FOCUS/midwest Founded in 1962 by Charles L. Klotzer
Church north of Cape Girardeau, Missouri
SAMPLE ISSUE / FALL 2010
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FOCUS/midwest Founded in 1962 by Charles L. Klotzer
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In FOCUS . . . / Roland Klose
The gap: Black men in the Midwest are losing ground to white men when it comes to earning a living. Why? / Peter Downs
Revisiting “Revolution”: A warning about the U.S. economy, issued more than four decades ago / Roland Klose
Locked out in Metropolis: Honeywell workers learn the high cost of good-paying jobs / C.D. Stelzer
The New Appalachia: How the Midwest’s industrial base was allowed to crumble / Ted Evanoff and Abe Aamidor
Reimagining a prairie: In the Nachusa Grasslands, the Nature Conservancy explores the possibilities / Jeanne Handy
Miner versus miner: Coal operators, John L. Lewis and the federal government crush the Progressive Miners / C.D. Stelzer
The Great Depression: The Dougan dairy farm faces hard times, and prevails / Jacqueline Jackson
Chicago lockdown: Inside the city’s infamous underground stripper parties / R.L. Nave
The “Voice of Egypt”: The first East St. Louis station stayed but a few months / Frank Absher
“A town forgotten”: Cairo never got past the ugliness of 40 years ago / William R. Brinton
The James Gang: How an enterprising promoter resurrected a notorious outlaw / C.D. Stelzer
FICTION & POETRY 65
Hiking through the Shawnee / J. Mitch Hopper
Spam / Lola Lucas
The Upstairs Room / By Shawna Mayer
Celadon / Karen Walsh
Breaking Free / Anita Stienstra
The 1960 Chevrolet / Winston Weathers
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In FOCUS By ROLAND KLOSE The original FOCUS/midwest survived 21 years before it disappeared, in 1983. The magazine never grew beyond a few thousand readers per issue. Officially, it was folded into the St. Louis Journalism Review, a sister publication, in order to fulfill remaining subscriptions. Unofficially, it was defunct. I was just starting my career back then, and worked for both publications. Explaining the purpose of a journalism review was easy: it published stories about media. Explaining FOCUS/midwest wasn’t: Its content was all over the place. Civil rights. Politics. Education. Race. Media. History. Labor. Reproductive freedom. Many topics. It was earnest, high-minded and academic, but limited and today mostly forgotten. And yet, there was something about the publication that appealed to me. I’d thumb through back issues, and discover stories on topics like housing, civil liberties and crime that were relevant to current discussions. Its approach was journalistic, the attitude independent, the values progressive. Though there were a few ads – mostly trade for hotels in the region – it was clear editorial content was really all that mattered. It was hard to detect any serious effort to make money, other than infrequent appeals for subscriptions. At the very end, it was still attracting editorial contributions from sharp writers and covering interesting subjects. The last issues, the ones I had a hand in, included an investigation of fraud by a leading national testing lab and a special issue devoted to cooperatives. The final issue was devoted to literature with a healthy sampling of original poetry.
In 2008, I asked Charles and Rose Klotzer, who founded the magazine nearly 50 years ago, if I could revive the FOCUS/midwest name, first as an online publication. The goal: An independent vehicle for enterprise and investigative journalism, produced by professional writers and editors. I launched FOCUS/midwest as focusmidwest.com, a simple Web log, started writing and encouraged former colleagues to contribute. Some of the stories posted there broke new ground – an account of a utility company whistleblower was published months before the AP and other media carried reports; an investigation about a political operative and his ill-fated cargo plane came months before the Wall Street Journal did a front-page story on the subject. A documentary about radioactive waste in the region, based on stories first published at focusmidwest.com, is being produced. Original material published online helped former students connect with their mentors. The Web site published excerpts of several books; at least two are hitting shelves this year. And focusmidwest.com sampled some 4
5 interesting pieces from the old magazine that sparked new interest. Despite its name, there is nothing particularly focused about this effort. Material has been added to the site sporadically. Searches or links from other sources are responsible for most hits on the site. This summer, prototypes of a new FOCUS/midwest were produced, in a format that mimics a magazine and is readable on tablet devices and e-readers. By the most obvious measure, the results have been modest. The Web site reached its 20,000th hit around August 20, 2010, after nearly two years online. It took three months for the “summer edition” to achieve 1,000 reads after it was posted at Scribd. Those are small numbers, but they demonstrate what’s possible with a more sustained effort. When the Klotzers launched the magazine, back in 1962, the costs of publication were daunting. Typography, printing and mail distribution all represented substantial expenditures – that was true for any magazine. Circulation income would never be enough to survive; advertising was essential. And advertisers then, as now, would only support publications that delivered a desired audience. We’ve witnessed dramatic change in the past 20 years – the development of technologies that are liberating and, at the same time, also accelerating the concentration of capital into fewer organizations. New technologies have proved a double-edged sword. They’ve made it easier for advertisers to bypass traditional media and target potential customers more effectively. But they’ve also given journalists an unparalleled opportunity, allowing them to bypass advertisers, and advertisersupported-and-controlled media, to reach readers. Your reading this proves the point.
ABOUT THIS ISSUE . . . This fall edition includes contributions from Abe Aamidor, Frank Absher, William R. Brinton, Peter Downs, Ted Evanoff, Jeanne Handy, Tom Handy, J. Mitch Hopper, Jacqueline Jackson, Andrew Klose, Lola Lucas, Shawna Mayer, R.L. Nave, Anita Steinstra, C.D. Stelzer, Karen Walsh and Winston Weathers. Our look at the economy includes Downs’ examination of the growing earnings gap between black and white males in the Midwest, and is accompanied by a piece revisiting the subject of a 1967 special edition of FOCUS/midwest titled “Revolution in America.” In an updated excerpt from their recently released book, “At the Crossroads” (Toronto: ECW Press, 2010), veteran journalists Aamidor and Evanoff examine the troubles afflicting the U.S. auto industry. Jackson’s look at the Depression years on the Dougan family farm, near Beloit, Wisconsin, reminds us of the self-help measures that families were forced to take during difficult times. Hopper, Walsh and Mayer contribute short stories; each dark, but entertaining. Lucas and Stienstra offer a couple poems. And the end pages are about the end.
The gap Black men in the Midwest are losing ground to white men when it comes to earning a living. Why? By PETER DOWNS The Midwest has become a cold place for African-Americans. A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank, St. Louis District, finds that the earnings gap between white and black men in the Midwest has been getting progressively bigger for over a generation. And the earnings gap keeps growing despite the huge strides that black men made in closing the education and academic performance gaps with white men. Contrary to the usual expectations, higher education has not paid off in the job market for black men in the Midwest. Natalia Kolesnikova and Yang Liu looked at income trends from 1970 to 2000 and ended up calling that period “a bleak 30 years for black men.” Kolesnikova is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Liu is a research associate at the bank. The drop in the average black man’s annual income in the Midwest was the most pronounced in Chicago, where black men went from making 69 percent of what white men made in 1970 to only 55 percent in 2000. In Detroit the drop was from 71 percent to 63 percent; in Cleveland from 70 percent to 63 percent; and in St. Louis black men went from earning 66 percent of a white man’s annual income in 1970 to 62 percent in 2000. Kolesnikova and Liu found similar trends in other parts of the country, but the results were the severest in the Midwest. Only in the South did they find a closing of the income gap, led by Memphis where the income gap started at 52 percent and closed by 14 percentage points over 30 years.
“Unfortunately, the report completely makes sense,” said Algernon Austin, director of the program on race, ethnicity and the economy at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “The most successful African-Americans are highly visible, like Barack Obama, but that hides the picture for the majority of blacks and the majority of black men, which is much less positive,” he said. Kolesnikova said the wage gap remained essentially stagnant, showing that there was no improvement for individuals who stayed employed and in the same occupation. The growing income gap, she said, reflected a growing employment gap. That is because annual incomes reflect not just wages, but also the average number of weeks of employment during the year. A significant decline occurred in the average number of weeks that black men worked per year between 1970 and 2000, while the average number of weeks that white men worked stayed nearly steady, Kolesnikova said. In Chicago, black men worked an average of only 34 weeks in 2000, down from 45
7 weeks in 1970. In Detroit, they worked an average of 35 weeks in 2000, also down from 45 weeks in 1970. That decline in part reflects falling employment. In 1970, 88 percent of black men in Chicago between the ages of 24 and 55 had a job, as did 86 percent in Detroit, 85 percent in Cleveland, and 83 percent in St. Louis. In 2000, only 69 percent of black men in Chicago were employed, as were 69 percent in Detroit, 72 percent in Cleveland, and 72 percent in St. Louis, Kolesnikova said. “In terms of participation in the labor force, the disparities have very much worsened,” Austin said, who added that employment rates have decreased in the last decade. “Detroit was the worst off with a black male employment rate of 64 percent for 25-55 year olds in 2008,” he said. And the Great Recession has made conditions even more dire. As many as 20 percent of those who had jobs in some Midwestern cities have lost their jobs in the recession, Austin said. “If you look at employment among all black men, the percentage of those with jobs in 2010 in down in the low fifties,” he said. The percentage of black men employed nationwide has hovered around 53 percent since August 2009. And for black men aged 24-55, the group that Kolesnikova looked at, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the employment rate drops in some cities below 60 percent this year,” Austin said Where’s the ‘education effect’? The collapse in employment came despite significant advances in educational achievement. In 1970, 63 percent of black men between the ages of 22 and 55 lacked even a high school diploma; by 2000 only 13 percent of black men in that age group still lacked a high school degree. In 1970, only 13 percent of black men had attended college and only 6 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
By 2000 those numbers had increased substantially to 44 percent and 14 percent. Despite that fact that black men made enormous strikes in closing the education gap with white men, Kolesnikova said the remaining education gap – among white men in 2000, 61 percent had some college and half of those had a bachelor’s degree or higher – as one of the reasons that black men fell further behind their white counterparts economically. “As more and more jobs required training beyond high school, black men were in a worse position than white men because of the relatively low levels of education,” she said. “Education is not the full story,” Austin said. “Controlling for educational attainments, you find that wage disparities between blacks and whites are the same at all educational levels,” he said. According to Austin, in 2008, among male workers 25 years old and over, the median wage for black men without a high school diploma was only 61 percent of the median wage of their white counterparts. The median wage for those who had a high school diploma or GED was 74 percent of the median wage 7
8 for similar white men. For black men with some college, the median wage was 74 percent of the wage given to similar white men. The median salary for black men with a bachelor’s degree also was 74 percent of the median salary given to their white counterparts. The gap narrowed somewhat, to 83 percent, for the small number of those with advanced degrees. “The idea that disparities are solely because of education does not hold up,” he said. Austin noted that Jared Bernstein, formerly with the Economic Policy Institute, had studied the gap between black academic progress and economic gains in 1995. Bernstein wrote that blacks had closed most of the gap in years of schooling between themselves and whites by 1990, and they had also made great progress in the 1970s and 1980s in closing the gap in test scores, but those gains were not reflected in the labor market, where’s blacks actually lost ground. He noted however, as does Kolesnikova, that blacks continued to lag in rates of college completion. A college degree is important – political scientist Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute calls its requirement “a brutal fact of life in the American job market – but for what reason? The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that only 20 percent of U.S. jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2016. However, according to the Anthony Carnevale at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “today’s college degree is yesterday’s high school diploma.” Citing statistics relating to getting just some college, and not necessarily a degree, he said that the proportion of U.S. jobs requiring at least some college education climbed from 28 percent in 1973 to 59 percent in 2009, with the biggest jump coming in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1970, when a high school diploma was supposed to be a ticket to a good job, only 13
percent of black men possessed that ticket. By 1992, nearly 80 percent of black men had a high school diploma, and employers no longer recognized it as a ticket for work. Fifty-six percent of the time, according to Carnevale, employers required at least some college of job applicants. Several conservative scholars, including Murray and Richard Vedder, an “adjunct scholar” at the American Enterprise Institute and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity at Ohio University, argue that many employers are requiring college degrees for jobs that do not warrant that level of education. “Employers do not value what the student learned, just that the student has a degree,” said Murray. Diplomas as a screening device As recently as 1970, employers used the requirement of a high school diploma as a way of sorting job applicants. John Gaal, director of apprenticeship and training for the Carpenters District Council of St. Louis and Vicinity, which serves Kansas, 8
9 Missouri, and part of Illinois, said that possession of a high school diploma used to tell an employer that an applicant worked hard, came to school regularly, stayed out of trouble, and followed instructions well – all qualities desired by an employer. Possession of a high school diploma also separated whites from blacks. A notice that a “high school diploma required” effectively screened African-Americans out of the applicant pool. As public schools replaced programs for pushing children out of school – for example, public schools in the city of St. Louis used to have a “completion certificate” that they awarded to students they deemed not college material when the students turned 16 and they ushered them out the door – with programs for keeping students in school until they graduated, the high school diploma lost its value as a screening device. Gaal has advocated that employers use a standardized test, specifically a test from ACT Inc., called “WorkKeys,” to screen job applicants, but most employers took the easy route and just raised application requirements to a college degree. “Employers value the B.A. because it is a no-cost (for them) screening device for academic ability and perseverance,” Murray said. “A college degree signals that you are bright, and that is what pays off,” Kolesnikova said. A “B.A. required” notice also has excluded most African-Americans from the pool of job applicants, although that appears to be changing as more African-Americans attend and graduate from college. If Murray and Vedder have their way, however, African-Americans may never get the chance to close the college education gap. Murray and Vedder claim that too many people are going to and graduating from college. According to Vedder, that diminishes the utility of a college diploma as a screening
device, which causes employers to demand even higher qualifications. In a column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he asked rhetorically, “Will garbage workers in 2050 need a Ph.D. in sanitary engineering to get a job?” In the face of a long-term trend to make college education available to a greater proportion of the population, including African-Americans, Murray claims in numerous articles and interviews that opening up the doors of universities lets in people who aren’t intellectually able to enjoy or reap the advantages of a college education. And that, he says, is wasteful. Murray first came to prominence in 1994 with the publication of The Bell Curve, a book he co-authored with Richard Herrnstein, in which he argued against social policies that promoted equal opportunities by claiming that society was best served by catering to the “intellectual elite” that naturally (he claimed) rose to the top in every field. He also claimed in it that on average black people were intellectually inferior to white people.
10 Even though it was widely debunked in the scientific community and ridiculed as “junk science,” the book received a lot of attention on news programs and talk shows and became a bestseller. Since then, he has repeatedly called for reforming the nation’s education system to shift resources away from troubled, disadvantaged, or “below average” students to “gifted” students and the intellectual elite. Could it be that the “credential inflation” scored by Vedder – from high school degree to some college to B.A. and maybe beyond – is a reflection of widespread racist impulses to preserve opportunities for whites by denying them to blacks? Kolesnikova doesn’t buy it. “It is not really that employers want to discriminate against people without college degrees, but rather that they are looking for the best and the brightest,” she said. Skills trump educational attainment The real gap between black men and white men is not educational attainment, but achievements and skills, she said. “I think the main problem for black men is that their skill level is not sufficient to get good jobs. Skills don’t have to come from college degrees. What is important is having the skills necessary for the current labor market,” she said. Usually in popular American culture, discussions about how the economy has changed in the last 30 years focus on a supposed need for more technical skills, but Kolesnikova said that misses the mark. The skills that black men are missing are not academic or technical skills, she said, but rather, “non-cognitive skills... the ‘how well you play with others’ skills.” In a recent study from St. Louis Community College, the Missouri Career Center, and the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), employers in Illinois and Missouri complained that job
applicants more often lacked so-called foundational skills than technical skills, but it did not try to determine if employers had different complaints about job applicants based on their race. Released on August 11, 2010, “The State of St. Louis Workforce Report 2010” was drawn from surveys and interviews with both employers and unemployed workers in the St. Louis area. Seventy percent of the 1,500 employers surveyed said they had some or great difficulty in finding qualified job applicants. Even though employers were able to list multiple ways in which job applicants lacked qualifications for working with their companies, only 19 percent said they had trouble finding people with the technical skills necessary for their jobs. Even more employers said that job applicants lacked a strong work ethic, lacked interpersonal communication skills, or lacked critical thinking or problem solving skills. Almost as many employers said that job applicants lacked a willingness to
11 learn or an ability to collaborate with others in teams. Many of those skills often are referred to as “soft” skills or “work well/play well” skills. Roderick Nunn, vice chancellor for workforce and community development at St. Louis Community College, prefers to call them “personal effectiveness” skills, and said they are distinct from academic skills and workplace skills. The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a definition of personal effectiveness skills that includes a strong work ethic, interpersonal communication skills, and a willingness to learn. Their definition of workplace skills includes problem solving skills and an ability to work with others in teams. Nunn declined to comment talk about race in relation to personal effectiveness skills. “I think there has not been enough research,” he said. He did say that personal effectiveness skills are learned at home and in the community, but they can be honed at school or in the workplace. A general education curriculum rather than a vocational curriculum, which exposes students to many different topics and to working with different people in different groups, can help develop both personal effectiveness skills and workplace skills. And the variable that best correlates with educational attainment is not race, but income, he said. Even if a good general education can hone the soft skills employers say they want, is a college degree a good indicator of who has those skills or not? Not really, said Nunn. “That is what the behavior interview is for,” he said. “Companies have a litany of questions to get at the soft skills.” And that brings the discussion full circle. If many employers use a four-year college degree as a prerequisite for hiring for jobs that
don’t require that level of education in an time when possession of a four-year college degree is more of a racial separator than a high school diploma or two-year degree, is the four-year degree holding the place of a racial qualification? “That is a really good question,” Austin said. F/m Peter Downs is a St. Louis writer and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
FOCUS ON AUTHORS Barbara Olson’s first book about her time in Ethiopia, “Christmas in Gondar,” was released this fall. An excerpt of the book was published at focusmidwest.com in December 2008. Olson is an activist who works with the homeless. To order, go to gondarstories.com. The first volume of “The Round Barn,” Jacqueline Jackson’s stories about life on a Wisconsin dairy farm, is being released. Excerpts have appeared here. Learn more at jacqueline-jackson.com.
Revisiting “Revolution” A warning about the U.S. economy, issued more than four decades ago By ROLAND KLOSE Job statistics offer a measure of the depth of the current recession. The number of unemployed more than doubled, from 7.1 million in August 2007 to 14.9 million in August 2010; the number of employed fell, from 145.7 million to 139.3 million. But the loss of jobs is only part of the story. The nation’s worst downturn since the ’30s has accelerated trends that have been unfolding over the past couple generations. Understanding these trends may explain, in part, why usual public-policy responses – such as low-interest rates, tax breaks and tax incentives – aren’t getting people working. In April 2010, The Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative at The Brookings Institution, released a study authored by David Autor of the MIT Department of Economics and National Bureau of Economic Research. Titled “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market: Implications for Employment and Earnings” (see http://bit.ly/bWKmw7), the study examined a disturbing trend: A decline in “middle-skill, white collar clerical, administrative, and sales occupations and in middle-skill, bluecollar production, craft, and operative occupations.” Workers without a four-year college education, especially males, are seeing fewer job opportunities, and their earnings are dropping as a consequence.
There’s still demand for high-skill, high-wage work (physicians, chemists, engineers, programmers) and, conversely, there’s demand for low-wage, low-skill occupations (janitors, day laborers, waiters). But the jobs we tend to identify with the middle class – say, decent-paying union assembly line jobs or office administrative positions, such as clerks and bookkeepers – are steadily disappearing. Automation and offshoring are the primary factors driving this change, Autor finds. If a routine task (one that involves repetition) can be performed successfully by a machine or by a lower-paid worker in a developing country, it will be. And as computer and communications technologies improve, more machines or non-U.S. workers will be performing those kinds of tasks. The thing is, though, the pace of automation is escalating – and whole categories of work are now being rendered redundant.
Print media provide a good illustration of this phenomenon. The skilled profession of Linotype machine operator disappeared in the 1960s and ’70s with phototypesetting, which in turn succumbed to the digital era, beginning in the 1980s. Distinct professions associated with the production of print publications went the way of the pica pole, wax machines and cans of Bestine. Today, thanks to pagination and advanced communications technology, publications can be designed from a location on the other side of the Earth. Some already are. More significantly, content no longer needs to be printed on paper and content distribution no longer requires distribution workers. The electronic platforms for media are designed and engineered by high-skill, high-paid workers. Trained, low-pay workers assemble the devices. Even the creation of editorial content is vulnerable to automation. Journalism has structured characteristics that algorithms can be programmed to imitate. Supply sufficient data, and a computer can create
a story. Researchers have already successfully demonstrated successful automated sports reporting. As algorithms become more sophisticated, more subjects will lend themselves to automation. Market stories, economic reports, and political campaigns – already formulaic in most mass media – are all obvious targets. Computer simulations will be able to voice these texts, as well, eliminating the need for skilled readers on broadcast outlets. Consumer preferences will be gleaned from data, as well – much of it provided voluntarily. Companies with the capability to mine data from social media and other public sources will be able to discern consumer trends and interests, and respond accordingly. Interestingly, a fairly prescient analysis of this trend came in the pages of this magazine, in a special edition published in 1967. The edition was titled “Revolution in America,” and it published papers by scholars analyzing a document known as the “Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on The Triple Revolution.” The papers were winners in a national contest co-sponsored by the magazine and Local 688 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, under the leadership then of the legendary progressive union leader Harold J. Gibbons. In March 1964, the ad hoc committee – a group of 30 scholars and activists that included Michael Harrington, Robert L. Heilbroner, Irving Howe, A.J. Muste, Gunnar Myrdal and Linus Pauling – sent President Lyndon B. Johnson a report that outlined a series of fundamental changes in the economy, human rights and international relations that warranted a “reexamination of existing values and institutions.” “A new era” – one the authors dubbed the “cybernation revolution” – was
14 altering the nature of production, promising almost unlimited productive capacity and less human labor, and breaking the traditional links between jobs and income. The change cut both ways: it promised to free humans from drudgery but also threatened to impoverish millions, and exacerbate social polarization and inequality. To bolster their case, the authors pointed to already-pervasive unemployment and underemployment, as well as the creation of a permanently depressed class of Americans locked in perpetual poverty. The authors quoted then-Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz: “The confluence of surging population and driving technology is splitting the American labor force into tens of millions of ‘have’s’ and millions of ‘have-nots.’” At the time the report was written, about 38 million Americans lived in poverty, about a fifth of the population then. Though the poverty rate is lower, in 2009, there were more than 43 million
Americans in poverty – and the number was rising. The authors said the government had a responsibility to manage a transition that would “enhance the wealth and the quality of our society.” Their policy prescriptions – investment in education and public infrastructure, among others – would have gone far to obviate some of the economic turmoil that followed. Their most significant proposal, a guaranteed minimum income – an idea that had traction up until the early 1970s – could have prevented the social wreckage, the broken households and human suffering, that followed the endless cycle of recessions, including the seven since the mid-’60s, that are endemic to American capitalism. Of course, the report reflects the idealism of that era, a belief that government in a democratic society should serve the general welfare. As the authors wrote: “Public philosophy for the transition must rest on the conviction that our economic, social and political institutions exist for the use of man and that man does not exist to maintain a particular economic system.... Governments are instituted among men for the purpose of making possible life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that government should be a creative and positive instrument toward these ends.” F/m
FOR THE ORIGINAL REPORT A copy of the “Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on The Triple Revolution,” which was included in the “Revolution in America” special edition, can be downloaded for free at scr.bi/bGLk24
Locked out in Metropolis Honeywell workers learn the high cost of good-paying jobs By C.D. STELZER The troubles started a few years back, says the big man in the lawn chair, an umbrella shielding him from the summer sun. His eyes squint as he explains the circumstances that led to his sitting on this barren stretch of highway on the outskirts of Metropolis, Illinois. As he stares into the distance, in the direction of his union hall, his words express a Southerner’s fatalism echoed by the drawl of his voice. He calls his plight a cliché, for it is an old and familiar story in these parts. Knowing such tales rarely end well, he speaks with resignation beyond his years. His is a story of haves and have nots, which has been played out in Southern Illinois for as long as anyone can remember. Metropolis may lay claim to being the home of the Man of Steel, but the struggles of mere mortals have defined this place. Vestiges of those struggles can be seen in the hardscrabble towns that dot the Shawnee Hills, a topography that connects Appalachia to the Ozark Plateau both geographically and culturally. For motorists whizzing along Interstates 57 and 24 it is impossible to catch a fleeting glimpse of the dual sense of sadness and survival that steep these hills and hollows. But those sentiments can be heard in the tenor of the big man’s voice as surely as the thunderheads can be seen gathering on the horizon on this scorching August afternoon. He says the troubles began when Honeywell International Inc. disbanded his union’s safety committee. In its place, his employer implemented a program named “behavioral safety,” a euphemism for a
system that blames individual workers for on-the-job accidents. As a result, plant workers refrained from reporting accidents out of fear that they would lose their jobs. The big man furrows his brow, as he describes how the program essentially helped mask the continuing safety risks inside the plant. Workers’ morale declined and labor disputes inside the plant accelerated. The big man compares the work he does – uranium processing – to coal mining an occupation with a long history in the Southern Illinois. Both are dirty and fraught with potential safety hazards and chronic health risks. Since coal mining petered out hereabouts, the nuclear energy industry offers the best paying jobs. The Honeywell plant helps supply processed uranium to the gaseous diffusion plant in nearby Paducah, which further refines nuclear fuel. The facilities, which are both radioactively contaminated, are products of the Cold War, built more than 50 years ago as a part of the nuclear arms race against the former Soviet Union. They now help supply enriched uranium to the nuclear power industry. The labor problems peaked earlier this summer, after contract negotiations between Steelworkers Local 7-669 and Honeywell broke down over the company’s plan to reduce retiree health
16 benefits and cut the pensions of newly hired workers. On June 28, Honeywell locked out its 220 union employees. The company replaced its union workers with non-union employees supplied by Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Shaw, a billion-dollar corporation, holds numerous government contracts with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. The lockout has had a ripple effect across the entire nuclear energy industry, causing the price of uranium companies’ stock to skyrocket. Closer to home, the lockout is on the brink of sending the already recession-wracked local economy into a tailspin. With tempers flaring on both sides, a once-cohesive community is on the verge of coming apart at the seams. The lockout has pitted management against labor and neighbor against neighbor. The risks of potential nuclear mishap have raised tensions in the town of 6,500. It has happened before. In the early hours of Dec. 22, 2003, the plant inadvertently released seven pounds of uranium hexafluoride (UF-6). The accident prompted the immediate evacuation of nearby residents. News reports issued at the time said no one was hurt, but four or five residents were sent to the hospital for observation. As recently as April, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a meeting at the Massac County Courthouse to discuss the findings of a two-year safety study. The study was prompted by past radiological and safety hazards inside the plant. Despite the NRC’s review, the agency has issued repeated exemptions to Honeywell so it can continue to operate despite the contamination. According to a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Honeywell is being investigated by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the Justice Department for allegedly dumping radioactive sludge at its Metropolis facility. Hard times never really left Little Egypt, the name some oldtimers still call the pyramid-shaped area between the two great rivers. Behind each levee there are countless human tragedies, tales of woe passed down generations, remembrances of floods and droughts and manmade calamities like the lockout now in progress. At the steel workers union hall, a member of the local’s negotiating committee opens the meeting with an invocation. He prays for the sick, and for all who are now unemployed, asking in Jesus’ name for strength. Across the road, in front of the plant, the union has erected a memorial. Forty-two crosses symbolize workers who have died of cancer; 27 smaller crosses represent those who have so far survived the disease. Later, in the parking lot, the man who gave the prayer, a 30-year employee at the plant, says he hopes for a resolution to the labor problems so the men and women of his union can return to work. He acknowledges that the plant has pockets of radiation that are dangerous, but expresses no ill will toward the company. His concern now is for those operating the plant; they’re untrained and, in his view, unqualified to do the work. Sitting on the tailgate of a visitor’s car, he nods in the direction of the uranium plant, and says: “Somebody’s going to get killed.” F/m
The New Appalachia The auto industry, and how the industrial base of the Midwest was allowed to crumble By ABE AAMIDOR and TED EVANOFF Excerpted from “At the Crossroads: Middle America and the Battle to Save the Car Industry (Toronto: ECW Press, 2010). Three hundred and fifty miles southwest of Detroit, the roads run straight to the horizon, past gothic farmhouses, stands of oak and sugar maple, small towns and neo-Classic courthouse squares, towering smokestacks and aged red-brick buildings that tell of a faded industrial splendor. This is the heartland, the middle of the middle, the center of the industrial Middle West. Once the vibrant core of America, it is becoming the New Appalachia. The administration of President Barack Obama had the opportunity to take two of the largest industrial corporations ever organized in America, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp., and put them to the task of reenergizing the economy, not only of the industrial Midwest, but the entire United States. It could have been an enterprise of massive scale. Instead the opportunity was squandered. Middle America was left adrift – one reason today’s jobless rates still exceed 9 percent. President Obama and his automotive task force were lauded in many quarters for Detroit’s rescue. And rightly so. The $77 billion worth of worth of loans pro-
vided by the government in 2009 stabilized the two automakers. Even so, a sense of disquiet grew in America in 2010. Yes, the auto companies were alive, recast by the White House to survive the full-blown Depression scouring the entire automotive industry. But it was clear that when it came to reviving the industrial Midwest, the government had no real strategic plan. There was nothing like the Manhattan Project in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration during World War II, or even the kind of space shot to the moon John Kennedy had supported a generation later. It was as if the White House had built an island called GM and forgotten to install the bridge to the rest of America and its foundering economy. Hiring by manufacturers had helped end previous economic downturns. Roger Smith’s GM tech spending binge had done just that on the heels of the 1981-82 recession. Yet employment at GM had dwindled by 2010. As recently as 1990, GM employed more than 300,000 autoworkers in the United States. This year, only 53,000 autoworkers are on the job, a downsizing that rippled through the manufacturing base as GM scaled back its operations. From December 2007 through June 2009 more than 1.9 million manufacturing
jobs were lost in the United States. Bad enough, but industrial jobs had vanished in the United States throughout the first decade of the new millennium overall. Each year in the decade left less of a manufacturing base to rekindle the economy. Obama had inherited the economic turmoil left by the Bush administration and Wall Street, and he was trying to restore order. His fight had no cohesive strategy. Steven Rattner, the head of the White House automotive team, had looked at Detroit as a banker looks at a potential client. He demands it pare back union wages, cut out production capacity, reduce the labor force. Little was said about reconstituting GM and Chrysler as real engines of manufacturing wealth and job security. “Historically, the success of the U.S. economy was high productivity, which in turn fueled economic growth,” said labor analyst Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “What we have forgotten in the rush to demonize the unions is that the flip side of high wages is high purchasing power.” Not only were UAW wages on the down slide in Detroit Three plants – many new hires (skilled trades excepted) would start at less than $15 an hour – but Toyota had announced that going forward its wages in new plants would be linked to the prevailing industrial wage in the region it was entering rather than the UAW scale set in Detroit. Midwestern pay scales were coming down. It was a remarkable turn of events carried out by the bankers of Wall Street. In the lore of Detroit, Henry Ford, Billy Durant, Walter Chrysler, Lee Iacocca – these were manufacturers, car guys, businessmen at home in the clanking, noisy, dangerous setting of an automobile factory. Though their world was distant from Wall Street, they moved in the same orbit, relying on the bankers for cash. Early in the 20th Century, J. Pierpont Morgan had bankrolled autos, steel, tractors and electrical gadgets in hopes of concocting lucrative
manufacturing monopolies. Over the years, though, the financial world gradually had separated itself from the manufacturing side of America. By 1983, the unbridled merger and acquisition era had taken hold. Buyouts and mergers would begin to denude the Midwest of its factories and shape and influence Washington and many of the dealmakers later selected for Obama’s auto team. When the era first came on, Detroit already was wallowing in poorly made cars; the UAW was mugging the Big Three for ever more money and benefits; and Washington was impervious to the ills of America’s single largest industry. Focused on eroding incomes or, in many cases, personal indulgences, the society itself was out of synch. Public high schools were graduating failing students wholly unversed in either the Bill or Rights or rudimentary mathematics, while Indian, Japanese, Korean, Pakistani and Taiwanese immigrants filled seats in American engineering classes. The United States was educating the next generation of gifted foreign engineers, the very people who would grasp the computer, electronics and battery technology designed in America, take it to Asia and sell it back to Americans under brand names like Sony and Samsung. The schools were asleep to all this. Rather than redouble engineering and science requirements, American educators were mostly interested in promoting the liberal arts, finance, humanities and sociology to our citizens, as if all the talk about a post-industrial society really were valid, which it wasn’t. Through it all, Manhattan was exuberant,
engorged on the sudden new wealth. Marketers even coined a phrase in the early 1980s – yuppies, short for young urban professionals, newly minted lawyers and MBAs hired by Wall Street firms suddenly in need of thousands of hardworking troops in the M&A offices. The writer David Halberstam described Wall Street at the time the M&A department suddenly became the place to work in the 1980s, turned wonderfully golden with high fees and fancy hourly billing rates for the yuppies whose duty was to concoct and script the buyout or break-up of companies that businessmen in another era had created. “All the best young people wanted to be in M/A….,’’ Halberstam pointed out in his 1986 book, The Reckoning. “Some of them liked to speak about their days as anti-war activists or Nader’s Raiders (consumer activists), though roles of social conscience seemed well behind them. Almost no one, as far as they were concerned, was as smart as they were. The only people they seemed to respect were their opponents, people exactly like them in rival houses…. They spoke a brittle shorthand with
each other, a language that seemed to reek of contempt for the world of business.” Out of that milieu came distinct trends that would harm middle-class factory workers across the industrial Midwest. One was the rapid inflation of stock market prices, which put an unwavering focus on quarterly profits. Suddenly, businessmen “were under pressure not to run their companies well, or to produce a better product, but to maximize their stock and make the books look better,’’ Halberstam explained. This pressed executives to back off on upgrading plants and eventually offshore some production and spin off divisions. Another trend was the grooming of the self-absorbed yuppies into hard-core dealmakers. From the M&A era emerged extravagantly rich financiers such as Ivan Boesky, Carl Icahn and Michael Milken. Household names by virtue of their new wealth in the 1980s, they were the swashbuckling mentors for the next generation of nouveau riche Streeters like Rattner and Stephen Feinberg, the latter a Milken protégé who went on to form Cerberus Capital Management and buy
and sell Chrysler as if it were a piece of used furniture. It is not well remembered in America why the wheeling and dealing M&A era originated, but it did not come out of thin air. A sudden tide of money flowed to Wall Street, a tide set loose by an unusual confluence of decisions and events that shook the country in the 1970s. For many economic historians, the tragedy of Detroit, the stagnant wages of ordinary factory workers, all trace to a key point, the beginning of the 1970s. When the decade opened, the United States was unarguably the richest country in world history. Millions of veterans educated on the World War II GI Bill had reached their prime earning years, and their well-tended offspring were comfortably ensconced in some of the best colleges on earth. Having spent lavishly on the Apollo moon shots, the construction of the interstate highway system, more than 300,000 troops in Europe and Japan, and a major war in Vietnam, America was booming, its economy stimulated by federal outlays of cash. Overseas, companies were gorged on dollars for chemicals, metals and materials shipped to the United States, especially to sustain the force of 500,000 troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Unwilling to hold so many greenbacks, Richard Duncan notes in The Dollar Crisis, exporters abroad began exchanging the paper bills for American gold, sending a veritable river of the ore flowing out of the U.S. stronghold at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Knowing even the richest nation can run out of precious metal, President Richard Nixon suspended the exchange of dollars for gold. He declared the dollar’s value would be set in the currency exchange markets. This meant the perceived strength of the U.S. economy would deter-
mine the dollar’s value in Tokyo or Riyadh or any place else that took greenbacks. In a roaring American economy, a currency trader might accept, say, 200 Japanese yen for a single dollar. If the U.S. was slumping, the weak dollar might be worth 100 yen. Leaving the gold standard would have deep repercussions on America’s old-line manufacturers. For one thing, strategic planning would become difficult against rivals in Japan and China, where strong government backing would enable export-minded enterprises to take the long view and absorb years of losses. For another, it exposed consumers and the Detroit automakers to wild fluctuations in commodity prices, such as the escalation of oil from $10 a barrel in 1998 to $145 by 2008. In Europe and Asia, the White House decision left governments with little choice but to let their own currencies rise and fall in relation to the U.S. dollar. Since the American economy was preeminent around the world following the collapse of Asia and Europe in World War II, the U.S. dollar became the accepted currency. This would create turmoil around the world. When the dollar was weak, U.S. manufacturers could export their own products at discount prices and elbow aside foreign competitors unable to match the low prices. European and Asian nations, including Japan and eventually China, set in place sophisticated barriers to protect homegrown industries, much to the chagrin of fair traders who argued the U.S. was not doing enough to maintain level trade. They were heard particularly when the dollar was strong. Then, low-price imports could flow into the United States, eviscerating American manufacturers. But in 1973, when the U.S. formally went off the gold standard, the turmoil to come was only hinted at. Overshad-
owing the exchange rate issue was political upheaval. There was the U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War and, in 1975, the eventual loss of South Vietnam to the Communist North, as well as Nixon’s 1974 resignation in the Watergate domestic spying and break-in scandal. Then the rapid erosion in buying power undermined working Americans as gasoline prices doubled and a recession set in with the oil embargo triggered by the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and Saudi-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. The decade ended in military humiliation when America was unable to free several dozen U.S. hostages held in Tehran after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. A surly public in 1980 elected Ronald Reagan president of the United States. He was a handsome former movie actor whose sunny confidence and staunch conservatism had already won him two terms as governor in bellwether California. Campaigning against him for a spell in 1980, former CIA director George H.W. Bush, scion of an old oil and railroad family, complained of Reagan’s “voodoo economics” strategy. Promising to restore America’s status in the world as the “shining city on the hill,’’ Reagan was swept into office. He presided over crucial changes – deregulation of the old savings and loan industry, deep tax cuts, a massive military build-up and a promise to restore prosperity to the country by attracting cash into the United States from around the world. On Wall Street, investors were delighted. Despite the 1960s’
boom, the stock market in 1980 had been slack for 14 years, and bonds had been in a bear market since 1945, notes financial writer Bill Bonner in Empire of Debt. New Yorkers were not necessarily in favor of war, but the net effect of higher defense spending and lower taxes – the locus of Bush’s ‘voodoo’ analysis – was tonic for a parched Street. Not only would aerospace and defense electronics companies borrow money to finance the build-up, but Americans could invest the income freed up by tax cuts with Wall Street firms. Moreover, Wall Street would get lucrative new work from another quarter. Without the tax revenue coming in, the U.S. government would have to borrow money from investors, offering them U.S. Treasury bills that promised repayment later. Massive government borrowing tended to push up interest rates harmfully for Detroit’s automakers, but federal debt was money in the bank for Wall Street. It got to peddle U.S. Treasury bills. As United States Treasury notes were hawked around the world, old-line economists warned the rising federal strategy “facilitated the extraordinary misallocation of corporate capital,’’ in the words of Richard Duncan, a World Bank Asian markets advisor. But there was no stopping the binge. Between 1980 and 1993, federal debt soared from 22 percent of GDP to 50 percent. Working also in Wall Street’s favor was the Federal Reserve Board. The Fed had been
begrudgingly created in response to the 1880s’ populist cry by legions of American farmers starved for currency prior to the Alaska gold rush. One century later, the modern Fed, the manager of the money supply, was in tune with Wall Street. Weary of the inflation eating at corporate profits, Wall Street demanded from the White House and got an inflation fighter in Paul Volcker, who had been head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Appointed chairman of the entire Federal Reserve system in 1980, Volcker promptly cranked short-term interest rates to more than 20 percent. Bludgeoned by the unaffordable rates, consumers stopped buying and stores cut prices. Inflation was tamed, but the fall in spending set off a recession that devastated the industrial Midwest, just as the automakers were trying to come to grips with the car imports from Japan. The Detroit Three alone idled more than 250,000 autoworkers in 1981 and 1982 recession. In the auto plants, Ginny McMillin found herself laid off for four years in her hometown, Kokomo, when GM Delco cut back in 1981. “I didn’t have a year in so I couldn’t transfer to (GM’s) Marion (plant),” she recalled. “I was shit out of luck at home with three kids. I was on food stamps. I remember going to Marsh (supermarket) at midnight so my friends wouldn’t see me.” Startled by the downturn, the worst since the Great Depression, the UAW soon began to cooperate with auto executives on plant productivity improvements, but also pressed for guarantees of job security. Hard as the recession was on Detroit, Wall Street blossomed. Investors around the world began moving their money to America to take advantage of the high interest rates. Cranked up by Volcker to fend off inflation, American rates were higher than Europe’s or Asia’s. Investors abroad saw a good deal. Foreign cash flowed into Treasury bills, bank certificates of deposit, real estate and stocks. Wall Street was becoming flush with cash, but what put it over the top, at least on the
M&A side, and set in motion a spate of factory closings, was the deregulation of the savings and loan banks. Very few of these exist today, although for a century they were a fixture in literally thousands of neighborhoods. Blue-collar families especially relied on them for low-rate home loans. Known as thrifts, or S&Ls, they long had been protected by a web of rules disbanded in the deregulation climate swept in by Reagan. When Volcker surged interest rates, however, thrifts were hammered worse than Detroit. Having booked 30-year mortgage loans at interest rates of six or seven percent, S&Ls were failing by the dozens as the cost of money soared beyond 15 percent. They were paying more for money than they were getting in repayment on loans. Congress swiftly guaranteed deposits up to $100,000, so even if the S&L went under, the U.S. taxpayer would protect the customer. This prevented runs on the thrifts, although what made S&Ls the lucrative honey pot for Wall Street was one final piece of deregulation. In an effort to shore up profits, thrifts were allowed to invest the money deposited by customers – the deposits guaranteed by the U.S. government – in endeavors promising high income. Dreamers, scam artists, hustlers and the plain incompetent began lining up for loans from thrifts, by then operating under loose federal supervision following the downsizing of bank regulatory agencies. By 1990, the S&L industry would implode under the greed of the speculators and trigger a $250 billion federal bailout to repay depositors in failed thrifts. Out of the carnage emerged a new breed of lender, mortgage giants such as Countrywide. These unregulated mortgage firms in tandem with unrestrained Wall Street derivatives traders would create the next financial debacle, the global credit crisis of 2008, which in turn helped bankrupt GM and Chrysler. But back in the 1980s, when the thrifts still were standing, their easy-to-get loans financed a staggering array of speculative skyscrapers, golf courses, shopping malls,
residential developments and corporate takeovers. One of the biggest users of the easy money was Michael Milken, the junk bond king. Milken, a graduate of the Ivy League business school at the University of Pennsylvania, hired on at Drexel Harriman Ripley in 1970, pursuing an idea to market the risky bonds of struggling companies with low credit ratings. Traditionally, companies considered risky bets for bankers were assigned low credit ratings because they had problems that made them less likely than top-notch corporations to repay loans. The lower the score, the higher the interest rate charged by the bank to make up for the risk. Drexel, a very distant offshoot of the old J. Pierpont Morgan banking dynasty, was a second tier firm in New York, where Milken himself was regarded as an outsider among the old patriarchs on Wall Street. Seeing a redeemable quality in struggling companies, he called them “fallen angels.’’ Milken insisted their debt was risky but worthy because of the sky-high interest paid on the bonds. Milken’s idea gleamed when Reagan tax policies unleashed a torrent of demand for loans. Corporate borrowers could deduct the interest on the debt from their income taxes. Milken made junk bonds part of the everyday
language of finance. U.S. corporations accumulated debt like never before, issuing not just junk bonds, but taking on all kinds of loans, knowing they could cut their income taxes. Between 1980 and 1990, the volume of credit debt rose from 180 percent of GDP to nearly 250 percent. Among his peers, many thought Milken’s genius lay not in simply hawking junk bonds with a preacher’s zeal, but in proffering the bonds as essential tools for hostile corporate takeovers, first for small-time wheelers and dealers ignored by the patriarchs of Manhattan, then by the buyout titans of Wall Street whose business was buying and selling other businesses. “There was a crude, bullying quality to the Drexel organization, which gave the firm the air of a Mafia family,’’ Edward Chancellor reported in his book, Devil Take the Hindmost. In 1984, Thomas Boone Pickens, an Oklahoma oil tycoon trying to take over Gulf Oil, came to Drexel for junk bond financing, the first corporate raider to knock on the door of what by then was named Drexel Burnham Lambert. “Without actually having the funds necessary for the takeover,” Chancellor writes, “Drexel produced a letter stating it was ‘highly confident’ of raising the capital through the sale of junk bonds. Although this bid failed, the ‘highly confident’ letter symbolized Drexel’s ability to finance deals of limitless size.” Pickens may have been first, but he certainly was not the last. Hundreds of deals followed including what then was the titanic $6 billion in Drexel junk bonds in 1986 for the buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts’ takeover of mighty Beatrice, the conglomerate whose holdings ranged from Avis car rentals to
Samsonite luggage. Weary of the staid traditions of Manhattan, Milken moved his Drexel staff to Los Angeles, where he arranged more than $200 billion worth of junk bond deals during the 1980s, financing an array of mergers and acquisitions that gave Drexel a piece of 150 companies. S&Ls bought a huge volume of the bonds as investments. By 1990, just as the thrifts imploded, Drexel collapsed in bankruptcy. Milken paid a $600 million fine and was briefly imprisoned for securities fraud. Although he was widely berated for spreading so much risky debt, he pointed out the bonds had aided many cash-starved companies. And if they were junk bonds rather than the AAA-rated bonds, well, that was the new way of America. “Everything we like is junk, junk food, junk clothes, junk records,” Milken said. “Everything that stands the test of time is junk.’’ While Milken peddled junk bonds, and American businesses larded up on debt, and Reagan White House policy encouraged a borrow-your-way-toprosperity ethic among the citizenry and corporations, the industrial base of America was slowly dissolving. Auto executives in Detroit would be assailed for failing to head off the imports flowing into the United States in the 1980s. Detroit’s failure in those years, however, was in many ways emblematic of the boardrooms of manufacturing companies throughout the country. In a nation whose high standard of living for a century had been tied to its manufacturing prowess, the business leaders in America were standing down rather than trying to compete head on with imports. This was happening in boardrooms in every city. And it was happening in large measure because of Volcker’s inflation fight. Sky-high
interest rates had sent the dollar’s value soaring. Imports flooded into the United States, hammering essential industries. CEOs, pressed by Wall Street to come up with regular quarterly gains in profits, turned to junk bonds and mergers and acquisitions, rather than try to compete all-out with the surging tide of products from overseas that could be priced less than the American version. A strong dollar favored producers abroad. By the mid-1980s, “a Toyota, once delivered in San Francisco for $10,000, could now be marketed in America at a real cost to the Japanese of only $7,500,’’ pointed out journalist William Greider in his book, Secrets of the Temple.
Whether in grain, steel, computer chips, machine tools or cars, foreign producers “grabbed a larger and larger share of the domestic market,” Greider wrote. Milken and Wall Street were not the architects of industrial decline. They were simply its bankers. Using junk debt meant an obscure businessman without the assets to borrow heavily from a bank could go to a junk bond dealer like Drexel, arrange the financing, buy the company, and make the newly acquired business pay off the junk bond debt – a transaction known as a leveraged buyout. Even rich corporate raiders could avoid traditional lend-
ers. Instead, money was raised by selling junk bonds to an S&L. And the subsequent debt was piled on the books of the acquired company, which in turn wrote off the debt on its income taxes. By 1987, the annual value of merger activity in the United States neared $300 billion, with top-tier Wall Street firms leading the way, each averaging 110 to 200 deals a year, and each collecting as much as $100 million in takeover fees every year, noted economic historian Charles Geist in his book, Wall Street. While the era was making the men and women of Manhattan rich, workers in Middle America were seeing wages stagnate and jobs vanish. Between 1980 and 1990, U.S. companies opened 1,000 plants in Mexico. Between 1990 and 1995, another 1,000 plants opened there. While not all of these south-of-the-border plants emanated from corporate takeovers, many did. For example, Drexel junk bonds enabled wealthy Los Angeles investor Andrew Galef’s Spectrum Group to take over New Jersey light-bulb maker Universal, which was moved to Matamoros, Mexico, where wages were $1.91 an hour, compared to $7.91 in New Jersey. As a driver of the economy, the industrial base was losing power, though much of America was unaware or simply did not care, figuring it was coming into the post-industrial, information-based society talked about in the colleges since the 1960s. Or, perhaps, they really thought a service economy could provide good jobs for all, not understanding that “service” and “servant” have the same root word. Only one union, the U.S. Steel Workers, staunchly fought the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the USW lost. The pact cut taxes on shipments between Canada, the United States and Mexico, although by the time it was enacted in 1993 many executives of big businesses that wanted plants in Mexico already had them. Free trade agreements are
supposed to be win-win arrangements, in which each country does what it does best, and everyone benefits from higher productivity, better quality and lower prices. But if some countries cheat and other countries really can’t do much about it, then it looks like predatory trade. As industrial jobs went abroad, manufacturing dropped off the radarscope of concerns for most Americans. By 2009, hardly anyone on the East or the West coasts came to the defense of Chrysler when the Obama administration steered it into the arms of Italy’s Fiat. For many people in the great cities on the American coasts, Chrysler and General Motors were the insular denizens of a déclassé region, a place you were from. Once educated in the professions, its own people often moved away. And when they remembered the Midwest in their writings, they were fashionably derisive. “Every house had a station wagon in the driveway and a skinny tree from the nurs-
ery ailing in the front yard,” the writer Susan Choi reminisced from New York about her childhood home near South Bend, Indiana. When the novelist William Gass, who lived for 15 years in Indiana while teaching at Purdue University, wrote fiction about life in a small Midwestern town, even the climate was grimly remembered. “[I]t is snow without any laughter in it.... [O]f course soot covers everything.” And the natives? Boorish. “Sports, politics, and religion are the three passions of the badly educated,” Gass wrote. “They are the Midwest’s open sores.” Midwesterners might shrug off the musings of Gass and Choi as old-fashioned ribbing. But these gifted writers pointed to something larger. Once, the great interior of the country had been a thought leader at the forefront of a whole host of civic reform movements. Peaking as a cultural force in the 1920s, the region had devolved slowly into the New Appalachia of the new century. Even the urban landscape – restaurants and theaters, breweries and newspapers, factories and hardwares, coffee shops and department stores – no longer was in the hands of local families known to everyone in town. The region had become little more than a commercial colony, a province of vast national chain stores and franchise operations tended from distant cities. When urban scholar John Austin of the Brookings Institution examined the region in 2006, he concluded it has a “workforce ill-prepared to obtain or create jobs in the new economy. Its landscape is dotted with hollowing city centers, emptying manufacturing towns, and isolated farm, mining and timber communities, which continue to bleed mobile, educated workers. And, perhaps most importantly, within much of the region the culture of innovation that helped make it a leader has been lost.” Just why the entrepreneurial resolve vanished is open to debate. But obviously there was nobody anyone could point to at the top of a major company who was an outright manufacturing man like Chrysler, Ford or Du-
rant. Certainly, when the currency exchange rates began working against Japan later in the 1980s, following a spike in oil prices, the Japanese automakers didn’t give up. Showing the same élan as entrepreneurs, Japanese companies moved assembly lines to America and redoubled the efforts of their engineers, taking costs out of their designs. By 2009, there was little evidence of this kind of élan in Detroit. On the day in April 2009 when Chrysler manufacturing star Tom LaSorda announced he would step down as vice chairman, the news caused no ripples outside Detroit. LaSorda had been the latest in the long line of talented engineers over the decades who had kept the wheezing and fitful machine that was Chrysler alive. Outside Detroit, the Canadianborn LaSorda was hardly a household name. And the fact that he would leave, or Chrysler would fade into Fiat, was hardly a concern. Hard-core factory men were few and far between. This was not accidental. America’s business leaders had been getting out of manufacturing for years. In the mid 1980s, the writer David Halberstam had suggested that perhaps it wasn’t so much that Detroit couldn’t compete with Japan, but that it didn’t want to compete. In an era when the tectonic plates were being shifted by M&A yuppies, soaring federal deficits, massive corporate debts, uncomfortable swings in currency exchange rates, the 1980s flood of imports from Japan gave the financiers at the top of the car companies in America excuse to throw in the towel. They could do what they had long wanted to do – break up the auto parts divisions, move the factories abroad. When Halberstam brought this up two decades ago with Harley Shaiken, the labor analyst at the University of California, Shaiken said he worried that America’s leaders had given up on manufacturing because they were not manufacturing men. In 1986, Halberstam wrote that Shaiken believed “that the men who headed these large American industrial corporations would not stand
and fight against the Japanese, or at least would not fight very hard…. It was significant, Shaiken thought, that they were not men of the plants, not manufacturing men who, finding they had lost the lead, would push hard and fight to regain it. Rather, they were men of finance, and they were trained to think not in terms of loyalties to products and to factories and locales and men who worked for them but of profit and profit alone.” A quarter of a century after those words saw print, it would be hard to say that much had changed in the boardrooms of America. Corporate executives were still castigated for having little loyalty to their customers, employees, communities or flag. In 2009, ten months after U.S. Treasury officials had panicked Congress into the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, Goldman Sachs declared its best quarterly profit in 140 years, and reserved $11 billion for future payment of employee bonuses. The joy at Goldman, a Manhattan goliath whose alumni included Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary presiding over the bailout in the Bush White House, was bitter news for millions of Americans whose jobs had vanished in a recession fueled by Wall Street excess. Jon Stewart told viewers of his national comedy show: “Goldman Sachs makes $3.4 billion profit from April to June. I guess the bailouts are working. For Goldman Sachs.” Taking note of Stewart’s deadpan humor, New York Times writer David Segal focused on the public cynicism. “It’s the widespread sense that winners in this economy are produced by a game that’s rigged…. If these companies can return to the festivities so quickly, were they really having the neardeath experience they and the government claimed? And if taxpayers risked their money when they backstopped Wall Street’s misadventures, why aren’t they sharing in the upside now that the party has started again?” Of course, Goldman’s good fortune traced to the sudden collapse of most other Wall Street titans. It was easy to make money when
there was so little competition. But the gross disparity in Goldman even having $11 billion for bonuses, while the rest of the country suffered a staggering unemployment rate, was nothing new. Wall Street long had been on a course outward bound from Middle America. Paulson himself, along with Thomas McLarty, who had been chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, were new investors in Coda Automotive, a California upstart that in 2009 decided to produce $45,000 electric cars equipped with batteries purchased from China’s Tianjin Lishen, and car bodies made by China’s Hafei Automobile Industry Group. While Paulson fended off the inquisition in Congress, his investment in Coda Automotive, which was raising $24 million in total from investors, pointed to a key irony. Wall Street was investing in an assembly plant in America – the $24 million. But it was investing in a luxury car whose electric vitals originated in China and would enhance Chinese R&D, all the while presenting a rival in the car market for luxury models manufactured by Detroit. In one respect, this was nothing new. The borrowing binge of the 1980s actually starved the American industrial base. Kevin Phillips, a former Nixon White House official, writing in Bad Money, quoted Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman: “The 1980s,’’ Friedman said, “has been by far the worst period for business investment in physical assets like plant and equipment since World War II. Instead of borrowing to build new facilities or even to build liquidity, the corporate business sector as a whole has mostly used the proceeds of its extraordinary volume of borrowing… (for) mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts and stock repurchases.” Rather than spend that money on machine tools, engineering design computers, research labs or other goods that could fight off imports and create income and jobs for years, the CEOs had been like lottery winners blowing windfalls in Las Vegas. Progressive and New Left theorists were incensed, suddenly sound-
ing more nationalistic than the many flag wavers on Wall Street. “There’s more to decision-making than how much profit I can make,” fumed Indiana University Northwest’s Ruth Needleman. “They may talk like that in the board rooms but they don’t care about the tax base, about the standard of living. They are making decisions without any commitment to the nation.” Yet business leaders were not mavericks. They were logical. Building a business from scratch, or trying to grow profits in a mature business, was risky and time consuming, especially in the face of low-wage foreign competition reaching America. Profits could be more quickly shown by buying a plant in the next state. Just adding the income of the acquired business to the balance sheet had a way of making the acquirer’s stock price climb. Because executive pay was tied in part to the stock price, the deals produced hefty bonus checks. At the root of the buyout mania, fueling the process, was U.S. tax policy. Interest payments on corporate debt were deductible. The policies were meant to stimulate investment. Instead, they eviscerated the industrial
core. Taxpayers helped foot the bill. In the 1980s, “the interest deduction became an instrument to dismantle America – not to build it,’’ journalists Donald Bartlett and James Steele wrote. “Businesses borrowed money to raid other businesses and sell off their assets. That led to the closing of factories, the elimination of middle-income jobs, and the paying of astronomical sums to owners, investors and corporate executives who brought it all about. All this was subsidized by taxpayers – through the deduction for interest payments.” Not only did Wall Street finance the merger mania of the 1980s, it relentlessly drummed into CEOs the absolute need of turning in higher profits quarter after quarter after quarter. This had always been the case, but it became more so in the 1980s as the mergers swelled corporate profits. And it would figure in the decision of business leaders to cave in rather than fight imports, not just in Detroit, but across the country – just think of all the domestic TV tube and power tool and other appliance manufacturers that didn’t even last as long as the car companies. By the winter of 2009, Obama and Rattner would rebuke and
fire Richard Wagoner, General Motors’ chairman, for the company’s disastrous financial situation. Ironically, GM’s ills were rooted in the decisions of the 1980s, when it had tried to fight imports, however ineptly, building a series of high-tech plants expressly to fend off Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Too big to quickly turn around, an immense enterprise sized in the monopoly era of J. Pierpont Morgan to dominate the market, General Motors was one of the few American manufacturers that didn’t turn tail and run for the easy profits dangled by Wall Street in the merger mania of the Reagan era. Two decades later, Wagoner would be chastised, and GM scaled back radically by Obama and Rattner, who held that view that now, as a smaller company, GM could be made profitable. But those were the blandishments of lawyers and financiers, not manufacturers. Halberstam sensed all this in 1986, writing back then that “there was a growing split, indeed chasm, between what was good for Wall Street and what was good, in the long run, for productivity for America.” It was not only Detroit’s automakers confronting the chasm then, but CEOs in an array of industries, including the Silicon Valley, alarmed by the vicissitudes of American capitalism. In another era, the government had helped the old patrician, J. Pierpont Morgan, or at least looked the other way while he bundled rivals into huge concerns such as General Electric, all to avoid competition that ruined profits. By the M&A era, however, Wall Street and Washington were gripped by the
notion of laissez-faire. Hoping to slow the tide of imports in the early 1980s, a host of major companies called on Washington to protest these winds of change. Reagan earlier had helped Detroit weather the recession by temporarily restricting car imports to a certain volume. When the corporations asked specifically for a 35-percent surcharge on a wide array of Japanese imports to offset the price advantage bestowed by the strong dollar, the Reagan White House refused. In doing so, the
administration defined the issue not in terms of the chasm Halberstam described – Wall Street vs. American productivity – but free trade or protectionism. Although it was well understood the free-trade stance would erode jobs, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, then a top Reagan economics advisor, called the trade-off necessary. “A weaker dollar and smaller trade deficit would also mean less capital inflow from the rest of the world and therefore a lower level of domestic investment in plant and equipment and in housing,” Feldstein said. Of course, as his Harvard colleague, Benjamin Friedman, would later point out, much of that capital inflow was squandered on mergers and acquisitions rather than plant and equipment. But at the time, many
leading Americans agreed with Feldstein. Free trade was the mantra. Although the big corporations had gotten nowhere with Reagan, the idea of stemming the imports didn’t quite die. Former Nixon White House advisor Clyde Prestowitz also set out to do something about imports, supported not only by the Detroit automakers, but executives at a long line of top drawer electronics companies including Control Data, Intel, Motorola and Texas Instruments, giants all worried about imports. Earlier, in the Nixon years, Prestowitz had negotiated trade deals with countries including Japan. He had been struck by how the rich Americans viewed free trade as an abstract principle, while the guiding focus of the Japanese government had nothing to do with free trade. It was purely trade – build a standard of living for the Japanese people around manufactured goods made specifically for export to the world, particularly the richest market in the world, the United States. Having scant resources in the ground like coal, oil or ore, the Japanese ruthlessly protected their home industries, putting up barriers to a wide variety of imports. American cigarettes were almost impossible to find in Japanese stores, just as one example. Prestowitz went to the White House and pressed for trade restraints. But with the Cold War still under way, Washington was reluctant to offend an ally by putting up full blown trade barriers that could be seen as the opening salvo of a trade war. Nor would Reagan’s successor in office, George H.W. Bush, entertain the idea of barriers. Prestowitz, interviewed years later, said the stance then was ruinous for the economy of Middle America and is still in place today in the Obama White House and remains wrong. “We think we’re playing a free-market, free-trade game,’’ Prestowitz said. “When I was in the government, we assumed Japan was playing the same game. They weren’t. Japan was playing a game called catch up – or export-led growth. We were constantly in con-
flict with them. Memory chips, automotive, grapes and walnuts. Each time there was a conflict the pattern was the same. Japan would enter the U.S. with imports, but the U.S. couldn’t get its exports into Japan. We’d see our factories close and accuse Japan of dumping goods here and not letting us into their markets. They’d say wait a minute, your quality is low, or the steering wheel is on the wrong side, or you’re delivery is late. “A series of American industries were impacted,” Prestowitz said. “Machine tools. Memory chips. I finally said (to colleagues in Washington) I realized that we and Japan were playing two different games. Their idea of an open market is a tool and not an end in itself. Japan’s objective is to have strong industry. If the (open) market doesn’t help them, they’ll find a way to get there. What they did is what we did until 1945.” A young economist in Prestowitz’s office, Alan Tonelson, remembered the government stance back then. Washington refused stern action on the imports, so the corporations supporting Prestowitz fell away, and no longer pushed for import restraints. Instead, they began to move pieces of their own businesses to low-wage nations. For Tonelson, it was less the principles of free trade that shaped the White House decision than it was the politics of the Cold War, the containment of the Iron Curtain, a strategy faithfully adhered to by every American administration since 1945. The United States had put troops ashore in Korea and Vietnam to fight communism, and one tangible benefit for Japan had been the shipping routes in the Western Pacific near China, kept open and protected by American military power. Yet, there was a sense in Washington that a trade war might somehow move Japan out of the American camp just when the United States desperately needed Japan’s bankers. Grown wealthy on exports, Japan was at its economic peak late in the 1980s. So rich were its holdings of U.S. dollars and Treasury bills, Japan had succeeded
Saudi Arabia as America’s biggest creditor. Much as they worry about China today, Americans back then worried Japan was not to be ruffled or disturbed in any way, for fear it might unload assets or stop financing the American debt explosion. Once the big corporations put their seal of approval on offshoring, the trend became a stampede. General Motors began to uproot auto parts product lines in its big manufacturing centers at Anderson, Indiana; Flint, Michigan; and Kokomo, Indiana; as well as other cities and move the work abroad. By 1998, GM was the largest private employer in Mexico, employing 78,000 autoworkers there. The 1998 wage difference: $2 an hour in Mexico; $22 an hour in the United States. By the 2000s, GM had cut its labor force in Indiana, where it had been the state’s largest employer, from 40,000 workers in the 1980s to fewer than 6,000. Americans were largely silent. Many perceived the lesser quality of Detroit automobiles to be the responsibility of coddled UAW members. But by the time the quality gap between Japanese and American automobiles narrowed in the late 1990s, a result of better engineering in Detroit, few baby boomers cared. They had turned their backs on Detroit. Yet the move of jobs abroad did not stop simply with factories and assembly line jobs. In 2004, the Times of India bannered the headline “Silicon Valley Falls to Bangalore.” The report claimed 150,000 information technology engineers were employed in Bangalore, 20,000 more than in the California tech center. For executives in U.S. companies, the reliance on low-wage labor overseas helped the profit margins requisite for good earnings demanded by Wall Street. But the practice was haunting Middle America and ever other sections of the country. “Our financial mess is a result of a mindset focused on shareholder return. But this mindset failed us,” Prestowitz said. “It’s brought us a catastrophe.”
Just as offshoring cost manufacturing jobs, some economists suggested the rise of educated classes in India and China in particular, along with the ready access to information technology, might soon eviscerate millions of American office jobs, even for highly paid lawyers and tax accountants and the like. Princeton University economist Alan Blinder, vice chairman of Promontory Interfinancial Network, studied the offshoring trend and “estimated that 30 million to 40 million U.S. jobs are potentially offshorable’’ in the coming years, he wrote in a 2007 opinion piece for The Washington Post. “These include scientists, mathematicians and editors on the high end and telephone operators, clerks and typists on the low end,” Blinder wrote. “Obviously, not all of these jobs are going to India, China or elsewhere. But many will.” Once research and scientific work shifts overseas from America in large volume, the level of productivity could tend to diminish in the United States. Starving the U.S. in this way could be a dangerous path because it is productivity – the ability to do more and more with fewer inputs – that helps sustain the nation’s high incomes. Ron Hira, a Rochester Institute of Technology public policy professor, notes former IBM research chief Ralph Gomory saw nothing necessarily beneficial for American society in the shift of white-collar and high-tech work abroad. “When U.S. companies build semiconductor plants and R&D facilities in Asia rather than in the U.S.,” Gomory told a congressional panel, “then that is a shift in productive capability, and neither economic theory nor common sense asserts that shift is good for the U.S. even in the long run.” If there was a danger, it was clear the White House was not addressing it. By the late winter of 2009, Obama’s decision to fire the head of General Motors, scale back GM and prop it up with taxpayer cash was right out of
the old Wall Street play book of the 1980s. Downsizing a manufacturing corporation was standard procedure in the M&A departments that groomed Rattner. Of course, fat corporations had to be trimmed. And the net effect of the GM bankruptcy orchestrated by Obama was to cut away the high debts dragging on the company. Yet, there was no sense of robust confidence that GM might avoid a second bankruptcy in a few years. For Alan Tonelson, a researcher at the U.S. Business & Industry Council, a promanufacturing trade group in Washington, and others who had examined the decline of the industrial Midwest, the solutions were obvious and plentiful. It boiled down to an array of ideas, large and small. What was clear was the automakers had to be harnessed to a larger plan to salvage the industrial base and create industrial jobs across the region. As part of this, Detroit needed to refocus on American battery technology at companies such as EnerDel in Indianapolis, or A123 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, rather than rely on France’s Saft or South Korea’s LG Chemical. This point was clearly asserted in Fortune magazine by business writer Paul Keegan. “Industrialists the world over understand what is only now dawning on Detroit: The handful of companies that end up controlling the battery industry will also control the car industry,” Keegan wrote. “Because battery technology will become the core competency that defines the modern car company, it will hardly be the kind of intellectual property you’d want to outsource to a foreign auto-supply company. Sure, GM can assemble those T-shaped battery packs for the Volt domestically. But the most crucial aspect is developing a safe, reliable chemistry and using that proprietary technology to massproduce the hundreds of cells required for a
single battery pack. Too bad for GM that the cells for the Volt actually will come from a Korean company, LG Chemical.” Another obvious place to start was bigger tax credits. Much of Wall Street had been blown away in 2008, but the bias against manufacturing still existed among many investors. Tax initiatives could steer money to the sector and help entrepreneurs in manufacturing attract financing. Idle automotive and recreation vehicle plants were available for transformation and reinvention throughout the region. “In World War II it took no time to retool the plants for war,” said Indiana University Northwest’s Ruth Needleman. “Why aren’t we using all these (auto) plants for public transportation and energy efficient vehicles, or machinery that would let us go green?” Also helpful would be an end to the use of
quarterly earnings reports. Trying to satisfy Wall Street’s appetite for growing profits every three months tends to focus executive attention on the short term, rather than investing in long horizons. Even some military planners have urged an end to Wall Street’s focus on quarterly profits, contending it was one in a bevy of reasons for the gradual gutting of the U.S. manufacturing base. Throughout the industrial Midwest, 1,991 metal works
plants had closed between 1998 and 2004 and dismissed 80,000 workers, raising concerns in the Pentagon that U.S. manufacturers might not be able to sustain the armed forces in a major war. “One area of utmost concern for the Defense Department and defense industry is manufacturing machine tools,” wrote Lawrence Farrell Jr., a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, in the February 2005 issue of National Defense magazine. “There is a compelling case to be made that both the federal government and the private sector need to step up their investments in manufacturing technology, so we can remain competitive with economic powerhouses such as Japan, Germany and China.” What also could quickly help preserve jobs, at least in the auto sector, are tougher domestic content rules that insisted vehicle components must be engineered or at least made in the United States. When the Europeans dropped their barriers to Japanese auto plants, they also demanded and got strong domestic content laws. Tonelson said this saved thousands of jobs in plants that make smaller pieces used in larger components. In the United States, many of those small pieces are still imported across a range of industries, especially in autos. Tonelson, who studies import and export trends, said that “since the start of 2005, imports of tires, electrical equipment, seating and trim, and vehicles from Japan have risen. Imports of tires, lighting systems, stampings, and miscellaneous parts from Germany have grown. And imports of every parts category from Korea are up except for electrical systems and vehicles themselves. Just as surprising, many categories of parts imports from Germany and Korea have risen significantly since 2005, notably lighting, stampings, and air conditioning systems from the former, and brakes, transmission and power train-related items, and seating and trim products from the latter.”
And there was the big issue, the thorny one that took on international implications. This was trade reform. Peter Morici, who had been the chief economist for the U.S. Trade Commission under the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, believed whether it was on the agenda now or not, Americans would have to confront foreign trade issues eventually in a way they had not confronted them for three decades. That was the key to the economy. Just as in the 1980s and 1990s the United States had run up huge deficits with Japan, it was now splurging on goods from China. With China paving the way by loaning the United States money for the imports, China’s holdings of U.S. Treasury bills had exceeded $750 billion, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported. But for economists fixated on trade reform, the trade deficit and heavy borrowing were not only unsustainable – the U.S. could not run up endless debts – it was holding back the U.S. economic recovery. The United States, Morici argued, could not recover until people had jobs and they could not have enough jobs until China stopped fiddling with its currency to maintain a low price on goods shipped to the United States. Said Morici: “The U.S. economy cannot again achieve robust and sustainable growth, unless either consumers spend more than they earn and Americans finance it all by borrowing from abroad or the trade deficit is significantly reduced to redirect more U.S. spending to domestic suppliers of goods and services.” F/m Ted Evanoff and Abe Aamidor are journalists in Indiana.
Reimagining a prairie In the Nachusa Grasslands, the Nature Conservancy explores the possibilities By JEANNE HANDY PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOM HANDY
The Prairies. I behold them for the first, And my heart swells, while the dilated sight Takes in the encircling vastness. – William Cullen Bryant Stalwart plants grasp at our shoelaces, whip at our thighs, and send forth seeds to journey to new destinations upon our clothes as our little tour group continues plodding at an undaunted pace through The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands of northcentral Illinois. Here at this nearly 3,000-acre site near Franklin Grove, Illinois, the sky meets the ground unimpeded and the forever vista suggests possibility. Something from the human past seems to be whispering, “This is good.” It has been suggested by Harvard biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson that humans have an innate tendency “to affiliate with life, to be attracted to it, to like its varieties, to enjoy and prefer certain qualities of it.” He calls this instinctive response “biophilia.” And surely the majority of us have felt the fascination, the sense of wellbeing and wonder associated with a particular landscape whether hiking through a national park or standing in the midst of a backyard garden in bloom. Yet, Nachusa belongs as much to our present as it does to our past. Prairieland straddles the realm of reality and legend as one of our country’s most endangered ecosystems. When The Nature Conservancy purchased the first 400-acre parcel for this site in 1986, only small prairie remnants survived among the row crops. Some of the answers an unadulterated prairie ecosystem
may have held regarding its complex role within the web of life may already be lost to us. But at least Nachusa has retained the bits and pieces upon which to build viable questions. “We have to take a blank slate like these agricultural fields and turn them into a diverse community of native grasses, flowers and animals, which requires countless hours of detailed work,” says Nachusa project director, Bill Kleiman. Now, with urgency the country is coming to realize that many species are dependent upon this habitat for survival. We need botanists, agronomists, land surveys, and aerial photographs. We need hydrologists, entomologists, ornithologists, written accounts from early settlers, and the dedication of numerous volunteers to reimagine this system, using our best science and best estimates. Our guide, volunteer Mike Adolph, stops the group’s progress when he spots an ankle-
35 wrenching hole nearly hidden by the tangled plant life and acts as a human marker until the rest of us have passed by uninjured. From what is known about this land, it could be the former site of a fence post or perhaps the open wound from attempted eradication of an invasive species such as the multiflora rose. In the 1930s, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service promoted the use of this lovely enemy of the prairie for erosion control and as living fences to confine livestock. State conservation departments likewise recommended its use as cover for wildlife. Eventually it became recognized as a pest capable of invading numerous habitats. There are likely many such stories of misconceptions regarding land usage concealed here by the chaotic growth. But there are also new stories built upon prevailing research and experimentation geared toward reconstructing this ecosystem. We now know that fire was an historic element of a flourishing prairie. And it remains crucial for the restoration and maintenance of preserves, stimulating productivity of prairie plants while killing woody shrubs and trees that would otherwise replace the grasses. We also know that size counts. The Nachusa Grasslands site has grown to 2,826 acres, in stark contrast to the majority of prairie preserves in Illinois — and in Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin — which are tiny, some as small as half an acre. The study of island biogeography has told us that small islands can only support smallness: smaller-sized species; smaller numbers of species; smaller populations within species. Only species vulnerability from disease and drought grows greater as parcels of natural landscape grow smaller. Although not surrounded by ocean, Nachusa is surely an island of life isolated by plowed land and areas of development where the rare and the endangered are huddled like castaways on a land out of time. In fact, Nachusa can boast
one of the world’s first successful reintroductions of a rare insect, the gorgone checkerspot butterfly, following its rescue from smaller prairie fragments. What is also known and must be remembered is that this habitat was very nearly lost to us — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of native prairie survives in Illinois, the “Prairie State,” and less than 5 percent of the country’s prairieland still exists. Also troubling, as the The Nature Conservancy warns, is that “the notion of bringing a landscape back to a former state is still a new one.” As a resource for the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Nachusa additionally plays a role in diminishing the ever-looming threat of future prairie extinction. “The Chicago Botanic Garden’s seed bank is part of an international effort to cryogenically freeze seeds of various species … just in case,” explains Kleiman, and Nachusa is touted by The Nature Conservancy as “an exemplary source of seeds which may one day be the foundation of restoration efforts in other preserves around the world.” The Chicago Botanic Garden is part of the global Millennium Seed Bank organized by the Royal Botanic Gardens with a global focus on plant life facing extinction and on plants that have “most use for the future.” Most use for the future? There are obvious benefits to be derived from reincarnated prairie habitat, such as the return of the rare flora and fauna already found at Nachusa — the Blanding’s turtles, the bobolinks, the Henslow’s sparrows, and one of the state’s largest populations of federally-threatened prairie bush clover. And there are the less obvious benefits as suggested by research conducted at the Department of Energy’s Fermilab National Environmental Research Park in northeastern Illinois demonstrating that restored tallgrass prairie vegetation has the potential to
sequester large amounts of carbon in the soil. In other words, prairieland can assist in alleviating global warming. But as members of our group follow Mike Adolph’s lead in crumbling the dried flower heads of the purple prairie clover to release its marvelous smell, the fascination radiating upon the faces of my fellow hikers leads to thoughts about the more elusive, the nearly intangible effects of natural habitat upon humankind. Proponents of biophilia say that the natural world is an information-rich environment, and in its midst we can rouse our imagination, participate in new encounters, face new challenges, and push the edge of our creativity. The Nachusa volunteers, who spend tedious hours at work on the preserve, often on hands and knees, uncannily echo these theories. “It is one of the most exciting places to visit in the Midwest,” enthuses one volunteer while another claims that “the work is hard, but it is rewarding.” Yet another asserts that the planting process continues to “delight, educate, and challenge.” So, are we really dependent upon such natural areas for a true sense of well-being? Again, E.O. Wilson answers: “Humanity is exalted not because
we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.” We now search for the bottle gentian, a plant that in full bloom looks as if it is just about to unfurl its petals. Ahhh, here they are. After marveling over petals having the intense purple hue of royal garb, I take out my prairie wildflower book to note our find and in turn discover an interesting fact. “The bumblebee is one of the few insects strong enough to open this flower by pushing its front half into the ‘bottle’ and holding the entrance behind open with its abdomen and rear legs,” it states. As I picture an upside-down bumblebee with legs bestraddled, Wilson’s wisdom echoes: “ . . . knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.” HIKE NACHUSA GRASSLANDS Sunday, October 10, 2010, 2 p.m.: Introduction to seed picking on the prairie. Tools and containers provided. Ride in the pickup truck; see several different areas of the preserve. Saturday, November 6, 2010, Noon: Seed celebration potluck; 2 p.m.: Preserve tour led by Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands preserve manager. Sunday, December 5, 2010, 2 p.m.: Hike Hamill-Winter ridge. To reserve a place, e-mail Becky Hartman at email@example.com or call (630) 309-2110. Additional information is available at nachusagrasslands.org/Hikes/Hikes.html
Miner versus miner Coal operators, John L. Lewis and the federal government crush the Progressive Miners By C.D. STELZER ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANDREW KLOSE
ill Warner never knew how close he came to dying. After clocking out at the Mount Olive, Illinois, waterworks around midnight, he decided to walk home by way of the Union Miners Cemetery. Entering the graveyard, he ambled past the tombstones, pausing to gaze from afar at the silhouette of a shrouded monument. He then strode to within a couple of feet of the cloaked obelisk and again stopped in his tracks. Warner had no idea that every move he made was being watched by eight men, each aiming a shotgun in his direction, finger on the trigger. Nor would the former coal miner ever learn that his neardeath experience would become part of the region’s storied labor history. Decades later, after Warner had died of natural causes, Joseph Ozanic Sr. recounted the incident from the perspective of one of the gunmen lurking in the shadows. Unbeknownst to Warner on that long-ago night in the autumn of 1936, he had walked into a trap set by members of Local 728 of the Progressive Miners of America, the owner of the cemetery. “The good Lord must have been with him,” recalled Ozanic, former PMA state president. “Had his curiosity got the best of him to the extent that he might have tried to raise the veil up to see that marble, eight shotguns would have hit him from eight directions.”
Warner had likely made his nocturnal pilgrimage to pay an advance tribute to the woman for whom the monument would be publicly dedicated less than a week later. On October 11, 1936, an estimated 50,000 people jammed the cemetery to honor legendary labor organizer Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones. Ozanic and his comrades had staked out the cemetery for several nights before the ceremony because they had heard rumors that the rival United Mine Workers union, under the autocratic rule of John L. Lewis, planned to blow up the monument. Their vigilance was warranted. Bombings, shootings, and other violence were common during the labor strife of the 1930s, when the two unions battled for supremacy in the central-Illinois coalfields. The tale of graveyard guard duty is buried among thousands of pages of transcribed interviews conducted by the Office of Oral History at Sangamon State University (which has since become the University of Illinois at Springfield) in the 1970s and 1980s, now available online. The recollections of the miners and their family members provide an invaluable historical context for understanding the struggles they endured. As evidenced by Ozanic’s anecdote, the Mother Jones monument not only symbolizes labor’s struggles but actually became a part of them. Before her death in 1930, at the age of 100, Jones — an avowed foe of Lewis — had requested that her remains be buried in the Union Miners Cemetery with the martyrs of the Virden massacre, who died in 1898 during an earlier strike against Illinois coal operators. When the PMA decided to rebury Jones’ body in front of the monument, the UMW sued to stop the exhumation of her unmarked grave. Six years after she died,
38 Mother Jones still commanded the attention and respect of organized labor. Lewis — fearing the labor matriarch’s iconic influence — had UMW attorneys file a restraining order that painted the PMA members more or less as ghouls. “He sought to make it appear that we were going to unearth graves and scatter bones of the dead in our cemetery,” Ozanic recalled. “Of course, we countered in court and proved that he was a damn liar. . . . And then we proceeded. We raised the funds and everything was set up, and oh, Jesus, what a deal it was! It really shook him and rocked old John L. and his corrupt outfit like nothing else.” The PMA and its women’s auxiliary had somehow managed to raise more than $16,000 in the middle of the Great Depression to build the 20foot-tall granite shaft, which bears a bas-relief of Jones and is flanked by bronze statues of two coal miners. The outlay represented a lofty sum for the cashstrapped union, most of whose members had been on strike since the PMA had organized itself, in 1932, to oppose Lewis’ despotic control over the UMW. Through the monument, the PMA and its supporters had won a major publicity coup by attaching their democratic labor movement to the memory of Mother Jones. The victory was shortlived.
members with conspiracy to disrupt interstate commerce and impede mail delivery in connection with 23 bombings and six attempted bombings of railroad property between December 1932 and August 1935. The trial, which took place a year later, lasted more than a month and featured 388 witnesses. With each passing day’s testimony, tensions welled higher. The judge, at one point, threatened to clear the courtroom because of outbursts by PMA supporters. In another instance, a defense attorney tussled with a Springfield police detective in the third-floor corridor of the courthouse. The courtroom drama garnered frontpage headlines in both of Springfield’s daily newspapers for weeks. Lengthy
ess than two months after the Mother Jones monument was unveiled, a federal grand jury in Springfield charged 41 PMA
39 accounts detailed legal strategies, summarized testimonies, and noted the many prosecutorial objections sustained by the bench. Outside the courtroom, however, larger forces played a critical role in the fate of the defendants. Lewis began his career in the Illinois coalfields, but by the 1930s he was vying for national power. With the UMW as his base, he bolted from the American Federation of Labor to head the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which was then organizing millions of American factory workers. To secure future influence in labor matters, the UMW also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The UMW’s generosity may partly explain the Roosevelt administration’s interest in the case. After a year-long FBI investigation, the Justice Department dispatched U.S. Assistant Attorney General Welly K. Hopkins to Springfield. He used the newly enacted federal anti-racketeering law for the first time to try the case. Ultimately three defendants received early acquittals from the judge. The court released another individual for lack of evidence and excused yet another because of poor health. Despite the vast amount of evidence and the overall complexity of the case, the jury deliberated for just over three hours before delivering the verdict on the remaining 36 defendants. All were found guilty as charged and sentenced to federal prison. The guilty verdicts, delivered in December 1937, presaged the gradual decline of the PMA. A few years later, Roosevelt pardoned all of the convicted miners, but not before they had served their prison sentences. By then the PMA had suffered more setbacks in its efforts to negotiate contracts with
coal operators in Illinois and elsewhere. In each case, federal labor rulings always favored the UMW over the PMA. With its membership rolls dwindling, the upstart union no longer could challenge Lewis’ omnipotence. On its face, justice appeared to have been served. The violence alleged to have been perpetrated by the PMA had been punished by the rule of law. A photograph in the Illinois State Journal, which appeared the day after the verdict, shows the prosecution team smiling, as they read all about their victory in an extra edition of the same newspaper. In the photo, lead prosecutor Hopkins is resting his arm on the shoulder of George A. Stevens, the FBI agent who investigated the case. To Springfield labor historian Carl Oblinger, the outcome of the trial was as staged as the photograph. “It was a charade,” he said. “There was nothing connecting the PMA guys to conspiracy.” On the contrary, Oblinger said, a conspiracy was perpetrated against the PMA. The historian bases his opinion on FBI memos sent to the attorney general prior to the grand-jury investigation in the fall of 1936.
f the story of the Illinois mining wars ever hit the big screen, the opening scenes might take place in the Taylorville law office of Reese & Reese, where Daniel G. Reese, the firm’s senior partner, shares cramped quarters with son Lindsey. A few years ago, the 79-year-old former mayor of the town sat behind his cluttered desk and reminisced about one of his earliest childhood memories: the repeated bombing of his parents’ home in 1933. “Oh yeah, I remember all of it,” Reese said. “I was about 5 years old. In fact, I was in the house when they bombed it both times. They bombed the garage and
40 blew up the car. They also bombed the front porch.” Reese recalls talking to the National Guardsmen who patrolled around his house after the explosions occurred. He also remembers seeing the roadblocks set up by the state militia on the edge of town. He recalls listening to radio broadcasts that reported shootings on the streets of Taylorville related to the labor conflict. Reese remembers the taunts of schoolmates, too. More than 70 years later, the elderly attorney still isn’t sure whom to blame for the bombings that rocked his childhood residence at 120 N. Madison Street, but he is quite clear about who wasn’t responsible. “Obviously they didn’t represent the Progressive Mine workers,” he said. It’s a reasonable deduction. His father, Leal Reese, also an attorney, represented the PMA in 1933. Reese downplays the bombings, saying that he believes that they were only meant to send his father a message, not to kill or maim. He tends to blame the violence of the era more on human nature than on anything else. In hindsight, Reese said, the idea of two labor unions’ fighting each other makes no more sense than religious warfare. Besides, it all happened so long ago. The rancor of those bygone days has vanished and been forgotten. Those who were involved are all dead. It is as if time has served as an anodyne. And then a name pops into the conservation that jars his memory. “That’s it — Argust! Everybody has always told me that if it hadn’t had been for Argust we wouldn’t have had this darn fight,” Reese said. “Everybody says he
was at fault.” He is referring to the late Ward C. Argust, Peabody Coal’s division superintendent in Taylorville. From 1922 to 1937, Argust oversaw the coal company’s Midland tract, which included four mines in Christian County. The mine superintendent also took part in the contentious contract negotiations with the UMW.
t was in 1932, on April 1, that Illinois miners went on strike over wage and manpower issues. The union wanted a reduction in weekly work hours to stave off job losses resulting from mechanization. The coal operators rejected that proposal and additionally sought to slash wages from $6.10 to $5 a day, though the miners had accepted a
41 substantial wage cut two years earlier. With the bargaining at an impasse, UMW District 12 leadership reluctantly requested that Lewis intercede. Asking for his help was an extraordinary concession in itself because union miners in Illinois had long valued their autonomy and resented the international president’s heavy-handedness. In July, Lewis pushed for acceptance of the coal operators’ latest proposal, which varied little from the original offer. Illinois miners again turned down the contract. Lewis immediately called for another vote on what was essentially the same package in early August — but before the ballots could be tallied they were stolen off the street in Springfield. Lewis then declared an emergency and signed the contested contract without the consent of the rank and file. All hell broke loose. Union miners rebelled. Mass demonstrations erupted in mining towns throughout central and southern Illinois. In late August, thousands of unarmed miners set out from Gillespie to rally support in southern Illinois. Their caravan was ambushed near Mulkeytown, in Franklin County. Several miners were wounded by sniper fire. Rather than quell the dissent, the surprise attack spurred further militancy. On September 1, 1932, 272 delegates — representing more than 30,000 miners in the state — convened at the Colonial Theater in Gillespie and voted to break with the UMW and form the Progressive Miners of America. In Taylorville, Argust watched the unrest escalate, and 12,000 striking miners converged on the city on August 18. To his chagrin, the mass picketing temporarily shut down production in Peabody’s profitable Midland tract, including Mine No. 58. In his later
testimony, Argust identified several of the defendants in the PMA bombing trial as leaders of the protest that continued for days: “They blocked all the roads. I saw the mob that marched in. I saw the picket lines. I saw men in the park, on the public square in Kincaid, and along the highways and roads leading to the mine properties. On many occasions, men were around my house yelling.” Argust’s hired thugs would soon strike back with more than words.
oday the land above the abandoned Mine No. 58, on the outskirts of Taylorville, is the site of Midwest Recycling, a scrap yard that harbors everything from an airplane fuselage to mangled bicycle frames and trashed computer monitors. The tipple is long gone, the mineshaft covered over. Vestiges of the old railroad tracks are barely visible in a path now traveled by salvagers driving pickup trucks and tractors. A junkyard dog eyes visitors warily as they walk by a couple of old brick buildings that were part of the original mining operation. Inside one of the structures is a tag board that hundreds of coal miners once used to keep track of who was working underground. The boards doubled as places for miners to keep their pistols during working hours. The sidearms that coal miners toted around for selfprotection back in those days, however, were peashooters compared to the arsenal that Argust kept in the supervisors’ washhouse at Mine No. 58. Vernon Vickery worked at the washhouse from November 1932 until April 1935, according to testimony he gave on behalf of the defense in the bombing trial. Under questioning by chief defense counsel A.M. Fitzgerald, Vickery explained that he took orders directly from
42 Argust. “We used the washhouse to store dynamite, arms, ammunition, and machine guns,” Vickery told the court. The witness said that he and the mine superintendent had exclusive access to the weapons cache and that he was instructed by Argust to distribute the dynamite “only to those that I knew as okay, which consisted of his regular bomb squad.” Like Vickery, the “bomb squad” members were ex-convicts who had in many cases gained early release from prison through the intervention of Peabody officials. Vickery further testified that Peabody employed outof-state strikebreakers, paid informants to spy on PMA activities, and bankrolled armed goons, including himself, to beat up striking miners. Vickery also said that Argust took over the Christian County Sheriff’s Department, hiring and deputizing between 100 to 150 men, who were paid for their services by Peabody Coal. Vickery claimed that Argust ordered the bomb squad to target private residences, a Baptist church, and Tango Joe’s, a Taylorville saloon frequented by strikers. He cited other instances in which the bomb squad intentionally destroyed company property to give the appearance that the acts of violence were carried out by the PMA.
He indicated, for example, that the bombings of the Daily Breeze newspaper office and UMW office in Taylorville on September 18, 1932, were carried out under Argust’s direction to force the Illinois governor to call out the National Guard to help break the strike. Vickery identified the bomber of the newspaper and union headquarters as Merle Cottom. In prior testimony, Argust had denied many of these same accusations — but he did admit under oath to employing as many as eight “undercover men,” including Cottom. Two of Argust’s paid informants ended up defendants in the bombing trial. One of them, John “Jack” Stanley, the president of the PMA’s Taylorville local, had his own house bombed twice. Vickery testified that on July 23, 1933, he distributed dynamite to four members of the bomb squad. One bomb exploded later that night at Peabody Mine No. 7, near Kincaid, he said. Another explosion, on the same night, damaged the Stanley residence in Taylorville. Stanley’s bodyguard sustained gunshot wounds in the attack. Stanley and his bodyguard sued Peabody Coal and two of the bomb-squad thugs. Stanley testified that he and his bodyguard received out-of-court settlements from the company after discussions with Argust. The defense established that the Christian County state’s attorney and his law partner, who
43 represented Peabody, negotiated the settlement. Outstanding criminal charges against the alleged bombers were then reduced to misdemeanors, and one of the men was later issued a UMW union card and given a job at a Peabody mine in the area. To refute Vickery’s testimony, the prosecution called on his parents, who described their son as delusional and untrustworthy. Nonetheless, the prosecution never charged him with perjury. As for Argust, he fell ill shortly after appearing as a prosecution witness, which prevented the defense from recalling him. He died in a Chicago hospital on the last day of the trial. In the final weeks of the trial, one defendant after another took the stand and denied the charges. One of the accused, Edris Mabie, couldn’t speak for himself because he had been shot and killed in front of the PMA union hall in downtown Springfield on Easter Sunday 1935. Springfield police arrested UMW district president Ray Edmundson and Fred Thomasson, a former member of Charlie Birger’s gang, for the murder — but the case was dropped for unknown reasons. Throughout the trial, Fitzgerald, the chief defense attorney, charged that his clients were the victims of a frame-up. In his closing arguments, he questioned at length the relationship among Stevens, the FBI’s lead investigator, and members of the UMW in putting together the case that led to the indictments.
n two flanks of the Mother Jones monument in Mount Olive are bronze plaques listing the names of 21 PMA members who died during the mining wars. PMA attorney Fitzgerald asked that those names be read into the court record on the first day of defense testimony. Among the martyrs was Fred D. Gramlich,
who was shot with a high-powered rifle through the window of his Springfield tavern on the night of May 27, 1936. His son Arthur “Art” Gramlich, who was wounded a year earlier in the Easter Sunday shooting, was named lead defendant in the bombing trial. In 1972, the younger Gramlich, by then 68 years old, agreed to be interviewed as a part of the oral-history project at Sangamon State. The interview took place at his daughter’s dining-room table. Kitchen clatter can be heard in the background. Gramlich displayed tattoos on both arms and on the knuckles of his gnarled hands. He had only partial use of his left forearm as a result of a gunshot wound he sustained decades earlier. According to the handwritten notes of the interviewer, Gramlich wanted immediate assurance from him that he wasn’t a FBI agent. After being convinced, Gramlich chained-smoked for nearly two hours as he recounted his life. Toward the end of the interview, Gramlich said that in late 1936 — only months after his father’s violent death — a FBI agent offered him a $10,000 bribe to implicate his fellow PMA members in the bombing campaign. “I couldn’t have hated him any worse right then,” said Gramlich. “I said, ‘You goddamn son of a bitch, why don’t you go look and try to find who blowed my old man’s heart out? He’s dead, but your goddamn stinking railroads and your mail ain’t dead. I don’t know nothing about it . . . and you ain’t going to find anything about it.’ ” According to Gramlich, the agent replied: “‘Well, just the same, we’ll have your ass before it’s over.’” F/m C.D. Stelzer is a journalist in St. Louis. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Great Depression The Dougan dairy faces hard times, and prevails By JACQUELINE JACKSON All on the farm must tighten their belts, and not just the employees. But Jackie, Craig, Patsy, and Joan are only dimly aware that the Great Depression is going on. When it begins, in October of 1929, they are very little; Jackie isn’t yet two. They grow up through it, so that the word “depression” is a familiar one, and they know “money” is in short supply. But what does this mean to them? They have only word-knowledge of the Depression. They don’t have heart-knowledge, bellyknowledge. For there is always enough to eat, at the Big House, at the Little House, at Aunt Ida’s. There is all the milk they can drink, and they drink gallons a day, plus all the half pints of chocolate milk and orange and grape drink that they freely take from the milkhouse. They spread butter on Grama’s homemade bread with a trowel. Their oatmeal is a brown-sugary island in a sea of cream. There are fresh fruits and vegetables all summer; and from the pungent root cellar at the Big House, carrots and onions and parsnips and potatoes and squashes and apples all winter. There are all the home-canned goods, tomatoes and string beans and applesauce and pickles and peas, lined up in dusty rows in Grama’s canning cellar, or on the shelves at the top of the Big House back stairs. There are eggs. And there is plenty of meat: beef, pork, chicken. The four never know any hunger but that of healthy appetites. Nor does the Depression occasion any discernable changes in their lives. They
don’t have to leave the farm, or move into a smaller house, or double up with relatives. Daddy doesn’t lose his job; they aren’t aware of how drastically his salary has been cut. They do not know that Grampa is investigating bankruptcy. Santa Claus always comes. A farm truck is more fun to ride in than a car. And doesn’t every younger sibling wear hand-down clothes? Even the eldest inherit from a cousin? Jackie has no realization of the hardships common to other families around the country, some even in Turtle Township. Her life is the way it is, complete with music lessons and birthday presents, and she doesn’t question its bountifulness any more than she questions the sun rising over the Blodgett farm every morning, and sinking behind the Congregational Church steeple in far off Beloit every night. However, Daddy and Mother, Grampa and Grama, and every grownup on the farm are well aware of the Depression.
45 Everyone up and down Colley Road is. And of course, before it’s over, even Craig, born in 1930, is old enough to have a grasp of the situation. In the mid-’60s, Jackie hears Daddy tell about those early years. At any time, he says, not only the dairy but any farm along the road would have gone under if its creditors had all blown the whistle at the same time. But they didn’t. Dougans were lucky that way, and Marstons and Blodgetts and the others. But there was more than luck. There was help from the government. The Federal Land Bank was ready to loan money to farmers who needed it, and Grampa and Daddy needed it. The farm was teetering on the brink. Grampa would probably have to declare bankruptcy unless he could get a farm loan. This money wasn’t handed out willynilly, however. Requirements had to be met; there had to be a certain relationship between assets and liabilities. Daddy and Grampa figured out their situation and found that the farm had too many debts to qualify for a farm loan. It was then that Daddy had a lifesaving
idea. Why not incorporate the milk business as an entity separate from the farm? Let the corporation – which would legally be a “person,” yet neither Daddy nor Grampa nor the farm – let that corporation assume the farm’s debts. Then the farm would be eligible for a land bank loan, and they would all survive. The corporation is a small one – Grampa as president; Hazel Croft, Daddy’s first cousin, vice-president; and Daddy, secretary-treasurer. They draw up the articles of incorporation and “W. J. Dougan, the Babies’ Milkman,” becomes “Dougan Guernsey Farm Dairy, Inc.” They change the lettering on the next order of stationery, but not on the trucks. Then Daddy takes all the local debts – money owed to the State Bank, the First National Bank, the debts on machinery, lumber, plumbing, seed, totaling some twenty thousand dollars, and asks everyone to take a private note on the milk business. And everyone does, even though the corporation has no collateral, only good will. This brings the farm debt down far enough to get a farm loan.
46 “And everyone on the road would have lost their farms if it weren’t for the Rock County Federal Farm Loan Association,” says Daddy. “We got our loan in 1933, and I’m still paying it off, as slow as I can. I’ll probably have to finish it off pretty soon, though. Still, over thirty years, at that interest!” But it takes more than luck, loans, and incorporation. Business is falling. As people are laid off, they cut their family milk consumption, or buy from the store, or carry a bucket out to the country to some farmer with a cow or two, or let their bills mount, or move out of the area entirely. Many leave milk bills behind. Can a business already running on such a slim margin survive such an unstable market? Daddy writes scores of letters to customers who aren’t paying, asking if they might begin to reduce their debt little by little. These are courteous letters, and gentle, for he knows the straits of such families, and there but for the grace of God, the Federal Land Bank, and his own lenient creditors, goes he. Often he and
Grampa let a man come out and work off his milk bill as a day laborer. Daddy remembers taking a train up to Janesville. It is probably 1933, well after Grampa has had to cut everyone’s wages so drastically. The distance is short but the train takes nearly two hours to get there. Daddy has the milk business on his mind. He has a scrap of paper and on it he is trying to figure out how to meet the payroll. There are many families supported by the farm: his and Grampa’s, the milkmen and their families, the hired men, some of them with families. The helps’ wages, factoring in board, milk, or other perks, is now averaging about sixty dollars a month. “I decided the men simply had to have a hundred a month,” Daddy says. “None of us could live on less than a hundred a month! But I didn’t see how we could do it. I figured and figured. Then the train pulled into Janesville. I crumpled up the paper, I jammed it into my pocket, I stood up and said out loud, ‘We’ll pay a hundred a month!’”
47 It is after this that Daddy accomplishes another lifesaving action. Ever since joining his father in the business, he has been active in advertising. He came with experience – while at Northwestern University and Beloit College he paid much of his way by selling advertising for student desk blotters. Now he looks around for markets besides the door-to-door delivery one, places where people might buy a bottle of milk on a regular basis. Through his efforts, the hospital and a number of kindergartens are already buying Dougan’s milk, though Todd School buys Wright and Wagner’s so that Jackie has to bring her bottle from home. “We can’t have you buying milk when we have plenty,” Daddy says. He now visits all the area grocery stores, scattered throughout town and far up the River Road, where Burrwood Park and the trailer courts are located. He gets many of the grocers to stock Dougan’s milk in their coolers, and to add the dairy’s name to their signs. This helps business some. But an area the farm has underutilized is the factories. Several years previous to the Depression Daddy had pondered a State motto, “Farm and Factory Must Prosper Together.” The idea was just starting to develop that milk could be sold to men at their benches. Daddy knew of one factory that allowed this: Gisholts, in Madison. He and Grampa went up and talked to the management; they followed the deliveryman up and down the aisles and into the foundry. They decided factories could be an outlet for The Babies’ Milkman, and in 1927 approached a few of the smaller shops in Beloit, and one large one, The Beloit Iron Works.
Grampa’s letter was a solicitation for the county YMCA — one he would have sent anyway — but it added a query about the feasibility of milk delivery to the specific factory. Every day a routeman would peddle milk in its aisles. The response was largely favorable; a letter coming from the vice-president-treasurer of the Iron Works, Elbert Neese, said that he was personally in favor of it, but would take it up with “our Welfare Organization and the men will make their own decision.” The men decided yes. After several months of milk delivery, Grampa sent follow-up letters to the factory management, many of whom he and Ron knew personally, asking how the enterprise was working out. All the responses were positive. The factory trade has helped, but the shops, Daddy realizes, could be bringing in much more. Armed with this and the other responses, he now decides to expand the factory trade aggressively. He first approaches Mr. John Amend, owner of the Racine Feet Knitting Factory in South Beloit. This factory makes only the feet of socks, which are then sent somewhere else for their tops. “Yes,” says Mr. Amend, “you can come in and sell to my knitters.” Daddy goes with Lester Stam the first day. They push a cart through the factory and explain to the women that they will be coming regularly. The knitters are delighted with a milk break in their morning, and many of them buy a half pint for a nickel. This is quite a profit, since the
48 dairy is selling quarts for eight cents. That afternoon Daddy and Lester go into the office and empty nickels from their bulging pockets out onto the table. “Lester,” says Daddy jubilantly as they count the money and roll it up in duskyred wrappers to go to the bank, “when we get our volume up to a hundred dollars a day, I’ll take you out and get you drunk!” And since drinking is strictly forbidden to any employee of W. J. Dougan, he and Lester roar at the joke. Daddy persuades Freeman’s Shoe Factory and Mork’s Foundry, both major manufacturers, to allow milk to be peddled. Other factories join in. In 1931 he runs an ad in the Beloit Daily News, “DOUGAN’S MILK IN BELOIT FACTORIES,” with a photo of four overalled men with lunch buckets, eating near their machines, each with a pint bottle of milk — “Lunch Hour at the General Refrigeration Co.” The copy reads, “Three years ago we made it possible for the employees in many Beloit factories to secure Dougan Guernsey products during working hours. Our drivers go through the factories every morning, selling milk to the men at their bench or in their office. At present the following factories are being supplied.” A full list follows: Beloit Iron Works is given pride of place, followed by General Refrigeration Company, Freeman Shoe Manufacturing Company, Gardner Machine Company, Warner Electric Brake Corporation, Beloit Box Board Company, Dowd Knife Works, Racine Feet Knitting Company, Gaston Scale Company, Beloit Daily News Publishing Company, Central Radio Corporation, Mork’s Foundry, Wisconsin Power and Light Power Plant, Wisconsin Knife Works, Fish Rotary Oven Company. The copy continues: “Milk is a man’s food recommended by athletic coaches for
their teams, and by doctors for men at heavy work. Because Dougan’s Guernsey Milk is one-third higher in food value than the usual market milk it is an especially desirable food. Our factory sales have resulted in increased home retail stops. Men using the milk in the shops are anxious to furnish their families with this superior flavored Guernsey product.” That last is the lifesaving line. The milkmen are now meeting the men and women who have stable jobs, and the milkmen are friendly. They get to know their customers; after a while they suggest home delivery. Every time the business wins a new customer, or the monthly sales go up, everyone rejoices. And before long, Daddy has to add another home-delivery route, until from two routes at the start of the Depression, there are six by the end. So it is during the terrible Thirties that Daddy builds up the milk business. “We never did crack Fairbanks Morse,” says Daddy. “But once we got into high gear in so many of the factories, I hardly realized the Depression was going on, either!” F/m
Chicago lockdown Inside the city’s infamous underground stripper parties By R.L. NAVE
mountain of muscles wearing jeans, plain white T-shirt, and a red and white mesh ball cap over just-above-theshoulder length dreadlocks unlocks the door then pats me down and directs me to the bar to fork over the $15 cover charge. Before the clocks strikes midnight everybody at the Fight Club (so named after a “minor scuffle,” in which a bouncer was stabbed) is on edge but pretending not to be. They know what’s about to happen; they just don’t want to seem too eager. The room, which could fit easily on a basketball court, is obscenely smoky and uncomfortably bright. Along one wall, a mirror that runs the length of the room gives the illusion that there is twice as much space. On the other side, the bar, stocked with a medley of juices and soft liquors like Apple Pucker and Hot Damn. Guys decked out in vintage basketball jerseys, Walgreen’s special five-for-$10 over-sized white tees, and brand names Sean John, Ecko, and Roca-a-Wear are scattered about the room. All of them are black except one bespectacled middleaged white cat, whom everyone greets as Motorcycle White Guy. They’re killing time — bantering with each other, shooting pool, lighting cigarettes, and guzzling down Heineken, Miller Genuine Draft, and alcoholic refreshments disguised in containers of Sprite. A few chat up a handful of girls, who could be their girlfriends, just as easily as they could be exotic dancers or even dancers’ girlfriends. At the stroke of twelve, two men perfunctorily end their billiards match and
shove the massive table to one side of the room. The house lights go down, strobe lights come on and the deejay abruptly ends the mellow groove of an R & B tune in favor of an unrecognizable bootyjiggling hit. As if the home team charging onto the field, mini-skirted, thonged, and negligeed women spill into the room onto the tiny dance floor-stage that was once occupied by the pool table. First, a tall, microbraided dark-skinned babe. Next, a petite girl in a silk skirt split high along the thigh who, not even ten minutes earlier, had been standing at the bar in rocking blue jeans and an Old Navy football jersey. This is a lockdown party, not a strip club. There’s no stage, no brass pole, and no colored lights. And nobody that matters is watching. When you’re a black man living in Chicago, satisfying your appetite for debauchery isn’t as simple as showing up to your neighborhood gentlemen’s club with a pocketful of dollar bills. Strip clubs that cater to black men don’t exist in the Windy City, at least not where anybody can see them. Lockdowns jump off in downtown apartment lofts, nightclub basements, bars, VFW halls, a bowling alley after hours, or wherever there’s a space big enough for a few dancers and ten to fifty horny guys. They move from place to place, run by a close-knit, not to mention tight-lipped, cadre of promoters and, depending on to whom you put the question, may or may not be legal. “If you ain’t tippin’, you trippin’,” rhymes the Fight Club’s deejay, a large fellow with the apt moniker of Big Daddy. His directive is to constantly remind partygoers of their obligation to the dancers. He warns: “If you do not tip, these girls will disappear on yo’ ass. It’ll look like Gay Night in this motherfucker.” Everybody seems more at ease now
despite the electricity and the body count having increased threefold in as many minutes. And in the middle of it all, there’s a guy whose XXX-Large T-shirt is emblazoned across the back with the words: Welcome to the Hood. eorge started throwing lockdowns just for fun twenty years ago when he graduated from college. Now, he’s known as the Godfather of the underground black strip club scene. At well over six feet tall, he is unsmiling, potbellied, and sports a goatee. He looks like your high school football coach/Civics teacher might on his day off, although he believes that understanding the politics of Chicago’s sex industry is tantamount to a lesson in social studies. “The black sexual underground exists because of racism and ignorance in the
black community,” George imparts. Racism, he contends, because you need political clout to open a legitimate strip club and blacks don’t have it. The small bit of power that the black community does have, he maintains, rests in the hands of the Baptist clergy who would never give their blessing or flex a pinky to support a strip club opening in their neighborhood. And that’s just ignorant, George says. The result: Chicago’s black adult sex industry is driven underground. “If I tried to open a regular strip club in Roseland, Reverend [state Sen. James] Meeks would have a fit,” he protests pointing out that such establishments in Atlanta and Miami can at once flourish and be safe for patrons and dancers. Truth be told, there aren’t many strip clubs in Chicago at all and the few there are, if you let George tell it, are a waste of
51 money. Chicago After Dark magazine lists 18 adult clubs around Chicagoland, most of them in the suburbs, outside of the jurisdiction of Section 8-8 of the Chicago criminal code on Public Morality which states that an establishment that serves alcohol can not have fully nude dancing. At some clubs, dancers wear flesh-colored pasties over their nipples, the logic being that anybody who’s had a few brews won’t be able to tell the difference. And as a general rule, no touching is allowed. Outside of Chicago proper, in places like Elgin, Melrose Park, and Chicago Heights sin-seekers can ogle naked flesh and imbibe to their heart’s desire. Within the city limits, three “tittie bars”—the Admiral Theatre, VIP’s, and Scarlett’s — satisfy the businessman/tourist demand for Girls, Girls, Girls. But don’t expect to find many brothers staring or sisters baring it all up on the stage. Though all three city strip joints claim to have a little ebony eye candy, the dancers and patrons are mostly white. The worst part is that strip clubs downtown are expensive. Cover charges range between $10 and $20, depending on what night it is. Tack on 7 bucks for a rum and Coke (if they serve liquor; if not, you’ll just pay $4 for the latter ingredient). Add $15, on average, for a table dance and you can easily lose a C note in one night and not have any real fun. Lockdown parties are cheaper and raunchier than strip clubs. Groping, fondling, fingering, rubbing, and squeezing is permitted, even encouraged, by the dancers. You can drink ’til your liver’s content (which, remember, is illegal if there’s nude dancing) or fork over another $20 for a private dance in a V.I.P. room. Plus, that same that same Benjamin you dropped at the above-ground club can net you, according to George, “ten fullfriction lap dances with some decent
women, or twenty dances with some okay, so-so women.”
s former executive director of the Association of Club Executives, the country’s largest organization of strip club owners, Jeff Levy compiled a comprehensive directory of American nudie clubs. In all, according to Levy, about 2,500 strip joints dot the map from Portland, with the highest number of clubs per capita (Boston has the least), to the state with the most gentlemen’s clubs, Florida, with almost 300. If you want to go to a Chi-Town stripper party, they’re not that hard to find. Try going to a south or west side business like a barber shop or urban clothing store. Somebody there will size you up to see if you look like you’d come to an underground strip party, and then they might hand you a flyer for an upcoming party; or, there might be stack of flyers already on the counter. Other times, you’ll find out about an underground strip party when you’re leaving a nightclub and are handed a plugger — promotions parlance for a flyer the size of an index card, designed with eye-catching graphics, including photos of women proudly showing off what their mamas gave them. But underground strip club promoters, much like Madison Avenue suits, count on much of their advertising to take place by word-of-mouth. Sometimes, promoters advertise big parties, New Year’s Eve bashes, etc., on the radio. If you know what to look for, you can find information on upcoming stripper events on the Internet through message boards. The potential partygoer profile targeted isn’t what you might expect. A guy who looks like he has a lot of money, a highroller, right? Nope. You just have to look “pretty street, like you have $25 dollars to
spend, and you won’t be freaked out by what’s going on there,” George says. Over the past twenty years, as the city and Cook County officials have cracked down on the sex trade, putting strip clubs out of business or forcing into industrial parks and greatly reducing the presence of streetwalkers. The pimps of old were forced to adapt. In other words, pander or perish. One way pimps did this was by dressing hookers up as dancers and moving their operations off the streets, creating the black sexual underground and giving birth to the lockdown. Anyone who runs a business in Chicago needs a basic operating license but beyond that, certain permit and licensing requirements and zoning restrictions make determining whether underground stripper parties are legal is a little hairy. To appear legal, clubs that host stripper parties must secure a Place Public Amusement license, the buildings must
safe, and they must adhere to fire codes. If dancers perform fully nude, alcohol is prohibited and vice versa. And, of course, no money-for-sex. Reed C. Lee, a Chicago-based free speech lawyer, defends folks’ right to sexual expression and is very familiar with local strip clubs laws. “I guess I find myself surprisingly mild on the city,” Reed says. “Even when [Obenberger and Associates] were in the thick of litigation with them, I guess I recognized that there were some people there that have legitimate concerns. Maybe the facts don’t bear out the concern but I can’t say that everybody who acts for the city on these is acting out of some kind of moral drive.” “The basic kind of gut feeling that seems to be operating in the collective mind of the judiciary is there is something, what some have called, an explosive combination between nudity and alcohol,”
53 says Lee about the rationale of prohibiting liquor in strip clubs. Also, according to Lee, the city defines a class of “so-called adult uses on the basis of the expression they disseminate.” In other words, he explains, city zoning codes provide places where theaters can go, but adult motion picture theaters different places. In fact, separation requirements require that these adult use establishments be 1,000 feet from any residential zone, school, or place of worship. “I still think that the city’s zoning treatment of adult businesses is very strict, probably more strict that it ought to be. But I gotta tell you, I can’t honestly say that I think that the people that are closest to that, the planning people, I can’t say I’ve come away from my dealings with them, and some involved litigation, thinking that they were primarily on a moral crusade.” “That has been the source of some litigation between some adult businesses, some strip clubs and some adult bookstores, and the city over the years. I’m not saying the issues would never rise again; at the present I don’t know of any pending litigation. And whether that’s ultimately motivated by somebody whispering in the ears of some legislators saying ‘yeah, be real strict with them because of moral issues’ is hard to say.” In his capacity a lawyer, Lee says he knows very little about underground strip clubs but concedes that they raise issues of safety. The scope of the underground black strip club scene is unclear. Even the experts admit they know very little about the milieu. The only way to quantify how many parties there are (George says he wouldn’t be surprised if there were twenty lockdowns on a given weekend in Chicago) is to link them to one of the most
common activities associated with them: prostitution. “We hear rumors that at midnight in bars, upstairs and downstairs parties take place where there is prostitution activity going on,” offers Jody Raphael, former head of research at the Center for Impact Research and current director of the Taylor Institute at Loyola University. CIR and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) keep tabs on prostitution issues and both have published research studies within the past several years on the subject. Raphael cites the findings of a study she co-authored in 2002 that found strip clubs and private parties account for close to 35 percent of all of Chicago’s prostitution activity. In 2003, the CCH surveyed men and found that 57 percent of guys in the city and 21 percent in the burbs, who said they’ve paid for “sexual services” got it at a strip club. According CCH’s report the cops made close to 5,000 total prostitution-related arrests in 2003, most of them women. Both CPD and Cook County Vice Squads routinely raid strip clubs and bachelor parties. However, the clandestine nature of underground strip clubs makes them difficult to target for prostitution busts and impossible to shut down. Almost impossible, anyway.
n October 2003, CPD’s Vice Control Unit interrupted what they called a lowrent prostitution ring at a warehouse on West Hubbard. Twenty-nine men and fifteen women were arrested. News of the raid aired on “Crime Watch,” on the Chicago Works public access television channel. “This was a very low-class operation,” said 13th District Commander Matthew Tobias on the broadcast. “There were just plain old mattresses laying in certain rooms. Patrons could have sex out in the
open if they wanted or go to any of these dingy little rooms. It was quite nasty.” In one room, the camera pans left showing U-Haul moving and storage boxes, a can of Redi-Whip, a box of Kleenex. Next, a shot of a mattress with clothes piled up, a leopard-print throw pillow, an electric device (blow dryer or radio, either would make sense), lavender boa, and a crumpled French maid’s costume. On the floor lies a foot soaker, plain white take-out food sack, and a halogen lamp. A bottle of hand sanitizer, half-empty clear plastic cups, and a halffull bottle of Crown Royal are set aside on a night stand against the wall. Female police officers escort three young black women out of a dark room. All of them pretty, none of them look old enough to ask out for a drink. The raid, the second of the year on the Dogg Pound crew, was coordinated by the
police with the help of three city agencies — the fire department and the departments of buildings and revenue. Cops called it a prostitution club. It was really a lockdown party, run by a group of promoters who called themselves the Dogg Pound. “Unlicensed operations raise all kinds of concerns with city officials that have nothing to do with the content of the entertainment,” explains Lee, the attorney. “For instance, with the above ground places that I represent we went through a series of inspections before the last round of public place of amusement renewals where three different city inspectors came through and gave the building a thorough going-over. Why? Because of the E2 fire. But can I blame them for wanting to do that? No, not really. Do I think that it was directed just at adult clubs? No. I know it wasn’t.”
55 Lee believes that the city has legitimate concerns that fire escapes are in order and the building is safe overall. “We really haven’t detected that those concerns were a pretext or subterfuge when they raised small issues on things like that. I know that the city has upped its concern for places that people assemble just because they’re concerned about disaster. And when they have places that are unlicensed, they can’t sleep well at night because they know they don’t have the same kind of inspection authority that they know are there. If the question is the city is going after what you refer to as underground strip clubs, I suppose one question is: because they’re underground or because they’re strip clubs? And I can tell you that with the above ground strip clubs that are around, if the city ever — there was a time perhaps when the city was making a real effort to go after them but that seem to be behind us.” A poster of a local rap group hanging in George’s office frames a computergenerated lightning storm raging over the Chicago skyline, the phrase “Straight Up Gangsta Shit” scrawled in white lettering against a purple sky. A year’s worth of back issues of Vibe, The Source, Slam, and computer magazines adorn several coffee tables in his Chinatown office loft. He absentmindedly clicks away at his mouse as he tries to install Microsoft Word. George is aggravated that the password that came with the software isn’t working and he needs to type a proposal for a concert he wants to promote. “I don’t like the way things have turned out,” he grumbles. Until May of this year, he was hosting lockdowns at a bar in Riverdale. Since the city of Riverdale has no strip club ordinance, they could get away with whatever they wanted. At the last party, a group decided to push the
legal envelope by showing up with a van full of women and, according to George, “were busting down in the parking lot and throwing the condoms out the window.” As a result, the bar owner put the kibosh on George’s lockdowns. Now he says he’s getting out of the business of hosting stripper parties and will focus concert and music industry promotions, turning the scene he had a major role in developing to people like China White (a pseudonym), the confident sexentrepreneur-turned-cop-turned-sexentrepreneur again. White grew up in neighborhood controlled by three competing gangs, started a male stripper business, then quit to become a Chicago Housing Authority officer. When CHA disbanded its police force, White went back to what she loved, and knew, best. “Anything that’s fast-paced or wild, I enjoy,” beams White, who now manages exotic dancers for private parties and events that might necessitate live nude dancing. “It’s never going to go out of style and no matter what the economy is, people will seek this out. As long as people are getting married there will always be a need for bachelor and bachelorette parties. It’ll never be a boring business to operate.” As an Internet service provider for several adult websites, Kenneth Pittman has both black and white clients. The white shops run a tight ship and know what it takes to succeed in the adult entertainment industry. Black men, Pittman says, need to get their act together (he calls some black strip party promoters “po’ pimps”) if they’re ever going to make any real money. One reason underground strip club promoters seem to lack business acumen, Pittman points out, is that they’re neophytes in the sex industry and are still learning to walk.
“Their marketing focus is wrong,” he contend. A techie and former promoter Pittman now runs a “one-stop-technologyshop” for adult business. In June, Pittman went to a lockdown on what he describes as a recruiting trip with some friends. “I got a private dance from this girl and tipped her $20. I followed up with her a few days later and because I wanted to represent her, asked how much money she made that night. Now remember, I gave her twenty. She said she made $60 — and that was all from me and my crew.” “One guy,” he said “I watched count out his last $10 at the door, which means he didn’t have anything left to tip the girl. That’s the kind of guy they attract. They miss a lot of opportunities in terms of generating income.”
y 2 a.m. the Fight Club is its own Operation Mayhem. More than one hundred people, not including the strippers, pack the place. I get up and lose my seat. I find another one,
go to the bar, and when I get back it’s gone. I can’t get a cheap lap dance anymore because the high rollers are starting to show up. Once the center of attention, birthday boy is now just another blip on the radar screen. There’s nothing left to see so I moved toward the exit. The same bouncer who let me in reaches for the lock and warns, “Hey dog, once you leave you can’t come back in.” I assure him I’ve had enough and he lets me out. I retreat into the chilly Chicago summer night. I can barely hear the music just on the other of the locked door that a moment ago had been deafening. As I walk towards the car, I thrust my hands into my pockets and realize that not only did I have an alright time tonight but, somehow, I also managed to hang on to ten bucks. F/m Editor R.L. Nave is currently completing a fellowship at the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. Contact him at email@example.com.
The “Voice of Egypt” The first East St. Louis station stayed but a few months By FRANK ABSHER East St. Louis seems to have always lived in the shadow of the big city across the Mississippi River, but in the 1920s, it was a bustling community looking for ways to improve its image. The bloodshed in the race riots there in 1917 was still fresh in the minds of many, but the community forged ahead, becoming the nation’s second-busiest rail center. Although East St. Louis was considered one of the poorest cities in the U.S. the decade before, a civic movement to shore up municipal infrastructure had succeeded in raising the level of the streets downtown by ten feet to help avoid catastrophic flood. Large industries came into the area, although many of them located their facilities outside the city limits to avoid taxes. The largest stockyard operation in the country sat in nearby National City. Thousands of industrial workers called East St. Louis home. The presence of aluminum smelters, the stock yards, chemical plants and steel mills, not to mention the infamous Shelton Gang, gave East St. Louis a notoriety cited by historian Andrew Theising, who wrote in 2003: “Every major city needs a workbench, a trash heap, a wash basin; some kind of repository for slaughterhouses, smokestacks, rail yards... St. Louis needs East St. Louis” It was this environment that Charles “C.L.” Carrell encountered when he approached the East St. Louis Chamber of Commerce in 1926 with a proposal: He would bring a radio station to town, which would bring a sense of legitimacy to the community.
The radio industry was in its early years then, and “major” cities had at least one – usually several stations – operating within their municipal limits. East St. Louis was the largest city in St. Clair County, with a 1920 population of nearly 67,000, and the Chamber of Commerce jumped at the chance to lure a radio operator to town. The problem: They apparently didn’t do a detailed background check on Carrell. C.L. Carrell was a theater impresario based in Chicago, and those on the theater circuit knew radio posed a major threat to their bottom lines. As the medium grew, it could provide free in-home entertainment, which would shrink the box office receipts of vaudeville and legitimate theaters everywhere. Mr. Carrell, who had financial interest in several traveling theater companies, was quick to respond to the threat. He secured a broadcasting license from the federal government March 10, 1925, and sited his station, WHBM, in Chicago. But that didn’t mean the station would necessarily broadcast from Chicago. It was a portable station, and this is where Carrell’s promotional skills shown. Since he was affiliated with theaters around the Midwest, his portable radio station could literally be moved to different cities to promote their local theaters. But that wasn’t the impression in East St. Louis. The headlines in the East St. Louis Daily Journal of December 26, 1926, blared the news” “City’s First Radio Station WHBM Launched by C of C;” “Will Advertise East St. Louis.” Readers were told of the ongoing efforts to build a station that would allow East St. Louis to pull “well up to the front rank of those enterprising American municipalities that wants (sic) its lusty shouts to reach into the highways and byways of the great nation of which it
58 boasts the title of ‘Central Industrial Center.’” Far down in the article, in rather convoluted terms, the paper mentioned that the station would not necessarily be a full-time operation and may, in fact, broadcast “seasonally.” It was one of the few times the subject of the station’s temporary nature was ever mentioned. Carrell had wisely recruited the manager of the East St. Louis Chamber of Commerce as an ally. Les Forman arranged for the station’s studios to be located in the chamber’s offices in The Avenue Building, and he was anointed the official announcer and assistant program director. Two days later the paper told readers that a decision on whether to operate a station was imminent. Technical work was already complete. “The tests conducted by WHBM, the East St. Louis Chamber of Commerce Broadcasting Station, were pronounced highly successful last night when two programs were sent on the air from the Lyric theater.” The publicity machine was in high gear. There is no way of knowing today just how fired up the East St. Louis folks were about the new radio station. What we do know is that the truth seldom saw the light of day over the next couple months. The headline December 29 of that year proclaimed “WHBM Fixture Here Promises Local Chamber.” The story that followed told of the “permanent” studio being located in the Chamber of Commerce offices, and the secretary-manager of the chamber spoke of the station as “a permanent feature.” Even though WHBM broadcast with a mere 100 watts, the coverage area was said to exceed several hundred
miles, which was possible in those days but highly improbable. Just before its inaugural broadcast, WHBM christened itself “The Voice of
Egypt,” no doubt an effort to distinguish itself from the powerhouse station across the river, KMOX, which was known as “The Voice of St. Louis.” There was another published reference to the temporary status of the radio operation, stating that it was expected WHBM would leave the airwaves in March and return in September. The Daily Journal was enlisted to provide broadcast news summaries, and a call was put out to locals who could provide “talent” for broadcasts. That first broadcast featured the usual statements by local dignitaries and local performers, as well as “a group of professional musicians, furnished by the Lyric Theatre.” Most of the ensuing broadcasts used artists being featured at the theater. Within a week, the Chamber of Commerce had lined up local merchants to underwrite programming costs in exchange for being identified as supporters of the station. By early March, WHBM was promoting broadcasts of entire productions from the stage of the Lyric. “The Lyric Showboat” was heard each day for an entire week, with highlights broadcast again in the evenings. Carrell, the promoter, had achieved what business people now call “synergy,” using his portable station to drum up interest in attending the theater. It was time to move on. The next week came news that WHBM would soon be leaving the air. The March 13 article in the Daily Journal finally informed the public that “When WHBM was installed, it was agreed that the station
would operate during an experimental period up to and including March 20th.” Mr. Forman of the Chamber of Commerce is quoted as deeming the “broadcasting experiment” an “unquestionable success” from a community standpoint. Forman did seem to hold out hope of a permanent station for the city, asking listeners for a show of support via letters to the chamber. A week later, the airwaves were silent. WHBM’s final broadcast was March 19. The Daily Journal told its readers the decision to shut down had been made of the afternoon of the 19th, though in fact, the decision was made before the station signed on in January. C.L. Carrell packed up his portable station and took WHBM on the road for more lucrative prospects elsewhere. All portable radio stations were forced off the air by the government July 1, 1928. Eight years would pass before Lester Cox, an astute businessman from Springfield, Missouri, gave East St. Louis a real, permanent radio station. WTMV signed on May 19, 1935 from studios in the Broadview Hotel. F/m OUR FORMER SISTER PUBLICATION In April 2010, the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale agreed to continue publication of the St. Louis Journalism Review. The SJR was founded in 1970, eight years after FOCUS/midwest. To learn more about the publication, go to sjreview.org.
“A town forgotten” Cairo never got past the ugliness of 40 years ago By WILLIAM R. BRINTON More than four decades have passed since the United Front of Cairo staged a boycott of white-owned businesses. The protest was met with violent opposition from local merchants and police — and, for the most part, indifference from state officials. By 2000, the town’s population had fallen to 3,632; of those, 33.5 percent lived in poverty. The town’s decline continues. As a resident of Cairo wrote last year to The State Journal-Register, the capital city’s daily newspaper: “I guess the saying is true that ‘the state of Illinois stops at Carbondale,’ because anything south of that doesn’t matter!” A special edition of FOCUS/midwest, published in 1970, was devoted to Cairo. Here’s an excerpt from William R. Brinton’s account of the troubles, titled “The Story of Confrontation”: “Driving on U.S. 51 through Cairo, Illinois, you can see a few “closed” signs on drive-in restaurants and most of the motels along the highway appear to be deserted. Chances are you probably won’t
get downtown to Commercial Street to see the vacant storefronts; you probably won’t even see the bullet holes in the rectory of St. Columba Catholic Church or the burned-out homes and businesses in Cairo’s black community. “Once a booming river town strategically located between the big Ohio and Mississippi rivers, Cairo is a town forgotten by the surge of modern technology; abandoned by towboat captains who once stopped there for refueling on their long journey northward. Perhaps because of its geographic location at the southern tip of Illinois, coupled with its proximity to Kentucky and Tennessee, Cairo is steeped in southern tradition. “Cairo is a town of just over 6,000 people, about half of whom are black. It has been steadily losing population, recording a drop of 33 percent from just over 9,000, between the 1960 and 1970 U.S. Census. . . . A report by Basis System Inc. found that of the 2,369 families living in Cairo in 1960, 1,057 earned less than $3,000 annually. Unemployment averages about 8.2 percent, and is as high as 20 percent among nonwhite males. Only 10 new homes have been built in Cairo within the last 10 years. “Cairo is a study in contrast, seemingly mismatched with the lush green fields that surround this dying town in what is popularly known as Little Egypt. It is a dirty town, decaying from within, torn by racial strife; it is a community where rifle shots penetrating the quiet nights have become the rule rather than the exception. It may well be the most polarized community in the nation….” F/m
The James Gang How an enterprising promoter resurrected a notorious outlaw By C.D. STELZER The pack of Harley riders that roared into the Meramec Caverns parking lot on a recent sunny morning had barely enough time to stretch their legs before their guide whisked them toward the ticket counter. The group, which included five New Zealanders and more than a dozen Europeans, was following in the footsteps of countless other travelers who have been drawn to the cave’s cool subterranean confines. Lester Dill, an entrepreneur with the instincts of P.T. Barnum, opened the roadside attraction near Stanton, Missouri, in 1935 with an eye towards luring passing motorists from the then-nascent Route 66. But it was Rudy Turilli, Dill’s son-inlaw, who initiated the publicity campaign that would forever link the cavern to Jesse James, Missouri’s notorious 19th century outlaw. For decades thereafter, barn roofs throughout the Midwest enticed crosscountry travelers to visit the natural wonder by pitching it as Jesse James’ hideout. The myth began to take shape in 1949, after Frank O. Hall, a journalist from Lawton, Oklahoma, reported that the real Jesse James was still alive. According to Hall’s account, 100-year-old J. Frank Dalton claimed to be the outlaw and said that he had faked his own death in 1882 as a means to end his criminal career. When Turilli heard the news, he arranged to have Dalton moved to a cabin on the Meramec Cavern grounds. Dalton, who was bedridden with a broken hip by this time, still managed to chew tobacco, cuss and fire a six-shooter indiscriminately
on occasion. His long white hair and beard gave him the appearance of Wild Bill Hickok. Despite contradictory evidence from DNA recovered in a celebrated 1995 exhumation of James’ grave in Kearney, Missouri, Meramec Caverns remains indelibly connected to the outlaw’s exploits due in large part to Turilli’s earlier efforts. The cave promoter estimated that he traveled more than 98,000 miles and spent $35,000 investigating the Dalton case. One of his attempts to gain exposure involved hauling Dalton to New York City, where the old man appeared on a nationally-broadcast program, “We the People.” On the air, Turilli offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove Dalton was an imposter. After returning to Missouri, Turilli had Dalton file a petition in Franklin County (Missouri) Circuit Court to legally change his name to Jesse Woodson James. In response, Jesse E. James, the outlaw’s son, who was an attorney in California, filed an opposing motion. The hearing took place before 80-yearold Judge Ransom J. Breuer on March 10, 1950. Among those to testify on behalf of Dalton’s request was 109-year-old Col. James Davis, a Confederate Civil War veteran from Nashville, Tennessee. His testimony was backed by 111-year-old John Trammell, a black man from Guthrie, Oklahoma, who claimed to have once been the cook for the James gang. Davis died in Stanton the day after he testified at the hearing. Turilli paraded out a cast of other elderly men who also backed Dalton’s contention. Among them was 95-year-old John William Pierce, who claimed to have been one of the first to arrive at the murder scene in 1882. Pierce swore in a notarized affidavit that he was acquainted with both
62 James and another outlaw Charlie Bigelow, and that the murder victim was most assuredly the latter. Retired Judge Henry Priest of St. Louis, then 91 years old, said Dalton appeared to be the same man who had rented a house from him in Nashville in 1881 using the last name of Howard. James is known to have employed the alias Thomas Howard. Three witnesses for Jesse E. James, the son of the outlaw, rebutted Dalton’s claims. The octogenarians from St. Joseph all stated that they had identified James’ body at the time of his death. When the hearing ended, Judge Breuer ruled the issue was beyond his authority. “There is nothing for this court to pass on,” said Breuer. “This court has been called on to change a man’s name where there is nothing to change, because he never changed it, and by law it has never been changed from Jesse James to anything else. If he isn’t (who) he professes to be, then he is trying to perpetrate a fraud upon this court. If he is Jesse James . . . then my suggestion would be that he retreat to his rendezvous and ask the good God above to forgive him, so he may pass away in peace when his time comes to go.” Eventually, J. Frank Dalton returned to his home in Granbury, Texas, where he died August 15, 1951. Until his death, he continued to assert that Bigelow was actually the man who was murdered in his stead back in 1882. According to Dalton’s theory, members of the James gang suspected Bigelow of being an informant for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. At the time, Missouri Gov. Thomas T. Crittenden had placed a $5,000 dead-or-alive bounty on James. Crittenden solicited the reward money from railroads and express companies with the help of a lawyer for Wabash line in St. Louis.
J. Frank Dalton Supporters of Dalton’s version of events assert that Bigelow disappeared immediately after the shooting never to be heard from again. James allegedly planned the conspiracy with the assistance of Charlie and Bob Ford, Gov. Crittenden, Kansas City police commissioner Henry H. Craig and Clay County Sheriff James H. Timberlake, among others. Dalton’s confidant Col. Davis alleged that James quietly contributed to Crittenden’s 1880 gubernatorial campaign. In return, Crittenden later allowed James to fake his own death. The governor then supposedly pocketed most of the reward money. Bob Ford the triggerman who allegedly killed Bigelow is said to have only collected small portion of the bounty. A flurry of events preceded the assassination. As pressure increased to halt James’ 16-year crime spree, gang member Dick Liddil turned himself in to authorities, after murdering James’ cousin
63 Wood Hite. Liddil likely killed Hite over a love triangle that included Martha Bolton — Bob Ford’s sister. Bolton is suspected of negotiating Liddil’s surrender with Gov. Crittenden. At the time, John Bugler, another gang member, was on trial in Independence, Missouri, for train robbery. The story is further complicated by intermarriage. Hite, Ford, Bigelow and Zerelda Mims James — the outlaw’s wife — were all said to be cousins of James. Doubts over who was murdered on April 3, 1882, at house on the corner of 13th and Lafayette streets in St. Joseph, Missouri, began almost immediately after the shooting. On April 4, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: “Mrs. James strenuously denied the identity of her husband for some time, but finally broke down and acknowledged the truth.” Other accounts describe a similar reaction by the outlaw’s mother. One of Dalton’s true believers was Joe Wood. The retired St. Louis GlobeDemocrat photographer published his recollections in the Washington Missourian newspaper in 1989. His story has since been reproduced in a booklet and is available at Meramec Caverns. Wood’s version mirrors Turilli’s account, with few notable exceptions. The moment of Wood’s total conversion came when he witnessed the reunion of Col. Davis and Dalton. “In that brief exchange,” wrote Wood, “something happened to me. I can’t explain it. Perhaps it was the expression in their eyes, the sincere tone in their voices. I began to perspire and could only say to myself: ‘My God it’s true.’” The late Carl W. Breihan, on the other hand, was never convinced of Dalton’s authenticity. “Wood . . . just brings out contemporary stuff that people said back in the 1950s. He can believe what he wants, it’s his opinion,” said Breihan in a
1995 interview. The former St. Louis County councilman, who wrote four books on Jesse James, labeled the Crittenden conspiracy theory as nonsense. Moreover, Bigelow, the purported fall guy, disappeared because he died in 1880 — two years prior to James, Breihan said. Breihan contended that James shot off the middle finger of his left hand as a young man, and in 1950 Dalton still had all five digits. According to Breihan, Trammell, the 111-year-old man who claimed to be the James gang’s cook, later recanted his testimony. Breihan suspected that more than one witness was paid to testify in Dalton’s behalf. Jesse James remains an American folk hero mainly because he died before the future could catch up with him. His older brother Frank, however, may be regarded as a modern anti-hero.
64 Both men participated as Confederate guerrillas in the Civil War. After the defeat of their cause, the James brothers found that their irregular military status prevented them from readily receiving amnesty. The denial of constitutional rights coupled with the abuses of the carpetbaggers made re-assimilating difficult for them and other members of Quantrill’s raiders. In some ways, the James brothers’ subsequent bank and train robberies were considered a continuation of the war against financial interests of the North. They found political support from former Confederate Gen. Jo Shelby. Journalist John Newman Edwards, a Southern sympathizer, romanticized their crimes, as did the dime novels of the day. The James brothers’ pro-slavery sentiments were often overshadowed by the violence perpetrated against them by the Jayhawkers and Pinkertons. For Jesse, it all ended in 1882 with a bullet to the back of the head. After surrendering to Gov. Crittenden, Frank James stood trial the following year in Gallatin, Missouri. He was ultimately acquitted in a highly politicized trial that included the drunken testimony of Gen. Shelby. In his later years, Frank James became a parody of his former self. He was exhibited at county fairs and used as a starter at horse races. He sold shoes for a while in Nevada, Missouri, and worked for a clothing company in Dallas. For a brief time, the Shakespeare-quoting outlaw acted in vaudeville. In 1903, he promoted a Wild West show for a Chicago brewer with his former partner in crime Cole Younger. From 1894 to 1901, Frank James was the doorman at Ed Butler’s Standard Theater, a St. Louis burlesque house. Butler didn’t need to rob banks or trains;
he was a political boss and crook who controlled City Hall. Before his death in 1915, Frank James’ experiences led him to redefine the enemy. “If there is ever another war in this country, it will be between capital and labor,” he said. “I mean between greed and manhood, and I’m as ready to march now in defense of American manhood as I was when a boy in defense of the South.” Frank James had entered the 20th century. F/m RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT Veteran investigative reporter C.D. Stelzer and videographer Tony West are producing a documentary about radioactive waste, spurred by reports about contamination at a plant in Venice, Illinois. Learn more at http://bit.ly/coMLvi
FICTION & POETRY
Hiking through the Shawnee By J. MITCH HOPPER
hading his eyes against the bright sunlight, John slowly scanned the woods. It was always pretty this time of year but since the rainfall the day before, the greens seemed greener and everything had the appearance of being freshly washed. The small bits of blue sky that peeked through the forest canopy were a royal blue, an almost unnatural blue selected from a crayon set. The forest was alive with sound. Birds from a long way off mixed with the soft swish of the late spring breeze that filtered down from the treetops and sliced through the underbrush like a softly running stream. John pulled his water bottle from his belt clip and took a long, slow pull from it. The sweet water remained cool as it slid down his throat. Carefully capping the bottle, he returned it to his belt and sat down on a fallen log, leaning back into the gentle hold of a juniper tree. He sat still as a statue for several minutes, drifting on the breeze and in yoga style, savoring every experience his senses registered. John reached into his gear bag and brought out a small gray package. He thumbed it into record. “Nine o’clock, April 17, 2086, Shawnee Forest.” He held his finger on the pause button for a few moments and craned his neck for another glance at the blue sky chunks. Looking back to the tiny cartridge in his palm, he continued. “How I pity the rest of the herd, all trapped in the city, breathing the poisons, listening to their noisy neighbors, and wishing, right down to the man, they were anywhere else. Wishing they were here and listening to this.” He raised the palm recorder into the air and let it absorb the soft, gentle sounds of the woods. A black bird cawed, committed forever to the digital recorder. John smiled and brought the recorder back close to his face.
66 “It’s been seven days since I started. I am beginning to think my expedition will be without incident. The woods is pretty noisy beyond my present position – as it has been since the start. I am quite sure I’m out of it here.” He glanced at his wrist-mounted GPS unit. “For the record, I’m at 86, 53, 47.309 west by 37, 34, 10.668 north. That’s, ah,” he closed his eyes and looked up toward the imaginary scratch paper. “Seventy-one miles from my entry point. I intend to keep this path secret this time. I think I already said this, but it’s about nine o’clock.” He stopped the recorder and dropped his arm. Snapping it back to his mouth, he pushed it into record again. “That’s a.m.” He clicked the recorder back off and put it back in his pack. “Well, duh!” he said to himself. A pair of squirrels charged out of the underbrush, chasing each other like children. John stood up carefully watching the two as they leapt from tree trunk to tree trunk, jabbering and chattering as they climbed into the high branches. He moved on down the ridge to the north making a great deal of foot noise, yet it was completely drowned out by the cacophony of forest sounds. He followed the ridge until it broke near a rather large stream. The stream was on the map, but John didn’t particularly like maps. He always carried a detailed set – he wasn’t a fool – but unless he really got confused or disoriented, the papers lay in the bottom of his pack. With a GPS receiver, it was virtually impossible to get lost anyway. The only thing a map would do is shave a few miles off getting from point “A” to point “B” – and what fun was that? By late afternoon, he started to look for a campsite. He had rationed his food fairly aggressively so far, and it was starting to show. His food pack should be getting lighter, yet it still hung heavily over his shoulder. Tonight, he would rectify that. It was time for a king’s meal and he knew the perfect place for it, a place not too far away now. He had been walking steadily uphill for several hours and he knew he was going to have to stop. He was tired and a campsite sounded real good, but the reason for stopping was more due to the bluffs and shear cliffs in this area. In the dark, you could walk right over an edge and not hit bottom till morning. Breaking through the undergrowth, John came face to face with infinity. Standing at the edge of the bluff, the Shawnee stretched out below him as far as he could see. Somewhere, about a hundred and fifty miles to the north was the south gate of the only remaining city in what was left of the Midwest, New Bloomington. Far below, flocks of birds were wheeling and circling, starting their mating dance that would end at dusk as they settled into their treetop homes. The sky was streaked with high cirrus clouds following the meandering jet stream, carving the dazzling blue into a million small patches.
67 Sunset was an hour away. John began the task of setting up camp quickly so he would not miss any of it. From up here, only he and his god had the prime seats. The night came on quickly. With his stomach filled and the sunset still burned into his mind, sleep came on quickly as well. The next morning, John rose, rested and refreshed. With only two days left until re-entering the real world of city life, he broke camp and headed west, his food pack considerably lighter. To the untrained eye, west seemed impenetrable. The Shawnee was heavy and thick and old beyond old. It had seen the exodus of the glaciers. It had seen man come and was now watching him go. John knew the way. He didn’t exactly have a trail nor did he remember the specifics of each acre, yet he was so familiar with the general contour and layout, he was seldom unsure of where he was. Sooner or later, he would cross a stream or follow a familiar bluff. They were all the road maps he needed. Midmorning found him standing on another ridge overlooking a meadow a mile or two away. His vantage point three hundred feet above granted him a marvelous view. A herd of deer grazed in the open on the clover and sweet grass. John dropped prone and brought out his field glasses. They were beautiful. The biological mutations were quickly being bred into the stock. It wouldn’t be too many more generations before the unusual coloring became the normal attribute of the herd. Man had faired poorly, but the lower creatures were adapting to the bio-catastrophe amazingly well. He gazed on the magnified scene, taking in four or five at a time. As he watched, several in the herd looked up at the same time, yet not at him. Suddenly, they bolted from the meadow and disappeared into the deep woods. John scanned all around the area they had run from. It was too far to hear anything but he could see birds startled out of the trees on the opposite side of the meadow. Suddenly, a girl ran into the clearing. She was dressed in jeans and a light jacket and was running as fast as she could. John jumped to his feet and nearly tripped on the underbrush as he tried to keep her in view. She made it to the opposite side of the clearing and disappeared into the woods below him, at the bottom of the ridge. John stowed his glasses and began to make his way down. He stopped after five or six minutes to catch his breath and get his bearings. He was still on the ridge but from this vantage point in the dense woods, it was impossible to tell how close to the meadow at the bottom he was. One thing was sure though, he was making so much noise that there wasn’t a peep from any of the animal population. For the first time in days, the forest was deadly quiet and the quiet drew attention to itself. The echoes seemed to come first, followed by a loud crashing roar and every bird in the forest took flight. John dropped to the
ground and listened carefully. The sharp report and the following thunder seemed to have originated from ahead and to the right. It was impossible to locate precisely. From a long way off ahead of him, he could hear the sounds of something charging through the undergrowth, breaking sticks and stumbling. The sound was coming in his direction. Just a brief flash, barely a glimmer, John saw the girl running a thousand yards in front of him but she quickly became invisible again. A second sharp staccato thunder rolled from the woods ahead of him. It seemed to be closer since the echoes were disproportionately less intense. When they stopped, he could no longer hear the girl’s clumsy flight. John scooped the leaves in front of him with his arms and slithered into the modest depression. He lay deathly still, slowly scanning from his left to his right. Beyond the noise of the air dancing through the trees, the Shawnee was silent. “I’m not alone,” John whispered into the digital recorder. “There is a girl somewhere below me in the underbrush and I have heard two shots. Position – 87, 58, 20.313 west by 37, 22, 51.119 north, time – 10:12, April 18. I plan to stay put for a while until I can figure things out. As far as I can tell, I’m on the north face of Camel Ridge. If so, that puts me no more than five miles from my
69 exit. I’ll check my maps when I can. For now, I think I’m secure and have a fairly good position to take stock of my situation.” He clicked the unit off and slid it into his back shoulder pocket. For the next hour, he lay quietly waiting for something else to happen. The woods gradually recovered. Within fifteen minutes, the birds had returned filling the air with sporadic and random calls. By 11, John was sure that if something else were to happen, it probably would have by now. He secured his pack and most of the extra gear he was carrying under a small pile of leaves. The GPS numbers would bring him back within thirty feet, so it wasn’t necessary to mark the position. As long as he had his recorder, he could leave things anywhere he wanted. The chances of someone else stumbling on this particular spot in eight thousand square miles was beyond chance – especially since there were only seventy or eighty entry permits granted each year. Slowly at first, John started to move forward on his belly downhill. He crawled about a hundred yards and dropped into a culvert carved out of the hill by the free flowing water from the top of the ridge. The high banks covered his movements until he was nearly at the bottom of the hill. The culvert widened out and flattened as it became one with the lowlands. John crouched down behind an ancient maple and reassessed his position. The colorful nylon caught his eye. It was so completely unforestlike, it commanded attention. He pulled his recorder from his shoulder and flicked it on again. “I found her. I think I’m too late.” He flicked it off and returned it to his pocket. He was instantly irritated that he hadn’t logged the time. It was an unnecessary action – the new generation of digital recorders did that automatically anyway. John stood up and gazed around intently. He stopped at ten degree steps and looked carefully at everything he saw – every detail, every tree, every hillock, every bump in the ground – everything. Satisfied that he was truly alone, he moved around the last obstacles toward the bright patch of color. She lay face down in the soft dirt, one shoe on and one off. From the looks of things, she had fallen twenty or thirty feet and had tumbled and slid the rest of the way. John knelt down next to her and felt for a neck pulse. Nothing. She had been sweating heavily and her body was already cool and clammy. He rolled her over slowly. The front of her windbreaker was ripped and bloody and the forest floor was thick with dark syrup. He gently brushed her tangled and matted hair away from her face. Taking a few steps back, John sat down on a fallen tree limb and looked around once again. He pulled his recorder out and flicked it back into record.
70 “I found the girl. She’s been shot. Official location – 87, 58, 20.772 west by 37, 22, 51.859 north. Time is 11:09, April 18. I’m too late. If I had only broken camp a half hour earlier.” His voice trailed off. The recorder continued to note the wind and the birds. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her age was hard to guess, perhaps early forties, late thirties. Obviously a city girl. She had too much makeup and still smelled of perfume or scented deodorant. Her nails were broken and chipped, but had been freshly painted. Her one opened eye was deep green. He leaned forward and dropped to one knee next to her. He pulled down the front zipper and opened her windbreaker. The recorder noted the sounds of his movement. “The shot apparently caught her in the back of her right armpit and exited through her right chest wall. There is a great deal of damage. Age seems to be thirty-five to forty-five, maybe a hundred and twenty pounds, five-two, maybe taller. Such a shame. She is obviously a social, not a service, girl and it’s also obvious that she was hit while running. My guess is that she probably never saw her hunter.” John was suddenly fatigued. He pulled the ID neck tags off the girl and stood up, arching his back. His legs felt rubbery and he sat back down on the log with a grunt. “I’m getting too old for this,” he confided to his recorder. Looking at the metal tags, he began the legal task of identification. “Official termination notification. The subject is Adrianne Cloquette, ID, 1098-838-1902-MDT, New Bloomington city registry, pre-citizen and uncommitted. I am John Sinclaire, Master Level Tracker registry 358907, entry visa number 93-904, Shawnee Provincial Forest permit number 70705.” “I think I’m supposed to be saying all that.” A deep growl of a voice came from behind him. John whirled about and spun down to one knee, gazing at the old maple. At first, there was nothing there, just a ghost voice from the tree. The breeze fluttered a few decaying leaves about but otherwise there was nothing but the empty woods. He stared as hard and carefully as he could, nearly boring a hole through the tree with his gaze. Then, there was a subtle movement as a pair of eyes opened in the bark and stared back at him. One eye winked, and a hand came next, then a face. Slowly, the man stepped out of his camouflage, his body so perfectly covered with twigs and leaves, he had been completely invisible. The last thing to surface as he stood up was the .45-70 gripped in his right hand. All six feet six of him eventually came out of his forest shell, and he took two halting steps toward John. He spit to his left and said, “Why would you be making all that notation there?
71 Something official, maybe? Assuming a spot of credit that ain’t yours?” He started to move forward and raised up his long hunting rifle. “Jesus, Ripley. You scared the shit out of me. Nearly got yourself plugged to boot. I’ve got explosive rounds in this.” John returned his .45 caliber to his underarm shoulder holster, carefully dropping the hammer. “You shouldn’t be sneaking around like that. You might weird somebody out – make ’em get the wrong idea, eh?” John took several steps and stopped in front of the giant man. The two stood toe to toe. “Sinclaire, you old son of a bitch. How are you, man?” Ripley surrounded John with his big bear-like arms. John returned the hug and slapped the big man on the back. “Ripley! Christ on a crutch, I haven’t seen you since the OutLander tour. Seem to remember something about a fall, and what was that other little thing?” He pushed away and grinned. “Oh, yeah. You went and shot yourself in the leg! That was it! How could I forget a thing like that? Especially since I was the one who got pictures.” Ripley started to laugh and dropped down on his butt. “Jeez Lou fuckin’ weez! How long do I have to live with that? You’d think a fellow would get cut a little slack after a time. Leastwise from his friends, don’t you think? You really have pictures? I thought that was just a joke on me.” “Living color, ol’ buddy. High bidder and all. But, you know how it is, nobody wanted a picture of you. Couldn’t even get a hooker to look at ’em for a buck.” “My, oh my! Imaging meeting up with you again. World just gets smaller and smaller, don’t it?” Ripley was scrubbing the leaf bits out of his hair. “So?” John asked. “How far off did you get her from? The echoes made locating you a bitch.” “Oh, I don’t know. Top of the ridge to the bottom, I figure.” Ripley picked at the dirt on his boot with a stick. “Lucky shot, huh?” “I’ll say. You must’ve been moving pretty fast. Could have sworn your first shot came from over there to the right, but the second seemed to have come from the bottom of the ridge. Echoes make things hard to locate.” “Yup, I figure. So,” Ripley turned and poked John in the shoulder. “How long you been trackin’ her? Seems kind of strange you’d be so close and not get a shot off.” John started to chuckle quietly. “Aw, shit, Ripley. I’m getting too old for this. I’d have tracked her by the scent of her shoe once upon a time, but, shoot, I can hardly smell supper simmering
72 nowadays. Besides,” John pointed his thumb down to the lifeless girl, “she’d just about run me into a heart attack if I tried to keep up with her.” “So how’d you end up here at such a perfect opportunity?” Ripley leaned back onto the soft forest floor. “I figured somebody would tag her by midweek anyway, and I’m not about to compete too hard with the raggedy-ass younger crowd. So, I just took my time and had a nice stroll in the woods. There’s only three places where she could exit and I flipped a coin and came here. Figured there was a one in a million chance she’d make it through safe, and a one in three chance she’d come out here. Besides, this is my favorite place on Earth. You know that, Ripley? I’m just too old for the sport, but way too young to stop coming into the woods. I love it out here.” “I know what you mean.” Ripley sat up and pulled one boot off making an old man sound as he did. “I’m no spring chicken either.” “You know?” John said. “I seem to have come full circle. Used to be, I couldn’t wait for the kill so’s I could get back to the city. Now, I think I’d purposely stay behind just to get a few more days out here. Nothing to go back for anymore anyway. You know?” “Well, speak for yourself, you old geezer. I may creak when I move, but I’m still mean as shit. Nobody tracks better’n me. And frankly, I need the prize money. But, I know what you mean about being out here. It’s awful purty, ain’t it?” “Sure as hell is!” A voice came from behind the pair. The two men pealed off left and right, weapons in hand faster than the eye could follow. “Relax, fellas! You guys make more noise in five minutes than this little filly did all week!” A very short man with a very big rifle raised up out of the leaves thirty feet behind John and Ripley. “Which one of you made the shot?” “Caspar! You sneaky bastard. A half second longer and I’d have blown a hole in your head big enough to piss through.” Ripley was stumbling up on one knee. “Really, Ripley! You know that old .45-70 is a real piece of work. You can hear that bolt snap a mile off when you reload. I heard you get a shot off but never heard the reload. I believe your tool is empty now. Your wife says so anyway.” Ripley looked down at his rifle, ejected the empty brass and loaded a new round. “Busted, Ripley!” John started to laugh deeply as he holstered his huge handgun. “So, Caspar. I think I see the rat in the woodpile now. Ripley, you didn’t make the point. This old reprobate, Caspar, did! That’s why the second round sounded so far off from you. Nice tag, Caspar. You got her fair and square.”
73 “Yea. Like your mamma says, ‘You can pick your nose but you can’t pick your friends.’ You need to run with a higher class, eh, John. Hey, how ya’ doing, Ripley?” The short man buried himself in the big man’s bear hug. “Good to see you, man. I could’a sworn I heard you pass by a hundred yards off. I figured you thought you missed her and kept on going. Hey, if you’re gonna leave her behind, I’ll take the credit. I’m not proud. I should have known! Shit, this is just like old times, ain’t it?” Ripley was dancing back and forth. “Why couldn’t we have met up at the beginning of the season? We coulda had a hoot!” Caspar winked at John. “One of us would have killed one of us, I’ll bet. Better this way – game over and all.” Ripley leaned over and pulled up his satchel. “I’ve got some shine in here that’ll burn off the inside of your skull! What say we dress the young lady out and then get us blind ass stone stinkin’ drunk? How ’bout that?” John stepped between the two, Ripley towering over him on his left and Caspar tucked under his right arm. “A master’s idea!” he said. “I’m not going to get too many more tours of the woods and I better start packing in some fun while I can. Show me the shine, Ripley! I need a head start. You know I can drink both you pussies under the table.” The trio worked as a team as they dressed out the kill and made camp. The night in the Shawnee was about to become noisy. F/m Mitch Hopper is a writer and audiovisual professional who lives in Rochester, Illinois. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
FICTION & POETRY
The Upstairs Room By SHAWNA MAYER
t was nearly midnight when I left St. Louis. I’d stopped drinking a few hours ago and hoped that was long enough to sober up. Saying my goodbyes, I promised my mom I’d call in the morning. As I connected with I-55, and settled in for the monotonous drive back to Springfield, I rubbed my eyes. My contacts were glued to my eyeballs. Every streetlight had a halo. I opened the window hoping the cold air would keep me awake and ratcheted up the volume on the radio. “This is Rosetta Love, coming to you from the studio overlooking the river. That muddy brown Mississippi keeps washing through — we’re all just corks on the river tonight friends, bobbing through our lives, never certain where we’ll wash up —” Rosetta had a great voice, like expensive liquor, deep, smoky, and invigorating. Even with the volume turned up she created an intimacy that made me want to lean in closer. “We’re three months into the year. Have you given up on your resolutions, slouched back into old ways? Are you backsliding?” The lady hadn’t said “Jesus” yet, but I could feel it coming. No way was I listening to a hundred miles of praise-the-Lord, not after a day in my Great Aunt Betty’s house, where the walls were covered in crucifixes and ornate paintings of the bleeding hearts of Mary and Jesus, neither of whom had lifted a finger while her husband, my Great Uncle Ray, wasted away from pancreatic cancer. Rosetta gave a throaty chuckle. “That’s the religion of my childhood coming out of me friends, can’t shake it. Even though these days the only church I belong to is my own.” I sighed, nodding in agreement. After Ray’s funeral service, we’d gathered at Betty’s overheated house. My cousins and I had taken full advantage of the free booze. We were mixing vodka with cranberry juice and slowly
sinking deeper into the sofa cushions. My mom had cast long disapproving glances while she served food. When I was fifteen and blisteringly self-conscious, Ray had leaned over my shoulder at a family reunion and whispered, “You’re the prettiest girl here.” Ray was dapper and tall; he’d hugged and kissed us all with abandon, unlike the other men in the family. He’d married his wife over forty years ago after only knowing her a few weeks because “We just couldn’t wait,” he said, and we, good Catholics, knew what it was they couldn’t wait for. He was a gentler man than his brother, my grandpa, who nicknamed me “bony-butt,” and once told me if I didn’t stop chewing on my lips, no boy would ever want to kiss me. “Y’all familiar with the gospel term, the upstairs room?” A slow bluesy chord rose to back Rosetta’s words. “That’s what you call it when a preacher goes off alone to pray for his congregation.” I smiled, remembering my grandma’s upstairs room: the dress dummy that she once mistook for a burglar in the dark, trunks full of rick-rack and lace, the dolls, and iron bedstead piled with swatches of fabric. My cousins and I had holed up in that room after our grandpa died. We had been so young then, barely teenagers. We’d sprawled on the floor, playing marathon Monopoly and guzzling can after can of peach soda. When we left for the cemetery, all of us were buzzed on sugar and my mom was furious because it looked like I had swept the floor with my black velvet dress. A couple of years ago I’d tried to drink a can of peach soda and gagged on it. I couldn’t tolerate the cloyingly sweet flavor or the memories that floated up along with it. Maybe tonight’s binge would finally cure me of my taste for vodka — that would certainly answer my mother’s prayers. After Grandpa died, I had stood in the window of that upstairs room and wrapped myself in the musty gold curtains that I pretended were an evening gown. Staring down at the cars passing on the street I thought, you’re all going to die, and you don’t even know it. The memory made me cringe now; it was melodramatic. I had assumed that since I’d never experienced a death of someone close to me, neither had anyone else. “You out there, you restless souls listening to me on this moonless night, are my congregation. I’ve been spending time in that upstairs room thinking about y’all. And something got whispered in my ear — a question — ” Tuning out, I plunged into my own cold, wet Mississippi of anxiety and irritation. I was rushing back to an empty apartment, so I could get just enough sleep to wake up and wish I was dead.
Then, I’d pry my blood-shot eyes open and press my contacts back in, so I wouldn’t be late for a job I barely tolerated. “My friends — ” Rosetta cut in, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life?” My attention snapped back; she paused while a harmonica whined a brief solo. “You know these cold lonely nights when you just can’t fall asleep. You may be sitting up, helpless, at the bitter mercy of a mind that won’t stop replaying that same old song of guilt and shame. And you turned on the radio, hoping sweet Rosetta Love could soothe you back to sleep.” Another pregnant pause filled by a drummer sweeping brushes across a snare drum. “You’re not alone.” Tears suddenly filled my eyes. Jesus. I sniffed and blinked, I know I’m ragged if I’m tearing up over this maudlin crap. A series of memories began to jump and bark in my mind. All the fights with my mother, like during college when I’d gone to Carbondale to visit my friends from high school instead of coming home on Mother’s Day. The bickering head games I’d played with my father before we both cut our losses rather than kill each other. I thought of all the evil things that had been done to me by the men in my life. Each one had left me worse off than the one before, more cynical, less trusting. The last one — I thought I would marry him. I’d let him move in, only to have him vaporize six months later, sticking me with a $150 phone bill full of calls to his new girlfriend. “Ohhh,” Rosetta moaned. “It looks like I’ve hit a nerve. The lines are already flashing. Caller you’re on the air.” The sound of a tissue rustled across the airwaves. A querulous female voice sobbed, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” “First take a deep breath.” Two shaky inhalations were heard. “What’s your name?” “Donna.” “We’re all friends here, Donna.” “I owe $20,000 on my credit cards. My husband doesn’t know anything about it. He’d leave me if he found out. We already went through this once before, about ten years ago, and he thought we’d paid everything off but — I don’t know what to do. I only work part-time and I’m barely paying the minimum.” “Anticipation and dread can be worse than what you’re afraid of. Why don’t you wake up your husband and tell him the truth, so you can both sleep tonight.”
Donna gave a bitter laugh, “You don’t know him. I — ” the line buzzed and went dead. I could see Donna’s husband rolling over and feeling the cool sheet where her body should have been. Puzzled he had gotten out of bed to find her. Instead of seeing her sick in the bathroom or getting a drink from the kitchen, he found her crying with the phone pressed to her ear. Frantically she’d try to scrape together a plausible lie, but the radio and its time delay betrayed her as she broadcast her own secret. “We are more than just our worst moments,” Rosetta announced. “None of us are innocent. We all carry sins that feel unforgivable. Sometimes it makes us vulnerable and sensitive; sometimes it turns us cruel and bitter. When we acknowledge our weakest, meanest, dumbest moments to one another, we’re not so alone anymore.” A pause, “We’ll be back in a moment.” I was taken aback by the abrupt manic energy of the commercials. I turned the volume down and listened to the wind roar past. A tiny finger of something I refused to acknowledge began to tap my shoulder. My mouth went dry, and I wished I were back in Springfield, at my favorite bar where faces were hazy through the cigarette smoke, and the conversations had to be shouted to be heard above the music. Grabbing my cell phone, I flipped it open, calling Brian, a drinking buddy and occasional “friend-with-benefits.” After a half dozen rings, his voicemail picked up. “Hey Brian,” I tried to hide the tremor in my voice, “I’m on my way back from St. Lou, thought you might be out at Stockyards tonight, maybe you could swing by my place on your way home and we could hook up. “I sighed into the receiver and then hit disconnect. Shit, I’m pathetic. I tried another night owl friend, but she had her phone turned off and I didn’t bother to leave a message. The only friendly voices left were Rosetta Love and the sins of her city. “We are back. The question I put to you tonight: what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? I’m taking your calls and want to hear your confessions. Some of y’all are calling to comment on someone else’s confession. That’s not kosher tonight, friends. We aren’t here to condemn anybody. Tonight, plan to bare your soul or don’t bother dialing my number.” “Caller, you’re on the air, what’s your name?” A pause, “Aaron.” “What’s the worst thing you ever did, Aaron?” “Well — to get an honors certification for my bachelor’s degree I had to take this course in Anthropology and the class went on a dig with this well-known expert. We were uncovering shards of pottery, arrowheads, and some broken jewelry, all pretty routine,
but after a few more hours, I unearthed a skull.” He let out a pentup breath. “See, I was raised as an Orthodox Jew and in that tradition bodies are sacred. They should be buried quickly and never exhumed — and I went across the country to college just to escape the guilt and gloom my parents had heaped on me my entire life. But then I see this skull and my heart’s racing! So I call the professor over and he gets excited, and he tells me to keep going. Everybody’s crowded around watching. I don’t want to do to it, I’m almost frozen by this visceral dread, but I don’t want to make him mad either — I need the grade, you know? So I unearth this poor woman, and the professor leaned over and picked up what looked like a broken eggshell from between her hipbones. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘She was pregnant.’” His voice wobbled on the last word. He paused and swallowed. “I desecrated a grave, Rosetta. It may sound silly to you, and I can’t admit this to anyone else, but I can’t shake the feeling that I put a black mark on my soul — for a stupid grade.” “I appreciate you sharing that with us, Aaron.” “My wife,” he said flatly, “Is three months pregnant.” Aaron’s wife was probably sleeping peacefully in their bed while he watched her chest rise and fall terrified God was going to snatch her and their baby in retribution. A black mark, I pressed my fingers into my right temple and felt the pulse pounding. That’s how I felt. If you cut open my heart putrid black slime would gush out. Why do you have to be overly dramatic? My mother’s criticisms were so thoroughly engrained that even my thoughts sounded in her voice. After dad had left, she’d closed herself off; then when she’d met Dale I felt like I was losing her completely. He consumed her; they talked marriage, and babies. All she had left for me was disapproval. Rosetta inhaled deeply, “Well, it wouldn’t be fair for me to ask you to confess, if I wasn’t willing to do the same, so when we return after this short commercial break, it’ll be my turn. Stay tuned.” I was afraid I’d drive out of range before she could finish the story. At the Litchfield exit, I pulled off, stopped in the Walmart parking lot, and waited through the commercials. The vast sea of neon and halogen made my eyes ache. I considered bolting inside and cornering a clerk in a blue smock so I could look another person in the eye. Instead I chewed my lip until I tasted blood. Nobody’s ever gonna want to kiss you — “Before the break, I promised to come clean. It’s Rosetta’s turn now and my sordid tale begins with adultery — the big scarlet A.”
She paused a beat longer than she needed to and then plunged in. “I shot my boyfriend with my husband’s gun.” It sounded like film noir, but I was riveted. “This all went down ten years ago in Memphis. Even after all this time, talking about it makes my chest feel like it’s filling up with ice water,” she confided. “I married a man who was content to sit at home every night in front of the TV. I was twenty-one, he was thirty-two. He was sweet to me, but I didn’t want sweet. I wanted turbulence. He wouldn’t fight. You know how frustrating it is to pick a fight with a man who won’t ever fight back? Trust me, I went crazy after awhile. I went out and got myself a job tending bar, and that’s where I met D. Wayne.” I whispered the name to myself the way she had said it, reverently. A hard D, with the tongue hitting right behind the front teeth, then slack on the second syllable ending with the lips slightly parted as if waiting for a kiss. “That man taught me how to feel the blues of those artists I’d been taking for granted most of my life — I’m talking W.C. Handy, Mamie Smith, Leadbelly and Howlin’ Wolf. D. Wayne
lived down by the river, this same old Mississippi. Since he was a musician and dead broke most of the time, his apartment was in a lousy neighborhood, so when I left my husband I packed his gun.” I saw D. Wayne as Rosetta had the night she met him, perched on a bar stool and throwing back a whiskey neat. His oily black hair hung to his shoulders, face craggy and pot-marked, but his eyes gave away nothing. “In a few months the situation had turned ugly. One night we went at it for hours. I screamed myself hoarse. I shoved him, and he shoved me back. When he knocked me down, I went and got the gun. I could say I only meant to scare him, or that I was protecting myself, but I’ll tell you exactly what I told the judge, I aimed right for the center of his chest — and hit him in the shoulder.” I knew she was back in that apartment overlooking the river, ears ringing from the roar of the gun, her arm muscles quivering and seeing the blood blossom on his sleeve, and thinking, how in the hell did I miss? “Once D. Wayne got fixed up and we both cooled down, he talked to the D.A. on my behalf and I pled guilty to assault with a deadly weapon, five years suspended with probation. It could have been so much worse. A few inches over would have been the end of everything. I dream about it, and wake up crying. In spite of his flaws, he was a decent man, and Lord, could he sing. I’m glad I knew him — the only part I regret is the ending.” The phone was in my hand. I closed my eyes against the harsh lights and reached out to the only soul alive on this bleak night. I didn’t know what to expect, perhaps a screener, some indifferent voice prodding me for details, but Rosetta herself answered, all honey and absolution. I reached over and snapped the radio off and told her, “When I was fifteen, my mom was engaged to a man I hated. So I told him if he married her, I’d call the police and tell them he molested me.” “What did he say?” “Not much, he just — deflated — I remember the look on his face as it dawned on him that I wasn’t bluffing, and he had no way to defend himself. The accusation alone would ruin his life. It was like he’d glimpsed the face of evil. He told my mother it wouldn’t work out between them, and I never saw him again.” Struggling not to cry, I wished Rosetta were my mother so I could wrap my arms around her neck and rest my head on her breast. She’d tell me everything would be alright until I believed it myself. I wanted to be lanced and drained of all my venom there in the Walmart parking lot. “I cursed myself — because of what I did, I’ll always be alone. No —,” I corrected, “I deserve to be alone.” I laughed ruefully,
“And here I am, driving home from the funeral of a wonderful man who was faithful to his wife for over forty years.” “Remember, he had his own worst thing.” “Yeah,” I said, “I suppose he did.” “Get on home now. You need to rest,” she advised. I nodded as if she could see me and got back on the road. “Some of you out there have hearts that are cemeteries. But you’ve buried your dead alive, so you shouldn’t be surprised when the ghosts of the past claw their way to the surface and demand your attention.” Drums thudded in the lull that followed her words, then a baleful saxophone rose up and called I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it, and a trumpet answered back, yes you can. You are. Rosetta’s voice grew fainter, and I lost her completely as I passed Glenarm. I rode the rest of the way in dazed silence, alone with my thoughts. I turned into my complex, grabbed my duffle bag, and trudged up the stairs to my apartment. I dropped everything in the entryway and listened to the subdued hum of the building around me. Inside, the glow of the streetlight showed off the outline of my grandmother’s dress dummy standing in the corner of the living room. It still looked like a burglar. When we cleaned out my grandma’s house, my mother had wanted to throw it out. “You don’t know how to sew,” she’d said, but I’d insisted. The gold curtains were folded across the shoulder, like a sash. I walked over and wrapped the stiff fabric around my shoulders. I shuffled over to the window, lifted the blinds, and stared down at the silent parking lot. The curtains still smelled faintly of my grandma’s house. I brought the fabric to my nose and stood, just breathing. God and I hadn’t been on speaking terms in a long time. I swallowed hard and began a halting prayer, opening myself up to whatever might come, in my own upstairs room. F/m Shawna Mayer teaches English and is the author of “Sitting Up with the Dying,” a novel about prisoner convicted of killing her husband. A native of Springfield, Illinois, her goal is to live in a city where nothing is named for Abraham Lincoln. Contact her at email@example.com.
FICTION & POETRY
Celadon By KAREN WALSH
athrin strode down the empty hallway with purpose, her heels clicking in quick percussive snaps on the tiled floor, and approached the double-doors that separated the library wing from the upper school classrooms. She scrutinized the rubber seals at the top and bottom; they passed inspection. State law required a safety walk-through annually, in April, for all public school buildings, and she completed each step faithfully, including a security meeting with the walking counselors. They waited for her in the lower school office. Boxes of doughnuts and juice boxes sat on the counter. The group of men and women who patrolled the campus and kept order among the hundreds of students enrolled at St. Augustine Traditional clustered around the food. “Let’s go over the protocol for at-risk students,” she announced. The mantra was posted on a large chart taped to the wall. “Stop. Think. Consequence.” The officers responded in unison. The self-management technique was effective for keeping order at her school. It reminded the students to act mindfully and accept the consequences of their behavior. Kathrin brought the technique to St. Augustine from her previous post, as chief security officer at Bradford Academy. With the job of Dean of Discipline at St. Augustine Traditional, a Kindergarten through eighth grade charter school, came a substantial pay increase. And just in time. The rules about defensive contact that walking counselors were allowed to use with aggressive students were unambiguous. “Nonviolent,” she reminded her group in her matter-of-fact voice. “No physical restraints.” Her eyes scanned every face. “You’re doing a great job,” she praised them. “We haven’t had a serious discipline incident on campus in eight weeks.” Heads nodded. “Each of you is a model. Self-control is the key.”
83 Once dismissed, the men and women disappeared quickly. Kathrin secured the main door, carrying the remaining box of doughnuts to her car, and set off for her next appointment. Ellie was being evicted. She needed help packing and she needed money. Since her mother passed, Ellie struggled to keep the century home she’d inherited. Her penchant for taking in stray dogs and her equally undiscriminating choice of friends only made matters worse. She’d fallen behind on her credit card payments. Her check to the heating oil company bounced; they were after her for the bill and a penalty. The house remained just as it was when her mother was alive, with all of its neglected contents now needing to be packed and moved, or – for Kathrin’s perspective – just trashed. But time was running out and bulldozers were parked on the property next door. Ellie was desperate. She was as helpless as a rich man’s child. Kathrin resigned herself to the fact that the old house would be demolished. It stood like an island, surrounded by empty lots. Its green shutters were off-kilter and the faded siding wanted paint. Dark mold crept along its foundation. The azaleas had overgrown their beds, their roots clutching the stone foundation, and the cellar door was stuck. Inside, wallpaper buckled and peeled where its worn mansard roof, pocked with missing shingles, had allowed water to leak in. Dog hair covered everything. Ellie’s current boyfriend, Matt, had disappeared again after an altercation with the demolition man. The developer, who had purchased and razed most of the other houses on the block, served them with an eviction notice. He sent his crew chief to the house to prepare for demolition. On Monday, the old place was scheduled to be leveled. Matt took exception when the man warned them about leaving by Sunday afternoon. He went after the chief with his fists and bloodied his nose. Police were called and Matt, who had a history of misdemeanors, left in a hurry without his things. Ellie met Kathrin at the door with a broom. She pushed a long strand of hair off her forehead with a grimy hand, leaving a smudge above one eye. “I don’t know what to do about Matt’s stuff,” she lamented. “Trash it.” “Oh, no,” Ellie argued. “He’ll be back to help. He promised.” Kathrin rolled her eyes but kept her tongue. She stepped inside the house and was met with the yaps of Bella and Rocky. Twelve years old and hobbled with arthritis, Bella, a toy poodle, had been Ellie’s mother’s dog until she died. Rocky was Ellie’s miniature schnauzer and poodle mix. They ran from the back of the house and Ellie quickly shut the door. “Don’t get any ideas,” she chided the dogs. Rocky sniffed Kathrin’s legs and wiggled his stump of a tail.
84 “Where are the big dogs?” Kathrin asked. “In the kitchen. The boxes make them nervous.” Ellie had made some progress. Several boxes were stacked in the front room. Curtains were down. A dustpan leaned against the door. “What are you sweeping for?” Kathrin asked her. “The bulldozer won’t care.” They both looked out the window at the heavy equipment parked in the vacant lot next door. Ellie leaned her broom against the wall. “Pack first, or talk about the bills?” she asked. The old dogs wiggled in circles at her feet, begging for a treat. She lifted the champagne colored mutt under its belly and held him to her chest. “What’s left to pack?” Kathrin asked. “There’s still a lot in the dining room. Glassware and dishes. And Dad’s pottery. You want some of that, don’t you?” “Yes.” She was relieved to hear the pottery was still intact. She hadn’t expected to find anything of value left. On her way to Ellie’s, she’d visualized the disarray she was likely to encounter and used self-talk to prepare herself. She was determined not to bring Ellie to tears, if that was possible. Ellie’s mother’s finer things had disappeared, one by one. The silver table service was gone. Matt pawned the tea set and candelabras. Her previous boyfriend was simply destructive. Large holes still gaped where he’d driven his fist into the walls. The dogs had decimated her oriental rugs. “Matt’s room is full,” she continued. “And there’s more in the cellar.” “What’s down there?” Kathrin shivered at the idea of going to the tomb-like cellar. She hated the smell of its dirt floor and stone walls. Green and black mold infused the windowless subterranean coal bin. Dad had sealed the coal chute when the oil furnace was installed. The light switch was on the outside. It was the last place she wanted to go. “Matt’s tools,” Ellie answered. “A couple of boxes of Dad’s old stuff.” Ellie and Kathrin were half-sisters; they shared a father. He died ten years before Ellie’s mom. She passed over two years ago. Kathrin was the older sister. Her mother died accidentally when she was two. Dad remarried quickly. By the time she was three, her Aunt Lucy was her stepmother. Within a year, Ellie was on the way. They were cousins, too. After Lucy died, Ellie counted on her like a mother. Kathrin pitied her like a sister, and loved her like a cousin. “Let’s pack,” she suggested. Ellie agreed. They worked side-by-side in the dining room, carefully lifting dishware from the tall step-back cabinet and wrapping the pieces in
85 plastic. Boxes filled quickly. Ellie labeled them in her scrawling handwriting. Kathrin set the pottery aside. “I’ll need your credit card for the U-Haul,” Ellie informed her. They drove Ellie’s vintage Cadillac. Dad bought it for Lucy. Ellie inherited that, too. At the rental office, Kathrin took responsibility for the insurance and the rental fee, paying extra for padding and a hand-truck. She even drove the monstrous thing herself. Back at the house, Ellie locked the little dogs in her denuded bedroom, luring them with pieces of doughnut. She packed Matt’s belongings while her sister cleared the remnants in her mother’s old bedroom. Lucy’s bureau drawers were stuffed with mementos – old ticket stubs from movies and plays, invitations to weddings and baby showers, programs from Ellie’s school days, and dozens of photographs of Dad with Ellie. As Kathrin trashed the worthless paper, she found nothing of herself in Lucy’s piles of keepsakes. It was as if she had never lived there at all. Yellowed dry-cleaning bags covered most of Lucy’s clothes still hanging in the closet. Kathrin tossed them into a large, black trash bag and carried it to the curb. She wheeled furniture into the deep vessel with the hand-truck. Ellie carried more boxes. The container was like a coffin, the color of brown fog. They packed it from back to front with Ellie’s possessions. The storage company would deliver it to a warehouse and stack it with scores of other containers piled with displaced belongings. Ellie planned to move in with her sister while she straightened out her finances. The sisters worked late into the evening, after the sun had long since cast its last rays through the bare windows. Ellie carried her clothes and toiletries to her Cadillac. A few boxes went into Kathrin’s sedan. She loaded the front seat with the lovely Celadon pottery her father collected, wrapping newspapers and plastic sheets around each piece, and nesting them inside sturdy boxes. Ellie braved the cellar and brought up the box with Dad’s few items: a pack of cards, military stuff and his old school books. Kathrin claimed those, too. She had her mother’s few pieces of jewelry; a strand of pearls, her engagement ring, and a cameo. Ellie’s mother had owned more, but that was all gone, thanks to her thieving house-guests. They ordered pizza and waited in the kitchen, behind the safety gate, with Ellie’s Labradors, one black and one yellow. The big dogs lay under the table, their tails thumping restlessly. Kathrin pacified them with chunks of the stale doughnuts. They were stray rescues Ellie brought home just days after Lucy’s funeral. Poorly socialized and untrusting, for months they crouched and bared their teeth until Ellie’s relentless kindness cured their mistrust. Kathrin
viewed her sister with greater respect after seeing the dogs’ transformation. “How much money do you owe?” she asked her. Ellie covered her mouth with a dirty hand and shook her head. “Any idea about what you need to get your bills current?” Softly, Ellie answered, “Three thousand.” Kathrin resisted comment. She told herself. Stop. Think. Ellie was on the verge of tears. Thankfully, the pizza arrived. They wolfed it down and treated the dogs to leftovers. Bella wouldn’t accept the crusty bits from Kathrin. She curled her lips and growled. Her dark eyes were weepy at the corners, rimmed in wet, matted hair. Kathrin told Ellie, “Let’s sleep at my house and come back in the morning.” The little sister began gathering cans of dog food. Then, she searched for Bella’s and Rocky’s crates. “Hurry up, please,” Kathrin implored. “I’m exhausted. It’s time we got going.” Ellie took the little ones in her Cadillac. The two Labradors shared Kathrin’s back seat, away from the pottery. They trotted in tight circles, nervously entwining their muscular bodies in a strange dance. She told them, “Sit, sit!” But they moved constantly
87 until the door opened and they bolted into her house, straining at their leashes. When Ellie was settled with her pack, Kathrin carried the pottery inside. Gingerly, she lifted the lovely green vessels from their boxes and carried them to the dining room table. Dad bought the first pieces for her mother as gifts, during his time in Korea. Later, he added to the collection, ostensibly for Lucy. But she never cared for the monochrome teapots and bottles. Dad put them on display behind the glass doors in the breakfront. After he died, Lucy displaced them. They were moved to the bottom of the cabinet, out of sight. She inspected the bamboo-style teapot, relieved to find no chips in the glaze. Lovingly, she touched the smooth lip of the melon shaped vase. A pine tree design was inscribed on each side. Next, the open-work rice wine bottle emerged, decorated with cranes and clouds. Dad explained the symbols to her. Hyacinths represent richness. The meaning of the pine tree is fidelity. Clouds and cranes signify immortality. At last, she found her favorite, an intricately incised incense burner. Its boat shape made room for the school of fishes swimming along each side. She turned it in the light, admiring its finely fissured glaze. But the largest and most valuable piece of celadon was the tall vase, dark green like Kathrin’s eyes, the color of the sky after a summer rain storm. The most extravagantly decorated of the collection, its dragons and lotus blossom motifs inlaid the base. This was Dad’s favorite, because the lotus promised the mercy of Buddha. She carefully placed them at the center of her table, out of harms way. Sunday morning, they returned to the house, the pack in tow, with more empty boxes and packing tape. Gas-station coffee and the last two doughnuts proved sticky, but satisfying. The sisters made short work of packing and the rooms were soon emptied. “You’ve been a godsend,” Ellie gushed, touching her sister’s arm. “I don’t know what I would have done…” her voice trailed away and she bit her lower lip. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Kathrin replied, in her most compassionate voice. She’d learned to use inflection to calm upset students – and it worked just as effectively on distraught adults. Her reputation was built upon rationality. Feelings were dangerous. She took pride in being mindful and keeping feelings at bay. Sorting the kitchen’s contents, they talked for an hour. Ellie calmed down. The labs prowled nervously. Bella was curious. She went from room to room, sniffing. Occasionally, she would peer quizzically at Ellie. Rocky begged to be carried. He whimpered each time she set
88 him down. Finally, she sat on the floor and put the terrier mix in her lap, stroking his curly head. “Are you all right?” Kathrin asked. Ellie began to cry. “I’ve made such a mess,” she confessed. “This is all because of me.” “Some of it was bad luck.” “And Mom,” she replied. “I wish she’d never taken that reverse mortgage. I mean, we needed the cash. At first, it was a blessing. But after she passed, the money went so fast. And I had no idea how to get the house back.” “What’s done is done.” “I let Matt talk me into paying rent instead of keeping the house. Then we fell behind.” Kathrin knew the details. She’d read the documents from the mortgage company. Her phone calls to the banker went unanswered. In the end, there was nothing she could do. Lucy left everything to Ellie. Kathrin had no legal claim to the property. “You were right about Matt,” Ellie said. “I shouldn’t have trusted him. I still don’t know where the money went.” “You’re a caring person,” she offered. “He took advantage of that.” “I believed him. He said he’d take care of things.” Tears ran down her face. The dog looked at her with sympathetic eyes. Her sister was hopelessly trusting. Kathrin touched her shoulder tenderly. Rocky growled. “Hush!” Ellie commanded. “Maybe you should put him in his crate,” she said. “Bella, too.” “I left the crates at your house.” “What about the bathroom? Put them in there ’til we finish.” Ellie nodded. Her luggage was poised on the front porch, ready to be loaded for the trip to Kathrin’s home. They were all but finished. She carried Rocky down the hallway and nudged him into the bathroom. He immediately began to whimper and scratch at the door. “Where’s Bella?” Ellie asked. Kathrin shrugged. Ellie searched the first floor, but there was no sign of the little old poodle. “Bella!” Kathrin shouted up the stairs. She heard nothing. “She can’t hear very well,” Ellie explained, mounting the steps. Halfway up, her cell phone rang. It played a whimsical song, “Who Let The Dogs Out?” replete with electronic barking. Rocky’s whimper grew to a whine. She glanced at the screen. “It’s Matt,” she said. Kathrin grimaced. “Should I answer it?”
89 “Not now.” She was surprised when Ellie put the phone back into her pocket. Ellie hunted for the dog in the empty bedrooms. She opened the closet doors. “She’s not up here.” “I’ll check the yard,” Kathrin answered. The labs began barking furiously. The sisters hurried to the back door. The demolition crew had pulled their truck into the driveway. Two men were unloading sheets of plywood. Kathrin said, “Let me talk to them.” Ellie held the dogs by their collars. “Can I help you?” she asked as she approached the men. Her tone was formal and authoritative. She used the same business-like approach with the faculty at St. Augustine Traditional. “Talk to the chief,” one answered. An older man sat in the cab of the truck. She kept her eyes on the man sitting behind the wheel and spoke first. “This is my sister’s house.” “I don’t know anything about that,” he answered, examining the papers in his lap. “May I ask what you’re here for?” “Soon as you’re out, we gotta board it up.” He looked up. A Band-Aid stretched across the bridge of his nose. His mouth was set, but his hands and arms were relaxed. He was older than his crew, and under his bright yellow jersey polo shirt, his oversized man-breasts stretched the fabric pendulously. She’d learned to evaluate body language from her school safety training. As Dean, she taught non-violent crisis intervention techniques to the counselors. The crew chief seemed harmless. “I understood the house would be razed tomorrow.” She placed emphasis on the last word. “That’s right,” he told her. “But we have to secure the site. We don’t want any vagrants or animals getting inside tonight.” He stepped out of the truck. “Its fine if you want to leave stuff you don’t want. It’ll get plowed under with the rest of the house.” “We’re almost done,” she said. Ellie called from the porch. “I can’t find her anywhere.” “What’s that all about?” the man asked. “One of her dogs is missing.” The man bristled. “How many dogs she got in there?” “Four. They’re pets,” she assured him. “Just keep ’em away from me and my crew.” “Get Rocky in the car,” she called to Ellie. “What about Bella?” “I’ll keep looking. You take the labs to the kennel for tonight.” Ellie’s chin quivered. “It’s all going wrong,” she sobbed.
90 “I know. But we’re running out of time.” Ellie relented. The kennel was better than a shelter. She loaded the big dogs into the Cadillac as tears ran down her face. Kathrin took a last tour of her childhood home. Unwanted items Ellie left behind would be crushed with the house. In the master bedroom, a few photos were scattered on the floor, undated snapshots of people she didn’t recognize. She found a photo of a flock of cranes. On the reverse, her father’s neat, block letters spelled out St. Louis Zoo – Aviary. She tucked the photo into her jacket pocket, struggling to remember a time when they visited a zoo. Maybe he took Ellie, she thought. Maybe I wasn’t there. In Matt’s room, a broken game console sat in the middle of the floor. Several ring-binders with empty trading card sleeves sat in a pile. Empty cans of pop and energy drinks littered the room. She opened the closet and found only hangers; all of his clothes were gone. She stood on tip-toe and looked on the top shelf. There, she found broken pieces of celadon pottery. She scrutinized the pale green bits carefully. The shards of what appeared to be a rice bowl bore images of hyacinths. There were nicotine stains on the inside surfaces. Matt had used the rare and beautiful bowl for an ashtray. Her jaw stiffened. She dropped the pieces and retreated. Nothing remained in the dining room. The kitchen was empty except for a wooden chair whose seat was split and the empty doughnut carton. She checked the cabinets and drawers again. Ellie had been thorough. Everything worth saving was gone. At the front of the house, the workmen began boarding up windows. As clouds gathered and the boards went up, the house grew dark. She walked into the back yard and heard a dog growling. “Bella!” she called. “Here girl.” She clapped her hands and listened. The cellar door was ajar. She clapped and called again, hoping the little dog would emerge voluntarily. But Bella didn’t come. She retrieved a long-handled flashlight from the trunk of her car, identical to the kind the counselors used at St. Augustine Traditional. She’d taught them how to use the flashlight as a defensive tool. She gripped it confidently and twisted the handle. A strong beam shone on the ground. She aimed her light at the dim stairs and called the dog again. Bella barked. “Come on,” she grumbled. Tired and irritated, the last thing she wanted was to go down those stairs. She made a string of kissing noises and stooped to peek inside. Bella remained in the shadows.
91 She took a few steps into the foul smell and swept the room with light. Bella froze; the hair on the back of her neck was stiff. The little dog looked at her and let out a rumbling growl. “Come here, Bella,” she said sweetly. Slowly, she descended, approaching the dog carefully. In her peripheral vision, there was sudden movement. A figure lunged at her from the shadows. She swung the flashlight backhand and struck his face with a powerful blow. The crack of metal against bone reverberated in the empty cellar. He crumpled, like a scarecrow come loose from its tethers. She struck him again, full force. Heat rushed into her throat as she brought the flashlight down hard, for a third time. He moaned, his breath escaping in a last long note. She shined the light on Matt’s bloodied face. His eyes were vacant. He didn’t move. Bella sniffed his hair and whimpered. Then, she squatted, depositing a tiny circle of urine near his head. His cell rang with a triumphant bugle call. She let it ring until it stopped, then reached into the holster and retrieved the device. Its screen showed One Missed Call. She flipped the phone open and pressed the center button. The screen read Ellie’s cell. She turned the phone off and flung it into the coal bin. The demolition crew moved to the back yard. She heard their hammering resume. Time was running out. She turned on the light in the coal bin, then grasped Matt’s arms and dragged him into the windowless room. Bella ran in, too. The poodle snapped at her as she grabbed the dog by the scruff of its neck. Tempted as she was to leave Bella there with Matt, she knew her sister wouldn’t give up the search. She shut the door and switched off the light. The bloody spots on the floor disappeared into its grimy surface with a swipe of her shoe. She tossed her flashlight under the stairs, out of sight. Quickly, she ascended the stairs, breathing hard, clutching Bella with trembling hands. Her pulse pounded in her ears. Her hair was wet with sweat. As she emerged, the crew chief spotted her. “Anything left?” “Nothing we want.” “You sure?” he cautioned. “Tomorrow morning, this’ll all be gone.” She stared at him for a moment. “That door won’t close,” she said, pointing to the cellar. “We’ll board it up.” Ellie turned the Cadillac into the drive. Rocky’s nose was pressed against the passenger window, as if he too had been searching for his lost friend. Ellie’s face brightened at the sight of her sister holding her missing companion. Kathrin walked unsteadily to the car. Her face was flushed. Bella squirmed in her arms.
92 Ellie rolled down the window. “Are you okay?” Kathrin nodded. “Just tired.” “Where did you find her?” “She found me,” the older sister explained. “I don’t know where she went, but she came back on her own.” She handed over the dog. Ellie examined her pet. “You poor thing, you’re so dirty! And there’s blood on your nose.” Kathrin reached in the window and wiped the spot away with her thumb. Bella snarled again. “Hush,” Ellie scolded, and set her in the front seat. Bella began scratching her sooty fur with a hind foot. Kathrin retrieved her sister’s luggage from the porch and turned the key in the lock for the last time. She carried the bags to the car quickly, eager to get away from the forlorn house and its secrets. As Ellie reached across the seat and opened the car door for her, Bella jumped out. Kathrin snatched her. “Haven’t you done enough mischief for one day?” She held the little dog at arm’s length. “Is this it?” Ellie asked her sister. Kathrin passed the dog back, and then placed the luggage inside the Cadillac while her sister held both little dogs by their collars. She said, “We need to get out of here. It looks like rain,” and closed the door firmly. “What about Matt?” “What about him?” “You think he’ll come for his stuff?” “Not while the cops are looking for him.” She wiped her grimy hands on her black pants. Her hands were still shaking. The younger one sighed. “I guess you’re right.” “Let’s get your things to my house. We can clean up and get some dinner,” she offered. But before Ellie could answer, she heard the familiar refrain, “Who Let The Dogs Out?” She reached for the phone. Kathrin’s green eyes opened wide and she let out an uncharacteristic yelp. Bella and Rocky joined the virtual dogs’ chorus. F/m Karen Walsh is a St. Louis writer whose work has been published in River Styx, Earth’s Daughters and other magazines. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breaking free So many of your branches have been cut from your toes to your heart, that the scars sit like dead carnations on your skin. As if you, the jilted groom at a funeral each year could never remove the plumes from your bark. It is a chore to die slowly. Most work at dying fast enough to barely feel. Here in our once fertile forest, you try to hide the hollows behind your smile, but disease invades the leaf. We see the color of it first. It is in your face. We are tonsured trees who live half in dirt and half in air and drown, though there is no water. We are not the fresh seedlings in damp sod we once were. Our woodâ€™s worn gray. We wonder if our phoenix can survive on cut nerves. You contemplate if any part of you is still alive. I question what parts of you have already died. I remember roots, they seemed steadfast and deep. I remember leaning back into reality my torso bent to the sky as if each breast a bloom searching for light. I remember a dove whistling Ode to Joy, a squirrel clicking at a playful dog, a spray of moon glow, someone telling me to place a stick in the earth to tell time. Tell me something now about time. Tell me when I will outgrow the sorrow of you. Tell me about the best of sun and the best of shade. Embracing being human is hard, as the need to turn from nymph to person presses in me. My hand vines for life. Another day flows open, raw and exposed. Anita Stienstra
FICTION & POETRY
The 1960 Chevrolet By WINSTON WEATHERS
e called it the Chevrolet garden because the first car ever planted there was a 1960 Impala that Uncle Riordan had had the wreck with. Then came Mrs. Sullivan’s Packard coupe with the white sidewalls. The coupe was pastel blue and it looked quite pretty up against the red Chevrolet. Mama just had a coronary fit when someone — even without asking — planted a yellow MG right by the side of the Chevrolet — “We ain’t running a dump yard!” she cried — but I explained to her (quite ingeniously I thought) that it wasn’t a dump yard at all but a veritable garden: bright metal four-o-clocks flashing in the sunlight. She finally accepted that and we were in the dump business ever after, with Papa seeing to the dumping of all those wrecks clear up over the hillside, and Mama sitting on the back porch, peeling potatoes, singing in the sunset, just like she was looking out on a congregation of marigolds and roses. “Next year,” she’d say, “I do hope we can have more pinks on the south end there. I think we’re getting too many browns bunched up down in that part.” Papa became exceptionally clever at arranging the colors, mixing the colors in together so Mama would have an increasingly magnificent garden to look at. “You can dump that Plymouth down there to the left, boys. And take that DeSoto up beyond the green Nash.” The only trouble Papa ever had was if Mama called for just a dash of some unusual color at some particular place — say lavender or silver or pure white. Then sometimes he’d fuss around for a number of weeks before he’d find the necessary wreckage. When he did find some old fender of lime green or watermelon pink he’d bring it home, proud as a peacock, and plant it right where Mama would tell him to. Mama like best of all the two-tone jobs. I remember one razzledazzle convertible in particular.
95 No one every really appreciated the fact that I’m the creative one in the family, and I’m the one who brought up the whole idea of the garden in the first place. Not that I’m jealous of the idea, of course. If I can think up something that’ll make everybody happier, so much the better. It’s because I had one year at Latoona Junior College, I think. My being creative I mean. My being capable of seeing the garden, of saying that it was all a garden. When I went off to Latoona I made the discovery that I am a clever young man. Everybody said so. “You have the eyes of a poet,” Miss Elizabeth Markham, my history teacher said. “You can see more unusual things that aren’t really there.” Not that I want anyone to give me any special credit for the garden, and I certainly have never held it against any of them that I didn’t get to go on to Latoona another year. I came home to help out the best I could. “So you’re clever,” Papa said. “You can be clever right here around the house.” I’d sometime sit on the back porch helping Mama peel the potatoes, and I’d just look out over the Chevrolet garden, thinking to myself that if you don’t have the eyes of a poet you aren’t going to ever see anything at all. There wouldn’t be any garden there at all if I hadn’t got it started, if I hadn’t planted it, if I hadn’t cultivated it for them. “Ain’t it beautiful?” Mama will ask. What I want to say is: if it weren’t for me, I do declare you’d be living in a dump, the biggest damn dump you can imagine. Mrs. Sullivan’s daughter Cora did say it was a dump. Not to Mama or Papa, of course. But to me. She came over one evening to take a little stroll with me, and I said we ought to perambulate among the daisies and the tulips. “Where they at?” she asked. “Why, haven’t you see our flower garden, Miss Cora?” “No, I ain’t.” “Well,” I said, “I certainly want to show it to you.” I took her up on the hillside and said, “This is the Chevrolet garden.” “You’re kidding,” she said. “Can’t you just see how beautiful it is with the moonlight on it?” She said a dump was a dump to her, no matter if you called it the Taj Mahal. But how she ever heard of the Taj Mahal I’ll never have a clue, since she never even had half a day at Latoona Junior College. “Well, let’s just sit down her in this razzle-dazzle convertible,” I said, “and I’ll try to explain things to you.” We sat there in the dark, with moonlight spilling through the cracked windowglass, seeing the world so strange and wonderful
96 through the splintering ragged lines of an asterisk. It was like you were looking beyond and beyond, into the heart of a star. “We can go anywhere you want to go,” I said. “Where’ll it be?” “What you talking about?” I grabbed the steering wheel — zoom, zoom — and floorboarded the old razzle-dazzle hardtop Pontiac convertible. “How about Mobile,” I said. “Or Tampa, Florida. You name it.” “You’re crazy,” Cora said. So I tried to explain to the sweet young thing my whole philosophy of life, the whole wonderful way I had of seeing things, the way I had discovered at Latoona before I had to stop and come home. And I was telling Cora some very clever and perceptive things about how to use your God-given eyes, when all of a sudden we could hear Mama singing off in the darkness. “What in kingdom come’s that?” Cora asked. “That’s Mama singing,” I said. “What in kingdom come for?” Cora asked. “Because she’s happy,” I told her. “Mama sits on the back porch even at night and looks out over the Chevrolet garden and feels real good about everything.” “You’re all crazy,” Cora said. “You’re crazy. Your Mama’s crazy. Your Papa’s crazy.” “We’re all poets,” I said. “A dump’s a dump,” Cora said. She got out of the car. “And you ain’t going nowhere — to Baton Rouge or Biloxi or any damned placed else.” She’d have slammed the car door shut, but I’ll swear if it didn’t fall off right in her hands, clattering so loud that Mama stopped singing, abruptly, thinking she’d heard the petal of a flower thundering to the ground. When the authorities moved in and told us to get rid of our garden, I was just furious. I as furious I hadn’t learned more at Latoona about dealing with dictatorial, totalitarian, and reactionary governments. For one whole year we’d worked getting the hillside planted pretty and just right. And now they wanted us to bury it. Or haul it away they said. Clean up the hill they said. Then one day they brought some papers and showed them to Papa and Mama and me. “But this ain’t no dump,” Mama cried. “It’s my flower garden.” “My son here’s been to school,” Papa said. “A very clever young man — ” I tried to stop Papa from bragging in the face of disaster, because if I’d learned anything from all the intelligent people over at Latoona it was that not everybody sees everything the same. I learned that from Miss Cora Sullivan, too. Some people are blind as bats. Not a bit clever about looking at a twisted chassis.
97 The man said he didn’t give a damn about anything except clearing out the dump because the new houses were going up right across the highway and we couldn’t spoil everything for everybody else. When the man left I said, “Don’t you worry. I didn’t go to Latoona Junior College for nothing.” That afternoon I got Mama and Papa to pack a little lunch and I told them that we should take a stroll up through the Chevrolet garden, just take a leisurely stroll to see how things were doing, to start making our place for next season, a kind of inspection tour of all the flowers. We went about three o’clock up through the blue Dodges and the green Hudsons and the red Mercurys and we all remarked on what a beautiful day it was. What a beautiful garden it was. And when we came to the red 1960 Impala Chevrolet that Uncle Riordan had first brought to the garden, I said why didn’t we just get in there and sit down for a awhile. Then I said, “Mama, why don’t you sing us a song.” So she did. And I said, “Where do you want to go, Papa?” And he said, “I’ve never been nowhere. I ain’t a clever man at all. I wouldn’t know where to go.” “Well,” I said, “you just look out the windshield and I’ll show you a thing or two. Don’t you see that wonderful city up there — just over the hill? That’s New Orleans. See the big buildings? See all the people?” Mama, singing away, clutched the lunch basket on her lap. Papa leaned forward to see out the window. Zoom, zoom. Shift gears. Zoom, zoom. And I’ll swear we roared away through the Chevrolet garden, through brilliant flowers, though the mass of shining blossoms, up over the hill, scattering a rainbow of colors, a whirlwind of poetry, raising up a storm of lilacs and chrysanthemums and petunias and all things beautiful, and Papa cried, “You’re going too fast, son! You’re going too fast!” “The wind’s blowing my hair!” Mama cried, all of a sudden laughing. “But we got to get there!” I cried back at them. “I promised I’d get you there!” And I always tried, of course, to keep my promises. To do my duty. To take care of Papa and Mama. And I never for a moment resented it. Or had a thought of turning back, down the hillside, into the blindness and the darkness. F/m Weathers was with the English Department of the University of Tulsa when this short story was published in the Jan.-Feb. 1966 edition of FOCUS/midwest
End pages With the dead in central Illinois
Rose Hill Cemetery, near Petersburg
Hunter Cemetery, near Rochester
Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield
Zion Lutheran Cemetery, west of Hamel (top); Union Miners Cemetery, Mount Olive (bottom left); St. Raymondâ€™s Cemetery, Raymond (bottom right)
FOCUS/midwest FALL 2010