The Pencil Today:

DOES THAT INCLUDE ME?

My idol, Mike Royko: “It has been my policy to view the Internet not as an ‘information highway,’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”

Royko

NOW WE’RE GETTING SOMEWHERE

At long last, I can throw my enthusiastic support behind the Occupy Movement.

I’ve been fairly tepid in my backing of the three-month-old grass-roots protest. Staging a Boy Scout Jamboree in People’s Park won’t do the job when the corporate and legislative forces of the mightiest nation in the history of the Earth are aligned against you.

Occupy Bloomington

Yesterday, things changed.

Women’s defense courses teach a few tricks when a person faces a much stronger foe. A man may menace a woman, towering over her, possessing twice her brawn, but if she carefully aims a knee or a toe at those little ovoid organs dangling between his thighs, the contest will suddenly — seemingly magically —  be evened.

Occupiers aimed a swift kick at the balls Monday. Protesters tried to shut down ports in Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and Portland with varying degrees of success. Others tried to interfere with operations at Walmart distribution centers in Salt Lake City and Denver.

“The Man” isn’t writhing on the ground just yet. He may never. But yesterday was a nice start.

Occupy Protesters Block The Port Of Oakland

THE CRUSADING JOURNALIST

So, having spent Sunday night writing up my Top Ten Local Political Stories in 2011 article for the Ryder magazine, I felt awfully smug and snarky.

I chided both parties, wondered when there’d be a funeral for the local Republican party, gave a justifiable raspberry to the entire Indiana General Assembly, guessed that a certain elected official had nightmares about wearing a county correctional center jumpsuit, and repeated unflattering speculation about how an unsuccessful mayoral candidate raised his hefty war chest this past spring.

Heading Out To Pasture

In fact, I fairly bullied that candidate, a harmless fellow named John Hamilton. His wife, it so happens, is a fairly well-known former Washington appointee, Dawn Johnsen.

Johnsen, you may recall, served under Bill Clinton in the Office of Legal Counsel. When Barack Obama took office, he nominated her to be the head of that office. The Republicans dug into her past and discovered that she’d once or twice uttered a sentence about abortion that didn’t conclude with her demanding that women who’d had one ought to be horsewhipped.

Naturally, GOP Senators tripped all over themselves trying to paint her as something akin to a blood-soaked abortionist herself. They held up her appointment in 2009, then adjourned. Obama renominated her in 2010 and, yup, the Republicans held it up again. Finally, after months of sitting around and waiting, Johnsen stuck her tongue out at the whole of Washington, withdrew her name from consideration, and came back home to Bloomington.

She seems happy enough teaching constitutional law here at Indiana University.

Johnsen At Her Nomination Hearing

Hamilton, on the other hand, has led a less headline-worthy life. Were it not for his fortuitous taste in brides, I implied, he might not be given a second thought as a mayoral candidate.

I echoed the oft-repeated whisper that his campaign contribution pot of gold might have been the result of Maurer School of Law faculty members feeling compelled to write generous checks to him as a way of currying favor with their esteemed colleague, his wife.

I even referred to him as Mr. Dawn Johnsen.

It was 21st Century journalism at its finest. I proved myself to be witty, bold, sassy, and ready at the drop of a hat to point and gawk at people in power and those who want to be. And hidden somewhere among all that brilliant verbiage might even have been an atom of truth.

Okay, maybe an electron.

Hell, Bloomington’s a small town, really, and everybody knows everybody else’s gossip. Especially politicians and IU faculty members.

Hamilton might even be the next Congressman from the great state o’Indiana’s 9th District. That’s part of the gossip, too — that his mayoral tilt was really a test run for a bigger prize.

Hamilton’s Real Goal?

One of the hazards of being a professional smart-ass is the fear that one day one of my subjects might walk up and jab me one in the nose. Worry not, though. I figure that John Hamilton is too much of a refined gentleman to flatten my snout. Plus, it’d look bad for a guy trying to run for Congress having to explain why he assaulted and battered a beloved blogger.

Everybody’s happy, right?

I thought so until yesterday afternoon. I was blissfully peddling tomes at the Book Corner at about 2:30 when who walks in but Dawn Johnson herself.

My body froze but my mind raced. Oh sweet Jesus! She’s here to tear my head off. Oh holy god, here she comes!

But Johnsen strode past me. I exhaled. What am I worried about? She’s a big time lawyer. She’s too smart to bloody up some knuckleheaded snark-meister.

Probably Some Journalist

She headed for the back of the store where Margaret, the boss, holds forth.

Oh no. No, no. She’s gonna demand that I be fired. I love this job. I get to hang out among books and readers and meet everybody in town. I even get paid a couple of pennies a week to do it. Oh, what an idiot I am! Why do I have to be such a smart-ass?

I watched as Johnsen conferred earnestly with Margaret. They took an awfully long time, talking about my future. Jeez, I thought, let’s get it over with.

I figured, All you gotta do is tell Margaret that nobody in town’ll ever shop in her store again as long as she keeps that no-good, insulting, smart-aleck, so-called journalist in her employ.

But then I shook my head clear. What the hell am I thinking? The piece hasn’t run yet for pity’s sake! I haven’t turned it in. I haven’t even finished it!

Hahahaha! What a dope I am. I felt like dancing among the stacks.

Johnsen came up to the checkout counter and placed a kid’s book down. “Everything alright?” I asked, my voice cracking the tiniest bit.

Oh sure, she said. She added that she’d ordered another children’s book from Margaret. That’s what had taken so long.

I snorted. Johnsen looked at me, puzzled.

I couldn’t stop myself. “I gotta tell ya…,” I began. I told her the whole story of my little panic attack moments before. Well, not exactly the whole story; I left out the Mr. Dawn Johnsen part.

“And, I swear to god, I thought you were gonna clunk me on the head,” I concluded.

Johnsen laughed. “Oh,” she said, “I’d never do that!”

I handed her the kid’s book in a bag. “Thanks a lot,” I said. “You’re a great sport.”

“I can’t wait to read your piece,” she said. And then she was gone.

I smiled as she went out the door. I watched her walk down Walnut Street, the smile still plastered on my face. For at that moment it occurred to me: Dawn Johnsen and her husband, John Hamilton, are going to read my story.

Sure, she’d never clunk me on the head. But is John Hamilton really all that harmless?

Yeesh. The things you have to worry about when you’re a crusading, smart-assed blogger and so-called journalist.

Does He Pack A Punch?

One thought on “The Pencil Today:

  1. ex-b-i-l-i-l says:

    People like Mr. Dawn Johnsen have people to do their clunking for them. They are professionals who are subtle and clever leaving the clear evidence that you clunked yourself out of pure self-loathing.

    Note that I’m not saying Mr. Dawn Johnsen actually has said people, only that people like him tend to have… so were I you, I’d be watching my back.

    As to Mr. Royko’s astute observation of the information superhighway, he was clearly mistaken in making such a general indictment. I tried to email him at the time and received a terse reply that Mr. Royko does not respond to emails. I then put pen to paper in an attempt to show him that there were redeeming qualities to be found around the web. I think today he would agree that your little outpost fills a higher purpose in a media landscape that has forsaken actual journalism.

    I think he would be offended by the squatters occupying the op-ed pages and those pretending to fill his shoes with pointed pith and snark. But most of all, I think he’d be having a field day with the expanded vocabulary available to him in a media not subject to the approval of the legal department.

    The other thing Royko would be miffed by is the HuffPo aggregator model in which the writers are expected to write for free or where only a chosen few could actually earn a living at their craft.

    I think he’d point out that the Occupy movement is a natural backlash to the occupation movement that allowed “centrists” like David Fucking Brooks, Thom Friedman and the usual suspects to dominate the space with Reagan myth perpetuation and sub-par writing..

    At the corner bar along North Ave. Royko would be saying “Fuggem!”

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