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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Simpler times - harder solutions

It used to be a pint of minnows would bring you 40 cents.
I know, it doesn’t seem like much in either regard – not many minnows and not much change, but if you’re 7 to 10-years-old and you live next to a salt marsh in a tiny coastal village, that 40 cents is serious money.

All you needed was a few bucks for a minnow trap – which would be serviceable for a few seasons, some old bread, and a float. And that added up to serious wheeling and dealing at Jim’s Dock – and even better, the purchasing of candy with your bankroll at Skips dock. Since they were and still are right next to each other, you didn’t have far to walk, and you didn’t need to wear any shoes.

I don’t know what made me think about the slog out to pull in the minnow traps, so long ago, but the thought reminded me of another thing – the year that salt marsh was discovered by teens with dragnets. As you can imagine, it slimmed down the minnow population a bit, and the trips to Jim’s were less frequent and a bit leaner for quite a while.

Of course, dear reader, you may choose to take a variety of lessons from this article. I suppose you could equate the teenagers’ minnow over-fishing to some kind of larger-scale environmental slant. SAVE THE MINNOWS! I can see the posters and the Greenpeace protesters – or the fleets of Sea Sheppard rowboats doing battle with the evil dragnet folks, even now. Or you and Al Gore might band together and take a revisionist point of view. You could claim that it wasn’t the teens with their dragnet, but rather, global warming which depleted the minnow population to dangerous bait-fish levels, thus destabilizing the marsh and impacting in some arcane way, the ozone layer. Worms, which the minnows eat, are blooming unnaturally and the resulting increase in worm farts is killing Al Gore – or something like that.

But myself, I like to just look back on that time fondly.

Because, for a short, golden age, all I had to worry about was checking that trap, bargaining with Jim, and collecting my candy from Skip’s. Those were perfect days of barefoot youth and I remember a feeling of timelessness. Was it really just an illusion?

When I was screwing up the courage for another bartering session with Jim, Nixon, Ford and another guy named Jimmy were President. It was the 70s and there was a crappy economy, inflation, a gas shortage and in 1978 and '79, a major blizzard and a hostage crisis in Iran that lasted 444 days. I remember in the early 70s my father bought an orange Volkswagon Super Beetle when VW had the Thing in their showrooms. I know now that there was a lot wrong in the world – and not a lot being done right by the White House or anyone in office.

But for me there were simply the minnow traps.

Wouldn’t the world be an easier place if it worked on the simple arrangement of cash for minnows? Instead, we have cash for clunkers, dollars for dinged up appliances, bailouts for boneheads, jobs for jackasses, and amidst it all, a health care solution, which most people believe, solves nothing. Shovel-ready doesn’t mean much if there’s no one out there, shoveling or nothing to shovel with or for.

I saw my first Corvette Stingray back in those years – probably a ’73 or ’74. They were giving those out free to astronauts in those days. Maybe I imagined a life where I would become an astronaut and get one of those cars from Chevy.

Well, I’ve known a few astronauts, was in the Air Force for a long time, I’ve been a warrior and a reporter, an artist, martial art teacher and poet - and I own a nice 1973 Stingray. In fact, I was just working on it. It has an 8-track player and power windows – yeah baby; cutting edge. Jimmy Carter is still out there, and a strange new version of him is once again in office. Small cars are making a comeback, and a huge economic crisis is on us with massive inflation looming somewhere in our near future.

But I’m selling the Stingray, and that small village and beach house with the minnow trap probably rusted away somewhere beneath it, is all so far away. The desert southwest has the same sun looking down on it, but the days feel less golden, the time less easy. The sun is harsh and hot and unforgiving and I am aging and aching and tired.

I don’t have any answers – I don’t know the way back to that time, and I guess no one does. But I do know that a pint of minnows once got you 40 cents. It was a solid deal with real returns and no crooked bankers. The candy you bought with your hard-earned money was sweet, the beach sand, pure and soft and clean, the water cool and clear. The fish or crab you caught later that day at the state pier, could be cooked in an iron skillet if you were lucky to have an aunt or mother, or grandmother like mine.

Why can’t it still be that way and who do I have to fight to make sure that places and times like that still exist for some child, somewhere, sometime in the future?

Because whoever I need to fight, whoever stands in the way of that, you’re standing in the wrong place.

And we’re coming for you.

We’re coming for you all.

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