Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bowling for Kansas

I'm just back from Kansas, where the heat has broken, at least temporarily, and everyone is as happy as they could be for having just lost the better part of both their wheat and corn crops.  (And as the secessionist and Texas Guvuner Rick Perry might have said, if he hasn't already, thank the Umighty Lord for federal farm subsidies and crop insurance.) Yep, if it weren't for God and Gummint (in any order you choose), them farmers would have been living in some hellish Cairo slum since a long while back.

"It's not much, but at least we don't have to take farm subsidies."

And while I'm at it, here's a handy site where you can look up your neighbors to see who's cheating on their libertarian Tea Party credentials - search "Bachmann" (deceased) in Buffalo County, Wisconsin (as in "Michelle Bachmann") just to see how slick it works.

But among the many things I really do enjoy when I'm in Kansas (besides everyone I know there) is the self-imposed news blackout. In the darkened caverns of my motel rooms I can watch Turner Classic Movies (when's the last time you had to watch a Lew Ayres' "vehicle," willingly or un-?) instead of CNN or the charade of Faux News. Selective hearing, in a way, but relief nonetheless. When I speak with people, it's about genuine concerns like whether it will rain or exactly when their wells might dry up or whether there's enough water deeper down to sustain their farms. They're as chary talking about politics as I am, and being farmers, just as socialist as I am whether they know it or not. Probably they don't talk about it for the same reasons that I try not to write (much) about it (unless by innuendo), like we don't go into details about train wrecks.

So the climate in western Kansas is congenial to me in a way I never imagined it could ever be - in the summer it's bloody awful hot, it's dry and it's almost always windy (which of course is why I'm there anyway). Nonetheless (and given a modicum of air conditioning), I like it. But more than that, the people, as conservative and evangelical as their reputation and as much so as I am the contrary in every respect, seem to be possessed of a common sense that transcends the idiocy of their elected representatives and hired clergy. They are capable of conversation that does not degenerate in anger. On most topics, they are clear-minded. They can bowl together without rancour.

When among them I always feel welcome. I am admitted to the Mennonite ladies' Tuesday Sewing Circle, where in the church basement they prepare a lavish weekly Kansas farm lunch for their working husbands and sons in the off-seasons of fall and winter; have a standing fishing invitation at a marina in Oklahoma owned by a friend in the neighborhood; have standing invitations across two counties to stop by for dinner or supper (those being successive, seperate meals in Kansas); standing invitations to go pheasant hunting - a sport I've never tried nor been drawn to.

"Oh, dwat - sowwy."

I like it out there in the flat spaces with the curlews and the hawks and the coyotes and the Mexican restaurants and the oversized hamburgers and every grocery store bragging "the coldest beer in town." It's a forgotten place where the only tourists come for the tornado season. Bummer.

"Oh shit, Dorothy, we're in Kansas!"

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