Sunday, July 24, 2016

Single-interest Voter


I suppose I should consider myself lucky to have so many friends of such high moral fiber. Friends who never tell a lie. Friends who never speak ill of someone behind their back. Friends who never fudge on their taxes. Who don’t break the speed limit on a dark deserted highway. Who don’t tear the tags off their mattresses.  Friends who would find a roll of $100 bills on the sidewalk, pick it up, and run ads in the newspaper, radio, and TV – at their own expense – until they found the rightful owner; and not even accept a reward when they find them.  Friends who would knowingly punish this country for not sharing their “morality” by allowing a horde of racist, jingoistic, misogynistic, money-grubbing thugs to run it rather than cast their votes to keep it from happening, because the only other choice is “almost as bad.”
But, I don’t feel all that lucky.

Maybe it’s simple jealousy that I’m just not as good as these people.  Maybe it’s because I think that, even if I had such pristine, angelic ideals, and I thought I might be able to survive the punishment myself, I couldn’t bring myself to put my grandchildren and other people’s grandchildren through the misery. Maybe it’s my fear that these thugs would bring about the very end of civilization as we know it – coming in the form of those mushroom clouds we all learned to fear back in the 60s.  It must have worked on me. I don’t relish the idea of living in a hole, eating earthworms for the next decade.  I’m selfish like that. I like to be able to take something out of the freezer, nuke it for two minutes, and enjoy a meal in air-conditioned comfort while watching people on TV talking about how terrible everything is in this country. But, not my friends. They are compelled – called by God, if you will – to teach the rest of us a lesson. No cost is too high for them.

There are many single-interest voters in this country. I have chastised them myself, before realizing that I am one as well.  There are those who will vote against the Democratic nominee, if only because they truly believe said nominee will come in the night and take their guns away. They may need those guns, while living in that hole, to shoot something tastier than red worms.  There are those (not enough) who will vote against the Republican nominee because they know, in their hearts, that he doesn’t share their religious conviction – only pandering to them to get their votes before showing his hand once elected.  There are those who truly hate people who don’t look like they do, and will vote for the one who will do the most damage to those “other people.” There are those I mentioned above, who won’t vote for either, because neither of the major candidates is good enough to match their utopian ideals. They, no doubt, know that by doing this the greater of the two evils they perceive could ascend to the throne – but, on balance, they don’t recognize that much difference between the two; and their dignity is more important to them than the survival of the country, and its people.
And then, there are single-interest voters such as myself – not voting FOR anyone so much as voting AGAINST the one who represents everything my 60+ years has taught me to despise; someone who I’m sure would tear down everything I believe this country is supposed to represent, while building monuments to himself to rival those of the Pharos. With neon.  Someone who would guarantee that nobody who represents the ideals of the angelic ones will ever again get close to the office he would redefine, if elected.  Someone who, through his own arrogance, having the power at his disposal, could end us all in a tantrum.

So, yeah, you can call me a single-interest voter.  I’m just not good enough to be anything else.

Monday, May 23, 2016

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Friday, January 22, 2016

The Great Ice Capades of 1971


The Great Ice Capades of 1971

 
*From Dinner with WT by Rick Baber, TigerEye Publications, 2010

    It’s hard to remember whose idea it was. Or even the exact date that it happened. All I know for sure is that it was the very cold winter of the first year I was in high school.

    Jr. High had been pretty much a breeze. To be honest, I never had much of a problem with my grades, so I didn’t see the point of wasting valuable teenage time doing foolish things like studying. This was a time for having fun. The only thing was, in our small town of about 7000, there wasn’t much fun to be had if we didn’t make it ourselves. That usually consisted of something that could get us in trouble. So those of us with extra time on our hands would create new and innovative ways of getting into trouble. It didn’t matter, much, if it was not exactly legal. All that mattered was that it was fun – and that nobody had done it before. Sure, we were thugs – but we were creative thugs.

    The plots in Jr. High had been limited to Jr. High minds: Stealing and dumping into the river every fire extinguisher in the school district; Putting Fred in a 55 gallon barrel and rolling him down the hall – mowing the principal over as he inadvertently walked out his door; Releasing the hand brakes on the school busses so they would roll backwards into the bayou behind the bus parking lot; Running our motorcycles gang’s flag up the flagpole, padlocking it on, and then setting the tall grass around the pole on fire when the principal climbed up there to cut the lock. Mischief. But nothing that was ever intended to hurt anybody.

    With 1970 came high school. We weren’t prepared to change our lifestyles just because we had to change schools. If anything, we should be more cunning than ever now. We had the wisdom of three years of experience at our disposal. And now we could drive.

    Man, the (open) halls of the High School were cold. Upperclassmen walked up and down them, carrying books and looking as if they had some sort of educational agenda in mind. It was frightening. What were they doing to these people up here on this hill? How could they have forgotten that spirit of hell raising so deeply instilled in all of us? Some things would have to change up here if we were going to be able to tolerate it. It was obvious though, that it was going to take some time. This was the age of causes. What we needed was a cause.

    As autumn gave way to winter the expression on nearly every student’s face changed from “I’m an adult now, and I’m here to get a quality education” to “Man! It’s cold outside. I wish it would snow so we could get a day off from this rat hole and sleep in where it’s warm.” Complacency had given way to discontent. The basic elements leading to an insurrection were there, but the spark was missing.

    Then it snowed. Every kid in the school was glued to the 10 o’clock TV news that night, with a transistor radio stuck up to one ear anticipating the inevitable announcement that all Batesville schools would be closed the following day. The announcement did not come. It was business as usual – which was unusual in itself because, in past years, it would only take a light dusting of snow to get us out of school. This was nearly a blizzard by Arkansas standards. There must’ve been one or two inches of the stuff on the ground. There are places in the world that are equipped to deal with the hazard of the frozen white on streets and highways, but Arkansas isn’t, and never has been, one of those places. Counties and cities have better things to do with their money than to blow it on snow plows that would only be used once every blue moon. So, when it snowed even a little bit our Pavlovian conditioning had us blowing off the homework and staying up for the midnight movie on TV. It didn’t’ work this time. We were … well … unhappy.

    An informal student inquisition commenced immediately. Who was the Bozo in charge, and what would it take for him to declare a snow day? Just getting out of school wasn’t all that important now. Tradition was at stake. Our cause was born.

    After a few days of tedious investigation, it was determined how the process of declaring a “snow day” worked. School Superintendent Coats had recently purchased a four-wheel drive vehicle. On any morning that there was a question as to whether the condition of the roads was so hazardous as to create a dangerous situation for the busses, he would get up very early and drive the county roads, as well as the hill to the high school. His reasoning was simple: if he could make it, the busses could make it. If the busses could make it, school was on. Therefore: if he could make it, we had to get out of bed.

    This was war. In 1970 very few high school students had four wheel drives. We had ’67 Mustangs, and Camaros, and VW bugs. What made that madman think our lives were any less important than those kids on the busses? At least that was the propaganda we used to rally people around our cause.

    Sometime in the next few weeks, a plan was conceived amid the smell of French fries and pizza burgers with mustard, slaw, and hot sauce, in the dining room of Tommy’s Kingburger. Some of the greatest radical minds in town, left over from the 60’s, decided that what we had to do was make sure that nobody could make it up that hill. Not even Coats. It would require a great deal of effort. Much more than that used to get out of bed in the morning and drive to school. It would involve enormous risk and the requisitioning of some very expensive mechanical equipment – namely, some of our parents’ vehicles – at a particular time of the evening when we were supposed to be in bed seeing visions of sugarplums. But it would be worth it. It would be fun. It was tradition.

    With 1971, winter came on strong, and there wasn’t another snow cloud in sight. It was just very, very cold. The daytime temperature hadn’t climbed above twenty degrees in over a week. What we had to do was ice the road over. And we had to do it so well that nothing could get up the hill to the high school. There was only one road, excluding the rocky trail up the back way we called the “baja”. Nobody would expect us to bring our cars up that way. The busses sure couldn’t get up there. The original plan was to release the fireplugs on top of the hill so the water would run down and freeze on the road. There were minor obstacles that presented themselves in association with this scheme – specifically, how to distribute the water over the road in such a manner as to cover it totally and completely. The guy we put in charge of stealing a fire hose failed miserably. If we had just opened the hydrants, the water would simply freeze up there as it came out and we’d have an ice sculpture as a memorial to our failure instead of our long-anticipated triumph over nazi authority. No, it had to be done better than that. We’d have to do it manually. And we’d have to do it soon. Nobody knew how long this cold snap was going to last.

    Row Lake was more like a big pond. It sat on the edge of the cemetery property down where the road forked to go up to the school. The water there was relatively warm and had frozen only in a thin layer around the banks. From this junction there was little traffic up toward the school – as it was the only thing up there – on any weeknight. We would have to use the lake as our water supply, and transport it about a half-mile up to the hill in barrels by way of pickup trucks. Timing was of the essence. There had been a history of school vandalisms in our town (no, it wasn’t us) so the police had begun to make regular nightly tours around to all the schools. The trucks would have to fill up quickly at the lake because there was occasional traffic down there. While the trucks were away from the lake, distributing their loads, there would have to be a guard hidden behind one of the tombstones down by the intersection with a walkie-talkie. Another guard up on the hill to warn the rest of us if anybody was coming. With four pickups, each carrying four 55 gallon barrels, we figured the whole mission could be accomplished in an hour. This allowed for each truck to make two trips.

That was a total of 1760 gallons of water, which should freeze quickly, creating a sufficient slick.

    There was a bus out that night. It seems like it was the basketball team, but my memory fails me on that. This was instrumental in our plan. The bus was due back in around midnight. We would have the road impassable by the time it returned. The bus driver would, in turn, report the road condition to someone of authority within the school system, who would report it to Superintendent Coats – who would have no choice but to call school off the following day.

    We did have friends and relatives on that bus, and we didn’t want anybody to get hurt. Two guys were commissioned to paint a large sign to place just up the road from the intersection, which was to read “BUS BEWARE. SLICK ROADS!”

    There were maybe 15 people directly involved in this conspiracy. All of us had taken an oath of secrecy. Not in the literal sense. It was simply understood that if word got out and our plan was foiled that the bigmouth would be exposed and relieved of some part of his anatomy that he had not demonstrated the right to own. Of course, we had to tell our girlfriends so they wouldn’t think we were out running around on them all night. That was OK for me, but for some of the guys I think it might have been a mistake.

    As always, we were at Tommy’s on that fateful night. Around nine o’clock, when everybody usually left on weeknights, we hung around. Already the plan was beginning to unravel. Nobody had seen the sign guys. Only two of the four trucks we were supposed to use showed up.

I think the same excuse applied to both of the no-shows: “My dad wouldn’t let me use it.” But our school motto was “A Pioneer Never Quits” and by-God we weren’t about to now. About 12 of us piled into the two pickups and embarked upon our expedition to the lake. Others, not so bold as to
brave the 12-degree weather, followed in cars. Probably a total of 20 guys by now. So there was a minor security leak. These things happen. But these guys were all cool. Nothing to worry about.

    I’ve always been told that water froze at 32 degrees. The water we hand dipped from Row Lake that night could not have been over five. Short bucket brigades were formed between the trucks and the water. We’d dip in wastepaper baskets and then hand the full one to the next guy to pass up to the barrel man while accepting an empty one coming the other way. It was the epitome of teamwork, dedication, and sacrifice for the cause that, if it had only been used for good instead of mischief, was the kind of thing that produced greatness.

    Four of the eight barrels that were supposed to have been on the two missing trucks were split between these two. We had to work faster than we had originally planned. In doing so, nearly every one of the guys on the ground got spilled upon. When the water splashed on our green army jackets it would freeze instantly. The working conditions were lacking, at best. But we were sure our plan would succeed.

    We worked our way up the hill, meticulously spilling the water from the barrels as the drivers slowly took the trucks upwards – carefully avoiding the narrow grass shoulders on each side of the road, as we were saving these for our escape routes. It was amazing. The water froze the instant it hit the street. From out of nowhere, guys appeared on foot with sleds. They would actually follow the trucks on them.

    This was working better than we could have imagined, despite the fact that our walkie-talkie man had forgotten to bring them.

    After the first load was applied, one of the drivers made the announcement that he had to get his dad’s pickup home. Everybody was cold and tired and wet. Most of us thought the job was done well enough to accomplish our goal, and agreed that we should call it a night. It was about 10 o’clock. Big D and Larry Jack did not agree. They felt that we should apply some more water to the road and then come down to finish off the job by slicking the shoulders as well. They convinced one of the other guys that his dad would be sound asleep, and that we could “borrow” his truck without even having to disturb him. Big D and Larry Jack weren’t the kind of guys with whom any of us risked confrontation, so we, basically, stole the guy’s dad’s truck. In about 30 minutes we were back at the lake, shivering, loading up the pickups just one more time.

    By the time we loaded the last barrels most everybody (the sledders and spectators) had gone home. I got to ride back up the hill inside Big D’s truck. Little me in the middle with D driving and Larry on the other side. As we rounded the first curve through the woods approaching the hill we could see the headlights of a car spinning around in the low place just before you start up the big curve. John and Fred (brothers), Jim, and Frankie were just behind us in the other vehicle. As we approached the car on the ice, about two hundred yards away, its headlights went out. We laughed. Obviously somebody down there having fun who thought we were the cops. The car had slid a little off the road into the woods just at the foot of the icy hill. D steered over into the grass and we began our ascent. About 50 yards beyond that a blue light appeared in Big D’s rear view mirror – behind the other pickup.

    “Shit!” I heard Danny say it, and I got this terrible feeling that something had gone horribly wrong.

    The car we had laughed about, spinning around on the ice, was a cop car. When I turned around to look there were two of them behind the second truck. D goosed ours in an attempt to speed up the hill on the shoulder, then escape down the baja. The shoulder was rough and water was splashing from the barrels in the back. I looked ahead and saw the flashing of two more sets of blue lights coming over the hill above us. The truck started spinning out. We were caught in our own trap!

    In a moment two of the police cars slid sideways in front, and behind each pickup. The doors flew open and cops appeared with pistols extended over the hoods of the cars. I think one guy had a shotgun. What did they think we were going to do? Freeze them to death? We weren’t going anywhere. The pickups were stuck. The cops had chains on their tires. They were prepared.

    “Come out of the vehicles with your hands up!” commanded a voice over one of those bullhorns.

    Larry looked at me calmly, and quietly spoke in his slow southern drawl. “Do ya reckon we oughta run?”

    I knew I was going to be in jail in a few minutes – if these guys didn’t just start shooting and kill us – but something about the way he said that just struck me as incredibly funny. I was laughing uncontrollably when one of the cops jerked Danny’s door open and started dragging us out of the truck. He was the one who had been driving the car that was spinning on the ice. He obviously failed to see the humor of the situation. He grabbed me by the hair and nearly broke my nose on the steering wheel as he yanked me out. I heard Fred back there yelling “Don’t push me you ….” (Well, use your imagination.), and looked back in time to see him literally picked up and thrown into the back seat of another car.

    They loaded us all up in just two cars and we headed for the police station. Our driver didn’t have anything to say to us. We could see that he was still weak-kneed from the ordeal on the ice. As we neared the cemetery, Larry leaned over to me and said, “Tell him to turn the radio up.”

    “Sir,” I said, all to happy to comply, “Could you turn the radio up a little?”

    It was ten or fifteen seconds before he answered. “Shuttup!”

    Danny was laughing under his breath. Larry leaned over to me again and whispered, “Tell him.”

    Although I really didn’t think it was a good idea, I was more afraid of D and Larry than I was this cop. I mean, he had to live by some kind of rules.

     “Sir,” I repeated, “We can’t hear the radio back here.”

    You know how, when you were a little kid, you would fight with your sister in the back seat on the way to grandma’s house? Your dad would yell at you and you would continue until he lost all control? That’s what this cop did. With a crushing backblow from his right hand he violently, and blindly, swung back to hit me in the mouth. Which is, I imagine, what I would have wanted to do if I were him. I guess he was a rookie or something because he totally forgot about that wire cage between the front and back seats. A deluge of obscenities poured from his mouth almost as fast as the blood squirted from his busted knuckles. Danny buried his face between my shoulder and the back of the seat to conceal his laughter. Larry went ahead and laughed out loud.

    Soon we arrived at the police station and were herded inside where the chief of police was waiting. The chief of police! Almost midnight and we got the Chief! We were big time criminals. Nobody ever got the chief this late at night. The fire chief was there too. To this day I don’t know why he was there. Our cop came in behind us, wrapping a handkerchief around his bloody hand.

    “Boys,” began the chief, “I want each one of you to call your parents and have them come down here”.

    He was the only one of the policemen who didn’t appear to be angry. As a matter of fact, it looked to me like he was trying very hard to fight back a smile. Maybe even laughter.

    One by one we took our turns on the phone. Most of the calls were short and spoken in the low, muffled voices guys use to tell their girlfriends “I love you too Honey” when there are other guys in the room. When Frankie was on the phone he turned to the chief. “My mom’s in her housecoat. She wants to know if she can just drive up and honk and somebody’ll come out to the car.”

    It was a small town. “Yeah, Frankie,” the chief replied,

    “That’ll be fine.”

    My turn rolled around. My sister answered the phone.

    “Robin, let me talk to dad.”

    “He’s asleep,” she said, “He’s really mad ‘cause it’s after midnight and you’re not home yet.”

    “Okay. Let me talk to him.”

    “I’m not gonna wake him up.” She answered.    “You better just come on home or you’re gonna be in big trouble.”

    Everybody seemed to gather around the phone to hear my conversation.

    “Robin!” I was getting a little upset with her. “I’m kind of in some trouble anyway. Now wake him up!” Already I could hear snickering from the guys. She laid down the phone and I waited for what seemed like an eternity.

    He didn’t sound too mad when he picked up the phone. “Hello.”

    “Dad,” I began. (I thought that was a good place to begin) “Do you think you could come pick me up?”

    “You got car trouble?” I always had car trouble.

    “No. I’m down here at the city jail.”

    It got quiet. I thought he might have fallen back to sleep.

    “Dad?”

    “Come on home.” He said sharply.

    “No, really, I’m in jail.”

    “Goddammit!” he was getting miffed, “Quit fuckin’ around and get your ass home!”

    Everybody, including some of the cops, was laughing now. I handed the phone to Mr. Collins, the fire chief, and asked him to try his luck. He explained the situation to my dad and hung up.

    In just a few minutes parents started showing up. Frankie’s mom pulled up and honked, and he was allowed to go home with her. Somehow, Jim got out of there too, leaving only five of us to face the music. My dad came in and talked to the chief, and it was determined that we would be charged with “malicious mischief”. (Although we later discovered a loophole in the definition that would have rendered that an inappropriate charge.) My dad cut a deal with them. If we could make the road passable by morning, and then spend the next Saturday picking up trash along the highway, they would drop the charges. An hour or so later we were riding atop two Independence County trucks filled with sawdust back out to the scene of the crime. And it was cold up there.

    With square-ended shovels we emptied those two trucks while my dad walked alongside them pointing to places that we needed to cover. We finished sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when my dad told me that I’d better catch a few winks because I was going to school at 8 o’clock.

    When we walked in the door at home my mother was sitting there on the steps, weeping because her firstborn had turned out to be a criminal. She’d been on the phone to my girlfriend around 10, trying to find out where I was. Becky kept the secret and, basically, lied, and told her that she didn’t know. Then mom called her back to inform her that I’d called from the jail, and a discussion ensued as to how I ever became a juvenile delinquent. The old man didn’t say anything else. He just went to bed. After I shook my mother I did the same.

    School didn’t actually start until around 10 o’clock that next morning. The sawdust had melted the ice, then it froze back over with the sawdust inside it. Cars were stuck all over the hill and half of the guys volunteered to miss the first two periods to push the ones they could up to the dry pavement. A few people with 4-wheel-drives were shuttling back & forth to get the stranded students to class. It was a nice community effort. I was told to report directly to the principal’s office when I arrived. The other six guys were already there, smiling as I walked through the door.

    Mr. Cross was not in a good mood that morning. He didn’t offer me any friendly greeting. No coffee. No “How’z the family?” No Pop Tarts. Nothing. I took my seat and he began his presentation, slowly and deliberately.

    “I don’t believe that just the seven of you planned and pulled off this entire caper. I, therefore, don’t believe it would be fair of me to expel just the seven of you and allow the other culprits to go unpunished. Tell ya what I’m gonna do…” He stood up and wiped his hand across his face, like he always did when he was frustrated. “…I’m going to give you until 2 o’clock. At that time I want everybody who had anything to do with the planning or execution of this incident assembled in the library. You guys should not have to take the rap for everybody responsible. Now, get out of here.”

    As soon as the door shut behind us we all knew what we had to do. We went about spreading the word.

    When the 2 o’clock bell rang, Mr. Cross pushed his way into the library. Assembled there was a good eighty percent of the student population. Girls, nerds, boy scout types. Even the typing and bookkeeping teachers. It was heartwarming.

Shoving people aside, he made his way to the center of the big room and looked around with his hands on his hips. A disgusted look on his face. Sort of nodding his head “yes” as he looked sternly around the room into the huge crowd.

He began to scream. “I WANT EVERYBODY NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED WITH THIS ICING INCIDENT OUT OF HERE NOW!”

    Everybody started to leave, save the seven of us around the table in the middle.

    “COME BACK HERE!” he screamed.

    Everybody came back.

    Cross calmed his voice a little. “If you knew about this plan, or were actively involved in it, then stay. If you didn’t know anything about it, then leave.”

    Nobody moved.

    He took another long look around the room, doing that nodding thing again. Then he wiped that hand across his face and stormed out the door. It slammed so hard against the outside wall as he threw it open that the glass broke.

    “Well,” Larry Jack said, “I guess we can go now”.

    We still had to pick up the trash, per the deal my dad had made with the cops, but we didn’t get kicked out of school. For our efforts we made the front page of The Batesville Guard under the title of “Ice Capades”. They didn’t mention our names, because we were minors. But we knew who we were.

    Maybe high school wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
 
(c) 2010, Rick Baber, TigerEye Publications

Dinner with WT (From Dinner with WT)


Dinner with W.T.

*Title story from Dinner with WT by Rick Baber, TigerEye Publications, 2010
 
"Boredom and loneliness can drive a man crazy."

     Yeah. That's it. Boredom and loneliness. They drove me crazy. The only explanation I can offer for my miserable situation that might be understood by the multitudes reading tomorrow's papers if my plan tonight should fail. An occupational hazard. One that could pay my hospital expenses if I should, somehow, survive this. Pay my funeral expenses if I don't. Workmen's compensation. Your basic insurance fraud. It could work.

    There are nicer places than this. I know that for a fact. A month ago - almost to the hour -I was on the 14th floor of The Mirage in Las Vegas, with my wife and son, being served a late dinner in our room by a very polite young potential yuppie in a white suit and bow tie. Tonight, I'm sitting on this hard single bed in this budget motel in north-central Missouri, spilling a chef salad with ranch from a styrofoam go-box onto my shirt as I try to eat it with crackers - in lieu of the plastic fork that was negligently omitted by the waitress at the bar next door. The one I tipped so generously for allowing me to bend the rules and actually get something to eat after they roll up the sidewalks here at ten o'clock.

    The better places have those convenient little note pads in the desk drawer, in case one of their patrons should decide to write a note. Or a letter. Or an epitaph. This one's being written on the back of a photocopied map of one of those crummy little pig-farming communities in which I was fortunate enough to ruin a good pair of tennis shoes today. It's not a very big map. I'm wondering already how badly this ink is going to smear on that cheap, single-ply toilet paper.

    The better places have a lot of things. But usually not insurance adjusters.

    The remote control on the T.V. doesn't work. The nearest ice machine is only an elevator ride away...when the elevator is working. The air conditioner blows warm air. Every night at about 11:45 there's this rapid banging from the room next door, and the sound of a man screaming "OK baby. Now let's hook up those jumper cables!" My T.V. alarm clock is exactly twelve hours off, which complicated waking up on time significantly until I got smart and set the thing to go off bright and early at 7pm this morning. Of course, now, I wish that hadn't worked. If I'd have slept even ten minutes later I probably wouldn't be in the shape I'm in now.

    It was about nine this morning when I spotted him trying to cross one of these lettered highways they have here somewhere north of Glascow. Highways with letters for names. Like they only have so many numbers they can use. I had to stop and pick him up. It's just something I always do.

    He was very attractive. Unlike any I'd seen back in Arkansas. Bigger around than most, but not as tall. Sort of a sandy-brown color.

    I tried to keep him in the front floorboard for a while, but with that flat, oval body he kept getting stuck sideways between the seat and the door whenever I'd get out to work. Then, when I opened the door, he'd fall out and surprise the shit out of the people who walked me back to the car. It's a difficult thing to explain to them. I'm supposed to be a "professional”, like the insurance adjusters on the television commercials. Things like that never happen to the good-hands people.

    So, finally, I just had to put him in the trunk and leave the thing unlatched so he wouldn't bake.

    When I was my son's age, my dad would always bring stuff home to us when he'd been out on the road working storm claims. Candy. Comic books. Toys. I never have the time or money to go shopping for my kid. I just bring him turtles off the road. He has indicated to me, on more than one
occasion, that I enjoy it more than he does.

    This one I dubbed "W.T." ... "Watch Turtle," like Judge Roy Bean's bear.

    When I got back to my motel room in Columbia, at about sundown, I had to figure out how to smuggle him into my room. Again, it's a little hard for a grown man to explain why he's taking a turtle into a motel room. Not that I owed anybody any explanation, but if they did ask it would probably look pretty bad if I refused to answer. I turned him sideways and stuck him into my file box.

    He looked a little weathered from spending the day in that hot trunk. Still not sure if he was a terrapin or a water turtle, I ran a couple of inches of water in the bathtub and put him in there to cool off. It's phenomenal how much dirt those things carry inside that shell. In just a few minutes the water in that tub was as murky brown as the Missouri River, and I became afraid that it would leave an indelible stain that I'd have to pay for. And explain. So I took the little guy out and let him run around in the room. Where was he gonna go?

    I was starving. The workload of the day, and the fact that I was lost most of the time, left no time for lunch. And I never eat breakfast. And I hadn't eaten dinner the day before because I was so damn tired from climbing roofs all day to look for hail damage. Doc & Eddy's, next door, quit serving food at ten. There was just enough time to change out of my pigcrap-covered clothes (yeah, pig farms are insured, too), take a quick shower, and quietly infiltrate the college crowd for some grub. But when I went to step into the tub, all that brown turtle crud was still in there.

    So, I'm down on my knees, naked, leaning over the tub wall, scrubbing the bottom with a washrag, when I realize W.T. hasn't eaten all day either.

     "What should I try to feed him?" was my exact thought - just the instant before I felt that intense pain between my legs. Intense. Pain. It took about a tenth of a moment for me to get to my feet. When I looked down to see what had happened perhaps the sudden and shocking development of some kind of weird hernia -W.T. was still there -dangling from my scrotum.

    Visually, I'm sure it was a hilarious sight. But, physically, it was more uncomfortable than the imagination will allow one who has not experienced such an occurrence. I assume that would include everyone in the world except me.

    I tugged. But he wasn't quite ready to let go.

    Suddenly, I flashed back to a moment in my early childhood when my grandpa Burgess warned me about the first alligator snapper I ever saw.

    "If he bites you," he said, "He won't let go until lightning strikes!"

    "LIGHTNING?" Hell. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Panic was too mild a word for the feeling that was overcoming me. I'd been up here busting my rear for two weeks with a bad toothache and a really nasty case of TMJ, but I didn't think I could go on with a turtle hooked to my nads. It wasn't really that painful, after the initial chomp, because all he got was skin. But the weight was killing me. My voice was already an octave higher.

    "But it's not a snapping turtle." I said out loud.  “Calm down. Be cool. Maybe it's not even a male."

    I placed the chain lock on the door and plugged the little peep hole with toilet paper. Hey, you never know. Some whacko out there in the hall could have some kind of adapter lens that he could put up to that thing and see right into the room.

    I tried to reassure myself. "It's not the end of the world, Rick. You just have a loggerhead hanging from your nutsack."

    I gently lifted W.T. to relieve some of the pressure, and hobbled over to the bed, thinking that if I just spread out and laid there for a few minutes he'd let go. He didn't.

    I lit a cigarette and tried to lean forward and blow smoke in his face. That didn't do any good either.

    Panic turned to paranoia. I could see the night clerk (that greasy little weasel bastard with the wire rim glasses) downstairs, with all of his greasy little bug-doctor-weasel bastard friends, gathered around the secretly-installed surveillance camera monitor, spitting beer as they laughed unrestrainedly at the image of the smoking turtle between the naked man's legs. I turned out the lamp beside the bed, but the glow from the television still illuminated me...and W.T. And the damn remote wouldn't work. And it was on cable, showing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I started remembering a story my wife had told me about a woman who brought her husband into the ER at her hospital, in the middle of the night, to have a candle removed from his...his...his posterior. Up until this point I had always thought that would be a nightmare. Now, I wished my problem was that easily explained.

    In about half an hour it became apparent to me that W.T. wasn't going to let go on his own. On the surface, it appeared that I had two options: Yank the sonofabitch off, like a tick, and lose a very small, but significant piece of my anatomy...or suffer the humiliation of a trip to the emergency room. Neither choice was particularly appealing.

    I was weak from hunger. No way was I going to make it 'til morning without sustenance. So I decided to get something to eat while I thought it over.

    Dressed in my baggiest pants, unable to zip them up completely, and a tee shirt, and covered with a buttoned black trench coat, I entered Doc & Eddy's to the roar of a packed house of St. Louis Blues TV hockey fans. Just my luck. Hockey night. Most of them had their backs to me, facing the screens, as I slipped up on a waitress between them and the bar and requested anything to go. It was just a few minutes after ten, and she informed me that I might be able to get a chef salad -sort of leftovers with lettuce - but the grille was shut down. As I was certainly in no position to create a scene by initiating an argument with her, I graciously accepted, and took a seat in the darkest corner I could find.

    In a minute she brought me a beer to drink while I waited. Curiosity must have gotten the best of her. As she handed it to me she looked around at the college crowd, and back at me.

    "Isn't it a little warm tonight to be wearing that coat?"

    "Warm?" I don't know what made her think that. Maybe because everybody else in there was wearing those preppy blue and white striped tee shirts and those preppy knee-knocker shorts and topsider shoes with those little short preppy pansy white socks. Maybe because beads of sweat were forming on my forehead and trickling down and dripping off the end of my nose.

    No. She wasn't saying that at all. What she was really saying was "Is that a turtle in your pants, or are you just glad to see me?"

    The wheels of my brain had just begun spinning wildly in search of an answer to her question when W.T. decided he was going to take a walk with my baggage. His hind claws were ripping my thighs to shreds, and I could see my lap jumping up and down under the raincoat. I gritted my teeth to
avoid screaming - which sent TMJ pains shooting all through my head. And through all of this, I was somewhat happy, because I thought he might let go and stick his big brown head through the coat and say hello to this nosey bitch.

    "I've been sick," I said quietly as I handed her a ten for a six-dollar tab. "Keep the change."

    "Oh, you're a doll," she said, turning sideways just enough for me to tell by her silhouette against the light from one of the TV screens that she was carrying a load of her own. "In about four months I'll need all the money I can get."

    "A little bambino!" I acknowledged, with a big, wide, toothy grimace on my face that I was trying now to disguise as a pleasant smile.

    Hell, I had to say something. But I didn't mean to start up a fucking conversation. She must've been as starved for somebody to talk to as I was for food. Right there - at that most... inconvenient time, she just opened up to me like I was her shrink or something. It seems that she'd been living with this guy for the past eight years. About three years ago, her parents finally learned to accept him and her dad built them an apartment over their garage. But the dude didn't really want to get married, so they got into this big fight about it and she ran out and got knocked up by this Cambodian dude she'd been having cybersex with on the internet. Now, sometime after the baby's born, and she can fit into a nice looking wedding dress, they (she and the Cambodian) are going to try to get married. But she doesn't know if it's going to work because the old boyfriend is still living above her parent's garage. On top of that, she finally got her folks to give the OK for her to bring the Cambodian over for dinner, but, when she did, her mom's lips got numb and her legs gave out, and they had to rush her to the hospital. They did a bunch of CAT scans and MRI's but the doctor couldn't find anything wrong with her. He did indicate that the "spell" could have been caused by some kind of stress.

    And, speaking of stress, I was under plenty. While her story did serve to take my mind off my own troubles long enough to laugh uncontrollably at hers for a few seconds, W.T.'s next attempt at a stroll brought me sharply back to my own present reality. When the waitress ran off to the bathroom, crying, I took the opportunity to escape.

    With one hand carrying my dinner and the other in my coat pocket, supporting my load (potentially a line for an Alanis Morissette song), I slipped in the back door of the motel and took the elevator to my floor.

    Back on the bed - just me and W.T. in my tee shirt - I opened the styrofoam box to consume my last supper. I had decided on the way back that I was going to eat, and then jump out the third floor window.

    Oh, sure. You pompous asshole. Go ahead and find fault with my rationale. You don't think that's what you'd do in this situation? Well, fuck you! You've never been in this situation, have you? You've never had a five-pound reptile dangling from your family jewels, have you?

    Well, I did. And, at the moment, that was the best I could come up with. It seemed rational enough when I thought of it. It couldn't be worse than going to a doctor. It couldn't be worse than looking my wife straight in the face and saying "Well, honey, a turtle ate it."

    If it killed me, it would be a relatively painless death. If it didn't, maybe it would jar W.T. loose and I could, somehow, blame the wound on the fall. After all, a suicide attempt is much more socially acceptable than...whatever this is. I could check into a treatment center and everybody would think I'd finally grown up like the rest of them.

    But, as I received nourishment, some of my reasoning capabilities returned. I have an idea.

    It's a mammal. Right? I mean, it can't breathe under water. Right?

    When I finish this salad, I'm going to fill the tub to the rim with the hottest water I can stand, and I'm going to take me a muddy bath. If W.T. wants air, he's going to have to let go to get to the top to get it. I'll be free. I can live.

    Or...I could drown the little bastard with a death grip on my family jewels.

        That's when I jump.
 
(c) 2010, Rick Baber, TigerEye Publications

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Donald Trump. Our Caligula.

TRUMP, the new champion of the American right, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Let’s, just for the moment, forget that’s about the most un-American thing a candidate could say, and not totally contrary to the Constitution that the right wingers have so long claimed as their own. How, in the name of Caligula, are we supposed to do that? How do you confirm somebody’s religion? OH, yes. Weren’t the Nazis able to do that with tattoos in the concentration camps? You’ve got to do it somehow, no? Otherwise, what’s to stop somebody who wants to come to the US from saying, “No, man. I’m Hindu!”? Well, the only reasonable thing to do is put tattoos on them too, because they all look so much alike, you know? And, then, there are any other number of other dark-skinned people in the world who may practice religions that are not Christianity – so we should tag all of them, as well. Hope we get the tags right. Meantime, a native-born white supremacist (no, not Trump, some other one) blows up another federal building, or a Planned Parenthood clinic, or a homeless shelter; or guns down a shitload of school children. The utter stupidity of this guy being the top choice for Republicans is terrifying. Even Karl Rove and Dick Cheney – no paladins of civil rights, themselves – agree. To be clear, it’s not terrifying because he’s there, running without any qualifications whatsoever; without the first clue of how to govern in a democratic society; only as a dictator. This is America. He has a right to do that. It’s terrifying to know that we have that many would-be Nazis walking the streets, right beside us, with the ability to vote ... and to breed. I have to believe he will never be president, but the simple fact that he has so much support tells me that America is lost. The terrorists have won. Trump is Everyman; and Everyman is Trump. “I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night. Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am a God.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

On Bigotry

[Bell ringing] Hurry up, class. Take your seats. Today, we’re going to have a discussion on the word “bigotry.” The Merriam-Webster online dictionary (because, really, who has “books” anymore?) defines it as such: “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

Just to avoid any confusion, going further, let’s go ahead and lay out the definition of “intolerance,” from the same online dictionary: : “the quality or state of being intolerant.” Shit. That didn’t help much, did it?

Here we go:
INTOLERANT.
1: unable or unwilling to endure
2a : unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters
b : unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights : bigoted.

Now. Are we understanding this, so far? Good.

So, as “intolerance” is an integral component of the definition of “bigotry,” it is important to work through that word to have a more complete grasp on the concept of “bigotry,” in the modern cultural context. Indeed, our language can be confusing to those who originated in other countries – and those born here who made the unfortunate choice to listen to pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, et al. Perhaps some examples might be in order.

1. If you hate all liberals, because they are liberal, are you a bigot? (A: yes)
2. If you hate all conservatives because they are conservative, are you a bigot? (A: yes)
3. If you hate religious people, because they are religious, are you a bigot? (A: yes)
4. If you hate atheists, because they are atheists, are you a bigot? (A: yes)

Why? Because you are “intolerant” of their political and/or religious rights to have different opinions than your own about such matters; and unwilling to grant or share those rights. So, in America, we can safely say that, according to the dictionary definition, virtually everybody is a bigot – save the few blissful souls who have no political or religious affiliations of their own. . . wherever that guy might be.

5. If you hate people because they are black, are you a bigot? (A: yes)
6. If you refuse to listen to someone’s opinion because they are Iranian, are you a bigot? (A: yes)

Why? Because you are one who : “regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

7. If you say “I think we should send all the black people (using a more colloquial term to identify them) back to Africa,” (identifying yourself as a bigot), and I vociferously disagree, does that make me a bigot? (A: oddly, yes)

Why? Because I am “unwilling to grant (you) equal freedom of expression.”

The definition gets a little milky here, doesn’t it?

Now, it gets more complicated. Suppose you call me a murderer, when, in fact, I know I haven’t participated in any acts of murder. You have a “right” to say what you believe, but I am unwilling to grant or share that right (which makes me intolerant). I am obstinately or intolerantly devoted to my own opinions and prejudices about you, going forward. In fact, I think you are a complete asshole. When I express to you my extreme intolerance to your statement, am I a “bigot” for doing so?

By definition, I would have to conclude that, yes, I am. But you’re still an asshole. And, using the same criteria, you are also a bigot on one matter or another, even if I cannot presently identify it.

Is there some kind of “double negative” rule that applies to this definition, which is implied, but not expressed? Is it OK to be intolerant of one who is intolerant? If we deny (or simply don’t subscribe to) the “rights” of those like Hitler and Timothy McVeigh and Westboro Baptist Church and the 911 bombers, are we, by definition, bigots? Yes. Yes, we are; but they’re all still assholes.

Why then, do we give the word “bigot” any credence at all? Everybody qualifies on one issue or another. Going forward, my suggestion is that the word be dropped from our vocabulary and replaced with words that are easier to comprehend. “Dipshit,” for example.

Class dismissed.


©2015 Rick Baber

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Religious Conviction


OK. The de jour news (that’s French) seems to be all about the marriage license lady in Kentucky, or some backwoods place – so the Huckster grabs hold of it, trying to boost his income … I mean ratings with the religious right conservatives who look under every rock for proof that they are being persecuted … like, you know, Jesus.  Because they can’t ACT like Jesus, so this is a way for them to feel close to him. 

I’m sure she’s a very nice lady; and I’m sure her supporters (other than Huckabee, of course) are all very nice people.  And if the evil federal government was trying to force her to marry a woman (which is obviously not her preference, given all her marriages to men and babydaddies) then, you know what (?), I’d be right there in her corner – maybe even wearing some Amish-looking clothing, myself.  But nobody is trying to force her to marry a woman. And nobody is putting her in jail for not marrying a woman. They’re putting her in jail for violating federal law, which dictates that she can’t refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples – regardless of what her “religious convictions” dictate.

Say, for a moment, that any employer gave a flying shit about what your religious convictions are when you’re performing your job. How is this lady signing these licenses any different from any other damn thing she might be doing there, in regards to those convictions? Does she refuse to grant marriage licenses to adulterers? Hasn’t it been made clear that she is an adulterer, herself?  Let’s leave Muslims out of the argument, because that’s too easy. Let’s talk about Jews. They don’t care. They’re cool. What if the head of your local health department refused to grant a license to a BBQ restaurant, simply because they were planning on serving pork?  Ain’t that the same thing?  I mean, that person doesn’t have to eat there; and he/she isn’t eating there and breaking his/her religious rules – but to go so far as to keep other people from enjoying a tastee pulled pork sandwich … that’s a little much, don’t you think? Stop. Re-read that. Where the hell is the difference?

WHAT IF whoever is in charge of granting licenses to a grocery store was … say … a Mormon? Would it be within that person’s religious rights to refuse to grant that store a license because it was going to sell beer and cigarettes and tea? Again, where the hell is the difference?

This lady’s motives are clear enough. She’s just looking for her 15 minutes. Who can blame her? And the Huckster – he’s always looking for another 15 minutes, and a way to generate donations. Always about the money with him. Big boy’s gotta eat. Who can blame him?  No, it’s the supporters of this woman and her cause and their refusal, or inability, to think this thing through that is most troubling.
(c) Rick Baber, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

We Get What We Want


    Your buddy, Dale, would make a better president than anybody who is currently running for that office. He doesn’t toe anybody’s party line. He looks at each issue on its own merits; uses logic and common sense to make his own decisions on those issues. He thinks, rather than simply putting the pegs into the holes where he is instructed to place them. This is why Dale would make a better president; and this is why he will never hold that office.

    Who can trust a guy like that? Who can afford to lay out all that money, just on the off-chance that every decision he makes will coincide with their financial interests? Purchasing the office of President – or any national office, really – is expensive business. Any potential contender who doesn’t have virtually unlimited cash behind him/her doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.  With the restrictions on campaign contributions all but gone, it’s not the people of this country – you or Dale – who decide who’ll be at the helm, it’s the money. The money tells the minions what to think, and for whom they should vote. And the minions believe them – because what choice do they have? And when somebody gives you lots of money, they’re going to expect something in return. No. Not something. Everything.

    Corporations are people.  Young people – since their inclusion into that category only came about with Citizens United in 2010 – but people, just the same. So says the Supreme Court. These young people are very rich, which makes them very powerful in our current political system.  They pick candidates who can (and promise) do the most for them, and pour their money in behind those candidates.  It’s a bit of a gamble. If their guy wins, they’ll get their cash back, many times over.  If their guy loses, it’s not really a big deal because somebody else with money had to have made that happen. That other young person’s financial interests couldn’t be that much different.  Money wins.  Money makes more money.  Everybody’s happy. Well, except maybe the little guy, who aligned himself with one of these young citizens; fought in the trenches for them; gave them his vote, his blood, thinking, somehow, his life would be better for the effort. It rarely is.  So, not knowing what else to do, the little guy licks his wounds and tries to survive until the next election, when he will have an opportunity to make a better choice. He rarely does.

    Here’s where it gets complicated.  There are a whole damn lot more little guys than there are big corporations.  If all of the little guys banded together to watch out for their own interests, like the corporations do, their collective voice could be even louder.  But it’s hard being a little guy.  Somehow, somewhere up the food chain, practically all little guys are tantamount to servants of the corporations.  Little guy is afraid to step out of line for fear of retribution from his master.  He doesn’t have a golden parachute to break his fall, so he abides.  And the cycle continues.  And the rich get richer.  And the little guy ultimately accepts his role on the chess board and surrenders.

    Big money has many faces: business, religion, the war machine, to name a few. But, make no mistake, all of them are big money – the kings and queens and the bishops and knights who serve them directly – expecting, demanding, that you little guys get out in front of them and clear the way. When you fall, there will always be more little guys to take your place when the next battle commences. Even though you’re laying off the board in a little pile on the table, you get about a 50/50 shot at saying your side won. So, you’ve got that going for you. 

    There is no such thing as a democracy, in the context of world governments. We used to consider our form of government as a “representative democracy.” For quite a while, the United States has actually worked in what can best be described as a “constitutional republic.” The tint of that republic changes from election to election, as various faces of big money persuades the pawns to vote for big money’s benefit.  In the last few decades, we have moved closer to what could only be described as an “oligarchy” – where, in essence, a few (big money) govern over many (the little guy). Some big money is more transparent than others.  If Trump, or Walker (aka Koch Brothers) – the business face of big money - should win the next election, the republic will temporarily take a giant step toward a “plutocracy.”  This is a government controlled by a few wealthy people, and many will argue that we are already there. But with these guys, the mask is off, and we can quit pretending to be anything else.

    Huckabee and Cruz rely on another face of big money. Their election would undoubtedly move us toward a “theocracy.”  This is a government by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided – meaning the Church (the Christian Church and nothing but the Church) would essentially be making our governmental decisions. After all, it would take a divine miracle for either of them to get elected. The question then would become which branch of the business of Christianity would make the calls. The answer would be Southern Baptist.

    Bernie Sanders is a self-described Democratic Socialist. That term scares the hell out of a whole lot of people in the United States who only hear the “socialist” part, bringing to mind the evil empires of Russia and China we all grew up learning to hate and fear.  Here’s the actual definition:  Democratic socialism is a political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production. Sometimes used synonymously with "socialism", the adjective "democratic" is added to denote a system of political democracy similar to that found in existing Western societies.

    Take that as you will, but it means Bernie would move the country, if even slightly, toward that socialist boogeyman.

    Frustrated that nothing we’ve tried before has actually given us the government we think we should have, no matter which side we sit on, judging from the polls, Americans are faunching at the bits for some kind of dramatic change in our particular directions.  The right wants to go way to the right (Donald Trump, Scott Walker). The left wants to go way to the left (Bernie Sanders). Everybody pretty much assumes that the election of Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush would just keep us in more or less the same place we are now.  The truth is, no matter which direction we go, we’ll come back toward the middle the next time, and we’ll remain a Plutocracy, ruled by one face or the other of big money.   This is, until the little guys rise up and demand that we reform our political system back to exclude big money; where each flesh & blood human’s vote actually matters and we’re not all bombarded by dollars on the airwaves and the newsprint and the internet telling us how to vote.

    Until then, we get what we vote for. Meaning we get what we want. What do you want? You’re not as radical as you’ve been told you should be.

        ©2015   Rick Baber