October 1, 2006
Banners. Innocent little Banners. Trendy, dippy, artsy-fartsy, and no doubt ecologically sound banners. Fluttering over the main streets of Hardyville. Over Liberty Ave. and Freedom Way.
They fluttered from lamp-posts up and down our pocket-sized business district, waving their message of yuppie prosperity and compulsive civic do-gooderism in the early morning light.
Have I ever mentioned exactly how much I hate do-gooders? What C.S. Lewis had to say about them was right on.
“But Claire,” I hear you saying, “get some perspective. You’re making a ridiculous fuss over a few cute, harmless decorations. What, are you paranoid, Claire? Bigoted?”
Right. Decorations. Harmless? No. They’re the first HIV virus that enters through that tiny bit of torn skin. They’re the first spider mite of the horde that’s eventually going to conquer your houseplants. They’re the first ATF agent who enters your door at midnight, bringing the murderous oblivion of the police state behind it.
Anyhow, you already saw what that sort of civic-betterment thinking led to the morning after I came back from the Hilltop Hermitage.
But how did they get here? Not the banners, I mean. Those people. The kind who move to a place (presumably because it’s better than where they were before) and immediately start improving, and then reforming it beyond all recognition.
That’s what I was wondering as I passed the cafe curtains and the stylish bronze vase at the entry to the new, improved Hogge Troughe Grille and Feede. I was relieved (even if grossed out) to note that some of the gang had begun using the vase for a spittoon.
On my way I spotted Marty Harbibi, sleeping in his pickup truck next to the Statue of the Drunken Cowboy with a Mossberg 12-gauge in his arms. Marty, of all people, our local blow-hard, actually taking it unto himself to guard our one-and-only landmark. I was impressed. He’s still an idiot. But he’s our idiot.
“We just need to give them a little time and education!,” somebody was arguing as I walked into the steamy cafe.
“Yeah, give ’em the kind a’ education you get from a load of buckshot in yer backside!” somebody else hooted.
“Yeah. Or from the application of tar plus feathers plus rail in equal portions.”
“We need to give them a chance,” Dora-the-Yalie said, quietly but firmly. Then she paused to let the next line sink in: “Like you gave me.”
“Well, I don’ know, Dora,” one of the ranchers muttered under his breath. “We let you in and look at the kinda people you brought us.” His companion snickered. Dora couldn’t hear the remark, but she could feel the atmosphere. When she’d spoken, it was as if a Muslim had stood up the day after 9/11 and defended “towelhead terrorists” to a crowd of TV-watchin’, sittin’ down at the barber shop, VFW-goin’ Bush voters.
She fell back against her chair, shocked by the hostility radiating at her.
Nat wasn’t present that morning. But Carty was there, dominating the room as he always does with his big-bald-Marine-ness. But today he wasn’t saying much. I slipped into the chair beside him at the big round table in the center of the room.
“How the heck did all this happen?” I wondered. “I mean, I was gone only two months …”
“Well, it’s as much your fault as Dora’s,” he said, taking a swig of coffee and grimacing at its tastiness. (Being a military man and a long-time patron of the Hog Trough, he’d gotten used to the old
used motor oil coffee and obviously wasn’t adjusting well to the sort of coffee you’d serve to the Seattle set.)
I held my tongue. No point arguing. People were inevitably going to blame me for exposing Hardyville to the world.
“But why? Why here, why now, when Hardyville is everything they don’t want?”
Some of the other guys took a break from arguing about the best temperature for applying tar and turned toward Carty and me. “Well, them people with the funny shoes that’re gonna turn out to be cactus-toed sandals aren’t the only newcomers, y’know,” one of them explained.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I also saw some old friends of mine from Milwaukee. Good people.”
“Right. All kinds of people showed up here. For all kinds of reasons. Some pretty good. Some, well …”
“Problem is,” somebody else sighed, “they’re gonna bring in with ’em everything they said they wanted to leave behind. Taxes, whines, demands, regulations, rules, laws and law enforcers. Sure as God made little green taxpayers, it’s gonna happen. Hell, already happenin’.”
Carty slowly shook his head. “I guess they came because everything — the whole mess out there — finally got so bad. Torture and wire tappin’ and war. Inflation, taxes, and too damn much gubmint. Mebbe somethin’ just reached critical mass. But left, right, or otherwise, we let ’em in. And for good reasons.”
“Yeah. Because they brought money,” Bob-the-Nerd observed, looking up over his laptop screen, cutting right to the chase.
“Yep. Money. Even if it is just FRNs,” one of the guys sighed. “We can use somma that ’round here.”
“That wasn’t the only reason,” Dora insisted, working up her courage. “We’re about tolerance, remember? We’re about encouraging a ‘big tent’ of freedom seekers, even if that means we have to put up with some things we don’t always like. It means we want diverse people to live in freedom, and we’ll dialog and interact with them instead of closing ranks like a bunch of boys in a treehouse. Right?” She glared around defiantly.
Carty broke the tension. “Well, the fact is, we can’t keep people out if they want to live here. Y’all know that. Now they’re here. So, we need a plan for dealin’ with the stuff they’re tryin’ to pull.”
And he, of course, was just the man to have one.
“First,” he said, “we make up a duty roster for guarding the Statue of the Drunken Cowboy. At least one man on guard 24/7, armed with nothing smaller than a .40 S&W, 12gauge, or — if you’re takin’ rooftop duty — .308. Once we’ve got the statue covered, then we mount a pre-emptive strike on their next likely point of attack, which is …”
But at that moment, Nat bolted through the door and demanded, “Have you seen what’s goin’ on at city hall?!”
We all looked up. Come to think of it, I’d noticed lights and a handful of cars down there when I headed for the Hog Trough. But nobody pays attention to city hall any more.
“Well, you better get down there, pronto. Them new people’s up to no good.”
As a man (and woman), the patrons dashed out of the Hog Trough Grill and Feed, waving our promises to Janelle to pay for breakfast upon our return. We exploded out onto the sidewalk and prepared to storm Hardyville’s long be-cobwebbed toilet-seat of our former government.
But it was too late.
They were boiling down the steps of city hall, maybe a dozen Birkenstockers and a handful of middle-class sorts. And they were grinning like the spotted owl that ate the snail darter.
As they came toward us the tall Birkenstocker who’d been in charge at the attempted statue removal waved a sheaf of papers over his head.
“Hardyville,” he announced, “has finally entered the fringes of civilization. We now have …” he flourished the papers at us, “a government.”
Yep. That’s what he said. A government. By some of the people. For some of the people. On the neck of anybody that happens to be in the way.
We staggered to a halt, late-comers plowing into the Hardyvillians ahead of us. Before anybody could choke out, “We have what?!” Chief Birkenstocker went on, smarmily.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You didn’t know about our meeting to re-establish a proper civic structure for Hardyville? How strange. The time, date, and purpose have been clearly posted for the last three days in the city hall rotunda where absolutely everyone could see them.” He smirked. “The people have spoken.”
“You can’t do that,” I protested.
“Oh, but Ms. Wolfe,” the Birker smirked. “We didn’t. You did. It turns out that, back when you people threw your little fit and got rid of the town government … well, you didn’t get rid of the town government at all. The original town charter still exists — and it provides for city government.
“The people of Hardyville,” he went on, waving a hand toward his own companions, “chose city council members to fill the offices that you left vacant, but never abolished. We’ll be in office until the next regularly scheduled elections, in 2008. You can vote us out then if you don’t like us.”
At that moment the flapping of one of the new banners caught my eye. It was just an ordinary decorative banner, as disgustingly cute, trendy, and environmentally correct as all the rest. But in that instant the famous Hardyville wind chose to snap through it. The little banner rattled and snapped in response.
Funny, I thought. It didn’t look much like a battle flag.