The Next Big Thing: "The Cost of Freedom"
Is This Heaven?
by Mike Palecek
I'm sitting here in the Hampshire Hideout Cafe in the uninhabited regions of Iowa.
I'm in a booth against the wall, green vinyl.
I'm sitting alone, hand on my white coffee cup, turned toward the wooden door facing Main Street.
The ceiling fan in the middle of the room is on low.
Mostly all it does is remind us, "it's hot, it's hot."
Local legend says that if you turn it to high speed it says, "McKinley's dead."
As well as apparently being the beach head for global warming, Iowa is for some reason a political hot spot and graveyard.
This is where candidates go to either catch fire or die.
They walk along these deserted main streets and dirt roads, smiling, thumbs tucked inside their pointer fingers, ready to speak. They scour the houses and alleys for eyes in the dark, hoping to be able to dash over to shake hands, smile, nod, lie.
We are the ones who got to pick John Kerry and not Howard Dean.
I heard it was T.J. and Lyla and Carl who decided.
Pretty cool, huh?
Well, I'm sitting here in the near dark on a hot July morning.
I'm waiting for a candidate to walk through that door and shake my Iowa hand and say he's going to investigate 911.
He is going to put George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld on trial for lying and then soldiers dying, stealing oil, torture, stealing elections, spying on us.
He is going to take the lies out of the high school history textbooks.
I'm on my fourth cup of coffee.
I'm watching out the front window. I've seen a few white hairs pass and some grey hairs, but no candidates.
You know this guy who used to be in government has just said he thinks we will be in a dictatorship by this time next year rather than in the middle of an election, if we don't impeach Bush.
He's not some old guy my age living across the street here in an apartment without air conditioning above the Colostomy Clinic.
He was in the Reagan administration and he says this stuff.
You believe that?
The radio just said that we are in danger of terror attacks. They even play some terror music to go along with the news. Do-do, do-do, do-do.
You believe that?
Ol' Don said he woke up the other morning ... he was in his yellow lawn chair under the tree in his backyard ... and, get this ... all he saw was eyes and a mouth wide open, and a finger pointing at the shed where the mower sits.
He couldn't hear because he had wet toilet paper stuck into his ears so he could nap with the neighbor kids close by playin' kickball in the church parking lot.
This huge hand could have been red, wet, from doing dishes. But anyway, it splattered water on his nose and in his eyes, and then it knocked him out of the chair onto his grass.
And before he passed out, he saw what looked like ol' Lucille's backside headin' back into the house.
He mows every day now. I guess when you're scared you do crazy things.
I haven't seen any terrorists 'round here. I went for a walk last night. You sure can hear the locusts. You can't see them either. I wonder if it's one making all that racket or if there's a bunch of them up there.
I really like it when the train comes through and the engineer just blows that whistle.
Makes you think things are really happening. The train doesn't stop. Headed somewhere else, maybe somewhere important.
Margie comes over and holds up the glass pot to ask if I want more.
I put my hand over my cup and shake my head a hundred times.
No, no. I'll have to pee all day if I do.
But what I might do is walk on up to that bench outside the new Taco John's on the highway.
I think I'll sit there for a while.
There's lots of traffic on about lunch time.
Some guys in here'll tell you the United States government is not the real terrorist. Those are the same folks who have been telling us for the past ten years there is no such thing as global warming.
Well, I better go if I'm going.
I just hope I can get up the hill before I sweat to death.
Now, this is from "The American Dream."
It's about a town not so far from here. I think that's kind of interesting.
As I recall, in the summer 1968, Robert Kennedy came to Norfolk, Nebraska.
He was going to speak at the railroad station that these days is a flower planter or native prairie grassland display, I think.
I remember going down there myself, on my bike. I was just out of the eighth grade. I wanted to go to pick a saying out of his talk to live by.
I sat-stood on my banana seat and listened and watched him stand at a podium and gesture with his thumb inside his first finger and I heard that Shaw quote that I thought was Kennedy's at the time.
... "but I see things as they never were and say why not."
Sounds like a plan for someone who wants to try writing novels, I suppose.
At the time I was a pretty mediocre paperboy.
We lived through John Kennedy's murder and Martin and Bobby, barely.
Most of us still breathe.
I remember the night I went to sleep while we weren't sure yet if RFK was dead. My mother said that for him to recover was "what this country needs."
Well, we didn't get it.
Through my adult life I have breathed through a number of presidential elections and watched the Democrats get creamed with such sorry candidates that it was all a person could do to drag himself down the church basement steps to vote and then run home to gargle with Listerine.
"Back then" we believed Oswald did it.
We believed in the Warren Commission, Johnny Carson, the Catholic Church, the Norfolk Daily News, and the Omaha World-Herald, because we were brought up to believe. Go Big Red.
We believed in the network TV news anchors - and anything on radio news was true, of course. This isn't Russia.
Now we have the Internet and we don't believe in any of that stuff - we know they killed Wellstone and did the whole 9/11 thing themselves, actually stole elections - but still we drift toward fascism as if on a rubber raft on a lazy Sunday afternoon on the Niobrara River, not having the energy to really care about anything, or even lift up our heads to see where we're heading, just toss the empties into the water and stare up at the sky.
And leave it all to people in Congress who are either cowards or too rich to care or both.
We go to sleep at night without hope.
Bobby Kennedy died.
If any children, my own perhaps, are trying to get in close and hear what I'm going to say, grab something to live by, they might hear, "What time is the game on tonight? Is this enough beer?" But ... there is still some time on the clock. When we die we will be dead for a long time.
We're not dead yet.
Kids, here is what I think.
We should change the national anthem from that firecracker farce we now have to "This Land is Your Land," and sing all the verses.
And we shouldn't stand up like tired robots every damn time somebody plays the other one.
And I know you give it all you've got, but you can easily end up giving your "110 percent" for a tyrant, and that just ruins everything, like those young people now serving in the military for George W. Bush.
We shouldn't pay taxes for bombs or prisons.
We should let any Mexicans who want to come here to come on in, this being a Christian nation and all, Wally.
Any bishops or priests or ministers who say war and bombs and whatever are A-Okay should be sent out to get a construction job.
And the Democratic Party - oh, God, the Democratic Party - should say a prayer and light a candle and do penance and look over those pictures of the folks lining the tracks when they brought Bobby Kennedy's body home.
Stand for something.
Care about something.
Imagine health care and poor children fed and bomb factories bulldozed and prison walls torn down and say "why not."