Devon Wilke's writing is focused on the creative arenas - film, theater, fiction, music; art - as well as politics, culture, and human interest. Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for links & details.
Instead of “letters to the editor,” we now have “comment sections” that allow readers to express their views with a few taps of a keyboard, usually under a screen name, often anonymously, and, as it turns out, that simple change has unleashed the hounds of hell. Or, more accurately, a nation of “trolls.”
Interesting brouhaha in Arcata recently over plagiarism, commencement speeches, stupidity, and non-apologies. I’m sure you’ve heard about it; seems it was big news in June when The Arcata Eye reported that the keynote speaker at the Arcata High School’s commencement, Dan Johnson, got up and gave an inspiring speech called, “You Are Not Special,” which, it turns out, was incredibly special in that it wasn’t Dan Johnson’s speech. In fact, Dan Johnson’s oration was cribbed from a buzzworthy speech given by a gentleman named David McCullough Jr. for the graduating class of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts last year.
I remember when I was a kid and during each election cycle – local or national – the yards in our little farm town would fill up with every kind of sign and candidate poster imaginable, like decorations for a red, white and blue party we were all invited to. We kids had no idea what it was all about but there was something electrifying about those boldly colored signs and our usually laconic neighbors getting all feisty in the name of whoever it was they supported. Back in those days I can’t remember anyone coming to blows but odds are people were as partisan then as now!
And this is where small town life can get sticky; the reality that everyone knows everyone else, that histories intertwine and stretch deep, and that no matter what happens in a meeting, debate, or phone conversation, parties will likely bump into each other at the store, pass while walking down the street, or be somehow obligated to engage, whether they like it or not, during the normal transaction of their jobs. Duplicity, rancor, and acrimony may be easy to wrangle in a big city where perpetrators can disappear behind density of population and miles in between, but no such escape route is available in small towns.
And that’s what got us here, here with a season full of football games, a school ready to enjoy some team spirit, and a pall cast by a few racist loudmouths who weren’t taught right and whose actions were not quashed before outside parties had to get involved. Yes, it sucks. The punishment could have been a lot worse but, still, it sucks. It always does when the errant few ruin it for the larger community. But that’s how it’s done. Rules, regulations, and consequences generally follow when some fool makes it clear they’re needed.
It’s interesting how criminals get all nit-picky about what’s fair, what’s right, what’s just after they’ve committed their crimes. Somehow those concerns elude them while they’re busy breaking the law. We’ve had a national epidemic of this kind of narcissistic, entitled, and completely banal amorality. We can look at the sleazy shenanigans of Rob Blagojevich, the creep-fest that is John Edwards, or Bernie Madoff’s unfathomable Ponzis (to name just a few) and wonder, WHY IS IT SO HARD TO BE HONEST? Really. I want to know. Because it’s impossible for me to understand how anyone can destroy their lives, and the lives of others, seemingly without forethought or compunction.
Apparently back in March the “snippers” first had their way with about 1000 Ferndale and 950 Trinidad customers. Almost 2000 people impacted; people who, if they’re anything like us, use the Internet for work, correspondence, research, etc., and certainly their phones and TVs as intended. 2000 people who, because some hooligans decided to rip off fiber optic cable or feel the rush of anonymous crime, had to deal with work delays, disrupted bank transactions, lack of correspondence, and general inconvenience, for Suddenlink, actual dollars and cents.
I was going to make this column a traditional “best and worst of” of 2012 from my singular but hopefully expansive point of view. I’ve always loved those compilations put together by magazines and newspapers; love reading the annual thumbnail analyses of what rocked us or knocked us down. But as I was putting the list together and reading through some of the year’s Enterprises for inspiration, I was struck by another sense, particularly when I read the latest issue and its story of the mother who filed a complaint against the coaching staff and ended up inciting a very unsubtle pushback from some in the town. For one contingent that took the form of attending a subsequent meeting dressed in athletic gear to presumably show their support of the coaches and their rejection of her. For others it was phone messages dripping with threat and hostility. And all of it, reported and covered editorially by the paper, spoke to the darker side of a town that appears to fight with itself, from time to time, about what it wants to be.
Tourism is a funny beast with its mix of economy and emotion. It’s rare to find a tourist area that doesn’t wrestle with at least some conflict in the balance between needed commerce and subtle ire toward the outsiders who tromp through its environs on a seasonal basis. We need and want tourists, economies depend on them, but catering to them, marketing to them, even putting up with them, can sometimes chafe. Or so I’ve been told by tourist town locals over the years!
Caltrans is building a 6-mile, $210 million bypass – a project much lobbied for by town leaders looking to break the gridlock that happens daily as 101 snakes through the middle of town – and some of the locals concerned about damage to wildlife areas and wetlands had taken to the streets.
Well, to the trees, more accurately. Camping out high above the machines poised to clear the very trees they had made homes for almost two months, the demonstrators clashed with CHP and Caltrans crews set to take them down. We were driving by as at least some part of it happened; 101 traffic slowed to a crawl as the chaos came to a boil. There was a “parking lot” of police vehicles, agitated protesters waving placards, lots of hollering from both sides of the freeway, and it didn’t look like any of it was going to calm down quickly. We ultimately got by but later heard things had ratcheted to the level of feces throwing (by protesters), bean-bag shooting (by cops), arrests made (cops again), and bitter promises of continued resistance (that’d be the protesters).
For the next 24 hours we looked like chimps picking away at each other. Even after I though I had a clean slate, I found a little bugger crawling through the hairs at the nape of my neck (I get an itch these days, I jump… is there such a thing as Post Traumatic Tick Syndrome??). The carpets got bombed, the dog got a tick bath, and while the husband’s bite did get red enough to warrant some concern, we survived.
But much like my summer evening of yore, the glorious Guthrie hike devolved from pure exhilaration into a battle with biting things, thoughts of disease and, once again, a sense that Mother Nature can be a bi**h… (wait, can I say that in the paper?).
I’ve often wondered how this sits with civic leaders who work so hard to build their towns’ individual and unique identities. Is Humboldt’s association with pot so endemic, so much a part of the region’s DNA, that concern is moot and no one thinks much about it? A knowledgeable local once told me there’s a tacit understanding that pot growers and their big, unregulated, untaxed bucks play a major role in bolstering the economies of Humboldt towns; without them, those economies would tank. Which is an interesting dilemma.
County Fairs are synonymous with 4-H to me; the cavernous barns with their rows of buffed and shiny cattle, the stalls of sheep and pigs all plump and perfect; the clucking hens and seemingly annoyed goats braying in a barnyard symphony. I loved scuffling over the hay-covered floors, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, reveling in the pungent excitement of it all (I’ve often raised eyebrows with my affinity for the potent aroma of a good, musky barn!). And those barns were the domain of the farm kids, the “aggies,” as they were sometimes called. We “townies” could only gaze in awe as our capable classmates paraded through the show arenas proudly displaying their (hopefully!) beribboned livestock for the purpose of attracting the highest auction bidder ready to place good money on a 4-H bred beast.
Did you hear? Dan Rather flew over recently. Got in a helicopter with Rep. Jared Huffman and Sheriff Mike Downey to “tour the pot grows in Humboldt County.” Big story, with a televised news report sure to follow. The North Coast Journal has been ably covering all matters marijuana in its “Week In Weed” columns and I’ve been following, picking up the thread in my own writing about what on earth is happening to our forests and natural lands due to the enormous and unregulated illegal farming of pot; seems worth a conversation here.
It’s not just small towns; even big city locals get attached to the places they patronize. They chat up the regular clientele, get to know the owner, and take some pride of ownership in being part of the club. The sudden disappearance of a favorite restaurant or neighborhood market; the newsstand you loved, or that hardware store with just the right conduit pipe, can all be brutal. But, you’re an adult; you take it in stride. After all, there’s nothing you can do about it and what’s replacing it will likely be as good, if not better. It’s progress. Unavoidable civic evolution. And new blood, a fresh idea, is often very good for commerce.