Communion Of Dreams

Jim Downey and the Federation of Silver.
October 30, 2008, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Health, Humor, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia, Travel

Part One: We many, we noisy many, we band of travelers.

In spite of the fact that all the prep went well, I should have known what was in store for me on the trip.  Sorry – getting ahead of myself.  So to speak.

The trip to Patagonia – my first real vacation in almost three years – was going to be something of a challenge.  I knew this from the time I decided that I would go along with my wife on the tour.  See, it was put together because of the choir she belongs to – it wasn’t something I particularly had ever wanted to do.  But I decided to go.  As I put it back in January:

You probably already know about the North American Welsh Choir tour to Patagonia next October. And you may know that in return for my wife coordinating all the reservations and money and whatnot on the Choir’s end, she is getting her cost of the trip offset (in full, it looks like). Just in the last few days I’ve decided that I am going to go along.

Yeah, surprises me a bit, as well. I have no desire to go to South America. I have never had any desire to go to South America.

But my MIL is going to die soon. And late this year I should have decompressed from that, and been working hard for months being a good little book conservator, maybe an author. It will be a good time to challenge myself in a new way, get out of my comfort zone. This tour will be a good opportunity to do that. Plus my wife and I haven’t had anything approaching a real vacation in a couple of years, and we didn’t do anything to celebrate our 20th anniversary last October. So, this will serve that purpose as well.

Boy, did it.  You’ll see.

Anyway, as I said, our prep for the trip went well.  By the time Tuesday, Oct. 14 rolled around, we were ready to go.  We’d scaled back our packing for the trip considerably from previous trips overseas, and each of us had managed to get everything we wanted to take into one suitcase per person, under 13 kilograms (call it 29 pounds).  This was necessary because during the tour we’d be flying on an internal Argentine airlines which had a strict weight limit of 15 kilos.  We’d gathered together all the necessary documentation, stuff to read on long flights, et cetera, et cetera.  Made arrangements to have the pets cared for in our absence, mail and newspapers brought in.  Cleaned out the fridge, even washed the dishes so we weren’t faced with a mess when returning home.

So when the shuttle to take us to the airport arrived ten minutes early, it only caused a mild panic.  We grabbed our bags, our coats, said goodbye to the dog, and left.

We got to the Kansas City airport, and went to the check-in counter.  We had burned a bunch of frequent-flyer miles for an upgrade to business class for our flights, but wanted to see if we could take an earlier flight than originally scheduled from KC to Dallas.  The check-in person was very helpful, and we managed it with no problems.  Better to waste time in the Admiral’s Club in Dallas than worry about making our flight.  This worked as planned.

When it came time for our flight to Buenos Aires that evening, we happily got on board and settled ourselves in the spacious seats in business class (which is effectively First Class on that flight – there’s only the one premium class).  Flying in business class makes everything more pleasant, in terms of the space, the food, the entertainment.  Too bad I spent a large chunk of the 11 hours in the head.

Yeah, some intestinal grunge.  Traveler’s Disease, before I even got out of the country.  In one of those itty-bitty aircraft toilets.  Actually, in three of those itty-bitty aircraft toilets, depending on which one was available at the time.  Almost as much fun as having that kind of problem when confined to a porta-potty.

And that’s what I meant when I said I should have known what was in store for me on this trip.  No, I didn’t get another round of TD – I was fortunate in that regard.  Rather, that nothing would work out as I had hoped, and too much time would be spent crowded, uncomfortable, in a noisy small space.

So, we got to Buenos Aires.  Thanks to my Lonely Planet guide, I had a good idea about the layout of the airport, and where to find an ATM and a taxi to get us to our hotel.  Alix (my nickname for my wife – most people know her as Martha) and I retrieved our bags, made the pro-forma pass through customs (it’s easy to get INTO Argentina), and met up with another member of the tour who had come in on the same flight.  The three of us shared a taxi.  Or, rather, I should say that we shared getting sheared by a couple of the local touts who arranged for a taxi for us.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad.  I knew what the official rate was supposed to be (foreigners pay a significantly higher amount for taxis than do locals – they’re wonderfully upfront about how they are screwing you over in this way).  The two kids who latched onto us and then “negotiated” with the taxi driver wound up getting about the same rate, with a surcharge for the extra person going to a slightly different location (her hotel was about a dozen blocks from ours).  They got a kick-back from the driver, he got the fare in front of some other taxis, and we got to our hotel feeling only slightly fleeced.  Everybody was happy.

The hotel is right downtown, in Buenos Aires’ business district.  Actually, quite nice.  A bit on the swank side.  Since it was mid-morning, our rooms wouldn’t be ready for a while, but they were happy to stow our luggage for us until we could check in.  Alix and I went for a bit of an exploratory walk around downtown.

OK, we’d been traveling for about 24 hours at that point, having lost a couple of hours due to time-change in going east.  And I’d spent way too much time miserable, sitting in an airplane toilet.  But still, Buenos Aires struck me as . . . well, alien.  Not just “foreign”, as I might describe a large unknown city in Europe.  More different than that.  Even though porteños consider themselves to be essentially European, this was different than any city I’ve been in.  Grungier.  Horrid, horrid sidewalks (seriously – you could easily break an ankle if you didn’t pay close attention where you put your feet).  A crush of humanity.  Touts for every single business out in the streets and pedestrian walkways pushing flyers and business cards on you, trying to grab your attention (and sometimes you, physically) for the business they represented.  Loud speakers blaring advertisiments and music.  Lots and lots of glitzy, flashing, obnoxious signs.  Honestly, it felt like Blade Runner, without the perpetual gritty rain.

I was happy to get back to the hotel after a couple of hours of that.

We sat in the lobby as others arrived.  Alix, having helped arrange the trip on the choir side, knew a lot of the people by name at least – many were pleased to meet her in person.  There was much chattering and going on back and forth.  I mostly smiled and sat off to the side, out of the way.

Finally, we went on a tour of the city, previously arranged.  Frankly, most of the people on our bus (myself included) were almost comatose at that point, and could really care less about the various important city monuments we passed – everyone was tired from travel, wanting to get into our rooms and get cleaned up before getting dinner.  But we dutifully nodded at each landmark’s history, got off the bus to admire the pink government house and stare at the riot police lining up to stop one of the daily demonstrations in B.A.  Best of all, when the bus returned to the hotel, our rooms were ready.

Nice room for us, generous by European standards, moderate by American.  A change, a bit of a shower, rest a while.  Several stations on cable in English, with Spanish subtitles.  Met back downstairs early evening for the big opening night feast.

Our buses – gods, did I spend so much time on buses – were ready, and took the lot of us over to a nice fancy restaurant for dinner.  A note on this – the restaurants in Buenos Aires, in all of Argentina in fact, don’t even *think* about opening for dinner until 8:30 or 9:00.  No, I am not kidding – it is one of the most significant cultural differences between here and there.  Dinner is eaten late, often as late as 11:00 or midnight.  And they *always* take a couple of hours for a meal.  Seriously.  I grew to like the longer, relaxed pace for eating.  I never did get used to the idea of eating a heavy meal so late.

Anyway, the restaurant was designed as their version of an “all you can eat” place.  But with the twist that everything is made to order.  Well, the entrees, anyway.  The way it was done was that all around the perimeter were different “stations” – one was a custom pasta station, one a custom pizza station, one an Argentine barbeque/grill, one doing sushi, one doing custom crepes (with a double metric buttload of other desserts already waiting).  There was also an established elaborate and extensive salad/antipasto bar.  Everything was included in the meal, except for the drinks and tips for the chefs at the individual stations.  (Prices are very cheap in Argentina at present – a quart bottle of decent domestic beer is about US $4 in a nice restaurant, and an acceptible tip is AR $2 (two pesos – about US 60 cents.)  The domestic wines are quite good, though they tend toward a preponderence of red wines (Merlots in particular – what they call ‘Marbec’ in Argentina).  But do not try the local distilled spirits.  Really – just don’t.

We ate and drank ourselves stupid over the next couple of hours, and towards the end there were introductions of the various tour leaders, guides, and whatnot.  Alix got a very nice round of applause from everyone for her work coordinating things.  This made it easy for me to get along with everyone on the tour – all I had to do was explain that I was her husband, and I instantly had a niche.  It was towards the end of the evening that two themes emerged in my awareness which were to dominate the entire tour: one, that I was with a large group (about 60) of extrovert musicians – and the other 60 or so people on the tour were likewise gregarious Welsh who love the sound of their own voice; and two, that in addition to the non-stop, high speed conversations taking place around me, these people know and love music.  During the course of dinner the din of talking got to the point of almost being painful, making it impossible to hear what people across the table were trying to say to me.  Then, at the end after all the introductions were over, they broke into song.  Not just a half-hearted verse of “Happy Birthday”, either – this was a full-throated, trained choir which loves to sing, along with a large number of similarly inclined Welsh (who are happy to break into song at just about any excuse).  Everyone stood, and they gave their first performance in Argentina to the other patrons and staff at the restaurant – who loved it!

We finally left the restaurant about 11:00 – just when the bulk of other patrons were starting to arrive.  Back to the hotel and crash, hard.  It’d been a long and eventful day.

Jim Downey

In front of the hurdle.
October 30, 2008, 10:54 am
Filed under: N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia, Politics, Travel, Writing stuff

OK, I lied – I didn’t get back soon.  Getting settled and caught up with the world is only part of the issue – another major component is that I am obsessed with politics at this point, waiting for the election to finally come to fruition.  Well, that, and the fact that I am still struggling with exactly how I want to approach the travelogues from this recent trip.

See, the problem is that there were parts of it that I really didn’t enjoy.  Not just this or that isolated incident that might add a bit of spark or humor to the stories – whole aspects of the trip were just unpleasant.  But I don’t just want to whine or bitch through those sections of the travelogues.  Nor do I want to skim over them – these are things which need to be addressed, for my own understanding and perspective if nothing else.

So, apologies.  I’ve been putting off writing about anything else until I came to terms with this, and it has led me to something of a small case of writer’s block.  But I’ll get over this hurdle soon – there is just too much else I want to write about.

Jim Downey

So, didja miss me?
October 27, 2008, 6:12 pm
Filed under: Humor, Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Patagonia

Got back from Patagonia this afternoon, after more than a day’s worth of steady travel.  Lots to tell – good and bad, richer and poorer.  Though overall very educational.  I’ll be doing that over the coming weeks with a series of travelogues.

But for tonight, I need to work some to correct an imbalance in my scotch level – it had dropped to a dangerously low percentage of overall blood content.  Scary stuff.

In the meantime, you can get some taste of the trip here.

Back soon.

Jim Downey

The Hunger Artist
October 26, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Art, Promotion, Society, Survival, Travel

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


Published in “Legacy Online” October, 2003

The Hunger Artist

the man in the box There was a man hanging in a plexiglass box over the Thames in London when I was there last month. A man who was starving himself.

David Blaine‘s recent spectacle didn’t get a lot of attention here in the States, so you may not have heard about it, though the completion of his 44 day fast was covered by NPR yesterday morning. But it captured the imagination of just about everyone in the UK, and was one of the most common topics of conversation I had with people during our two week vacation. The fact that Blaine is an American probably had something to do with this, but even so, the progress of his fast was covered regularly and extensively by all the news outlets. Reports of the analysis of his urine (done by independent labs, with the strictest security), and what it meant about his medical condition was standard fare in the papers, discussion with leading doctors about the dangers he faced the longer he fasted was a the subject of morning programs on the television. Everyone speculated about whether he was somehow cheating, how long he could last, what it meant.

I don’t know where Blaine got the idea for his fast. But Franz Kafka wrote a short-story titled “A Hunger Artist” which seems to be a template for what Blaine did. In it, the Hunger Artist would perform for 40 days to the increasing interest and agitation of the crowds, his manager selling tickets to those who wished to view the performance. If Blaine didn’t know about this story, he should have.

So, the question is, is it art? It was a performance, certainly, and I suppose that in one sense this means it was art. It was an interesting conceptual piece, a mechanism for grabbing the attention and imagination of an entire nation, so that is a kind of art. (Remember, I considered my “Paint the Moon” project of two years ago to be a piece of conceptual/performance art with the same critieria.) But in one way I don’t want it to be art. Blaine lost almost one-third of his body mass during his fast, and may well have caused permanent damage to his heart and kidneys. Would that then mean that any kind of public mutilation could be considered art? Certainly some people would pay to come and see it. People already have, actually, since this sort of ‘performance’ has already been done in some venues. So, how far do we take this? Blaine (intentionally or not) staged a real version of a Kafka short story. Could someone else stage a real version of that scene in a recent Hannibal Lecter movie where one character dines on the brain of another, while that other person is still alive? How about staging a real version of Salvador Dali’s 1936 painting “Autumnal Cannibalism” in which two figures are eating one another? Would that be art?

Jim Downey and the Haunted House
October 24, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Humor

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey and the Haunted House

We stood there on the corner, looking up at The House. Max, Marty, and me. It sat back from the street on a high corner lot, a classic Midwestern Victorian two-story, with a large porch that ran along two sides. The lot itself was landscaped in such a way that there was a steep hill of perhaps six feet, rising up from where we stood on the sidewalk on the downhill side. A set of concrete stairs cut up through the grass, a sidewalk leading from there to the front door.

“So, um, it’s haunted, right?” asked Max. He was tall and thin, as I was, but he had an athlete’s natural grace. I hated him for that since, at the same age of 14, I was nothing but clumsy. Max played basketball and ran cross-country. I think he still holds some of the school records to this day.

“Yeah, that’s what they say.”

“Someone got murdered in there a couple years ago,” said Marty. Marty, shorter and stockier than Max, had a stoner’s long hair in contrast to the latter’s crew cut. Marty was a little older than we were, and would be one of the first of my gang of friends to get his license. But he didn’t have it yet. He had played football in Junior High, didn’t think it was cool anymore and so wasn’t on the HS team.

It was a few days before Hallowe’en, a crisp Friday night perfect for going out and causing trouble. Which is what we had been up to. After a brief escorted visit to the police station (got picked up, cop thought he’d bring us in on suspicion of setting off fireworks but seeing where we didn’t have any . . .), we made our way to this supposedly haunted house near the old downtown area of our suburb, not too far from the defunct train station. The House had been vacant some years, and though someone kept the grass cut, the rest of the property had been neglected, most of the windows boarded up, the doors half off their hinges.

“Hey kid, c’mere,” I said, gesturing to a kid on a bike on the other side of the street, watching us.


“Nah, it’s OK, c’mere.”

The blonde-headed kid, about 10 years old, came across the street, but stopped a few yards from us. “Whatcha want?”

“This that house that guy got killed in?”

He nodded. “Yeah. It’s haunted.”

“What happened?” asked Max.

“They say some bikers cut this guy’s heart out.”

“Bullshit,” said Marty.

“No really. There’s a cold spot right where it happened. It’s back by the kitchen. You can feel it.”

“You been in there?”


“Yeah, right,” said Marty. “Bet you’re just tellin’ us what others say.”

“Uh-uh. I been in there,” he said defiantly.

“What, you ain’t scared to go in there?” said Max, looking at The House with some apprehension. “Ain’t scared of ghosts?”

“I ain’t scared of no ghosts! Me and Billy went in there after school one day last week.”

“After school? Ghosts ain’t out durin’ the day. You gotta go at night to see ’em.” Marty laughed. “You are scared of goin’ in there when they ghosts are around.”

“I bet you’re scared t’ go in there right now,” said the kid.

“That’s what we’re here for, kid.” I looked to Max and Marty. “Right?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Max, still looking up at The House.

“Sure,” said Marty, looking at the kid.

I nodded, looked at the kid. “So, what’s it like inside, if you’ve been in there?”

“What’ll you give me?”

“I’ll give you a quarter.” I held up a quarter in the streetlight so he could see it.

He nodded. “It’s all tore up. Them bikers been livin’ in there again. They got mattresses on the floor, there ain’t no other furniture.”

“They in there now?” asked Max.

“I dunno. Ain’ seen no one in there lately.” He glanced up at the house. “But they might be.”

“Nah, there’s no lights on,” I said.

“There ain’ no ‘lectricity,” said the kid.

“Oh,” said Max.

“But they’d have candles or somethin’,” said Marty.

“Yeah, prob’ly,” I said. I turned to the kid. “Thanks, kid. Go on home.”

“Uh-uh. I’m gonna stay and see if you really go in.”

“Get outta here kid, it’s late. Your momma be lookin’ for you.

The kid was slowly backing away on his bike. “Nope. She’s at Bingo. My dad’s s’posed to be watchin’ me, but he’s playing poker with his friends.”

“Well, we don’ want no kid watchin’ us, so get outta here b’fore I give you a fat lip,” said Marty.

The kid kicked the bike into motion, started peddling, hollered “screw you!” over his shoulder as he rode away down the block, then stopped to watch us.

Marty looked up at the house again. “Uh, how’re we gonna look around if there’s no lights?”

I smiled, dug into a pocket, and pulled out a small plastic flashlight. “All set.”

“So, uh, you guys think this is smart?” asked Max. “What if there are still some . . . uh . . . bikers in there now?”

“Kid said there weren’t,” replied Marty. “Not that I believe the little prick.”

“I ain’t worried about bikers,” I said. I reached down and took the small spray can of Mace that I had clipped to the inside of my jeans cuff, held it up. “This’ll fix ’em.”

“Damn, where’d you get that?” asked Marty.

“My uncle. He’s got a bunch of ’em from when he did cable repair outside, for dogs ‘n stuff.”

“Wow,” said Max. “How come the cops didn’t find it?”

“All they asked was for us to turn out our pockets, lookin’ for firecrackers, right?”

“Oh yeah.”

I started up the stairs. When I got to the top I turned to look at the two of them. “You guys comin’, or are ya scared?”

“I ain’t scared,” said Marty, trying to look fierce. He started up the stairs.

Max just nodded & followed, face pale.

We went up the sidewalk slowly, looking around to see if anyone was watching us. Just the kid, from across the street, standing up on his bike to get a better look. As we got to the porch, I turned on the flashlight, shined it at the door. My friends were both just right behind me as I stepped up the couple of steps and crossed the porch to the door. For a moment we just stood there, looking at the old wooden door (the screen door was hanging off to the side, half crumpled and out of the way). I could feel my heart race.

“Um . . . maybe we should knock or something,” whispered Max.

Marty looked at Max like he’d lost his mind. “Knock? You kiddin’? That’ll just give the ghosts more time to get ready for us.”

I took a deep breath and grasped the doorknob, turning it and pushing the door open with a raspy squeal. Sticking my head in first, I shined the flashlight around, then turned to Max and Marty. “C’mon.”

I stepped into the room, flashlight shining dully. First thing I noticed was a strong smell of mustiness, of decay. The room looked the part, too, with pieces of broken furniture scattered about, carpet pulled up here and there, wallpaper sagging off the walls. I heard the sound of my two friends coming in the door behind me, the floor creaking under them. I turned to the left, to where a wide archway lead to another room. “This way.”

Max half-whispered, “Wait for us.”

The flashlight wasn’t very powerful, but as I walked into the second room I pointed it up at the ceiling, and a general illumination almost cut the gloom. This room was about as bad as the first room, with water stains visible on the walls, one window covered from outside with boards, the other obscured by heavy, rotting drapes which hung askew. “I guess who ever’s in here don’t want their lights to shine out.”

“Or they’re afraid of daylight,” said Marty.

“You mean, like vampires?” asked Max glancing into the dark areas nervously.

“No, dipshit, like junkies. Junkies can’t take bright light. Makes their eyes bleed or somethin’. Ever’body knows that,” answered Marty.

“Oh, right.”

“This place is pretty messed up,” I said, pushing a battered old chair out of the way, kicking a bag of trash and scattering its contents. There were several other half broken and abused chairs in the room, presenting an obstacle course we had to wind through.

“Let’s get outta here,” said Max, voice quaking.

“Gettin’ scared?” I turned, my flashlight hitting him and Marty right in the face.

Blinking and shielding his eyes, Marty growled. “Hey idiot, careful with the light.”

“Oh, sorry.” I headed across the room and towards another doorway. “C’mon, looks like the kitchen’s back this way.”

Marty and Max weren’t too far behind me, only a couple of paces, stumbling a bit over the busted chairs and trash as their eyes recovered. As I reached the doorway, a figure suddenly stepped from behind the wall. For a moment my flashlight slid across his chest, revealing wild eyes and long white hair on the hideous, twisted face of an old man. Then I screamed, dropping the flashlight as arms reached from the other side of the doorway grabbing me, pulling me through.

“RUN!” I hollered, as I flipped the cap on the can of Mace and found the spray button. Pointing it at the floor, I cut loose a blast as I saw Max and Marty turning and fleeing. Max, disoriented, the acrid smell of Mace in the air, the flashlight shining weirdly across the floor, only turned halfway and ran straight into the wall between the two windows, hitting it so solidly that the whole room shook. Marty, the former football player, was clearing a path through the chairs and junk, kicking stuff out of the way, body slamming the bigger pieces as though he was charging the line of an opposing team. He was making remarkable time, but even so Max, after having bounced off the wall, caught up with him and passed him before they reached the front door.

I screamed again, this time nothing more than an incoherent yell of fright and pain, and watched as my friends disappeared out the door.

“Man, that was great!” I said, my heart pounding, as I turned to look at my Uncle Don, who was peeling off the latex old-man mask. My Uncle Rich, who had been the one to snatch me into the other room, was leaning against the wall, laughing so hard he could barely stand.

Yeah, it was a scam. I’d set the whole thing up with my two uncles the night before. The kid on the bike was my cousin. Don had this scary mask, and I knew exactly where he and Rich would be stationed. Even being picked up by the cops earlier in the night had been arranged with a buddy who was on the force, in order to keep my two friends off balance and on edge.

I ran to the door, intent on calling Max and Marty back, letting them in on the joke. As I got to the door I saw Max, runner that he was, well in front of Marty, bookin’ for home with such speed that he cleared the limit of the front lawn where it dropped 6′ down to the street level, and didn’t just go down the hill but ran out into empty space like some cartoon character, legs pumping and arms flailing . . .

– 30 –

The Mayor of Main Street
October 23, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


circa 1993

The Mayor of Main Street

One afternoon The Mayor of Main Street stood outside one of his favorite bars and handed out $1 bills to anyone who would take them. He had a big roll of bills, and he would peel one off with a snap, holding it out, offering it like some religious tract or advertisement to the flow of people walking by.

He looks homeless, with his dishevelled clothes, long beard, and gap-toothed grin. Which is why many people probably thought that there was some angle, some sort of scam to his generosity. He had his funny striped knit hat pulled down far over his high forehead, and his big eyes, bright blue with neither anger nor pleading, are a little unearthly, a little frightening in their intensity to people who aren’t used to seeing the eyes of the ragged men who live in the margins of College Town. But he’s not homeless, though he spends a lot of time with the street people. He has a family he seems to get along with, people who care for him. He’s just a little confused, turned inward by one too many explosions in the war, too fond of drink in all of its forms.

On this day he was just in a good mood, having had an early start, celebrating the fine weather and the company of a drinking buddy who had since staggered off. He had evidently decided to share his good mood with others by passing out dollar bills.

Usually he doesn’t talk much, just mumbles to himself, his long fingers working at some unseen puzzle, or running along the hem of his t-shirt where it hangs out of his jeans. Sometimes he’ll stop and tear a poster off one of the kiosks, because something on it appeals to him, and he’ll fold it carefully, putting it into an overstuffed pocket, taking it out every few paces to unfold and enjoy anew. Other times he’ll play for hours with a feather or fetish he has found on Main Street, conducting symphonies only he can hear, painting the sky and the sides of building with pigments only he can see. But on this fine day he stood there, back against the brick wall, inviting people to step up and have a dollar, just ’cause.

Some of the students, usually hulking suburban lads, stopped by and accepted the offer, figuring a buck is a buck. Others, more street-savvy or just timid, ignored him, eyes cast down, the same way they usually walk by the rattled cups of desperation. A group of Asian students formed on the sidewalk across the street, looking at him, trying to make sense of the scene and his rambling dialog. They stood there, arms folded, puffing madly on cigarettes, comparing notes on this little bit of theatre, completely baffled by the lanky American.

Eventually, the manager of the bar came out and tried to persuade him to put his money away, to save it for food and drink with friends later. The Mayor considered the wisdom of this, but his belly was full, his thirst satiated. The Mayor gave him a dollar, and told him that he didn’t know about later, but right now he needed to give away these crisp green bills, since that was the job he had to do. The manager didn’t push the issue. The Mayor is a regular there, usually behaves himself well, and even helps to ride herd on some of the street people that he hangs around with. That’s why he’s called The Mayor.

Someone else called the police, who stopped by and chatted with The Mayor. They all know him, from countless discussions over College Town’s open container ordinance. But there is no law against giving away money, and even though they couldn’t accept his generosity there was no real reason to stop him from being generous to others. Before they left, they warned him to be careful of the roll of bills, because not all his friends were really his friends. He told them that was why he was giving the money away, so that everybody could be his friend, and then he wouldn’t have to worry about it.

Eventually he finished the job to his satisfaction, and wandered down the street to check on his constituents, a warm autumn breeze playing with his beard.

A Taxing Question
October 21, 2008, 1:00 am
Filed under: Government, Politics, Society

While I am on vacation, I’m having some old posts from my archives queued up for your enjoyment. If you’re interested in following the progress of the tour, a friend of mine has set up a blog and the Choir will be posting pix and text as things go.

Jim Downey


23 February 2005

A Taxing Question

“Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

My buddy, Steve, who won $100k on Who Wants to be a Millionaire (see my piece on the show here), got into a discussion about the show and the fact that he’d have to pay a purported 43% of his winnings to the IRS. Someone asked him what questions the government answered for their 43%. I thought his response was perfect, and with his permission post it here:

What questions did the government answer for their 43%? Directly, obviously, none, but . . .

Tax money taught me how to read. Tax money bought the book Tom Edison, Young Inventor in the Hitchcock Elementary School Library in Galesburg, Illinois.

Tax money paid the salary of my eighth grade music teacher (whose name I have forgotten), who introduced me to opera, specifically Aida, and mentioned that it was written to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal.

Tax money funded Michigan State University, where my father pursued his graduate education in physics and astronomy, which allowed him to answer the question about aphelion.

Tax money paid the salary of Hal Devore, my eleventh grade history teacher, who taught me about the Depression, FDR, and the Bank Holiday.

I am far better off than I was on November 4 (the day before taping). But it is only because of the money that society has invested in me.

And if you think that this former teacher is too focused on education, I would mention that I enjoyed driving to New York on the Interstate Highway system.