(Excerpted from Chapter 1: Flatlands: The Grateful Unrich…)
The more we understand that the problem is unjust structures rather than individuals who can be held personally responsible, the easier it is to forgive the individual and hate the system. Individuals are only vaguely aware at all, of what they are doing – like children playing with matches. - Albert Nolan
I am by birth a flatlander- one of those quiet church-reared types- bound to Calvin’s work ethic and the dirt that taught me never to complain. Those things never change. South Dakota’s harshness breeds self-restraint, self-sufficiency and self-deprecation. Unintended brutality seems as normal as the rising of the sun each cold winter morning. I grew up showing cattle, became a star middle linebacker, a decent trombone player and an unwilling Homecoming King. The trip to the barber was mandatory and always on schedule.
Where I come from poor kids are late for the school bus every morning. When they do finally show up they reek of bacon grease, their hair is uncombed and their clothes are comparable to the rags my mom uses in her tidy and expansive kitchen. But behind our picket fence facade, my father the farmer is as indebted to the local banker as anyone else. The farm crisis is coming.
When dad runs head-on into a gravel truck after delivering a prized Polled Hereford bull to a buyer in 1978, we are forced to auction off my grandfather’s original homestead and move to a trailer in the small town of Faulkton – whose tiny population of 900 has moved quickly to buy up our bargain machinery. They are doing my mom a favor I am told by several friendly satisfied bidders. There will surely be a party at the Mason lodge tonight. Maybe the local banker who lately fancies himself a rancher will even cook up some free brats for this grand economic occasion. I go to work for a neighboring farmer at age twelve for $2.25/hour.
I graduate salutatorian and would be valedictorian had I not told the school principal he was “a fucking asshole”, after he ejected the four of us who had the nerve to disregard his sudden suspension of a tradition fondly referred to as Senior Skip Day. My remarks earn me an extra two days from school. Though I earn a goodly amount of Schmidt big mouth money plowing a farmer’s fields those three days, I miss a chemistry test, get a “D” in the class and wind up a close second in the all-important GPA sweepstakes.
The expletive-worthy principal later intervenes to nix a scholarship I had earned. With a much smaller scholarship in tow and some Pell Grants, I enroll at South Dakota State University – where I drink by night and frequent Dog Ears Books by day. The owner Gwayne Roberts is an old hippie, near as I can tell the first and last such creature in my fine state – God rest his soul.
He introduces me to Sumatran dark coffee, self-taught instrument playing and the Trilateral Commission. Gwayne retrieves my withered soul from the agricultural vo-tech which I am surrounded by and gives me that spark I so badly need. Those lively debates regarding the carrying capacity of sows, the evils of bark-eating rabbits and the most efficient way to stack round bales just aren’t cutting it anymore.
Nervously appraising the unreal, they await the gathered ceremonious
Unveiling the subtlest gauntlet as the henchman hides behind fiction
Bursting intuitive wisdom, souls shredded with sarcasm’s smile
Poisoned by venomous breathings, grasping, clinging closet madman
One prophet shifts, restless with disgust, instincts appalled by lies
Permeating persuasions of insanity form frozen reductions of wonderment
One gazes nowhere, squirming free til’ forced by the role of imposter
For the madman’s hollow charade, chilling rotten metal corpse invader
I soon discover the radical bastion known as the Rural Sociology Department. It isn’t long before I am attending anti-apartheid meetings, having lunch with Palestinian militants earning engineering degrees and smoking ganja and Salem Lights. For my penance, I quit jogging, intramural football and Catholic church-going.
I enroll in a class called Philosophy of Life, where Professor Dave Nelson tells me that the only problems he ever seems to have are those of other people. We read Thoreau, Tolstoy and Emerson, who all seem to agree with Dr. Dave. My martyrdom complex is being shaken. Darrell Geist is in this class. I’d always see his name on a list of activists being circulated by Rev. Carl Kline – around whom the tiny SDSU activist community coalesces. Darrell and I are the only students on that list. Everyone else lives in Brookings and has a day job. Darrell quickly becomes my best friend.
I am arrested for civil disobedience at a rally in Sioux Falls for protesting US involvement in Nicaragua. The self-important Faulkton town fathers declare me criminal and miscreant. To the better spirits of my home town I am becoming a rebel folk hero.
Faulk County Easter Egg Hunt
Go back not to unsmiling watching razors, stupidity’s slaves
Scared sharp by cloak and pulpit, erected by green and greed
Return not to silent askers, bleeding nonsense, pet feeders empty
Lodge builder code words, nicely paneled plastic cages
Long not for McCarthy disciples, bake sales for fascism
Destroyer banker nail-pounder arcing failed attempts at Rated G
Passing birth and crucifixion, reaper plans shattered by questioning
Resurrection enlightenment ascending planetary phase awaits
Cry not for selfish egg place, robot liars seeking refuge in sadness
More eggs hidden elsewhere, some children scramble beyond boundaries
Out of reach of master-hider’s mechanical hand
Running for greener grass
I become a resident assistant in Young Hall, where I buck the administration on my fellow students’ behalf. I meet a crazy woman named Jane who attends rival University of South Dakota (USD), where coyotes supplant jackrabbits as sum of all fears and school mascot. When I get caught smoking ganja with a fellow R.A. one fine afternoon, I decide I will transfer next semester. The guy who busts us – a fellow R.A. and always the yes man – later becomes an ATF agent. I’ve always wondered if he was part of the mass murder operation at Waco.
USD is the best thing that’s happened to me so far. Not because of Crazy Jane. She chucks the $900 engagement ring I’d given her into a cornfield one day. This is now the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I meet two professors whose informed opinions feed my increasing militancy towards the system. Tom Lobe is a Marxist Political Science professor. His classes include Comparative Communism and The Politics of Film. The latter is the best class I’ve ever taken. Mike Roche is a Criminal Justice professor. He cruises around in an old VW van and goes to Catholic Church every Sunday. On weekends he travels to Sioux Falls where he ministers to prisoners. He refuses to use computers, claiming they are stripping us of our humanity. Mike introduces me to the writings of J. Krishnamurti. He is one of the most genuinely compassionate people I have ever met. If there is such a thing as a true Christian, Mike is it.
I work three jobs and live in a $60/month basement apartment. Thoreau has hit home. I am ridding myself of most all material possessions. I start rolling my own cigarettes and buy a hand-cranked coffee grinder. My mother, bless her heart, is worried. Her dream that I should become either a doctor or a lawyer has melted like a sudden spring thaw.
Instead I opt for a self-guided program of Liberal Studies – a highly interdisciplinary path which includes classes in political science, history, philosophy, criminal justice, Native American studies, anthropology, sociology, psychology and English. I resolve that my life will be about the acquisition of wisdom. I will not grovel for a career or the material wealth that follows.
Hollow plastic talks its way down cold tile tunnel
Ice face frantically plots escape, occasional weirdo smiling
Shrines to alchemists before will rationalize for free
To clone apparel somewhat people, IBM lady tapping disease
Space for rent in head where filtered lies are discarded
Incinerating dreams, rebellion; emitting toxic transience, apathy
Slamming their cage doors in remote pacified consciousness
Nodding to indictments of their melted Mother
Rattling their shackles at each new arrival of comfort
Bloody tropical extractions, Knights of Columbus death squads
Faintly I hear some still alive, gnawing weakly at wrists of despair
Turning away quickly to continue up the golden stairway to hell
Dean Henderson is the author of four books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve & Stickin’ it to the Matrix. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @ www.deanhenderson.wordpress.com