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Say it ain’t so Joe

I was making hay while the sun shines in October, 2008, when the Biden/Palen debate was going on. Later, I wrote about what I heard

I was stacking hay in the barn when the Biden/Palen debate was going on. A local farmer who’d sold me some of his first-cutting hay had some additional second cutting hay on hand, and agreed to sell me what I needed to get through the winter—30 more bales. Pete and I rushed over to his place and loaded up our small ’94 Toyota Pickup (named Sputnik) and our larger ’75 Dodge Pickup (named Fish Habitat).

Pete returned to the college to teach his evening class and I put up the hay. The bales were light, so they were easy to toss around. (Pete calls light bales “ego bales” because they make the one tossing them feel strong.) It was getting late. I’d heard that it was going to snow, so I figured I’d better get the hay in. I also wanted to listen to the debate. So I cranked up the volume on Sputnik’s radio. No neighbors were around. We’re lucky—we’re surrounded by individuals who spend three-quarters of their time elsewhere. Our three Icelandic ponies, Raudi, Siggi, and Tinni ignored the car noise and stood by the gate, eyeballing their winter feed.

I listened closely to the two candidates as I worked. Pete and don’t have a television, but we do listen to the radio. NPR is our news and entertainment source. And so, I have become quite used to the verbal means of communication, with its focus on voice, tone, diction—those pauses, they mean something. Missing (and its no loss) are the bright lights, the sound bites, the winks, nods, and looks for forced attention and forced inattentiveness.

Once again, I had to ask myself, how is it that Sarah Palin is getting away with what she’s getting away with? Are the majority of voters in this country, as I’m thinking, uneducated and ignorant? “Say is ain’t so Joe. There you go again.” Hearing this, I stopped mid-toss. I remember Ronald Reagan saying this to Jimmy Carter, and then my being incredulous. At the time, this was an original line, put forth by a real live actor, one who was even then, delusional. This time, it was an unoriginal line, put forth by a real live hockey mom, one who even now, is delusional. Maybe, I thought, it was not coincidental that she made so many references to Reagan. The two both live in a fantasy world, one in which there are good guys and bad guys, and by gosh, we are gonna go and do ‘em in because we are MAVERICKS.

I finished filling the barn and began putting the extra bales in the trailer. My trailer is an old white, two-horse, straight load. It gets Raudi and I to our weekly lesson, and doubles as a storage space for excess hay. That’s when we have an excess. It has been a terrible hay year, and we are lucky to have located any at all. Some of the horse owners that I know are actually buying hay from the Lower 48, having it trucked up here, and paying outrageous prices for it. Energy independence, oh, she says, don’t worry about the future. How logical is this?

From the confines of the trailer I caught it, Sarah’s reference to having met with Henry Kissinger. The photo of her and him, I saw it in the New York Times—Sarah there, long leg outstretched, left high heel a point of focus. The look on her face was one of surprise and suppressed anxiety. The look on his face, one of smug assurance. Scary—to harkens back to what we then thought was the darkest of times—Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Sometimes Young—Tin Soldiers and Nixon calling . . . seeing that photo, a now infamous bumper sticker came back to mind—“Never thought I’d miss Nixon.” Times were dark then, but appear even darker now.

Darkness figurative, and darkness literal. It was 8 p.m. I had to hustle. As the candidates talked about their home towns, I wadded orange baling twine into a ball and thought hard about what Democrats are up against here in Alaska. Ours is a small state, and everyone here knows everyone else. Or everyone knows someone who knows someone else. And we all know Sarah. Not in the Biblical sense (thank dog) but in a more small town kind of way. Okay, I live in Palmer, the next town over from Wasilla. Palmer IS a “real Alaska small town,” one where the residents are attempting to keep the Wasilla sprawl at bay.

Most of us here who live in Palmer are skeptical about this whole Palin thing. But still, we must contend with the attitude of those in Sarah’s now legendary all-American town. It must be hard to write about Wasilla—I have done a lot of reading and no one has yet captured the essence of it—that’s because there is not much to catch. (Backwards, Wasilla is “All I Saw.”) Imagine, those who live there are thinking that if God wills it, someone from their home town might eventually become PRESIDENT. This brush with fame could put Wasilla, and all who live there, ON THE MAP. My God is shaking her head, wondering how this all came to be . . .

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Wasilla were, say, Juneau, Fairbanks, or Anchorage all larger Alaska towns with other claims to fame. But Wasilla has nothing going for it besides a hockey mom who is running for VP. Wasilla is considered to be the home of the Iditarod Sled dog race, but in recent years, the start has been moved because of a lack of snow. Global warming? Could be a man-made problem, or so says Sarah. Must now be serious, this global warming thing, if Wasilla can’t host a sled dog race/snowmobile extravaganza. (Literally hundreds of people on snowmobiles follow the racers at the start. If the stench from the machines doesn’t kill you, the noise will.)

Felony Flats is Wasilla’s one distinctive feature. If you’re driving on the Parks Highway, you’ll see it, north of the town, there are 20 or so close-together, single-story shack-like cabins which are festooned with moose antlers, dog sleds, and other Alaskan bric-a-brac. These cabins are rented to transients, who frequent the now defunct Dead Dog Saloon.

Wasilla doesn’t have a Planned Parenthood office. If you need to plan your parenting, you have to go to Anchorage. Sarah’s logic is this—if you abstain, you don’t need to make that dreadfully long drive. Sarah didn’t abstain, and neither did her daughter. More children or less traffic, I guess the people in Wasilla do have a choice.

The debate banter came to a close. I turned off the radio, and headed back up to the house. So goes Wasilla, so goes the nation? Please, say it ain’t so, Joe.




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