Saturday, December 25, 2010

THE SNAKE AND THE NEARLY-EX OLDEST LAWMAN


December 25, 2010

The law falls foul of Fred Wehner who’s hot on the trail of Jesse James. Blood is spilled and a lawman bites the dust
- - -
It was just one little paragraph flushed out of a local paper before I moved to Monroe. Just a couple of lines, really, but they tell that there’s a lawman aged 93 who’s still on active duty.
The World’s Oldest Serving Policeman. He would be a first class talk. The trooper/codger is in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a town that was wide open back in them bad ole days round the turn of the century, yes siree. So he’d be able to spin a good tale for sure.
Truth to tell, three years after that rip-snortin’ much-celebrated shindig at the OK Corral there’d been the same kind of gunplay in Hot Springs ‘ceptin’ more deadly... three killed, three wounded. That was when lawman faced lawman - The Garland County Sheriff’s Department versus the Hot Springs Police, each corrupt force working for a rival gambling concern.
Soon I’m in the Garland County Sheriff’s office, listening to Deadeye Deputy George Brown, a man who was alive back in them wild and wooly days of the Jesse James gang. Why, they even robbed the stage just outside the city limits.
Jumpin’ Jehosophat! I’ve hit paydirt, sure as shootin’!
No I haven’t, for it turns out Jesse himself warn’t with them goldurned James boys at the time. His no-good backshootin’ sidekick Robert Ford had already treated him to a funeral some years afore.
And George cannot quite recall exactly which gunfight he hisself wuz in and which one he only heer’d tell about. But he’s sure some folks got theyselves filled fulla lead. Killed, even. And after a coupla cold beers and a shot of red-eye across the street he finds he can describe the shootout real well fer yuh. That’s if you understand Mumble, the only language in which this old fossil is fluent.
Yet dadblame it if he still cain’t remember if’n the gunplay left him jes’ winged or plugged real bad an’ if’n it wuz a renegade lawman or one of them bushwhackin’ James pistoleros whut shot him, mumble mumble. All this way for that? Great!
However the thang he’s danged certain about, by cracky, is that Jesse lies cold in his grave some sixteen-mile outta town.
“Really? Why, I’d love to find that gravesite. Is it marked?”
Reckon so, opines two-gun George, who’s recently been forbidden to carry any firearm at all by the sheriff, his nephew. It might jes’ discharge in his tremblin’ hand...
“Halt!” BANG! “Dadgum, feller, now Ah shore dint mean fer thet tuh go off the way it did. Ah’m right sorry. Yuh’re still under arrest, mind, an’ Ah’d be mighty obliged if’n yuh kin jes’ stay alive till we gitcha tuh th’ jailhouse...”
George says he felt far more ‘official’ back when he was packin’ iron.
But no matter - we saddle up my rental car and mosey off along Highway 7 into the badlands.
Jessieville Cemetery (yes, Jessie ville, and right there was an omen I failed to heed) is all it had promised to be and less. It’s tiny, overgrown and yet eerily beautiful under a canopy of large shade trees. And there’s nary a headstone. The graves are almost all marked with simple jagged slates, the names and data scratched so lovingly onto them well faded now, difficult to read.
In fact bloody impossible to read, you crazy old galoot, why in tarnation didn’t you tell me before we set out! There absolutely no way in the world we’re going to find Jesse James here.
I’m only thinking the preceding paragraph, not actually saying it because Pecos George is nowhere to be seen now and I’m on a frantic search for him, hoping he hasn’t fallen into an open grave or something.
It’s becoming a real worry when suddenly I spot him: he’s on his knees before a small, blurry gravestone and he’s sobbing. Through his tears he’s mumbling that here lies his first wife restin’ thar.
I hunch down beside him, help him to his feet and say: “C’mon Old Timer, let’s go home. I should never have brought you here.” And so we start to leave.
We’re vamoose-ing slowly, picking our way along the narrow pathway and I’ve got my arm around the old boy, straining to hold him up, for he’s a wobbly old cuss and a plumb awkward one.
And then suddenly I see this snake right in front of us. Dangerous-looking and moving very fast indeed where I always believed these critters just sauntered casually through life.
Which is when I do my notorious Snake Dance.
It’s a variation of St. Vitus’, knees almost reaching the chin. One of my best friends, Dave ‘Scoop’ Horton, dubbed it so when he witnessed the nimble footwork as I chanced upon a family of deadly copperheads. Not exactly ballroom.
Anyway, I’m not waiting for this lowdown sidewinder to strike, so I jump to the right. And, being a good sidekick to Old George I push him sharply out of harm’s way to the left.
Now, it isn’t a very steep hill, but it is indeed a considerable incline. Deadeye, frail and feeble, loses his balance, staggers, topples and then rolls down the swale. Rolls and rolls at a frightening rate of knots. I’m transfixed.
The pesky varmint that drygulched us has skedaddled but I haven’t even noticed. All I see is my new pardner literally biting the dust – involuntarily and physically.
He’s going to bash his head against one of those jagged slates on this Boot Hill. Fatally.
The oldest living lawman is now the EX-oldest living lawman who survived those bloody gunfights if they ever existed and if ever he was in them but met his match in an unarmed British reporter. I’ve killed the geezer.
I’ve killed my story.
Will he come to rest right next to his first wife? Now that would be a story - for the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record.
I’m chasing downhill after the rolling man faster’n a jackrabbit on a souped-up Harley-Davidson but too late to stop him indeed hitting a headslate the name on which is totally illegible and therefore entirely immaterial to this tale of woe.
There’s blood. Quite a bit of it. But not on his head, it’s his hand.
“Whut yuh do thet fer?” He’s alive. Heavens be praised.
“There was this snake...”
“I never seen no snake.”
“There was one, honest. Red and green stripes...”
“They’re harmless!”
Well I don’t know, do I? I’m just this greenhorn from England who thinks the antidote to snakes is ladders.
We’re on the ride back in to Hot Springs. Silence all the way; the cantankerous old git won’t even mumble a response when I try to parley with him. At a country store where we stop for bandages George knows the owner. He displays a badly gashed hand and announces: “This feller pushed me over.” The storekeeper glares at me, orn’ry like: “Whut y’do thet fer?”
Immediately we hit town Sheriff Clay White orders me arrested and thrown in the pokey. The charge: ‘damaging police property’ i.e. his uncle.
Cooling my heels in the Crowbar Hotel, I’m feeling a mite lonesome, to put it mildly. These folks seem like they mean business...
Ten minutes later the sheriff and his deputies return to my cell, fair weeing themselves with laughter, all the more gleeful since I’d slowly come to think this really could be serious. I note that his doddering relative is not among them.
What fun, huh? Are they going to ride me out of town on a rail? Hell no, this Limey tenderfoot could provide them with even more jollity..
“Hey, there’s a hoedown tonight over at the VFW Hall. Why don’t yuh stay over and fly back tuh New York tomorrow?”
But my concern is Deputy George. The old polecat might likely git the rest of them doggone townsfolk all riled up and next thing I know after this joke spell in the hoosegow I’m the main attraction at a joke lynching.
Best to hightail it outta town afore sundown.

ENDIT

© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BLUE BUFFALO’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE


December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas everybody. Yes, Every One. Not just Christians alone but Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, all. This is a time of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind. Even unto folks who don’t honor the birth of Christ or who worship no god whatsoever.
As a festival, Christmas surely isn’t exclusive: I’m certain Santa doesn’t withhold goodies from good children anywhere. He was, after all, Saint Nicholas, a big-hearted bishop in the Greek Orthodox church who lived in what is now Turkey and only later, ahem, emigrated to the North Pole.
Not to trivialize the devotional aspect of Christmas. The Nativity is what this holy-day is really all about – a blessed time for Christians. Yet I do believe that one religion’s season of giving and joy can, and should, be shared with those of other doctrines. Why not? In fact why does religion have to be so alarmingly clannish!
First off, let me say this: I’m not of any fixed persuasion. To those who refuse to read any further I’ll mention my disappointment, because being a free thinker allows me to step back and look at faith as a whole
Plainly said, I don’t believe it’s necessary to sing along with other people if you want to look up and communicate with the Big Gentleman. What’s wrong with having your own private chat with Him? Moreover, I think I’m a pretty laid-back chap, a giver not a taker, law-abiding, love children, animals, my fellow man...
But apparently none of that’s any good.
A neighbor said this altruism doesn’t matter and that unless I’m a member of his congregation I’m hell-bound. His church has 50 worshippers. If he’s right, it means 87,261 other Walton County residents are doomed along with me to an all-too-toasty eternity - and most all are good churchgoing Christians.
Not now, but when it began, Kwanzaa was a substitute religion for African-Americans, skin color alone being the defining factor. Must our good will divide us, each group telling the rest: we’re right, y’all are wrong!
We saw faith fragmented to ghastly effect with Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, with David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and the Heaven’s Gate suicide crowd who thought a spaceship was coming to collect their souls. Hundreds of needless deaths.
And why do some of the most fervent believers despise and destroy those who don’t think the way they do? Millions were killed through religious conflicts over the centuries and we’re seeing death again with the anti-abortion people.
You’re so devoted to preserving life that you commit murder - how much sense does that make? Science and theology may debate the exact point between conception and birth that constitutes a human being, but the doctor’s life that Scott Roeder took – during a Sunday morning church service, no less - was definitely a real one.
Sure, the Right To Life is a noble idea. But what about the right to live one’s life? And yet we have politicians vowing to bulldoze, I should say bully, victims into giving birth to the progeny of their rapists. Incest victims, children themselves, forced to deliver a relative’s baby and raise it.
Raising a child to age 18 costs a quarter million dollars plus school fees. A staunch pro-life friend-of-a-friend says she contributes ten bucks regularly through her church. Not good enough, Kathy: if your conviction is so strong you should bring up that unwanted child-of-rape yourself instead of victimizing the victim all over again.
Blind piety tramples on humanity. We scorn people who express their belief in a different way. So-and-so’s a Muslim, a Hindu. So what? Couldn’t those folks be just as pure of thought as any of us? Does anyone doubt the Dalai Lama is a decent fellow?
No question, violence in the name of Allah or Buddha or Krishna or Jesus goes against anything that I would call religion. Same goes for hatred in general, and yes, like everyone, I do have trouble suppressing my loathing for the bastards who attacked us and would do so again. Yet theirs is a political jihad, nothing to do with faith, even though they say it is. They’re not Islam. Roeder isn’t Christianity.
I guess I’m advocating mutual respect of all creeds. I don’t normally quote from songs or movies but I recall the Austin Lounge Lizards’ great parody “Jesus Loves Me But He Can’t Stand You”. I thought Jesus loved everyone.
And I salute Charles Bronson as Blue Buffalo, welcoming Rod Steiger’s aimless Confederate soldier O’Meara into the Sioux tribe - Run Of The Arrow: 1957 - with the astute observation: “Same god, different name.”
And that’s the key.
Whether we whisper or sing or shout it, in English, Spanish or Urdu, in Yiddish or Arabic, whether we’re in a group or alone, handling holy books or venomous snakes, in the end we’re all praying, in our own way, to Almighty God. Merry, peaceful Christmas, one and all!

ENDIT

© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

HURRY. DON’T THINK. OFFER ENDS SOON.


December 12, 2010

On the carton it says drinking the stuff helps support a healthy brain.
My own grey matter definitely needs to be buttressed after overloading itself all these years with wild and wacky thoughts. Or - gulp! - do they mean it does not support a brain that might be sick or lame?

In any case, Horizon Organic Milk only “helps” - and there’s the catch. How much? My own guess is that there’s almost no help. Because if it were significant they’d be hollering from the rooftops: Become Einstein. Drink Our Wonder Milk!

Therein lies the duplicity. Marketing is meant to confuse and mislead and manipulate. Even when you read the blurb carefully you’re still left in doubt.

Helps stop bad breath? We-he-he-he-hell now, there’s the question. It only has to help a teensy-weensy bit for the company to make that claim. Meantime your putrid mouth is still gassing half of Loganville.

Manufacturers avoid clear assertions that can be challenged. “They claimed it killed all the germs, Your Honor, but I found a muscular one squatting defiantly beside the sink, taunting me.” False advertising. Oh dear. Heavy fine.

So Lysol kills 99.9 percent of them. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s that cunning little 0.1 percent germ that’ll gitcha. Yes, and the deceased are all those fat and feeble germs, relatively harmless and easy to bump off, while the spartan wee bad guys survive and thrive.

But legally the Lysol folks are covered. And here’s where we consumers must be careful, especially with foods and medicines. It’s all in the wording. We have to learn the language of the advertisers, a tricky talk somewhere between truth and lies.

Listerine fights bad breath! Does it win that battle? ‘Course not, or they would say so loudly and proudly and erect a statue to it. Therefore it’s safe to assume that Listerine, though valiant, is actually defeated by its enemy halitosis. Nestle cocoa is the best! Yet that makes it no better than other cocoas in the supermarket. And anyway, whose opinion is Nestle pushing? Could it perchance be Nestle’s own?

Mucinex relieves chest congestion. Sure, relief can be an absolute, the Relief Of Mafeking 110 years ago being the decisive battle in which Britain finally bested South Africa’s besieging Boers. But relieving can also mean just reducing: pain for instance. How much of a reduction? Aha.

At the opposite end of the torso, Beano “works naturally to help prevent gas before it starts”. If it never even started, how could you possibly know whether Beano was working or not?

And again, it only “helps”. This, along with the phrase “up to”, provides full legal protection. Works for up to 48 hours? Yeah, but usually for only five minutes before the agony returns. You could win up to a gazillion dollars – in some other lottery maybe, but not in this one.

The food guys tell us trans fatty acids are murder but they list among their ingredients partially hydrogenated oils which are the same if you take note of the serving size. Foods and drinks need be only a smidgeon less fattening to be labeled “diet”. Sugar-free products contain other suspect sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup.
There is far too much of this marketing ballyhoo to cover in a short article, so here is my own take on a couple more of these dubious claims:

Nutritious (just like all foods are). Made with real cocoa (but only a tiny pinch of it). With the taste of real cheese (only it’s some plastic goo with that chemical Flavor #117 added). Studies have shown (the studies the makers paid some hack or other to glorify). Hurry hurry, offer won’t last long (just until the next offer, which will be a better bargain). And so on.

Nine out of ten doctors surveyed prefer this or that snake oil over Brand X. So where, I want to know, are these ten doctors who were clearly hand-picked to be surveyed? And who, I also want to know, was the dirty treacherous holdout who took the company’s money, promising to prefer its brand and then picked Brand X anyway. Are these the same ten doctors every time and is it that same solitary medical Benedict Arnold?

How many times have we bought something that didn’t work the way we anticipated? It’s because we were induced to believe something that wasn’t really true. We thought “virtually spotless” meant spotless whereas we should have concentrated on “virtually”, which means it isn’t really.

They work on our subconscious. The trick in all marketing is to make us think we’re getting something of far better quality or quantity than it actually is, and so we have to stay alert.

It’s a battle of wits: us versus the manufacturers, and they’re winning. Moreover, these mindbenders have all the time in the world to play with our psyche while we have to unravel their mischief between working and shopping and raising a family. We’ve got to become more cynical.

Some studies I just invented in my milky brain suggest the above paragraphs may help reduce the reader’s spending on all those products that are not at all what they seem.

I really hope so.

ENDIT

© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WHERE THEY’ALL FROM? PROBABLY BRITAIN


December 1, 2010

It’s the snakes that seek to stop them coming back. See, here in Walton County we know about sidewinders and their partners-in-crime the venomous spiders but our visitors abhor the idea of encountering a deadly serpent. Back in Britain these killers are animalia non grata. Not outlawed, just totally absent.

The mere mention of such creatures makes my former countrymen shudder. Guy, a big enough guy, refused to even look at one curled up in an arborvitae, even after my trusty Mossberg had converted that copperhead into a no-head. One year earlier we’d almost stepped on a six-footer just a few feet from the house.

Last week our neighbor JD Shumpert sent us a picture of a diamondback enjoying a lazy day amidst the autumn leaves. Without heat-seeking optics the blighter was impossible to spot.

So when our London city slickers arrive in Monroe and marvel at the pastoral setting in which we live we’re always sure to warn them about Nature’s local villains.

It’s not something they like to hear at the end of a grueling flight. You spend nine hours in the fetal position, and when you’re finally disgorged from the airplane the only difference between that and actually being born is that the pilot doesn’t smack your bottom. Unless he’s Italian and you’re female, but that’s another story.

But then you have face the Walton County predators.

Sheila set foot on our doorstep after her cramped journey in zoo class. It was all coo-ee and hugs and squeals of delight. And then this dear 75-year-old lady broke into an impromptu dance – one with the wildest steps and much too fast for a demure Englishwoman of advanced years. She’d been standing on a mound of fire ants.

These fiendish insects have killed human beings as well as animals; they’re included in our axis of evil, along with the Black Widows, Brown Recluses, Coral Snakes and Cottonmouths. And you don’t see any of them in Britain either. Or the poison plants.

What you do find Over There are the same kind of cheerful folks you get here, eager to please. Most of our guests have already done New York and Los Angeles and until they actually get to Monroe they expect to experience the same levels of rudeness and craziness.

A quick aside here about British friends doing New York. One entered a Fifth Avenue electronics shop, the kind with no labels on any of the merchandise, and inquired the price of a camera. The answer: “How much is it? You tell me how much it is. You go to Macys. You get a price. You come back. You tell me.”

Another, who had the temerity to ask for a receipt for his purchase, was told: “Receipt’s in the bag, blind man.”

It’s different here. Stuart drove out to Jersey and seated himself at Buckeye’s. No, he didn’t order baked possum, barbecued ‘coon or fried squirlies – probably because these country delicacies were not on the menu. But he did keep going back to continue his most agreeable discourse with staff and regular customers.

From Buckeye’s to Buckles, where our pal Annette was charmed by the antics of Craig and his cutup cohorts. The same for Cally, who, with her husband Pat, loved the leisurely quaintness of the downtown area. Their daughter Josephine spent a fun day at George Walton Academy, care of our good neighbor Peggy Jordan.

Ray and Dawn were astounded when the gentlemen at Napa Auto Parts took half an hour patiently tutoring me on the art of welding. Dave traded jokes with our mailman, Randy Malcom, and our dentist, Kenneth Grubbs.

And so it went. And so it still goes. The British are coming, the British are coming... still.

Nine-year-old Rose drove her dad Nigel around the neighborhood in our golf cart to watch the abundant wildlife. And also, after viewing the multitude of fauna virtually ambling up to be hand-fed, guests Tim and Wendy labeled this here “Disney County”.

Like all our transatlantic chums, they have an affinity for Dixie. But they’re bemused by the local dress code: they see half the population clad in camouflage. Why? I tell them that at first it baffled me too. I thought our enemy was Al Qaeda. Turns out it’s the deer.

Yes, the bambis. And arrivals from the Mother Country have a hard time understanding that there are those who need to zap Disney characters to feed their families. It’s part of the frontier way of life that’s still a romantic notion, and therein lies the dilemma.

However they all want to come back despite this and the nine hours as a flying embryo. Some have already returned more than once. They forget about the venomous nasties lurking in the undergrowth and instead remember the friendly folk in this neck of the woods who ask them: “Where y’all from?”

So if you happen upon anyone prowling around the county with a “funny” accent it’s one of our British visitors. Or it’s me.

ENDIT
© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.