Day of Atonement

by Calendar Hacksaw

I write this column at the considerable risk of re-opening the wound I unintentionally inflicted last month. I think you are entitled to both an explanation for my actions, however feeble you deem it, and as sincere an apology as I can muster. You are equally entitled to reject both, for whatever reason or no reason at all, and there is literally nothing I can do about it. I am at your mercy.

This month's column is a tough one to write for all the obvious reasons and even more that are not so obvious, so let's just hunker down, finish the job and get on with our lives. The column-writing business is usually feast or famine, and your responses to January's offering certainly had my stomach growling. I don't expect anyone who was offended to have a change of heart. Life's like that sometimes; gotta roll with the punches.

The written communications I have received from members of the community during the past few weeks have more than adequately covered every aspect of my transgression; from young and old praising the worth and unselfish civic duty of those mentioned in my column, my own inferior value as a lowly weekender, and valid reasons why some lowlifes in particular are worthy of disapproving stares. I have been educated. I now know what a cowpie in the punchbowl looks like when I write one.

When I was in junior high school, our English class was assigned to read "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathon Swift, written in 1729. It proposed a means of controlling the burgeoning population of downtrodden and hungry Irish families flooding the streets of Great Britain. Parents would be paid the British equivalent of $8 apiece for their well-suckled infants after achieving a weight of about 28 pounds. They would then be butchered for food (especially for the well-to-do), and the hides would be tanned for ladies gloves and men's boots.

It was an absurd premise, of course, and I imagine more than a few readers back then were appalled by the notion. Clearly, Swift had authored a piece that would weather the passage of time, becoming such a classic that 275 years later it's deemed acceptable reading for young teens.

I opted for a similar farce in my January offering, selecting a common human trait—staring at strangers—and exaggerating it to a level I thought was well beyond the ludicrous. Apparently I fell short of my mark, as some misunderstood what they were reading, prompting threats of bodily harm, if not worse. I assure you, it was written with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, and not intended to slight or show disrespect for anyone. It was intended as nothing more than a good-natured jab about something we all do from time to time. Sure, the anecdotes related by my two friends and acquaintances were true, but staring at strangers is certainly not a bad thing. Our mothers admonished us that "It's not polite to stare," but they were referring to the childish habit of fixing our gaze on someone we deemed "different:" a nun wearing a habit, a severely handicapped individual, a person of a different race.

But the kind of staring I was elevating to felony status is just the common, everyday practice of wanting to know who's in our midst. There's no "Welcome Wagon" in Twin Oaks, as far as I know. Not only is it perfectly natural to stare at strangers, its government sanctioned. When the column was written, the nation was under Terror Alert Level "Orange," when all Americans are encouraged to be suspicious of strangers. Presumably, during Terror Alert Level "Red," we are expected to somehow stare even longer and harder.

Some readers seized this as an opportunity to voice their opinions about weekenders, suggesting they add little value. I imagine that's true of some. But over the course of the past decade, I've made a genuine effort to become involved in the community and its activities. I've been writing this column for fully 8 years now, and I've committed a few acts of philanthropy along the way, as well. I've been known to buy a round of drinks, send birthday greetings, donate goods for auction, etc. I do what I can, when I can, from 160 miles away. Over all, I think it's good that us weekenders aren't up there full time; think of the added traffic. And although our visits are intermittent, we pay property taxes as though we lived there year 'round, though availing ourselves of few tax-supported services. The County doesn't maintain my road, and the school bus doesn't stop anywhere near my place. But I'm not trying to start a range war here, because we would surely lose.

Weekenders have long suspected that the locals and their cattle take in all the wonderful fresh air during the week, so that when we arrive on Friday or Saturday, there's little left for us to breathe except carbon dioxide and bovine flatulence, but you never hear us complain about it, do you?

Some criticized me for "naming names" in the column, although I've used that technique many times as a means of connecting with the community. I chose safe targets; men who are pillars of the community and above reproach. Take Lawrence, for instance. There is nothing that I or anyone else could write about him that would damage his impeccable reputation as a cowboy, a humanitarian, a human being. I would never impugn the integrity of such a man. If you re-read the column, you will note that I did nothing more than "challenge Ernie, Lawrence, Loren, Richard, Tom, and all the others to help make newcomers feel welcome." This was followed by two totally ridiculous examples of how that might be accomplished.

I'm sorry that some of you didn't get the joke, but that's a risk I take each month. I will admit that I used some pretty strong "attention grabbers" and "baited hooks" to lure you into reading the column, but that is just an old journalistic trick. I am primarily a humor columnist, and my writings are intended only to entertain. To suggest that people not stare at strangers makes about as much sense as demanding that ranchers prevent their cattle and horses from urinating anywhere on the Caliente Creek watershed.

Darn; why didn't I think of that one month sooner? Would've saved us all a lot of grief.

Calendar Hacksaw is in seclusion this month, and he hopes to be back on track by March. But he would like to point out that the line about carbon dioxide and flatulence was uttered purely in jest.

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