FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Steinbeck Country in 2013

by STACEY WARDE

I met a longtime resident at the local bar the other night who challenged me on just about everything from the moment I walked in.

“You live around here?”

Sure, I said. He introduced me to his wife of 40-plus years, a beauty, stately and queenly.

He told me she’s from a long line of settlers who moved here in the 19th century. She smiled at me, like a queen.

“I’ve met you before,” I told her. “I never forget a face.” And I don’t. I forget names but not faces.

“I don’t think so,” she responded. I grabbed a beer from the bar and sat down beside the couple. The old man gave me a smug up and down. He snorted. The wife sat beaming.

“You met her in here?” he challenged.

Sure, I said. I turned to the wife and told her that I’d seen her in here with another longtime resident that we both knew. The light in her face softened and she remembered coming but not meeting me.

She softened even more when I told her that my family had settled as homesteaders in Laguna Beach around the same time that her family settled here.

“Your family homesteaded?” the old man asked.

Sure, I said. There’s a junior high school in Laguna named after my great-grandmother. I come from a family educators, I told him.

He couldn’t believe it. His wife warmed to me. He turned into a jerk.

“What’s your family name?”

Thurston, I said. It was my great-grandfather’s name. He came by wagon from Utah as a little boy. They were Mormons.

He looked down his nose. “You a Mormon?”

I laughed and he backed off a little.

“You own a house here?”

Well, no, I said.

“What do you do?”

I informed him that I work on a farm and he wanted to know what I did there and did I own a gun?

“You don’t own a gun?”

Well, no, I don’t feel the need for a gun. When I need a gun I’ll get a gun, I told him. I was starting to get irked and so was his wife.

He told me he drove a squad car as a volunteer sheriff’s deputy, liked to shoot his guns and was a member of the American Legion.

“Were you ever in the military?” he asked.

Sure, I said. He wanted to know what branch and I told him that I’d served in the army at Ft. Lewis, Washington, with the second Ranger battalion just after the Vietnam War. Jimmy Carter was president then, the only modern U.S. commander-in-chief who didn’t send his troops into war, I told him.

He snorted. “You a liberal?”

I’m what you a call a liberal libertarian. I tried not to let him pigeonhole me. He seemed perturbed, unable to finger me.

“You were a Ranger?” he said, almost sneering. He was so incredulous that he asked the question five times throughout the remainder of our conversation.

By now it was clear that he’d filled up on too much drink. His true colors came out and he wanted to know where were the blacks when there’s work to do?

And, who’s always first in line for handouts?

“You work with the blacks while you were in the army?”

Sure, I said. I knew where he was going with his drunken questions. I didn’t want to get into another ignorant conversation about racial stereotypes.

Sadly, he’s not the only longtime resident in this area whose family connections go back generations, and who doesn’t seem troubled speaking badly of blacks or Mexicans or liberals.

It’s small town California here, I realize, Steinbeck country, where race relations and welcome committees for the poor once were made through goon squads and hired guns.

Apparently, that smallness of mind since Steinbeck’s time hasn’t gone away. It lingers, and not just among the drunks but among ranchers, land and property owners too, and conservatives who balk at any liberal idea.

A farmer I know here once railed against entitlements for the poor and especially illegal immigrants who were ruining this country. I found out later that he’d received nearly $150,000 in farm subsidies over the years.

I wonder sometimes how people like that can sleep at night.

“Get this man another beer!” the old man waved at the bartender.

No, that’s OK, I said. I’ll drink water.

“You’re going to turn down a beer?” He looked at me as if I was a girly man.

No, I said, and thanked him for the beer. I learned from civil rights activist and Baptist preacher Will Campbell many years ago that it doesn’t do any good to make enemies of your enemy.

I lifted my beer, a Guinness, and took a long pull.

“You were a Ranger?”

Stacey Warde works as a farmhand in the small central coastal California town of Cayucos, gateway to Big Sur and all points John Steinbeck country.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewable of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail