Mostly because I have no idea how to locate him.
Back in 2001 I wrote on a site that no longer exists, Themestream.com. C. Dodd Harris of Ipse Dixit was also a contributor. It was, sort of, the largest joint blog going, with neatly subdivided topics. The thing that surprised me (and in retrospect probably shouldn’t have) was the volume of really high-quality writing. There are a lot of intelligent people out there who just need an outlet, it seems. Anyway, I archived quite a bit of the stuff I found over there, and I ran across this piece this morning while looking for something else. I liked it enough then to save it, so I thought you too might enjoy it. The author is John M. Bennett. Mr. Bennett, if you’d like me to yank it, drop me a note.
Picknicking for Peace
by John M. Bennett, Feb. 2, 2001
Because the tone of political discourse in this nation has become rather hateful, I decided to ask two friends, one very liberal, the other very conservative, to join me for a quiet lunch in the country. I thought a peaceful setting and the sociability of sharing food would help us discuss our differences with civility.
We found a pretty spot near a stream that had very little trash along the banks. An old sofa and a pile of tires nearby were overgrown by vines, so the splendor of nature was virtually unspoiled. Leslie, the liberal, and Conrad, the conservative, followed me toward a large willow tree whose trunk had been elaborately decorated with primitive engravings and paintings. “Why don’t we set up under this tree?” I said.
“I’m a lesbian!” Leslie exclaimed.
“I ain’t no homo!” Conrad replied. They glared at each other.
“Maybe we should have some food before we start the discussion,” I suggested.
Leslie glared at me now. “Do you have a problem with my sexuality?” she demanded.
“No, I was just wondering where we should sit.”
“I ain’t no homo!” Conrad said, who was also glaring at me.
“Okay, I guess that’s all straightened out. Should we sit under this tree?”
Leslie punched me in the shoulder. “It’s none of your business how I express my sexuality, and your homophobia is interfering with my happiness!
Conrad took a few steps away from me and reached under his jacket. “You one of them homophobiacs?”
“Easy, Conrad. I’m just trying to figure out where we should eat. Should we take a vote?”
“Why bother?” Leslie said. “You two men have already decided, and Conrad has a gun. My rights have been violated before I even had a chance.” She fell to the grass and began sobbing.
Nobody had a better location to suggest, so I spread a blanket next to Leslie and brought out the food. Since Conrad and Leslie seemed a little touchy, I decided to serve them. When they had their sandwiches, potato salad, and chips, I went to the ice chest for drinks. I noticed that Leslie had pulled out a calculator and was furiously calculating.
“How many potato chips did Conrad get?” she asked me.
“I didn’t count them, Leslie. Would you like some more chips? And would you rather have a Coke or iced tea?”
“I want to know how many potato chips the men got!”
“Okay. Conrad, count your chips, would you please? Coke or iced tea?”
Conrad didn’t answer. He was staring at something in the tree. “Be right back,” he said. He ran off to his truck, ran back with a rifle. “There’s a crow up there.”
“Uh, that’s kind of a big rifle for crow, isn’t it?”
“Thirty-aught-six,” he agreed. “It’ll splash a crow from here to kingdom come.” He looked away from the tree to give me an Eastwood squint. “You trying to say I can’t own a gun?”
“Not at all. Just seems kind of heavy for shooting crows at a picnic. Besides, there are some houses over that way.” I pointed to a neighborhood across the stream.
He didn’t quite aim the gun directly at me. “You can have my gun—”
“Easy, Conrad, I don’t want to pry your cold dead fingers off of anything, I was just saying—”
Leslie punched me in the shoulder again. “You know why people like you want to shoot crows?”
“But I’m not shooting any crows.”
“Shut up! You want to shoot crows because they’re black. You can’t get away with shooting black men and raping black women, so you kill crows as a symbol of your hatred.”
“But I don’t hate black people. I don’t even hate crows. I just want to be sure you have enough potato chips and something to drink.”
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
Leslie fell to the ground, sobbing. “You killed him, you killed him! That poor, innocent, harmless, beautiful, tolerant, gentle, wise creature of the open sky and the lofty breezes.”
I handed her a glass of tea. “It’s okay, Leslie. I think he missed.”
“It doesn’t matter! Shooting at a bird is just the same as killing a person. It’s like he killed me!”
Conrad had gone back to his truck to stow his rifle. “Conrad? Could you do me a big favor and apologize to Leslie for making her feel like you killed her?”
“I ain’t apologizing to no lesbo. And I ain’t no homo!”
“I know, Conrad, you’re a manly man with mediocre shooting skills. Still, I think it would be nice—”
Someone’s hand was in my pocket. I spun around to see that Leslie had lifted my wallet and was pulling out a twenty-dollar bill. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m going to a fundraiser for the beached whales after the picnic, and I need some money.”
“But I was going to buy groceries. And I need some gas to get home.”
Leslie glared. “Gas is evil.” She took the rest of my money and handed back my wallet. “Besides, don’t you even care about the beached whales? They’re smarter than people, you know.”
“It’s not that I don’t care, I’m just not personally acquainted with this particular whale.”
“Can’t be that smart a whale,” Conrad added, “if he can’t swim well enough to miss an entire beach.”
“It’s a she, not a he!” Leslie punched me again before she continued to Conrad. “Why do you always assume that the male is the dominant one in every situation? It’s a she-whale and her baby, or it could be her and her baby if she decided to reproduce, which is entirely up to her.”
“I get it,” Conrad said. “It’s okay for a slut whale to act however she wants, but if she’s a respectable married whale that goes to church, she’s got no rights.”
“I get it,” Leslie replied. “A male whale can nail as many female whales as he wants, but if a female whale has just one partner, she’s a slut.”
We seemed to be losing the spirit of civility, so I tried to change the subject. “Conrad, did you count your potato chips yet?”
He made a fist and smashed his potato chips into a pile of chiplets. “Looks like about half a million.”
Leslie began sobbing. “I only got sixty-four. I’ve been discriminated against by more than one hundred thousand percent.” She shoved her calculator in front of my face. “See? The numbers are right there, and you can’t deny it. Besides, it’s solar-powered. I don’t believe in batteries.”
“I’m sorry, Leslie. Please take my chips. You can have my sandwich, too.”
Conrad punched me on the other shoulder. “What do you got against guns anyway? You some kind of wimp? You trying to make me feel second-class?”
“I’m sorry, Conrad. I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad. I own a gun myself, you know.”
“Is there sugar in this tea?” Leslie said, gagging. “White sugar? Do you know how they treat those poor, oppressed farmers who grow and harvest the sugar cane?
“I’m sorry, Leslie. I won’t buy any more white sugar.”
She snorted. “So you’re going to starve the sugar farmers so you can feel like you’re making a difference?”
“I’m sorry. I’ll buy more white sugar.”
Conrad punched me. “You buying that foreign sugar? What about all those poor American farmers growing American sugar who are going hungry just so you can save a few pennies?”
“I’m sorry. I’ll buy more sugar from them, too.”
Leslie punched me. “So you care more about your sweet tooth than you do about the beached whales?”
“I said I’m sorry! I’ll make some caramel and send it to the damn whales!”
They both stared at me in shock. “God,” Leslie said. “You’re just full of hate and anger, aren’t you?”
Conrad nodded. “Can’t talk to someone like you who takes everything as some kind of personal attack.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll try to be more civil. Would anyone like more potato salad? Another sandwich?”
Conrad jumped up and pointed. “Look at that. There’s an ambulance and a bunch of cops pulling up to that house. Looks like they’re taking a body out.”
“Probably some hateful, fat, white man who had a heart attack from too much white sugar,” Leslie suggested. “No great loss.”
“Probably some homo lesbo who died of homo-AIDS,” Conrad countered. “No great loss.”
I could see that several of the people gathered around the house were pointing in our direction. “Listen, friends, maybe we should be going.”
While I packed the picnic gear, Leslie calculated the effect of potato chip discrimination on her earning potential, and Conrad tossed empty beer cans from his truck into the stream. As I loaded the stuff in the car, I felt a large splat on top of my head. A crow was just flying away, cawing bitterly.
Before I could wipe it off, several police cars arrived. The officers surrounded me, guns drawn, chests puffed out for the television cameras that had followed them. “Don’t move!” their leader yelled. One of the cameramen shook his head, and the leader had to repeat himself several times before they got the sound just right. The cameraman finally nodded, and the leader continued. “You been doing some shooting around here, have you?”
“Not me. You see, Conrad was shooting at a crow—”
“With those houses nearby?”
“Yes, sir. I tried to warn him—”
“So you knew there was a danger to innocent people, and you did nothing to stop it. Is that right?”
“That’s not right! I was trying to stop him, but Leslie distracted me—”
“Ho, ho, ho! Disrespect and denial. Looks like someone’s going to spend his jail time in anger management and sensitivity training classes.”
“Disrespect and denial? But I didn’t shoot—”
“You have crow crap on your head. That’s all we need to know. Take him away!”
As I sat in the car, handcuffed, hungry, waiting for the cops to finish their interviews, Conrad tapped on the window. “Sorry you got busted, wimp. Thanks for the chips.”
A few seconds later, Leslie finished her interview, and she tapped on the window, too. “You know what your problem is? You never listen to other people. I’m going to tell the whale that you hate her.”
I couldn’t be sure, but as they drove me away, I thought I saw the reporters trying to get a statement from the crow. I was satisfied. We had definitely made progress.
It is hell being reasonable, isn’t it?