.  Better to worry about the long cold that lies over the hills to the north.
            Beginnings–a time to sit and think about things out here on the back porch where we can see the far ridge and imagine what’s going on there.
            I expect I’ll get up pretty soon and go see.  Might be a few doves left to fly in to the stubblefield before fluttering to roost.    Squirrel season is open, but I’d rather wait to hunt them until the leaves fall and squirrels pounce and rattle through them for all the world like a stealthy white-tail.  Gives the old adrenal glands some exercise.
               Country has deep tap roots in me.  My father grew up on a hardrock farm in Missouri; my mother in a little resort town at the edge of the Wisconsin northwoods.  They were country when country meant dirt-poor, not some Yuppie idea of bucolic harmony.  My maternal grandmother cooked for the loggers who ripped the north woods to the ground.  My dad’s father was a sometime carpenter who would rather fish and hunt than pound nails. 

              None of them had two nickels to rub together.

             My father and his brothers looked like Huck and Tom and it wasn’t playacting.  They really were dressed in shabby overalls with run over shoes…or none at all.  When I was 13, we moved to Dalton, Missouri, a town that has been asleep for a hundred years, like Brigadoon, but shows no sign of awakening even for a day.  We lived in the Dalton Hotel, a gone-to-near-ruin heap with 17 rooms, a coal furnace that barely heated the first floor, not to mention the icy second, no indoor toilet, no indoor plumbing.

            The drummers who got off the train just across the dirt road and stayed there in the early days must have longed for a bigger town where you could count on something better than cold water and a chamber pot.  Might explain why the old railroad hotel went out of business.

            The hotel was like living in a flophouse without the usual amenities…but it had one thing going for it.  It was close to the outdoors.  It was three miles from the Dalton Cutoff, then one of the best duck hunting lakes in Missouri.  And it wasn’t too far from my father’s 950-acre farm where we could find quail, squirrels and, when a pin oak bend in the old Chariton River flooded, mallards.  No deer or turkeys in those distant days, but we didn’t know about such exotic animals anyway.

            If we wanted to fish we went to the Cutoff and rigged a trotline for carp, buffalo and catfish.  Or, as we called them “troutlines” although none of us had ever seen a trout.  My shotgun was a long-barreled, full-choke Model 12 Winchester which now is my turkey gun.  It wasn’t much for shooting at quail unless they were about 70 yards away, but it was a duck killer then and, with bismuth shot, still is.

            My only rifle was a single shot Winchester .22 bolt action which was accurate enough to shoot the eye out of a squirrel at 30 yards if I could hold it steady.  I learned the wonderful pleasure of feeling the greasy slick of a .22 long rifle cartridge.

            This life was a far cry from the south side of Chicago where I was born and raised.  I’d fished for lake perch off piers in Lake Michigan a few blocks from our city apartment and played cowboys and Indians in vacant lots, but Dalton was a new world without paved streets and multi-story apartment buildings.  This was like the Jack London novels I’d read.  I wanted a White Fang dog, but got only a sorry setter who didn’t know a quail from a buzzard. 

            My father got the dog in a swap, just as he got the Model 12.  Of the two the gun was far and away the best deal.  A better hunting dog was Chaps, a half-cocker, half-springer spaniel that migrated with us from Chicago.

            She started as a city dog but she enthusiastically bounded into the Missouri squirrel woods and became a master of the art for the rest of her long life.  Just as she shucked city and embraced country, so did I.  This was the real outdoors, not one tucked in the pages of a book from the South Side Library. 

              I leaped into it with my eyes wide open and I’ve never looked back.

-30-

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  • December 6th, 2011

I Protest!

 

By Joel M. Vance

                Remember the Boston Tea Party?   No, not the one peopled by halfwits with tea bags hanging off their dirty implement dealer caps, but the one which helped spark the revolution that created the United States of America.

                That’s right—America was founded on civil disobedience and not-so-peaceful protest.  Much of the opposition to the policies of the lawful government of the time (think George III) was illegal and downright violent.  Contrast that with the various demonstrations and camp-ins going on across the country, eddying out from Wall Street to the hinterlands.

                And how is the lawful government reacting to this demonstration of democratic unrest?  With cops fracturing the skull of an Iraq vet with a beanbag projectile, by dragging a guy out of a wheelchair, by pepper-spraying protesters none of whom, as far as I know, have destroyed any property or been in any way violent.  The video of a cop spraying seated, totally unaggressive protesters at the University of California/Davis shocked the country.  Pepper spray is what you use to discourage a charging grizzly bear.

                This brutal act by the university police immediately sparked memories of Birmingham police using fire hoses on civil rights protesters in the 1960s.  And to prove that those days may be distant, but not forgotten by the hard core racists among us, a persistent letter writer in my local right wing newspaper said this about the Wall Street protesters: “These protesters remind me of what I observed in the sixties from long haired maggot infested hippy freaks, which protested with highly inflammatory signage, no regard for someone else’s property and violence.”

                Nothing inflammatory about that language.  

                To be honest, most lawmen have been tolerant and non-violent, but increasingly there are reports (and videos) of nasty behavior on the part of the cops.  No protester has shot a cop with a bean  bag.  No one has tear gassed or pepper sprayed the lawmen.  Contrast the overwhelmingly peaceful, non-violent gatherings here with any given protest rally in any of the Middle East countries where violence and lethal force are the norm.

Yes, it strains the patience of authorities when protests of any kind threaten to escalate into physical confrontation….but it appears that where muscle has been applied, it has been on the part of the authorities.  Cop irritation or perhaps the irritation of their superiors seems to be on the increase and it all brings to mind the non-violent protests of the 1960s that resulted in great advances in civil rights.  Might also mention the less peaceful protests against the Viet Nam war which also had great effect (especially after the law, in the form of National Guardsmen, killed several Kent State students, none of whom were armed (and none of whom were “maggot infested hippies.”

                The point here is that today’s protesters are not draft-dodging hippies with charred draft cards or uppity blacks and muddle-headed liberal white kids.  They are us—union members, soccer moms, environmentalists, out-of-work everybodies, senior citizens with eroded retirement funds.  Sure, there are some scruffy anti-social types who are looking for a fight, any fight.  But the vast majority are, like the oft-mentioned 99 percent of the population, ordinary people, angry about the course of the nation—economy, politics, distribution of wealth and maybe just generally frustrated that no matter whom they vote for and how much they try to be good citizens, things get crappier and crappier.

If they had less sense and more violence-prone anger they would be Tea Partiers packing heat to a rally and shouting mostly incoherent calls for force.  But largely the so-called Wall Street protesters are just trying to make their voices heard by a deaf Congress which is more concerned with coddling mega corporations than it is in helping hurting citizens.  I’m surprised today’s boughten Congress didn’t give Bernie Madoff a medal for exemplifying the deviousness that so many congresspeople practice. 

                Government as it is done today does not work.  There are three branches at the national level and they’re all broke.  Congress is a joke, ignoring polls which consistently show three fourths of the citizens (or more) wants them to leave Social Security and Medicare alone.  Approval rating?  About nine percent which possibly comprises the members themselves and their families.  The rest of us think they stink of corruption and incompetence.

                The President, who came into office with a mandate to make changes, has been tentative and only now is beginning to use the power of his office to help the hurting.  He’s about 2.5 years overdue.  Then there’s the Supreme Court with a consistent right wing 5-4 majority which decided, with a remarkably callous kowtowing to Big Business that BP is a person and therefore can give unlimited money to buy politicians.  Apparently a “person”, not a corporate giant, was responsible for that massive oil spill, and I suspect the Congresspeople bought with those unlimited funds will continue to coddle that poor, picked-on ‘person.’

                What about the real poor, picked-on person camped out at Wall Street or in Oakland or elsewhere?  He or she had better be able to dodge bean bag rounds and hold his or her breath until the tear gas and the pepper spray dissipates.

                As one who has largely been disappointed by a administrations dating from the 1940s, who is benefitting from both Social Security and Medicare, who has had to dip deeply into retirement funds to stay afloat, who has just about given up the idea of voting for anyone because of perennial and persistent and seemingly inevitable deep disappointment, you can count me among that 99 percent disaffected with government as it is currently practiced.

                I believe, deeply, in the concept of this nation.  I believe that occasionally we have fulfilled the promise of pure democracy, a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  But all too often our leaders have corrupted that idyllic concept to crass purpose and never moreso than right now.  When Abraham Lincoln spoke those immortal words at Gettysburg, the kicker phrase was “shall not perish from the earth.”

                Let’s pray that he was right and that we can survive the coldhearted idiocy of so many today and get back to the dream that we profess to and should love.

                If that makes me a Commie, left-wing, Socialist, tree-hugging envirofreak, hippie sucking on the public tit, so be it.  In the immortal words of Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

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  • December 6th, 2011

I Protest!

Remember the Boston Tea Party?   No, not the one peopled by halfwits with tea bags hanging off their dirty implement dealer caps, but the one which helped spark the revolution that created the United States of America.

                That’s right—America was founded on civil disobedience and not-so-peaceful protest.  Much of the opposition to the policies of the lawful government of the time (think George III) was illegal and downright violent.  Contrast that with the various demonstrations and camp-ins going on across the country, eddying out from Wall Street to the hinterlands.

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