The Peapacker Papers
(Meditations On Modern History)
[Narrator Note: The dates that follow are important, though they need not be memorized. You might want to think of them as rungs on a ladder that stretches from the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first. Some are weak and could break so be careful. By the way, I’m six-foot, three and wear wire-rim spectacles.]
“The Fifties were to family values what Dante is to redemption, a good story. There are things we desperately want to believe about those times but, man, those people – the evisceration of Germany and Japan complete, North Korea just being zeroed-in on – wanted to fuck anything that moved, including Mamie Eisenhower, their own kids, or the Vietnamese. Rock and roll developed in the mid-fifties as a purely defensive way for the younger generation to scare the older one away because they were scary people. It worked.” (Cf. “A Beauty Bath For Your Toes,” Ladies Home Journal, December 13, 1966)
One day a small boy was taken to the White House to meet the president. The president was an attractive woman of fifty-five with braided hair that reached to her waist. She encouraged the visits of children to her office and greeted the boy wearing a smock, athletic shoes, and latex gloves. Her secretary announced the visit and escorted the boy into the president’s office. “Hello, small citizen,” the president said. The boy, not at all charmed, said, “Is it true that you work for me?” “Oh, absolutely,” the president said. Her manner was that of a cricket about to eat a flea. “Then come with me,” the boy said, whereupon he led her out of the office and into the street, then into a long walk to a part of town where the old dress shops had become taverns, and old jewelry stores now sold tacos and noodle soup with fish pieces, black-eyed peas with chopped hominy. Two young girls were standing in front of a huevos and sopes shop, girls the boy thought must be cold since their dresses were well above their knees and the muscles were bulging out of their chest and their feet had only the barest of shoes on. The young boy knew they were For Sale girls, but when he asked the president why they were out there doing that, the president said, “They didn’t study very hard in school.” That made sense, since he knew there were always dire consequences when you didn’t work hard in school. Then he pointed to a tall building where a lot of people lived and he said to the president, “It’s dirty in there. The people who live there don’t like it.” The president said the people could always move, that this was a free country. Then he took the president into a small house where he often played. A number of people were in the house and he told the president they were sick because they were always giving themselves shots and taking pills. Sometimes they cried and it was all very sad to see, even for a kid. The president said, yes, it was sad, but what could you do?
Why The Future Will Be Like The Past
Whatever you need right now is fine with me. I don’t recommend lovemaking here because you’ll lose the story line. A cigarette would be okay, maybe a j-rod or a few sincere thoughts on the Virgin Mary. Okay, back to work.
They got on a plane next and flew to Afghanistan. The small boy showed the president people who lived in very small towns and had nothing to eat except groats and beans. “Nutritionally, that’s not bad,” the president said. They went next to a special hospital for people who’d had various body parts removed by the government – a different government, not the current one – and who could now do very little as far as making an active contribution to the world. Once their wound spots healed, they would have to sit on the street where the desert winds would blow on their faces and make them highly photogenic to visiting photographers. Often, street urchins offered to guide the photographers to people. They would say, “Pulitzer Prize, guaranteed: much asymmetrical scarring, deep green eyes.” The president, a compassionate woman called by her intimates Dubina, touched some of those victims and said, “There, there,” which, given the difficulties of translation, came out as, “Go away, go away.” In Africa, the president saw children whose bellies were bubbled out by unfriendly proteins, and in India she saw diseased men and women licking the spit of passersby off the street. The city paid them for doing that. “All can help themselves if they want to,” the president told the young boy. In the factory towns of China they saw beautiful young women with faces blackened by sooty air and they listened to children with the coughs of old men who’d smoked unfiltered cigarettes for fifty years. “Without these factories, child, these people would still be following water buffalo through muddy fields, getting buffalo poop between their toes and suffering bad sunburns.” The young boy was afraid the president was incapable of seeing anything bad in the world. He thought everyone should try to stop the bad things that happened. But if they couldn’t see them then that was too bad. At the very least, he thought, they shouldn’t be presidents and governors and policemen and teachers and stuff like that. Still, he knew he was only a kid, if a precocious one, and there wasn’t much he could do. At the end of the visit he thanked the president for her time (they’d been gone two weeks), and told her he’d be back some day when he was grown up. He said he’d probably have to have her shot, but then world peace and the improvement of life would come shortly after that.
Security for toy soldiers ($1.69, bag of 100), protect from the sun. If dug in on fine lawns, don’t retrieve. The more toy soldiers you have, the better you’ll feel. Your friends will look up to you and you’ll be popular. Try to remember how this is at age 7; later, you’ll want to know.
It has often been thought that toy soldiers teach manliness. They do not. They teach logic, often geometry. The deployment of troops (plastic or otherwise) is also similar to flower arranging, perhaps painting: there is art in combat – discovery, elucidation, enlightenment. Feng shui makes sense in the placement of land mines; it is not relevant to the cluster bomb. Holding logic and art in one hand, though, is like trying to squash a slug with your fingers.
This was a time when people were gloomy about the treatment of disease.
Before going on, though, here is a nice insult: If you had brain surgery, it would have to be done by a proctologist. I said that to my boss one time - joking – but she had no sense of humor. Guess what happened?
Medical research had brought about many preventives, with inoculations almost eliminating such things as diphtheria, smallpox, and tetanus, but polio was still the scourge of children, as was ringworm. If you were exposed to polio you received a shot of gamma globulin in the spine. It hurt. Ringworm was discovered under a black light in the principal’s office. If you had it, they shaved your head and applied ointment. The gamma globulin shot didn’t hurt as much as having your head shaved. The lotion also had a horrible smell. (Cf. “Whatever Happened To Estes Kefauver?” Life Magazine, July 27, 1953)
A gentle birth could still be marred by the diagnosis, blue baby. The hospital surgeries, too, were filled with the toes, feet, and legs of diabetics whose ailment resisted control. Cancer was the worst. If you had it, you had an operation. After the operation the doctors would always say, “We think we got it all.” Then you died. (Cf. “We are Not To Blame: The Oscar Mayer Company Fights Back,” Field & Stream, Philip Morris archives, date unknown)
1957 (et al)
We weren’t all that shocked when we found out that Ed liked to make lampshades out of human flesh. ‘We,’ by the way, was myself and Dennis and Daniel, twin brothers in St. Joseph’s Parish, the three of us altar boys, paper boys, and boy scouts. There was a lot of boy in boyhood back then.
Anyway, we’d had inklings of similar atrocities during the Nazi years, so this hand-me-down of the late fifties seemed all of a piece with an adult world that didn’t seem to have a lot to recommend it. Ed, we’d heard, ate people, too, and, most intriguing of all, had sex with them in their graves. Our emerging sexualities had a problem with that as we conjured up a great waste of something – exactly what we weren’t sure.
Still, Ed was having sex and we weren’t so we had to give him something on that, maybe a point or two, although he quickly moved back into the debit column when one of us found the story of how Ed had tailored a full-body suit out of women’s flesh, complete with breasts and that. As altar boys, scouts, and even paper boys with our big bags emblazoned with Chicago Tribune or Aurora Beacon News we understood uniforms. We liked uniforms. Having little sense of self or identity yet, our external labelings worked just fine. Ed, though, we couldn’t understand what team he was on and that set us back a bit. We were still daring each other to kiss a girl. We couldn’t imagine wearing her.
Chuck was more understandable. Chuck had a girlfriend named Carol. They lived in Nebraska and, by all accounts, it was clear they were well into carnal amenities. Neither of them were gorgeous and that was good to know. Being gorgeous was a big deal back then – a big-time professional wrestler was named Gorgeous George – and we needed to know it wasn’t a necessary condition for the carnal life.
When we found out, however, that Chuck had killed Carol’s family, and then the two of them went on a trip and killed maybe a dozen more people, we began to have serious questions about doomed love and desperate sex. If we weren’t doomed, we were a little desperate, but we certainly did not want to be cooked in the electric chair and that’s what happened to Chuck. Carol always maintained she’d been kidnapped by Chuck, but we always had an inkling that wasn’t true.
We boys eventually parted, but it’s funny sometimes the things that can bring you back to your childhood. Dick and Jack both did that, both of them Chicagoans, although Dick was a merchant seaman who wandered the world and was privileged to make a living at it.
“They weren’t having a good night,” Dick said when he was asked about the eight young women he beat, stabbed, strangled, and raped in their shared apartment in Chicago. Later, the state of Illinois provided him with hormones in prison so that he could grow the sort of breasts that would please his lover. He did, too, and there’s film out there that shows him pretty well stacked. I could imagine Dennis and Daniel and I scratching our heads over that one. As far as we knew, there was no shortage of breasts in the world, even if access did seem to be a perennial problem.
Jack, though – Jack was a clown, a real clown of the sort who goes to children’s hospitals and birthday parties wearing a bulbous nose, huge shoes, and fuzzy hair. Had Dennis and Daniel and I still been together we would have thought immediately of Bozo the Clown, a greatly popular entertainer on Chicago’s WGN-TV. Some people, it was said, got tickets for Bozo’s show right when their babies were born so that they could get in some four or five years down the road.
The gay life, however, was not of much concern to us. Aside from the occasional comparison of our developing units, we thought mostly of girls and, if we had a few kids in the scout troop who were (or would be) gay, that was no big deal. In that part of the scout oath where we vowed to be morally straight we saw nothing of sexuality. We saw an imperative of forthrightness and plain speaking and, given all the twists and turns we were seeing in our slowly developing awareness of the world, being straight sounded good.
Perhaps Jack had had no such understanding friends in his scout troop or school or childhood. Perhaps he was something he didn’t want to be and that was why he lured thirty-three young men and boys into his house for sex and then viciously murdered them. He even buried them in his yard and in the crawl space under his house. I don’t know anything about Jack’s neighbors, but you have to wonder if it’s always good to mind your own business.
This is all about how life used to be. It’s fictional, however, so what the hell. Truth is, it’s hard to know if the distinction between fact and fiction is even important anymore. People see a can of Coke, a Brillo pad, a Trojan condom in a movie and they think it’s a true movie. That’s why there were so many difficulties about the events of September 11, 2001. Never before had people seen such a true movie. For writers, that’s okay. Our characters can say things like, “Give me some Absolut and a Dole lemon,” but the lie is still being held in the hands, be it book, magazine, even an electric reader box. It’s on the internet, however, where danger lurks. People on the internet believe they have found truth when it’s only a movie, and many of them – the counts are high, think of gigafolks – have never thought about truth before. Unfortunately, the internet is not a phenomenon. It’s an epiphenomenon. If that makes no sense to you, keep an eye on your spouse.
This is the year of Advanced Algebra and Latin II. Through abstraction, thus, the meaning of life can be seen. One of the dumber girls in class used to talk about her boyfriend’s intesticles. Today, she’s president of the Park Board and probably smarter than she was. Our house had been built by my Finnish grandfather and would later be reborn in a short story called, “Jim.” I decided to memorize “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. I was not above communing with Nature in her visible forms. Her name, I believe, was Pam.
Rene Descartes – Essential. Even monsters must have links to the barest scraps of consciousness. Or, as most teenagers learned to say back then: Hoc est enim corpus meum. Hoc est enim spiritus meum. Oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god!
The Latin Mass – As Plato once said, change the music and you change the society.
Lenny Bruce – Famous comic who was not funny. He showed, however, that if you didn’t mind getting your ass kicked in the name of freedom, you could stand up to anybody. As patriots go, he was cool (as we used to say). He was right up there with Jane Fonda. He also died young. She didn’t.
Hugh Hefner – Founder of a magazine, Playboy, about which people used to say: “I never read the articles; I just look at the pictures.” Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” gave anyone permission to do anything, largely because it was unread. Hefner gave birth (not literally) to Larry Flynt, who in turn gave birth to the First Amendment – strange bedfellows, but it was their motto of sorts. Cherish them. (Cf. “Goofy Heroes Who Made It Work,” G. Wuori, The Smithsonian, July 4, 1999)
Che Guevara – brought about a casual style of dress; taught that by going into the hills and camping, social change can be brought about; motivated an entire generation of graduate students to grow beards (males only) and wear jeans. By the way, guerillas still do this sort of thing in various parts of the world, providing a great deal of amusement and training for the military. It brings to mind the stuffed bear in the old time carnivals that would strut madly back and forth while being shot at. If the shooter hit the bear, he or she won a prize. That still happens in the military. (Cf. “Nothing Scares Your Parents More Than Your Copy Of Marx’s Capital,” by G. Wuori, Boy’s Life, March 4, 1970)
Bill W. – ended the horrendous ontological grip of the tripartite on human knowledge by showing that all things ultimately reduced not to threes, but to twelves. (Cf. “Exodus 20: Were There Really Twelve Commandments?” G. Wuori, The Watchtower, October 10, 1988)
Marilyn Monroe – sometimes the saintly need do no more than just exist. With Marilyn, America rediscovered the tit, and even women thought they – tits (note: this is a contraction of ‘teat’ and is not, strictly, interchangeable with ‘breast.’ This is an area, however – aesthetic carnality – that rarely works well with strict definitions) – were more fun than finding new things to do with Jello Brand gelatin.
James Dean – Minor screen star who convinced a generation of American males that if they can look like someone else, they can be someone else, which means that most American males of a certain generation are not what they appear to be. (Cf. One Cloud Laughingstick, G. K. Wuori, Ph.D., The Brylcream Papers, University of Metral Pendawi Press, 1990)
Philo Farnsworth – not only the inventor of the television, but responsible for bringing to the masses the visual image as the bedrock of life. Without images, ideals are not possible. The masses, thus, become idealistic and want what the masses always want: more.
Information is under control (where it belongs – cf. epiphenomena (e.g., We’ve begun putting all we know in the same place as are located our entertainments. That’s why this whole thing you’ve been reading is a short story, a fiction, even though a lot of it is actual knowledge, certifiable by, say, A.J. Ayer, G. E. Moore, C. S. Peirce; yet, perhaps you’ve laughed, perhaps cried, perhaps squeezed your honey’s gazoogles and even had some fun – that’s not your typical tutorial)); thus, knowledge is forced back from facts and must once again become a matter of wisdom, insight, understanding, intuition. Mysticism, cathartic seminars, psychic hotlines, Pentecostal upsurges – all may well be on the horizon. Keep in mind, though, that it was the horizon that once led people to think of the earth as flat. It may be good to avoid horizons for a time. The short view isn’t always bad.
The Main Point
I sing the mind electric! Actually, as a former ham radio operator (K9WPJ) I don’t trust electricity one bit. One time I grounded my lips through my microphone and forgot all of the Finnish I knew. I haven’t been able to speak Finnish since, which might not be all bad since it tends to make you whistle under your tongue.
Someone once asked me why I refer to these papers (yellow unlined, yellow-lined, sticky notes, napkins, doobie wraps, parking tickets, gum wrappers, unpaid phone bills, etc.) as a story, as fiction. It’s because someone else once said to me, “You’re a liar! You’re a goddamn liar!”
She was right.
“We were Cinderella and we were Bambi. We were James Dean and John Wayne (we were never, ever, ever Charlton Heston), both before and after the Vietnam War. We were golden until we discovered diamonds and we were diamonds until we discovered platinum. We walked on the moon and reinvented music. We transplanted hearts, kidneys, lungs, livers, and entire bowels (giving new meaning to the phrase, ‘Kiss my ass.’). We smoked, drank, enveined, and encapillaried anything smaller than a healthy beagle. When that period was over we decided to reinvent the stock market. That was fun. We created more wealth in ten years than the world has ever seen, and gave it all the permanence that wealth is supposed to have. We believed, and will always believe, that Richard Nixon was a crook, and that Ronald Reagan was a Baggie (our container of choice). We do not believe it is wrong for a president to get blown in the Oval Office, but we do believe it is wrong for a president to govern in secrecy.
The plastic soldiers were $1.69 for a bag of 100. That was a fair price to pay. It has always been a fair price to pay.
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