There was a big hole in the middle of Hardyville's Main Street. Not an actual hole, mind you (although we end up with plenty of those by the time the last storm of winter has chewed its way through town). It was really just a wide spot where passing pickup trucks could make talk stops.
If you've ever lived in a small mid-nowhere town, you know what I mean. Two ranchers -- neighbors from 30 or 40 miles apart -- spot each other. Their trucks pull up in the street, driver-side window to driver-side window. As their cattle dogs bark greetings and warnings, Nat and Joe or Willie and Kyle go on for five minutes about the weather, damnpoliticians, horseshoeing, damnpoliticians, taxes, regulations, the price of feed, environmentalists, the price of land, and did-I-mention damnpoliticians while the rest of the traffic squeaks around them. In our case, the squeaking traffic nearly scraped the bricks off the Hardyville First Disunited Unmethodical Non-501(c)(3) Church and its nearest physical and spiritual neighbor, the Hell-in-a-Handbasket Saloon.
The mayor and city council, damnpoliticians to the core, ranted as how we'd Never Be Fit To Compete With Metropolises Like Billings or Pocatello as long as we allowed these kind of goings on to go on. They assured us their viewpoint solely reflected the Greater Good of the Community and had nothing to do with the fact that Mayor Pickle was landlord of the church or that Councilwoman Mavis "Carrie Nation" Newton secretly owned the saloon and lost money every time her beer-besotted patrons got their toes run over.
The fact that Hardyvillians found that big hole in the street to be useful didn't enter into consideration for the Powers-that-Were.
Back then, before Hardyville got the sense to get rid of all the damnpols, we actually had to listen to these people. And what they said was that we should Beautify Main Street. Which meant, in short, that we should stick something in the middle of the road that would cost a million dollars or so and that would make it impossible for neighbors even to shout at each other through the new Beautified whatever-it-was. Some far-off government would cover the whole project with an inner-city improvement grant. Or maybe it was an EPA save-the-wetlands grant. Something like that. But it wouldn't cost us a thing. Free money.
Like I say, back in those days we still had a lot to learn.
Somehow, it became a given that the Beautifying Thig-a-majig in question would be a statue. Nobody was quite sure how that came about -- why a statue instead of, say, a birdbath or a line of bobber targets (which would at least be useful). But Mayor Pickle Grandly Unveiled a model he just happened to have had made up of his Pioneer Ancestor (who, amazingly enough, just happened to resemble Mayor Pickle to a remarkable degree). And in his mind that was going to be a done thing.
While everyone agreed that a member of the Pickle family deserved to stand in the street in the rain and snow being pooped on by birds, nobody could quite agree on which particular member of that clan it should be.
So we decided to try something new. We had a town meeting. Pure democracy.
No, make that [DRUMROLL] Democracy.
Hardyville had never been much on democracy, either the small-d or the Big-D kind. We've always been a do-your-own-thing town, rather than a do-what-everybody-else-thinks-you-should-do sort of place. But we'd been hearing a lot of impressive stuff about what [DRUMROLL] Democracy could do for us.
Democracy, as the really big dampols always assure us, guarantees that everyplace that tries it will automatically become Glowing and Pure and 100 Percent Gloriously All-American Free without an injustice or an act of tyranny in sight.
Even if a country has national ID cards, Gestapo kicking down people's doors at night, two million citizens in prison, dossiers on everybody, spies everywhere, twisted tax laws arbitrarily enforced, and secret courts and detentions without trial, and plans for world domination by whatever means it can get away with -- even if all that is so, that country will be Free and Just and Secure as long as it's got [DRUMROLL] Democracy.
So we figured what the heck. If it can work for some third-world country with its capital in a mosquito swamp, it ought to work for us.
So the whole town met up at the Hardyville One-Plex (the only building in town big enough to hold us all). Everybody was there except the wild Young Curmudgeon, who never shows his face in a crowd and who anyhow was sleeping off his latest big drunk at the time. And things went something like this.
First thing, Mayor Pickle put his model statue on display, posed next to it and pumped hard for us to Honor the Spirit of Our Bold -- and in his opinion Astonishingly Handsome And Dignified -- Pioneer Ancestors.
Dora-the-Yalie on the other hand, thought we ought to have a refined composition in bronze representing the three muses of Greek mythology freeing a butterfly symbolic of the soaring spirit of Arts and Letters. And that of course the muses had to be nude to express the unfettered ...
But Mrs. Nat wasn't having anything bare nekkid in her public street. So ...
Councilwoman Newton felt that her ancestor the temperance crusader was a far more fitting example of ...
But big old Marine Carty held out for those bobber targets, no matter what anybody else said.
And on it went.
And on and on and ON it went.
As the hours went by, ranchers started drifting off to hay their horses. Housewives excused themselves to go cook dinner. Bob-the-Nerd remembered he hadn't visited Slashdot in more than three hours. In general, almost every Hardyvillian remembered he had something just plain more useful to do. And finally, with nobody left but Mayor Pickle (and his statue) and Carty (still insisting that a small berm was all it would take to keep stray bullets from penetrating the parishioners of the UnMethodist church), the entire Democratic Electorate of Hardyville got pitched out of the theater and promptly adjourned to the aforementioned Hell-in-a-Handbasket.
There, the Democratic Electorate proceeded to drink and argue and cuss at each other all night.
Finally, at about 6:00 a.m. (since there are of course no laws in Hardyville requiring saloons to dump all their drunks out on the streets at the same mid-night hour), a bleary and fed-up Mayor Pickle, having endured Carty's last Reasonable Proposal that the Electorate could compromise by putting the face of Ancestor Pickle on the bobber targets, blearily blustered ...
"Why, You, You ... You ... A Statue Of A Drunken Cowboy Would Be Better Than Any Of Your Obnoxious Ideas!"
"I'll vote for that," Carty nodded wearily, downing the last of his Budweiser.
"Me too," mumbled the Young Curmudgeon, stumbling in, desperately in search of some hair of the dog. "Huh?"
The majority had voted. [DRUMROLL] Democracy had spoken. And thus was History made.
The statue was contracted out to the lowest bidder, a promising young man from the next county who'd almost passed both an art class and metal shop before dropping out of school. It cost $1,213.32 and we didn't ask who Mayor Pickle arm-twisted into paying for it. If it was tax money, we just figured it was better spent on a drunken cowboy than on a War to Liberate The Oppressed Freedom-Loving People of Antarctica or a study on Sexual Deviation in the Three-Toed Lounge Lizard.
Today we gaze upon The Statue of the Drunken Cowboy in the spirit befitting the work of that Holiest and Most Perfect of the Works of Man: True Democracy.
Yet we sometimes suspect, but never openly admit, that the little fluttering at the bottom of our innards when we gaze upon this Great Work of Democracy feels a lot more like a case of the squats than like Patriotic Stirring in the Hearts of Free Men and Women.