Shots rang out… shortly after dawn this past Wednesday at the Eugene Simpson Stadium ball field in Alexandria, Virginia, as members of the Republican congressional softball team were practicing for the annual congressional charity ball game between the GOP and Democrats.
A loud pop was shrugged off as a car backfire. Seconds later, directly behind the third base dugout, the unmistakable “double tap” crack of rifle fire was heard as the infield gravel spit where second baseman, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, went down with a bullet lodged in his hip.
Ten minutes and an eternity later, four other GOP members had been shot by 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, who had traveled from his home in Belleville, Illinois. Scalise crawled for safety to the outfield, while the remainder of the players ran to the first base dugout for safety. Holed up there, they might have become victims of Hodgkinson’s fusillade but for the courage and quick thinking of two Capitol Police officers, who despite being shot themselves, returned fire, taking out Hodgkinson, who later died of his wounds.
Hodgkinson was a volunteer campaign worker for Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal Democrat, in the 2016 presidential race. In 2006, he was arrested for battery after allegedly punching a young woman in the face, while striking and choking another individual. In the same incident, he fired a shotgun. All charges were dismissed.
On Lake Earl Drive around 10:30 a.m... it was a quiet Wednesday morning, just a few weeks ago. Several hundred yards from my front door, the rifle shots crisp report coming from Pelican Bay State Prison. I thought it was the CO’s practicing on the Bay’s range. It wasn’t.
Just before, three “Southerners” (younger subordinates of the Mexican Mafia) on Bravo Yard appeared to have jumped two other Southerners. Immediately, seven CO’s courageously entered the yard with batons and chemical agents to break up the altercation and protect the inmates from injury.
In a scenario reminiscent of Custer at the Little Bighorn, unknown to the officers, the fight was staged for the purpose of luring them in, where an estimated 100 other Southerners collapsed upon the unsuspecting CO’s, attacking them with fists and hand made knives, then stomping them as they fell. Tower and yard gunners came to their rescue, shooting and wounding the initial five combatants. Eight Pelican Bay staff members were hospitalized.
In addition to the initial five would-be combatants, an additional 97 Southerners were rolled up and rehoused in administrative segregation. Whether the attack was ordered by the “big homies” in the SHU or some of the Southerner “youngsters” looking to make a name and grab some yard cred remains to be seen.
On a balmy night in Florida… it was Latino Night at Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando and over 300 people had braved the earlier thunder showers to come and dance and mingle. Just before 2 a.m. closing time, 29-year-old Omar Mateen entered the club. Armed with a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9 mm Glock 17 semi-auto pistol, Mateen passed through off duty OPD security guards and commenced firing indiscriminately into the crowd, killing anyone in his path. From one bathroom where he held hostages, he called local TV to announce he was a soldier of ISIS for whom he was acting, although no distinct connection to ISIS was ever shown.
Hours later, at 5:14 a.m., the northern bathroom wall was breached, where two flash-bang grenades brought Mateen out. Ala Bonnie and Clyde or John Dillinger exiting the Biograph Theatre, 11 officers fired a total of 150 bullets at and into Omar Mateen, who left 50 innocent civilians dead or dying, with another 58 injured. A former co-worker of Matteen’s said that he possessed “a lot of hatred” specifically mentioning “black people, women, Jews, Hispanics, gays and lesbians.”
You look around you and sometimes it all can get overwhelming. You try and find a common thread in all of it, something that just might be susceptible to Occam’s Razor or any theory of relativity.
But somehow insanity just doesn’t play on the square. By its inherent nature, it’s not made to make sense of and you do yourself a bad turn in entering that web. It’s at that point when I rely on Carole King’s sage advice, that “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose — and each time you chose between the two,” mixed in with some West Texas wisdom on the subject from its finest troubadour, Guy Clark:
I got an old blue shirt and it fits me just fine
I like the way it feels so I wear it all the time
I got an old guitar, it won’t ever stay in tune
I like the way it sounds in a dark and empty room
Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall
Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall
I look back a year ago yesterday when Willie from Fort Dick Fire was pulling my Stetson over my face as his crew began cutting me out of my car on the 101. I can see John and his team who loaded me into the Del Norte Ambulance. I remember Debbie Croon and the flight crew who got me to Mercy Spinal Trauma in Redding. All of them who were there for me that day, including a God who said it wasn’t my time. I look back on that day when something told me to leave Jake (as in ‘Feed Jake’) at home as I was climbing in the car and I have to smile.
I looked back a couple years to when it rained on me a bit and Helen Ferguson and the folks at the Grange helped me through a rough patch. I recall her granddaughter, Carlee Rose, no bigger than a handful of minutes at that time, getting horse schooled by Helen. And then just last week as Carlee fairly sailed around the barrels, through the poles and over the railings to become Junior Rodeo Princess.
If you’re a youngster and learned how to ride in Del Norte County, chances are you caught a lesson or two from Helen. More important, if you ever got thrown, she taught you how to get back up in the saddle.
I attended a recent healthcare board meeting at which Ron Phillips made a request for funding for the Farmer’s Market which he directs. As anyone who lives in Del Norte County knows, the Farmer’s Market is a treasure which brings together so many different and productive aspects of our community, which I referred to that evening as “Del Norte’s fifth season.”
As a funder of Rural Human Services, the board unanimously stated that it would consider the funding request only in the event of the resignation of the entire RHS Board for what was deemed to be their failure to take effective action during the Scott Feller debacle. Although declined, shortly thereafter, the Farmer’s Market received the requested $2,500 from the Caldwell Family Trust.
Healthcare board member Dr. Kevin Caldwell had voted down the initial request, eloquently stating his reasons therefore, but his generosity and community spirit in supporting the Market is to be applauded.
I have an old friend named Joe McGlohon, one of the finest sax players I’ve ever heard. Joe played with Reba McEntire for 11 years until, road weary, he settled down with his beautiful wife, Helen. They moved to London, where Joe teaches saxophone and music theory at two of London’s finest conservatories.
Three weeks ago, Joe had a massive heart attack after returning from concerts in the states. We’ve spoken several times since then and I lamented how this probably would curtail any of his road gigs that arise occasionally. To the contrary, Joe replied, saying his greatest joy these days was teaching “his kids” music.
I’ve quoted it before, how Kurt Vonnegut once said, “If you ever wanted proof of the existence of God, all you needed was to look to the existence of music.” I thought of Joe and the gift he was bestowing upon those gifted students, which they in time would bestow upon others, creating a ripple effect which approximated, near as possible, some antidote to that insanity we’ve been talking about here.
And then I think back to a dreary day in January last year. I’d flown a girl I was sweet on out from Texas and it was her last night here. As she was cooking dinner, I took the dog out back and she called out to see if I had any music. I hollered back that there was a boom box by the kitchen window.
I stood there in the cold rain, hearing the strains of the Eagles’ “Desperado” drifting from the kitchen. Leaning against the barbed wire, looking off across the pasture through the mist and rain, it was one of those times you begin seeing your life pass before you. You hear those lyrics about having been out riding fences for so long and those fine things that were laid upon your table that you rode away from.
I called Jake back and as we hit the back steps, I could hear Don Henley singing “you better let somebody love you before it’s too late.” Somewhere, somehow, with my usual deliberation on things romantic, it all sunk in and seconds later, I found myself on my knees in the kitchen proposing. Funny how ever since that day, the rain and cold have left that pasture and my life.
Yeah, Life’s a funny thing and sometimes it can buck you off. But I’ve come to believe the only time it gets gutter mean and hard is when you refuse to saddle up again. And somewhere between Helen, Joey, a Texas Queen of Hearts and a community that gave a busted down fella a second chance at life, you can pin that number on the back on my old blue shirt one more time. Turn ‘er loose…
Jon Alexander lives in Fort Dick. His column appears every first and third Saturday.