Report from the Badlands

Our Political Twilight Zone

Last Saturday, Gavilan College professor Christina Salvin once again sent a gaggle of her students to New Idria. Christina is one of those free-thinking teachers, no doubt wiretapped by Homeland Security – I think her specialty is English – who is remarkably tenacious in the belief that city-bred students can expand their horizons by exploring an environment so unimaginable, so alien and fringe to their tender minds, it might inspire them to think and write about a world outside of the John Birch comfort zone of the Republic of Gilroy.

It’s true. New Idria – while normal people erroneously regard it as a dilapidated ghost town unabashed in its glaring living lesson on the folly of mercury-mining sprees of yore – is a test case in political psychological warfare. But at least we’re more sophisticated than the elected Brain Trust of San Benito. I submit, in fact, that New Idria is a City of Character worthy of the lobbying efforts of former Hollister Councilman Tony “Double the Fine if You Will” Bruscia.

(By the way, Bruscia is among the list of “public figures” endorsing Iggy Velazquez for Assembly. Have you seen that list? It reads like a Who’s Who in political hackery.)

We know the worn out bureaucratic battle cry: we’re just a few toothless hillbillies who choose to wallow in an isolated wasteland of global warming-loving capsid beetles and mercury vapor outgassing. The lawgivers forget the bigger picture: that New Idria’s acid mine drainage seeping perpetually into the Sacramento Delta and San Francisco Bay makes rich people who like to dine out on wine-drenched halibut as stupid and retarded as lead-paint eating ghetto children in a Hunter’s Point slum.

The students are so young, always gracious and polite, and I’m happy to welcome them as they amble across the Bridge Over Troubled Water. As usual, I greeted them in a ragged bathrobe accented with orange-tinted fluffy clown slippers, smoking ten cigarettes at the same time.

“Ain’t nothing wrong with that orange water,” I begin my lecture, taking my cue from the proclamations of downstream ranchers who wisely realize that water as opaque and rust-hued as Orange Crush soda is a gift of nature. “And by the way, we were wrong about it being poisoned with methyl-mercury. It’s perchlorate.”

If it were perchlorate, we recently figured, like the ever-migrating 10-mile long plume in Morgan Hill, at least we’d have the satisfaction of knowing a corporation like Olin would be carping forever about having to drive the 70 miles up our road to deliver bottled water. Perchlorate is the new darling of mitigation. Mercury is an enigma, and after all, we don’t let our offspring play with balls of mercury from thermometers anymore. Thus begins our reverse psychology on the San Benito Board of Supervisors and the state EPA.

As I gave my spiel, my TV blared a news flash: “Cheney Under Fire!”

The symptoms of mercury poisoning in humans, I explained (ignoring the omnipresent hell of national politics), are evidenced in shaking-hand tremors, salivation in the mouth, a lack of motor skills, bumping into walls, acute shyness in social situations and an untenable propensity to slur words. For Dog’s sake, none of the citizens of New Idria display any of that, I fumed, pausing to pull the fistful of 10 lit cigs from my trembling mouth.

As I set them straight, a nearby radio broadcast proclaimed, “VP ‘shoots’ down claim of being a drunken sot during hunting flap!”

I chatted my head off chasing tangents, saliva drooling down my chin like a rivulet of pumpkin-painted goop from the useless New Idria settling pond.

“Hey, did you guys bring dribble cups?” I asked.

The students gave me blinking, blank stares.

“I can’t stand this social nakedness,” I offered, pulling a paper bag over my head. I cut a slit for my mouth so I could still work off my inexplicable nervousness by chain smoking the obscene mouthful of cigarettes.

“Feel free to smoke!” I announced. They didn’t.

A blimp overhead flashed an electrically lit announcement: “Cheney ‘blasts’ back at critics!”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “The government will do the right thing. We’ve got perchlorate! Not mercury. And everyone knows that the Bush Administration is working hard on stuff like the Healthy Forests and Clean Skies initiatives!”

A sky-writing biplane far and away above us was busy scripting another news message in a patch of New Idrian blue sky: “Cheney’s hunting trophies ‘trigger’ probe on mounted human heads belonging to former environmentalists.”

“See?” I dribbled, tripping over my feet. I rambled on nonsensically. “This, too, shall pass.”

The students, I could tell, were ever so grateful for my pearls of wisdom. But they seemed to be inching away from me.

San Carlos Creek Update: There’s an unfair saying you may have heard: “Hollister is 25 miles from the beaten path and 25 years behind the times.”

That’s not true. Hollister is about 35 years behind the accepted 8-ball of contemporary political ethics. It’s like a political Twilight Zone.

After all, I told the students, in 5 million years no one will care how Cheney got out of being interviewed by the sheriff for 22 hours after he saw his hunting partner apparently cluck like a quail, because by then the sun will have imploded and consumed Mercury, Venus – and Earth. No one, save that gas ball of a sun, will inherit our planet… not even the capsids (who, so far, are winning every Darwinian battle life can throw at us). Will you still say it’s a beautiful day for the month of February? Will the San Benito Board of Supervisors still have their undies in a wad over the mere thought of a legal medical marijuana dispensary? Or will all the political buffoons stock up on cases of blue-colored Gatorade, faced with the reality of a world reduced to a hellish charred ember?

“Hey! Where in blazes are ya running off to?” I hollered.

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