Thursday, July 06, 2006
DIARY OF A RAG AND BONE MAN
by Jack Rafter
Today's story: "Jack Meets The Avenging Angel"
Vincent and I spent a few winter nights in the basement of the YMCA. Then the janitor walked in on me one night, and threatened to run us off. He's a huge black man, bigger than Mohammed Ali, if you remember him. Liked to scared me to death. But then we got to talking and he decided I was okay. He was okay, too. His name is Clob Boatman. He's a retired boxer. Said he was almost the heavyweight champion of the world. But then he met Annabel, his wife, and she made him quit boxing. She was afraid he was going to be brain injured, which he thought was pretty funny because up until he met her, no one had ever lasted long enough with him in the ring to get off a shot at his head. But he quit anyway just because he was in love with Annabel.
Anyway, he showed me where there was a shower down there that Vincent and I could use whenever we needed it--a welcome relief. I'll tell you something: a person gets pretty gamey sleeping out all the time. And a dog especially needs a good soaping off now and then to keep the ticks away.
With summer here we are back over in the woods by the freight yards. There's quite a few homeless camped out here. We call it Sherwood Forest, just for fun, and just to create a little romance out here. Of course, it doesn't look anything like Robin Hood's forest. Just a strip of woods and thickets between Vickery Road and the Centennial Yards.
Yesterday, just before nightfall, a man walked up to my tent. He was a stranger to the woods. He looked about forty years old. I guessed he had just gotten off a freight train. He was weary and dirty and beat up. I had some canned butter beans and cornbread, so we sat there and ate some dinner.
His name was Ben Breen, and he was from New Orleans. He said he went through the hurricane. He was one of the people that lost his home. His wife and two children cleared out before the storm hit. They've been staying with her parents in West Virginia. Ben said his wife suffered a mental collapse over losing everything and things haven't been going too well ever since. He stayed in New Orleans hoping the government would rebuild his house or give him some money to rebuild. But they never did. Meanwhile, he lost his job as a warehouseman in the shipping district.
He said he was in Jackson Square the night the President was there and made his big speech to the nation promising to rebuild the city. Ben Breen said he knew even then it was all a pack of lies. "They're not gonna rebuild anything except for the rich people," he said.
Ben Breen said he was on a mission, now. He was hopping freight trains across the country looking for WalMarts because he was going to blow them up, he said, one after another. His Uncle Charles had a sporting goods store for twenty years in Plaquemine, Louisiana. Breen's Sporting Goods. He had four employees working for him. Uncle Charles paid them better than minimum wage, provided health insurance, and gave them two week's paid vacation every year. Then the WalMart came along and within less than a year, Uncle Charles had to close his store. Now, his employees are working at WalMart for minimum wage, with no health insurance, and certainly no vacation. "WalMart is a blight on this country," said Ben Breen. "And I'm going to rid us of this plague." I told him I thought blowing them up was a pretty grandiose scheme, and that it was going to take an awful lot of dynamite. "Don't worry," he said, "I can get my hands on dynamite." His father was a Korean War veteran and had been an explosives expert. Ben learned a lot about explosives from his father, as well as how to handle guns.
"This is the beginning of the revolution," Ben said. "It's time this country had another revolution, don't you think?" He was smiling and had a wild look in his eye, the kind of excited look a horse gets when you flash a light in its face. I shrugged. I wasn't sure if it was time for the revolution or not, but that may only be because I'm basically a coward. Still smiling, Ben Breen looked down at his plate of beans. "Thomas Jefferson would agree with me. He said the tree of liberty needs to be watered now and then with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
"We have tyrants in the White House, now," he went on. "They've broken all our treaties and laws. They're raiding and plundering countries for oil and other resources. They're torturing people! They're making everything more dangerous than it already is. Somebody has to stop them. Congress won't do it, so it's up to the people. The people have to rise up."
Ben Breen said that after he gets finished blowing up some WalMarts, he's going to start hunting down CEO's. "What CEO's?" I said. "I'm not going to tell you," he said. "But you just think about who's got all the power in this country, and you'll know who I'm talking about. They're the ones who have bought off our Congress and hijacked the whole political system. That's all it exists for now is for their personal benefit. The rest of us are screwed. That Jack Abramoff character and those other goons like Tom Delay and Grover Norquist--you see how they operate? To get an audience with the President, you gotta pony up. Twenty-five grand to see Bush for fifteen minutes. This is our democracy. While we've been fiddling, they've been stealing everything they could get their hands on.
So he said he was going to start picking off CEO's with a deer rifle. "Do you have a deer rifle?" I said. "Yes, I do," he said. "Where is it?" I said. "It's down there in some weeds by the tracks. It's wrapped up in a sheet of plastic."
He said after he picked off one or two CEO's, he was going to send letters to the New York Times and the Washington Post, explaining what he was doing. He was going to demand that the corporations get their lobbyists with their bags and suitcases full of money out of Washington, D.C. "This is the revolution," said Ben Breen. "We start by taking back the Congress." "What about just electing more Democrats?" I said. "That won't do any good," he replied. "They just pay them off, too, and pretty soon, they're acting and behaving like Republicans. No, first you have to get the money out. That's the only way. And picking them off is the only thing that will get their attention." "Yes, that should do it," I agreed.
Compared to most revolutions, Ben Breen said he thought this one would be relatively bloodless. "It's all a matter of picking the right targets," he said. "Once these guys realize they can't go anywhere without worrying where the next bullet is coming from, then I think they'll start to come around."
Ben Breen spent the night in my camp. The next morning, Vincent and I walked with him down to the train yards. He said he wanted to show me his deer rifle. We shuffled along the edge of the yard, looking in the weeds, but we couldn't find the rifle. Ben looked around, confused. "Everything looks different," he mumbled. I said, "Yes, everything's different because all the trains that were here yesterday have moved."
"Oh. That's right," he said. Then he turned and walked up the track.