We’re in the midst of a drought of Biblical proportions here in flyover country and, strangely, my mind is on broken pipes, broken levees, and broken everything. As Bob Dylan put it, we’ve got “Broken hands on broken ploughs, broken treaties, broken vows, broken pipes, and broken tools.”
This all started for me last week. Nancy and I were in Kansas City. We spent part of our last morning in the big city wandering around Westport. Our primary purpose was to trade some of our books at Prospero’s Bookstore. We had two bags of them.
We arrived in Westport at about 9:30. Prospero’s wasn’t open yet. The guy cleaning up in front said they would open at about 9:45. So, we made our way from storefront to storefront along the street, reading menus and flyers. As we passed by one shop the following blurb, nestled between two “we are the ninety-nine” placards caught my eye: “When the people clamor to be shielded from reality, when they praise the government for keeping things from them, when they choose to conduct their lives within the limits of whatever fantasy the government supplies, then they are no longer consenting to be governed, they are begging to be ruled.” The quote was from Michael Ventura, a New York City native who has been writing a column titled “Letters at 3AM” since 1983. It’s currently published by the Austin Chronicle.
We made our way to the next storefront, which was an Indian restaurant. My mouth began to water as soon as I read the words “Mulligatawny soup.” But I couldn’t shake Ventura’s words. As I ambled along I couldn’t find myself agreeing 100% with him, but I couldn’t say he was all wrong, either. “There’s got to be some happy medium in life, some place where harmony and diversity do more than co-exist or make demands on those we disagree with. There’s got to be a place where we can consent to be governed without finding ourselves begging to be ruled.”
Prospero’s opened right on time. We browsed around for a bit and then began negotiations in earnest with the owner. “We’ve got some books we’d like to trade.” He paused for a second, then made his counter offer. “I hope you’re not wanting cash for these books. I’m broke.” “Nah,” Nancy replied, “just a swap would be fine.” With that, he made his final offer. “How about seventy-five bucks worth of store credit?” “Wonderful,” Nancy and I responded in unison. The deal was sealed on a 3 by 5 note card – “Seventy-five dollar store credit for Phil and Nancy Dillon.”
Assuming that our work was done, we started to leave. But, before we could, he asked an odd question. “Are you guys interested in what’s going on in this country?” I told him we were. “What’s your point of view? Is it conservative, progressive, tea party, the ninety-nine, libertarian, radical?” “Conservative,” I said proudly. The hint of a smile appeared on his face. “That’s alright, we can still do business.”
We made a bit more small talk and he apparently decided we were safe to be around. “I think I’m a radical. I just want the powers that be and the government to leave me alone. I guess that make me a radical, doesn’t it?” He paused for a moment, and then launched into the deep. “There are only three things I want – this bookstore, the freedom to grow a few of my “flowers” for medicinal use, and an occasional nude walk around the block at three in the morning.” I don’t want “them” bothering me and I don’t want to bother them.”
He’d made a pretty convincing case to me. All I could think to say in response was, “Whatever floats your boat.”
I think that’s what we all want. We want the same things our founders said they were fighting for – “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What could possibly be wrong with that?
How have we managed to stray so far? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks the moment we sat down for lunch at the Indian restaurant. I think our leaders like things as they are. It’s tea partiers versus the ninety-nines, it’s conservatives against liberals. It’s the have not’s clawing away at the haves. We’re at the boiling point and our leaders seem to be content with that. And why not. As long as we’re at each other’s throats, they maintain their grip on power and do nothing but argue about the price of passage on the Titanic, knowing that when we all hit the iceberg they’ll be manning the lifeboats and the rest of us will have to cast our fate to the icy waters.
It’s time to stop the insanity. It’s time to come together!