The great dunk tank
We rode down on the Santa Fe Texas Chief, a great, luxurious railroad line. It was air-conditioned, a new thing in those days, had a fancy Fred Harvey dining car, and stopped in places like Emporia, Wichita, Ponca City, and Denton. I can still remember the red soil of Oklahoma and the oil derricks around Oklahoma City.
We liked Dallas. It was big, clean, new, and there were a lot of things to do and see. Also a lot of things to learn. We had not been to the South before, and were unaware of the customs. One time we went downtown with our cousins to see a movie, and rode the bus. As we piled in, we headed for the back of the bus. Back home, that was the kids’ section, where you could goof off without being seen by the driver. Our cousins sat in the front, and wouldn’t turn around when we yelled at them to come to the back. They pretended not to know us, unconvincingly. As I remember it, there was no one else on the bus. My cousins weren't "racists." They just knew that in Texas you violate the social norms at your peril.
While we were in Dallas a friend of one of our cousins got sick and was in the hospital, and we all went to visit her one night. One the way out, I held the door open for an elderly black man. I was just being a boy scout, but as I walked ahead I heard the man say, "Did you see what that white boy did?" He couldn’t believe it.
Our naivete also had a negative side. Next to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas was "The world’s largest fairgrounds," the "Midway." It was our favorite place to go. It had rides, games of chance, and cotton candy, and really was the biggest amusement park I had ever seen. One of the attractions was a dunk tank, where you threw a baseball at a small metal target, and if your aim was true, the person in the tank fell in the water. It was not easy to hit the target, and to keep people paying for more chances, the men in the tanks were always black. They taunted people as they walked by, and while they were throwing, with pretty innocent remarks, they being black and the customers white. I didn’t realize at the time how well the taunting worked. One after another white Texas stud would try his luck, would get mad at the taunts, and fail.
I tried my luck, and plunked down a quarter for three throws. That’s about $2.50 - $3.00 in today’s money. The crowd was still gathered around, waiting until I finished. The man in the tank taunted me too, which surprised me, being a kid. He called me "Glasses" because I was wearing glasses, not much of an insult. I had nothing to lose, and actually became more focused. On the third throw, I hit the target, and into the tank he went. The men around me cheered, and patted me on the back. I felt like a hero, but looked at the black man climbing out of the tank. He looked hurt. I can still remember the way he looked at me. It wasn’t anger, but humiliation. It was a strange experience, because I felt bad and good at the same time.
A couple of years later I went on a duck hunting trip to Arkansas with my dad. After a couple of days in the woods we "went to town," to get some staple items. As I was wandering around town by myself, a black man was approaching from the opposite direction. As we drew closer, he not only stepped aside, but stepped out into the street. It wasn’t just his stepping aside, but the way he did it. The deference, the acknowledgement of inferiority shocked me. It also made me feel good, and that shocked me too.
These, as well as many others, are experiences that I still learn from. Whenever I see or hear about the good or bad things that anyone does, I have the sense that "There but for the grace of God go I." Or goeth I. Our circumstances play a huge role in what we do, and the decisions we make. I wasn’t raised to get enjoyment out of humiliating anyone, but if I had grown up where that kind of behavior is rewarded, things might have been different.
When I hear about suicide bombers, torturers, criminals in the Bush administration, or almost any kind of evil perpetrated anywhere, I don’t feel hatred, because I know that it is a fellow human being doing the evil. In the case of Bush, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush crime family, I feel great revulsion, but not hatred. These people have had every advantage in life - wealth, power, fame, privilege - and look what they’ve done with it. They are as low as a human being can sink, fomenting wars solely to feed their diseased egos and all-too-fat wallets. I’m glad I’m not them, but I still know it could have been me.
I’m lucky to never have been powerful, rich, famous, or privileged. In the few times in my life when I approached these things, something in me was repelled, and I settled back into my more humble circumstances. I have seen people time and again grab for power, get soiled in the process, and fall from grace. I have yet to see anyone learn from the experience. The intoxication of power is more addictive than any drug. It can make people willing to kill all life on Earth in order to get it.
Because I can see myself in the sociopaths who run this country, I don’t fall into the "leftist" trap of seeing them as the "other," the enemy monolith of "right-wingers," or "neo-cons," "fascists," or "racists." They are fallible and fallen human beings, and that is their weakness, their Achilles heel.
When "leftists" talk about the Bush gang they create a straw man of great power and strength, so powerful that it can’t be overcome. So much of the "left" media laments this power, and fills up much newsprint, radio, TV and Web space with resentment and defeatism. The methods to overcome the Bush crime family tend to be limited to moral suasion - demonstrations, letters to the editor, petitions, writing to congresspersons, vigils, etc.
These methods are useful for internal purposes of solidarity, but don’t have any effective influence on the Bush crime family. This gang must be removed from office, prosecuted, and sent to prison at hard labor for the rest of their lives.
The first step in this process is to recognize that these are not formidable men and women of power, but weak people - morally, ethically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and intestinal fortitudinally - they are cowards, thieves, murderers, liars, and true idiots, not knowing right from wrong. Actually they are worse, knowing right from wrong, but choosing wrong anyway.
Bush likely went to the Midway in Dallas a few times when he was young, and may have even tried to dunk the same black man that I did. The difference, I suspect, is that he would likely have gotten furious at being taunted, throwing wide of the mark every time. In front of his father. It’s the kind of thing he would never get over.
Whatever happened in Bush’s youth, he didn’t learn anything from it. Anti-learning would be closer to the truth. The frog torturing was a portent of things to come. We can all feel lucky for not being him, or at least most of us can. We all get a deal in life, and we all play the hand we are dealt. How well you play determines what your next assignment will be. I don’t know what my next deal will be, but I’m sure glad I didn’t aspire to wealth and power, fame and privilege. In the dunk tank in the Great Beyond you have to have some place from which to fall.