Thursday, October 1, 2009

Notes from the Re-education Camp... Abbott & Costello meet Franz Kafka

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

Well, it happened. I was sitting down at my computer cranking out some right-wing screed, when I heard a knock on the door. It was three guys in matching jump suits. A fourth was down below in the driver’s seat of a waiting van. They insisted that I come with them. I began to think things over when a firm hand clenched my arm.

In the van there were three other “passengers” who, like me, were securely fastened to their seats. We drove for what seemed like hours. The heavily tinted windows obscured any view that might have given us a clue as to where we were going. We finally turned off the road up some kind of drive that was not nearly as smooth as the road. After some rattling and swaying we were there: “New Perspectives Adult Education Spa.”

We were marched into a reception area where we had transponders attached to our ankles. After the drive I was really thirsty and there was a table with an Igloo cooler and a bunch of paper cups. I walked over and filled a cup. I drank it down quickly and then noticed some empty Kool Aid packets in the waste basket.

When I came to I was lying on a cot in what looked like a barracks. The first thing I noticed was a severe burning sensation on my right ear lobe. I touched it and there was some kind of plastic tag fastened with a metal rivet or something. The next thing I noticed was the groaning of others as they awoke from their unexpected naps with new ear tags. Then I noticed the sound track -- Pete Seeger singing “This Land is Your Land” was playing endlessly over loud speakers.

After a while the music stopped and the door opened. In stepped a middle aged looking man. He had a receding hairline that was tied back in a ponytail. He wore jeans and sandals, and a hand knitted pull over. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m your group counselor, Sierra Kaminski-Brown.”

We all sat up on our cots as he continued to address us: “Is there anybody here who doesn’t know why you’re here?”

Being an inveterate trouble maker (some might say invertebrate) I raised my hand. “Mr. Ross, how could YOU of all people not know why you’re here? Don’t you remember writing that letter to the Chronicle?” I rolled my eyes, which one? I thought. “You know, the one second-guessing the CalTrans decision to completely replace the eastern span of the Bay Bridge because it would be cheaper than retrofitting the old span? Do you realize how many prevailing wage jobs could‘ve been lost had your suggestion been taken seriously?”

After that the room went quiet. He went to a “white” board at the front of the room. “We have a public policy crisis.” He wrote “Crisis” in big letters on the board. “Every attempt at straightening things out is met with dissent and controversy.” Then he wrote the word “Progress.” An inaudible cringe went through the room. “We can’t just stay where we are. We need to move forward. For that to happen we need to form ranks and… get with the program.”

Another cringe went through the room. “The purpose of this meeting is to emphasize the importance of the spirit of cooperation. You should all realize that your personal tendencies to dissent are being noticed.”

Out of the blue, someone in the back shot out “How do you expect to make us cooperate?”

“You’re here, aren’t you? This is your wakeup call. We don’t really want to incarcerate you, but you need to be aware of how much control we have… over what you do, how you do it. And, most importantly, what kind of influence you have on others.”

“This is fascism!” yelled another inductee.

“Now we’re getting down to important issues. We have nothing to do with fascism. That’s the style of right wing knuckle draggers such as yourselves. We’re just trying to fix what’s wrong. You’re not stupid. if you were, we wouldn’t be bothering with trying to help you through this transition.” He wrote the word “Perspective” on the board. “You’re not bad people. I bet most if not all of you are really good neighbors. You take in your neighbors’ mail and feed their cats and dogs when they’re on vacation. You all like helping people. The problem that we have now is that -- well -- you’re not helping.” Another cringe.

“Your problem is that you don’t visualize the big picture. Those corny notions of individualism and personal freedom are getting in the way of fixing the flaws in how society works. We have crime, poverty, bad nutrition, STDs. Personal freedom can’t fix these. We need new perspectives. Oh! Look at the time. We all have to go to the dining commons for the evening meal. We’re having tofu enchiladas, my personal favorite. Let’s all go and wash our hands.”


  1. It's been a while since I've read your 'screeds' but I particularly like this one, and the direction you could head with more pieces like this. Perhaps a blogger-friendly Ayn Rand approach? Keep going.

    From a non-labeled sometime liberal/bohemian, this reminds me a bit of some of my experiences in Marin and Santa Cruz. Way to go.

  2. whoops. Just saw this was your contributing writer's work. Still-good work. Thanks for keeping up the blog.