I was going into Bojangles the other day to get my favorite sausage and gravy biscuit breakfast, sporting my "Heckofa Job Brownie" sticker, which I feel like strikes a blow for freedom and exempts me from having to give any money to the Democratic Party as long as they keep talking about how they'll run the war better than the repubs, and a young guy in a dusty black SUV followed me into the lot close enough that I hoped he was reading my sticker. He parks closer to the door than I do, and he and his lady friend are inside by the time I walk by his truck and see his yellow ribbon on the back. I'm close enough to read it, and I do. It says "Bring the Troops Home and Station them on the Mexican Border."
Well. Have to say there was a bit of pleasure in the read, because it suggests a fissure in the monolith. Tactically, it'd be just peachy if half the repubs started chanting that line. And I'd rather, given such a grim, negative choice, that we line 'em up down in Texas and New Mexico and Arizona, behind the partition our fine House of Representatives has moved to erect, than to read these headlines every day: 3 LeJeune Marines Killed in Roadside Bombing. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Damn, do we remember nothing at all? Oh right, these kids we're killing today in the machine weren't born back in Country Joe's day. The song went like this: "what are we fighting for, we don't give a damn, we're going to Vietnam..."
About that wall, by the way. I suggest we hire Christo as the lead architect/engineer for that project. Christo has worked on a number of similar projects all over the world, with amazing success and with a much smaller budget than we can offer him. I'm sure he'll come up with the best materials list, but I would suggest he use taffeta, since it's a wall that runs through the Texas South, and through John Ford country as well. Taffeta is sturdy yet can billow and flow in an eye-pleasing way--just think of the wonderful ballroom scenes in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon." Damn if it don't all come around. Where's my headsmack key??
I digress. I went on in and had my breakfast. From inside Bo's I could read the little license plate on the front of the kid's SUV. It said "Fireman." Nice. There happen to be quite a lot of Mexicans living in my town, his town. They work at the chicken plants mostly, and their kids have managed to win the first state championship in soccer that our high school has ever won, beating much bigger schools all over the state. I'm sure if this boy fireman wants a side job at the chicken plant, they'll be happy to give him one, probably start him higher than any Mexican and give him a lead job on the head choppin' line. He don't want that job though. Somebody just told him to stew about these "illegal" people coming up here and changing things, and he got his ass in a sling. It was easy. It's what people do, a human trait I'm afraid. We all love to get our asses in slings.
I saw a little video last night, a narration by a Polish woman of her own trail of tears in World War II. Don't think the Germans invented forced marches, or the Japanese either. We did that, and the guy who's on our $20 gave the orders. Anyway, this woman lived in a little town on the west side of Poland and spoke German as well as Polish. She was Jewish. One day, just before school started, the Germans arrived. She was 15. School never started. By Christmas she and her parents were living in their own basement, in the cold and dark, while other folks were living upstairs, in their house. Her 19-year-old brother had been hauled off in a truck, never to be heard from again. The next summer her dad was hauled off, then she and her mother. The two of them were separated by soldiers, and she was literally tossed into a truck and taken to a factory where she made uniforms for German soldiers and shoveled coal out of coal cars till she was so exhausted that she considered jumping under the next train. In the winter of 1945, while the US Army was pushing the German Army back after their last gasp attack at the Battle of the Bulge, she and several thousand other girls were forced marched from Poland into Czechoslovakia, most of them dying or being shot along the way. She survived, she related in the movie, because the day before her dad was hauled away to his death he told her, ordered her, to wear her ski boots. Many of the girls on the march, all through the eastern European winter, wore only sandals. When she was liberated by an American soldier (whom she later married), she weighed 68 pounds.*
Lots of people nowadays want to tell you this kind of stuff didn't happen. It's not so hard to just tell them they're idiots. The boy fireman, that's a little more subtle. He's going numb though, he's in serious trouble. Already he can't feel how a Mexican person feels reading that sticker. Maybe it's a Mexican who walked across the Sonora desert to get here to get that $5 an hour chicken-choking gig. Maybe a Mexican who lost his little sister along the way, who knows. Or a guy who rode in a locked up cattle truck for two days and nearly smothered. So the kid wants to save people, he has this fine altruistic nature that led him to volunteer to be a fireman. But his dark side is coming out too, for whatever reason, and he doesn't even realize it. Right now he can be ok with hurt eyes. Maybe before long he'll be ok with worse. This is the trajectory for many of the kids we're sticking over in Iraq, too. They'll never be ok again, some of them, and some of them will come back and blame the Mexicans. And some of them are the Mexicans.
It makes me wonder if the problem we have goes to some level much deeper than we realize, to something that lets us accept every choice that's grounded in efficiency. That's what happened to the Germans. Once we turn off the ability to feel those hurt eyes, we can start rolling. And we don't even get the weird, contradictory rules we end up establishing along the way. Little starving Jewish girls sewing the German soldiers uniforms. Big companies offering endless nasty, low-wage jobs to Mexicans, who then get Catch-22ed with "but you're illegal," while their kids do us proud by bringing home the state championship.
It's like the old joke. Down in Mississippi, back in the mid-'60s, Lyndon Johnson finally made the powers-that-be allow black people to get a driver's license. This got the modern Republican Party started, but that's another story. Anyway, this guy did get his license, after having to solve ten pages of calculus problems in five minutes (and that's how we got those crackers to the moon and back, but that's another story). So he's driving down Main Street in Meridian or somewheres, and he's going about 23 but the sign says 20, so he's busted. Well, they have to make an example. They knew it wasn't going to work. So after a trial he's hauled over to Ole Miss Stadium and buried up to his neck on the 50-yard line. The stadium's plumb full of crackers. Down at one end, under the goal posts, the black man sees a big cage. In it is a lion. A big fat sheriff walks over there and opens the door to that cage, and the lion comes out. It looks around, and then it sees that black head, up at the 50-yard line, and it takes off running. The guy's eyes are glued to the lion, growing bigger and bigger, drooling in anticipation, and the lion's so hungry that he actually overshoots the mark a bit and finds himself standing over the buried head. The crowd was screaming, but has fallen silent. The black man does the only thing he can do. He cranes his neck and reaches up and bites that lion as hard as he can on the balls.
A hush falls over the assembled. Then from the back, a lone voice, maybe some kid fireman, who knows, calls out: "Play fair, Nigger."
Final note...Maybe you think I'm being a tad unfair to the great state of Mississippi. Surely they would never subject a black citizen to such punishment just to "make an example." If you have such thoughts, please read the following from the Clarion Ledger, December 31, 2005. My compliments to Dave Niewart for digging this one out.
*"One Survivor Remembers," HBO Films, the story of Gerda Weissmann Klein, narrated by her, 1995 Academy Award, best documentary short film