by Ron Powers
Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling author who lives in Castleton, Vermont. His latest book, “No One Cares About Crazy People” about the dire state of mental health care in America and the loss of his talented guitar-playing son to the disease comes out February 2017. Here is his column:
Several days ago in this space I took up the topic of the recent Easter-egg-hunt debacle at Wilson Castle in Proctor. You may recall the details: a gentle traditional frolic for children exploded into a proto-riot by their parents who had endured delays in the waiting line, an apparent shortage of plastic candy-filled eggs, and the failure of certain promised cartoon characters to show up. The kind of persecution, in short, that we associate with the downtrodden masses of Chad, Bolivia, Zambia, and North Korea.
Oh, and the inflatable bounce-house collapsed.
Human beings were not meant to live under conditions like this.
Many of the grownups in the line apparently agreed. They decided that they had taken enough. Is a lady in a bunny suit so dear, or jelly beans so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! Revolution was in order! So the patriots streamed under the ropes and out across the meadow, grabbing every goddam egg they could get their hands on (including some from the children’s baskets). They demanded their money back. Scuffling broke out. Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene. Tear gas was employed. An arrest was made. The organizer of the Easter egg hunt was last seen in a shopping mall paying refunds from his own pocket to affronted survivors of the event. Peter Cottontail was reported to have sought sanctuary somewhere deep inside Toys R Us.
The story “went viral,” as our pioneer forefathers used to say, and gained attention throughout the world. Vermont, a state once rated as “the most livable” in the country, where billboards at the border assure incoming tourists that “Yep! Even the gas stations are friendly,” suddenly found itself with an image problem. It was beginning to resemble the United States of America.
In my column, I repressed the urge to unleash my initial reaction—revulsion—at the news of this incident. I refused to fight ire with ire. I opted for the less-blunt weapon of satire. This was just a small incident, after all. Only a few instigators, no doubt. Let it go.
I couldn’t let it go. It wasn’t just a small incident. (See: “went viral,” “gained attention throughout the world.”) Something had been violated, and needed to be restored.
Call me a dreamer. I believe in Vermont, in the idea of Vermont, in the implicit promise of Vermont, in the hope that Vermont represents. (I know. I know. I am a recovering flatlander; our kind gets all verklempt about these things sometimes.) I believe in a Vermont that embodies and respects tradition (Easter eggs are of course an early-Christian symbol of new life); which in turn means a Vermont that respects religions without necessarily subscribing to one. I believe in a Vermont that, contrary to its host nation, rejects commodifying everything, which means not getting grabby and surly over children’s jelly-bean Easter eggs. I believe in a Vermont that accepts human frailty instead of lashing out against it (See: Wilson Castle Easter-egg hunt, debacle). I believe in a Vermont that believes in children, and resists—oh, say, resists snatching away their jelly-bean Easter eggs.
Aren’t I wonderful?
No, but see, I do believe in these things. And this is where Brenda of Modern Cleaners in Rutland comes in.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I returned to Vermont after a few days in the United Sta—after a few days away. A day or so later, I noticed that I’d apparently lost something valuable: an electronic amplifier that I wear on a cord around my neck to boost sound into my hearing aids. (I come from a long line of the hearing-impaired, including my father, who used to go, “Do whut?” every time he misunderstood someone, which was often. I grew to love that phrase as much as Captain Hook loved the sound of the ticking alarm clock in the belly of the crocodile that was following him.)
I called my sister and no-account brother-in-law, in whose house we’d stayed. Called the airport hotel where we’d spent the night before flying home. Called the airline. Each time, I got either a “haven’t seen it” or a “do whut?”
I began to accept the fact that I was out a few thousand dollars.
I hadn’t yet noticed the missing four hundred dollars in cash or the credit card.
I stewed over this for a day or so longer, until I got a phone call from Marilyn, who works behind the counter at the Village Store, down the hill from where we live. The Village Store is where I take my laundry to be sent off and cleaned. I never bothered to ask where it was sent. Flatlander.
Marilyn told me that she’d received a call from Brenda in Rutland. Brenda is an owner of Modern Cleaners. Modern Cleaners is the place to which the Village Store sends my laundry. Modern Cleaners is also the place where for years I have taken clothes to be altered. I like the people at Modern Cleaners. But I never realized that they were the same people who cleaned my duds.
Marilyn told me that Brenda had told her that she had found some items in the pocket of my jacket. One item was my hearing-aid amp. Another was a wad of cash—four hundred dollars—that I’d put in the pocket, so that if our hotel room was burglarized, the bad guys would never find it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burglarized in hotel rooms.
And a final item was an active credit card.
I’d forgotten completely about the cash and the credit card. Brenda at Modern Cleaners had found everything. She’d sealed the items in a little plastic pouch and called up Marilyn at the Village Store.
Now, cleaners-owner X might have discovered this stash and returned everything but the four hundred dollars. Or the four hundred dollars and the credit card. Or even all of it—electing to get in touch not with Marilyn but with Ebay.
Brenda didn’t do any of this. She returned every item she found.
Now, you might say that this is only to be expected of an honest business-owner, especially a Vermont business-owner.
I would agree. And I’d add that civil, forbearing behavior and respect for children are only to be expected of grownups at an Easter-egg hunt, especially a Vermont Easter-egg hunt.
And I’d finish by saying that Brenda at Modern Cleaners represents the kind of Vermont I believe in. The kind of Vermont that the whole country believes in, and needs to believe in, perhaps more than it realizes.
I choose to believe that Brenda’s Vermont is larger Vermont, the authentic Vermont, and that anyone who disagrees with this is a rotten egg.
Desires for sexual relations and economic security can be blamed for the thirst for money that drives so much of our waking life on earth. If only we could pause life for a second and talk some reason into the powerful executives at energy companies and law firms and all of the legislators who run our country.
If we could press pause and have a frank conversation we could point out that for centuries humans relied on farming and hunting and communal gathering to form the daily habits of their existence. There was no money to be made and hoarded away in a bank account, there was a bartering system where work in various areas was exchanged for work in other areas.
Many people depended on farming as a way of life and in Northern climates the summer was used as preparation for winter. Food was stored away and people stayed busy, feeling productive. Everyone had a role to play.
Nowadays the energy industry makes billions and we live in a capitalist society. Greed is almost accepted as a virtue. Desires for sexual relations and economic security have run rampant. We are detached from our physical world which we depend on for survival.
An article in today’s New York Times tells of the consequences of climate change on the world’s coral reefs. Up to a third of the world’s coral reefs are in immediate danger of being wiped out due to climate change and these scientists continue to point to the warning signs and we continue to bury our heads in the sand and press on, many of us poor and desperate and drug or alcohol addicted or sexually addicted or money addicted.
The millennial generation was raised on Eminem and rap music which all but begs for the destruction of the planet and human existence. Depression rages as it dawns on many of the America’s inhabitants that we will not survive for the long term. Instincts have run riot.
If we could hit pause and assess the situation we might decide that returning to farming and the trades while keeping the benefits of modern advancements like medicine is ideal. We might not acquire great wealth but everyone would have a role to play and everyone would feel important. We might decide that the religious ideals of one partner for life are really a better way of going than using up multiple partners solely for the reason that we’re in the 21st century and sex can run rampant.
We would not return to the dogmas of one man and one woman. Gays would still be allowed to couple and get married, but at least we could decide that having multiple partners throughout one’s lifetime leads to problems and depression. When sex goes out of control and people are single later in life it leads to the acquisition of money to have sex. The older men get the less sexually appealing they are and the more they need money to get laid. When women remain single they find it more and more appealing to take money in return for sex. The high-end escort rings in Washington D.C. and New York City and elsewhere support this conclusion. Prostitution happens elsewhere as well.
It takes family values first to combat the perverting influence of money and refocus our attention on leaving a better world for our children than the one we inherited.
Another problem for leaving this world better off for the next generation is the role most, but not all, Republicans play in supporting the polluters of the world. They say it is for economic gains that we pollute and destroy the world. That environmentalists are just tree-huggers with bleeding heart causes. This is not true. Environmentalists simply know, instinctively, that without a sustainable approach to living in the world we cannot survive for the long term.
Republicans band together with more resolve than their liberal counterparts who are as independent as cats. Liberals, on the whole, don’t band together and identify as liberals with as much passion and fervor as conservatives. There is not as much mutual support among liberals as there is among conservatives. And liberalism is more cold and calculating, on average, than conservatism. It takes form in intellectualism without the emotion of family, country, God and pride.
If only we could take the family values aspect of conservatism and blend it with the environmentalism of liberalism, we would arrive at the perfect cocktail for survival. We would have heritage and family conscious leaders who promoted caring for the environment as a chief concern. We would have the military protecting and listening to the scientists.
It’s not too late to save the planet and survive for the next million years, but we are running out of time. Something radical needs to happen.
An article in the New York Times highlights the destruction that palm oil plantation farmers are bringing to Indonesia in the name of growth and profits. The destruction is endangering and killing orangutans, some of our closest relatives. Where is the central planning commission guiding humans as they take their course through time and space?
I can’t help but feel helpless in the face of all this destruction: the rain forests, the oceans, etc. Some day I want to have kids and I want to pass on an inhabitable planet. Don’t humans realize that when we destroy the planet we are endangering our own survival? When we burn trees down for mega farming projects we are harming the climate, endangering our own survival? And all for what? Money, which is the bartering chip for sex for those men who have no sex appeal on their own.
Vermont Gossip will now begin asking respondents if they support using the United States military to threaten or destroy all who bring harm and destruction to the planet. Those who kill the orangutans or the elephants or the whales or who obliterate their habitats.
In these times we must take control of our destiny as humans and preserve this great earth for our children, and their children, and so on. We must see ourselves engaged in a struggle for survival for the next million years.
When we feel powerless to stop the destruction of our habitat we must unite and forge a group consensus to rage against the greed and selfishness that drives the destruction of our planet.
Tom Lichtman, 59, has lived in Vermont for about 25 years. He lives in Pawlett, but he has had a business in downtown Rutland for the last 15 years. He has two companies. One is a web hosting design company, VTWeb and the other is Sidekick Publishing, which does packaging and trading cards for artists and small specialty work.
Vermont Gossip: “Do you think the community of Pawlett is strong?”
Mr. Lichtman: “Yes it is. It’s a small town. It has about 1,100 people, and there’s a strong regard for community there.”
Vermont Gossip: “How does that manifest itself?”
Mr. Lichtman: “Well. In my case, personally, I had a culvert for a stream running through my property which became blocked with a snag. And immediately several of my neighbors came over, one with a truck and we set up a chain hoist and stuff. There was no discussion. I didn’t even have to ask. They just showed up and we cleared the snag. It was quite a dire situation for a while. It was going to flood my house. So I was very grateful for neighbors who just stepped up immediately without even having to be asked or even saying anything, they just immediately pitched in.
Vermont Gossip: “What do you think can be done to deal with the heroin and opioid crisis in Vermont?”
Mr. Lichtman: “In general I think it should be treated as a social problem not a criminal problem. In that there has been a historical legacy of total denial of drug’s existence and severe punishments to try to obliterate it. It’s part of human nature. It’s an offshoot of social issues that has become criminalized, but the reality is that it’s…it’s like tooth decay that sets in after bad hygiene. There have been a lot of underlying financial economic issues that have led to a reduction of people’s livelihoods. There’s been an exodus of manufacturing in Rutland, an exodus of reasonable jobs, which has led to a situation where people are seeking escape, and drugs seem to be part of that escape. Be that as it may how we got here, but now that we are here, it needs to be solved as a social economic problem, not how can we jail these people faster.
Vermont Gossip: “Do you know a lot of people in your neighborhood?”
Mr. Lichtman: “I know a few. I have to say most people I know by face, but I’m not that social a person, so I don’t have strong connections with most people, but there are a few that I know well.”
Vermont Gossip: “Do you think Vermonters are supportive enough of each other’s success?”
Mr. Lichtman: “I do. I think that. I rarely encounter any sense of rivalry or I wish ill of somebody or I wish they didn’t have the success that they have. So absent that jealousy rivalry I’ve found most people to be supportive or at least accepting of other people’s success or victories and good events that happen for them.”
Vermont Gossip: “Do you think that older generations are supportive enough of younger generations in Vermont?”
Mr. Lichtman: “I think there’s a large case of bafflement and lack of understanding of younger, but that is something that I think has gone on for hundreds of years, where the older people have a different sense of priorities than young people and so a stress or strife between generations is just natural. In this modern internet age there’s a lot more access to information about current culture and there seems to be a lot of anti-aging attempts to stay current and relevant which has led to older generations accepting and trying to join the younger generations which causes them to actually seek further outstream edges like tattooing and piercing and so forth to differentiate themselves from the older people who are embracing their culture.”
Vermont Gossip: “What’s newsworthy in your life right now?”
Mr. Lichtman: “Business is steady and moderately successful. We have some new jobs in which are nice, and as far as personal events, not many. I live alone and being older, being 59, I’m sort of out of the dating age and seeking somebody age. So it’s a very peaceful life of just enjoying myself rather than seeking relationships which has led to a calmness in my life. As far as work, I have created these businesses to fulfill my curiosities and desires to be active in certain ways and they’re succeeding so I’m happy.”
Vermont Gossip: “Is there anything that isn’t being covered by the local media that you would like to see be covered?”
Mr. Lichtman: “In general I enjoy success stories. I like victory stories, and many times the local media seems to focus on fear and danger because it is what is most riveting for most people. If there is a rustle in the bush you immediately look at it because it might be a tiger about to jump at you. Whereas I find that is of less interest to me I’m much happier or enjoy encountering news items of people who have met challenges or difficulties and have found solutions for them personally. It doesn’t have to be ra ra feel good stories, but more a case of where…like a local business that faced a loss of a contract and suddenly they’re scrambling to find new business and this is how they succeed in finding that new business. I like challenge and response stories and some that don’t succeed. So if I had my magic wand and asked for more news coverage of certain kinds of stories that would be it. How did the local carpentry shop handle the loss of a key employee? What did they do about it?”
Vermont Gossip: “Do you believe there are tensions between old Vermonters and new Vermonters?”
Mr. Lichtman: “Yes. My new Vermonters you mean flatlanders I assume, or newcomers to Vermont versus the woodchucks and the older more traditional Vermonters that are coming from an agricultural background. There is a tension that exists, which is parallel with our country as a whole, between conservatives and progressives. It was manifested back in same sex marriage, where you had the dueling lawn signs and I saw them with neighbors who’d have alternating signs ‘Take Vermont Back’ ‘Take Vermont Forward’ and that conflict, I think it is a lot more sedate and humane in the state than elsewhere in that we seem to lack rioting and fisticuffs and fighting and go for the throat. In general, politics to me over the last twenty years has become more parallel with sports: your team sucks, my team is wonderful. And to see all the news in the sense of who won the debate, who lost the debate. Political debates should not be a winning and losing, it’s more who stated an interesting viewpoint or who presented an interesting solution. Not who won? Who lost? A manifestation of the sportification (sic) in politics is now manifested in things like the tensions of old Vermonters/new Vermonters: Who’s won? Who’s losing? It becomes like a football game, and I think that it is a very wrong direction for news coverage to treat sports metaphors, or to utilize sports metaphors for politics and social issues.”
Vermont Gossip: “Do you believe that elementary school students should be taught to grow food in a hands on environment?”
Mr. Lichtman: “Absolutely. I was raised in an era where every family in the background had a small garden, a family garden. Also, Dad always had a fix-it bench in the basement or the garage with an array of tools and spare parts and old lamp cords and things and if something broke, or needed some adjusting it would go to Dad’s fix-it bench and I learned a tremendous amount about how to use tools and about the proper strength of materials and what can bare the weight and what can’t. how to drill properly so you don’t break the bit or injure something. Nowadays I visit friend’s houses and there is no fix-it bench. A light switch might need an adjustment, the plate to come off and I’ll ask them ‘do you have a screw driver?’ and they’ll rummage around the kitchen to find a leftover IKEA assembly screw driver and that’s about it. So we have embraced the digital age and we lost a certain about of tactile, hands-on, practical knowledge, whether it be gardening, I’m expanding from your point of gardening to generally using hand tools. and using electric drills and being able to fix a piece of lawn furniture because it needs a new hole drilled, a new bolt put in where a welded joint has failed. You just drill a hole and put a bolt through it and now you’re good.”
Vermont Gossip: “Do you believe that high school students who have an interest in it should learn how to make furniture from sustainably harvested Vermont wood?”
Mr. Lichtman: “There’s a very specific slant to your question, with the ‘sustainable’. I am not as strong on sustainable issues, I am strong on the hands-on, as per my earlier answer. So learning hands-on activities in high school: all for the better. Whether it be utilizing plexi-glass or Home Depot lumber or sustainable lumber. I think you’ve added two issues together. One is sustainable resources and hands-on learning in high school, so I’ll separate those two issues. Hand-on learning: Absolutely, A+, we need more of it. The sustainable issue, as a society as a whole it is a goal and something that is a good thing to work towards, but I wouldn’t link it with any specific issue that way.”
Vermont Gossip: “Do you believe that Hollywood corrupts the minds of our youth with all the sex and violence and parties that is found in TV and the movie culture?”
Mr. Lichtman: “No, I don’t think it’s a corrupting influence. I think it’s a mirror. In order to cut through the noise, entertainment always needs to strive towards the edge of what’s acceptable. Stories about happy puppies that cross the street successfully don’t sell. There has to be a little bit of edge, whether it be titillation or societal edge of social issues. So, as a result Hollywood will create content that either reflects current issues or pushes the edge on them, but they are not leading the parade, they’re following the parade of change that’s occurring in society.”
Vermont Gossip: “Do you think that, given that, that there is too much emphasis on violence and sex and parties in society or do you think it’s natural?”
Mr. Lichtman: “I’m trying to parse your question a bit. You’re saying a pervasive element of parties and sex and so forth, and I’m not sure from what viewpoint you’re asking. Your earlier question had motion pictures and Hollywood, but this second one was more generic. Are you talking about the average person and their attitudes towards sex and drugs? I need to know more about your question in order to answer it.”
Vermont Gossip: “Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.”
Mr. Lictman: “I don’t know because I’m not that up on the street knowledge of what the average person feels. I can speak about myself but I can’t speak about society in general. I can talk about Hollywood because I watch a lot of movies and I can see what they’re producing. But the average person I don’t know.”
Vermont Gossip: “How do you feel about letting refugees come into this state?”
Mr. Lictman: “I’m OK with it. They’re suffering. This country was founded on “Give us your poor, your yearning to be free.” We have established ourselves, or at least claim to be the peak of human society and two elements of that are, or two offshoots of that should be to lead by example and i.e accepting refugees. People who are in need, again it fits with the Vermont credo, which is I was suffering with my stuck culvert and I was unable to handle it by myself, so my neighbors immediately stepped in and lent assistance. So this is another form of assistance, where people have suffered tremendously. I do believe that the process of reviewing and interviewing and vetting candidates for refugees is quite extensive, so I’m accepting that candidates who are declared OK to come here are OK. As many news stories these days are saying, more people are killed by toddlers with found guns than terrorists or terrorists who have infiltrated through the refugee process. There’s a current backlash against refugees as a whole because there’s a fear that there will be a hidden terrorist in there who is suddenly going to firebomb downtown Rutland or New York City and it’s an unfound fear. It’s not impossible, but it’s also possible that a meteor is going to strike and obliterate all of humanity and life in the next five years. What do you stay up at night, there are more drunk drivers killing people every day, than have even been killed by terrorists in this country. I mean it’s just phenomenal the false fears that we are drummed up to pay attention to and in the big scale of things, it’s probably more dangerous crossing the street here in the long run. There are more pedestrians killed in crosswalks in New York City than any terrorist activities, let’s say over a period of time, because there was that one big 9/11 that hit, so if you then say over a ten year period more people are killed. Since 9/11 more people have died as a pedestrian crossing the street than from terrorist activities.”
by Jeremy Void
Jeremy Void was born and raised in Boston, MA, where he played in a Punk rock band called Lethal Erection and stirred up chaos everywhere he went. Friends, enemies, and followers alike called him “St. Chaos,” and he kept up his reputation at all times, finding the funny side of just about everything, and leading a life of misadventures that eventually led him down a rocky road to Rutland, VT, where he resides for the time being. Here is his column:
It’s a beautiful day in Rutland, VT. The sun is out, making the thick layer of clouds appear shiny and bright. I sit on the steps leading into the Coffee Exchange, located on the corner of Center St. and Merchants Row, across the way from Wal-Mart, which looks like a grotesque, hairy wart protruding out of the hot busty model’s glistening stomach. Not that Rutland is Busty or Hot like a model, because it’s not, I realize; although it’s surely something—a thing of beauty, a thing of neglect. A thing that some people detest, and a thing that some people cherish, and finally, a thing that some people could care less about. I personally feel everything toward it—everything including nothing which seems to be my most prevalent emotion when I think about it—indifference, ambivalence, a jaded cocoon in which I lay.
I come from a small town known as Boston, MA, which I’m sure you’ve heard of—a town where life bustles and filth blossoms, I know it all too well. Trust me, I do. I’ve experienced my own brand of filth, I’ve extinguished my own brand of life. I’ve lived a drug-fueled existence which occupied most of my time—fast and slow, cold and hot, die at a young and laugh in my grave, you know how it goes.
But today I’m not that way anymore—well, not entirely anyway. I’ve come to realize that the madness I reaped on anyone willing to subject themselves to it, was not a sustainable way of life—it was either jails, institutions, or death: the cold slap of the handcuffs wrapping around my wrists, the cop spewing orders through his stern lips, and the sound of those bleak iron bars as they untethered my connection with freedom, clanking shut behind me. There too was the soft gurney against my cold and pale skin as I rode in the back of an ambulance to the hospitable where I would bide my time for a few days, get out, and then do it all over again, etcetera etcetera, you know how it is. Or maybe you don’t, maybe you’re one of the lucky few who made it through life unscathed. Me, I was a zombie and everyday I saw that lucky but rare breed of people as they motored past me on their way to their corporate jobs dawning blue suits and black ties, with wide smiles that made me feel even deader than I already felt I was. But it doesn’t matter anyway, we all die in the end, every last one of us; it’s unavoidable. But you see, I died way ahead of the rest, my soul depleted as my body followed neatly behind, deteriorating in the blink of a crying eye.
That was my life. Do I regret it? Not one bit; and I’ll tell you why:
I’m a better person because of it, I think. You see, today I feel bright and alive, almost healthy but not all there yet—this is something I lacked throughout all those wasted years of my past, but as a result I have a higher understanding of life. Which I don’t think I would have obtained if I hadn’t forgone hell through the first 22 years or so.
So I came to Rutland to get away from the drugs, the pain, the misery, but little did I know, it followed me here.
But even so, that’s behind me now, and I can honestly say life is good. I’m still sick, still exhibiting mixed-up motives, but one day at a time I’m getting better and better and BETTER, and that’s all that any junky can ask for in the end.
A crowd of maybe fifty attended a ground-breaking ceremony at 65 Baxter Street in Rutland for a park that will be built there soon. Several people spoke at the event including Rutland’s three state senators, Peg Flory, Brian Collamore and Kevin Mullen and the mayor, Chris Louras. Children played soccer and hot dogs were grilled.
Rain broke out midway through the speeches and everybody headed for cover under a tent that was set up. Then everybody grabbed hand shovels and broke ground ceremonially in the rain. Everybody agreed that the park would be a positive thing for the neighborhood.