Chapter Fourteen

In late April of 2020, Booz, Kimmie, Holly, Ariel, Ed and four or five other multi-gen locals went to town hall with crudely-made cardboard signs demanding, “Let Us Go,” “Freedom!” and “End the Lockdown.” In my opinion, they were the real front-line Covid Heroes, risking their lives to jumpstart herd immunity, in order to protect the vulnerable. They had no intention, by the way, of taking up an ICU bed. They had been advised by Gertrude and they had their vitamins, corticosteroids, HCQ, and they had even managed to get their hands on a couple of oxygen tanks. They were adequately equipped and mentally prepared. Covid-recovered Kimmie Hogg served as a kind of mascot. If she could rise from that sick bed, anyone might.

Not a red baseball cap among them, they were nevertheless smeared on a local community page as MAGA supporters. By this they were perplexed.

No one appreciated their humble manifesto—inadequately expressed as it was on the clean side of flat boxes—but it anticipated the Great Barrington Declaration that would be made months later by epidemiologists from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford.

This was their first experience with activism.  Before they had looked down on trouble-makers and nay-sayers. It was shock to their systems to be the minority opinion. How powerless they felt. 

What’s more, these natives were becoming outnumbered by weekenders who were now staying full time, hogging the railtrail and throwing trash on trail heads. For years the unmown fields and unused hunting parcels had been steadily acquired and developed by newcomers, and in recent years, they were starting to demand town water and sewer; they wanted a public-supported fire department not the volunteer one; they wanted a town police, not a bumpkin Sheriff; they wanted the roads plowed and salted at every dusting; they wanted fluoride and chlorine added to the water; they wanted noise ordinances and a dog catcher.

The Amenians complained that the cityfolk were trying to “turn their town into a Disney playground for the rich.” The locals had their gray water draining from a hose onto their lawns and they didn’t even tag their pets. And even if they wanted those questionable improvements, their pockets were already turned out as it was.

The lockdown brought the disparity between the two groups into focus.

Coincidentally at about the same time the pandemic stop-work was declared, the new owners of the regional cable company, headquartered in Belgium, raised the basic Internet rate to over $100 and the basic cable TV package to well over $300 per month. It was impressive how soon after a payment was missed that transwomen in white helmets arrived in cherry pickers to cut off access. Now the locals couldn’t work, couldn’t watch cable at home and couldn’t even go to a library or a Dunkin’ Donuts to get some news. And their kids were cut off from online school.

Essential Ed Jefferson, who was allowed to keep his hardware store open, was able to continue his cable Internet service. He had a big brand-new modular split-level ranch surrounded by a practically useless but effectively symbolic white picket fence, as well as a monster RV, the envy of the town, parked on an immaculate asphalt driveway. Moreover, he had an above-ground pool and an outdoor play set, complete with four swings, a rock wall, canopy and two slides, one of which wound into the pool. Needless to say, his home became a community hub. 

While they were supposed to be quarantining from each other, these Amenians were forced, in this perfect storm, to do the exact opposite. At first friends and neighbors came to just jump on Ed’s WiFi from the driveway. But Ed and his wife Kathy, observing the children logged into school for hours in the parked cars, opened the doors to their basement game room. Of course they did. 

A dozen families now shared meals and conversations in close contact right in the middle of the great plague. Together they began speculating about those at the levers of power. They learned about debt-backed currency. They decided the stimulus payment was just going to be cheese in the trap. They read about the Global Economic Club. They were going on conspiracy websites.

They stopped watching mainstream news for the first time in generations. It was a clean break.

They were jacked to do something. Eventually, they decide to have an official planning meeting every Thursday evening at seven. At first twenty-five people turned out. They thought that was a great turn-out. The next time fifty showed up. The next meeting had to be held at a church gymnasium. Everyone was told to bring their own Lawn Chairs. Over a hundred showed. By October 2020 the meetings maxed out at about two-hundred fifty people each week, but there were always about thirty new. People were coming from a forty mile radius.

They joined forces with nearby Poland, whose “intentional community”–whatever the hell that was–now shared the values of the descendants of the employees of the state facility. Once occupying political antipodes, they had gone to such extremes that they circled the ideological globe and had run into each other. 

The Lawn Chairs (for that was the name they chose) hosted nationally recognized “medical freedom” speakers. They broke up into working groups: farming and canning (if the gov cut the food supply), ham radio and CB communication (if the grid went down), homeschooling (instead of miserable online classes), alternative currency (if the economy collapsed), exercise classes and yoga (all the fatsos were suddenly afraid of dying), functional medicine (herbs and nutrition advice), but the most popular working group was the outreach program; they organized sign waves, maskless shopping events, and stuck clever stickers created by White Rose on lamp posts, guard railings and doors.

There was one more working group, which met in secret in the RV. Only the inner circle of the Lawn Chairs knew about it. They were talking with a pharmacist named Amil who promised to try to get fake vaccine certificates for anyone who might need one as a condition of employment. Although in public they encouraged everyone to stand up and fight—be courageous, cheat on your taxes, take your business elsewhere and other such platitudes—behind the scenes, they knew that only a small percentage of people could afford to be heroes. The rest needed to be protected with an underground-railroad-style network of forgers, bribed medical professionals and defense lawyers.

Through the guest lecture circuit they realized that groups just exactly like theirs were spontaneously forming in every big city and small town throughout the country, even the globe.

Had the sleeping giant Populism opened its eye? Had the human species, for the first time, connected by similar conspiracy theories, formed a temporarily united mass against the parasitic class that has abused us and insulted us for centuries?

The next Lawn Chair’s call-to-action was to crash a local school board meeting to get them to stop masking the kids. Three years before, thirteen schools had been combined into one massive district. The meeting was to be held at the largest campus in nearby Glenn’s Grove. It was open to the public through Zoom, the virtual quarters of Neo-World Order. But we were planning to show up in our very persons. 

I parked next to a dozen or so cars. The campus was dark. I wasn’t sure where to go. I saw only one lit side entrance. I found that door unlocked, entered and followed the lighted way.

The same architect must have designed all schools and prisons in the 1970s. The cinder-block construction, cold and sterile, was not in the least ameliorated by the desperate attempt of teachers to add levity by decorating the walls in baboon posterior color schemes. 

Through windowed doors, I glanced into classrooms and the cafeteria and noted the manifold plexiglass dividers, surrounding desktops and placed in between the seats at the lunch table. Were they getting the children accustomed to the plastic that would divide them from their families and defense lawyers once they got to prison? Whose cousin, I wondered, had gotten the contract for the overpriced plastic?

On the polished linoleum floor, marks had been placed to measure off six feet so the children could keep the correct distance from each other as they moved along to class. Aerospace engineers, one could only assume, had determined precisely the known trajectories of virus-laden sputum. They probably had developed complex wind tunnels with test dummies to work out the calculations exactly according to The Science™. As long as children did not surpass 3.1 MPH, said coughed-up sputum would fall to the floor by the time that student behind the coughing one advanced to the next station. But of course they were all masked so none of that made sense. At that moment, I felt a scratch in my throat and coughed into my elbow.

No one in the Lawn Chairs group was aware that the Superintendent, Mr. Gates, who dated back to my short days at Webutuck Middle School, now insisted he was Ms. Gates. I hadn’t been warned; I made no mental preparations. When I entered the gymnasium doors and crossed uneasily the polished maple court, I thought I might have interrupted the drama club doing a Monty-Python skit.

At he center of the table at the far side of the basketball court, behind a name plaque that proclaimed “Ms. Superintendent Gates,” sat a sad-looking old man in woman-face, with penciled eyebrows displaced to mid-forehead and teased fox-colored hair. Under his candy-striped mask, I supposed, his old bottle brush mustache would be all but gone. Somehow or other, in the dozen years since I had last seen him, Gates had grown a big pimpled bosom, as revealed by the scooped-out collar of his bright green dress. Those breasts seemed to have been the site of a recent electrolysis treatment, and they heaved up and down heavily with his every breath. 

I was only slightly surprised to see Nellie there, a recent addition to the school board, now representing the apocryphal voice of Public Health. Fashionwise, she was heading fast in the opposite direction as Gates. She was wearing a blue mechanic’s workshirt with an embroidered red and white name tag that might have read “Nelson,” I dared not look closely. Her hair was shaved on the sides. She had her mask down momentarily as he was speaking into a microphone making the roll call. And even from the distance of about ten feet, I could see that the old matron had given up on trying to pluck those wiry black and gray hairs from her chin.

Only four or five parents occupied the ten or so chairs spread out on the gymnasium floor. I found a seat near the front and took out my phone to look up the district website to see the agenda.

Nellie had finished taking the roll call.  Next, Price Merchant a thirty-something thick-bearded dude, who—in his profile on the district website, proclaimed himself to be a data “scientist” for a “50-billion-dollar-a-year footwear company”—was reading the minutes from the last meeting through two layers of masks. He was tattooed on every visible inch of his body including his forehead, temples, forearms and fingers joints. 

Next to him was small woman named Jayz. Her photo on the district website showed a paunchy face which accurately resembled a pin-cushion. Multiply-pierced (nose, lips, eyebrows, and cheeks), she was the tech-industry professional whose expertise had quickly gotten classes online during the lockdown, where, frankly, she hoped they would stay for the rest of their school careers. Next to her sat Vronica, who described herself in her bio only vaguely as a “local entrepreneur.”  Excepting old Gates and ancient Nellie, they were all millennials. They were all college-educated, with either masters or PhDs or both, green or blue hair, tattoos and/or piercings. This convocation of carnies was the school board.

Their goals for the distinct, expressed in their profiles, suggested they were all mentally intoxicated by the idea of togetherness and single-minded purpose, a new world to mould using the malleable minds and bodies of children as their clay. 

The Lawn Chairs had not arrived. I texted Booz and he replied immediately, letting me know that the public comment part of the meeting would not start until the board had taken care of the rest of their business, after about forty-five minutes. 

Coming in late was a surprisingly unremarkable un-inked mom, Tamara. She apologized profusely for her tardiness and explained that she had come directly from her ten-year-old’s gender reveal party. The child would soon be transitioning with hormone blockers. Sincerest congratulations came, one by one, from the other board members, none of whom questioned the wisdom of chemical castration, previously used to punish sex offenders, for children.

They proceeded with their meeting. First was the Superintendent’s report. To the tinkling of cheap jewelry, the fat transvestite rose, putting his hands on the table to push himself up. As he went to podium, we heard the electric “vvt, vvt” of pantyhose rubbing thigh on thigh. In his report he testified (ironically, swore on his balls) that under his vision, the educational experience of students was now completely standardized such that every teacher said the same thing to every child and every child learned exactly the same thing, all of which, and nothing else, was covered on the state exams. The schools in the massive district that covered hundreds of square miles were now leading the state in test scores, and they did nothing but practice test taking. Tamara voiced her appreciation of the “positivity” of Gates’ approach.  Everyone agreed–because all bureaucracies are optimized for propagating consensus positions internally. It’s what they do.

While self-praise and self-congratulations were re-echoed by the Borg-board, I heard a dog bark. Naturally surprised, I looked around for the smuggled-in pet. But then Nellie called out, “Bless you,” and Gates sheepishly said, “Thanks.”

Next Jayz would present a report on the new smart learning modules. After struggling for five minutes with the A/V connection and the large screen, the tech expert hit play so that we could watch a commercial for the new product that was up for approval. In the ad, the teacher presented a short lecture and then asked the class a question. The students were shown how to identify some concepts in her question as keywords. Then they were asked to scan their memories of some of her sentences for other concepts with high statistical correlation with these keywords—and then they were shown how to output an answer in rather poorly ordered piece of Artificial Intelligence. The board loved it. The product was approved.

In decades since Turing had posed the provocative question, Can a Machine Think?, they had somehow decided upon the answer, Humans Are Machines. It was Syme’s philosophy applied in the schools. Imitating machine intelligence, turning students into bots, would bring with it submission to externally set targets, insufficient self-confidence, and rapid loss of motivation under failure. 

Meanwhile Price was interrupting Jayz’s Q&A, not more than once a minute, his personal experiences in the real world to relate. His big thing was getting the school to drop poetry, algebra, and philosophy in favor of memo-writing, balancing checkbooks, and marketing.

Jayz concurred with the data scientist and moved on to eliminate visual arts. Nothing hands on, no pencils, no charcoal, or paper, no canvases, no paint. Only digital, virtual, AI-assisted art would henceforth be taught.

As the meeting dragged on, I searched Vronica’s name and found that she and her husband were proprietors of a sex toy shop in Poughkeepsie where “all queer, youth 0 to 18 years old,” according to the website, were “invited to share their stories at open mic night on Sundays.”  While the children were there to express their “young queer voices” and expand their minds with the progressive idea of “sex for pleasure, not reproduction,” they might also peruse the merchandise displays of “colorful butt plugs, cock rings, dildos, lubes, and children’s books.”

Meanwhile, the next item on the agenda was the revised dress code, presented by Tamara, the aggressively progressive mom. Nothing would change for the high school cis-girls. Rules against these non-affirming females would remain as before: no exposed navels or cleavage, heels more than two-inches high.

Tamara, playing devil’s advocate for a moment asked  if—in these times as Drag Queens and Drag Kids provided family entertainment—could we also support women and girls who wanted to dress-up like strippers to lead children’s story hour at the library? Did we encourage young girls, who were eager to be sexually attractive women, to get all manner of elective surgeries? No. Because women look like whores in sexy get-ups, and they are objectifying themselves when they express their sexuality in public. But boys, who are special, could certainly dress in drag, stilettos, see-through dresses, corsets, and garters. And it went without saying that the outfit determined which restroom one used. Tamara had confused two different eras of political correctness.

I raised my hand and spoke out without being called, “What about protected spaces for girls? Seems to me misogyny has literally had a make-over.”

From a position of complete indoctrination, Tamara rolled her eyes. “It’s trans-girls who need protection,” she retorted, further elaborating that a female-attracted teen boy in women’s clothing might enter the girls’ room, free of rein and full of spunk. Moreover, she argued, if any girl student wanted any rights as a female she could use the boy’s room, bind her breasts and pitch low her voice.

Clearly these well-degreed academiacs had not been persuaded by logic to accept such destructive positions; they had been converted, which must have involved a complete renovation of their neural architecture. The orthodoxy had become their identity, not just some adaptable opinion. They were trans-affirming. They rightly condemned my hate speech.

“Public comment must wait until the end,” snapped Gates, waving a jangled arm. His perfume, a mix of lily and cumin, wafted over and reached my nostrils.

Next item on the agenda was Business Education. Price switched on his mic to make the report.  At the thirty-minute mark in the meeting, he was still rambling on about profits when the Lawn Chairs started coming in setting up their seats in violation the six feet rule. The Superintendent called the security guard and demanded, “Arrest them, Joe!”

Joe, an off-duty sheriff, moved from the doorway with his own lawn chair and sat down right next to Ed. 

Public comment was reluctantly allowed to begin.

Ariel, a young mom dressed in what might have been pajamas, was first to stand. Nervously, she unfolded her notes and began reading, soft voice breaking. Her speech had been hand-written and re-written over the course of two weeks. During that process, she had taught herself more research and rhetorical skills than she had acquired in all her days at public school. With precision and clarity, periodically brushing her messy brown hair from her eyes, she criticized the plastic barriers, the social distancing and the masks, the whole containment fantasy, citing the scientific literature like the TV doctors never did.

Nellie listened to Ariel’s logical and detailed argument and thought it was petty.

Ariel went on. Wrapping up near the three-minute mark, Ariel destroyed utterly the validity of any PCR test that lacked a control. She ended with the obvious questions, “Do children tend to spread the virus?  Do children even get sick from it?”

Wide as a windmill Gates through out his arms, “I don’t know, goddammit. Let’s just isolate them first and worry about that later. The thing is we just don’t know. We don’t know!”

The board members seemed relieved to know that they didn’t have to understand anything could just do something instead.

Expert that she felt herself to be, Nellie, however, was compelled to respond to Ariel, “The language you are using, ‘focused-protection,’ ‘natural herd immunity,’ is all conspiracy buzzword salad. It’s signature misinformation.” After pausing, she further expectorated, “We have to follow the science.”

“Flush the propaganda,” added Price. “You have no idea how the grown-up world of transnational business actually works.”

But Price’s insult was ignored because everyone had turned around to see Booz enter wearing a bee keeper’s suit. Carrying a folded lawn chair and a smoker, he went to the front of the crowd stood before the board. “As you know every other farmer around here keeps bees. On my way here, I drove twenty-three miles and passed seven hundred seventy-seven hives.  The chance that I would be stung on my route is approximately point zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero,” he was giving his naughts in a galloping limerick rhythm, “zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, three, two percent.” All the while Booz spoke, laughter nearly made it hard to hear his testimony.  “So naturally I took the necessary precautions. I just want to say that I commend the board for the work you do.”  He unfolded his chair and sat down.

The audience’s laughter and applause drowned out Gates’ gavel.

“I have to ask the audience to refrain from clapping,” said Gates. 

A double-masked woman in the audience, who had arrived before me, stood. An elementary school teacher, she was there to chastise the board for making her go back in-class teaching. Her life was in danger! And it “certainly didn’t help to have people making jokes.” 

Ariel, whose daughter was in that teacher’s class, took offense. “How do the children sleep at night thinking their breath can kill anyone who comes near them? Don’t you think this might stressful for kids?”

With such an appeal to children’s welfare, from an obviously well-meaning mom, cognitive dissonance started to make Nellie feel a little warm under the collar. The consideration didn’t comport with her data, but she didn’t feel like thinking right then. Luckily, she had a selection of ready-made phrases stored up that she could use anytime her brain began to shut down in times like this. “The problem,” she said to Ariel, “is that that kind of thinking is corrosive to our sense of community and democracy, and if we keep going this way, we will end up with another demagogue.” It always came back to Orange Man, for Nellie.

“Hypocrite.  Remember the laptop?” snapped Holly.

“Oh, stop with the whataboutery,” retorted Nellie.

Gates, also growing hot and stewing in his scent, tapped his gavel. “The time for open comment is not a time for discussion. Nellie, please refrain from engaging.”

Nellie huffed.

Ed Jefferson was next.  He presented a well-argued longish speech that concluded, “The two noblest endeavors in our society, education and medicine, have utterly disgraced themselves.”

“I don’t have to listen to this!” Vronica burst out. “I’m so sick and tired of you parents complaining all the time. You never give us credit for all the work we do!” At that she rose, knocking over her chair, and left the room, yelling, “I quit,” from the hallway.

The room went quiet for three beats. Then applause exploded. The Lawn Chairs clapped louder and louder, and finally, the clapping synchronized, accompanied by a chant, “Quit, quit, quit.” Gates’ fake eyebrows shot up even higher. Jayz was turning her head left and right. Price ripped off his mask threw it down like a gauntlet and bared his terrible tattooed face at us. Tamara headed for the door also tendering her resignation. Jayz followed, harumphing out of the room.

That left Nellie, Gates and Price. The latter looked fiercer than Queequeg, right up until the moment that grabbed his mask off the floor and ran.

Booz mounted the stage and took a seat at the board table. He removed his headgear, cleared his throat and began citing section B-4567 of the charter, “In the event that a board member or members are no longer able to fulfill their duties, a special election will be held at the soonest possible occasion and temporary members will be elected by voiced vote until such time as a new election can be held.”

“I nominate Booz,” said Ariel.

“Second,” said her mother Holly. “I nominate Ariel.”

Ed nominated Daisy.

When four replacements for the four who had vacated had been nominated, they took their places at the table. Ariel turned to Gates and asked him to lawfully fulfill his duty and call the vote.

The ungainly, wiggéd man rose, teetering in his tiger-striped heels. He thrust his person full in Ariel’s face, ridiculously grim, dull and venal. Then he folded his hairy arms and simply refused.

“All in favor?” asked Holly

A booming, “Aye!” erupted. Not a nay was heard, not even from Nellie.

Everyone took their seats again.

“Okay, let’s get this meeting started properly,” said newly-elected Daisy, a woman of incalculable age, who stood like a four-foot question mark. Standing beside the podium she peered up at the heavens with chlorine pool blue eyes and raised her arms.

The crowd went abruptly silent. 

“Oh Lord,” she said with an affected waver in her voice, “thank you for bringing us here together and bringing joy into our lives; may you give us the courage and the strength to journey through the dark night and we thank you for staying by our side, Dear Lord, you have entrusted us as stewards of your creation; we trust you to guide our hearts as we make our decisions; we seek you first in all we do together; may we be always mindful of our service to you”—she had gone on for a paragraph without taking a breath—“we confess that we are nothing without you, and our trust is in you completely.”

The merits of the separation of church and state having slipped her mind, the old lady continued to turn the school board meeting into a tent revival. I peeked around the room. Everyone had their eyes closed, even Gates and Nellie. Heads bowed.

I hoped the “amen” was coming soon, it seemed like it had to be, but, as it turned out, it was still a long, long way off. Old Daisy took one deep breath and went on rapidly, with part two of her message to the Almighty, in which she began to make requests.

“Heavenly Father, we come to you today asking for your guidance, wisdom, and support as we begin this meeting; help us to engage in meaningful discussion; allow us to grow closer as a group and nurture the bonds of community; fill us with your grace, Lord God, as we make decisions; and continue to remind us that all that we do here today, all that we accomplish, is for the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of You, and for the service of humanity. We ask these things in your name, Amen.”

Hushed amens reverberated around the room.

Next the old lady pivoted toward Old Glory standing in the corner of the room. The moment her right hand hit her heart, everyone was on their feet and the pledge broke out. 

I remained seated. Everyone had their eyes fixed upon the tri-color idol and their hands firmly planted upon the anatomically correct position of their cardiopulmonary organs belting out the words. I just sat there. I couldn’t muster the minuscule bit of effort that it would have taken to avoid offending the patriots. I was a bit surprised at myself, at that something deep within me that would not budge, would not go along to get along, not even to be nice.

Finally, the ritual ended, the new meeting was brought to order.  Booz said, “The first business is to declare all masks voluntary. All in favor?” 

“Aye.” said the crowd.

“No social distancing, no testing, no quarantining of healthy students, no plastic barriers,” said Booz.

“Aye!” yelled the crowd.

“What about the Federal funds we accepted for Covid preparedness?” asked Gates squinting at a broken nail.

Ah ha! so they had been paid off! We had thought so.

“Apply them toward healthier food in the cafeteria,” said Booz.

So, that’s how it was to happen. Gertrude had finally succeeded, from beyond the compost pile, to bring healthy food into the school. 

Later at home, I related to Julia how I had spoken up on behalf of women’s rights.  “Misogyny has literally had a make-over. That’s good, right?”

She was not satisfactorily enthusiastic. I had joined the Lawn Chairs under the acrid cloud of Julia’s disapproval. She thought they were backward.  I granted her that, but you can’t be too picky in a revolution.

“What?” I queried her. It was she who had equipped me with the perspective that being a woman wasn’t defined by anything as superficial as fashion choices and elective surgery.

But she seemed worried for me. “Winston, you don’t want to become associated with the people who criticize ‘those Liberals’ all the time.”

She was right. I did not want to be lumped in with Faux News watchers. But what was worse? being associated with the out-group? or standing by while the in-group mutilated children’s bodies? That was a hill I was willing to be unpopular on. “It’s a eugenicist’s dream; sterilization of young people as a fashion craze,” I said. “And what’s weird,” I went on, “is how this is all coming from the top down, some think-tank or foundation is funding state curricula. Those creepy adults need to leave kids alone.”

Julia reconsidered, “You’re right. I’m proud of you.”  She laughed. “I wish I could have seen that Gates.” She put her arms around my neck and stood on her toes to give me a kiss.

“Hang on. Hang on. Let me get his image out of my mind. There, okay. Now kiss me.”

And she did.

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