Is This Heaven?
by Mike Palecek
This is Iowa.
Where "Hip Hop" is the new joint replacement wing on the nursing home.
And where the entire state is eligible to park in the handicapped zone — because we love war.
Writers often have a person in mind when they write.
I don't know how that happens or how we choose that person. But I think we imagine that person liking a particular sentence, or not liking, and hoping to please.
I think we also start out imagining things like being famous, like Hemmingway, or about one million writers in The Large Book Of Hot-Shot Writers that has everybody in it but us.
The other day someone posted a comment on one of my articles on Op-Ed News.
Nothing to add to try and further your line of thought.
I just want you to know that I am reading your articles and I enjoy them and your perspective very much.
It seemed important for me to simply tell you.
Tell you Thank You.
Please keep up the good work and the great articles.
That's all the thanks I get?
You know, you really do imagine yourself writing for "the masses" — for a whole bunch of people. But for a whole bunch of us, that just isn't going to happen. And it's an awful lot of work, years and years, to have put into this and not have a whole bunch of people reading what we wrote.
But I was thinking, what is wrong with having spent all that time for one person to have enjoyed it.
Nothing is wrong with it. Everything is right with it.
Just imagine someone dusting off your old paperback, "How Brown Was My Rhubarb," and taking it off to a corner of the library and spending the afternoon lost in this world you have created — just as you had imagined when you spent a whole fall, winter, spring and summer sweating and swearing and worrying and lovingly piecing this 100,000 piece puzzle together.
I'd say that's more than a plenty.
Recently I asked a friend in Des Moines to send out a note about my books to his list of contacts around the state.
I appreciated that he did that, but I had to notice what he included in his synopsis of who I am.
He said that I was a friend of the Des Moines Catholic Worker "despite my run for Congress."
I think that is hilarious.
It's just like someone from the left. I do it myself all the time. I applaud that person's work with lepers and shutting down the private prison industry. He gets my praise despite his evil love of arena football.
I know the Catholic Worker movement frowns on organized politics and voting and all.
But I remember as I was driving around the state back in 2000, sweating in my little car, trying to talk to mostly conservative folks about prisons, and the military and immigrants — well, I already knew my old friends in the peace movement didn't think much of my running for office.
But I also had to smile to myself — I was out working on my own so I was the only one there — that one reason there was nobody out there with me was because it is just a tremendous amount of work and it's much easier to say it doesn't matter.
"Sicko" is kicking butt, right? That is super. Though it's still not around here yet.
Now we need some movies to embarrass the shit out of folks who think a $1.50 raise in the minimum wage every ten years is enough, and somebody to make a movie about Iowa Congressman Steve King and his persecution of Mexicans, and the general attitude in the United States about immigrants — how we let them die in the desert and scold them for having the audacity to want to live.
I'm waiting for Harry Potter the book and the movie. Should be pretty cool.
I like the openings and all the setting and the new things she throws in.
Toward the end they all follow the same path toward the pat conclusion and I lose interest.
But the beginnings are awesome.
There are over 700 U.S. military bases around the world. And yet nobody in America thinks we have an empire.
["The Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories." — Chalmers Johnson: http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0115-08.htm]
Nobody knows that we extended our "manifest destiny" to include the whole world, solely to allow our corporations to sell more stuff. And we killed and will continue killing to sell our stuff.
You gotta know the territory.
I just watched "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib." [NetFlix. "Sir, No Sir" is on the way, even as we speak.]
I wonder how we are going to keep it in our minds, to remember what scum is Donald Rumsfeld, is George Bush, is Dick Cheney, is Colin Powell, is Karl Rove.
We will forget.
We've already forgotten The Sopranos.
And some day the Sunday Night Baseball announcers will point out one or all of them in the crowd and say they were great, honorable men, and nobody will deny it.
In the film "Severe Visibility" by Paul Cross there is talk about the possibility that it was a missile that hit the Pentagon on 9/11 and not an airplane.
There is footage of a missile, with little wings at the back, maybe it's a Cruise missile, I'm not sure.
I saw one of these out in South Dakota. It was either the 1980s or 1990s. I realize that's a big bunch of time, but I don't think the timing is important.
Ruth's parents used to live on a farm eight miles between Menno and Freeman. I would often either go for a run or a walk down the gravel road a couple of miles to this black dirt, soft, luscious road heading north for one mile. Dude, I needed my space.
One day I was walking along and I saw this thing coming toward me, not toward me, but heading over the field next to me, at a height of a tall tree plus maybe a machine shed on top of that. When it got to me — it headed straight up, did a loop-de-loo and headed off on a straight line, maintaining the same altitude, off in the direction of Yankton.
It was not an airplane, more like a missile. How could it be controlled like that? Like a toddler was standing nearby with a remote control making it do the loop-de-loo?
And if there was not a talented toddler nearby, how would those controlling it know not to crash it back into the ground after the loop, but to make a perfect dollop and head off?
I told Ruth what I saw. The conversation lasted about negative five seconds. And that was that.
I have thought about it, but just to wonder what the "h" it was.
Like I said, I don't even know what decade it was that I saw it.
If you write you probably come across things every once in awhile that you wish you could steal.
My all-time favorite was written by Tom Ryan.
Tom is a naturalist and manages Oxbow State Park in southeast Minnesota, near Rochester. In the early 1990s Tom wrote a column for the small paper Ruth and I owned, The Byron Review.
Tom once recounted a true story about being in confession as youngster.
He and a friend sat on both sides of the priest, and Tom could not help but hearing his friend's litany of sins, all the things he had done that he was confessing.
The other boy's sliding door closed.
The priest turned to Tom's side, opened the little sliding door, and Tom said, "I was with him."
When 9/11 happened I remember reading it all in the Sioux City Journal because I had an early morning route. Ruth worked in the dental office in Sioux Center, and I think I was trying to write a novel, and maybe take care of Emily and maybe I mowed the lawn and washed some dishes too, maybe.
I wrote "The Truth" because to me it was all lies.
Well, we know so much of it was lies by now, but then, when it was on TV and you were maybe around a bunch of people who worshiped George Bush, you had to pinch yourself and tell yourself this is really happening, they are lying to the American people all over television and the newspapers and the radio — and everyone is believing it.
It helped me to write "The Truth" and I did receive some nice comments. There were about one hundred copies sent out for review and maybe one or two came back — that is were actually reviewed — and two or three folks also wrote notes and saidhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.bold.gif they liked it.
That was awesome.
From "The Truth," published by Writers Publishing Cooperative of New Hampshire.
And I Laugh
There's a photo on the Internet that makes me laugh.
A little brown boy holding a silent scream forever in four-color.
The horrified little fellow now has no arms or legs, or brothers, sisters or parents, and I laugh out loud.
I laugh at the Marines, being all they could possibly be in God's creation, at their tough-man commercials. The Army of One. What a hoot.
The rough-guy coaches and players who let this boy die — what comedy watching them feel strong while letting the real battles be fought by little guys with sticks and bicycles.
The boy has a bandaged head.
He looks so scared his hair might turn white, as in a Hitchcock film, and it sort of makes me chuckle.
I laugh at the ministers here in town and here on this TV saying bless our troops as they defend our freedom.
I laugh at the well-schooled and coifed newspaper columnists with their earnest close-cropped photos in four hundred papers read by forty million people in forty million cities.
And I laugh.
The boy is flat on his back on dirty cement, with his stubs hastily wrapped in Ace bandages, surrounded by the world trying to get a look, by photographers and people on their way to work and out to dinner.
We are nothing.
Because this boy now has no arms.
Nothing we will do today will mean a thing because we have ripped the arms and legs from this boy as if he were a fly and we are us.
This boy who could be my boy, lying there at the feet of the world and the world looking the other way.
Give us what we deserve.
If you are a just God, rain down fire and hell upon our heads. Lightning bolts upon our backyard decks and rivers of excrement down our smooth, well-scrubbed streets.
Please, dear God we pray.
When I awoke this morning I thought it essential to the world order and being right, and a good person, that I shave, help out with the dishes, be on time, and drive on the right side of the road.
Do a good job. Be pleasant.
But now I just can't stop laughing.
The world thinks it still matters, and that's kind of funny in a way.
There, the flag flying over the Catholic elementary school and the yellow ribbons tied to the light poles on both sides of Main Street.
Stray cats wearing yellow ribbons around their necks, roaming the night, looking both ways before crossing the street, as if it mattered.
You are never so wrong as when you damage a young boy.
We sit down here like the Who's in Whoville celebrating the coming of War Season while this boy lies on the cold floor.