"Must support troops.
We support our troops.
We love our troops.
The troops. The troops."
- Looking For Bigfoot, Howling Dog Press
Is This Heaven?
by Mike Palecek
This is Iowa, not quite Minnesota, certainly not South Dakota, and thank God, not Nebraska.
Today's column is being brought to you by "Freedom Foam," that vibrant, young, red stream flowing down the cool mountainside. America, this blood's for you.
Well, I'm sitting here in my kitchen listening to the birds in the trees. Ruth got the lawn mowed yesterday. The sun is out, and I've got two quarts in the refrigerator waiting for D-Day on Sunday.
Life is goood.
And I am mostly patiently waiting for my NetFlix delivery.
I know it's going to be "The Weather Underground."
I sent back "Orwell Rolls in His Grave" a couple of days ago. This is fun. I'm catching up on all the political documentaries I didn't used to think I could get out here on the prairie.
Orwell Rolls is about how the media don't doesn't mean much anymore in the United States. The newspapers and radio and TV stations are owned by the very people they should be investigating.
So the system is broken, by money.
The film "stars" Robert McChesney, Charles Lewis, Mark Crispin Miller, Danny Schechter, Greg Palast. These guys are real journalists, the ones I had hoped to meet when I got into journalism in 1989.
I got out of the Pottawattamie County Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa in May of 1989. I had done six months for trespass at Offutt Air Force Base. I was protesting the targeting of nuclear weapons by the Strategic Air Command - threatening to kill millions, and spending billions of dollars doing it that should be going to fix up the homes and streets in the poor sections of Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Omaha.
Anyway. I went crazy in jail, for some odd reason. It took three doses of Xanax to get me through each day. Post-traumatic stress something-something. Something to do with MCC in Chicago, Terre Haute, Leavenworth, El Reno, La Tuna - getting picked last for kickball, probably all that.
So, I said goodbye to civil disobedience, my career of going to prison for the cause, because it would happen again and again and again, if I went back to jail.
On my release day from Pott. County I shook everybody's hand in the unit, then walked out the front door and down to the park about a block away. I hugged Ruth and went over to Sam playing in the grass, picked him up and we walked away.
No excuse, I could have gone back. I should have. Have you seen the poor sections of Milwaukeee, Cleveland, Detroit, Omaha? A billion dollars, a million - why don't we do something about this?
Anyway, that summer, Ruth had found an apartment in Norfolk and I got a job on a construction crew.
I recall a very hot morning, standing with a rake in my hand, knee-deep in concrete, sweat pouring down my face, pushing the concrete around, trying to not get hollered at.
I stood up and said to myself, I wonder if I could write?
I decided to try journalism. I went back to Wayne State, picked up some more classes, edited the college paper for a semester, then got a job at the Ainsworth Star-Journal in the Sandhills of western Nebraska.
I was excited. A real newspaper job. Ruth found us a house.
She started working in a dentist's office in Valentine, sixty miles away. Everything is sixty miles away out there.
I was the sports reporter, city council reporter, layout person, features editor, assistant press operator, school board editor. I was the reporter.
I had Wednesday afternoons off.
I would go jogging out into the Sandhills for about ten miles, counting the cows and the deer and fox and turkeys and hawks and coyotes and cowboys.
I was still so skinny and depressed that - I could really run a long ways, and I needed to run in order to not konk myself over the head with the heel of a cowboy boot and die.
I covered a calf branding thing way out in the hills, sixty miles from town, drank whiskey out of the bottle with the boys, ate from the spread in the kitchen.
The editor let me start my own column.
The Gulf War came.
I said in my very first column: I Don't Support The Troops.
Whoa there, pardner.
You don't what?
The column was cancelled.
Somebody gave me a veiled threat: We don't need no more Hanoi Jane's.
Hanoi Jane? S'cuse me?
And we hear your wife is going to have another baby.
What's that to you?
Well, my journalism Pinata was now lying in pieces on the newsroom floor.
I found out that the editor was not interested in truth as much as making a forever life for his family.
It was about paying for the new boat and the home and keeping the paper going. It was not about whether war was good or bad. It was not about being a real reporter.
We stayed with my sister in Norfolk, Nebraska, in her basement apartment for a few months. Emily was born. There was a tornado near town that night.
We found our own tiny paper to run in southeast Minnesota.
We won the 1994 Newspaper of the Year award from the Minnesota Newspaper Association and went out of business that same year.
Now, that's the way you do it, dude.
I often wonder what it would have been like to be a newspaper reporter in New York City, back around the turn of the century before the last one. It seems that was the time to be a reporter - all those stories, enthusiasm, excitement, idealism.
There are good reporters out there.
But they have a rough time fighting the money.
And just between you and me - I wouldn't believe anything I read in English in the mainstream media, except maybe the sports section.
This passage is from my novel Terror Nation.
Terror Nation is published by Mainstay Press. I helped to start Mainstay a couple of years ago. There is a guy from West Virginia and a guy from Indonesia also involved.
Several months ago I got kicked out of the band, off the boat, so I'm not a member of Mainstay anymore.
Terror Nation will only be available until July as I understand.
This is Iowa.
Where mourning doves coo, at Hardee's the police drive-through. Dude, they're looking for you.
Charlie Johnson is the main character in TN. Charlie is a former sports reporter for a small Iowa daily. After he retires he begins to write anti-Bush letters to the editor. He is taken to the local mental hospital for a "check-up."
Here is one of Charlie's letters to the Saint Smith paper.
I have a neighbor across the street.
We have watched each other out our front windows for forty years.
Their son played ball in our yard.
Last week that son's boy came home in a body bag in a box in the belly of a big Boeing, back from Baghdad.
That is nothing to "b" joking about.
I am not,
But I will not "b" quiet, either.
I have talked to my neighbors since then, on the sidewalk in front of the house, and again on the side steps of St. Mark's after Mass.
They say Timothy died because he loved freedom.
That's nonsense. He loved basketball.
They say he had his head blown off his shoulders, his legs cut off at the knees, lost his hands, to make us free.
Of course, that's not true. but what else do a heart-broken grandmother and grandfather have to hold on to?
Someone needs to speak for Timothy, perhaps speak to him, to tell him the truth, because we lied to him his whole life.
Timothy died because of us.
We told him it was good to go.
Fr. Cyril, either by his legendary silence, or the flag next to the altar, said it was good to go kill children and call that fighting for freedom.
She never met Timothy, but Cindy Sampson, our new editor from Iowa State, told him the same by the stories she ran, and the headlines and the photos and editorials, so patriotic, so deceptive, so self-serving.
We all told him, go, go, it's a good thing to do.
We whispered, go kill, go shoot, go murder and steal, and we'll all call it "fighting for freedom."
And when we hear in the big city newspapers and TV after thousands and thousands have died that there was no reason to die - we'll dig our heels in the front lawn grass and still call it fighting for freedom.
And when our grandchildren hit the ball into the graveyard and come back and ask us about the headstone with the flag on it and the same last name as theirs - who was that?
We'll bite out tongues and clench our fists and look anywhere but into their trusting eyes, and we'll tell them Timothy died fighting for our freedom.
KGB, The Truth, Joe Coffee's Revolution, Terror Nation, The Last Liberal Outlaw, Looking For Bigfoot, Twins, The American Dream, Prophets Without Honor.