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Life at the Edge of the Empire

John the Baptist in Red Wing Shoes

by DANIEL CHURCH

Fairbanks.

Shift work can be a dangerous, nauseating experience. Working 12 hours straight in a control panel at a power plant for 84 hours I often have entertained myself by adjusting the junked out radio with an antenna that wraps around the wall like a bizarre labyrinth. I was able to receive transmissions from one static local radio station “Magic 101.1 FM”: specializing in hits from the past and present”. During mid-week on a night shift schedule I had to check myself for auditory hallucinations (another result of shift work) as I heard an advertisement that was ludicrous and had me laughing to myself uncontrollably. The advertisement was for Red Wing shoes and here is the initial auditory onslaught:

What is work? Is work talking about working? Is work telling others to work? No, work is actually working with your hands and your brains. Work is building skyscrapers and drilling for oil. Work is loading ships and building submarines. Work is craft. Work is complex. Work is family. Work is pride, and if you’re serious about it, work is a pair of read winged boots on your feet. Red Winged work boots are purpose built for the exact work you do. Red wing shoes, work is our work.

The advertisement insanely rambles on to describe how wearing Red Wing shoes makes you an American. I sat and looked at my footwear and thankfully I wasn’t wearing any Red Wing shoes. After all what is a corporation to instruct me what work is or how somehow certain jobs are more meaningful than others? For a company that prides itself in being “American” and “For the working man” they certainly have been busy. Recently a plant was closed in Kentucky and a second shift eliminated in Minnesota; 200 jobs eliminated in all. Apparently their work wasn’t “worth talking about” and the employees’ families weren’t a consideration. The type of America envisioned by Red Wing shoes plays on the stereotypical beer-chugging construction worker who musters up enough energy for domestic abuse at the end of the day.

I visited my local refuge site the next day; a neat local phenomenon where people can leave items for others to use and recycle. There are all sorts of characters and miscreants that scavenge the trash heaps for something salvageable. A bizarre subculture has emerged with people poking the trash mounds for their hoarding at home. There are also needy individuals that find salvation and otherwise goods that would go to waste.

I saw one of the familiars, an individual who has been termed “John the Baptist” because he spends his days preaching to anyone who will listen and has subjected himself to a life of poverty. When he isn’t at the refuge site he’s at the local jail. His primary crime is “criminal trespass” because he has been banned from many local businesses for loitering. His most recent foray into jail was a result of singing to children. The police showed up after an enraged parent called. He was subsequently tackled to the ground because he refused to get on his knees for the police. His reasoning was that he bowed before no one but God. He received brutal treatment for being mentally ill and confusing the public. He has never assaulted or hurt anyone.

I donated John the one pair of Red Wing shoes I had and he was very much appreciative. He had previously been wearing worn-out shoes made out of dilapidated cardboard. His work is “worth talking about” and he said a little prayer for me as I exited the refuge site. This is the America I warmly embrace. This is a diverse country where people like John should be treated fairly and just. This is life at the edge of the empire in interior Alaska.

Daniel Church is an activist writer residing in Fairbanks, Alaska and can be reached at lfsdan@hotmail.com