Back on Track - I Hope

Week 76

Back on Track – I Hope!

Well, 2017 has arrived. I can’t recall a year I’ve dreaded and yet had so much hope for. With the Ultimate Farce coming up in about 18 days, there is much to dread. And yet I hope I and my fellow Americans can wake up, ACT, and blunt this disaster to a small, easily-overlooked paragraph on the history textbook websites in future. I have to hope that. We can’t have become so dull-witted and stupid to simply sit back and let it happen.

I know the actions and information-absorbing, -reflecting upon and –spreading that needs to be done 24/7 is one more damned thing to crowd into lives already stressed by the income inequality (which, by the way, will only get worse under the GOP’s Reich), etc., but they are necessary to ensure that we have rights and means live, breathe and speak freely now and in our grandchildren’s time.

It IS that serious, folks. I hope we can all see it before the wounding starts.

I always. Hope.

Chapter Nineteen

Heated Exchanges

There is an unusually long entry in my great-great-grandfather Isidore’s record of CPF affairs. It’s dated not long after the United States entered World War I.

“Mother (his wife Frieda)is not allowed to volunteer to roll bandages or raise funds for the Red Cross until our name change to Farmer is legal. Told her she could roll bandages for my hands with all the blisters I’m getting digging the graves on my own. Meecham and Bruner’s sons have ‘gone abroad’ to avoid the draft. Local boys are signing up or answer draft notices. Only old women and children and broken old men like me are staying home to dig the graves.

“Mother also says she cannot buy cabbage to make sauerkraut. Two months before the baby (great-grandfather Jack Pershing Farmer)comes and all she wants is sauerkraut. Store won’t sell it ready-made no more. Then she says store clerk had to know for what she wanted two heads cabbage. Said she could only have them if she swore oath to make ‘Liberty Cabbage.’ Smart mamaleh, she asks how do you make this ‘Liberty Cabbage’? Clerk says like you make sauerkraut.

“Always it goes in this country at war: change the names or the words, but the narishkeit stays the same.”

It seemed to me that Candidate Kluzky should not be outdone by Spaccone’s town hall. Kluzky needed to announce something bigger, better and with food. Food is always a draw. Given the date, I thought the best would be Summer Solstice Bonfire, Beer and Weenie Roast complete with an effigy of Spaccone to “roast” in a field west of Syracuse on the 21st. In the evening, closer to nine o’clock. On a Thursday, which seemed to be an enticement for those who started their weekend partying early. I left a phone message with the suggestion at the Kluzky headquarters.

Charlie laughed at the idea, and called it “outrageous.”

But damned if Kluzky didn’t announce the idea not ten hours after I suggested it. They used another, grander name: Rally for Progress. But did they give me credit for the idea? You know the answer. This was U.S. politics, parasitic behavior at its best.

The campaign wonks set the time for the rally on the evening of the Fourth of July in an open section of the state fairgrounds. I figured I wouldn’t go. I hadn’t decided if I trusted Kluzky and all his promises. Spaccone made promises, too, albeit largely oligarchic and slightly misogynistic promises. Kluzky’s words were oilier. In the end, I supposed t was, as Isidore said, all the same narishkeit. The voters expected to open wide and swallow the Kool-aid.

Besides hot dogs, even the kosher ones, never agreed with my stomach, and I’d never learned to enjoy beer. So Charlie and I agreed to watch the evening News Buddies’ giddy coverage.

“It’s going to be too hot,” Charlie said. “He’d flop like a half-cooked noodle.”

I thought not, but, to be honest, my mind was elsewhere. The union secretary had called me again the morning of Kluzky’s outdoor business. She asked if I had seen either Varney or Trumbull. I said no. She told me they had been officially declared missing. The morning news would run their photographs in the morning. But it was the union asking for help in finding them, so funds for broadcast appeals and posters were limited. She also said something about solidarity and all, but made sure I understood that the union offered no rewards for finding them.

The Fourth arrived cloudless and sticky. Cars filled the middle school parking lot and lined both sides of Mansfield for the annual Independence Parade up Genesee. Parents shouted at their children to hurry up and why am I the one who has to carry your chair? The Ace Hardware man sold miniature flags for a dollar apiece on the corner and toddlers wailed until their parents bought them each one. The restaurant around the corner put up speakers that blared Sousa marches for half an hour before and half an hour after the parade. And men in clown makeup would roam the sides of the street tossing candy to one and all. The waxy wrappers would take an hour at least to sweep up.

I stopped going to watch the local parade in my teens when it occurred to me that the parade was more local rich people in convertibles, diesel-spewing fire engines and vintage cars than it was bands and flags and other things I associated with patriotic independence. Thinking back that morning, I couldn’t remember a band marching in the parade for years. Not even the high school band, since their director regularly chose the greater exposure of the Syracuse parade.

Charlie and I demonstrated our independence from the organized celebrations by hiding in the front room with the blinds drawn and a huge box fan, which he turned on before I had weighted down all my papers. I forgave him the snowstorm, though, when he scurried all over, picking up the papers and then organizing them into neat piles in subject and date order. We ate lightly and napped deeply in each other’s arms.

The hot day ended in a humidly hot night. I started to agree with Charlie about Kluzky’s chances for a good turnout to his weenie roast. A bonfire probably would keep people away, rather than draw them to it, even if hot dogs and beer were involved.

Still, come seven that night, Charlie had the television on at the announced time to see if and how much the local media would broadcast of the Rally for Progress at the New York State Fairgrounds. I washed up the dishes from a beef stir-fry and rice, praying for a quiet night. A political circus, fine. But nothing more. Dear G-d, please nothing more.

“It’s starting!” Charlie called before I spread the dish towel to dry over the sink’s edge. He’d filled Grandma Rose’s largest mixing bowl with popcorn and was crunching away on handfuls. “Man, he must have a huge war chest to afford this kind of coverage!”

“I think he’s a son of some industry big wig,” I said. I sat down next to him. “They must know all the deep pockets.”

Charlie whistled. “Will you look at all the people?”

Without chairs or air conditioning, and sandwiched between a roaring fire, beer, shaved ice and hot dog vendors, a crowd of several hundreds of bodies stood with their necks craning to see the tall, curly-haired ex-athlete from some school in the state. He stood in open-necked dress shirt, khakis and hirachis on a collapsible stage and barked his campaign ideas into a microphone. The feedback alone forced the crowd, most on their third free beer, back a few steps. Kluzky shot a ferocious look at his sound crew. Dressed in black tee shirts and pants, they scurried like small black bugs to fix the problem.

When he got a submissive nod from the bugs, Kluzky looked back out over the crowd. “Good evening, New York!” he bellowed. The requisite cheer brought a smirk to his face. “Welcome to our Rally for Progress!”

“Good thing he mentioned that,” I said. “Those people thought he was going to do a high wire act.”

“Not funny, Grace,” Charlie said through a mouthful of popcorn.

“It is a true testament,” Kluzky continued his spiel, ”to the good sense and community spirit of Onondaga County that you all came here tonight to share your Fourth of July with me and my hopes for a better government! Or did you all just come for the fireworks?” He winked. The crowd roared. I wondered how many plastic cups of beer and other clandestine bottles in brown bags had been drained so early in the evening. “My opponent – “he waved down the swell of boos – “my opponent and I have many disagreements. But we both want what is best for our state. We all want what is best for our – what?” He turned, scowling again, at a young girl in pigtails who pointed directly ahead of him. Kluzky squinted. “Well, I see we have our ladies in pearls present tonight! Good evening, ladies!”

I don’t know who dropped the popcorn bowl, but it clattered to the rug and sprayed yellow-white bits like broken packing peanuts in a semicircle in front of us.

Naomi parted the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea, with her church ladies and the seven undead behind walking two by two, each one dressed in modest dresses, white shoes and single-strand pearl necklaces.

“Do you suppose that’s battle tactics to surround, special formation or just dumb animals looking for the ark?” I wondered aloud. Charlie shushed me, spitting yellowish flecks of popcorn toward my face. Naomi did not look nervous, nor did she look determined. When a news camera found her face in a close up, she looked dazed.

But, unlike Noah’s animals, this procession had signs: Largely poster board and all hand-written in black permanent marker ink and hand-carried by white-gloved hands, but they held their messages high over their heads:

“Women against voting!”

“Free our daughters!”

“True Emancipation”

Two bore the requisite misogyny cherry-picked from Scripture, but I won’t quote it here.

Towards the back, her doe eyes scanning the crowd and her minions, Ambr’ walked grim-faced, without a sign, her gloved hands folded demurely over the pink patent leather belt around her waist.

Ever ready to catch an “incident” from its beginning, one of the cameramen turned to show the crowd’s response to the ladies in pearls, or “Mothers In Pearls,” as one of the signs proudly named them. Most of the “audience” faces the camera caught on the sides grinned or smirked behind their hands. One of the younger men to the left of the procession swigged beer from a brown bottle and made comments unintelligible to the newsfeed but enough to make his surrounding their friends laugh and leer. Two others had freed meaty hands beginning their reach to grab the younger ladies by the arm, bottom or whatever they could manage.

I did not want to think about what Ambr’ would do if those hands did reach their targets and touch or pinch or grab. I hoped she realized it would be a losing act, whatever she did. If she responded instinctively and attacked the cad, her first public appearance in her crusade would end in panic, some rioting and the inevitable police interference. If she did nothing, perhaps one of her seven would bare fangs and spray living blood, with the results being about the same. Her glaring eyes and tight-lipped smiled told me that doing nothing, however, was unacceptable. Drink was bad enough. But drunken male hand on the breast or buttock of one of her “daughters” would have to be answered. I watched her watch the crowd around them a little longer. Her face muscles warred with each other as she pulled her wary, clenched teeth expression into one of demur trust and innocence.

The little parade approached the stage, the lines parted and formed a line across its length, signs held high with not so much as a pat or a pinch or a “Hey, baby, I’ll emancipate you!”

Ambr’ blinked. She softened her expression. She sought out the women in the crowd with her now widened brown eyes and slightly parted lips, pleading as it were without words for these “sisters” to make sure her ladies would find the candidate unmolested.

Halfway through the crowd, a female voice rose over the crowd, “Shut up, Donnie, and keep your hands to yourself!” An assortment of rude noises and names bounced back and forth through the crowd like a free-for-all style tennis match.

And yet, to the newsfeed’s dismay, no one threw the first punch.

Kluzky walked back and forth across the stage, looking over each one of the signs as the parade settled directly in front of him. He paced a while longer after they spread out in front of the stage. The signs blocked the rest of the crowd’s view of him. Kluzky tried to stand on the balls of his feet, making sure his supporters were still there. His mouth worked as I supposed his brain worked, searching for the right response. Then he nodded and returned to center stage with what now appeared to be his signature smirk.

“Thank you for coming out tonight ladies and giving us all the best demonstration of our First Amendment right to free speech! But I must say, I’m sorry, ladies. Although I have read your petition in the newspapers, I do not support it! I believe in equal rights and equal pay for women!” A loud cheer of feminine support from the crowd. Some of the men raised their fourth beer. “In fact, I want to see more women in the workforce!” Another cheer. “More women in the legislature!” A somewhat weaker cheer and a few snorts and snickers from the men. “I want to see a woman president of the United States!” The drinking crowd considered this for half a beat and then bellowed their loudest approval yet.

“That is not to say,” Kluzky lowered his voice, and tried to bat down the crowd’s volume as well, “that is not to say that I do not respect you ladies and your right to your opinion. I do. This is America and we all can say what we want.” A growl of approval from the crowd and a hiss of disapproval from Ambr’s “daughters.” “But I have to tell you, ladies, I have to tell you that you will not get far in this county, in this state, or in this country. We have come too far to walk back our historical advancement of the rights of women.”

“That man’s full of shit,” I muttered, on my hands and knees trying to clean up the popcorn. “And he’ll probably get elected.” Charlie, also on all fours, picked one arm up to elbow me in the side.

The news never stops. If we all froze and could not move or speak for twenty-four hours, someone would slap together a report about an ant crossing the sidewalk, with analysis as to its motives.

Kluzky’s campaign manager called the Rally for Progress, etc. a “thundering success”. The news buddies explained he must have referred to the applause of the slightly tipsy crowd and then let the weather buddy admit he was mistaken: no rain for a few more days and certainly no thunder.

Ambr’s demonstration received thirty seconds’ mention at the end of the Bonfire report. And they tied it to yet another two-minute analysis of Naomi’s performance at Spaccone’s meeting. It made a sort of 24/7 news cycle sort of sense, if one can call any of that sensible: Naomi was the only name they had to put with a face and therefore the only face to put on this crusade.

However, she had also left the analysts stumbling over what to call this “movement.” They had to have a label. One of the men news buddies suggested Kluzky’s words, “Ladies in Pearls,” suggesting that they should have walked backwards as their modest dress and retro cause would surely do. Susan took exception, noting that the women were in modern dress and had some valid points. She favored “True Emancipation.” The man insisted this “blip on the social monitor” could not use a word so closely related to the freeing of the slaves. Susan countered that they could; freeing women from the need to compete with selfish, pigheaded men. The man demanded an apology and it devolved from there to rivaling a daytime talk show where the audience might well anticipate a brawl on camera.

However, I’d no sooner turned off the impromptu smackdown between the news buddies than Treasurer Meecham called. Or, more accurately, he shouted. He declared himself “furious and outraged” that the President had been bothered about such a “trivial matter” as creeping phlox.

It was the request of a paying customer, I reminded him.

He huffed a moment at that, then changed the subject. “And who gave you permission to mention the Potter’s Field to him?”

I took a moment to picture Meecham standing next to the indigent grave that evening a few weeks ago when the residents evicted the new coffin. It wasn’t easy: I had not seen any of the Board members since my perfunctory interview six years ago. And I still picture the Board the way I saw them that autumn morning. Eight torsos slotted nicely on one side of a huge, heavy and over-lacquered hardwood table. To be honest, I did not know then and I could not say now that these men had legs or lives. Still my imagination stuck legs and expensive suit-type clothing on Treasurer Meecham for the coffin eviction. I supposed his scream would have had much the same little girl pitch to it. He might even have wet himself. “I thought he might like to know there is a problem,” I said to the disembodied voice on the other end of the phone line.

“The President does not have to be bothered with such details!”

“He will have to be bothered if the City files a breach of contract suit!” Screaming at the Treasurer twice in two days. In point of fact, twice in twelve hours. And I still had my job. What a world.

ners to tour the ground in question?”

Well, I could see if my imaginings were remotely correct. “Wonderful. An inspiring idea,” I said. He harrumphed at my flat voice. Perhaps David could provide another eviction to confirm or deny the girly scream? I’d have to get a spare pair of Trumbull’s overalls from the equipment shed in case the other thing came true.

“One of my secretaries will advise as to the date. We will set up the media coverage from here.” Another harrumph; it seemed seasonal allergies affected even the best of us. “I trust you will remember to keep out of sight? Most of the other cemetery foundations have outsourced their caretaking and management. I certainly do not wish to be ridiculed for our out-of-date operations.”

My fingers and brain were nearly numb by the time I hung up the receiver. Treasurer Meecham and whichever Board Members he could coerce to support him. Probably the Chaplain Bruner and any other of the six who had relatives out of work. City Commissioners. No doubt one or more of the Syracuse news buddies. Nosy neighbors. All invading the residents’ resting place.

All I needed was for them to schedule this assault on the CPF for after working hours or later. They’d get an eyeful then! Ghosts, vampires, graves spewing out unwanted coffins, the best we had to offer. I had a perverse craving to see how the news would cover that.

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