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Saturday, February 25, 2006
A QUICK NOTE ON THE REDESIGNED MASTHEAD
or, HOW I SPENT MY SATURDAY
You may have noticed that SKIING UPHILL has undergone a slight redesign. I originally designed the masthead to be rotated on a semi-irregular basis, along with a never-legible "photo" of myself, who hates having my picture taken since childhood, and refuses to accede to the current narcissistic fashion of slapping a retouched and flattering portrait of one's self on whatever one writes.
I became a writer so that the world would deal with me on a purely egalitarian level: I have never cared whether the reader knew my sex (I have written under dozens of feminine pen names, including two first-person female novels), my race, my religion or my class, ethnic heritage, background, education, etcetera. There is a power in the mystery of anonymity that an author has, and I like that anonymity.
I have spent my adult life as a fly on the wall, sometimes a spy in the house of love, but other times as a bouncer, as a cab driver, a drywaller, a crane operator, farm hand, movie grip, telescope operator, etcetera. Anonymity affords that luxury. I realize that this is going against the fashion, but I was, after all, born "Joe Williams" in central Nebraska on a winter's day a long time ago, to two parents of no particular distinction. Literally, nobody from nowhere. So, you might say, anonymity is my birthright and my patrimony.
I am not ashamed of my face; it just isn't any of your business. The words are the part of myself that I give away for free herein. (But we are considering Premium Services at some point).
So perhaps you've guessed that the photo on the right is not Your Humble Correspondent, I note to allay any confusion. The photo is of my biological father, J. Hart "Bud" Williams, of whom, it is noted on my birth certificate, I am "Junior" -- even though we do not share the same first name (neither of which either of us liked, and dropped in different ways.)
He may or may not still be living. But the photo of my father then was taken at approximately the same age that my son is now. So there is alpha and omega in it.
The new SU logo -- at left -- is an overlay of the SKIING UPHILL title with George Washington's personal copy of the Declaration of Independence (from the Library of Congress) superimposed over a nineteenth century engraving of the pulling down of King George III's equestrian statue (which was remelted and used as war materiel) after the declaration. A tale of two Georges, you might say, as a metaphor for the current situation with yet another George.
The germane (though not German) passage in the Declaration reads as follows:
Friday, February 24, 2006
TODAY'S AUDIO BLOG
or, TUNING WHILE ROME LOONS
Here is the piece heard on KOPT AM-1600 this (Friday) morning.
It's a 1.4 meg download. The (hilarious) piece runs exactly 2:53.
Freedom marches on. File is MP3, 64 kbs, fake stereo (mono)
Download the MP3 (right click and "save as"):
Thursday, February 23, 2006
THE BEFUDDLING OF GEORGE BUSH
or, APRES MOI, LE DELUGE
Note: I wrote most of this two days ago, and for some reason, I held off on posting it. Since then, a Shi'ite mosque, the repository of two descendants of Mohammed (peace be upon him), was blown up, and Iraq is veering towards Civil War. Dozens of Sunni mosques have been attacked, and clerics killed.
The cartoon rage continues as our U.S. Secretary of State cluelessly traverses the Middle East, trying to get Arab governments to cut off funds to the Hamas version of the Palestinian government, as Israel did a few weeks ago. While the West has obsessed over the cartoons themselves, and checked their smeared and faded rouge in the compact of their self-absorption, the Islamic world has moved from a brushfire spreading wildly but sporadically into something approaching an inferno.
And through it all, the Bush Administration continues to do what their patterns dictate: slow to perceive threat, slow to formulate a response; inadequate to deal with a spiraling crisis that has mushroomed beyond the early reports.
It happened on 9/11. It happened with the tsunami. It happened with Katrina (the White House released a report this morning whitewashing the whole affair); it has happened with the Dubai Affair, and now, the Islamic world has begun to burn out of control. ]
Here's what I wrote ....
There was an amazing book that I read in galleys years ago. I worked as an editor and proofreader for a number of magazines, and one of them was a history magazine, MANKIND.
So, we were on publisher's history lists. A steady trickle came through, and I would be assigned a book for review.
Galleys are unbound proofs -- usually in a light, peach or yellow or light blue cover stock, bearing a stern warning: UNCORRECTED PROOF, and warning us to make sure that we checked any quotes against the published version, seemingly a promise that the hardcover would come, but over the years I've noticed that the hardcover never does.
But it was an incredible galley, with its table of contents neatly stacked with chapter numbers (all "00") and page numbers (all "00") neatly separated flush right and flush left by dot leaders.
The title of the book was 1940: THE AVALANCHE, by Richard Collier, a RAF pilot during WW II who has evidently written a number of books since.
The book has always stayed with me, since I read it, if only for the introduction wherein Collier notes that while we can see history in hindsight, in sharp focus, the people who were living that history didn't have any idea what was happening around them. And Collier manufactures, in prose, what it was like to live through the year of 1940, which started with the world almost completely at peace, and ends with the world almost completely at war.
And you got a sense of the world descending into hell like a frog being boiled.
The reason that I bring it up is that I have the same feeling about now. This is the first time I can ever recall of feeling something about the passage of time that seems parallel to that crucial year.
In 1940, the Japanese were occupying much of China but it was in a stalemate a lot like the American occupation in Iraq. And Finland was about to be invaded by Russia. But the world was at relative peace.
January 1 was peaceful. On January 2, the Russians invaded Finland.
For 104 days, the outmanned and outgunned troops of the Finnish army fought the Russians to a standstill, embarrassing a much larger force. Finally, Stalin signed a peace treaty, took a third of Finland, and retreated.
All in all, it was a sort of amazing "victory" for a little country that never had a chance against a much larger aggressor.
But that was just the warmup. 1940 was about to explode.
By the end of the year, Hitler had invaded Poland, taken Belgium and France, and the British and French armies, badly beaten, were evacuated from France in the 'miracle' of Dunkirk ... by JUNE!
Time went crazy. The little brushfire in Finland was a raging inferno that would take five more years to die down.
Here's an edited timeline from
Jan. 2 - The Battle of Salla begins.The brown stuff hit the rotating blades and there was virtually no spot on Earth that weren't splattered.
Meantime, across the Pacific:
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.The world just went to hell.
And we see it happening again. The American government is crumbling in a morass of corruption, bribery and insider trading. For the first time in memory, a country that has declared war has used that war as a pretext for handing out the treasury to its friends and cronies.
Europe is suddenly locked in a strange clash of civilizations with the Islamic world, as much because of the tremendous number of Muslim immigrants in Europe as because of the anger of a huge sector of the Arab and Muslim world at centuries of European meddling.
Iran is being faced with US armies on both its borders and, ironically, is seen as a pillar of resistance to American and European interests in the region.
Hamas wins the Palestinian parliamentary elections, stunning everyone and the USA and Israel immediately issue ultimatums.
To no one's surprise (or, I can't ever recall an ultimatum working on a world, national, state, city, block or personal level), the ultimatums are rejected.
The Vice President shoots a guy in the face. What is revealed is a nest of Texas vipers, interconnected and inbred: Katharine Armstrong and her mother Anne Armstrong own the ranch, and are heirs of the King Ranch empire, and were on the board of directors of Halliburton, who hired ex Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as its CEO following the Gulf War and Bush I's defeat.
Cheney transforms Halliburton from an oil-field services company into an international Fixer. All become deeply immersed in Middle Eastern money/oil/politics businesses. The other players are similarly intertwined in the whole ball of snakes.
And there they are, with Cheney shooting one of them in the face. Whoops.
Meantime, the US President doesn't even worry about telling the truth anymore. He tells the State of the Union he's investing in clean coal, and then the Budget, released the next day, cuts funding for the project. This scenario is repeated again and again.
The Attorney General claims that the President has unlimited powers in wartime. The Intelligence Committee Chairman agrees not to investigate warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.
It is all a mad, surreal dash to the end.
The insurgency in Iraq shows no signs of abating. The riots continue into their second week over Danish cartoons published in a newspaper. Only a few weeks earlier, rioting by Muslims in the suburbs of Paris paralyzed the country for days.
Something is happening and it feels a lot like the slide into the abyss that Richard Collier chronicled in that book I reviewed a long time ago.
I've reviewed a lot of books since. Some of them I can barely recall. But that image of disaster being lived in the here and now, and not in the there and then haunts me.
We've been watching planes crash into buildings, tidal waves striking three continents at once; hurricanes that all but destroyed the U.S. gulf coast.
I tell you: it's like that avalanche. The brown stuff is hitting the rotating blades, and there are a lot of things on the horizon that we're not even seeing.
This is a time when you should always wear clean socks and clean underwear -- as your mother warned you. Because there's no telling what's going to happen. But it's still amazing to me that 1940 started with the world at peace. Even the Chinese and Japanese were at a kind of stalemate. The Japanese were occupiers, and resistance was sporadic.
And by the end of the year, almost all of Europe had fallen to the Germans, and London was being regularly bombed.
Right now, the fires are only flaring, but I fear that it might be a very long time before they're put out again. It feels too damned much like 1940.
And there doesn't seem to be a damn thing I can do.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
A PREVIEW OF NEXT WEEK'S TIME COVER
or, UH OH!
Monday, February 20, 2006
or, DEAD WHITE MEN
Today is a holiday of forgetting: forgetting that we are actually celebrating two traditional American holidays, as though "holy days" were not an oxymoron. Because these are both SECULAR holidays, celebrating embodiments, if you will, of two triumphs in our long climb towards civil justice.
And, perhaps you will appreciate what great pain it caused me this morning to hear someone whom I count as a friend, screeching on the radio that there was no point in celebrating this slung-together-for-a-three-day-weekend holiday because of the gender and the race of those being celebrated. They were "Dead White Men," and, as a result of these twin classifications, unworthy of our attention.
And that, too, is an oxymoron.
In a real sense, the first "revolution" that we OUGHT to celebrate as a HUMAN holiday -- not national, nor religious -- should be Magna Carta Day.
What? Magna Carta?
OK. Let me try to say this as elegantly as possible: The day that the Magna Carta was unwillingly signed marks the first blow in our long struggle.
On the field at Runnymede, on a June day in 1215 (C.E. or A.D., according to your tastes), King John was forced to sign the "Magna Carta," the "Great Charter.," or, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary (4th Ed.): "The charter of English political and civil liberties." And our American story, in a sense, begins on that day.
More importantly, it was NOT an accepted fact that anyone OUGHT to have rights other than the King. Our social conscience has evolved so far since then that we forget how far we've come.
[It should be noted that this was not the FIRST time in human history that this idea of "rights" had appeared. It appeared in Greece, and disappeared. It appeared in Rome and disappeared. Something much like our Constitutional government existed among the confederation of tribes around the Great Lakes. That vanished, too. But in OUR current system, this was the first step BACK towards human liberty after a long, dark age.]
Up until that moment only ONE human being had any rights. That person was the King. All rights proceeded from the King, and could be either extended or revoked by the King, up to and including the right to life itself. (The King was only answerable, technically, to God, and this theory of his unquestioned primacy was called "Divine Right." The theory was hotly debated during a hot June in Philadelphia in 1776. Ultimately, the theory was rejected in America via the medium of gunpowder and lead.)
Forget about liberty and the pursuit of happiness: only one person, the King, had any rights in a real sense.
With the signing of the Magna Carta, that "franchise" was extended to the Nobility, and the King became merely a king. Other things came from that, though, including the right of "habeas corpus" -- which meant that the prisoner had to be produced ("I have the body") and could not merely be "disappeared," as became the fad in Central America only a few decades ago. Thankfully, that is subsiding.
We often make the terrible mistake of judging history by our standards, forgetting that they did not have our advantages or the thoughts that we take for granted.
If I were to say to you that the Revolutionary War could have been over almost immediately if the American colonists had merely used their carbon-dioxide lasers to sink the British warships, you would snort.
"That's absurd!" you would snort, "Everybody knows that they were over a hundred years away from developing lasers!"
But were I to mention that nobody really thought much about the fact that George Washington owned slaves, you would snort about what a racist that Dead White (or European) Male was.
But the proposition is EQUALLY absurd.
Consider this: Washington freed all of his slaves upon his death, but did not free his wife's slaves. He was torn, because they represented a huge portion of her children's inheritance. It was a moral dilemma that you and I will never have to wrestle with, and so it is hard for us to accept that the past presented a world just as bereft of "enlightened" thinking, as they were bereft of portable lasers for their compact disc players.
Washington's "moral" dilemma contained entirely different variables than do ours. But, for his time, he was far ahead of his relatives and neighbors, who would only accept Washington's sentiments about freedom for the slaves via the debating method of gunpowder and lead some six decades later.
But Washington didn't have lasers, either, and was unable to watch any PBS documentary DVDs, which perhaps explains his sad failing in moral analysis. He should have freed all of his slaves, of course, and used a laser, rather than have all those people out in the fields with scythes.
His foolish death of pneumonia need never have occurred, had he only taken his penicillin, but, alas, he didn't. Due to a lack of cameras, CNN was unable to cover the funeral live.
Because the THOUGHT is the thing, in this sense. Without the understanding of lasers, the Continental Army's use of them against a British Man 'O War was, of course, an impossibility.
(And, sexist navy that it was, there were no British Women O' War ships -- which undoubtedly explains their loss in that War of American Independence.)
But our social theories, our understanding of what "equality" truly means -- well, those are as complex and have involved as many thinkers as the creation of Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation devices, or LASER devices, which we now call lasers.
And there is forgetting in that, too.
This "presidents' day" is a celebration of the emancipation of landed white males, yes. But it was a huge step from the Magna Carta, which emancipated, sort of, Noble English Males. There is a huge difference between "White" and merely "English," please note. And remember the racism there. We love to speak of "African Americans" but we never call a Moroccan or an Egyptian, or a Libyan, or even a Zanzibaran, such as, say Teresa Heinz Kerry, an "African American."
These imprecise slurs betray their underlying racism, and sexism. They don't even actually work as descriptions.
And so I was saddened at the sexist, racist rage against these "Dead White Men."
Yet, each is actually a metaphor for that long march from Magna Carta. Washington represents the Declaration, and the Constitution: the enumeration of rights, the capping of powers, and the separation of the Church from the State.
He represents the incredible concept of "Freedom of Speech," which stood, lonely in the world, for our belief in the right of all persons to free expression of their thoughts. "Freedom of Religion," the right to freedom of worship, and "Freedom of the Press" the right to circulating writing and pictures (and later radio, and television) without persecution.
All of those freedoms were original, and Washington's epoch represents those things. On a personal level, and if you've read anything about Washington's life, we celebrate the incredible integrity and honesty, the devotion to duty and the quality of rising above partisanship that he represents.
But someone felt that because of his gender and his "race" that we should not celebrate this secular holiday.
I wonder what she thinks about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? Is that a horrible celebration of a "Dead Male"? Are we paying any attention? Or are we so far gone in our self-congratulatory "enlightenment" that we forget that there are as many steps since the Constitution as came before it?
The current fight for gay rights is only the latest chapter:
And then we've just noticed that many woman and men, whose love runs to their same sex had never been accorded any rights since Roman times.
You see? It is not just a ladder, with clearly marked rungs. The expansion of rights outside of our species is only now dawning. And there are injustices that we have not yet noted.
Because we are evolving, our consciences are evolving just as well.
Lincoln, the second president of president's day represents the end of slavery. There are many personal characteristics that we like to celebrate as well: his honesty, his sense of humor, his unchallenged position as the finest presidential writer that America has yet produced (heady stuff when you recognize what exceptional writers Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were).
But we do ourselves and our struggle an injustice when we decide that Lincoln, warts and all, does not live up to our perfect paradigm.
We must remember that Lincoln was an abolitionist, and note that he didn't consider Blacks to be equals. But he represented the fruition of a long struggle that began when Benjamin Franklin founded the first anti-slavery society on the North American continent.
Lincoln believed that slavery must end, and, while it was not his platform when first elected (the Republicans simply demanded that slavery not proceed further than it was already established), he did, in fact, bring about the final end of slavery ... in the legal sense.
For the precise historical snapshot of what I'm talking about, I would commend you to Harold Holzer's excellent LINCOLN AT COOPER UNION -- THE SPEECH THAT MADE ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRESIDENT (Simon & Schuster, 2005; 343 pp., $14, trade paper.)
The struggle has continued through both the labor movement, and the civil rights movements, and, when we would like to take the racist tokens from our dead eyes, we will eventually notice that we import "illegal aliens," pay them substandard wages, deny them any rights whatsoever and dare to claim that they are NOT slaves.
(I left Southern California for good in 1989, after three long years of the incontrovertible understanding that without the "slave" labor of the "wetbacks" -- a term that comes to us from Texas, where the border is crossed by swimming across the Rio Grande -- the entire LA-LA/Hollywood/Disney Reich COULD NOT FUNCTION. It was and remains a SLAVE state. And I refused to live a second longer in a slave-holding city than I had to.)
I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day forms another rung of that ladder we are climbing to justice, but the next rung that must be addressed should be a Susan B. Anthony Day. Or, perhaps, a Margaret Sanger Day (preferably both).
I do not dismiss their lives because they are "Dead White Women." I believe that sexism is wrong. I believe that racism is wrong. And I believe that we have very little room in our own day to condemn Washington, Lincoln, Anthony, King, Sanger or Franklin for not being as enlightened as we are.
Most of all, I believe that it is wrong to stand silent in the face of sexism and racism, and, whether I ever appear on the radio station in question again, I must speak up. We once set out to eradicate racism, sexism, and the other ugly 'isms' that deny basic personhood, and sometimes it seems that we are more obsessed by these distinctions than we ever were before.
No: 'equality' means just that.
Are we saying that no matter WHAT I ever accomplish, my race and my gender will permanently disqualify me from any consideration? Is that it?
It is just as wrong to admit prejudice or bias against any race, creed, color or gender. I would hope that at some point in this long struggle, of which Washington and Lincoln represent mere steps, that we had learned that.
'Equality' means just that.
I believe that the expansion of the franchise of liberty and equality is what we're supposed to be celebrating today, and hearing the presidents dismissed as being "Dead White Men" dismisses all advances in human rights and human liberty.
I do not ask a three year old to solve calculus problems. But, I can celebrate a truly exceptional three-year-old, without doing injustice to calculus.
Still, if Lincoln would only have used cluster-bombs to halt the Southern advance at the First Battle of Bull Run, I think the war would have been over in a matter of days. (Then again, Jefferson Davis' wife Molly might have used the atomic bomb. You never know: we might all be speaking Southern today.)
From Magna Carta to Montgomery, Alabama is a journey of immense distance in the conscience of a species.
Or of a nation in search of equality.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
WHILE WE APPRECIATE THE 'SHOWER,' WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE PLEASE *PLEASE* TURN OFF THE FAN??!?!hart williams
or, THE PIE PILES HIGHER
All right. I do not hold that Cheney was necessarily having a little assignation when he had his little accident. But I admit that I first suggested the possibility on Monday, the thirteenth. The various "pundits" of the internet got on the story late Wednesday and early Thursday. By that time I was no longer so sure.
But I had formed the distinct impression that I need to change the Skiing Uphill motto from "tomorrow's news today" (a reference to the fact that, pulling news stories from around the world, I often publish, say, a Sydney, Australia story from "tomorrow" into today's column) to "the day AFTER tomorrow's news today."
This happened with a "parody" I posted to the Stephanie Miller Show last fall. On the day it was posted, suddenly a 'brilliant' parody appeared in Los Angeles, was linked and noted by the LA WEEKLY, referenced on "The Daily Kos" etcetera. My piece? A parody of a vodka ad, with Bush superimposed inside a white on black Absolut vodka bottle. My tag? "Absolut Idiot" (A reference to the then-current NATIONAL ENQUIRER stories that Bush was hitting the bottle in Crawford).
The "brilliant" piece? Pictures of the various Republican scandalous: Frist, DeLay, Bush, etc. superimposed inside the same bottle with the "brilliant" caption "Absolut Corruption."
Which is, when you think about it, goddam stoooopid. None of the persons inside were involved in scandals related to alcohol, drinking, etc. The piece (I checked) showed up the DAY that Stephanie Miller posted mine on her radio show website, and while I am loathe to claim "plagiarism" or "joke theft" -- and noting that that ad has been used for parodies since at least 1999 -- my intuition tells me exactly where it was gotten, and is repelled in a justifiable manner that the "theft" wrecked the "joke."
That which was witty (or halfway so) had been shorn of its humor, and yet was celebrated by the various media.
So, I guess I don't have to worry about being quick here, or about trying to write anything useful. What I really need is a publicity agent. After all, when the carbon copies of my stuff, wan though they may be, are feted, then perhaps there is some small place in the firmament of phony laurels and media fawning for your humble correspondent's work.
Or maybe not.
But, as long as we're dropping names, metaphorically, I have to tell you that I heard the name "Stanley K. Hathaway" in the media, preceded by "the late" -- which saddened me, because I knew Stanley K. Hathaway.
The occasion was the weird trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming that Cheney was sent on last week , like Nixon's weird trip to Egypt, where he was cheered by the Egyptian masses and then he came home and resigned. Cheney had been lying all week, and the whole surreal story was in full melting watch mode, and Cheney needed to be cheered, so he went back and gave a speech in the capitol building to the Wyoming territorial legislature.
Whoops! Sorry: I tend to forget that Wyoming is no longer a third world country, administered by the Eastern states for the sole purpose of extracting natural resources and raw materials. We got our statehood, but for some reason Wyoming in my youth was -- and remains -- a colony from which raw materials are extracted, and to which finished goods are then sold.
Cheney talked about Stanley K. Hathaway.
Hathaway was a florid-faced man, with a handlebar mustache: a Wyoming politician, he reminded you of a sort of "President Taft Lite." Corpulent, but not overly so, he was Governor of Wyoming in 1968, when I was a page at the Wyoming State Republican Convention, held in Laramie.
Evidently, in 1965, Hathaway hired a young prick named "Dick Cheney" as a legislative aide in Cheyenne, the state capitol, 60 miles from Laramie over Pole Mountain, past the giant, brooding granite boulders of Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-duh-voo):
http://www.vedauwoo.organd past Ames Monument:
http://wyoparks.state.wy.us/AMslide.htmAnd the Lone Pine Monument, a pine tree that grew through a granite boulder the size of a house (aided by buckets of water from passing caboosemen on the Union Pacific main line).
And the Lincoln Monument -- celebrating the highest point on the "Lincoln Highway" or, US Highway 30, which was, by 1968 already becoming its replacement, Interstate 80, from New York, New York to San Francisco, California, the East-West arterial that generally follows the original transcontinental train route.
http://www.vedauwoo.org/history1.htmIt only used to be a couple of bucks to take the train round trip between the two towns -- Laramie the college town and Cheyenne the railroad hub and state capitol -- but most people drove, which is probably what Cheney did.
It was around 1965 that Dick Cheney screamed at me for five minutes in a Laramie courtyard, and then at my father for another couple of minutes.
My father, being the man that he was, DIDN'T cold-cock Cheney (although I probably would have) and, in his quiet way, just waited for our future Vice President to calm down, and agreed to take care of it.
Yes, I was in trouble again.
I've waited to tell you about it, because it didn't seem like the proper time. But I have no doubt of it, although I will give you the ammunition to pick holes in my awful name-dropping, and rightly so. Memory plays tricks on us all.
But I recognized that throbbing vein when he gets mad, and it took me a long time to realize that when he'd screamed at me, he had hair, which is another reason that I've held off telling about it. In my mind's eye, I didn't recognize him.
Married housing at the University of Wyoming was a quadrangular complex of single-story red brick duplexes and quadraplexes, just northeast of War Memorial Stadium (the home of the Wyoming Cowboys football team), the highest elevation major stadium in the United States at the time, and all apartments opened onto a central white-concrete-covered-with-white-gravel commons in the center. The only salient feature of this barren wasteland (at least from a kid's point of view) was that there were endless "T" bars set into the concrete, between which were strung wire clotheslines. (The prevailing Laramie winds would have torn rope or cord lines to flinders in no time at all).
My little brother John and I were being babysat by a student/friend of my mother's, whose father was the head of the Tribal Council of the Wind River Reservation up towards Jackson Hole and Yellowstone. Even then, at nine years old, I used to tell her that she should be in the Miss America competition because she was much more beautiful than any of those B-52 blondes and brunettes that were paraded as 1960s epitomes of feminine pulchritude -- but I digress.
What the hell: I digress.
I was later told that she was very flattered, but that the Arapaho considered such a display to be taboo, an embarrassment, etc. I suspect that racism was involved, too (racism against her by the Whites, sad to say) but I was not aware of such horrors then. Still, I learned NOT to say anything about Miss America, to be considerate of her feelings -- coached by my mother.
She and her husband would have children of their own within a year or two, but they were happy to babysit on those rare nights that my parents went to a movie, a dance, a dinner -- I suppose to "try out" being parents. If they could have been scared away from the prospect of children, I'll note, we were probably the boys to do it.
I fear that we tended to be little hellions with babysitters. I don't know why. But we always managed to get into trouble, and that day, we managed to get into trouble by inventing what turned out to be a wildly popular game on that desolate wasteland of a "back yard."
Cheney must have just flunked out of Yale, then. He would be getting his undergraduate degree at the University of Wyoming, and he and his pint-sized wife, Lynn lived in an apartment on the southern end of the western face of the married housing rectangle.
I can still see her in my mind's eye (another thing that convinces me it was really them) her arms folded, and her beehive hairdo adding what seemed like a third again her diminutive height, scowling imperiously behind the sliding-glass patio doors.
Cheney was either coming off of his flunking out or out of his legislative aideship -- either way he was one of those WAY-TOO-OVER-THE-TOP kind of adults, like a sadistic gym teacher or a fascist coach. When he screamed (which was mostly what I saw him do, I must confess that if I ever saw him in dormant mode, I don't register it) his face filled with blood, and the veins on his neck and temples bulged out.
It was scary but also a little comical.
Here's what happened:
We figured out a game where we would ride those little BMX bikes (at the time they were the tiny bikes with the tall "chopper" handlebars, I forget what they were called) at full speed under the clothesline poles, and then we'd grab the pole, and swing as the bicycle continued on its suicide mission across the compound.
Perhaps this is why Cheney is so fearful of terrorist to this very day. I do not know.
Since there wasn't anything to get in the way, the bikes could go a long ways, but nowhere near to ever getting to the north wall. We ended up having a contest to see who could get a riderless bike the furthest distance before it fell down.
I thought it was very inventive, and we had managed to amuse ourselves in the absence of any actual possibility of amusement. But, as I would learn, Dick Cheney did not share this opinion.
I guess we were right in front of their glass patio window-door-sliding-view. At some point, eventually, after a long while of all kinds of "neighborhood" kids trying it, Dickie boy came storming out from behind the patio door and started screaming at me.
Me, personally, since I was the organizer, inventor and impresario of the little adventure. No one had been hurt, and nothing but fun had transpired, but, as it turned out, we had broken TWO SPOKES on one of the bicycles, and this blatant anarchic hooliganism was evidently too much for the childless Cheneys and he screamed at me for a good long time.
That was when I was accorded the opportunity of studying the bulging of his veins. REALLY studying them. I don't really remember what he SAID, actually, but it was as close to obscenity as one could get without actually crossing the line.
Fine. He'd speak to my parents. I was suitable impressed by his authority (I didn't sass back, or tell him to fuck himself, which, in retrospect, I suppose I wish I would have done). But he didn't scare me, either. I "knew" that he wouldn't dare touch me, and I stood my ground -- that bad habit that continues to this very day in the face of bullies.
We returned to the relative safety of our baby-sitter's apartment, in the middle of the south line of the apartments, and we knew that Dad had to talk to the screaming man on the west side. I felt bad that I'd made trouble for my beautiful baby-sitter and her Chicano husband; but I always got into trouble, no matter how hard I tried not to.
At least I was used to it.
I resigned myself to the inevitable spanking, lecture and slapping around (this would be one of those things where both Mom and Dad would want to get their licks in, separately), and the time passed, too slowly.
Naturally, I was guilty until proven innocent when the happy parents came to collect us, and what had been a glad evening was suddenly suffused with tragedy.
But they were used to it, too.
My dad took us and he spoke to Cheney a few feet from Cheney's apartment, almost exactly where hairy Dick had screamed at me earlier. I heard him start to scream at my Dad, and I learned something important that I'd been lectured from the time I was old enough to be lectured: It takes a bigger man to walk away from a fight than to get into one. Big talk, of course, but that night, for the first time, I watched my Dad take this pipsqueak martinet's shit without batting an eyelash. He walked the walk. And THAT impresses nine-year-old boys quite a lot.
Cheney was screaming about how we little vandals had destroyed property and were headed for juvenile hall, and demanded that we pay for the repairs of the two spokes -- which was interesting, considering that they were childless, to the best of my knowledge. Either way, he didn't have a dog in the fight. The Broken Spokes belonged to no bicycle of his, that much was clear.
And later my Dad would confess that he DID feel "like cold-cocking the sonofabitch" but he held his temper, and that was a lesson that I still carry.
Would that I could practice it, I add ruefully.
Dad agreed that we would take care of it. And so he did. And Cheney, having nothing else to scream about, re-entered his stygian Chamber Of Gloom.
Naturally, when we got home, we were prepared for the worst, but Cheney had done us a great favor: by behaving like such an over-the-top asshole, he'd convinced my Dad that we hadn't really done anything wrong.
I assumed that it would come out of my "allowance" of 25 cents a week, but when allowance time came, my Dad gave me my quarter and told me "Two spokes cost twelve cents, and I don't feel like making change."
And that was that.
Still, I count myself suitably famous now, having been screamed at by the Future Vice President of the United States when I was nine years old.
He seemed awfully steamed up over two six cent spokes.
In the following year, 1966, I think, Stanley K. Hathaway was elected Governor of Wyoming, and I met him on several occasions. He was a very nice man, if you happened to be a kid in Wyoming that age.
I never saw Dick Cheney again, or at least it wasn't until I saw him as Veep, angry at something and that vein bulging slightly as the old demon came smoking out of his cave that I suddenly realized WHO that was.
I mean I knew who Cheney was, because he was from Wyoming, and there are damned few of us from Wyoming. So you always pay attention. Our license plates have prefixes that are numbers of the various counties (Cheyenne is 2, Laramie is 5, Casper, where Cheney's from is 1, and Jackson Hole is 22, for instance) and anyone who's ever lived in Wyoming, or has been driving with someone who did, knows about the license plate trick.
I'd followed Cheney as Ford's Chief of Staff, and as Congressman (carpetbagger) from Wyoming in the Seventies. And then, in the Eighties as Secretary of Defense during Desert Shield, Storm, and Simonize.
And I knew he'd been hired as CEO of Halliburton.
But I never knew, until that little tantrum on some podium, that it was the same asshole who'd screamed at me over twelve cents worth of hardware that wasn't even his concern.
But it all fits. I bring this up to impress you -- now that we know what sort of fellow he is -- with what a miracle it was that I wasn't shot that night.
No: instead it's my son whose throat he's got a gun barrel pressed against.
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